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You Can Trust a Scientist – Can’t You?

After the flap over the “missing link” Ida last week (05/19/2009), paleontologist Christopher Beard warned about how such stunts damage scientific credibility.  “The only thing we have going for us that Hollywood and politicians don’t is objectivity,” he told Science magazine.1  Can the public trust the objectivity of scientists as a class?  Do they get […]

Is Theistic Evolution Intelligently Designed?

A battle of websites is rising, and New Scientist is gloating.  Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project (and a candidate to lead the National Institutes of Health) has launched a website promoting theistic evolution called Biologos.org.  The intelligent-design think tank Discovery Institute has offered a counter-site called FaithAndEvolution.org.     Amanda Gefter […]

Hominids, Homonyms, and Homo sapiens

How’s the story of human evolution hanging together these days?  There’s no better place to look than the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  In the yearly issue released this month, Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz gave a pretty thorough overview of the “Evolution of the Genus Homo.”1  Their account is fraught with controversy, […]

Another Crow Species Impresses Scientists with Tool-Making Skills

Who would have thought that crows rival chimpanzees in intelligence?  Members of the corvid group, which includes crows and ravens, are amazing researchers with their ability to make tools.     Previous studies with New Caledonian crows (08/09/2002, 10/07/2007, 02/23/2007) impressed researchers with the birds’ abilities to fashion simple tools out of available materials to […]

World’s Smallest Rotary Engine Highlighted

The smallest rotary motor in the world keeps your body humming.  It also keeps bacteria, plants, polar bears, giraffes, salmon, sea urchins and just about everything else humming.  It’s a nano-wonder called ATP synthase.  This molecular motor has been reported many times in these pages, but not recently; what’s new?  The state of our knowledge […]

SETI Invites Alien Talk

They may not be saying much to us, but we can think about what to say to them – aliens, that is.  Space.com reported on the latest project from the SETI Institute: invite people all over the world to ponder, “What would you say to an extraterrestrial civilization?”     The SETI Institute is launching […]

Who Gets the Blame for This Oil Spill?

Who could forget the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, that leaked 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s pristine coastal waters?  That mistake cost Exxon a billion dollars in damages for the ecological disaster it caused and sparked one of the biggest cleanup operations in history.  Imagine 80 times as much.  That’s how much […]

Building Planets: Can’t Make Them, But Hurry

Constructing planets is a delicate business.  Trying to get tiny bits of dust to join up into balls has never been found to work.  It has to work fast, though, because unless the whole planet clears its dust lane, it will be dragged into the star in short order.  It seems you can’t get there […]

Ho-Hum, Another Human Missing Link

Shoppers typically are wary of over-hyped ads, knowing that any claim sounding too good to be true probably is.  What would they think about media reports claiming a new fossil monkey is the “8th wonder of the world”?     The scientific paper in PLoS ONE1 had hardly been published before the press went ape, […]

Cool Bird Tricks

Evidence continues to mount that a lot of capability is packed into a little bird’s brain.  We should use the phrase bird-brain to honor smart animals. I C U:  Mockingbirds can recognize individual humans.  Disturb a mockingbird nest, and the parents will single you out from a crowd and go into attack mode, researchers at […]

Junk-DNA Stock Tumbles

Those investing credibility in the concept of “junk DNA” suffered more losses this week.  Repeated hits to the paradigm that portions of non-coding DNA are useless leftovers of evolution make a recovery unlikely.     In Science,1 researchers from Princeton and Indiana University reported a function for transposons and the genes that act on them, […]

Political Science 101

Ideally, science should be non-partisan and stay out of politics.  That ideal is not always met, as the following recent stories illustrate. The intellectual president:  New Scientist published a commentary, “Hail to the intellectual president,” by Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science.  Opening line: “If you liked George W. Bush, it wasn’t […]

Can Humans Scientifically Analyze One Another?

Imagine an alien landing on Earth and trying to figure out two groups of people.  One group wields spears and arrows and decides that those who interfere with their traditions are enemies to be killed.  Another lives in penthouses and universities and explains the behavior of the other group as evolved tendencies from their animal […]

Key Step in Origin of Life Declared

The popular “RNA World” scenario for the origin of life has long suffered from a big hurdle: the implausibility of getting the key components of RNA building blocks, called nucleotides, from joining together.  Each nucleotide requires a ribose sugar, a pyrimidine base, and a phosphate group.  Now, a team publishing in Nature tried a new […]

Cuttlefish Inspire Reflective Screens

“Cuttlefish are masters of disguise, able to change their skin color in less than a second to hide from predators or draw in prey for the kill,” begins an article on MSNBC News.  A team at MIT, fascinated with the physics of this capability, tried to imitate it.  They found they could electrically control the […]
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