Posted on August 07, 2014 * Comments

Rodin, The Thinker. Photograph: Frank Kovalchek, via Wikimedia Commons.

Over at The Week, Keith Blanchard recently contributed a piece under the headline “Why you should stop believing in evolution,” with the subhead, “You don’t believe in it—you either understand it or you don’t.” The prose is engaging; I particularly liked the sentence, “Poodles, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Hollywood red-carpet purse dogs—all this fabulous kinetic art was created, and continues to be created, by humans manually hijacking the mechanism of evolution.” (Did you notice the perhaps inadvertent echo of the last sentence of the Origin of Species, “…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”?) And the piece is well-intentioned: Blanchard recognizes that there’s overwhelming evidence for evolution, acknowledges that the bulk of the rejection of evolution is motivated by religious concerns, and understands that people of faith have managed to make their peace with evolution nevertheless. But I’m a nitpicker, and I want to register five quibbles.

Posted on August 07, 2014 * Comments

I noticed the "vacancy" signs first. Two motels, three motels, five, ten, twenty. Their parking lots empty, the swimming pools undisturbed, the hopeful ice machines churning out cubes for guests who never came. This, at the height of the tourist season.

Was it the still-sluggish economy? Steep gas prices? Or something else, something extraordinary?

Posted on August 06, 2014 * Comments

It's down to the wire as I complete the proofs of my upcoming book, Climate Smart & Energy Wise, which Corwin Press will release around the autumnal equinox, September 23—one of two times in the year when day and night are roughly balanced at 50/50—and which also happens to be during

Posted on August 05, 2014 * Comments

Wilbur Glenn Voliva

Which is more amusing: the fact that a geocentrist was actually considered to testify for the defense in the McLean v. Arkansas trial, or the fact that a flat-earther wanted to be considered to testify for the prosecution in the Tennessee v. Scopes trial? True, in the twentieth century, thinking that the earth is flat is even nuttier than thinking that the earth is at the center of the solar system, so it’s tempting to give the nod to the flat-earther. But if you look beyond the beliefs to the context, and remember that the Arkansas attorney general’s office took Gerardus D. Bouw seriously enough as a potential expert witness to include him on a list of witnesses submitted to the court (see “In the Orbit of McLean”), while the Scopes trial attracted all sorts of self-publicizing eccentrics not taken seriously by the attorneys involved, then you might be inclined to favor the geocentrist. Well, I’ll tell you about the flat-earther, and you can decide for yourself.

Posted on August 05, 2014 * Comments

When someone says, “the science isn’t settled yet—it’s too soon to make a decision,” why are we suspicious?

Posted on August 04, 2014 * Comments

I have a three-year-old daughter who is obsessed with Curious George. I think I can recite every word to every one of the 102 episodes, which means that I know roughly 102 scenarios in which the Man with the Yellow Hat tells George, “Be a good little monkey,” which in turn means my daughter is familiar with the 102 scenes in her favorite show that make her mother yell “APE!” Yes, Curious George is not a monkey; he is a chimpanzee, which makes him an ape, as the Man with the Yellow Hat should well know as a scientific illustrator of some kind and with a scientist (who, alas, wears a lab coat) for a best friend. But I am digressing a little bit because ape vs. monkey is not the subject of this post. The subject is:

Misconception: Humans evolved from monkeys.

Posted on August 04, 2014 * Comments

This week on Fossil Friday, I gave you what looked like a plate full of ramen noodles—or maybe it was plain old spaghetti. Nope. Raymond King knew it almost right away: it was a slew (a herd? a flock? a murder?) of brittle stars. Meanwhile Dan Coleman guessed that it came from the Miocene—good call!

Posted on August 01, 2014 * Comments

You almost never hear about the most important thing in science.

delicate arch

Posted on August 01, 2014 * Comments

This week on Fossil Friday, I have a terrible head cold—achoo!

In my delirium, between sneezes, hot tea, and blowing my nose, I was able to scrounge up a fossil that is a perfect represention for exactly how stuffed up my head feels right now. This picture is stuffed to the brim with one type of organism!

Posted on July 31, 2014 * Comments

H. L. Mencken in 1935

Let’s face it. When you think of journalists covering the Scopes trial, you don’t think of Joseph Wood Krutch writing for The Nation, you don’t think of Frank Kent writing for the Baltimore Sun, you don’t think of Westbrook Pegler writing for the Chicago Tribune. You think of H. L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun and for The American Mercury, the monthly magazine that he and George Jean Nathan founded in 1924, the year before the Scopes trial. And that’s not surprising: by 1925, Mencken enjoyed a national reputation as a fiery iconoclast: “the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people,” as Walter Lippmann called him in 1926. He reveled in the opportunity afforded by the Scopes trial to revile the mores of the South. So prolific was he in covering the trial, and so compelling were his stories, that as late as 2006 a 206-page collection consisting of his Scopes coverage was published.