Welcome, toad overlords

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In yet another example of evolution in action, investigators have documented morphological changes in the cane toads (Bufo marinus) that infest parts of Australia. They’re an invasive species that was introduced in a misbegotten attempt to control beetles that were damaging the sugar cane crop; as it turns out, they are aggressive predators that eat lots of other native fauna, and they secrete toxins that kill animals that try to eat them.

Another feature that contributes to their unwanted success is their rapid dispersal. Individuals can move up to 1.8km per night, occupying new territory at a distressing pace. In the 70 years since they were introduced, they’ve taken over a million square kilometers of Australia. Since dispersal into virgin territories is a significant advantage for the toads, it was predicted that there would be selection for faster migration rates in the population. The authors have several lines of evidence to show that this is the case.

[Read more…]

As long as I’m feeling sick, let’s make everyone miserable

Just a suggestion: don’t browse weblogs when you’re trying to perk yourself up with a little cheery good news.

<sigh>


P.S. As you’ll see in the comments, the sources for those last statistics aren’t just wobbly, they’re downright dishonest. Never mind.

An updated book list for evolutionists

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A few disclaimers: I do get kickbacks from affiliate programs when you purchase books after clicking through those links. If you’d rather not fund a perfidious atheist’s book addiction, just look up the titles at your preferred source—I don’t mind. This list is not a thinly-veiled attempt to get readers to buy me presents, either; I’ve read all these, so please don’t try to order them for me. Get them for a creationist instead, they need them more.

A while back, I presented a book list for evolutionists. Now I’ve updated it, adding a few recommendations and adding links so you can choose your favorite book vendor. Celebrate the birth of your favorite deity, the astronomical alignment of your choice, or any other traditional historical excuse for a midwinter party by passing along the gift of knowledge.

For the kids:

The Evolution Book (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Sara Stein. A fine book, but not for the lightweight science kid: this one tries to cover just about everything encyclopedically, so give it to the truly dedicated bookworm.

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Steve Jenkins. Another encyclopedic illustrated summary of evolutionary history for the younger set.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). David Norman. Not really intended for kids, but packed with full-color illustrations and detailed descriptions of many dinosaur groups. My kids would spend hours leafing through this one; it’s the dinosaur book I wish I’d had as a 12 year old.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Lisa Westburg Peters. Excellent, simple summary of evolutionary history, for the K-3rd grade set.

The Tree of Life : Charles Darwin(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Peter Sis. Nice picture book biography of Darwin for the kids.

From the Beginning: The Story of Human Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). David Peters. An older book that may be hard to get, but worth it for the wall-to-wall drawings of the organisms scattered along the human lineage, from single-celled prokaryote to modern humans.

For the grown-up layman:

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Sean Carroll. A phenomenal book; if there’s one book you should pick up for an introduction to evo-devo, this is the one.

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Matt Ridley. Orac says, “It’s a downright poetic look at each of the 23 chromosomes and what sorts of biological and disease processes genes from each of them are involved in, along with a nice dollop of evolution of the genome.”

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Kenneth Miller. Danny Boy says, “A Christian debunks creationism and shows how evolution can be compatible with Christianity.”

Charles Darwin: Voyaging(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) and Charles Darwin : The Power of Place(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Janet Browne. This is the best biography of Darwin out there.

Science As a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). John A. Moore. This is part history book, part philosophy of science book; if you know someone who doesn’t understand the scientific method, this one will straighten him out.

The Darwin Wars(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Andrew Brown. Much as we aspire to the pure search for knowledge, scientists can be testy and political and vicious, too—this is a study of the sociology of evolutionary biology.

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Carl Zimmer. If you want a general survey of the history and ideas of evolutionary biology that isn’t written like a textbook, this is the one you want.

At the Water’s Edge: Fish With Fingers, Whales With Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Carl Zimmer. The focus in this one is on macroevolution of tetrapods and cetaceans. Excellently written, with a very thorough overview of the evidence.

Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Fortey. Everything you need to know about the basics of trilobytes, with a chatty and often amusing introduction to the world of paleontologists.

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Jonathan Weiner. A Pulitzer-winning account of the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant in documenting the evolutionary changes occurring in Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos right now.

Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the evolution of bird flight(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Pat Shipman. Chris Clarke says, “an excellent and readable treatment of current thinking at printing on bird evolution and the evolution of that instance of powered flight.”

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Dawkins. Mrs Tilton says, “both as a general explanation of evolution and as a particular refutation of what has come to be known as intelligent design.”

The Ancestor’s Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard
Dawkins. A step-by-step account of human evolution, working backwards through time.

What Evolution Is(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Ernst Mayr. A survey of the theory by an opinionated master.

Evolutionary Biology(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Douglas J. Futuyma. If you don’t mind reading a textbook, this is one of the best and most popular texts on the subject.

An Introduction to Biological Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Kenneth Kardong. Another textbook, but less weighty and less expensive then Futuyma’s; a book I’d use in a freshman non-majors course.

For the more advanced/specialized reader:

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals) (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson (Editor). I’ve read these books, but I don’t own this edition…so this is one I’ll be hinting to my wife might make a nice present. It collects the four in one volume, with introductions by Wilson, so if every you’ve wanted these seminal works for your bookshelf, here they are in an inexpensive edition.

On Growth and Form(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. I’m afraid no developmental biologist can list important books without mentioning this one.

From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Sean B. Carroll, Jennifer K. Grenier, Scott D. Weatherbee. Like it says…molecular genetics, evolution, developmental biology. A good textbook describing the new cutting edge of evolutionary biology.

Shaking the Tree : Readings from Nature in the History of Life(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Henry Gee. GirlScientist says, “This is a collection of scientific papers that were influential in the field for one reason or another.” (I don’t think she intended that her recommendation come out sounding so tepid.)

Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). David M. Raup. A little statistics, a lot of paleontology, a good introduction to how we try to puzzle out what the world was like from a sparse data set.

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Stephen J. Gould. Massive. Indulgently written. But full of interesting ideas.

Developmental Plasticity and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Mary Jane West-Eberhard. Also massive. If you’re already comfortable with the conventional perspective on evolutionary theory, though, this one twists it around and comes at it from the point of view of a developmental biologist.

Biased Embryos and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Wallace Arthur. A slim and readable book about evo-devo.

The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Richard Lewontin. A slender book that lucidly summarizes the non-reductionist position on modern biology; it’s a call for greater breadth in science.

The Shape of Life : Genes, Development, and the Evolution of Animal Form(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Rudy Raff. Hardcore evo-devo. A little out of date, but very influential.

For the anti-creationist:

Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross. The best summary of the sneaky political strategy of the creationists of the Discovery Institute.

Unintelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Mark Perakh. Nice, blunt dissection of the pseudo-science of creationism.

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Matt Young, Taner Edis, eds. A team-takedown of Intelligent Design’s bad science.

Republican War on Science(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Chris Mooney. Here’s my review; all you need to know about the current political attack on science.

The Counter-Creationism Handbook(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Mark Isaak. Here’s a brief review, but it’s enough to say that this is an indispensable tool for dismissing creationist arguments.

The Triumph of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Niles Eldredge. Chris Clarke says, “useful and inspiring, both as a survey of evolutionary thought and a clarion call against creationism.”

Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Massimo Pigliucci. Michael Feldgarden says, “It definitely falls into the category of “anti-creationist” and “specialized reader.” I don’t know if it’s a little too complex for the lay reader (I don’t think so). It’s an excellent and well-written rebuttal of creationism and definition of science and the scientific method as it relates to evolutionary biology.”

The Creationists(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Ronald Numbers. Sean Foley says, “For an overview of the growth and role of the creationist movement in America.”

Defending Evolution : A guide to the creation/evolution controversy (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Brian J. Alters, Sandra Alters. An excellent guidebook on how to handle creationism in the classroom, specifically for biology teachers.


I’ll also add that Coturnix has a book list, too, and if you want a more specialized list, Mike has a list of books just for birders.


Just in case your favorite evolutionist has already read everything in the list, here’s another possibility: bones! Here are a couple of sources of bones, fossils, and casts:


These kinds of lists can go on forever. Please do mention any other possibilities in the comments, and maybe they’ll make it into the next edition.

Tangled Bank, etc.

The Tangled Bank

I haven’t been doing much today—I’m afraid I’ve got some bug that had me wrestling with my digestive tract all day yesterday (bad news: it won), sweating and freezing all night, and now today I’m just an exhausted lump. Fortunately, there’s lots of other stuff to read.

Tangled Bank is up at Kete Were. That’ll keep you busy for a while.

Then we’ve got a Teaching Carnival and a Carnival of Education, a Carnival of the Liberals, and a History Carnival. The Skeptics’ Circle is looking for submissions, as is I and the Bird.

I’m going to go huddle in my bed for a while now.

The image of scientists

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Carl Zimmer reviews A Flock of Dodos, and also brings up that worrisome issue, the image of scientists in this country. Cosmic Variance is talking about image, too. Scientists get called “inarticulate”, “high-handed”, “stiff” and “arrogant”. “Arrogant” is terribly unfair as a criticism—a bit of arrogance is a virtue, and is exactly what you need in someone who is going to stick his neck out…and the creationists from Gish to Behe have possessed a superabundance of arrogance themselves.

As for inarticulate, that’s not quite right either. Listen to a talk by a scientist, and while there are many who are wooden, there are also many who are enthusiastic and passionate and funny. I’ve heard Gould and Crick and JZ Young and Ted Bullock and Dawkins and Mike Land talk, and they were terrific; a good science talk is a good story with it’s own rhythms and rules. The problem is that if you put those same speakers in front of a lay audience, the listeners don’t know the language, and the speaker is deprived of a large chunk of their vocabulary. They can charge ahead and speak over the audience and get accused of arrogance, or try to gear down and struggle to explain basic words and concepts that they usually invoke simply by naming, and then they get accused of being inarticulate. Teaching undergraduates is helpful practice, but the majority of our hot, well-known scientists are famous for their research, and typically have light teaching loads. Those of us who do invest a lot of time in explaining things to freshman don’t often have the research clout to warrant the popular speaking invitations.

I sure don’t know where the answer lies. I do know that being a good communicator to people other than your peers or students has just about zero influence on promotion and tenure for scientists. Zimmer mentions the blank stare he got from scientists when ID was brought up, and there’s a good reason for that: it just isn’t an important focus for most of us.

Aggie gossip

I feel like Wonkette: a reader sent along a bit of personal commentary about Deutsch, from someone who knew him at Texas A&M. It’s gossip, nothing more, so take it or leave it.

Well, of course, the Batt [the Aggie school paper, The Battalion] is not the Times, so there was nothing in
today’s issue. However — you will love this! talk about your “Aggie
Network”… — sitting across the hall from me even as I write is a
former editor of said rag.

According to XXXXX this guy “gives Republicans a bad name”. A
friend of hers used to date him. XXXXX called him “a stereotype
Young Republican”, and described him as very over the top; very
“histrionic” in all his reactions. He objected once to a joke told
by a female coworker at the Batt; his reaction was “if you weren’t a
girl, I would smash your face in”.

XXXXX also knows the Nick Anthis mentioned in the article. He is a
Rhodes scholar who also used to work on the Batt. She said she was
not surprised that he would be the one to ferret out this information.

XXXXX can’t believe this. She was invited to, but did not attend,
the Deutsch’s graduation party, which he apparently threw for
himself. She started an email to the current Batt editor as I left
her office.

George Deutsch may have been a jerk, but he was loyal to George W. Bush. That’s got to count for something, right?

(I won’t post just any random scurrilous factoid sent to me, but in this case I know the source and consider it reliable.)

An important question answered

A while back, I asked if Watterson ever did squid. I was informed by Philip Johnson (no, not that Phillip Johnson—this is the one who has not dedicated the declining years of his life to stupidity and evil) that a marvelous thing exists…The Calvin and Hobbes searchable database. You can search an archive of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons by keyword! Sometimes I do love the internets.

He does reference squid a few times (Calvin has a squid eyeball sandwich one day, for instance), but he doesn’t draw them. There are two cartoons with Calvin as an octopus, though.

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Keep your eyes on Ohio today

There could be some new developments. They are reviewing the Intelligent Design creationism nonsense that was inoculated into their curricula a few years ago, and all signs indicate that they are planning to cut the infection out.

A majority of members on the Board of Education of Ohio, the first state to single out evolution for “critical analysis” in science classes more than three years ago, are expected on Tuesday to challenge a model biology lesson plan they consider an excuse to teach the tenets of the disputed theory of intelligent design.

A reversal in Ohio would be the most significant in a series of developments signaling a sea change across the country against intelligent design — which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone — since a federal judge’s ruling in December that teaching the theory in the public schools of Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

The article mentions the usual polls that say the uninformed public favor teaching creationism, but is also notable for including the scathing opinions of scientists and educators.

Besides the Dover decision, the disclosure in December of documents detailing internal discussions of the lesson plan helped revive debate here. Obtained by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a group considering a suit on the plan, the documents show that department scientists and outside experts condemned the lesson as “a lie,” “crackpot,” “religious,” “creationism” and “an insult to science.”

Asked whether the lesson connects skills to the real world, an external reviewer wrote: “Not the real scientific world. The real religious world, yes, the real world based on faith, yes, the real world of fringe thinking, yes!”

Patricia Princehouse, an evolutionary biologist and historian of science who has led the charge against the lesson plan, said, “Basically critical analysis is intelligent design relabeled, just as intelligent design was creationism relabeled.”

Let’s look forward to seeing this new label tossed in the trash bin.

Poor Mikey spent the day under his bed

Michael Behe wasn’t too happy yesterday.

One man who says he isn’t planning to join in the fun on Darwin Day is Michael Behe, the 54-year-old author of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,” a critique whose 10th anniversary edition will be published in March by Simon & Schuster’s Free Press division. Molecular biology is “irreducibly complex,” confounding Darwinism, according to the author.

Of course, the author is wrong. IC is no problem for evolution at all.

“I probably won’t attend” any Darwin Day event anywhere, says Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. “It’s not simply meant to celebrate science or Darwin. It’s an in-your-face exhibition, saying, ‘Look what we have on our side, and you guys who aren’t with us are a bunch of dopes.'”

One more thing he got wrong: it was a celebration of science and Darwin. The one I attended was all about the science.

He was right, though, that the ID crowd is “a bunch of dopes.” I’ve got to give him credit for that.