Posted on September 12, 2014 * Comments

This week on the Fossil Friday, I’m going to encourage you to take your time on this fossil, because as we all know, slow and steady wins the race, and the person who races to answer on Fossil Friday isn’t always right…

Coming to you from Sweetwater County, Wyoming, dating to the Bridgerian North American Stage about 50-46 million years ago. Can you figure out who this fellow was?

Posted on September 11, 2014 * Comments

Diagram showing known fossil pieces of the Eocene whale ancestor Pakicetus. (Conty via Wikimedia Commons)

I love whales. My undergraduate thesis was on whales, specifically the evolution of their vertebral column. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the bowels of the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History (not to mention days and days and days underground in a converted missile silo in Concord, Massachusetts), pulling out drawer after drawer of beautiful bones. What fascinates me, and many others, about whales is that they evolved from a group of four-limbed terrestrial mammals. Their evolutionary history, therefore, documents complete ecological transition from fully terrestrial to fully aquatic. Fossils of whales and their ancestors provide a wealth of information for how and when this transition took place, but even if we didn’t have these fossils, the bodies of modern whales provide some clues that these animals did not always look as they look now.

Posted on September 11, 2014 * Comments

Edgar Lee Masters

In Evolution in the Courtroom: A Reference Guide (2002), Randy Moore lists, among the colorful characters to flock to Dayton, Tennessee, for the Scopes trial, a fellow by the name of Elmer Chubb, who “claimed that he could ‘withstand the bite of any venomous serpent.’” Unfortunately, as I explained in part 1, although Chubb’s presence was advertised on a handbill which featured a testimonial from William Jennings Bryan and a testimonial—or, better, antitestimonial—from H. L. Mencken, Chubb wasn’t present in Dayton, for the simple reason that he didn’t exist: he was the satirical creation of the poet Edgar Lee Masters (seen here). “Dr. Chubb was most likely to come to life when Masters was bored, tired, tense, or in the mood to play the buffoon,” according to Herbert K. Russell’s Edgar Lee Masters: A Biography (2005). But Masters wasn’t present in Dayton, either. So where did the handbills advertising Chubb come from?

Posted on September 09, 2014 * Comments

 

 

They say that "no news is good news" and it is easy to come to that conclusion when it comes to climate change.

Posted on September 09, 2014 * Comments

Edgar Lee Masters

The Scopes trial in 1925 attracted a lot of interesting characters to Dayton, Tennessee. In Evolution in the Courtroom: A Reference Guide (2002), Randy Moore lists “circus performers, Lewis Levi Johnson Marshall (‘Absolute Ruler of the Entire World, without Military, Naval or other Physical Force’), Elmer Chubb (who claimed that he could ‘withstand the bite of any venomous serpent’), flat-Earth advocate Wilb[u]r Glenn Voliva [about whom I wrote in “Voliva!”], ‘some of the world’s champion freaks,’ monkeys (Mindy the Monkey arrived in Dayton with golf clubs and presented several piano concerns) and monkey-based advertisements by local merchants, religious fanatics (including a hairy prophet who billed himself as ‘John the Baptist the Third’), and unabashed religiosity” in attendance. But I recently happened to notice that in that list of oddballs, there’s a ringer: Elmer Chubb.

Posted on September 08, 2014 * Comments

Next up on our tour of misunderstood and/or maligned evolution-related topics—embryos!

Posted on September 08, 2014 * Comments

Last week I presented a fossil along with some pretty big clues. You knew it was part of a scapula, dating to the Rancholabrean, and the modern descendants of this critter are known for their stubbornness.  No it wasn’t your mother-in-law…it was from the Camelidae family. Today the family includes llamas, vicunas and of course, stubborn little camels. 

From the Hooper Museum:

Posted on September 05, 2014 * Comments

This week on Fossil Friday, I bring you a California classic. 

Like a 1960s VW Vagabond van or a classic Cabernet, this fossil has only gotten better with age. And it has had plenty of time to age–dating from the Rancholabrean about 240,000 years to 11,000 years before present. This fossil is actually part of a scapula. What animal could it possibly come from?

Posted on September 05, 2014 * Comments

Miller's Crossing poster

In Miller’s Crossing (1990), one of my favorite movies of all time, the gang boss Johnny Caspar murders his henchman Eddie Dane, on the mistaken assumption (fostered by Tom Reagan) that Dane double-crossed him, and remarks by way of explanation, “I had a theory about this son of a bitch!” In “Speculatin’ about Hypotheses,” I gratuitously quoted Miller’s Crossing before I began to criticize the National Academy of Sciences definition of “hypothesis,” so I may as well take the opportunity to address its definition of “theory” now.

Posted on September 03, 2014 * Comments

It may be possible to teach about energy without ever digging into the dynamics of human-caused climate change. (Quick note: I don’t  endorse that tack, but it’s possible.) Indeed, many energy education programs sidestep or avoid climate change altogether.