Tag Archives: Evolution

American Fundamentalist Schools Seek To Disprove Evolution Using Loch Ness Monster

From the deep depths of human gullibility and intellectual lowliness, rises the great Loch Ness monster of stupidity.

A thumbnail to support a movement. Does the word ‘flimsy’ come to mind? (Courtesy: Wikimedia commons)

Lousiana is the new seat of utterly amazing inanity. Thousands of school children in the state will be handed over biology textbooks which will claim that the Loch Ness monster, aka Nessie, actually exists and this disproves the Darwinian theory of evolution. All of this at the expense of the public treasury.

Accelerated Christian Education

There are many private schools under the fundamentalist system of education Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) and these are funded by the state. Their agenda is very simple: providing a Bible-based system of education as an alternative to the accepted curriculum. The bad news is that these kind of schools are on the rise.

These schools give a large dose of Biblical ‘facts’ and are known for being intellectually dishonest. Noah’s Flood is taught to be literal, young Earth creationism finds its pride of place in this nook, after being denied entry into scientific circles and Darwinism is criticized with a zeal that can only be called fundamentalist. Their latest strategy: dig up an age-old mythical monster from the depths of a lake in Scotland.

The monster from Loch Ness …

The Loch Ness monster is a mythical creature residing in Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. There has been no definitive sighting of the creature and the evidence of its existence is minimal and highly controversial. The photographic evidence is blurry and the sonar readings conducted for many years on the lake have turned up zilch. Even dedicated expeditions have turned up nothing concrete. Loch Ness believers say that the monster is a living dinosaur, which has somehow escaped the great Cretaceous extinction 65 million years ago. The creature ought to be a plesiosaur, a species of long-necked dinosaurs.

… and lying to children

So now, ACE has picked up on this and has been trying to teach kids that since this monster might exist,Darwin is wrong! Here’s a sample:

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

But, you’re confused. How does this ‘prove’ that creationism is right? Simple, it doesn’t! But let’s hear about it anyway. Jonny Scaramanga, who campaigns against Christian education system, explains:

[Nessis is] evidence that evolution couldn’t have happened. The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived. If it was millions of years ago then that would be ridiculous. That’s their logic. It’s a common thing among creationists to believe in sea monsters.

Makes perfect sense, right?

Not even wrong

Ultimately, it’s more serious than just poking fun. You cannot afford to muck around with the heads of children and indoctrinate them with whatever fundamentalist logic that suits your taste. The scary part of all this is that this intense scientific opposition, being driven into fertile young minds, is funded by big money. The kind of money flowing into this creationist movement, often under the guise of necessary ‘funding’, being distributed to many organizations like the shrewdly named ‘Discovery Institute’, is much larger than the amounts flowing into science for all fields of research.

It is one thing that myths are taught in childhood, but it is completely another that myths are taught as reality, just to undermine actual science. A 2000 year old book cannot take precedence over the dedicated efforts of so many scientists over so many years.

It’s time we rise from the depths of inane stupidity.

Lonesome George Dies At Age 100; Species Goes Extinct

Lonesome George has passed away!

The legendary tortoise, the rarest of its species and the last giant tortoise from the Galapagos island of Pinta, has died at the age of about 100 years. The Galapagos National Park, Ecuador, staff have said that George was the last of his species and now the species has gone extinct.

Lonesome George (Photo Courtesy: The Guardian)

The exact cause of George’s death is unknown and a post-mortem for the giant elder.

The story of George’s long life has been a sad one. Lonesome George has no offspring and there are no other individuals of his species left.

The story of his life

George had been a mascot of the Galapagos National Park breeding program. He lived with a female for 15 years on a nearby Wolf volcano and mated. However, the eggs were infertile. Slow reproduction rates for the species meant that George remained without an offspring.

He was picked up and kept with females from the nearby Espanola island in the archipelago. These females were genetically closer to him than those from Wolf volcano. But George wasn’t interested in a relationship. He did not mate with these females. George had just tagged himself ‘Lonesome’.

And the Darwin angle

The legend of Lonesome George has as much of a foothold in the history of the island as it has got in the annals of science. The ancestors of Lonesome George, the giant Galapagos tortoises, of which the giants from Pinta are integral members, had been instrumental in suggesting toDarwin, what was then, the hypothesis of evolution.

It was this and his uniqueness that made Lonesome George the star of Pinta Island, attracting close to 200,000 visitors every year.

The star no longer shines.

Found: World’s Smallest Mammoth Was Barely The Size Of A Baby Elephant!

They were furry and cute; they were also mammoths. A group of animals are believed to have roamed the island of Crete a long time ago. Their remains had been discovered a century ago, but only a recent discovery settles the debate about the size of the animals.\

Much smaller?

It turns out that the adults of the species were the size of a modern elephant calf, making it just a meter of so tall – even less than the average height of humans. The discovery instrumental in making this conclusion is a collection of teeth from the animals that lay scattered all over the island.

The crucial discovery

Dwarfism – the evolutionary basis

Evolutionary scientists call this dwarfism. The animal lineage suddenly undergoes a shrinkage in the size of its individual due to certain environmental factors. Dwarfism is particularly pronounced in island environments. Scarcity of food is the primary cause. Insular location also prevents vast migrations of animal species, as can be often seen in animal herds on landmasses.

Another factor contributing to the reduction in size is the lack of predators. If you don’t need size to fend off predators, you’re probably better off smaller, as it takes much less maintenance.

So, while their cousins on the landmass enlarged in size, the insular individuals became smaller. Just insular dwarfism taken to the extreme.

Not the woolly mammoths

It should be noted that these animals were not woolly mammoths, like the imagination conjures up. These were mammoths suited to warmer climates, and the temperatures in Crete never dipped very low.

More info: http://www.livescience.com/20178-dwarf-mammoth-fossils-smallest.html

Alarm Bells Ring As Eight Patients Are Confirmed With TB Resistant To All Known TB Drugs

The ticking time bomb is giving signals that it is coming to the end of its countdown. The National Tuberculosis Institute (NTI), Bangalore, has confirmed eight cases all reporting TB germs resistant to all known TB drugs. A confirmatory notice has also been sent to the Central TB Division or CTD, New Delhi.

Twelve patients with symptoms of Tuberculosis (TB) were admitted to the Hinduja hospital on January 6th. Doctors soon declared them infected with Totally Drug Resistant TB (TDR-TB). Three out of the 12 died soon after. Sputum samples from all the 12 were sent for testing. Eight came out positive for a strain more resistant than earlier thought.

Triggering the time-bomb

Resistance to drugs generally results from the overuse of antibiotics. It’s simple evolution, really. Few of a population of TB germs may develop a genetic factor enabling it to resist a drug administered on the patient, say drug A. These few are the only surviving members of the population. Now, these multiply, giving rise to the next generation of germs resistant to this particular drug. When it infects another patient, a new drug – say drug B – is needed. Some members of this new population can then develop resistance to drug B, while retaining its resistance to drug A. Over prescription of medicines known to work on TB germs accelerates this process and very soon we get TB germs resistant to multiple drugs. This is what is referred to as Multi-Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB).

TDR-TB refers to TB which are resistant to first line drugs. First line drugs are drugs proven to work against the bacteria, with the least amount of side-effects. There is a second line, which may not be as effective, or may produce more side-effects, or maybe not as well clinically tested as first line drugs. Second line drugs are used when first line ones fail. MDR-TB is resistant to many second line drugs as well.

Even worse

Eight of the Hinduja patients were infected with TB that showed resistance to both first and second-line drugs, making it Extremely Drug Resistant TB (XXDR-TB). However, WHO doesn’t recognize this classification. The case has been documented on the Directly Observable Treatment Shortcourse Plus (DOTS+) log. Doctors are still to figure out the line of treatment for these eight patients.

The TB timebomb is ticking… maybe beyond our control now!

Scientists Create Artificial DNA, Observe Darwinian Evolution In Them

The very basis of life can now be created in the laboratory and it’s not unique. What more this artificial genetic material can mingle easily with the real thing, even evolving as the real thing does. The creation of artificial DNA and RNA strands have been reported by Pinheiro et al. They have even observed their evolution.

A new class of molecules, very similar, but not quite

Till now, the only molecules known to be capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution were RNA and DNA, but this discovery suggests that there might be a lot more candidates that fit the bill. There is really no “Goldilocks solution”.
DNA (or RNA) has a double helical structure, meaning that it looks like two strips of paper wound around each other in a helical fashion. The structure is ladder like – with each rung consisting of two nucleotide bases held together by sugar molecules.

The Structure of DNA. The A,C,G and T label the nucleotides.

Pinheiro’s group retained the nucleotides of DNA – the Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine (or Uracil, in case of RNA) – but altered the sugars that bind these nucleotides together. In this way, he created XNA, with the ‘X’ standing for the sugar used. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, uses deoxyribose as the sugar, while RNA, or ribonucleic acid, uses ribose as the sugar. But these use different sugars, thus giving them different names. For example, arabinose is the sugar in ANA, flourarabinose in FANA, threose in TNA, a “locked” ribose in LNA and a cyclohexane in CeNA.

Retention and copying of information

Here is the crucial bit: Even though the sugar bases were changed, the nucleobases being the same meant that these artificial XNA’s behaved exactly like the DNA found naturally. They could even pair up with the naturally found DNA.

Here is another crucial bit of the story: When DNA or RNA create copies of themselves, they use helper molecules called polymerases. These polymerases separate the two chains of the double helix structure, read the sequence of letters, helps in the formation of a similar chain, zips the whole thing back again and creates a new DNA molecule, all in this process called transcription. Evolution – or small genetic changes in the DNA structure – happens the copy of the DNA is not exactly like its parent. Environmental factors then ‘selects’ the more competitive versions of these modified DNA molecules and this helps them create more copies of themselves. Thus, a trait is acquired and another is lost.

Building your own genetic copy machines

The team had to build separate polymerase molecules to help transcribe the XNA’s. They were able to, thus, transcribe the code of the synthetic DNA to natural DNA and then back to the synthetic DNA. The XNA’s thus formed are just as immune or vulnerable to the original DNA. XNA’s must also be able to proliferate just like DNA does without any external help, in a process called amplification. Amplification was noticed with the artificial polymerases and the XNA’s. This is important, otherwise the XNA’s won’t be able to undergo Darwinian evolution like DNA.

In one of the experiments, a control was set up. The factors were controlled such that if the XNA did not ‘cling on’ to a particular protein, it would be washed away. Pretty soon more and more XNAs began developing this trait. This again proves that the two very important traits of inheritance through genetics and selection – information storage with high fidelity of copying and propagation of mutations – are not characteristics of just DNA or RNA. This gives the grand possibility of finding a whole new structure of biochemistry.

Maybe novel forms of life are not that far away in the future!

Study and the technical paper here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6079/341.abstract

Tennessee Passes “Monkey Bill”; Science At Risk

The amount of stupidity in this is just too high! Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill” has been passed by the Tennessee House of Representatives, although by the thinnest of margins possible – 73 for to 72 against. This has been a crucial and controversial bill for a long time. We had told you about the bill before: here and here.

Seemingly Harmless

On the face of it, the Bill seems so benign, even pro-science. It encourages teachers to present both sides of the argument, harking back to the very successful slogan adopted by the Creationist Discovery Institute, “Teach the Controversy”. The Bill “protects a teacher from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner”. If you look at it carefully, this shields a teacher if he/she teaches creationism as science in biology classes, especially when there are creationist textbooks available in the market. The Bill, however, has been modified from the form it first originated in.

What it really says

The Bill asks you to doubt and measure the “scientific strengths and weaknesses” of topics like “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning”. Why these specific topics have been singled out is another matter, of course. As a humble student of science, I ask, are the other subjects not worthy of being doubted? Or is there some underlying motivation for doubting these specific topics?

The Bill has been passed by the House and now rests with Governor Bill Haslam. He has ten days to pass it, withhold signature, in which case the Bill will become a Law without Governor’s approval, or veto it.

Fears or Reality

Many organisations have been up in arms against this bill. Out of the many such educational institutions, a few are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Knoxville News Sentinel, The National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and three distinguished Tennessee scientists and members of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1925, there was conducted the famous “Scopes Trial”, in which a school teacher – John Scopes – was tried and found guilty of teaching evolution in classrooms. This violated an existing law. A huge uproar ensued and ended up reversing the statement of the law. Alluding to this incident, three scientists from Vanderbilt University wrote in a letter saying that the legislators are “doing the unbelievable: attempting to roll the clock back to 1925 by attempting to insert religious beliefs in the teaching of science.”

What Gov. Haslam decides will be crucial. The next few days should be interesting.

NYC Education Board Bans “Dinosaurs” And “Evolution” From Tests

The newest attack on Evolution comes from a very unlikely source – the New York City Department of Education. They have just passed a rule which bars the mention of the words “dinosaurs” and “evolution” in biology tests. This has been done to avoid offending the creationists who hold a lot of administrative power in the state.

"We have fossils, we win!"

Madness and more madness…

Just to remind you of what this means : this is not the Bible belt; this is not Kansas or Texas. New York City is not known for being creationist or anti-evolution. Exactly what offence precise scientific terms can cause is still unknown.
The only faint silver lining in the dark academic clouds: the words can still be used in classrooms for instruction and in school textbooks, just not in state-wide tests.

Part of a Bigger Scheme

This censorship is actually a part of a greater, more shameful, scheme. The NYC State Education Board has drawn up a list of 50 words which shouldn’t be mentioned in the test. These include everything from ‘parapsychology’ (good move) to ‘sex’ (debatable) to ‘rock-and-roll’ (senseless!). A few more words not allowed are ‘cancer’ (the disease, not the sun sign), ‘celebrities’ (are you out of your minds?) and ‘halloween’ (okay, ignore the previous parenthetical question – you obviously are).

The entire deal…

If you’re interested in finding more examples, the entire list is given below:

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Bodily functions
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
Junk food
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Nuclear weapons
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Rap Music
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Rock-and-Roll music
Running away
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

The madness with school textbooks and, now, state tests continues across various US state education boards. Evolution is still far away from being a very acceptable topic, even though it’s one of the most scientifically established subjects. Prof. Dawkins, your work is still not done!