Archive for Biology

Human evolution ON FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRE!

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!

Ok, maybe not the roof, but the Turkana Basin in Kenya is certainly pretty toasty, and has evidently been that way for quite some time. 

Turkana Basin, you say?  Huh?  Where is that?  Why, northeastern Kenya, of course!  These maps help illustrate its location:

Kenya Basins

Map of Kenya

Map of Kenya

 So now you know where it is.  Why is this important, is probably your next question.

Earth scientist Benjamin Passey, as part of a team from the California Institute of Technology, developed a way to measure ancient temperatures and climates by examining isotopes found in carbonates in the soil.  Upon examination of the Turkana Basin soil isotopes, scientists concluded that it was very hot in northeastern Kenya “back in the day”. 

This provides some interesting chex mix to munch on for evolutionists.  The Turkana Basin is home to some of the fossils that have been discovered which document human evolution.  The hot temperatures of the area may help explain why human ancestors lost the fur that mammals are known for. 

More reading:

Some Like It Hot

East African Human Ancestors Lived in Hot Environments

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Archaeopteryx–icon of evolution

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle
Archaeopteryx

Archaeopteryx

If you are in the Houston area, come on down to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to check out the archaeopteryx exhibit.  Running until September 6, 2010, this exhibit will “present some of the finest known fossils from the late Jurassic period showing life at the time of these first birds. Fossils from the world renowned quarries of Solenhofen, Germany, will be featured.”

Click here for more info including ticket prices.

Don McLeroy–no longer head of the SBOE

Posted in Education, Evolution, politics, religion, science, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by airtightnoodle

It’s a sad day in Texas.

No, wait…I’m sure it’s a sad day somewhere, but not in Texas.

On Thursday, the reappointment of Don McLeroy as head of the state board of education was blocked by Democrats of the state senate.  You may recall that McLeroy is one of the creationists on the board and has given science education a difficult time by supporting “strengths and weaknesses” and “academic freedom” movements. 

Now, don’t go crazy rejoicing just yet.  He is still a member of the board. 

It’s not often that I agree with Democrats (I realize that may shock some of you, being that at least on this one issue I do agree with them more often than the more conservative of the political arena), but I think Kirk Watson, a Democrat of Austin, summed it up nicely here:

“People have a right to be confident that the State Board of Education is putting the interests of our children above ideology, politics and everything else, including the so-called good fight.  Whether they agree with McLeroy or not, Texans simply cannot have faith in this board when it is led by a man who has so enthusiastically embraced his role in these endless culture wars.”

As a Christian, there are many things that I have a firm personal opinion on.  However, I don’t always think that those things are of the utmost importance in the political sphere, and I don’t always agree with people forcing such issues simply because they are Christian.

But I digress.  Governor Rick Perry now has the responsibility of naming someone else as chairman of the board.  Since he fully supported McLeroy, it won’t surprise me if he simply nominates another creationist on the board.  Only time will tell.

To read more about this, visit the Houston Chronicle’s article here.

Take action to support science in Texas!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2009 by airtightnoodle

From the Texas Freedom Network:

This Wednesday the State Board of Education will hear public testimony on proposed science curriculum standards. The new draft standards reject efforts by creationists to undermine instruction on evolution. They also make it clear that supernatural explanations like creationism/”intelligent design” have no place in public school science classes. But creationists who control the state board are insisting that the standards require students to learn phony “weaknesses” of evolution. They want to force publishers to include those bogus arguments in new biology textbooks.

Take Action!

Help us turn back efforts to sabotage the education of Texas schoolchildren by standing up for science this week!SUFS

  • Click here to sign up to testify before the State Board of Education IN SUPPORT OF THE DRAFT STANDARDS at the public hearing on Wednesday. The board will hear only four hours of testimony. But even if you don’t get a chance to speak, adding your name in support of the draft standards is very important. Also, supporters of the draft standards will WEAR GREEN at the hearing to show their support for a sound science education.
  • Tell your state board member that you SUPPORT the draft science standards and OPPOSE efforts to water down the curriculum by opening the door to phony attacks against evolution. Click here to find the name and contact information for your State Board of Education member. Once you have the name of your board member, you can also click here to send an e-mail to him or her in care of the Texas Education Agency.
  • Donate to the Texas Freedom Networks’ Stand Up for Science campaign. Your contribution will help ensure that the next generation of Texas schoolchildren gets a 21st-century science education that helps them succeed in college and the jobs of the future.

 

Do-it-yourself genetic engineering

Posted in science with tags , , , , , on December 25, 2008 by airtightnoodle

There’s an interesting article in the news today about amateurs attempting their own genetic engineering at home.  A quick excerpt from the article:

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly…

…But critics of the movement worry that these amateurs could one day unleash an environmental or medical disaster. Defenders say the future Bill Gates of biotech could be developing a cure for cancer in the garage.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Merry Christmas!

Barbara Cargill’s recent comments on evolution and “strengths and weaknesses”

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Barbara Cargill

Barbara Cargill

Barbara Cargill, the district 8 representative of the Texas State Board of Education, recently wrote an article addressing the controversy over Texas’ science education standards and the “strengths and weaknesses” language.  You may find her article in its entirety here.  Below I have commented on some of Ms. Cargill’s points.

“The State Board of Education began discussing our state’s science curriculum standards in November.  We listened to over 90 testifiers, and the vast majority supported teaching all of evolutionary theory as fact with no reference to its scientific weaknesses.”

As I have stated on this blog before, if evolutionary theory is going to  be judged by such standards, then much of science should be suffering under the same scrutiny.  No scientific theory is ever going to be proven to be 100% true.  No theory is safe from criticism and peer review.  That does not mean that well-tested theories should not be treated as fact.  That’s the beauty of the scientific method–which, many scientists will agree, HAS shown evolution to be true beyond “reasonable doubt”.

The current requirement states that students are expected to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”  This is a good standard that has served our teachers and students well for many years.

I would personally like to know how this is a good standard that has served the state well.  This clause is certainly put into the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) specifically for ideas that some people find troubling or controversial.  I have never heard of anyone spending time in class having their students evaluate the weaknesses of cell theory, the germ theory of disease, thermodynamics, and so on.  A good science teacher will of course discuss how parts of any of these theories have changed over time and might touch on any controversies related to the topic.  Yet this is something that is covered by the TEKS already–both the current TEKS and the newly proposed TEKS. 

For example, both the proposed TEKS  and the current TEKS state:

Science is a way of learning about the natural world. Students should know how science has built a vast body of changing and increasing knowledge described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models, and also should know that science may not answer all questions.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Cargill goes on to state:

Proponents of Darwinian evolution say that the theory has no weaknesses.  However 700+ reputable scientists who have signed “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” question major tenets of evolution.  They state, “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”  In The Origin of Species, Darwin himself wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

To say that proponents of “Darwinian evolution” claim the theory has no weaknesses is misleading.  Scientists realize that theories are subject to change.  This tenet of science is included in the state’s science standards, as mentioned above.  Furthermore, 700+ scientists signing a petition does not mean a whole lot, unfortunately, unless one questions each scientist as to where their dissent lies.  This is, in fact, one of the common criticisms of this petition. Further criticisms include the fact that the professional expertise of those listed is not always apparent, some people may have been misled when signing the petition, and that the wording of the original document was in itself misleading.

For example, when evidence for universal common ancestry in the fossil record is taught (i.e. scientific strength), then the contradictory evidence showing the huge gaps of missing transitional fossils in the record must also be presented (i.e. scientific weakness).  We must educate our students — not indoctrinate them by letting them hear only one side of an issue. 

If this is how Ms. Cargill expects teachers to teach the strengths and weaknesses, then I would also like to see how she proposes handling the strengths and weaknesses of other biological theories, like the germ theory of disease.  I am very serious.  As a teacher who wants to make sure I am covering the TEKS properly, I would like to see some examples of how to teach strengths and weaknesses of the other theories I am required to teach my students.  I would love to see Ms. Cargill’s ideas. 

Also, should a teacher mention the strength (the fossil record), and then a potential weakness (gaps in the fossil record), but then go back to another strength (teaching about all the transitional fossils that have been found)?  Or is that unbalanced and still too one-sided and “indoctrinating”?

How does one decide exactly what is a strength and what is a weakness of a theory?  In some cases it may be obvious, but in others it may simply be in the eye of the beholder.  So where does a teacher turn to make sure they are adequately covering strengths and weaknesses?  Should there be some sort of scientific consensus on which ideas are strengths and which are weaknesses?  But wait…if we turn to scientific consensus, then wouldn’t evolution simply be taught largely as fact anyway?

I would like to note that there is one thing I can certainly agree with Ms. Cargill on:

Presently, Texas’ science standards contain key process skills like analyzing, comparing, gathering information, and drawing conclusions.  Students should practice these skills at each grade level, but too often the tendency is to teach rote memorization of accepted facts.

However, she then continues:

By applying the scientific process, students will be challenged to think “outside the box” and form their own conclusions about topics like common ancestry.  Evolution proponents should not mind if students ask questions; after all, if evolution is the best explanation, then the data should only point to its validity. 

Ms. Cargill is being misleading again here by implying that evolution proponents are scared of their students asking questions about evolution.  Unfortunately, some teachers may certainly be scared or a little intimidated, but this is not due to trying to “cover up” any inaccuracies in evolutionary theory.  It is due to the backlash that might occur from the students, their parents, other teachers, local religious groups, and so on.

Also, note to Ms. Cargill–the data does point to the validity of evolution.

Science is full of mystery and constant discovery.  Headlines such as cloning, DNA testing, and gene mapping are prolific.  Science classrooms are the perfect place to brainstorm about current science events!  With that in mind, how can teachers pick and choose which scientific evidence to teach or ignore?  Teaching students to believe that evolution indisputably holds the answers to life’s big questions undermines the very essence of scientific inquiry.

Good question, Ms. Cargill.  How can teachers pick and choose which evidence to teach or ignore?  Unfortunately, Ms. Cargill did not really address the question herself.

Tony Whitson has also commented on this article at Curricublog.

*Update

I’ve commented on the Texas Insider site where Ms. Cargill’s article is published asking her to please address my post and also sent Ms. Cargill the following email:

Ms. Cargill,
 
I recently read your article from the Texas Insider regarding the latest on the evolution/creationism/intelligent design debates.  I have posted some comments on my blog in reference to this article and welcome you to look at it and respond. 
 
The address is located here:
 
https://airtightnoodle.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/barbara-cargills-recent-comments-on-evolution-and-strengths-and-weaknesses/
 
I hope you are able to address some of my questions.
 
Merry Christmas!
 
Airtightnoodle

Hopefully she will be able to address some of the above.

*And yet another update!

Jeremy from An Evolving Creation linked to this post (thanks, Jeremy!) and added some extra food for thought:

What Cargill failed to mention is that the signatories of that statement are expressing their skepticism about “the ability of random mutations and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” The statement does not address common ancestry. In fact, several of the signatories have publicly stated that they have no problem with the fact of common ancestry.

The Night Before Christmas–cell style!

Posted in science with tags , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2008 by airtightnoodle

The Night before Christmas in a Cell

(found at the AP Bio list-serv)

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the cell,

Not a creature was stirring, not even an organelle.

The chromosomes were hung in nucleus with care,

In hopes that mitosis would soon take place there.

The genes were all nestled and snug in their beds,

While cells in their pj’s and vacuoles of sap,

Had just settled down for their Interphase nap.

Then in the nucleus there arose such a clatter,

The chromosomes sprang from their beds to see what was the matter.

They flew from the nucleoplasm in less than a flash,

Hit the nucleolus and made quite a crash.

 

The light on the center of the newly formed cell

Gave the excitement of metaphase to the objects beheld.

Then what to the scientist’s eye should appear,

But a division – how odd!- with a haploid now here.

With a nod, he said, “This is strange for mitosis.”

Then he knew in a moment it must be meiosis.

More rapid than eagles his excitement came,

And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

Now eggs! Now sperms! Now X’s and Y’s!

On, diploids! On, haploids! On, Gametes and XY’s!

To the top of the cell! To the top of the ball!

Now dashaway! dashaway! dashaway all.

 

Now into the middle the chromosomes flew,

With a sleigh full of Genes and DNA too.

And then in a twinkling they precisely did start,

The duplicating and changing of each little part.

As the scientist moved his head and was turning around,

Suddenly meiosis came with a bound.

They were all double up from their head to their feet

And spread through the cell in one great sheet.

And their outside were all mingled with bluish and green;

A bundle of colors was all that was seen.

The strands how they twinkled, Their movements how merry!

The reds were like roses and red as a cherry!

The small bits of black were like that of a crow,

And the white on the ends was as white as the snow.

 

The strands, still held by the centromere,

Were through crossing-over, but still very near;

Each part looked to him like a little round belly,

That would shake, if it could, like a bowl full of jelly.

They were chubby and plump, a right set of each,

And he sighed when he saw them, for none he could reach.

A quick divide and untwist of a strand

Soon let him know he’d seen nothing so grand.

 

They stopped once again, but went straight to work,

And filled all the new cells, then turned with a jerk,

And laying the membrane ‘round the nuclear glob,

And giving a nod, they finished their job.

They sprang to their sides, their teams gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But he heard them exclaim as they went out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”