RSS

Monthly Archives: January 2013

A good post – I might object to only one thing: I believe that one of the things that makes Hayao Miyazaki’s films so wonderful is that they don’t have good and bad characters. Instead, like the real world, no one is completely one or the other, only shades of grey. Everyone should watch at least these four films and possibly Studio Ghibli’s others as well.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Why Sex is Fun, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 is lowering my expectations of this book. It remains somewhat interesting and well researched, but for a book titled ‘ Why Sex is Fun’, an extended discussion of why males of most species abandon their sex partners to raise their young alone is not exactly what I was hoping for.

I wasn’t expecting penthouse forum, but I guess I was expecting some discussion of why sex is fun.

Nevertheless, I will certainly continue reading and reporting on my progress here.

As I said above, chapter 2 parses the involvement of each parent in the rearing of offspring and finds (unsurprisingly) that this directly correlates with two things:

  1. Certainty of paternity
  2. Energy investment in making each offspring vs the ability of this offspring to survive in the absence of care.
Image

Paternity Testing

Together, these considerations account for why males of many (but not all) species tend to be dead-beats. Given the low cost of sperm production and the ability to reproduce with a number of females concurrently, coupled with the lack of assurance that any given child is the male’s own, it pays to remain uninvolved in raising any one specific (potential) offspring.

Several exceptions to the rule are presented and a few good considerations that must be made to actually weigh against the low cost of sperm – just because it’s cheap to make one doesn’t mean one is enough. And sometimes women aren’t that eager to have sex with you just because you have sperm. – Amazing!

Image

Male penguins incubating eggs while mom is away

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Your Inner Fish – Chapter 1

tiktaalik_reconstructionThis semester, like the preceding three or four semesters, my general biology class is reading ‘Your Inner Fish’ by Neil Shubin. Every week, we cover one chapter and my students write an essay with their thoughts before we discuss that chapter in class.

Last week was our first week with this book, so I’ve just completed reading several essays on chapter 1 from my students. Overall, I’d say that the book seems to be getting a good response and at least interests most people. I’ve had a wide variety of responses with respect to accepting the author’s interpretations of Tiktaalik, his find of a ~375 million year old fossil species that shows evidence of being a transition species for the first quadrupeds to come onto land.

This is always a fun group of essays for me to read because it challenges students to consider their perception of science as a way of viewing the world. Or, perhaps I should say, ‘science, as a way of understanding the world around us.’ A scientific view of the world is actually a fairly unnatural one. It is easy to see how it is even evolutionarily disadvantageous to have a scientific view of the world. If you have been a victim of a crime (you imagesget mugged walking down a city street) don’t you always expect that crime to happen again? It doesn’t matter that this happened only once out of thousands of times you walked the same route home, you now feel convinced that this is dangerous and are more alert and cautious. You may even find a new way home. And who would blame you? We’re programmed to look out for our own safety. This often means over-exaggerating  our fears and assuming the worst. It also means that we will now overestimate the real danger.

The other thing this discussion brings up is: what does science do for us?

The answer is supposed to be, ‘it enables us to learn from the past and have a better ability to predict the future.’  We can make predictions about things if we closely observe the world and learn its laws. The corollary to this is, if you can’t learn from the evidence you see about you, how can you ever know what to expect from the world?

All of these are interesting questions. All of them challenge how we look at the world, what we take for granted and what we can expect to get from our experiences. I’m really looking forward to reading more of my students’ reflections on this text and hope that you (anyone reading this) feel free to engage in a dialog about either this book, or the questions it brings up.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Holy Crap!
(I know, I need to actually write more posts myself rather than just repeating what’s found elsewhere, but LOOK AT THIS THING!)

Why Evolution Is True

Update: Reader Dennis Hansen, a biologist who works on the Indian Ocean island of Aldabra in the Seychelles, which (like the Galapagos) has giant tortoises, sends three coconut crab photos and a note:

Here’s a few photos of coconut crabs from Aldabra, for your perusal. They leave the giant tortoises alone, it seems. At least until a tortoise dies, by which time the crabs tear it apart from the inside. When staying in one of the remote field camps on the atoll, they do what they can to rob us of our meagre field rations, though. Don’t leave food on the table, or it will disappear within a few minutes.

crab & nut

field camp crab

crab & tortoise

_______________

This photo and caption are from Professor Brian Cox’s Facebook page, and apparently appear in his new book, Wonders of Life with the caption:

“These animals are known locally as robber crabs on their native Christmas Island because…

View original post 942 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

In New Zealand, no one can hear you bleat.

ImageA movie review: Black Sheep, 2006. 70% positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

Watching this film, I can’t help but be reminded of such classics such as ‘Dead Alive’ (a fun zombie story by a little known Kiwi director, Peter Jackson) or ‘The Re-animator’ (a great mid-eighties mad scientist film starring Jeffrey Combs). The story is: Genetically altered zombie sheep are released by animal rights activists. This is terribly unlucky for Henry, the younger of two brothers inheriting a massive New Zealand farm, who suffers from acute ovinaphobia (an irrational fear of sheep – but can there really be a rational fear of sheep?) from a traumatic childhood encounter. Black sheep has it all – familial struggles, money and greed, a love story, the claustrophobic terror of spelunking in an offal pit, oh, yeah, and Zombie Sheep.

I’ve heard of this movie, but it took me quite a long time to actually see it. Luckily I caught it on IFC a couple weeks ago and taped it, so now I can strike it from my Netflix list.

Like so many other films of this kind, there is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek demonizing science and specifically genetics, because everyone knows that biotechnology inevitably leads to a zombie apocalypse.

If you don’t like gratuitous blood and guts with gobs and gobs of gore, this might not be the movie for you. And if you still can’t watch the scenes with the abominable snowman from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,  you might want to cover your eyes from time to time because this is about that scary.Image

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

All but extinct: the Stresemann’s Bristlefront.
This article states that only about 15 of these birds remain alive. Consider why this might be considered too few animals to ever recover. To what number can a species be reduced and have a chance to recover? (this is not necessarily a question that can be reasonably answered, but on interesting thought experiment and a consideration that wildlife conservationists make regularly.) Given the unliklihood of this species’ recovery, should resources still be spent to try to maintain them? What is the value of a species (i.e. what is lost when they are gone)?

Why Evolution Is True

UPDATE: Where to donate to save this bird.

I’ve heard back from The American Bird Conservancy, and they’ve told us where we can give money to help out this rare bird:

Thank you very much for your inquiry about how individuals can donate to help protect the Stresemann’s Bristlefront. Here is a link to American Bird Conservancy’s donation page on our website.  If an individual then types “Stresemann’s” on the mailcode line, their gift will be earmarked for this imperiled species.

Save the highly threatened Stresemann’s Bristlefront by helping American Bird Conservancy and Fundação  Biodiversitas protect the Stresemann’s Bristlefront Reserve for conservation. This reserve, created by ABC and Biodiversitas in 2007, now totals more than 1,400 acres. However, the forest surrounding the reserve is under severe threat from agricultural expansion and deforestation, making diligent management of the land already under protection critical and urgent. Stresemann’s Bristlefront Reserve is a top…

View original post 1,023 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Is Saudi Arabia following Turkey’s Lead?

MukfellasIt’s unclear what the rationale was, but The Economist has recently reported that the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) has come in and closed the Dinosaur World exhibit / playground. I’ve looked around a bit to see if there is any further information explaining this action (is it a reaction to the very idea that once dinosaurs roamed the earth?, perhaps some incidents of improper behavior had been reported?). In the absence of information, we can only guess.

I was alerted to this news via a blog that I follow by the evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne. Coyne’s interest comes from his concern about the suppression of science that is sometimes found amongst religious organizations. Because this action was carried out by the CPVPV, it is reasonable to assume that the exhibit was closed because it violated a tenet of the islamic faith. The CPVPV is the Saudi religious police who enforce Sharia Law by monitoring the population to ensure that people adhere to dress codes, separation of men and women, etc.

t rex exhibition riyadhHowever, it’s difficult to look at pictures of this exhibit and see what could be wrong. Although he does not say it explicitly, I have a feeling that Coyne is worried that Saudi Arabia is going the way of Turkey in suppressing science that contradicts religious interpretations of creation. This is an issue in many Christian-dominated cultures, but many people do not realize that fundamentalists of Islam are very similar in their views as fundamentalist Christians. Read more about recent actions prohibiting teaching of evolution in Turkey here.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,