Thinkers quarrel over Christopher Hitchens’ legacy

Hitchens (1949–2011) was one of the four New Atheist horsemen.  From Larry Alex Taunton at First Things: In December 15, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died of esophageal cancer. Some remember him as a man of the left who, after 9/11, converted to a kind of neoconservatism; others remember him as an atheist provocateur and serial blasphemer. […]

Memo to Nature’s editors: Scientists should march carefully, and not in lock step

From the editors of Nature, on science and the new US admin: Scientists must fight for the facts Trump threw a bone to scientists with a pledge to explore space and to battle disease, but one of the first documents posted on the White House website was a bare-bones energy plan that emphasizes fossil-fuel development […]

Hey, it’s Darwin Day again…

By now, fulsome comparisons of Darwin to Lincoln as a “great liberator” should be tumbling down the byteway once again. The push for a national Darwin Day in the United States may have lost a little of its oomph! recently, due to changes in personnel in elected office. At the same time, there is a new […]

Darwin’s wastebasket: The evolutionary purpose of suicidal behaviour

From Matthew Hutson at Nautilus: The second strategic model of suicidality is the bargaining model, which relies on the notion of “costly signaling.”6 A colorful example of costly signaling is the peacock. Managing a big, eye-catching tail is costly, in that it wastes energy and draws predators. But the fitter a peacock, the less costly […]

Does the universe have a “most basic ingredient” that isn’t information?

From Anil Ananthaswamy at New Scientist: For more than 300 years we have been asking ourselves about the true nature of reality – what, ultimately, stuff is made of. Time and again, we have found another layer beneath what we thought was the lowest. What’s more, with each new depth we plumb, our old understanding […]

An ID perspective on epigenetics

Someone asked. Essentially, a great deal of important biological information is captured and stored outside of our DNA, as opposed to arising, Darwinism-style, through random genetic mutations. Neo-Darwinian evolution means that all new traits are due to mutations in DNA, acted on by “natural selection.” Jonathan Wells summarizes the problem here: [T]he idea that embryo […]

Darwin’s wastebasket: “Evolutionary” explanation for female genital mutilation

From Nature Ecology and Evolution: Frequency-dependent female genital cutting behaviour confers evolutionary fitness benefits Female genital cutting (FGC) has immediate and long-term negative health consequences that are well-documented, and its elimination is a priority for policymakers. The persistence of this widespread practice also presents a puzzle for evolutionary anthropologists due to its potentially detrimental impact […]

Gravy train wreck: No Free Lunch for Darwinism in Texas?

 From Kerry Grens at the Scientist: Last week, the Texas Board of Education approved a draft of revisions made to its science education standards. While board members approved nearly all of the changes suggested by a committee of educators, they also voted to partially replace cuts made to controversial language regarding the teaching of evolution. […]

If naturalism is correct, the multiverse is not mad. Or sane.

Or correct. Or incorrect. Nothing is. Physicists are simply beginning to act as though they realize that and it’s okay. We are animals and animals are never wrong. We just win or lose power struggles. Yesterday, we noted that Peter “Not Even Wrong” Woit thinks that 2016 was the worst year ever for fake physics. […]

Study: Orangutan squeaks show language evolution

From Victoria Gill at BBC: With thousands of hours of listening as the apes communicated, the researchers found that the animals embedded several different bits of information in their squeaks. The team compared this to how we might use more than one word to convey the same meaning – saying “car” but also “automobile” and […]

2016 the worst year ever for fake physics?

From Columbia mathematician Peter Woit at Not Even Wrong: Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been seeing the way in which people’s access to information about the larger world has become more and more dominated by what has become known as “Fake News”: stuff which is not true, but which someone with an agenda successfully […]

Captain Renault Weighs in on the Climate Debate

A couple of years ago, I went to trial in a breach of contract case in which the defendant’s entire defense rested on denying that he knew something he obviously knew. I had a little fun with this.  When it came time to argue the case to the jury I pointed out that the defendant […]

Evolution: Unexpectedly elastic genomes balanced gains and losses over 100 million years, researchers say

From ScienceDaily: Evolution is often thought of as a gradual remodeling of the genome, the genetic blueprints for building an organism. But in some instances it might be more appropriate to call it an overhaul. Over the past 100 million years, the human lineage has lost one-fifth of its DNA, while an even greater amount […]

On reading Tom Bethell: But what happens when Progress is replaced by social engineering?

From Tom Bethell in Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates: “The scientific evidence for evolution is not only weaker than is generally supposed, but as new discoveries have been made since 1959, the reasons for accepting the theory have diminished rather than increased.” (Page 45) “Darwinian evolution can be seen […]

The Scientist: Plants’ epigenetic silencing hides variations

From Jef Akst at The Scientist: While animal cells undergo two rounds of reprogramming during reproduction to wipe clear most of the methyl marks that decorate their DNA and histones, plants leave their epigenomes largely intact from one generation to the next. In plants, this results in epialleles—stably inherited alleles encoded by methylation, rather than […]

Design Disquisitions: Quote of the Week

I mentioned in my last post about featuring a ‘Critic’s Corner’ series on my blog. Another feature I will do is a ‘Quote of the Week’. This will be a good chance to interact and reflect on the quotation in question. This week’s quote is now up. Feel free to comment on the blog: William […]

Neurologist muses on why we are conscious

From neurologist Steven Novella at Neurologica, on Daniel Dennett’s new Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds: The interaction of intense social interaction with evolving language was like rocket fuel to human consciousness. Out of this mix evolved culture. Dennett gets into the notion of memes, which he thinks of as tiny units […]

“Crappy” AI more likely to kill us than super-AI?

From Michael Byrne at Motherboard: It’s not that computer scientists haven’t argued against AI hype, but an academic you’ve never heard of (all of them?) pitching the headline “AI is hard” is at a disadvantage to the famous person whose job description largely centers around making big public pronouncements. This month that academic is Alan […]

Science, lies, and videotape?

From researcher Timothy D. Clark, re a U.S. physicist doing time for research fraud, at Nature: Scientists like to think that such blatant dishonesty is rare, but I myself have witnessed several serious cases of scientific misconduct, from major data manipulation to outright fabrication. Most have gone unpunished — in fact, it has been disheartening […]

Researchers: Genomic tools inflate claimed species numbers

From Science Daily: Lacey Knowles and Jeet Sukumaran investigated the accuracy of inferences made by a mathematical model widely used to quickly determine the boundaries between species without the time-consuming, painstaking process of comparing specimens in museum collections. They found that the genetic approach, formally known as the multispecies coalescent model, can lead to species […]

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