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Enceladus Eruptions Caught on Camera

Enceladus, one of the small icy moons of Saturn, is undergoing eruptive activity right now.  Evidence from previous flybys has now been corroborated visually in stunning images that made the lead stories on NASA, JPL and Cassini.  Amateur enthusiasts were already expressing excitement at the images before the announcement (see Unmanned Spaceflight).  The complete set […]

Genes Attack the Trees

Evolutionary tree-building (11/14/2005) is a tangled business.  Now that scientists can compare genomes of diverse animals, they can compare the resulting molecular evolutionary trees with traditional ones – those produced by inferring relationships based on outward (morphological) characteristics of living or fossil organisms.  What happens when the trees don’t match?     Two recent studies, […]

Nature Cover Exploits Intelligent Design While Inside Attacks It

The 11/24 issue of Nature included two very caustic letters attacking intelligent design, yet its cover story highlighted the promising new field of Synthetic Biology.  In one of the leading papers,1 David Sprinzak and Michael B. Elowiz of Caltech (see 06/25/2005 entry) described the synthetic approach in terms reminiscent of William Paley’s old Divine Watchmaker: […]

Eyesight: More Reasons to Be Thankful

So much is going on in your body when you look at that sliced turkey and raise it to your salivating mouth, a human mind can only fathom bits and pieces of the story.  Everyone knows the eye is the quintessential example of a complex organ, but Current Biology1 focused on one of the wonders […]

On the Origin of Hee-Hees by Natural Selection

From slime to smile in 200 million years: some Darwinists feel they have explained the evolution of laughter.  In all seriousness, EurekAlert announced, “The first laugh: New study posits evolutionary origins of two distinct types of laughter.”  The story is about a new hypothesis by Matthew Gervais and David Sloan Wilson.  The origin of comedy, […]

The Rhetoric of Mockery

Some recent stories illustrate that human rhetoric has evolved from sophistry to philosophy – then back again.  (In ancient Greece, sophistry was criticized of being nothing more than the art of making your opponent look foolish.  Socrates, among others, questioned the value of such exercises and tried to elevate rhetoric to higher purposes.)  The rise […]

Catholic Astronomer Takes On the Pope, and Other ID Battles

Right after Pope Benedict XVI essentially affirmed intelligent design (11/10/2005), his court astronomer rejected it.  The Rev. George Coyne, Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, sounded like he was reading the NCSE playbook: “Intelligent design isn’t science even though it pretends to be…. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be […]

Eyes on the Prize: Science Sees Gold in Biomimetics

A fly eye made the cover of Science this week.1  It’s not that the compound eye is interesting to entomologists; MSNBC News picked up on the real message: “Animal eyes inspire new technology – Researchers learn optics lessons from biology.”  The cover story is about biomimetics, or reverse-engineering nature.  Scientists are looking for ways to […]

Butterflies Invented LEDs First

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) were a prized invention of physicists, improved greatly in 2001, but now we find butterflies invented them first.  We already knew that butterfly wings achieve their shimmering iridescence by means of photonic crystals (01/29/2003), as do some birds (10/13/2003), but now it appears that the butterflies have even more exotic tricks up […]

A New Way to Make Stars, Or One Old Way Discredited?

Several news sources sounded a rather triumphant note that astronomers are figuring out how stars form.  In actuality, the paper by Krumholz, McKee and Klein in Nature1 did more to discredit a competitive theory than to establish their own.  That competitive theory, ironically, is called “competitive accretion” and posits that clumps of material add up […]

SETI: Search for Educational Targets Inc.

SETI may be the laughingstock of Congress, refused funding since William Proxmire gave it his Golden Fleece Award in the 1980s, but privately it is moving apace.  The Science Channel gave it prominence in its weekly report Friday, visiting with pioneering signaler and listener Frank Drake.  It surveyed everything from the first humble attempts to […]

Darwin Lovers Unite Against ID

Pictures of Darwin looking like a wise guru draped in white hair seem to adorn many articles attacking intelligent design.  With 2009 being the Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of The Origin, Bruce H. Weber in Nature remarked, “Impending anniversaries and the trial over ‘intelligent design’ make this a good time to revisit […]

Winter Plant’s Thermostat Keeps It Cozy As a Skunk

Skunk cabbage.  Pew.  Do you like the meditative name “Zen plant” better?  Well, meditate on how this amazing plant keeps warm while it emerges through the last snows of winter.  Skunk cabbage is one of two plants known to regulate its body temperature.  Science Now reported on research by Japanese scientists who studied its thermostat.  […]

Does Gene Expression Evolve?

“Mutation is the ultimate source of biological diversity because it generates the variation that fuels evolution,” wrote four scientists in Nature November 10.1  Conventionally, theorists have focused on gene mutations for that fuel; what about mutations to gene expression?  That’s what they set out to discover.     One would think that positive natural selection […]
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