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Stretching Out the Cambrian Explosion

“Dawn of the animals: Solving Darwin’s dilemma” is the confident-sounding title of an article about the Cambrian explosion in New Scientist.  Their solution, however, did not include finding transitional forms.  It revolved around “setting the stage” environmentally for the sudden appearance of complex animals.     Reporters Douglas Fox and Michael Le Page began by […]

Lightning Cooks Up Weird Science

Get a charge out of this headline from New Scientist.  A couple of scientists from University of Arizona studied fulgurites, the structures formed in sand by lightning strikes.  They found that they contain phosphites (oxidized phosphate molecules).  They theorized that lightning strikes could have provided phosphites which the primordial soup used to build RNA and […]

Origin-of-Life Researchers Caught Playing With Toys

A “virtual primordial soup” cooks up life in a computer program in a “toy universe,” according to reporter Leslie Mullen at Space.com.  She wrote, “The power of computer processing could one day solve the riddle of life’s origin.”     EvoGrid is “a computer creation concept that would be a digital version of the primordial […]

How the Animals Learned to Count

Any evolutionary article that begins with “How…” should be checked for Kipling-style just-so storytelling.  Characteristics to watch for include (1) fanciful speculation without evidence: i.e., “made-up” tales that provide an answer to a childish question without appeal to rigorous proof, and (2) statements made with dogmatic authority, like a parent would explain to a child […]

Paper View: Darwin, of All the Nerve

American neurons are due to get a workout this day.  The taste buds and olfactory neurons will get their exercise first at Independence Day barbecues across the land, then the visual cortex and auditory neurons will max out as the fireworks start after dark.  Escorted by the Editors of Science Magazine, Darwin is here in […]

What Makes You Human?

If you are a war-mongering beast who likes to burn things, you’re displaying your evolutionary past.  That’s what a couple of news reports are claiming.  New Scientist has a review of two books: Fire: The spark that ignited human evolution by Frances D. Burton, and Catching Fire: How cooking made us human by Richard Wrangham.  […]

Plants Use the Perfect Propeller

What kid hasn’t played with maple seeds to watch them spin in the air like helicopters?  Scientists watch them, too.  A team from the Netherlands and California found out how they stay in the air for so long without engines to drive them.  One would think in an era of advanced aeronautical engineering the physics […]

Tickle Me Darwin

Observation: orangutans seem to laugh when tickled.  Conclusion: humans evolved laughter from our ape past.  This is the story being promoted by the science news outlets.  “At least 10 million years ago, our ancestors may have been laughing it up over the latest stone-age prank or bout of tickling,” announced Live Science.     New […]

Grasses Ratchet Their Seeds Into Distance Travelers

John Muir said we should not pity plants as prisoners to one spot.  In their own ways, they travel the world as we humans do.  Anyone who has walked through wild dry grass may have been annoyed at how many foxtails get buried in their socks and how hard it is to get them out.  […]

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 […]

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, […]

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, […]

Survival of the Slowest

Without stopping to think, the BBC News claimed that evolution is slowing snails down.  “Natural selection is favouring snails with reduced metabolic rates, researchers in Chile have discovered.”  Why would evolution do such a thing?  Isn’t the proverbial slowest of beasts already at risk of predators?  Not necessarily.  Look on the positive side: “Snails with […]

Evolution Does What Comes Physically

Two scientists believe they have unified biology and physics into one law that both animals and falling rocks obey.  They call it the “constructal law.”  This “universal principle of evolution” explains the “universal design principles” that make fish swim and birds fly – the “physics of evolution.”  Even if evolution does not predict what animals […]

Mooning the Public: Life Sells

Advertisers have known for a long time that sex sells.  That’s why ads often include a scantily-clad woman standing next to the pickup truck for sale.  It seems that in planetary science, life sells.  An icy moon can be a pretty dull thing, but announce that there might be life there, and eye appeal jumps.  […]
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