News From Around The Blogosphere 12.29.09

December 29, 2009

1. Some of the biggest science stories of the year – Steve Novella briefly discusses Ardipithecus, Darwinius masillae, the Large Hadron Collider, water on the moon, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and methane on Mars.

2. Scientists working on making Star Trek’s synthehol a reality - According to controversial neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt, soon people may be drinking a non-addictive alcohol substitute that allows drinkers to experience the effects of alcohol while having the means to “switch off” those effects by taking a pill.

3. What the Illinois gobernatorial candidates think of Evolution – Wow, this is depressing. Despite no mention of religion in the question, all but one found it necessary to reference their religious views. What the hell does that have to do with accepting basic scientific facts? And Dan Hynes, the one that didn’t mention religion and answered with a clear, concise, unambiguous ““I accept the theory of evolution,” is also the only candidate who supports marriage equality. Unless Hynes wins it, it looks like Illinois is doomed with either an idiot religious wackjob or a chickenshit religious panderer for the next couple of years.

4. Molars further elaborate on ape-to-human evolution -

The timing of molar emergence and its relation to growth and reproduction in apes is being reported by two scientists at Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins in the Dec. 28 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

5. Cockroaches inspire future robot design -

The sight of a cockroach scurrying for cover may be nauseating, but the insect is also a biological and engineering marvel, and is providing researchers at Oregon State University with what they call “bioinspiration” in a quest to build the world’s first legged robot that is capable of running effortlessly over rough terrain.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.23.09

December 24, 2009

1. Mississippi named most religious state – The latest Pew Forum study showing the religious demographics of each state found Mississippi to be the most religous with 82% of the population. Apparently, it placed number one in worship attendence, frequency of prayer, and belief in god. My own home state of New Jersey was fortunately way down the list at #30, though I wish it were dead last at #46 (because of several ties), an honor that was reserved for both Vermont and New Hampshire. So congratulations to Vermont and New Hampshire for being the most godless states in the union! You guys rock!

Yes, I know these aren't chimps

2. Chimps have near-human understanding of fire -

The use and control of fire are behavioral characteristics that distinguish humans from other animals. Now, a new study by Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz reports that savanna chimpanzees in Senegal have a near human understanding of wildfires and change their behavior in anticipation of the fire’s movement.

3. Top 10 scams of 2009 - All I can say is that this should be required viewing for everyone. Click the link.

4. Illinois comptroller candidate vandalizes atheist sign – Now granted, I don’t much care for the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) sign either. I believe it’s the same message verbatim that they used in Olympia, Washington last year that I thought was way too divisive for its public venue. But conservative candidate William J. Kelly has now violated the law and arguably has committed a hate crime by diliberately trying to turn the atheist sign in the Illinois Capitol building in Springfield upside down in protest. He was quite public about his desire to have it taken down prior to this, which makes it a premeditated action. Upon seeing him in the process of trying to pull off his stunt, police escorted him away.

Dan Parker of the FFRF knocked it out of the park with his response:

“We atheists believe that the nativity scene is mocking humanity,” by suggesting that those who do not believe in Jesus will go to hell, Barker said. “But notice that we are not defacing or stealing nativity scenes because we disagree with their speech.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.13.09

December 13, 2009

1. Ray Comfort caught plagiarizing Origin of Species intro – I was reluctant to even bother reporting this story because it was about as irrelevant as that unauthorized use of Imagine in Expelled. I mean there are just so many better things to focus our criticisms on than the fact that the only part Comfort actually contributed his own original content too was not even original. But once PZ Myers decided to report it, I figured I might as well too. It turns out that Comfort stole the first three pages from an essay by University of Tennessee professor Stan Guffey. Also note that those were only part of the Comfort introduction that wasn’t idiotic, tired, and long-refuted creationist nonsense. Guffey is considering legal action.

2. Study finds monkeys have syntax -

A study carried out in Ivory Coast has shown that monkeys of a certain forest-dwelling species called Campbell’s monkeys emit six types of alert calls. The primates combine these calls into long vocal sequences which allow them to convey messages about social cohesion or various dangers, including predation.

3. Christopher Hitchens tells the real story of Christmas

4.  Engineered Bacteria Turn CO2 Into Fuel -

In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

5. French justice minister tells Muslim men who force their wives to wear burqas that they’re not welcome in France – That is freakin’ awesome. Why can’t we have people like this running our country. Thatwoman, Michele Alliot-Marie, deserves some kind of metal.

‘The wearing of the niqab or burkha is a problem that affects our ability to live together, the values of the republic and in particular human dignity.

‘For instance, someone who would be seeking French citizenship and whose wife wears the full veil is someone who would not appear to be sharing the values of our country.

‘Therefore in a case like that one, we would reject his request.’

You oppress women and you’re not welcome in our country. Sounds like the height of rationality to me.

6. Atheists save the world against the virus of religion in Marvel comic books -

In an issue of The List: Wolverine, the heroes Fantomex (a genetically engineered supersoldier) and Captain Marvel are faced with an army of zombie-like creatures, people who have been infected with an evil virus that can only take over your mind if you believe in some sort of god. So they swing into action, safe from the infection, because neither one believes in gods.

News From Around The Blogosphere 11.16.09

November 17, 2009

1. Mutant genes ‘key to long life’ -

There is a clear link between living to 100 and inheriting a hyperactive version of an enzyme that prevents cells from ageing, researchers say.

Scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US say centenarian Ashkenazi Jews have this mutant gene.

They found that 86 very old people and their children had higher levels of telomerase which protects the DNA.

They say it may be possible to produce drugs that stimulate the enzyme.

2. Atheist billboard goes up in San Diego – It’s gotten some great publicity here and in this CNN video. As always, there’s someone in the video claiming that the billboard is attacking people, which perfectly illustrates the level of delusion we’re dealing with here as the ad simply says, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

3. Right-Handed Chimps: Clues to Language Origin -

Most of the linguistic functions in humans are controlled by the left cerebral hemisphere. A study of captive chimpanzees at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center (Atlanta, Georgia), reported in the January 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex, suggests that this “hemispheric lateralization” for language may have its evolutionary roots in the gestural communication of our common ancestors. A large majority of the chimpanzees in the study showed a significant bias towards right-handed gestures when communicating, which may reflect a similar dominance of the left hemisphere for communication in chimpanzees as that seen for language functions in humans.

4. Westboro Baptist Church shifts focus from gay-bashing to Jew-bashing – Why do I continue to report the antics of these media whores when I know all they care about is getting attention? Because they are my favorite religion ever. They illustrate what is wrong with religion perfectly and get called lunatics by mainstream religious folks despite the fact that they share nearly identical positions. The only difference between Pat Robertson and the WBC is that says gays are evil on TV before an audience of millions while the WBC has to get creative in order to get their audiences.

The shirts read, "I'm not with stupid."


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.14.09

October 15, 2009

1. Actimel yogurt commercial banned – The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK banned the commercial for false advertising. They claimed the product supported children’s natural defenses against disease. . .which it doesn’t!

2. Monkeys recognize realistic vs. unrealistic depictions of themselves -

Monkeys are freaked out by almost-but-not-quite-real depictions of themselves. That tendency is well documented in humans, but has never before been seen in another species.

To test their preference, researchers showed macaque monkeys real pictures, digital caricatures and realistic reconstructions of other monkey faces. To the latter, the macaques repeatedly averted their eyes.

3. Chimpanzees Help On Request But Not Voluntarily -

The evolution of altruism has long puzzled researchers and has mainly been explained previously from ultimate perspectives—”I will help you now because I expect there to be some long-term benefit to me”. However, a new study by researchers at the Primate Research Institute (PRI) and the Wildlife Research Center (WRC) of Kyoto University shows that chimpanzees altruistically help conspecifics, even in the absence of direct personal gain or immediate reciprocation, although the chimpanzees were much more likely to help each other upon request than voluntarily.

4. Simon Singh updates us on his legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association:

This Week In Evolution 9.25.09

September 25, 2009

1. The oldest bird has been discovered – Previously, Archaeopteryx has been the oldest transitional species between dinosaurs and birds that we’d found. That was 150 million years old. But now we’ve discovered Anchiornis huxleyi:

Anchiornis huxleyi – which dates from 161-151 million years ago, is in the line that likely led to birds, and is feathered but more primitive than Archaeopteryx.

That’s 161,994,000-151,994,000 years before the existence of the whole universe, according to Young Earth Creationists.

2. Whale, Dolphin Evolution: Origin Of Cetaceans -

When the ancestors of living cetaceans—whales, dolphins and porpoises—first dipped their toes into water, a series of evolutionary changes were sparked that ultimately nestled these swimming mammals into the larger hoofed animal group. But what happened first, a change from a plant-based diet to a carnivorous diet, or the loss of their ability to walk?

A new paper published this week in PLoS ONE resolves this debate using a massive data set of the morphology, behavior, and genetics of living and fossil relatives. Cetacean ancestors probably moved into water before changing their diet (and their teeth) to include carnivory; Indohyus, a 48-million year-old semi-aquatic herbivore, and hippos fall closest to cetaceans when the evolutionary relationships of the larger group are reconstructed.

3. Ghostshark with genitals on its head discovered – DAMN! For the last time, I ordered sharks with FREAKIN’ lazer beams attached to their heads. What am I supposed to do with a shark with a penis on its head?

News From Around The Blogosphere 9.3.09

September 3, 2009

1. Israel’s richest woman now claiming to be psychic – Businesswoman Shari Arison, who’s worth $2.7 billion, is claiming she can see the future. But I actually think this is a case where she actually believes she can see the future. Here’s why:

Armed with the insight gained through work with Florida-based psychiatrist Brian Weiss, a proponent of regression therapy and the exploration of (take your pick) deep memories or past lives, she says she is ready to go public with her visions and bring together her spiritual and business goals.

Yup, you talk to some wacky past life regression guru and the next thing you know, they get you believing that your own thoughts are messages from the future. I tell ya, if I had a nickel for every time. . .

2. Ben Stein, fresh off of his being fired by the NY Times, calls gay people pedofiles:

We have … an entire party, the Democrats, whose primary constituency, besides the teachers’ unions, is homosexual men and lesbian women. I hope it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that a big part of male homosexual behavior is interest in young boys.

And hope it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that a Ben Stein holds such ignorant views on gay people. C’mon Ben. It’s 2009. You’re not fooling anyone. It’ll be okay. Just come out of the closet, Ben.

3. Iranian leaders trying to get rid of social sciences -

Ayatollah Khamenei said this week that the study of social sciences “promotes doubts and uncertainty.” He urged “ardent defenders of Islam” to review the human sciences that are taught in Iran’s universities and that he said “promote secularism,” according to Iranian news services.

“Many of the humanities and liberal arts are based on philosophies whose foundations are materialism and disbelief in godly and Islamic teachings,” Ayatollah Khamenei said at a gathering of university students and professors on Sunday, according to IRNA, the state news agency. Teaching those “sciences leads to the loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge.”

4. Weight Watchers is in bed with Jenny McCarthy – This can only mean one thing. I won’t be discouraging people from buying Weight Watchers.

monkey-thinking5. Chimpanzees Use ‘Tool Kits’ To Catch Ants -

Chimpanzees in the Congo have developed specialised ‘tool kits’ to forage for army ants, reveals new research published today in the American Journal of Primatology. This not only provides the first direct evidence of multiple tool use in this context, but suggests that chimpanzees have developed a ‘sustainable’ way of harvesting food.

6. Eyeless, fanged crustacean found -

“A species of crustacean with no eyes and venom-injecting fangs has been discovered in an underwater volcanic cave in the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa.”

That is so freakin’ cool! That’s the most interesting fauna I’ve heard about in a while. It’s been named Speleonectes atlantida.

Today in Evolution 6.18.09

June 18, 2009

New research suggests that humans most likely share a common ancestor with orangutans and that we’re more related to orangutans than chimps:

Reporting in the June 18 edition of the Journal of Biogeography, the researchers reject as “problematic” the popular suggestion, based on DNA analysis, that humans are most closely related to chimpanzees, which they maintain is not supported by fossil evidence.

Also, scientists have found even more evidence that validates what we already knew that modern birds descended from dinosaurs:

Scientists have discovered a unique beaked, plant-eating dinosaur in China. The finding, they say, demonstrates that theropod, or bird-footed, dinosaurs were more ecologically diverse in the Jurassic period than previously thought, and offers important evidence about how the three-fingered hand of birds evolved from the hand of dinosaurs.

. . .

“This new animal is fascinating, and when placed into an evolutionary context it offers intriguing evidence about how the hand of birds evolved,” said scientist James Clark of George Washington University.

Monkey adopts kitten

June 16, 2009

This week in science 6.7.09

June 6, 2009

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyThis is going to just be a quick news dumb as I’m tired and need some sleep:

First up, researchers from University of New South Wales (UNSW) have successfully used stem cells cultured on a contact lens to restore sight to those suffering from blinding corneal disease:

The research team from UNSW’s School of Medical Sciences harvested stem cells from patients’ own eyes to rehabilitate the damaged cornea. The stem cells were cultured on a common therapeutic contact lens which was then placed onto the damaged cornea for 10 days, during which the cells were able to re-colonise the damaged eye surface.

And my second item is about young apes, which have shown to respond with similar reactions as human infants when tickled:

“This study is the first phylogenetic test of the evolutionary continuity of a human emotional expression,” said Marina Davila Ross of the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. “It supports the idea that there is laughter in apes.”

The researchers analyzed the recorded sounds of tickle-induced vocalizations produced by infant and juvenile orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos, as well as those of human infants. A quantitative phylogenetic analysis of those acoustic data found that the best “tree” to represent the evolutionary relationships among those sounds matched the known evolutionary relationships among the five species based on genetics. The researchers said that the findings support a common evolutionary origin for the human and ape tickle-induced expressions.

They also show that laughter evolved gradually over the last 10 to 16 million years of primate evolutionary history. But human laughter is nonetheless acoustically distinct from that of great apes and reached that state through an evident exaggeration of pre-existing acoustic features after the hominin separation from ancestors shared with bonobos and chimps, about 4.5 to 6 million years ago, Davila Ross says.

This is of course another epic fail for creationists, especially for Young Earth Creationists.


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