Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Health care, Les Paul, Answers in Leviticus and the Rwandan genocide

August 14th, 2009 by Reinder

It's another episode of "Interesting stuff I'm reading":

Answers in Genesis refuses God's command and Ken Ham should repent (from Answers in Leviticus

Les Paul Youtube Friday an old Crooked Timber post rounding up music by Les Paul, pioneer of the electric guitar and multitracking, who died this week aged 94. One they missed, at Lawyer's, Guns and Money.

Also at Crooked Timber, a rather wrongheaded attempt at understanding the basis of Megan McArdle's position on healthcare reform (wrongheaded because engaging McArdle's opinions or indeed taking them seriously at all is a waste of time and only encourages her to post more) nevertheless leads to some good discussion on European health care systems.

But since people do take McArdle seriously for some reason, here's The Hunting of the Snark countering the argument that changing the health care system in the US will stifle innovation.

Also on health care, Cell phone service and healthcare at Angry Bear was good for a chuckle.

Daniel Davies, again at Crooked Timber, examines the claim that humanitarian intervention in Rwanda would have stopped the genocide and concludes that it wouldn't, because it didn't.

Finally, does anyone know if anything that looks likethis creature is common in Austria? Many years ago while vacationing there, I was spooked by a large twitchy insect thing with false eyes, and seeing this picture brought it all back. The critter in the picture is a click beetle and was shot in the United States

[Adam Cuerden] Citizendium: The Encyclopedia only pro-Homeopathy editors can edit

February 12th, 2009 by Adam Cuerden

Larry Sanger, part-founder of Wikipedia, wrote in 2001:

How are we to write articles about pseudoscientific topics, about which majority scientific opinion is that the pseudoscientific opinion is not credible and doesn't even really deserve serious mention?

If we're going to represent the sum total of "human knowledge"--of what we believe we know, essentially--then we must concede that we will be describing views repugnant to us without asserting that they are false. Things are not, however, as bad as that sounds. The task before us is not to describe disputes fairly, on some bogus view of fairness that would have us describe pseudoscience as if were on a par with science; rather, the task is to represent the majority (scientific) view as the majority view and the minority (sometimes pseudoscientific) view as the minority view, and, moreover, to explain how scientists have received pseudoscientific theories. This is all in the purview of the task of describing a dispute fairly.

This became part of Wikipedia's policies, and remains so to this day. However, in Sanger's new project, Citizendium, he's thrown this noble goal out the window, and actively works to suppress views skeptical of homeopathy.

However, let's discuss the Citizendium Homeopathy article first.

The Citizendium article was largely written by Dana Ullman, who Time magazine described as the "leading proselytizer of homeopathy". It shows: Criticism is practically non-existant, and what little remains is pretty much strawmen designed to be attacked and knocked down, or exist solely as statements on the line of "some criticism exists. Now back to more informatiion about this great form of alternative medicine you should try"[1]

The early sections are pretty bad in themselves - discussing the process of homeopathic dilution with no mention that no molecules are likely to remain in most homeopathic remedies - I should probably quickly explain for the uninitiated:

First off, it's possible to know the number of molecules in an initial substance if you know its mass and its molecular weight, and there are upper limits to how many molecules could exist in a certain volume or mass of substance. Homeopathic remedies use serial dilution to the point that 1part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1060, or 30C in homeopathic notation) is the level of dilution recommended by Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, for most treatments.

The number of molecules in one mole of substance is 6.022 x 1023 If you started with a mole of the substance meant to be homeopathically diluted, you'd go over that at 24X or 12C in homeopathic notation, meaning that, at those dilutions - and most homeopathich treatments are at those levels or higher - the chance of you having even a single molecule of the original substance would be only about 60%. At the 30C dilution recommended by Hahnemann, you'd have less than 1 chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of getting one molecule of the original substance.[2]

So, having ignored well-sourced and valid criticism, the article then moves into outright promotion:

A fundamental reason for conflict between conventional medicine and homeopathy is that homeopathy rejects the concept of treatments that target mechanisms of disease, and instead uses remedies that target syndromes of symptoms that they believe strengthen a person's overall constitution. Some homeopathic protocols might look like the following:

  • A physician qualified in both homeopathy and conventional medicine, after diagnosing a chronic condition that does not indicate the need for medical urgency, will usually first prescribe a homeopathic remedy which he feels may be more effective and is likely to have fewer side effects than conventional drugs.

and even downright dangerous recommendations:

  • Homeopaths disagree with conventional medicine about the role of immunization and chemoprophylaxis for infectious diseases and prefer to prescribe homeopathic remedies that they believe will strengthen a person's immune and defense system.
  • For some disease conditions, such as asthma and acute bronchitis, homeopathic remedies are often prescribed not only to alleviate chronic symptoms, but also to treat acute attacks. Homeopathic remedies might also be used after an asthmatic episode with the intent to prevent recurrences.

Homeopaths are given the final word against any of the very weak strawman arguments allowed to be placed against them:

While homeopaths also want to understand how their medicines work, they assert that there is a double standard in medicine and science because there is a long history of certain conventional medical treatments that have no known mechanism of action but that are regularly used; only relatively recently, for instance, has it been understood how aspirin works, but before then doctors used it regularly despite an inadequate understanding of its actual mechanism. Further, homeopaths assert that the overall evidence for homeopathy, including clinical research, animal research, basic sciences research, historical usage of homeopathic medicines in the successful treatment of people in various infectious disease epidemics, and widespread and international usage of homeopathic medicines today, provide extraordinary evidence for the benefits of this system

And then moves on to a section that can best be described as "Let's not let those mean scientists determine who's right. WE'LL decide who's right!":

The “balance of evidence” as to whether homeopathy has any effects other than placebo effects depends on who is balancing the evidence. Homeopaths strongly value the evidence of their own experience in treating patients, supported by the satisfaction reported by their patients in surveys; they believe that this is sufficient evidence of efficacy, but also state that most published clinical trials have shown some beneficial effects.

And, finally, a grand Galileo gambit:

Mainstream scientists and medical professionals are also often interested in homeopathy, despite generally being dismissive of the theories and of the claims for efficacy. They are interested in why so many people believe in homeopathy, when they consider that it has no plausibility. They are interested too in why some studies appear to have positive outcomes - do these reflect real efficacy, or can they be accounted for by flaws in study design or in statistical analysis, or "publication bias" - the tendency for small studies with chance positive outcomes to be published while studies with negative or inconclusive outcomes are not. They also are interested in whether positive results against expectation sometimes reflect manipulation of data or perhaps even fraud.

This interest has a much broader relevance than homeopathy. A huge number of research papers are published every year in the scientific literature - PubMed covers more than 6,000 journals in biology and medicine, and excludes very many journals that do not meet its quality criteria. Many of these papers report results that turn out to be wrong for many different reasons. Usually, errors are exposed when attempts to replicate the data fail; often contradictory results are reported, but often papers are quietly "forgotten" - never cited because their flaws become evident. Sometimes in conventional science overt fraud is revealed, but often it is impossible to confirm that fraud is present. But in conventional science generally, what counts is replicability - it doesn't matter whether unreliable results are the result of fraud or error, individual reputations depend ultimately on publishing important data that can be replicated consistently. Accordingly, scientists are professionally concerned with understanding the sources of error - including all sources of error, in study design, methodology, analysis and interpretation; and for some of them, homeopathy seems like a source of examples where they feel that the conclusions "must" be wrong, so finding the sources of error can teach important lessons.

Of course, it is possible that mainstream scientists and physicians have it wrong; perhaps homeopathy is indeed effective, and, if so, there is something important to be studied. Mainstream scientists enjoy a considerable degree of trust, and their assertions are often accorded considerable "authority". Some may exploit this authority, but the ethos of science generally is one of disciplined skepticism - including skepticism about all that we think we know. Scientific theories are never proven, but always provisional, subject to revision and occasional abandonment as knowledge grows. So scientists generally reject arguments from authority as being of any value - only arguments from reason, embracing current knowledge and understanding count, and these are arguments that each scientist must make for himself or herself, and make afresh as fresh knowledge comes.

There's more, like the section "A typical homeopathic visit", which reads like something out of a pamphlet advertising homeopathy, or "Scientific basis of homeopathy", which presents a half-dozen unsupported crank theories on how homeopathy supposedly could work as accepted scientific fact. But why do I say Larry Sanger is personally censoring any views that aren't in favour of homeopathy?

Because he's doing exactly that. Here's a short thread from the Talk page of Citizendium's Homeopathy article:

The contents of the article on Homeopathy on Wikipedia is controlled by the theorizing, skeptical, critics who have never tried Homeopathy. Anybody who is pro-Homeopathy is banned. I hope someone can change that!Ramanand Jhingade 13:27, 11 February 2009 (UTC)

Is it really necessary to attack people that choose not to try homeopathy? "Theorizing, skeptical critic who have never tried XXX", whatever XXX may be, gives the flavor of anyone who is not a proponent of XXX is an enemy. I would have thought that your experience here indicates that people can be critical but not enemies. Further, I would have thought that it has been established that one can form a reasonable judgment on something without actually experiencing it -- or are all obstetricians status para > 0?Howard C. Berkowitz 00:21, 12 February 2009 (UTC)

Oh, dear, one of those seems unduly nasty! Larry Sanger himself steps in... and, of course, removes not the one directly attacking people and bashing all people skeptical of homeopathy, but Berkowitz's polite response to it, replacing it with:

A comment here was deleted by The Constabulary on grounds of making complaints about fellow Citizens. If you have a complaint about the behavior of another Citizen, e-mail It is contrary to Citizendium policy to air your complaints on the wiki. See also CZ:Professionalism.

In the article, all criticism of homeopathy is being suppressed, and the homeopaths are allowed to run the show. On the talk page, attacks on critics of homeopathy are allowed to stand, but polite objections to these attacks are being deletedby Sanger himself. This highly biased deletion of posts is a level of discourse usually found in crank forums, not in a "professional" encyclopedia which was intented to show that its system was far superior to Wikipedia. Despite Citizendium's slogan of sorts, found on every page: "We are creating the world's most trusted encyclopedia and knowledge base", this article and the actions on its talk page remove any credibility that Citizendium might have.


[1]For instance, this is the only statement of criticism in the entire opening section, which is about a page, with the sentence after it provided for context:

Although homeopathy is practiced by some medical doctors, as well as by other health professionals in virtually every country in the world, most mainstream medical doctors and scientists, particularly those in the West, do not accept the principles of homeopathy today.[7] In addition to those homeopathic remedies prescribed in the professions practicing homeopathy, remedies are used by consumers all over the world for self-treatment of common self-limiting ailments and injuries.

That's it, and there won't be any mention of criticism again until about the third page, where there's a brief mention that some people objected to allowing homeopaths to advertise their treatments as effective based on homeopathic "provings" alone.

[2] The use of one mole is a gross exaggeration in favour of homeopathy: of all the solid or liquid substance (at room temprature) in existence, the one with the lowest atomic weight is atomic Lithium, which has seven grams to a mole and fills about 13 cubic cenimetres. It would be physically impossible to fit a mole of pretty much every substance known to exist into the size and weight of a homeopathic pill (with the possible exception of very exotic materials, such as liquid (or solid) hydrogen or helium), and more typical things used in homeopathy, like the organic molecules found in plants or inorganic oxides can have hundreds or even  thousands of grams in a mole. Hence, the case for homeopathy is actually far worse than described above.

ADDENDUM: We have CELEBRITY TROLLING in the comments - Dana Ullman, evidently so insecure that he's worried what a no-name university student is saying about him on a fairly obscure blog can't help but show up and complain. Have a read of it - it's pretty hilarious, and even includes a claim that if you do basic applications of physical and chemical laws, like in this post's analysis of the number of molecules in homeopathic treatments, then somehow love doesn't exist.

Pop-sci meme: what books have you read?

August 29th, 2008 by Reinder

Via PZ "I bought you a sacred host but I trasheded it" Myers comes this book meme: from the list of popular science books below, highlight which ones you've read. It's making me feel like an ignoramus; even with the expanded list suggested by PZ, I don't get very far at all:

1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
2. The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
4. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
6. The Devil's Doctor, Philip Ball
7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow
11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
20. Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman
21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
23. Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
24. Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
26. Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman
27. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
31. E=mc2, David Bodanis
32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
36. Apollo's Fire, Michael Sims
37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
38. Fermat's Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
39. Stiff, Mary Roach
40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
42. Longitude, Dava Sobel
43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
48. The Executioner's Current, Richard Moran
49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
50. Pythagorus' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
55. Einstein's Clocks and Poincare's Maps, Peter Galison
56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
58. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson
61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould
62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
64. The Life of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
72. Chaos, James Gleick
73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais

76. Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski
77. Basin and Range, John McPhee
78. Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner
79. Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod
80. Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson
81. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll
82. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer
83. Genome, Matt Ridley
84. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
85. It Ain't Necessarily So, Richard Lewontin
86. On Growth and Form, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
87. Phantoms in the Brain, VS Ramachandran
88. The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins
89. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, Elisabeth Lloyd
90. The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson
91. The Great Devonian Controversy, Martin Rudwick
92. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks
93. The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould
94. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, Richard Lewontin
95. Time, Love, Memory, Jonathan Weiner
96. Voyaging and The Power of Place, Janet Browne
97. Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier

I have read several of the books suggested in the comment thread, though, including Steve Jones' Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated and several other Dawkins books. Still, this makes me feel like I should work harder on this reading thing.

So long and no thanks for the noise pollution, the effluent, the chemical waste, the fishing nets and the damming off of essential habitats

August 9th, 2007 by Reinder

It's official now: The Yangtze Dolphin is extinct. Species go extinct all the time, which is bad enough, but this news hit me in the stomach. Hook Douglas Adams up to a generator and watch him spin.

(Via Pharyngula by way of Stranger Fruit.)

Beer and morons – Two items worth reading

May 10th, 2007 by Reinder

First: Beer! Crooked Timber's pet contrarian, Daniel Davies, writes In Praise of Budweiser in which he argues that the much-reviled American beer is a perfectly tasty product, not a ripoff of Budvar beer and by any criteria every bit as good as any British Real Ale. He discusses its history, its recipe, the merits of using rice as a brewing grain, and beer as an industrial product. Of all the evidence he mentions, taste is the one that is the most subjective and contentious, but on this issue, he backs up his argument with science:

Budweiser does not taste like piss. Normal urine has a pH of 4.6 to 8.0. Budweiser, like most lagers, has a pH of around 4.0. Therefore, Budweiser is definitely more acidic than piss. It’s also just the ticket if you happen to be drinking beer for breakfast, as the fresh taste of the rice content goes particularly well with most cereals (it is not coincidental that nobody has yet marketed Barley Krispies).

Read the rest.

Second: Morons! P.Z. Myers has something to say about March of the Morons and the familiar underlying argument that stupid people will outbreed smart ones:

The most troubling part of it all is the attempt to root the distinction in biology—it's intrinsic. "They" are lesser beings than "us" because, while their gonads work marvelously well, their brains are inherently less capacious and their children are born with less ability. It's the kind of unwarranted labeling of people that leads to decisions like "three generations of imbeciles are enough"—bigotry built on bad biology to justify suppression by class.

People, they are us.

There are no grounds to argue that there are distinct subpopulations of people with different potentials for intelligence. Genes flow fluidly — if you sneer at the underclass and think your line is superior, I suspect you won't have to go back very many generations to find your stock comes out of that same seething mob. Do you have any Irish, or Jewish, or Italian, or Native American, or Asian, or whatever (literally—it's hard to find any ethnic origin that wasn't despised at some time) in your ancestry? Go back a hundred years or so, and your great- or great-great-grandparents were regarded as apes or subhumans or mentally deficient lackeys suitable only for menial labor.

Are you staring aghast at the latest cluster of immigrants in this country, are you fretting that they're breeding like rabbits? That generation of children will be the people your kids grow up with, go to school with, date, and marry. It may take a while, but eventually, your line will merge with theirs. Presuming you propagate at all, your genes are destined to disperse into that great living pool of humanity. Get used to it.

Again, read the whole thing and might I add that if I'm ever stuck out at sea in a small lifeboat with a Young Earth Creationist Jesus-Zombie type of person and a Social Darwinist, I will conspire with the Jesus Zombie to eat the Social Darwinist first. They're just about the one group of people that get my hackles up more than outright evolution-deniers.

Cute overload in the deep seas

April 24th, 2007 by Reinder

Jelena sent me the link to a page of photographs of animals in the deap sea commenting that I'd find those freaky-yet-cute creatures inspirational. I guess I would.

I've got my doubts about, though. It looks sploggy to me - a fake web directory cobbled together from scraped RSS feeds and stolen content for no other purpose than to have something to have advertising on. On the other hand, it does host the images itself rather than deeplinking them from the original site The Deep from where the photos are taken, and it does present them in a way that's less clumsy than on the original site's javascript-driven gallery (though the original site is prettier), so it does at least add some value.
Officially, I urge you all to go to The Deep, but I don't think I'd have had the patience to look at that site if I hadn't first seen the photos presented in a normal web page on the presumed-to-be-thieves' site.

(Link to readigg nofollow-ized, the first link in a blog post here to earn that dubious distinction. Link to The Deep's gallery extracted from a longer javascript link)

By the way, the oldest book I own that I still use on a regular basis is a Dutch edition of the book Fishes of the World by Danish author Hans Hvass. My aunt, a librarian, took it home from the writeoff pile and gave it to me when I was, er, eight? Can't quite remember. I was fascinated by it and would often spend idle hours just browsing through it looking for freaky-looking fish. These days, I use the battered volume as a reference work in case Kel and Krakatoa get into one of their regular fish-slapping fights. I don't want them to assault one another with the same species of fish every time.

Unfortunately, some of the coolest fish are tiny, inedible or just not available in a setting based on Western Europe, ca. 1000, so they I can't make them fight with angler fish or spookfish. Though I guess I'll cheat, one day.

Spineless Behaviour

February 24th, 2007 by Adam Cuerden

You know, biology journalism isn't what it once was. Here's a newspaper report in the Illustrated London News, December 2, 1871 (pages 535-6). This was meant for a general audience....


The aquarium at the Crystal Palace now contains, with many other interesting objects, several specimens of the poulpe, or eight-armed cuttle, Octopus vulgaris, obtained from the sea on the Devonshire and North Wales coasts. This is the animal which has been made famous under the names of devil-fish or man-sucker, by the sensational descriptions of it in Victor Hugo's Guernsey romance "Toilers of the Sea", and in other works of imaginative writers. But as Mr. W.A. Lloyd, the superintendent of the aquarium, remarks in his protest against such exaggerations, "it is but wanton ignorance and vulgarity to call the octopus a 'devil-fish,' when it has about it nothing diabolical or fishlike. It is simply a mollusc, very high up in the scale of the mollusca, with its viscera and other internal organs contained in an egglike sac, which is surmounted by a pair of prominent and sometimes staring eyes placed on protuberances; and below, set on obliquely, is a series of eight stout, raditating, tapering arms, provided in all with about 2000 round projecting suckers, on the lower surfaces of the arms. Such a creature is in itself wonderful without being invested with fictitious attributes." It is a fact, however, says Mr. Lloyd, that these cuttles will, if alarmed, catch hold of a man within their reach in the water, though they cannot grasp him out of the water. "The specimens here under my care will, if I permit them, as I have done, firmly affix themselves to my submerged bare hand and arm by the crowds of sucking discs beneath each of their long flexible legs, arms, or tentacles, and then they will draw themselves on till they get to a convenient position, and give a severe bite with their hard, horny pair of beaks or mandibles (not unlike those of a parrot), which are placed below, in the centre of the body, at the point whence the legs or arms radiate; but they soon leave go and drop off when I raise them above the water's surface. There are no cuttles in Sark, where Victor Hugo places his narrative, or elsewhere in Britain, so large that even a child could not easily kill or disable one of them at one grasp or kick. On the other hand, if an enormous angry cuttle in the tropics, with arms measuring, as they sometimes do, from five to fifteen feet long, provided with thousands of suckers, each nearly an inch in diameter, and additionally provided, as many foreign species are, with a strong and sharp hook in the centre of each, in order to take a firmer hold, armed also with a terribly crushing pair of beaklike jaws - should such a creature encounter a swimming man it would go hard with the man, without any spitefulness on the part of the cuttle."

It seems probable, on the whole, that the common dread of these creatures, among the seafaring people of the Channel shores, and in the south of Europe, is founded upon some instances of persons being drowned, or put in danger of drowning, by entanglement with their long pliant arms. The eyes are blank and expressionless, and are furnished each with a pair of greyish lids, one closing downwards from above and the others upwards from below, till they meet at the centre of the pupil. "At night, or in much shade," says Mr. Lloyd, "the eye is wholly uncovered, but in light the lids are seperated according to the amount of illumination. If it be considerable, the seperation is such as only to leave a very narrow horizontal slit for the creature's vision; but if very strong, their edges are brought into complete contact. These motions of the lids have not the instantaneous character of the lid of the human eye, but are slow enough to be seen. The manner in which the eyelids of the octopus constantly vary in distance from each other when the creature moves about, and thus varies the amount of the shade through which it passes, is most interesting to witness. For instance, as it begins to enter the shadow of an overhanging rock in the Crystal Palace aquarium, the lids gradually seperate and expose the eye beneath them, and they as gradually close again as the animal emerges into light."

There's even a nice engraving with it.

Meanwhile, here's a modern report on an octopus exhibit in Birmingham (BBC News, 2 January 2007). After a long description of the mirror maze leading to it, all we get on octopi is:

Reward for negotiating the maze will be arrival in Poseidon's Chamber and chance to admire the resident Pacific giant octopus, the world's largest octopus with an intellect to match.

"These sea creatures are so intelligent marine experts often devise puzzles to help keep them stimulated," said curator Graham Burrows.

"It will be very fitting that our visitors have to solve a puzzle themselves in order to see it."

It's just not the same, is it? And there's only one image of an octopus, rather poorly presented: No improvement there, either. Even if the first article called the octopus a cuttle fish (a rather odd Victorianism, that), I can't help but appreciate the depth of coverage, and strong public outreach within those somewhat dense Victorian sentences. Why is it so rare nowadays that we just let a knowledgable person speak on a subject they're passionate about in the newspapers?

[Adam Cuerden] Encyclopaedia Britannica buys into the Discovery Institute’s hype

January 3rd, 2007 by Adam Cuerden


I cannot believe this. It ignores all the criticism deservedly heaped upon Intelligent Design. It ignores Kitzmiller, it parrots all their claims uncritically. Perhaps the full version is better, but if they're putting this shoddy work up online as a sample of their expertise, I'll take Wikipedia. frankly.

Let's have a look:


[Adam] Creationist Theory explains what Science cannot!

November 14th, 2006 by Adam Cuerden

Evidently, according to Richard Dawkins' recent Question and Answer session at Randolph-Macon Women's College, Liberty University, (founder: Jerry Falwell) has dinosaur fossils in its museum labelled as 3000 years old, to fit in with a 6000-year-old earth. Whilst this does make Sumeria, Babylon and the like hard to fit in, it does help explain one of the difficulties of archaeology. Why did the Hittite empire fall so abruptly in 1160 BC?