In search of inspiration for a blog post, I turned to the TalkOrigins Archive Quote Mine Project. From about 2003 to 2006, a band of volunteers took on the chore of investigating the source material from which creationists quarried misleading quotations from scientists. There I found a promising cul-de-sac to investigate for myself. Quote #22 in the project is given as follows: “‘All through the fossil record, groups—both large and small—abruptly appear and disappear. ... The earliest phase of rapid change usually is undiscovered, and must be inferred by comparison with its probable relatives.’ (Newell, N. D., Creation and Evolution: Myth or Reality, 1984, p. 10).” That’s the paleontologist Norman D. Newell (1909–2005), of course. Jon (Augray) Barber commented, “This isn’t on page 10. And the book doesn’t have an index. I guess it’s time to plow through the whole thing. ... And after reading the entire book, I can’t find it anywhere.” It turns out that it was premature of Barber to abandon hope of finding such a quote in Newell’s work, though. For in 1984, Newell wrote a pamphlet for the American Geological Institute, entitled “Why Scientists Believe in Evolution,” and quote #22 appears in it.
My ecology unit started in an unusually urgent manner—with a call to the doctor.
"911, this is an emergency! Let's get some vitals on the patient, stat!" Now we weren't in an emergency room, nor had any student collapsed. Instead, we were in my classroom, my students were the doctors, and the patient was planet Earth. For the next few weeks, my students set out on a journey to take the Earth’s vitals and diagnose our planet’s condition.
Not to be confused with Angelina!
In which we look forward to the next century (yikes!) and back to the last. Also, turtles and dinosaurs.
Yes, I know; I know; I know. (What I tell you three times is true.) It’s a trilobite.
But which trilobite?
When he wasn’t discovering oxygen or trying to confute the philosophy of David Hume or writing a definitive treatise on the history of the study of electricity or helping to found Unitarianism, Joseph Priestley (1733–1804)—one of those dismayingly polymathic figures of the eighteenth century—was supporting the French Revolution. Priestley was in fact so conspicuous a supporter of the revolution that he was among the targets of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), although not by name. In July 1791, he suffered for it. Provoked by a dinner held in Birmingham by supporters of the revolution held to commemorate the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, conservative rioters burned the chapels and houses of the leading Dissenters in the town. “Priestley and his family,” as his admirer Thomas Henry Huxley later wrote, “had to fly for their lives, leaving library, apparatus, papers, and all their possessions, a prey to the flames.” He never returned to Birmingham, but his continued residence in Britain seemed untenable, too. Eventually Priestley and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1794, living in Philadelphia and then in Northumberland County until his death.
Well-established by now on this blog is my love for and obsession with xenarthrans. So let it be a sign of my devotion to getting the upcoming issue of RNCSE out on time and full of awesome that I allowed not one but two xenarthran stories in the news to pass without comment. This then is the first of my xenarthran catch-up posts.
It looks like a fern, right? But it’s not a fern. It’s not even a plant. It’s Charnia, sometimes described as “Leicester’s fossil celebrity,” especially by people in Leicester—the genus was named after Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire. Charnia is especially important because it was the first described macrofossil from undoubtedly Precambrian rocks. It was originally discovered by a schoolboy, Roger Mason, who is now a geosciences professor: there’s probably a moral here about either staying in school or looking for fossils. Anyhow, precisely what Charnia was is contentious: for years, scientists thought it was a sea pen, a kind of cnidarian, but the tide seems to have turned against that interpretation. Paleontologists Jonathan B. Antcliffe and Martin D. Brasier concluded a fifty-year-anniversary discussion of Charnia by saying they “favour the idea that Charnia and its relatives may represent something quite distinct.” In any case, frondly congratulations to Dan Phelps for identifying the animal (without, it seems, breaking a sweat), and a tip of the quite distinct hat to Steven Newton for the photograph.