Saturday, August 30, 2008

CoE #2 call for submissions

Jason Rosenhouse, the eloquent ScienceBlogs writer over at EvolutionBlog has graciously offered to host CoE #2.

So get those intelligent fingers a tappin' and send your posts to him (deadline for this edition is September 14th). There's a world of evolutionary change out there to discover, and I for one want to know about it.

While you're at it, if you feel so inclined, offer yourselves up in Darwin's name and volunteer to host a future edition.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Carnival of Evolution #1

I sit now, preparing to hear Barack Obama’s Democratic Nominee acceptance speech, hoping that soon science and intellectualism will once again take strong root within our government and culture. I know, I know – it’s there already to a degree – but sometimes I find it hard to see hope through the forests of ignorance that have sprouted from school boards and government education priorities across this country - decrying the single Theory that manages to explain this incredible order and complexity that has arisen around us and that has created us.

But I do have hope, mainly because of the hundreds of like-minded individuals I have managed to discover recently on these great internets. There is an entire underworld of scientist bloggers out there, reaching out to the masses or speaking out to almost no one and hoping to reach a single pair of eyes.

I am currently much closer to the latter.

Nonetheless, it is with this desire to reach out, to educate, and simply to marvel at the wonders of evolution that I have created this first Carnival of Evolution.
I know not yet how often this Carnival will be updated. I hope that enough may find it interesting and worthwhile, allowing this Carnival to take a life of its own. I hope that it may evolve itself. If you have an interest in evolution, volunteer to host an issue yourself.

Some Blog Carnival hosts manage to weave posts into a coherent theme or narrative. For this first short carnival, I shall simply lay out several recent posts dealing with evolution that I have managed to find throughout the cybersphere.

And since I am starting this Carnival of Evolution, I will start with a post I recently wrote on
biochemicalsoul in which I talk about the prospects of directing our own evolution and enhancing ourselves, from the perspective of developmental biology. I doubt our cultural barriers will ever allow this to the extent I dream. But I still have hope.
“There is no doubt that we will eventually have all the pieces of the puzzle of our own development (assuming we last long enough). But there is one key element glossed over in discussions of how we apply our scientific knowledge to human enhancement: experimentation and research on developing embryos. I think that regardless of how much data and understanding we obtain from animal studies and studies of human disease and genetics, we will never be able to apply any directed changes without experimentation on humans. This is a simple fact.”
Ricardo Azevedo at Evo.Sphere has written an excellent and intriguing summation of the history of the initial formation of the theory of Natural Selection, with a focus on some of Darwin’s contemporaries, and also containing the following beautiful poem on evolution written by Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin.
"Where milder skies protect the nascent brood,
And earth's warm bosom yields salubrious food;
Each new Descendant with superior powers
Of sense and motion speeds the transient hours;
Braves every season, tenants every clime,
And Nature rises on the wings of Time."
GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) considers the evolution of an arms race between cuckoo and their hosts.
“This cuckoo specializes in laying a single egg in the nests of fairy-wrens, but sometimes parasitizes nests of other species such as thornbills or robins. The cuckoo chick has a shorter incubation period than the hosts' chicks, and after the cuckoo chick hatches, it pushes the host's eggs out of the nest and imitates the begging calls of the host's offspring, thereby deceiving the parent birds into feeding and caring for the interloper.”
Andrew at The Evolving Mind has written on the evolution of spicy Mexican food. Well, technically it’s about the evolution of the capsaicinoids that make peppers hot and delicious and also just happen to prevent fungal growth.
“The buffet tables of evidence for evolution keep multiplying. Oh sure, a person can get narrow-minded and select an anomaly à la carte. Or he/she can turn to the kiddies menu and settle on the “Happy Argument from Ignorance” (because I can’t wrap my brain around it, it must be wrong).

My attitude toward both cuisine and ideas is identical: bring it on! For man does not live well by stale bread alone.”
For anyone who teaches evolution, Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology has posted his excellent and informative syllabus for his new course on Human Evolution and Diversity.
“I felt that anthropologists needed to respond to Fraser’s ideas (as well as a lot of other things) with a serious biological anthropology unit on evolution and diversity in humanity. But our department has, of late, been offering almost entirely sociocultural anthropology, as many European and Australian departments do. And that’s how I got to offer a unit, ‘Human Evolution and Diversity,’ for Macquarie first-year students.”
Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog has written a series of reports on the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. In part four he tells of a rather hilarious researcher who has found patterns (Fingers of God he calls them) in clusters of galaxies, which to him indicate that Earth is the center of the Universe. Jason does an excellent job refuting these claims in entertaining ways.
“Matthews joined the party by pointing to the fingers and saying that you can see them, plain as day. They weren't an illusion. I pointed out that constellations weren't an illusion either. I also pointed out that you could pick out other spots on the diagram where an astronomer might notice little lines of galaxies as well.”
Scott Nance at Life, The Universe… reports on a recent study suggesting that binocular eyes originally evolved not so much for the depth perceptive abilities, but for an “X-ray” ability – an ability to see “through” things immediately in front of the eyes, such as leaves of a forest. It’s basically a slightly different way of thinking about the selective advantages gained by having two eyes with overlapping fields.

Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock has written a truly excellent article on the difficulties in teaching evolution to creationists. It is also a reaction piece to the NYT column by Olivia Judson on the importance of teaching evolution.

Adrian Hayter at The Atheist Blogger hilariously debunks Ray Comforts redefinition of taxonomic relationships between species.
“At least we have a reason why Ray Comfort doesn’t understand Evolution. When you redefine basic tenets of Biology so that the theory of Evolution collapses, of course you will think that it doesn’t work! Using Ray Comfort’s methodology I will now debunk a couple of “popular” scientific notions.”

Michael White at Adaptive Complexity gives us an educational multi-part review and summary of a new book, The Plausibility of Life, by Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, in which he talks about evolution’s most important molecular inventions.

Mike the Mad Biologist asks whether focusing on molecular evolution when teaching evolution is a better way to get the core concepts across (due to the “hardness” of molecular science).