Posted on January 13, 2016 * Comments
President Barack Obama waves farewell after speaking at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Thursday, April 15, 2010. Image Credit: NASA/Bill IngallsPresident Obama at the Johnson Space Center, April 15, 2010, with engines and orbital vehicles from the Apollo era in the background.
Posted on January 13, 2016 * Comments

Planet of the Bugs cover

Scott Richard Shaw’s Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects uses the ascendance of insects as a lens through which to view the evolution of life on planet earth.

Posted on January 12, 2016 * Comments

It's not a huge surprise to anyone who knows me that I spend way too much time on Facebook. And so, of course, I’m familiar with the page “I F*cking Love Science”. For those who don’t know, this popular page, followed by over twenty million people, posts science related photographs and interesting facts. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a lot of criticism of this page amongst my friends on my feed. Some people think it’s too shallow, or that it doesn’t have much to do with “actual science”. This sentiment isn't exactly new.

Posted on January 11, 2016 * Comments

Way back last summer, I wrote a four-part Misconception Monday series on evolutionary trees (part 1, 2, 3, 4). What I couldn’t tell you back then was that the inspiration for the series was a new section of the incomparably fabulous Understanding Evolution (UE) site. At the time, the UCMP folks asked me to hold off on advertising the section until they got their evaluations back from external assessors. Grudgingly, I held off. Then, when the site went live in September, I was swamped and didn’t do what I should have done—loudly sing its praises on the blog. It’s true that some of my extra workload involved writing Evo in the News articles for the UE site, but I still feel pretty horrible that I haven’t championed its new triumph yet. My guilt ends today. Everyone, get ready for awesome and go explore The Tree Room!

Posted on January 11, 2016 * Comments

Uintatherium robustum

“It was a fantastic beast that looked like it was made up for a…Hindu mythology! It was as big as an elephant. It had saber teeth, gigantic fangs, but it was a plant eater, but had horns, six of them in two rows. It was unbelievable.” That’s a description from the paleontologist Bob Bakker, interviewed for the documentary Dinosaur Wars (2011).

Posted on January 08, 2016 * Comments

Pull up your afghan and make yourself a cup of tea—there’s lots to read this week! Something for everyone this week—weird weather, bird phylogeny, amateur paleontology, dinosaur sex and more (including not one but two stories about microbes!). What’s not to love?

Posted on January 08, 2016 * Comments

Whose skull is this?

Whose skull is this? If you think you know the answer, write it on a postcard or on the flyleaf of a first edition of On the Origin of Species, and mail it to NCSE, PO Box 9477, Berkeley CA 94709-0477. Or just leave a comment below.

Posted on January 07, 2016 * Comments

NCSE recently learned that there was a new evolution game on the map: Go eXtinct! Of course we wanted to give it a whirl. But would playing it in the office, with a team of evolution experts, be the best way to review the game? Maybe not. We thought it might be fun to try it on people with less background in evolution, to see if the game was truly educational. I agreed to assemble a focus group.

Posted on January 06, 2016 * Comments

A charcoal drawing by Charles Buchel of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Caliban in a 1904 production of Shakespeare’s The TempestA charcoal drawing by Charles Buchel of Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Caliban in a 1904 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

A young person of my acquaintance, reading Scott Westerfeld’s young-adult novel Peeps (2005)—which has a disturbing amount of scientific information about parasitism in it— drew my attention to the following passage:

“Evolution is mostly about mutations that don’t work, sort of like the music business.” She pointed at her boom box, which was cranking Deathmatch at that very moment. “For every Deathmatch or Kill Fee, there are a hundred useless bands you never heard of that go nowhere. Same with life’s rich pageant. That’s why Darwin called mutations ‘hopeful monsters.’ It’s a crapshoot; most fail in the first generation.”

“The Hopeful Monsters,” I said. “Cool band name.”

I assume that you are already shaking your head no. After all, Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)—no apostrophe—wasn’t a band; rather, it was the fourth studio album (as well as the first gold record) of the band R.E.M. Oh, and the bit about “hopeful monsters” is wrong too.