Not only was Grandpa an ape, he spent some time slumming with the chimps

Zimmer has a summary of the new analysis of the human and chimpanzee genomes that suggests that human speciation wasn’t sudden (no surprise there, I don’t think), and that our ancestors dallied with chimpanzee ancestors over a fairly prolonged period. I can’t wait to read the creationist response to that!

I haven’t read the paper yet—I’m still waist-deep in grading hell—but the deadline for grade submission is midnight tonight, and then at last I will be a free man again!

Don’t blame me

Readers, if you have received a copy of America, Return to God sent in my name, it’s not my doing. Someone is apparently putting my name and email address in the order form as the friendly donor sending that crap out, and I’m now getting outraged email from people who are disgusted with it.

It’s kind of heartening, actually, even if I am getting undeserved blame. A lot of people don’t like that Christianist nonsense.

It’s called development, Mr Dembski

I’m going to link to a post on Uncommon Descent. I try to avoid that, because I think it is a vile harbor of malign idiocy, but Dembski has just put up something that I think is merely sincerely ignorant. That’s worth correcting. It also highlights the deficiencies of Dembski’s understanding of biology.

Dembski makes a strange argument for ID on the basis of a certain class of experiments in developmental biology.

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Minnesota lawmakers jump the gun

It’s true: the Minnesota Senate has passed a modification to an education bill that would prohibit the teaching of intelligent design.

16.12 Sec. 4. Minnesota Statutes 2004, section 120B.021, is amended by adding a
16.13 subdivision to read:
16.14 Subd. 2a. Curriculum. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the Department
16.15 of Education, a charter school, and a school district are prohibited from utilizing a
16.16 nonscientifically based curriculum, such as intelligent design, to meet the required science
16.17 academic standards under this section.

This is not a law yet, and I don’t expect it will be. The senate version of the bill has to be reconciled with the house version, and the house version does not include this addendum. It will probably vanish without comment.

I have mixed feelings about it. It’s reasonable to expect that science requirements cannot be met by non-science curricula, and on that principle, the limitation is reasonable. However, I don’t like the idea of politicians with little training in the subject trying to dictate what is and isn’t science. Just say that a course should address the content specified by the state science standards, which were written by a committee of citizen educators and scientists, rather than trying to specify details by way of legal statutes.

Besides, maybe the intelligent design crowd will get off their butts and do experiments and develop evidence that actually makes their wild-ass guess scientific, and then this law would look awfully silly.

(Yeah, I’m smirking cynically and laughing as I write that.)

How octopus suckers work



Whoa, it’s been a while since I’ve said anything about my infatuation with cephalopods (since, like, the last post…). Let’s correct that with a nifty paper I found on octopus suckers.

Here’s a typical view of a tangle of octopus arms, all covered with circular suckers. The octopus can cling to things, grasp prey and other objects with those nifty little discs, and just generally populate people’s nightmares with the idea of all those grappling, clutching, leech-like appendages.

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Great Science Questions

Seed has started this thing they’re calling “Ask a Science Blogger,” in which we’re supposed to take provocative questions and answer them here. You know, like those ice-breaking party games, supposed to get the social bonding thing going, foster unity, etc. Only thing is, they don’t quite get the idea yet—they’re asking the science bloggers to come up with questions to ask the science bloggers. “What’s that?” I say, “why not cut out the middleman and not ask the questions that nobody’s asking that we’re being asked to answer? Saves time.”

That’s too mean-spirited, so let’s turn it around in true weblogging fashion and ask you, the loyal readers, to invent the questions that we’ll ask the bloggers that they might then answer. These will then get passed up the corporate food chain, filtered and processed, and come back down to us in a little game of telephone. You know, you’ll ask some great question like “How does a pycnogonid eat an opisthobranch?” and the question of the week will be “How do pygmies greet the opposite rank?” and we’ll all sit here baffled. It will be great Science.

To prime the pump, here are a few questions that I thought would be fun.

  1. What’s your favorite body part, and where did you get it?
  2. How to address the help: EYE-gor or EEE-gor?
  3. How does science help you in the bedroom?
  4. Mad scientist movies: which ones get it right, and which are a kind of wishful ideal?
  5. What mutation do you wish you had?
  6. …maybe we could hybridize questions 3 and 5…
  7. What music puts you in the mood for a little lab work?
  8. When making chimeras, which manimal is best avoided?

I’m sure you can come up with much better ones. If you don’t feel like asking questions, there’s nothing stopping you from answering them!