Here’s a backlog of assorted news stories worth noting before moving on to the big stories for the new month of May.
- PhysOrg, which makes the snake the hero of the story. It wins by saying, “or: Snakes … may well have given bipedal hominins, already equipped with a non-human primate communication system, the evolutionary nudge to point to communicate for social good, a critical step toward the evolution of language, and all that followed.” Why mice did not develop language and all that followed to avoid being bitten is left as an exercise.
- Evolving molecules. Studying evolution by observing finches at the Galapagos is hard work, so Sarah Voytek found an easier way. She lets molecules evolve in a test tube in the comfort of her lab at Scripps Institute. Really. She gets molecules to evolve by natural selection, competing for resources, just like Darwin’s finches. How this contrived situation with fake “food” being supplied by the investigator to non-living material could say anything about the origin of species is not quite clear, but Gerald Joyce, her advisor, was pleased. Read about it on Science Daily.
- Grounded pterosaurs: National Geographic news found a Japanese scientist who thinks giant pterosaurs couldn’t fly, because the takeoff and flapping muscles required would have defied the laws of physics. Why these giant beasts went to the trouble to evolve useless wings was left unexplained.
- Evolution inaction: Robert Roy Britt is using the current swine flu epidemic to plug Darwin and punch Darwin doubters. Swine flu is evolution in action, he said on Live Science. He even got a Darwinist to agree: “Yes, this is definitely evolution.” If this bolsters Darwin’s Origin of Species, Britt didn’t seem to notice that we still call it influenza after all these years. Terry Trainor at Talk About Origins considers Britt’s article another case of misrepresenting creationism.
- Thank a comet: Prof. Bar-Nun thinks comets contain the key ingredients for life, according to a story in Science Daily. A pinch of argon, a dash of xenon, under the full moon, and he has solved an other-worldly puzzle. “The story started between 4.6 and 3.8 billion years ago, when both the moon and the Earth were bombarded by a flux of asteroids and comets.” It’s simple: comets slammed into earth bearing their life-giving cargo, “which eventually were dissolved in the ocean and started the long process leading to the emergence of life on Earth,” he said. They became more complex over time, and here we are. We got our ingredients by special delivery, Bar None.
- A messenger from Mercury: The May 1 issue of Science had a special series of articles on Mercury, presenting the latest ideas from the first two flybys of the MESSENGER spacecraft. Science Daily summarized one of the papers about Mercury’s crust. Planetary scientists now believe that, because of all the smooth plains covering 40% of the surface, Mercury experienced much more volcanism than the moon early in its history. See also the Astronomy Picture of the Day for May 4.
- Nothing to show for a decade of work: SETI@Home is celebrating its tenth anniversary. This distributed-processing search for intelligent alien signals utilizes spare CPU cycles from a million users’ PCs. The article on PhysOrg had good news and bad news. Bad news: no signal has been found. Good news: the technology for finding nothing is getting better.
- Dino-mite: Most dinosaur hunters use fine brushes and instruments to extract their prey. Researchers at Dinosaur National Park, however, are having a blast. Science Daily said that sometimes more force is required to extract the precious bones, so they called in some dynamite experts. “Without their talents, scientifically important fossils would have remained locked underground in their stony mausoleum,” the article explained. But will it take more work to reassemble thousands of bits of debris?
The bones will apparently survive intact; after all, Science Daily also reported that some dinosaurs apparently survived a planet-extinction blast from the past. This is kind of a twist on the creationist claim that dinosaurs survived the Flood. In the evolutionary scenario, “we already know that flying theropod dinosaurs (more generally referred to as birds) and crocodiles survived, so the possibility of pockets of survivors of other types of dinosaur is not quite as far fetched as it might sound.” Now you have a choice of far-fetched beliefs. Of course, believing that humans and dinosaurs co-existed “still belongs firmly in the realms of pure fantasy,” the article said. You can trust Science Daily, can’t you? (see bullets 2, 5).
- Powers of darkness: What is dark energy? asked Clara Moskowitz on Space.com. The upshot: we don’t know, because it’s dark. What we do know is that it shook up a lot of astronomers and made some of them believe in alternate universes, which they also cannot see. Maybe it’s something sci-fi, like anti-gravity. If the expansion slows, it might let multiverse proponents argue that our universe must be pushing against another. “Maybe that’s why our universe is so peculiar,” ended Moskowitz, invoking a very apropos word for the occasion.
- Galaxy youngsters: Some galaxies are “oddly young,” Clara Moskowitz reported in another article on Space.com. John Salzer, astronomer who conducted the survey, was dumbfounded. “It’s just hard for me to fathom, and hard for models to account for, an increase by a factor of 30,” he told Space.com. (Astronomers think stars and galaxies are young if they have low abundances of metals, or elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.) The team detected the 2,400 young galaxies using the Kitt Peak National Observatory International Spectroscopic Survey (KISS), which also stands for, “Keep it simple, stupid.”
- Brain music: You might be able to download your own brain soundtracks and play them on your iPod, reported Science Daily. Maybe they will help your mood. You can listen to a sample played back on a piano. Not quite Bach or Mozart, but it’s kind of cool, like mellow jazz. You might not want to hear the tracks from the angry driver behind you.
- The automated railway in your nerves: Scientists at USC found a kind of sorting mechanism regulating the direction of motorized trucks that deliver cargo to the plus and minus ends of your nerves, said Science Daily. “Proteins go everywhere in the cell and do all sorts of work, but a fundamental question has eluded biologists,” the article began: “How do the proteins know where to go?” The trucks that haul them are little motors called myosin and kinesin. The kinesins tend to be attracted toward the axons, but the myosins pick out the ones with dendritic protein cargo, which need to go the other way, and carry them back to the dendrites. This way, the axonal proteins always go to the axon, and the dendritic proteins always go to the dendrites. Don Arnold called this process inefficient yet effective, leaving the reader wondering how he could make vehicles without eyes or brains do a better job.
Scientists at UC Davis, meanwhile, are modeling “how cells change gears,” says another article on Science Daily. They think cell regulatory processes are “resilient and redundant,” just like any well-engineered system should be.
- Nice lice: What could be more disgusting than lice? Science Daily said the little pests might help calibrate the human immune system. The best that can be said about this is that maybe the bugs are not all bad. Professor Jan Bradley put an evolutionary spin on it: “It is possible that the immune dysfunctions we see today are the result of immune systems moulded by evolution for a set of challenges completely different to those encountered in modern times.” Tell that to the lice-infected people in Africa where they tell us humans evolved.
- Nice spice: “How plants protect us from disease” is the title of another article on Science Daily about plant products in everyday food that help us fight inflammation. The phytochemicals from red wine, green tea, garlic, curcumin and cinnamon have curative powers. “He who controls the Spice controls the universe” from Dune comes to mind.
Encore: Speaking of health, here’s a word of encouragement for the elderly. Science Daily reported that “Physical Activity Improves Life Expectancy And Decreases Need Of Care Among Older People.” Like our sponsoring domain says, Creation Safaris has something for every body.
This gives you a taste of the variety of material reported on Creation-Evolution Headlines usually in more depth. We’ve offered you a tray of science hors douvres to sample and taste. Many should not be swallowed, though.