09.02.2016

Satirische Szene mit Katzen, Affen und Eule, attributed to Egbert van Heemskerk III, via Wikimedia CommonsPerhaps, over the Labor Day weekend, you’ll be able to find somewhere to read where you won’t be interrupted by cats, owls, and clarinet-playing apes! If so, here are a few pieces, ranging from a new encyclopedia article on the Scopes trial in 1925 to a data-driven interactive feature on climate change through 2100, to keep you happily engrossed. If not, then give my regards to the menagerie.

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Back when the FDA was testing ads to discourage kids from smoking, they tried arguments based on science: smoking will give you cancer; smoking will give you emphysema; smoking will hurt your unborn child. They tried appealing to kids’ social anxieties: smoking will make your teeth yellow; smoking will give you bad breath. None of these arguments worked very well. What worked was telling kids that the tobacco companies were lying to them, tricking them into smoking so that they could make money off them for the rest of their lives. The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by climate scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles, serves the same purpose. It makes it quite clear that the “debate” about climate change has nothing to do with science and everything to do with wishful thinking, exploited by vested economic and political interests. Only when that false debate is put behind us will a productive discussion about what to do about climate change finally begin, returning scientific evidence to its rightful place as a powerful tool, not a punching bag.

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08.31.2016

John Strong Newberry, via Wikimedia Commons

In chapter five of T. T. Martin’s Hell and the High Schools (1923), which abounds in quotations that supposedly show (in the words of the chapter’s title) “Evolution Repudiated by Great Scientists and Scholars,” there appears a paragraph reading, simply, “Prof. John S. Newberry: ‘It is doubtful if at any time in the world’s history there has been a theory that has gained so great a popularity with such an unsubstantial basis as that of Evolution of man from the lower orders.’” No identification of Newberry or of the publication is provided in the text. The context is not helpful, either—the paragraph is preceded by a quotation from Eduard von Hartmann and followed by a quotation from William Hanna Thomson (whose surname, for a wonder, Martin correctly spells without a p), neither of which is particularly relevant.

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New research from Neil Shubin's lab proves once again that when it comes to science, unexpected results are often far more exciting than expected ones.

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08.26.2016

A smorgasbord this week—interesting basic evolutionary biology news, two separate meditations on the monument to non-science known as the Ark Encounter, a couple of looks back at recent past climate change, and, finally, a philosophical question: why do we love the rare and exotic and revile the commonplace? I mean, really, from a biological point of view, it’s the weeds that are succeeding….

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