Rude and foolish Kansans

Kansas Citizens for Science has a troll who brought up a post of mine, and a reader asked for a clarification…so I made two short comments in reply. That prompted a comment here from someone named “Dave”.

Mr. Myers, at Kansas Citizens for Science we are fighting a tough battle to have the present school board replaced.

When you, and Robert Madison who invited you over (and who is an outspoken atheist) link your atheism to science, going beyond anything science can provide, you are playing in to the hands of our opponents.

The primaries here are coming up, and having atheists swarming our site will not, AT PRESENT, be helpful.

Your choice.

Shorter “Dave”: “Shut up, atheists.”

I guess Kansas is in an even more benighted state than I thought. This is a board for activists who want to promote good science teaching, and it’s infested with the likes of Salvador Cordova…yet the contributors they (if “Dave” is actually representative, and I am assured he is not) want to exclude are those who don’t buy into their religion.

He’s wrong.

Having atheists, who are sympathetic to their cause and perfectly willing to offer their expertise, contribute (uh, “swarming” is absurd hyperbole, I think everyone can see) to their site would be helpful, and I know there are freethinkers already working with them. Perhaps “Dave” would like to shoo them away, too? I think that more outspoken atheists are precisely what Kansas needs: rather than hiding them away or demonizing them or asking them to leave, they should be standing up and showing their neighbors that godless people are also decent human beings who may also like Kansas and want what’s best for the state and their children.

I’m afraid that a state that tolerates only good Baptist biologists is just as much a sinkhole of stupidity as one that tolerates only good Baptist anti-biologists. Oh, and I think a statewide organization dedicated to a goal of interest to all citizens that only included the godless would also be a damned dumb thing, too.

Warring sexes

Both Twisty and Amanda seem a bit weirded out by this news that the fetus can be viewed as a kind of parasite. This story has been around long enough that a lot of us just take it for granted—I wrote about the example of preeclampsia a while back.

There are worse feminist-troubling theories out there, though. In particular, there is the idea of intersexual evolutionary conflict and male-induced harm. In species where there is some level of promiscuity, it can be to the male’s evolutionary advantage to compel his mate to a) invest more effort in his immediate progeny, b) increase her short-term reproduction rate, and c) suppress her ability to mate with other males. After all, his optimal strategy is to flit from female to female, copulate, and put her to work producing his offspring. The female’s preferred strategy, on the other hand, is to take her time, maximize her lifetime reproduction rate, and select the best genetic endowment for her children.


This sets up a cycle of counter-adaptations in the population. If a male acquires a mutation that increases his fitness at the expense of his mate’s—for instance, if some component of his semen works on her brain to suppress her interest in remating—it will spread through the population due to its positive effect on male fitness, even though it reduces female fitness. Subsequently, a female who acquired a counter-adaptive resistance to the male’s hormonal sabotage would have an advantage, and that gene would spread through the population, reducing male fitness by making them less capable of controlling female reproduction. Then, of course, males could evolve some other sneaky way of maximizing their reproduction rate—vaginal plugs, secretions that make the mated female unattractive to other males, proteins that put her ovaries into overdrive to produce more eggs now at the expense of the female’s long term survival.

It all sounds improbable and dystopian, but all of these mechanisms and more have been observed in that exceptionally promiscuous species, Drosophila. Drosophila seminal fluid has the property of reducing the female’s interest in remating, increasing her rate of egg-laying, and is also mildly toxic. Artificial selection in the lab can produce females that are resistant to the effects, and males that produce more and more potent semen to overcome their resistance, to the point where the line of “super potent” males, when crossed to unselected females, kill their partners with their ejaculations. There is literally a battle of the sexes in these species.

To speak up in my defense, though, not all males are evil exploitive pigs. The logic of this pattern of sexual competitiveness vanishes as species exhibit greater and greater monogamy—if you have only one mate, it is to your advantage to take good care of him or her, because a loss diminishes your reproductive fitness.

Rice WR (2000) Dangerous Liaisons. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 97(24):12953-12955.

Rice WR (1996) Sexually antagonistic male adaptation triggered by experimental arrest of female evolution. Nature 381(6579):189-90.

I’m in the wrong business

The money is all in the god racket.

Cambridge University cosmologist and mathematician John Barrow was awarded $1.6 million yesterday to do research into whether God is sitting at the control panel behind the Theory of Everything about the universe.

He won the 2006 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, the world’s richest individual scholarly research grant. Its initiator, mutual-fund investor Sir John Templeton, specified that it be worth more than the Nobel Prize (which is worth about $1.5 million) so the media would take it seriously.

…and it’s all for peddling a garbage interpretation of the anthropic principle. I’ve gotta wonder: would it be worth 1.6 million to get a lobotomy?

Timeline: PZ + MG

Call it fate, destiny, synchronicity, or astounding cosmic coincidence, but I have to report a series of highly unlikely events, a whole collection of chance occurrences that, multiplied together, defy reason and point ineluctably to some kind of universal force. These events are spread out over decades, and millions, even billions, of alternatives could have generated a completely different conclusion.

The data are overwhelming.

[Read more…]

I, for one, will welcome our Cyborg Insect overlords

Nah, I thought this has got to be a joke:

The Pentagon’s defence scientists want to create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled to check out explosives and send transmissions.

But no…there is actually a DARPA call for proposals.

DARPA seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-cyborgs, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphoses. The healing processes from one metamorphic stage to the next stage are expected to yield more reliable bio-electromechanical interface to insects, as compared to adhesively bonded systems to adult insects. Once these platforms are integrated, various microsystem payloads can be mounted on the platforms with the goal of controlling insect locomotion, sense local environment, and scavenge power. Multidisciplinary teams of engineers, physicists, and biologists are expected to work together to develop new technologies utilizing insect biology, while developing foundations for the new field of insect cyborg engineering. The HI-MEMS may also serve as vehicles to conduct research to answer basic questions in biology.

The final demonstration goal of the HI-MEMS program is the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located at hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system (GPS). Although flying insects are of great interest (e.g. moths and dragonflies), hopping and swimming insects could also meet final demonstration goals. In conjunction with delivery, the insect must remain stationary either indefinitely or until otherwise instructed. The insect-cyborg must also be able to transmit data from DOD relevant sensors, yielding information about the local environment. These sensors can include gas sensors, microphones, video, etc.

Although the idea of having a remote controlled dragonfly is very cool, I am very pessimistic, and have to dash a little cold water on the plan.

[Read more…]

Juravenator starki


Juravenator starki is a new small theropod dinosaur from the late Jurassic—the specimen is exceptionally well-preserved, and retains fossilized imprints of its skin. The surprising thing about it is that its anatomy puts it smack in the middle of a large clade of coelurosaurs, members of which are known to have feathers…and its skin is bare and scaly. What it suggests is that feather evolution was complicated (no surprise there, actually), and that some lineages secondarily lost their feathery covering, or that there were seasonal or age-related or regional variations in feather expression.

More pictures are below the fold—this really is a very pretty specimen.

[Read more…]