Biology Archives

November 14, 2006

[Adam] Creationist Theory explains what Science cannot!

Evidently, according to Richard Dawkins' recent Question and Answer session at Randolph-Macon Women's College, Liberty University, (founder: Jerry Falwell) has dinosaur fossils in its museum labelled as 3000 years old, to fit in with a 6000-year-old earth. Whilst this does make Sumeria, Babylon and the like hard to fit in, it does help explain one of the difficulties of archaeology. Why did the Hittite empire fall so abruptly in 1160 BC?


January 3, 2007

[Adam Cuerden] Encyclopaedia Britannica buys into the Discovery Institute's hype


I cannot believe this. It ignores all the criticism deservedly heaped upon Intelligent Design. It ignores Kitzmiller, it parrots all their claims uncritically. Perhaps the full version is better, but if they're putting this shoddy work up online as a sample of their expertise, I'll take Wikipedia. frankly.

Let's have a look:

Continue reading "[Adam Cuerden] Encyclopaedia Britannica buys into the Discovery Institute's hype" »

February 24, 2007

Spineless Behaviour

You know, biology journalism isn't what it once was. Here's a newspaper report in the Illustrated London News, December 2, 1871 (pages 535-6). This was meant for a general audience....


The aquarium at the Crystal Palace now contains, with many other interesting objects, several specimens of the poulpe, or eight-armed cuttle, Octopus vulgaris, obtained from the sea on the Devonshire and North Wales coasts. This is the animal which has been made famous under the names of devil-fish or man-sucker, by the sensational descriptions of it in Victor Hugo's Guernsey romance "Toilers of the Sea", and in other works of imaginative writers. But as Mr. W.A. Lloyd, the superintendent of the aquarium, remarks in his protest against such exaggerations, "it is but wanton ignorance and vulgarity to call the octopus a 'devil-fish,' when it has about it nothing diabolical or fishlike. It is simply a mollusc, very high up in the scale of the mollusca, with its viscera and other internal organs contained in an egglike sac, which is surmounted by a pair of prominent and sometimes staring eyes placed on protuberances; and below, set on obliquely, is a series of eight stout, raditating, tapering arms, provided in all with about 2000 round projecting suckers, on the lower surfaces of the arms. Such a creature is in itself wonderful without being invested with fictitious attributes." It is a fact, however, says Mr. Lloyd, that these cuttles will, if alarmed, catch hold of a man within their reach in the water, though they cannot grasp him out of the water. "The specimens here under my care will, if I permit them, as I have done, firmly affix themselves to my submerged bare hand and arm by the crowds of sucking discs beneath each of their long flexible legs, arms, or tentacles, and then they will draw themselves on till they get to a convenient position, and give a severe bite with their hard, horny pair of beaks or mandibles (not unlike those of a parrot), which are placed below, in the centre of the body, at the point whence the legs or arms radiate; but they soon leave go and drop off when I raise them above the water's surface. There are no cuttles in Sark, where Victor Hugo places his narrative, or elsewhere in Britain, so large that even a child could not easily kill or disable one of them at one grasp or kick. On the other hand, if an enormous angry cuttle in the tropics, with arms measuring, as they sometimes do, from five to fifteen feet long, provided with thousands of suckers, each nearly an inch in diameter, and additionally provided, as many foreign species are, with a strong and sharp hook in the centre of each, in order to take a firmer hold, armed also with a terribly crushing pair of beaklike jaws - should such a creature encounter a swimming man it would go hard with the man, without any spitefulness on the part of the cuttle."

It seems probable, on the whole, that the common dread of these creatures, among the seafaring people of the Channel shores, and in the south of Europe, is founded upon some instances of persons being drowned, or put in danger of drowning, by entanglement with their long pliant arms. The eyes are blank and expressionless, and are furnished each with a pair of greyish lids, one closing downwards from above and the others upwards from below, till they meet at the centre of the pupil. "At night, or in much shade," says Mr. Lloyd, "the eye is wholly uncovered, but in light the lids are seperated according to the amount of illumination. If it be considerable, the seperation is such as only to leave a very narrow horizontal slit for the creature's vision; but if very strong, their edges are brought into complete contact. These motions of the lids have not the instantaneous character of the lid of the human eye, but are slow enough to be seen. The manner in which the eyelids of the octopus constantly vary in distance from each other when the creature moves about, and thus varies the amount of the shade through which it passes, is most interesting to witness. For instance, as it begins to enter the shadow of an overhanging rock in the Crystal Palace aquarium, the lids gradually seperate and expose the eye beneath them, and they as gradually close again as the animal emerges into light."

There's even a nice engraving with it.

Meanwhile, here's a modern report on an octopus exhibit in Birmingham (BBC News, 2 January 2007). After a long description of the mirror maze leading to it, all we get on octopi is:

Reward for negotiating the maze will be arrival in Poseidon's Chamber and chance to admire the resident Pacific giant octopus, the world's largest octopus with an intellect to match.

"These sea creatures are so intelligent marine experts often devise puzzles to help keep them stimulated," said curator Graham Burrows.

"It will be very fitting that our visitors have to solve a puzzle themselves in order to see it."

It's just not the same, is it? And there's only one image of an octopus, rather poorly presented: No improvement there, either. Even if the first article called the octopus a cuttle fish (a rather odd Victorianism, that), I can't help but appreciate the depth of coverage, and strong public outreach within those somewhat dense Victorian sentences. Why is it so rare nowadays that we just let a knowledgable person speak on a subject they're passionate about in the newspapers?

Continue reading "Spineless Behaviour" »

April 24, 2007

Cute overload in the deep seas

Jelena sent me the link to a page of photographs of animals in the deap sea commenting that I'd find those freaky-yet-cute creatures inspirational. I guess I would.

I've got my doubts about, though. It looks sploggy to me - a fake web directory cobbled together from scraped RSS feeds and stolen content for no other purpose than to have something to have advertising on. On the other hand, it does host the images itself rather than deeplinking them from the original site The Deep from where the photos are taken, and it does present them in a way that's less clumsy than on the original site's javascript-driven gallery (though the original site is prettier), so it does at least add some value.
Officially, I urge you all to go to The Deep, but I don't think I'd have had the patience to look at that site if I hadn't first seen the photos presented in a normal web page on the presumed-to-be-thieves' site.

(Link to readigg nofollow-ized, the first link in a blog post here to earn that dubious distinction. Link to The Deep's gallery extracted from a longer javascript link)

By the way, the oldest book I own that I still use on a regular basis is a Dutch edition of the book Fishes of the World by Danish author Hans Hvass. My aunt, a librarian, took it home from the writeoff pile and gave it to me when I was, er, eight? Can't quite remember. I was fascinated by it and would often spend idle hours just browsing through it looking for freaky-looking fish. These days, I use the battered volume as a reference work in case Kel and Krakatoa get into one of their regular fish-slapping fights. I don't want them to assault one another with the same species of fish every time.

Unfortunately, some of the coolest fish are tiny, inedible or just not available in a setting based on Western Europe, ca. 1000, so they I can't make them fight with angler fish or spookfish. Though I guess I'll cheat, one day.

May 10, 2007

Beer and morons - Two items worth reading

First: Beer! Crooked Timber's pet contrarian, Daniel Davies, writes In Praise of Budweiser in which he argues that the much-reviled American beer is a perfectly tasty product, not a ripoff of Budvar beer and by any criteria every bit as good as any British Real Ale. He discusses its history, its recipe, the merits of using rice as a brewing grain, and beer as an industrial product. Of all the evidence he mentions, taste is the one that is the most subjective and contentious, but on this issue, he backs up his argument with science:

Budweiser does not taste like piss. Normal urine has a pH of 4.6 to 8.0. Budweiser, like most lagers, has a pH of around 4.0. Therefore, Budweiser is definitely more acidic than piss. It’s also just the ticket if you happen to be drinking beer for breakfast, as the fresh taste of the rice content goes particularly well with most cereals (it is not coincidental that nobody has yet marketed Barley Krispies).

Read the rest.

Second: Morons! P.Z. Myers has something to say about March of the Morons and the familiar underlying argument that stupid people will outbreed smart ones:

The most troubling part of it all is the attempt to root the distinction in biology—it's intrinsic. "They" are lesser beings than "us" because, while their gonads work marvelously well, their brains are inherently less capacious and their children are born with less ability. It's the kind of unwarranted labeling of people that leads to decisions like "three generations of imbeciles are enough"—bigotry built on bad biology to justify suppression by class.

People, they are us.

There are no grounds to argue that there are distinct subpopulations of people with different potentials for intelligence. Genes flow fluidly — if you sneer at the underclass and think your line is superior, I suspect you won't have to go back very many generations to find your stock comes out of that same seething mob. Do you have any Irish, or Jewish, or Italian, or Native American, or Asian, or whatever (literally—it's hard to find any ethnic origin that wasn't despised at some time) in your ancestry? Go back a hundred years or so, and your great- or great-great-grandparents were regarded as apes or subhumans or mentally deficient lackeys suitable only for menial labor.

Are you staring aghast at the latest cluster of immigrants in this country, are you fretting that they're breeding like rabbits? That generation of children will be the people your kids grow up with, go to school with, date, and marry. It may take a while, but eventually, your line will merge with theirs. Presuming you propagate at all, your genes are destined to disperse into that great living pool of humanity. Get used to it.

Again, read the whole thing and might I add that if I'm ever stuck out at sea in a small lifeboat with a Young Earth Creationist Jesus-Zombie type of person and a Social Darwinist, I will conspire with the Jesus Zombie to eat the Social Darwinist first. They're just about the one group of people that get my hackles up more than outright evolution-deniers.

August 9, 2007

So long and no thanks for the noise pollution, the effluent, the chemical waste, the fishing nets and the damming off of essential habitats

It's official now: The Yangtze Dolphin is extinct. Species go extinct all the time, which is bad enough, but this news hit me in the stomach. Hook Douglas Adams up to a generator and watch him spin.

(Via Pharyngula by way of Stranger Fruit.)

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