Back to business

30 09 2007

Hello everyone, I’m back! Tracey and I had a good day hiking around Bear Mountain and staying the night at Beaver Pond, although I’m pretty worn out (I think I stained my right leg a bit and I got about 2 hours sleep last night). Still, the trails were pretty nice and I was able to find some mammal remains (one canine, one molar, one rib, one leg bone, and one jaw (with premolars and molars intact) from a small omnivore that I’ll look over in more detail later), so it was a pleasant trip overall. I did notice that the latest edition of The Boneyard did not go up yesterday as planned, however, and after I take a brief nap I’ll work on getting all the links together and posting it here.

Into the woods…

29 09 2007

Although I don’t normally write as much over the weekend as I do during the week, Laelaps is going to be particularly bare this weekend. Tracey and I are going to be out camping, celebrating her birthday, but I’ll probably be back on Sunday afternoon (with plenty of new photos to share).

Instead of a rant

28 09 2007

I started writing a rant today about my day job, subjected to annoying office gossip every Friday afternoon since I have a cubicle rather than an actual office like most of the people at my workplace. Once I started writing it, however, I decided that it was rather pointless and I don’t really want to write up something that’s essentially wasting space. Instead, enjoy this Fountains of Wayne (they hail from New Jersey, from a certain town that starts with a “W” I think…) song that sums things up rather nicely entitled “Hey Julie”;

And now that I think of it (and can’t think of much to write about at the moment), here’s some other music that’s been on my Shuffle as I’ve gone back and forth to class this week;

Ben Folds – “Bastard”

Weezer – “The Good Life”

Protest the Hero – “Heretics and Killers”

Thrice – “Deadbolt”

New Found Glory – “Failure’s Not Flattering”

The Living End – “Who’s Gonna Save Us?”

Bad Religion – “Honest Goodbye”

Those are the ones I could find videos for at least. Believe it or not, there was a time when I’d play guitar and focus on writing songs more than I read science books (or any books), and even though I still pick up my telecaster every now and then, I’ve somewhat outgrown my indie rockstar dreams. Still, maybe someday I’ll record some of the old songs I have lying around (although some updates to the lyrics would definitely be needed), and if I can I’ll upload some of my old demos when I get the chance.

The shape of things to come

28 09 2007

I was hoping to have my sauropod post finished this afternoon, but much like the giants themselves over the course of evolution, it just keeps getting bigger. A post that I initially intended to be about juvenile specimens that had been found has turned into a larger discussion of behavior, physiology, and other matters dealing with how the animals lived, and I’m hoping that I can present an interesting and accurate end-product soon. Until then, however, here’s a picture of a juvenile Barosaurus mount from the AMNH;

Juvenile Barosaurus

It’s a little blurry (sorry) but the differences between it and adult sauropods are striking, and there is just so much to talk about that I should probably stop myself before I spoil too much of the upcoming work.


28 09 2007

A bit of a minor note (which I’m also late to the game with) about science & the media concerning Ben Stein’s upcoming propaganda piece “edutainment” Expelled; the New York Times recently came out with an article about the movie and the deceit involved in obtaining interviews from anti-creationism figures, and the author Corneila Dean writes something I’ve been wanting to see for a while.

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

Part of the problem with science & media relations is that in many news outlets “objectivity” is placed in higher regard than actual understanding; if a new report comes out saying that there is new evidence showing global warming to be human-caused, for example, find someone from the other side to balance things out. Such journalistic tactics have their place and I don’t want to see science columns become dogmatic about legitimate controversies, but I don’t think there’s a need to “balance” established scientific reality with complaints from whomever can formulate a tenuous point of contention. Given such waffling on the part of many newspapers, I was glad to see a firmer stance taken in this article, although the last sentence didn’t quite sit right with me.

Although it doesn’t necessarily work in practice, the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) as proposed by Gould is still a popular notion, many peacemakers saying that science and religion are mutually exclusive “ways of knowing” and science can’t tell us anything about religion. While I’m not suggesting that we should end civility while debating the intersection of science and religion, it is starkly apparent that science and religion do overlap, and nearly all religions make claims about the world that can, in fact, be refuted or confirmed by scientific study. We often think about this in terms of Christianity and the existence of God or of a soul, but let’s step back and examine a religion that I doubt many (if any) of my readers practice; Bakuba. The summation of the creation mythology associated with the religion, via Wikipedia, is as follows;

Originally, the Earth was nothing but water and darkness. Mbombo, the white giant ruled over this chaos. One day, he felt a terrible pain in his stomach, and vomited the sun, the moon, and the stars. The sun shone fiercely and water steamed up in clouds. Gradually, the dry hills appeared. Mbombo vomited again, this time the trees came out of his stomach, and animals, and people , and many other things: the first woman, the leopard, the eagle, the anvil, monkey Fumu, the first man, the firmament, medicine, and lighting. Nchienge, the woman of the waters, lived in the East. She had a son, Woto, and a daughter, Labama. Woto was the first king of the Bakuba.

Now, was anyone alive today present when the earth was formed to say that it wasn’t populated and given form by giant puke? Obviously the answer is no, but the evidence from geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, history, etc. (and the absence of any evidence of a celestial giant with IBS) show that the events described above did not occur as they are described in Bakuba mythology. Bringing this back to the issue at hand, i.e. Young Earth Creationism from the Christian perspective, it has been long established that the two differing accounts of origins in Genesis are incorrect in terms of the origin of the earth and the life that inhabits it. I won’t get into the larger debate over whether the stories are allegory or what their origins are, but the Bible makes some specific claims about the way nature works that are inconsistent with the weight of evidence gleaned from nature.

I don’t intend to turn this post into a long treatise on the intersection of science and religion, but the idea that we can keep science and religion sequestered from each other, giving each an intellectual domain to “rule” over, doesn’t work in the long run. Perhaps it can be done, and in fact I know people who have professed that they have taken such a route, but it often requires the qualification of “I do not think about things I do not think about.” I should probably clarify my own intent for writing this article as well, and it is simply this; science and religion do conflict with each other, and although this may seem to be an obvious point, it is often glossed over or put aside for the sake of comfort. Is it possible to be religious and agree that modern scientific concepts are correct (or at least are the best approximations of reality as yet discovered)? Of course, and I know there are many readers here who blog about just that topic in order to better represent those standpoints. Those positions, however, often differ substantially from the viewpoints of other members of the same religion and conflict abound no matter where one falls on the scientific/religious spectrum. Still, what I am proposing is that those invested in this debate stop ignoring the conflict and deal with the strained relationship between religion and science in a more direct manner, as I think we can only benefit by dropping the tattered NOMA flag.

Friday Coelacanth

28 09 2007

Courtesy of Peter McGrath of The Beagle Project, a preserved specimen of the extant coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae from the Natural History Museum in London, England;


Friday Morning Notes

28 09 2007

The amount of reading I normally am able to get accomplished has suffered greatly this week; I’ve read bits and pieces of a few different books but I haven’t been able to rip through works at my usual pace. This is probably just as well, however, as many of the books I was reading were more important to me in a historical sense (understanding what scientists thought about paleontology in the past), and most of the information was already familiar. Then, yesterday afternoon, Phil Currie/Kevin Padian’s Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs arrived, and it’s proven to be a very refreshing read. As is apparent to many readers of this blog, I definitely need to work on my anatomical understanding of dinosaurs (and tetrapods in general), and I have been learning a lot from what I was able to read last night (I read all the entries for “A” and “B”). Some of the entries are fairly technical and proved how much I still have to learn (like Currie’s entry on braincases), but others were more plainly written and I had a lot of “Aha! So that’s what that is” sort of moments. Such an entry was John Hutchinson and Kevin Padian’s entry for the clade Arctometatarsalia, and I definitely came away that entry with a more refined understanding of the arrangement of metatarsals and ankles in theropods. Spencer Lucas’ entry on Biostratigraphy was also very helpful, and so clearly written that I think nearly any reader would be able to understand it.

Given that the book is a amalgamation of work from various researchers and authorities, some entries are a little better than others, although so far I don’t have much to complain about. I know the book is a little dated (1997), but I’ve tried to keep recent changes I know of in mind as I read along. Although I am learning more about anatomy slowly but surely, I know that I’m now at the point where I really do have to get a textbook or other resource on skeletal anatomy (and I’m still waiting for the day when I can afford to purchase Romer’s Osteology of the Reptiles). Still, as I noted before, it’s refreshing to dive into a more technical scientific work and be able to get something out of it, and even though it might seem like a Herculean task I’m going to try and read the encyclopedia from cover-to-cover. After that I’ll probably take a “break” with something shorter, but I also want to try and read the whole of the 2nd edition of The Dinosauria, being that I’ve only been referring to it now and again when necessary. Once I’ve been able to do those maybe I’ll be able to move on to Gould’s 2,000+ page The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, but that might have to wait until winter break. Of course I’m saying all this now, not knowing what my life will be like in the coming weeks and months, but I think that I can do it (and I think I’ll greatly benefit from such an undertaking). The more I learn, the more I get sucked in, and I’m trying to teach myself as best as I possibly can.

I’ll be away for much of this weekend as well, my wife’s birthing falling on the 30th, and her chosen activity being camping up in New York. I’ll still write today and on Sunday when I get back, but on Saturday I belong to Tracey. There will still be plenty to enjoy in terms of paleo-blogging, however, with The Boneyard coming up at Fish Feet tomorrow, although I’m hoping my recent reading will help me in construction a better juvenile sauropod post when I get back.

Update on the lectures

27 09 2007

Just because some of you had asked how they were going, I thought I’d write a quick progress-report on the lectures that I had to give this week. Tuesday’s lecture went fairly well (although a little bit faster than I had intended it to go). While some of the students didn’t seem especially interested while I was giving the talk, I got some great questions afterwards about Lamarck, endosymbionts, and other matters. I expected a more low-key reaction, however, just because the lecture was more historical in nature (but it seemed that I gave the students a closer look at Darwin’s life and his scientific accomplishments).

Today I’m giving my ID/creationism lecture, which will be a lot more fun. I was able to find a handful of videos to download (a Creation Museum commercial, a Kent Hovind ad, the Simpsons evolution couch intro from a few months back, the Colbert Report Behe interview, an Inherit the Wind clip, Ray Comfort’s banana mishap, etc.) so outside of providing commentary I’ll be able to let the creationists speak for themselves to a certain extent. I also threw in a few more jokes and illustrations, so while it needs some work I think today will be a more more fun and interesting lecture than Tuesday’s. Many thanks to Peter McGrath of The Beagle Project as well, who has supplied me with some wonderful photos to use in some future lectures and on Laelaps.

I definitely enjoy giving lectures, though, and I certainly hope to deliver one for Darwin Day in February, that is if I can get enough Rutgers faculty interested enough to join in. I’ve got a lot on my plate as it is at the moment, but I hope that winter break will give me enough of a respite to get something organized, although I am much looking forward to January’s Science Blogging Conference, as well.

Minor note…

27 09 2007

Sometime during the night this blog passed the 100,000 views mark. Many thanks to all the visitors, especially regulars, who helped make this blog what it has become (although this is not the end-point in the evolution of Laelaps).

Cool Animal Meme

27 09 2007

An interesting animal I had

Chase accompanying me on the couch

I’ve had a number of pets over the years (mostly lizards, frogs, and fish), but the most “interesting” animal I’ve ever kept is one of the cats that has been living in my apartment since this time last year. Born in 2000, Chase the cat was born to a feral mother but taken in by a large family who were friends of the woman who was later to become my wife. In 2005, when I came into the picture and visited the family now and then, I would find Chase and pet him for a little while, although it seemed Chase was a little neurotic. Eventually the family got a poodle, and the poodle decided it liked to play with Chase (I don’t think I need to tell you how Chase felt, being swatted at by a big black dog), and something had to change. So my wife and I took Chase in, but he’s definitely a strange cat . I’m the only person he is affectionate towards, so if his food bowl is empty while my wife is home he won’t let her know, but the moment I walk in the door he runs to his food bowl and starts crying. If you ever meet me, you’re likely to see little white hairs all over my clothes despite my best attempts to remove them, as well; Chase sheds nearly constantly, to the point where I wonder why he’s not bald by now. Chase also enjoys foods I didn’t think any cat liked; he’ll eat watermelon, grapes, and duct tape (although I’ve prevented this whenever he’s tried). He also licks windowsills for fun and likes to stand in front of the AC at night, but to prevent myself from going into a long post about my cat’s strange behavior Chase is definitely the most interesting animals I’ve ever had.

An interesting animal I ate

Do all the spiders I’ve probably eaten in my sleep count? My family was not especially interested in exotic dishes, so meat usually equaled chicken, turkey, or beef (sometimes fish). I did try escargot once, but the most interesting animal I’ve ever eaten will probably be a mystery to me (it was likely found inside a hot dog casing).

An interesting animal in the Museum

Just one? At the moment I would pick Amphicyon, one of the “bear dogs” of the Oligocene-Miocene (many being found in North America). I have another picture, which is unfortunately on another computer, of the skeleton caught in the light of a fading winter day, the light glinting off the teeth of the specimen pictured below. As some others have mentioned in previous comment threads, there’s little doubt that skeletal remains of this animal gives a few children nightmares.

The crushing jaws of Amphicyon.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal

Two summers ago I went to Ocean City, Maryland with Tracey to go shark tagging. Although I was seasick for most of the trip, I did catch a juvenile Dusky Shark that I helped to tag and release. Hopefully I’ll have some more interesting animal encounters in the future that are a bit less traumatic for the creature.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat

I actually haven’t seen that many exciting animals in their “natural habitat.” Growing up in suburbia, squirrels, chickadees, white-tailed deer, and the occasional opossum or raccoon were the most I could hope for. Even now, most of the wildlife I photograph is confined to zoos, but I definitely want to see as many of the big cats as possible in the wild. Actually, one of my goals is to get to the Okovango Delta in Botswana, either to study or to merely photograph and observe, as I’m very much interested in how populations of animals there differ from populations elsewhere in Africa. Maybe someday…

I was tagged by Bora, and I tag Julia, Greg, Neil, Zach, and Kate (but feel free to pick it up if you wish to do so).