You should be reading this blog…

20 09 2007

It seems that I have to make an apology; for too long I’ve neglected to add the Anterior Commissure, a wonderful science blog from a fellow Rutgers student (albeit graduate student). If you’re not already reading it, you definitely should be. Also, Coturnix has aggregated just about every available response to an article in The Scientist about the best life science blogs, so check out his massively link-laden post.

And the Cehpalopodcast blog has some fun blog-based anagrams. Despite the pleasing potential titles “All Peas” or “Seal Pal,” I think I’ll stick with Laelaps.

Who, me?

19 09 2007

The news section of The Scientist has an article about the ever-growing number of science blogs, asking readers for their thoughts as to who has the “must read” blogs out there. Coturnix was kind enough to list Laelaps as one of his recommendations, and I am certainly humbled (and many thanks to the commenter Steph who is a fan as well!). It’s strange for me to think that this time last year I was just cutting my teeth in terms of blogging over at ProgressiveU (winning a scholarship based upon my blogging abilities definitely encouraged me to keep going), not even moving to WordPress until January. Given the welcome reception I’ve received from so many other writers, however, I am certainly glad I spend exorbitant amounts of time with my nose in a book or fingers on the keyboard, and I am inclined to agree with my wife when she told me that blogging about science is just about the most valuable thing that I have yet done.

So if you’ve got time today, head on over the list mentioned above; check out some blogs that you have never heard of before, and please add your own favorites into the comments. It looks like Pharyngula and John Hawks are really cleaning up, although there are plenty more to choose from (definitely have a look at Creek Running North and Pondering Pikaia if you’re not already reading them).

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;

Love/Hate relationship with the AMNH

12 09 2007

I’m still picking away at fossil horses in the hope that I’ll be able to get something up tonight, but in the meantime check out Matt’s post on Natural History museums (and all the “interactive” doodads that are all the rage in major institutions these days). As is easily apparent from this blog, I absolutely love natural history museums, but there often seems to be as much that annoys me about them as attracts me to them.

Tuesday Morning Miscellany

11 09 2007

I know things have been a bit slack here since the weekend, but I hope to have something rather substantial up later today. Outside the realm of massive science posts, however, here’s what’s been going on lately;

1) The Boneyard will be coming up at Julia’s The Ethical Palaeontologist this coming Saturday. Get your links in to me or Julia by Friday evening if you want in on the aggregation.

2) I read the companion book to the AMNH’s fossil hall restorations of the 1990’s, The American Museum Of Natural History’s Book Of Dinosaurs And Other Ancient Creatures, in it’s entirety yesterday. It proved to be a good source of historical information (i.e. freelance bonesharp Charles Sternberg’s financial woes making the purchase of some fossils especially difficult as he’d pack them up before H.F. Osborn’s men could have a look at them, hence being unable to make a proper assessment and causing Osborn to have to decide “sight unseen,” as in the case of the Edmontosaurus “mummy”), but many of the species descriptions were a bit lacking. Being that the book was put out by the AMNH, some of the inaccuracies that still remain in the fossil halls were played down, but it still is a good dump of information, photographs, and sketches not otherwise available to the general public.

I’m currently reading R.T. Bird’s Bones for Barnum Brown and, despite Bird’s fawning over “Mr. Bones,” it is an excellent book, especially if you’re interested in the sauropod bone bed at Howe Quarry and the discovery that sauropods had “whiplash” tails. Bird’s quarry map is especially interesting, and within the assorted materials the sacral regions of the vertebral columns seem to have been the more well-preserved (even though they had become disassociated with the rest of the body they belonged to). Don’t let the fact that the book is relatively large and thin (taking the appearance of a children’s book) fool you; it is an excellent resource and first hand account of Bird’s work in the field.

The book that I’m currently toting between classes if Konrad Lorenz’s On Aggression, which I have been meaning to read for some time. I did start Simon Singh’s The Big Bang as well, but it will have to wait until I finish Bird’s autobiography tonight. If the Louis Jacobs book Quest for the African Dinosaurs arrives today though, Singh’s book may be waylaid once again.

Oh, and lest I forget, I read George McCready Price’s 1929 creationist “booklet” The Predicament of Evolution (available for free online)over the weekend as well. It is amazing how little creationism has changed since Price wrote his short work, many of the same arguments are still used today with just as much belief that they refute evolution as in 1929. Change a few references and Price’s book could very well be an AiG tract like The Lie, although there is one major difference. Price appeals heavily to anti-communist sentiment in one of the latter chapters, and even though he does not closely associate Darwin with Marx or Lenin, he does try to associate evolution with communism, deeming both to be utterly un-American (because when the Bible falls, America falls, he says).

3) Julia has a must-read post about her experiences working on Cetiosauriscus named “Hopalong Cassidy” and how a little grey Diplodocus saved the day. While already on exhibit, I hope this coming Saturday’s traveling program will give the article a proper place of appreciation.

4) Why isn’t there an Anomalocaris on your shirt? If you want to fix the problem, visit Marek Eby’s Trilobite Clothing online store and get stocked up on your Cambrian clothing needs. There’s no Opabinia or Hallucigenia just yet, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. I’m definitely going to pick one up and wear it proudly.

Speaking of shirts, I also ordered a “Scientific Accuracy Isn’t for Wimps” shirt from and two shirts (one with skeletons from one of Cuvier’s works, another with fossil hominids) from Skulls Unlimited. My clothing has become decidedly more geeky over the past year, with my favorite is still my “Future Transitional Fossil” shirt.

5) The documentary Flock of Dodos is now officially out on DVD and available for purchase. I initially saw the film just short of a year ago at a screening at the AMNH, and even though I definitely enjoyed it then (and have subsequently praised it on this blog), I have become more ambivalent towards it as time has gone on. When I get a copy I’ll write up another review, perhaps from a more seasoned perspective, about what I liked and didn’t like about the film.

6) If you’ve got a profile on Facebook, be sure to add Eugenie Scott and the NCSE to your friends. Oh, and you can always add me, too, if you’d like to.

7) Classes are moving along well, although I’m still not used to having a few hours in between meetings where I don’t have enough time to run to work. Such breaks could definitely end up being productive in terms of posts and the book that I’m still working on, but it is weird to have the day broken up again. The only class that seems like it is going to give me trouble is Precalc, but as long as I get a C I will be more than happy and count my blessings that I survived.

8) Have you registered for the next North Carolina Science Blogging Conference yet? I’ll be there, and even *gasp* speaking on a panel of other graduate and undergraduate students like Shelly of Retrospectacle and Anne-Marie of Pondering Pikaia, and I’m sure this year’s conference will turn out to be even more exciting than the last.

And don’t forget to nominate your favorite science blogging posts, from here or elsewhere, for the next installment of the Open Laboratory. Click the purple button to the right (or here) to nominate the best of science writing over the past year, regardless of whether it can be found here on Laelaps or elsewhere.

So, now that the shameless plugs and other notes are out of the way, off I go to work on a new massive post about science and the history of ideas. I hope to finish it tonight, but I make no promises…

Sunday Afternoon Dispatches

2 09 2007

Autumn crept into the late-night air along 287 South early this morning. After a pleasant day, I stepped into the minutely chill air that had settled in New York State, taking in the my first realy breaths of fall air as I walked down to the car. Despite the 3rd season wasting no time in claiming September evenings, I had a pleasant day with my wife’s aunt in the Chappaqua area, hiking along a local reservoir and enjoying a meal that seemed to come a little late; corn on the cob, all-beef hot dogs, potato salad, and summer squash. The trails we traveled were much more flat that the AT, the hardscrabble climb of the scree laying me out the rest of last weekend, and mica washed out of the glacially-deposited rocks glinted on many the trails wer traveled. If time permits, I’ll post pictures from the trip later tonight.

I also managed to finish The Bonehunter’s Revenge last night after dinner, although I still have to read the latter half aloud to my wife (I am definitely glad she’s so interested in the famous “Bone Wars”). Wallace’s book is singularly excellent, and although there are a few flaws, he gives the story a cultural background that is also lacking. Also of great importance is his treatment of Cope’s “ghost”, exhumed by Louie Psihoyos in the lavishly-illustrated book Hunting Dinosaurs. Not to spoil the tale for those who haven’t yet read Wallace’s book, Psihoyos absonded with Cope’s skull, taking the Philadelphian all over the country to meet the likes of Paul Sereno (who identified an absess tooth in Cope’s skull) and Bob Bakker (who boiled pasta and poured it into Cope’s skull to help determine his cranial capacity), all under the auspices of bringing attention to Cope’s “dying wish” to be the type specimen for the human species. Cope never had such a hope, and the body of Linneaus had long been nominated to have the prestige ages ago, and so it seems that Psihoyos either missed something in his research or didn’t do any, Wallace rightly (but fairly) chastizing the National Geographic photographer for undertaking a stutn to shocking that it would be fit for the pages of the Herald that printed Cope and Marsh’s famous fossil fued. Wallace also notes how little society seemed to care for dinosaurs during a time that many paleontologists deem pivotal to our understanding of dinosaurs, O.C. Marsh’s discovery of the toothed Cretaceous birds and a seemingly-straight line of horse evolution (and T.H. Huxley’s visit to discuss these finds) gaining much more coverage than any dinosaur find. In case I have not made a strong enough case, read Wallace’s book; it is a must for understanding the tragic figures that helped form the basis of modern vertebrate paleontology.

I also started a book consisting of essays about the “strip-mining” of American culture called Dumbing Down, and already I am partially disgusted by it. I am not one to ignore problems in our consumer-driven society, Megachurches with their of McDonald’s Drive-Thru and libraries that suffer destruction of many of their books because a local radio station hides money in some of the books as a promotion, but the introductory portions of the book take something of a condescending tone to what they identify as the provincial rabble that has undermined high-culture. Part of this seems to stem from an affinity for bits of “high culture”, a sort of post hoc nostalgia developing that ages past surely must have been more sophisticated and refined than today’s culture of amateurs. From what I can tell there has never been nor ever shall be a “golden age” of refinement, the high-brow and the low-brow constantly existing and harboring greater or lesser amounts of contempt for each other. There are intellectual blessings and curses to every age, and I don’t believe that people are becoming “dumbed down” as much as distracted by a culture that values high-tech gadetry over a good book. The simple mental and cultural capacity to break free from many of the societal strangeholds that we are often warned are choking off blood-flow to our collective brain is present, as ever it has been, and I believe things can be changed, but bemoaning others as stupid, ignorant, and uncultured if they have never read Hamlet or Crime and Punishment is not the way to open minds.

I also will finally have the chance to watch the Planet Earth series in full as it was meant to be; with David Attenborough providing the narration. I’ll probably write up something of a review at some point when I’m finished, but despite what I feel are some ill-written lines of narration, the series is probably the most visually stunning I have ever seen, and I doubt that anyone will be able to watch it and find wonder in nature.

On a different note, I have registed for the 2008 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference coming up in January. I’ll be driving down to arrive on Friday and will be there all day on Saturday, so if you are going to be there let me know so I can at the very least get to say “hello” in person. If you haven’t already registered, or need more information about the event (did I mention that it’s free?), Coturnix (who has used his Herculean blogging and organizational powers to help make the event a reality) has all the links you’ll need.

And don’t forget, if you see a post on here that you especially enjoyed or think is of outstanding merit, please nominate it to be included in the 2007 edition of the blog anthology The Open Laboratory. You can nominate posts by clicking the purple OpenLab 2007 button on the right hand side of this blog, and you can nominate as many as you would like.

That about does it for me for now, although I hope to write something a bit more scientific later on today. If anyone has any topics they’d like me to cover, don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments as I’m a bit dry on subject matter today.

This one’s called “It was late and I was tired”

2 09 2007

Hi everyone, I just got in after a long day in the Chappaqua, NY area, hence the lack of updates. If you’re looking for something new while I get some much needed rest, check out the Boneyard IV over at When Pigs Fly Returns. Zach’s done a great job, so be sure not to miss it!

Secondly, thank you to everyone who has plugged Laelaps as a result of the 3rd annual Blog Day linkfest. I will have kind words to share as soon as I am able to stay awake long enough to write them.

Lastly, I registered for the upcoming North Carolina Science Blogging Conference 2008, and I’ll be one of the folks arriving on Friday night. If you haven’t registered already, click the link and do so now, and if you’ll be attending be sure to let me know so I make sure that I can at least say “hello” in person.

And now to watch Planet Earth until I drift off to sleep…