I realize that most of my Fossil Fridays lately have been a little focused on the West—in fact Nevada in particular seems to keep coming up a lot lately. No, it’s not because I’m planning a trip to Las Vegas this winter—I just got trapped in the Nevada section of the archives recently and the only way out was to photograph everything I could find there. I’m sure this happens to you all the time!
For anyone with a taste for the history of creationist shenanigans with scientific literature, Luther Tracy Townsend’s Collapse of Evolution (1905) is the gift that keeps giving. As Ronald L. Numbers notes in The Creationists (1992), in his book Townsend “assembled one of the earliest—and most frequently cribbed—lists in order to prove that ‘the most thorough scholars, the world’s ablest philosophers and scientists, with few exceptions, are not supporters, but assailants of evolution.’” As a result, whenever I start to investigate a quotation from or a citation of a scientist of a particular vintage, I’m not surprised to find that Townsend is the fons et origo. And here, from my recent cover-to-cover reading of Collapse of Evolution (which also inspired “A ‘Puerile Hypothesis’?” on a Townsendian misrepresentation of St. George Mivart), is a doozy.
I’ve written before about Mimi Shirasu-Hiza, she of the twice-demonstrated ability to see the seeds of discovery in what might easily be dismissed as messy data. How did this scientist, who is unraveling the ways that fruit flies’ ability to fight off infections is affected by such variables as the time of day and the state of their intestinal microbes, find her way to the laboratory bench? When I told Mimi about NCSE’s efforts to highlight the importance of high school teachers, she volunteered her own story.
I spent the first few hours today in an uncanny glow. On opposite sides of the planet, in utterly different realms, scientists and political leaders had, in two very different ways, accomplished the unthinkable.
The first instance actually hit just before I went to bed. News broke late yesterday that President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping had come to a binational agreement on targets for climate pollution reduction. Scratch that; it sounds too dull for what it means.
Continuing my desultory study of Clarence Darrow, I read Donald McRae’s The Last Trials of Clarence Darrow (2009) over the past weekend. As the title suggests, McRae focuses on Darrow’s later career, including not only the Scopes trial but also the Leopold and Loeb case (in which Darrow successfully argued against the death penalty for the teenage murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb) and the Sweet case (in which Darrow secured first a hung jury and then acquittal for a group of blacks accused of murder after shots were fired into a racist mob menacing them in their new house in Detroit). It was a enjoyable book, not least because it prompted me to revisit, and research, a 1923 clash between Darrow and William Jennings Bryan that prefigured their duel during the Scopes trial when Bryan took the stand to testify.
After three weeks of slogging through epigenetics, I am feeling almost giddy sitting down to write this post. This week’s topic is a reader request and dovetails with many previous posts. It’s also in the news pretty much every week, so you might say it’s a favorite of journalists—which is a big part of the problem.
Misconception: Scientists frequently find “missing links” of evolution that fill in the gaps between known forms.
In my previous post about Pope Francis’s remarks about evolution, I quoted the quick translation used by news reports, and some folks in the comments raised questions about what some of the remarks actually meant. Fortunately, there’s now a more thorough translation available, which appears to address some of the questions.
Last week we examined fossil teeth from an animal we've seen before on Fossil Friday–and recently, too! What was it? Why it was from the Camelidae family, featured on a Fossil Friday several weeks ago.
In the conclusion of this 3-parter, we'll finally answer the question, Does epigenetics mean natural selection requires a makeover? Short answer: no. Long answer: read on!