Saturday, 25 October 2014

Rapid Human Evolution In South America

The Cuncaicha rock shelter, high in the Peruvian Andes
Photo: Barbara Fraser
Humans were living at extreme altitudes 1000 years earlier than thought | Science/AAAS | News

A paper published a few days ago suggests human evolution, under the right conditions, can be very rapid.

A mixed American, German and Canadian team led by Kurt Rademaker of Department of Anthropology, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA have discovered that humans lived above 4300 metres for at least part of the year, probably as seasonal hunters, in the High Andes within 2000 years of settling at Monte Verde in Chile. Monte Verde, at about 14,000 BCE is the earliest widely accepted site for human occupation in South

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Human Evolution - Sex With Neanderthals

Neanderthal DNA specialist Svante Pääbo examines the anatomically modern human femur, found near Ust'-Ishim in western Siberia.
Photograph: Bence Viola/MPI EVA
Thoroughly modern humans interbred with Neanderthals - life - 22 October 2014 - New Scientist

A little more light was shed on the fascinating human story the other day when an international team from America, Asia and Europe led by Svante Pääbo and Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, published their findings from the DNA sequenced from the oldest human fossil so far. And the picture is emerging of not only several periods of interbreeding between fully modern humans and Neanderthals but that there may have been several waves of modern human migration out of Africa and into Euro-Asia, not all of which were successful in the long run.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Massive Decline in Religious Affiliation

Methodist Chapel, Bentlawnt, Shropshire, UK
Exclusive: New figures reveal massive decline in religious affiliation | Christian News on Christian Today

That sensational headline isn't mine, it's from Christian Today, a mainstream online magazine for Christians, and it couldn't be more apposite.

The results of a large, 20,000 person survey by 2015 British Election Study, published on the British Religion in Numbers website, make gloomy reading for people who earn their living from religion. The decline has been little short of catastrophic and however you look at them, there are few crumbs of comfort for the Christian Churches.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Bronx Liar Exposed Again!

It's been a bad couple of weeks for poor little Manuel de Dios Agosto, the unemployable, expelled Catholic seminarian with attention deficit and narcissistic personality disorder from the Bronx, New York.

Not only was he confirmed conclusively by Twitter user @God___Swill to be Twitter users @CatholicGadfly, @StudiousAthiest, @SCDTVS, @SacerdotusRadio and the now suspended @Sacerdotus by the simple scientific technique of textual analysis which produced identical profiles - almost impossible to fake and so statistically significant as to have a probability of being due to chance alone which is almost indistinguishable from zero, but he's now been caught by another Twitter user forging emails in the lies he keeps posting about me.

This sad little tale goes back about a year when, for reasons which can only be guessed at, he became psychotic again,

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Slapdown For The Supine Pope

BBC News - Catholic synod: Gay rights groups 'disappointed'

Any illusions the 'reforming' Pope Francis may have been under that he is reforming the Catholic Church and bringing it into the 21st-Century by injecting a small dose of humanism into its doctrine were shattered today. The synod of bishops meeting in Rome put him firmly in his place and voted down his paragraph containing the mildest of calls to 'accept' and 'value' the contribution of homosexuals to society and replaced it with a reaffirmation of traditional censorious

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Creationist Abomination - Lesbian Lizards


Photograph by Alistair J. Cullum. Via Wikimedia Commons
Of course, Intelligent Design 'Theory' has nothing to do with religion or the Bible, does it, creationists! No! Intelligent design is all based on good science and has no fundamentalist religious agenda at all. Intelligent Design 'Theory' would be just the same even if all the proponents of it weren't religious fundamentalist who believe Genesis is the inerrant word of a magic creator and the best available description of reality.

Or that's what they would have their non-fundamentalist victims believe anyway.

Similarly, it's merely a coincidence that proponents of IDT are invariable against same-sex relationships and agree with the the Bible that homosexuality is a mortal sin. And it's naturally no coincidence that the god of the Christian Bible agrees with IDTists because the Bible is science and what they are dealing with is science, not religion at all... isn't it?

So, what's all this about lesbian lizards? Doesn't the creator hate homosexuality?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Old Dead Gods - Lessons from Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill, the largest Neolithic earthwork in Europe
Silbury Hill, in Wiltshire, UK, is the largest Neolithic man-made earthwork in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It was made about 4,750 years ago, would have taken about 18 million man-hours of labour or 500 men working for 15 years to construct - and nobody knows why it as built or what it was for.

It seems highly likely that religion was a factor if not the entire reason for its construction. Let's see what we can learn from it.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Old Dead Gods - Lessons From Cirencester

Three Goddesses, Roman high relief sculpture.jpg
"Three Goddesses, Roman high relief sculpture" (Corinium Museum, Cirencester) by Tony Grist - Photographer's own files. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
A little study of ancient history can teach us a lot about religions.

As I said in a previous blog, we've just had a very pleasant mini-break in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire during which we spent a few hours in the old Roman town of Cirencester, which, 2000 years ago was a thriving, bustling Romano-British community called Corinium, surrounded by and more-or-less peacefully co-existing with the indigenous Dubonnii tribe of native Britons.

These native Britons were supposedly Celtic people, though I personally find the arguments for that less than convincing (but that's another story). They, like the Romans, and like the Anglo-Saxons did later, had replaced earlier migrants to the British Isles comming possibly from Western Iberia and the Pyrenees.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

How Evolution Gave Us Fruity Beers

Cirencester, looking east down Market Place.
We've just arrived back home from a very pleasant Autumn mini-break in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, staying for a couple of nights in a hotel overlooking the Cotswold Water Park at South Cerney, near Cirencester. Cirencester, as the name ...cester implies, was an old Roman fortified town used as both a center of Romano-British culture and a garrison to maintain military dominance and political control over the native Britons. 'Castra' is Latin for 'camp', which came to mean a military garrison.

The Romans knew it as Corinium, Corinium Dobunnorum (after the local Celtic tribe the Dubonnii)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Manny Busted - Again!

You just can't beat science.

You can almost feel sorry for Fruit Loop, Manuel de Dios Agosto, the expelled Bronx Catholic trainee priest, narcissist and full-time Internet stalker, abuser and psychopathic fantasist whose personality disorder compels him to seek center stage, only to take another pratfall to the great enjoyment of onlookers. Manny rarely disappoints as he continues to live down to his promise.

Ever since we outed him under his then main persona, Sacerdotus, who, under a variety of usernames had been stalking and abusing people on Twitter with explicit threats of sexual violence amongst other things from the safety of his room in his mother's

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

How Evolution Works - Sickle Cell Disease And Malaria

Malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, in human blood.
For about 100,000 years, humans have had to live with a particularly nasty parasite and one that was given a boost about 10,000 years ago when humans began to settle down to a urban, agricultural existence, rather than a nomadic hunter-gatherer one. With settlements came the need for a regular water supply even in times of drought and for irrigation of crops, meaning we lived close to areas of standing water - ideal breeding places for mosquitoes. And mosquitoes are the key to the spread of the parasite in question - malaria.

A month or so ago we were in the south of France, being eaten alive every night by mosquitoes. Fortunately, apart from the infernal itching and red blotches, we suffered little real harm because Europe is now malaria-free, but in Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America, hundreds of millions of humans get malaria every year by being bitten by mosquitoes carrying one or other of the four species of Plasmodium parasites. About a million children die from malaria every year.

Monday, 6 October 2014

It's All Someone Else's Fault - Vatican

Vatican accuses U.N. panel of sowing confusion

If you're expecting radical reforms in the Catholic Church, especially in its attitude to predatory paedophile priests and nuns, don't hold your breath.

In stark contrast to Pope Francis' protestations of regret and promises of reform with no measure spared to root out corruption and coverups and bring the abusers to justice, the reality is hand-washing that would do credit to Pontius Pilate, weedling excuses that would make a rogue market trader blush, and ducking down behind obscure, strict legalistic interpretations of International Law. Anything in fact

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Another Creationist Lie Refuted By Science

Early bioenergetic evolution

Here's another one of those scientific papers that creation pseudoscience frauds must dread because it deals with another of their mysterious 'beginnings', abiogenesis.

Beginnings are such things as the Big Bang, the origins of morality and abiogenesis, or, as creationists like to call it, life from no-life. These are where they can fool those ignorant of science that the beginning must have had a magic cause because there couldn't have been something before it so, to the scientifically illiterate (i.e. creationists), it looks like getting

Friday, 3 October 2014

Frankly Bonkers Francis

Bernhard Plockhorst - Schutzengel.jpg
Guardian Angel; Bernhard Plockhorst (1825–1907)
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I believe in angels, says Pope Francis – and they help you make right decisions | World news | The Guardian

Good news for angels!

Pope Francis has decreed that they now exist again and, according to Catholic dogma, because the Pope once infallibly declared himself to be infallible, this means that, even if they didn't exist before, they do now, just as we know that barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) became fish that hatch out of barnacles in the Middle Ages and have now turned back into perfectly respectable geese, because the Pope said so.

Likewise, limbo existed as somewhere for the souls of dead babies to go to until it was abolished by papal decree by Pope Benedict XVI in April 2007. Apparently, the souls of dead babies can now go straight to heaven despite being sinners who have never been saved by 'accepting Jesus'. Before the 12th-Century dead babies when straight to Hell to teach them a lesson for being born sinners, according to Augustine of Hippo. After that, because that didn't seem very fair, the Pope had decreed limbo into existence as a sort of half-way house.

Now, despite his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI having come out against the existence of angels,

Another Of Those 'Absent' Transitional Forms!

Protoclaviger trichodens in Cambay amber
Parker and Grimaldi, Specialized Myrmecophily at the Ecological Dawn of Modern Ants, Current Biology (2014)
Specialized Myrmecophily at the Ecological Dawn of Modern Ants

A very nice example of one of those transitional forms from the fossil record - the very thing that, despite their abundance as I pointed out recently, creationist frauds keep assuring their victims have never been found - was published yesterday in Current Biology by paleoentomologist David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History and entomologist Joseph Parker of Columbia University.

This one is a myrmecophile (literally, ant-loving) beetle

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Religiously Bigotted

Amir-Aslani, 37.
Hanged for making "innovations in the religion", "spreading corruption on earth" and "insulting prophet Jonah"
Three news items in the last few days neatly illustrate the bigoted and disingenuous nature of religion, and it doesn't even need to be a particularly fundamentalist form of religion either, though that undoubtedly helps.

The first is from the Guardian and concerns the execution of an Iranian Muslim psycholtherapist for heracy. In addition to his psychotherapy sessions, Amir-Aslani also held Qur'an-reading sessions in his own home during which he suggested there may be other ways to interpret the Qur'an other than the official one (i.e the one authorised by the Iranian Muslim clergy).

His crime was to suggest that the Quranic version of

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Crabby Tenants Cooperate Naturally

Trepezia flavopunctata. The largest species of guard crab.

Photo: Seabird McKeon
Crabby Tenants Defend Corals From Marauding Predators | Science | Smithsonian

A stunning example of mutualism - the sort of cooperation which 'selfish gene' theory predicts - was published recently by - the online science magazine of the Smithsonian Insitute.

It shows how a complex ecosystem like a coral reef has evolved a defensive system of guard crabs which receive shelter in crevices in the coral and nutrients in return for vigorously defending the living coral polyps from attack by predatory molluscs and starfish. Its not just the presence of the crabs themselves which is important but the presence of several different types, each with a particular role.

While the relationship between coral and crab has been known for a while, researchers have now found

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Creationists Floundering In The Waters Of The Deep

Half of Earth's water formed before the sun was born | Science/AAAS | News

No one could honestly accuse creationists of not being hypocrites.

Take, for example, their response to this tentative evidence that most, if not all, the water on Earth was formed in interstellar dust before the sun coalesced and then exploded to form an accretion disk from which the planets formed and contrast that sudden enthusiasm for science, no matter how tenuously it supports them, to their cavalier dismissal of all the science which refutes their infantile claims:

Friday, 26 September 2014

Christians For Child Slavery

Fundamentalist Mormons harvest the community garden along with their children at the Rockland Ranch community outside Moab, Utah, November 3, 2012.
Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters
You Won't Believe How Church Leaders Are Justfying Child Labor - Ranting of a New Yorker

The Fundamentalist Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a polygamous breakaway sect of the Mormons, is exploiting a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court to avoid answering questions about its alleged use of child slave labour on a church-owned farm. The allegation is that church leaders ordered the closure of its schools so that the children could work on the farm for up to eight hours a day, without pay, to get the pecan nut harvest in. This matter has been under investigation by the US Department of Labor since 2012.

Now church member Vergel Steed, who had been

All Fossils Are Transitional Fossils

One aspect of evolution which creationists either feign ignorance of or have been fooled by creationist pseudoscience frauds about, is how exactly one species 'transitions' into another over time, according to the scientific theory of Darwinian evolution. The same feigned or genuine misunderstanding can be seen in creationist circles concerning the evolution of an entire phylum or class from an earlier one.

In fact, spend a few minutes perusing any social media which deals with creationism vs evolution and you will quickly discover that creationists seem to hold three different understandings of the process simultaneously, all of them wrong. This probably comes from a need to dismiss evolution without giving those reasons too much consideration so three different reasons are better than one. Those three laughably infantile views seem to be:
  1. Evolution says that one species suddenly changes into another either by the parent

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Conviction Christians - Dinesh d'Souza

"Dinesh D'Souza" by DineshDSouza1961 - Event in Chicago. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Don't worry if you live outside the USA and have never heard of Dinesh d'Souza. His brand of fanatical right-wing extremist Christianity, obsessive opposition to Barack Obama and hysterical criticism and loathing of 'New Atheism' is completely irrelevant over here and readily recognised as the mark of a swivel-eyed loon with an agenda. In the USA, however, d'Souza has been an influential figure in increasingly right-wing, fundamentalist Christian, Republican politics.

He was a one-time adviser to Ronald Reagan, and is an influential political commentator, filmmaker, author and Christian apologist, and is affiliated to various right-wing and fundamentalist Christian organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, and the right-wing political journal, Policy Review. He was president of The King's College, a New York Christian School from 2010-2012, and has also written two Christian apologetics - What's So Great About Christianity (2002) and Life After Death: The Evidence (2007).

In 2007, d'Souza excelled himself with a book entitled The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11 in which he attempted to blame the 'American Left' (i.e., anyone who isn't on the extreme right) for 9/11, arguing that Muslims don't hate America (i.e. the real, right-wing, America) but instead hate the 'moral licentiousness' (i.e., sexual freedom and women's rights) of the American liberal left. In effect, he was arguing that those who attacked America on 9/11 were on the same side of the political fence as d'Souza and his conservative allies and the best way to deter similar attacks in the future is for Americans to become more like the Muslim fundamentalists of Al Qaeda.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Loon At The Top

Jim Wells, DUP, Minister of Health for Northern Ireland
Jim Wells becomes new health minister (for Northern Ireland)

First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Peter Robinson, reshuffled his government today and appointed Jim Wells to the post of Minister for Health - in charge of Northern Ireland's devolved National Health Service.

Jim's qualifications for this post, in charge of the highest-spending department in Northern Ireland's government, and probably the one most dependant on up-to-date science and technology, especially biological science, are a degree in geography and a diploma in town planning.

He is also a fundamentalist Protestant loon who believes the Bible is the best available description of the Universe, that Earth is 6000 years old and humans and all other life on Earth were created by magic.

Science Got It Wrong - And So Made Progress

Ripples from dawn of creation vanish in a puff of dust - physics-math - 22 September 2014 - New Scientist

Okay, so scientists got one wrong.

They thought they had found solid evidence of the ripples in the background microwave radiation predicted by the inflation model of the Big Bang and so confirmed the inflation hypothesis. Now it seems the result could have been due to cosmic dust.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Recent Human Evolution in Quebec

Evidence for evolution in response to natural selection in a contemporary human population.

Scientists from Canada and the UK have recently discovered compelling evidence for an example of local rapid human evolution in an isolated community in Quebec, Canada, between 1800 and 1940, when the age at first birth for women fell from 26 to 22 years old in Ile aux Coudres, a small island community of French Canadians in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 80 Km Northeast of Quebec City.

Creationists will no doubt take comfort from the fact that the paper mentions the term 'microevolution' which has been misrepresented to their victims by creationist pseudo-science frauds as materially

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Dutch Catholic Church Goes Into Meltdown

Dutch bishops give Pope Francis a bleak picture of Catholic Church in decline | FaithWorld

Along with most European countries, Christian Church membership has fallen sharply in Holland with about two thirds of Catholic churches expected to be closed and sold off to be converted into apartments, shops, bars or warehouses, as Catholic Bishops told Pope Francis last November. Although officially blamed on 'drastic secularization' of society the Pope was left in no doubt that the world-wide sexual abuse of minors by predatory paedophile priests was a major cause of this haemorrhage of members and drastic decline in church attendance.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Only Real Gods Agree With William Lane Craig

If ISIS’s God Were Real, Would I Be Obliged to Follow Him?

Confused Christians can now sleep soundly in their beds because William Lane Craig has revised his special Divine Command Theory (DCT). DCT says that morality is doing exactly what God commands without regard to the effects it might have on other people because God knows best and can take life if and when he wishes. All you have to do is obey God's command and whatever you do will be moral.

William Lane Craig devised this theory to justify the genocidal murder of the Canaanites in the Bible and so elevated genocide to the level of a moral crusade, provided God told you to do it. He formulated this

Friday, 19 September 2014

Babies' Cries Show Common Descent For Mammals

Primal pull of a baby crying reaches across species - life - 18 September 2014 - New Scientist

It used to be axiomatic that only humans had 'human' emotions and experienced the finer feelings of love, compassion and empathy or could consciously act altruistically from some higher motive or knowledge of right from wrong. This was assumed to set us above the 'brute' animals and, by one of those glorious pieces of circular reason characteristic of religions, was because we had been created as a higher life-form to the rest of creation - and of course the 'fact' that we had these higher emotions was evidence that we had been specially created and placed above the

Creating Life By Chance Alone

Darwin's "warm little pond"
Chances of first life improved by weighted dice - life - 18 September 2014 - New Scientist

"How did life first arise on Earth?" is one of those questions like "What caused the Big Bang?" that creationists and religious apologists love because science either doesn't yet have an answer, or the real answer seems counter-intuitive and thus can be dismissed in front of an audience conditioned to assume that the Universe and everything in it - apart from their assumed god - should be easy to understand and makes intuitive sense even with little or no knowledge of the subject. The answer that the BB was a quantum event and so did not necessarily

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Europeans Are All A Bit Native American

Archetypal European hunter-gatherer
DNA study reveals third group of ancient ancestors of modern Europeans | Science |

It has long been recognised that modern Europeans are descended from an initial migration of hunter-gatherer people who replaced H. neanderthalensis about 40,000 years ago. This lifestyle was then replaced by a farming-based culture which spread out from the Middle-East about 8,000 years ago, probably via Anatolia and the Balkans.

It had been assumed that this was a cultural change as neighbouring people recognised the superiority of agriculture and adopted the techniques and technology of their neighbours. Now techniques of DNA recovery from ancient remains are enabling scientists to build a much more complete picture, showing, for example, that this second wave was a real wave of genetically distinct peoples rather than a spread of cultures as had previously been assumed based on archaeological evidence alone.

Unintelligent Design - Compensating For Evolution's Blunders

Hacked photosynthesis could boost crop yields : Nature News & Comment

You see, one of the pieces of crap design that life on Earth has had to put up with since the evolution of photosynthesis, is one of the most abundant proteins on Earth. It's an essential component of all green plants, an enzyme known chemically as ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase or RuBisCo for short. I blogged about this inefficient enzyme some months ago in an article about the very many examples of unintelligent design to be found in nature. I pointed out then that the reason rubisco is so abundant is because it is so inefficient:

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Why Modern Forests Evolved

Plant Ecological Strategies Shift Across the Cretaceous–Paleogene Boundary | PLOS Biology, September 16, 2014

The thing about science is that it all fits together to form a large picture, so it's always rewarding when one little piece of evidence is found which confirms another piece, or, if not exactly confirms it, certainly goes a long way towards supporting it. Take for example, the evidence from the fossil record that the

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Something Is Bugging Creationism.

Evolution doesn't read any rules and feels no obligation to conform to any norms, so we should expect the unexpected. If we didn't get the occasional surprise it would start to look just a little too predictable. If things were as the creationist loons and frauds like to claim, we would expect an intelligent, perfect designer, to at least show bit of consistency.

After all what perfection is there in randomness and how does no pattern at all look like design according to a plan? No doubt though the frauds will fall back on the traditional woo-woo excuse of ineffability and mystery and beyond human comprehension which renders their crackpot notion redundant as a predictive

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Scotland And The United Kingdom

This Thursday's Scottish referendum on independence from the rest of the United Kingdom is a pivotal moment, not only in the history of Scotland but in the history of the United Kingdom. It's worth passing briefly over the history of Scotland and its considerable part in the history of the British Isles.

A great deal is made by the pro-independence movement of Scotland's 'distinct identity' with very little analysis of the truth of the claim. For example, industrial Glasgow, Aberdeen or Dundee probably have far more in common culturally with Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham or Southampton than they do with Wester Ross,

Friday, 12 September 2014

Neanderthal Extermination Mapped in Detail.

Neanderthal demise traced in unprecedented detail - life - 20 August 2014 - New Scientist

The story of the demise of the Neanderthals and their replacement by modern Homo sapiens in Europe became a little more clear a couple of weeks ago but the clarifying picture is beginning to look bad for us moderns humans.

It's beginning to look like we were one of the first invasive species; one which was not just a disinterested observer of the demise of our cousin

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Atheism Increasing In Line With Intelligence

Brain drain: Are we evolving stupidity? - life - 20 August 2014 - New Scientist

An article by Bob Holmes in New Scientist this week reports that there appears to be a slight reversal in recent years of a trend in IQ scores which had been almost invariably upwards since records began to be collected in the 1950s.

The primary data comes from a standard IQ test given to 18 year-old Danish males as part of their conscription into military service. With the exception of a brief downward trend in the late 1970s, the reported IQ scores increased sharply until about 1995, then plateaued and now appear to have gone into reverse.

This sharply upward trend has been seen in every country where living standards and nutrition have improved, as they did in most of post-war Europe from the 1950s onwards. This change is known as the

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Creationism, Amber And Mitey Ants.

Ant with mite on its head, in amber.

Photo: Jason Dunlop/Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
Mite and ant locked together in amber - Nature | News.

You don't have to go scrabbling around in gravel beds, old quarries or Jurassic Coast beaches like Lyme Regis to find fossils. You can find them in old museums or they can simply arrive in the post as this one did. It was sent to Jason Dunlop, an arachnologist at the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science in Berlin, Germany, by a serious collector of fossil spiders who buys quantities of amber and searches through them.

This Baltic Amber is 44-49 million years old (fairly young by geological standards) and contains a rare example of of a fossilised mite and the first of this particular species (Myrmozercon sp.). Significantly, this is also the earliest example of a mite being found attached to its host, in this case the ant Ctenobethylus goepperti, a social

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

How Transitional Fish May Have Learned To Walk

Polypterus senegalus
How fish can learn to walk : Nature News & Comment

A fascinating piece of research published a few days ago shed some light on how transitional fish/amphibians may have learned to walk on land as they moved from an aquatic to a terrestrial existence.

The researchers from the University of Ottawa, Canada, led by Emily Standen, took juvenile bichir (Polypterus senegalus) - a freshwater fish from Africa which has a primitive lung as well as gills and so can live on land - and raised them on land for eight months. The control group was raised in water as normal.

The land-raised bichir showed not only a noticeably more sophisticated style of walking but there were

Abuse-Aware Cardinal Brady Retires On Full Pension

Irish Cardinal Sean Baptist Brady arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican, March 6, 2013.

Photo: REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Pope accepts resignation of head of scandal-plagued Irish church - Reuters.

In a demonstration of his determination to clean up the Catholic Church and show the world his remorse for the decades of institutional child abuse and systematic cover-up by senior clerics, Pope Francis has allowed Cardinal Sean Brady, "Primate of All Ireland", to retire quietly at the normal age of 75 when Cardinals are expected to retire, or at least to formally offer their resignation, anyway.

To save the poor man embarrassment by being sacked, he had been effectively on gardening leave for the past year while his duties as Bishop of Armagh had been undertaken by the specially appointed "coadjutor", Monsignor Eamonn Martin, who will now formally take up Brady's old job.

Cardinal Brady became notorious in 2012 when a BBC documentary revealed that he had known about, but had failed to warn parents, of the child-abusing priest, Father Brendan Smyth, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to 75 charges of indecent and sexual abuse of boys and girls over a period of more than 30 years. Brady always claimed the documentary was misleading, but apologised for his part in the scandal.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Malignant Melanoma - Another Gift From The Intelligent Designer?

We've just spent a glorious week in the South of France on the Côte d'Azur where the sun beats down from an azure sky on the more or less sun-tanned or sun-burned bodies, prostrate on the beaches wearing next to nothing and exposing skin normally hidden where the sun don't shine - and most of them European from further north.

You see, pale skin is generally recognised as an adaptive feature in Euro-Asian peoples because darker skin, which evolved in Africa, filtered out too much sun to make enough vitamin D - which is made in the skin in response to sunlight and we don't normally get enough in our diets.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Wandering Stones - A Lesson for Creationists

'Wandering stones' of Death Valley explained : Nature News & Comment

The 'mystery' of the 'Wandering Stones' of Death Valley, California has been definitively solved by, surprise! surprise!, science - and there is a subtle but crushing lesson for creationists and other magical thinkers in the mystery. Actually, the stones aren't in Death Valley but in Racetrack Playa in a valley in nearby mountains. The mystery was how they move across the flat dried-up lakebed, apparently without any assistance.

The answer had been proposed earlier but observation - the basis of all good science - has finally proved that thin ice sheets form when the normally dry ancient lakebed floods to a depth of a few centimeters and then freezes


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