Field of Science

Ken Ham's Creation "Museum"

It's probably not necessary to do so. But just in case it might get missed, I wanted to point everyone to the blog carnival that PZ Myers has assembled about the newly-opened Creation Museum. The "museum" is the product of Answers in Genesis and its CEO Ken Ham. As PZ put it:
"we can hardly believe that in 21st century America, this childish comic-book fantasy is being taken seriously by anyone."
The National Center for Science Education has posted an assembly of media reactions.

The Sexiest Animals on the Planet

Brian Larnder, over at Primordial Blog, which I had somehow missed until today, has a great running series of posts with nominations for the sexiest animal on the planet. Great stuff; just click on the Sexy Beast label for all of the nominees. I can't choose a favorite yet, but the latest candidate is the porcupine (per the classic query: how DO they do it?).

Thanks to Kate Hudson at Secret Sex Lives of Animals for the lead. Image from Gregory Ball.

Secret Sex Lives of Animals

A new blog appeared this month that is right up my alley: Secret Sex Lives of Animals by Kate Hudson, an "evolutionary biologist with an interest in the oddities of the natural world". Here is a description of the blog which looks GREAT so far:
"Birds do it. Bees do it. Humans do it. In fact every animal on this earth does it. But do they all do it the same way? Mating habits in the animal kingdom range from the sublime to ridiculous, but each animal, in their own unique way, accomplishes the same goal.

Welcome to the Secret Sex Lives of Animals, a weekly column written by an evolutionary biologist on the bizarre, wonderful, colourful and sometimes shocking world of animal mating habits. The Secret Sex Lives of Animals is published each Monday at and short updates appear throughout the week."
More weird and wonderful sex in the blogosphere. Gotta love it!

Thanks to Coturnix for the lead.

Banning the word "prokaryote"

Here I am at the the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting which is being held in Toronto. As Larry Moran has already pointed out, there are a few of us bloggers that are getting together with him while we are here. This should be great.

My first day (actually, part day) was capped off with a really fun, but in many ways maddening, lecture from Norman Pace. Norm was on my PhD committee, and it was the first time I had seen him for 12 years. The talk was wonderfully vintage Norm—even some of the phrases were the same as I remembered. That's not to say that the talk was at all tired. Norm is so fun to see in the spotlight; in this case, he had a big and well-deserved stage on which to perform! As an historical aside, Norm's class on the biochemistry of nucleic acids at Indiana University was the only biochemistry course that I ever took that started by reference to a rRNA tree of life. Norm has been ahead of the curve for a long time...

A major—and provocative—theme of Norm's talk is that we microbiologists should strike the word "procaryote" (or prokaryote, as I prefer to spell it) from our vocabulary. This is not a trivial matter for the microbiologists in attendance, both from practical and intellectual points of view. This part of his talk followed directly from his recently published piece in Nature entitled "Time for a change." (2006) 441:289. I happen to strongly disagree with Norm on this point and am much more aligned with the views subsequently published by Martin & Koonin entitled "A positive definition of prokaryotes" in Nature (2006) 442: 868. Although I'm too short on energy to do so now, I'll try to decipher my notes and give a more clear account of what Norm said (and my reactions to it) in the coming days.

Parenting Beyond Belief

Since I have not posted for awhile, I'll follow through on a promise made in March. Here is my review of Parenting Beyond Belief that was published in the Iowa Secularists newsletter in April. I'll point out that the author/editor, Dale McGowan (pictured at left), has an interesting blog called The Meming of Life.

This I don’t believe: a parenting guide for us

A review of Parenting Beyond Belief. On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, by Dale McGowan (Editor) AMACOM/American Management Association (April 30, 2007)

A search of for books containing the word “parenting” in their title yields ~4000 hits. This sounds like a huge number, but for those of you with kids, it’s probably not terribly surprising. Parenting books are a major market. A quick browse through the titles reveals both general parenting guides and some very specific categories (Nighttime Parenting, Financial Parenting, Militant (?!) Parenting, You-Name-It Parenting…). Indeed, a considerable fraction of these books are focused on religious parenting of various flavors (for example, 87 titles contained “christian parenting”)—and this presumably excludes other parenting guides available only in religious bookstores.

If you have kids, you probably have at least a few—and possibly many—parenting books. In my home, we have no less than 24 such books; for us, that’s 12 per child! But none of these books are aimed at a significant part of our demographic: we are non-believers. With the impending publication in late April 2007 of
Parenting Beyond Belief (herein, PBB) we—and many of you—will no longer be left behind. Depending on how you feel about parenting books, you may or may not consider this good news. But now you won’t have the excuse that none of them are aimed at secularist (atheist, freethinking, etc.) parents.

The PBB website ( touts that this book is “for loving and thoughtful parents who wish to raise their children without religion. There are scores of books available for religious parents. Now there's one for the rest of us.” Ok, so what if someone found an untapped niche in the parenting genre…is the book any good? The quick answer: it’s a really good, and in some places great, little book.

PBB is a collection of essays from a variety of authors on a wide range of parenting topics. Most pieces tackle issues specific to non-belief parenting but many also deal with more general topics. The editor, Dale McGowan, a writer, educator, husband and parent of three, has pulled off the difficult task of weaving together diverse parts into a very cohesive whole. It sure helps that most of these parts (the individual essays) are simply terrific! PBB is broken into nine topical chapters. For each chapter, McGowan provides a brief, but clear, introduction and synthesis; then he lets the contributors’ pieces stand on their own. Most of them do so with flair.

You can either read PBB from cover-to-cover, or pick-and-choose based on your topic of interest. If you do the latter, don’t skip the first chapter “Personal Reflections”. In my view, McGowan started with the strongest material—it simply blows away the standard parenting book drivel and sets a great tone for the rest of book. The essays by Julia Sweeney and Penn Jillette are truly wonderful. I really enjoy Penn’s no-holds-barred-style:
“Those of us who are out of the closet atheist parents have all the extra time on Sunday mornings to love our kids…Tell your kids that there’s no god and be done with it...your kids aren’t stupid.”
But this approach may not be for everyone and, to balance things out, some of the essays are more circumspect. I am also really pleased to see that a favorite essay from Richard Dawkins is included here. “Good And Bad Reasons For Believing” is an open letter that Dawkins wrote to his 10-year-old daughter on the nature of evidence and belief (reprinted from A Devil's Chaplain). I am moved every time I read it.

PBB is not only an interesting and enjoyable read, it is also stuffed full with good information and pointers to other sources. Each chapter ends with “Additional Resources” that includes websites, books and other helpful information. But it doesn’t even end there. On the website
you’ll find a useful study guide available for free download. The reader is advised that “the study guide – like the book itself – is intended only as a starting point”. So don’t wait to get started.

© John M. Logsdon, Jr., Ph.D.

Encyclopedia of Life Launches!

The Washington Post reports that a major new project has been launched:

"A group of the world's leading scientists announced yesterday that they had joined forces to document the world's 1.8 million named species in a massive new "Encyclopedia of Life." The unprecedented $12.5 million effort -- a collaboration of Chicago's Field Museum, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., the Smithsonian Institution, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Missouri Botanical Garden -- aims to create separate Web pages on every known species within a decade."

The funding comes from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($10 mil) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation ($2.5 mil). Wow. This is big science for "organismal biology" and it will put a whole lot of good data in one open-access place. Congratulations to those who had the vision to get this launched and thanks to the funding organizations for making it happen!

Go have a look at They already have some cool Demo Pages. For example, the image above comes from the Yeti Crab page. The home page says it all:
"Comprehensive, collaborative, ever-growing, and personalized, the Encyclopedia of Life is an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity."
Click here for the Press Release.

Genital Co-evolution in Ducks

In the category of sex & evolution I would be remiss to not post on this, even though I am a bit late to the game...

Just in case anyone missed it, I should at least point out a recent paper, "
Coevolution of Male and Female Genital Morphology in Waterfowl" by PLR Brennan et al. in PLoS ONE. The study was the subject of an interesting article by Carl Zimmer in this week's New York Times, which has met with considerable discussion in the blogosphere including this nice summary by Coturnix.

Not only is the long and twisted penis an interesting feature itself, the correlated complex morphology in the female genital tract makes this a really provocative case of probable sexual conflict driving the evolution of genitalia.

The image (of an Argentine lake duck) comes from a 2001 paper
published in Nature, "Sexual selection: Are ducks impressed by drakes' display?", by KG McCracken et al.

Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists

By popular demand, I'm now a member of the LFHCfS!

However, my membership may be short-lived if we can raise enough money to support our Iowa City Darwin Day efforts! Click here to find out more. Once shorn, I'll be donating my hair to Locks of Love.

More on David Sloan Wilson

Blue, over at Blue Cat Blog, has posted extensively on David Sloan Wilson's new book Evolution For Everyone, which I have not found time to finish yet. Blue also found a recent lecture given by DSW entitled "Evolution and Religion: Two Sideshows and the Main Event", given March 8, 2007 at Hampshire College as part of their Science and Religion lecture series. I'm having some difficulty posting the video, so just click here.