What We're Reading

There's something here for everyone, whether you prefer vertebrates or invertebrates, history or current events, briefs or boxers. Well, not really that last one. I was just kidding about that. But I'm not kidding about this: NCSE has a new website and we're real excited about it. Take a look around; it may still be a little buggy (haha! Invertebrate joke!); let us know (info@ncse.com) if you find anything squirrelly (haha! Vertebrate joke!).

  • Climate Change Threatens World Heritage Sites, Report Says, CNC News, May 26, 2016 -- Dozens of iconic tourist destinations including Venice, Stonehenge, and Old Town Lunenburg, N.S., are threatened by risks linked to climate change, from rising sea levels to extreme weather, says the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
  • What Is the History of "Antievolution"?, Science & Religion: Exploring the Spectrum, May 27, 2016 -- Historian Adam Shapiro considers the term "antievolution" and its uses and history. While early creationists proudly adopted the term, people advancing some of the same arguments today reject that label. Is it unfair to refer to those modern advocates using the same term their predecessors coined? It's better to identify a group based on some trait shared by all its members (e.g., a belief in supernatural creation) than to group them based on what the group lacks or rejects (e.g., acceptance of evolution). Nonetheless, Shapiro concludes, the term has genuine value, and abandoning it risks rewriting history and the obscuring modern debates.
  • Stick Insects Produce Bacterial Enzymes Themselves, Science Daily, May 31, 2016 -- Horizontal gene transfer--or the transfer of genes between organisms by means other than vertically from parent to offspring--has long been known to be an important evolutionary driver in bacteria, but genomics is uncovering more and more examples of HGT in eukaryotes. Here, stick insects are found to have acquired a bacterial enzyme for digesting pectin, which comes handy when your diet consists mostly of leaves. Genomic analyses of many species of stick insects suggest that acquisition of the bacterial gene may have spurred a furious round of speciation as the stick insects expanded into new niches, no longer dependent on carrying a particular microbial partner.
  • On the Origin of Origins Stories, American Scientist, May-July 2016 -- A review of Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II's A Brief History of Creation, which traces "humanity's fascination--obsession, really--with the origin story of life on Earth as Westerners have told it, from the philosophy of Anaximander in the 6th century BCE to a 21st-century genetic and chemical biology laboratory at Harvard Medical School."
  • Studies of Moth and Butterfly Genes Color In a Scientific Classic, The New York Times, June 2, 2016 -- The evolution of the peppered moth is a classic tale of evolution: the rise of industrial coal-burning darkened trees, and the moths got darker thanks to natural selection. Numerous studies have confirmed the natural history and the selective pressures involved, but a new study finally nails down the genetic mutation responsible. Researchers were surprised to find that the gene involved usually isn't related to coloration. But in some distant cousins of the peppered moth, South American heliconid butterflies, the same gene plays a role in the rapid color changes that maintain the Müllerian mimicry among those poisonous species.
  • A New Origin Story for Dogs, The Atlantic, June 2, 2016 -- The inimitable Ed Yong discusses new
research that, as he writes, "could radically reframe the debate around dog domestication, so that the big question is no longer when it happened, or where, but
how many times
." Or is it just a shaggy dog story?
  • Groups to Lamar Smith on Exxon Information Request: We're Not Complying, inside climate news, June 2, 2016 -- Lamar Smith (R-TX and chairman of the House Science Committee) expands his efforts to intimidate the climate science community. We've blogged about Rep. Smith before, here and here. Now Smith is accusing the Union of Concerned Scientists of "depriving companies of their First Amendment rights" for its efforts to expose corporate funding of efforts to cast doubt on climate science. Hey teachers, this would be a great way to illustrate the meaning of "irony"!