You’ve all been slacking!

People sometimes wonder where all the Kristian and Kreationist Kooks have gone — they only rarely pop their little pinheads up here anymore. Well, I can tell you: since most of the commenters have decamped from my old scienceblogs site to frolic here on freethoughtblogs, the kooks have moved in unopposed over at Sb. For example, look at the Creationism and racism article that I crossposted to both networks: there they are! There’s good huntin’ over there nowadays.

Of course, one thing I’ve learned from this is that they aren’t afraid of me, but they’re terrified of you all.

Methinks it is like a sauropsid

Eugene McCarthy, the author of that crackpot stabilization theory, has discovered my review and is now making a noise on twitter. He’s gone from thanking me profusely for mentioning him, to whining that I stole his figures, to complaining that I don’t understand his theory at all, all in the last 24 hours.

But here’s the fun part. Recall that one of his bizarre claims is that whales did not evolve from terrestrial artiodactyls, but from mosasaurs, mesozoic marine reptiles, instead. But the anatomy shows that mosasaurs are derived squamates, reptiles, with a completely different skeletal organization than a mammal. This has attracted the attention of Darren Naish and Tom Holtz, fully qualified comparative anatomists and paleontologists, who actually know a great deal about the structure of these animals, and are giving him a spectacular ass-whooping. Browse it on Twitter.

The basis of his claim is that mosasaur teeth “look like” sperm whale teeth. That’s not a good criterion, and it’s not true; as has been pointed out to him, basal mosasaurs are pleurodont (that is, the teeth are fused to the inner side of the jaw bone), not socketed as are sperm whale teeth. He’s also now claiming that mosasaurs swam by vertical motions of their tails, like whales…but he’s citing articles with poor comprehension. The cited articles show evidence that mosasaurs propelled themselves with axial motions of the tail, which is a far more general statement; they moved by sweeping their tails like oars, but it says nothing about vertical vs. horizontal undulations.

So I went back to McCarthy’s book to see how he backed up this ridiculous claim. He doesn’t. He cites Pieter Camper, an 18th century anatomist, as proposing the idea that whales are related to mosasaurs. His critics are citing contemporary and detailed papers. This, however, is really the totality of McCarthy’s argument:

The varanid theory was based on Adriaan Gilles’ assertion that certain skeletal characters found in mosasaurs are not found in modern whales. However, a glance at figures 9.4 and 9.5, will convince most readers that mosasaurs have much in common with early whales. Certainly, they have far more in common with whales than does the late Cretaceous terrestrial insectivore traditional theory posits as the common ancestor of whales and all other placental mammals (it should be emphasized that all of the various forms classified as mosasaurs, too, are of late Cretaceous age). They are also far more similar to whales than is Pakicetus. One would not expect the ancient ancestors of whales to have every characteristic of modern whales. Their dissimilarity with respect to a few minor bony traits should not be allowed to obscure the well established fact that mosasaurs were huge, whalelike, air-breathing animals with whalelike teeth and that they had the same sort of prey as modern whales.

The referenced figures are grainy, low resolution images that do not do an adequate job of displaying the structures. The “dissimilarity with respect to a few minor bony traits” is trivialized; these are actually substantial differences in the arrangement and number of bones in the skull, where the mosasaur displays a fairly standard reptilian pattern and the whales show a mammalian pattern. They only look alike if you don’t look at all closely. How can you say that the jaw joint or the auditory complex of a whale look anything like that of a reptile? Only by not looking.

His other argument is that it would take fewer evolutionary changes to transform a mosasaur into a whale, than a shrew into a whale. This is nonsense. Turning a reptile into a mammal requires a major reorganization of the bones of the skull, and further, requires that those shifts exactly mimic the pattern found in other mammals. There is no reasonable way to accomplish that. Again, the basis of his entire argument is a complete ignorance about the anatomy!

This is the well-supported pattern of whale evolution. Notice: no mosasaurs.


Root of all evil?

While I’m criticizing the South, I should also damn the whole country. They Yankees also contributed to the history of slavery: that whole second amendment thing that troubles us so much now was a sop to slavery, enabling ‘militias’ that were intended to capture escaped slaves and suppress insurrections.

…most southern men between ages 18 and 45 – including physicians and ministers – had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. …slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

So many of the high ideals of this country were poisoned by compromises to allow deep inequities. And the founding fathers were complicit.

The honorless party

Republicans. Bleh. Yesterday, while one Virginia Democrat, Henry Marsh, was in Washington DC for the inaugural, the state Republicans took advantage of his absence to ram through a redistricting plan. I really, really hate the way both parties play games with districts to gain an advantage, but to do it by waiting until a civil rights veteran isn’t looking is rank cowardice and more than a little skeevy.

But they had new depths to plumb. On Martin Luther King Day, they adjourned the senate session in memory of General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, traitor and defender of slavery. Hey, Southerners: you lost the war, your ancestors betrayed the country, and they did it all for the cause of institutionalized racism. Get over it. It’s past time to stop romanticizing and celebrating an evil cause.

“It’s about misogyny. It’s about intimidation. It’s about silencing.”

Jane Fae writes about the realities of online bullying in the New Statesman.

…there is something disturbingly misogynistic about online bullying. Yes: blokes, male columnists, undoubtedly get it too. But it feels as though there is something far more vicious, gender-related with respect to what women have to endure.

Beard makes the point well, in a blog responding to her own online treatment. It is clear that she is no stranger to tired old jokes about her appearance – but even she has been shocked about the response she evoked, describing the level of misogyny as “truly gobsmacking”. The focus of much of the abuse is sexual, sadistic even and, she adds: “it would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate”.

In other words, it is silencing, something I get very well from personal experience. I’ve opted out of contributing online for periods ranging from hours to a couple of weeks after being subjected to this sort of online nastiness. Not just me. Many far braver women with serious contributions to make to public discourse on violence and abuse have suffered similar: been silenced simply for having an opinion.

Yeah, the guys get it, too. I thought it was ridiculous before — I had Conservapædia raving about how fat I was, whole blogs dedicated to how stupid I was, and of course, frequent accusations of being gay — but once I got associated with feminism, the hatred reached a whole new level of shrieking. I’ve basically been declared an honorary woman by a whole new category of people, online atheists, who turn out to be worse than creationists, Christians, and Muslims. There are even more rants about my appearance, my ‘irrationality’, my sanity, than ever before.

And the scary thing is that when I compare what I get to what women activists get, I’m getting off easy.

It’s not criticism, either. It’s just raving mad hatred.