Field of Science

Both robust and evolvable

ResearchBlogging.orgWhen the environment is stable, it's good to be robust against mutations. This is because all mutations in an adapted organism will be deleterious or neutral.

When the environment changes, being robust against mutations means that it is more difficult to adapt, so being robust is not good. This is because robust organisms have a hard time finding the mutations that lead to phenotypic change.

These two truisms are the basis for the suspicion that organisms that are mutational robust are less adaptable.

I an recent paper in Nature, Mutational robustness can facilitate adaptation, authors Draghi, Parsons, Wagner, and Plotkin demonstrate how this is not always true, contrary to the simple expectation. Being robust sometimes leads to higher evolvability.

Evolvability [wiki]
Evolvability is one of these relatively new notions is evolutionary biology. The idea is that different populations (at any level) have an unequal ability to evolve. Some will be better able to respond to the changes in the environment that necessitate phenotypic change. The better able a population is to generate new, beneficial, heritable phenotypic change, the more evolvable it is.

Note that Günter Wagner is sort of the godfather of evolvability, which by default makes you pay attention. (Don't confuse with Andreas Wagner, no relation, except Andreas was a student of Günter, and works on similar things.)

They investigate this problem using a very straightforward computational simulation, and compare the results with a not so straightforward mathematical model developed for the purpose. I will explain the former, and ignore the latter, except to say they find perfect agreement between the two.

Their model has just five easy parameters:

N - number of individuals in the population
P - number of possible phenotypes
K - number of phenotypes accessible by a single mutation from a given genotype
q - the probability that a mutation is neutral
μ - the probability that an offspring will have a new genotype (aka mutation rate)

P, K and μ describes the mutational neighborhood of each individual. If K=5 and q=0.4, then part of the network of genotypes could look like this:

The nodes represent different genotypes, and the colors are different phenotypes. If you are a red phenotype, there is a 40% chance that a mutation will produce a different genotype with the same phenotype. Under one of the assumptions made in the paper, all other phenotypes are lethal, meaning that if your offspring is blue, purple or green in the figure, then they don't survive. Life's hard, if you even get the chance.

They let the population evolve under the Moran model, which just means that every time-step one individual is chosen at random to have a offspring that then replaces one individual chosen at random (may be the parent). First they let the simulation run until the population has equilibrated on the neutral network of viable genotypes. The population thus spreads out over the network of different genotypes but identical phenotypes.

Once this equilibrium has been reached, they randomly choose just one other phenotype not on the neutral network to be the goal of adaptation (i.e. one non-red color), and then let the simulation go until an offspring finds this genotype. The adaptation time, the time from creating the goal genotype until it is found, τΔ, is their ad hoc measure of evolvability. Shorter time means higher evolvability.

The first expectation is that the more robust organisms are, the harder it will be for them to find the new genotype. In this experiment we would thus expect τΔ to be larger for more robust organisms, i.e. the larger q is.

However, what they find is that adaptation time is only a monotonic function of q when K=P, i.e. when the mutational neighborhood of each genotype is all possible phenotypes. In this case the goal phenotype can be reached with one mutation from any genotype. Thus, the more of the genotypes that are neutral (same phenotype), the higher the chance that a mutation will not find the goal phenotype with each mutation. In the figure below, this is the red curve, showing that adaptation time increases the more robust the organisms are, and that organisms with no robustness (q=0) are most evolvable.

But, when K is smaller than P, so each genotype is connected to fewer of the total number of phenotypes, then the shortest adaptation times are for q>0, or an intermediate amount of robustness. The smaller K/P is, the larger the optimal amount of robustness is (the minimum adaptation time shifts to the right as K/P decreases).

What they don't discuss in the article is how for any level of robustness, the most evolvable organisms are those with a higher K/P ratio. In other words, whatever q is, the larger the fraction of the total number of phenotypes that are accessible by a single mutation, the shorter the average adaptation time will be. I then wonder if the K/P ratio is something that organisms can evolve to optimize as well. Obviously K=P is highly unrealistic - expecting all phenotypes to be one mutation away would be idiotic, but perhaps it is a variable that selection could act on?

This is a very nice result, neatly delivered, and very nice to know. But...

Why is it in Nature, is what I want to ask? The abstract begins this way:
Robustness seems to be the opposite of evolvability. If phenotypes are robust against mutation, we might expect that a population will have difficulty adapting to an environmental change, as several studies have suggested[1, 2, 3, 4]. However, other studies contend that robust organisms are more adaptable[5, 6, 7, 8].
That is, while four studies have suggested the naïve expectation, four others contend that robustness does not need to mean less evolvable. This study then makes it clear that... well, what I just said, but given all the trouble that researchers have getting their manuscripts accepted in Nature, it seems odd that they would publish this one. For example, one paper from 2007 by Andreas Wagner, Robustness and evolvability: a paradox resolved, who writes this in the abstract:
I here resolve this tension [between robustness and evolvability] using RNA genotypes and their secondary structure phenotypes as a study system.


A consequence is that finite populations of sequences with a robust phenotype can access large amounts of phenotypic variation while spreading through a neutral network.
Sounds exactly the same to me.

But, I am thrilled whenever I see studies on evolutionary simulations published in Nature, because I hope to have something published there one day myself. Even if I have to do the math.

Draghi JA, Parsons TL, Wagner GP, & Plotkin JB (2010). Mutational robustness can facilitate adaptation. Nature, 463 (7279), 353-5 PMID: 20090752

Allergies you wouldn't have predicted

Looking over the submissions to Carnival of Evolution, I notice quite a few entries that aren't about evolution, typically about online universities. They won't make it into the carnival (hosted this coming Monday on Skeptic Wonder), but some of them are quite delightful reads nonetheless.

Like this one that lists twenty more or less weird allergies, like water, vibrations, underwear, sex, pressure, sweat. By far the weirdest and worst allergy is:
20. Every food and drink except water

A condition so rare medical science has yet to apply a name to it, much media attention has been dedicated to children so hypersensitive to the world around them that water remains one of the only things incapable of instigating an allergic reaction. Kaleb Bussenschutt is one such case. His diet consists of water, ice, and one specific brand of lemonade, and he must receive the proper nutrients necessary to live through a tube that feeds directly into his stomach. Eating anything else results in agonizing stomach pain and cramps. Bussenschutt gets along physically as a result of 20 hours a day on the feeding tube (it stows away in a backpack so he may move about and be active, but due to extreme rarity of his disorder and the subsequent lack of available research subjects, no cure has yet to surface.
Imagine that. No freaking food for your entire life. How sad is that?

Why I will not read Darwin

The NCSE emailed its supporters with a reminder that Darwin Day 2010 is just two weeks away.
Are you recovered from 2009's celebrations of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species? Good, because less than a month remains before Darwin Day 2010!

(...) on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education.
I think it's great to celebrate Darwin. Let's.

I don't know what's happening in my area around February 12th, but on the 7th I'm going to this:
Eric Scott, Curator of Paleontology at the San Bernardino County Museum, will be speaking on "Darwin and Design" at 2:00 p.m. on February 7 at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands.
It does feel funny, though, to get all hyped up about Darwin again, with the big celebration of his 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of The Origin just over.

I am an evolutionary biologist (or trying to be), and yet I have never read Darwin. And I don't particularly plan to, either. I firmly suspect a large fraction of evolutionary biologists would reprimand me for saying so. After all, he really was the prime initiator of evolutionary biology as we accept it today.

So I have a question: Can you be a successful evolutionary biologist without ever having read Darwin?

Why not?

I have an M.S. in physics, and yet I have never read Newton. Or Kelvin. Or Maxwell. Or Einstein. Actually, I may have read his 1905 paper on special relativity, but the point is that physics have come a long way since those guys. That's not to say that they are of no relevance, just that the core of their work has been written a thousand times over in books, and these are the ones that are read in university. No sane professor of physics would argue that you must read Principia to understand classical mechanics.

So I haven't read Darwin, and yet I think I understand natural selection and common descent just fine. What i specifically plan to avoid is becoming one of those distinguished evolutionary biologists who give talks and interviews explaining how it is important to read Darwin, because already back then he touched upon many salient features of evolution.

Evolutionary biology is moving forward at speeds faster than ever before. The integration of many areas of biology into evolution (developmental bio, ecology, molecular bio, genetics, paleontology, taxonomy, biogeography, conservation, computational bio, systems bio) is the cause of this success. Frankly, there are too many other books and papers that must be read to keep up. I don't have time for Darwin.

So shoot me.

Evolution is no more unlikely than development

Here is an excellent argument why the fact that we do not yet understand how something really complex evolved is not a good argument that it did not evolve.

If you argue that it's very, very unlikely for complex biological structure to originate by evolution, then it is similarly very, very unlikely that the same complex structure can develop from a single cell.

Development is a most amazing process, and Dr. Louis' argument is that the only difference in believing that something as complex as the bacterial flagellum can develop vs. believing that it could evolve, is that we can actually see that it can develop, while we don't get to see it evolve.

Flagellum develops in bacteria all the time, as we speak, but it already evolved, so we don't get to verify that directly. And yet, suppose we were not able to see it develop over and over, then we should consider it just as unlikely that it develops by natural processes, as some people consider it unlikely that it evolved by natural processes.

If you are into the more theological aspects of this discussion, I suggest you go to BioLogos to get your fix, you freaking junkie.

Trapping mice in Scotland

If I had the time, here is a volunteer job I'd really like to take.

Volunteer wanted for 5 weeks from 5th March 2010, to help with live trapping of field mice on St Kilda (map), a small archipelago 180km off the west coast of Scotland.

Responsibilities consist of helping to set up trapping grids on remote parts of the island, prepping and cleaning traps, handling mice and recording data. You will be living as part of a small group of researchers in restored cottages on the remotest field site in the British Isles; the accommodation is fairly basic but the scenery is spectacular! A great opportunity to acquire small mammal field experience.

You must be available for the full duration of the field work, and should have a background in biological sciences. A good level of fitness and head for heights are essential, as the field work will involve carrying heavy equipment packs over steep and precipitous terrain in all weathers (and we do mean all weathers!).

Helicopter flights between St Kilda and Benbecula (Outer Hebrides) will be provided, as will food and board whilst on St Kilda. Reasonable travel expenses within Scotland will also reimbursed.

To apply for this volunteer position, please send a CV and covering letter, plus details of two referees who can be contacted at short notice by email to: Tom Black (

O'Reilly on Oprah on Denmark

In this Culture Warriors segment Bill O'reilly and his warriors talk about Oprah's visit to my home town Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Oprah is told that the government does not pay 90 percent of your salary for four years when you become unemployed. That is FALSE.
  • O'Reilly suggest the average income tax is 75 percent if you earn good money. That is FALSE. No one pays that much, and it is rare that anyone pays over 50 percent.
The reason for O'Reilly's and his co-hosts' annoyance is that the Danes are touted, as has been shown, as being the the happiest people on Earth (PDF). While I personally would take that finding with a grain of salt, it is clear that the relatively high taxes that the Danes pay do afford them a lot of good services:
  • Free health care for everyone (without exception).
  • Free education.
You can graduate from high school, and go to university without ever paying for tuition and fees. You do have to pay for your books, but if your parents earn below a certain limit, you are also eligible for a small stipend while you study. I got this, as most students I know did, and it was enough for me to live on (I did pay very low rent, and ate little else than beer).

But that isn't to say that there aren't lots and lots of problems in Denmark. We do have poor people, homeless people, gang-wars, crime, suicides, etc.

Their argument against raising taxes to provide health care is that Denmark is a country of 5.5 million people, while there are over 300 million in the US, and therefore it can't work the same way. But why not? If everyone's taxes are raised, surely there would be enough money to pay for it. I know Americans don't like the idea of raising taxes, but I posit that's because they don't know how much it would benefit them personally, as well as the country as a whole*. I strongly suspect that everything in America would be improved in the long run if American's (and the legal aliens like myself) didn't have to worry whether they can get the health-care they need. It would have repercussions far beyond the health benefits alone.

Anyway, the level of seriousness drops below some low threshold when O'Reilly says that he isn't so sure if the Danes were perpetuating happiness when the Vikings were raping and beheading his ancestors in Ireland.

* That isn't to say that the Danes don't complain about paying taxes. They do. Constantly. Of course, the more so the more conservative their political views are.

My Kevin Bacon number is 3

Yeeeeeeeeees! I have a Kevin Bacon number!!!


Bjorn Ostman was in 777 (2007)
Blake Sherman was in Edmond (2005)
Mena Suvari was in Beauty Shop (2005)
Kevin Bacon

I so totally rule.

Find your own at The Oracle of Bacon.

Update evening:
You can also check your Erdös number. Mine is 5. And yes, these numbers matter very much. They are the measure of my worth as a person, no less. And yours.

Evolution highlights XIII

I have just started to subscribe to the RSS from ScieneDaily, and it is a treasure trove. It's great if you don't have the time to read the journal papers, plus it's free. Here's a few from today:

'Microraptors' Shed Light on Ancient Origin of Bird Flight
Indeed, the KU-China team's work provides such strong support for the trees-down model for the origin of avian flight that the alternative terrestrial (ground up) origin now may be abandoned.
I still like the ground up theory a lot.

In Bats and Whales, Convergence in Echolocation Ability Runs Deep
The discovery represents an unprecedented example of adaptive sequence convergence between two highly divergent groups and suggests that such convergence at the sequence level might be more common than scientists had suspected.
Value of Sexual Reproduction Versus Asexual Reproduction
The study looked at sexual, as well as asexual, varieties of a New Zealand freshwater snail (left), Potamopyrgus antipodarum, by sequencing mitochondrial genomes and found that the sexually reproducing snails had accumulated harmful DNA mutations at about half the rate of the asexual snails.
[John M. Logsdon, blogging at Sex, Genes & Evolution is a co-author on this one.]

The above experiment shows what many people have been suspecting for a long time, namely that sex is great (!) because it helps remove deleterious mutations. That doesn't mean that cloning yourself once in a while isn't acceptable, as in sharks:

Study of Shark Virgin Birth Shows Offspring Can Survive Long Term
"Examination of highly variable sections of the genome prove that these young sharks had no father," Feldheim said. "These findings are remarkable because they tell us that some female sharks can produce litters of offspring without ever having mated with a male.
Lastly, in non-evolution news, I used to say I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous, but now I'm not so sure anymore:

Mixed-Handed Children More Likely to Have Mental Health, Language and Scholastic Problems
Around one in every 100 people is mixed-handed. The study looked at nearly 8,000 children, 87 of whom were mixed-handed, and found that mixed-handed 7 and 8-year old children were twice as likely as their right-handed peers to have difficulties with language and to perform poorly in school.
The brain is the most curious thing, innit?

And that reminds me of a great entry in the Urban Dictionary: innit.

General positive exclamation meaning "yes, I agree!"
1. "Hey dere's some pigs in dat cop car over there innit?"
"Yo look at my new car innit!"

these words are used by individuals who use all three brain cells to create speech that in virtually incoherent.
Townie 1: Fuck, innit.
Townie 2: Innit

These chav-bashers are cunts, innit?

Townie: An' ah was like at the club wit' ma mates innit
Smi: You go clubbing?
Townie: Yeah innit
Rabson: You're only 12!
Townie: Yeah innit don't ya mate?
Smi: No...
Townie: Oh ma God-a like! I can't believe ya don't go clubbin' innit!

A chav in a box - preferably a coffin.
(In a rather high-brow British accent, upon coming across a chav funeral) Hurrah, another of those bastards innit!

I'm not sure (and don't care) what a chav is, but the whole thing just cracks me up, innit

Group selection lectures

Is natural selection at the group level an important evolutionary force? is the question asked to Stuart West, Samir Okasha, Herbert Gintis, and Mark Pagel.

It's a controversial topic, as some scientists think it is a much underrated and important level at which selection can act, while others are dismissive, saying that it cannot occur. That's a nice way to polarize the arguments, I think.

Here's West with an argument that the whole debate is overrated:

West points out that i) inclusive fitness is the theory that can be and, indeed, has been used to study what we might call group selection, and ii) that group adaptation does not generally occur. In other words, he notes that the issue of whether group selection occurs was solved a long time ago, and needn't be controversial anymore.

"Slimemolds are much more altruistic than humans are" - Stuart West.

Also see the videos of the talks by Herbert Gintis, Mark Pagel, and Samir Okasha.

In the end the four of them gathered for a panel discussion - which I haven't watched yet (it's hard to find 74 minutes available for that) - but I am certain it will be a great show.

Swans divorce

Fascinating, fascinating story about a couple of married swans who divorced each other and then both remarried other swans.
First suspicions of the rare event were raised when male swan Sarindi turned up in the annual migration from Arctic Russia without his partner of two years Saruni and with a new female - newly-named Sarind - in tow.

The pair's arrival led conservationists to fear the worst for Saruni.

But shortly afterwards Saruni arrived at the wetlands site - also with a new mate, Surune.

And after observing them, the experts discovered the old relationship had ended and new ones had begun.
Sad and uplifting at the same time. Also, the parallel to humans is intriguing. Did they perhaps stop loving each other? I have, by the way, been blessed watching a couple of swans in Copenhagen caressing or dancing (or...?). They were necking, and I was spellbound. They looked like they were in love.
As for why they may have split, she said: "Failure to breed could be a possible reason, as they had been together for a couple of years but had never brought back a cygnet, but it is difficult to say for sure."
Not unheard of in humans, either, I suppose.

Massimo's fixes for the US democracy

Gotta read this great post by Massimo Pigliucci about how to fix the American democratic system.
And elections should take place over two days and on weekends, to maximize participation. Still, if we could get through the five points above, the US would truly be a remarkable democracy, though still not “the best.” Instead, it is rotting away, and the stench is becoming unbearable.

British bomb detectors finally banned

Dowsing rods as bomb detectors in Iraq?!? If you haven't read about this yet, you must hurry over to Bruce M. Hood's blog, SuperSense (yet another of those blogs named after the author's book - I fully expect to write a book on pleiotropy when I go on sabbatical). It's a fantastic tale with tragic consequences, unbelievable levels of gullibility, shameless criminals, and ultimate justice.
Clearly this was pseudo-scientific babble. To my eyes, the ADE651 was a sophisticated looking dowsing rod, and yet the company ATSC Ltd that made them had already sold £50million worth of these devices to the Iraqis and had just secured another major contract.
I guarantee you this will end up as a movie-script one day.

I just found this on youtube:

Looks like a parody, and the company doesn't appear to be the same. In this video it's called Prosec, but Jom McCormick's company is ATSC. Here's one by ATSC:

... go together like pigs and whiskey

Heh! Yeah, they go together like pigs and whiskey.

Click to see the bartender's answer. I never quite thought about it like that.

Most awesome Rickroll ever

I just love the look on the face of the guy holding the Bible. Complete incomprehension.

McCain puts up his arms

John McCain is chock full of it. He just sent me an email about Scott Brown's victory:
His victory sent a strong message that you and I have long known - Americans are furious with the liberal leadership in Washington. Their out of control spending and proposed takeover of health care are destructive to our country and we must continue to fight against it.

I look forward to welcoming Scott as a colleague when he comes to Washington to join our battle against runaway spending and government run health care. But, unfortunately, there is now talk of Democrats employing Washington D.C. political games to move their agenda forward regardless of the people's will. [Emphasis added.]
Gimme a breakus, you fossil! You campaigned on the idea that the war in Iraq could continue for 100 years, and we all know how expensive that would be, and for what reasons (look up Haliburton). As for people's will, note that there are 41

New season of lovely skeptic-lectures

Kick me if the Skeptics Society hasn't managed to schedule some very interesting talks this spring. For example:

Natural Experiments of History with Dr. Jared Diamond
Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 2 pm.


Does God have a Future?
A debate between Deepak Chopra & Jean Houston v. Michael Shermer & Sam Harris.
Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 2 pm.

I don't know Jean Houston, but Deepak Chopra is of course completely insane (or, at least going for the ride pretending to be). I have never heard Harris speak live, so I might just go to this.

Update 1/25:
I just reserved two tickets to the March 14 debate. Yeah! I don't have anybody I would imagine would want to join me, but I was recommended to reserve all I'll need because they were down to 100 out of 1100 tickets already. Anybody in need of a ticket?

Scientia Pro Publica #19 is up

Scientia Pro Publica, the science blog carnival, has a new edition up at Deep Thoughts and Silliness, and it has several posts on evolution.

For example, in The Non-Line Between Life and Not-Life Andrew Bernardin argues that prions are fuzzying the boundary between life and non-life, because of the observation that prions can evolve. However, this assumes first that life is well defined by that which evolves, which I think it very not true. Lots of other things can evolve that we would not call life, like strings of numbers in a computer, inorganic molecules, and memes. And, much like memes, prions don't really reproduce. They are expressed by mammalian genes, and are found all over in our bodies. The prions that cause disease are misfolded. A misfolded protein can induce misfolding in a properly folded prion by a method that still isn't quite well understood, and while it is beneficial to think of this as reproduction, and really is more like a cultural propagation of ideas. Or a game of tag.

Not that I think the line between life and non-life isn't fuzzy, though.

Gerald Joyce also includes the capability to evolve as a necessary component in his definition of life, which I disagree with, though he doesn't say it is a sufficient condition, at least.

Here are two previous posts with links to new articles about prions: Evolution highlights VII and X.

Scott who wins senate seat in MA?

Republican Scott Brown takes the MA seat in the senate after Ted Kennedy, who called the overhaul of the health care system the cause of his life, and yet Brown, who plans to oppose the bill, still has the nerve to aspire to be a worthy successor:
And he effusively praised Mr. Kennedy as a big-hearted, tireless worker, and said that he hoped to prove a worthy successor to him.
Fuck you too, Brown.

Do we have any idea why 52% of the voters would vote to endanger the health care bill? Let's see:
Although the race has riveted the nation largely because it was seen as contributing to the success or defeat of the health care bill, the potency of the issue for voters here was difficult to gauge. That is because Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage, thanks to a law passed when Mitt Romney, a Republican, was governor.

Thus Massachusetts is one of the few states where the benefits promised by the national bill were expected to have little effect on how many of its residents got coverage, making it an unlikely place for a referendum on the health care bill.
Ah, but of course. Spending all that money wouldn't benefit Bay Staters anyway. Nothing decides like selfishness.

Oh well. 30 million of the poorest Americans will now have to look elsewhere for health care, I suppose.

Moralistic fallacy to the left of me, naturalistic fallacy to the right...

Somehow I find it tacky to blog about other blogs - the navel-starring just gets to me. However, I have been unable to forget evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa's post, Two logical fallacies that we must avoid: If what I say offends you, it is your problem, about the naturalistic and the moralistic fallacies.
Both are logical fallacies, and they get in the way of progress in science in general, and in evolutionary psychology in particular. However, as [Matt] Ridley astutely points out, political conservatives are more likely to commit the naturalistic fallacy (“Nature designed men to be competitive and women to be nurturing, so women ought to stay home to take care of the children and leave politics to men”), while political liberals are equally likely to commit the moralistic fallacy (“The Western liberal democratic principles hold that men and women ought to be treated equally under the law, and therefore men and women are biologically identical and any study that demonstrates otherwise is a priori false”).
Really? This is true? Assuming it is (and wit that I am free from having to actually look it up ;), that's pathetic. I count myself as a liberal in America (in Denmark I would not, as the political spectrum is different), but the moralistic fallacy is so absurd that I swear I would never commit it in a thousand years*. It's not that I would commit the naturalistic fallacy either, but I'd like to argue that it isn't quite as batshit insane in its logic as the moralistic fallacy. I mean, what is real could be imagined to have a bearing on how we view life, the universe, and everything, but how we view that could never ever in any way affect what is real.

The big difference in committing these two logical fallacies is that the naturalistic fallacy (in this context equal to the is/ought fallacy [see a discussion of that in Massimo Pigliucci's blog, Rationally Speaking]) at least makes it explicit that the (wrong) step from what is to what ought to be is made. The moralistic fallacy, as much as I have identified it in arguments, is never made explicit, and is therefore much more (... dangerous is a strong word, so thank the saurus) pestilential (I love it!). The view of how things ought to be is sort of kept secret (because as people aspiring to be rational, we all know that this should have no bearing on an argument about what is), and will of course be vociferously denied in case it is identified by any of those pesky republicans (or well-meaning but naive liberal scientists):
Since academics, and social scientists in particular, are overwhelmingly left-wing liberals, the moralistic fallacy has been a much greater problem in academic discussions of evolutionary psychology than the naturalistic fallacy. Most academics are above committing the naturalistic fallacy, but they are not above committing the moralistic fallacy. The social scientists’ stubborn refusal to accept sex and race differences in behavior, temperament, and cognitive abilities, and their tendency to be blind to the empirical reality of stereotypes, reflect their moralistic fallacy driven by their liberal political convictions.

It is actually very easy to avoid both fallacies – both leaps of logic – by simply never talking about what ought to be at all and only talking about what is. It is not possible to make either the naturalistic or the moralistic fallacy if scientists never talk about ought. Scientists – real scientists – do not draw moral conclusions and implications from the empirical observations they make, and they are not guided in their observations by moral and political principles. Real scientists only care about what is, and do not at all care about what ought to be. [Emphasis added.]
Here I am, then, going to have to disagree with Kanazawa. It is indeed possible to commit the moralistic fallacy without talking about ought, because political or ideological conviction need not be clarified for people to express what their conformation bias makes them conclude.

* Full disclosure: Last year I was accused of committing the naturalistic fallacy by two people who continues to commit the moralistic fallacy**. Isn't that ironic?

** Fuller disclosure: I am aware that that's my interpretation of written words, but do judge for yourself, and let me here what you have to say.

This just in: Evidence for Christianity

Finally, finally, someone has the evidence for Christianity. In I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek "builds the case from the ground up":
The authors include run-ins they've had with professors and debate opponents, making for an interesting read. The appendixes [sic], which feature a mock dialogue between a Christian and an atheist, are entertaining. The book covers all the important issues that this topic entails, from cosmology, life origins, evolution, morality, and a defense of the Bible.

No honest atheist can read this book without being impressed by the quality of the theistic arguments as presented by the authors. The objections of skeptics are confronted with confidence. Did it change my mind? It may have planted a seed.
Wait! It says confidence, not evidence. Sorry, my bad.

Right then, carry on. Nothing to see here.

(I truly misread that as evidence the first time around.)

Evolution highlights XII

Sean B. Carroll the biologist explains in a brief New York Times article how animals have evolved different ways to cope with freezing temperatures. Unlike certain people I know who will "freeze to death" at five Celsius (that's 278 Kelvin), the real threat to animals is the water in the cells turning to ice. Interestingly, of all the animals that have evolved different anti-freeze methods, few have done it the same way.

On the contrary, Robin, some very unrelated species of animals have evolved resistance to tetrodotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin (2 mg can kill an adult human), in the same way, Carroll explains in an earlier NYT article. It is unusual that different animals protect themselves with the exact same poison, and the answer is that eating these animals is deadly not because they produce the toxins themselves, but ingest it when they eat certain bacteria that produce tetrodotoxin.

Carroll really is an excellent writer. I can highly recommend his Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and if you're serious about the molecular details, try From DNA To Diversity (you'll have to be very serious!).

In other news, researchers use a mathematical model simulating evolutionary pressures to infer that humans evolved dexterous hands not just because bipedalism freed hands for tool use, but because hands and feet use the same genes to build them during development, and changes in the development of feet thus affects how hands evolve, too. As others, I am skeptical that such an approach can tell us what actually happened.

Giving aid to Haiti

The earthquake in Haiti seems so unfair. It's one of the countries whose people suffer the most in the first place, and they are not very well prepared to deal with their own misfortune. Thankfully, lots of people who are better off are willing to help, chiefly by giving money to organizations that give real aid. Some people prefer to do that in the name of their pet religious institution, but some prefer to make it known that they give even though they are non-believers (here through Doctors Without Borders and International Red Cross).

For someone who is in great need of help it really doesn't matter much who gives it. It doesn't matter if the givers have some hidden agenda or not, as long as it doesn't affect those receiving aid. Unless of course the aid comes on a condition, such as being told how to live or what to think, or that the giving party must get something in return.

Trying to assess the mind of the giver is completely unhelpful. If you help someone, that's very nice of you, even if you are only doing it because it improves your own sex life.

Evolution posts in 2009

ResearchBlogging, where I submit all my posts about peer-reviewed journal articles, is accepting nominations for a little back-patting among their research-bloggers.

I'm not going to urge you to submit Pleiotropy in any of the categories (I have no chance of winning with so few readers, plus I'm a loser), but it did make we want to promote some of the posts I have written about papers on topics in evolution and submitted to ResearchBlogging in 2009:

Adaptation is fast and effective in a fungus
B:III evidence for evolution (which is just a theory)
Genomic obesity
Darwin was wrong about the human appendix being vestigial
Cladistics does not resolve hobbit controversy
Darwin's theory can handle the landscape
Orangutans to replace chimpanzees as our closest relative?
Homosexuality is not a choice
Evolution-proof malaria control
Is this a new feathered dinosaur?
Evolution does mean better and more complex

Here's the full list on ResearchBlogging.

Pig penchant for shit?

I met Yoshi, who uses beetles to study evolution, at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor Labs last year, and talking about pigs being misunderstood, and only disgusting because we force them to live the ways we do (my point), he told me about pig toilets.

Humans shit and pigs eat the shit.

I didn't believe him.

But now I do.

The sign says "women ← → men" in Chinese.

Apparently they were also common in Goa, India, but now they are being outlawed.

But look, I'm still skeptical. Yes, eating shit is disgusting. But I wonder if they would do it if they were offered something better. Do they have a penchant for shit, or do they only eat it because we won't serve them babies? I mean, carrots.

Update 1/18:
Gotta have pot-bellied pigs.

Carnival of Evolution news

Carnival of Evolution is now completely in my hands, as I have finally gotten permissions to update the account at BlogCarnival, so now I can assign bloggers to the next editions of Carnival of Evolution.

CoE #20 will be hosted by Psi Wavefunction on Skeptic Wonder on February 1st - which is really close, so go on and submit your evolution-posts already! Use this form to submit them.

Mighty soon I plan to announce who will host the coming months. More volunteers are still needed, so send me an email if you're interested (

Doggone seriously skeptical

The Dogon, a people living in Mali, are by some said to have obtained astronomical knowledge about the Sirius star system that they could only have gotten if Sirians came for a visit and told them. And article in eSkeptic shoots that story down, but I have a slight problem with one of the arguments used, involving evolutionary biology:
What about Sirius? It has a mass of 2.35 times the mass of the Sun. This means that it will have a lifetime on the stellar Main Sequence, which is where stars spend 90% of their lives, of about 1.2 billion years. By comparison, our own Sun was that old 3.4 billion years ago. The oldest traces of life on Earth go back to about that time. Obviously, no Earth-based species was flying to other stars back then!

Even if you allow for a much higher biological mutation rate on any Sirian planet compared to the Earth, it still isn’t enough time. Just when multi-cellular life would began, Sirius A would become a Red Giant, crisping any nearby planets
The point he is making is that life on planets no older than 1.2 billion years could not have evolved to be multicellular, complex, large, intelligent, and sophisticated enough to allow them to build spaceship and travel to Earth to meet the Dogons. But why exactly do people always assume that because it took so long for multicellular life to evolve on Earth, so must it necessarily be everywhere else, too? Seems to be that it's either probability calculation, meaning that we take how long it took here as some mean, and thereby estimate that the chance it would take a tenth or less of that time is very, very small. Either that, or it's an assumption that it necessarily takes that long because unicellular life goes through a number of prerequisite evolutionary stages that must are necessary before multicellular, complex life can evolve.

The first proposition is crazy because one datum does not tell you anything about the distribution it is drawn from. It is wrong to assume that the time it took on Earth is near the average time that sort of thing takes, and it gives no information about the variance.

There is no evidence for the second proposition whatsoever, either. No one presently knows what the requirements are for multicelluar, complex life to evolve, and there's no reasons to think that they necessarily take billions of years to evolve. On the contrary, recently much evidence has been amassed that evolution can be very fast (e.g. fungi and lizards).

Falsifiable foot?

Yet another superficial poke at evolutionary psychology by one Andrea James at Boing Boing, What's wrong with evolutionary psychology?

The article is tedious because it makes the silly inference that a whole field of science (EP) is disqualified by the dubious assumptions made by some scientists, such as
  • Computational mind (the brain is more like a computer than a biological organ)
  • Determinism (biology is destiny)
  • Fatalism (free will/choice is an illusion)
  • Consciousness (subjective awareness deludes us into thinking we have free will)
  • Reductionism or essentialism (race and gender are concrete, not socially constructed, can be reduced to their genetic essence, and are quantifiable)
  • Intelligence is definable and measurable
  • Sexual selection should focus on benefits for the individual organism
  • The "function" or "purpose" of life is to make more life
  • The __ gene: The gay gene, the god gene, etc.
I agree to an extent with some of these, and disagree with others (most notably I do not see any way by which free will can be anything but an illusion, but that's for another day). I find it silly to bring up these "tenets" at all, but will say that it is totally irrelevant what one thinks of them with regards to doing research in EP. Whether you agree with them or not, you can do the research.

But also, the discussion in the comments to the article is very good, and a couple of people address this list of tenets and other points in the article. For example, on the issue of whether EP makes falsifiable claims or not, SamSam says:
The argument that no statement in EP is falsifiable is possibly valid, but doesn't necessarily detract from the statement's value.

There are plenty of statements one can make regarding physical evolution which are just as hard to falsify but are never-the-less valuable.

For example: "The Human foot's shape evolved because it provided a selective advantage to a primate when running and walking."

This statement has value and is most likely true. However, is there any way that it can be falsified?
This question got me thinking, because I didn't have an answer ready for it. I would definitely also assert that most likely the human foot is an adaptation for walking and running, but why would I? The claim is made by combining our understanding of evolution and of human anatomy and biophysics, and it really does seem very plausible. I had to think for an embarrassingly long time (I think it was 53 seconds!) before I could see the obvious way that it can be falsified: Show that the human foot is not good for walking and running. Like the famous "girls like pink because they evolved to pick ripe fruit" which can be falsified by showing that girls do not prefer pink, so is the human foot claim falsifiable.

It may be very hard to falsify, and in this case it certainly is, but that's because it is most most probably true. The real issue is of course whether a hypothesis is falsifiable in principle or not. And this one totally is.

Donald Trump R.I.P.

I already hate the fact that when Donald Trump eventually dies he will be hailed as a visionary entrepreneur, devoted father of five, gifted author, and typical American who could have been president.

Brit Hume explains away on O'Reilly

Recently Brit Hume (an episcopalian: "Protestant, yet Catholic") said this on Fox News:
He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith, so, my message to Tiger would be "Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

Here Bill O'Reilly ask him the obvious question (which is good) but totally fails to follow up on his evasive answer (not so good):

O'Reilly: Was that proselytizing?
Hume: I don't think so, I mean... Look, Tiger Woods is someone I've always rooted for, as a golfer and as a man. I've greatly admired him over the years, and I've always said to people that it was the content of his character that made him, beyond his extraordinary golf skills, so admirable. Now we know that the content of the character was not what we thought it was. (...) I think that Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that I think Tiger Woods badly needs.

So, look, like, he may say that he doesn't think so, but... Look, he clearly was. And he most likely went to Church the following Sunday and was praised by his fellow congregants for being a good soldier of Christ, spreading the gospel, etc. etc.

Hume apparently also received emails saying he was a pompous jerk for belittling the Buddhist faith.

O'Reilly: What do you think drives the negative comments about Christianity?
Hume: It has always been a puzzling thing to me. The Bible even speaks of it: You speak the name of Jesus Christ, and all hell breaks loose. It is explosive. I didn't even say the name in that way. I simply spoke of the Christian faith, but that was enough to trigger this reaction. It triggers a very powerful reaction in people who do not share the faith, and who do not believe in it. Always have.

Okay, so he finds it very puzzling that when you say that Buddhism cannot offer what Christianity can, and that Tiger Woods should turn to it to get what he badly needs, then Buddhist take it in a bad way? Hume, you twit, you were glorifying Christ on TV, and there is no getting away with it. Imagine for a moment a Buddhist saying about a Christian golfer who slept around that Christianity may call such behavior a sin, but if he turns to Buddhism, then he wouldn't need forgiveness in the first place, because sleeping around is not a sin, because there are no sins in Buddhism, and therefore Buddha is someone this golfer badly needs. This would not upset a multitude of Christians? Oh yes it would, in a bad way. I wouldn't be surprised if it lead to violent repercussions against Buddhist temples in America.

Bunch of pathetic hypocrites.

So, anyone here with a different perspective? Anyone who thinks Hume's comments were in any way appropriate?

By the way, I'm with Bjørk on Buddhism: "Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren't lesser beings, they're just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists."

Evolution highlights XI

Speciation happens in coral reefs
This makes is all the more troubling that climate change are destroying the reefs, which may all be gone by 2050.

Oldest Land-Walker Tracks Found--Pushes Back Evolution
This does not make Tiktaalik uninteresting as a transitional fossil, but merely tells us that tetrapods evolved earlier than previously thought.

Evolutionary Surprise: Eight Percent Of Human Genetic Material Comes From A Virus
Not the only study that suggests that incorporating virus genetic material into our DNA has been important in our evolution.

Lately several items in the news about the evolution of resistance to herbicides and other drugs to control pests:

US-German team measures how quickly genomes change

On the other hand, the new findings easily explain why weeds become quickly resistant to herbicides. In a large weed population, a few individuals might have a mutation in just the right place in their genome to help them withstand the herbicide. "This is in particular a problem because herbicides often affect only the function of individual genes or gene products," says Weigel. A solution would be provided by herbicides that simultaneously interfere with the activity of several genes.


"Everything that is genetically possible is being tested in a very short period," adds Lynch, emphasizing a very different view than perhaps the one we are all most familiar with: that evolution reveals itself only after thousands, if not millions of years.
Disinfectants Cause Some Bacteria to Adapt, Thrive
The research team focused on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium responsible for a range of infections in people with weakened immune systems. When the scientists added increasing amounts of disinfectant to P. aeruginosa cultures, the bacteria adapted to survive not only the disinfectant but also the antibiotic called ciprofloxacin.


"What is more worrying is that bacteria seem to be able to adapt to resist antibiotics without even being exposed to them."
What??? I just saw this, and I really must find out what the heck this is supposed to mean. How it is possible to adapt something that the organism has never been exposed yet is a mystery.

Dimwits rewriting history in Texas

The Texas State Board of Education decides the textbooks standards for Texas and influences the rest of the country, and it is simply scary what those ideologues are trying to do.
“I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say,” he declared at one point. “Evolution is hooey.” This bled into a rant about American history. “The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,” McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principals. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”
Holy sh....! These are the words of Don McLeroy (he's a dentist), and that's just awful. Talk about religion influencing science and education - and he isn't shy about breaking down the separation of church and state either.
The ultraconservatives argued that they were too light on basics like grammar and too heavy on reading comprehension and critical thinking. “This critical-thinking stuff is gobbledygook,” grumbled David Bradley, an insurance salesman with no college degree, who often acts as the faction’s enforcer.
I can just see the guy fighting to keep in the drool: "I just don't get this thinking part at all. Keep them children learning spelling and proper writin' instead."

Next they'll be demanding universities to relinquish the grip on professorships by the godless: "Qualified applicants are considered for employment without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, or belief in evolution."

A tempting offer indeed

Here's one of those Nigerian emails that puts the rest to shame:
please good day my name is shilsells from nigeria and i most be frank with you as a matter of your help please i am in need of a sum of $2,500 us$ to enable me move a sum of $17,million us$ to you within the next few days from now please kindly get back to me along with your cell phone number and your real name if you want to help me out, please if you are not interested to help me kindly dont reply this email i waiting to hear from you along with your cell phone number.
If you ever wondered how the scams promising you millions of dollars left by dead bankers work, here is the explanation. "We have all this money that we need to shift, but we need to buy a truck to haul it. We promise we will give you millions of dollars in return after you wire us 2,500 dollars first. Cross my heart and hope to die."

Also, I think I figured out why these letters often have so bad grammar and punctuation: It is done on purpose to better align themselves with the victims they are seeking - people who can't spell or construct a proper sentence.

Skeptics save money on audio-equipment

Great little article in eSkeptic this week on Audiophoolery: pseudoscience in consumer audio
Some audio scams are so blatant you wonder how anyone could fall for them, like a replacement volume control knob that sells for $485. The ad copy proclaims, “The new knobs are custom made with beech wood and bronze … How can this make a difference??? Well, hearing is believing as we always say. The sound becomes much more open and free flowing with a nice improvement in resolution. Dynamics are better and overall naturalness is improved.” Yes, I bet that’s just what they always say. Wood is a common theme among audiophile scams, falsely implying a relation to a fine old violin where the wood’s vibration really is a part of the sound. But a volume control knob?

Indeed, a volume control knob made of wood improves the sound of your stereo? For nearly 500 dollars? Pulease. No one falls for that. Really? Who?

The article list loads of other scams that people need to be aware of if they are out to spend money trying to improve the quality of their audio-equipment.

Incidentally, when I was waay younger I played a gig with a band at a private party. Unfortunately, the wine was free, and I had too much before we played, and the drummer was pissed. As we finished, the sound of my amplifier suddenly disappeared. It was, apparently, quite dead, without even a hiss left over. The band broke up after this, and no one ever really told me why.


I took my amp to repairs (at a place on Åboulevarden in Copenhagen, in case that means anything to you), and they told me the pap was broken (the thing that makes up the vibrating part of the speaker), and I paid approximately $500 for the repairs. Too bad, because I had next to no money at that time (now I have somewhat less).

Then much later I was playing in a new band sharing a room for practice with another band. One day my amp was again completely dead in exactly the same way as before. But this time I noticed that the electrical fuse was gone and had been used elsewhere by someone from the other band. Once reinserted, the amp was fine.

The rest is theory: The drummer in the first band removed the fuse to shut me up, and never deigned to tell me [and, if this guy should be reading this: Fuck you, asshole!]. Then, at the repair shop, I was totally scammed. What they told me was a complete lie. If the pap had been broken, there would still have been an electrical hiss audible - it would not have totally silenced the amp. All they did was replace the fuse and make up a story to earn free money from an unsuspecting twenty-year-old.

I think that place went out of business. Good. I never heard from that drummer again. Good.

In between those two bands I played for a while with three guys who eventually threw me out because I wasn't grown up enough for them, or something. It was a really ambitious band with our own material, and we had been practicing forever to get out and play live when they offed me. The singer called me first and told me not to panic, but not why I should or shouldn't. Then they came to my home and told me the news.

Years later I met the drummer of that band in a bar, and when I asked he told me that the band broke up some time after I left, because they were unable to find a replacement bass player.

What would be an appropriate comment to end with?

Pursue your scientific failures

It is no exaggeration I think to say that I have had my share of failures, but I have also had a bit of luck. The path of trial and error epitomized by "" [I am still trying to remember this one] and "chance favors the prepared mind", while perhaps trivial or, in some situations, unavoidable, is the way to succeed.

Now, as detailed in a Wired article, Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up, research on research suggest that scientific researchers should embrace their failures a lot more than they apparently do. Rather than taking failures in experiments at face value, research shows that researchers explain them away because they don't conform to theory. Here's how to correct that:

There are advantages to thinking on the margin. When we look at a problem from the outside, we’re more likely to notice what doesn’t work. Instead of suppressing the unexpected, shunting it aside with our “Oh shit!” circuit and Delete key, we can take the mistake seriously. A new theory emerges from the ashes of our surprise.


While the scientific process is typically seen as a lonely pursuit — researchers solve problems by themselves — Dunbar found that most new scientific ideas emerged from lab meetings, those weekly sessions in which people publicly present their data. Interestingly, the most important element of the lab meeting wasn’t the presentation — it was the debate that followed. Dunbar observed that the skeptical (and sometimes heated) questions asked during a group session frequently triggered breakthroughs, as the scientists were forced to reconsider data they’d previously ignored. The new theory was a product of spontaneous conversation, not solitude; a single bracing query was enough to turn scientists into temporary outsiders, able to look anew at their own work.
Our weekly lab meeting is in ten minutes. Expect a breakthrough.
This is why other people are so helpful: They shock us out of our cognitive box. “I saw this happen all the time,” Dunbar says. “A scientist would be trying to describe their approach, and they’d be getting a little defensive, and then they’d get this quizzical look on their face. It was like they’d finally understood what was important.”
Yeah! I concur.

Incidentally, the example used in the article is Penzias' and Wilson's experimental discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang. They got the Nobel prize for that, but I think it should have been given to Gamow for predicting it.

Update 1/25:
I finally remembered (the brain is a curious thing):
"Success comes from experience, and experience comes from failure."
I also had a gigantic déja vu this afternoon. I wonder if these two events are connected?

Lethal mutagenesis

Drugs fight bacteria and viruses by killing them fast, but the problem is that this eventually leads to the microbes evolving resistance to the drug. However, if another drug was given that increases the mutation rate of the microbe, perhaps this would lead them to die out, since most mutations are harmful?

Carl Zimmer interviews several scientists in The New York Times on the matter of lethal mutagenesis, and the question of whether the microbes could evolve resistance to the mutagenic drug is raised.

Irish blasphemers

Atheist Ireland has put up a list with quotes by famous people who would have fallen under the new blasphemy law in Ireland. It includes Mr Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjørk, George Carlin (duh!), Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, the current Pope, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, and some Irish clergy and politicians to round it off.

Clearly this blasphemy law, making material "that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage" a crime, will not work, unless they plan to seriously fine their own politicians and clergy €25,000 (though I wonder if they get a pass because what they said was not intended to cause an outrage).

I am not scheduled to go to Ireland any time soon, but foreseeing that I will at some point (and that I have loads of Irish readers - 208 to be exact in 2009), I will here post something that I trust someone will find grossly abusive or insulting to their religion, intending and hoping to cause an outrage among a substantial number Christians:

"The Christian doctrine that a good person is expected to go to Heaven enjoying the rest of eternity while some of his or her loved ones will be tortured in Hell for the same amount of time, because they didn't live up to the same standard, is so emphatically evil, that should God really exist, I hope to get the chance to say to his damned racist, misogynist, vain, unjust, unloving, and selfish face just how much I despise him."

Additionally, since the Irish law doesn't define "any religion", I think before I go to Ireland I better give people a fair warning that according to my personal religion, under which it is blasphemy to refer to The Religion as anything but "The Religion", it is highly blasphemous to talk about the notion of life after death, because in The Religion we aren't given any information about the afterlife, and therefore it may not be discussed in any form or shape, including it's very existence, except by the high clergy of The Religion, which currently includes only me, and doing so will tangibly insult and abuse all followers of The Religion, which currently also only includes me.

Interestingly, PZ will be going to Ireland soon. Hopefully he will get arrested on arrival.

Update 1/4/2010:
George Carlin is just too precious not to quote:
15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”

Carnival of Evolution #19

A new edition is up on Christie Wilcox's blog, Observations of a Nerd.

Notice that this is a very important edition: It is the first after the celebration of Darwin 200th birthday (year) has ended, and there is some speculation that nothing much will happen in evolution research and blogging in 2010. Fourteen submissions for January 2nd isn't bad at all in that light. However, those posts and that research was of course done last year, so maybe the February edition is going to really slim?

It is still to be decided what the hosting schedule for this spring will be - just a few have volunteered so far, and I'd like to hear from more before I write a list. But, rest assured there will be a new CoE #20 up somewhere in the beginning of February, so don't forget to submit one (good) or two (better) posts about evolution before then. Please use this online form to submit.

Image from Lab Rat's post on bacterial cell wall evolution.