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The Early Man Gets the Big Brain

“Why are human brains so big?” asked Live Science.  Why are our brains larger relative to body size than almost all other animals?  Rachael Rettner reported on various answers.  To her credit, she pointed out the fallacies of trying to test hypotheses when there is insufficient evidence.     Rettner evaluated three hypotheses about why […]

How Did the Turtle Get Its Shell?

The cover story of Science this week is about turtle evolution.  The caption on the cover illustration, which compares the skeleton of a turtle, chicken and mouse, reads, “The turtle body plan is unusual in that the ribs are transformed into a carapace, and the scapula, situated outside the ribs in other animals, is found […]

Greening the Cambrian Explosion

Some scientists came up with an idea that simple green plants may have invaded the land earlier than thought, and that this might have helped speed up the rise of animals in the Cambrian explosion.  “The plants were only tiny mosses and liverworts, but they would have had a profound effect on the planet,” said […]

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 […]

Animals Are Not Malthusians

According to Malthus and Darwin, the struggle to survive favors those who have the most fitness to take advantage of limited resources.  A study by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Vienna, reported by PhysOrg shows this is not the case: Charles Darwin and his contemporaries postulated that food consumption in birds and mammals […]

The Elephant Explosion

The title is not intended to suggest pieces of pachyderm flying all over the place, but rather one paleontologist’s theory about the rapid pace of elephant evolution 60 million years ago.  He bases his ideas on a small fossil he found in Morocco.  According to him, the primitive ancestor of all elephants (order Proboscidea) lived […]

Dino Fossils Generate Overblown Claims

04/10/2006), inventing feathers out of thin air.  This time, it was justified on the basis of a new paper in Nature that claims to remove an obstacle in the dinosaur-bird evolution story.1  Doubters had pointed to differences in the three forward-pointing toes.  With dinosaurs, it was toes 1, 2 and 3 that were retained; while […]

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 […]

Birds Didn’t Evolve from Dinosaurs

June 9, 2009 — “The findings add to a growing body of evidence in the past two decades that challenge some of the most widely-held beliefs about animal evolution.”  That statement is not being made by creationists, but by science reporters describing work at Oregon State University that cast new doubt on the idea that […]

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, […]

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 […]

High School Biology Teachers Have Clout

Two professors at Minnesota State surveyed a thousand students on the impact of their high school biology teachers when it comes to the subject of evolution or creation: Students whose high school biology class included creationism (with or without evolution) were more likely to accept creationist views as entering college students.  Similarly, students exposed to […]

The Long Precambrian Fuse Gets Longer

Why did complex multicellular life explode on the scene some 550 million years ago?  That’s mystery enough, but finding complex single-celled life a billion years earlier makes it worse.  A new paper evaluated claims of Cambrian-like fossils from India dated 1.6 billion years old in the evolutionary timeline.  It did not explain the Cambrian explosion, […]
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