The Loom

Among the many obligations keeping me away from the blog is the nearly-completed overhaul of my web site, Along with information on my books and talks, the site also has an archive of the past few years of my articles. I’ve made my way back to 2001, and I am continuing to push back further. It’s a strange experience to look back over many dozens of stories that all seemed rather cutting-edge at the time. In some cases, they’ve been outstripped so starkly by later research that they seem almost like time capsules now. In other cases, further research hasn’t really pushed the boundary of knowledge much more.

Here is a selection of pieces, one a year back to 2001, that you may find enjoyable:

Jurassic Genome, Science, March 9, 2007

“A Fin Is A Limb Is A Wing,” National Geographic, November 2006

“Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don’t,” New York Times, December 13, 2005

“Faith-Boosting Genes,” Scientific American, October 2004

“What If Something Is Going On In There?” New York Times Magazine, September 28, 2003

Crystal Balls, Natural History, April 2002

“The Fine Art of Waddling,” Natural History, March 2001

As always, feel free to shoot any typos you catch my way.


  1. #1 Stephen
    April 26, 2007

    I’d heard that human children only imitate if they think an adult is watching. If there is no adult, they attempt to achieve the desired goal inovatively. It (partly) explains why my 10 year old is so much better at the violin than i am. He won’t do things the way i do even when watched, corrected, and corrected again. I’m told it will be worse when he’s a teen. I don’t see how. Unless he stops being better than me.

  2. #2 Doug
    April 27, 2007

    I have enjoyed many of your articles.

    1 – RE: Jurassic Genome, Science, March 9, 2007
    I accept that birds and theropod dinosaurs are related.

    Modern lizard hips have side to side vertebral movement.
    Modern bird hips have up-down vertebral movement.

    This would seem to require that not only hip but vetebral evolution had to each occur twice in the same combination?
    There may be an alternative evolution [probability uncertain]?

    It seems possible that if some lizard hips evolved to bird hips; then if vetebral movement evolved as in modern birds; that some of the new bird hips may have devolved into lizard hips – or that theropod dinosaurs evolved from birds?

    2 – This essay on evolution might be helpful if more dinosaur nucleic acids are found.
    Nature: Editor’s Summary 26 April 2007
    The descent of genes
    Until recently it was thought that the eukaryotes (animals, plants, fungi and protists) were descended from archaebacteria ? extremophile prokaryotes distinct from ‘true’ bacteria, or eubacteria. Now it is clear that it is not that simple. Evolution has arrived at a strange cocktail of genes from various prokaryote sources for the eukaryotes, but the availability of a broad range of whole genome sequences could provide the information needed to unravel these complex connections.
    Essay: Disappearing act p983
    The bizarre absence of certain gene classes in eukaryotes is key to understanding their evolution and complex links with prokaryotes.
    James A. Lake
    Full Text | PDF (167K)

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