Saturday, 2 July 2022

Transitional Fossil News - Sorry Creationists, But It's Yet Another One of Those 'Non-Existent' Transitional Fossil Things!

An artist reconstruction of Ailurarctos from Shuitangba. The grasping function of its false thumb (shown in the right individual) has reached to the level of modern pandas, whereas the radial sesamoid may have protruded slightly more than its modern counterpart during walking (seen in the left individual).
Illustration by Mauricio Anton
Eating bamboo? It's all in the wrist. | Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Technically, of course, all fossils are transitional since they represent a species at a given point in time and come precisely between its parent's generation and it's descendants, but creationists continue to demand examples of 'transitions' that illustrate their childish parody of evolution - one species, or order, changing into another with individuals midway between the two - a half fish - half monkey, or something equally ludicrous that no-one in their right mind would expect to see.

In other words, as often with creationists, they have been conditioned to demand proof of something that no scientists has ever claimed happened and something that is so different to what the TOE actually predicts, it would actually falsify the TOE if it were found.

But of course, real 'transitional' fossils abound because, like the example in this article, there are abundant examples of gradual changes in morphology over time. In this instance, the example is of the evolution of the pseudo-digit or 'thumb' in the panda, which is one of the anatomical differences between pandas and the other bears. Clearly, if, pandas, which are no known to be closely related to bears, share a common ancestor with them, we should expect an ancestor of the pandas to have a pseudo thumb, which is a development of the radial sesamoid bone of the wrist, somewhere between that of bears, which don't have one, and that of modern pandas.

And this is exactly what has been found in a fossil from the Shuitangba site in the City of Zhaotong, Yunnan Province, China dated to about 6-7 million years old. The only thing is that it is actually longer that that of modern pandas, although this doesn't necessarily mean it isn't intermediate, since a long pseudo thumb might not have been especially well adapted for both walking and gripping which involves a compromise.

The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County news release explains:
When is a thumb not a thumb? When it’s an elongated wrist bone of the giant panda used to grasp bamboo. Through its long evolutionary history, the panda’s hand has never developed a truly opposable thumb and instead evolved a thumb-like digit from a wrist bone, the radial sesamoid. This unique adaptation helps these bears survive entirely on bamboo despite being bears (members of the order Carnivora, or meat-eaters). In a new paper published in Scientific Reports, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Xiaoming Wang and colleagues report on the discovery of the earliest bamboo-eating ancestral panda to have this “thumb.” Surprisingly, it’s longer than its modern descendants.

While the celebrated false thumb in living giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) has been known for more than 100 years, how this wrist bone evolved was not understood due to a near-total absence of fossil records. Uncovered at the Shuitangba site in the City of Zhaotong, Yunnan Province in south China and dating back 6–7 million years ago, a fossil false thumb from an ancestral giant panda, Ailurarctos, gives scientists a first look at the early use of this extra (sixth) digit–and the earliest evidence of a bamboo diet in ancestral pandas–helping us better understanding the evolution of this unique structure.

Deep in the bamboo forest, giant pandas traded an omnivorous diet of meat and berries to quietly consuming bamboos, a plant plentiful in the subtropical forest but of low nutrient value. Tightly holding bamboo stems in order to crush them into bite sizes is perhaps the most crucial adaptation to consuming a prodigious quantity of bamboo.

Panda’s false thumb must walk and ‘chew’. Such a dual function serves as the limit on how big this ‘thumb’ can become.

Evolving from a carnivorous ancestor and becoming a pure bamboo-feeder, pandas must overcome many obstacles. An opposable ‘thumb’ from a wrist bone may be the most amazing development against these hurdles.

Dr. Xiaoming Wang, lead author
Department of Vertebrate Paleontology
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA, USA
How to Walk and Chew Bamboo at the Same Time

This discovery could also help solve an enduring panda mystery: why are their false thumbs so seemingly underdeveloped? As an ancestor to modern pandas, Ailurarctos might be expected to have even less well-developed false “thumbs,” but the fossil Wang and his colleagues discovered revealed a longer false thumb with a straighter end than its modern descendants' shorter, hooked digit. So why did pandas’ false thumbs stop growing to achieve a longer digit?

Five to six million years should be enough time for the panda to develop longer false thumbs, but it seems that the evolutionary pressure of needing to travel and bear its weight kept the ‘thumb’ short–strong enough to be useful without being big enough to get in the way.

Denise Su, co-project leader
Associate professor
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Institute of Human Origins
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Wang and his colleagues think that modern panda’s shorter false thumbs are an evolutionary compromise between the need to manipulate bamboo and the need to walk. The hooked tip of a modern panda’s second thumb lets them manipulate bamboo while letting them carry their impressive weight to the next bamboo meal. After all, the “thumb” is doing double duty as the radial sesamoid–a bone in the animal’s wrist.
Photo: Sharon Fisher

Hand bones of a living giant panda.

Photo: Natural History Museum of L.A. County.
Panda gripping vs walking
(white bone is the false thumb).

Natural History Museum of L.A. County.

The authors of this article are affiliated with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China; Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA; Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, Yunnan, China; Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Kunming, Yunnan, China; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Copyright: © 22 The authors.
Published by Springer Nature Ltd. Open access (CC BY 4.0)
In the abstract to their open access paper in Scientific Reports, the authors say:

Of the many peculiarities that enable the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), a member of the order Carnivora, to adapt to life as a dedicated bamboo feeder, its extra “thumb” is arguably the most celebrated yet enigmatic. In addition to the normal five digits in the hands of most mammals, the giant panda has a greatly enlarged wrist bone, the radial sesamoid, that acts as a sixth digit, an opposable “thumb” for manipulating bamboo. We report the earliest enlarged radial sesamoid, already a functional opposable “thumb,” in the ancestral panda Ailurarctos from the late Miocene site of Shuitangba in Yunnan Province, China. However, since the late Miocene, the “thumb” has not enlarged further because it must be balanced with the constraints of weight bearing while walking in a plantigrade posture. This morphological adaptation in panda evolution thus reflects a dual function of the radial sesamoid for both bamboo manipulation and weight distribution. The latter constraint could be the main reason why the panda’s false thumb never evolved into a full digit. This crude “thumb” suggests that the origin of the panda’s dedicated bamboo diet goes back to as early as 6–7 Ma.

This example neatly illustrates how evolution can work, firstly to produce a modified structure to produce a new function, then, because that structure is sub-optimal it becomes subject to more subtle environmental selectors working in opposition to the original selectors that produced the new structure in the first place.

In this instance, there were competing selectors for gripping and for walking, so the result today is a compromise. Of course, if this was an intelligent design process there would be no need to refine and improve on an original design, since the design would be perfect in the first place. But the process that actually produced the panda’s ‘thumb’ is not sentient and could not have predicted the need to modify a crude, initial utilitarian design.

In fact, of course, there is no reason why an intelligent designer could not have given the panda a fully opposable 6th digit, or even an opposable thumb like humans have, to begin with, so would not have needed to modify a bone designed for another function.

Contrary to creationist claims, this is a perfect example of the sort of transitional fossil that Darwin was referring to and which the Theory of Evolution predicts. Admittedly, it's not an example of the sort of 'transitional' fossil that the childish parody of evolution with which creationist frauds fool their scientifically illiterate dupes in the creationist cults leads creationist to claim have never been found.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Malevolent Designer News - The SARS-CoV-2 Virus is a Sophisticated Design For Increasing Suffering

Illustration of a SARS-CoV-2 viral particle entering a cell. The particle pierces through a cell’s membrane, made of two layers of lipids. A PNNL-OHSU team has shown how lipids are key to the ability of the virus to replicate.

Illustration: Michael Perkins | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)
COVID-19 Fattens Up Our Body’s Cells to Fuel Its Viral Takeover | PNNL

Creationist mode:

No doubt the more they learn about the SARS-CoV-2 which is causing the current COVID-19 pandemic, the more creationists will come to admire the sheer brilliance of the divine malevolence they believe created it for the sole purpose of killing millions of people and making hundreds of millions sicker, to generally increase the suffering in the world. At least that's what it achieved and is still achieving so, since it is supposedly omniscient, we have to believe it knew precisely what it would do and designed it for that purpose.

Now a group of scientists has discovered yet another example of just what a brilliantly sophisticated machine for making us sick this nasty little virus is. They have found that it

undertakes a massive takeover of the body’s fat-processing system, creating cellular storehouses of fat that empower the virus to hijack the body’s molecular machinery and cause disease.

but before creationists get too excited, the scientists from Oregon Health & Science University and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory caution that these results were obtained from cell cultures, not living humans, so must be treated with caution pending more research. Nevertheless, what they found should be enough to impress devotees of the malevolence that they believe designed this virus.

The news release from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory explains:

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Evolution News - Human Origins Just Got More Complicated.

The skull of 'Little Foot', Australopithecus prometheus, from south Africa, now believed to be a contemporary of 'Lucy', Au. Afarensis, from Ethiopia.
Fossils in the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ may be more than a million years older than previously thought - Purdue University News

As I have pointed out many times here and on the social media, as well as in my popular book, What Makes You So Special: From The Big Bang to You., far from the often repeated creationist lie that there are no transitional fossils, there are actually so many of them that they serve only to cloud, not clarify the picture. Just when you think there is a nice direct line from a species of Australopithecus up to say, Homo erectus and thence to us, up pops another Australopithecus that might be a side branch or it might be an early ancestor of Homo sapiens. In the end we are left with a confusing collection of ancient African fossils that might or might not be our direct ancestors or might or might not be the ancestors of am extinct side branch, with no real way to determine which.

The picture is confused further when the fossils from which DNA has been extracted show that early hominins had a tendency to spread over a very wide range, evolve for a while in isolation, but not enough to be incapable of interbreeding with a cousin species, then come back together again and exchange DNA by interbreeding, so we may in fact never have had a single original distinct ancestral species but we are the descendants of two or more that hybridized.

Now the picture has been clarified a little by a scientists from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, and the University Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France, who have used a new dating method developed by Dr Darryl Granger of Purdue University to reassess the date of several hominin fossils found in the Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa and pushed their dates back more than a million years. This makes them older that 'Lucy' (Au. afarensis) who is believed to be close to our direct Australopithecine ancestor, if not actually our ancestor. It is hoped, that more accurate dating will leader to a more accurate placing of these fossils over time, so making lineages easier to identify.

From the Purdue University news release:

Climate Emergency News - Temperature Change Will Impact on Bumble Bees

Climate change negatively impacting bumblebees: Study - SFU News - Simon Fraser University

A stark reminder of the effects of climate change and the danger this represents to life on Earth, was published recently in the form of a study into the effects of global warming on the population of bumblebees in North America. The study was conducted by scientists from Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada, led by Hanna Jackson, in collaboration with scientists from the U.S.-based Pollinator Partnership, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California.

Their findings were published, open access, in the Royal Society's Biology Letter

bumblebees are essential pollinators on which many plants depend for their reproduction and without which many plants would not produce the next generation. They are also essential for pollinating a number of human food crops from oilseed rape to fruit, so a significant loss of bumblebees would be economically catastrophic.

The Simon Fraser University press release explains the team's methodology and main findings:

Atheism - Winning in Australia

Census 2021 results: Christianity plummets as ‘non-religious’ surges

Figures released today show that, like elsewhere in the civilised, advanced world, Australians are abandoning religion in droves. The percentage of Australians who described themselves as 'Christian' in the 2021 census fell below 50% to 44% for the first time in Australia's history.

This figure has fallen from 52% in just 5 years. In 2011 it stood at 61%. When a census was first conducted in Australia in 1911, 96% of Australians identified themselves as Christian.

These figures are revealed in the first tranche of data to be released from last years census. The percentage who ticked the 'no religion' box stood at 39%, up from 30% just 5 years ago, and almost double what it was in 2011. Those who identified as Catholic fell 3 percentage points to 20% and Anglican fell 3 percentage points to 10%. Falls in other minor Christian denominations brought the total figure for Christians as a whole down to 44% from the 52% recorded just 5 years ago.

The percentage of Australians self-identifying as 'non-religious' is highly significant because it shows the extent to which 'non-religious' has become acceptable in Australia. In the mid-1960s only 1% of Australians so self-identified. What we are seeing in Australia is what we saw in the UK, where the social stigma of having no religion, so being perceived wrongly as immoral and untrustworthy, has gone, to be replaced by a more realistic perception of intelligence, compassion and integrity, so more and more people are coming out of the closet.

These figures are even more scary for the churches and those who earn a living pushing religion in Australia. Crudely projected forward they show an accelerating trend away from religion, so the percentage of Australians identifying as Christian will be approaching zero within 3-4 years while those admitting to having no religion will exceed 80% over the same timescale. No-one would seriously expect these figures to be realised in practice, because religions tend to lose a percentage of their members each year so the number leaving in any one year tends to get smaller and the number remaining in the faith never reaches zero, but this shows how Christianity at least will be functionally extinct in Australia within the next 10 years.

As more people openly identify as Atheist, so Atheism loses its stigma as more and more people come to see that not only do you not need God to be good, but that Atheists lack the hypocrisy, sanctimonious judgementalism and a tendency to abuse, now closely associated with religiosity. In the UK, a poll a few years ago showed that people now find Atheists to be more honest and trustworthy than devout Christians, with even some devout Christians now trusting atheists more than their fellow Christians.

Completing the census form on the designated census day is compulsory in Australia but the question about religion was voluntary. It may be significant that the percentage of Australians who volunteered this information rose from 91% to 93%. This is probably not enough to account for the jump in 'no religion' but it could be partly the result of people being more inclined to declare it publicly, albeit on a confidential form, the personal details of which will not be released for 100 years.
An animated representation of the first tranche of Australian Census 2021 data can be seen here.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Covidiot News - Another Reason Why Pregnant Women Should Be Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy reduced the risk of hospitalisation with COVID-19 for babies under 6 month-old by 80% for the Delta variant and by 40% for the Omicron variant.
COVID-19 Vaccination in Pregnancy Helps Protect Infants from Needing Hospital Care for COVID-19 | Lurie Children's

Contrary to the antivaxx propaganda coming from the extreme right in the USA, a new study, sponsored by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has shown that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy reduced the risk of babies under 6 month old needing hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection, by 80% during the Delta wave and 40% during the Omicron wave.

The study, led by Dr. Bria M. Coates, MD, was conducted by investigators from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. It included infants younger than 6 months of age who were admitted to 30 paediatric hospitals in 22 states from July 1, 2021, to March 8, 2022. Dr Coates and his colleagues found that most infants (90 percent) who needed intensive care due to COVID-19 infection were born to mothers who were not vaccinated during pregnancy.

The results were published a few days ago in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital press release explains the importance of these findings:

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Fake News - Why People Believe False Stories and Disinformation

Why We Fall for Disinformation | Psychology Today

In a report published recently by the US Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) a team of psychologists analysed the reasons why so many people are falling for disinformation. The problem us due to the way we have evolved to deal with information and the fact that this has ill-prepared us to deal with the vast amount of information now being directed at us by modern technology.

In fact, some of the time-tested tools make us dangerously vulnerable to disinformation, especially disinformation designed to mislead and garner support for extremist groups for whom the truth would be toxic. We see this today in the form of disinformation about, for example, COVID-19, the measures to reduce its spread and the vaccines designed to protect us from it. We also see it in relation to politics, political movements and parties, international affairs, religious fundamentalism and anti-science propaganda, such as climate change and evolution, and especially conspiracy theories such as those promulgated by QAnon and former President, Donald Trump's supporters, intended to radicalise, undermine confidence in institutions, and garner support for extreme solutions to non-existent problems.

In other words, disinformation campaigns are designed to benefit those whom the report calls 'malign actors', for whom the truth would be dangerous and who know they need their target marks to believe falsehoods and mistrust the evidence.

In the abstract to their report, the psychologists, Heather Wolters, Kasey Stricklin, Neil Carey, and Megan K. McBride, say:

Friday, 24 June 2022

Confidence in U.S. Supreme Court Sinks to Historic Low

Confidence in U.S. Supreme Court Sinks to Historic Low | Gallop

According to the latest Gollop Poll, the damage the disastrous president, Donald Trump, did to American democracy continues to fester.

This time it is a dramatic collapse in the level of trust in the Supreme Court that Americans have, since Trump appointed overtly partisan Republican placemen to SCOTUS while in office. A flourishing democracy needs an independent judiciary, not an overtly partisan one, but SCOTUS is now expected to deliver verdicts demanded by the right-wing political fringe and religious fundamentalists, while ignoring the wishes and opinions of mainstream Americans. Consequently, the percentage of Americans who say they have a great deal or quite a lot of trust in SCOTUS has fallen to a new low of just 25%, an 11 percentage point fall in just the last year.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Evolution News - How Humans Evolved to Get Along With Neighbours

Shared grooming among bonobos is indicative of their group dynamics, which includes tolerance and cooperation.

Photo: Martin Surbeck
Bonobos’ tolerant, peaceful group relationships paved way for human peacemaking – Harvard Gazette

Despite our long history of often religiously-inspired wars, and divisions into mutually-hostile camps, humans are actually quite good at getting along with neighbouring social groups, and peace-making is generally considered a noble activity, while war-mongering is generally despised.

In this respect we much more closely resemble the peaceable bonobos with whom we share 99% of our genes, than the equally closely related chimpanzees.

Not surprisingly, because it is an innate human trait, early Christians tried to claim credit for the idea that peace-making is a skill to be admired, with "Blessed are the peace-makers". The pity is, because they only saw things in selfish terms, they made it look like something only worth doing for a personal reward and not for the greater social good, because it leads to greater human happiness. Ironically, with peace-making featuring in their Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9), it may well be the result of evolution and an indication of our common ancestry with the bonobo.

But how did we get this way?

Evolution News - Many Human Groups Show Evidence of a Sharp Dip in the Population

Distribution of the oldest founder events dated at different locations of the world using ancient and present-day samples. Smaller sized points with warmer color correspond to more recent founder events.
Credit: Rémi Tournebize and Priya Moorjani (CC-BY 4.0)

Many human genomes shaped by past events that caused sharp dips in the population | Plos Genetics.

In a paper published today in Plos Genetics, the author report finding evidence that many human populations show evidence of founder effects with a small number of founders and a consequent genetic bottleneck with a high level of inbreeding.

The problem this presents for YECs is that some of their claimed 'evidence' for a young Earth is based on projected population growth using highly suspect models which assume the current rate of growth has been constant for all of history, and which take no account of highly variable infant mortality and the effects of plagues. So, starting with the answer they want they project the current population of the Earth backwards and end up with humans being created just a few thousand years ago. It's a mathematical sleight of hand designed to fool the statistically illiterate.

This research also shows that many human groups would have suffered from genetic defects and low genetic diversity, due to the inbreeding inherent in descent from a small founder population.

According to information provided by PLOS ahead of publication:
Representation of the impact of a founder event on genetic data with an initial population made of various genomic segments that were inherited identical-by-descent (IBD) from a common ancestor. Following a founder event, the diversity of IBD segments is reduced and due to recombination events, the length of these IBD segments shortens gradually—these two parameters are thus informative about the founder strength and age, respectively.

Credit: Rémi Tournebize and Priya Moorjani (CC-BY 4.0)

The genomes of many human populations show evidence of founder events, which occur when a small number of initial members start a new population, and can lead to low genetic diversity as well as increase the risk of certain genetic diseases in the new population. Rémi Tournebize and Priya Moorjani of the University of California, Berkeley, U.S. report these new findings June 23rd in the open access journal PLOS Genetics.

Founder events can occur when a population experiences a sharp decrease in numbers or when a few individuals colonize an isolated environment, such as an island. Despite the large impact that founder events can have on a population’s genetics, we know few details of how these events have shaped the evolution of humans and other species. To better understand these past events, researchers developed a new technique called ASCEND that uses genomic analysis to estimate the timing and strength of founder events. In the new study, they applied ASCEND to analyze about 460 human populations worldwide. The researchers found that over half of the populations that they analyzed had evidence of recent founder events, including most living hunter-gatherer, nomadic and indigenous groups that were sampled. These founder events are associated with geographic isolation, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, or the cultural practice of marrying within your own group or religion.

Some human populations like Ashkenazi Jews or Finns have been extensively studied in population genetics and have helped researchers identify many disease-causing mutations. Hence, we wanted to study if other populations have a similar history that could enable further progress in medical genetics. We were surprised to see how widespread the history of founder events is in humans, both in present-day and ancient DNA samples, suggesting that investigation of disease-causing variants will be fruitful to identify and reduce disease burden among contemporary groups.

Rémi Tournebize and Priya Moorjani, co authors
The researchers also analyzed about 200 modern dog populations and found that most populations show signs of extreme founder events. These events occurred within the last 25 generations, coinciding with the start of dog breeding during Victorian times, and may be related to inbreeding and the use of a few highly prized males to sire numerous litters.

The new analysis technique will help scientists to identify groups that experienced strong founder events and that may be at high risk of certain genetic diseases. Ashkenazi Jews and Finns, who experienced strong founder events, often undergo genetic screening to learn about their predisposition to certain genetic diseases. The study found that several populations among Native Americans, Oceanians, and South Asians have experienced even more extreme founder events than Ashkenazi Jews, and so these populations may also benefit from genetic screening.
In their open access paper in PLOS Genetics, the authors say:
Founder events play a critical role in shaping genetic diversity, fitness and disease risk in a population. Yet our understanding of the prevalence and distribution of founder events in humans and other species remains incomplete, as most existing methods require large sample sizes or phased genomes. Thus, we developed ASCEND that measures the correlation in allele sharing between pairs of individuals across the genome to infer the age and strength of founder events. We show that ASCEND can reliably estimate the parameters of founder events under a range of demographic scenarios. We then apply ASCEND to two species with contrasting evolutionary histories: *460 worldwide human populations and *40 modern dog breeds. In humans, we find that over half of the analyzed populations have evidence for recent founder events, associated with geographic isolation, modes of sustenance or cultural practices such as endogamy. Notably, island populations have lower population sizes than continental groups and most hunter-gatherer, nomadic and indigenous groups have evidence of recent founder events. Many present-day groups––including Native Americans, Oceanians and South Asians––have experienced more extreme founder events than Ashkenazi Jews who have high rates of recessive diseases due their known history of founder events. Using ancient genomes, we show that the strength of founder events differs markedly across geographic regions and time––with three major founder events related to the peopling of Americas and a trend in decreasing strength of founder events in Europe following the Neolithic transition and steppe migrations. In dogs, we estimate extreme founder events in most breeds that occurred in the last 25 generations, concordant with the establishment of many dog breeds during the Victorian times. Our analysis highlights a widespread history of founder events in humans and dogs and elucidates some of the demographic and cultural practices related to these events.

Author summary

A founder event occurs when small numbers of ancestral individuals give rise to a large fraction of the population. Founder events reduce genetic variation and increase the risk of recessive diseases. Despite their importance in evolutionary and disease studies, we still only have a limited comprehension of their prevalence and properties in humans and other species, as most existing methods require large sample sizes or phased genomes. Here, we present a flexible method, ASCEND, to infer the timing and the strength of founder events that is suitable for sparse datasets with few samples or limited coverage. ASCEND provides reliable estimates across a wide range of demographic scenarios. By applying it to data from two species (humans and dogs), we document a widespread history of recent founder events in both species and provide insights about the demographic processes related to these events. Our analysis helps to identify groups with strong founder events that should be prioritized for future studies as they offer a unique opportunity for biological discovery and reducing disease burden through mapping of recessive disease causing genes and pathways, as previously shown in studies of Ashkenazi Jews and Finns.

Of course, this study wasn't undertaken to refute a YEC claim, but to help predict what sorts of genetic disorders can be expected in different populations, and so extend to these other groups what is already being done for Ashkenazi Jews and Finns. Like all other factual science papers of course, it refutes creationism quite incidentally simply by revealing the real-world facts - which is exactly what we would expect for a superstition that has no basis in reality.

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Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Covidiot News - More Figures Show How Antivaxxer Covidiots Were Culling Their Own Supporters with COVID-19

High vaccination rates blunted Delta variant surge in some US states | For the press | eLife

Figures published yesterday in eLife, show that, during the Delta variant wave of COVID-19 in the summer of 2021, areas with a high level of vaccine take-up in the USA had a lower peak of hospitalisations and deaths, and a shorter duration of the wave, compared to areas where the take-up was low.

The summer of 2021 was of course when pro-Trump QAnon, antivaxxers and evangelical Christians were loudest in campaigning to mislead people about the severity of the pandemic and the effectiveness/harmful effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, as a direct consequence of then president Trump's incompetent response to the crisis where he was out of his depth, so sought to minimise it to justify his inaction and indecision, so setting the scene for his supporters in the far right Trumpanzee cults. Consequently, those parts of America where a large number of people, mostly Trumpanzee Republicans, were refusing to get vaccinated or take sensible precautions against catching the virus and passing it on to others.

Now figures are showing the harm that did to those who fell for the lies emanating from the White House, and so made themselves vulnerable to the potentially life-threatening condition.

As the eLife press release says:

Malevolent Designer News - What a Devilishly Good Job Creationism's Divine Malevolence Made of Malaria!

This false-colored electron micrograph shows a sporozoite of Plasmodium bergei migrating through the cytoplasm of midgut epithelia of an Anopheles stephensi mosquito.

© Ute Frevert/Margaret Shear/Wikipedia
Why vaccination against malaria quickly loses its protective effect

Scientists in Germany have worked out why immunity to malaria is not very effective and has a very short duration.

Malaria is one of the world's biggest killers. It is caused by a number of different, closely related Plasmodium parasites, normally transmitted by Anopheles mosquitos. The commonest parasite is Plasmodium falciparum and the most efficient vector is Anopheles gambiae. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC):
Malaria is one of the most severe public health problems worldwide. It is a leading cause of death and disease in many developing countries, where young children and pregnant women are the groups most affected. According to the 2021 World Malaria Report:
  • Nearly half the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria transmission in 87 countries and territories.
  • In 2020, malaria caused an estimated 241 million clinical episodes, and 627,000 deaths. An estimated 95% of deaths in 2020 were in the WHO African Region.
Now Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) who studied the human immune response after immunization with the malaria pathogen Plasmodium falciparum have discovered that the immune response has a very short duration. They concluded:

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Evolution News - How Plants Colonised the Land.

The diversity of flora and fauna as we know them today and the substrate on which thrive are thanks to a single species of algae that first went ashore more than 500 million years ago. This and all other drawings in the publication are by the paper’s first author, Dr. Mona Schreiber.
Image: HHU /Dr Mona Schreiber
Universität Düsseldorf: The Greening Ashore.

A team led by evolutionary biologist Prof. Dr. Sven Gould of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) has been studying the current state of research on the plant colonisation of land that occurred some 500 million years ago. The findings from this illustrated overview study published by Dr. Mona Schreiber as lead author have now appeared, open access, in the latest issue of the journal Trends in Plant Science.

It was to take several hundred million years for Earth to cool sufficiently for oceans and landmasses to form then the conditions on land were far from conducive to the life that was evolving in the oceans to begin to colonise that land. Until about 500 million years ago, seismic activity meant the atmosphere was toxic and a weaker magnetic field meant UV light was more intensive. Then things began to change, and all terrestrial plant life has developed from the first plant species, a streptophyte alga, that began to move out of the oceans onto land. This was followed by simple animal life which in turn created the opportunities for tetraploid vertebrates to exploit by coming onto the land, developing air-breathing and a tetrapodal lifestyle.

The Heinrich Heine Universität news release explains:

Evolution News - Why Cave-Dwelling Species Appear to be Degenerate

The olm, Proteus anguinus

Photo: Nacionalni park Una/Wikicommons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

White, fat and blind — Economy and evolution in caves: Current Biology

One of the aspects of evolution that creationists find difficult to cope with is the fact that, in the right environmental conditions, evolution can result in a loss of complexity, whereas, to make it easier to attack, creationist dogma defines evolution as an increase in complexity (which they then claim is impossible due to misrepresentation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Shanning Information Theory). For example, many parasitic organisms, particularly intestinal worms, have lost their digestive systems and absorb nutrients directly from the pre-digested contents of their host’s gut.

Other examples can be found in species adapted for living in caves which often lose their eyes and/or pigmentation. Once it was thought that these were examples of regression as these were the remnants of competition with their fitter, surface-dwelling relatives which had taken shelter in the safety of caves. Darwin found them difficult to explain because there seemed to be no obvious way in which a loss of function could be advantageous. At one point, Darwin seemed to accept a Lamarckian explanation for the loss of eyes in that their loss was a direct consequence of their lack of use.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Malevolent Designer News - Where Creationism's Favourite Sadist Released the Black Death on Humanity

Origins of the Black Death identified | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

View of the Tian Shan mountains.
Studying ancient plague genomes, researchers traced the origins of the Black Death to Central Asia, close to Lake Issyk Kul, in what is now Kyrgyzstan.

© Lyazzat Musralina
The Black Death was one of Creationism's divine malevolence's earlier attempt to kill millions of people, and it was spectacularly successful, reducing the population of Eurasia by up to 60% between 1346 and 1353, and wiping out some villages completely - that is, of course, if you buy into the intelligent [sic] design hoax that says complex organism must have been designed because evolution doesn't happen, and even if it does, it can't account for complexity [sic].

The Black Death, which theologians at the time were in no doubt was some form of divine retribution - for whatever they said it was for. The shock of it to devout European Christian culture caused all sorts of obscure sects to arise, like the flagellants, who walked about beating themselves with whips. The obvious fact that praying to dead ancestors called saints and begging them to intercede with God and put a stop to the plague, wasn't working, coupled with a widespread belief that it was the routine debauchery and corruption within the Catholic Church that had resulted in divine retribution, eventually led to a fundamental reassessment of how people saw their relationship with God, culminating in the Protestant Reformation.

The pandemic was caused by the organism Yersinia pestis and a large team of researchers, including scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the University of Tübingen, Germany, and the University of Stirling, Scotland, UK have worked out exactly where it started, something that has long been a mystery. They did this by studying the genome of ancient samples of Y. pestis

From the Max Planck-Gesellschaft news release:

Friday, 17 June 2022

Superstition News - Abandonment of Religion Accelerating in USA

Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low

A new Gallop survey shows an accelerating fall in belief in God amongst American adults, and this trend hold true across all demographic grouping, whether age, race, geography of political leaning.

Belief in God is now at it's lowest (81%) since Gallop started polling on the issue. During the years 1944 to 2011 it had averaged just over 93% (range 92%-98%) but since then it has fallen by 12 percentage points, with half that fall occurring over the last year. To put that another way, the number of people admitting to not believing doubledlast year and now stands at 19% of American adults. An astonishingly high level of belief for an advanced economy, compared to that in most of Europe, but a very encouraging recent trend.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Covidiot News - How Antivaxxer Trumpanzee Covidiots Continue to Harm Their Gullible Supporters

Factors causing low COVID-19 vaccination have spilled over to lower flu vaccination rates | UCLA Health

A new study from UCLA researchers indicates a previously undocumented impact of widespread Covid-19 vaccine promotion on other public health behaviours. Adult flu vaccination rates have declined in states with low rates of Covid-19 vaccination, which the authors say may be a harbinger of declining trust in public health, suggesting that Covid-19 vaccination behaviour has spilled over to flu vaccination behaviour. The finding is published in The New England Journal of Medicine as a letter to the editor.

States with a low COVID-19 take-up are, of course, mostly red states where a majority of voters think Trump was a good president, so have been easy victims for the right-wing frauds who spread antivaxx disinformation and claim the pandemic was a conspiracy and the measure to combat it were unnecessary and an attack on their freedoms. These are also the fools who believed the right-wing political rhetoric of the pro-Trump evangelical white Christian churches who said it was all a plot to close the churches and to prevent Christians from practicing their faith.

It is alarming that controversy surrounding Covid-19 vaccination may be undermining separate public health efforts that save thousands of lives each year. Many Americans who never before declined a routine, potentially life-saving vaccine have started to do so. This supports what I have seen in my clinical practice and suggests that information and policies specific to Covid-19 vaccines may be eroding more general faith in medicine and our government’s role in public health.

Much as someone’s decision to wear or forgo a mask in public during the early pandemic was linked with their more general beliefs through the idea of ‘belief signaling’, we propose that ‘belief generalization’ may account for Covid-19 vaccine-specific opinions being generalized to other vaccines. People who feel compelled to oppose or support Covid-19 vaccines may feel that they should in turn oppose or support other vaccines.

Dr Richard Leuchter, MD, lead author
A resident physician at UCLA Health
And the David Geffen School of Medicine.
The letter to the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine points out how these fools have been victimised twice - one over the COVID-19 vaccine and again over the trustworthiness of medical science and in particular the flu vaccines which have done so much to prevent a serious flu pandemic by giving annual flu jabs to combat the latest, or most likely new flu variants.

According to the UCLA Health press release:
The authors used publicly available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected through January 2022 to evaluate how flu vaccination rates changed during the pandemic based on state-wide rates of Covid-19 vaccination.

Flu vaccination rates for the first flu season of the pandemic (2020-2021), which pre-dated the widespread availability of Covid-19 vaccines, remained relatively stable across all states. However, in the second flu season of the pandemic (2021-2022), which was after widespread promotion of Covid-19 vaccines, flu vaccination rates dropped 4.5 percentage points (from 43.7% to 39.2%) in states with below-average rates of Covid-19 vaccination. Conversely, states with the highest uptake of Covid-19 vaccines saw increases in average flu vaccination rates of 3.8 percentage points (from 49.0% to 52.8%).

The authors say these findings taken together suggest that Covid-19 vaccination behaviors have spilled over to other public health behaviors, in this case flu vaccination. They explain that this relationship works in both directions: factors causing low Covid-19 vaccination rates (e.g., mistrust of Covid-19 vaccines, concerns about side effects, lack of trust in government) are linked to declines in flu vaccination compared to pre-pandemic times, whereas factors causing high rates of Covid-19 vaccination are spilling over to increase flu vaccination rates.

The authors propose that both of these trends may be explained by something called belief generalization.
It takes a special kind of stupid to think that, even if COVID-19 vaccinations are unnecessary and/or don't work or are part of some nefarious Satanic plot (which admittedly takes a high level of credulous gullibility in the first place) that this means flu jabs should be avoided too. But then we are still talking about people who think Trump was a good president, so for whom evidence is of no consequence and what they're taught to think from the pulpit is definitive truth.

The press release continues:

This is compelling evidence that the vaccination behaviors for flu and Covid-19 vaccines are inextricably linked.

Dr Richard Leuchter, MD
Rates of full vaccination against Covid-19 (i.e., both doses of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine) varied from 50% (Alabama) to 81% (Rhode Island) through January 2022. Flu vaccination rates through January of the 2021-2022 flu season were also highly variable, ranging from 31% (Mississippi) to 59% (Connecticut). The study authors found that 60% of the variation in a state’s flu vaccination rate could be explained solely by that state’s average Covid-19 vaccination rate.

The authors note that these findings apply only to the general adult population. Flu vaccination rates among children fell uniformly and precipitously across both the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 flu seasons, regardless of when Covid-19 vaccines were introduced or state-wide rates of Covid-19 vaccination. The authors point out that previous studies have reported similar dramatic national declines in rates of childhood vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). Leuchter says that while belief generalization in the negative direction may partially explain why parents are opting out of routine vaccines for their children, the fact that childhood flu vaccination declined even among states with high rates of Covid-19 vaccination suggests that belief generalization from Covid-19 vaccines does not fully account for this trend. Reassuringly, flu vaccination rates among adults over 65 years of age remained relatively stable during these two flu seasons compared to the 2019-2020 season, albeit persistently underutilized in this population.

This study had some limitations. For instance, it did not directly measure individuals’ beliefs or reasons for forgoing vaccination. As an observational study, it does not prove that lack of trust of the vaccines or government caused the new decline in flu vaccination rates. In addition, the CDC reports flu vaccination rates based on self-report surveys and has not made county-level data for the 2021-2022 flu season available, so only state-wide data were used.

Despite these limitations, the researchers state that these findings should raise alarm and prompt rigorous study of the causes of decreases in non-Covid-19 vaccination rates to inform urgent action and corrective policies.

Sadly the letter in The New England Journal of Medicine is protected by copyright so can't be reproduced here. However, in their open paragraph, the authors make it clear that they place responsibility for this situation on the polarization of opinion over COVID-19:
The polarizing nature of vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) within the United States threatens public health and has contributed to variable statewide vaccine uptake that ranged from 50 to 80% as of January 2022.1 Given the divided national landscape and anecdotal evidence from our own patients, we hypothesized that low Covid-19 vaccination rates would be associated with decreases in influenza vaccination rates.
This polarization was a deliberate attempt by the Trump administration and his allies on the extreme right to politicise the pandemic, believing they would make political capital from such polarization. As things turned out, all they achieved was fooling their own supporters into risking serious illness and death from COVID-19, and now, as this article shows, from a seasonal flue epidemic.

The American Republican Pary is probably the first political party in history to promote policies that make their own supporters sick and take part in what some commentators have likened to a self-inflicted genocide of right-wing covidiot Trumpanzees, and Trumpanzee cultists are probably the first political faction who think policies which seem designed to harm them, are good things to vote for.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Religious Sexual Abuse News - #ChurchToo is Revealing an Epidemic of Routine Sexual Abuse in Christian Churches

A 'washing line' of women’s' dresses donated by sexual assault survivors from Amish and other plain-dressing religious groups beneath a description of each survivors' age and church affiliation, on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Leola, Pa. The exhibit's purpose was to show that sexual assault is a reality among children and adults in such groups. Similar exhibits held nationwide aim to shatter the myth that abuse is caused by a victim's clothing choice.

AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski
#ChurchToo revelations growing, years after movement began

Far from routine sexual abuse being the preserve of the Catholic Church, the #ChurchToo movement is revealing a culture of routine sexual abuse in America's fundamentalist Protestant churches to equal anything a Catholic diocese can produce.

About the only thing they have in common is hypocritical pastors pretending to act with God's authority and so having a hold on superstitious and gullible people, conditioned to accept that 'men of God' act from the purist of motives and would never knowing harm anyone or exploit their vulnerabilities.

In a video which has had well over 1 million hits worldwide, pastor, John B. Lowe II, of an independent church in Illinois, confessed to years of “adultery,” moments before his victim, Bobi Gephart, who was 16 when the abuse started, went on stage with her husband and took the microphone because Lowe was being 'economical' with the truth.

Lowe subsequently resigned from the New Life Christian Church & World Outreach in Warsaw, Illinois.

This has encouraged many more abuse victims to come forward in much the same way the #MeToo movement encouraged abuse survivors in other walks of life to come forward and talk about their abuse.

The Amish, of course, whom many people assume are gentle, kind and sincere followers of Jesus in all they do, if a little fanatical, are not immune to accusations of sexual abuse, as this documentary shows:

Possibly motivated by concern for the damage these abuses do to the survivors, although the damage they are doing to the Christian churches in the USA where church attendance and affiliation are now dropping at the rate they did in Europe in the late 20th century, can't have gone unnoticed, ministers like Jimmy Hinton of the Church of Christ in Somerset, Pennsylvania are becoming active advocates for abuse survivors and see the #ChurchToo movement as a good thing which will help expose the "absolute epidemic of abuse in the church, in religious spaces". He says that “Survivors have far more power than they ever think imaginable", on his Speaking Out on Sex Abuse podcast.

Hinton turned in his own father, then a minister, now serving jail time for aggravated indecent assault.

Although 'liberal' churches have had their share of abuse cases with the Episcopal Church releasing details of abuse allegations during its 2018 Conference, and an Anglican Church of Canada archbishop, Mark MacDonald, resigning in April following "acknowledged sexual misconduct", the majority of abuse cases are coming from the conservative Protestant churches - the very churches that saw no problem with Donald Trump's serial adultery, sexual assaults on women, using the services of prostitutes and criminal conspiracies.

Duggar Family, 2004. A highly sexualised, conservative Christian 'purity' culture which advocated male authority and female modesty and subservience and a "Don't tell" code of silence.
In these churches there is a 'purity culture' which advocates male authority and female modesty, where dating is discouraged in favour of traditional courtship and marriage.

It was from this background that the reality TV star of 19 Kids and Counting, Josh Duggar, came. The Duggar family were the darlings of American conservative Christians and advocates of chastity, home-schooling and traditional courtship. Josh Duggar is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for child pornography offences. As a teenager, he is alleged to have molested his younger sisters. Prosecutors said he had a 'deep-seated, pervasive and violent sexual interest in children'. Among the images on his laptop were videos of toddlers being raped.

This unhealthily sexualised culture of male authority and female subservience, coupled with a reluctance to complain or inform the law enforcement authorities, and a willingness to 'forgive' and stay silent, creates a culture where the men feel entitles to sexual relations with women and the women feel they don't have the right to refuse or a right to redress, but should just forgive and move on. And all with good biblical authority in God’s Holy Word. An ideal culture for sexually predatory men to find and exploit vulnerable women and children.

Give these men the title ‘pastor’ and put them in positions of even greater authority as God’s personal representatives, over the women and children in their congregations and the temptations to abuse are too great to be resisted, and anyway, she won’t tell, and if she does, no-one will do anything and all will be forgiven. The result of this is the current deluge of abuse allegations coming out under the #ChurchToo movement.

As good an example as you could wish for of how, far from providing a decent moral compass and a decent, kind, caring and compassionate society:

Religions provide excuses for people who need excuses!

Another Christian Megachurch Cult, Another Clutch of Sexually Predatory Pastors

Pastor Bruxy Cavey, former leader of the The Meeting House
Charged with the sexual assault of an adult woman
Canadian megachurch discloses 38 reports of sexual misconduct by 4 pastors

Religions provide excuses for people who need excuses. This holds true across all denominations and all flavours of Christianity

Only days after we had news that the leader and founder of the Mexican-based La Luz del Mundo cult had been sentenced to almost 17 years in jail by a Californian court, for the rape and sexual abuse of minors, we have news that the former leader of the Canadian Anabaptist megachurch, The Meeting House, has been charged with sexual assault against an adult woman and an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who had gone to him for counselling.

And the church's leadership have now revealed that investigations have found credible evidence of the sexual misconduct of three more pastors, two of whom have been convicted, giving a total of 38 instances of sexual misconduct.

The former leader, of the cult, Bruxy Cavey, was suspended last March when an independent investigation found that he had a year-long sexual relationship with a woman who had sought counselling. It is not clear whether the woman is the complainant in the assault charge.

According to this report in Religion News Service, Jennifer Hryniw, a member of the Board of Overseers, told a meeting on 7 June, in Oakville, Ontario, Canada:

Monday, 13 June 2022

Evolution News - New Study Shows that Human Morality is Innate, Not Learned.

Are we born with a moral compass? - ResOU

To the great discomfort of Creationists and religious apologists, who claim human morality is God-given, researchers at Osaka University, Japan, in collaboration with Otsuma Women’s University, NTT Communication Science Laboratories, and the University of Tokyo, have shown that human morality is almost certainly an evolved trait because preverbal infants can make moral judgements on behalf of others.

Christian fundamentalists often tie themselves in knots trying to prove that they are the moral superior of others by claiming their faith gives them objective morals, without seeming to realise that trying to put yourself above others and exercise judgement over them without knowing them, is itself a deeply immoral act.

That well-known Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, even went so far as to assert that because he didn't understand how he knew right from wrong, it must have been determined by God and inserted into his psychology in some unexplained way.

Paradoxically though, Christians (and Moslems) also claim the 'Ten Commandments' are the basis of their morality, yet the 'Ten Commandments' contains the invocation to do unto others that which you would they do unto you - the 'Golden Rule' common to just about all human groups. And Jesus reputedly told his followers to 'Love one another' (John 13: 34) (although it's not at all clear that this applies to all his followers or just to the small group he was addressing).

Whatever, these invocations presuppose that we have the necessary instinctive empathy to understand the needs of another person - which we do, of course, hence it is also central to Humanist thinking. And this view seems to have been well founded judging by what the research team found.

According to the Osaka University press release:
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