Field of Science

If atheists ruled the world video

It's easy to see through these guys. They are pretending to be creationists, firing off utterly ridiculous arguments against evolution. Of course we can see through that! Who are they trying to fool with their bad acting skills?

Except, as is made clear at the end of the movie...
all the arguments are taken from real creationists!
[Spoiler alert! Text is white on white - highlight to read.]

Zimmer on the brain

Eminent science writer Carl Zimmer has written a series of essays about the often surprising and embarrassingly revealing features of our minds. Whether they are bugs or features is debatable, though in evolutionary theory we prefer not to make such subjective distinctions.

Here are links to the ones published in Discover Magazine so far. I especially recommend the first one from September:
We like to see ourselves as being completely conscious of our thought processes, of how we feel, of the decisions we make and our reasons for making them. When we act, it is our conscious selves doing the acting. But starting in the late 1960s, psychologists and neurologists began to find evidence that our self-aware part is not always in charge. Researchers discovered that we are deeply influenced by perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about which we have no awareness. Their research raised the disturbing possibility that much of what we think and do is thought and done by an unconscious part of the brain—an inner zombie.
Could a Dose of Ether Contain the Secret to Consciousness? - March 16, 2009
Researchers may soon be able to measure consciousness as well as we can measure a person's temperature.

Is Patriotism a Subconscious Way for Humans to Avoid Disease? - February 18, 2009
We're not very aware of the “behavioral immune system,” but it may push us toward life-saving behaviors.

How Google Is Making Us Smarter - January 15, 2009
Humans are "natural-born cyborgs," and the Internet is our giant "extended mind."

Mom and Dad Are Fighting in Your Genes—and in Your Brain - November 10, 2008
Our brains may contain a battle of the sexes that can cause schizophrenia and autism.

Why Darwin Would Have Loved Botox - October 15, 2008
All those wrinkle-causing winces, smirks, and sneers may have been the product of evolution.

Could an Inner Zombie Be Controlling Your Brain? - September 08, 2008
Scientists have found evidence that the self-aware part of our brains isn't always in charge.

Paul Zachary Myers

I think I'm on to something. PZ Myers, who authors one of the most popular science blogs, Pharyngula, is a contentious figure at the forefront of criticizing creationism and superstitious beliefs in general. He has contracted many supporters as well as many ardent critics, to put it mildly.

Last year he was involved in three scandals of the blogosphere: Crackergate, Expelled from Expelled, and... I can't remember the third one. If anyone reminds me, I will update. [Update 4/12: The third scandal I was trying to recall was PZ's involvement in eliminating the promotional deal between the Creation Museum and the Cincinatti Zoo. Thanks to Pierce R. Butler.]

Together these put him solidly in the public light, and for many people in a severely bad one. As a consequence his good name has been all over the media in the past year, with a lot of calls for prayer and lawsuits alike.

Here is my observation: People who like Dr. Myers call him PZ. People who hate him call him Paul Zachary.

No Pharyngulite with respect for herself refers to him as Paul Zachary Myers, while it is the preferred designation among his detractors.

For example...

The producers of Expelled: No intelligence Allowed hate him (cached page): Big Science’s Thought Police: Protesting too much

The Catholics really hate him: Catholic League, Catholic News Agency

Bloggers who hate him:
Professor Paul Zachary Myers, Bigot
Paul Zachary Myers - The Epitome of Liberal Intolerance
Paul Zachary Myers: Evolutionist and Now Imminent Desecrator

I am not saying that there aren't exceptions; at least I have seen examples of his foes writing "PZ". Accepting this otherwise clear trend, I am compelled to ask why that is: Why is that?
  • Do people think using initials only is endearing?
  • Do people who don't like him hope that revealing his full name will increase the chance of legal repercussions?
  • Do his foes believe that the use of his full name holds some magic power over him?
  • All of the above?
If you have any other explanations, please share them.

The evolution of Bond

What's happening to James Bond? I have just watched Quantum of Solace, and was decently entertained. But then when I thought about it afterwards, I was severely disappointed. It is, as the was precious movie, Casino Royale, simply a hard-hitting action adventure, but nothing more. It's not funny anymore. All the magic is gone!

There is no Q and no gadgets. There is no more joking around, and there is no more marveling over the invisible cars and Rolexes with laser-cutters. Sure, there is a fancy cell-phone that can (wait for it!) take pictures!

007 doesn't have sex (Update:) I forgot - 007 has sex with Miss Fields once in Quantum of Solace. He gives Camille Montes a kiss at some point, but that's it. He seems to have lost interest since his big love, Vesper Lynd, died in Casino Royale. And, Bond in love? That's perhaps the biggest evolutionary change from previous movies. By making him more human like this they have also made him much more boring. On top of that, he is drinking a shaken Martini of sorts at one point, but when asked what he is drinking, he answers that he doesn't know. The hell?

The famous line, "my name is Bond. James Bond," is nowhere to be heard. This is really a personal setback for me, because it ruins my favorite way to introduce myself: "My name is Bjorn. James Bjorn."

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the famous Bond theme by Monty Norman, which has been used since Goldfinger as an action cue, has now been relegated to the end credits. I fathom not why that is. They producers should be fired for this. There nothing that makes you more in the mood for Bond but that "daown da-da-da daown, da da da daown da-da-da daown," and "duuuu duuuu duuuu duuuu":

I really like Daniel Craig, though. Just please make him the old type of 007 again, per my instructions, and all will be well.

Science wins in Texas

Conservative dentist Don McLeroy has lost the battle to introduce anti-evolution language in the Texas science standards. This is an important victory for science, because examining "all sides of the evidence" and covering the "weaknesses" of evolution is code speak for talking about creationism in science.
In identical 8-7 votes, board members removed two sections written by Chairman Don McLeroy that would have required students in high school biology classes to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection of species. Both are key principles of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Of course students of evolution should look at all the evidence, and study the weakest parts of evolution - that's what researchers do. But, come on, it cannot happen in high school! That's like asking high schoolers to explain why gravitation hasn't yet been combined with the other three forces, which takes years of serious study in university. First the basics must be studied, and that's all there is time for in high school. It cannot be done in one semester, which is already way more time than is set aside for evolution in biology in science in high school.

Additionally, the weaknesses that they want to talk about are things like "the complexity of the cell," which only creationists like Don McLeroy interprets evidence against evolution. Real scientists realize that the complexity of the cell is a strong indication that it evolved, not that it was designed. That we don't yet know the details of its evolutionary history does not mean evolution is a failure, no more than general relativity is a failure because it has not yet been unified with quantum mechanics.

Nor is the scarcity of transitional fossils, another common creationist canard, evidence against common ancestry. Creationists are often heard saying that fossilization is a common process and should therefore have resulted in lots and lots of transitional fossils, if evolution was a fact. That "so little" has been found (some claim "none", but see is because fossilization is a rare process. We are, as is commonly said, lucky to have the ones we do.
Fossilization is an exceptionally rare occurrence, because most components of formerly-living things tend to decompose relatively quickly following death. In order for an organism to be fossilized, the remains normally need to be covered by sediment as soon as possible.
Also, imagine a world where dead animals fossilize as frequently as the creationists would want. It we should see, say, a thousand times higher abundance of transitional fossils, then we should also see a thousand times more of everything else. As the older fossils are the more likely they are to be destroyed by geological processes, we should expect a plethora of bones and fossils of very recent animals. Every time we go dig the weeds we should expect to find the remains of human ancestors and all other kinds of vertebrates. The fact that we don't just means that the skeletons of most dead animals are lost before they have time to fossilize.

Fossilized skulls of human ancestors and a human (N).

Nothing in religion makes sense in the light of evolution

I wonder exactly what it means when a Baptist pastor says he has spent years studying evolution. I have, too, but I doubt in the same way as Rev. Steve Kerns. My guess is that he has read some of Darwin and then a couple of the current authors trying to refute evolution, like Michael Behe and Jonathan Wells.
Kern, author of "No Other Gods,” said he has spent years studying evolution. He said he found that Darwin emphasized that science and religion had no place together.
This is what Rev. Steve Kern of Oklahoma says, and he has arrived at the understanding that the premise of evolution is "only the strong survive.” Then he asks
"Why would Jesus go around healing the sick? Why would He say we need to protect the poor and the weak? Why would He do that if natural selection were true?”
If one studies evolution for years and understands the basic premise of evolution is "only the strong survive", then one is a very bad student indeed. With some effort it could be interpreted to mean something true, like "mostly the organisms that reproduce the most are the ones that will end up as the ancestors," but he clearly doesn't take it to mean that. And the answer to why Jesus would do anything is besides the point. If he was truly God, then he would maybe do it because he wanted to save humans from suffering? But, I agree with the Reverend that a literal reading of the Bible doesn't really make sense in the light of evolution. He should just have chosen to come down on the other side when he found those inconsistencies.

Pat Condell on Anjem Choudary

Here's Pat Condell sharing his views on Anjem Choudary:
Calling him pig ignorant is actually an insult to pigs*. He's a walking parody, a laughing stock, a ludicrous cartoon character who speaks for nobody but himself and his own pathetic little coterie of insane medieval pinheads.
Pat is a British comedian, but I do not find his comments funny. I don't think he does either. He does, though, speak the truth, as I see it. Check it out to see what I mean.

* I happen to like pigs. In addition to pork.

Atheist billboard in California

On my way to LAX yesterday I had a clear view of the $6,000 per month billboard that Ray Comfort (aka the bananaman) and Living Waters have put up.

It says
Someone who believes that nothing made everything.
A scientific impossibility!

When I saw it from far away, at first I could only see that it said "atheist". The rest was just too small. As I got closer I could read the next two lines, but because if a large truck between us, I didn't catch the URL. I was actually quite thrilled to see it there, because the word alone is something that I would like more people to be aware of. I don't think you can change very many people much by such statements alone, but I think it can get some to look into the matter. And if they take more than a cursory glance at our present understanding of nature, they will most likely not come away with the idea that atheists believe that nothing made everything, nor that something coming from nothing is an impossibility.

First off, ignoring all fears of generalization, atheists disbelieve that a supernatural being created the universe. Specifically, we don't believe in gods such as Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Odin, Zeus, Elvis, Usen, and Xenu, nor anything else with god-like powers that you may think of (yes, I am aware that such powers need to be precisely defined to make rigorous sense, but I think you'll agree that the meaning is clear nonetheless).

The disbelief of an atheist may entail a belief that the universe originated from nothing (though it may also not) depending on your cosmological model of preference, but it emphatically does not mean that everything comes from nothing. (I will not here consider the completely asinine idea that nothing made anything.) Once something exists, there is no reason to argue that things that originate after that comes from nothing. If by everything you mean "the Universe", then perhaps, but people might - with a picture of Darwin right there - take it to imply that atheist believe that other things comes from nothing. Which we don't. All scientific theories of origins but the theory of the Big Bang posits that things come from something.

As for the Universe coming from nothing, it actually isn't the scientific impossibility that is so often proclaimed. Quantum fluctuations is a case in point. In the words of Nobel Laureate physicist Frank Wilczek: "Nothing is unstable." For a great review of one current understanding of the issue, see this essay by Victor Stenger: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

Incidentally, Darwin (in the picture) was not a declared atheist, and to my knowledge he never said anything implying that nothing made everything, which sounds more like a statement from the realm of cosmology. But, he is of course the big bad bogeyman of the creationists, and a picture of Einstein just doesn't carry the same negative connotation to them, even though it was his equations that lead to the theory of the Big Bang.

Francis Collins Religulous interview

Religulous has this wonderful interview with Francis Collins, who is supposed to be a brilliant scientist. Maybe he is, I really don't know. Here's sort of how it went:
Francis Collins: ... the New Testament as a record of eyewitnesses.

Bill Maher: You know they weren't eyewitnesses.

Francis: They were close to that.

Bill: No.

Francis: Within a couple of decades of eyewitnesses.
Within a couple of... decades? How do you do this in print... Muahaha? LOL? Pffffft?

Imagine that, for a moment. I was actually alive when the Berlin wall fell in 1989, so does that not make me an eyewitness within a couple of decades? I have actually talked to someone who went there to pick up a stone from the wall, so... my account of it surely could make it into the Next Testament, right?

I also was once at the spot of where John Lennon was shot. Exactly two decades after. So, that makes me an eyewitness twice a decade removed, or something? Take my word for it, then: Stephen King did it!

Thankfully, Francis was not all alone working on the Human Genome Project...

More hating of homosexuals

I got another email from the AFA, and this time there was a link to part fo the episode that they find soooo offensive. From
Peter, the husband/father figure, turns gay after taking an experimental shot of the gay gene. He was paid $125 to take part of this experiment to prove that being gay is not a choice.
Then the fun begins. So what's the problem? Well, it's... it's... it's repugnant! Or something. The AFA warns that "These scenes (...) are highly offensive" "a perverted and sickening program." The AFA are a Bunch of pathetic losers.

I think it's hilarious. Check it out.

"He [Jesus] hates many people, but none more than homosexuals." LOL!

Tell Congress to save the World

This email from was in my inbox this afternoon:
Tell Congress to Pass a Strong Climate Bill

Dear Bjørn,

We wanted to send you an important action alert in support of a campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists for a strong climate bill.

Congress just passed a stimulus package that includes strong provisions promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency -- an important down payment on our country's transition to a cleaner energy future.

But the science is clear and it's urgent: to prevent the worst effects of global warming, Congress must go further, and it must act now. Comprehensive climate policy can curb global warming while breaking our dependence on oil and putting Americans back to work.

Sign the petition and tell your representative and senators to make passage of a strong climate bill a top priority today.


- The Team
The petition includes four critical points that climate legislation must results in if we want to avoid the worst effects of global warming:
* require science-based U.S. emissions reductions of 35 percent below current levels by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050 and ensure a rapid policy response to emerging climate science;

* make emissions cuts affordable and achievable by requiring polluters to pay for their global warming emissions and investing the revenue in clean energy, energy efficiency, and protections for consumers and workers;

* invest at least 4 percent of the revenue in programs that prevent tropical deforestation, which accounts for 20 percent of global emissions; and

* exclude loopholes--such as unlimited "offsets" that allow polluters to postpone emissions cuts in their own facilities and "safety valves" that limit the fees polluters must pay for their emissions. These dangerous loopholes would let polluters delay or avoid needed pollution reductions.
If you're a global warming / global climate change denialist who thinks taking action against something that may or may not cause great harm in the future, please watch this video (watch if even if you aren't):

You can read and sign the petition here.

Darwinian security

ResearchBlogging.orgMany times have I read opponents of evolutionary theory argue that it is good for nothing. They apply a very utilitarian view of science, in which science must serve a purpose beyond mere understanding. And this, they posit, evolutionary theory does not provide. A fairy tale for grown-ups. Not even science, but a religion.

That's blatantly false, though. Yes, the main benefit to humankind is that evolutionary theory explains where we come from - and if that's not important, please do tell me why nearly all cultures have creation myths. But that is not all. Combating pathogens (e.g. HIV) is futile without an understanding of evolution. Breeding and conservation programs rely on evolutionary theory. Evolutionary algorithms are used for mathematical optimization.

Now evolution has a new application: national security. Researchers who normally work in evolution, ecology, and conservation have teamed up to help out the Homeland Security Department think of new ways to efficiently counter threats to national security. The 2003 article below is by Raphael Sagarin in Foreign Policy, but it is not free. This article from yesterday in Global Security Newswire is, and refers to the book from 2008: Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (Amazon).

From the 2003 article:
For more than 3 billion years, biological evolution has guided the colonization of our planet by living organisms. Evolution's rules are simple: Creatures that adapt to threats and master the evolutionary game thrive; those that don't, become extinct. And so it is with the threat posed to the United States by terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. If the genus Americanus wants to overcome this latest challenge to its existence, it must adapt its defense mechanisms accordingly. What better way to do that than to harness time-tested Darwinian theory to the cause of homeland security?
It makes perfect sense. Most species have to deal with permanent threats to their existence (e.g. predators), and the way to do that is by evolving defenses that can contain or reduce the threat and the damage it can cause as much as possible. America at present is like Hawaiian flora, when it should be more like the one in California. Plants in Hawaii have evolved in the absence of predators, so their natural defense are nearly non-existent. Recently introduced species have a field day with them. America is similarly vulnerable, because there previously weren't any threats on American soil. After September 11 this is no longer the case. At least that is the idea behind the Homeland Security Department. Nuclear power plants are completely defenseless, and we are all very fortunate that none of the planes that day were aimed at one of them. The idea is then that America needs to become more like Californian flora, which is made up of tough and spiky plants ready to fend for themselves in the harshest conditions (not counting those introduced and farmed sissy-ass strawberries). This will require allocating resources previously used for production (e.g. energy) to defense, and will this come at a cost. Such is life.

R. Sagarin (2003). Adapt or die: what Charles Darwin can teach Tom Ridge about homeland security Foreign Policy (September/October), 68-69

Creationist lawsuit rejected

The US Supreme court has rejected a lawsuit charging that a government funded website, Understanding Evolution, at UC Berkeley is in violation of the separation of church and state. The website states that Darwinism can be compatible with religion. Jeanne Caldwell's religious beliefs is in contradiction with that notion.

Just imagine the precedent it would make for if that suit had not been thrown out.

If it was illegal to state anything on a government funded website that contradicts someone's religious belief, then no public schools and universities could write anything about evolution, geology, astronomy, and physics. All four of these disciplines contradict the Bible. I am not alone in reading the book of Genesis literally - lots of Christian denominations have this as an integral part of their religion. I believe Genesis was written by people who actually believed in pretty much what it says about the creation of the universe, Earth, and all species people knew about at that time. (Had they known about all the species we do today, Noah would have had to have built a wee bit larger boat.)

Therefore it would be impossible to do most of what an educational institution do - at least on the web.
Lower courts rejected the suit, saying Caldwell was not eligible to sue because the web site did not cause her significant injury.
In other words, she could have avoided altogether perusing that website, but even if she did, reading that someone else disagrees with her on the topic of creation is not enough to shut down the website. Just imagine if it was! It would be possible to claim that anything contradicts some belief. Any belief would do, because the US constitution guarantees that we can freely exercise our religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
I do suppose that means any religion, and not just what the founding fathers may have had in mind.

Here is the text from the website at UC Berkeley about science and religion:
The misconception that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.
This is very carefully worded. If they had written "The misconception that science and religion ever contradicts each other is incorrect," for example, then I wold have had to object (though I would not have sued). Because they do contradict each other. Yes, some religions, some Christian denominations, will not read the Bible in a way that results in any contradictions, but other denominations definitely do. And for those who dismiss them as crazy fundamentalists, and would like to remind you that there are more than 75 million Christian Evangelicals in the US (about 26 percent of the total population), and they all believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God. Lots of other denominations adhere to a strict reading of Genesis, and about 85 percent of all Americans do not believe that humans evolved from something not human.

Pope chides weird beliefs in Africa

The Pope is in Angola, and he has condemned superstition there. There is widespread belief in witchcraft in Angola, and children and the elderly are being accused of being witches.
In Angola, police recently discovered a large group of children held by religious fanatics because they were suspected of being "possessed," prompting new awareness of the problem.
The ironic thing is of course that the Pope is a prime believer in superstition. However, within the Catholic church this is called something else:
The pope's comments on superstition underlined a broader point: that the church's missionary effort must know no bounds, and should reach those with traditional beliefs.
In other words, just very old superstition, that they have believed in for a long time.

But come on, the Pope is an educated man, and as I have noted earlier, the inner core of the Vatican are probably all atheists, quietly laughing at the common Catholic who believes in the weirdest shit - easily comparable to witchcraft. Exorcism, anyone? So when the Pope condemns Africans from acting on their fears of witchcraft and then in the very same breadth talk about "traditional beliefs", which most certainly include that of Satan, then I bet it's not because he doesn't see the glaring contraction, but because he really is concerned about superstition when it results in the suffering of children. But the power and wealth of the Vatican is of course always at stake, so he must not forget himself and leave anyone in doubt that their superstitious traditional beliefs are real.

Related post about African superstition in action:
Of the crimes against our children
Witch hunt in The Gambia
Albinones hunted for body-parts in Tanzania

Dangerous church

Finally a church with proper warning signs.

Via Jasper and failblog.

Of the crimes against our children

The Guardian has story and photos about another witch-hunt, this time in Nigeria.

Twin boys Itohowo and Kufre stand surrounded by angry villagers who believe they are bringing evil to their lives.

Here are some of the captions of the photographs:
  • Twelve-year-old William was abandoned after being labelled a witch.
  • Siblings Samuel, 11, Esther, 14, and Sarah, 10, were all abandoned by their parents to a life on the streets after a ‘prophetess’ - female preacher - said they were witches.
  • Twin brothers Utomobong and Mbotidem are 11. They were blamed for their parents' separation, beaten and thrown out of their home.
  • Angry villagers set upon Udo, 12, with a machete, accusing him of being a witch. His arm was nearly severed.
  • Gerry is eight. His father spat petrol over him and set him alight - he blamed Gerry’s sorcery for the loss of his job.
  • Twelve-year-old Mary had acid thrown in her face after being accused of being a witch.
  • Mary Sudnad is 10. She was seven when her mother poured scalding water and caustic soda over her in a bid to cleanse her of witchcraft.
  • Eleven-year-old Mbet was abandoned by her mother when she was six after being accused of being a witch.
Stupid, superstitious parents! How the hell dare you treat your children - any children - like this?

Evangelical Christian pastors are preaching that the children are witches. However, they can be cured by paying money to the pastor. I seem to recognize this scheme, even though in America no one already believes in witches, so that business can't be hijacked by the churches, as is the case in Nigeria.

That part doesn't surprise me, though. What really does surprise a great deal is that parents readily give up on their children because of these beliefs. This has been an eye-opener for me. I was not previously aware that parents could act on their beliefs in this way. I thought only Abraham was crazy enough to do that.

But just watch this video:

Related post: Witch hunt in The Gambia.

Pennies in puddles

Everywhere I go in Southern California people are throwing money in water. Every little pool, puddle, and pond has a generous collection of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. I swear, it's not just wells and other basins made for the purpose. Every fountain larger than a gallon is ripe with cash. I conclude Californians are a superstitious bunch of people, assuming that they make a wish when they throw one in. And I conclude that Californians aren't as bad off as the times would have it. Except, the other day I was in Little Tokyo, and while eating outside I observed a man around forty sitting at the edge of a fountain. All of a sudden his hand went into the water and picked up a few coins, and proceeded to lie on the t vacate the area. Within a minute he was back at the fountain, looking for the best spot to sit next, as discreetly as he could manage. He took a few more coins a couple of times, leaving and coming back. Later I checked out the fountain, and could only find dimes and below. No quarters. Cheapskates. If he got all quarters, it's couldn't have been more than two dollars in total. I was thinking what other people were thinking. The man himself was embarrassed, and even worried that someone would accost him and at worst calling him perp. He didn't look like an experienced pond-pincher, and he left thinking that this was a good deal, and that he had to find other places to clean out. But he was also cursing the circumstances that lead him to pilfering other people's wishes. The security guard that later showed up was thinking something that I shall not repeat in print, but the point was that such people ought to be punished. I was thinking it is really sad that this pendejo had to be in this position. But then I remember living in New York with beggars everywhere, and how easily I got used to them being around. I rarely see them where I live now, so seeing a guy like this hurts again, like it did the first while in New York. Piss.


One of the funnies:

By xkcd.

Related post: Head injury as a cause of ADHD.

Witch hunt in The Gambia

I don't usually condone pointing fingers at other cultures, but in this case I will make an exception:
Amnesty International today revealed that up to 1,000 people in The Gambia have been kidnapped from their villages by “witch doctors”, taken to secret detention centres and forced to drink hallucinogenic concoctions. The incidents are occurring in the context of a “witch- hunting campaign” that is spreading terror throughout the country.
[English, Danish.]

So is my problem that it's called "The Gambia"? Am I just envious that no one calls it "The Denmark". No, no. In fact, we should count ourselves lucky, because it seems to me that the "The" countries are all crazy. The Gambia have their witch-doctors, The Sudan has Darfur, and The USA has their creationists.

But we shouldn't blame the majority of the The Gambians - just because there are some crazy witch-doctor vigilantes, we shouldn't condemn the whole people, or their government, for example.
The witch-doctors were invited to The Gambia [from Guinea] early in the year, soon after the death of President Jammeh’s aunt. The President reportedly believes that witchcraft was used in her death.
Okay, so President Jammeh has his beliefs (which, like all beliefs, we must respect, because... we just must), but that doesn't mean that he wanted them to kidnap people. Surely he sent the police after them when he found that they betrayed his trust and kind invitation.
Eyewitnesses and victims told Amnesty International that the “witch doctors”, who they say are from neighbouring Guinea, are accompanied by police, army and national intelligence agents. They are also accompanied by "green boys" – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s personal protection guards.
Do the The Gambians have any oil reserves?

Blog statistics

This is a list of the ten most viewed pages here. The numbers are total pageviews and unique pageviews, and the icon means that the post is about a peer-reviewed journal article.
1. Wealthy men's women have more orgasms 389 351
2. Homosexuality is catholic in the animal kingdom 366 312
3. Go on, marry your cousin 263 223
4. Success in life is predetermined 239 211
5. My predictions for Obama's first term 228 201
6. Khmer Rouge chemistry 225 194
7. November 2008 144 113
8. Evolution and pleiotropy 136 122
9. Non-functional DNA conserved in evolution 134 111
10. Evolution does mean better and more complex 128 114

It seems clear that visitors here like research blogging the most, and I'd like to do more of it. It just takes a lot more effort than most other posts. The pages ranked 5th and 6th are among the longer and more in-depth posts, though, so maybe that's what all these posts have in common. Except for the November 2008 archive page. That still gets lots of views. I have no idea why. There is a long way down from second to third place, and I can't help but notice that top two are both about sex. I'd like to blog more about evolution, though, closer to my own research. And that's not on sex, unfortunately.

Is this a new feathered dinosaur?

ResearchBlogging.orgTianyulong confuciusi is a heterodontosaurid dinosaur, which lived in the Early Cretaceous period (144–99 million years ago). The holotype was unearthed in Liaoning Province, China, and is about is about 70 cm long, with a cranium that is 6 cm long.

Figure 1: a, Main slab of the holotype (STMN 26-3). b, Broken slab. The scale bar in b refers also to a. c, Close-up of skull and mandible. d, Interpretive drawing of skull and mandible. e, Close-up of dentition. Abbreviations: a, angular; aof, antorbital fossa; ca, caudal vertebrae; cv, cervical vertebrae; d, dentary; dv, dorsal vertebrae; emf, external mandibular fenestra; en, external naris; f, femur; h, humerus; isc, ischium; j, jugal; l, lacrimal; m, maxilla; n, nasal; pd, predentary; pf, prefrontal; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pub, pubis; q, quadrate; qj, quadratojugal; scaco, scapulocoracoid; sa, surangular; tf, tibia and fibula. Click for larger image.

The really interesting feature is that this dinosaur has what appears to be feathers. The authors call them filaments, and the big question is whether how much like feathers they are. If in structure they are like feathers, then they might be homologous to them, and that then would have all sorts of implications about the evolution of feathers. If, on the other hand, these filaments are not structurally like feathers, then homology is doubtful, and the story told by this fossil change drastically.

Figure 2: a, Ventral to the cervical vertebral series. b, Dorsal to the dorsal vertebral series. c, Dorsal to the proximal–middle caudal vertebral series. d, Close-up of c. Arrows in c and d point to single filament exhibiting a clear, dark, midline 'stripe'. e, Schematic of long, central tail feather of Epidexipteryx (after ref. 12). f, Two types of integumentary filaments of Sinornithosaurus (after ref. 17). Click for larger image.

The question rests upon determining whether the filaments protrude from the epidermal or the dermal skin layer. If they are epidermal, then they a like (proto)feathers. If they are dermal (deeper in the skin), then they wouldn't function like feather, because they wouldn't protrude through the skin at all. the authors argue that the filaments are epidermal, and supports this by the clear, dark, midline 'stripe' in Figure 2, e.

One lesson from this is that it really, really takes an expert to interpret the evidence. Anyone else cannot looks at this fossil and determine whether these filaments are homologous or not to the feathers of other feathered dinosaurs.

The authors conclude thus.
When homology with 'protofeathers' is hypothesized, a possible scenario is that the elongate, singular, cylindrical filaments of Tianyulong represent elaborations of the initial stage in development models of the origin and evolution of feathers. The basal position of Heterodontosauridae within Ornithischia then suggests that such early-stage structures were present in the earliest dinosaurs (before or at the Saurischia–Ornithischia split) and inherited by basal members of each group. Later ornithischians and non-theropod saurischians for which skin impressions are known would therefore represent secondary losses of these structures at as-yet undetermined systematic positions. The structures in Tianyulong, as well as the bristle-like structures of the basal ceratopsian Psittacosaurus, which have frequently been perceived as nonhomologous with the filamentous structures of theropods, may truly be homologous, albeit derived in structure compared to those of theropods.

Zheng, X., You, H., Xu, X., & Dong, Z. (2009). An Early Cretaceous heterodontosaurid dinosaur with filamentous integumentary structures Nature, 458 (7236), 333-336 DOI: 10.1038/nature07856

A taxonomic war

I just received this disturbing email to the EvolDir.
Subject: ICZN and self-publishing of species names

Dear all,

Evoldir subscribers interested in taxonomy and nomenclature please read on.

A self-proclaimed taxonomist is erecting dozens of new species every month in a series of self-published papers, based on information the scientific community generally considers extremely dubious. Until recently, this has mainly concerned Australian snakes, but the latest papers totally revise the North American rattlesnakes and have caused uproar in North American herpetological circles.

PDFs of the papers, in a self-published journal called "The Australasian Journal of Herpetology", can be found here:

Note the first website is blocked on some servers!

The papers are distributed in hard copy and so count as "published" and valid under ICZN rules (International Code of Zoological Nomenclature): as the journal states, "Print copies are distributed to major libraries and institutions that satisfy deposit requirements of the ICZN, ANL and similar bodies. "

New species will continue to be described in self-published works for the foreseeable future unless the ICZN tightens rules on what counts as published (e.g. only journals indexed by Science Citation Index and books with an ISBN number and a recognised scientific publisher).

Do Evoldir members think taxonomy benefits - or is seriously hampered - by the ICZN formally recognising species, in self-published works?

I would encourage Evol Dir members to petition the ICZN if they have strong views on this matter: to date, they have strenously resisted including peer review etc in the requirements for a species name to count as "published". The ICZN committee can be contacted here:


Martin Brown
Of course ICZN should only recognize new species described in papers that have undergone peer review. Otherwise anyone with a big bank account can do it, and whether science benefits depends on the taxonomic skill and integrity of the self-publisher.

His name is Raymond Hoser, and some of his writings are very strange indeed. Under the title CREATIONISM AND CONTRIVED SCIENCE: A REVIEW OF RECENT PYTHON SYSTEMATICS PAPERS AND THE RESOLUTION OF ISSUES OF TAXONOMY AND NOMENCLATURE (pdf) he writes:
Dissent in terms of the Hoser taxonomy was only voiced by a group known as the “truth haters” or “theHoser critics”, centred on two men, namely a serial wildlife smuggler David John Williams and his close friend Wolfgang Wüster a Wales based “academic” at Bangor University with a history of publishing sloppy work.


None of their continual barrage of criticisms has had a grain of merit. However using their excess amounts of spare time and the near limitless resources of the internet, these man have managed to wage a campaign against Hoser of a scale and magnitude that is truly amazing. Recruiting a small-band of misfits, with the ability to repeatedly post under false names and to censor and edit internet sites they control, these men have at times created a veneer and perception that there is widespread disagreement with the various Hoser taxonomy papers (and anything else to do with “Hoser”, including the extremely popular venomoid (surgically devenomized) snakes) when the reality among qualified practicing herpetologists has been very different (Hoser 2004c).
This is not stuff that typically goes into a scientific paper. I don't know what to think about it, but the ICZN should definitely get on the case and figure out what's going on.

Both atheist and agnostic

Many people think of atheism and agnosticism as opposing terms. Thus, being atheist precludes being agnostic, or so they say. Take this poll on Yahoo (well, waddaya know, that site is still around!): Are you an Atheist, Agnostic or a Christian? Apart from the glaring omission of a sleuth of other options (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jedi...), it would seem that it is suggested that one has to choose between one of those three.

But let's look up the words in a dictionary for a second.
Webster: One who believes that there is no deity

Oxford: One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God.

Webster: A person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable ; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

Oxford: One who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable, and especially that a First Cause and an unseen world are subjects of which we know nothing.
Personally, I believe there is no God, but I fully acknowledge that this cannot be known with certainty. I am, then, both atheist and agnostic. Similarly, it would indeed be possible to be both Christian and agnostic. In fact, everyone who are not insane should admit that whatever they believe about deities, we cannot ever know for sure. Thus, everyone should be an agnostic. The insane would then include all those who claim to have proof positive of their favorite fairy, say through revelation (but exclude those who are lying about that, like the Pope).

Tom Rees wrote a post recently about the definition of atheism, with the take-home message that we should define explicitly what it is that we disbelieve. With respect to the God of the Bible, there is the problem that there are many interpretations of who that dude is. Yet, if you tell me anything specific about that God, then I definitely will say that I do not believe in that (given that you'd say any of the usual things, that is). But in addition to my belief of no God like that, there is also the issue with evidence. While it is possible to posit a deity that one cannot find any evidence against (e.g. Deism), it is not possible to believe in very much of the Bible without admitting that some of those claims is up for scientific inquiry. Genesis 1, for example, which explains how species were created in their present form (i.e. phenotype, for those of you who aren't theologians). I guess that's why so many Christians have a huge problem with evolution. That, and that they are animalophobes.

What's so bad about reptiles?

Someone who holds a general science degree from West Point, Robert Bowie Johnson Jr., has written a book by the title Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They Are Descended From Reptiles. You can download the whole book as a pdf right here.

Here's one quote that I thought was worth sharing from page 15:
Nothing good can come from teaching our children they are descended from reptiles. Nothing. It is one of those things that is always all bad.
Wow! That's just so amazingly stupid a comment that one has to look long for something stupider (okay, not really).

It is common evolutionary knowledge that we, and all mammals with us, evolved from reptiles (but see this comment by Eugenie Scott, and Coyne's reply here - I agree with Coyne on this one).

I wonder why it is considered so bad, and I am left with the impression that many creationists are not merely homophobes, but also animalophobes. Homophobes are afraid of homosexuals because they think fucking someone in the asshole is disgusting. Everything else is a rationalization. Including Sodom. What did they do in Gomorrah, again? And I suppose Johnson here is similarly disgusted by the idea that humans come from reptiles. Those disgusting, stupid, amoral creatures, right?

Well, I really like the idea. I think reptiles are cool. I think the knowledge that we evolved from an ancestor which all other animals also evolved from is really neat. I love animals, and I am not afraid of being called an animal. So go ahead, call me a animalophiliac, or reptiloid.

But seriously. The TalkOrigins Archive has a list of some of the reptile-mammal transitional fossils. Biarmosuchia is one example.

Beautiful! (Source.)

An “in your face” kind of God

With disdain, ridicule, and frustration, here are a few comments on a letter from a Phil Dreitz in Delhi to the Worthington Daily Globe. I have no idea where that is, but who cares?

He writes
Consider that the human genome — the entire set of instructions on how to build the human body, contains far more information than the instructions needed to build the space shuttle. And, that all of it is packed into a cell much smaller than a speck of dust; and there are some 100 trillion cells in your body, all of them linked by some means of communication. The “letters” in this “genome manual” are made up of four types of very small molecules called nucleotides, and these are grouped together to form “words,” which gather together to form the genes or “chapters” in the manual, which are grouped to form chromosomes or “volumes” of the instructions, which are grouped to form the genome or the entire “library.” How small is a nucleotide? If it was the size of a pea, our body would be 10,000 miles tall — most of our body would extend into outer space.
Considered. And? Ooh, and aah. Fascinating. Cells are small, there are many of them, yada-yada-yada.
Consider also that with each passing generation of humans produced, the instructions are getting a little more mixed up. Genetically, the human race is mutating into a less healthy product as the molecular machines being produced have more defects in them or “mis-spellings” in the genetic code. Some researchers say that we will go into extinction within a few hundred generations, but it may be sooner because we have seen a rise in genetic disorders, from 1487 in 1966 to 17,000 in 2005 (stats from Mendelian Inheritance of Man catalog at John Hopkins University).
Right. Phil does not have any understanding of what's going on. The human population is large, which means that many different mutations are tried within the population. And as selection against some disorders is relaxed, they are allowed to persist (or, it takes longer to purge them). At the same time science has identified many more disorders, but that need not be because there exist more kinds if disorders than 40 years ago. In fact, if that 1,143 percent increase is highly unlikely to be due to a real increase in numbers of disorders. Besides, even if it is true, then Phil misses the point of natural selection. Not everyone has any of these disorders, so unless there are signs that that will change, then some will go free and the species will survive.
Our continual “minor” mutations will at some point accelerate into a kind of irreversible “meltdown”; we will be so diseased and dysfunctional as to be unable to reproduce. This also seems to be the case as we individuals get old because there is a mutation with each cell division so we become genetically more mutant the older we get. These “mutations,” which occur continuously in us, cannot produce new, higher levels of genetic information, but only a kind of “dumbing down” of existing high level information i.e. “Devolution.” We are in a continual state of genetic entropy. (See Dr. J.C. Sanford’s Genetic Entropy & The Mystery of the Genome).
Oh, so that is in fact what he thinks will happen. There is, however, no indication that everybody will become unable to reproduce. Still, the global population is increasing, and not showing a decline, despite the doomsday interpretations that Phil is advocating.

Mutations cannot produce new information? Sure they can. If one mutation increases entropy in the genome (information is lost), then the reverse mutation (which is a possibility) will decrease entropy and increase information.
Common sense seems to tell us that if we could extrapolate backward in time we would come to a point where the genome was perfect or near perfect; no “mis-spellings” in the instruction manuals. When did this happen? Common sense tells us there must have been a point of instantaneous creation.
Common sense has been replaced. By science. The use of common sense has been deprecated. It is not a reliable method to learn about the natural world.
Over the last few hundred years, atheists have been praising science as a means of freeing us from belief in God because all things can be explained on a natural level. But now science is showing us, whether we like it or not, that God is really an “in your face” kind of God when viewed from a scientific perspective. And that is why today, there is no such thing as an honest, intelligent atheist or evolutionist; he’s simply out of touch with objective reality.
Just no. That is not what science is showing us. There is no indication in science that any god has had a hand in the origins of anything. How laughable to chide scientists for being out of touch with objective reality. You are assuming that words in a book, that you can't know who wrote, are the "objective" words of God, and you call me a stupid liar?
It now follows logically that this “Chief Design Engineer” or “Creator” is monitoring and recording your thoughts and deeds 24 hours a day from the time you were in your mother’s womb to the time your molecular machinery grinds to a screeching halt. So we must guard against thoughts of evil.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this... this... man doesn't understand logic. But I am, because logic is really not that difficult to grasp. Yet, there are apparently some people who think that it logically follows from an "in your face" kind of God so self-evident when you are not a stupid, lying atheist that God is now reading your mind twenty-four seven. So beware of evil thoughts.


Trouble with the layout

I accidently deleted the old layout two days ago, and have been working on a quick fix that has all the essential features. Just now I discovered that commenting hasn't been functioning since. If anyone has a simple, fluid-width, three-column template that doesn't use too much space in the side-columns, I'd appreciate if you would share it...

Terrorists in the mirror

Via Pharyngula I found this article about how to spot creationist literature. Good read. And then, in the column to the right if it is this precious cartoon:

It's not that I am taking a stand in the war/conflict between Israel and Palestine, but rather that the term terrorist should apply to everyone who knowingly commits an act of violence inflicting losses on civilians, in my opinion. Anything else is two-faced hypocrisy.

The cost of blogging

I started this blog in the beginning of October, 2008. Prior to that I had several conversations over email with different creationists, which I am very happy to have had. They taught me a lot about the "way of the religious," if you like, or at least of some of them.

In May 2007 I had one such conversation with Gary Kurz. First line of his first email was this:
Oh my friend, there is absolutely nothing that could shake my faith or cause me to even consider evolution as a viable explanation for why we are here.
This, I believe, is one of the most important things to understand when dealing with creationists. Their belief is a faith, and evidence means nothing. And I understand that. I am not at all like that, but the point here is that one of the ways that I got to learn that is through written conversation. For example:
In your argument against the Bible, you exclude the one element that matters - faith. Faith is critical to Christianity. I can say without hesitation I have never met Christ in person. I have never met the Father in person. I take by faith that what he said is true and then he proves it by completing the faith transaction with fulfillment of the promises he makes. One is that I will be a new creature. Without doubt when I met Christ (not in person - I am not a weirdo) the change was immediate and sure. From my language to my thoughts, I fell under deep conviction to be better. I gave up smoking - something I had done 1,000 times in the 20 years previous without success - but it was immediate and permanent - and not once - not even once did I have the urge to smoke again - from 3 packs of Kools a day to nothing.
Gary has given me full permission to quote him here.

Also in May 2007 I had another email conversation with Babu Ranganathan. In October last year I wrote a post here quoting him from his emails - without getting his permission to do so. Done is done, I suppose, though I would no longer do that without asking for permission.

Babu is on a mission to discredit evolutionary theory, and he is doing a particularly bad job of it, employing the silliest from the standard arsenal. In The Natural Limits of Evolution you can for instance find the argument that mutations are bad, and therefore cannot make things evolve:
All observed biological traits and variations are the result of new combinations of already existing genes or the result of modifications (mutations) of already existing genes. This allows for only limited biological variations to occur. Evolutionists, however, believe that, if given enough time, random or chance mutations in the genetic code, caused by random environmental forces such as radiation, will produce entirely new traits and variations which natural selection can then act upon. However, mutations are accidents in the sequential molecular structure of the genetic code and they are almost always harmful, as would be expected from accidents. Of course, just like some earthquakes that don't do any damage to buildings, there are also mutations that don't do any biological harm. But, even if a good mutation does occur for every good mutation there will be hundreds of harmful ones with the net result over time being disastrous for the species. Natural selection would have no chance. It wouldn't get to first base!
And this argument that the second law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution:
Entropy does occur in open systems. We discovered entropy here on Earth which is an open system in relation to the Sun. However, entropy applies only to spontaneous or chance processes.

The spontaneous (the unaided or undirected) tendency of matter is always towards greater disorder -- not towards greater order and complexity as evolution would teach. Just having enough energy from the Sun is not sufficient to overcome entropy. This tendency towards disorder which exists in all matter can be temporarily overcome only if there exists some energy converting and directing mechanism to direct, develop, and maintain order.
Babu has helped me understand why some creationists use arguments that are obviously false. Either they know this and are perpetrating a lie as a means to an end, or they just don't understand the science at all. Babu, I conclude from our conversation, is clearly of the latter kind. He really just doesn't get it. This was a valuable lesson for me.

Since then I have had the pleasure, mostly, to converse with a few other creationists on various subjects, and I have learned something from all of them. Some people chose to cut our conversations short, but never did it happen that any of them would make any provisions of any sort. It was just conversation. But the I started this blog last year, and things have since been slightly different.

Three times in the last five months has it happened that I contacted someone with evolutionary theory issues to start a conversation, and the fact that I was a blogger has greatly influenced those conversation in different ways.

Without naming any names, I can say that the first person refused to even have an email conversation with me for fear of being on the record. In order to show this person that I was serious about my intent to learn from our conversation, I had to agree to do it in person, face to face. I agreed, and this person graciously made the effort to come for a visit. I promised not to write anything about it, and apart from this, I have not (though my fingers itch...).

The second person was not a creationist as such, but is at least of the persuasion that evolutionary theory is wrong on some major points. This person had written an article about it, and wanted it published in a scientific journal, but didn't have much luck with it. I contacted him to ask him about his arguments, but he refused to talk about them unless I agreed to write up a standard peer review to be published together with his article. Under no other circumstances, e.g. on my blog, was this person willing to have a conversation.

At that time I found these two experiences taken together rather curious. One refused to talk in writing, and the other refused to talk except in the most official form of writing. Both times those choices were made in view of me being a blogger.

Then, prior to a third conversation I was given permission to post anything from our exchanges here, but as the conversation didn't quite turn out like we both wanted (i.e. productively), the other part now required that I post everything we had both said to each other in full on my blog, or the conversation would come to an end. I refused this, and feared that that was indeed the end of it, but we have, to the explicitly stated benefit of both of us, come to an agreement by which the conversation can continue. And so it does. And I am planning - with permission - to write one or more posts here on Pleiotropy when the time is ripe.

To conclude: In my limited experience initiating a conversation with a partner who knows that I am a blogger has put various constraints of the otherwise somewhat free flow of words. As described, it's not all bad, though, and I am not complaining. Live and let learn.

Pepsi supports the homosexual agenda

The AFA, that conservative Christian organization of homophobes, in an email is again raving against Pepsi, who sponsors Family Guy on Fox.
Pepsi, FOX team up to push sickening trash into America's homes

Pepsi sponsors perverted sickness on "Family Guy"
That's from an email I received from them, and it goes on to explain what sordid things Pepsi exactly condones:
Bestiality. Glory holes. Circuit parties. Gay orgies. Eating horse sperm. This is the kind of sickness Pepsi thinks is worth promoting.
Here's the clip about horse sperm. Seems innocent enough to me, toddler eating cereal with horse sperm. And there is not even anything about homosexuals in it.

Click here for the gay orgy that you're not doubt eager to see.

This is homosexual propaganda, according to the AFA, and we need to boycott Pepsi products, which include Pepsi soft drinks, Frito-Lay chips and snacks (800-352-4477), Quaker Oats (800-367-6287), Tropicana (800-237-7799) and Gatorade (800-884-2867). Or, you can call those numbers and tell them you're going to start buying those products. I already eat Quaker Oats. And support the homosexual agenda in the process, yeah!


This is one of the best Danish songs ever written, performed by the best Danish composer ever, Kim Larsen. Langebro is a bridge in Copenhagen, my hometown (literally 'long bridge'). Lyrics in Danish, by Mogens Mogensen, and English can be found here.

From the left it's a recent unplugged concert with Kim Larsen, then a live recording of the song by Gasolin, the band Larsen was in when the song came out in 1971, and last a theater concert from 2006. It's the first track on Gasolin's first album.

Did you catch me quote mining?

Have you caught me quote mining on this blog? If you have, let me know where, and if it's true, then I shall be glad to not only correct it, and write a new post with an official apology, but I shall also reward you one US dollar. I'll send it by US mail.

According to Wikipedia, that favorite website of mine, the term quote mining happens to originate in the evolution/creation debate:
The term quote mining originated in the creation-evolution controversy and is most common in that context, but there are some examples of it spreading to other fields.
Quote mining is a pejorative term, and is not at all equivalent to quoting:
Quote mining is use of the fallacy of quoting out of context, repeatedly employing misquotation in an attempt to skew or contort the meaning and purpose of the original author regarding a controversial topic. The quote miner's purpose can be to make the author or speaker look incompetent or mistaken or to use an author or speaker's own words to undermine their argument.
I don't need to quote mine to make my case. It's despicable. I would never think of doing it. So if I have, it's an honest mistake.

Quoting, on the other hand, I admit practicing in abundance. Best practice is to cite the source of the quotation, and I always do this by supplying a link to where I read the quote, even though it may not always be the original source. For example, when I quote Darwin, I will put a link to where I copied the text from, as in this quote by Charles Darwin:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.[104]
In this case I would like to add that this quote is originally from
Darwin, Charles (1859), On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1st ed.), London: John Murray, page 492.

For a real stinker of a quote mining example, watch the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed starring Ben Stein. In that movie Ben Stein quotes Darwin as having said this.
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The point he wants to make is that evolutionary theory inspired Nazism, and reading these words does admittedly make one think that Darwin would be its advocate. However, as can be readily seen if one follows the link to the Wikipedia page, words from the original quote have been omitted to distort what Darwin meant to say, but here they are in bold:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Ben Stein has omitted words and thereby twisted the meaning of Darwin's words to suggest quite the oposite of what he really meant to say, namely that taking care of our fellow humans is the pinnacle of human evolution, or something to that effect. The classic quote mining example.

Darwin follows with a paragraph where he explains that humans have the instinct to show great care toward the weak and helpless, and that it is an evil not to do so. Not exactly the stuff of Nazis, as Ben Stein would have you think.

Sensible hypothesis: cognitive abilities vary

The newest issue of Nature has no less than eight correspondences on the topic of studying race differences in IQ. I wrote about this earlier, presenting Steven Rose's view, and then never got around to dealing with the other point of view. The discussion has been raging on Nature's public opinion forum, and for that reason I didn't feel like writing any further about it here. But one of the views today nicely sums up what i think of the matter, so I quote it here in full.
Nature 458, 145 (12 March 2009) | doi:10.1038/458145b; Published online 11 March 2009

Identifying adaptive differences could provide insight

Kathryn Holt1

1. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SA, UK


With regard to the Commentary by Steven Rose, Stephen Ceci and Wendy M. Williams 'Should scientists study race and IQ?' (Nature 457, 786–788; 2009 and Nature 457, 788–789; 2009), I agree with others who have said we should not expect different subgroups of the human population, evolving independently, to arrive at exactly the same place in terms of cognitive abilities. This makes no more sense than expecting different populations to end up identical in skin colour, stature, metabolism or other aspects that are easily understood as adaptations to different environments.

So, given that we have logical reason to hypothesize about differences in cognitive abilities, why would we expect to measure these by using a single number such as IQ, which suggests there must be a hierarchy of cognitive function? The prediction surely is that each population will adapt to be better at the particular cognitive tasks that are most important for survival in its own environment. If this is the case, then identifying these (potentially adaptive) differences in cognitive ability, and searching for associations with genetic variants, could provide fascinating insights into how our brains work.

However, this is worlds away from measuring IQ of different 'race' groups in order to make claims about genetics and intelligence. There may be some value in these rather simplistic studies of race and IQ. But they do nothing to answer the scientific question of the genetic basis of intelligence and can easily be hijacked by individuals to advance their own prejudices.
The article is here, and at the bottom of it are links to the other seven contributions to the debate today.

Chimpanzee plans for the future

ResearchBlogging.orgSantino is a thirty year old male chimpanzee at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. For the last decade he has been collecting stones before the zoo opens, stashing them in around his enclosure, and then when the visitors arrive, has been throwing the rocks at them - though, thankfully, he apparently has poor aim.

The significance of this, as Mathias Osvath details in an article in Biology Direct, is the observation of other species than humans planning for the future. Vainly, I would say, we go around thinking that this is something that only humans do, and while there has been a few anecdotal reports of such observed behavior, this is a first thorough study of its kind.
Since the initial findings, caretakers have removed hundreds of caches. The gathering of stones has been observed on at least 50 distinct occasions, and the manufacturing of the concrete discs has been directly observed at least 18 times. However, concrete pieces were regularly present in the caches or individually along the shore.
For a behavior to signal planning for a future state, the predominant mental state during the planning must be different from the one mental state in the situation that is planned for. Santino prepared his caches of stones hours in advance of throwing them, and was calm while he collected them, while he was in an agitated state when he took his revenge on the people responsible for his captivity committed his foul deeds.

The striking thing about these behaviors is how they suggest a parallel between pre-human and chimpanzee cognitive abilities:
similar forms of stone manipulation constitute the most ancient signs of culture. Finds as old as 2.6 million years suggest that hominins carried and accumulated stone artefacts on certain sites, presumably a case of future need planning.
Give the chimps 3 million years in the right environment, and I wouldn't be surprised if they invented language and quantum physics. A little surprised, but not so much that I couldn't muster a 'told you so'.

The male [Santino] displays with a stone in his left hand. The forceful bipedal
locomotion and the pilo-erection (hair on end) are signs of agitation.

A pile of Santino's stones. Good thing his aims sucks. Imagine being hit by one of these.

Also in the news: Study: Belligerent chimp proves animals make plans

Mathias Osvath (2009). Spontaneous planning for future stone throwing by a male chimpanzee Current Biology, 19 (5) DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.010