Playing Chess with Pigeons on Facebook


While I have had a link to my personal Facebook page in the sidebar for some time, I don’t know if I have ever mentioned here that Playing Chess with Pigeons has its own Facebook page… Well, now I have.

I generally post cartoons and news stories directly related to CvE as well as links to science news stories that I think are interesting and/or obliquely related to the CvE debate.

Anyway, have a look, like, subscribe, share…

Secular Museum Blunder

To demonstrate once again that I am an equal opportunity critic, here is a nit I have to pick with a secular museum, namely the Riverside Metropolitan Museum located in downtown Riverside, CA. It is a small museum and most of its limited public floorspace is taken up by displays dealing with Native American culture and artifacts. However it also has a number of displays on natural history, primarily that of the mountains & deserts in Riverside County. It is near some of these displays I found the following stuck to a wall:


And here is the lone label seen in the bottom right-hand corner:


It reads, “Baron Cuvier’s Pterodactyl“, apparently a reference to the fact that it was the “father of paleontology” Georges Cuvier who dubbed one of the earliest discovered pterosaur fossils “Ptéro-Dactyle”.

Yeah, the problem is though the cast of the fossil accompanying the label is very clearly not of the genus Pterodactylus named by Cuvier. Rather it is a cast of a RhamphorhynchusHere for comparison is the holotype specimen of Pterodactylus:


The red arrow points to Pterodactylus’ rather diminutive tail, which stands in rather stark contrast to Rhamphorhynchus’ long kite-like tail which ends in a diamond shaped vane (see above). 

Amusingly this is not the first time that these two genera have been confused. Apparently Rhamphorhynchus was originally misidentified as a species of Pterodactylus but after a few rounds of reclassification finally ended up as its own genus by the hand of Richard Owen 1861.

So a wag of my finger to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum; you need to fact check your displays.

Consilience and whale evolution

Way, waaay back in December of 2005 (ye gods has been ten years already?!) I wrote a Feedback response on the Talk Origins Archive to a question about the vestigial pelvic bones found in modern whales. In this case the questioner did not believe them to be truly vestigial, no doubt due to holding erroneous beliefs regarding the subject. In my response I of course took the time to correct their faulty views, however I also used the opportunity to talk about the concept of consilience wherein multiple independent lines of evidence converge on a single explanation, giving us greatly increased confidence that those explanations (hypothesis/theories) are likely to be accurate reflections of reality, i.e. “true”. 

I have now and again thought of going back and using that post as a spring-board for a more detailed examination of this subject and who knows, I may still do so someday. In the meantime however, here is a great video from Stated Clearly that I ran across on Facebook recently that uses the same topic—whales—to essentially do the same thing I did all those years ago; make a point about the consilience of evidence pointing to a pretty definite conclusion with regards to not just the ancestry of cetaceans but the evolution of life in general. Better they include more details than I did and it has animations.

Check it out:

I miss answering the feedback question on Talk Origins…

Beware the Coursera bait and switch!


On July 30 I signed up on Coursera to take their “verified certificate” version of the course Evolution: A Course for Educators, taught by Joel Cracraft and David Randle of the American Museum of Natural History. I figured it would be fairly easy given my background and the certificate would add a little something to my resume. So, as I said, I signed up, paid the $29 fee for the certificate got an email receipt back from Coursera and waited for the class to start on Aug. 3rd.

Aug. 3rd quickly rolls around and I get another email, ostensibly from Cracraft & Randle, welcoming me to the course.


Then I tried to log in and start the course only to get a 404 error message telling me that the page for the course isn’t there.

I contact Coursera and they send back the usual “use X browser & clear your cache” troubleshooting message. I was already using browser X and I cleared my cache but this has no effect and I inform Coursera of this.

Next I get an email telling me that the course I signed up for has “changed format” (apparently in a matter of days) and that I needed to “un-enroll” from the old course, get my money back and then re-enroll in the new version.

One problem though, the new “format” is $20 more than the old one!

I suggest to them that since I already paid the price they had asked for (and got a receipt & welcoming email etc.) that they should allow me access to the course.

They responded by refunding my money and telling me (in corporate happy talk) that it was too damn bad and that if I wanted to take the course I would have to cough up $49 dollars, going so far as to suggest that I look into their financial aide services if I thought that would help.

Well, instead of paying more money I am telling everyone I know about their bait and switch and asking that you pass this on on Facebook and Twitter and the like. Thanks!

By the way, does anyone out there know Cracraft or Randle? I wonder what they would think of how Coursera treats their would-be students. 

[And I was so looking forward to the Dinosaur Paleobiology course they offer as well…]

A happy Pi day to one and all!


I knew I had become part of a meme but holy crap…

A new Facebook friend asked me if it was me in the meme picturing a bearded guy looking over his shoulder with a pigeon and chessboard in front of him. I told him that I am indeed that guy.

It can get messy

It can get messy

He then asked if it felt weird when I started seeing such things on the internet and in the process of composing my response to his question I did a Google image search based on my original picture and discovered that my likeness had been added to a meme generator. Now, I knew that my picture was “out there” and even blogged about the fact my mug had been stuck into a “demotivation” style meme but it is still a rather odd thing to find a picture of yourself repeated over and over dozens of times with all sorts of different words plastered over top of them.

Most are variations of the original quote, though they often substitute “creationists” with “liberals”, “Republicans”, or whatever political point of view the various meme authors find objectionable. Some replace “creationists” with Christians in general and at least one changes it to Muslims. Others exchange “creationists” for the names of specific people—no doubt the result of dimly remembered arguments taking place forgotten discussion boards—and some take shots at the fans of disfavored sports teams:

Some stray from the original form but seem to be improvising based on the general theme:

A few were taking shots at President Obama’s handling of the war in Iraq:

At least one seemed to take issue with the premise:

Still others are indecipherable by me:

So, yes, as I told my FB friend, it is kind of weird. Especially when I see it used in ways I am either ambivalent about or in ways I would probably rather it not be used. For example, some used homophobic slurs, or rude terms for the mentally disabled and a few even attacked political or philosophical views that I have sympathies with.

Still, I am “Zen” about it. The internet is the modern day Wild West, and once you put a picture of yourself out there you have lost control. It is just something you have to get used to if you want to play in the game.

Though, with all these bits of me (get it?) floating around the net, there aught to be a way for me to get my beak wet (get it?) on the deal…

I am now on Patreon

I have opened a Patreon account and humbly beseech my readers to seriously consider becoming a patron of my work here at Playing Chess with Pigeons. Please, please, think about supporting me in my effort to produce substantive critiques of creationist propaganda.

I am not paid by any scientific institution or educational organization to write articles for this blog; something that often involves many hours, even days, of research and occasionally requiring me to travel to various university libraries or museums. Rather I have gladly done this for years without any remuneration beyond the knowledge I have gained in the process and the satisfaction I get from defending the truth and science education from ignorant and dishonest attack. 

However, I could use your help now more than ever since I have recently been laid off work and my wife and I were already struggling just to make ends meet. Even a small amount from a number of my readers could add up to making a very big difference in our lives.

It would also be a plus for my readers since it gives me added incentive to take the time to research and write more frequently (you only pay if I produce) without feeling like I am not contributing to our livelihood. Also, specifically for those who choose to become patrons, there are some added incentives and rewards (for example see the Patron Supporters page at the top of the blog).

And rest assured that only substantive articles, like my “Gill slit” article or my travelogue critique of Dinny the Dinosaur, will be submitted for patronage (not the quickie throw away stuff).

Please help me in the fight against the forces of ignorance that plague the world.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for reading and for your consideration!