I've just finished reading a wonderful book on statistics - How to lie with statistics (Huff, 1954). An absolutely brilliant book - and not an equation in sight!
April 2008 Archives
We know from fossil evidence that Neanderthals evolved in Europe around 400,000 years ago, and later (~150,000 years ago) spread into western Asia, before disappearing from all areas in their range about 30,000 years ago. However, it can sometimes be quite hard to be certain whether or not a fossil is from a Neanderthal, which has limited scientists' understanding of the species' distribution and the timespan during which it lived.
Time, I think, to return to that pseudoscience on oxygen that I introduced to you a while ago. Have you worked out what it was promoting?
This is a busy week for me - as well as all the 'normal' stuff, we're hosting the NZ Biology Olympiad training camp. An Olympiad - what's that, you ask?
One of the books I'm reading at the moment is about teaching evolution (NAS, 1998). I've come across an excellent and thought-provoking quote that I thought I'd share with you - for you to think about..
I'll bet you do - I use Google a lot myself. It's a great tool for finding images or information quickly. But - what about when you are looking for material for a biology assignment, or to broaden your knowledge on a particular topic?
Last month I asked the following question:
In 2006 scientists announced the discovery of a new hominin fossil: a juvenile Australopithecus afarensis. The media quickly dubbed it "Lucy's child" (well, it was a catchy name, even though the underlying implied relationship had no evidence to support it!). So, tell me, how could scientists be sure that this individual was an infant at time of death, from an examination of the skull and jaw?
When I'm lecturing about animal diversity and the origins of the multicellular animals (aka metazoans), I point out the similarity between the single-celled protozoans called choanoflagellates and the choanocytes (or 'feeding cells') of sponges. The textbook interpretation is that choanoflagellates may have shared a common ancestor with metazoans, and there's an increasing amount of genetic analysis that supports this relationship. As usual, PZ Myers has done a wonderful job of telling this story, over on Pharyngula, but I wanted to have a go at it myself :-)
I read quite a few science blogs & just stumbled across this excellent post about polio virus: the vaccines we use against it, the virus's evolutionary responses - oh heaps of stuff. And a chilling photo of a ward full of polio patients in iron lungs: in extreme cases the patients lost the ability to breathe for themselves & the iron lung was a form of respirator that did the job for them. Not a disease that I would like to see making a comeback.
(The site's author is a graduate student studying virology, & in her research-based posts she does a wonderful job of making her science interesting, relevant - & fun!)
This one has been getting a lot of air time in the US lately. Basically, what it says is that Darwin's theory of evolution (they tend to call it 'Darwinism') was used by Hitler to justify the Holocaust, and therefore evolution is evil and should be rejected. This particular argument has the usual logical flaws & also shows a lack of knowledge of history, to boot.
Ever since its fossil remains were discovered, scientists have wondered about the place of Orrorin tugenensis and its place in our family tree. Was it bipedal? And where were its closest relatives? One controversial suggestion was that Orrorin was directly ancestral to our own genus - leaving the australopiths completely out in the cold.