Field of Science

Tim Minching love

I'm in love. With Tim Minchin. Of Storm fame. When his previous creations left me a big fan, of the opinion that he should be POTUS, and that his mess-up hair is actually totally cool, then his newest has made me fall in love with him forever and ever.

Just listen to this wonderful, wonderful song. It's just so catchy I can't believe it! If you listen in, just note that the lyrics are questionable, so it's not at all safe for work (NAASFW). Lyrics are below, in case you wanna know what they are before you tune in.

Fuck the motherfucker
Fuck the motherfucker
Fuck the motherfucker
He’s a fucking motherfucker

Fuck the motherfucker
Fuck the fucking fucker
Fuck the motherfucker
He’s a total fucking fucker

Fuck the motherfucker
Fuck the motherfucker
Fuck the motherfucker
Fucking fuck the motherfucker

Fuck the motherfucker
Fuck the motherfucking Pope

Fuck the motherfucker
And fuck you motherfucker
If you think that motherfucker is sacred

If you cover for another motherfucker who’s a kiddie fucker
Fuck you, you’re no better than the motherfucking rapist

And if you don’t like the swearing that this motherfucker forced from me
And reckon that it shows moral or intellectual paucity
Then fuck you motherfucker, this is language one employs
When one is fucking cross about fuckers fucking boys

I don’t give a fuck if calling the Pope a motherfucker
Leaves you unthinkingly brand me an unthinking apostate
This has naught to do with other fucking godly motherfuckers
I’m not interested right now in fucking scriptural debate

There are other fucking songs and there are other fucking ways
I’ll be a religious apologist on other fucking days
But the fact remains, if you protect a single kiddie fucker
Then Pope or prince or plumber, you’re a fucking motherfucker

You see I don’t give a fuck what any other motherfucker
Believes about Jesus and his motherfucking mother
And I’ve no problem with the spiritual beliefs of all these fuckers
While those beliefs don’t impact on the happiness of others

But if you build a church on claims of fucking moral authority
And with threats of hell impose it on others in society
Then you, you motherfuckers, could expect some fucking wrath
When it turns out you’ve been fucking us in our motherfucking asses

So fuck the motherfucker
And fuck you, motherfucker if you’re still a motherfucking papist
If he covered for a single motherfucker who’s a kiddie fucker
Fuck the motherfucker, he’s as evil as the rapist

And if you look into your motherfucking heart and tell me true
If this motherfucking stupid fucking song offended you
With its filthy fucking language and it’s fucking disrespect
If it made you feel angry, go ahead and write a letter
But if you find me more offensive than the fucking possibility
That the Pope protected priests when they were getting fucking fiddly
Then listen to me, motherfucker, this here is a fact:
You are just as morally misguided as that motherfucking
Power-hungry, self-aggrandized bigot in the stupid fucking hat

Robert M. Pirsig's Zen shot to pieces

In eight grade a teacher of mine highly recommended Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I never read it, though, and today I'm glad I didn't waste my time with it. (It's not that I mind reading about theories and philosophies that are wrong - for example, I enjoyed Velikovski a lot).

In Motorcycle Maintenance Without the Zen How Pirsig’s Mistakes About Atheism Continue Today, Chris Edwards explains on eSkeptic what Pirsig's big fallacy was:
“Well, I predict that if you think about it long enough you will find yourself going round and round and round and round until you finally reach only one possible, rational, intelligent conclusion. The law of gravity and gravity itself did not exist before Isaac Newton. No other conclusion makes sense.

“And what that means,” I say before he can interrupt, “and what that means is that the law of gravity exists nowhere except in people’s heads! It’s a ghost! We are all of us very arrogant and conceited about running down other people’s ghosts but just as ignorant and barbaric and superstitious as our own.” (41–42)
Again, Pirsig mistakes the law of gravity for a thing. Of course the law of gravity could not have existed before there was anything because without matter then objects would not be attracted to each other because there would be no objects. If we define the “law of gravity” as a description of real-world phenomena, in the same way that the word “rock” is used to describe a slab of granite, then no, the law of gravity did not exist before Newton. However, if we describe the law of gravity as the attraction that objects, depending on weight, have for each other then of course it existed — just as sound waves came from the falling tree even if no ears were around to hear it.

Pirsig might as well be saying that the word “rock” was floating around in the universe before there were ever rocks, or that poems about flowers existed before there were flowers or poets to write about them. He might as well be Plato.
How inane is that!?

Gravity existed the moment there was matter. The law of gravity was formulated by Newton to describe gravity.

I really wish my eighth grade teacher would have made this clear right away. Hopefully none of my classmates - or any of the many other pupils he ever recommended this book to - went on to be persuaded by anything Pirsig wrote.

Let's not even mention that Pirsig appears to have suffered from schizophrenia, and what we can expect from writers who can't distinguish what goes on in his head alone from what goes on in the world everyone else can sense. Oh heck, I mentioned it.

Perry S. Marshall's idiotic Random Mutation Generator

Idiotic is the key word in the title.

Perry S. Marshall had a Google ad here on the left, and it led to his Random Mutation Generator. Enter a sentence and mutate it by changing one or more letters at a time, and wait until a new sensible sentence appears.

That it doesn't work is his proof that "the notion of Random Mutation as a source of evolutionary progress is utterly false and absurd."

The sensible counter argument is that just mutating and waiting for a new sentence to appear is akin to evolution in a flat fitness landscape. The generator does not differentiate between gibberish and meaning, even though we are sitting there waiting for meaning. But inside the computer there is no information about which kind of sentence is fitter - like in nature, if the landscape is flat, there is no selection, and we only observe neutral evolution. Marshall then explains that when a fitness function is supplied by a person, then it's design (since an intelligent person designed it with a specific goal in mind).

This is utter nonsense, because to demonstrate evolution via random mutation and selection, it doesn't matter where the goal comes from. In nature it comes from the environment, and in a simulation a person defined it. That doesn't make it design. Design in this case is equivalent to arriving at a new meaningful sentence by simply typing it.

Marshall says his generator does have selection, because it has a button that can be pushed to select the current text. And another button to revert to this selected text whenever desired. But, that's just like a reset button: it doesn't create a fitness function, so the landscape is still neutral/flat.
Q: The Random Mutation Generator doesn't simulate evolution because it doesn't have natural selection.

A: The Random Mutation Generator has a button labeled SELECT, and a button called REVERT TO SELECTED TEXT. You can select any version of the message you want and revert back to it later with the push of a button. And you're certainly welcome to save multiple copies of your message and mutate them all in tandem.
That's just so inane that I can't get over it. A button!!!? that's Marshall's idea of selection? If we instead labeled it 'design', would we have disproved intelligent design, or what?

Dawkin's famous METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL program does work (I've tried it myself, like hundreds of people before me), but of course only if you score WEDOEL higher than TEDORL, etc.
Random Mutation fails computer simulations: Some readers will object to this statement, as there are many evolutionary programming algorithms available - for example Richard Dawkins' methinks it is like a weasel program, Thomas Schneider's Ev program, and Cal Tech's Avida. But in every case, the computer program does NOT evolve the same way Darwinian Evolution allegedly evolves. [It terms of selection, they exactly do.] All of these programs either 1) randomly mutate carefully selected portions of the code while keeping everything else intact (hey, that's design!) [hey, that's not design!], or 2) are designed to converge towards some pre-determined (pre-designed) state [which is equivalent to what happens in nature]. In the case of Schneider's Ev, "evolution" is merely defined as creating more bits of information, but the information itself is totally meaningless [to you, but not in terms of the environment in the simulation]. I'm not sure Schneider's program demonstrates much of anything at all. Every successful evolution simulation I'm aware of is, ironically, an example of intelligent design.
Perry, you're a complete moron if you honestly think you have understood anything much about selection and evolution.

If you want to see real evolution in a simulated landscape, check out this simulation I wrote a little while ago.

Spam that didn't make the cut

Here's a small sample of the ridiculous spam I get on a daily basis. I just deleted 56 comments that were entirely off-topic, many of which were trying to direct visitors to websites with porn or websites selling pharmaceuticals.

Spam that will not get through, or will be removed on the spot.
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"Bussiness" is a nice touch there.
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לחלוק איתכם במקרה שעברתי אחרי הפיגוע בדולפינריום. במשך כשנתיים לאחר הפיגוע, חשתי מדוכאת, ללא שמחת חיים, עייפה ומדוכדכת. בכל טיפול רפואי רגיל לא הצלחתי לעזו לעצמי ולכן פניתי ל
Can anyone translate this?

just registered and put on my todo list

hopefully this is just what im looking for looks like i have a lot to read and then a lot to wright
That's wright, you have alot to learn about wrighting.

I just wanted to say hi to everyone

Yes, very byebye.

McCain was born where?!!1!

Not only does Jefferson indeed pwn Palin so hard on the issue of America being a Christian nation, as highlighted in this clip of Countdown with Keith Olbermann...

We also learn (if you didn't know already, which I did not) that John McCain is not born in America!!! The hell??? All that fuss over Obama's birth certificate, and all the time McCain was born in Panama!!!? What is it? McCain is white enough that it doesn't matter, but Obama ain't?

Sometimes, this nation, it's people, seriously!

Boobquake, Draw Muhammad, and getting rid of the filibuster

These are going to be fun times.

Monday April 26th is Boobquake day. Women, join in showing off some cleavage to set off an earthquake. Or not. Men, do the same: show off... what? I really don't know what the good clerics think men must not do to avoid setting off earthquakes.
Help fight supernatural thinking and the oppression of women, just by showing your cleavage!

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader.

I have a modest proposal.

Sedighi claims that not dressing modestly causes earthquakes. If so, we should be able to test this claim scientifically. You all remember the homeopathy overdose?

Time for a Boobqauke.

Important update 4/26: As Joel points out, if the indecency of showing flesh doesn't lead to promiscuity, then an earthquake is not predicted at all.

May 20th is Everybody Draw Muhammad day.

And, we might finally get rid of the senate filibuster:
It takes 67 votes to change the Senate rules, which the Democrats don't have now and certainly won't have next year so it might happen like this. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has now vowed that at the start of the 112th Congress in January 2011 he will raise a point of order saying that the new (112th) Senate is not a continuation of the old (111th Senate) but a new body that must adopt its own rules and is not bound by rules (such as Rule 22) adopted by previous Senates. At that point there would be rancorous debate and then the president of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden, could rule that Udall is right. When some Republican challenged Biden, Biden would probably order a vote on it. Extended debate would not be allowed because at that point there would be no rules (as a result of Biden's ruling). So there would be an up-or-down vote to sustain or overturn Biden's ruling. If the Democrats maintained even a small majority (which is likely) they would sustain the ruling and the Senate would have no rules. Then Udall or some other senator would propose a new set of rules, presumably all the old ones except Rule 22 (or maybe a modified Rule 22 allowing a series of cloture votes, the last of which required only a majority to stop debate). These new rules would then be accepted by the small Democratic majority amid much screaming by the opposition.
Doesn't that just sound like the most fun you've ever heard of? I sure as hell hope they do it and then document the whole shebang.

I'ma top bio blog yeh

Pleiotropy made a list! Not ResearchBlogging Awards, or anything that fancy, but on a blog. Just some blog. *sigh* A blog on a site that peddles online education (I trust they write these "top xx" posts in the hope that we will link so they can earn more money getting people to sign up for online education). But hey, I'll take what I can get. And the company is good, with Bora, PZ, Rosenhouse, Grrl, Wilkins (not a biologist!), Panda, Moran: Top 50 Biology Research Blogs under Biology and Evolution.

Rush Limbaugh blames Obama for volcano

Rush Limbaugh would - and then he did - blame Obama's health care reform for the volcanic ash cloud over Europe.

Simple idea: God hates Obama so much that he punishes European airspace. He doesn't hate him so much that he would actually hurt, you know, American airspace. It is, after all, God's own country.

That does make a lot of sense, this punishing someone else when his chosen people are being persecuted, like when the Egyptian people felt the wrath because the Pharaoh wouldn't let Moses go. God could of course be fair and punish Obama directly, like with a swift hard attack, but recall that God works in mysterious ways. Very mysterious ways. Including the fact that he chooses someone like Limbaugh to speak for him.
“You know, a couple days after the healthcare bill had been signed into law, Obama ran all over the country saying, hey the earth hasn’t opened up — no Armageddon out there — the birds are still chirping. I think the earth has opened up. God may have replied. This volcano in Iceland — airspace has been more affected than even after 9/11, because of the plume, because of this ash cloud over Northern and Western Europe.” [...]

“Earth has opened up. I don’t know whether it’s a rebirth or Armageddon— Hopefully it’s a rebirth — God speaking.”
To me it seems neither like rebirth nor Armageddon, but rather like a minor annoyance. I'd be much more impressed with a rain of toads.

You can listen to all of it on

Einstein and the ladies

Wulfmorgenthaler again get the facts wrong (previously on evolution)

Einstein did get very popular with the ladies as a result of his fame.
Einstein married Elsa soon after the divorce, but a few years later began an affair with Betty Neumann, the niece of a friend. By one account, Elsa allowed Einstein to carry on with this affair to prevent him sneaking around. That relationship ended in 1924, but Einstein continued to have liaisons with other women until well after Elsa's death in 1936. He didn't remarry.

Einstein wanted and enjoyed the company of women, and his intellectual celebrity certainly wouldn't have hurt his chances with the socialites of Berlin or, later, the women of America. The relationships rarely lasted, however – usually once they were established, Einstein cooled off and looked elsewhere. Avoiding deep emotional ties in this way may have given him the solitude he needed to pursue his work, but few would find such behaviour admirable.
From The other side of Albert Einstein.

Bad mutations are good for you

ResearchBlogging.orgBonus: homemade video included!

Years ago I was vexed by creationists claiming that because most mutations (that aren't neutral) are deleterious, and only few are beneficial, then evolution cannot happen, because for every beneficial mutation there are many deleterious, thus, goes the inference, making adaptation impossible. (See GLOSSARY OF EVOLUTION below.) This (mis)understanding totally ignores selection, and the fact that not all individuals would be hit by deleterious mutations. And even if they did all suffer deleterious mutations, once in a while the combined effect of one or a few deleterious mutations and one beneficial might be an increase in fitness, in which case the deleterious mutations could go to fixation together with the beneficial (this is known as hitchhiking).

But, ignoring creationists (mostly a good call), many evolutionary biologists also assume that deleterious mutations are prohibitive for evolution, leading them to neglect the benefit that deleterious mutation can have. Weinreich et al. (2006), for example, tacitly assume that proteins can adapt only by fixing beneficial mutations. There are, of course (because it is the truth), exceptions, such as Ortlund et al. (2007), who found that epistasis permits proteins to evolve new functions.

Epistasis is the interaction between genes. Imagine you have a quantitative trait (i.e. a physical trait of an organism that is determined by more than one gene). The trait could be size, for example, to which many genes contribute. The population then might find itself in an environment where it is great to be 0.2 meters long. Smaller and bigger individuals suffer a disadvantage, ensuring that whenever offspring change to be shorter or longer, they are selected against. The result is that the population is stable at 0.2 meters. However, it might just be that a length of 0.8 meters is even better, and if it would be possible to suffer the lower fitness of the intermediate sizes between 0.2 and 0.8 for a while, then the population could attain greater fitness. However, that would require some individuals to go through a fitness valley in between the two peaks at 0.2 and 0.8. Assuming that it is not possible for an individual of size 0.2 m to have an offspring of size 0.8 m, then at least one lineage must cross the valley, suffering a cost in fitness. And this always carries the risk of being the end of that lineage, and that the valley cannot be crossed.

However, whether it is possible to cross a valley in the fitness landscape is a matter of certain parameters. Though deleterious, if the cost of crossing the valley isn't very high, then it might not be too difficult to cross. Or, if the two peaks aren't that far from each other - if the number of mutations needed to cross the valley isn't great - then it becomes more likely that a lineage can tolerate the lower fitness and make it to the other side. The mutation rate is also important: the higher the rate the more mutations there are, and the more likely it is that the right ones occur at all, but a too high mutation rate can increase the mutational load (the cost of mutations on fitness) so much that offspring fitness is always low. And then there is population size. On the one hand, the larger the population is, the more offspring are created per generation, and thus the more mutations are tried, and therefore the higher the chance that the right mutations to find the other peaks occur at all. On the other hand, the larger the population size is, the stronger selection is, making deleterious mutations more disadvantageous. In small populations, random sampling has a bigger effect, just as when flipping a coin only 10 times might get you 3 heads and 7 tails, while flipping a thousand coins is much less likely to get far from the expected 50/50 distribution.

Enough talk. Here I have made a simulation of a population evolving in a fitness landscape. There are two traits that independently can vary between 0 and 1, and both of the traits have two peaks at approximately 0.2 and 0.8. This results in a two-dimensional landscape with four peaks. I start with a homogeneous population of 100 individuals who all have trait values of 0 and 0. I show a snapshot of the population every ten updates (the number on top of the landscape).

Now go!

So what happens? After 6000 updates (with overlapping generations), we see that the population crosses not one but two valleys, and ends up on the highest peak (alas, on the far side of it). If deleterious mutations were not allowed, the population would have stayed at [0.2, 0.2]. Thus, deleterious mutations are actually beneficial.

This simulation has a mutation rate per locus of 0.2, and every mutation changes the trait value by a random number drawn from a Gaussian distribution with zero mean and 0.07 standard deviation (this results in the mean effect (positive or negative) being 0.056, which means that it takes more than seven mutations to climb the second peak, and that's assuming the lineage goes the straight path across the valley, which it of course never does). At every update ten percent of the population is killed randomly (without considering fitness), and then those dead individuals are replaced by offspring of the survivors. Who gets to leave offspring is affected by their fitness, such that the higher fitness an individual has, the higher the chance that it will procreate. However, selection is not deterministic, but stochastic; that an individual has the highest fitness does not imply that it gets to reproduce more, though it does make it more likely to have offspring than everyone else.

Organism: A uni- or multi-cellular automaton with the ability to reproduce.
Fitness: A measure of the organism's ability to reproduce.
Genotype: The genetic make-up of the organism; the particular DNA.
Phenotype: The physical characteristics of an organism.
Mutation: Any change in the organism's genotype (recombination, insertions, deletions, SNPs, inversions, duplications, translocations, etc.).
Beneficial mutation: Having an advantageous effect on fitness.
Deleterious mutation: Having a detrimental effect on fitness.
Neutral mutation: Effectively no change in fitness.
Population: A competing group of organisms of the same species.
Species: Don't even go there.
Trait: A characteristic of an organism encoded by part of the genotype.
Selection: The increase of genotypes or traits in a population due to their fitness advantage.
Drift: A random fluctuation of genotypes or traits in a population.
Fixation: The event of a mutation becoming universal or very common within a population.
Substitution: A mutation that has gone to fixation.
Adaptation: The process by which the population increases its fit to the environment.

Glossary reproduced and expanded with permission from Carnival of Evolution #16.

Weinreich DM, Delaney NF, Depristo MA, & Hartl DL (2006). Darwinian evolution can follow only very few mutational paths to fitter proteins. Science (New York, N.Y.), 312 (5770), 111-4 PMID: 16601193
Ortlund EA, Bridgham JT, Redinbo MR, & Thornton JW (2007). Crystal structure of an ancient protein: evolution by conformational epistasis. Science (New York, N.Y.), 317 (5844), 1544-8 PMID: 17702911

Art defined

I have a definition for art that I think always works. I'm not an artist, I'm not knowledgeable about art, and I frankly don't care very much for most of it, so you might very well be excused if you'd think that whatever I say on the matter matters not. If an artist or an expert on art tried to convince me that their definition of, say, species was worth taking seriously, then I'd probably chortle (but let them give it a shot). But, I also do not really care whether there is or can be given a good definition for art. It's just that I think I have one.

Definition: A thing is art If the maker intends it to be art.

You might immediately object that since the sentence is circular, then it cannot work. But I think it does nonetheless.

Take this picture:

Takezo and Bjarke making art. Cones and sticks on concrete and bricks.

Is it art? No, it is not. I took it today with the intent to depict my sons making art. My intent was not to make art, and therefore it is not. What my two sons have made in the picture is art, or at least I think so. I did not ask them - that would be futile, as they really have no concept of what art is. This raises the question if something can be intended to be art if the maker doesn't know what art is, but since it by definition is something of intent alone, I think I can say with confidence that they meant it to be art. The meaning of the object is unknown, and by definition there doesn't have to be any. I have previously heard another definition stating that art is that with is made to convey a statement, but that doesn't work. My sons made art, but had no statement, and I have made things that made a statement, but wasn't art. Would anyone say that a poster of scientific work that I made is art, for example. I think not. I also think that some art does not make a statement, like portraits that was just meant to depict a person, as was common before the invention of photography.

However, someone could take the picture above and show it with the intent of making art, and then it would be. Be my guest.

Liveblogging talk by creationist

Out of the blue, someone going by Techieguy is liveblogging some talk somewhere by someone who is a creationist. Initially posted here on Pleiotropy as comments to a previous post on Dr. Jobe Martin.

1:47 PM
Sitting in a live presentation by the esteemed gentleman, titled "Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution". I shall do some live blogging, at least until my battery runs out.

2:09 PM
1. Puerto Rican White-lipped frog: communicates via three different sounds. Chirping, seismic waves created by a thump on the ground, and chuckles. Each chirp travels slowly compared to the seismic wave, which alerts the other male frogs to the location & distance from the sound-emitting frog. They respond with chirps, which alert the sound e-mitting male of their own locations (territories). His question: "How could such complexity possibly evolve?"

2:17 PM
2. Brazil nut-eating Agouti; a rodent (?) that eats brazil nuts by eating through a cement-like casing (or pod) that contains the brazil nuts. Each Agouti has a signature hole that it chews. The Agouti eats some, buries some. I think the point is that the brazil nut can't escape the cement-like pod without the mammalian assistance.

After the brazil nut tree grows from the buried pod, the only insect that can pollinate the brazil nut tree is the "brazil nut long-tongued bee". Why? the pollen is sealed in with a lid, and the flowers are too deep for any other insect to pollinate it.

Additionally, the bees can only reproduce if they have a special scent from a particular orchid.

Bottom line is that this is an "irreducibly complex organism" -- any one of the 4 items is highly developed, and yet can't exist without the others.

2:23 PM
Description of a particular orchid which depends on the visit of a male wasp. The orchid produces a pheromone mimicking the female wasp's own pheromone. The orchid has a special "spring-loaded" flower that knocks the unsuspecting male wasp into its pollen glands and forces the male to carry its pollen.

Unfortunately for the male, the female wasps don't mature for 2 weeks.

So basically, the male wasp exhausts energy flying around being deceived by flowers for 2 weeks. The female emerges, and finally, copulation can take place.

A comment to Satoshi Kanazawa

Satoshi Kanazawa runs an interesting blog that has one major, major flaw: you cannot comment on his posts. That is in addition to whatever else he says, which I sometimes disagree with. His newest post, for example, which reiterates the usual notion that the tail of the male peacock is utterly useless, and are only there to impress females:
A prime example of a handicap is the peacock’s tail. The long, elaborate, and ornate tail of a peacock does not have any adaptive value; it does not serve any tangible, useful purpose that would aid the survival of the peacock. In fact, it only harms its survival chances. Peacocks with longer, more elaborate trains are easier for predators to catch and kill than fellow peacocks with shorter and simpler trains. So they only have costs and no benefits. But that, according to Zahavi, is precisely the point. Peacocks are advertising to peahens “Look, I am so genetically fit and I can run so fast that I can still evade the predators with this huge thing hanging from my ass! Them other guys ain’t so fit and the only reason they can evade predators is because their trains are shorter. They wouldn’t be able to evade the predators if their tails are as long as mine! Now whose genes would you like your offspring to carry?” And peahens indeed do prefer to mate with peacocks with longer, more elaborate, and more symmetrical tails that are biologically very expensive to maintain, so that their male offspring will also sport long, elaborate tails that attract females of their generation.
Which is total bullshit. Go see real peacocks, and you might notice that they raise their tailfeathers when people get too close... because they want to mate with them? I don't think so. More likely, to scare them away by their huge size - plus confuse them with the eyes on the feathers. As I've suggested once before.

Murder on Wikileaks

American helicopter opens fire on twelve men standing in broad daylight in a square in Baghdad. Video released on Wikileaks (news story).

See the longer version on Collateral Murder.

The soldiers in the helicopters open fire after getting permission. Allegedly some of the twelve were carrying AK-47s. But they were only journalists carrying cameras.

The really, really gruesome thing about this video is how the soldiers talk about these men they end up killing. The indifference is shocking. At times they even laugh about the whole thing. Men died and children were wounded (did they survive), and that's horrible. But it happens in war. I don't approve, but I'm told that honest mistakes are made, and killing of civilians happens. But I did not know that soldiers would have this careless attitudes towards the people at the other end of the barrel.

Fucking disgusting. Makes me sick to my stomach.

Twin Scientia Pro Publica

The new edition(s) of the general science blog carnival Scientia Pro Publica is up today,

on Andrew's blog, 360 Degree Skeptic, and
on Andrew's blog, Southern Fried Science.

Like the brilliant PR stunt to change the rules of Scrabble, Grrlscientist has made a deft move to promote SPP: screw up who's hosting, with the result that two Andrews both host, and everyone laughing at the mistake. And Grrlscientist having the last laugh. Brilliant!
Scrabble gurus are divided over a decision by Mattel to revamp the rule book and allow proper nouns to be used in the game.

A new version of the game, called Scrabble Trickster and due to be released in the UK, will see rule changes to allow names - words with once-forbidden capital letters - to invade the board.

Some Scrabble enthusiasts say the move will be detrimental to young players, while others are not fussed, saying it is just a marketing ploy.

Read Grrlscientist's great write-up here.

* Get a life.

Erasmus Mundus scholarships

Reminder to self that I may want to apply for this scholarship once I am at the postdoctoral level:

Erasmus Mundus scholarships for visiting scientists

Four European universities:

- University of Groningen (Netherlands)
- University of Montpellier II (France)
- Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich (Germany)
- Uppsala University (Sweden)

have joined forces to establish an international research oriented MSc programme in Evolutionary Biology (MEME), which is funded by the Erasmus Mundus Programme of the European Union. In addition to funding for student scholarships, we also have funding for inviting scholars (= visiting scientists) from non-EU/EFTA countries. We are looking for scientists at the post-doctoral level or beyond that are interested in collaborations with colleagues in one or more of our partner institutes. Each scholar is expected to contribute to the MEME program, e.g. by teaching part of a summer school.

At each of the four universities, we can offer several 'scholar scholarships' for a stay between two weeks and three months. The scholarship amounts to 1200 euros per week. More information about the MEME program and the participating institutions can be found on Applications including a CV and a letter of motivation should be sent before 15 May 2010 to the e-mail address below.

News from the field of paleonotology

Paleontologists a little busy-bodies. Within the last couple of weeks several new finds of fossils have been reported:

Seitaad ruessi
In Utah, the nearly complete skeleton of this new dinosaur has been unearthed.
The discovery of Seitaad confirms that this group of dinosaurs was extremely widespread and successful during the Early Jurassic, approximately 175 million to 200 million years ago.
[Science Daily | Brian Switek's blog on]

Cloudina carinata
What the heck is this?
The discovery of new species of Cloudina is important "for understanding the early evolution of animals," states Cortijo, who adds that "its importance for understanding the origin of skeletons is indisputable." Despite the fact that its relation to other groups of animals is uncertain, Cloudina has been compared to cnidaria (medusas and corals) and annelida (polychaeta sea worms, earthworms and leeches).


According to the research team, the study of fossils from the Ediacaran period (between 630 and 540 million years ago) and of other fossils from the early Cambrian (540 million years ago) reveals the path followed by evolution at a crucial moment in the history of life, when the first animals appeared.
Strange, that. Cloudina had a skeleton, and yet the paleontologists compare them to annelids, who have none. [Science Daily]

The first fossil of a tyrannosaur has been found in the southern hemisphere. And it's just a hip bone.
The 30cm-long pubis bone from Dinosaur Cove looks like a rod with two expanded ends, one of which is flattened and connects to the hip and the other looks like a 'boot'.

According to Dr Roger Benson of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, who identified the find: "The bone is unambiguously identifiable as a tyrannosaur because these dinosaurs have very distinctive hip bones."
It makes me uneasy that they say they know this much from just one hip bone. Just how certain are they, I wonder? [Science Daily]

Paleontologists don't have to go outside to make interesting finds, anymore. A deep look in the drawers at a museum is sometimes enough, as in this case where a skull found in 1921 has now been identified as a juvenile Diplodocus.
"Although this skull is plainly that of a juvenile Diplodocus, in many ways it is quite different from those of the adults," Whitlock said. "Like those of most young animals, the eyes are proportionally larger, and the face is smaller. What was unexpected was the shape of the snout -- it appears to have been quite pointed, rather than square like the adults. This gives us a whole new perspective on what these animals may have looked like at different points in their lives."
[Science Daily | Palaeoblog]

Nasunaris flata
A new species of ostracod has been discovered in 425 million year old rocks, and it's inner organs identified.
The specimen, which was found in rocks in Herefordshire, represents a new species of ostracod, and has been named Nasunaris flata. Like water-fleas and shrimps, ostracods belong to the group of animals called Crustacea. The find is important because the fossil has been found with its soft parts preserved inside the shell.


Professor Siveter and colleagues were able to identify the 5mm-long fossil, its body and appendages inside the shell, including the antennae and also a set of paired eyes.
[Science Daily]

Denyse O'Leary should get paid for this hilarity

Denyse O'Leary is not just a teedy old granny with a penchant for ID and any other kind of creationism that "disproves" evolution. As several other better bloggers have noticed she has written a fabulous post conflating evolution (of bacteria) with development (of cats). It such a fun read, that I now will make sure to check her blog more often.
So the claim is, "changed shape, changed size, changed metabolism and changed food source. How much more MACRO do you expect an organism to evolve?"

Hmmmm. Kittens do this all the time.

Change size? You bet. Goes from a couple of ounces to five lbs in half a year.

Change shape? Sure. The average newborn kitten is just a little bag of mewing metabolism, blind and probably deaf, whose only real talent is using its sense of smell to get control of a teat.

Changed metabolism? Sort of. Kittens must be weaned onto something other than cat milk after about six or seven weeks. I am not a vet, but surely some changes in metabolism accompany this transition.

Changed food source? Yes! From mom cat to local rodents, birds, frogs, and eggs that can be cracked by being pushed off the branch or table. Or, if the cat is under human management, a science-based diet for growing felines. Or otherwise, scavenging a local dumpster. Or whatever an obligate carnivore* like the cat can stomach.

Okay, so where are we now? We have explained how a kitten gets transformed into ... a cat.

And this is "evolution"?

Question: Does a bacterium ever get transformed into a cat? As opposed to changing in ways that are normal for most life forms - though not always employed, and forced on some under duress?

And if that ever happened, your local humane society ... will not be very pleased. There are many cats there now who would like kind homes. If what the Darwinist believes is true, their problems would be ever so much worse.

cheers, Denyse
Precious, precious! I want more.

No music under Sharia Law

One extremist islamist "group" has ordered radio stations in the Somali capital of Mogadishu to stop playing music. It is against Sharia law, they say. If they don't comply within ten days, they will "face consequences".
Ma’alin Hashi Mohammed Farah Hizbul Islam’s representative in Mogadishu gave an ultimatum of mid this month to comply with the order

“We are urging Radios to stop broadcasting music within 10 days, the stations that don’t comply with this directive will face consequences,” he told reporters in Mogadishu.

All Mogadishu-based radios will affect this directive. They should change their programming to an Islamic compliant one because we can’t accept listening of music in our country,” he added.
[Garowe Online | Associated Press]

What is the Sharia punishment for playing music? Flogging or stoning? What other punishments are possible under Sharia?

Is there a rationale for forbidding music, other than scripture? Why would Allah not approve? Is it perhaps because musical lyrics are offensive to the religious? If so, would instrumental music be okay? Is the general enjoyment of sounds forbidden? Because it leads to sex? (Recall that Mormons forbid sex, because it leads to dancing.)

How is music defined, anyway? How about poems with rhythm? How about sound-effects from an instrument?

The islamist group is just one vying for political power in Somalia. I'd like to make my pitch as well. I hereby order radio stations in Mogadishu to play only songs by Kim Larsen, or they will face consequences. I give them only one week to comply.

Should they be foolish enough not to restrain their musical selection to Larsen, they will face the consequence of a severe reprimand here on Pleiotropy, and we all know how stigmatizing that can be. It may be the very end of the international favor that Mogadishu radio stations have enjoyed for decades.

Sadly, Somali Radio Stations Halt Music.

Carnival of Evolution #22 is live

Carnival of Evolution #22 is now live at Beetles In The Bush.

Go enjoy the 26 posts on evolution.

If everyone (or, alternatively, just PZ) put a link on your blogs, then perhaps we can generate even more public excitement about evolution. Perhaps it will then reach the higher echelons of power, who will see that research in evolution is thriving, and perhaps politicians will be more likely to stand up for evolution, and perhaps then the creationists will come to their senses, and perhaps this will become a better world. Some day. It's up to you...

May 1st edition will be on Evolution: Education and Outreach, a Springer blog. Submit posts (must be about evolution) using this online form.

Today's news

The Onion, the famous source of fake and funny news, has announced that it is to become a legitimate news agency with real news (but "not less biased than all the others"), because, after all, nothing is funnier than real world disasters and politics (but I repeat myself).

Following Ayala receiving the Templeton Prize, the National Academy of Sciences will soon start accepting as members people who have contributed to the increase of knowledge through personal revelation and otherwise unverifiable experience.

Beginning with the May 1st edition, Carnival of Evolution will start accepting posts on commercial blogs that only tangentially deals with science, if they agree to support the admin financially.

The Catholic Church have, after much pressure following the sexual abuse scandals, agreed to cease and desist any moral condemnation of the use of condoms. Commentators predict this will be followed by peace and prosperity in the next generations to come all over the world.

The American Philosophical Association have settled both the nature/nurture debate (a statistically significant difference of 54% vs. 45%, respectively, with 1% to be under the control of Chuck Norris).

In the world of blogging ScienceBlogs have finally admitted that too much blogging about non-scientific issues is a bad thing, and have promised to deal with its black sheep (primarily PZ, of course).