The Loom

Archives for August, 2006

Not Even Wrong

From time to time, my Seed magazine hosts throw out a question for bloggers to answer. Today’s question is concerns a column by James S. Robbins on global warming in the National Review Online. Robbins claims that global warming will be a great thing if it happens, which he doubts. The question is, does he…

Your Guide to Alien Life

I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised when Popular Mechanics got in touch with me a while back about writing a story about aliens. I had always associated the magazine with people who knew how to take their car apart down to the last bolt and put it back together again. (Me, I gush with…

A Switch is Born

The language of DNA is written in a four-letter alphabet. The four different chemical units of DNA (called nucleotides) create an incomprehenisbly vast range of possibility codes. Consider a short sequence of 41 nucleotides. There are over 4.8 trillion trillion possible sequences it could take. In this vast universe of possibilities, how can natural selection…

Cut-and-paste creationism? Yesterday I pointed readers to a column attacking evolution by Jack Kemp on the web site Town Hall. Today a sharp-eyed commenter pointed out that it is almost entirely identical to a column from Phyllis Schlafly from August 16 on the Eagle Forum. I don’t know if these pages are going to be…

Us and Them Among the Slime Molds

Scoop up some dirt, and you’ll probably wind up with some slime mold. Many species go by the common name of slime mold, but the ones scientists know best belong to the genus Dictyostelium. They are amoebae, and for the most part they live the life of a rugged individualist. Each slime mold prowls through…

From his latest column: Liberals see the political value to teaching evolution in school, as it makes teachers and children think they are no more special than animals. Childhood joy and ambition can turn into depression as children learn to reject that they were created in the image of God. He may not be in…

Evolution, Back on the Bookshelf

I’m happy to report that the eyes are back. My third book, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, came out in 2001. It’s a survey of the history and cutting edge of evolutionary biology, from the origin of new species to mass extinctions, from the rise of complex life to the emergence of humans. The…

Like many parasites, a species of bacteria called Wolbachia takes charge of its own fate. Wolbachia can only survive inside the cells of its hosts–invertebrates such as this lovely common eggfly. This way of life limits Wolbachia’s opportunities for long-term survival. If Wolbachia lives inside a female insect, it can infect her eggs. When those…

Return of the Microcephalic Hobbit

The Sunday Times in the UK reported yesterday on an upcoming paper that claims that the ever-fascinating Homo floresiensis (a k a the Hobbit) is not a new species, as previously reported. Instead, it was a human with a genetic defect called microcephaly that gave it a small head. This is a long-standing criticism, but…

More Ridiculous Fossils…

I was happy to see that my post on Tuesday about the evolution of whales attracted a lot of readers. One commenter asked about seals and manatees. As other commenters kindly explained, those mammals descend from other ancestors (relatives of bears and elephants, respectively) that independently moved into the water. This transition has occurred many…