Category Archives: evolution

The masses comment on the Wolfe review

Nick Cohen’s advice to authors includes this gem: “Never read the comments.” And I nearly always follow that dictum, except for the comments on this site.  I also made an exception for my review of Tom Wolfe’s book in the Washington Post. I wanted to see how people reacted to my defense of evolution, realizing that […]

Earliest organisms: 3.7 billion years old?

There’s a new paper in Nature that has everyone excited, for it reports what is said to be the earliest evidence for microbial life—”microbial structures” dated 3.7 billion years ago. The paper, by Allen P. Nutman et al. (reference and free link at bottom), describes what are said to be ancient traces of stromatolites—layered colonies of cyanobacteria that trap sediments […]

Lucy may have died by falling out of a tree

“Lucy” is the skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis female, dated at 3.18 million years old and discovered by Donald Johanson’s team in 1971 in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia. Lucy has become famous because, with 40% of the skeleton recovered, all in one place, she gave a remarkably complete picture of what one of our ancestors […]

What should people know about your field to be considered “educated”?

I’m reading Sean Carroll’s new book, The Big Picture (it’s very good; I’ll provide a review when I’m done), and once again I got balled up about the difference between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and his Special Theory of Relativity. I can never get them straight, no matter how many times I look them […]

New study suggests a single miscreant, Charles Dawson, created the “Piltdown Man” hoax

The story of the fraudulent skull known as “Piltdown Man” is well known. In 1912, lawyer and amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson turned up at the London Natural History Museum with a specimen he claimed to have found at a site in Sussex. He and Arthur Smith Woodward, the head geologist at the Museum, further excavated the site and […]

Classic story revised: lichens are fungus + algae + yeast (another fungus)

One of the classic stories of biology, taught to virtually every student, is the fact that what we call “lichens” are actually a combination of two very distantly related species: a species of alga and a species of fungus. (Sometimes the “alga” is really a species of cyanobacteria, formerly called “blue green algae” but not really […]

Rapid urban evolution

By the title above I mean “evolution in animals that adapts them rapidly to urban areas,” not “changes in cities.” The former is the subject of a piece in today’s New York Times by Menno Schiltzhuizen, “Evolution is happening faster than we thought.” (Schilthuizen is a professor of evolutionary biology at Leiden and also works at Netherland’s Naturalis […]

Honeyguides and humans: a wonderful mutualism between our species and a wild bird

The story of our relationship with the Greater Honeyguide, which has the fantastic species name of Indicator indicator, is well known. The BBC had a segment on it, which is where I learned the story. And the story is this: people in Mozambique and Tanzania use honey as an important part of their diet, but the beehives, hidden in […]

Does evolution lead us to perceive reality, or is it all an illusion?

Donald D. Hoffman is a highly respected Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California at Irvine.  He’s developed a “formal theory of conscious agents” that he describes in a new Atlantic article—or rather in an interview with Amanda Gefter called “The case against reality“. And for the life of me I can’t figure out […]

The textbook—and misguided—presentation of natural selection

I was reading a nice article by Andrew Shtulman* on the most common misconception people have about natural selection (that it involves not differential reproduction among genetically different individuals but the gradual and simultaneous transformation of all individuals in a population), when I came across his presentation of Darwin’s “variational” theory of natural selection. That’s the […]