How Parasites Can Drive Ecological Relationships

18 06 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Carl Zimmer’s excellent “Parasite Rex: Inside The Bizarre World Of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures” last February and have been meaning to post an article about one of the book’s most fascinating points ever since (I’ve just been procrastinating): namely, how the very life-and-death struggles between predator and prey as are often, little more than puppet shows.

More often than you might think, both parties involved are, in fact, driven by parasitic pilots.

Zimmer cites several examples of this most engaging phenomenon. However, by far the most interesting hails from the great American West.

Speaking of the wild west, this story comes with it’s own version of the good, the bad, and the ugly (though precisely who’s who is debatable as we shall see…): the curtain to the tale of the California horn snail (Cerithidea californica), the California killifish (Fundulus parvipinnis), and the various shorebirds of the Golden State’s ample coastlines.

What do these seemingly random animals have in common? A fluke by the name of Euhaplorchis californiensis.

The fluke in question.

Both the snails and the kilifish inhabit salty coastal marshes, and the latter of which naturally attract hordes of piscivorous birds as well. Avian feces inadvertently transport the eggs of E. californiensis, which serve as the primary dietary component of the California horn snail. When these eggs hatch, the flukes initially castrate the unfortunate mollusks before creating several generations of their own until, eventually, larvae (“cercariae”) burst from their initial host.

The Snail In Question

Following the 0nset of this exodus, the cercariae patrol their native salt marsh looking for killifish. Once they manage to happen upon these scaly critters, the parasites latch onto their gills and crawl ever deeper into the host’s body. Eventually, the cercariae follow a certain nerve which leads them directly into the unfortunate fish’s brain. Once there, rather than penetrating this most vital organ, these worm-like creatures merely congregate to form a thin, caviar-like layer atop it.

At this stage, the parasites must now await the consumption of their host by a predatory shorebird. Once this happens, the cercariae erupt from the fish’s stomach and flock to the fowl’s gut. In this new environment, E. californiensis steals nourishment from the new host’s digestive tract and deposits its eggs within the animal’s intestines, to be deposited whenever the bird defecates and, thus, recycling the process.

However, assuming that these parasitic organisms passively leave their lives and reproductive futures entirely up to chance would be a fatal mistake.

In an experiment conducted by ecologist Kevin Lafferty and his then-student Kimo Morris during the early nineties, the behavioral tendencies of 42 captive killifish were individually observed for days on end prior to the animals’ dissection in which the presence of E. californiensis would be confirmed or denied. According to Zimmer:

“What was hidden to the naked eye came leaping out of the data. As killifish search for prey, they alternate between hovering and darting around. But every now and then, Morris would spot a fish shimmying, jerking, flashing its belly as it swam on one side, or darting close to the surface. These might be risky things for a fish to do if a bird was scanning the water. And Morris’s vigil had revealed that fish with parasites inside them were four times more likely to shimmy, jerk, flash, and surface than their healthy counterparts. Since then, Lafferty has been working with a molecular biologist to figure out how the parasites make their hosts dance. They’ve found that the flukes can pump out powerful molecular signals, known as fibroblast growth factors, which can interfere with the growth of nerves. They could turn out to be the parasite’s Prozac[: an antidepressant drug which contains a molecule that acts as a neurotransmitter].”

(For those interested in reading an entire paper on the subject of parasitic brain manipulation in this instance, do go here!)

A Great Egret: one of the many bird species in question.

Some three weeks following Lafferty and Morris’ initial experiment, the pair decided to investigate the effects of this most curious relationship upon the local environment as a whole. Through a series of field tests, they discovered a fascinating unexpected result.

These shorebirds weren’t four times more likely to devour  infected killifish, but thirty times!

Although these flukes do take a slight physiological toll upon their avian hosts, the birds would have to exert a costly amount of energy to steer clear of infected fish (assuming they’d have any way of recognizing them); wasted energy that might prove fatal. Ergo, to these feathered beasts, the benefits of ingesting fluke-filled killifish vastly outweigh the costs.

The aforementioned fantastically large percentage thus begs a very intriguing question: “If this parasite didn’t exist, could populations of these birds survive if their food was thirty times more difficult to obtain?”

For those still unconvinced by the idea that parasites are more than mere hitchhikers and instead wield an enormous amount of influence upon their residential environments as a whole, let’s return to the horn snails for a moment. Prior to his investigations concerning the effects of E. californiensis upon killifish and birds. To once again reference “Parasite rex”:

“[These flukes] don’t quite kill their snails. In a genetic sense, the snails are indeed dead, because they can no longer reproduce. But they live on, grazing on algae to feed the flukes inside them. If the snails were truly dead, the algae they ate would be left for surviving snails to graze on. Instead, the flukes-as-snails are in direct competition with the uninfected snails…

Lafferty measured how the uninfected snails performed without parasitized snails competing with them. They grew faster, released far more eggs, and could thrive in far more crowded conditions. The results showed Lafferty that in nature, the parasites were competing so intensely that the healthy snails couldn’t reproduce fast enough to take full advantage of the salt marsh. In fact, if you were to get rid of the fluke, the snail’s overall numbers would nearly double. And this being the real world rather than a lab, that explosion would ripple out through much of the salt marsh ecosystem, thinning out the carpet of algae and making it easier for predators of snails, such as crabs, to thrive.”

If I’ve managed to pique your interest with these excerpts, I’d most heartily recommend checking out “Parasite Of The Day“: an exquisite blog run by some of the world’s leading parasitologists. If you’re anything like me, your mornings won’t be complete without it!

Cheers,

-Mark Mancini

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Nectocaris Update

26 05 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

Last week, I leant some coverage to the bizarre little Burgess Shale creature Nectocaris pteryx. At the time, all of the publicly-available information about the species maintained that

A) Its known from but a single specimen.

B) Postcranially, Nectocaris was a sinuous, chordate-like creature.

However, shortly after my article was published, everyone’s favorite stuffed theropod pointed out that a pair of Burgess Shale scientists (The University Of Toronto’s Martin Smith & Jean-Bernard Caron) had argued that Nectocaris was, in fact, the earliest-known cephalopod and were working on a paper to this end. Evidently, the pair had stumbled upon NINETY-ONE additional specimens such as the one below:

That paper was released today, and the results have dramatically altered our perceptions of what this beast looked like. Ed Young of the brilliant blog “Not Exactly Rocket Science” has the scoop.

For those too lazy to click on the link to my earlier post, here’s a traditional reconstruction of Nectocaris as derived from the genus’ first and, for several decades, solitary specimen:

And here’s the updated reconstruction based on this wealth of newfound material:

I think it’s fairly obvious to say that this isn’t merely some miniscule alteration: it radically changes everything we thought we knew about this creature’s anatomy and phylogeny. To quote Mr. Young:

“Around four centimetres in length, Nectocaris had a soft, flattened, kite-shaped body with two fins running down its sides. Its small head was adorned with two long tentacles and two stalked eyes. Unlike the compound eyes that were common among Cambrian animals, probably had the camera-like structure that modern cephalopods use. From its neck protruded a flexible funnel, which opened into an internal cavity containing pairs of gills.

The funnel lay behind some of the earlier confusion about Nectocaris. In the original specimen, it was flattened so that it looked like a shield-like plate behind the eyes, reminscent of a crustacean’s body armour. The new specimens put paid to that interpretation. The structure is clearly a funnel, similar to those used by modern cephalopods. Nectocaris probably used it to swim the same way, giving it an extra boost of jet propulsion to complement the beating of its large fins.”

The homogeneous lack of shells throughout the newfound Nectocaris specimens have shattered the notion that cephalopods evolved from Monoplacophorans: an assertion which largely rested upon the fact that the earliest known representatives of this tentacled group had previously been the nautiloids. Evidently, the shells which graced several groups and species of subsequent (and current) cephalopods evolved independantly.

However, not every gap has been filled in assigning Nectocaris to this new role: none of the fossils appear to display the intimidating beak-like mouth and horny tongue (known scientifically as the ‘radula’) of squids, octopi, and their kin remains, as far as the authors can ascertain, absent from N. pteryx. The radula is of particular importance due to its presence in nearly every group of modern mollusks and has hence become a uniting feature.

Regardless of what Nectocaris’ true relations may be, this news provides yet another example of how fossilized species with which the scientific community feels it’s somewhat familiar can drastically suprise its members almost instantaneously by way of new discoveries (or even, in some cases, a second trip through the archives).

A POINT TO CONSIDER: How much time will elapse before PZ Meyers jumps all over this story?





Yet Another Awesome British Science Show…

26 05 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

A YouTube acquaintance of mine recently sent me the following clip from the British Channel 4 program “Inside Nature’s Giants” which, as far as I can ascertain, is an intriguing exploration into the ecology, evolution, and comparative anatomy of some of the planet’s largest creatures. The video I’ve posted appears to be a collection of clips from a trio of episodes involving the modern giraffe, what I believe to be a Nile crocodile, and the asian elephant. Sadly, it looks like there’s no news of a DVD coming along anytime soon. Fortunately, however, there’s no shortage of available online clips.

WARNING: This footage involves a great deal of dissection and is therefore NOT for the squeamish and/or faint of heart!

NOTE: Dawkins’ assertion that “[Crocodiles] haven’t changed much in a very long time” is a gross and inaccurate oversimplification of crocodylian evolution… for more information, I’d reccomend tracking down a copy of this book.





Burgess Shale Extravaganza: Nectocaris

17 05 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

NOTE: Much of the information contained in this article has been effectively rendered out-dated by a very recent discovery. Click here to find out why.

As promised, TTT is now proud to present a series of articles concerning its author’s favorite Burgess Shale oddities. Anyone familiar with the dynamic formation has doubtlessly run across the following conclusion described by reknowned Cambrian paleontologist Simon Conway Morris: namely that “Current research is showing that a number of species from the Burgess Shale cannot reasonably be accomodated in any extant phylum”. In 1973, Conway Morris composed a series of papers describing a bizarre collection of five Cambrian oddities ecased within the local rock prior to his doctoral thesis. These exceptional oddities are as follows: Nectocaris, Odontogriphus, Dinomischus, Amiskwia, and Hallucigenia. Though this week-long event won’t lend its coverage to each of these admittedly very deserving candidates, I’ve nevertheless elected to kick things off with the former member of this motley congregation: Nectocaris pteryx, a sinuous chimaera of a beast which for all the world resembles a cross between an arthropod and a chordate.

Any attempt to disambiguate the affiliations of this peculiar critter are gravely unassisted by the fact that Nectocaris is, to date, known from but a single specimen. Although I’ve most regrettably been unable to upload an image of the fossil in question, I’d advise anyone interested in viewing it to consult this link. However, as is often the case with Burgess Shale organisms, what the fossil record of Nectocaris lacks in abundance, it makes up for in anatomical clarity.

From this solitary example, the scientific community has been able to erect a reasonably-complete reconstruction of how this fascinating animal looked. As alluded in the introduction, the most striking feature of Nectocaris is the coupling of its vertebrate-like tail and body with its very arthropod-esque head and “neck”. As depicted in the above pair of reconstructions, the animal’s head sports a pair of short, forward-projecting appendages. While these structures may conjure thoughts of crawdads and other crustaceans, their lack of joints renders them decidedly more primitive. The posterior end of the head is covered by an ovular shield which, according to some experts, may have been bivalved. Similarly debatable is whether or not Nectocaris‘ eyes rested upon stalks, although most paleo-artists appear to have arrived upon the affirmative conclusion in this regard.

All this being said, Nectocaris lacks the single most commonly cited defining characteristic of the arthropoda phylum: jointed appendages. In place of these, evolution has elected to grant Nectocaris a laterally-compressed body composed of approximately forty segments. This lengthy form is dorsally and ventrally draped by a pair of fins which, as noted by Conway Morris himself (along with Stephen Jay Gould), strongly resemble those belonging to the Actinopterygii (or “ray-finned”) class of fish.

According to Gould’s excellent book entitled “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale And The Nature Of History” (which, not suprisingly, will be referenced quite routinely during the course of this event), the following features of these fins insinuate some sort of affiliation (or, possibly, a case of convergent evolution) with modern chordates:

-While arthropod limbs are almost exclusively connected internally, a dark, slight, filmy layer of some dark structure appears to externally unite the parallel series of rays into a single “fin”.

-Arthropod appendages sprout from a lateral base with near invariability. This is contrasted by Nectocaris’ dorsal and ventral fin set.

-Arthropod bodies are constrained by a general rule which prohibits the attatchment of multiple appendages to each individual segment. Nectocaris‘ fins contain an average of three stiffening rays anchored in each bodily division.

A brown Nectocaris and a pair of green Marrella evade the grasp of the enormous, predaceous Anomalocaris. Note the bluish Pikaia, one of the earliest-known chordates, in the upper right-hand corner. Painting by Peter Bond.

Whatever the phylogenetic and taxonomic affiliations of Nectocaris may in fact be, the eccentric creature reminds us quite vividly that although paleontological science has greatly expanded our view of life’s historical saga, a great deal remains to be learned.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the ‘comments’ section for a very intriguing hypothesis concerning Nectocaris‘ evolutionary affiliations.





My 2010 Booklist Part 1 of 3: January-April

27 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I apologize for my relative inactivity of late: the waning days of my final semester here at MCC are taking an enormous toll upon my free time which, consequently, has severely handicapped my ability to make routine posts.

To prevent TTT from going completely barren during this time, I’ve elected to showcase the following update on one of the resolutions I made just prior to the advent of the present year: namely, to increase my personal voluntary reading rate. As the title of the article suggests, this entry chronicles all of the books I’ve consumed thus far… each of which is accompanied by a short review composed by yours truly.

So, without further ado, I hereby present the first third of my 2010 booklist in chronological order.

“Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas” By David Rains Wallace

My Thoughts: The cover, excerpts of critical acclaim, and internal blurb all insinuate that ‘Neptune’s Ark’ is a highly accessible and evocative narration which equally blends scientific data, historical discourses, and personal observations concerning the history and conservation of marine life in North America’s west coast. However, in reality, the latter two features unambiguously dominate the text, leaving the former grossly under-represented. Though I find the history of science and the musings of eloquent naturalists to be fascinating and enjoyable topics, I don’t particularly care for being ambushed by either of them in search of ‘hard science’. With the exception of Wallace’s coverage of pinnipeds (which, in my opinion absorbs a disproportionately large amount of the book’s content), none of the strictly scientific information is technical enough to appeal to committed paleontology and zoology enthusiasts nor is it sufficiently readable and well-illustrated enough for laymen to find it comprehensible. The greatest strength of ‘Neptune’s Ark’ is unquestionably the author’s obvious passion for his subject, yet this ardor alone simply isn’t enough to save a book which attempts to please everyone and in so doing fails to please anyone.

”Beauty And The Beasts: Woman, Ape, And Evolution” By Carole Jahme

My Thoughts: As I’ve doubtlessly said elsewhere, my favorite popular science books are those which pay their philosophical dues and in so doing, provide the audience with more than a simple run-down of the featured discipline’s facts, theories, and controversies by forcing them to ponder the subject’s deeper implications for day-to-day life. To this end, I have yet to come across a scientific volume which exceeds the brilliant ‘Beauty & The Beasts’; a masterpiece of modern science writing. Jahme effortlessly brings us to sympathize with the plights and triumphs of female primatologists  while never failing to address such evocative and controversial questions as ‘Why do primates tend to be almost infinitely more trusting of women than men?’, ‘Should apes be given the same rights as human citizens?’, ‘How much does the human psyche have in common with those of our nearest relatives?’, and, on a broader scale, ‘Does scientific objectivity truly exist?’. Furthermore, although most feminists will relish the book, Jahme nonetheless refuses to promote “utero-centric propaganda” by thoroughly and equally scrutinizing the observational and scientific biases of both genders in primatology. In short, ‘Beauty & The Beasts’ doesn’t contain a single sentence which would lead me to remotely considering giving it anything less than my highest recommendation. Bravo!

”The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson And The Olympians Book One)” By Rick Riordan

My Thoughts: (WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD!!) Upon hearing a friend’s appraisal, I was encouraged to lend my eyes to a copy of this bestseller. Having completed the novel, I must admit that my feelings concerning it are mixed but mostly positive. Riordan’s overall concept of depicting the Greek Gods in the setting of the modern U.S. is absolutely superb and, as a lifelong mythology enthusiast, I relished the re-discovery of such legendary characters as Medusa, Procrustes, Charon, and Ares in their twenty-first century attire and occupations.  Similarly, the story as a whole is deliciously action-packed and relatively unpredictable. Unfortunately, “‘The Lightning Thief” has obviously stolen several key plot elements from the ever-popular ‘Harry Potter’ series. Furthermore, although Riordan has certainly provided his readers with a huge amount of suspense, he also falls prey to a few long-standing clichés as well as having the occasional supposedly ‘shocking’ plot twist anticipated by the reader far in advance. Still, ‘The Lightning Thief’ offers quite a bit of entertainment for those looking for a bit of light reading.

”Parasite Rex: Inside The Bizarre World Of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures” By Carl Zimmer

My Thoughts: As Zimmer would have likely predicted, I’ve never really given parasites very much consideration, despite my unrestrained adoration for a ‘host’ of  biological sciences. “Parasite Rex” conclusively reveals why this ignorance is scientifically unacceptable. Not only do these amazing organisms wield some of evolution’s most brilliant inventions, but an increasingly large amount of evidence suggests that they play an indispensably vital role in ecology and in environmental stability (in fact, it’s entirely possible that the majority of predator-prey relations are directly driven by them). Furthermore, Zimmer discusses how parasites may have directly led to such monumental evolutionary developments as sexual reproduction. For those intrigued by these ideas, I’d also suggest Susan Perkins’ excellent blog, ‘Parasite of the Day‘.

“When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives Of Animals” By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & Susan McCarthy

My Thoughts: This is one of those concepts which would have made for an excellent article, but ultimately collapses under the weight of a moderately-sized book. Masson and McCarthy do make some powerful arguments regarding anthropomorphism, anthropocentrism, and certain biases of the scientific and pop-culture communities at large, many of which I myself have been supporting for years. However, their most interesting points are almost entirely restricted to the introductory and concluding chapters, a fact that essentially reduces the remaining pages to a diverse but woefully repetitive collection of anecdotes, many of which can be more accurately described as mere ‘rumors’. Furthermore, although the authors clearly intended to utilize ‘When Elephants Weep’ for the purposes of convincing the scientific community to take the idea that animals have human-like emotions seriously, they’ve provided little more than a sliver of ‘hard’ scientific evidence, opting to focus almost exclusively on philosophy in its place (I fully realize that I’ve often shed a great deal of acclaim upon popular science books which ‘pay their philosophical dues’. However, this particular book does so to the exclusion of virtually any actual science). In summary, ‘When Elephants Weep’ seems incapable of winning over its intended audience, even though it will likely appeal to those who already support its central thesis.

“Survival Of The Sickest: The Surprising Link Between Disease And Longevity” By Sharon Moalem (With Johnathan Prince)

My Thoughts: Moalem’s brilliantly clear introduction to the subject of evolutionary medicine is well worth the attention of anyone seeking to broaden their knowledge of biology in general. Additionally, “Survival Of The Sickest” provides some of the finest preliminary outlines of epigenetics, ‘jumping genes’, and hypermutation I’ve ever read (all of which will ensure that you’ll never view Lamarckian evolution with the traditional dosage of contempt again). My only serious complaint hails from Moalem’s discussion of the infamous aquatic ape hypothesis in which he fully supports the notion without giving mention to any of its strongest criticisms. Still, this is but a minor point: on the whole, “Survival Of The Sickest” is an absolute must-read!

“Utilitarianism” By John Stuart Mill

My Thoughts: A quick perusal of TTT’s “About Me” page will reveal that I consider myself to be a bit of a John Stuart Mill fan. Yet most of my knowledge concerning the man’s philosophical and political ideology hails from various quotations and essays I’ve accumulated over the years. At least, such was the case prior to this past spring when I finally managed to obtain a used copy of Mill’s most famous volume. As with most classic philosophy texts, it’s wise to research the content of ‘Utilitarianism’ prior to actually reading it to better ensure comprehension whilst devouring its 1861 prose. Nonetheless, Mill brilliantly articulates the underlying principles and logic of Utilitarian philosophy through a satisfying parade of evocative and powerful arguments which force the reader to strongly reconsider his or her viewpoint on the very nature of morality itself.

“Death By Black Hole And Other Cosmic Quandaries” By Neil deGrasse Tyson

My Thoughts: I’ve frequently made much ado about the fact that I regard Hayden Planetarium astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to be one of the finest science communicators of our era as evidenced by his passionate prose, general avoidance of excessive jargon, excellent stage presence, and unique sense of humor. So, upon making the decision to widen my meager knowledge of astronomy by exploring popular science books on the subject, “Death By Black Hole” became my natural first choice. This collection of several dozen essays certainly doesn’t disappoint, serving instead as an entertaining and ceaselessly intriguing model of clarity. Tyson lends his exquisite explanatory capabilities to a host of various topics, my favorites being the emergence of light from the sun, how elements are formed and distributed by the collapse of stars, and the role of consistency in the universe. Additionally, his discussion regarding why intelligent design simply cannot be cited as ‘science’ and is demonstrably antithetical to all forms of scientific inquiry should be required reading for all students of science, philosophy, and theology. My only criticism is in light of the fact that the volume contains no illustrations or diagrams of any kind. While Tyson’s bang-up descriptive powers prevent this situation from becoming remotely problematic, the inclusion of visual references would have been greatly appreciated. However, this slight imperfection should not be misinterprited as a notable criticism, as I staunchly reccomend “Death By Black Hole” to essentially everyone.

“Supercapitalism: The Transformation Of Business, Democracy, And Everyday Life” By Robert Reich

My Thoughts: In my opinion, the most pressing issues facing our society and very democracy today homogeneously owe their existence to the deplorable effects of excessive “fundamentalist capitalism” or, as former secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls it in this important and very readable diagnosis of our current socio-economic situation, “Supercapitalism”. Reich does an almost impeccable job of explaining how the celebrated free-market American economy has spun wildly out of control during the course of the past 40 years and taken hold of the industrialized world as a whole (and particularly the U.S.) by highlighting a disturbing series of facts concerning the gross inequality of wealth distribution and the ease with which major corporations may now purchase political favors. Particular appraisal is deserved when one observes the fact that “Supercapitalism” manages to break the political taboo against criticizing the middle class when such debasements are due by highlighting the role of the typical consumer in this most regrettable and dire situation.

Be sure to check back in late August for part 2!

NOTE: The next “Spotlight” post will, by special request, feature the Eocene “bear-dog” Daphoenus sp.





Neil deGrasse Tyson On Intelligent Design

11 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I’ve often cited the famed Hayden Planetarium astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as one of my favorite living science communicators, an assertion which I had previously discussed at length here. For those of my readership who opt to avoid reading that admittedly lengthy-post, allow me to submit the following clip for your consideration in which Dr. Tyson provides an impassioned defense of supporting NASA and astronomical exploration in general:

However, for the purposes of this post, this next segment from an earlier is more relevant:

I’ve recently finished reading Tyson’s wonderfully intriguing “Death By Black Hole And Other Cosmic Quandaries”. This volume nearly epitomizes the ‘Popular Science’ genre, as it’s not only understandable to someone without an ounce of outside knowledge in the field of astronomy (a fact which I partially resolved to remedy after observing a comparatively more astronomically-literate associate utilizing his telescope and insight of the cosmos to impress girls, a tactic which was apparently embraced by Tyson himself while in college) but it’s also routinely amusing, as the author frequently selects from a unique gang of scientifically-charged one-liners.

However, as an activist in the endless ‘debate’ between evolutionary biology and the demonstrably pseudoscientific enterprise known as ‘intelligent design’, I found Tyson’s thoughts on the subject to be among “Death By Black Hole”‘s most interesting segments. Hence, I’ve taken the liberty of quoting my favorite segment of this discussion, which emerges at the book’s conclusion.

“[One practice] that isn’t science is embracing ignorance. Yet its fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how it works. It’s too complicated for me to figure out. It’s too complicated for any human being to figure out. So it must be the product of higher intelligence.

What do you do with that line of reasoning? Do you just cede the solving of problems to someone smarter than you, someone who isn’t even human? Do you tell students to pursue only questions with easy answers?

There may be a limit to what the human mind can figure out about our universe. But how presumptuous it would be for me to claim that if I can’t solve a problem, neither can any other person who has ever lived or will ever be born? Suppose Galileo and [Pierre-Simon] Laplace had felt that way?…

Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem…

To deny or erase the rich, colorful history of scientists and other thinkers who have invoked divinity in their work would be intellectually dishonest. Surely there’s an appropriate place for intelligent design to live in the academic landscape. How about the history of religion? How about philosophy or psychology? The one place it doesn’t belong is the science classroom.

If you’re not yet swayed by academic arguments, consider the financial consequences. Allow intelligent design into science textbooks, lecture halls, and laborotories, and the cost to the frontier of scientific  discovery– the frontier that drives the economies of the future– would be incalculable. I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself.





Startling New Discovery Dramatically Alters Our Understanding Of Human Evolution

1 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

Though I don’t normally feel compelled to report paleo news as I feel that a plethora of excellent websites and blogs dedicated to the subject already exist, I simply couldn’t resist expressing my commentary on this fascinating and field-altering story.

The anatomical parallels between Homo sapiens and modern primates have been known to science for millenia, long before a certain delinquent named Charles Darwin arrived on the scene. Thus, when the theory of evolution began to take shape, it was assumed that our species must be closely akin to these hairy, smelly, beasts.

But we all know what happens when you assume

The so-called ‘scientific’ community has failed to adhere to the very scientific method it claims to unwaveringly support, for besides our indisputable fossil record and genetic phylogeny both of which perfectly adhere to the well-established theory that humans have descended from (and are  to still be considered as) primates, I ask you, what evidence do they have to support their ridiculous claim that we humans, the intellectual titans for whose every wish (however frivolous) this planet is unquestionably meant to serve, are somehow related to these loathsome, opposable-thumbed, circus-dwelling monsters?!

Fortunately, however, this new discovery will surely rid our society of such a deplorable concept, for it turns out that we didn’t actually evolve from primates: instead, we must have evolved from peanuts!

Though the recently acquired fossil itself has yet to be photographed, take a gander at the latest artistic reconstruction as drawn by the world-renowned paleontological illustrator John Sibbick:

This remarkable specimen, dubbed Legume sapiens, was unearthed  just south of Allentown, PA and clearly displays a series of anatomical features which irrefutably prove that it was our direct ancestor, such as opposable thumbs and a bipedal stance. But even more tellingly, consider the following comparison:

As you can see (if you possess enough willpower to force your eyes to behold the right side of your screen), Legume sapiens clearly mirrors the classic human female hourglass shape far better than any fossilized monkey or primate ever has! Hence, the evidence shows that not only is it our closest relative, but our direct precursor as well!

Now I know what some of you skeptics are thinking: “But Mark, what about all of the genetic and paleontological data which conclusively maintains that we’re descended from hominids?” Does L. sapiens exceed this evidence in both fields?

No, but aren’t you better comforted by the idea that we’re the evolutionary offspring of peanuts than by that silly old notion that we’ve come from a pack of apes?

I know I am!