Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Study: Humans are the only primates that show kindness?

What? Where’s the BBC? Where’s New Scientist? Aren’t apes entering the Stone Age now? From Melissa Healy at LA Times: We humans might find nothing more heartwarming than seeing other animals befriend and take care of each other. But new research suggests that, although they appear to perform random acts of kindness, chimpanzees, our primate relatives with the most complex social lives, do not actually act with the simple intention of pleasing one another. That conclusion will probably stir controversy, because chimps appear to engage in many kinds of social activities that would appear to require kindness. They groom one another — but is that kindness or just the opportunity for a delicious treat? They risk personal injury by keeping watch Read More ›

Why are there so many “species”? Well, maybe there aren’t.

But in the current mess, how would we know? From Noah K.Whiteman at BigQuestionsOnline: Counting the number of herbivorous insect species that scientists have identified reveals a remarkable possibility: insects that feed on living plants may be the most species-rich group of organisms ever to have evolved in the history of life on the planet. This includes extinct lineages such as the Palaeodictyoptera — among the first herbivorous insects to have evolved. Only unnamed microbes might be more diverse (although this hypothesis is controversial). Parents in some future colony on Mars could someday read to their children the bedtime story The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and with that story illustrate the essential nature of the two most diverse Read More ›

Longreads offers the best science writing for 2016

Chosen by “Longread”‘s writer and editor friends, it’s a broad range. Readers will doubtless find one piece of candy and another piece of coal in the ol’ Christmas stocking. Here’s a snatch to get you started: The Case for Leaving City Rats Alone (Becca Cudmore, Nautilus) … (“The rat gut acts as a mixing bowl,” says the scientist overseeing the project.) When you exterminate rats, you scatter their families, pushing them into new turf where they fight with the neighbors, swapping blood and bacteria that might combine to create something new. So maybe, the argument goes, it’s better to leave rats where they are, keeping local germs … well, local. More. Every ecological decision has strength and weaknesses. It’s the balance that Read More ›

Dark matter never really existed… but it killed off the dinosaurs anyway

From Mark Anderson at New Scientist: First test of rival to Einstein’s gravity kills off dark matter A controversial approach to gravity that challenges Albert Einstein and suggests dark matter doesn’t exist has passed its first test. … Now, a team of astronomers studying the distribution of matter in more than 30,000 galaxies say their observations can be explained by an alternative theory that does away with dark matter. If this “modified gravity” is correct, it would up-end hundreds of years of fundamental physics. … To their surprise, they discovered the observed lensing could just as readily be accounted for by a new model of gravity, without invoking dark matter. More. From Dominic Basuto at Sydney Morning Herald: In her Read More ›

Do newly discovered oldest footprints demonstrate that hominin “males” had several “‘wives’”?

Odd usage that: “Males” with “wives.” As Colin Barras puts it at New Scientist?: Three has become five. Laetoli in northern Tanzania is the site of iconic ancient footprints, capturing the moment – 3.66 million years ago – when three members of Lucy’s species (Australopithecus afarensis) strode out across the landscape. Now something quite unexpected has come to light: the footprints of two other individuals. It has been all too tempting to interpret the original trackways – often reconstructed as belonging to two adults and one juvenile – as evidence of a prehistoric “nuclear family”. More. Now, the rumor is that the Australopiths might have been polygamous, though we have no idea of the identity of the other two walkers Read More ›

What exactly does “evolutionary medicine” do that requires this expensive outlay?

12 PhD positions in the Research Training Group “Evolutionary Processes in Adaptation and Disease” (EvoPAD): PhD projects in Biology, Medicine, and Philosophy Start: 1st April 2017. 3-year positions (TV-L E13 65 %) The new DFG-funded Research Training Group “Evolutionary Processes in Adaptation and Disease” (EvoPAD, GRK 2220) unites biological, medical, and philosophical research at the University of Münster, Germany. The core idea is to use the theory of evolution to understand processes leading to adaptation and/or disease. 12 PhD students will work on advancing evolutionary theory, and in turn, apply modern evolutionary approaches to medical questions. EvoPAD doctoral researchers will perform cutting-edge research in an interdisciplinary environment. Our multidisciplinary qualification program is tailored to individual career tracks, and offers opportunities for Read More ›

Researchers: Epigenetics helps cells remember who they are

From science writer Philip Ball at Physics: How does a liver cell remember that it’s a liver cell when it replicates? A cell’s identity is determined in part by small molecules that bind to chromosomes at specific locations. Now researchers have devised a model that seems to explain how these so-called epigenetic patterns are sustained across generations of cells. The model connects the epigenetic marking of genes with the three-dimensional structure of DNA as it is folded up inside chromosomes. It leads to a mechanism for patterns of markings to be repaired if they are disturbed by events such as gene replication. Epigenetic markings are small molecules added onto parts of chromosomes that may act as genetic switches, silencing some Read More ›

Twice as many bird species in the world as formerly thought?

From ScienceDaily: For the new work, Cracraft, Barrowclough, and their colleagues at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and the University of Washington examined a random sample of 200 bird species through the lens of morphology — the study of the physical characteristics like plumage pattern and color, which can be used to highlight birds with separate evolutionary histories. This method turned up, on average, nearly two different species for each of the 200 birds studied. This suggests that bird biodiversity is severely underestimated, and is likely closer to 18,000 species worldwide. The researchers also surveyed existing genetic studies of birds, which revealed that there could be upwards of 20,000 species. But because the birds in this body of work were Read More ›

What? Humans read minds better than other animals?

Can’t think why that would be. From Gilead Amit at New Scientist: You possess a “theory of mind” – something that informs your every waking moment, says Josep Call, a psychologist at the University of St Andrews, UK. “When we get dressed in the morning, we’re constantly thinking about what other people think about us.” No other animal can match our ability, making it the essential lubricant for the social interactions that set humans apart. (paywall) More. Sets humans apart? What about: Latest: Apes possess a “theory of mind” (Scientific American) and Ravens have a theory of mind? (New Scientist) Obviously, animals do not have a theory of mind because they do not have theories, period. The fact that an Read More ›

Astrobiologist: Medical genetics hype a “public enemy”

From Nathaniel Comfort at Aeon: While inflated medical promises are hardly peculiar to molecular medicine, that field does seem particularly prone to breathless rhetoric. You can almost hear K Eric Drexler panting when he writes, in his manifesto Engines of Creation (1986), that protein-based nanomachines ‘promise to bring changes as profound as the Industrial Revolution, antibiotics, and nuclear weapons all rolled up in one massive breakthrough’. Bluster, overstatement and aspirations masquerading as hard targets have no single cause. One reason, surely, is the heady sense of impending omnipotence that accompanies major technological and scientific advances. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s laws of heredity, the cracking of the genetic code, genetic engineering, the Read More ›

Religion and ET: What’s wrong with science writing today

Exhibit A: “If we made contact with aliens, how would religions react?” From Brandon Ambrosino at BBC: The discovery of life on another planet might seem incompatible with faith in a deity. Yet many theologians are already open to the existence of extraterrestrials, argues the writer Brandon Ambrosino. In 2014, Nasa awarded $1.1M to the Center for Theological Inquiry, an ecumenical research institute in New Jersey, to study “the societal implications of astrobiology”. Yes, we noticed that a few weeks back. And we are baffled as to why. Is there any religion on the planet that states as a dogmatic certainty that aliens do not exist? Those people might be worth a quote. Instead, we read This is not just Read More ›

Petition against teaching evolution in schools? – UPDATED!

Hmmm. At ipetitions: A nationwide moratorium on the teaching of evolution in schools To Mike Pence, Vice-President of the United States of America: We the undersigned note that, when you were a member of the U.S House of Representatives, you spoke out on the subject of science education and for presenting students with all available information. Recently, we have seen the passage of academic freedom bills in Louisiana and Tennessee which have allowed for critical evaluation in the classroom and improved educational standards. However, whilst an important development, they were only enacted owing to the need to protect students from indoctrination. We object to the teaching of the very controversial theory of evolution as part of the K-12 science curriculum Read More ›

Comment of the week: No wonder the Royal Society evolution meet flopped!

From commenter J-Mac at “Royal Society accused of breach of public trust re evolution conference”: For failing to make public comments on the recent meeting on rethinking evolution available: — The way I see it it’s a public humiliation and a great waste of taxpayers funds, nothing else. RS has claimed that there are new trends in evolution or as many of them put it; the trends were supposed to lead to the “Third Way” of explaining the complexity of life on earth other than creation or neo-darwinism. (I’m not even going to mention what would happen if RS meet had at least one piece of their agenda of the origins of life, because I would have any more terms Read More ›

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) as hero to scientists—especially Larry Krauss

From Brian Gallagher at Nautilus: But perhaps the peak of admiration for Hitchens flows from those who most identify with the two following qualities: a reverence for science and philosophy, and a conviction that both should be the basis of personal belief and ethics in society. Take Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University, and the author of the 2012 book A Universe from Nothing: Why There’s Something Rather Than Nothing, who confessed to being stunned and grateful to have been Hitchens’ friend. At the writer’s Washington, D.C. apartment, Krauss once winkingly said to a visitor, who asked whether Krauss was Hitchen’s agent, that he was his “personal physicist.” Krauss has said that Hitchens motivated him Read More ›

(Presumably) peer-reviewed medical myths that just won’t go away

From Robin Nixon, Elizabeth Peterson and Karen Rowan at LiveScience: Despite what you may have heard, drinking eight glasses of water a day isn’t the key to good health. Also, neglecting to wear a coat on a cold day won’t make you sick. And — you might want to sit down for this — pregnancy doesn’t last nine months. Health-related myths are often repeated as fact, even though any diligent Google search will reveal the truth behind these fallacies. Here are 26 of the most common medical myths, debunked. More. Advice from O’Leary for News: Until the blizzard of politically motivated drivel clears, for safety, when in doubt, doubt. If it sounds unbelievable, don’t believe it. Leave your charge card Read More ›