F Rosa Rubicondior: February 2021

Sunday 28 February 2021

Malevolent Designer News - God Hates Koalas

Wild koala, Phascolarctos cinereus
© A. Gillet
Retroviruses are re-writing the koala genome and causing cancer - Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research

Intelligent [sic] Design Creationists are stuck with a dogma that denies the role of amoral, purposeless natural forces in nature and must ascribe everything to the deliberate intent of a magic deity, whom they equate to the supposedly all-loving god of the Bible.

This means of course that the devastation the koalas are suffering right now is the result of this putative magic designer's intention. As the press release from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany, reports:
Koalas are facing multiple environmental and health issues which threaten their survival. Along with habitat loss - accelerated by last year’s devastating bush fires – domestic dog attacks and road accidents, they suffer from deadly chlamydial infections and extremely high frequency of cancer. An international team of scientists led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) now demonstrate that a retrovirus invading the koala germline explains the high frequency of koala cancer. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Evolution News - Million-Year-Old Mammoth DNA Shows a New Species Arose From Hybrids

Ancient DNA retrieved from different mammoth species is illuminating a complex evolutionary picture.
Picture: Beth Zaiken/Centre for Palaeogenetics
Million-year-old mammoth genomes shatter record for oldest ancient DNA

In a paper published in Nature a few days ago, a team of palaeontologists led by Tom van der Valk of the Centre for Palaeogenetics, Stockholm, Sweden, report recovering useable DNA from the million-year-old remains of mammoths. This sets a new record, the previous one being established in 2013 when a team from the University of Copenhagen led by Ludovic Orlando reported extracting DNA from the leg-bone of a horse dated to 560-780 thousand years old.

This mammoth DNA was extracted from three teeth, two of which have been dated to over a million years old, which had been preserved in Siberian permafrost. According to this report in Nature:

Saturday 27 February 2021

Covidiot News - SCOTUS Gives the Go-Ahead for California's Religious Super-Spreaders

US Supreme Court, Washington DC
Supreme Court Again Allows Indoor Church Services, Lifts Ban - Bloomberg

Showing their partisan divide, with Trump's conservative appointees siding with them, the US Supreme Court has granted California's churches the right to obstruct efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic and hold Covid super-spreader events.

This ruling follows a string of similar rulings limiting the powers of government to regulate gatherings in places of worship in the same way that it regulates gatherings in shops, shopping malls, sports arenas and other public spaces.

Malevolent Designer News - Nasty Little Thai and Die Parasites

Figure 1. Distribution of collected snails from 13 localities, along the coast of Andaman Sea, south Thailand.
Figure 2. Shells of Stenomelania sp. (Fisher 1885) from south of Thailand. a. Morph 1: S. cf. aspirans, Krabi Province; b. Morph 2: S. cf. crenulata, Krabi Province; c. Morph 3: Neoradina aff. prasongi, Krabi and Trang Provinces; d. Morph 4: S. cf. punctata, Krabi and Trang Provinces; e. Morph 5: S. cf. torulosa, Krabi, Trang and Satun Provinces. Scale bar: 10 mm.
Figure 3. Images of Loxogenoides bicolor (Krull, 1933) Kaw 1945. a. Specimen stained with 0.5% neutral red; b. Drawing image; c. Sporocyst stained with 0.5% neutral red. Abbreviations – eb: excretory bladder; p: pharynx; pg: penetration gland; os: oral sucker; s: stylet; sp: sporocyst; ta: tail; vi: virgulate organ; vs: ventral sucker. Scale bars: 100 μm.
Figure 4. Haplorchis taichui (Nishigori, 1924) Chen 1936. a. Specimen stained with 0.5% neutral red; b. Drawing image; c. Redia stained with 0.5% neutral red. Abbreviations – dvf: dorso-ventral finfold; eb: excretory bladder; exp: excretory pore; es: eyespot; lf: lateral finfold; os: oral sucker; p: pharynx; pg: penetration gland; re: redia; ta: tail. Scale bar: 100 μm.
Figure 5. Images of Procerovum cheni Hsȕ, 1951. a. Specimen stained with 0.5% neutral red; b. Drawing of image; c. Sporocyst stained with 0.5% neutral red. Abbreviations – dvf: dorso-ventral finfold eb: excretory bladder; es: eyespot; lf: lateral finfold; os: oral sucker; p: pharynx; pg: penetration gland; re: redia; ta: tail. Scale bar: 100 μm.
Agents of food-borne zoonoses confirmed to parasitise newly-recorded in Thailand snails | EurekAlert! Science News

You have to hand it to the intelligent [sic] designer. He or she leaves very little to chance in his/her determination to make humans sick or suffer. Here, for instance, we have an example of the lengths he/she has gone to to turm people in southeast Asia blind with liver and intestinal flukes, using three different species of trematode and four different species of snail.

Trematode flatworm parasites that cause severe ocular infections in humans have been found to use these common snails as their secondary host.

Like a lot of flat-worm parasites, this one has the problem of getting back into its host when its eggs are expelled into the environment. This one does it by infecting a secondary host that is eaten by a tertiary host that itself is eaten by a human. The tertiary host is a fish that is commonly consumed by humans, sometimes only partially cooked.

Now researchers at Silpakorn University, Thailand, led by Kitja Apiraksena, working in South Thailand have discovered that snails commonly found in fresh and brackish water in southeast Asia can carry the parasite as the secondary host. The Eureka Alert news item explains:
"Trematode infections are major public health problems affecting humans in southeast Asia," explain the scientists. "Trematode infections depend not only on the habit of people, but also on the presence of first and second intermediate host species, resulting in the endemic spread of parasites, such as intestinal and liver flukes in Thailand".

The snails of concern belong to the genus Stenomelania, have elongated and pointed shells and can be found near and in the brackish water environment of estuaries in the Oriental Region, from India to the Western Pacific islands. Worryingly enough, science does not know much else about these snails to date. Further, these species are hard to distinguish from related trumpet snails, because of the similarities in their shell morphology.

In order to provide some basic knowledge about the parasitic worms in Thailand and neighbouring countries, the research team collected a total of 1,551 Stenomelania snails, identified as four species, from streams and rivers near the coastline of the south of Thailand in Krabi, Trang and Satun Provinces. Of them, ten were infected with trematodes. The parasites were found at seven of the studied localities and belonged to three different species. In Krabi Province, the researchers observed all three species.

Speculating on their presence, the scientists suspect that it could be related to the circulation of sea currents, as the flow of water along the Andaman coast is affected by the monsoon season.

Friday 26 February 2021

Bigotry News - Christians for Hate and Discrimination

Bill Donohue
President, Catholic League
Equality Act: US House passes sweeping LGBTQ+ rights bill | LGBT rights | The Guardian

Religion provides excuses for people who need excuses.

Were you ever under the impression that Christian values include the fundamental equality of all people? How about the idea that all people are born with the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Not so, according to a gaggle of right-wing extremist Christian bigots who are furious at the passing of the Equality Act by the US House yesterday. They see the LGBTQ community enjoying the same rights as them as a frontal attack on them and their faith by the Biden administration.

Malevolent Designer News - Designing a Pointless Arms Race

Credit: CC0 Public Domain
Disease tolerance: Skeletons reveal humans evolved to fight pathogens | EurekAlert! Science News

Using evidence from the skeletons of about 70,000 ancient individuals, scientists at Flinders University have shown a pattern of co-evolution of humans and three major pathogens.

Biologist would interpret this as a typical evolutionary arms race, ending in a level of accommodation, as is predicted from the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

Creationists, however, are obliged by dogma to interpret this as the work of a single designer, whom they have designated as 'intelligent' although there are precious few signs of any intelligence, or basic principles of good design for that matter. It is difficult to think of a suitable description of a designer who appears to be in competition with him/herself, constantly seeing the solution to the problem it created last as a problem to find a solution to next, but the terms 'intelligent' or 'designer' don't seem very appropriate or accurate.

Thursday 25 February 2021

Abiogenesis News - Creationism's Favourite God-Shaped Gap Just Got Smaller Again

“Protocells” containing bubble-like compartments formed spontaneously on a mineral-like and encapsulated fluorescent dye. This could have been what happened 3.8 billion years ago when cells first began to form.

Image: Karolina Spustova.
Evidence That Earth’s First Cells Could Have Made Specialized Compartments

No wonder Creationists often come across as paranoid. At times it must feel as though their favourite dogmas and god-shaped gaps are under siege by science and constantly in danger of being overthrown or closed altogether, like so many former gaps in which they sat their favourite god(s); all found to be empty when science shone a light in them.

One of their favourites, and often their only fall-back position, is that abiogenesis hasn't been explained by science, and that easily becomes a claim that it can't be explained without resort to magic by a magic man because living things contain special god-magic called 'life' that can't be identified or even explained.

Then along comes another paper, like this one from scientists at the University of Oslo, published by the Biophysics Society, that chips away a little more at this dogma, by showing not only how simple cells got started but by showing how 'life' is simply chemical and physical processes, all understandable as properties of matter, with no magic involved.

This paper is yet another in a long line of papers all reducing the size of creationism's god-shaped abiogenesis gap, and deals with how proto-cells became internally organised, in this case, with the formation of 'bubbles' or vacuoles that are a fundamental part of living cells today.

The Biophysical Society press release explains:

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Evolution News - European Blackcaps Diverging in Plain View

Male blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla

Scientists attach geolocators to the backs of blackcaps to record the light intensity at any time of day. In this way, hiking trails can be precisely determined.
© Ben Porter
Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Like the paper on the origins of East Asian peoples, in my last blog post, this one on the migration of the European warbler, the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), also shows how little makes sense in biology unless seen with an understanding of evolution and how it works. Supernatural ''explanations' actually explain nothing and have no predictive power because, when you add magic to any explanation, literally anything becomes possible and nothing is falsifiable.

This little bird is a favourite of mine if for no other reason that we had one spend two of the last three winters in our garden, feeding regularly at our bird feeders and fat balls (and that is a clue to their recent change of habit, which this paper records). Readers may recall I wrote about this just over 2 years ago, explaining the evolutionary significance of it.

Now this piece of work, led by Miriam Liedvogel of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany, sets out to uncover some of the remaining mysteries surrounding blackcap migration.

Evolution News - How the East Asian People Evolved

Mountainous area in the Shaoguan district, Guangdong province, China.

© wklzzz | 123RF.com
Genomic insights into the origin of pre-historic populations in East Asia | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Creationist frauds will try to tell you that the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is a theory in crisis and about to be overthrown by their superstition, Intelligent [sic] Design, in which magic plays the major part. If so, this would be the first scientific theory to be replaced by a supernatural, evidence-free notion with no predictive powers, based on nothing more substantial then superstition, wishful thinking and ignorant incredulity. However, it won't be since there is no sign in the scientific world of any serious doubt about the validity of the TOE and its usefulness in making sense of the natural world, including human populations, as this paper shows.

As we can see from work such as this by a very large, international group of geneticists, anthropologists and linguists, led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute, Germany, what we see today only makes sense biologically in the context of evolution over time from common ancestors. In this case, a large team of scientists have shown how the different populations of East Asia, the most densely populated area of Earth, are related.

From the Max Planck Insitute's press release:

Evolution is a PROCESS, Not an Event!

Where does one colour end and the next start?

As species evolve over time, there is no one time or place where one species turns into another and never a point where it is not the same species as its parents.

Evolution is a PROCESS not an event!

All fossils are transitional!

submit to reddit

Malevolent Designer News - How TB Evades Our Defences

3D illustration of the bacterial pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Image: 123rf
Study could explain tuberculosis bacteria paradox

A study by computational bioengineers at Rice University and infectious disease experts at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) has revealed how Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism that causes TB, is able to resist our immune system and lie dormant for many years, before becoming active and pathological again. It has a genetic mechanism that enables it to resist stress and 'remember' how id did it, so it can do it again more quickly.

Creationists, for whom evolution by entirely natural processes must be dogmatically rejected, must attribute this ability to the intentional design of their putative intelligent [sic] designer, who is one and the same as the Christian god and allegedly omni-benevolent, only wanting a maximally good world for its creation. Why then it came up with this apparently malevolent design remains a mystery that I have yet to get a creationist to explain, other than by dismissing it as a mystery that we can't ever expect to understand, and calling me arrogant for "trying to understand the mind of God", whilst still pretending it is real science and a sound basis for investigating biology.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

More Bad News for Creationists - Australia's Oldest Rock Painting is 17,000 Years Old!

Traditional owner, Ian Waina, recording the estimated 17,300 year old painting of a kangaroo found in a hard-to-access rock cluster in the northeast Kimberley region.
Image: Peter Veth,
Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation
Australia's oldest rock painting is a kangaroo | Melbourne University News

A group of rock art experts from the Universities of Melbourne and \Western Australia and the Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation have dated a rock painting of a kangaroo to between 17,500 and 17,100 years old.

The painting is typical of the artistic style from what has become known as the 'Irregular Infill Animal' or 'Naturalistic' period, chara cterised by life-like and life-sized drawings and paintings, but this is the oldest so far dated.

Psychological Profile of a Violent Evangelical Trumpanzee

Violent insurrection at the Capitol, Washington DC, 6 Jan, 2021
Psychological ‘signature’ for the extremist mind uncovered | University of Cambridge News

A combined group of psychologists from Cambridge University, UK and Stanford University, CA, USA have mapped the underlying "psychological signature" that predisposes people to hold extreme social, political or religious views and be prepared to support violence as a means to enforce their views on others, such as we saw in the attempted coup d’état in January by evangelical Christian Trumpanzee cultists.

Monday 22 February 2021

Talibangelist Fruitloop News - God Will Wipe Out Twitter for Banning Trump

Nathan French, Prophet of God.
"Big tech companies will begin to crumble if they continue to come against God’s anointed (Donald J. Trump!)"
Nathan French Prophesies That God Will 'Wipe Out' Social Media Companies for Banning Trump | Right Wing Watch

If you're having trouble accessing Twitter, Facebook, etc., you probably only have yourself to blame because you didn't vote for Donald J Trump last November, according to self-style prophet of God, Nathan French, of the Tacoma, Washington-based fundamentalist evangelical Nathan French Ministries. It's just God visiting his retribution on the social media for banning Trump and not allowing him to post the lies and false claims about electoral fraud, 'fake news' and the other tools he and QAnon used to manipulate their credulous cultists.

It's the same old story.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Covidiot News - Priest From Super-Spreader Church Dies of COVID-19

Saint Peter and Paul Church in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco, California, USA

Photo: Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Priest dies from COVID after San Francisco Catholic church closes due to outbreak

According to this report, a Catholic priest from a church in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco has died of Covid-19 after his church was forced to close temporarily after at least three of its five priests tested positive for the virus.

And it's not as though they didn't understand the risks; they just chose to ignore them.

The church has repeatedly ignored the city health ordinances, prompting the city to issue a cease and desist order on the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. According to this report in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Covidiot News - Christian Fruitloops Lying About the Jab

Precious Life director, Bernadette Smyth
"Jesus is in the womb of every pregnant woman"
Photo: Hugh Rusell.
Northern Ireland anti-abortion group's 'misinformation' about Covid jab causing infertility criticised by WHO - The Irish News

A northern Ireland-based 'pro-life' Christian fundamentalist group are actively campaigning to frighten pregnant women into refusing the anti-Covid-19 vaccination, with disinformation about the vaccine.

Amongst their disinformation is the false claim that the vaccine causes sterility. According to this report in Irish Times the group has been criticised by the WHO for issuing leaflets warning people against getting immunised due to concerns the jabs are "rushed" and that excess deaths are reportedly linked to the jab. They offer no evidence for these claims.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Malevolent Designer News - Is God a Racist?

Vitamin D - where we get it from and why we need it
Genetic variants for skin color in African Americans linked to vitamin D deficiency, City of Hope study finds

Here is a nice piece of science for people who have fallen for the Intelligent [sic] Design hoax to ponder on. It begs the question, Is God a malevolent Racist?

It is a paper by researchers at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, showing the link between skin colour in African Americans and the problems associated with the resultant vitamin D deficiency that 70% of them suffer from - an increased risk for cancers and cardiovascular diseases. African Americans have a 14% greater risk from cancers than do white Americans.

First, a little background information, from a blog post I wrote some years ago:

Evolution News - Evolution Before Abiogenesis

Fig. 1.
Templated ligation of random sequence DNA 12-mers. (A) Before cells evolved, the first ribozymes were thought to perform basic cell functions. In the exponentially vast sequence space, spontaneous emergence of a functional ribozyme is highly unlikely, therefore preselection mechanisms were likely necessary. (B) In our experiment, DNA strands hybridize at low temperatures to form three-dimensional complexes that can be ligated and preserved in the high temperature dissociation steps. The system self-selects for sequences with specific ligation site motifs as well as for strands that continue acting as templates. Hairpin sequences are therefore suppressed. (C) Concentration analysis shows progressively longer strands emerging after multiple temperature cycles. The inset (A-red, T-blue) shows that, although 12-mers (88,009 strands) have essentially random sequences (white), various sequence patterns emerge in longer strands (60-mers, 235,913 strands analyzed). (D) Samples subjected to different number (0 to 1,000) of temperature cycles between 75 °C and 33 °C. Concentration quantification is done on PAGE with SYBR poststained DNA.

© 2021 The authors
Did Darwinian evolution begin before life itself? | News - LMU München

News today that research physicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München, Germany (LMU) may have solved one of the key questions relating to abiogenesis - how did order begin to emerge from the chaos of random organic chemicals? It appears that this was the result of Darwinian evolution of molecules!

In the words of the LMU New release:
Before life emerged on Earth, many physicochemical processes on our planet were highly chaotic. A plethora of small compounds, and polymers of varying lengths, made up of subunits (such as the bases found in DNA and RNA), were present in every conceivable combination. Before life-like chemical processes could emerge, the level of chaos in these systems had to be reduced. In a new study, LMU physicists led by Dieter Braun show that basic features of simple polymers, together with certain aspects of the prebiotic environment, can give rise to selection processes that reduce disorder.
In common with many researchers in this field, the LMU team placed abiogenesis in "narrow, water-filled chambers within porous volcanic rocks on the sea bottom", in other words in the porous rocks around deep ocean hydrothermal vents.
These studies showed that, in the presence of temperature differences and a convective phenomenon known as the Soret effect, RNA strands could locally be accumulated by several orders of magnitude in a length-dependent manner. “The problem is that the base sequences of the longer molecules that one obtains are totally chaotic“, says Braun. Evolved ribozymes (RNA-based enzymes) have a very specific base sequence that enable the molecules to fold into particular shapes, while the vast majority of oligomers formed on the Early Earth most probably had random sequences. “The total number of possible base sequences, known as the ‘sequence space’, is incredibly large,” says Patrick Kudella, first author of the new report. “This makes it practically impossible to assemble the complex structures characteristic of functional ribozymes or comparable molecules by a purely random process.” This led the LMU team to suspect that the extension of molecules to form larger ‘oligomers’ was subject to some sort of preselection mechanism.

Friday 19 February 2021

Termite Gut Microbes Could Aid Biofuel Production

Microbes in the guts of certain termite species could aid in the production of biofuel.

Credit: ABS Natural History/Shutterstock.com

Termite gut microbes
Credit: mantismundi
Termite gut microbes could aid biofuel production - American Chemical Society

Another example today of why maintaining biodiversity on Earth may be vitally important to ours and the planet's survival. A microbe in the gut of termites could hold the key to producing biofuels from sustainable plant sources.

Termites are incapable on their own of digesting cellulose and the other main structural material of the wood and tough plant matter they feed on - lignin. Instead, they are entirely dependent on a diverse population of bacteria and protozoa that live symbiotically in their gut and which do the digestion for them. Very many of these organisms are unique to the guts of termites.

Now scientists at Toulouse Biotechnology Institute, TBI, Université de Toulouse, France with colleagues from the Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere, Kyoto University, Japan, and the Laboratory of Food Chemistry, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, have shown that these organisms from the guts of four species of termite, Nasutitermes ephratae, N. lujae, Microcerotermes parvus, and Termes hospes, can turn wheat straw into a useable biofuel.

The findings were published a few days ago in the American Chemical Society's journal, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, regrettably behind a firewall and the ACS refuse permission to reprint even the abstract, which can, be read here. However, the ACS News Service press release gives full details:

Evolution News - Reversal for Creationists

This dramatic paleoclimate change – which was hallmarked with widespread auroras – could help explain other evolutionary mysteries, like the extinction of Neandertals.
Photo: Unsplash.
Ancient relic points to a turning point in Earth's history 42,000 years ago | UNSW Newsroom

One of the major problems Creationist frauds have to cope with is the regularity with which natural records contradict their preferred time-line. One such series of records is that of frequent geomagnetic reversals, when Earth's North and South magnetic poles flipped. These events are recorded in the magnetic alignment of particles in the mid-ocean ridges, which record the polarity of Earth at the moment they solidified from the magma welling up from the cracks in the mantle as the tectonic plates pull apart.

Another is in the indirect record in the amount of radiocarbon preserved in ancient tree rings, which increases at the point of reversal as Earth loses the protection from solar radiation provided by its magnetic field.

These records, of course, contradict Creationism's childish claims of a young Earth of just a few thousand years old. This one shows a magnetic reversal about 40,000 years ago - some 30,000 plus years before the Universe existed, according to Creationists.

Scientist from the University of New South Wales, Australia, have found evidence of a period of major climate change associated with the last geomagnetic reversal 42,000 years ago - when Earth's North and South magnetic poles changed places. This period, which they have called the ‘Adams Transitional Geomagnetic Event’, or ‘Adams Event’ for short, after Douglas Adams of 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' fame. Douglas Adam's famously said the answer to life the universe and everything was 42!

This magnetic reversal was a period of mass extinction that saw the demise of the Neanderthals. Evidence for this change was found in the remains of ancient New Zealand kauri trees which have been preserved in sediment for over 40,000 years.

As the UNSW press release explains:

Thursday 18 February 2021

Evolution News - The How and Why of Seahorse Evolution

© Ralf Schneider
How sessile seahorses managed to speciate and disperse across the world’s oceans | News and media | University of Konstanz

We have news today showing how the biological world we see now only makes sense in the context of the Theory of Evolution, and showing how well the TOE meshes with other strands of scientific evidence, in this case, genetics, plate techtonics and oceanography.

It was produced by an international research collaboration, involving a research team led by evolutionary biologist Professor Axel Meyer of the University of Konstanz, Germany and researchers from China and Singapore, which was able to identify factors that led to the success of the seahorse from a developmental biology perspective: its quickness to adapt by, for example, repeatedly evolving spines in the skin and its fast genetic rates of evolution.

Their results were published, open access, on 17 February 2021 in Nature Communications.

From the Konstanza Universität press release:

Wednesday 17 February 2021

How Science Works - Telling a Consistent Story of Crocodile Evolution

Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) from a population living on the coast of Panama.
Image: José Avila-Cervantes.
Crocodile evolution rebooted by Ice Age glaciations - McGill University

Once in a while we get a piece of scientific research that shows how science, and the answers science provides, all mesh together to give a much larger picture, showing how several different branches of science all work to support one another and confirm our conclusions about what happened in the past to produce what we see today.

In this case, evidence from genetics, geology and climatology all work to explain what can be observed in the evolution of the American crocodiles either side of the Panamanian isthmus. It was provided by researchers from McGill University, Quebec, Canada who initially set out to see how far the Caribbean and Pacific populations of crocodiles had diverged from one another in the 3 million years since the Isthmus of Panama rose up and joined North and South America but separated the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The news release from McGill University explains:

Evolution News - The Evolution of 'Selfish' Altruism

Red paper wasp, Polistes canadensis
Polistes colonies offer windows into the evolution of co-operation.
Image: P Kennedy
February: tropical-wasps | News and features | University of Bristol

One of the things Creationists pretend to find hard to understand is how 'selfish' genes, or an evolutionary process that means individuals with certain beneficial mutations have an advantage over those who don't, can produce altruism. It probably tells us something about Creationists, that they don't understand how something which isn't purely selfish can improve the chances of survival of the species over all, or why this should be beneficial.

It may also help explain the recent finding that fundamentalist evangelical Christians tend to have a low regard for the health and welfare of others, as we are seeing by their selfish behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic.

Evolution News - A Gift From Our Neanderthal Cousins

Neandertal gene variants both increase and decrease the risk for severe COVID-19 | Karolinska Institutet Nyheter

Readers may remember how, back last October, I reported on a paper from researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, which showed that a gene carried on chromosome 3, which we inherited from our Neanderthal cousins, is a significant risk factor for severe Covid-19.

Now the same team have shown that Neanderthals also contributed a protective variant, carried on chromosome 12, that helps us fight RNA viruses. Genes known as OAS, from this region of chromosome 12, code for protein enzymes that break down viral RNA. People with this Neanderthal variant have a 20% lower chance of needing intensive care in hospital if they become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This allele is present in half the non-African population of the world, showing in conveys a significant benefit and so has been steadily increasing in the human gene pool.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Trumpanzee News - How Trump Split the GOP

QAnon conspiracy theorists in the failed coup d'etat
Rise of conspiracies reveals an evangelical divide in the GOP - The Survey Center on American Life

Everything Donald J Trump does ends in failure. His businesses go bankrupt; his presidency was a monumental failure in which not a single one of his pre-election promises were kept and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic was probably the worst of any state, resulting in 25% of all cases world-wide being in America, peaking at 250,000 a day with 2,000 deaths, the measures scientists were urging to control it becoming political issues with widespread flouting of social distancing and mask-wearing and now deep suspicion about the safety and even the real purpose of the vaccine.

And now we discover that the party he led - the Republican Party of Lincoln - is deeply divided and practically in a state of civil war, as the evangelical Christian faction has become ever more extreme and mainstream, pushing the moderate Republicans out to the side-lines.

Old Dead Gods - Stonehenge Rebuilt

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK
Stonehenge may be dismantled Welsh stone circle | UCL News - UCL – University College London

Stonehenge, that ancient monument in the middle of the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, may have been built first, about 5,000 years ago, in the Preseli Hills of South Wales, and then been dismantled, transported to its present site and re-erected. This is the conclusion of archaeologists from University College London (UCL) who have published a paper in the journal Antiquity.

The smaller, inner, stones or 'blue stones' are already known to have come from the Preseli Hills and to have been erected before the larger, outer ring of local 'sarsen' stones was erected. Now archaeologists led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, have identified an ancient quarry and the remains of a stone circle nearby, which may have been dismantled and transported 140 miles away, possibly by migrants.

Monday 15 February 2021

Evolution News - On the Origin of Our Species

This cranium from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco is often called a modern human ancestor. The meaning of that ancestry is discussed and disentangled in a new study by Bergstrom and colleagues.
© Chris Stringer
On the Origin of Our Species | Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

As I have said before, despite Creationist fraudulent assertions that there are no transitional fossils in the human ancestral lineage, the reality is that there are, if anything too many of them. This has led to a confusing picture and a 'tree' more resembling of a bush than a neat tree with nicely spaced-out branches. But then nature has no obligation to provide us with neat, easy to understand data, especially when the reality is fuzzy and complicated.

Now a group of paleoanthropologists from the Natural History Museum, London, UKThe Francis Crick Institute, London, UK and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany have joined forces to try to sort out the confusion and debunk a few misunderstanding that have arisen, even in scientific circles.

The Max Planck Institute news release explains:

Christian Talibangelical Trumpanzees for Violence

Attempted coup d’état by Trumpanzees, 6th January, 2021
After the ballots are counted: Conspiracies, political violence, and American exceptionalism - The Survey Center on American Life

In its American Perspective Survey, The Survey Center on American Life has revealed a post-Trump America deeply divided and with a large number of people, especially evangelical white Christians, ready to resort to violence to achieve their political ambitions.

But even as pride in America has taken a battering because of the antics of Trump and his supporters, the belief in American exceptionalism, that many of us non-Americans find so arrogant and worryingly nationalistic, still remains strong.

Although Trump retains considerable support, especially amongst the Republican rank and file, most Americas expressed relief that he had finally gone. There is also broad support for investigating the possible wrongdoings by his administration.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Creationist Failure News - Yes! It's Another of Those Commonplace 'Non-Existent' Things!

Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis from the Lower Ordovician (Tremadocian) Fezouata Shale,
Zagora Morocco
Credit: Collection of Yale University
New starfish-like fossil reveals evolution in action | University of Cambridge

Researchers from Cambridge University's Earth Sciences and Zoology Departments have identified an Ordovician period fossil, about about 450-million-years-old, from Morocco's Anti-Atlas Mountains as intermediate between the sea lilies or Crinoids and modern starfish. The Ordovician was a period of rapid diversification starting about 485.4 million years ago immediately after the Cambrian and lasting until about 443.8 million years ago.

Regular find like this must be acutely embarrassing for the Creationist frauds who tell their credulous dupes that the absence of these transitional forms in the fossil record means Darwin's TOE is falsified!

Friday 12 February 2021

Evolution News - How a Single Gene Alteration May Have Separated Modern Humans From Cousin Species

Modern Human skull (L) compared to Neanderthal skull (R)
How a Single Gene Alteration May Have Separated Modern Humans from Predecessors | UC San Diego News Center

Researchers at UC San Diego, led by Alysson R. Muotri, PhD, believe they have shown that a mutation in a single gene could have altered the way our ancestors' brains were wired, enabling them to develop complex social structures, language, adaptability, creativity and use of technology, all of which appear to have arisen over a very short period of time, by evolutionary standards.

The mutation involved a single base-pair substitution - the simplest of all mutations!

They did this by growing brain 'organoids' in Petri dishes from modified stem cells. The UC San Diego news release explains:

Thursday 11 February 2021

Trumpanzee Fruitloop News - "God Didn't Say Trump Lost, So He Won Really!"

Amanda Grace,
"All part of God's plan to make eveyone think Joe Biden won"
'Prophetess' Amanda Grace Says Trump's Impeachment Trial Is Proof He's Still President | Right Wing Watch

Self-declared "prophetess" and Talibangelical grifter, Amanda Grace, normally bases her 'prophesies' on what the voices in her head say. This time, however, she's going with what they don't say.

In this case, despite wrongly telling her Trump would win last November, so far, 'God' hasn't told her Trump lost - so he must have won really and is still president! Or so she told a delighted right-wing author, commentator, and leading Trumpanzee cultist, Eric Metaxas, on The Eric Metaxas Radio Show.

Apparently believing that it's not the final tally of the votes cast, the certification of the count by state officials, the votes of the Electoral College and finally, certification of the result by Congress, that determines the outcome of American elections, but what her personal voices say, that determines them, she said:
There has been a delay for a reason. It’s not over, and it’s far from over with what the Lord is going to do with President Trump, what the Lord is going to do to the wicked of this nation, including the media. You know, I prophesied from the Lord in October about the media suffering the biggest crisis they ever had in 2021 for their crimes, so I’m watching for that to unfold.
She also 'revealed' that it is all part of God's plan to make everyone think Joe Biden won, so there will be no doubt it is God's miracle when Trump is reinstalled in the White House.

But the real clincher is the fact that Trump is being impeached for a second time. Grace has declared, despite legal opinion to the contrary, that it is only possible to impeach a president in office, and not after he has been deposed, therefore, impeachment 'proves' he is still president, really:
There’s been a delay because I believe God is trying to get people’s eyes on him. He wants all eyes on him right now for the demonstration he’s going to put on. Just like when the Jews were at the Red Sea, and they’re there, and Egypt’s at their back, and it’s all eyes on God because either the Lord is going to do this, or it’s not going to happen. And when they thought there was a dead end, God saw a path through that water. So, God’s ways are much higher when he sees how to make a path when people don’t think there is a way.

The Lord has never said to me [Trump is] not going to serve a second term. Sometimes what the Lord doesn’t say is as important as what he says. And he never said to me, ‘President Trump is not going to serve a second term.’ However, I do believe, because I prophesied this last night from the Lord, a surprise is coming with this impeachment because you can’t impeach a citizen. So something is very interesting here going on, because they’re trying to impeach a citizen right now, if he really is a citizen. You can only impeach a sitting president, so this is like we have dueling presidents right now. This is what it is: dueling presidents.

People’s actions speak louder than their words. These wicked peole right now in Congress—who the Lord is going to deal severely with, by the way—you can only impeach a president. If he is really a citizen right now, how are you impeaching him? You can’t impeach a regular citizen. It’s not possible, not according to the law, not according to the Constitution. So their action—sometimes the actions of the wicked will give them away—are pointing that something is not quite kosher going on with who’s the president.
One person who disagrees with Grace on that score, is President-reject, Donald J. Trump who once famously called for the impeachment of Barak Obama after he had left office. In early 2020, in a tweet which is no longer available, Trump's Twitter account having been permanently suspended, in response to Obama's comments on health care, Trump said, "We should impeach him for that. Why aren’t we impeaching him?"

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), himself a lawyer, though not a constitutional scholar, also disagrees with 'Prophetess' Grace. Answering criticism of his call to impeach Obama in December 2019, he assured Jake Sherman, "You actually can impeach a former president, FWIW".

Not that anyone need take fruitloop, Amanda Grace's opinion on the niceties of US constitutional law, seriously, but there is actually some unsettled debate on the matter of impeaching former officials, unsettled partly because it's never really been tested at this level before. The argument is over the interpretation and the intent of two Articles:
  • Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, says, “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
  • Article I, Section 3, says, “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
In other words, a person convicted on impeachment can't be imprisoned, executed, fined, have property seized or face any other penalty - not even the loss of his pension.

So, those convicted face two penalties - removal from office, and disbarment from holding future office, the latter being the only relevant penalty for a former official, meaning the purpose of impeachment is not solely to sack a corrupt official, but also to prevent them from ever holding office again.

The other argument is over the intent of the people who framed these articles, and it surely can't have been their intention to build in a massive loophole that would render the entire thing moot and unusable - namely, by offering the escape route of resignation to avoid the penalty of being disbarred in the future, and the ignominy of being convicted.

Be that as it may, the reality is that Congress has the right to bring articles of impeachment against a former office holder, and has decided to do so, as is their constitutional right; and the Senate now has a constitutional duty to hold a formal trial once articles of impeachment have been brought before them, to which they are bound by their oath of office. The argument over whether the Senate can then convict under the Constitution is a separate one altogether.

The moral of this story is, if you want to understand the US Constitution and the powers of the legislature, ask a constitutional lawyer, not a deluded fruitloop who hears voices and even understands what they mean when they don't say anything - especially when what they don't say is what she doesn't want them to say anyway.

What is the probability that she is just plain lying because she is too embarrassed about making false prophesies to admit she made them up too and got it wrong?

submit to reddit

The Fundamentalist Christian Child Pornographer and Trump Aide.

Christmas at the White House with Trump's Ad designer, child pornographer and paedophile rapist, Ruben A. Verastigui.
Former Trump and GOP Aide Ruben Verastigui Charged With Child Pornography Offenses

Of course it would be wrong to suggest that all Trump's supporters and staffers share his lack of moral scruples in sexual matters, but this one certainly did.

In fact, when he was working for the Senate Republican Conference and Christian pro-life groups, and designing social media ads for Donald Trump's Make America Great Again Committee and Donald J Trump for President, Inc., Ruben A. Verastigui was also trading in child pornography and telling his online pal and fellow paedophile:
Well like I said babies are some of my biggest turn-ons and beast. Young rape… Fuck I love all that.
According to this report in The Daily Beast:
D.C. Metropolitan Police arrested Ruben A. Verastigui on Friday after an investigation revealed he allegedly “distributed, received, and possessed images of child pornography” between March 2020 and February 2021. Jared Holt, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, first reported Verastigui’s arrest on Twitter.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Trump's Legacy - How Trump Made America Hate Again

Police clash with a mob of Trump supporters who breached security and stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

Photo: Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
How America Changed During Trump’s Presidency | Pew Research Center

What happens when an advanced nation elects an incompetent oaf with a narcissistic personality disorder and the emotional maturity and self-control of an over-privileged adolescent, gives him a Twitter account and his own room and tells him he runs the world?

We spent the last 4 years finding out when America did just that in 2016. As this article by Michael Dimock and John Gramlich of the Pew Research Center, based largely on Pew Research polling over the period, shows, it left American society and the Republican Party deeply divided and at one point on the brink of violent insurrection, and America massively diminished in the eyes of the world.

Trump became the first world leader to try to govern (with his idea of government) through a Twitter account. Policies were announced and people were sacked not after discussions with colleagues and attempts to reach consensus but on a whim, often in the small hours of the morning by a Twitter tweet in response to an item on one of the right-wing disinformation TV networks, such as Fox News.

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Evolution News - Our Common Ancestry in Fish

Polypterus bichir
We’re more like primitive fishes than once believed – University of Copenhagen

Humans, like all terrestrial tetrapods, have a couple of major differences with the bony fish we are all believed to be descended from via an intermediate species such as Tiktaalik roseae, which crawled out onto land about 370 million years ago; the major differences being our jointed limbs and our lungs, all thought to be adaptations to walking on land and breathing air.

However, researchers at the University of Copenhagen believe they have found evidence to show that these structures could have been present in our ancestral fish some 50 million years before that. In fact, lungs may be the forerunner of the swim-bladder found in bony fish, rather than the swim-bladder being the forerunner of lungs.

The conventional view is that bottom-feeding fish, in low-oxygen environments, used their swim-bladder as a fresh-air supply by gulping air from the surface. The swim-bladder is connected to the gut. This, over time, evolved into the lungs and enabled this bottom-feeders to use the limbs they were evolving to crawl around in the silt, to come out onto land.

This research challenges that view by suggesting that some early bony fish may have had lungs that later evolved into swim-bladders in fish that needed to vary their buoyancy while some retained them as functional lungs which server the purpose of a fresh air store for foraging in an anoxic environment.

Monday 8 February 2021

Evolution News - Evolution of Skin, Fur and Feather Colours

Summary of Current Understanding of the Location of Melanosomes in Different Body Tissues and Organs and Putative Functions in Major Vertebrate Classes.
Functions of Melanin in Ancient Vertebrates
Fossil pigments shed new light on vertebrate evolution, UCC study finds | News and Views | University College Cork

A team of palaeontologists from University College Cork (Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh), Ireland have uncovered how melanin, the pigment that now gives mammals and birds the colours in their skin, fur and feathers, once had a different function in our evolutionary ancestors, but, because of one of those effects of the utilitarian 'design' process of evolution by natural selection, it was also toxic. Unless, as a creationist who believes in intelligent [sic] design, you believe toxicity was a problem deliberately created so it could be solved with a clunky work-around later.

Of course, the work debunks intelligent [sic] design creationism simply by revealing the facts, especially its latest ploy - evolution = devolution!

Melanin initially evolved as part of a mineral storage system which also played a role in immunity, and was stored in several internal organs in the bodies of early amphibians and reptiles. But it has a tendency to produce free radicles and is thus mildly toxic. The benefits of a functional, albeit primitive, immune systems outweighed the damage done, but as later animals evolved improved immune systems - given added impetus by the toxic melanin, the dynamic shifted so that the net result of melanin in the internal organs was detrimental, producing selection pressure to remove it to a place of safety - namely, outside the body in the outer layer of the skin, in hair and feathers of the evolving mammals and birds.

This in turn created selection pressure favouring colouration for camouflage, display, etc, as well as protection from harmful solar radiation, so we now have a rich diversity in hair and feather patterns in the mammals and birds.

Sunday 7 February 2021

Religion Declining Even in Former Devout Islamic and Catholic Countries

Middle East: Are people losing their religion? | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 04.02.2021

The increasing rejection of religion which we have seen in most of the predominantly former Christian Western industrialised world since the mid 20th century, is now also being seen in the predominantly Moslem parts of the Middle East according to a poll conducted by the Arab Barometer, a research group based in Princeton University and the University of Michigan. The poll was the subject of a recent article in The Economist.

Coincident with, or maybe because of, this loss of faith, there is a corresponding fall in the trust of political parties and religious leaders who, in some countries are one and the same.

U.S. Ethics Ratings for Clergy at Second Lowest on Record

Clergy compared to three medical professions or professions allied to medicine.
Percentage who believe each profession has a high or very high standard of professional ethics.
U.S. Ethics Ratings Rise for Medical Workers and Teachers

The level of trust of the US public in the ethics of the clergy continues to decline, according to a Gallup survey published just before Christmas, 2020, based on sampling over 1-17 December, 2020. The same poll shows an enhanced level of trust in the medical and medical-related professions, doctors, nurses and pharmacists, probably due to the way they are seen to be coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

The stock of the clergy, never as high as that of nurses, doctors and pharmacists has been in steady decline since 2004, falling 17 percentage points in the intervening 16 years to 2020, probably as a result of the child abuse scandals that engulfed the Catholic Church. The evangelical alliance with Donald Trump has done them little good either; all four of their worst years have been since 2016 when they fell below 40% for the first time, never again to rise above it.

The medical professionals all appear to have benefitted from the coronavirus pandemic in terms of perceived professionalism, all three showing sharp rises during 2020.

Saturday 6 February 2021

Anti-Covid-19 Vaccination Diary - The Beginning of the End!

Anti-Covid Vaccination Record Card
To begin at the beginning - we got a phone-call from our doctor's surgery last Wednesday inviting us to have the anti-Coronavirus vaccine. Of course, being fed up with restrictions on our movements for getting on for a year now, and looking forward to a holiday somewhere warm and sunny this year, unlike last year where we made do with a few days in Pembrokeshire, Wales, we jumped at the chance and were duly booked in today at the Village Hall in Clifton Hampden, about 5 mile drive away on the Wallingford road.

In this diary, I'll record our experiences, any side-effect and hopefully, come the day, our second dose and our road to a good level of immunity, how easy it is to do foreign travel, etc.

The purpose to to show that there is nothing to fear and averything to gain from this vaccine!

Malevolent Designer News - God Loves Elephants More Than he Loves Us

Artist's illustration of species within the taxonomic order Proboscidea, which includes elephants.
Credit: Liam Elward
Larger versions are available by contacting Charlotte Hsu at chsu22@buffalo.edu.
How elephants evolved to become big and cancer-resistant - University at Buffalo

Unlike most other mammals, and especially humans, elephants hardly ever get cancers.

The reason for this has been known since 2016 when researchers at the University of Chicago found that elephants have multiple copies of the TP53 gene, probably produced by gene duplication during their evolution to large size! The TP53 gene is involved in DNA repair, but in most mammals, this gene is not very efficient. Multiple copies of it seem to compensate for this inefficiency, however.

Now another team have shown that this is true for other related animals and was probably true for their remote ancestors.

This is how I explained it in by popular illustrated book, The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good as an example of something creationist's putative designer could have give us and other mammals, but chose not to (assuming you believe that magical nonsense):

Friday 5 February 2021

Malevolent Designer News - Different Responses to the Same Cancer!

Moffitt Researchers Discover Mechanism that Regulates Anti-Tumor Activity of Immune Cells in Ovarian Cancer | Moffitt

Yet another conundrum to ponder for intelligent [sic] design creationists who like to believe their putative designer is one and the same as the allegedly all-loving god of the Christian Bible.

Why has it given some women a better immune system for dealing with ovarian cancers than it gave to others?

This difference was the subject of an investigation by researchers from the Moffitt Cancer Center to discover what it was that meant the outcomes from immunotherapies for this cancer were so variable from one woman to another. What they discovered was:

Malevolent Designer News - Now Bats Get the Batty Sadist's Attention

Hybernating bats infected with Pseudogymnoascus destructans, showing white-nose syndrome.

Credit: Government of Alberta/Flickr, CC BY-ND
How European hibernating bats cope with white-nose syndrome which kills millions of North American bats - Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research

It's not a good day to be an intelligent [sic] design Creationist. In addition to that little problem with Creationism's supposedly all-loving creative deity apparently trying to find ways around the vaccines human medical science has developed against the nasty little SARS-CoV-2 virus it created to kill us or make us seriously sick, we now have this muddle over its treatment of bats, where for some reason it has created a fungus that has been designed to kill North American bats but not European bats!

To believers in intelligent [sic] design who know the facts about bat immune systems (and I accept that's probably very few if any) it must appear that their putative designer has some special affections for bats. Either that, or it wants them to have a robust immune system so they can act as laboratories and testbeds for producing novel coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2.

As I said in my illustrated popular book, The Malevolent Designer:
Web Analytics