February 6, 2012 |
Timing is everything, and if there was ever a scientist whose legacy was tarnished by bad timing, it was Jean Baptiste Lamarck. The French naturalist lived from 1744 to 1829 - and published his own evolutionary theory decades before Darwin's theory went public in 1859. In the popular imagination, those who've heard of Lamarck tend to associate him with a wrongheaded version of evolution in which giraffes can grant their offspring longer necks by reaching for high leaves. Historians say this unfair portrayal was engineered by Lamarck's enemies.
January 16, 2012 |
We humans can be a cocky species - so much so that a realistic self-image can be seen as a symptom of trouble. Take the reaction to a recent survey in which about 52 percent of college students rated their emotional health as below average. About half of them are, after all, going to be below average. But the UCLA researchers who did the survey say it indicates a deeper problem. In past surveys, at least 64 percent of the respondents said they were above average. What's going on here?
January 2, 2012 |
It's a common misconception that evolution is a matter of faith, because it happens too slowly to observe. Here's the way one reader sees it: "I don't see any fish walking around, nor do I see any other creature in mid-evolving mode. . . . Simply stated, both creationism and evolution should be taught as competing theories; both are not provable, and both cannot be duplicated in a lab. " But evolution does happen in the lab, in real time, and it's bad news for us because such rapid evolution allows organisms that can kill us by evading drugs, vaccines, and our own immune systems.
December 26, 2011 |
Chimps are about 96 percent genetically identical to humans, and like us they are self-aware enough to recognize themselves in a mirror. But physically, we show some remarkable differences. They don't get the same kind of heart disease humans get. They develop some of the brain abnormalities associated with Alzheimer's disease, but not others. And despite being more sexually promiscuous than humans, they don't get the same sexually transmitted diseases. They heal better than we do and don't get sleep apnea, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, or acne.
November 26, 2011
Lynn Margulis, 73, a biologist whose work on the origin of cells helped transform the study of evolution, died Tuesday at her home in Amherst, Mass. She died five days after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, said Dorion Sagan, a son she had with her first husband, the cosmologist Carl Sagan. Dr. Margulis, who had the title of distinguished university professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst since 1988, drew upon earlier, ridiculed ideas when she first promulgated her theory, in the late 1960s, that cells with nuclei, which are known as eukaryotes and include all the cells in the human body, evolved as a result of symbiotic relationships among bacteria.
November 21, 2011 |
As the darkest days of the year close in, some of us crave the feel of sunlight on our skin. That could reflect our evolutionary heritage, since we humans are not well-adapted to live as far north as Philadelphia. We're essentially an equatorial, tropical species who migrated only recently to places with long, dark winters. There hasn't been time to adapt. One major problem with living this far from the equator is that it's hard to get enough Vitamin D, a hormone that turns out to be essential not only for keeping our bones strong but also for running our immune systems and just about everything else.
October 10, 2011 |
Several weeks ago I got a call from a reader who wanted me to investigate whether humans are still evolving, and if so, into what. Will we become superbrainiacs, or will we mentally degenerate, as in the film Idiocracy , or Planet of the Apes ? Or, will we split into two species, as H.G. Wells imagined in The Time Machine ? In the last few years, scientists have come up with some clever ways of getting at this question, and they're picking up signs that people are evolving.
September 20, 2011 |
Either there's been a glitch in the matrix, or the fantasy landscape is undergoing a dramatic shift before our very eyes. Along with the usual suspects from New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, the upper echelons of the 2011 fantasy ranks are being invaded by "impostors" from Buffalo, Detroit, and (gasp!) Carolina. I mean, what kind of world are we living in where Cam Newton trails only Tom Brady among fantasy passers? Don't Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson understand their place in the NFL hierarchy?
September 19, 2011
Few notions are as entrenched in medical dogma as the idea of pounding infections with long courses of high-dose drugs. So it came as a bit of heresy this summer when a Pennsylvania State University evolutionary biologist suggested that in some cases a softer blow might actually work better. The biologist, Andrew Read, started his biology career in the 1980s studying plumage in birds, since the colors and other qualities of feathers are connected to a bird's lack of parasites. Then, he realized there was nobody in evolutionary biology studying the parasites.
August 29, 2011
When evangelical Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry said evolution was a theory that has "got some gaps," he showed that if anything, religious and political gripes with evolution are intensifying, even as Darwin's idea remains established in the bedrock of science. Other Republican runners are equally hostile to evolution - Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul support the teaching of creationism. When pushed, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have espoused a sort of mix, Gingrich saying that he believes in both creation and evolution, and Romney saying that he believes God designed the universe but evolution shaped the human body.