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Showing posts from August, 2010

Sediba feedback

This will be the last sediba post for a while. I promise.

I've gotten a lot of interesting responses to my recent post on responding to my critics. As I expected, everyone who wrote wants me to finish and publish my formal response. Beyond that, the responses were all over the map.

Some people thought I was discouraged by the critics. That was not what I meant to convey. My discouragement over finishing my response is simply a recognition that I'm basically talking to a brick wall. These five have already made up their minds about sediba, and nothing I say will change that. The only audience I could possibly address are those who aren't quite sure what to make of all this. I asked for feedback basically to find out how many of you are in that undecided camp, to see if responding was worth my while. More on that later.

A few emailed to say that I'd been unfair to my critics. After all, no one wants to mistake an ape for a human! OK, let's put it in perspecti…

Fall 2010 journal club schedule

For you locals, the journal club schedule for the fall semester has been posted here. It's open to anyone and everyone. What is journal club?
The Origins Journal Club is designed for those interested in origins or the work of CORE to meet together and discuss recent literature or research results. The format is a short presentation (25-35 minutes) followed by discussion. Presentations can be a summary of a published article or an original research project and may be given by a professor or student. Journal Club meets Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m. in Mercer 139.Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tiny frog

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Suffering from sediba angst? Already tired of writing syllabi and revising class notes? Me too. So here's a really tiny frog:


That is a really tiny frog, Microhyla nepenthicola. It was found on Sarawak in Borneo, living inside of the pitcher plant Nepenthes ampullaria. Yet another example of pitcher plant symbioses, which is of great interest to me (here and here).

Das & Haas. 2010. New species of Microhyla from Sarawak: Old World’s smallest frogs crawl out of miniature pitcher plants on Borneo (Amphibia: Anura: Microhylidae). ZooTaxa 2571:37-52. [Preview]

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Picture from Science Daily

Sediba, the bad, and the ugly

There's more feedback on my hominid baraminology work at ARJ. This time it's a trio of critics: David Menton, Anne Habermehl, and David DeWitt [link]. Menton focuses on theological issues (although never clearly enough to precisely state his objection), and Habermehl is just angry. DeWitt offers some genuinely insightful comments, but he condescendingly likens my research abilities to those of a clueless undergrad. How sweet.

As the reactions continue, I'm becoming less interested in sediba and more interested in the psychology of my critics. One thing is certain: all five of the sediba critics are absolutely, positively convinced that it isn't human, and their strong reactions to my work suggests that they view it as dangerous or even unchristian. What motivates these reactions? Fear? Insecurity? Perhaps more importantly, why is it so offensive just to suggest that sediba is human? If it's just a case of mistaken identity, who cares? What's the big d…

Update

So I've been out of town, and now school is starting up again. I'm teaching two classes this fall ("Biological Origins" and "History of Life"), so I'm gearing up for that. Meanwhile, I've got a paper to revise for publication, and two manuscripts to revise before I submit them (including that response to Senter I've been talking about).

And for all you blog fans, I'm cooking up a fun series of posts that will be very, very entertaining. I'll do my best to get them ready for next week, but no promises. They'll be worth the wait, though.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Lubenow on sediba

Over at AIG, Marvin Lubenow weighed in on sediba. His conclusion? "The most parsimonious explanation regarding Australopithecus sediba is that it and Australopithecus africanus are both extinct varieties of the original Genesis ape kind." No surprises there. Here's my favorite bit, though:

The exact nature of these creatures is determined by one’s worldview. If
biblical creationism is true, then Au. sediba is just one of the many variant
apes created by God.Ouch. I guess I know where I stand. Since I don't think sediba is an ape, I must not be a biblical creationist.

Except that I am a creationist, and I'm not going to change.

In any event, I'm really enjoying this sediba feedback. It's extremely revealing. Keep it coming!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Independently-derived globins?

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There's an interesting report in this week's PNAS about lamprey hemoglobin, and I can hear the mistakes about this report already. The authors Hoffmann et al. argue that the hemoglobin of gnathostomes (vertebrates with jaws) is derived independently from the hemoglobin of cyclostomes (lampreys and hagfish). When I first saw it, I was surprised, since I'm fairly familiar with globin evolution. I didn't think the authors could be arguing for the independent origin of globins, and that was not their argument. It's a lot more subtle than that.

The basic idea goes like this: There was an ancestral globin gene that was independently co-opted to function in oxygen transport in the ancestor of the gnathostomes and in the ancestor of the cyclostomes. It's the function of oxygen transport that's independently-derived. The proteins that do that function just happen to be homologous. It sounds weird to say that homologous proteins (globins) are also homoplastic (…

What's the point of blogging?

I was asked recently to explain the purpose of blogging, specifically what is the purpose of my blog. That set me to thinking about my own history with creationism, and what I wanted to accomplish with this blog. I suppose the question has a broader implications for the general motivation for blogging (which often escapes me), but I'm taking more along the lines of why I chose to blog about creation, evolution, theology, and science.

First and foremost, this is an information channel for supporters of CORE. I've tried all sorts of means to keep people aware of the goings on at CORE, but there's nothing as simple and easy as blogging. Since I am first and foremost a researcher, I don't really like to spend a lot of time writing newsletters and such. With the blog, I just post stuff as I'm reminded of it. Very convenient.

Second, this is sort of a notebook for my ideas and for papers that interest me. It's a convenient way to keep track of papers or presenta…

2010 BSG/CGS conference summary

Paul Garner has a nice write-up of the BSG/CGS conference at the BCM website, complete with photographs.

Meanwhile, there are lots of things going on behind the scenes, and I wish I could tell you all about them. But I don't think I can. At least, not yet. But if you are a person of prayer, I would appreciate your prayers at this time.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

You can't get it now

I've had a few questions over the weekend about Phil Senter. People want me to respond to his paper. All of you who have written can rest assured that I have already composed a response, but I'm not going to publicize that response until it gets published somewhere.

I think that's one of the sadder aspects of the instantaneous-publishing culture of the internet. We just don't take much time to think about things anymore. We feel this overwhelming need to respond NOW. Fortunately, I don't feel that need. I actually spent several days analyzing Senter's data and mulling over my response. After I wrote my response, I put it aside and sent it to several colleagues for their private feedback. I intend to revise and submit it for publication by the end of this month. I know this seems like an eternity to the internet culture, but that's how I work. I'd rather take my time and write something genuinely intelligent than shoot my mouth off and say somet…

Senter in New Scientist

Phil Senter is in the New Scientist talking about his baraminology paper in Journal of Evolutionary Biology. Sounds like a genuinely decent fellow. I certainly prefer his approach to making "enemies with cold-hearted debunking."

Dinosaur man: playing creationists at their own game

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

What can we learn from polls?

Part of my job here at Bryan is teaching courses every fall semester, and part of that teaching responsibility is creating tests for my students. Over the years, I've discovered (often the hard way) that composing a good test question can be difficult. I've had students ask me during exams about what some of the words in my questions mean (I guess I have a complicated vocabulary), and occasionally I've gotten correct answers to poorly-worded questions that were not what I was looking for. Even more puzzling is the common habit of students to answer one question one way and a related question a different way, even though the answers they give are contradictory. It's bizarre.

I say all that not to denigrate Bryan students, but to highlight the difficulty of assessing knowledge through written questions, especially multiple choice questions. As far as Bryan students go, after hearing some real horror stories at the BSG conference from teaching colleagues at other coll…

Striking parallels in A&F

I got the latest Acts & Facts in the mail last night, and I read Jeanson's latest article about ICR's life sciences team. This month, he's talking about biological change, and if you haven't read it, you should. Because the rest of this post won't make sense until you do. So go read it now if you haven't.

OK?

OK. I was struck by how Jeanson's arguments sounded so ... familiar. Like I'd read them before somewhere...
Robinson & Cavanaugh (1998b) follow Mehlert (1995) in assigning all extant cats to a single baramin. If they are correct, modern cat species have descended from a single pair of cats on the Ark. If it is a true representation of the history of the felid baramin, the cat phylogeny of Mattern & McLennan (2000) must therefore be a post-Flood history. Job mentions lions in four different passages, and because Job is roughly a contemporary of Abraham, we may infer that lions first appeared within a few hundred years after the Flood. …

BSG/CGS wrap-up

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What a great conference! Thanks to everyone who helped out and presented, and especially to those who stepped in to help make airport runs after the college van broke down. I had such a good time getting re-energized for the work ahead. We've got lots of great ideas for the future, and I'm excited about seeing them to fruition.

Meanwhile, for those of you keeping score, the final day of the conference opened with my own talk on terrestrial mammal families, followed by talks on mutations and halobacteria. The afternoon was spent going through the Coconino talks, which were extremely interesting. I'm excited to see that project really paying off.

One thing the CGS and BSG decided was to adopt a name for our conference to help with marketing. We selected the simple name "Origins," which would encompass just about any subject you'd like. As I announced previously, Origins 2011 will be held in Rapid City, SD on July 27-29, 2011. You'll probably want to r…

PNAS not a theology journal?

Thanks to a number of readers, I got copies of the Murray/Schloss/Avise correspondence from last week's PNAS. As I suspected, one of Murray & Schloss's concerns was that the theological issues raised by Avise were simply inappropriate for publication/debate in a science journal like PNAS. They made other points, of course, but this was the issue that bothered me the most. Say Murray & Schloss:
Natural imperfections may (or may not) be irreconcilable with a divine designer, but this is an entirely theological issue and not a scientific one suitable for PNAS.Yeah, I kind of agree with that. Years ago when Rick Sternberg was editing the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington and approved the publication of Steve Meyer's ID paper, one of the things people threw a fit about was that the Meyer paper was inappropriate for publication in PBSW. It was supposedly just not something that PBSW would normally publish, and I can at least sympathize with that. S…