The Rush to ignorance tour continues

Oh boy, Limbaugh was talking about biology again on his show yesterday (Oct. 6th 2010,  audio available here):

RUSH: You know, ladies and gentlemen, just as the elitists, the wannabe ruling class people on our side are a little full of it, so are scientists.  Many scientists don’t know diddly-squat.  In fact, these next two stories are from the “scientists don’t know excrement and God is amazing file.”  Two stories, one from Bangkok: “Dracula fish, a bald songbird and a seven-meter (23 feet) tall carnivorous plant are among several unusual new species found in the Greater Mekong region last year, researchers said Wednesday.  Other new finds among the 145 new species include a frog that sounds like a cricket and a ‘sucker fish’, which uses its body to stick to rocks in fast flowing waters to move upstream, according to conservation group WWF.  With fangs at the front of each jaw, the ‘dracula minnow’ is one of the more bizarre new species found in 2009 in the Mekong River region, which comprises Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan Province.”

Second story: “Scientists Find 200 New Species in Papua New Guinea — Scientists on Wednesday unveiled a spectacular array of more than 200 new species discovered in the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea, including a white-tailed mouse and a tiny, long-snouted frog.”  How many of you remember, along with me, the horror stories of how many species we are wiping out every year because of global warming.  I always said, “How do we know we’re wiping them out?  Do we really know there aren’t any more X’s left?  Have we scoured every acre of the earth, there really aren’t any more of those?”  And how do we know that these are actually new?  Were they just created yesterday, the day we found them? How long have these new species been around?  And how can they be new if we’re destroying them? And yet, ladies and gentlemen, we will tell a farmer he can’t use his land because a snail darter is threatened. We’re being governed by a bunch of stupid idiot jackasses. [Emphasis mine]

Wait, what..? Did he actually just say…?  Arrrrgh!

These newly discovered species are new to science Rush, not the planet. Anyone with an IQ higher than that of a stock of broccoli should have understood this.

Of course the real hilarity here is that he is making such mind bogglingly stupid statements in in the context of claiming that it is really scientists who “don’t know excrement”.

Ah, the arrogance of ignorance.

Inside Natures Giants

I recently stumbled upon (on YouTube) a BAFTA award winning British TV series titled Inside Natures Giants and I’ve fallen in love. What we have here is a television show in which various large animals, all vertebrates so far, are dissected on camera (and often in front of a live audience of students)  by a team of biologists in order to show the details of their anatomy while presenting elements of their physiology, natural history and evolution (including commentary by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins).

So far the show has dissected an Asian elephant, a fin whale, a Nile crocodile, a Rothschild giraffe, a great white shark, a Burmese python, and most recently (unfortunately not yet available on YouTube) a two for one, lion and tiger combination.

I’m hoping they work in a ostrich or emu in there sometime soon and maybe a giant squid or octopus to show some invertebrate anatomy as well.

These programs deal with the dissection of actual animals in graphic detail so if you’re squeamish at all you might find them difficult to watch, however this show is an absolute must see for anyone interested in zoology and evolution.

Of particular interest was the dissection of the giraffe. Among the various interesting adaptations towards tree top browsing is a classic example of one of the cloven hoofprints of evolutionary history, the recurrent laryngeal nerve; the dissection of which has apparently not been done (according to one of the scientists in the show) in a giraffe since the 1830’s.

Here is the first episode of the first series on the Asian elephant:

A play list of all the videos available on YouTube can be found here, and I really cannot recommend them more highly.

Go watch them… NOW!

but there is a whole series of videos showing several different large animals being dissected while their anatomy, physiology, and how these evolved are discussed. A must see for those interested in zoology and evolution.

Smithsonian Magazine Editor Responds

Someone named Laura, who identifies herself as being an editor at the Smithsonian Magazine, left a comment on my post about their mix-up of hominid pictures in a paleoanthropology time line published in the March edition of the magazine and I figured I’d move it up to post level where more people would likely see it:

Troy, thanks for your post about Ann Gibbons’ story on Hominid Evolution in Smithsonian. I’m an editor there who worked on the story. We decided whenever possible to use images that would be easy for readers to understand. The timeline, especially, had to show many small images of specimens that some of our readers are reluctant to consider their ancestors. For Java Man, we did go with the more complete skull from the same place and species. We’re trying to figure out what happened with the Neanderthal image–the source we used labeled it as Neanderthal, but your comparison with Turkana Boy makes a good case. We’ll let you know if we figure out where the photo was taken and which specimen it shows.

First let me say thank you Laura for responding on this.

Regarding the Java Man thing, as I admitted in my post, I was perhaps being a bit nit-picky, and I don’t consider the switch from one Indonesian Homo erectus skull to another to be too much of a problem. However swapping out a H. ergaster (from Africa) for a H. neanderthalensis (mostly European) is obviously a different matter.  And while I am not a paleoanthropologist  and while I don’t even play one on the interwebs, I’ll bet you a years subscription to your magazine that you’ll find that the picture that was used to show a Neanderthal is instead a photo of the Turkana Boy.

Funny how I don’t get this sort of response from the antievolutionists who I catch making much larger mistakes than this (and I know some of them read this blog). Ah well…

Hominid Confusion

Just to show that I am an equal opportunity critic (proponents of mainstream science as well as pseudoscientists) I am going to give a wag of the finger to the Smithsonian Magazine.

The March 2010 issue has a feature article on human evolution that celebrates the opening of the Smithsonian Institutes new Hall of Human Origins titled “Our Earliest Ancestors” (Here is an online version) by Ann Gibbons. The problem, however, is not with the article per se but rather with some of the illustrations given in a timeline titled “Unearthing Our Roots” (Gibbons 2010, pp.36-37) which is found within the article.

The timeline gives the readers a brief outline of the history of paleoanthropology from the Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) fossils discovered in German in 1856, to the more recent finds like those of Sahelanthropus tchadensis found at Chad in 2001. The first refers, as I said, to the 1856 Neanderthal find and includes what is supposed to be a picture of a Neanderthal. The second is the 1891 discovery of “Java Man” (Homo erectus) with a picture of a fairly compete skull of a H. erectus.

Read on»

Cetacean Intelligence

Here are a couple of great videos that I encountered via different sources within minutes of each other. Both demonstrate cooperative hunting and problem solving in toothed whales  (Odontoceti). The first, pointed out to me by my mother, is a beautifully photographed and (as always) nicely narrated by David Attenborough, clip of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops) working together to create silt nets by hitting their tail flukes on the sea floor which they use to corral fish into a tight group.

The second is a CNN clip that comes via Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True and it shows killer whales (Orcinus orca) working together to wash seals off of sea ice.

Fascinating stuff!


And now ladies and gentlemen…, some HOT parrot on man action:

Or more specifically Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) on man action.

Is that not one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen?

Small World

P. Z. Myers, who lives in Minnesota,  posted a peice on his blog Pharyngula about a pro-animal testing/pro-science rally held at University California Los Angeles. In his post he included a link to a video of a local So. Cal. (where I live) TV news (KTLA) report on the rally.

But that isn’t the only thing that makes it a small world. What really does it is that at 1:06 into the video there is a shot of some of the Pro-Testers carrying a white banner that reads:

UCLA Pro-Test

Animal Research

Saves Lives“.


I helped to make that banner, two of them actually, at the print shop where I work last week and wondered what they were going to do with them.

So P. Z. in Minnesota, writes a blog that I happen to read regularly and in one of his posts he points his readers (including me) to a video  from a Southern California TV channel that has a shot of a banner I made a week ago.

Small world.

Oh, and I agree with P. Z. and the Pro-Testers on the issue of animal testing.

David Attenborough on his upcomming evolution documentary

[Via Pharyngula]


Here is a clip of the doc:

[Also via Pharyngula]

Dinosaur song

It makes a number of scientific errors but it’s still fun and kinda catchy.

[Via the Smithsonian’s Tracking Dinosaurs.]

More questionable science reporting

I recently picked up the March/April issue of a new magazine, Science Illustrated which is sort of like Discover Magazine-lite. Lots of pretty pictures (as the name suggests) but the actual information content is somewhat limited and in some cases it is more than limited, it is simply wrong.

For example while flipping through this issue I ran across a little two paragraph editorial piece on a small (non-avian) dinosaur fossil known as Sinosauropteryx: “Researchers Pluck “Feathered Dinosaur” Theory”.

Read on»