Posted on August 29, 2014 * Comments

Worried that K-12 students aren't learning about climate change? Guess what—neither are college grads. Grads with BS and MS and PhD degrees in biology, ecology, and related subjects. At least, it seems that way.

At a recent Ecological Society of America conference, I interviewed scores of upper division students, recent college grads, and ecology professors who dropped by NCSE's booth.

Posted on August 29, 2014 * Comments

This week on the Fossil Friday, I give you one more item from our fossil friend, Gerald. This one I love—long, thin phalanges with nails that are deeply in need of a manicure. Can you tell from this photo what it was? Any guesses what it ate? How it moved? Where it lived?

Posted on August 29, 2014 * Comments

I really wanted this next installment to be a Well Said! … but then I found this short video in the It’s Okay To Be Smart series, produced by PBS Digital Studios, and I couldn’t resist. Can someone please tell me, if it's okay to be smart (and of course, it is), why can't it be okay to be accurate?

Posted on August 28, 2014 * Comments

In my last post, “The Curious Incident of the Fly in the Night,” I told a story about Mimi Shirasu-Hiza as an example of how scientists sometimes find that—in Shirasu-Hiza’s words—“what might look like ‘noise’ is potentially ‘signal’.’” Noting that her fruit flies were more likely to get sick and die if they were infected at nighttime led her to important discoveries about the effects of circadian rhythm on immune response.

Posted on August 28, 2014 * Comments

William Jennings Bryan (1902)

I’m continuing to discuss a strange misquotation of Charles Darwin by William Jennings Bryan: “I deserved to be called an atheist.”

Posted on August 26, 2014 * Comments

William Jennings Bryan (1902)

There shouldn’t be anything shocking about the fact that William Jennings Bryan, the leader of the antievolution movement in the United States in the 1920s, misquoted Darwin.

Posted on August 25, 2014 * Comments

This past week on Fossil Friday, I presented a fossil from our fan Gerald Wilgus that was as big as a hippo! But it wasn't a hippo. It was the rhino, Teleoceras. Dave Puskala was the first to figure this out. 

Posted on August 25, 2014 * Comments

When I had my first daughter, my good friend biologist and writer Joe Levine wrote me an email congratulating me on my fitness. He wasn’t the only one. With colleagues and friends gathered over a career in evolutionary biology, notes commenting on my successful passing on of my genes were pretty commonplace. (Note to Hallmark: There is a niche market here.) Now, carrying and birthing a child are definitely physical feats, but I can promise you, I was not at the time, nor am I now, nor will I ever be, someone that evokes pats on the back for embodying the classic, everyday definition of “fit.” So what gives? Well, like so many terms in evolution, there’s a special scientific meaning for “fitness,” and confusion between the common and scientific meanings causes a lot of misunderstanding. So let’s try to clear it up, shall we?

Posted on August 22, 2014 * Comments

Mystery of Life poster

I was reading Clarence Darrow’s autobiography, The Story of My Life (1932), recently. It was engaging, although no doubt all of the obvious caveats about the objectivity and accuracy of autobiography apply. Three chapters are devoted to the Scopes case: chapter 29, “The Evolution Case,” which discusses the preparations for the trial; chapter 30, “Science versus Fundamentalism,” which runs from the beginning of the trial to Darrow’s calling William Jennings Bryan to the stand to testify on religion; and chapter 31, “The Bryan Foundation,” which discusses Bryan’s testimony, the verdict, and the appeal. None of that contained anything that was particularly novel to me. At the beginning of chapter 45, though, I found a further reference to Darrow’s interest in evolution that I hadn’t expected to see, although I should have remembered it from Ray Ginger’s Six Days or Forever? (1958), which mentions it briefly.