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Category archives for Science

Islamists have brain leeches!

Susan Blackmore always lectures entertainingly — really, if you get a chance to hear her, you should — so I can guess how surprised she was when students claimed offense and walked out on her talk. They were religiously indoctrinated, and simply shut down their brains when the word “evolution” came up, and when she…

Why do cavefish lose their eyes?

It’s another Dawkins question! Why do cave-dwellers lose their eyes? They’re useless, but are they harmful? Costly to make? Or eroded by rain of uncorrected mutations? I thought I’d already addressed this in a blog post long ago, but I searched, and I didn’t — it was my inaugural column in sadly defunct Seed magazine,…

Ophelia has summarized a series of science questions Richard Dawkins asked on Twitter. Hey, I thought, I have answers to lots of these — he probably does, too — so I thought I’d address one of them. Maybe I can take a stab at some of the others another time. I like this one, anyway:…

We know a lot about the sexy bits of male cephalopods — ask about hectocotyl arms and spermatophores sometime — but would you be surprised to learn that we don’t know much at all about squid ladybits? Of course you wouldn’t.

How we got here

It’s been 25 years since Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History crystallized the debate over the importance of contingency in evolution, most famously illustrated by his metaphor of “replaying the tape of life”. If we could roll back the history of life on earth and restart it in the pre-Cambrian,…

I like this hypothesis

But we have to be clear that it is only a hypothesis at this point. I was reading about domestication syndrome (DS) — selecting animals for domestication has a whole collection of secondary traits that come along for the ride, in addition to tameness. We are selecting for animals that tolerate the presence of humans,…

Biology is a hard problem

New genetic disorders pop up all the time — each one represents a child who may face incredible challenges, or even be doomed to death. A child named Bertrand exhibited some serious symptoms — profound developmental disabilities — shortly after he was born, and no one could figure out what was wrong with him. So…

There’s the leak in the pipeline

We’re always talking about this curious phenomenon, that we see lots of women at the undergraduate and graduate level in biology, but large numbers of them leave science rather than rising through the ranks. Why is that? It seems that one answer is that elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women, that…

What are you going to simulate?

The EU is sinking €1.2bn (and the US is proposing to spend more, $3 billion) into a colossal project to build a supercomputer simulation of the human brain. To which I say, “What the hell? We aren’t even close to building such a thing for a fruit fly brain, and you want to do that…

Closure on the Obokata/STAP affair

I’ve been following the story of stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells with considerable interest, and there’s a good reason for that: from the very beginning, it contradicted how I’d always thought about cell states, and if it were true, I’d have to rethink a lot of things, which was vexing. But on the other…