Monday 27 February 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How Malaria is Evolving in Humans and Our Closest Ape Relatives

Creationism in Crisis

How Malaria is Evolving in Humans and Our Closest Ape Relatives

Bonobo, Pan paniscus
Photo: Sean M. Lee

Bonobo gently cradling a young momgoose
Bonobo gently cradling a young mongoose
Malaria infection harms wild African apes - The Source - Washington University in St. Louis

The embarrassing lack of scientific research support for Creationism continues with the publication of yet another paper that utterly refutes it and exposes the fraudulent nature of the cult's claims.

Researchers led by assistant professor Emily, E. Wroblewski of Washington University in St Louis, MO, USA, have found that the closest relative of humans, the bonobo, Pan paniscus, not only suffers from malaria parasites closely related to the that infect humans - Plasmodium falciparum - but that the pattern of immunity is related to the prevalence of infections, similar to the pattern found in humans. This shows that infections can be severe enough in bonobos to reduce fitness to survive and reproduce. Natural selection, as in humans, has led to an increase in genes for immunity in bonobo populations subject to parasitism by the organisms.

The scientists have discovered that bonobo populations differ in a key immune trait depending on the presence of malaria infection. Infected populations have a higher frequency of an immune variant that protects against developing severe disease, a pattern that mirrors what is observed among human populations.

Because of the difficulty in monitoring wild bonobos and particularly in obtaining blood samples to analyse for malaria parasites and bonobo DNA, the team used the ingenious method o c collecting fecal samples which contain both the parasite and bonobo DNA.

The research and its significance is explained in a Washington University in St Louis news release:

Sunday 26 February 2023

Conservation News - Why 'Extinct In The Wild' is Not Always a Death Sentence

Conservation News

Why 'Extinct In The Wild' is Not Always a Death Sentence
The Socorro Dove, Zenaida graysoni
© Josep del Hoyo
Macaulay Library

Painting of a passenger pigeon on red oak, 1754
1754 painting of a passenger pigeon.
(Plate 23 in Volume 1 of The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and Bahamas)

The animals and plants that only exist in captivity – and why time is running out to restore them to the wild

In southern Ontario, Canada, in 1866, a flock of migrating passenger pigeons, was estimated to be 1.5 Km (.93 miles) wide and 500 Km (310 miles) long. It took 14 hours to pass and contained an estimated 3.5 billion birds. The passenger pigeon was then probably the most abundant species of bird on Earth and certainly in North America.

On September 1, 1914, at Cincinnati Zoo, less than 50 years later, 'Martha' the last known passenger pigeon died and the species became extinct. The species had been functionally extinct when the last male died some years earlier. Its death went unrecorded. The last wild passenger pigeon is believed to have been shot in 1901.

The extinction of this species was due entirely to human intervention, including hunting for cheap meat on a massive scale, deforestation and habitat destruction. Because of its habit of migrating in closely-packed flocks, a single shot could bring down several birds.
Shooting passenger pigeons, Louisiana, 1875
A passenger pigeon flock being hunted in Louisiana. From the ‘Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News’, 1875.

A gene line that had taken 3.5 billion years to evolve was ended.

Malevolent Designer News - How The Intelligent [sic] Designer Could Have Been Kinder, But Chose Not To Be

Malevolent Designer News

How The Intelligent [sic] Designer Could Have Been Kinder, But Chose Not To Be
White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus
Photo: Shutterstock

White-teiled deer, <i>Odocoileus virginianus</i>
White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus

Image: Pixabay
Deer protected from deadly disease by newly discovered genetic differences | College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences | UIUC.

An open access paper published a couple of weeks ago in the journal Genes should have set alarm bells ringing in Creationists circles, assuming anyone in Creationist circles reads peer-reviewed science and risks having their cherished superstitions spoilt with facts.

The paper was a report on the findings of a team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA into why, during a summer 2022 outbreak of the highly infectious viral disease of white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, some deer remained unaffected while scores of others died within days of infection.

The disease, epizootic haemorrhagic disease (EHD), is caused by a double-stranded RNA virus, spread by a midge. There are outbreaks of this disease every 3-5 years.

The team sequenced the entire genome of the white-tailed deer for the first time and found variations in one particular gene associated with apparent immunity to EHD.

So, why should this concern Creationists?

Bearing in mind that Creationists insist their supposed intelligent [sic] designer is omniscient and so knows exactly what its designs will do when it designs them, if we buy into this evidence-free superstition, we have to believe:
  1. Creationist's intelligent [sic] designer designed the virus that causes EHD to kill white-tailed deer, and designed the midge to act as the vector for the disease to ensure the virus gets spread to kill new victims.
  2. It then gave some deer a modified gene which protects it from the virus it designed to kill them.
  3. It could have given all white-tailed deer this protective gene, but chose not to.
  4. Therefore the only conclusion is that it wanted most deer to be susceptible to the fatal disease it had designed to make them suffer and die.
As though that evidence of malevolence wasn't enough, what we have here is a simple example of how a mutant alle can give carriers of that mutation a significant advantage over carriers of the non-advantageous alle. It would take an exceptional degree of denialism to conclude that killing carriers of the non-protective allele while allowing carriers of the protective mutation to survive is not going to lead to an increase in the copies of that protective allele in the population gene pool over time.

In other words, what we have here is a perfect example of evolution by mutation and natural selection - the very same process that created the viral parasite in the first place. Evolution being defined by biological science as change in allele frequency in a population over time, not the childish Creationist parody of one species magically turning into another, unrelated species, in a single event.

Creationists need to explain why the patently obvious isn't true and why malevolent intent is a better explanation for these deer being killed by a virus, and Creationism's putative designer's apparent malevolent intent in creating the disease in the first place.

The research team's work was explained in a University of Illinois news release. As you read this, bear in mind that what the article is describing is what Creationists believe was created deliberately by their allegedly omniscient, omni-benevolent deity:
URBANA, Ill. – It was the height of summer 2022 when the calls started coming in. Scores of dead deer suddenly littered rural properties and park preserves, alarming the public and inconveniencing landowners. According to officials at the Urbana Park District, it was Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), a midge-borne viral illness that pops up in white-tailed deer populations around the state every few years. And when susceptible deer are infected, they die within days.

Now, University of Illinois scientists have found gene variants in deer associated with the animals’ susceptibility to EHD.

This is the first time this gene has been sequenced completely in white-tailed deer. This is important because without the sequences, there's no starting point to do any kind of research.

The team sequenced the gene for Toll-Like Receptor 3 (TLR3), a protein that spans membranes of intracellular organelles in immune cells and helps recognize double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses. When a dsRNA virus, such as the one that causes EHD, enters the cell, TLR3 activates the host’s first immune defenses, triggering inflammation and priming the rest of the immune system.

When the team sequenced TLR3 from EHD-infected and uninfected deer, they found dozens of variable sites in the DNA known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Two of the SNPs were significantly more common in uninfected deer.

Because we found mutations in TLR3 more frequently in EHD-negative animals, we think deer with these mutations are less susceptible to EHD.

Yasuko Ishida, co-author
Department of Animal Sciences
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
That conclusion is rooted in the probability that many white-tailed deer in Illinois are exposed to EHD in their lifetimes, but only some will die from the disease.

In many areas, outbreaks occur every 3-5 years, when environmental conditions favor the life cycle of midges that carry the virus. The midges spend their larval stages in mud under ponds and puddles where deer drink during drought conditions. As those water sources dry up, usually during late summer, the midges’ muddy habitat is exposed and the adult flies emerge to bite and infect deer. The cycle can be interrupted locally by a soaking rain or a cold snap, which is why outbreaks don’t happen every year.

The researchers emphasize that EHD is not transmissible to humans or pets through midge bites or consumption of infected deer meat.

Although there’s not much wildlife managers can do to disrupt the cycle and prevent outbreaks in natural habitats, the team says it’s still helpful to understand the genetic underpinnings of the disease. Theoretically, deer in captive herds could be sampled to characterize the level of vulnerability to EHD, and wild herds could be sampled during the hunting and EHD-outbreak seasons, informing managers and the public of future risk.

The value of this research is that it helps inform the public about EHD. It helps them to understand not only what the disease will look like, but potentially the severity of an outbreak in a particular area. Sometimes there's value in knowing what to expect.

Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, co-author
Wildlife veterinary epidemiologist
Illinois Natural History Survey
And the Department of Animal Sciences
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in ACES
And the Department of Pathobiology
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.

It’s very complicated to respond to an outbreak of EHD because there are often large numbers of deer found dead near water. People don’t know what to do when that happens, but we encourage the public to report potential EHD outbreaks to their local IDNR wildlife biologist for the surveillance and future study of the disease.

Jacob Wessels, first author
Now a conservation police officer with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Considering the disease’s episodic nature, it’s not likely to present as a severe outbreak again in Urbana parks anytime soon. But it is an increasing threat to the state’s northern regions, including Chicagoland. Another recent study by Mateus-Pinilla, Roca, and others shows the disease has been slowly but steadily moving northward in Illinois. The researchers don’t know whether that’s due to climate change or greater reporting, but it’s clear EHD isn’t restricted to rural parts of Illinois.

The article, “The Impact of Variation in the Toll-like Receptor 3 Gene on Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease in Illinois Wild White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus),” is published in Genes [DOI: 10.3390/genes14020426].
Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
More detail is provided in the team's open access paper in Genes:

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) leads to high mortality in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and is caused by a double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) virus. Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) plays a role in host immune detection and response to dsRNA viruses. We, therefore, examined the role of genetic variation within the TLR3 gene in EHD among 84 Illinois wild white-tailed deer (26 EHD-positive deer and 58 EHD-negative controls). The entire coding region of the TLR3 gene was sequenced: 2715 base pairs encoding 904 amino acids. We identified 85 haplotypes with 77 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), of which 45 were synonymous mutations and 32 were non-synonymous. Two non-synonymous SNPs differed significantly in frequency between EHD-positive and EHD-negative deer. In the EHD-positive deer, phenylalanine was relatively less likely to be encoded at codon positions 59 and 116, whereas leucine and serine (respectively) were detected less frequently in EHD-negative deer. Both amino acid substitutions were predicted to impact protein structure or function. Understanding associations between TLR3 polymorphisms and EHD provides insights into the role of host genetics in outbreaks of EHD in deer, which may allow wildlife agencies to better understand the severity of outbreaks.

Wessels JE, Ishida Y, Rivera NA, Stirewalt SL, Brown WM, Novakofski JE, Roca AL, Mateus-Pinilla NE.
The Impact of Variation in the Toll-like Receptor 3 Gene on Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease in Illinois Wild White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).
Genes. 2023; 14(2):426.

Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Open access
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)
These examples of how the childish Creationist notion of intelligent [sic] design simply makes no sense at all, are almost daily occurrences in biological science, as are the examples of evolution in progress that we see in this example of natural selection favouring immunity to a viral parasite. The basic problem with Creationism and Creationists is that facts and deductive logic are irrelevant, otherwise there wouldn’t be Creationism and Creationists.

The psychology needed to maintain a superstition despite the overwhelming evidence against it must amount to a mental disorder that can only be accounted for by intensive mental abuse in childhood that gives rise to a mind-numbing acute anxiety disorder, or psychotic theophobia. Creationism and the wilful ignorance and science denial that it requires are not normal psychological states.

To inflict this mental disorder on the vulnerable minds of children, reinforced by threats of eternal torture, is a form of coercive child abuse. As someone once said, there are good people who do good things and bad people who do bad thing, but with religion, good people can do bad things believing them to be good. Inflicting Creationism on children is a case in point.

Saturday 25 February 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How Did Birds Get Their Wings? They Evolved of Course!

Creationism in Crisis

How Did Birds Get Their Wings? They Evolved of Course!

Fossilised propatagium, labeled ppt in image
©2023 Yurika Uno and Tatsuya Hirasawa CC-BY

Musculoskeletal system of the avian left wing in ventral view. A, B, Propatagium (A) and forelimb muscles (B). C, D, Synchronous actions between the elbow and wrist joints, at an extension via the function of the musculus (m.) propatagialis (C) and at a flexion via the interlocking wing-folding system (D)
How birds got their wings | The University of Tokyo

Another gap was slammed shut by science recently and, once again, no gods were found.

The gap was in our knowledge of how exactly birds wings evolved; now two Japanese scientists from the Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Tokyo University's Graduate School of Science, Yurika Uno & Tatsuya Hirasawa, have shown that the key structure, known as the propatagium, evolved out of an analogous structure in non-avian dinosaurs.

Creationists hoping to find evidence that the Theory of Evolution is being increasingly rejected by mainstream scientists will be disappointed to find not a scrap of evidence in this paper that the TOE is other than alive and well and providing an explanation for the observable facts as well as predicting what the scientists would find and informing their research. This paper is not about whether birds’ wings evolved, but how and from what starting point.

The Tokyo University news release explains the research and its significance:

Thursday 23 February 2023

Unintelligent Designer News - The Hopeless Muddle When the Intelligent [sic] Designer Doesn't Have a Plan

Unintelligent Designer News

The Hopeless Muddle When the Intelligent [sic] Designer Doesn't Have a Plan
European Spruce bark beetle, Ips typographus

Tracks made under the bark by beetle larvae
Bark Beetle galleries in wood.

Photo: Deborah Bell, Smithsonian Institution.
Symbiotic fungi transform terpenes from spruce resin into attractants for bark beetles | Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

Whatever designed the symbiotic relationship between the European spruce bark beetle Ips typographus, the various fungi it depends on and Spruce trees, is either incompetent, severely amnesiac, or deliberately malevolent.

Briefly, the beetle grubs depend on the fungus to kill and breakdown the tissues of the spruce tree in which they live and develop into mature adults and the fungus gets carried to new trees by the beetles when they disperse. For this relationship to work, the adult beetles need to be directed to suitable new host spruces. This is achieved by the fungus producing attractive chemical known as terpenes which are detected by the beetles with a special olfactory organ. Not only that but research has shown that the fungi also produce chemicals that stimulate the beetles to burrow into the bark of the spruce hosts, so starting the infection and killing process.

All very brilliant and a triumph of 'designed', as no doubt the average Creationist will claim, even claiming that this system must have been created as a whole system, which is nonsensical, of course, as every component could have evolved gradually over time with each generation improving on the previous one, either in the sensitivity of the beetles' olfactory organ, the attractiveness of the chemicals the fungi produce or the dependence on each other for feeding and dispersal.

However, where the incompetence or malevolence of the 'designer' created by comes in is in the way the attractive chemicals are created by the fungus. A recent piece of research led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany, has shown that the fungus uses a substance produced by the spruce tree to defend itself against fungal attack!

And it gets even more complicated because some species fungi are harmful to the beetles, so the beetles have evolved the ability to distinguish between the chemicals produced by symbiont species and ignore those produced by harmful species.

Let's just run through the logic of Creationist claims of intelligent [sic] design shown here:

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Biodiveristy News - A Rare Bit of Good News as 29 Australian Species Come Back From the Brink of Extinction

Biodiveristy News

A Rare Bit of Good News as 29 Australian Species Come Back From the Brink of Extinction
Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, Dryococelus australis

Australian southern cassowary
Male adult Gouldian Finch, Chloebia gouldiae

Source: Wikimedia
We found 29 threatened species are back from the brink in Australia. Here's how

It's not often these days that we have some good news about biodiversity and the mass extinction now underway due to human interference with the environment, climate change, competition for living space and food production, etc, but here are a few small crumbs from Australia, where recent surveys have shown that 29 species which were once critically endangered, are now back from the brink of extinction.

The following article reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license is by five leading Australian conservationists. The article has been reformatted for stylistic consistence. The original can be read here.

Saturday 18 February 2023

Malevolent Designer News: Creationism's Divine Malevolence is Such a Fun Guy!

Malevolent Designer News

Creationism's Divine Malevolence is Such a Fun Guy!
Candida auris
Before The Last of Us, I was part of an international team to chart the threat of killer fungi. This is what we found

Candida auris
Candida auris
On top of the treat from Marburg, highlighted in my last blog post, scientists have also identified a potential threat from deadly fungal infections which are on the rise.

Could it be that Creationism's divine malevolence is intelligently designing a fungus with which to attack humans, building on the success it has had with a fungus to attack and exterminate frogs, news and other amphibians - a problem I have written about extensively both in this blog and in my illustrated book, The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good.

This threat to human health is the subject of an article in The Conversation by Justin Beardsley, Associate Professor in Infectious Diseases, Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, Westmead Clinical School, University of Sydney, Australia. The article is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency. The original can be read here:

Malevolent Designer News: Marburg - Another, Even More Deadly Pandemic in Waiting?

Malevolent Designer News

Another, Even More Deadly Pandemic in Waiting?

Marburg viruses
Marburg virus particles
What is Marburg virus and should we be worried?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently confirmed an outbreak of Marburg disease - in Kie Ntem Province of the West African country of Equatorial Guinea. Marburg disease is a haemorrhagic fever which is frequently fatal in humans. So far, 9 victims have died and a further 16 people are suspected of being infected. 200 contacts of these victims have so far been traced and put into quarantine by the WHO.

Marburg is a filovirus like the related ebola, and has a fatality ratio of 88%. It is highly infectious and easily transmitted. At the moment there is insufficient data to compare its infectivity with that of ebola.
The big concern is that this virus could break out of its endemic stronghold in West Africa and, like the SARS-CoV-2 Virus, become a major pandemic in a world in which health services are already overstretched, still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is far from over.

Embarrassingly for intelligent [sic] design Creationists, it is central to their cult think that all life is the work of their supposed designer deity, which, being omniscient, only ever designs organisms like viruses in the full knowledge of what they will do; de facto it designs them to do exactly what they do. In other words, if Marburg does become a major pandemic, that is exactly what it intended when it designed it.

The following article by Professor C Raina MacIntyre, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney, explains what Marburg is, and discusses whether we should be worried. The article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license and reformatted for stylistic consistency. The original can be read here:

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Research Shows That Cleaner Wrasse Have a Sense of Self

Creationism in Crisis

Research Shows That Cleaner Wrasse Have a Sense of Self

“It’s me!” fish recognizes itself in photographs | Osaka Metropolitan University

1 of 5
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus
2 of 5
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus
3 of 5
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus
4 of 5
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus
5 of 5
Bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus
Another nail has been driven into the coffin of the absurd Creationist notion that humans are a unique creation of a magic creator who endowed us with special qualities not given to other species. One of these supposed unique species is sentience, which includes a sense of self, so only humans are supposedly able to understand that they have some special purpose, while all other life-forms are unaware of, for example, their own existence and mortality.

And of course, not being sentient they are not capable of having emotions and run entirely on instinct and reflexes.

The nail was driven in quite casually and without the intention of refuting creationism, like so much else in science, simply by exposing the facts. The facts are once again diametrically opposite to what Creationists believe. The research team showed that a species of fish known as the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, has a sense of self to the extent that it recognises photographs of itself by recognising its own face.

Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that, when the photograph was 'shopped' to make it look there was a parasite attached to their throat, the wrasses rubbed themselves to try to remove it! This shows a remarkable degree of self-awareness and sentience, especially since mirrors are not part of their natural environment.

The team that made this discovery was led by Professor Masanori Kohda from the Graduate School of Science at the Osaka Metropolitan University. They showed that cleaner wrasses recognise themselves in photographs the same way humans do - by recognising their own face. These fish were chosen as research subjects because they appear to recognise strangers in their midst and drive them away, while tolerating others of their own companion group. In this way individuals maintain and defend their 'cleaning stations' where other fish come to be cleaned of parasites, even from inside the mouth of predatory fish.

The research is described in the Osaka Metropolitan University press release:
A big step forward in vertebrate cognitive function research

A research team led by Specially Appointed Professor Masanori Kohda from the Graduate School of Science at the Osaka Metropolitan University has demonstrated that fish think “it’s me” when they see themselves in a picture, for the first time in animals. The researchers found that the determining factor was not seeing their own body but seeing their face. These findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This study is the first to demonstrate that fish have an internal sense of self. Since the target animal is a fish, this finding suggests that nearly all social vertebrates also have this higher sense of self.

Professor Masanori Kohda, lead author
Laboratory of Animal Sociology
Department of Biology and Geosciences
Graduate School of Science
Osaka City University, Osaka, Japan
In this study, relevant experiments were conducted with Labroides dimidiatus, commonly known as a cleaner fish, which are known to be able to recognize themselves in mirrors and regularly attack other unfamiliar cleaner fish who intrude on their territory. Each cleaner fish was presented with four photographs: a photo of themselves; a photo of an unfamiliar cleaner; a photo of their own face on an unfamiliar cleaner’s body; and a photo of unfamiliar cleaner’s face on their own body. Interestingly, the cleaner fish did not attack photos with their own faces but did attack those with the faces of unfamiliar cleaner fish. Together these results indicate that the cleaner fish determined who was in the photograph based on the face in the photo but not the body in the similar way humans do.

To negate the possibility that the fish considered photographs of themselves as very close companions, a photograph mark-test was conducted. Fish were presented with a photograph where a parasite-like mark was placed on their throat. Six of the eight individuals that saw the photograph of themselves with a parasite mark were observed to rub their throats to clean it off. While showing those same fish pictures of themselves without parasite marks or of a familiar cleaner fish with parasite marks did not cause them to rub their throats.
The research and its significance are explained in the team's open access paper in PNAS:

Some animals have the capacity for mirror self-recognition, but implications for self-awareness remain controversial. Here, we show that cleaner fish, Labroides dimidiatus, likely recognize their own mirror image using a mental image of the self-face comparable to humans. Mirror-naïve fish frequently attacked photographs of both themselves and strangers. In contrast, after passing the mirror test, aggression against their own photograph and composite photographs of own face/stranger body declined, but aggression remained toward unfamiliar and composite photographs of stranger face/own body. Our results suggest that cleaner fish with MSR ability can recognize their own mirror image based on a mental image of their own face, rather than by comparing body movements in the mirror. This study demonstrates how animals recognize self-images.


Some animals have the remarkable capacity for mirror self-recognition (MSR), yet any implications for self-awareness remain uncertain and controversial. This is largely because explicit tests of the two potential mechanisms underlying MSR are still lacking: mental image of the self and kinesthetic visual matching. Here, we test the hypothesis that MSR ability in cleaner fish, Labroides dimidiatus, is associated with a mental image of the self, in particular the self-face, like in humans. Mirror-naive fish initially attacked photograph models of both themselves and unfamiliar strangers. In contrast, after all fish had passed the mirror mark test, fish did not attack their own (motionless) images, but still frequently attacked those of unfamiliar individuals. When fish were exposed to composite photographs, the self-face/unfamiliar body were not attacked, but photographs of unfamiliar face/self-body were attacked, demonstrating that cleaner fish with MSR capacity recognize their own facial characteristics in photographs. Additionally, when presented with self-photographs with a mark placed on the throat, unmarked mirror-experienced cleaner fish demonstrated throat-scraping behaviors. When combined, our results provide clear evidence that cleaner fish recognize themselves in photographs and that the likely mechanism for MSR is associated with a mental image of the self-face, not a kinesthetic visual-matching model. Humans are also capable of having a mental image of the self-face, which is considered an example of private self-awareness. We demonstrate that combining mirror test experiments with photographs has enormous potential to further our understanding of the evolution of cognitive processes and private self-awareness across nonhuman animals.

It's worth repeating what Professor Kohda said: because this ability is present in a fish, it is likely to be present in all social vertebrates - a far cry from what Creationist frauds tell their credulous dupes to make them feel special.

Sunday 12 February 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Now Cockatoos Have Been Seen Choosing Tools For A Task

Creationism in Crisis

Now Cockatoos Have Been Seen Choosing Tools For A Task
Goffin's cockatoo not only makes tools but selects the right ones to take to work
Source: Natural History Museum

Experimental set up
Platform and table setups during experiment 3
(A) Walking phase.
(B) Horizontal flight.
(C) Vertical flight.

Cockatoos know to bring along multiple tools when they fish for cashews -- ScienceDaily

Imagine you're a Creationist fraud trying to convince your credulous cult that a magic man in the sky made humans specially and flattering your target marks by citing our high intelligence as evidence of our difference, as though we are the only species to have something that makes us unique (like every other species has). Then along come a bunch of clever scientists and shows that another, very distantly related species, a cockatoo, is also highly intelligent.

The conclusion any sensible person is going to draw from this is that intelligence is not unique to humans but is an evolved trait that has arisen in many distantly related species such as octopuses, bees, birds, and several mammals. That it has arisen independently can be concluded from the fact that it is a relatively rare trait. If it had evolved from a remote last common ancestor of cephalopods, insects, birds and mammals it would be almost universal in the animal kingdom, not unusual.

How then do you fool a sensible person into thinking humans are unique with a unique design which includes high intelligence, when the evidence shows otherwise? Well, you don't, of course. As a dedicated confidence trickster and fraud, your target market is the lower few percentiles of the IQ curve and those whose thinking ability has been inhibited by theophobic psychosis, also known as religious fundamentalism, an acute anxiety disorder normally caused by mental abuse in childhood, so you simply ignore the evidence, confident that they are very unlikely to read it, but if they do they won’t understand its significance and will wave it aside because it doesn’t support them.

You will have targeted that demographic specifically because of their inability to evaluate complex evidence and draw valid conclusions from it, or to change their minds from those opinions foisted on them by childhood conditioning and maintained by the terror of thinking they could be wrong under the watchful eye of an invisible mind-reading sky bogeyman who has a uniquely terrifying punishment waiting for doubters.

So here then is an account of how a species of bird, the Goffin's cockatoo, Cacatua goffiniana, not only quickly learns to use two different tools to solve a problem with a two-stage solution, but then remember what tools it needs for the task and selects them to take with it when leaving to perform the task.

Malevolent Designer News - Bathing in Other People's Microbe Broth

Malevolent Designer News

Bathing in Other People's Microbe Broth!
"The more people in the Jacuzzi, the higher the levels of faeces and sweat shed into the water"

Couple in a hot tub
Faeces, urine and sweat – just how gross are hot tubs? A microbiologist explains

If there is anything Creationism's intelligent [sic] designer is notable for, it's never missing an opportunity to make more people sick with its specially designed pathological parasites. Take for example, the simple pleasure of sharing a Jacuzzi with friends and neighbours.

Of course, if it’s anything like the miserable old pleasure-hating deity of the Christian Bible or the Qur’an, the malevolent designer probably hates the idea of semi-naked people having fun in a hot tub together, drinking wine and maybe even touching one another. I'm reliably informed that Australians even make love in them!

We've often discussed the possibility of a Jacuzzi in our back garden, especially as we have nice neighbours who would undoubtedly join us in one with a glass or two of wine if invited. There are few things more relaxing than sparkling white wine and the tickle of bubbles rising up underneath you, especially on a balmy summer evening.

However, having read the following article by Primrose Freestone, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology, University of Leicester, I think I'll forego that pleasure in favour of sun loungers around a fire pit.

The article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence, reformatted for stylistic consistence. The original can be read here.

Monday 6 February 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Evolution of Wheat Since the Neolithic

Creationism in Crisis

Evolution of Wheat Since the Neolithic
Awned wheat, similar to that grown for 10,000 years since first cultivated in the Neolithic

Mesopotamian wheat cultivation
The cultivation of cereals such as wheat represented a turning point in the progress of human civilisation (cylinder seal from Uruk, 3.200 BCE).
Evolution of wheat spikes since the Neolithic revolution - Universitat de Barcelona

The evolution of cultivated wheat presents challenges most Creationists will avoid if possible. The first and perhaps most obvious challenge is why has wheat needed to be improved by cultivation and human selection if, as Creationists believe, it was created by a perfect, omniscient designer for the benefit of humans? Did the designer not foresee the future needs of humans or anticipate the problem of feeding a large population from a crop with inadequate yields?

The second is that fact that, despite the ludicrous Creationists' insistence that the Theory of Evolution (TOE) is a theory in crisis, and about to be overthrown as a scientific theory by their superstition, including magic and an unproven magical entity, the only viable explanation for the changes which have occurred over time is selection by human agency, in other words a form of accelerated evolution by natural selection and primitive genetic engineering by people who knew nothing of genetics, just like the natural environment.

Awnless wheat
Awnless wheat, similar to that which first appeared about 2,000 years ago.
Archaeological records show that, for about 10,000 following the first cultivation of wild wheat in Mesopotamia about 12,000 years ago, wheat grains had long awns, then about 2000 years ago, wheat diversified into awned and awnless or very short awned varieties.

Clearly, given the length of time awned whet was grown, there was not strong selection for awnless wheat, so why did the different varieties evolve, apparently suited to different environmental conditions. This was the question a study, published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, co-led by the University of Barcelona, the Agrotecnio centre and the University of Lleida, set out to answer. Creationists might note that nowhere does magic or a magic entity appear in the explanation, which depends in its entirety on the workings of the TOE.

The research and its significance are explained in a University of Barcelona news release:

The Humble Earwig - Not a Pest But a Kind And Caring Insect

The Humble Earwig

Not a Pest But A Kind and Caring Insect
Forficula auricularia

Earwigs are the hero single mothers of the insect world – and good for your garden too

Of the more than 1000 species worldwide, only four are native to the UK, with a further three introduced species.

Earwigs are often regarded as garden pests because they can and sometimes do, damage growing plants and soft fruits such as strawberries, but what is not generally recognised is that they are predators on much more destructive pests such as aphids.

But there are a few things about these fascinating insects that mean they should command our respect and protection by leaving them undisturbed.

How Science Works - Changing Minds When the Evidence Changes

How Science Works

Changing Minds When the Evidence Changes
Auditorium Cave near Bhopal, India
Credit: Joe Meert

Mistaken fossil rewrites history of Indian subcontinent for second time - News - University of Florida

It's a source of embarrassment to the scientists concerned, and no doubt a small crumb of comfort to those anti-science extremist propagandists trying to fool scientifically illiterate simpletons into thinking science is unreliable, that scientists have discovered a major mistake.

To those who understand science and how scientific opinion is always contingent and subject to revision and where nothing is ever cast in tablets of stone; where the only certainty is that there are no certainties, it is always rewarding and reassuring when mistakes are discovered and corrected because this shows the scientific method is working.

Just such an example came to light recently when scientists revisited the site where a fossil, thought at the time it was first discovered to be highly significant, had been found. What they discovered was that the ‘’ not only was nothing of the sort, but was actually in an advanced state of decay and peeling off the wall of the cave in which it had been found about a year earlier - things no self-respecting fossil should be doing.

It turned out that the 'fossil' was the recent remains of a wild honeybee (Apis dorsata) hive which, when discovered, bore a remarkable resemblance to an Ediacaran fossil, Dickinsonia tenuis, only previously known from South Australia. The implications for the age of the rock formation in which it was appeared to solve the problem of accurate dating of the rock formation and its origins in the ancient supercontinent, Gondwanaland, some 550 million years ago.

Sunday 5 February 2023

Secular News - UK Now a Majority Non-Christian Country

Secular News

UK Now a Majority Non-Christian Country

Religion, England and Wales - Office for National Statistics

For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011; despite this decrease, “Christian” remained the most common response to the religion question.

Pie chart of major religions UK 2021
The main England & Wales religious demographics
Source: ONS
Figures released recently by the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that in the 2021 census, in answer to a voluntary question, less than half (46.2%) of the 56.0 million people who answered (94%) self-identified as 'Christian'. This represents a 13.1 percentage point decrease from the figure for 2011 for the same voluntary question.

The second most common answer was 'no religion', up by 12 percentage points from 25.2% (2011) to 37.2%.

Religious Abuse - How Religion Deprives Children of Their Human Rights in Northern Ireland

Religious Abuse

How Religion Deprives Children of Their Human Rights
in Northern Ireland

Political map of Northern Ireland
Political divide in Northern Ireland
Reports: Rights of children in NI undermined by religion - National Secular Society

Reports recently submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by the Northern Ireland based child rights advocacy group, The Children's Law Center (CLC) demonstrate how religion continues to poisoning community relations, maintain divisions and hostility and deprive people of basic human rights, in Northern Ireland.

Despite years of progress following the end of the 'troubles' with the 'Good Friday' Belfast Agreement and the establishment of a power-sharing executive to administer devolved political power, the major source of intercommunal tension continues to be religion. The single most important barrier to the removal of religion as a source of hostility is the de facto segregation of primary and secondary education because of the insistence by the main Christian churches that they are not only influential in, but have control of education.

Despite a poll in 2012 which showed that 71% of the people of Northern Ireland believe an integrated education system should be the "primary model for the education system" and a 2016 UNCRC recommendation that Northern Ireland "actively promote a fully integrated education system" to facilitate "social integration, 93% of children in the province still attend faith schools while the few fully integrated schools can't meet the demand. In effect, parents have no choice but to send their children to be indoctrinated into one or other of two mutually hostile camps.

In 2016, the UNCRC also recommended ending the legally mandated collective worship in Northern Ireland schools where, unlike in England and Wales, even children over the age of 16 have no right to withdraw themselves from collective worship. Last year the High Court in Northern Ireland agreed that this situation is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Although parents can withdraw their children from collective worship, the process is often difficult, and children rarely receive an alternative period of equal educational value. Children are also required to reveal details of their beliefs, in violation of their right to privacy, and often face stigmatisation and prejudice.

As part of their religious education syllabus, faith schools are permitted to include their religion's orthodox teaching on relationships and sex education, leaving LGBTQ+ students feeling that they are the victims of homophobic bullying and demonisation, again in violation of their basic human rights.

There is no requirement for Northern Ireland's schools to teach evolution in science class and, unlike in England, where state-funded schools are forbidden from teaching scientifically discredited superstitions like creationism and intelligent design as science, no such bar exists in Northern Ireland where creationism in its various forms can be presented to children as a valid alternative to the scientific view, and the Christian Bible can be taught as real science and history.

Indeed, the state is complicit in misleading children and depriving them of a sound, evidence-based education, or an objective view of religions, because schools are required to teach RE "based on the holy scriptures", with the syllabus designed by the "four main Christian churches", without non-religious, or non-Christian input. Religions besides Christianity are described as "other religions", illustrating Christianity's privileged position. There is no provision to objectively evaluate the claims of the various religions or make an meaningful comparison between them and the non-religious view of the world.

Despite the diminishing role and influence of religion in both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, religion continues to hold sway in Northern Ireland, and in doing so, continues to foment and encourage intercommunal tension and strife while pretending to be peacemakers. Clearly, the interests of the priests and the churches is paramount and the interests of the people comes way down the list of priorities.

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Leading Scientist Still Reject God

Creationism in Crisis

Leading Scientists Still Reject God
"Adam and Eve,” detail, by Giulio Clovio, 1546
from the Book of Hours of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.
Pierpont Morgan Library,
New York City, USA

Leading scientists still reject God | Nature

I'm grateful to David Edwards whose comment on my blog post, Creationism in Crisis - How the Bible Narrative Misled 19th Century Palaeontologists drew my attention to this correspondence published in Nature a few years ago.

It is yet more bad news for those few dupes who still believe the absurd Creationist lie that the Theory of Evolution is a theory in crisis and about to be replaced by their childish superstition complete with magic and unproven supernatural entities.

In their correspondence, the authors, Edward J. Larson, of the Department of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA and Larry Witham of Burtonsville, Maryland, USA, report on the findings of a survey which shows that disbelief [in a god] is almost total amongst "top natural scientists".

The authors repeated the survey conducted in 1914 by the eminent psychiatrist, James H. Leuba, in which he found that 58% of 1000 randomly selected scientist expressed doubt or disbelief in the existence of God and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 "greater" scientists in his sample.

On repeating his survey 20 years later in 1933 (published in 1934), Leuba found that these percentages had risen to 67 and 85, respectively. He attributed this higher level of disbelief in the "greater" scientists to their "superior knowledge, understanding, and experience". This view was echoed by Peter Atkins of Oxford University in his comment on Larson's and Witham's 1996 paper, in which he said, "“You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs. But I don't think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge.”

It was in response to this and similar comments that Larson & Witham decided to rerun the second phase of Leuba's study to compare the religious beliefs of "greater" and "lesser" scientists. They defined "greater" scientists as those belonging to the US National Academy of Sciences:
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