Category Archives: Articles

The racket of academic publishing

I’ve always thought that two of the most overpriced things in the world are lattes at places like Starbucks, and the prices of some academic journals.  Most laypeople, whose taxes go to fund scientific research through institutions like the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation, aren’t aware that if they want to […]

A strong critique of the “arsenic paper”

I’ve rarely seen a critique this strong in the reviewed scientific literature.  It’s about Wolfe-Simon et al.’s paper in Science suggesting that a bacterium could incorporate arsenic instead of phosphorus in DNA and biomolecules.  Simon Silver and and Le T. Phung take strong issue with this in a piece in the “current controversies” section of […]

Neanderthals are us?

by Greg Mayer At least since Socrates explored the meaning of the Greek maxim “Know thyself”, and Alexander Pope added that “the proper study of Mankind is Man”, we have been interested in knowledge about ourselves. But who are we? A paper in press in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Ron […]

More criticism of Nowak et al.’s attack on kin selection

For those of you keeping up with the flap on kin selection, there’s a new paper online in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology by F. Rousset and S. Lion.  It’s a critique of the Nature paper by Nowak et al. that attacked both the coherence and importance of inclusive fitness theory (“kin selection”), a theory […]

Nabokov was right all along

This is a really cool result: a paper published 66 years ago, speculating about the evolutionary history of a group of butterflies, has just been vindicated by a combination of new molecular and ecological work. But what is even cooler is that the author of the earlier paper was Vladimir Nabokov. You know Nabokov (1899-1977) […]

Dogs are smarter than you think

. . . well, at least one dog: Chaser, a female border collie born in 2004.  Because of their marked inferiority to felids (the King of Pets), I don’t usually feature goggies on this website.  But this bit of research, published in Behavioural Processes, was too good to pass up. When I lived in Scotland, […]

“Psychic” paper provokes backlash

Okay, not really on psychic powers, but on precognition.  Last October I posted about Daryl Bem’s paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect,” (download a preprint on his webpage).  I summarized its results as follows: The paper purports to show […]

The dubious arsenic bacterium

I didn’t post on the bacterium that supposedly evolved to incorporate arsenic into its DNA because I was ill, late to the party, and, frankly, not really equipped to judge that paper, which was published in Science.  In yesterday’s Slate, however, Carl Zimmer wades into the fray, talking to a number of scientists who attacked […]

How, and how fast, did the human brain evolve?

by Greg Mayer While in Colombia last week, Jerry directed my attention to a paper by Roy Britten (abstract only free) in that week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Britten is a venerable figure in evolutionary molecular genetics, one of the pioneers of DNA-DNA hybridization who helped elucidate the structure […]

Why is sex good?

by Greg Mayer And by sex, I mean, of course, “… the union (SYNGAMY) of two genomes, usually carried by gametes, followed some time later by REDUCTION, ordinarily by the process of meiosis and gametogenesis” (Futuyma, 2009:388). Most of the organisms we know and love– oak trees, lobsters, goldfish, cats–  reproduce sexually. But a few […]