Tangled Bank #110


The Tangled Bank was scheduled to appear on the Blue Collar Scientist this week, but as many of you already know, Jeff was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, and obviously he has more important issues to tend. So let’s leap into some science right here right now!

What’s with all the birds?

We’ve got two articles on the recent work by Rabosky and Lovette: Evolution of the Wood Warblers and DNA Reveals Tempo and Chronology of Speciation for Dendroica Warblers. This clade reveals evidence of a rapid burst of speciation events that slowed as they new species filled available niches.

If you want the big picture of bird evolution, it seems the molecular data is causing some major renovations of that branch of the family tree: Early Birds Shake Up Avian Tree of Life. It’s a good thing I don’t know much about avian phylogeny, since it sounds like I’d have to relearn a lot of it.

For a narrower view, here’s an unusual bird: Hybrid Thrush Found in Vermont. It was spotted because it sang a song that was part Bicknell’s Thrush and part Veery, and blood tests confirmed that it really was a hybrid.

Field trip! Follow the Ramblings of a Field Biologist as he follows some nesting Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, as well as anything else that flits before his eyes.

Plants don’t get enough respect

Our sole entry from the vast field of botany is a short one, on La Zucca. I think you’d better go visit this member of the mesoamerican trinity so it doesn’t feel too lonely.

Not enough fish, either

At least we’ve had the recent discovery of a transitional flatfish to stir up some interest in The Mysterious Origin of the Wandering Eye.

Science: you aren’t doing it right

Wait, what, really? Obviously, one place you shouldn’t get your science is from Cereal Box Science — this one begins with an amazingly bad statement straight from a box of Kellog’s Mini-Wheats, which leads into a useful discussion of decent experimental design.

While I think there’s a germ of interesting science in evolutionary psychology, it’s also prone to excesses, and through no fault of its own, is also easily mangled by the media. In Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex, we get a criticism of the premises, interpretations, and media abuse of work on women’s attitudes towards sex.

No discussion of the abuses of science would be complete without the Discovery Institute, and their new cause, animal rights. Weird, I know, but it’s somehow all part of the perceived plot by evilutionists to dehumanize humanity, built on the DI’s poor understanding of logic. Check out Animal Rights, Evolution, and Morality: Who’s Afraid of the Slippery Slope?

Learn something!

Here are a couple of catalogs of useful resources: The Best Sites To Introduce Environmental Issues Into The Classroom, and for when your teaching fails, The Best Websites For Learning About Natural Disasters.

So you want to live forever?

This might seem to contradict the lessons of those last links: I would think a great way to start a cataclysmic natural disaster would be to prolong human lives. But then, we are selfish, and I’m sure not planning on disappearing in the near future. Besides, these articles are about Stressor-specific hypersensitivity in the mole rat and Recent progress in yeast aging research. In my immortal future, I want lots of scurrying sausages with teeth, and beer.

Tangled Bank #111 will appear at Giovanna Di Sauro on 6 August — until then, do stop by Blue Collar Scientist and leave Jeff some encouragement.


  1. Canuck says

    Did I luck into fresh thread?

    Okay, not to derail it off the bat, but I’m only at comment 1125 of the great desecration, and I want to know if any outraged reps of Islam ever show up in the thread. There are none so far, which is remarkable, considering how rabid the Catholics have become.

    Okay, back to the topics of this thread.

  2. Rayven Alandria says

    As a birdstalker I have to check out the hybrid first, then I will check all the other links. Thanks,.

  3. Heather says

    Thanks for hosting the Tangled Bank carnival, PZ!

    I’m glad to see you suggesting people leave encouraging comments on Jeff’s blog. It looks like the comments are being held up for moderation for the time being. I hope it brings him a bit of cheer when he reads them.

  4. BG says

    If you like birds, even casually, you can help with some science (citizen and otherwise) over at ebird.com

  5. says

    This is too much information for my ADHD to handle at this juncture. How do you manage to function with a family, teach, write these blogs so fast and have enough time to punch holes through Jebus-flavored sand dollars?

  6. Holbach says

    Wow, all the Natural History stuff! So much in one shot, and all of it interesting!. I’ve been a natural buff for many years and it’s nice to see several threads at once. Let’s have more of this PZ. I’ll bet these natural critters have no need of phony gods and just look and behave as evolution has deigned them to be. Hey Woot, sign in with another avian complement! I can never say that Stein and ilk are “for the birds” as that would be a nasty slap at our feathered friends!

  7. J says

    Selfish? It would only be selfish if it’s still normal to bring extra lives into the world. Which it might not be, especially when there there is a preponderance of things to do more fun than raising children.

  8. amphiox says

    Selfish? Of course it’s selfish, J. You breath air, eat food, drink water, and take up space, don’t you?

    The only unselfish thing to do is to get yourself vaporized in some furnace to generate useful energy, or maybe feed yourself to a pride of lions.

    Which is why the concept of complete selflessness is a crock.

  9. Jams says

    There are countless organisms that depend on my survival. There’s nothing inherently selfish about living. It’s for them that I eat the lions.

  10. J says

    We consume resources no matter how long we live. Taking your line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, the right thing to do would be to commit suicide at the earliest opportunity.

    Consumption of resources is irrelevant, of course. Some people make a strongly positive net contribution, and society would benefit from their longevity. But should even those who make a negative contribution be punished in any way? That seems to be what you’re implying.

    These kind of moral dilemmas are largely unexplored terrain. Various radical stances are tenable. Despite the inevitable black-and-white pontificating we’ll get if Truth Machine and his cronies get wind of this thread, professing to absolute certainty in any direction on this issue is basically laughable.

  11. Kcanadensis says

    I usually don’t try to tackle the tangled bank stuff so I rather enjoyed this post with the snippets of info and links. Great articles!

  12. t-1000 says

    There is an easy solution to having to many immortal humans on planet earth, build more land. And what I mean by build more land is build space/lunar/planetary colonies. Not to mention, the moon might have vast reserves of He-3, which could be used as an energy source.

    Also, if NASA or some other space agency could launch a self-replicating factory to the moon, the price of Lunar housing could drop drastically.

  13. says

    While there are a few relationships in the “Early Bird” study that I find problematic, in general it makes a lot of sense in terms of biogeography and morphology. What is especially appealing is when it recovered (on purely molecular bases) clades that make a buttload of sense morphologically (e.g., a grouping of hamerkops, shoebills, and pelicans.

  14. Dianne says

    I would think a great way to start a cataclysmic natural disaster would be to prolong human lives.

    Ah, screw that. Let’s go for it. Live, love, learn, all those things. Much better than sitting around waiting to decompose selflessly or dreaming of the wonderful afterlife that there isn’t. Let’s play Pascal’s wager for real*. Will it bring on disaster? Probably. Nearly everything that humans or any other living organism has ever done on a large scale does. So what? We’ll deal with it. The world will deal with it. If we don’t try to prolong human lives, that will lead to disaster too. So why not go with the plan that is more likely to lead to something good along with the bad? We’ve had a few tens of thousands of years of living no more than 120 years at the absolute most. That has led to multiple natural disasters. Time to try something new.

    *The real life version of Pascal’s wager: If we learn about the body there is a small chance that we will learn how to prolong life and thereby gain life we could never have had before. If we do not, we lose everything when we die. So the better value is to learn all we can about biology, because 10^-N where N is large is still more than 0.

  15. Sili says

    Iono if it fits the bill, but given how thoroughly LanguageLog deals with bad statistics and ‘pop-platonic genderroles’, I’dn’t think they were too far off from being a valid entry on the list dealing with evolutionary psychology.

  16. mary says

    thank you SO MUCH for posting the girls gone guilty link. This brand of justification for sexism is rampant even in science/skepticism groups, its shameful. Its so nice that you have integrity and can share that critique.

  17. Bob Vogel says

    As an amateur photographer (Canon 5d w/all the main L lenses) I totally appreciate Woot. His occasional lone photo says a hundred-fold more, infact, than most of the posts made here – especially of the religiosos. And with far more quality too… they are excellent.

    I always have an eye out for those little boobs. ;)

  18. idlemind says

    Mary, if PZ would take a much-deserved rest from tweaking noses of the religious, I think you’ll find he also has some pretty strong opinions on the vapidity of most evo-psych “theories.” Frankly, I miss his posts on the subject; most any skeptic with knowledge of high-school biology can deal with ID and other anti-evolutionary claptrap, but it can take someone with PZ’s level of knowledge to puncture such high-grade pseudoscience.

  19. Ryan says

    I’ve gotta say, I was disappointed with the “Girls gone guilty” post. While ev psych usually deserves a mound of salt, and it appears this article is no exception, the post did not deal with the complexity of it and instead presented an erroneous and laughably simplistic overreaction that almost parodied the problems of ev psych by making all those same problems with “enculturation”.

  20. JM Inc. says

    The thing about prolonging human life is that “selfishness” is a meaningless concept. The best set of values we have are humanistic ones, and it is basically anti-humanistic to punish or censure a person for taking their own interests into consideration – the very core of secular humanist ethics is equal consideration of interests. It is inappropriate to base our values on heredity or reproduction (e.g. “getting out of the way for the next generation“), because this makes an end out of something which is itself not inherently valuable. Human personhood, human fulfilment, and, heck, let’s not be speciesist here, the self-fulfilment of all intelligent life forms is the end. I’m of the Peter Singer, preference utilitarian/negative utilitarian school of thought on this – people who don’t exist, and life forms that aren’t people in a neuropsychological sense don’t get consideration because they don’t have interests. What matters is real people, cognitively neuropsychological people, people who have interests and preferences and projects which they hold themselves to be involved in.

    Granted that this doesn’t address the question of things like overpopulation and other commensurate effects of long lives, but we’re not without options, because our humanistic values provide these as well. It is not up to us to decide when people should live or die, it is up to the people in question to decide when their lives are meaningful and when they are not.

    Whatever you happen to think about Aubrey de Grey, he’s at least made some very good points about the ethics of prolonging lifespan which I draw upon, namely, that it is not our right to impose our values on the society of the future (just as it is not anybody’s right to impose their values on other living people at the present time), it is the right of the people of the future to decide for themselves whether they want, for example, a low death rate and a low birth rate, or a high birth rate and a high death rate, in order to keep the population sustainable. It is up to us to give them that choice, and right now that means spreading political and social liberties, that means funding research into science and development of new technologies to make lives better, strengthening the global economy and working to eliminate sharp disparities in wealth across populations, and of relevance, it means pursuing means to prolong healthy lifespan, so that people of the future are not born into a world with poverty, ill-health, short lifespan, and no choices.

    Whatever the outcome of improving human lifespan performance may be, it is up to those people with the choices to make the call and deal with the consequences, and it’s up to us to give the choices to them, so I really see it as a foregone fact that we should not be arguing about whether it’s selfish to live for a long time, or whether we should even be pursuing methods of prolonging human lifespan. We don’t have the luxury of debating these things, we’re all going to die, but we are ethically obligated to work to give others that luxury.

    Whatever, though, great Tangled Bank.

  21. Dancaban says

    Wow! I can get away with NOT feeding my kids breakfast and still 80%+ out of them at school. Thanks Kellogs!

  22. Nerd of Redhead says

    Tsk PZ, Kellogg’s is spelled with two gees. I grew up in Battle Creek.

  23. genesgalore says

    anyone have any ideas on how to keep the blue-winged warbler whores away from the gold-winged warbler studs in my back forty???

  24. jrochest says

    As entertaining as the Crackergate nonsense has been, I’m really glad to see some science posts again.

    And more squid!

  25. says

    t-1000 has the right idea. there are so many ethical issues involving life extension but my view is that if we can achieve it we must achieve it. it is our evolution at stake, if we don’t move we will disappear. space exploration has been pretty much pointless since it’s inaugeration. due to the lack of development in light speed craft we need astronauts capable of travelling for hundreds of years to find suitable planets for us. we are running out of earth, we will need terra II sooner rather than later.

  26. Nick Gotts says

    Life extension is already happening. I don’t mean just that life expectancy has increased, but that far more people are living to 100 or more, and this is expected to continue. In the UK for example, there were around 100 centenarians in 1911, around 9000 in 2002. According to http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1875 “The major contributor to the increasing number of centenarians is increased survival between age 80 and 100 due to improved hygiene and sanitation, improving food, housing and living standards and medical treatment.”
    If we avoid disaster, I would expect this trend to continue, but I’d be surprised if there turns out to be a “magic bullet” to halt ageing. Natural selection probably acts (unconsciously of course) rather like Henry Ford, who is said to have asked whether there were any parts of his cars that never wore out. It turned out the steering column never did – so he substituted weaker (and of course cheaper) ones.