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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 […]

Bees’ Knees Bridle the Breeze

Bees stabilize their flight in windy conditions by extending their hind legs.  Even though this costs 30% more energy and produces more drag, it provides stabilization against turbulence by increasing their moment of inertia (i.e., their resistance to being flipped over).     A team of scientists videotaped the insects flying when blasted by powerful […]

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 […]

Animal Flight Control: Where’s the Evolution?

A couple of articles in Science last week discussed the marvels of flight control in birds.  “Being earthbound save for the ability to fly airplanes and helicopters, humans stand in awe of animals that power their own movement through the air by flapping their wings, and of the spectacular maneuvers that some of these animals […]

Evolutionary Explanations: Substance, Seasoning, or Storytelling?

A scientific theory should explain why certain phenomena in nature are the way they are.  This layman’s view, though simplistic, expects that a theory should also predict new phenomena before they are observed.  In many science reports on evolution, however, one finds evolutionary theory tacked on as an explanation after the fact, when the theory […]

Quick, Make Like an Ant

Ants deserve a lot of respect, despite being a nuisance in the kitchen.  The very fact they are so effective at bugging us is a testament to their ingenuity in foraging, communicating and organizing themselves into successful colonies.  We might just gain some valuable knowledge by watching them more closely. Foraging: Live Science says that […]

See Like a Bee, Fly Like a Fly

An aerospace engineer in Australia was inspired by insects to design a better way for missiles to find their targets.  Aviation Week reported on work announced by the Australian Government Department of Defense.  “Bioseeker,” a new guidance system for smarter weapons, was inspired by insect navigation.  The Hon. Warren Snowdon, on his website as Minister […]

Modeling Solar Cells on Butterflies

Sunlight is free – if we could just learn how to use it better.  For decades, engineers have been trying to improve the efficiency of solar cells.  Why not look at nature?  Science Daily reported on work going on in China and Japan: “The discovery that butterfly wings have scales that act as tiny solar […]

What Mean These Observations?

Science news outlets report many interesting findings every week.  It’s not always clear, though, whether the conclusions drawn from them are warranted by the data.  Here are some recent cases: Jaws of steel:  A skull labeled Australopithecus robustus was studied for the force its jaws could generate.  Interpretation: “Early humans had jaws of steel.”  With […]

Darwin Missed the Pink Iguanas

The news media are excited about pink iguanas found in the Galapagos Islands.  The rare type was discovered accidentally in 1986 but received almost no attention till now.  Reports with pictures can be found on Live Science, PhysOrg, New Scientist and the BBC News, based on the paper by Gentile et al in PNAS.1   […]

Nature Struts Darwin Gems

Like a showcase of pearl-handled revolvers, an armory of evidences Nature calls “Darwin’s Gems” have been exhibited to warn creationists that Darwin Day will be defended next month with a show of force.  The authors, Henry Gee (former editor of Nature), Rory Howlett and Philip Campbell have made their 15 Evolutionary Gems freely available “and […]

Evolutionary Mutualism Flutters

A story on Science Daily is decorated with a butterfly collection.  Amazonian butterflies studied by an international team were chosen to test Darwin’s theory of mutualism – a kind of symbiosis in which two species benefit one another.  The test yielded a surprise.     The idea going in was that sister species would evolve […]

Go to the Ant, Thou Farmer

We humans boast too much.  Agribusiness?  Ants have it down to a science.  “One of the most important developments in human civilisation was the practice of sustainable agriculture,” stated Science Daily.  “But we were not the first – ants have been doing it for over 50 million years.  Just as farming helped humans become a […]

Far-Out Science

The following list of bizarre stories coming from science news outlets is jarring on two fronts: it shows how little scientists understand, and calls into question what counts as science these days.  Some stories illustrate one or the other; some both. Roar of the aurora aura:  Both Saturn and Mars turned up auroras that are […]

Turtle Vaults Over 65 Million Year Evolutionary Hurdle

The Scots are bragging about their latest missing link – a swimming turtle.  The BBC News could hardly contain the excitement over this claim to evolutionary fame: “The new species forms a missing link between ancient terrestrial turtles and their modern, aquatic descendants,” the article said.  But along with celebration, there were admissions of ignorance: […]
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