A Million Monkeys Recreate Shakespeare; Weasels Do A Better Job, Says Dawkins

Monkeys to Man is passé, it’s Simians to Shakespeare now! Given enough time, a huge number of monkeys typing at a keyboard in a completely random fashion, will reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. At least philosophically. Now, an eccentric computer programmer wants to test this out using virtual monkeys. Jesse Anderson, the evolved ape in question, is at this problem. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to recreate Shakespeare, not to praise him, writes one of his monkeys on his blog. Keep Calm and Carry On, says he!

Mon'Key'ing around

If you wait long enough, it’ll happen

So here’s the lowdown on the concept. If you keep on typing out gibberish for a very long time, typing away randomly, then there will be phrases or even an entire work of Shakespeare typed out in between that gibberish. This demonstrates a powerful concept in a simple manner: An event of extremely low probability will definitely occur, given enough time and enough chances for the event to occur. For a long time, this has been a topic just for philosophers. Dawkins brought it into science in his famous The Blind Watchmaker’, by explaining that no matter how improbable an evolutionary process might be, it will occur, since there is a huge period of time during which it could occur. Yes, this is akin to the typing monkeys. But it gets better than that, and we shall come back to that in a moment.

Gibberish to Genius

Anderson, on his blog. updates the progress he, or rather his monkeys, have made. The monkeys are computer programs that just type out alphanumerics, in completely random order, each keystroke completely unbiased and independent of previous strokes. He claims that he got his inspiration from the Simpsons and just wants to have fun! Amidst the gibberish, lie hidden other masterpieces of literature. A monkey Dickens came up with It was the best of times, it was blurst of times maybe proof-reading will take care of that!

As for the hardware, Anderson uses the Amazon EC2 with a modest Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz processor with a 4GB RAM running Ubuntu 10.10 64 bit version.

Dawkins and his Weasels

So what about Dawkins and his weasels? Well, he had his weasels, which did an even better job. Using the phrase Methinks it is like a weasel’ as a target phrase’, Dawkins had written a virtual monkey program in 1998. It couldn’t produce any text even resembling the target phrase the first few minutes of running. So he added a cyber equivalent of Natural Selection. Every time a letter would match one of the target phrase letters at the proper place, it would be retained. This produced the target phrase in just a few cycles.


(Go To 5:32 if you’re in a hurry.)

So, Dawkins said, this is how evolution works. It isn’t a process of mere blind chance it requires a selection factor, the second stage of the Darwinian process. Natural Selection will produce complexity and requires significantly less time to do that. Given 4 billion years for life to evolve, it shouldn’t be surprising that creatures as complex as us evolved!

He He! My weasels beat your monkeys!

So there you have it at typing, weasels beat monkeys hands and feet down! Oh yes, no monkey or weasel was harmed during the running of these programs.

Children’s Book On Evolution, Not Published In The US, Gets An Award in Canada

History seems to repeat itself once in a while; it’s just that during the intervening time the weaker side might have gotten stronger. A children’s book on Evolution which could not be published in the United States, has just won an award in Canada for best science book for children. Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came To Beby Daniel Loxton has won the 2010 Lane Anderson Award  in the young reader category in the field of science. It was also a finalist for the Silver Birch Award for non-fiction, one of the most prestigious book awards. Loxton is Canadian.

Kids Can Press Webpage for the book:  http://www.kidscanpress.com/Canada/Evolution-P5913.aspx
The Cover of the Book

Teaching a Scientific Fact

Loxton’s book speaks of evolution and intends to explain it to children between the ages of 8 and 13. This follows a string of wonderfully accessible books for the public written by eminent evolutionary biologists, like Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth’ and Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True’. The decision to not publish this book in the US is due to the powerful Christian creationist lobby sitting in the various corridors of power. They are well-funded, politically powerful and extremely motivated, ready at a moment’s notice to take steps against anything deemed remotely anti-Christian.

No Rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian

Evolution has sparked many debates since the time of Darwin, who explained the mechanism using Natural Selection as the primary (but not only) driving force in his ‘Origin of Species’, published in 1859. It was immediately slammed by religious apologists, who believed that the Genesis Creation story was literally true. Despite Darwin not responding in kind to the insults hurled at him, evolutionary theory has continued to grow, just as scientific truth does. Darwin’s 30 years of evidence collection supporting his own hypothesis was followed by 150 more years and counting. Not one piece of evidence has disproved evolutionary theory, despite there being extremely easy ways to do so (Just find a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian, as J.B.S Haldane put it). Evolutionary theory is as grounded a theory as Newton’s gravitational theory. Creationists are worried that a book aimed for the young minds will be indoctrination rather than science training. Seriously? Indoctrination?

“We Have Fossils, We Win” Wait, we have the Genes, too

Loxton discusses the concept of fossils in his book, giving importance to the geological time scale. The fact that fossils of increasingly complicated creatures are found in increasingly new rock strata provides compelling evidence for evolution. But, evolutionary theory would still be complete were the entire fossil evidence to disappear off the face of the Earth suddenly. Loxton explains DNA, mutations and genetic structure, which tell us more about the relationship between species than fossils have ever did. Using these, he explains the meaning of ‘drug resistant’ microbes (superbugs) and why the influenza vaccine needs to be renewed every couple of years. Even the genetic family tree constructed would be impossible had evolution been false.

Being Plain Wrong

This is not new. Creationism, along with its rechristened avatar Intelligent Design’, has tried to tacitly enter school classrooms and curricula numerous times. Well funded and politically backed, creationists have been rooting for public debates’ on the science for evolution. Their motto is simple and effective – “Teach the Controversy”. A quick look at these debates reveals the fact that these are merely attempts to malign the scientists who participate in them. As Dawkins said, the very format of a debate means that two sides have some equally respectable point of view. That’s not true in this case one side can be plain wrong.

Loxton has reported receiving hate mails asking as to why his book doesn’t give equal timeto Intelligent Design. Loxton, an editor of the Skeptic magazine, has the answer ready the book is about science and not religion.

No, the Jesuit priest saying Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man’ is indoctrination. This is opening children’s minds and teaching them science.

Origin of Man: Recent Studies Challenge The Accepted Evolutionary Tree For Humans

The Human Evolutionary Tree might need revision. Recent studies and analysis of the fossil of a skull discovered in South Africa in 2008 suggest that a new species, Australopithecus sediba, might have been the earliest human ancestor. The skull of the creature shows both human and ape-like characteristics. Homo habilis, the accepted earliest human ancestor, might have to be relegated to the status of a failed species.

The new species on the block

A. sediba dates back to a period two million years ago. This means that it predates Homo habilis by 77,000 years! The skeletons of A.sediba discovered are thought to belong to a female of about 30 years of age and that of a teenage male. They died together, possibly hours apart. The skeleton still shows bits of skin attached to it!

The Skull of Australopithecus sediba

Making Tools and Using them too

What makes A.sediba an exciting prospect is the fact that the species could make and use tools, a fact we can infer from the brain size and the shape of the fingers. X-ray scans of the skull of the young male fossil showed the braincast of the creature. Once the skull cast is known, scientists can work backwards, tracing the marks in the skull and location of the various artery marks to determine the shape and size of the brain. It turns out that the brain was a quarter of the size of the modern human brain, but still bigger than a chimpanzee’s or even Homo habilis‘s. What is more thrilling is the shape of the hands.

The hands of A.sediba had long thumbs, meaning they could do precision work with tools, much like us. This suggests that they could probably make tools and use them! In fact, the grip of A.sediba might have been better than our own, given the fact that the thumb was longer than ours.

The bigger brained and better tool-making A.sediba might really have been our ancestor, rather than Homo habilis. So what of Homo habilis?

What happens to our Evolutionary Tree?

Then

In the accepted view of the evolution of the human species, Homo habilis represents the first creature in the Homo lineage that leads directly to us, Homo sapiens. Homo habilis gave way to Homo erectus, which then split into Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals). The H.neanderthalensis species went extinct and H.sapiens came to dominate as the only species in the Homo genus. (Look at the graphic below)

The human timeline (Courtesy: National Geographic)
Now

Now, A.sediba challenges that. It aims to replace H.habilis as the first creature that bore human characteristics, rather than ape-like ones. This means that H.habilis is relegated to being a mere species which went extinct, rather being a transitional form for modern humans. It was, by all means, a failed species that just couldn’t survive the evolutionary competition. However, more research and debate needs to be done to establish this hypothesis.The final word has not been said!

One thing is for sure : We are just Children of Africa searching for our own origins, our place in the cosmos and where we came from.

Fossilized Pregnant Reptile Female Gives First Glimpse of Live Birth Over Egg Laying

A tantalising discovery of a near complete fossil of the marine reptile, Plesiosaur, has got scientists excited. The 78 million year old fossil is unique in the sense that this is the first time scientists have recovered a fully preserved skeleton, save the neck and skull. What more, this is a fossil of a pregnant female, complete with the baby within the womb. Possibly, the unfortunate creature got buried just before giving birth. This is the most crucial point Plesiosaur gave birth directly to young ones and did not lay eggs like so many of its reptile cousins. The fossil is on display at the National History Museum’s (NHM) Dinosaur Institute, Los Angelos County. (Yes, you can give it a visit).

The complete fossil (Courtesy: Dinosaur Institute, NHM, Los Angelos County)

The fossil and the animal

This startling fossil find answers the age-old question on the method of giving birth for Plesiosaur. The reptile was deemed too heavy and possessing hind limbs to weak to allow it to climb onto land and lay eggs. Neither were any Plesiosaur eggs or nests ever found. This find now seals that gap tight, establishing vivipary (or direct birth) amongst this important class of hunting lizards.

An artist's impression of a Plesiosaur

Plesiosaur lived about 78 million years ago, in the Mesozoic or the early Jurassic era. It was a large aquatic reptile, with flippers for swimming effortlessly and a slender neck and saw-like teeth. The skull structure, supported by the supple neck and the dentition, enabled it to be an effective hunter of fish. It was one of the top predators in the Western Interior Seaway, the large body of water, which used to split North America into two land masses, Larmidia and Appalachia.

Egg Laying vs Live Birth

This species of reptiles is among the very few that invests heavily in giving birth to one (or just a few) healthy offspring at a time, rather than laying eggs and investing in a large number of smaller and immature offsprings. Both evolutionary strategies exist and work successfully in the animal kingdom, but it is not known why a reptile should opt for vivipary over ovipary (egg-laying). Furthermore, vivipary involves caring for the young through the gestation period, requiring a complex social structure, which, in turn, involves individuals caring for each others’ babies.

Dr. F. Robin O’Keefe, who has been studying Plesiosaur fossils published a paper in the journal Science on the 12th of August on this find.

 

DNA-building Material Found on Meteorite: Did Life on Earth Come From Outer Space?

The question of the origin of life may soon be answered and the answer may be that it came from elsewhere. Shreds of DNA building material have been found on meteorites pointing to a possibility of Earth being seeded with life from elsewhere.

DNA building material found (Image Courtesy: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

Exciting…

Scientists, from different institutes, found that not only were traces of compounds like ammonia and cyanide present, which could build complex organic molecules, even nucleobases (a group of nitrogen-rich organic compounds that are needed to build nucleotides, which can make RNA or DNA – the basis of all terrestrial life) were seen. This is not the first time nucleobases were being seen in meteorites, however. As Jim Cleaves, a chemist at the Carnegie Institute of Washington said to Space.com

People have been finding nucleobases in meteorites for about 50 years now, and have been trying to figure out if they are of biological origin or not.

The hardest part of the study was confirming that the meteorites were not contaminated with organic material lying around. The study found a huge number of different nucleobases in organic-rich meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites, out of which three were extremely rare on Earth. This gives credence to the idea that life may have been planted from elsewhere.

Panspermia

The hypothesis that states that life was seeded on Earth from extra-terrestrial sources is called Panspermia’. It has had its share of strong supporters and equally vociferous deniers, but this does seem a point in its favour. Experiments in chemistry labs have repeatedly shown that building complex organic compounds, like nucleobases, from compounds such as cyanide and ammonia, in the presence of water, isn’t too difficult. This was first shown by the Urey-Miller experiment in 1952 (the same year as the discovery of the DNA double helix by Watson and Crick). They could produce amino acids, the building blocks of protein, by passing electricity through a flask containing gaseous ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, cyanide and sulphur dioxide, along with water. It is surmised that the step from amino acids to actual proteins may not be very tough.

These findings say that it might have been even easier. Specifically, different molecules belonging to the citric acid cycle have been found. The citric acid cycle is one of the oldest biological cycles and plays a crucial role in respiration of all living forms.

The studies were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Smithsonian Institute Releases 25 New Photos For Public On Anniversary of Scopes’ ‘Monkey Trial’

It had been labelled as the Trial of the Century’ last century and has been variously referred as Scopes Trial’, Monkey Trial’ or Scopes vs State of Tennessee Trial’. The bone of contention struck at the very heart of American education system the teaching of evolution. The end of the trial saw a defeat for pro-evolutionists, with school teacher John T. Scopes, being found guilty of teaching evolution in classrooms and fined $100. The verdict would be overturned in a few days, but the impact would last. Often regarded as the first legal tussle in the evolution creationism debate, the Scopes’ Trial would be a landmark case and a pitstop in any discussion on Conflict Thesis. Marking the 86th anniversary of the trial, the Smithsonian Institute released 25 photos, hitherto unseen, adding them both to their own archives and releasing them for public viewing on their Flickr stream.

Anti-Evolution lobby
The Fundamentalist Christian Lobby

The Monkey Trial

The story of the infamous Monkey trial started with one Charles Rappleyea, a local owner of several mines in Dayton, Tennessee. The American Civil Liberties Union prohibited the teaching of evolution in the classrooms and this was legally upheld in the form of the Butler Act. Rappleyea convinced his friend, John Scopes, a biology teacher in a local school, to go against the textbooks and teach evolution, since the state explicitly required teachers to teach evolution, effectively against the law. Rappleyea actually wanted enough controversy so that the sleepy town of Dayton would get noticed and bring in big business. And a controversy is what he would get.

John T. Scopes

The prosecution comprised the heavyweight William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential nominee and the former US Secretary of State and was led by Tom Stewart, the district attorney. The defense had notable members like Clarence Darrow, an agnostic and Dudley Malone, an international lawyer. Malone’s speech later in the trial would be a pivot around which the judgement would be based. The speech is regarded as the real high point of the trial.

Clarence Darrow and William Bryan at the Scopes' Trial

The trial veered wildly off the initial legal course and delved inevitably in the minefield of the evolution-creationism’ debate. Both the Butler Act and the Genesis was quoted at length inside the courtroom, personal attacks flew in hordes and whether God had any hand in the process of creation became the real bone of contention.

Scopes participated in the proceedings to the extent of indicting himself and even urging his students to testify against him. Eventually after 8 days in court from 10th to 21st of July and heated drama that was covered by the international media, the deliberation took only nine minutes. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in classrooms and released on bail for $100 (which comes up to about $1300 in present circumstances).

The Backlash

A backlash forced the overturn of this decision. What seemed like a victory for the anti-evolutionists, soon turned into a major triumph for the pro-evolution groups, comprising both agnostics and liberal Christians. The anti-evolution lobby had faced its first serious defeat.

The drama has also inspired films like Inherit the Wind’.

Parallels

Monkey Trial - the media was at its sarcastic best

In 2005, the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial sought justified parallels with the Scopes trial, with many labelling it as the Second Scopes’. This trial saw a resounding victory for the evolutionists; the verdict was so astoundingly damning against the creationist (or Intelligent Design) side that they have still not recovered from it.

The Smithsonian Institute showcased 25 new pictures celebrating the 86th anniversary of the Scopes Trial.   The Flickr Stream now has 73 photos of the famous incident.

Whether directly or indirectly, the Scopes trial cemented the place of evolution in school textbooks and brought it back to many schools, where it was previously absent. It is certain that the Monkey Trial helped our mental evolution towards science…

Research Shows How Evolution May Be Used to Counter HIV, Find Cure for AIDS

With the AIDS-causing HIV, you have to play it on its own turf and beat it at its own game.

The problem

HIV is a very successful virus in evolutionary terms; it is a wonderful survivor and has evolved faster than anything else known in the biological world. This rapid evolution has been the secret of its success. It can churn out 100 billion (!!) of its own kind within 24 hours! At this staggering rate of multiplication, it is no wonder that it can outpace any other creature in the evolutionary arms race. That’s not all! HIV has another trick up its sleeve it copies its genetic material with huge amounts of errors. True, the process is wasteful, but given the sheer number of individuals, HIV is sure to produce several healthy individuals, ensuring its own survival and changing too rapidly for the hosts’ immune system or medical R&D to catch up to it. This is, in brief, the problem that researchers currently face.

Chink in the armor

However, there’s some good news. There are some sites in the HIV proteins that tend to stay the same. Researchers hope to target these conserved sites’. This will lead to the virus losing some important part of its genetic material and, hopefully, losing out on the ability to reproduce. The bad news is that HIV can evolve so as to demote these sites in importance and thus escape annihilation.

The HIV

A stunning insight following a crucial discovery resolves this impasse. Professors Arup Chakraborty and Bruce Walker (MIT professors) identified a large number of conserved sites and found that they were grouped together. This means that these sites are not isolated ones that are conserved; they are conserved en masse. Karthik Shekar and Vincent Dahirel, both geneticists at MIT, suggest that the immune system can be modified to attack these specific sites all at once. The idea is simple: HIV would have to undergo tremendous evolutionary mutations in order to mutate out of dependence on all these sites. This would definitely affect its reproduction abilities adversely.
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Exploiting the chink

Dahirel and Shekhar found that these patches of proteins evolve together. A protein that makes up the outer wall of the virus, called Gag, was their subject of interest. Gag carries five of these conserved sectors and they evolve independently. They further identified a sector amongst these named Sector 3 that was particularly conserved; it hardly evolved.

A simulated model of a HIV Protein

This conservation is essential for the virus as Sector 3 is crucial for the formation of the outer wall of the virus. Without it, it would be a naked collection of RNA strands.

Shekhar and Dahirel suggest that several sites in Sector 3 be targeted simultaneously. HIV would find it extremely difficult impossible, researchers hope to crawl its way through this evolutionary crisis. To do so, the virus would have to figure out some way to co-evolve all of these sites in exactly the same way so as to make each of the sites independent of each other and also unimportant in making the viral sheath. This amounts to finding a way around billions of years of evolution. Researchers hope that this will be an evolutionary blind alley.

A Virus Attacks WBC. The photo is 150,000 times magnified.

Apparently, one in every three hundred people infected with HIV develop resistance and do so when their immune system adapts and attacks these Sector 3 sites. These HIV-positive people can live healthily for long without any medication. The trade-off is masterful: If the virus is to survive, it must do so in a weaker form, unable to cause the dreaded disease or reproduce as it normally does.

Walker, an expert in HIV immunology, says:

We need now to make immunogen with this new technique and see if this gets over the major hurdle we face in an HIV vaccine that of viral diversity and viral evolution to escape immune responses.

(Immunogens are clinical drugs that fire off extremely specific immune responses).

Predicting the next step

Taking this a step further is Joshua Plotkin and his group from University of Pennsylvania. They plan to map the evolutionary reactions of the virus when certain pressures are applied to them and predict the evolutionary future of the virus, in effect, deciphering the rules that govern evolution.

The game is on: It’s a cat and mouse game on the genetic scale with huge impacts on the human race. A new way to attack and cure (not just prevent) AIDS maybe around the corner.

Marvel at the wonder of evolution at work here!

Yeast Shows Evolutionary Jump And Develops Multi-cellular Character in Record Time

It seems that a key evolutionary step the step from unicellular organisms to multicellular ones is not as difficult as scientists thought. Researcher William Ratcliff and his team at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul now have concrete evidence that suggests that the key step to multicellularity takes about 60 days for a yeast species called brewer’s yeast. They ought to know; they saw it in their own labs.

Yeast

Building generations

Their experimental methodology mimicked that followed by Lenski and his team in their famous experiment on bacteria. Ratcliff et al grew yeast in a liquid and gently centrifuged out each culture daily. They then injected the next batch with the yeast collected at the bottom of each tube. Imagine a long line of test tubes, each subsequent test-tube having a culture one day more recent. Now imagine ten such lines. That’s basically how the experiment was done.

After only 60 days or 350 generations, each of the ten lines of test-tubes (technically called culture lines’) showed multicellularity. They evolved to form a so-called snow-flake’ form. Ratcliff and his team noticed that this was different from mere clumping together of cells. The cells were actually co-operating with each other and there was a basic division of labor. Further, these snowflake clumps break off after a certain size, giving rise to progenies, very much like many other asexually reproducing multicellular organisms like sponges.
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Hints of Multi-cellular behavior

The researchers were really dumbfounded to find an elementary notion of division of labour at work. Further, certain adult cells would die off via a programmed cell death process called apoptosis. Apoptosis happens only in multi-cellular organisms. Dying is not an evolutionarily correct strategy for a unicellular organism, but is a good one for a multi-cellular organism. Programmed cell death of old cells helps other cells survive better, thus helping the individual. Further, for asexually reproducing species, dying cells can provide fissure lines, along with part of the organism can break off and give rise to progenies, increasing the chances of survival. This is a clear sign that the clumps are evolving as one.

No, we are not there at the origin of life yet, but we’re getting close.

Neil Blackstone, an evolutionary biologist at Northern Illinois University raises an important objection to the experiment. He argues that

yeast, having once been multicellular, never lost it completely,

He argues that something which has never achieved multi-cellularity would never have evolved it so fast.

Ratcliff and team hope to answer that question by repeating the experiment with Chlamydomonas, a single celled alga with no history of multi-cellularity. In the meantime, they will continue to monitor the yeast looking for signs of further division of labor.

Beauty with Brains : New Miss USA Is A Science Geek; Emphatically Affirms Evolution

It’s the most attractive you can get beauty along with brains. When Alyssa Campanella won the Miss USA crown last night, Californians were not the only ones cheering her. She had gained many admirers among the world’s science community, especially amongst evolutionists.

Alyssa Camponella reacts on winning the Miss USA crown

Her Answer…

Campanella is a confessed science geek. She had already got that reputation before the contest began and she did no harm to it when she responded to the question Should Evolution Be Taught In Schools?’ with an unapologetic, emphatic and spontaneous yes’. Whether it was this one answer that sealed the deal for her is a matter of debate, take a look at her answer below.

I was taught evolution in my high school growing up and I do believe in it. I’m a huge science geek

Yes, she did get her facts right! The answer was even more emphatic given that the other contestants were mostly hesitant or answered in the negative. The common answers were along the lines of teaching both sides’, there are people of different opinions’ and teach both evolution and creation so that students can make up their minds’. Can’t stand up for your convictions, heh? Watch the answers below.

Those (horrid) answers

Let’s look at some of the most laughable answers.

Madeline Mitchell of Alabama says directly, No, I do not believe in evolution. I do not believe it should be taught in schools. Nice going. Jessica Chukran from Alaska doesn’t personally believe in evolution, but recommends it for schools because she believes that evolution is a part of US history and west belief system. What? This is so wrong. Most thought that evolution should be taught in schools, because people should know both sides of the story. Students are entitled to their opinions was an oft-repeated argument, and both opinions should be taught. Interestingly, many said that religion should also be taught in schools alongside evolution. Just one problem though: Isn’t that against the US constitution?

Here’s my reply to all the lovely ladies saying that evolution should be taught in schools only because students have to know both sides of the story: There is no story. Evolution is reality; it’s hardcore scientific fact. This is what really happened, not what is written in the holy books. That is why it should be taught.

And the funniest of the lot: (this one’s good!)

I’ll get to the best answers, but before that allow me my funniest pick. It was Kia Hampton from Kentucky. She rambled along the following lines:

Evolution should not be taught in schools because there are so many different views on it, so many different definitions, it’s like, how do you teach a child (pronounced ‘chow’) the true meaning of evolution when so many different cultures have their different beliefs?

Aah, this is wrong on so many counts, but for now, let’s just have a laugh. Her state’s Creation Museum owners would be so proud.

Just Saying

The best answer came from the winner Alyssa Campanella, quoted above. Very nice answers came from Alida D’Angona (Massachusetts) and Brittany Thelemann (Mississippi).

Men may never find out what women want, but I think there is a consensus that men find smarter women more attractive. Richard Dawkins explained this saying that since the brain was our primary tool for survival, it was used to attract mates as well. A good intellect is a huge attraction. Well, Richard, you just got vindicated.

Postponed: Tennessee ‘Anti-Science’ Bill Put On Hold By The Senate

The bill dreaded by scientists, teachers and educationists across the US the Tennessee anti-science’ or ‘monkey’ bill – has been put on hold by the Tennessee Senate, after being passed by the House by a majority of 70-23. (Read about this here.) Without the Senate’s ratification, the bill cannot be passed into a law. The bill basically says that topics like Evolution and Global Warming should not be forced upon students and be taught with an open mind. This would allow pro-creationist teachers from teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design, both unscientific hypotheses in classes without any risk.

Many have pointed out that the bill allows the teacher to bring the religion in the classrooms, and use it to usurp scientific principles. This is, in fact, against the US Constitution.

The heated debate preceding the voting of the bill in the House included words like Intellectual bullies’, hair spray’ and the contextual documentary Inherit the Wind’. Thrown in this cauldron was a gross misquotation attributed to Einstein A little knowledge would turn your head to atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head to Christianity.This clearly set out the agenda for the supporters of the bill, which they strongly deny.

Poster for the documentary

People have quickly found parallels in previous trials and court cases, and they didn’t have to look very far. The most discussed were the Scopes Trial and the Kitzmiller-Dover Trial.

Driving at a controversy that is not there

Many are heaving a sigh of relief, but all are justifiably cautious. Hedy Weinberg, a leader in the opposition to the bill told NCSE:

It’s taken eighty-six years, but perhaps at last the Tennessee legislature is learning the lesson of the Scopes trial.

However, she adds,

Science education in Tennessee won’t be truly safe until the legislature adjourns next year.

Eugenie Scott, the director of NCSE, and a major backstage player at the Kitzmiller-Dover trial congratulated the teachers:

This couldn’t have happened without the hard work of the ACLU of Tennessee, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and all the teachers, scientists, parents, students, and just plain folks who volunteered their time and effort to defend the teaching of evolution in the Volunteer State.

The road ahead is not smooth. The bill has been put on hold, not dismissed. Given the political and financial clout of the Discovery Institute and many prominent Creationists in the American Senate, the bill might resurface in the next session.

For now, Tennessee has been saved.