Field of Science

Evolution highlights XXI

The other day I wrote about a paper showing that phytoplankton are dwindling at the rate of 1% per year, and that since phytoplankton produce about half of the oxygen produced by plants, we might really be doomed, together with lots of biggish animals that can't quickly evolve to do with much less oxygen. In other news, past oxygen levels were insanely high: "Over the past 400 million years, the level of oxygen has varied considerably from the 21% value we have today." "At levels below 15% wildfires could not have spread. However, at levels significantly above 25% even wet plants could have burned, while at levels around 30 to 35%, as have been proposed for the Late Paleozoic, wildfires would have been frequent and catastrophic."

Not quite evolution, but a feud evolving between two evolutionary biologists, Jerry Coyne and Massimo Pigliucci (now turned philosopher). Massimo does not like Jerry and his claim that science can test the supernatural, and thinks scientists shouldn't spend time philosophizing, but leave that to professional philosophers, like Massimo. Jerry thinks he is not doing that, and that Massimo hasn't been listening. I think it's all a really good read, including the comments, and largely agree with Coyne that, while the existence of gods cannot be empirically tested, the interactions they supposedly have in the natural realm - and that religious people posit happens all the time - can. Jerry wins the duel because he came up with the funnier title: What is the sweating professor trying to say? vs. Jerry Coyne, then and now. Also, Massimo started it, so øv bøv!

And even less about evolution (but not completely): Jonathan Swift's essay on why eating Irish babies would be great for all (via Evolving Thoughts). I concur, of course.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
It's really quite an astonishing essay. I can't tell if he jesting or being forthright (the essay is from 1729*).

My serious answer to why this really would be a bad idea was laid out in a post from 2008, Why is cannibalism taboo? Short answer: Cannibalism is taboo because I am afraid that you would want to eat me. And really, just imagine of people started accepting dining on babies. That might even lead to atheism!


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