Fuck my immune system.

Anyone who believes in “Intelligent Design” hasn’t taken a good look at seasonal allergies. If someone designed me to have to deal with nasal passages that are both blocked and dripping at the same time, when I am perfectly healthy and there are no harmful substances around, that someone is a fucking moron who shouldn’t even design butt-plugs, much less bodies.

Our bodies were designed by Russell’s Teapot to be inefficient and ridiculous.

Natural Selection Shows Sympathy for Vaginas

Neil Bowdler at BBC tells us of penile spines that Homo sapiens lost in the shuffle of evolution:

The researchers then focused on two deletions, linking one to penile spines and another to the growth of specific areas of the brain.

They then tested the effects of the deleted sequences in human skin and neural tissue, and found further evidence to support their claims.

So now they’re trying to figure out a theory for why the human penis no longer has spines.

Penile spines are barb-like structures found in many mammals. Their role remains under debate, and they may play different roles in different species.

They may increase stimulation for the male during mating. They might also play a part in inducing female ovulation in a small number of species, but there is evidence that they can cause damage to the female too.

Then there is the suggestion that they might have evolved to remove “mating plugs” – material that some male species deposit in the female genital tract to block other males’ attempts to fertilise the same female.

I am not a biologist, but I would like to suggest that “they can cause damage to the female too” may have been motivator enough for our species to shed this feature. Having enormous brains also means the babies present with especially large heads, which (along with our relatively small hips due to upright posture) means that childbirth for humans is difficult, painful and dangerous in ways that it isn’t for most other mammals. Ergo, could it be possible that giving birth to increasingly large-headed infants made human females predisposed to copulate with males with more pleasure-inducing and less injury-inflicting genitalia? Since the commitment of pregnancy makes females the “bottleneck” of reproduction, we don’t need all men—just a small fraction of them, really—to be available for copulation. I can just picture primitive hominid females looking at their options and saying, “If it’s gonna hurt that much coming out, then dammit, I want it to feel good going in.”


“But there are no transitional fossils!”

(Okay, the title is a cheap shot. Sue me.)

Via RD.net, we get news from Science Daily of a new prehistoric critter!

The fossil skull, found in 2004 near Pittsburgh International Airport, was recovered from rocks deposited approximately 300 million years ago during the Late Pennsylvanian Period. Named Fedexia striegeli, it is one of only a very few relatively large amphibian fossils to display evidence of a predominantly terrestrial (land-based) life history so early in geologic time.

Oh, Fedexia. You have a stupid name, but you’re a beautiful animal.

How did Fedexia thrive back then, but not now?

At the time of Fedexia‘s preservation, the earth’s climate was in a period of transition. Immense glaciers in Earth’s southern polar region produced rapidly fluctuating global climates. Western Pennsylvania, which was near the equator at that time, experienced tremendous amounts of rain. Swamps which would later develop into coal developed, and amphibians — which are dependent on moist conditions — flourished; in fact, the Pennsylvanian Period is known as the “Age of Amphibians.”

The idea of western Pennsylvania having a tropical climate and filling up with coal while near the equator makes me happy for reasons I can’t quite articulate.

Congratulations, Mr. Striegel! You have an amphibian species to your name!

I will eat you, and snake your genes!

LiveScience brings us news of a sea slug that has pilfered genes from algae:

The sea slugs live in salt marshes in New England and Canada. In addition to burglarizing the genes needed to make the green pigment chlorophyll, the slugs also steal tiny cell parts called chloroplasts, which they use to conduct photosynthesis. The chloroplasts use the chlorophyl to convert sunlight into energy, just as plants do, eliminating the need to eat food to gain energy.

Okay, first of all: THAT’S FUCKING AWESOME.

Second: when are these scientists going to show me how to appropriate fish genes and grow myself a set of gills?

ETA: How long until we start hearing that such a useful and fascinating feature as this could only have come from an Intelligent Designer and since the researchers don’t (yet) understand how the slugs appropriated the algae genes, the mechanism proves that evolution is false? Days? Hours?

Science is anarchy, it is not a democracy.

Shorter response: I Agree With This Comment.

Longer: The argument that science teachers should “teach the controversy” surrounding scientific theories stems from a confusion of a cultural controversy with a scientific controversy.

There is a significant difference between questions of should and questions of is, between ideas with popular appeal and with explanatory power, and between culture war and scientific debate.

For the “should” questions over matters of opinion, teaching the controversy is appropriate in those subjects where such questions are likely to surface. For the natural science disciplines, however, public opinion should not set the course syllabus, as science is not a democracy. It isn’t a dictatorship, either; the most appropriate metaphor would probably be an anarchy. Nothing is in charge except the evidence. Empirical reality is not up for a popular vote. The fact that 44% of Americans (or whatever the percentage is) think that God created the heavens and Earth within the last 10,000 years or so does not make it an even remotely supportable hypothesis. At the time when most Europeans believed the Earth was the center of the solar system, the idea was nonetheless wrong. At the time when people thought disease was caused by demon possession of imbalances of the four humors, such explanations were the best they had but eventually gave way to more reality-based physiology and germ theory. Evolution by natural selection is a controversial theory because it offends a lot of sensibilities, but science is ultimately not concerned with telling people what they want to hear. The controversy over the validity of the overall theory is not between the scientists who do the research and experiments in the study of biology; it’s between cultural forces with some very big dogs in the fight. It is a controversy maintained by people who have every incentive to perpetuate confusion and doubt regardless of where the information leads. That confusion and doubt may be explored in classes on sociology, history, or comparative religion, but it does not constitute a scientific controversy which merits discussion in science class. This is not a difference of opinion over should/could/would, like abortion rights or marriage equality or immigration law. This is a question of did/does/will, of a falsifiable theory with explanatory power. Acknowledge the cultural conflict, but don’t mistake it for science.

I demand you return those goalposts at once!

PZ Myers continues to field creationists’ demands for debate with scientists:

Carl Wieland, the creationist clown from Australia, wrote a bitter article denouncing atheists and scientists for refusing to give him a platform to yodel nonsense on, and one of the things he did was link to my my public refusal to debate him. Unfortunately, what that meant is that all of his Too-Stupid-To-Know-They’re-Stupid acolytes came charging over to declare that creationism was too scientific, evolutionism is a religion, scientists are afraid to debate their pet idiots, you’re all mean poopyheads who call us names, yadda yadda yadda. It’s turned into a regular storm of argument that has filled up the thread with over 1100 comments.

I don’t have much to add to the discussion of whether scientists should debate creationists. I’m just going to indulge in a tangent off Prof. Myers’s paraphrasing of creationist assertions that creationism is too scientific and that evolutionism is a religion.

Specifically, I want to talk about the claim of evolutionary theory as religion.

My question–and I’ve been wondering about this for some time–is, what is that supposed to mean, “evolutionism is a religion”? Is religion supposed to be a good thing, or is it not?

Why is it that “religion” means a belief or idea is sacred, moral and exempt from criticism, if it involves going to a place called a church (or any recognized house of worship) to worship God, but, when the “religion” in question takes place in a laboratory and examines evidence, then “religion” means it has no truth value and can be dismissed without evidence?

Why is it that we’re horrible, shrill, strident, intolerant people for examining the religion of a person who believes the Earth is roughly 6,000 years old, but evolutionary theory (or biology, or science in general) is “just a religion” as if it’s no more valid than anyone else’s opinion?

In fact, here’s another question that’s been bugging me for some time now:

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