Category Archives: Evolution

Disappearing Trick

This is the first bird I’ve seen reacting to a magic trick. I saw an orangutan on Youtube not long ago that seemed to be baffled by a card trick. It puzzles me no end that so many “experts” believed for so long that these intelligent animals were little more than flesh and bone robots, with neither feelings nor thoughts. How ignorant those “experts” were! In case anybody doesn’t get it, it takes intelligence to be fooled by a magic trick.

I think this is a yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), but there are several very similar species and I’m no ornithologist. All of them are magnificent birds. The yellow-crested cockatoo is critically endangered, with the world population estimated to be less than 7,000, because of poaching for the pet trade. However, there has been a feral population in Hong since the early 1940s, consisting now of maybe 200 birds, that appears to be prospering.

There are a variety of interesting videos on Youtube. In the one below, one bird gets turned on by a pretty good Elvis impersonator. The other, not so much.

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Your Microbiome

Microorganisms from a Human Mourh
Microorganisms from a Human Mouth, Magnified About a Zillion Times
How many cells make up your body? It’s actually not all that easy to answer that simple question. But recently, scientists have made a pretty good effort. And their final count is…37.2 trillion.
October 24, 2013

 

You know that your body is made up of cells. Right? But 37 trillion of them! Who could have guessed? And now that we know, what does it really mean? How many is 37 trillion, anyway? And how did they come up with this number in the first place?

Estimate based on volume, and you get only 15 trillion cells; by weight, you get 70 trillion cells. Unfortunately, nobody has actually counted them all yet. (I wonder why?)

They divided the body into parts and estimated the number of cells in each part, from intestines to knees. This works better because cells are packed more densely in some organs than others. There are 100 billion neuron cells in your brain alone. (Interestingly, these neurons each put out a great number of feelers that link up with, on average, the corresponding feelers from 1,000 other neurons. Altogether, your brain contains a staggering 100 trillion circuits with which to compute your thoughts and feelings.)

The smallest cell in the human body is the sperm; the largest, the egg. The ostrich lays the largest egg of any living bird, weighing up to 3.3 lb and measuring up to 7.0 in × 5.5 in; but the largest cell on the planet is probably the egg of the whale shark, measuring up to 11.8 in × 5.5 in × 3.5 in. That’s one big cell!

But I haven’t even mentioned your microbiome yet. That consists of all the single-celled bacteria, archaea, fungi, and protists that live and make their living on and in your body. The generally accepted figure is that there are ten times more microbes living on and in you than there are of your own human cells in your own human body.

Blood Cells
Blood Cells

This is possible because a human cell can easily have 1,000 times the volume of a bacterial cell, for example. Again, nobody ever sat down one afternoon and counted them. It’s an estimate.

So that’s 372 trillion critters crawling, swimming, and otherwise making their ways around your body, or just sitting still. Many of them are essrntial to your own health. A few are harmful and any number of them may be neutral, neither harming or hurting you. There are so many and they are so tiny and hard to study that it’ll be a long, long time before all that gets sorted out.

So how many is 372 trillion? It’s 372,000,000,000,000. If they were minutes into the past, no animal or plant life had evolved on earth yet. Your ancestors and mine were teensy, tiny, single-celled creatures not terribly different from an amoeba.

If these 372 trillion microbes were inches, they’d reach more than half-way across the galaxy. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of bugs! All on you.

Wash your hands before you eat.

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Kakapo Joy

No wonder the kakapo is the most endangered parrot in the world!

The one here trying to copulate with a man’s head is named Sirocco. His species of large, flightless, ground-dwelling, nocturnal parrots endemic to New Zealand is critically endangered because of humans.

After New Zealand broke off from the supercontinent  Gondwana, around 82 million years ago, all the major major predators on it became extinct. Among other creatures that survived was a population of parrots, which eventually evolved into several species, including the kakapo.

There were several species of hawk and an owl that occasionally preyed on the kakapo. but nothing on the ground. Even most of the avian predators are extinct now. The giant Haast’s eagle died out when humans hunted its main prey, the giant moa, to extinction. The moa was another flightless bird looking similar to an overgrown ostrich which could stand up to twelve feet tall, taller than an elephant.

The kakapo was of high value to the Maori, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages beginning about 1250 a.d., bringing with them the rats and other vermin that accompany humans everywhere. They hunted the birds for meat and for their beautiful feathers and sometimes kept them as pets.

Sirocco
Sirocco the Kakapo

Then European settlers came in the seventeenth century, bringing dogs, cats, foxes, ferrets and other beasts that go feral and devour the native fauna and flora. The flightless, ground-nesting birds didn’t have a chance! The imported beasts ate their eggs and chicks and some of them even killed and ate the adult birds.

The Europeans also hunted them for meat and kept
them as pets. One settler wrote that his kakapo’s behavior toward him and his friends was “more like that of a dog than a bird.”

New Zealand has no native non-marine mammals except bats, for the obvious reason that bats flew there and other mammals couldn’t. Why did they? I dunno. Maybe they got lost. Maybe a storm blew them off course from wherever they intended to fly to. Who knows?

Birds often lose the power of flight and grow larger on islands with no predators to escape from, and this is what happened to the kakapo. It’s the largest parrot on earth and accumulates masses of body fat, but it didn’t need to fly until humans came with their vermin. Since there were no predators, it also nested on the ground. Big mistake!

After the Polynesian and European colonizations, the kakapo was almost wiped out. Now, all surviving kakapos are kept on three predator-free islands, where they are closely monitored. Two large islands have been the subject of large-scale ecological restoration to create self-sustaining ecosystems with suitable habitats for the kakapo. As of April 2018, there were 149 known adult kakapos.

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The Great Tree of Life

From VisuallyThe Great Tree of Life.

The “Tree of Life,” which shows relationships among all forms of life to the extent we know them, is no longer a tree. It has taken the form of an arc with many thick branches. On seeing it depicted this way, one is inclined to remember Charles Darwin’s words:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us (the laws of nature).

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On the Origin of Species (First Edition), by Charles Darwin

Happy Birthday, Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins

On this date in 1941, evolutionary biologist and freethought champion Richard Dawkins was born in Nairobi. His father had moved to Kenya from England during the Second World War to join the Allied Forces and the family returned to England in 1949.

Dawkins graduated from Oxford in 1962, earned his doctorate, became assistant professor of zoology at the University of California at Berkeley 1967-1969 and a fellow of New College in 1970.

The Selfish Gene, his first book, published in 1976, became an international bestseller. It and the award-winning Blind Watchmaker were translated into all major languages.

His other books include The Extended Phenotype (1982), River Out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Unweaving the Rainbow (1998) and A Devil’s Chaplain (2003). His 2006 iconoclastic book, The God Delusion, which he wrote with the public hope of turning believing readers into atheists, became a bestseller in both the UK and the U.S.

Dawkins has held the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science since 1995, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997. He is married to actress and artist Lalla Ward, who has illustrated several of his books and other works.

Dawkins has advanced the concept of cultural inheritance or “memes,” also described as “viruses of the mind,” a category into which he places religious belief. He has also advanced the “replicator concept” of evolution.

A passionate atheist, Dawkins has coined the memorable term “faith-heads” to describe certain religionists. Since his remarks in The Guardian (Feb, 6, 1999): “I’m like a pit bull terrier being released into the ring, as a spectator sport, to attack religious people . . .,” Dawkins is now affectionately known as “Darwin’s pit bull.”

Dawkins, a vice president of the British Humanist Association, was named Humanist of the Year in 1999. He is the 1997 winner of the International Cosmos Prize, and received an Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001. His column for The Observer (“Children Must Choose Their own Beliefs,” Dec. 30, 2001) pointed out: “We deliberately set up, and massively subsidise, segregated faith schools (Note: In the UK, where he lives). As if it were not enough that we fasten belief-labels on babies at birth, those badges of mental apartheid are now reinforced and refreshed. In their separate schools, children are separately taught mutually incompatible beliefs.”

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he eloquently warned in a Guardian column, “Religion’s Misguided Missiles” (Sept. 15, 2001): “To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.”

Photo by David Shinbone under CC 3.0

“My respect for the Abrahamic religions went up in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th. The last vestige of respect for the taboo disappeared as I watched the ‘Day of Prayer’ in Washington Cathedral, where people of mutually incompatible faiths united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place: religion. It is time for people of intellect, as opposed to people of faith, to stand up and say ‘Enough!’ Let our tribute to the dead be a new resolve: to respect people for what they individually think, rather than respect groups for what they were collectively brought up to believe.

—-“Time to Stand Up,” written for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Sept. 2001. See Dawkins’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

– See more at: http://ffrf.org/news/day/26/03/freethought/#richard-dawkins

Be wary of this man.

blame I think this may be the guy I wrote about yesterday. Remember? The one who said, “God is watching over us” while eleven people died? Be wary of this man.

I just found this guy’s picture on Facebook and thought I ought to post it here, because you probably know him. If not, you almost certainly know somebody like him.

He’s conservative; he probably votes Republican, though he’ll tell you he’s politically independent; and he thinks the United States is a Christian nation, even though our Constitution never mentions Christ. He loves sinners–well, except maybe faggots and godless, atheistic secular humanists–and wants to save them from themselves and the world from them. He honors the presidency of the United States, but despises our President; and he loves our country so much he wants to tear up the Constitution and establish a theocracy. By force, if necessary.

He’ll tell you climate change is “the biggest fraud ever perpetrated against the American people,” even as we complete the hottest year in the history of climate studies. He’ll lie to your face and claim it’s not true that 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have been since the turn of this century and the other one was 1998. He’ll laugh about the possibility that sea level could rise enough to notice, even while small island nations prepare to be swallowed up by the waves.

He’ll say that “if you tell your kids they came from animals, they’ll act like animals.” Then he’ll claim we were all made out of dirt.

This man is a Fundamentalist. What makes him dangerous is not just that he’s so wrong about so many things, but that he’s absolutely certain he is right about them. Ask him what could potentially shake his faith in his beliefs and he’ll probably answer truthfully, “Absolutely nothing.” He is so certain, in fact, that he wants you to live your life according to the dictates of his conscience.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by men just as certain of their wrong ideas. Iran is ruled by men just as certain of their wrong ideas. North Korea is ruled by a man just as certain of his wrong ideas. America needs leaders who get their ideas and ideals from science and reason and compassion, and who understand they might be wrong about anything they believe and willing to learn better.

Be wary of this man. Be very wary of this man

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Genetics and Evolution Classes Online

What Is Evolution? with Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor and Chair of the Biology Department of Duke University.

Professor Noor is an avid researcher into complex areas of evolution, hybridization, and genetics. He is known for (among other things) helping develop “a model wherein regions of restricted recombination, as by chromosomal inversions, facilitate the persistence of hybridizing species.” In 2008, he was awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London.

He has served as editor for the international journal Evolution and associate editor for several other journals, as well as authoring over 100 publications. He has served as president of the American Genetic Association and Society for the Study of Evolution and as a board member for the Genetics Society of America.

Genetics and Evolution Classes

Noor and his group have also developed laboratory activities for high schools and colleges and a commercial kit for observing natural selection in Drosophila.He  has been active in education and outreach, receiving numerous teaching and mentoring awards from his institution, and more recently teaching online genetics and evolution classes.

This is the first lesson of that course, and it leads directly to the whole series of classes. For people with a desire to understand basic genetics and evolution, watching these videos is an excellent way to learn.


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What Controversy?

http://carbon-comic.com/

No Controversy

The cartoonist notes:

With the heightened political coverage, the ridiculous anti-science popping up in my newsfeed is reaching frustrating levels. Yes, I’m talking about you, Texas.

Do your part in the fight for science literacy and buy a copy of Sounds Sciencey for a friend!

Anyway, keep calm and science on!

Texas is my state. Most of the time, I’m proud  to be a Texan. But I know that Dallas Independent School District and many others are teaching creationism and Intelligent Design in biology classes, I have to hang my head.

No controversy!

There is no controversy among scientists. The controversy is all among politicians and certain religious people. Evolution is real and should be taught in public school biology classes. Creationism and intelligent design are phony and should not be taught. It’s as simple as that?

97% of all scientists accept evolution as the way we and other living things got here, and far more than 99% of scientists working in biological fields. There is no controversy among them!

Women’s rights, too

When I read how our state legislature has restricted women’s reproductive rights in the last couple of years, my head hangs even further. In some ways, we haven’t progressed in the last and 65 years.

Science and women’s rights don’t necessarily go together, but they’re both important. Extremely important! Fellow Texans, we need to build a fire under our governor and our legislature and force them into the 21st-century.

In varying degrees, the same is true of the other states in our country and of our federal government. America can be great again, but not this way.


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