Monthly Archives: November 2008

Genome Size and Complexity

the groups in this figure are arranged along made-up "scala naturae" to emphasize the lack of relationship between genome size and intuitive notions of organismal complexity -- please do not construe this figure as an endorsement of a progressionist view of evolution!).

(Note: the groups in this figure are arranged along made-up “scala naturae” to emphasize the lack of relationship between genome size and intuitive notions of organismal complexity — please do not construe this figure as an endorsement of a progressionist view of evolution!).

The chart above and note are from genomesize.com

As the note says, the bars in the chart indicate ranges of genome size. The measurements are given as a C-value, which here is a measure of weight in picograms. As we can see, genome size and complexity do not go hand in hand. Salamanders, flatworms, and algae are just a few of the groups which have members with genomes sizes larger than that of the mammals. Et tu, Chondrichthyes? Members of the protozoa have the largest. Isn’t it bad enough that humans have to deal with penis envy, now this? If there is a creator, he has an “inordinate fondness” for amoebae. All that sexy amoebic swaying and oozing is what did it. It’s a damn popularity contest. The swimsuit contest lost us the most points; the amoeba slipped out of its top, showed some membrane, and won the day.

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Filed under Biology, Intelligent Design

It’s The Bishop Of Lancaster

I prefer Monty Python’s Bishop sketch to any story of real clergymen. But I’m sure the Bishop Of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donohue, is a warm friendly fellow who would offer a guest a cup of tea and a biscuit. When it comes to matters of the Catholic Church, however, I think he’s a die-hard theist. He’s all upset over the threat of “aggressive secularism”. He’s particularly in a tizzy over educated Catholics spreading skepticism. I think that’s called the free market, or in religion’s case, freewill. Huh. I get the feeling the Catholic Church doesn’t like competition, a.k.a. freedom of thought. What say you, Bishop?

“In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.”

“Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him”

So I’m obligated to buy your product, Bishop? Even drug dealers aren’t that aggressive in their advertising. Going door-to-door and shoving crack cocaine in people’s faces is bad for business.

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Filed under Christianity, Religion, Skepticism

Young Australians Revolt Against Gullibility

Young Australian Skeptics

When I was 7 years-old my favorite subjects of conversation were Bigfoot and UFO’s. I eagerly believed in both of these questionable phenomena based solely on “the evidence” provided by cheesy TV shows. Boy, was I a major drongo (Australian slang for a stupid person). Well, I would have been if was an Australian. I’m not. I’m an American, so technically I was a dumbass. But America and Australia share a common problem. Both countries are plagued with creationism and other pseudo-scientific, and anti-intellectual movements, COUGH religion COUGH. Rev. Ken Ham is an export of Australia, I’m sorry to say.

So, it’s only natural that an organization of young Australians would spring up to encourage others to be more discerning and skeptical. It’s called Young Australian Skeptics: A Sanctuary for Young Free Thinkers. Check it out, or you’ll go to hell. What, you doubt me? Do you want to take that chance? But what if you’re wrong?

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Filed under Atheism, Skepticism

PETA Is A Stupid Organization

I didn’t say animal rights are stupid. I said PETA is a stupid organization. Animal rights are great. It’s the anti-intellectual buffoons who run PETA who bother me. They make the rest of us liberals look bad. The main reason is that PETA members bend reality to fit their views instead of the other way round. PETA founder, Ingrid Newkirk, in order to spread the word about vegetarianism, has repeatedly made several baseless pseudo-scientific claims.

1) Newkirk claims meat and dairy cause most human diseases, from cancer to diabetes to mental illness. Aside from the complete lack of evidence for this belief, it’s funny that hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection hasn’t removed this harmful behavior from the human lineage. PETA’s “science” seems to indicate that the most sickly and poorly adapted animals survive to reproduce.

2) Newkirk has said many times that meat enhances human aggression. To back up this claim she points to wild carnivores like lions and tigers. The problem is she doesn’t know nature very well. Newkirk confuses aggression with killing. An animal that kills another animal to eat isn’t necessarily aggressive. Cheetahs, for example, like others cats, spend most of the day conserving energy, not picking fights with strangers down by the watering hole. Herbivores, like hippos or moose, are generally more aggressive than carnivores because they have more reasons to be aggressive, like holding grazing territory and warding off predators.

2) Newkirk advocates dogs and cats being converted to a vegetarian diet. I guess it’s not enough that Fluffy-The-Cat’s owner must subsist on berries and twigs, Fluffy must be converted to the same diet. Perhaps Fluffy can be convinced to join the Green Party, for if pet and owner eat the same, they must also vote the same. But I’ve read nothing but bad things about a vegetarian pet diet. For one, vegetarian cats and dogs can develop severe intestinal problems. Part of being a carnivore is having a shorter intestine than a herbivore. Meat is, in fact, easier to digest than plant matter. This is an engineering problem, one that cannot be overcome with wishful thinking.

Currently, PETA promotes the idea of In vitro meat, meat cultured in a lab from animal cells. PETA is even offering a $1 million prize to scientists to make this happen. I suppose all the health problems attributed to meat eating by PETA are going to be removed from this laboratory grade stuff. Yes? No? Maybe?

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Filed under Skepticism

Charles Darwin, The Human Being

descent-of-man

Sexual differences in freshwater Swordtail. Male has a long tail appendage to show off to the ladies.

I consider Charles Darwin’s The Origin Of Species and The Descent Of Man two of the greatest books never read by creationists. Both are beautiful works celebrating the details of the natural world. But many creationists condemn them without even a glance. They read reviews, they often say, or they rely on the “experts” to judge the value of Darwin’s “theories”. The unwilling creationists don’t know what they’re missing.

Even within Darwin’s dry technical books -as apposed to his personal journals or autobiography- there is the occasional glimpse into his sense of humor. In The Descent of Man, for instance, one can read a hundred pages of qualitative data and then be surprised with a mild joke, an anecdote, or a quip about the French. Here Darwin talks about the quiet female Cicada:

Every one who has wandered in a tropical forest must have been astonished at the din made by the male Cicadæ. The females are mute; as the Grecian poet Xenarchus says, “Happy the Cicadas live, since they all have voiceless wives.”

See, wife jokes were funny in 19th century England and ancient Greece. And it goes to show that a century is not a long period of time at all. The year 1871, when The Descent Of Man was published, was yesterday. In the 18th century, Charles’ grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, once wrote about lending a college friend his class notes. The friend angrily returned them with a scribble across the cover, which accused him of atrocious spelling and being the son of a whore. Charles Darwin, you devil, you’re a human being after all. And you’re “descended from monkeys”.

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Filed under darwin

A Mild Criticism Of Richard Dawkins

I disagree with Prof. Richard Dawkins on at least one point concerning religion; I think that a lack of religion won’t cure humanity of most of its evil behavior. Religion does amplify our inherent “badness”. But atheism, while it does alleviate this “badness”, it won’t remove it from our human nature.

But overall, I dig the way Richard Dawkins thinks and writes. His thought processes are clear, informative, and reasonable. He pushes people to think for themselves.

So, it’s with great sadness that I must make fun of the cover of his “Voices Of Reason” DVD. It looks like a bargin bin religious video: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3. Prof. Dawkins, you’re not a savior, you’re a positive force. A shot of you staring off into the stratosphere framed against the perfect sunset is cheezy. I know your organization is non-profit, but still, a little more effort would have prevented you from looking like that uptight Charleton Heston.

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Filed under Atheism

I’ve Been Tagged… Now Release Me Back Into Suburbia

2nd Place

2nd Place

I’ve just received a shot across my bow from InformalSkepticism aka NaonTiotami. In other words, he’s tagged me. I’ve always known America and Australia would one day go to war. The Aussies are warlike by nature. Being constantly surrounded by strange and poisonous animals like the Duckbill Platypus makes them nervous and unpredictable. But as an American, I formally surrender. I’ll talk.

But first the tagging rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Here are six random things about me:

  1. I recently came 2nd in a pumpkin carving contest (picture above). And I’m still bitter about the loss.
  2. I think about fish, a lot. They’re the perfect creatures, and they’re superior to humans. When the fish overlord seizes control, I’ll be by his side, laughing an evil laugh. Fine, call me a traitor to my species.
  3. I originally studied film-making, but later shifted to marine biology, evolutionary biology, and science writing.
  4. For years I collected movie t-shirts, but I never wore any of them because I didn’t want to be a walking billboard. But I did sell them on eBay for some sweet profit.
  5. I like raspberry yogurt, but I hate raspberry jam. Scientists are baffled by the paradox.
  6. I’m a first generation, UK American, which means I like Weetabix and Apple Pie, just not together.

Now I must gather allies by tagging six others:

  1. The Science Pundit
  2. Tiny Frog
  3. The Digital Cuttlefish
  4. Chimaera Comtemplations
  5. The Flying Trilobite
  6. The Invisible Pink Unicorn

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