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Cretaceous Temperature Estimates Point Out Flaws in Climate Models

Nature1 this week described evidence for high temperatures in the Arctic during the Cretaceous that it termed “astounding.”  Based on work by Jenkins et al. that Arctic waters were 15°C, as warm as modern coastal waters off France and Maryland. For a region blanketed in darkness for half of the year, the Arctic Ocean was […]

Introducing the Stretch & Squish Theory of Evolution

Evolution is too slow if theorists rely on single point mutations, say two biologists from U. of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who published their ideas in PNAS1 (see summary on EurekAlert).  Instead, evolution proceeds by rapidly distorting, stretching and squishing what is already there, they claim.     They claim that even Darwin knew that […]

Was Darwin Wrong?

One would think National Geographic wants to know, judging from the cover of the November 2004 issue: “Was Darwin Wrong?”  A reader might think the magazine editors, in light of the controversy about evolution sweeping the country, thought it would be timely to engage in a scientific debate about Darwin’s 19th-century theory.  The reader might […]

How a Darwinist Explains “Living Fossils”

Darwinism is a flexible concept that must embrace a wide variety of observations, from apparently fast-evolving plants (see 10/12/2004 item on maize) to organisms that seem to remain unevolved for eons.2  Darwin himself saw this flexibility as a strength for his unifying concept of common descent; others criticized it as rationalization (i.e., a concept that […]

News Nuggets

Here’s a collection of news items that deserve quick notice: Mars Rumbles:  Mars still has minor earthquakes, says Space.com, That’s without plate tectonics, “But scientists don’t know exactly how Mars is constructed.”  The Mars Exploration Rovers, meanwhile, awaking from a winter’s nap, are still gathering science data long past their expected lifetime.  Evidence for past […]

Inferring Dinosaur Family Life from Bones

Observation: a jumble of dinosaur bones in China.  Conclusion: some dinosaurs showed tender loving care to their young.  This is the gist of a paper in Nature this week (Sept. 9),1 reported also on Nature Science Update.     Discerning behavior from bones is an art, but these bones of 34 psittacosaurs from Liaoning, China […]

Classifying Eukaryotes Easier than Evolving Them

If you like stories with surprise endings, check out an otherwise boring paper by two Canadian evolutionary biologists, Alistair G. B. Simpson and Andrew A. Roger, in the Sept. 7 issue of Current Biology.1  Their subject is the real “kingdoms” of eukaryotes (that’s all creatures with nuclei, including plants, animals, and a host of single-celled […]

Genes Fail to Reveal Evolutionary Pattern in European Mammals

One would think an examination of DNA from fossils would track the animal’s geographical distribution as they evolved.  However, a study reported in PNAS1 failed to find any correlation in European mammals after the last glaciation.  Hofreiter et al. report: Here, we analyze mtDNA sequences from cave bears, brown bears, cave hyenas, and Neandertals in […]

Extinctions Too Complex for Simple Stories

Impact theories of extinction are fighting for their own survival.  A commentary in PNAS1 warns that extinction theories are more complex than can be handled by a single event, like a meteor impact.  At best, they might be invoked as the coup-de-grace in a series of situations.  Hermann Pfefferkorn reveals the complexities in the Permian […]

Watch This Space:  What, and When, Was the Ediacaran Biota?

Evolutionary paleontologists are understandably very interested in the Ediacaran period (recently added to the geologic column) because, to them, it incorporates “the most ancient complex organisms on Earth.”  As classified, this Precambrian period (dated 580 to 543 million years old) precedes the Cambrian explosion by some 20 million years, yet “remains one of the greatest […]

Plants Found Two Miles Under Greenland Ice

According to a press release from University of Colorado,1 remnants of pine needles, bark and grass have been pulled up in an ice core from two miles under the Greenland ice sheet, between the bottom of the ice sheet and bedrock.  This is the first time plant material has been found under the Greenland ice, […]

So Is Archaeopteryx a Transitional Form, Or Not?

An international team set out to determine if the skull features of Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil bird, indicated whether it was capable of flight.  The answer reported in Nature1 was affirmative: Here we show the reconstruction of the braincase from which we derived endocasts of the brain and inner ear.  These suggest that Archaeopteryx closely […]

Worms Didn’t Evolve for 520 Million Years

J.Y. Chen and team in China have found another Cambrian fossil that exhibits zero evolution for nearly the entire history of life.  The abstract from the Royal Society Proceedings: Biological Sciences1 reports the discovery of three kinds of sipunculan worm near the base of the Cambrian, which all “have striking similarities to modern sipunculans.”  These […]

Cambrian Explosion Explained, or Explained Away?

James Valentine, an authority on early fossils, has just published a new 600-page book on the Cambrian explosion with the Darwinesque title, On the Origin of Phyla (U. of Chicago Press, 2004).  Stefan Bengtson (Swedish Museum of Natural History) reviewed it in the July 29 issue of Nature.1  He points out that “Darwin wisely called […]

New Book Reveals China’s Cambrian Explosion

Nature July 221 has a book review about the first volume in English of the Chengjiang biota of China, where tens of thousands of soft-bodied organisms are preserved in early Cambrian strata.  The book, The Cambrian Fossils of Chengjiang, China: The Flowering of Early Animal Life by Xian-Guang Hou et al., is praised by reviewer […]
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