F Rosa Rubicondior: April 2023

Saturday 29 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Evolution by Loss of Genetic Information, or What Made us Human

Creationism in Crisis

Evolution by Loss of Genetic Information, or What Made us Human
Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein

‘Deletions’ from the human genome may be what made us human | YaleNews

A trio of papers out recently should make creationists feel even more despondent, if only they could find the courage to read them, and if they could understand their contents. I'll write about them over the next couple of days, time willing.

The first, published yesterday in Science, concerns a new study led by researchers at Yale and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which has shown that, in addition to gaining some new genes that allowed us to speak, for example, what also differentiates us from chimpanzees is about 10,000 lost pieces of DNA, some as small as a few base pairs.

This of course, flies in the face of creationist dogma which says loss of genetic information is always deleterious and so can't contribute to evolution. It's something that creationist guru Michael J. Behe ludicrously calls 'devolution', which is a nonsense term, since there is no mechanism by which deleterious mutations can accumulate in the species gene pool, unless, rarely, they are closely linked to a strongly beneficial mutation.

But then Behe is writing primarily for a readership that doesn't understand what evolution is or the processes that cause it and who have no intention of ever finding out. Instead, they tell themselves that 'evolutionists' believe a mutation can turn a one species into another as a single event. As we've come to expect, creationist dogma is counter-factual because it's based on deliberate misinformation.

These are the same people who have boon fooled into believing that mainstream biologists are turning against the Theory of Evolution and turning to their childish superstition with its magic and an unevidenced supernatural magician. Another creationists delusion refuted by this research paper.

That this is not a case of chimpanzees gaining something that their common ancestor with humans did not have is evidenced by the fact that the genetic information chimpanzees still have is also in the genome of many other mammals. The probability of multiple species all gaining the same small fragments of DNA are incalculably small.

So, what benefits did these deletions convey? That they did so is concluded from the fact that they are present in all humans so must have given a common ancestor and advantage early in. As the Yale News article by Bill Hathaway explains:

Creationism in Crisis - A Large Trove of 'Transitional' Fossil Fish Shows How Jawed, Tetrapod Vertebrates Evolved

Creationism in Crisis

A Large Trove of 'Transitional' Fossil Fish Shows How Jawed, Tetrapod Vertebrates Evolved

Fish Fossils Rewrite Evolutionary History----Chinese Academy of Sciences

According to a series of news items from the Chinese Academy of Sciences last September, which somehow passed beneath my radar, two huge collections of fossils in southwestern Chongqing municipality and Guizhou province, in China, in strata which have been dated to the Silurian Period that began around 440 million years ago, are providing new information about the evolution of fishes and the jawed vertebrates that eventually evolved into terrestrial tetrapods. These were direct ancestors of today’s amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds.

These finds resulted in four articles in Nature which sadly lie behind paywalls, but according to one of the news releases:
…Chinese researchers reported finding fish fossils that provided the "missing link" about the origin of the jaw, a key trait that gave rise to 99.8 percent of all vertebrate species living on Earth today, from giant whales to humans.

It is the first time for China to publish this many studies by one research team in a single issue of the prestigious journal, which stands as a testament to the importance of the findings and for China's global recognition as a powerhouse in paleontology, experts said.

Deng Tao, the director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the recent breakthroughs represented China's original contribution to the basic sciences regarding evolution.

Friday 28 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - So What 'Kind' is This Strange Thing?

Creationism in Crisis

So What 'Kind' is This Strange Thing?

Evolutionary oddball has seven genomes inside a single cell | New Scientist

The Bible that creationists turn to for a source of scientific information, is of course, as hopelessly muddled and simplistic about biology as it is about cosmology, morality and medicine. For example, this is how it tries to classify the birds that it is forbidden to eat under the irrational food taboos it mandates for believers:
And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, and the vulture, and the kite after his kind; every raven after his kind; and the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind; the little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant; and the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

Leviticus 11:13-19
Not surprisingly, and not just because of the hilarious gaff of including 'the bat' in a list of birds, and the muddle over the different 'kinds' of owl, biologists soon realised how hopelessly inadequate the Biblical notion of 'kinds' is as a means of classifying biological taxons, so had the devise the modern classification system.

And, presumably because the authors didn't realise that plants are alive because they don't breath like vertebrates do, there is no attempt to classify plants. In fact, the author's show their muddle over plants by this strange piece from Genesis:
Then God said, 'Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it. ' And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.

Genesis 1:11-12
Clearly the Bible's authors thought there were only angiosperms (the most advances plants) since they are the only ones mentioned. Incidentally, more of their muddle is illustrated by the fact that this creation of green plants occurs before the sun is created, showing the authors knew nothing of photosynthesis.

And of course, there is no hint that the authors were even aware of single-celled micro-organisms, otherwise they might have mentioned germ theory, of which there is not a single word. Imaging how many lives could have been saved and how much suffering would have been avoided if God had thought to mention bacteria and viruses and how to avoid being infected by them, assuming it didn't know what it had created them for in the first place...

But that's an aside. The real muddle comes with the authors attempt to come up with a classification system, as Bible-literalist creationists assume that's what they were trying to do.

So, here is a curveball inadvertently thrown to creationists by researchers led by Emma E. George, now of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Integrative Oceanography Division, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA, when working at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Her team have discovered single-celled algae that are not single organisms at all, but a complex community of seven different organisms, each with its own genome, and each playing a part in a complex relationship within the algal cell body.

Figure 3
Microscopy of Cryptomonas gyropyrenoidosa SAG 25.80 with bacterial endosymbionts.

(A) DIC; (B) DAPI; (C) FISH-M. polyxenophila probe; (D) FISH-G. numerosa probe; (E) overlay of (C) and (D); (F) endosymbionts clustered in the host cytoplasm, including endosymbionts with virus-like particles (Sv); (G) endosymbiont with virus-like particles within the bacterial cytoplasm and attached to the bacterial cell’s surface (arrowhead); and (H) bacterial endosymbionts and a membrane-like structure (i.e., putative autolysosome vacuole) that potentially contains virus-like particles (arrowhead). See also Figures S4A and S4C and Table S2.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How a Complex Process Evolved From Simplicity. It's Those Blinking Mudskippers Again

Creationism in Crisis

How a Complex Process Evolved From Simplicity.
It's Those Blinking Mudskippers Again

Mudskippers Could Be Key to Understanding Evolution of Blinking | Research
Indian mudskipper, Periophthalmodon septemradiatus

Mudskippers are the thing of nightmares for creationists because, although not directly ancestral to terrestrial tetrapods, they show how fish left the water and moved onto land, to become the terrestrial vertebrates - amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds - we have today.

Another thing creationists dread is evidence of complexity evolving naturally from simplicity, because that conflicts with another of their counter-factual dogmas.

So, news today that simple beginnings of the evolution of blinking can be seen in the way mudskippers keep their eyes clean when out of water, will need to be rigorously ignored or misrepresented by creationists who are too afraid to consider that they could be wrong.

The news comes in the form of an open access research paper published a couple of days ago in the online journal PNAS by researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology, Seton Hill University, and Pennsylvania State University, and an accompanying news release from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech):

Creationism in Crisis - Stuff The Bible's Scientifically illiterate Authors Never Imagined

Creationism in Crisis

Stuff The Bible's Scientifically illiterate Authors Never Imagined

Figure 1: Illustration of gravitational lensing by a galaxy. Light from a more distant and reddish galaxy is bent by a more nearby and bluish galaxy, which acts like a natural cosmic telescope to magnify the more distant galaxy. In this instance, multiple images of the reddish galaxy are created, forming a reddish ring-like feature referred to as an Einstein ring around the bluish galaxy.

Image credit: ALMA, L Calcada, Y. Hezaveh et al.

Howe the authors of Genesis saw the Universe
HKU Astrophysicists Reveal the Nature of Dark Matter through the Study of Crinkles in Spacetime - All News - Media - HKU

Back in the bronze Age, in the days that Christopher Hitchens described as 'the fearful infancy of our species', before we had even invented the wheel and isolated tribes still thought Earth was flat, the best explanation they could think of for where everything came from was the result of some magic spells cast by an invisible magician who lived above the sky. Agency in all things and magic, were assumed to be behind everything, just as they are today by creationists.

So, imagine these ignorant hill farmers, who thought stars were hanging from a dome over a flat Earth, struggling to come to terms with concepts such as deep space where celestial bodies are millions of light years apart and most of it is composed of invisible matter?

Magic and agency in all things
(Bible moralisée, French, 13th century)
How on Earth were these simple, ignorant people going to guess at an accurate description of the cosmos and its origins?

They weren’t of course. The best they could do was to describe a world which ran on magic and give magical explanations for everything they didn't understand, confident that those who were going to read their guesses were equally ignorant.

Contrast that situation about 3000 years ago with today's astrophysicist trying to make sense of what can be observed.

Having abandoned magic and supernatural agency as an explanation for anything, about 200 years ago, modern scientists have to rely on what can be observed, either directly or indirectly, and one of their observations is that the Universe has far more mass in it than can be accounted for by observation of that which can be seen. In other words, the observable universe has a lot of stuff that can't be seen but which is giving it mass.

How then do we know about it? Because we now understand the relationship between mass and gravity, so we can observe dark matter indirectly by observing the effect its gravity has on things we can see, such as galaxies.

You wouldn't expect the simple-minded hill farmers who wrote Genesis to have any inkling that such substance even existed, let alone come up with an explanation of what this 'dark matter' is, other than the product of magic words, of course.

This is why there is no mention, not even the tiniest hint, of dark matter in the Bible, or even that the universe is as massive as it is. In the ignorant minds of the authors, 'stars' (whether galaxies or suns) were points of light stuck on the underside of the dome that kept the water above the sky out. Of course, you wouldn't expect scientifically illiterate and ignorant people to describe and explain the origins of dark matter, but you WOULD expect any creator god who filled the Universe with dark matter to be able to describe and explain it.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - What Internet Creationists Tell us About Creationists

Creationism in Crisis

What Internet Creationists Tell Us About Creationists

Listening to creationists can strengthen our understanding of evolution

Back in the 1980,s in the early days of the Internet, I was what was known as a 'SysOp' for a few CompuServe fora. I first got involved in the old UK Medical forum because of my interest in medical science as an Ambulance paramedic, then I joined a couple more fora - UK Forum and UK Current Affairs. Each forum had several sections for which particular SysOps were responsible. UK Forum, for example, had sections on Religion and Science as well as Politics. UK Current Affairs had sections on NHS, Northern Ireland, Economics, UK Constitution, etc. I also joined SciMath, a US-based forum.

It was in one of those fora that I first encountered American Creationists and Bible literalists, in addition to run-of-the-mill fundamentalists.

At first, I assumed they were joking, as it was hard to believe the childishness and scientific ignorance being displayed. As a child, we used, 'He/she still believes in Noah's Ark', to call someone childish and believing in fairy stories. In due course, we also stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

No-one I knew took the Bible literally anymore and no-one believed Earth was just a few thousand years old, any more so than they believed the sun orbits Earth, or the Earth is flat, or that we really are all descended from Adam and Eve. Sure, they were in the Bible, which some people still took seriously as a historical document, but it was generally assumed that the creation stories in Genesis were some sort of metaphor or allegory, although no-one seemed entirely sure for what. The tales, like those of Noah and Lot's wife, were so patently counter-factual that they must have had some deeper meaning...

So, it was amazing to discover that in America, the most advanced of countries and 'leader of the Free World', there really were a large number of people who still believed what our grandparents once believed, and who knew so little of science, geology and history that they couldn't see any flaws in the arguments they were putting forward.

But what that did for me at the time was to spur me on to learn, to understand their arguments and more importantly, to refute them with scientific facts. In short, it was debating with creationists that convinced me more and more that not only were they wrong, but that they were deluded victims of fraud who came from a culture that made them believe they could only be important enough if they had a close personal relationship with the creator of the universe who made it all with them in mind.

And the more I learned about science the more obvious it became why their cults expend so much energy trying to rubbish it, and why you can never get a creationist to read primary science sources, preferring to stick to their safe echo-chambers. To them, science is toxic.

So, what else can we learn from creationists?

Creationism in Crisis - How to Expose a Creationist's Scientific Illiteracy in Online Debate

Creationism in Crisis

How to Expose a Creationist's Scientific Illiteracy in Online Debate

Charles Darwin and his tree
How to slam dunk creationists when it comes to the theory of evolution

I find that the easiest way to expose creationists in online debate as gullible, scientifically illiterate dupes who have been fooled by other creationist frauds, is to let them expose themselves. Just give them a platform for them to perform on, shine a spotlight on them and away they go.

Don't try to win over the creationists; this would men them having to consider being wrong, and most creationists will never do that because to them the prospect of being wrong is too terrifying to even contemplate. Treat them as an asset to win over the audience for you.

The only problem with that tactic is that it only works on an audience who already understand even basic science so will understand the meaning of 'Theory' used as a scientific term and will know that the distinction between 'micro-' and 'macro-' evolution is illusory and meaningless since they both have the same underlying mechanism.

Anyone with a grasp of analytical reasoning will understand why there are gaps in the scientific record, and will understand that evolution is usually, with very few exceptions, a slow process that takes hundreds or thousands of generations, not an event that can be easily witnessed.

Most people with the intellect of a normal adult will understand why a hypothesis that includes magic and unproven supernatural entities, is not a scientific hypothesis, or what an assertion made without evidence is a claim that can be dismissed without evidence.

And most people will readily understand that an unsupported claim does not default to true unless disproved and creationism does not win by default if you prove a scientific hypothesis wrong. Fallacies like the false dichotomy fallacy, God of the gaps fallacy, ad hominem fallacy and special pleading fallacy are not hard to understand as fallacious arguments, and most honest people will recognise confirmation bias when they see it used to support a claim.

The weakness of my approach is that creationists in the audience, who have probably already been fooled by those fallacies and misinformation, will regard it as a win for the creationist because they lack the scientific understanding and critical thinking skill of most normal adults and most of them with have the thinking ability of an arrogant toddler.

Having said all that, the following article is by Professor Paul Braterman Hon. Research Fellow and Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow, on how to defeat creationists in debate. It is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency:

Monday 24 April 2023

Psychology News - New Study Confirms a Negative Correlation Between Intelligence and Religiosity

Psychology News

New Study Confirms a Negative Correlation Between Intelligence and Religiosity

Meta-analysis of 83 studies produces 'very strong' evidence for a negative relationship between intelligence and religiosity

Q. Why are so few scientists religious and why do so many fundamentalists have no understanding of science and poor critical thinking skills?

A. Because learning science and thinking are hard, but religion is easy and requires no analytical skill.

In 2013 a team led by Professor of psychology at Rochester University, Miron Zuckerman, reported finding a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity from a meta-analysis of 63 studies.

In 2019, with more studies being conducted and because his findings have been challenges, Zuckerman and colleagues repeated the meta-analysis with a larger data set of studies. This larger study has confirmed the earlier finding. showing the correlation between intelligence and religiosity is between -0.20 and -0.23. The correlation tends to be stronger in

For non-statisticians, what is a meta-analysis?

Sunday 23 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How Mutations, not Magic, Have Helped Killer Hornets Spread

Creationism in Crisis

How Mutations, not Magic, Have Helped Killer Hornets Spread

Asian yellow-legged hornet
Asian Yellow-legged hornet, Vespa velutina
Newly sequenced hornet genomes could help explain invasion success | UCL News - UCL – University College London

Today's bad news for Creationists is that scientists have analysed the genomes of both the European common hornet and the Asian yellow-legged hornet and found a number of genetic mutations that contribute to the ability of the latter to quickly adapt to new locations, and so become an invasive species in several parts of the world.

The study was led by Dr. Emeline Favreau and Professor Seirian Sumner of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environmental Research, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London (UCL), London, UK and included scientists from UCL, Spain, Italy, Austria, and New Zealand. Their findings are published, open access, in the journal Scientific Reports. The scientists did not report finding a magical reason for their success or need one to explain how the new genetic information entered the genome; it was those things creationists dread - gene duplication and mutation. Creationist dogma states that no new information can arise without magic and all mutations are deleterious and so can't convey an advantage. Those idiotic and demonstrably false dogmas are both comprehensively refuted by the study, so will almost certainly be ignored, dismissed or misrepresented by creationists.

First a little about the European common hornet, Vespa crabro and the Asian yellow-legged hornet, Vespa velutina:

Saturday 22 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Evolving Cancers - Another Devilish Problem for Creationists

Creationism in Crisis

Evolving Cancers
Another devilish Problem for Creationists
Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii
Photo: Max Stammnitz

Tasmanian devil
Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii
Evolution of two contagious cancers affecting Tasmanian devils underlines unpredictability of disease threat | University of Cambridge

Scientists have unwittingly thrown creationists another curve-ball, in the form of a genetic analysis of the transmissible facial cancers that are devastating the population of the Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii. Some estimates put the decline in population at 80% in some areas.
Tasmanian devils are one of the few mammals known to be affected by transmissible cancers, specifically devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). DFTD is an aggressive and usually fatal cancer that is spread from animal to animal through biting and other forms of physical contact.

The cancer is believed to have originated in a single Tasmanian devil over 20 years ago and has since spread rapidly throughout the Tasmanian devil population. DFTD is a clonal cancer, meaning that it is composed of cells that are genetically identical to each other and to the original cancer cell.

The spread of DFTD has had a devastating effect on the Tasmanian devil population, with some estimates suggesting that the population has declined by up to 80% in some areas. The disease is considered a significant threat to the survival of the species.

Researchers have been studying DFTD since its discovery in 1996, and there have been many advances in our understanding of the disease. One of the key discoveries has been that the cancer cells evade the immune system of the host animal by downregulating MHC molecules. This allows the cancer cells to avoid detection by the host's immune system, allowing the cancer to spread unchecked.

There have also been efforts to develop treatments and vaccines for DFTD. Some promising results have been obtained in laboratory studies, but there is still much work to be done before these treatments can be applied in the field.

  1. Pye RJ, Pemberton D, Tovar C, et al. A second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016;113(2):374-379. doi:10.1073/pnas.1519691113.
  2. Stammnitz MR, Coorens THH, Gori KC, et al. The origins and vulnerabilities of two transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils. Cancer Cell. 2018;33(4):607-619.e15. doi:10.1016/j.ccell.2018.03.013.
  3. Tovar C, Pye RJ, Kreiss A, et al. Regression of devil facial tumour disease following immunotherapy in immunised Tasmanian devils. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1):43827. doi:10.1038/srep43827.
Tell me about the transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils, please, with references
The study, by an international team from the UK, Australia and USA, led by scientists from Cambridge University, UK, has analyzed the DNA of the devils and their two cancers (DFT1 & 2) and worked out how the cancers evolved by the classic evolutionary process of mutation and selection. They have identified that DFT1 arose in a single individual in the 1980 and this individual infected six other adult devils in Northeast Tasmania, which resulted in six different strains and an explosive spread of the disease across the island. The second, DFT2, arose spontaneously shortly before it was first observed in 2014, since when it has spread slowly but is mutating about three times faster than DFT1, probably because it has a faster growth rate.

So, the problem for creationists is that they either accept that evolution works, or, if they insist there was an intelligent agent causing the observed changes, that that agent, who is invariably the same as the Christian and Moslem god, malevolently designed these cancers and is ensuring their perpetuation in the face of any resistance the devils might evolve. And, not content with creating it once about 40 years ago, it repeated the exercise about 30 years later, presumably because killing 80% of the population was not enough.

Quite why it would have chosen such a nasty way to devastate the Tasmanian devil population rather than simply casting a magic spell to wipe out 80%+ of the population, is a matter for creationists to explain.

As the Cambridge University News release explains:

Friday 21 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Feathered Dinosaurs Had Beetles Living on their Feathers Whose Descendants Now Live on Bird Feathers

Creationism in Crisis

Feathered Dinosaurs Had Beetles Living on their Feathers Whose Descendants Now Live on Bird Feathers
Remnants of dermestid beetle larvae and feathers in 130-million-year-old amber

Dermestid beetles
Dermestid (larder) beetles
Fossils reveal a 100-million-year-old relationship between feathered dinosaurs and feather-feeding beetles | University of Oxford

Is there ever a day goes by when yet another science paper refutes creationism without even trying?

Well, maybe the odd public holiday when scientists take a day off from revealing the facts about the world, but refuting creationism is, and has always been, the incidental result of research into biology, archaeology and geology, and today is no exception.

For instance, we learn today that feathered dinosaurs not only existed 30 million years before birds evolved, but that those feathers were host to dermestid beetles, just as are modern bird feathers.
Dermestid beetles, also known as skin or hide beetles, are a type of beetle belonging to the family Dermestidae. They are found worldwide and are commonly associated with carcass decomposition, but they can also feed on a wide variety of organic material, including dried plant material, feathers, and even leather.

Dermestid beetles are known for their ability to efficiently clean carcasses of flesh, skin, and hair, making them popular among museums, taxidermists, and forensic scientists. The beetles are used to strip flesh and tissue from bones, leaving behind a clean and intact skeleton. This process is known as "dermestid beetle cleaning" or "dermestid beetle taxidermy."

According to a study published in the journal "Forensic Science International" in 2012, dermestid beetles are an effective tool for forensic entomologists in determining the post-mortem interval of human remains. The study found that the presence and activity of dermestid beetles on decomposing human remains can help estimate the time since death, particularly in cases where other insects are not present or are unable to colonize the body due to environmental conditions.

Dermestid beetles are also used in the field of zoology, where they are used to study the diet of animals. By analyzing the contents of dermestid beetle stomachs, researchers can learn about the types of animals a particular species preys upon.

In addition to their practical uses, dermestid beetles are also important ecologically. They play a role in the decomposition of dead animal matter and can help to recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem.

  1. "Dermestid Beetles." University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology,
  2. "Forensic Entomology: Dermestid Beetles and Their Significance in Time of Death Estimation." Forensic Science International, vol. 219, no. 1-3, 2012, pp. 237-240., doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2011.12.026.
  3. Gordon, Robert D., and Karen M. Hackbarth. "Dermestid Beetles as a Tool in Wildlife and Zooarchaeological Research." Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 26, no. 6, 1999, pp. 685-690., doi: 10.1006/jasc.1998.0307.
ChatGPT (21 Apr 2023) Tell me about dermestid beetles, please, with references. [Response to user question]
Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/
Leaving aside the little problem for creationists that these beetles were getting trapped in amber some 300 million years before Earth was created according to the childish creationist fairy tales, this is also lovely evidence that the modern species of dermestid beetles co-evolved with their feathered hosts as the 'avian' dinosaurs evolved into birds.

The analogy is with human lice which co-evolved as the hominids diverged from the chimpanzees and gorillas, so there is now a clear evolutionary relationship between the lice that infect humans and the lice that infect the other African great apes.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How Trees Evolved Over the Last 21,000 years

Creationism in Crisis

How Trees Evolved Over the Last 21,000 years
The composition of tree species, as here in southern Germany, is linked to climate changes over the past 21,000 years.

The diversity of present tree species is shaped by climate change in the last 21,000 years
In yet another rebuttal of the Creationist claim that the Theory of Evolution is being discarded by mainstream biologists as an explanation for observable evidence, an international team of researchers led by scientists from Aarhus University, Denmark have investigated the beta diversity of woodlands worldwide to assess the effects of climate change since the last ice age, 21,000 years ago.

Incidentally, 21,000 years is more than twice as long ago as creationists believe Earth was magicked into existence by a magic man using magic words. Also, there was no sign of a global flood a few thousand years ago.

Beta diversity is a measure of how diversity differs between locations.
Beta diversity is a term used in ecology to describe the variation in species composition among different habitats or ecosystems. It refers to the differences in species richness (the number of species) and species composition (the identity of the species present) among different communities or sites.

Beta diversity can be measured in different ways, including using indices such as the Jaccard index, the Simpson index, or the Bray-Curtis index. These indices provide a measure of the degree of dissimilarity between communities based on their species composition.

Beta diversity is important in ecology because it provides insights into the distribution of species and the factors that influence their distribution. For example, if beta diversity is high between two habitats, it suggests that the environmental conditions in those habitats are different and may support different sets of species. Conversely, if beta diversity is low, it suggests that the environmental conditions are similar and may support similar sets of species.

Beta diversity can also be used to assess the effects of human activities on biodiversity. For example, if beta diversity is lower in an area that has been impacted by human activities, it suggests that those activities have homogenized the habitat and reduced the diversity of species that can survive there.

In summary, beta diversity is a key concept in ecology that helps us understand the variation in species composition among different habitats or ecosystems, and can provide insights into the factors that influence species distribution and the impacts of human activities on biodiversity.

  1. Baselga, A. (2010). Partitioning the turnover and nestedness components of beta diversity. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 19(1), 134-143.
  2. Ferrier, S., & Guisan, A. (2006). Spatial modelling of biodiversity at the community level. Journal of Applied Ecology, 43(3), 393-404.
  3. Jost, L. (2007). Partitioning diversity into independent alpha and beta components. Ecology, 88(10), 2427-2439.
  4. Legendre, P., & De Cáceres, M. (2013). Beta diversity as the variance of community data: dissimilarity coefficients and partitioning. Ecology Letters, 16(8), 951-963.
  5. Vellend, M. (2016). The conceptual foundations of ecological diversity revisited. Ecology Letters, 19(8), 912-923.
ChatGPT. (20 Apr 2023). Tell me about beta diversity in the science of ecology. [Response to a user question].
Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/
The team found a close link between the global pattern of tree biodiversity and global temperature changes since the peak of the last ice age.

The Aarhus University News release explains the study:

Wednesday 19 April 2023

Malevolent Design News - A New Batch of Tick-Borne, Malaria-Like Parasites is Spreading in USA

Malevolent Design News

A New Batch of Tick-Borne, Malaria-Like Parasites is Spreading in USA
The tick that spreads babesiosis is called Dermacentor albipictus. Photo shows female (left) and male adults.

Photo: U. Wisconsin/Susan Paskewitz)

Winter tick, Dermacentor albipictus

Researchers warn of tick-borne disease babesiosis | News

Creationism's divine malevolence has been busy creating more ways to make people sick, and very cleverly, it has included new classes of multigene families that enable it to evade the human immune system; the immune system the same designer allegedly designed to protect us from the parasites it creates to make us sick - if you believe in magic creation, that is.

The new batch of parasites are species of the genus Babesia which cause babesiosis in humans.
Babesiosis is a tick-borne parasitic infection caused by protozoa of the genus Babesia. It is considered an emerging disease and is most commonly found in the northeastern and upper midwestern regions of the United States. Babesiosis can range from a mild illness to a severe and life-threatening disease, particularly in people who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of babesiosis can include fever, fatigue, chills, sweating, headache, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting. In severe cases, complications such as hemolytic anemia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and organ failure can occur. Babesiosis can also be asymptomatic or subclinical, especially in people with intact immune systems.

Diagnosis of babesiosis is usually made by detecting the parasites in a blood smear, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), or serological testing. Treatment typically involves a combination of antibiotics, such as atovaquone and azithromycin, or clindamycin and quinine, for a period of 7-10 days. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary for supportive care and close monitoring.

Prevention of babesiosis involves taking measures to avoid tick bites, such as wearing protective clothing, using insect repellent, and performing tick checks after being outdoors. Tick control measures, such as landscaping practices and the use of acaricides, can also be effective in reducing tick populations in endemic areas.

  1. Vannier E, Krause PJ. Human babesiosis. N Engl J Med. 2012;366(25):2397-2407. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1202018
  2. White DJ, Talarico J, Chang HG, et al. Human babesiosis in New York State: review of 139 hospitalized cases and analysis of prognostic factors. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(19):2149-2154. doi: 10.1001/archinte.158.19.2149
  3. Krause PJ, Gewurz BE, Hill D, et al. Persistent and relapsing babesiosis in immunocompromised patients. Clin Infect Dis. 2008;46(3):370-376. doi: 10.1086/525852

ChatGPT. (19 Apr 2023). Tell me what you know about babesiosis in humans, with references, please. [Response to a user question].
Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/
So far, the species which are known to cause babesiosis in humans are B. microti, B. duncani, and a B. divergens-like species.

Now a team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have succeeded in analyzing the genome of B. duncani and determined its 3D structure.

As the UCR news release explains:

Malevolent Design News - How Female African Monarch Butterflies Find a Mate Despite Most Males Being Killed By A Parasite

Malevolent Design News

How Female African Monarch Butterflies Find a Mate Despite Most Males Being Killed By A Parasite
African monarch's, Danaus chrysippus

Female butterflies breed despite male shortage - News

African monarch butterflies, Danaus chrysippus
arian.suresh - Flickr

Talk about pointlessness!

It seems creationism’s malevolent designer has gone to all the trouble of designing a parasite to kill most males of the African monarch butterfly, only to have the females find a way to mate with the few remaining males. So, either killing the males was just gratuitous cruelty, or the supposed designer, who also designed the females, didn't know what they were capable of.

That's if you've fallen for the childish notion of species being designed by a magic invisible skyman who allegedly knows everything and has limitless powers, that is.

If not, like to most normal adults, it should be obvious that this is the sort of thing a mindless natural process with no plan and no consciousness would produce. The parasite in question is a bacterium of the Spiroplasma genus, a genus which infects insects and often forms endosymbiotic relationships with them:
Spiroplasma is a genus of bacteria that is commonly found in insects, particularly in their hemolymph, salivary glands, and reproductive organs. Some species of Spiroplasma are known to form endosymbiotic relationships with their hosts and have been shown to play a role in the reproductive success, development, and even behavior of their insect hosts.

One well-known example of such an endosymbiotic relationship is between Spiroplasma and the African Monarch butterfly (Danaus chrysippus). Research has shown that Spiroplasma infection in this butterfly species can result in male-killing, where infected male larvae die before reaching adulthood, leaving a higher proportion of female butterflies in the population. This is thought to increase the reproductive success of female butterflies, as they face less competition for resources and mates.

Additionally, Spiroplasma infection has been shown to affect the coloration and pattern of African Monarch butterfly wings, with infected individuals exhibiting a higher degree of melanization and altered wing patterns. These changes in wing coloration and pattern are thought to affect the behavior and mating success of the infected butterflies.
  1. Hurst, G. D. D., Jiggins, F. M., & Pomiankowski, A. (2003). Evolutionary implications of symbiotic bacteria for host sex determination. Journal of evolutionary biology, 16(2), 175-182.
  2. Hornett, E. A., Charlat, S., Duplouy, A., Davies, N., Roderick, G. K., Wedell, N., & Hurst, G. D. (2006). Evolution of male-killer suppression in a natural population. PLoS biology, 4(9), e283.
  3. Oliver, K. M., & Russell, J. A. (2011). Moran, N. A. & Hunter, M. S. (2005). Costs and benefits of a superinfection of facultative symbionts in aphids. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1561), 2187-2192.
  4. Balenger, S. L., & Oberhauser, K. S. (2005). Effects of parasitic infection and melanization on wing morphogenesis in Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Journal of insect physiology, 51(2), 191-200.
ChatGPT. (18 Apr 2023). Tell me about the endosymbiont, Spiroplasma and African Monarch butterflies, with references, please. [Response to a user question].
Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/
This is an extreme example of what competition between sexes can produce. The female genes benefit from fewer males in the competition for resources and, so long as enough males survive to produce the next generation, there will be an evolutionary balance between virulence/infectivity and female reproductive success.

But, as some recent research shows, there has also been selection pressure on the females to find the few survivors of the symbiont's genocide. The work was carried out by scientists from the universities of Exeter, Rwanda and Edinburgh, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, who published their findings, open access in the journal Ecology & Evolution. The University of Exeter news release explains their work:

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - No Gods Were Found When Scientists Close Yet Another Gap in The Fossil Record.

Creationism in Crisis

No Gods Were Found When Scientists Close Yet Another Gap in The Fossil Record.
The Tully Monster, Tullimonstrum gregarium.
Vertebrate or invertebrate?

Tully monster, Tullimonstrum gregarium

Image credit: Stocktrek Images/Getty Images
New details of Tully monster revealed | The University of Tokyo

Discovered in 1950 and first described in the literature in 1966, the Tully Monster, has long been an enigma with no clear indication, or consensus, about its taxonomic status as either a primitive vertebrate related to the jawless fish such as lampreys, or a non-vertebrate, more closely related to cephalopods such as squids and octopuses.

The Tully Monster is a prehistoric animal that lived approximately 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. It was first discovered in 1958 by Francis Tully, a fossil collector, in the Mazon Creek fossil beds in northeastern Illinois. The Tully Monster is known for its unique appearance and has puzzled scientists since its discovery.

The Tully Monster has a long, narrow body that is segmented, and it measures around 14 inches in length. It has a distinct proboscis or trunk-like structure that ends in a toothed claw, which is believed to have been used for hunting prey. It also has a pair of large, stalked eyes, a small mouth, and a pair of fin-like structures that run along its body.

Scientists have debated the classification of the Tully Monster for decades. Its soft-tissue anatomy is not well-preserved, which makes it difficult to determine its exact relationship to other animals. Some researchers have proposed that it is related to modern cephalopods, such as squids and octopuses, while others have suggested that it is related to worms or even early vertebrates.

Recent studies, however, have shed more light on the Tully Monster's classification. In 2016, researchers analyzed the chemical composition of the Tully Monster's eyes and found that they were made up of a type of protein called melanin. This discovery suggests that the Tully Monster was a type of vertebrate, possibly related to lampreys.

Despite this new evidence, the Tully Monster remains a subject of debate among scientists, and its true classification may remain a mystery for some time. The Tully Monster has become an icon in the world of paleontology, and it continues to fascinate scientists and the public alike.

  1. Briggs, D. E. G., & Wilby, P. R. (1996). The Tully monster and other Cambrian and Permian "monsters". Paleontological Society Papers, 2, 67-79.
  2. McCoy, V. E., Saupe, E. E., Lamsdell, J. C., Tarhan, L. G., McMahon, S., & Lidgard, S. (2016). The "Tully monster" is a vertebrate. Nature, 532(7600), 496-499.
  3. Clements, T., Dolan, M. F., & Field, D. J. (2020). The Tully Monster is not a vertebrate: characters, convergence and taphonomy in Palaeozoic problematic animals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 287(1927), 20201802.

ChatGPT. (18 Apr 2023). Tell me about the Tully Monster, with references, please [Response to a user question]. Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/
Creationists love these sorts of gaps in which to sit their ever-shrinking little god. They also love disagreement in science, claiming it shows scientists can’t make their minds up (So God did it!)

But now a team of palaeontologists from Tokyo and Nagoya Universities, Japan, believe they have solved the puzzle and shown that Tullimonstrum gregarium is not a vertebrate. They have published their finding in Palaeontology, the journal of the Palaeontological Association.

The University of Tokyo's news release explains the research:

Creationism in Crisis - Another One in the Eye For Intelligent Design Creationists

Creationism in Crisis

Another One in the Eye For Intelligent Design Creationists
Credit: Jenessa Daugherty
Eye-opening Origin Story: Scientists Trace Key Innovation in Our Camera-like Vision to Bacteria

A discovery by scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Biological Science has scuppered yet another creationist fallacy, usually backup up by a blatant misrepresentation of what Darwin actually said (as though that matters anyway).

Creationists like to try to fool their dupes with the lie that Darwin admitted that the eye could not be explained by evolution, as though Darwin was a secret intelligent design creationist who let it slip in a book he wrote, and repeated that blunder in several editions. The quote you'll often see attributed to Darwin is:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.

But Darwin, in typical style, was merely setting out the problem before giving the solution. What you'll never see posted by a creationist is the full quote, which continues:

Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

Charles Darwin, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," first edition (1859). Chapter 6, "Difficulties on Theory", page 187, 6th edition, page 217.
Since then, numerous experiments have shown how a patch of light-sensitive cells will quickly evolve into a functional eye if there is a benefit to each step. In other words, Darwinian gradualism perfectly explains the evolution of the eye.
Stages in the evolution of the vertebrate eye
All that remains to explain is the evolution of light-sensitive cells.

And this was done by the University of California San Diego team, who show that mammals acquired light-sensitivity, in a way that also refutes another creationist lie.

They acquired it by horizontal gene transfer. Horizontal gene transfer is the way genes can cross from one taxon to another, giving the lie to creationists dogma which states that new information can only arise withing a genome with the assistance of a magic designer.

The team have shown that the protein needed by cells to respond to light comes from simple bacteria, and, because it is not present in other vertebrates, but have entered the genome of the last common ancestor of mammals.
The University of California, San Diego news release explains the research:

Monday 17 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - The Difference Between What Creationists are Fooled With and the Truth About Evolution

Creationism in Crisis

The Difference Between What Creationists are Fooled With and the Truth About Evolution

Tree of Life poster">
Source: Etsy

Human evolution represented as a linear progression
Evolution doesn't proceed in a straight line – so why draw it that way?

Creationists in the social media tend to be one of two sorts:
  • Fools who have been misled by the fallacies frauds promulgate to try to discredit the Theory of Evolution, often for political and/or financial gain. These tend to be scientifically illiterate, often willfully, so, and find learning and critical thinking difficult. They typically tend to think teleologically, like toddlers, so seek answers which involve agency. Nothing happens in their world unless it either wants to or something else tells it too.
  • Frauds looking for scientifically illiterate, teleological thinkers to recruit for their cult by promulgating fallacies and disinformation about science in general and the Theory of Evolution in particular, to make their victims believe they know better than the experts.

Some examples of the fallacies used by the frauds to trick the fools are listed by AI's ChatGPT-3 language model, after a qualifying statement:

Sunday 16 April 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Multiple Origins of Multi-Ethnic Mongolian Nomads

Creationism in Crisis

Multiple Origins of Multi-Ethnic Mongolian Nomads

The Xiongnu built a multiethnic empire on the Mongolian steppe that was connected by trade to Rome,
Egypt, and Imperial China.
© Artwork by Galmandakh Amarsanaa, courtesy of Christina Warinner and the DairyCultures Project

Multiethnic structure of Mongolia’s first nomadic empire | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

If they weren't ignorant of it and hadn't been given strategies for dismissing inconvenient facts, the work of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, would be spreading fear and despondency throughout the creationist cults.

This is the Institute the first brought us news that anatomically modern humans interbred with both Neanderthals and Denisovans before they became extinct about 40,000 years ago, and which has developed techniques for extracting and analyzing DNA from ancient remains and showing the ancient origins of humans from long before creationist superstition says humans were magically created as a single couple who had no ancestors, just a few thousand years ago, creating an incestuous family from which we are all supposedly descended.

The work of the Max Planck Institute is showing that not only is the modern human species, Homo sapiens, much older than that, it is more genetically diverse than would be the case if the superstition had any basis in fact. And, far from being the descendants of a single founder couple, all non-African humans are the descendants not even of a single founder species but from hybrids of at least three different species, so ruling out a single founder couple that could have committed the central article of faith for all Christians - the Original Sin.

And now the Institute brings us news that a Mongolian empire in Central Asia, which co-existed some 2000 years ago with the Roman Empire, and before then with the Egyptian civilization, was comprised of multiethnic peoples that had been incorporated into the empire to give it a genetic diversity that was far greater than would be the case had the Earth really been repopulated from another incestuous family, following a genocidal global flood just a couple of thousand years earlier.

First, a little about the Xiongnu:
The Xiongnu Confederation was a nomadic confederation that existed from the 3rd century BCE to the late 1st century CE in present-day Mongolia, Siberia, and Central Asia. They were known for their military prowess, and their interactions with China were important in shaping both Chinese and Central Asian history. The origins of the Xiongnu are not well understood, but they are believed to have emerged from various tribes in the region around the Ordos Plateau in northern China. By the 3rd century BCE, the Xiongnu had become a powerful confederation under the leadership of their first known leader, Touman. The Xiongnu were known for their skill in horseback riding and archery, and they were able to conquer many neighboring tribes and states. They also had a complex political system that included a ruling council, with the leader (shanyu) at the top, and a social hierarchy based on military merit. The Xiongnu frequently raided the Han Dynasty in China, and the two powers engaged in intermittent warfare for several centuries. The Han Dynasty eventually established a policy of appeasement towards the Xiongnu, which involved paying them tribute and marrying Han princesses to Xiongnu leaders. The Xiongnu also had significant cultural and economic interactions with other neighboring states, including the Yuezhi, the Wusun, and the Xianbei. These interactions played an important role in the spread of Buddhism and other cultural and religious practices across Central Asia. In the late 1st century CE, the Xiongnu Confederation began to decline due to internal conflicts and external pressures from the expanding Han Dynasty and other neighboring states. The Xiongnu were eventually conquered by the Han Dynasty, and the remnants of the confederation merged with other groups to form the Xianbei confederation.
  1. Di Cosmo, N. (2002). Ancient China and its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Kradin, N. N. (2010). Xiongnu Empire. In P. C. K. Lam (Ed.), Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire (pp. 363-366). The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  3. Loewe, M. (1986). The Former Han Dynasty. In D. Twitchett & M. Loewe (Eds.), The Cambridge History of China: Volume 1, The Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC-AD 220 (pp. 103-222). Cambridge University Press.
ChatGPT. (2023, April 16). All about the Xiongnu confederation, with references, please [Response to a user question]. OpenAI. https://openai.com/
As the Max Planck Institute news release explains:

Human Evolution - What Darwin Got Wrong, and Why the Far-Right Embrace Social Darwinism

Human Evolution

What Darwin Got Wrong, and Why the Far-Right Embrace Social Darwinism

Racist and sexist depictions of human evolution still permeate science, education and popular culture today

The far right in politics have never been bothered about truth.

They have no concerns about the scientific validity of the claimed scientific basis for their belief in their superiority over other peoples. It's whatever excuse they think they can get away with that's importan,t and more often than not, religion provides that excuse for them.

So, while simultaneously appealing to the Christian fundamentalists who reject Darwinian evolution on doctrinaire grounds, they sell the notion of white supremacy and male superiority over women based on Darwin's social ideas, so-called social Darwinism, that Darwin got from the Christian culture he grew up in.

While Social Darwinism has been rejected by the egalitarian left in politics as having no scientific basis, it is ironic that this is the only aspect of 'Darwinism'; that the far-right embraces, but it's closeness to Christian fundamentalism makes it doubly attractive to them.

Charles Darwin, who trained for the priesthood as a young man before turning to biology, was a man of his age and took it as established fact that there was a racial hierarchy in the world and that men were naturally superior to women, because that was the reality he saw, but the reality he saw was the result of 18 centuries of Christianity. Rather than question those basic cultural assumption on which English and European imperialism depended, and which seemed to be borne out by its success in dominating the world, he looked for a scientific basis for them in the framework of the evolutionary biology he and Wallace had identified as the explanation for biodiversity and the origin of species.

Darwin was right about a great deal, but fundamentally wrong about the biological superiority of white males. Indeed, given that all species, and all races have been evolving for the same length of time, and the process of evolution has no goal but is shaped by the prevailing local environment, it makes no sense at all to talk about one species or race being more highly evolved than another. All living organisms are more or less perfectly adapted by natural selection to fit their evolutionary niche and when their environment changes, the pressure to adapt changes. There is no pinnacle; no supreme achievement of evolution. All species are liable to find themselves less than perfectly adapted to a changing environment in different places at different times and to evolve accordingly.

But Darwin saw a hierarchy, both racial and sexual - and a hierarchy that the Christian religion he was raised in accepted as the natural order and promulgated it as the right and proper form of society, much as white supremacist Christians do today, so he saw his task as explaining what he saw rather than explaining why the 'natural order' was an illusion created by circumstance. In the words of the Anglican hymn, written in 1848, just 11 years before Darwin's Origin of Species was published:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
The circumstance was, as Jared Diamond points out in his book, Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years due to the good fortune of Europeans having several domesticable animals in Eurasia so Europeans had horsepower for work whereas much of the rest of the world never had more than manpower. Europeans also co-evolved with a range of viruses, mostly acquired by living in close proximity to domestic animals, so when they came into contact with the rest of the world, their germs devastated their societies and weakened their resistance to colonial powers.

As Diamond points out, had Bantus been able to domesticate rhinoceroses, imaging the consequences for history if Roman legions had come up against Bantu cavalries mounted in rhinoceroses. We would probably now have far right Africans trying to justify their colonization and Africanization of Eurasia and carrying off millions of white West Europeans into slavery in Africa where their descendants were being treated as a social underclass, as proving the biological superiority of the black races and why the 'white lives matter' campaign is dangerous radical extremism aimed at overthrowing the God-given order (the god being some West African local god which featured in their origin myths). White sports people would be being taunted with monkey noises and thrown bananas while thanking the West African god for their sporting success.

And enlightened scientists such as the author of the following article would be campaigning for an end to the pervading black supremacist thinking in science and decrying the influence of a black evolutionary biologist who, 170 year ago wrote a book explaining why black men were the superior form of the species and why black culture was superior to the primitive cultures of the pale-skinned races.

The author is Rui Diogo, Associate Professor of Anatomy, Howard University. His article from The Conversation is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency.

Racist and sexist depictions of human evolution still permeate science, education and popular culture today

Human evolution is typically depicted with a progressive whitening of the skin, despite a lack of evidence to support it.

Rui Diogo, Howard University

Systemic racism and sexism have permeated civilization since the rise of agriculture, when people started living in one place for a long time. Early Western scientists, such as Aristotle in ancient Greece, were indoctrinated with the ethnocentric and misogynistic narratives that permeated their society. More than 2,000 years after Aristotle’s writings, English naturalist Charles Darwin also extrapolated the sexist and racist narratives he heard and read in his youth to the natural world.

Darwin presented his biased views as scientific facts, such as in his 1871 book “The Descent of Man,” where he described his belief that men are evolutionarily superior to women, Europeans superior to non-Europeans and hierarchical civilizations superior to small egalitarian societies. In that book, which continues to be studied in schools and natural history museums, he considered “the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages” to be “not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance, in birds,” and compared the appearance of Africans to the New World monkey Pithecia satanas.
Science isn’t immune to sexism and racism.
“The Descent of Man” was published during a moment of societal turmoil in continental Europe. In France, the working class Paris Commune took to the streets asking for radical social change, including the overturning of societal hierarchies. Darwin’s claims that the subjugation of the poor, non-Europeans and women was the natural result of evolutionary progress were music to the ears of the elites and those in power within academia. Science historian Janet Browne wrote that Darwin’s meteoric rise within Victorian society did not occur despite his racist and sexist writings but in great part because of them.

It is not coincidence that Darwin had a state funeral in Westminster Abbey, an honor emblematic of English power, and was publicly commemorated as a symbol of “English success in conquering nature and civilizing the globe during Victoria’s long reign.”

Despite the significant societal changes that have occurred in the last 150 years, sexist and racist narratives are still common in science, medicine and education. As a teacher and researcher at Howard University, I am interested in combining my main fields of study, biology and anthropology, to discuss broader societal issues. In research I recently published with my colleague Fatimah Jackson and three medical students at Howard University, we show how racist and sexist narratives are not a thing of the past: They are still present in scientific papers, textbooks, museums and educational materials.

From museums to scientific papers

One example of how biased narratives are still present in science today is the numerous depictions of human evolution as a linear trend from darker and more “primitive” human beings to more “evolved” ones with a lighter skin tone. Natural history museums, websites and UNESCO heritage sites have all shown this trend.

The fact that such depictions are not scientifically accurate does not discourage their continued circulation. Roughly 11% of people living today are “white,” or European descendants. Images showing a linear progression to whiteness do not accurately represent either human evolution or what living humans look like today, as a whole. Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence supporting a progressive skin whitening. Lighter skin pigmentation chiefly evolved within just a few groups that migrated to non-African regions with high or low latitudes, such as the northern regions of America, Europe and Asia.
Illustrations of human evolution tend to depict progressive skin whitening.
Sexist narratives also still permeate academia. For example, in a 2021 paper on a famous early human fossil found in the Sierra de Atapuerca archaeological site in Spain, researchers examined the canine teeth of the remains and found that it was actually that of a girl between 9 and 11 years old. It was previously believed that the fossil was a boy due to a popular 2002 book by one of the authors of that paper, paleoanthropologist José María Bermúdez de Castro. What is particularly telling is that the study authors recognized that there was no scientific reason for the fossil remains to have been designated as a male in the first place. The decision, they wrote, “arose randomly.”

But these choices are not truly “random.” Depictions of human evolution frequently only show men. In the few cases where women are depicted, they tend to be shown as passive mothers, not as active inventors, cave painters or food gatherers, despite available anthropological data showing that pre-historical women were all those things.

Another example of sexist narratives in science is how researchers continue to discuss the “puzzling” evolution of the female orgasm. Darwin constructed narratives about how women were evolutionarily “coy” and sexually passive, even though he acknowledged that females actively select their sexual partners in most mammalian species. As a Victorian, it was difficult for him to accept that women could play an active part in choosing a partner, so he argued that such roles only applied to women in early human evolution. According to Darwin, men later began to sexually select women.

Sexist narratives about women being more “coy” and “less sexual,” including the idea of the female orgasm as an evolutionary puzzle, are contradicted by a wide range of evidence. For instance, women are the ones who actually more frequently experience multiple orgasms as well as more complex, elaborate and intense orgasms on average, compared to men. Women are not biologically less sexual, but sexist stereotypes were accepted as scientific fact.

The vicious cycle of systemic racism and sexism

Educational materials, including textbooks and anatomical atlases used by science and medical students, play a crucial role in perpetuating biased narratives. For example, the 2017 edition of “Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy,” commonly used by medical students and clinical professionals, includes about 180 divs that show skin color. Of those, the vast majority show male individuals with white skin, and only two show individuals with “darker” skin. This perpetuates the depiction of white men as the anatomical prototype of the human species and fails to display the full anatomical diversity of people.
Textbooks and educational materials can perpetuate the biases of their creators in science and society.
Authors of teaching materials for children also replicate the biases in scientific publications, museums and textbooks. For example, the cover of a 2016 coloring book entitled “The Evolution of Living Things”“ shows human evolution as a linear trend from darker "primitive” creatures to a “civilized” Western man. Indoctrination comes full circle when the children using such books become scientists, journalists, museum curators, politicians, authors or illustrators.
One of the key characteristics of systemic racism and sexism is that it is unconsciously perpetuated by people who often don’t realize that the narratives and choices they make are biased. Academics can address long-standing racist, sexist and Western-centric biases by being both more alert and proactive in detecting and correcting these influences in their work. Allowing inaccurate narratives to continue to circulate in science, medicine, education and the media perpetuates not only these narratives in future generations, but also the discrimination, oppression and atrocities that have been justified by them in the past. The Conversation
Rui Diogo, Associate Professor of Anatomy, Howard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Published by The Conversation.
Open access. (CC BY 4.0)

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