Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome 2010 International Year of Biodiversity: What Darwin Never Knew (full video)

Lo and behold: the full video of the NOVA documentary is available for your viewing pleasure online - enjoy! Its a great way to start 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.

Posted via web from a leaf warbler's gleanings


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So what did Darwin never know? Evo-devo, of course!

It was two hours well spent watching the PBS NOVA special What Darwin Never Knew last night, and I was thinking of a longer post about it when I discovered that good ol' PZ was actually live-blogging during the show! I had considered that too, but quickly given up because my limited multitasking abilities were already stretched thin between watching the show and keeping our 4-year-old entertained (something PZ no longer has to worry about I reckon). In any case, I quite agree with his assessment of the show, particularly this bottom line:
My opinion overall: the first half hour was boring to me — it was an extremely basic primer in old-school Darwinian biology. The middle hour was of more interest, and did get into real evolutionary developmental biology, and showed off some of the best examples of work in the field. This was the bit I'd find most useful in my classes; that first half-hour was too basic for most freshman biology majors.
I wasn't too keen on the last bit where it got very human-centric, but I can see where the examples they talked about would provoke viewer interest. I just wish it were possible for the medium to push a little deeper into the topics than they did.
Carroll, Shubin, and Tabin were good. Make them TV stars!
So if you missed it, head on over to the NOVA website and check it out. And if you are taking my classes this spring, you may well see a clip or two in there.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tonight on NOVA: What Darwin Never Knew

Just getting ready to watch this 2-hr documentary on PBS NOVA tonight. But in looking for this clip on YouTube, I found a British series titled "What Darwin didn't know" - sounds intriguing, and I may share it here later.

Posted via web from leafwarbler's posterous


A biology graduate student reacts to Eugenie Scott

Student post by Kelli Upton, in response to Eugenie Scott’s recent talk at Fresno State.
            Dr. Scott, although I was previously unaware, is a highly regarded advocate of evolution and for keeping intelligent design out of schools.  As the director of the National Center for Science Education, she has mastered handling interrogation from opposing sides of her argument. This was evident when members of the community confronted her on issues after the seminar. She only slipped a few times as far as I’m concerned, with being too condescending. Even though a self-described young-earth creationist applauded Dr. Scott for her continuum from creation to evolution, I thought that this continuum had the sole purpose of tying intelligent design proponents with ridiculous movements such as “flat earthers.” I believe that arguments made from creationists like Michael Behe etc., including arguments of irreducible complexity, are helpful in that they force us to investigate further into what the scientific community has already accepted as a reality. They also give us tools to provide better evidence against intelligent design. The dichotomy that Dr. Scott suggests we so desperately need to reject is only made more distinct when scientists are demeaning towards the other side. The way evolution is taught by some on this campus is exactly as such. In actuality, it would do a young scientist good to learn creationist/intelligent design points of view so that we are able to have constructive conversations with one another and not alienate people from science. Although this information should be pursued outside of the classroom, it would no doubt be helpful when inevitable debate pops up during class discussion.  Overall, I believe Dr. Scott did a nice job of conveying this and I think the take home message was that scientists cannot account for the supernatural and therefore only the natural world should be considered when studying science. I was enthralled with her presentation and it was a real treat to have her on campus. I look forward to reading some of her work.


Nature through Madhu's lens, 2009


Posted via email from leafwarbler's posterous


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Scientia Pro Publica #18 is out for your holiday reading

028CF91C-54C2-4589-B5AF-CDD794950600.jpegEnjoy your break with some good science readings from the blogosphere in the latest Scientia Pro Publica (issue #18) blog carnival. I posted it yesterday on Reconciliation Ecology, so pop on over there if you haven't seen it already!

And if you have come across any good blog writing on evolution, or written something yourself, consider submitting it to the upcoming Carnival of Evolution, #19 to be hosted at Observations of a Nerd.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Darwin Never Knew - find out on NOVA, Dec 29

This ought to be worth taping!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why all the fuss about Darwin and Evolution? - Eugenie Scott Redux

Here's a slidecast of Dr. Eugenie Scott's talk at Fresno State last week, which includes her entire powerpoint presentation along with audio I was able to record during her talk with my iPhone.

This is also my first attempt at embedding a slideshare presentation in a blog post, so if you notice any glitches, please let me know! I also have a podcast version (m4a/quicktime) of this talk which I will post here shortly, and Scott Hatfield has posted video on YouTube as I've noted in an earlier post. I hope to do more of these slide/podcastsas we continue our series of evolutionary biology lectures on campus.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Christian student reflects on Eugenie Scott's talk about Evolution/Creationism

At the podium-3 copyWhat an overwhelming response we had at Eugenie Scott's wonderful lecture last week on "Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution?"! Thank you, Genie, for such a great talk, for inspiring and recharging those of us in the thick of the evolution/creationism culture war in the Central Valley, for showing us how to address these issues in a graceful, polite, and inclusive manner. And thank you, all of you who came to campus that evening and overflowed the Satellite Student Union. For those that couldn't come that evening, you can still enjoy the talk, in parts via videos posted on Scott Hatfield's blog, and also a full-length podcast of the slides with audio that I'm working on (as soon as classes are out of the way this week!). More on that soon.

For now I want to share an essay written by one of my students who attended the talk, identifies himself as a Christian, and has, starting from a religious background that made him suspicious of the E-word, come around to accept the evidence for evolution, while retaining his faith. I thank Eric York for allowing me to share his synopsis of and reflections on Genie's talk here. Having a standing-room audience is one thing - and a great thing for sure - but a personal testimony from a student who has made some real progress in their thinking because of what we teach, that is the best kind of response we teachers can hope for. Note that I am posting his essay as is, although I have (and you can guess where) some quibbles with a couple of the things he says in his synopsis. You should also read Scott's summary of the talk, which has a bit more on the core-fringe model of knowledge. If you attended the talk, feel free to share your reaction in the comments section below. Here's Eric (continued below the fold):

“Why all the fuss about Evolution?” –Eugenie C. Scott

Eugenie Scott provided a lecture outlining the basics of evolution, followed by a detailed synopsis of the evolution vs. creationism debate. She started off the debate by outlining the different facets of evolution, and the various sciences it is deeply entangled with. These included astronomy, biology, geology, and anthropology, which are each considered evolutionary sciences. The main distinction is that evolution doesn’t necessarily address the origins of life; rather it attempts to explain how organisms have gotten to their present state, via descent with modification.

One of the complaints about evolution is that humans don’t like the idea of us being “descended” from monkeys. However, Scott cleared this up by stating that we aren’t descended from monkeys or apes. She compared this to a family tree. I descended from my dad, and my dad descended from my grandpa. My grandpa also had another son, who in turn had a son, who is consequently my cousin. I am not descended from my cousin, but we do share a recent common ancestor. This parallels the concept of descent with modification.

Scott brought up a book called, “A Consumer’s Guide to Pseudoscience.” This claims that the core ideas of science that are well tested, such as gravity and orbit, are at the center. Around the core ideas are the frontier portions, which include the current experiments and hypotheses that sciences are actively testing. Finally, surrounding the frontier is the fringe. This discusses the why and philosophical aspects of science, and includes ideas such as natural selection and perpetual motion.

Scott spent a significant portion of the time discussing the debate between creationism and evolution. She suggested that instead of looking at both as a dichotomy in which you have to choose one over the other, look at them as a continuum. This continuum starts with conservative Christians that take the Bible literally. This includes those people who, as Scott stated, base their belief on the written Word that simultaneously makes the statement that the earth is flat. This argument is based on Scripture that pictures the earth as circular. Arguments against this claim are that the old Hebrew language didn’t have an adequate term for the word spherical, or that by saying the earth was circular was merely describing its general properties and not its absolute shape. This is only one of the many arguments between evolutionists and the conservative Christians who take the Bible literally.

From the literal interpretations of the Bible comes a transition into young earth creationists, who believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. They believe that the Earth has only recently been created, and accept that if evolution does occur, it must act much more rapidly than currently accepted. Next are the old earth creationists that believe in creationism, but accept an older earth with the possibility of evolution. This is based on the interpretation of Genesis that the seven days of creation aren’t actually 24 hour days. This is based on the Scripture that says, “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” By this reasoning, the seven days of creation could in fact imply thousands, millions, or even billions of years. Under this claim, evolution could be a feasible method that a creator used to derive the extant organisms that are alive today. This is followed by materialists, who don’t believe in creationism, and are skeptical of evolution. They are basically an in between category and don’t go one way or the other. Finally are the fundamental evolutionists. They are the ones that explicitly believe in evolution and the direct descent with modification.

Altogether I felt this was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I personally am a Christian and take the Bible as inspired by God, which leaves several aspects up to interpretation. However, I am also taking evolution with Dr. Crosbie, and through this have learned the mechanisms, consequences, and impacts of evolution. Consequently I have come to believe that evolution via natural selection and descent with modification is in fact responsible for how organisms have changed over time to get to their present state. Although my belief is in contradiction to most views held by Christians, I personally think that science and creationism can in fact go hand in hand, and don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. As mentioned, I have slowly reached this conclusion by taking my evolution class, along with analyzing past and present research. I felt that it was appropriate to include as part of my analysis for this seminar the influence that Scott had on confirming my ideals, and expounding upon the inclusiveness in my own thinking of creationism and evolution.



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