F Rosa Rubicondior: October 2017

Saturday 28 October 2017

Zika - The Nasty Designer Plays it Sneaky!

Zika Virus Infects Developing Brain by First Infecting Cells Meant to Defend Against It

First, a little story:

God sat in Heaven gazing down at his creation that he loved and adored beyond measure and he noticed that things were not perfect. He notice all the war, famine, pestilence and hate.

He noticed that humans were finding cures for polio, smallpox, even malaria, and using antibiotics to cure infections that would have killed millions in earlier times. He noticed that very many children were growing up into strong, healthy adults when once they would have died in infancy.

He noticed though that there was still much suffering. He noticed the children born with physical and mental handicaps. He noticed the anguish of the parents of these children as they struggled to cope and make life bearable for these unfortunate children. He noticed too the deprivation suffered by the siblings of these children as their parents were forced to devote less time to them than they needed.

So he pondered on the problem and sat stroking his beard for many days, wondering what he could do about it. Why were things not as he would have wished them to be in his beloved creation? Had he not created it perfectly?

At last, a solution came into his mind.

So he improved antibiotic resistance in his bacteria and then he created the Zika virus. As a touch of brilliance, he created the Zika virus so it attacks and disables the cells that would have grown and developed into the victim's brain defences against pathogens.

"Let's see them cure that!", he thought. "Now, how's Ebola doing?"

Well, that's the creationist view.

Now let's look at the science.

Friday 27 October 2017

Sticking It To Creationists With An Early Tree

World's oldest and most complex trees - News - Cardiff University

Another scientific paper which quite incidentally and without effort or intent, refutes a key creationist claim, was published yesterday.

It was nothing more sensational from a biology perspective than the discovery that the earliest trees were much more complex in the structure of their trunks and in their growth patterns than modern trees.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Thank You For Being Humankind

Thank you!

You just helped make a difference and improve the lives of Iraqi women victims of sexual abuse by helping them rebuild their lives and earn a living.

You did this by tolerating the adverts on my blog because, once in a while the odd pennies earned from adds tot up to over £60 and trigger a payout. And, as always, I donate this to OxfamGB. This year, the project I supported was Helping women survivors of sexual and gender based violence rebuild their lives and raise their voices.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Yet Another of Those Re-writes of Human Evolution?

Left: upper left canine.
Right: upper right first molar
Credit: Mainz Natural History Museum
Prehistoric teeth fossils dating back 9.7 million years 'could rewrite human history' | The Independent

According to press reports, yet another re-write of human evolutionary history is due because a couple of 9.7 million year-old fossil teeth found in Germany look somewhat like those of "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis) from Ethiopia, Africa.

But things are maybe not what the headlines claim. Journalists have a vested interest in sensational headlines, even more so when the page carries adverts which are interspersed in the article itself and grab your attention. Also with a vested interest in sensational headlines, are those who supply the soundbites journalists yearn after.

Caring, Compassionate Neanderthals

The skull of a Neandertal known as Shanidar 1 show signs of a blow to the head received at an early age.
Photo: Erik Trinkaus
External auditory exostoses and hearing loss in the Shanidar 1 Neandertal

Here we have lovely evidence that altruism and compassion are not uniquely modern human characteristics, as creationists would have us believe.

A 50,000 year-old Neanderthal, unearthed in 1957 during excavations at Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan and know to science has Shanidar 1, shows evidence of old injuries and medical conditions that would have made independent existence in the Pleistocene impossible.

A new examination of the skeleton by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis and Sébastien Villotte of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, shows that the male in his 40s (believed to be elderly for a Neanderthal) must have received considerable support and care following his injuries which would have made hunting and foraging difficult or impossible. He is unlikely to have avoided falling prey to the many predators in the Pleistocene.

Monday 23 October 2017

Irish Catholicism is Dying

Irish Catholicism is dying | IrishCentral.com

The news for the Irish Catholic Church just got a lot worse.

The 2016 census shows a further dramatic decline in support for the Catholic Church. Most other Christian denominations saw a similar fall but, given its position as by far the largest of them, as the table on the right shows, the fall was especially acute for for Catholicism.

The table needs to be read carefully. For example, the decline of 'only' 3.4% since 2011 for Catholics represents a fall of 132,200 but an increase of 28.9% for Muslims represents an increase just 14,200.

These changes are despite an annual population growth rate averaging 0.84% over the five years to 2016.

Sunday 22 October 2017

Suffer Little Jehovah's Witness Children

Source: The Freethinker
Jehovah’s Witnesses sued in Canada for history of sex abuse cover-up | Reveal

The storm clouds are gathering over another Christian organisation as its dirty little secret of decades of child sexual abuse and systematic official cover-up, involving possibly hundreds of thousands of cases, is beginning to be revealed in all its sordid glory.

According to the Centre For Investigative Reporting (Reveal), the Jehovah's Witness parent organisation, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, is facing a $66 million law suit in Canada, brought by current and former members, claiming that it's policies protect members who sexually abuse children.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Lessons From a Canary Island - Spells and Incantations

Cathedral of Santa Ana, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain
Sitting at the end of a rather plain but pleasantly peaceful, palm-tree-lined plaza, is the Catholic Cathedral of Santa Ana, the most important religious building in the Canary Islands. It is situated in the old town area, now the southern suburbs of Vagueta in the modern city of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain.

By the standards of most European Catholic cathedrals, the Cathedral of Santa Ana, is plain, even a little austere, although it is blessed with two campaniles.

The original cathedral was built between 1500 and 1570, commencing soon after the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands by the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella, flushed with their success at the conquest of the entire mainland Spain and the expulsion of the Moors from their last remaining stronghold in Grenada. The Canaries were inhabited by a people known as Guanaches who almost certainly originated in the Atlas Mountain area of Morocco and migrated there in pre-classical times.

Conquest had not been easy, being vigorously resited by the native

Friday 20 October 2017

Evolving Great Tits - In Our Back Gardens

Evolution in your back garden—great tits may be adapting their beaks to birdfeeders.

Great tits are evolving, just up the road from where I live!

Not ten minutes drive from where I sit writing this blog-post is probably the most intensely studied piece of woodland in the world, and probably nowhere is studied by people more qualified to study it. Wytham Woods is a mixed woodland owned by Oxford University and widely used for field studies by biologists from the Zoology Department.

It was by comparing the great tits from here and from Oosterhout and Veluwe, in the Netherlands, that an international research team discovered that the UK great tits have been actively evolving over the last few decades and now have longer beaks than their Dutch counterparts.

The conclusion was that it was probably the British tradition of feeding birds with peanuts in feeders designed to be inaccessible to all but the smaller birds such as tits. This may have provided the selection pressure for longer beaks to become the fitter beaks in the environment of British gardens. The British spend about twice as much on bird feeders and the food to put in them as other Europeans. Early in the 20th Century the satirical magazine Punch described bird-feeding as a British national pastime.

Thursday 19 October 2017

Lessons From A Canary Island - Rock of Ages

The core of an old volcano, Gran Canaria
The great thing about going to somewhere different is that you see different things - if you look.

We've just got back from a little over a week in the Spanish Canary Island, Gran Canaria, just off the coast of West Africa. Yes, it's where the Canary finch comes from but, apart from a brief glimpse that might have been one and a couple in a cage, we never saw any. In fact, we saw very few birds. A few buzzards, a couple of kestrels, some egrets and herons and quite a lot of gulls, but nothing to get excited about and no new species to cross off my list!

This is mostly because Gran Ganaria is hot and arid and, being volcanic, has very little soil for anything much other than cacti and other succulents to grow in. There are pine woods on the higher places but still not a lot of wild life.

And this means that a great deal of the underlying geology is, well, not really underlying so much as overlying and exposed. It's black volcanic tuffa, pumice, basalt and towering columns of extinct volcanic core with the core eroded to expose the solidified magma as in the photograph on the right.

This, of course, if only they would look at it, is a problem for creationists because there is no way to explain the geology of Gran Canaria in terms of the product of a recent global flood or of volcanic activity in just a few thousand years since one. It is, quite simply, as close as science comes to proof that there never was a recent global flood and the Earth is actually very old. Although, on the accepted scientific understanding of the age of Earth, the Canary Islands are comparatively young - i.e., just a few tens of millions of years old.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Just a Small Problem - For Creationists

Lars Gibbon
The last common ancestor of the hominoids may have been about this size.
Research Sizes Up Last Common Ancestor of Humans and Apes:

You know that intermediate form between the old world monkeys and the primates, including humans, that creationists insist never existed?

It weighed about 12 pounds (5.5 Kg) according to a pair of researchers based at the American Museum of Natural History.

As the American Museum of Natural history press release explained:

Tuesday 17 October 2017

So What's So Special About Humans?

Whales and dolphins have rich ‘human-like’ cultures and societies

Another creationist claim has been falsified (not for the first time, obviously) but this time fairly comprehensively.

The claim is that for a list of reasons, humans are a special creation, endowed with special qualities and abilities, that separate us from the other animals, justifying the claim that the purpose of 'creation' was to create mankind, and all the rest is just there for our use.

It's not good enough that were are unique, just like any species is unique, hence being a distinct species. Humans have extra-special characteristics that makes us uniquely, unique, apparently.

Friday 6 October 2017

Getting To Know Your Inner Neanderthal

The Contribution of Neanderthals to Phenotypic Variation in Modern Humans: The American Journal of Human Genetics.

We've know for some years now that modern non-African humans have some Neanderthal DNA. This must have been acquired by interbreeding during the comparatively brief period between the migration of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) out of Africa about 50-60,000 years ago and 40,000 years ago when Neanderthals went extinct.

We also know that this interbreeding was not entirely successful and probably didn't always produce viable offspring. For example, there are no known examples of either Neanderthal Y chromosomes in modern

Tracing Plant Evolution Back To Its Roots

Common liverwort, Marchantia polymorpha
Liverwort Genes and Land Plant Evolution - DOE Joint Genome Institute.

Today we have a lovely example of how the Theory of Evolution forms the foundation of biology, enabling biologists to make predictions and make sense of what we can see today in the diversity and similarities of organisms; in this case, plants.

Contrary to what creationist frauds would have their willing dupes believe, not only is there no sign that the Theory of Evolution is a 'theory in crisis' but there is every sign that it is never even seriously doubted. No-one tries to validate it these days; it is simply accepted as the very basis of biology as surely as atomic theory is the basis of chemistry.

Thursday 5 October 2017

Old Fossils and the Crocodiles of Old England

The Melksham Monster closely resembled the species shown in this artist's impression (Plesiosuchus manselii), which also belongs to the Geosaurini group.

Credit: Fabio Manucci
Fossil points to early rise of ancient crocodiles | The University of Edinburgh

In a vindication of the way science constantly re-examines and re-assesses itself in the light of new information, some of the most rewarding fossil hunting is now being done in museums.

The museums of the world contain millions of fossils, very often meticulously catalogued with details of when and where they were discovered, but filed away in draws and cupboards and almost as effectively hidden from general view, and often scientific view, as they originally were when buried in rocks awaiting discovery by some intrepid fossil hunter a century or more ago. At the time of their discovery they may well have been mere curiosities. With little information to go on, no-one would have been aware of their significance or where they fitted in the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

The jigsaw puzzle was then far too fragmentary to know where this particular piece fitted.

One such fossil was recently discovered in the archives of the Natural History Museum, London, where it had been since 1875. It had originally been discovered about 150 years ago at Melksham, Wiltshire, England, in a formation known as Oxford Clay. When examined in detail by a team from Edinburgh University, Scotland and the Natural History Museum, London, it was found to be that of the earliest known crocodylomorph of the Geosaurini lineage, putting the evolutionary origins of this group back millions of years before the 152-157 million years previously thought.

Was This The Hominin That Gave Us Genital Herpes?

Paranthropus boisei
The species responsible for human genital herpes?

Source: Wikipedia
Meet the hominin species that gave us genital herpes | University of Cambridge

One of the best pieces of evidence for common descent is the way the genetic relationships between our obligatory parasites and those of their related species, almost exactly maps onto the relationship between our genome and those of our own relatives. I have previously written about how the evolution of our lice can be mapped onto our own evolution and divergence from the other apes.

Another parasite which, if anything, is even more obligatory that lice is the herpes virus, and like our lice there is not a close but not perfect match with our evolution. All primates are host to two versions of the herpes simplex virus, HSV1 which in humans causes cold sores and HSV2 which causes genital herpes in humans. The latter is normally regarded as a sexually transmitted disease.

Whereas we can make a direct link between two of our lice - the head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) and the body louse (Pediculus humanus humanus) - and the body lice of chimpanzees (Pediculus schaeffi), there is no such clear link with the pubic louse and an immediate ancestor. We can see how our body louse became our head louse when we lost our body hair and it had nowhere else to go and how it then diverged into two subspecies when we started wearing clothes to become our body louse as well. However, the closest relative of our pubic louse (Phthirus pubis) is the gorilla body louse (Phthirus gorillae)! Somewhere in our evolution, the gorilla louse jumped the species barrier, otherwise it, or as descendent, would be present on chimpanzees too. The degree of divergence is enough to show that this wasn't a recent event, but somewhere, after we diverged from the chimpanzees, one of our ancestors got close enough to a gorilla to catch pubic lice from it!

Sunday 1 October 2017

Swing A Chicken For Your Sins

Six Israeli activists wounded in protest against Yom Kippur chicken-swinging ritual | Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Ever since the Abrahamic religions invented the idea of sin, they've had to be even more inventive to provide cures for it.

For a Muslim, it's strict adherence to the rules, daily prayers, pilgrimage to Mecca and giving to charity. For a Catholic, it's confession, rituals and magic words as prescribed by the priest. For a Protestant, it's accepting Jesus and giving money to the church.

And for some ultra-conservative Jews, it's swinging a live chicken round your head the day before Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The chicken is then killed and the meat given to charity.
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