Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Covering Up Down Under - Catholic Archbishop Convicted

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson

Credit: Darren Pateman/AAP
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson found guilty of covering up child sexual abuse | Newcastle Herald

And another Catholic cleric is convicted of facilitating child abuse by paedophile priests.

This time it is the most senior Catholic cleric world-wide to be convicted of covering up child abuse, Archbishop Philip Edward Wilson of Adelaide, Australia. He was convicted earlier today, Australia time, of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse against paedophile priest Father Jim Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Evolutionary Paradox - Predation Pushed Red Squirrel Numbers Up!

Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).

The enemy of my enemy is my friend: native pine marten recovery reverses the decline of the red squirrel by suppressing grey squirrel populations | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

A while ago I wrote a book under my real name about my childhood in rural Oxfordshire and included a brief mention of the loss of the native red squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris, that had been so familiar to us in the 1940s and 50's but which had disappeared almost completely by 1960 to be replaced by the non-native grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis.

In it I speculated, based on observations in Ireland, that it might have been the loss of the predatory pine marten, Martes martes, that was actually a contributory cause because it had allowed the grey squirrel to proliferate.

It's rewarding to see that this link has now been given added credence by a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

And So The 'Moderates' Enable The Extremists

On March 28th, the white march in honor of Mireille Knoll brought together thousands of people in Paris.
Credit: LP / Guillaume Georges
PressTV-Anti-Islam 'manifesto' sparks outrage in France

A letter signed by 300 French public figures, including ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and three former prime ministers, calling on Islamic leaders to publicly reject the more violent passages in the Qur'an which call for the murder and punishment of Christians, Jews and non-believers, has been met with outrage by the very people who profess to condemn terrorism and proclaim it to be "pas a mon nom" (not in my name).

According to a report in Middle East Eye the letter entitled Manifesto "against the new anti-Semitism” published in Le Parisien, has been condemned as "Vile, racist, contemptible, Islamophobic, provocative..."

And Another of Those 'Missing Links' Isn't

Jurassic croccodile, Magyarosuchus fitosi (artist's impression)
Credit: Márton Szabó
Jurassic fossil is missing link in crocodile family tree | The University of Edinburgh

This week's example of creationism's non-existent missing links comes from the crocodile family tree in the Jurassic. Creationism has no problem with declaring these things to be non-existent to try to force-fit the facts into their preferred model of reality, of course.

This specimen was found by amateur collector, Attila Fitos (hence it's specific name) on a mountain range in north-west Hungary in 1996 and stored in a museum in Budapest. It was unearthed on a mountain range in north-west Hungary in 1996 and stored in a museum in Budapest, where it was examined by a team of palaeontologists including Dr Mark Young from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Science Shows Creationists and Conservatives Are Ignorant

Source: Deena Skolnick Weisberg et al., in Bioscience, Vol. 68, No. 3; March 1, 2018
No Missing Link: Knowledge Predicts Acceptance of Evolution in the United States
Bioscience, Vol. 68, No. 3; March 1, 2018
Credit: Amanda Montañez
People Who Understand Evolution Are More Likely to Accept It - Scientific American

A study published in BioScience last March and reported on in Scientific American shows a clear link between scientific ignorance and rejection of evolution in favour of creationism in America.

It also shows the same link between scientific ignorance and political conservatism. In both cases the more ignorant of science a person is the more likely he/she is to be a creationist and politically conservative.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Neanderthal Were Skilled Engravers

The engraved flint flake from Kiik-Koba layer IV.
The arrow indicates the point of impact. Scale = 1 cm.
Assessing the significance of Palaeolithic engraved cortexes. A case study from the Mousterian site of Kiik-Koba, Crimea

By examining the markings on a flake of flint from a Mousterian (Neanderthal) site in Crimea, researchers have concluded that they were made deliberately by a skilled Neanderthal engraver.

Twenty-Seven Lower and Middle Paleolithic sites from Europe and the Middle East are reported in the literature to have yielded incised stones. At eleven of these sites incisions are present on flint cortexes. Even when it is possible to demonstrate that the engravings are ancient and human made, it is often difficult to distinguish incisions resulting from

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Lesson From Goa - Temple to Shriva.

Shri Nageshi Temple, Ponda, Goa, India
First a confession; I know very little of the Hindu religion other than that there are multiple gods and that the stories of these gods are contained in the sacred books, the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Agamas. The Bhagavad Gita is itself part of a much larger work, one of two Indian epics, Mahabatha. These books also contain the basic philosophies of Hinduism.

So, all of our guided visit to the temple to Shriva or Shri Nageshi, at Ponda, Panjim, Goa, was new to me and to my partner. Neither of us had been to a Hindu temple before.

The Shri Nageshi temple is reputedly on the site of the oldest Hindu temple in Goa which was destroyed by the Portuguese colonialists who tried to impose Catholicism on the inhabitants. Ironically, we visited the Shri Nageshi temple immediately after visiting the Catholic church of Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) which contains the body of St Francis Xavier, co founder of the Jesuits and responsible for imposing Catholicism on the people of Goa. The church of Bom Jesus proudly boast of being the oldest religious building in Goa. Something it achieved by default when all the older Hindu, Jain and Muslim religious buildings were destroyed.

Another Piece of the Jigsaw Puzzle

Fossil reconstruction and illustration of Ichthyornis dispar.
Photo Credit: Michael Hanson/Yale University
Scientists find the first bird beak, right under their noses | Yale News.

Yet another piece of the jigsaw puzzle completing the picture of how a sub-order of dinosaurs transitioned into modern birds was put in place yesterday when researchers from Yale published a paper showing how the beak evolved from a dinosaur jaw. The paper was published in Nature. Unfortunately, it sits behind a paywall and the copyright holders require payment for reproducing even the abstract. However, it can be read here, and the Yale press release contains much of the essential information.

Ichthyornis dispar holds a key position in the evolutionary trail that leads from dinosaurian species to today’s avians. It lived nearly 100 million years ago in North America, looked something like a toothy seabird, and drew the attention of such famous naturalists as Yale’s O.C. Marsh (who first named and described it) and Charles Darwin.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Lessons From Goa - Saint Francis Xavier

Body of Saint Francis Xavier in a silver casket of Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa.
source: Wikipedia
While on a recent vacation in Goa, India we were treated to a guided tour of some of the historic places, including the UNESCO World heritage church of Bom Jésus (Good Jesus in Portuguese - is there a bad one?).

This church is notable mostly because it contains the remains of St Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuits with St Ignatius Loyola.

The body of St Francis is allegedly incorruptible. Our guide assured us that it is exactly as St Francis was in life, despite being buried and exhumed multiple times before being placed in the air-tight silver casket. Curiously, given the importance of such miracles, this incorruptibility of St Francis' body is tantalisingly displayed through little windows showing selected body-parts barely visible from ground level as the casket is mounted some twenty feet up in an elaborate shrine, richly endowed with gold, silver and precious stones, presumably in tribute to his vow of poverty. Who wants to look directly at a rotting corpse?

What can be seen of the body suggests, if the legend of incorruptibility is true, that St Francis had the appearance of a blackened and desiccated corpse in life, which is curious because a statue of St Francis, which our guide assured us was a miraculously accurate statue, perfect in every details, shows him to be on the short side but otherwise a perfectly normal European, albeit with a rather strange posture.

Cardinal Pell to Face Sex Abuse Trial

Cardinal George Pell leaving court in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Credit Joe Castro/EPA, via Shutterstock
Cardinal George Pell to Stand Trial on Historical Sex Offenses - The New York Times

Cardinal Pell, the Vatican's third most highly ranking official, is to stand trial in Australia on several sex-abuse charges. A Melbourne magistrate, Belinda Wallington, found there was sufficient evidence to justify a full trial.

This ruling came after a three-month pretrial hearing during which witnesses described abuse from decades ago. However, the majority of the charges against Pell were either dropped or dismissed, including some of the more serious allegations of abuses which were said to have taken place in a playground, on an altar, on a mountaintop and during a 1970s screening of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in Ballarat.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Covering Up Down Under

Archbishop Denis Hart
Melbourne archbishop says he'd rather go to jail than report child abuse heard in confession | Guardian

This little news item from last August that slipped beneath my radar at the time, highlights the Catholic Church's commitment to defending and protecting children, or more accurately, the complete lack of any such commitment in-so-far as the victims of it's child-abusing clerics are concerned.

It highlights the fact that the first priority of the church is still to protect and defend the abusing priests, despite Pope Francis' crocodile tears and expressions of regret and the fact that Catholic clerics feel they are above the law and entitled to special exemptions. They feel they are operating outside the constraints of society in general and are accountable only to themselves; not a part of the society in which they operate.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Neanderthals Were Not Primitive

The wooden pointed tool immediately following its recovery.
Found the oldest Neanderthal wooden tools in the Iberian Peninsula | CENIEH - Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana

Coincidentally, the subject of Neanderthals being in some way more primitive that the modern humans with which they are now know to have interbred, came up in a Facebook group today. Apparently, there are some Africans who make the racist claim that somehow non-Africans interbreeding with Neanderthals in Eurasia resulted in non-Africans incorporating 'backward' features, leaving Africans more highly evolved.

This is, of course, nonsense and is exactly the reverse of the thinking that Europeans used to try to justify the slave trade and the European nations annexing most of Africa, the New World, East Asia and Oceania on the grounds that these places were inhabited by inferior, under-developed and less highly evolved people. It comes from a fundamental misunderstanding, or deliberate misrepresentation of the Theory of Evolution.

The fact is that everything alive today has been evolving for the same length of time and so is as well or badly adapted to its current environment as anything else, because the degree of adaptation is entirely in the context of the population's environment. Given the rate at which early European explorers died of diseases in Africa and South and Central America, a much better case can be made that they were much less well adapted to that local environment than the local population.

In the early days of European exploration of West Africa, there was a popular saying, "Beware, beware the Bight of Benin! Few come out though many go in". The Bight of Benin is the bay where the west coast of Africa first turns south after going East under the 'bulge' at the top. So many of the sailors who landed in or south of the Bight of Benin died of tropical diseases that it held back European exploration for some considerable time and only the lucrative slave trade tempted them further south.

Now back to the Neanderthals after that brief excursion into Africa.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

No Transitional Neanderthal Forms!

Neanderthal skeleton and artist's reconstruction.
Source: Wikipedia
Credit: Photaro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Appealing to their ignorance and desire for confirmation of their bias, creationists fraud often dupe their followers with assertions that there are no transitional fossils showing evidence of change from one species to another. This is nonsensical, of course, because all archaic fossils are transitional between their ancestors and their descendants.

Having said that, however, there is a very good reason why there are no transitional forms between some earlier species and later ones - the later ones did not evolve from the earlier one as a superficial reading of the geological column might suggest. I explained this some years ago using the apparent 'transition' from red squirrels to greys in Britain, but there is an even better European example from our own ancestry.

Neanderthals were first discovered in 1829 in Belgium but it was not until 1864 that, following other discoveries, they were identified as an archaic species of humans and a different species to Homo sapiens, H. neanderthalensis. This was just a few years after Darwin's Origin of Species and before any of the many African hominin fossils had been found.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Christian Cult of Child Abuse

The Twelve Tribe cult's base at Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Bavaria
European court upholds German move to take kids from sect

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that members of a Christian sect do not have the right to abuse children and that the German child-protection agency that intervened and took the abused children into care was right to do so.

The case had been brought by four families, members of the fundamentalist Twelve Tribes sect, who had had their children taken away. A fundamental tenet of faith for the cult is that children need to be beaten regularly to drive the Devil out of them. According to one former member, daily beatings of the cult's children are normal.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Good News From the Catholics

Europe's Young Adults and Religion | St Mary's University Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society.

A recent poll conducted jointly by St Mary's University Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, UK and the Institute Catholique de Paris, France makes miserable reading for it's target readership - 2018 Synod of Bishops, due to be held in Rome in October 2018. In brief, it shows the massive haemorrhage of church members is continuing apace especially amongst the young. The survey was concerned with the religious views and practices of the key sixteen to twenty-nine year-old.

The key findings are:

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Triple Alliance

Brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
Credit: Tauchgurke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the fascinating aspects of evolutionary ecology is how two or more species can become inextricably bound together in an evolutionary alliance of mutual dependency.

One such alliance, actually an alliance between three completely unrelated species, can be found in the Amazon jungle, centred on one of the strangest and more specialised mammals, the three-toed sloth. The three-toed sloth (in fact there are four closely related species, all in the South and Central American jungles) is one of the most slowly moving mammals on Earth, spending almost all its time hanging beneath tree branches high in the canopy, eating leaves or sleeping. However, they descend from the trees to the forest floor once a week to defecate, which they do in a large pile.

Its slow speed, although conserving energy, makes it especially vulnerable to depredation by harpy eagles, jaguars and other predators, so its descent to the forest floor to defecate is all the more puzzling, placing it at additional risk when it could simply defecate in the trees where its faeces could simply drop to the forest floor.

But all this begins to come together and make sense as an alliance with other species.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Chimpanzee Gestures Confound Creationists

Bonobo and chimpanzee gestures overlap extensively in meaning

The thing about evolutionary biology is that researchers can't help providing evidence for it. It's not intentional; it's not as though there is any doubt, it's just that the reality is that species evolved from common ancestors. So, inevitably, reality shows the evidence.

Take, for example, this piece of research published yesterday on the subject of bonobo (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzee (P. troglodytes) and their use of non-verbal communications or gestures which both use extensively to communicate with others of their species.

Monday, 19 February 2018

All-female Fish Makes Creationism Look Stupid

Amazon molly (Poecilia formosa)
Photo credit: Manfred Schartl
Universität Würzburg: No sex for all-female fish species

No wonder American creationists all seem to be uncritical fawns of Donald Trump, hoping he'll build a wall to shut Mexico out. Right on the Mexican border with Texas, that centre of Christian fundamentalism and creationism, is a little fish that could cause the whole thing to come down - creationism that is, not the wall which hasn't even been started yet, the truculent Mexicans not agreeing to pay for a Trump foible.

The little fish, the Amazon molly, Poecilia formosa, like the newly emerged new species of crayfish I wrote about earlier, is all-female and reproduces asexually. The daughters are all clones of their mother.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

An Intermediate Spider-Scorpion!

Chimerarachne yingi, preserved in amber in exquisite detail.

Photo: Bo Wang
Part spider, part scorpion creature captured in amber | Science | AAAS

Continuing with what has turned out to be another dreadful week for creationism, we now have two papers about a 100 million year-old species, beautifully preserved in exquisite detail in amber, which has characteristics of both spiders and scorpions.

Spiders, a group of arachnids are characterised by modified body appendages called spinnerets which extrude silk, and, in males, a pair of pedipalps which are used to insert sperm into females. All but the most primitive spiders also have smooth, non-segmented abdomens. Scorpions, on the other hand have segmented abdomens and lack spinneretes and pedipalps. They also have the characteristic tail.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Yet Another Newly Evolved Species

Marbled crayfish, Procambarus virginalis
By Chucholl C. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
An aquarium accident may have given this crayfish the DNA to take over the world | Science | AAAS

Like most weeks, it's been a pretty dreadful one for creationists so far as scientific research is concerned. Another week and still not one iota of support for creationism or its lab-coated mock-science version, intelligent (sic) design. Instead we have the usual plethora of papers which quite incidentally, and with no effort or intent on the part of the authors, refutes creationism and confirms evolution.

I've already written about two - bacteria evolving to digest plastic and the extraordinary evolutionary history of the house dust mite. Now we have this observed evolution of a new species of crayfish which fills all the criteria for what creationists call 'macro-evolution', which they claim is impossible. Later, I'll be writing about a beautiful example of a fossil of an intermediate ancestor of both spiders and scorpions - again, something creationists tell their dupes don't exist. That one 'impossible' thing and one 'nonexistent' thing in the same week!
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