What We're Reading

A smorgasbord this week - interesting basic evolutionary biology news, two separate meditations on the monument to non-science known as the Ark Encounter, a couple of looks back at recent past climate change, and, finally, a philosophical question: why do we love the rare and exotic and revile the commonplace? I mean, really, from a biological point of view, it's the weeds that are succeeding....

  • From Fins Into Hands: Scientists Discover a Deep Evolutionary Link, The New York Times, August 17, 2016 -- Carl Zimmer reports on the latest results from Neil Shubin's lab showing homologies between fin rays in bony fish and endochrondal bones in tetrapods.
  • The Strange Case of the Butterfly and the Male-Murdering Microbe, The Atlantic, August 19, 2016 -- NCSE's Glenn Branch writes: With a title like that, I can't expect that you'll bother to read my blurb before clicking through, but I'll just add that the dek [the subhead of an article: I looked it up so you won't have to....] of Ed Yong's article is "A battle between an insect and a microbe led to one of the fastest evolutionary changes ever observed."
  • Are Dinosaurs Overrated?, Extinct: The Philosophy of Paleontology Blog, August 22, 2016 -- "Rarity both enhances and diminishes value." Philosopher Derek Turner untangles that paradox with respect to paleontology. A must for all you ammonoid fans out there, even if all you dinosaur fans will want to rawr in protest.
  • Aboard Noah's Ark, in a Kentucky Corn Field, Religion & Politics, August 23, 2016 -- Tim Townsend takes a detailed look at Ark Encounter. "The purpose of AiG's ark is to hammer home the idea that secularism is itself a flood that will one day sweep billions of us away, leaving only a handful of righteous to be saved. It's a colossal wooden warning in the middle of a Kentucky farm field."
  • Ark Park Opens with Government Support, (PDF, pp. 10-11), KAS Newsletter August 2016 -- Daniel Phelps is understandably appalled at "the examples of jaw-dropping pseudoscience and non-science and the fervor with which they are promoted" at Answers in Genesis's newly opened Ark Encounter theme park.
  • Humans Have Caused Climate Change For 180 Years, Science Daily, August 25, 2016 -- A team of researchers from the Australian National University has found indicators of anthropogenic climate change extending back to the 1830s, far earlier than previously thought. In a new paper in Nature explaining their examination of corals and tree rings, among other proxies, this team was able to discern an anthropogenic signal from the early Industrial Revolution, suggesting a more sensitive response to anthropogenic emissions than previously recognized.
  • Volcanic Eruption Masked Acceleration In Sea Level Rise, Science Daily, August 26, 2016 -- The timing of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 was unfortunate because it confused and obscured the signal of climate change. A new paper in Scientific Reports explores how sea level rise may have been slowed down by the effects of Mt. Pinatubo--a temporary change that is now, apparently, waning.