Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Born This Day: George Gaylord Simpson

"Life is the most important thing about the world, the most important thing about life is evolution. Thus, by consciously seeking what is most meaningful, I moved from poetry to mineralogy to paleontology to evolution." G.G. Simpson
From the web site supporting the excellent PBS show “Evolution”:

As one of the founders of the "modern synthesis" of evolution, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson (June 16, 1902 - Oct 6, 1984) argued that the fossil record supports Darwin's theory that natural selection acting on random variation in a population is the driving force behind evolution. Simpson was among the first to use mathematical methods in paleontology, and he also took into account newly discovered genetic evidence for evolution in his study of paleontology.

In his 1944 book, Tempo and Mode in Evolution, Simpson divided evolutionary change into "tempo," the rate of change, and "mode," the manner or pattern of change, with tempo being a basic factor of mode. Simpson saw paleontology, revealing the long history of life on earth, as a unique field through which to study the history of evolution.

The early part of the twentieth century saw evolutionary theory embattled by disagreements over Darwin's emphasis on natural selection. The then-newly rediscovered work of Gregor Mendel in the nineteenth century was an uncomfortable fit with evolution, as many scientists saw it. They weren't at all certain that natural populations contained enough genetic variation for natural selection to create new species. So they entertained other explanations, including inheritance of acquired characteristics, "directed" variation toward a goal, or sudden large mutations that resulted in new species.

In the field of paleontology, the scientist who did most to resolve these questions was George Gaylord Simpson, who was on the staff of the American Museum of Natural History for 30 years.At a time when other paleontologists were convinced that the fossil record could best be explained by directed variation, Simpson disagreed. He said that fossil patterns needed no mystical or goal-oriented processes to explain them. For example, where others saw the modern horse as having arisen in a single advance toward the specialized form, Simpson saw the path as that of an irregular tree that had many side-branches leading off to extinction.

Simpson argued that the evolution of mammals, as seen in their fossilized remains, fit perfectly well with the new mechanisms of population genetics being studied at the time. He used the then-new mathematical methods to clarify how evolution occurred in "gene pools" in populations, not in individual members of the population.

Importantly, he showed that gaps in the fossil record reflected periods of substantial change through rapid "quantum evolution" in small populations, leaving little fossil evidence behind. At other times, he observed, rates of change could be so slow as to seem almost nonexistent.

Read more about Simpson HERE.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Mismeasure of The Mismeasure of Man

The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias. 2011. J.E. Lewis, et al. PLoS Biol 9(6): e1001071.

Apparently it was Gould, not Morton, who got it wrong.
Stephen Jay Gould, the prominent evolutionary biologist and science historian, argued that “unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm” because “scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth”, a view now popular in social studies of science.

In support of his argument Gould presented the case of Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century physician and physical anthropologist famous for his measurements of human skulls. Morton was considered the objectivist of his era, but Gould reanalyzed Morton's data and in his prize-winning book The Mismeasure of Man argued that Morton skewed his data to fit his preconceptions about human variation. Morton is now viewed as a canonical example of scientific misconduct.

But did Morton really fudge his data? Are studies of human variation inevitably biased, as per Gould, or are objective accounts attainable, as Morton attempted? We investigated these questions by remeasuring Morton's skulls and reexamining both Morton's and Gould's analyses.

Our results resolve this historical controversy, demonstrating that Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould. In fact, the Morton case provides an example of how the scientific method can shield results from cultural biases.

Thanks to Sukie for the link!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Proof For Competitive Exclusion

Phylogenetic limiting similarity and competitive exclusion. 2011. C. Violle, et al. Ecology Letters

Metal Men © DC Comics
A new study provides support for Darwin's hypothesis that the struggle for existence is stronger between more closely related species than those distantly related. While ecologists generally accept the premise, this new study contains the strongest direct experimental evidence yet to support its validity.

"We found that species extinction occurred more frequently and more rapidly between species of microorganisms that were more closely related, providing strong support for Darwin's theory, which we call the phylogenetic limiting similarity hypothesis," said Lin Jiang.

The researchers set up 165 microcosms that contained either an individual bacterivorous protist species or a pairing of two species, along with three types of bacteria for the organisms to eat.

The study results showed that all species survived until the end of the experiment when alone in a microcosm. However, in more than half of the experiments in which protists were paired together, one of the two species dominated, leading to the extinction of the other species.

The researchers found that the frequency and speed of this extinction process -- called competitive exclusion -- was significantly greater between species that were more closely related. In addition, in microcosms where both competitors coexisted for the duration of the experiment, the abundance of the inferior competitor was reduced more as the phylogenetic relatedness between the two competitors increased. link

Died This Day: Elkanah Billings

From Today In Science History:

Billings (May 5, 1820 - June 14, 1896) was a Canadian geologist and paleontologist, who was the first Canadian paleontologist.He published his first scientific paper on Trenton fossils in 1854. He launched a new monthly periodical, The Canadian Naturalist and Geologist in 1856, which he also edited and was the major contributor.

In Aug 1856 he was appointed staff paleontologist with the Canadian Geological Survey by William Edmond Logan, the founder of the Survey. Billings immediately began the task of identifying a 20-year backlog of fossils collected by the Survey. By 1863 he had published descriptions of no fewer than 526 new species of fossils.

The Billings medal, named in his honour, is awarded annually by the Paleontology Division of the Geological Association of Canada as a means of recognizing the most outstanding of its paleontologists.
On April 27, 1869, the Director of the GSC, Sir William Logan wrote this curt note to the paleontologist Elkanah Billings: "Your constant absence from the office is a worrying annoyance, particularly as I have reason to suspect that it does not arrive from rheumatism".
For more info on Billings click HERE.

Click HERE for more information on the Geological Association of Canada.

Portrait of Elkanah Billings GSC photo 69323 (c)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Premiered This Day: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

Directed by Eugène Lourié, this was Ray Harryhausen’s first solo film after having finished his apprenticeship with Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young. Apparently the dinosaur skeleton in the museum sequence was the same one used in Bringing Up Baby.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Forbidden Knowledge of The Dinosaurs


Two pages signed by "Red Grant" from the 1970's underground comic Forbidden Knowledge. They look to be the work of Bill Stout but he claims no knowledge of drawing them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Born This Day: E. O. Wilson

Wilson is an American biologist noted for founding the science of sociobiology. In his book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) he argued that all human behavior, including altruism, is genetically based, and therefore “selfish.”

Wilson's On Human Nature (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize; Biophilia (1984) suggests that human attraction to other living things is innate; and Consilience (1998) urges wider integration of the sciences. Other books by Wilson are Insect Societies (1971), The Diversity of Life (1992), The Ants, with Bert Hölldobler (1990; Pulitzer Prize), and The Future of Life (2002).

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Born This Day: Ernest Schoedsack

Cooper and Schoedsack (right)
Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack (June 8, 1893 – Dec. 23, 1979) was an American film, director and producer. With his partner, Merian C. Cooper, their first significant collaboration was the spectacular documentary, Grass (1925), which enjoyed a popular theatrical release in the wake of the success of Nanook of the North (1922).

They are best known for King Kong (1933), which was co-written by Schoedsack's wife, Ruth Rose. He also directed Son of Kong (1933), Dr. Cyclops (1940) and Mighty Joe Young (1949). From TCM.

Died This Day: Ruth Rose

Ruth Rose (Jan. 16, 1896 - June 8, 1978) was the daughter of Edward E. Rose. In 1926 she meet (and later married) cinematographer Ernest Schoedsack when they were both working on a New York Geological Society expedition to the Galapagos Islands. Together with partner and fellow producer director, Meriam C. Cooper, and animator Willis O’Brien, they made “King Kong”, released in 1933. Rose shared in many of Schoedsack’s and Cooper’s wildness film productions, and worked as a writer or script doctor on King Kong, Son of Kong, She, The Last Days of Pompeii and Mighty Joe Young.

The photo from King Kong (above) is of Bruce Cabot, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, but Rose clearly modeled the characters they played after Schoedsack, herself, and Cooper.

Born This Day: Francis Crick

From Today In Science History:

Crick (June 8, 1916 – July 28, 2004) was a British biophysicist, who, with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, received the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their determination of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chemical substance ultimately responsible for hereditary control of life functions.

Crick and Watson began their collaboration in 1951, and published their paper on the double helix structure on April 2, 1953 in Nature. This accomplishment became a cornerstone of genetics and was widely regarded as one of the most important discoveries of 20th-century biology.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Man Who Crashed Into Another Era

Another weird tale from Steve Ditko over at Atomic Surgery.
"Gasp!", indeed!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Born This Day: James Hutton

Hutton (June 3, 1726 - March 26, 1797) is considered to be the father of modern geology. He is accredited with proposing that observed geologic processes have been occurring at a uniform rate since the creation of earth, also know as the theory of unconformities. This led to his controversial suggestion that the earth is incredibly old.

Hutton began to notice geologic processes on his land in the 1750’s by following his soil during rainstorms when it would erode into the sea. He also noticed how long the process took and began to apply this idea to other parts of geology. If it took this long for some soil to move a few miles than how long did it take to form the cliffs by the sea? He also took note of other features in the landscape such as angular unconformities. A breakthrough point occurred for Hutton when he found Siccar’s Point. This site shows the build up of sediment over a long period of time as well as other geologic processes. It was this idea of continuous processes that fascinated Hutton for the rest of his life.

Hutton subsequently moved back to Edinburgh, and became very involved with the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1785 he had his friend Joseph Black read his lecture on his theories of earth. This was the first time that his full theory had been made public. He was met with much anger and rejection. Even though we take his ideas for granted today, at the time he was presenting this the oldest proposed age of earth was around six thousand years, as laid forth by the church. While he was able to convince a few by showing them prime field examples such as Glen Tilt and Siccar’s Point, for many it remained too radical an idea to consider.

Text modified from HERE. Image from HERE.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Congratulations to Chris McGarrity, M.Sc.

Congratulations to U of T student, Chris McGarrity, for successfully defending his M.Sc. dissertation on "cranial morphology and variation in Prosaurolophus maximus (Dinosauria:Hadrosauridae)".