Disclaimer: my Ph. D. and publications are in mathematics; I am not a scientist. But I was having a discussion with someone who has an MD/Ph. D. and he seemed to indicate that evolution, at least the basics, should be understandable to the general public. I disagreed; I thought that the nuances might be difficult to grasp though something like “natural selection” might be, at least at the “broad framework level”, easier to understand.
So, here is a post by Larry Moran (biochemist) about genetic drift and the neutral theory.
Here is what is going on, at least as far as I can tell. A new allele is formed by mutation; the mutation can be roughly classified as “beneficial” (enhances reproductive success), “neutral” (doesn’t change reproductive success) and “deleterious” (harms reproductive success). The theory of Natural Selection would posit that the beneficial alleles would have a HIGHER PROBABILITY of becoming fixed in the population.
The theory of Genetic Drift shows that we are still talking about probabilities here: beneficial mutations can still be taken out of the population for randomness reasons; there is no guarantee that beneficial mutations will survive to be passed on. Genetic Drift theory has nothing to do with the benefits of a particular mutation.
The argument is really over probabilities: how big is the effect of natural selection and how much is really due to random factors? You sometimes see this as a debate between the Darwinists (the natural selection is the primary driver) versus the pluralists (NS plus many other factors, with randomness playing a bigger role).
I don’t have the credentials to have a valid opinion on this debate, but it is interesting to me.
Seriously: why would I? If I got to ask Mr. Ham on question, it would be: “do you seriously believe that physical anthropology, geology, biology, astronomy and physics are involved in some major conspiracy to hide the truth?”
No, creationists deserve no more intellectual respect than any other woo-woo. This is the way you deal with them:
Well, calm before the storm…we had a long…and productive search committee meeting. All I can say is that there are some smart, accomplished mathematicians looking for jobs.
Workout notes Full weight workout followed by snow shoveling (about 1/2 an inch due to a very brief but intense snow squall last night).
Supplemental: planks, McKenzie, hip hikes, rotator cuff, Achilles
pull ups: 5 sets of 10 (strong)
bench: 10 x 135, 4 x 180, 7 x 170 (not that bad)
abs: 3 sets of 10 of: twist, sit back, crunch, v. crunch.
super set with dumbbells: 3 sets of each exercise:
seated military (supported) 12 x 50
upright row: 10 x 25
bent over row: 10 x 65
curl: 10 x 30
Also 2 sets of 10 x 160 pull down, then 10 x 130 (different machine: without the cable)
It was ok, though my shoulders were a bit sore afterward.
A bit of science:
dogs and wolves: the new theory is that modern dogs and modern wolves had a common ancestor; the earlier theory was that dogs came from wolves. The path wasn’t as simple as had been previously believed.
The team of scientists sequenced the genomes of three grey wolves – one of which was from China, one from Croatia and another from Israel – to represent the three regions where dogs are believed to have originated.
They produced genomes for two dog breeds – a basenji, which originates in central Africa and a dingo from Australia – as both areas that have been historically isolated from modern wolf populations.
The researchers also sequenced the genome of a golden jackal to serve as an ‘outgroup’ representing earlier genetic divergence.
Their analysis of the basenji and dingo genomes, plus a previously published boxer genome from Europe, showed that the dog breeds were most closely related to each other.
Likewise, the three wolves from each geographic area were more closely related to each other than any of the dogs.
Dr Novembre said the findings of the study tell a different story than he and his colleagues anticipated.
Instead of all three dogs being closely related to one of the wolf lineages, or each dog being related to its closest geographic counterpart, they seem to have descended from an older, wolf-like ancestor common to both species.
‘One possibility is there may have been other wolf lineages that these dogs diverged from that then went extinct,’ Dr Novembre said.
‘So now when you ask which wolves are dogs most closely related to, it’s none of these three because these are wolves that diverged in the recent past.
‘It’s something more ancient that isn’t well represented by today’s wolves,’ he added.
Upshot: science is hard and can’t be reduced to a bumper sticker or a slogan.
New discovery about the Tiktaalik (fish to tetrapod species) Enjoy:
The fossilized pelves and a pelvic fin of Tiktaalik roseae reveal that the evolution of hind legs actually began as enhanced hind fins, according to the scientists. This challenges existing theory that large, mobile hind appendages were developed only after vertebrates transitioned to land.
“Previous theories, based on the best available data, propose that a shift occurred from ‘front-wheel drive’ locomotion in fish to more of a ‘four-wheel drive’ in tetrapods. But it looks like this shift actually began to happen in fish, not in limbed animals,” said Prof Shubin, who is the lead author of the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Discovered in 2004 by Prof Shubin, Dr Edward Daeschler of Drexel University, and the late Dr Farish A. Jenkins, Jr., of Harvard University, Tiktaalik roseae is the best-known transitional species between fish and land-dwelling tetrapods.
Neil Shubin, of the University of Chicago and the Chicago Field Museum, discovered the Tiktaalik. I highly recommend his first book Your Inner Fish and can recommend his other book The Universe Within as well.
I can say that one of the hardest things to do is to give up a preconceived notion based on new data and science.
So, I am seeing all sorts of “oh, hah, hah, where is your “global warming now” posts and articles.
(side note: here is an interesting article about so called “wind chills”. Yes, 10 F with a strong wind feels worse than 10 F with no wind, but I’ve always thought the wind chill stuff was a bit bogus. Remember that the wind makes it feel colder as this enables heat to be transferred from out of your body; in engineering class you learned that where is the mass flow rate of the fluid and the is the difference between the ambient temperature and the temperature of the object. You know this if you’ve taken a hot bath: in the tub if you are still, you might be ok, but you feel hotter if you move…..because if you move you are increasing the flow rate of the water around your body.
Well, wind does the same thing.
Back to the main argument:
So, people say “we’ve had record cold; how can the earth possibly be warming up?”
Well, for one, “global warming” is talking about a long time trend of average temperatures:
You can see the upward trend, but there are also ups and downs. For example, the next several years after 1998 were cooler years compared to 1998, mostly because 1998 was so blasted hot.
In fact, I took a similar graph, and started it in 1998 to “show” that the earth is really cooling!
I can easily see this being convincing to some.
Then one has to understand that warming means only small change in temperature per year and that how cold we are in winter largely depends on where the jet stream is, as it holds back that arctic air mass. And even if the arctic air mass is a degree or two “warmer”, it is still brutally cold (by our standards).
So, as you can see, the issue is a bit complicated. And yet, many conservatives deny it, just as they deny evolution.
Part of it is tribalism in action.
But part of it is philosophical; conservatives desperately want to believe that their deity is in charge:
They deny evolution for similar reasons: how can one believe that “every hair on your head is numbered by God” if you are the outcome of a stochastic process? (NOT a purely random process!)
So, one might say that philosophy matters. It certainly does to liberals; just look at the so-called “pro-science” liberals (so they tell you) who foam and the mouth about GMOs though, on the science issue part (whether the GMO foods are safe or not), they are dead wrong (more here)
Question them and once you get past their nonsense (IF that is even possible), you’ll find out that what they are really objecting to is the business practices of companies like Monsanto…and some are bound to an appeal to nature. Hey these mushrooms are natural; maybe we can get these woo-woos and crackpots to eat them?
So my frustration grows. It is ridiculous to resist facts (as currently understood) due to some philosophical point of view…..or is it?
This made me think of my post about Copernicus and the scientific objections to the Copernican theory of heliocentric astronomy.
My first reaction: why in the world would we view the earth as being special or different from the rest of the universe?
Oh oh…that is a PHILOSOPHICAL point of view. That is, the “null hypothesis” should be that the laws of science are basically the same everywhere; there are no “special” areas.
Yes, there is evidence that suggests that this is true, but why should this be the “null hypothesis”??? In fact, there is evidence that an aspect of this might not be true (albeit with tiny variations in our observable horizon)
I suppose that I should rethink my disdain for philosophy and point of view (lens of viewing things, if you will).
Of course, an expression of humility (we only know a little) does NOT open the door to wholesale crackpottery, woo-woo and nonsense.
Economics Austerity: does it work? Evidence is scant.
We are adding jobs. All isn’t rosy but things are somewhat better:
Still, unlike some other months that presented decidedly contradictory signals, many of the underlying factors identified by government statisticians at least pointed in the right direction. Hourly earnings, as well as the length of the typical workweek, both increased. The overall labor participation rate, while still low by historical standards, rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 63 percent.
At the same time, jobs were added to a broad range of sectors, rather than restricted to a few, lower-paying areas.
Manufacturing, closely watched because its ups and downs serve as a bellwether of the overall economy, added 27,000 workers. Besides that jump, Mr. Gapen of Barclays said he was also glad to see that the construction sector gained jobs for the third month in a row, indicating that housing continues to rebound.
Protons, of course, are made up of subatomic particles. It turns out that the total mass of a proton doesn’t change over a superlong period of time. One might ask: “well, why would it?” But this is one of those fundamental questions that should be asked.
Lots of times, authors of pop-science articles and books will take a routine fact, loudly proclaim that this fact “kills well known theory/hypothesis/metaphor X” (even if all it does is kill a simplistic caricature of it) and then get blistered by other scientists. Here is such a case; here someone claims that the “Selfish Gene” metaphor is dead. Richard Dawkins says: “Really? I think not.”:
Over at Richard Dawkins’s own site, he’s responded to Dobbs’s misguided critique of the “gene-centered” view of evolution as described in The Selfish Gene. Richard’s piece is called “Adversarial journalism and the selfish gene.“ He’s remarkably polite for a man who’s been trashed in such an unfair (and erroneous) manner, and politely though firmly explains that, yes, he knows about regulatory genes and that, as we know, they’re simply selfish genes that regulate other selfish genes. He compares the toolbox of regulatory genes (a simile the biologist Sean Carroll also uses) to the subroutines of a Macintosh. and then notes:
Does Dobbs, then, really expect me to be surprised to learn from him that:
“This means that we are human, rather than wormlike, flylike, chickenlike, feline, bovine, or excessively simian, less because we carry different genes from those other species than because our cells read differently.”
Does Dobbs really think the existence of genes controlling the expression of other genes is either a surprise to me or remotely discomfiting to the theory of the selfish gene? Genes controlling other genes are exactly the kind of genes I have in mind when I speak of “selfish genes” as the “immortal replicators”, the “units of natural selection”.
Jerry Coyne (a biologist) says more here.
Larry Moran (a biochemist) mostly likes Coyne’s critique, but has some quibbles with it.
The upshot: a biochemist looks, of course, at the molecules and is apt to characterize evolution (a change in the frequency distribution of alleles with time) at the molecular level; the biologists tend to look more at the bodies, organs, etc.
In this case, Moran is more from what I’d call “pluralistic mechanisms for evolution” camp (assigning heavier weight to thinks like random genetic drift, in which neutral mutations (no effect on reproductive success) account for much of the variation) whereas Coyne has been called a neo-Darwinian (Natural Selection is the overwhelming factor, though other factors (such as drift) influence evolution).
This is the type of thing smart accomplished scientists argue about.
Speaking of evolution and biology This is an interesting result in cancer research.
The rough idea is this: cells use something called a “replication fork” when they reproduce. Sometimes this fork breaks. Healthy cells use one mechanism to repair a damaged “replication fork” whereas cancerous cells use a different one.
This might provide insight on how to fight some cancers.
There has been an exciting new biological discovery inside the tomb of the Chernobyl reactor. Like out of some B-grade sci fi movie, a robot sent into the reactor discovered a thick coat of black slime growing on the walls. Since it is highly radioactive in there, scientists didn’t expect to find anything living, let alone thriving. The robot was instructed to obtain samples of the slime, which it did, and upon examination…the slime was even more amazing than was thought at first glance.
This slime, a collection of several fungi actually, was more than just surviving in a radioactive environment, it was actually using gamma radiation as a food source. Samples of these fungi grew significantly faster when exposed to gamma radiation at 500 times the normal background radiation level. The fungi appear to use melanin, a chemical found in human skin as well, in the same fashion as plants use chlorophyll. That is to say, the melanin molecule gets struck by a gamma ray and its chemistry is altered. This is an amazing discovery, no one had even suspected that something like this was possible.
Surf to Doug’s Darkworld to read more.
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