Thursday, June 22, 2006

World's science academies against creationism

A lot of buzz about this. I didn't pay it much mind at first because a lot of scientific societies (even non-biological ones) have issued their statements against ID/creationism and for teaching evolution. But this one unites scientific societies from all over the world and has one of the single best statements I have seen:

"Scientific knowledge derives from a mode of inquiry into the nature of the universe that has been successful and of great consequence. Science focuses on (i) observing the natural world and (ii) formulating testable and refutable hypotheses to derive deeper explanations for observable phenomena. When evidence is sufficiently compelling, scientific theories are developed that account for and explain that evidence, and predict the likely structure or process of still unobserved phenomena."

-- IAP Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

That one elegant paragraph beautifully encompasses what is and what is not science, and cuts through to the very nature of science. The common creationist/IDist whine is that "macroevolution hasn't been observed, bla bla bla". Well, of course this is nonsense. This statement was evidently written by a people with their finger on the pulse of this issue. Well done!
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mesomyzon, a Cretaceous lamprey

Fossil lampreys are exceedingly rare. The oldest are known from Early Carboniferous and that's about it. These fossils are recorded in limestones, suggesting that they were marine, while modern forms are known to inhabit marine and freshwater environments where they make their living parasitizing fish.

Today in Nature, Mee-mann Chang and colleagues report on a fossil lamprey from the same beds that have yielded feathered dinosaurs. Mesomyzon, figured below, is very similar to modern lampreys in many respects and helps bridge the, albeit rather small, morphological gap between the Carboniferous forms and modern forms. It also tells us that by the Early Cretaceous, lampreys had invaded freshwater habitats.

a, A complete fish (IVPP V14718A) in left view. b, Holotype (IVPP V14719) in right view. c, Drawing of the holotype, with the dorsal fin and caudal region reconstructed on the basis of IVPP V14718A. d, Photograph of head and anterior part of body of the holotype. e, Drawing of the same part as in d. Scale bars, 10 mm (a–c) and 5 mm (d, e). Abbreviations: a., anus; br.b., branchial basket; c.f., caudal fin; d.f., dorsal fin; d.t.?, possible digestive tract; g., gonads; g.a., gill arches; g.f., gill filaments; l., liver; l.e., left eye; l.ot., left otic capsule; ms., myosepta; nc., notochord; or.d., oral disk; p.c.?, possible piston cartilage; pc.c., pericardial cartilage; r.e., right eye; r.ot., right otic capsule. From Chang et al. 2006.

More about lampreys to come.

Chang, M.-m. et al. 2006. A lamprey from the Cretaceous Jehol biota of China. Nature 441: 972-974. <link>
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Friday, June 09, 2006

The pygmy giant: Europasaurus holgeri

Europasaurus holgeri is a pretty extraordinary animal. It is a sauropod dinosaur that would've barely stood taller than a man -- as an adult!. What's interesting about the discovery of this animal, is that the investigators decided to try to explain the size of this animal. Head over to the Palaeoblog and check it out.

There were a number of interesting papers in this week's Nature and I simply haven't had time to cover them or use them in some way. I'm on it! I'm on it! Just give me some time!
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Thursday, June 08, 2006

A little something about scientific publishing

Manuscripts sent to journals get rejected all the time. It's no surprise, since it's unlikely that journals could even publish everything that's sent to them... okay, maybe some could. However, I just had a really frustrating experience: an editor who decided to make up his own reasons for rejecting the paper.

Despite favourable reviews from two referees, this editor claimed that our manuscript had previously been submitted to and rejected by another journal and that we didn't even bother to send a clean copy, just a re-formatted manuscript! Of course, my co-author and I have never submitted anything in our careers to that other journal! Thus, it does not appear that this editor even bothered sending any emails to check his facts, as there should've been no ambiguity.

I'm expecting an apology from the editors any day now. I don't care if they can reject it on scientific grounds, but to make up such an offensive charge is academically irresponsible and shows brazen indifference. I'm not even expecting them to re-consider the manuscript, as I'm not sure I want to publish in that journal anymore. This has left me seriously dismayed with the quality of editorship there. If they don't apologize to us, I may well fill in the blanks here with names.
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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Oh crap...

I don't cover a lot of politics, mainly because I'm Canadian and a lot of my readers are from elsewhere. However, this burns my ass. How does one manage to accidentally pass a budget? A conservative budget at that! This is going to be a scary year, folks!

(Hat tip to Orange Juice -- who is now appearing in my blogroll, by the way. If you're up on Canuck politics, go say 'hi'.)
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