Saturday, February 28, 2009

Checking more of my email!

Because I just need to. Took a long enough nap today, should be able to pull it off. Here's a few of the tidbits I wanted to point out... before deleting them! Here's some inaccessible Nature articles...

Scientists find world's biggest snake

'Titanic' boa fossils provide clues to past tropical climate.

Researchers have found fossils of the biggest known snake in the world, a discovery that could shed light on the climate of the tropics in the past.

The scientists estimate the snake lived 58 to 60 million years ago and was around 13 metres long.

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Pygmies share a recent common ancestor

The rise of farming may have caused formation of diverse groups.

Pygmies in Western Central Africa may have evolved from a common ancestral group and, less than 3,000 years ago, split into the diverse array of populations seen today, according to a new genetic study. The researchers believe that the spread of non-pygmy farmers through Western Central Africa may have driven pygmies into isolated groups, prompting their speedy evolution into distinct populations.

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What causes schizophrenia?

Findings from a 'brain training' study challenge theory.

Researchers in Sweden have revealed a surprising change in brain biochemistry that occurs during the training of working memory, a buffer that stores information for the few second required to solve problems or even to understand what we are reading. The discovery may have implications for understanding disorders in which working memory is deficient — such as schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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Hidden memories guide choices

Images slip unnoticed into the brain.

Memories that we are not aware of may be just as accurate as those we recall, researchers have found. And they might also provoke unique changes in the brain's electrical activity during recall.

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Robot copes with shifting sands

Moving over challenging terrain requires a change of gait.

Walking over loose sand is hard work, even for robots. But a team of US researchers has shown that an insect-like robot can make quicker progress in sand by using a different gait from that used on hard ground1.

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Child abuse leaves lasting 'scars' on DNA

Lingering marks on DNA could amplify stress responses.

Suicide victims with a history of abuse during childhood are more likely to carry chemical changes to their DNA that could affect how they respond to stress as adults, a study has found.

Those with no history of childhood abuse did not show the same pattern of DNA modification, and had normal expression of NR3C1, a gene linked to stress responses.

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Burnt oil and gas, not vegetation, may have caused the soot layer at the end of the Cretaceous period.

The impact of a huge asteroid or comet at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago is generally held responsible for the sudden demise of 60–80% of all species on Earth. But new results challenge the common idea that the extinctions were partly caused by global wildfires triggered by the violent impact.

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Darwin 200: Human nature: the remix

People's mindsets are neither fixed by evolution nor infinitely malleable by culture. Dan Jones looks for the similarities that underlie the diversity of human nature.

Darwin famously gave scant attention to humans in On the Origin of Species, contenting himself with the teasing pledge that "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history". The promised light came in the The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), in which the notion of a common human origin was crucial.

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Oh yeah - have I mentioned it's been 200 years since Charles Darwin's birthday.
Hence, this:

First Junior Skeptic Book Released
to Portuguese School Kids!

In commemoration of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday on February 12th, 2009, the Skeptics Society is thrilled to unveil a major new educational outreach project: the release of the first Junior Skeptic book, Evolução (“Evolution”).

Right now, 10,000 copies of this gorgeous, full-color, illustrated kids’ science book are being distributed to public school students in Portugal — completely free.

Reprising material originally published in Junior Skeptic #26 and #27, the new book is produced by Pat Linse, written by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton, and illustrated by Daniel Loxton and Jim W. W. Smith. This Portuguese-language translation was prepared by immunologist and science popularizer Vasco M. Barreto.

The book is published by our colleagues at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (an international nonprofit organization headquartered in Lisbon) as part of an ambitious Darwin 2009 public education program with partners that include the American Museum of Natural History and the Portuguese Ministries of Science & Technology and Education. Their Darwin 2009 celebrations include the largest and more comprehensive evolution-themed museum exhibit in the world (“Darwin’s Evolution”), a high profile series of public conferences (to be opened by paleontologist Niles Eldredge on February 13th) — and the full-color book based on Junior Skeptic.

Wondering where you can get your hands on a copy? You’ll have to wait. This free Portuguese-language school edition is an exclusive educational project for students in Portugal.

But not to worry: an English-language version is in full production now at a major North American publisher! Look for the enhanced and expanded version scheduled for wide release early in 2010….

Check it out!

And to counterpoint that one: Kooky Creationism in the U.K.

On the other hand, a lecture I was made aware of...

Thank God for Evolution

How the Marriage of Science and Religion
Will Transform Your Life and Our World

The Reverend Michael Dowd is one of the most inspiring speakers in America today. His lecture/sermon is based on his bestselling book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, which has been endorsed by 5 Nobel Prize-winning scientists and dozens of other scientific and religious luminaries across the spectrum. Since April 2002, he and his wife, Connie Barlow, an acclaimed science writer, have lived permanently on the road sharing a sacred view of evolution with religious and secular audiences of all ages, as America’s evolutionary evangelists. At home in both conservative and liberal settings, and uniquely gifted at building bridges between religious and nonreligious people, Michael — once a young-earth creationist minister — is passionate about sharing the 14-billion-year epic of evolution in ways that uplift and expand heart, mind, and soul. Don’t miss this unique performance.

And yet, sometimes, this happens when some people look harder at religion....

Losing My Religion

How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America
— and Found Unexpected Peace

William Lobdell’s journey of faith — and doubt — is one of the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell — a veteran journalist — noticed that religion wasn’t covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith. What happened next was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall Street firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn’t exist. He explored every doubt, every question — until, finally, his faith collapsed. Hear his remarkable story in this lecture based on his new book.

Now this is BOSS cool!

The Search for Living Planets

We are now nearing a turning point in our quest for life in the universe — we now have the capacity to detect Earth-like planets around other stars. But will we find any? In The Crowded Universe, renowned astronomer Dr. Alan Boss — a research scientist at the Carnegie Institution and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union — argues that based on what we already know about planetary systems, in the coming years we will find abundant Earths, including many that are indisputably alive. Life is not only possible elsewhere in the universe, Boss argues — it is common. Boss describes how our ideas about planetary formation have changed radically in the past decade and brings readers up to date on discoveries of bizarre inhabitants of various solar systems, including our own. America must stay in this new space race, Boss contends, or risk being left out of one of the most profoundly important discoveries of all time: the first confirmed finding of extraterrestrial life.

This looks kinda f***ed up....

The Medea Hypothesis

Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?

In The Medea Hypothesis, renowned paleontologist Dr. Peter Ward proposes a revolutionary and provocative vision of life’s relationship with the Earth’s biosphere, one that has frightening implications for our future — yet also offers hope. Using the latest discoveries from the geological record, he argues that life might be its own worst enemy. This stands in stark contrast to James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis — the idea that life sustains habitable conditions on earth. In answer to Gaia, which draws on the idea of the “good mother” who nurtures life, Ward invokes Medea, the mythical mother who killed her own children. Could life by its very nature threaten its own existence? Ward demonstrates that all but one of the mass extinctions that have struck Earth were caused by life itself. He looks at our planet’s history in a new way, revealing an Earth that is witnessing an alarming decline of diversity and biomass — a decline brought on by life’s own “biocidal” tendencies. And the Medea hypothesis applies not just to our planet — its dire prognosis extends to all potential life in the universe. Breathtaking in scope, The Medea Hypothesis is certain to arouse fierce debate and radically transform our worldview.

Bad, humans, bad!

Why People Behave Badly

One of the most difficult problems in the social sciences is understanding why some people intentionally inflict emotional and physical pain on others. Such intentional pain occurs not only on a local level — within families, with “friends,” or in work situations, but also on a national and international scale — Hitler’s Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, and Chairman Mao’s slaughter of millions. Neuroscience is providing the potential for a revolution in our understanding of why “bad” people do what they do.

Professor Barbara Oakley uses evolutionary theory — as well as an unusually adventurous background that has earned her the nickname of a “female Indiana Jones,” to knit together disparate pieces of research that point toward answers to some of the most compelling questions in the social sciences and humanities. Dr. Oakley’s work at Oakland University involves bioengineering in many different contexts, such as the effects of electric fields on cells and the complex relationship between neurocircuitry and social behavior. She worked for several years as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea; she met her husband while working as a radio operator at the South Pole station in Antarctica; and she has gone from private to regular Army Captain in the U.S. military. Her critically acclaimed, tongue-in-cheek titled book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend takes readers on a provocative exploration of the darkest recesses of the human personality.

It's late, but I'm glad I squeezed that in. Much like I would a lemon. Nappy-poo is wearing off.


Winters said...

That is a massive snake. I shall resist the urge to make a crass double-entendre by simply repeating myself:
'That is a massive snake.'

S E E Quine said...

Not as massive as....

Unexpectedly, Lou Ryan has just now entered the room to tell me that he has some really tense muscles that need working on.

That's funny.

Daisy said...

Sarah, you sure get a wild assortment of stuff in your email! :D

S E E Quine said...

And there's more where that came from!