Friday Cephalopod: Explicit!

Octopus cyanea

You may be wondering what they’re doing. Here’s a hint: that’s a male below, and a female above. Here’s another hint: that’s his specialized third arm, the hectocotyl limb. Third hint: it’s in her oviduct.

If you can’t figure it out yet, look below the fold for an illustration.

Figure from Cephalopods: A World Guide (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), by Mark Norman.

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Maybe we need economic disincentives for creationism…

Remember that ranking of countries by their accommodation to the reality of evolution? Take a look at an economist’s take on the problem: he gets it right.

It turns out that the United States had the second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false — and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true, researchers reported in the current issue of Science. (Only adults in Turkey expressed more doubts on evolution).

What is the penalty for this belief system? Well, you probably won’t get a Science-based job — but that’s about it.

The acceptance of evolution is lower in the United States than in Japan or Europe, largely because of widespread fundamentalism and the politicization of science in the United States.

That — and the lack of any sort of financial or societal disincentive for the belief system. At least so far…

Then take a look at the comments there. All the old creationist crackpottery emerges: evolution is “just a theory,” there is “no evidence,” it’s not “observable and repeatable,” all mixed in with people making reasonable defenses of the idea. What’s most dismal, though, are the people complaining that the blogger shouldn’t even mention evolution, presumably because it draws out all the kooks.

You know, that reluctance to engage the issue is exactly what the creationists want. They can’t win on evidence or logic, but they can harass everyone until they simply automatically recoil at the word “evolution”…and that’s how they win.

Old myths re-examined

Truth is something unearthed gradually, and we have to be prepared to revise our interpretation of it based on the evidence. Several readers have informed me of recent developments that will require us to radically re-evaluate our perspective on the universe.

  • Geocentrism can make a comeback! Since astronomers are arguing about the definition of something as fundamental as a “planet,” that obviously means that all of physics is in disarray, and completely wrong.
  • As long as we’re resurrecting old fables, we might as well get them right this time: clearly, God is a giant squid. There’s even physical evidence.
  • There’s also a mythological tradition in place! I’ve always wanted a solid gold octopus god headdress. With a hat like that, I could probably persuade lots of people to give me money.

I think that settles it: Peru is the center of the universe around which all things revolve, and the creator of that universe is a cephalopod somewhere offshore.

Chris Mooney is crazy for agreeing to do this

He’s planning to debate Jonathan Wells…on Fox radio. I guess we can only hope the host, Alan Colmes, is a little less passive than Flatow was in the Mooney/Bethell debate, but we can guarantee that Wells is as ignorant and foolish as Bethell.

I am going to have to turn my attention soon to Wells’ new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), but for two things: 1) The New Semester! Is! Flying! into my Face! for the next few weeks, and 2) Wells is a tawdry slug of a writer, who just thumps out lie after lie about the state of modern biology, and since he supposedly was trained in developmental biology, he really pisses me off with his poor scholarship.

For example, here’s his description of chapter 3 of his new book (this will look familiar: he’s clearly rehashing his old, much debunked book, Icons of Evolution.)

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Pirates and zombies, oh my

First, the Minnesota zombies invaded the lakes. Then there was some unpleasantness from the police when they took over the mall. Now there’s going to be a zombie pub crawl in Minneapolis on Saturday, September 9. But wait! There’s also going to be a pirate pub crawl on the same day! What to do, what to do…

Actually, my personal dilemma is easily resolved by the date. It is a very bad idea to do a pub crawl the evening before your wife’s birthday. Even if the possibility of a pirate-zombie war tempts you.

(via MNspeak)

Palaeos lost?

Palaeos is gone! There is a brief note about being unable to support it any longer, and then poof, it’s offline. Martin Brazeau has a comment on it’s value; you can still see fragments of this great resource in google’s cache, but even that will fade too soon.

This is troubling, and it’s one of the worrisome aspects of using the net—there’s no sense of permanence. It would be good if someone were to step forward and at least archive all of the pages, but the essential feature of the Palaeos site was that it was continually maintained and updated to reflect current information, and that’s not something that can be supported without the dedication of much time and effort by someone knowledgeable in the subject.

Harris on Collins

I get the impression that Sam Harris didn’t like Francis Collins’ book:

If one wonders how beguiled, self-deceived and carefree in the service of fallacy a scientist can be in the United States in the 21st century, “The Language of God” provides the answer. The only thing that mitigates the harm this book will do to the stature of science in the United States is that it will be mostly read by people for whom science has little stature already. Viewed from abroad, “The Language of God” will be seen as another reason to wonder about the fate of American society. Indeed, it is rare that one sees the thumbprint of historical contingency so visible on the lens of intellectual discourse. This is an American book, attesting to American ignorance, written for Americans who believe that ignorance is stronger than death. Reading it should provoke feelings of collective guilt in any sensitive secularist. We should be ashamed that this book was written in our own time.

Just out of curiousity, has anyone seen a positive review of this book? The closest thing to it I’ve seen is David Klinghoffer’s, which is an interesting example of conflicted evasion: he tries so hard to praise Collins’ piety, but at the same time, Collins rips into ID…and Klinghoffer is a Discovery Institute fellow. His response is to get all soppy about the religion, but at the end to recommend some other book that tangles up religion and science, presumably without any ID bashing.

I’ve said it a few times now: I’m with Harris. Collins’ thinking is very unimpressive and embarrassingly shallow, and yet he’s trading on his reputation as a scientist to evangelize for theological nonsense. Personally, I think he’s setting back the idea of reconciling faith and reason a few centuries—I just don’t see how you can read his tripe without seeing it as clear evidence that religion rots your brain.

Dinosaur lungs


Next time you’re cutting up a fresh bird, try looking for the lungs. They’re about where you’d expect them to be, but they’re nestled up dorsally against the ribs and vertebrae, and they’re surprisingly small. If you think about it, the the thorax of a bird is a fairly rigid box, with that large sternal keel up front and short ribs—it’s a wonder that they are able to get enough air from those tiny organs with relatively little capability for expanding and contracting the chest.

How they do it is an amazing story. Birds have a radically effective respiratory system that works rather differently than ours, with multiple adaptations working together to improve their ability to take in oxygen. There is also a growing body of evidence that dinosaurs also shared many of these adaptations, tightening their link to birds and also making them potentially even more fierce—they were big, they were active, and their lungs were turbocharged.

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