Posted on December 08, 2014 * Comments

Last week on Fossil Friday, I presented a fossilized animal that you had seen before—and recently! What was it? Why it was from the antilocapridae family, hailing from the Hemphillian North American Stage (about 5-10 million years ago) found in what is now Nevada.

From the University of Texas:

Posted on December 05, 2014 * Comments

H. L. Mencken, via Wikimedia CommonsH. L. Mencken

Over at PopMatters (September 18, 2014), Iain Ellis, who teaches English at the University of Kansas, devoted a column to the Scopes trial, emphasizing the role of the journalist and critic H. L. Mencken—indeed, the column is entitled, “Mr. Mencken Went to Dayton and the Culture Wars Began.” Ellis is generally reliable, although he may be paying too much heed to Mencken’s own, sometimes self-aggrandizing, tales of his involvement in the case. For example, Ellis credits Mencken with recruiting Darrow for the defense, probably on Mencken’s authority. But as Terry Teachout notes in his The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken (2003), Mencken offered no such claim in the definitive account of the Scopes trial that he included in his posthumously published Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work, instead crediting Joseph Hergesheimer. Darrow, for his part, wrote in The Story of My Life (1932) that he volunteered for the defense when he heard that Bryan would join the prosecution—although there’s no reason to suppose that Darrow was immune from the temptation to overstate his alacrity to involve himself in the case, for all that.

Posted on December 05, 2014 * Comments

This week’s fossil should be quite easy to identify because you’ve seen it once before—recently! Well, not this particular fossil, but one from the same species. So my question to you is...what little prance could this tooth have come from? Where was it found? And from what time period did it hail?

Posted on December 04, 2014 * Comments

James Watson speakingIn a recent interview with the Financial Times, James Watson explained his decision to auction off his Nobel Prize medallion (won, with Francis Crick, for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA). He claimed that since his controversial comments about race in 2007, “I was an ‘unperson,’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income.” In that 2007 interview, he said he was “gloomy” about the prospects of Africa because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really,” and attributed that difference to genetic differences. Nonetheless, in his latest interview, FT reports that Watson “insisted he was ‘not a racist in a conventional way.’”

Posted on December 04, 2014 * Comments

All previous “Thank a Teacher Thursday” posts have been about the positive inspiration science teachers can provide. And you know I believe they deserve a lot more recognition for the huge but largely invisible role they play in inspiring the next generation of scientists and building a scientifically literate society. But, hey, it’s pouring rain today and I had a crummy commute, so I’m going to go a little dark and point out that with great power comes great responsibility.

In illustration, I give you this cartoon by Zach Weinersmith:

Posted on December 02, 2014 * Comments

Are recent natural disasters evidence for the end times, global climate change….or both?  A new survey suggests that nearly half (49%) of Americans think the former and more than three in five (62%) think the latter, meaning, because the total is more than 100%, some conclude it could be both.  

Posted on December 02, 2014 * Comments

Edward Newman, via Wikimedia CommonsEdward Newman

I was skimming through George Barry O’Toole’s The Case Against Evolution (1926) recently, and I was struck by the following sentence (from a chapter on “Homology and its Interpretation”): “In practice, however, the classifications of systematists are often very arbitrary, and we find the latter divided into two factions, the ‘lumpers’ who wish to reduce the number of systematic groups and the ‘splitters’ who have a passion for breaking up larger groups into smaller ones on the basis of tenuous differences.” What struck me about the sentence is not any misrepresentation, but the up-to-date sound of “lumpers” and “splitters”: “these more or less self-evident terms,” as Richard Dawkins describes them in The Ancestor’s Tale (2004), “for taxonomists who habitually lump animals (or plants) into a few large groups, or who habitually split them into lots of small groups.” Calling the terms self-evident, though, obscures their history, which turns out to be complicated and hard to decipher.

Posted on December 01, 2014 * Comments

Last week, we explored what it takes to become a fossil and what exactly fossils are. Hopefully, you have some appreciation for the relatively rare conditions necessary to become a fossil. But let’s say you beat the odds and die along a floodplain and get buried in sediment before decaying or getting eaten. Is it time to break out the balloons and celebrate? Start designing your cushy museum exhibit? Not quite…you may be on your way to being a fossil, but now you have to be found.

Posted on December 01, 2014 * Comments

Last week on Fossil Friday, we encountered a little ocean delight and we asked, what’s its genus...and its very lovely common name? The common name should have been obvious. Just look at it—it looks like a flower, and sure enough this organism is called a “sea lily.” 

But what was the genus? Why, it is a Glyptocrinus, of course. Well done, Gerald Wilgus!

Posted on November 28, 2014 * Comments

A fossil!This week’s Fossil Friday is from our Fossil Friend Dan Phelps. He just got the fossil cleaned up recently, and let me tell you, the before and after images are pretty amazing. Maybe if we ask nicely, Dan will post them in the comments below. But in the meantime, can you figure out the genus of this organism? What about its very lovely common name?