Posted on May 27, 2015 * Comments

Arrival of the Fittest cover

The phrase “arrival of the fittest” is seen and heard from time to time, often contraposed with the phrase “survival of the fittest” (due to Herbert Spencer, but adopted by Darwin in the fifth and sixth editions of the Origin). Typically it is used in making the claim that natural selection cannot by itself account for evolution because selection must have variation upon which to act. Thus natural selection (it is claimed) explains the survival but not the arrival of the fittest. The rhyme between “arrival” and “survival” is catchy, and it’s not surprising that Google Scholar lists almost six hundred articles containing the phrase “arrival of the fittest,” with eighteen articles containing it in their title. There are also at least three books with the phrase in their title, of which the most recent is Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle (2014), by Andreas Wagner.

Posted on May 25, 2015 * Comments

Dippy! Let me start this post with this declaration: the Natural History Museum in Knightbridge, London, is awesome. Where else does a marble statue of Darwin sit serenely atop a grand staircase overlooking “Dippy,” a magnificent Diplodocus? Nowhere.

Posted on May 25, 2015 * Comments

“Greenhouse gases” and “the greenhouse effect” are terms used to describe some of the most basic concepts related to global warming. If students learn anything about climate change, they usually learn about these first. This is good in some ways, because these are the fundamental concepts in scientific explanations of how climate change works and why the earth is warming. But the specific metaphor here, comparing the Earth to a greenhouse with carbon dioxide and water vapor cast in the roles of panes of glass, has been criticized on the grounds that it may engender a misunderstanding of the science.

Posted on May 22, 2015 * Comments

Jehovah's Witnesses are an outlier for their views on evolution and climate change. Click image for more background. One of the first things I (and many others) noticed about the graph of various American religious groups’ views on evolution and the environment was how much of an outlier Jehovah’s Witnesses are. They are, on average, quite supportive of environmental policies, while vigorously anti-evolution. Most other denominations show a strong correlation between the two sets of attitudes.

Posted on May 21, 2015 * Comments

H. H. Newman, Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives

“Reluctant as he may be to admit it, honesty compels the evolutionist to admit that there is no absolute proof of organic evolution” (emphasis in original). That’s a passage from H. H. Newman’s essay “Is Organic Evolution an Established Principle?” published as chapter 4 in his 1921 collection Readings in Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics.

Posted on May 20, 2015 * Comments

Eight years ago, the Pew Research Center released a massive survey of American religion. Pew’s researchers surveyed over 35,000 people, a massive sample that was necessary to give representative subsamples of even the smallest of religious denominations. By contrast, most public opinion surveys sample 600-1000 people. This week, they did it again, publishing initial findings from their survey of 35,071 Americans.

Posted on May 19, 2015 * Comments

I am excited to finally be able to share this resource with you! I’ve been working as an advisor on the project for several months and have seen it evolve from rough scripts to its gorgeous finished project. What is it, you ask? It’s the latest online lab from the brains at NOVA—the topic? Evolution, of course!

Posted on May 18, 2015 * Comments

you  have died of dysenteryA pair of fierce, angry eyes followed me as I moved toward the exit of the conference room.

Posted on May 15, 2015 * Comments

Let it be known that I love, love, love Tobin Grant’s work at Religion News Service. The political scientist at Southern Illinois University examines the role of religion in politics (and vice versa) using beautiful and informative data visualizations. I’m particularly enamored of this graphic, showing how members of different denominations fall out in terms of belief that the government should provide more services, compared to the degree to which they believe the government should promote morality.

I love it so much, in fact, that I decided to make my own version, exploring church memberships’ views on evolution and other scientific topics.

So I downloaded the 2007 version of Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey (a new version of this survey was just published, but the raw data aren’t available, nor have results from any questions on evolution been published), and broke it down the same way Grant did.

Plot of religious groups’ attitudes on the environment vs. evolution

Posted on May 14, 2015 * Comments

In previous installments, my friend Corwin Sullivan of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, China and I covered the basics about everybody’s new favorite batwinged dino-pigeon Yi qi. In Part 1, we discussed what’s so special about it, and in Part 2, what we know about how it might have flown and why we don’t know more.