Some time ago I announced that I was fast approaching the 500 blog post milestone, and, in classic fashion, I whizzed right past it without even noticing. So, this is my ~500th blog post celebration (through the perspective of deep time, that’s an accurate enough assessment, hah), and as Chris Harrison aptly suggested I’ve put together a list of links that are a sort of “preview” of what will make it into the book I’m working on. This is by no means a complete list, but I’ll definitely be going back to (and mining) these posts for ideas. I’ve tried to organize them as best I can, although many don’t fit in a larger category yet. Also, I’ve reproduced some notes about chapters/title ideas/etc., so check that out as well.
Creationist dinosaur hoaxes/mistakes;
Tale of the heath hen
K/T extinction and Paleocene dinosaurs
Global warming in relation to Permian/Triassic extinction
Mammalian radiation after non-avian dinosaur extinction,
Misunderstandings about dodos
Funding cut for asteroid search/watch
Complex patterns/causes of extinction
Assorted dinosaurs & other prehistoric beasts;
The Sternberg hadrosaur mummy
Dinosaurs in central park
What if dinosaurs survived the K/T extinction?
Tiny T. rex arms T. rex soft tissues & protein analysis
Sabertooth “tigers” and their demise
Jurassic limestone fauna
Opisthotonus in dinosaurs
T. rex speed and dino hearing
Giant Swimming sloths
Nimravids & other saber-tooths
Misc Evolution topics;
What do we mean by “fitness“?
Is “survival of the fittest” an accurate description of evolution?
Why do so few people care about/understand evolution?
How and when hominids “stood up”
The problem of “species”
Why do we “believe”?
The “make me a cell or else” argument
Super-fast butterfly selection
History of science;
Louis Agassiz’s catastrophism
Finalist/vitalist views of evolution
Why NOMA doesn’t work
Huxley’s “barrel of apples”
Zinj’s name changes
An Iguanodon with flippers
Bird evolution issues
Sternberg’s take on paleontology & oceans of Kansas
Francis Bacon on creationism
G.G. Simpson on paleo & genetics
Baby cheetahs that look like badgers
Polydactyl cats (like Ernest Hemingway’s)
chimps with probes
Ducks with extra appendages
Inbred white tigers
Evolutionary implications of parthenogenesis in geckos komodo dragons, & sharks
Ecological impact of shark population reduction
Are we just animals?
Restoring Pleistocene America
Duck sex and
more duck sex
Lobsters peeing at each other to communicate
Problems with “evolutionary psychology”
Birds smoking & anting
Mother white rhinos favor sons
Hurricanes may be good for coral reefs
Deer antlers and sexual selection
Parthenogenesis in sharks
Like I said, the above list is not nearly complete, but I intend on using most (if not all) the varying subjects as illustrations or introductions in the book. Also, here is an incomplete outline of chapters (and what those chapters should explain). I am well aware that I have largely omitted genetics, which is very foolish; for now I am working from my strong points, and intend on using examples like inbred white tigers, polydactyl cats, ducks/frogs with extra limbs, etc. as a lead-in to talk about development and inheritance. I definitely need more schooling on these subjects however, and for now I am trying to work towards my strengths (which generally fall into the category of zoology, in case you haven’t already noticed).
Also, before pasting the outline ideas, I was initially thinking of calling the book “We Can Be Friends With Dinosaurs,” focusing on the intersection between evolution and religion. After a year of study, it has become apparent to me that such a reconciliation is beyond my powers, even though I have to admit I like the title. Instead, I’ve been thinking of something along the lines of “Memoirs From Deep Time” (given the paleontological focus that I bear), and I would love to have the cover art to be something like William Stout’s “Riders on the Storm” or this Doug Henderson image (although, admittedly, I’d like a vibrant and colorful cover and am a big fan of Stout’s work). Anyway, here’s the notes that I have scribbled that I hope will give some form to my project;
[Not necessarily in order]
If evolution is regarded as the process by which new forms of life emerge, extinction is the phenomenon that wipes the slate clean. The overwhelming majority of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct, fossil remnants of a few of these creatures populating museum halls and dusty university cabinets.
B) Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design
Overall idea; give a history of creationism and intelligent design (possibly tracing the origins of the Genesis mythology to prior pagan/tribal mythology, if possible, or at least provide examples of alternate interpretations), showing how modern creationism and ID owe their arguments to 18th-19th century theologians and scholars like Paley. The famous “monkey trials” (Scopes & Dover) should be mentioned, although detail is not of the most important. Creationist claims like the Paluxy tracks, Acambaro figurines, etc. should be debunked as well. Accurate historical interpretation will be key to this argument.
C) From Humble Beginnings
Overall idea; recount the history of evolution as an idea from the greeks through Darwin to the modern synthesis and beyond, giving special attention to the time just before (Lamarck, Mantell, Gosse, Erasmus Darwin, Wallace, Paley, Lyell, Buckland, Cuvier, Owen) and just after (Cope, Haeckel, Agassiz, Mivart, etc.) Darwin published On the Origin of Species. It should be clear to the reader how evolution has been formulated and could not have existed as an idea until the geological old age of the planet was determined (be sure to mention da Vinci, Steno, Hutton, Smith), as well as the fact that different scientists had different idea of how evolution worked. From the “intellectual free-for-all” a clearer view of evolution emerged and continues to be refined even now.
D) There and back again; forays into and out of the water
Evolutionary lineages that have come out of the water (and gone back in, i.e. whales, sloths, icthyosaurs, mosasaurs, etc.) so many times that this is going to be a key part of the book. In describing how these changes happened, emphasis should be placed on homology (many of the lines discussed will be of tetrapod origin) and how evolution is directed by what comes before (i.e. early amphibians walked in a horizontal s curve as their ancestors swam. Cetaceans, however, had a vertical s curve motion of the spine because they evolved from animals that carried their legs under their body and did not exhibit a side-to-side motion due to a sprawling gait). Convergent evolution based upon similar ecological constraints (i.e. streamlined body shape) should also be addressed, especially in the case of dolphins and icthyosaurs. Stratigraphic range should be made clear. Also, when discussing tetrapods, be sure to point out all the similarities with ancestors (in the skull and vertebrate, for example), not just homologies in the limbs.
E) Up, up, and away
This will be a flight-themed chapter, focusing on the various times animals have taken to the air (much along the same lines as the previous chapter [use flying fish as a lead-in?]). Insects should play a prominent role here, but the evolution of bats (be sure to mention New Zealand bats that crawl on the ground) should be explained as well. Likewise, the evolution and radiation of birds will be the key to this chapter, and a historical discussion should be made of how early paleontologists (Huxley, Cope) noted the similarities between dinosaurs and birds, only to have “pseudosuchians” preferred as dino ancestors (i.e. Feduccia, Heilmann, Romer) until the time of the dinosaur renaissance (Bakker, Ostrom, and Paul). Beyond overall evolutionary trend/similarities/feathered dinos, the similarities/homologies of skeletal structure relating to the lung sacs should be noted. Again, don’t just focus on the dinosaurs only having feathers, but show how the whole organisms changed. This chapter should also mention the Grant’s work with finches and other evolutionary discoveries about modern birds. Also, pterosaurs should be explained when going over the evolution of birds, especially since Archaeopteryx lived in proximity to them in what is now Germany.
F) Evolutionary “explosions”
Look at the Cambrian, Triassic, and post-Cretaceous radiations of life (among others) and show how life did not just simply pop up out of nowhere. This chapter should directly precede or follow the chapter on extinction, as (especially for the mammals) extinction is going to play an important role in evolution and radiation. The point of this chapter is to dispel the myth that life shows up fully formed in the fossil record with no antecedents.
G) An Overview of Deep Time
The breadth and depth of the geologic record must be established early, especially showing how we know the earth is as old as we say it is in simple terms. After that is done, a brief overview should be made of the history of life on earth, hopefully giving the reader an idea of the vast amounts of time evolution has had to work with.
H) It’s all about us
One section should be specially devoted to primates and human evolution; the whole reason there is a debate is because the origins of humans is the issue (therefore making us not the special creations of a loving God but the products of nature). Special attention should be paid to homologies, the fossil record (especially our earlier relatives), and the whole “if we evolved from monkeys, why are they still around?” argument. This chapter may very well make or break the entire book, so fact checking is a must.
I) Dinosaurs: Absolutely terrible lizards
Dinosaurs are major scientific and cultural icons and require their own chapter. Their evolution and extinction should be explained, with special attention to the claim that they were a species that “ruled the earth” for hundreds of millions of years (use examples of how long each species actually existed in comparison to others). History of paleontology is going to be important here, especially the dinosaur renaissance and the issue of warm-blooded dinosaurs. Use this is a platform to explain how “reptile” isn’t a proper taxonomic term and its use helped keep dinosaurs “in the swamp” for nearly a century. Also, Owen’s initial reaction to dinos (trying to make sure people saw them as great end-products of creation, not products of evolution) should be noted. This chapter should probably precede the one on birds/flight (maybe split birds up for their own special treatment, then follow with origin of flight for other groups?)
J) Mammalian evolution
Mammalian evolution should be covered in detail, especially the split from more “reptilian” ancestors. Evolution of the ear from jaw elements will be key here, as well as discussion of marsupials and monotremes. Adaptive radiations of mammals and the Pleistocene extinctions will figure largely here as well. This chapter should probably be a lead-up to the one on human evolution.
K) How does evolution work?
This should probably follow the deep time and history of evolution sections in that order. Evolutionary mechanisms should be discussed (as well as incorrect notions refuted), being sure to mention natural selection, sexual selection, development, etc. Good examples of anagenesis should be used if at all possible. Also, “speed” of evolution should be addressed, as well as dispelling the idea of saltations/macro-mutations. The conflating notions of micro and macro evolution will be addressed, as well as the idea that we should expect to find “irreducibly complex” structures or pathways as a result of evolution (Muller). Perhaps this would be a good place to dispel the “dogs with horns” hypothesis I hear so often. Punk eek, ring species, speciation, etc. will play a big role here, possibly making allusions to events that will be discussed in more detail in later chapters (i.e. post-Cretaceous mammalian evolution). The role of ecology and the idea that populations evolve should be stressed as well. If at all possible, make a coherent definition of what a “species” is too, and mention the traditional taxonomy/cladistic approaches (and my bid for a system of “cladonomy”). This chapter is perhaps the most important as if I cannot convince the reader that evolution has happened and continues to do so, all will be lost. Antibiotic resistance and natural selection due to global warming will help drive this point home.
Ecology should be stressed, especially the point that regardless of how we came to be, it’s a pretty miraculous thing. Tie all the central ideas together by looking at our own bodies and tracing back the evolutionary history (i.e. ear, eyes, mouth, skeletal structure, etc.), showing that evolution aptly explains how we came to be from unthinkable generations of change.
Other important topics that should be covered;
Evolution of huge fangs in carnivores (and some herbivores) throughout mammalian history; gorgonopsids, hyenadon, marsupials, nimravids, saber-toothed cats, clouded leopard, musk deer, muntjac. How did these structures evolve? What did they have to do with extinction? How is sexual selection involved? What are the advantages/disadvantages? Use trends to show evolutionary convergence and parallel evolution.
Ammonite crenulation evolution; development of complex, fractal-like patterns in shell sutures over millions of years, plus coiling and uncoiling of shells. These fossils are great trace fossils and relatively well known, so they could provide a strong case for the natural development of complexity due to selection and extinction patterns.
Address the “survival of the fittest” myth; who is really fit? When does selection start (can it start even before birth?). Do the “fittest” always survive (i.e. in the wake of catastrophes)?
There will likely be more additions and many revisions as I go along, and I’ll be lucky if this book does not end up becoming a huge monster, unattractive because of it’s pure bulk. Still, I know that I will not be able to write the popular work on evolution, but I at least want to share my experience with evolution and nature with others, and from reactions I’ve received so far such a personal approach would be a welcome one. Just like Bakker and Ostrom moved dinosaurs out of the swamp, I want to present evolutionary biology as something that is amazing and within the grasp of the interested reader, not as a stuffy and cryptic science. Thoughts, suggestions, etc. would be most welcome, and hopefully soon I’ll be able to share some more details (and maybe even illustrations; think an Iguanodon with flippers) with you all.