Be a friend of Darwin on Facebook

August 30, 2009

Not that I want to be endorsing Facebook, but this message came through on evoldir this week and I thought it was worth sharing…

I’m writing with a special request regarding a campaign that a ragtag group of volunteers on Facebook has created – along with support from E.O. Wilson, Sean Carroll and media partners like National Geographic. The campaign is Darwin150 and our goal is to gather millions online to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”

While acknowledging that you don’t know us, we would like to ask for your help.

1. Help us get to 1 million members on Facebook
We already have over 250,000 members on our Darwin Facebook group, and want to get to 1 million members by November 24th to show the breadth and depth of support for evolutionary theory and the significance of Darwin’s great book.

Even if you don’t use Facebook yourself, please pass this e-mail to your students, postdocs, fellow faculty and others and ask them to join our group on Facebook.

The link to join our Facebook group is here:

So go on, be a friend of Darwin!  And for more details about the Darwin150 campaign, see here.


Natural selection definitions and modes

August 26, 2009

Greg Laden has written some useful posts over the last few days on natural selection.  This post deals with how to define natural selection and deals with some common misconceptions on the topic, and this one covers modes of selection.   There’s also an interesting post of whether humans are still subject to natural selection.

So head on over and check it out, especially if you want to be able to do the following:

  • Make erudite and opaque comments to creationists that will get you points with your web friends.
  • Write really tricky Multiple Choice Exam Questions if you are a teacher.
  • Evolve more efficiently towards your ultimate goal because you will be more in control of the Random Evolutionary Process (only kidding on this third one…)

  • Origins of the tree of life

    August 22, 2009
     Darwin is usually credited with being the first person to describe relationships among species as a tree.  I’ll admit I always thought this was the case, until this week when some discussion on an evolution email list I subscribe to enlightened me.

    Darwin used this tree figure in The Origin of Species to illustrate his idea of “descent with modification”, with the branches representing the diversity of species all interconnected back through time. 

    Darwin's tree of life - the only figure in The Origin of Species.

    Darwin's tree of life - the only figure in The Origin of Species.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    From the Herald: Climate debate adrift on rising tide of lunacy

    August 14, 2009

    I wasn’t planning to write about climate change on this blog, as I don’t know much about the science and hot-topic does an excellent job of it already.  However, I wanted to re-post some of this opinion piece from the Herald, because I think its excellent article and sums up many of the frustrations that scientists have with the debate.  

     Here’s an exerpt (referring to Gareth Morgan’s book “Poles Apart“).  You can read the full article here.

    But tellingly, before his epiphany, Gareth saw the scientists as “Alarmists” and the other side as “Sceptics”. Completely back to front. Science is inherently a sceptical process and all good scientists are sceptics. But when the web crawls with misinformation on this subject, it’s an easy mistake to make. As Kevin Campbell put it in his email. “Never have so few with vested interests been so wrong and attempted to swindle so many.” He was referring to the scientists.

    Pause and ask what motive the scientific community has to gang up and invent a phoney climate crisis. Then compare the motives ExxonMobil, or coal companies, or companies extracting oil from tar sands, might have to deny that burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow could forever change our existence on the planet. Kevin may have motives too – he runs a recruitment company specialising in automotive, heavy diesel and marine industries.

    And while we’re talking about climate change, the PM’s chief science advisor, Peter Gluckman has also written an excellent overview of the scientific understanding and potential consequences of climate change.  Read it here.

    New Zealand’s walking bats

    August 12, 2009
    ResearchBlogging.orgNew Zealand’s lesser short-tailed bat Mystacina tuberculata is slightly odd in the bat world due to its propensity for running about on the ground instead of flying.  Unlike most bats, which catch their prey while in flight, the lesser short-tailed bat spends much of its time foraging on the forest floor.  The elbow joints in their wings are specially adapted to function as front limbs enabling them to move with rodent-like agility. 

    Up until now the prevailing view has been that evolution of terrestrial locomotion in our bats was the result of our long period of isolation and lack of mammalian predators – much the same reasons why flightlessness evolved in many of our native birds. However a new study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology has challenged this hypothesis by comparing the anatomy of the short-tailed bat with the fossil remains of a related extinct species from Australia.  This study suggests that terrestrial locomotion evolved in this family of bats before their arrival in New Zealand, and in the presence of mammalian predators. Read the rest of this entry »

    Vaccinate your kids, people!

    August 8, 2009

    So NZ has a surprisingly low vaccination rate, and now we are  in the middle of a measles outbreak .

    I hope our low vaccination rates are not due to parents buying into the myth that vaccines cause autism, and thinking they are protecting their children by not immunising them.  Anyone who believes this should read the last chapter in Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science – where he does an excellent job of outlining where that myth came from (one small shoddily constructed study), how the media has overextrapolated and mis-interpreted the science to create a “scare” when there never really has been one, and what the research really shows.  If you don’t have the book, check out his website for much of the same information.

    Evolution rapping

    August 4, 2009

    The Rap Guide to Evolution is out!  From the press release:

    The Rap Guide to Evolution explores the history and current understanding of Darwin’s theory, combining hilarious remixes of popular rap songs with clever lyrical storytelling covering natural selection, sexual selection, evolutionary psychology, and much more

    The album is written by Canadian actor and rap artist Baba Brinkman, and the scripts have been vetted for scientific and historical accuracy by Dr Mark Pallen, author of the Rough Guide to Evolution. You can download tracks from the album from here for free during August. 

    (Now I have the DNA track in my head)