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Animal Magnetism and Other Wonders

What is it that so attracts us to animals? Is it animal magnetism? Some animals do have magnetic senses that can guide them across oceans. The more we learn about animals, the more we should admire their high-tech equipment. Here are some recent examples of amazing animals, some of them suitable for Halloween decorations.

Caveman’s Best Friend, Evolution’s Newest Upset

The evolutionary story of the dog-human relationship has had to be drastically revised in light of recent findings. The old story was that wolves tamed themselves into doggish behavior some 15,000 years ago in Asia by frequenting human garbage dumps. Evidence from caves, fossil prints, and the dog genome, though, has required a near complete overhaul of how our animal companions and their relationships to humans evolved, calling into question whether evolution was involved at all.

New Worlds

Members of our solar system that were little more than points of light for decades or centuries have now become familiar family members, seen up close and personal by spacecraft. Here are introductions to three worlds that are no longer mere names in a catalog. Even the names of members in this trio may be unfamiliar to some. They’re worth getting to know.

Amazing Bird Tricks

“Angry Birds” are perhaps the best known species among electronic bird-watchers these days, but we should never forget that real birds are amazing creatures. Incredibly diverse (think ostrich to hummingbird to penguin), they continue to fascinate scientists and laymen. Here are some recent science stories about our feathered friends.

Aliens Among Us

Some SETI researchers are looking for intelligent design on Earth – by aliens! Paul Davies has written seriously about the possibility of “alien bioengineering” that could be detected in DNA. NASA’s tax-supported Astrobiology Institute gave the idea good press, apparently unaware that most SETI researchers and astrobiologists vociferously reject the theory of intelligent design.

The Blind Men and the Ape Man

“We have all seen the canonical parade of apes, each one becoming more human. We know that, as a depiction of evolution, this line-up is tosh. Yet we cling to it. Ideas of what human evolution ought to have been like still colour our debates.” So said Henry Gee, editor of Nature. Are other icons coloring scientists’ views of human origins? How close are they to describing scientifically where we come from?

Objectivity of Science Undermined

Science has no boast if not objective. It is objectivity that supposedly sets science apart from all other modes of inquiry: following a “scientific method” that guarantees objective truth about the natural world. Results are reported in peer-reviewed journals that weed out mistaken ideas. After publication, other scientists can replicate any published results, making science a self-correcting process that refines its objectivity over time. Most insiders and philosophers know that the picture is highly flawed, but the vision persists that science is objective. Recent articles raise awareness of some of the problems with the portrayal of scientific objectivity.

NCSE Takes on Creation Geologists

The science of geology operates in parallel universes. There are the mainstream, secular geologists in the Geological Society of America who have complete hegemony in the secular universities, the mainline journals and the secular press. Then there are the creation geologists, who publish in their own journals; these hardly enter the awareness of the other geologists. Once in a while, though, like disturbances in the Force, emanations from the creation universe into the secular universe are felt. The National Center for Science Education has become so alarmed at these emanations that they have warned secular geologists to (1) pay them no attention, and (2) pay attention.

Ski Enceladus

Want the ultimate in powder snow? Ski Enceladus, a little moon of Saturn. The snow is deep and vast. Drawbacks: except for occasional craters and steep canyons, the land is flat; there are no ski lifts; there is no air; you would weigh one or two pounds, and transportation will cost you billions of dollars. Other than that, science news outlets are advertising it as a great place for snow lovers!

Wave the Stripes on the Zebra

One of Kipling’s Just-So Stories is “How the Leopard Got His Spots.” In the fanciful tale for children, the sandy-colored leopard and the Ethiopian make an arrangement to share features so that they can camouflage themselves in the forest. Spots and stripes are widespread in the living world, but how do they come about? Surely science can come up with a better explanation than Kipling’s. Just so, a recent scientific paper suggests that understanding the process is still a long way off.

New Fossils and Upsets

One important fossil and two stories about fossils were announced this week. They demonstrate that the fossils themselves mean nothing apart from an interpretive context.

Evolution Is Impossible to Falsify

Serious problems have been reported for Darwinian evolution in these pages, and by other reporters ever since Charles Darwin lived, that should have long ago swept his theory into the scientific dustbin of unworkable hypothesis. Yet neo-Darwinism survives, stronger than ever – strong enough to exclude any other alternative from the scientific competition. How can this be? A recent article shows how.

Can Biomimetics Shed Light on Evolution?

Biomimetics is part science and part engineering. The scientific part is to observe and understand the structure and function of a living thing. The engineering part is to apply that science into useful products. Science news articles today are claiming that a biomimetic flying machine modeled on insects is shedding light on evolution. Such a claim deserves some scrutiny.

What Is It About Africa?

What’s wrong with Africa? The answer is, of course, nothing – at least not with the continent itself. Africa is a bountiful land of incredible diversity and productive potential, boasting the largest mammals, the great apes, geological diversity, vast panoramas of beauty, and numerous spectacular plants and animals. What comes to mind to many westerners, though, is starvation, drought, disease, war, genocide, and a long history of slavery, exploitation and corruption. For decades the charities have assaulted our emotions with heart-wrenching images of starving children with distended stomachs and flimsy arms, covered in flies and mosquitoes. Is Africa to blame? No; these are mostly human-caused problems, offering hope of solutions. A diverse continent with vastly different political systems, Africa offers striking contrasts of riches and horrors.

Your Motor/Generators Are 100% Efficient

ATP synthase astounds again. The molecular machine that generates almost all the ATP (molecular “energy pellets”) for all life was examined by Japanese scientists for its thermodynamic efficiency. By applying and measuring load on the top part that synthesizes ATP, they were able to determine that one cannot do better at getting work out of a motor – a motor that is also a generator.
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