Ask a Biologist

David Hone reminds me that I’ve been remiss in mentioning this new and very useful website, Ask a Biologist. The idea is so simple, you’ll wonder why there aren’t many more like it—it’s a kind of central clearinghouse where young people can ask questions about biology and get answers from real biologists and experts. If you’re a teacher, turn your kids on to it; tell them to submit a question to the list, and somebody with some expertise will try to answer.


  1. #1 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    There should be one for religious kooks:

    Ask a Religious Kook.

    you mean like this bit of insanity?

    note: It’s NOT a parody, really.

  2. #2 Crow
    February 28, 2007


    Perhaps I didn’t explore that site enough, but I don’t understand why you point out that particular site as an example of insanity. It seems like a well-done religious site to me. The creation story is actually quite well done, and not in the least offensive to me as a professional evolutionary biologist; nothing there seems to imply that the story be given a literal interpretation, and actually it reminds me that creation story is quite beautiful as a metaphor for how the earth and its many living forms came to be.

    What did I miss?


  3. #3 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007


    sure it’s not Jim Crow?

    It’s folks like yourself that have allowed creationism to be spread without challenge, because you think it’s all just a pretty metaphor, when to them it most certainly isn’t.

    why do you think the site is named “kids4truth”??

    Its function is to brainwash kids into thinking creationism IS truth, just like the AIG site.

    the point of the site certainly is NOT meant as a metaphor.

    the section where kids get to ask questions is where they lie to them about the age of the earth, etc.

    don’t believe me?

    go check out one the contributors to the site, AFDave, over on the “After the Bar closes” area on Pandas Thumb. Where he explicity states that the function of the site is to teach kids the “truth” about materialism and evolution through pretty flash animations. Which of course, as a YEC, is exactly why he contributes his talents to the site.

    IOW, when you ask:

    “what did I miss”

    I’d say, quite a lot.

    maybe you might try working a little harder to bring yourself up to speed on the whole “creationist” thing, eh?

    creationism IS insanity. sorry to say you don’t see the damage to science in general, let alone evolutionary biology, these idiots have perpetrated and the threat they continue to pose.

    where the hell have you been? a cave?

  4. #4 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    Interestingly, I hadn’t visited the site for a few months, and the flash animations have become MUCH more subtle and well done than previously (they used to have a patently ridiculous anti-evolution animation linked to the “heart of” link at the top of the page).

    but those with noses can still smell the correct underlying scent; it does no good to hide it with rose petals.

    Interestingly, it seems to have fooled Jim well enough, which tells me they are learning from the DI how to hide their message better.

  5. #5 Crow
    February 28, 2007

    Abeja wrote

    “We believe in the full Divine inspiration and inerrancy of every word of the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments.”

    That’s what I missed. I stand corrected.

    Ichthyic wrote

    This would have been an excellent answer to my question. I just watched that animation, and I see what you find so troubling about the site. I agree (though whether it is insanity or merely effective propaganda is a matter of dispute.)

    Unfortunately, you c

    sure it’s not Jim Crow?

    Sorry, is there a connection between creationism and the brutal Jim Crow laws beyond the fact that you dislike them both?

    It’s folks like yourself that have allowed creationism to be spread without challenge, because you think it’s all just a pretty metaphor, when to them it most certainly isn’t.

    You seem to know a lot about my professional activities and exactly what I have or haven’t been doing with respect to creationism.

    where the hell have you been? a cave?

    Have you seen Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos? You’d fit in well around the poker table, ruining a perfectly good argument with unnecessary bombast.


  6. #6 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    yes, I apologize for perhaps being a bit overly bombastic, Jim.

    It just shocked me that anybody could visit a creationist site called “kids4truth”, and not grasp its essential function. Creationists on every level one cares to analyze, most resemble nothing more than a cult, complete with disinformation campaigns designed to lure kids into their insanity.

    yes, I could have just posted the link to the watchmaker animation – that perhaps might have explained it all quite sufficiently.

    I think I’ve seen so many creationist arguments dissected recently, that the patterns becomes obvious at first glance to me, but might not be so to someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time looking at them in detail.

    the comparison to jim crow (laws), was that if you gander at much of the public reaction to them in the areas they were passed (white reaction), there were a lot of people arguing that there was nothing wrong with them, that segregation was “natural” and as good for the “black man” as the “white”.

    remember “separate but equal”?

    seeing someone bypass the actual agenda of creationists for the prettiness of a story or the beauty of a flash animation sounded very similar to me.

    anyway, sorry for the overreaction.

  7. #7 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    … don’t ask me what I think about the poker-game metaphor in “Flock”, cause likely I would get all bombastic again.

    I’m not the only one who thought it ridiculous, however, see PZ’s thread on it.

    scorn and ridicule are often appropriate arguments in and of themselves, especially after ALL the “subtantive” arguments put forth by anti-science clowns have been completely debunked.

  8. #8 Ichthyic
    March 1, 2007

    How does an ammonia compound help make some squid species buoyant?

    ammonia is less dense than blood, and less dense than ocean water, so increasing the plasma concentrations of it effectively reduce negative buoyancy.

    certain species of mesopelagic euphasid shrimps also utilize this, and some fish species IIRC.

    yes, the levels are higher than animals that do not utilize this technique, much like potentially toxic levels of urea are found in many elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, and skates), and are used to similar effect:

    the higher concentration of nitrogenous compounds also allows for closer iso-osmoticity; that is, the concentration of solutes in their blood approaches that of seawater, which helps prevent water loss. doing this with nitrogen compounds instead of ionic salts is actually a LESS toxic solution, however bony fishes opt for an entirely different (and more energy intensive) method: they simply pump out the excess ionic salts through special cells in their gills called chloride cells:

    and here’s a decent overview:

    yes, a trait that allows for tolerance of high levels of nitrogenous compounds (like ammonia and urea) has evolved in these animals, and at least with sharks, here is one of the mechanisms that has evolved to counter the increased levels of urea:

    as to whether predators would have had to deal with digestion of the increased levels of nitrogenous compounds, the answer would likely be no, since even at twice normal concentrations (typically toxic in the blood itself), processed through a digestive tract there would be far fewer problems.

    OTOH, if humans are an example, we typically prepare high urea shark species for consumption by “bleeding” them before processing, as the naturally occuring high levels of urea compounds in their blood typically make the meat taste very bitter otherwise.

    so while I doubt there is a direct effect of the nitrogen compounds on the actual digestion of the meat, there might be an indirect effect on predation simply due to a “bad taste”. that said, there are certainly a large number of predators on sharks (especially when small), so it’s not a very strong deterrent, if at all, to most natural predators of sharks (or shrimp or squid, for that matter).

    more than you wanted to know, probably.

  9. #9 Ichthyic
    March 1, 2007

    But “bad taste” is usually indicative of something that will have a negative effect on the organism.

    one, lots of things taste bad but are not harmful in any significant way, alkaloids have a tendency to taste bad, but certainly are not always, or even commonly, harmful.

    two, nothing appears to stop predators of various types from chowing down on creatures utilizing nitrogenous compounds for bouyancy or to maintain iso-osmoticity.

    IOW, whatever bitter taste is noticed by humans doesn’t seem to bother predators of these animals, what I said was merely a suggestion that it “might”, but really there is no evidence for it.

    Moreover, the ingestion of nitrogenous compounds at the levels found in the blood of these animals wouldn’t likely cause significant harm, even if cooked and eaten “as is” by humans.

    like drinking very dilute (10% concentration) piss.

    I suppose it wouldn’t taste all that great, but it won’t put you in the hospital, either.

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