Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Chimpanzees Make Spears To Hunt With

Tool-assisted hunting by chimpanzee at Fongoli, Sénégal. Adult male chimpanzee uses tree branch with modified end to (a–c) stab into a cavity within a hollow tree branch that houses a Galago he ultimately captures as (d) his adolescent brother looks on.
Images credit: BBC.
It's been many years now since we realised the thing that we thought made us uniquely human - the ability to use tools - isn't unique at all, but we still clung to the notion that, while many species use things like sticks and stones as tools, humans were the only species to actually make them. That too has now had to be abandoned since chimpanzees were seen making tools out of plant stems to fish for termites and crows have been filmed making tools out of wire - not a natural material - to solve complex problems.

Now a group of savannah chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) has been observed not only using spears to hunt with, but selecting suitable tree branches and sharpening a point on them. Like

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

How Wolves Evolved Into Dogs

How the wolf became the dog

There is no doubt now that the domestic dog is a domesticated wolf. It has recently been reclassified by taxonomists as a subspecies of wolf, Canis lupus, so instead of Canis familiaris it is now Canis lupus familiaris. It was almost certainly the first animal to be domesticated but ideas have differed over how this came about.

In 1907, Francis Galton proposed that humans had taken wolf puppies back to their camp and raised them, maybe as playthings for the children, but this view is now seen as naive. You can raise a wolf puppy by hand but you don't get a dog; you get a dangerous wild animal. The genes of children who played with growing wolf puppies would probably have been quite quickly eliminated from the human gene pool as well as the puppies' genes being eliminated from the wolf gene pool.

So, clearly something else happened.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Creationists - More Green Than They're Cabbage-Looking

I thought I'd share some more holiday snaps. These were taken on the coastal path that runs along the Dorset coast near Durdle Door. They're wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea), although, with so many domestic cabbages around it's highly likely that they will have interbred so they may not be pure wild cabbages. Anyway, they're probably as close to the original wild cabbage as you're going to get in Britain.

The reason they're so abundant in this part of the world is because they evolved as a plant on lime-rich chalk and soil with high salt content. The covering of soil over these chalk deposits is ideal because that's what they've evolved to live on.

So why doesn't it look like a typical cabbage? Because, from this original wild type, by a process of evolution driven by human selection over thousands of years, humans have produced a whole range of different plants for food, each filling a different function and each exaggerating a particular feature inherent in the wild form. This neatly illustrates how a wide range of morphologies can be obtained by a simple selection process. We did the same with the close relatives of the cabbage, B. rapa, B. nigra, B. napus, B. juncea and B. carinata

The reason we were able to do this is because, at some time in their evolution, B. oleracea, B. rapa and B. nigra hybridized to form three entirely new species, B. napus, B. juncea and B. carinata and this gave a wide range of genetic potential. This is of course, a complete refutation of three creationist assertions; that mutations are always harmful, that new information can't arise, and that evolution can't give rise to new species.

We know this because the three 'ancestral' species are diploid, in other words, they have just two of each chromosome, but the other three have multiples of two of these, termed allotetraploid. This is perhaps easier to understand if we look at the numbers:

SpeciesChromosome Number
B. rapa10
B. nigra8
B. oleracea9
B. juncea18 (B. rapa + B. Nigra)
B. napus19 (B. rapa + B. oleracea)
B. carinata17 (B. nigra + B. oleracea)

What happens is that due to a mistake in producing gametes (pollen or ovules) instead of them getting one of each chromosome, they get two. Normally, a pollen from one species can't pollinate an ovule from

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Evolving Together In Amazonia

Yanomami hunting party
Bacteria bonanza found in remote Amazon village : Nature News & Comment

Much to the chagrin of creationists, no doubt, we can trace our evolution by the evolution of the obligate parasites and symbiont organisms that live on and in us - our microbiome. Just as with the evolution of our lice, the evolution of which and their diversification from the lice which live on the other African apes, maps exactly onto our diversification from a common ancestor with those same apes, so our microbiome can show how human groups are related and have diversified over history.

It has long been suspected that the number of

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Oldest Stone Tools Show Intelligence Pre-Dates Humans

Olduvai Gorge, Kenya
World’s oldest stone tools discovered in Kenya | Science/AAAS | News

Humans are known to science as Homo sapiens, or 'thinking man' partly because the thing which we used to believe distinguished us from other species was out ability to make tools, which was considered a unique skill indicating high intelligence.

That view has of course been under sustained attack for decades now ever since chimpanzees were seen to

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bummer For Behe As Science Proves Him Wrong Again

Credit: Sonja-Verena Albers
Attaching the propeller: How the motility structure of unicellular archaea is fixed to their surface -- ScienceDaily

Scientists working at Freiburg University, Germany, have worked out the structure of the flagellum used by archae. Archae are regarded as the most primitive prokaryotes - the group of single-celled organisms which don't have a cell nucleus and which includes bacteria.

And it's bad news for devotee of creationist loon and virtual designer of the Intelligent Design fraud, Michael J. Behe.

Readers may recall how Michael J. Behe was recently exposed as a liar by molecular biologist, Professor Kenneth R. Miller who

Even Pebbles on a Beach Refute Creationism

I saw something from our hotel room window a couple of days ago. It's not unusual; you can see it on almost any beach in the right conditions. And it utterly refutes one of creationisms central dogmas (to be fair to creationists, it's more a mindless mantra than a dogma and it's used more like a magic spell than a reasoned argument). The claim is that you can't get order out of disorder (or chaos). They chant this to try to make the evidence for evolution to go away because someone has fooled them into thinking evolution is some sort of increasing order from chaos.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Black Flamingo Poser for Creationists

Here are a few simple little questions for creationists to ignore in the hope they'll go away, like ignored facts do.

These pictures are of the only known all black flamingo. It was photographed in Cyprus in the last few days. There was one previous record of a black flamingo in Israel last year. This one from Cyprus may be a different one, but given that the Israeli one has disappeared and given that Cyprus is an easy flight for a flamingo from Israel, there is a strong possibility that this is the same one, and possibly the only one in the world.

Obviously, the mutation which gives rise to melanism (an overproduction of melanin) is a rare event. We know flamingos produce melanin because they have some black wing feather and some black on their beaks, so what is probably happening here is that the gene(s) controlling when and where the gene for making melanin is switched on (or off) has failed.

Whatever the precise mechanism, and assuming there is nothing preventing this bird breeding normally, these genes are going to be passed on to it's offspring. They may appear perfectly normal, of course, if the faulty gene is a recessive gene. However, genes for melanism will, all being well, pass into future generations, so the chances of two carriers mating and one or more of their chicks inheriting both recessive genes, and so being melanistic, are quite good, especially if this flock stays small.

The New Forest - No Intelligent Design Here


I thought I'd share a couple of holiday photos with you. We've been to Bournemouth for a few days and spent one day in the nearby New Forest, just wandering around, looking at birds and flowers and generally appreciating nature.

But when you look at nature and really try to understand and appreciate why things are as they are, the one thing that stands out most markedly is how utterly stupid so much of it is. It is full of examples of pointless and ultimately wasteful arms races as one species seeks to gain an advantage over another in the general competition for resources or even as one species tries to use another as a resource and the other tries to resist it.

The result is the wonderful complexity and diversity we can see and enjoy but to pretend it all has some ultimate purpose directed towards humans is sheer anthropocentric arrogance.

Look at these pictures of thicker broad-leaf woodland and what do you see?

Bearing in mind that it's early Spring here in the UK and most trees are just breaking into leaf, so what you are seeing is the wood without it's canopy. In a matter of weeks this forest floor will be considerably darker than what you see here.

What I see, in addition to (not in place of) all this wonderful diversity and habitat for insects, the small birds which live on them, including the tree creeper we watched hunting along the underside of the moss-covered branches of an oak, is long thin trunks of deciduous trees and an undergrowth of evergreen holly and butcher's broom.

So why are these the way they are? The deciduous trees are trying to out-do their neighbours in order to get their leaves above the canopy to get the most sunlight. To do this they have to grow huge trunks as quickly as possible - which makes them thin and vulnerable to being blown over in gales, especially if neighbouring trees fall down. This takes a vast amount of resource just to build the wood out of the sugar the leaves make out of water, carbon dioxide and sunlight - making it even more imperative they get their leaves as high as possible. They also need to pump huge quantities of water up to the leaves, taking an enormous amount of energy derived from breaking down the sugar the leaves are making.

So all that effort just to stand still and still not a single offspring made - the ultimate purpose. That only happens if all the other effort pays off and the tree gets enough spare energy to put into producing flowers then making and dispersing seeds. And then, over the lifetime of a tree - maybe hundreds of years - if a single seed actually grows into a mature tree, the population will remain stable.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

You Can't Blame Loonies on The Full Moon

OMG! The Lamb of God has appeared on the end of the Isle of Wight!
This must be a sign!
Stop blaming the moon: Intelligent people can develop strong entirely incorrect beliefs -- ScienceDaily

An article published a few days ago in Nursing Research shows how easy it is for people to misinterpret data to see a pattern where there is none. Professor Jean-Luc Margot took the data used in a 2004 paper which purported to show a correlation between the number of people admitted to an emergency department suffering from gastro-intestinal bleeding and the incidence of full moons.

The errors came from imprecision with the method

Saturday, 4 April 2015

God The Ignorant Biologist

Jacob's lambs
Of all the passages in the Bible, even allowing for the nonsense about thinking with your heart and breathing 'life' into things, there is one passage which shows the author was utterly ignorant of basic biology. If this was a creator god then it is no excuse that we hadn't discovered basic genetics in the Bronze Age when this stuff was first made up; any decent intelligent designer should understand how its creation works.

That passage is:

Friday, 3 April 2015

How Europeans Evolved

Archetypal European hunter-gatherer
How Europeans evolved white skin | Science/AAAS | News

A new study has provided more detail on the discovery reported a year ago that Europeans evolved white skin fairly rapidly about 8000 years ago but not, as one might assume, in Europe itself but rather in three different distinct populations of hunter-gatherers and farmers who moved into Europe, each contributing genes to the 'European' genome.

A paper published in February this year showed that the origin of the Indo-European languages was probably a population of nomadic herders from the Russian steppe north of the Black Sea who appear to have migrated massively into Europe about 4500 years ago. These people are known as the Yamna Culture. Indo-European languages exist now in about 400 different languages and dialects from Irish in the west to Hindi and Urdu in the east.

Ancestral Adam & Eve Probably Never Even Met

The Y-chromosome point mutation rate in humans : Nature Genetics : Nature Publishing Group

Scientists have revised their estimate of when the last common ancestor of men lived, bringing it much closer to the estimate of when the last common ancestor of women lived. The basis for this estimate is the range of diversity in the Y-chromosome and the estimated rate of mutation.

The calculation for women is based on the same principle but based on mitochondrial DNA (mDNA). We inherit our mDNA from our mothers but males inherit their Y-chromosome from their father. Women don't have a Y-chromosome.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Origin of the Adam & Eve Myth

A pair of Old Testament scholars at Holland's Protestant Theological University, Amsterdam & Groningen believe they have found the origins of the Adam & Eve myth in the Hebrew Bible. It is a version of an old Canaanite myth based on the original Canaanite pantheon.

Dr Marjo Korpel and Professor Emeritus J.C. de Moor claim to have found the evidence on Ugaritic clay tablets of a 13th-century BCE story about the gods who lived on the slopes of Mount Ararat, in modern-day Turkey, in the 'vineyard of the great gods', identified with the Garden of Eden.

The top god was El the creator god and amongst the lesser gods in the pantheon or Elohim (children of El) were Adam and his wife. El is, of course, the Hebrew, Christian and Muslim god whom Arabic speakers still call Allah.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Cowardly Catholic Runs Away Again

Apparently, Mad Manuel, who many people will know as Sacerdotus or other less printable versions of his pseudonym, is claiming I have agreed to debate with him live on a web page he controls. Not surprisingly, given Manny's reputation as a habitual liar, this is a lie, as the record of our conversation on Google+ shows.

What I did do, however, was re-issued the challenge to him to hold an impartially moderated debate on neutral territory that panicked him several years ago. The result was the same - total panic, abuse, crude threats and a desperate attempt to save face.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dutch Catholics Vindictively Castrated Abused Boys.

Harreveld Catholic boys home, Netherlands, were at least ten boys were abused by monks then vindictively castrated.
Most people are probably familiar with the way the Catholic Church used to routinely castrate choir boys before puberty to prevent their voices breaking so they could provide the 'female' voices in cathedral choirs. Obviously women couldn't be allowed in church choirs because the Bible forbade women to speak in church:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Moral Compass - The Catholic Church and Excommunication

Fr. Jose Mercau, Excommunicated
Last November, Pope Francis defrocked and excommunicated a convicted paedophile priest from Argentina. Of course, many priests have been excommunicated by the Catholic Church before, but the case of Fr. Jose Mercau was unusual; he is one of the only Catholic priests to have been excommunicated for sexual abuse (technically rape) of a minor.

Pope Francis was apparently trying to convince the world that the Catholic Church had recognised the error of its ways and would no longer tolerate, facilitate and protect priests and nuns who abused children and vulnerable adults and now took a dim view of these previously accepted clerical recreational pass-times.

More Fascist Catholics

Fr. Josef Tiso with his friend and role model, Adolf Hitler
In addition to their close involvement in creating the first fascist state in Europe in Portugal, and their support for Italian and Spanish fascism, the Catholic Church was actively involved in another even more extreme fascist regime in Slovakia.

Unlike Portugal and Spain which stayed out of World War II and have no history of sending Jews to Hitler's slave labour and death camps, Slovakia, under the leadership of a Catholic priest and fascist dictator, Fr. Josef Tiso, enthusiastically shipped around 60% of Slovakian Jews (over 52,000 of the population of 89,000) to the death camps, mostly Auschwitz.

Mother Teresa and the Paedophile Priest

Fr. Donald McGuire, Jesuit, serial paedophile and spiritual advisor to Mother Teresa
Catholicism's favourite new demi-saint, "The Blessed" Teresa of Calcutta, was a friend of a paedophile priest and intervened to get him reinstated in his parish, where he subsequently carried on with his predatory paedophilia, sexually abusing more boys before finally being arrested and imprisoned.

This was revealed in papers leaked to the San Francisco newspaper, SF Weekly in January 2012.

The priest in question was Fr. Donald McGuire, currently serving a 25 year sentence for what the judge described as:

[P]articularly detestable because he abused the trust of parents and had perversely taken advantage of their children. [His Actions were] abhorrent, unacceptable, and‘a very, very serious sin.

USA District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer
(quoted in Chicago Sun Times online, February 11th, 2009)

This sentence exceeded federal guidelines for sentencing for these offences because Judge Pallmeyer felt the crimes were exceptionally serious.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Even Monkeyflowers Ridicule Creationists

M. lewisii (A), an F1 hybrid (B), M. cardinalis (C), and examples of variation in floral traits found in F2 hybrids (D–L).
Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers (Mimulus)

Imagine for a moment a species of flowering plant with a three important genes, each of which has two different alleles. Let's say Gene A which can be A1 or A2, gene B which can be B1 or B2 and gene C which can be C1 or C2. Gene A determining flower shape, gene B determining flower colour and gene C determining how much nectar the flower produces.

Now imagine two different pollinators which transfer pollen from one flower to another while gathering nectar, one having a preference for one shape and colour and the other having a preference for a different colour and more nectar.

It doesn't take a genius to work out what will happen. The flowers with the alleles which attract one pollinator are much more likely to pollinate other flowers with those same alleles and those with the other alleles will be much more likely to pollinate the flowers with these alleles.

In effect, there will be a premating or 'prezygotic' barrier to cross-pollination between plants with different combinations of alleles and selection pressure against permutations of alleles

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Seeing Evidence Of Inept Design

Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision : Nature Communications : Nature Publishing Group

Although they will probably deny it, even creationists must be aware of the inept design that is the vertebrate eye where the retina is wired backwards, so the nerves from the photoreceptor have to travel towards the source of light then across the surface of the retina to join up with the main optic nerve and finally back down through the retina, causing the 'blind spot' - an area of the retina where light doesn't register.

Our neural circuitry has to infill this area for us so we don't notice it. Consequently, there is a small risk that we won't notice pieces of grit, small flies and other foreign bodies that get in our eyes, and the nerves going in the 'wrong' direction inevitably create a barrier for the light to get through.

In effect, the photoreceptors are are actually shielded by their circuitry. It's like the designer of a digital camera putting all the wiring and processors between the lens and the detector. Creationists call this 'intelligent'.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Catholicism's New York Meltdown

St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York, USA
Patric D’Arcy Is N.Y. Archdiocese’s Only New Priest - NYTimes.com

I came across this while researching for another blog and it illustrates just how low Catholic fortunes have sunk in New York since the world-wide scandals of physical and sexual abuses of minors and other vulnerable people began to hit the Church.

In 2012, the Catholic Church in New York ordained a priest by the name of Patric D'Arcy. Nothing remarkable in that you might think.

However, he was the only one to be ordained in that year. In the 1960s the average was somewhere

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Mother Teresa's Fake Miracle

On the subject of the Catholic Church's faked miracles, in the style of a phony televangelist or 'faith healer' fraudster, we have the example of the faked Mother Teresa 'miracle' which was used as evidence to support her accelerated beatification by the Vatican when poor old Pope John Paul II was in his dotage and had been reduced to reading prepared speeches in an almost inaudible voice.

Mother Teresa (real name, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) head and absolute ruler of the 'Missionaries of Charity' order had been carefully building up a reputation for caring for the poor sick and dying when

Pope Francis Faking It in Naples

Pope Francis showed his honesty and personal integrity by participating in the fake 'miracle' of appearing to turn the dried blood of a saint into liquid blood in front of a crowd in Naples gathered at the cathedral to witness this conjuring trick, which is performed three time a year, and so fool the credulous masses into thinking he has magic powers and is somehow chanelling the long-dead, legendary first bishop of Naples, Saint Januarius, or San Gennaro as he is known localy. Inhabitants believe he keeps Naples safe from the over-looking Vesuvius volcano.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Creationist Nightmare Approaches

Chemists claim to have solved riddle of how life began on Earth

The creationist nightmare scenario came a little closer a couple of days ago when a team of scientists published a paper in the Journal of Nature Chemistry, demonstrating that the three chemical precursors for building the basic components of a cell - RNA, lipids and proteins - can all be built by the same chemical process.

The nightmare scenario for creationists is of course the closure of one of the few remaining gaps in which they arbitrarily sit their favourite god and claim this proves its existence. This transparently circular reasoning and deliberate use of the false dichotomy fallacy is also a major plank in the under cover, pseudoscientific form of creationism, intelligent (sic) design. The belief seems to be that, if they can find something science can't currently explain then the only alternative explanation on offer is that their imaginary invisible friend did it. In normal life this form of argument would be seen as laughingly childish but religion has managed to get away with it for centuries.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Faith-Inspired Genocidists To Face Trial

Bosniak victims of faith-based Christian genocidists
BBC News - Serbia arrests seven over 1995 Srebrenica massacre

News that the former Yugoslavian states of Bosnia and Serbia are cooperating over war-crimes committed during the Bosnian war marks a welcome replacement by humanist standards of the murderous faith-based morality which led to the Bosnian genocide of Muslims by Orthodox Christian neo-Nazi fundamentalists, and acceptance that those who committed these atrocities weren't nationalist heroes but murderous thugs whose religion told them killing people for having the 'wrong' religion was the right thing to do.

Giant Arctic Camels And Another Gap Closes

Giant Arctic camels (Artist's impression)
Image credit: Julius Csotonyi PR
Mid-Pliocene warm-period deposits in the High Arctic yield insight into camel evolution | Nature Communications

Modern camels come in two species - the one-humped dromedary or Arabian camel (Camelus dromedarius) and the two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus). Although both exist in their wild forms in central Asia, they are normally seen as the domesticated beasts of burden in Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Their closest relatives are the South American guanaco (Lama glama) (domesticated as the llama) and vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) (domesticated as the alpaca).

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Science Closes Another Gap - God Still Not Found

Macrauchenia patachonica (Artist's impression)
Ancient proteins resolve the evolutionary history of Darwin’s South American ungulates | Nature/

News that evolutionary biology has closed another gap and found no gods in it, left creationists totally uninterested again today.

The gap was one that Darwin pondered over - the origin of two of the recently-extinct (geologically speaking) South American ungulates. They seemed to be a mixture of hippopotamus, rhinoceros, rodent, camel, and even elephant in that they appeared to have a small trunk. Some biologists had suggested they may be related to African species such as elephants or aardvarks while others thought they may be related to South American species like armadillos and sloths.

Creationism Fails Again - Human Evolution in 2014

Like 2013, 2014 has been another very bad year for creationism as more and more of those 'missing' intermediate fossils are found and the human evolutionary story becomes more and more complete.

Perhaps I should say it's been a good year for those who might be tempted to believe the disinformation put out by creationist pseudoscientists but who still remain objective and open to evidence and reason.

Diehard fundamentalist creationists of course will remain stoically and proudly resistant to evidence, no matter how strong it may be, simply waving it away as wrong or lies, so we are never going to see a committed creationist, least of all one who earns a living by misinforming others, announcing that this or that piece of evidence has convinced them that they have been wrong all along. In many cases, that degree of honesty would be more than their job's worth and would earn them the immediate approbrium of their colleagues.

This little list was produced by a quick search of the science magazine sites. I don't claim it to be exhaustive or even particularly representative, only a random sample of the sort of science shedding light on the human evolutionary story and the way it is growing and being

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pope Francis May Soon Throw In The Towel


And it's goodnight from him...
Pope Francis says he 'doesn't mind' being Pope but wishes he could go out for a pizza unrecognised - People - News - The Independent

Will the Catholic world soon have three popes in the Vatican?

That was the clear implication of Pope Francis' strong hint again that he might retire early like his immediate predecessor Benedict XVI. In an interview with the Mexican TV station, Televista, to mark his second anniversary he said he longed for anonymity and a private life and even hinted that his retirement might be very soon.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Is This Bronx Scam Artist Getting Too Greedy?

Minister Creflo Dollar asked parishioners to buy him a $65 million dollar jet for Jesus « Why Evolution Is True

Bronx-based Manuel de Dios Agosto is going to have to do much better if he is to come anywhere close to matching another Bronx-based religious scam artist who has just asked his victims followers to stump up for a brand new $60 million top of the range G650 Gulfstream jet for him and his family.

The humorously named Creflo Augustus Dollar,

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Religion and Mental Illness

Religious Fundamentalism 'May Be Categorised As Mental Illness & Cured By Science'

The opinion that extremist religious beliefs in particular may be symptoms of mental disorder and psychiatric illness seems to gaining ground in informed neurophysiology and psychiatry circles, though this is hardly news to those of us who spend a while trying to engage religious fundamentalists and creationist in intelligent debate on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.

Psychosis and paranoia often seem to be endemic in these people, for example the unfortunate individual whom I stopped trying to engage on Facebook recently when he told me he

Friday, 13 March 2015

Catholic Child Abuse, St.Josephs, Bronx

Father Robert Harrison
Bronx School Ousts Priest After Admissions of Abuse - NYTimes.com

An assistant principal at Cardinal Hayes Catholic High School in Bronx, New York, has been dismissed for sexually abusing ten minors in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Rev. Robert Harrison, of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St.Josephs, had worked at the school since 1989. The abuses came to light just before last Christmas when it was discovered that Father Harrison was borrowing money from colleagues at the school. When asked why, he admitted it was to pay an abuse victim. He then admitted to the sexual abuse of other boys in Manhattan, Milwaukee and the Bronx during the 1970s and 1980s. None of the abuse victims are believed to have been students at Cardinal Hayes High School.

A spokesman for the province said that none of the victims had ever reported the abuse.

Creationists All At Sea Over Water On Earth

Ganymede
Huge ocean confirmed underneath solar system’s largest moon | Science/AAAS | News

To read a creationist disinformation site, you'd think Earth was the only body in the Solar System - the entire Universe even - to have water, and that the only explanation for how it all got there must be that a magic man magicked it all.

Take this piece of scientific illiteracy and Bible babble, or this attempt to mislead their victims by Creation Misinstries International about the discovery that there is a lot of water bound up in hydrated minerals in Earth's mantle - a false claim that was so easy to predict at the time.

Clearly, creationists pseudoscientist frauds would like their dupes to believe that the presence of water on Earth is some sort of scientific mystery; a miracle - another gap in which to sit their god and explain with "God did it!" Water is, of course, essential for life on

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Church Claims Religious Freedom to Cheat Abuse Victims

Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Archbishop of New York, former Archbishop of Milwaukee.
Catholic Church Claims It Can Refuse To Pay Victims Of Sex Abuse Because Of Religious Freedom | ThinkProgress:

The Catholic diocese of Milwaukee has suffered a setback in its attempt to avoid its moral responsibilities to the victims of its abusive priests. Its former archbishop, Timothy Dolan, now a cardinal and Archbishop of New York, had tried to insulate its funds by transferring $55 million into a trust fund for maintaining the diocese's cemeteries and mausoleums, then claiming they were not the Church's funds but belonged to the Trust, so the Church had no money with which to compensate its victims, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Recent Evolution In The Caribbean.

Prehistoric fighting conch Strombus puglis (L) and modern shells of the same species (R) show how the shellfish has decreased in size over time.
Image credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute/Aaron O'Dea
Evidence of size-selective evolution in the fighting conch from prehistoric subsistence harvesting.

Scientists working for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have discovered a lovely example of environmental change driving evolution, this time the environmental change being the presence of humans who predated on the Caribbean fighting conch, Strombus puglis, as a source of food.

Juveniles of this species live in muddy sediments and only emerge to mate when they reach sexual maturity - at which point they become easy for humans to catch - but only after they have developed a thick outer lip as a protection from predators. This means that having attained sexual maturity can be assessed in ancient shells by measuring the thickness of this lip.

Careful observation and measurement of modern

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Can The 'Intelligent Designer' Get Any Nastier?

Dinocampus coccinellae
Who is the puppet master? Replication of a parasitic wasp-associated virus correlates with host behaviour manipulation | The Royal Society Proceedings B.

Here's a pretty little insect from the wasp family. Like a lot of members of this family, it is a parasitoid species, the females of which lay their eggs in the living bodies of other creatures, often other insects. This particular one, Dinocampus coccinellae, lays its eggs in ladybirds.

For several weeks an infected ladybird will carry on hunting aphids as though nothing much is happening and oblivious of the maggot growing inside it and eating its internal organs, apart from those essential to the ladybird, obviously. The ladybird needs to be kept

Monday, 9 March 2015

Evolution of a Strange Pair of Geese

The thing about knowing you don't know all the answers, but also knowing that nature is amenable to reason, is that when you see something that makes you curious, you know you will probably find the answer if you look hard enough. With nature, that answer will be interesting, thought-provoking and will mean you will understand nature just a little better.

We saw these two wild geese on on lake near Oxford the other day when we went for a long country walk with our grandson and his parents. My grandson would much rather talk about Minecraft and wasn't even interested when I showed him the hole where the little gall wasp came out of an oak-apple gall - how can that not be interesting? He'll soon be old enough to have that copy of Richard Dawkins' "The Magic Of Reality" I bought him when he was about 4.

Anyway, what we noticed about these geese was that, while they are obviously a pair and the one on the right is a perfectly normal-looking greylag goose, the other was a slightly odd-looking Canada goose. Canada geese are an alien species in Britain but have spread very rapidly throughout the Thames Valley and beyond.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

2013. Another Very Bad Year For Creationism.

The Most Fascinating Human Evolution Discoveries of 2013 | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network

This is another of those articles I stored away intending to deal with later, but then left them to sink towards the bottom of the stack as other topics intervened. It deals with the most significant discoveries related to the evolution of modern humans in just one year - 2013. It goes without saying that a number of them involved more of those pesky 'intermediate forms' creationists are having to work so hard to ignore so they can pretend there aren't any.

The list is based on an article by Kate Wong, published in Scientific American in January 2014. The commentary is mine. Feel free to hit creationists over the head with it.

No Soul? Rats!

Nobel prize find: search for ‘soul of rat’ revealed brain’s navigation system | Science | The Guardian

I meant to write a commentary on this at the time, but it just kept getting shuffled down the stack as other topics intervened. Last year's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was shared by Professor John O'Keefe, University College London, for his work on understanding how the brain maps the world around us so we can navigate. He jokingly claims he was looking for the soul of the rat when he discovered 'place cells'. It has now been found by Edvard and May-Brit Moser, that these 'place cells' form a grid of recorded coordinates.

We have known for some time that the hippocampus is involved since a UCL team led by Eleanor Maguire found that as London Taxicab drivers acquire 'The Knowledge' their hippocampus enlarges. 'The knowledge', for those who haven't heard of it is the detailed street knowledge London Black Cab drivers must demonstrate before they qualify for their licence to operate.

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