Tuesday Lunchtime Notes

18 09 2007

I am absolutely awed at the massive response my horse evolution post(s) have received, and I certainly appreciate all bloggers who plugged the work (The Sandwalk, Pharyngula, A Blog Around the Clock, Greg Laden, John Hawks, The Ethical Palaeontologist, physicshead, Darwiniana, The Lord Geekington, Quintessence of Dust, Solo’s Scent Trail, Good Tithings, KABT Resources, and any others that I may have forgotten. Hopefully I’ll be able to do something similar for artiodactyls, but that will have to wait for a bit.

Indeed, my attention (for the moment, anyhow) has turned to sauropods, more specifically involving questions about ontogeny, physiology, and lifestyle. Julia has helped me to form my ideas a bit, and Matt has already published some papers on the subjects I’m interested in, so I should soon have something covering, as the subject line of my e-mails to Julia read, “wee little sauropods.”

In the meantime, however, I have to write up a summary for my Topics in African Prehistory course about the significance of living primates to fossil studies, especially in terms of Richard Wrangham’s idea of an almost cladistic analysis of primate behavior to infer what behaviors were present in the last common ancestor of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and humans. Some points he makes are good (i.e. shared behavior despite differing ecologies makes it more likely that the common ancestor exhibited such behavior), but overall I found the method a bit weak. In terms of thinking about ancestors, I’m biased towards the view of whatever we glean from living animals only works if it makes sense with the fossil data we have, otherwise we run the risk of thinking that we essentially evolved from chimpanzees, playing down what evolution has done in both humans and Pan since the divergence. This is the same problem I have with many of the modern books about human relationships to primates; there is a lot of focus on chimpanzees and bonobos, and the fossil record is typically only briefly mentioned (if at all) in many popular works. Such was part of the reason why I didn’t particularly like Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, and I think what is really needed is a more comprehensive approach that can help reconcile the fossils with living species rather than reinforcing the divide between primatologists & evolutionary anthropologists (and as an aside, my wife just read Guns, Germs, and Steel and didn’t particularly care for it, either).

I also have some “minor” blog announcements, too. My blogroll has become something of a monster, and I’m soon going to review it in order to categorize it properly, and I’m also going to run an “open enrollment.” Also, it turns out that I accidentally ordered two copies of the same book (it was republished with a different title); Edwin Colbert’s Men and Dinosaurs. I’m considering running a sort of contest, the winner of the said event winning the book, although I’m not sure what to do yet. I’ll make an announcement when I have the 2nd copy in hand as well as an idea.

I’ll be headed to the AMNH this Saturday with some Rutgers students as well (I actually like using the Hall of Advanced Mammals as a classroom), the week after which I’ll be presenting two lectures to their class; one on Darwin, one on intelligent design. I don’t have the ability to videotape the lectures, but I’ll probably make the Power Point presentation available to anyone who’d like to see it (although I can’t promise that it will tell any readers of this blog things they don’t already know). I’ll also post my analysis of Wrangham’s “behavioral cladistics” later this evening for anyone who is interested, although I’m not sure what sort of reaction I’ll get from the professor and grad students tomorrow being that I’m fairly critical of the approach. Either way, I’m sure it’ll make for some interesting discussion.

And now I need to head back up Rt. 1 and eat something before my computers class. Again, many thanks to everyone who linked to, commented on, and helped proofread/correct my history of horse evolution post. I hope that I’ll be able to again raise the bar for myself in the near future. Here’s some more outro music, this time courtesy of The Fray;


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2 responses

18 09 2007
Bug Girl

The Scientist has a “vote for your favorite science blog” story, and YOU are at the top of their post!!

CONGRATS! 😀

18 09 2007
Zach Miller

Sorry I’ve been tardy from the blog. New job, new surroundings. Longer hours. You get the idea. I’m looking forward to your sauropod blog–there aren’t nearly enough dinosaurs on Laelaps!🙂 Now I have to get to those two giant horse posts, which I’ve been wanting to read for about four days but never found the time. Keep up the good work, and let us know how your lectures go!

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