Call for submissions!

Two carnivals under my purview are coming up next week, both on Wednesday, 12 April, so let’s get rolling on bringing in exciting links.

The Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank will be held at Discovering Biology in a Digital World, under the care of Sandra Porter. Send links to interesting science writing to her, to me, or to by Tuesday.


For the first time, I’m going to be hosting the Carnival of the Liberals. The hosting guidelines for this one are interesting: it’s competitive. I’m only going to post what I think are the ten best submissions. You can guess what I like: uncompromising liberalism. Strong words. No apologies. Secularism (Steven Waldman and Amy Sullivan need not bother sending me anything, but that does not preclude Christian contributors). I’ll look especially favorably on anything about science and science policy. Send the links to me by Tuesday to make me happy.

Science guy harshes creationists’ mellow

I’m a Bill Nye fan, so it was good to learn that he’s not reluctant to point out the foolishness of creationists.

The Emmy-winning scientist angered a few audience members when he criticized literal interpretation of the biblical verse Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.”

He pointed out that the sun, the “greater light,” is but one of countless stars and that the “lesser light” is the moon, which really is not a light at all, rather a reflector of light.

A number of audience members left the room at that point, visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence.

“We believe in a God!” exclaimed one woman as she left the room with three young children.

Nye also was critical of what he said was governmental agencies’ lack of action, even lack of understanding, in protecting the Earth from global warming and wasted resources.

My kind of guy. I have to wonder why a fundagelical who is dedicated to a literal interpretation of an old superstition would even bother going to a science talk, though…and please don’t try to tell me that scientists and popularizers have to tread lightly on blatant idiocies.

Why the wingnuts hate Plan B

There has been an oddly evasive struggle going on in Washington DC for the last several years. We have a safe, easy method of emergency contraception that has been turned into a political football, with Republicans playing their usual role of criminally stupid thugs, trying to crush a simple idea: Plan B contraception. It illustrates exactly how the Religious Right is trying to intrude on your private life, and in particular, how they want to control women.

I’ll explain how Plan B works, but to do so I’m going to have to explain some basics of the hormonal control of the menstrual cycle.

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Although, actually, Darwin is literally dead

The Second Edition of the Darwin is Dead carnival is up. I think we can declare that the “Darwin is Dead carnival” is dead now. Orac seems to have had a little problem tallying up the entries, but out of 7 links:

  • Three are satires of ID and creationism.
  • One is a press release from the Discovery Institute.
  • One is more PR from the Institute for Creation Research.
  • One is PR from Answers in Genesis.
  • Precisely one is an actual blog entry from a sincere creationist (who, by the way, thinks “irreducible complexity” is a serious problem for molecular biology, and therefore has demonstrated that he is a clueless goombah), and even that one the carnival host had to go trawling through crap and invite him to submit it.

I’m sorry to say that the selection is pathetic. Try comparing this thing to the Tangled Bank (which has a new edition coming up next week, by the way)—creationists have another reason to be embarrassed.

Christian pigs at the trough…with Hovind’s snout up front

Christian corruption at its finest: here’s a Florida Republican working to give a money-making park a tax exemption.

A biblical theme park in Orlando where guests pay $30 admission to munch on “Goliath” burgers and explore reproductions of 2000-year-old tombs and temples could get a property tax exemption written into state law.

A Senate committee easily passed a bill that would grant theme parks “used to exhibit, illustrate, and interpret biblical manuscripts … ” an exemption from local property taxes, like churches, even though the parks charge money.

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Malacology morning

My wife thought this story about left-handed snails having a competitive advantage, in that they seem to be better able to escape predation by right-handed crabs, was pretty cool. She also recalled that I’d scribbled up something about snail handedness before, so to jump on the bandwagon, I’ve brought those stories over from the old site.

The handedness of snail shells is a consequence of early spiral cleavages in the blastula. It’s a classic old story in developmental biology—everyone ought to know it!

There was also a story last year about shell chirality in Euhadra. There, it wasn’t a matter of predation, but a potential isolating mechanism, and one where mating compatibility and character displacement could play a role.

Everyone can read up on snails while I’m off at class this morning.

Chirality in Euhadra


Since Coturnix turned me on to this paper on snail chirality in PLoS (pdf), I had to sit down and learn something new this afternoon.

Chirality is a fascinating aspect of bilaterian morphology. We have characteristic asymmetries—differences between the left and right sides of our bodies—that are prescribed by genetic factors. Snails are particularly interesting examples because snail shells have an obvious handedness, with either a left-(sinistral) or right-handed (dextral) twist, and that handedness derives from the arrangement of cell divisions very early in development.

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Spiral cleavage


Developmental biologists are acutely interested in asymmetries in development: they are visible cues to some underlying regional differences. For instance, we’d like to know the molecules and interactions involved in taking a seemingly featureless sphere, the egg, and specifying one side to go on to form a head, and the the opposite side to form a tail. We’d like to understand why our back (or dorsal) side looks different from our belly (or ventral) side. One particularly intriguing distinction, though, is the left-right axis. For the most part, left and right are nearly identical, mirror-images of one another, but there are also key asymmetries. Your heart, for instance, is larger on the left side than the right, your liver lies mostly on the right side of your abdomen while the stomach arcs to the left, and these arrangements are essential for normal function. Left-right asymmetries are more subtle than anterior-posterior or dorsal-ventral differences, and that makes them especially fascinating.

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