The Loom

Archives for December, 2004

The Whale and the Antibody

Evolutionary biologists face a challenge that’s a lot like a challenge of studying ancient human history: to retrieve vanished connections. The people who live in remote Polynesia presumably didn’t sprout from the island soil like trees–they must have come from somewhere. Tracing their connection to ancestors elsewhere hasn’t been easy, in part because the islands…

Ms. Schlafly, You Receive an F

Phyllis Schlafly has suddenly become interested in evolution! She has written the most staggering display of buffoonery on the subject that I’ve read in a long time. She can’t even tell the difference between Darwin and Lamarck–seriously. At least Steve Reuland at Panda’s Thumb can dismantle this ignorant nonsense while retaining his sense of humor.

All the News That’s Too Big To Print

Size matters. At least that’s the result of some recent research on long-term evolutionary trends that I’ll be reporting in tomorrow’s New York Times. Here are the first few paragraphs… Bigger is better, the saying goes, and in the case of evolution, the saying is apparently right. The notion that natural selection can create long-term…

When It Pays To Be Dumb

Intelligence is no different than feathers or tentacles or petals. It’s a biological trait with both costs and benefits. It costs energy (the calories we use to build and run our brains) which we could otherwise use to keep our bodies warm, to build extra muscle, to ward off diseases. It’s also possible for the…

Taking Crichton Down a Peg

The folks at Real Climate have hit the ground running. They carefully demonstrate how misleading Michael Crichton’s new book State of Fear is on global warming. Let’s hope they can keep this quality up.

Climate: A Promising Blog

I just heard about Real Climate, a blog authored by some of the best climatologists in the business. The blogosphere has been flooded by awful gibberish about climate change that tries to make the most out of flimsy bits of research while making the least of the overwhelming scientific consensus. So I’ll definitely be putting…

Idealogy Versus Isotopes

Imagine you’re a columnist. You decide to write something about how the National Park Service is allowing a creationist book to be sold in their Grand Canyon stores, over the protests of its own geologists, who point out that NPS has a mandate to promote sound science. Hawking a book that claims that the Grand…

Hominid Sculpture

The Australian media are doing a fantastic job of keeping up with the developments with Homo floresiensis. Here’s the first three-dimensional reconstruction I’ve seen of the little hominid, made by an Australian archaeologist. It’s published on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s web site. I’m sure that as more bones emerge, the image will improve, but this…

Bones on the Loose

Homo floresiensis update: The Economist weighs in on the "borrowing" of the fossils. They mention that when the bones were removed, they were simply stuffed in a leather bag. This is not exactly the sort of procedure you see in protocols for avoiding contamination of ancient DNA. In the Australian, the discoverers of "Florence" vow…

Resurrecting Genomes

In tomorrow’s New York Times, I have an article about how to reconstruct a genome that’s been gone for 80 million years. The genome in question belongs to the common ancestor of humans and many other mammals (fancy name: Boreoeutheria). In a paper in this month’s Genome Research, scientists compared the same chunk of DNA…