Miss Prism has a brilliant idea

You all recall the Beagle Project that I recently mentioned was trying to raise money to reconstruct the Beagle and sail off to Patagonia (with me hiding belowdecks, of course). Miss Prism had a terrific idea: she’s knitting a Darwin puppet that she’ll sell off to some lucky commenter on Darwin’s birthday, with all the proceeds sent off to build the Beagle.

I should get in on this, although I have no talent for knitting. Any suggestions? Is there some little personal Pharyngula tchotchke I could convince people to bid on, knowing that their pennies would go to the construction of a boat? I was thinking that one possibility would be to draw a cartoon about the lovable character, Squidbert, and get the Dilbonians lining up to buy it so they could put it on the web for mocking/savaging purposes (since I have no talent for cartooning, either, that would be easy to do.) It seems a little unfair to give those baying hounds a bit of red meat to sate their appetites, when others here are more deserving of reward. Make suggestions, and I’ll see what I can do.

The Beagle Project

Here’s a sweet idea: rebuild Darwin’s ship, the Beagle in time for the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth in 2009 (and also the 150 year mark for publication of the Origin).

2009 is the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, an event which will be celebrated throughout the world. The Beagle Project will rebuild a working replica of HMS Beagle in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, Wales. It will provide the striking icon of Darwin’s achievement around which the celebrations will coalesce, and which is already attracting the attention of TV and film companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The replica Beagle will recreate the 1831-36 circumnavigation with international crews of aspiring young scientists aboard, following the same course and making similar landfalls to those made by HMS Beagle when Darwin was aboard. The crew will take part in modern sampling, observation and experiments in a range of disciplines: biology, geology, oceanography, physics and meteorology. Their work will be followed in labs and classrooms worldwide through an interactive website. They will also compare the climate and wildlife observations made by Darwin and the crew of the Beagle in the 1830s with conditions today.

They’ve got plans, they’re looking for support, and of course they have a blog.

This is your body on religion

Religious ritual can make you very, very sick, and even kill you. This somewhat morbid, mildly gross, and terribly sad story about the Essenes, the religious zealots who authored the Dead Sea scrolls, is an interesting anthropological look at an ancient failed cult.

It seems that their requirements for dealing with their own waste were mistakenly ineffective. They excreted into pits that protected parasites, which they would then carry back…and before they could return to the group, they had to bathe by total immersion in a cistern, which meant they’d basically soak in each other’s infestations.

The ritual cleansing “is a total immersion, which means that it gets in your ears, in your eyes and in your mouth,” Zias said. “It is not hard to imagine how sick everyone must have been.”

The sickness is reflected in the Qumran cemetery, which had been partially excavated previously.

“The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years,” Zias said.

Fewer than 6% of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the men lived beyond age 40.

Bleh. I think I need to take a shower.

There is a kind of metaphor here, though—this is what you get when you seek religious purity.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design: Chapter 3: Simply incorrect embryology

This article is part of a series of critiques of Jonathan Wells’ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design that will be appearing at the Panda’s Thumb over the course of the next week or so. Previously, I’d dissected the summary of chapter 3. This is a longer criticism of the whole of the chapter, which is purportedly a critique of evo-devo.

Jonathan Wells is a titular developmental biologist, so you’d expect he’d at least get something right in his chapter on development and evolution in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, but no: he instead uses his nominal knowledge of a complex field to muddle up the issues and misuse the data to generate a spurious impression of a science that is unaware of basic issues. He ping-pongs back and forth in a remarkably incoherent fashion, but that incoherence is central to his argument: he wants to leave the reader so baffled about the facts of embryology that they’ll throw up their hands and decide development is all wrong.

Do not be misled. The state of Jonathan Wells’ brain is in no way the state of the modern fields of molecular genetics, developmental biology, and evo-devo.

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