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.
August 23, 2011 |
Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has had a rollicking last few days. It all started with a tweet he posted Thursday: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy. " Lunacy? Heresy? Politics. Huntsman was aiming at a rival, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who was dissing evolution and climate change on a roll through New Hampshire. The tweet spurred thousands of followers, retweets, and blog rants, inflated Huntsman's Klout score (one measure of influence on the Internet)
August 8, 2011
Among the deeper questions looming in science is the degree to which the outcome of evolution is governed by chance. Stephen Jay Gould famously addressed the question in his book Wonderful Life , proposing that if time were wound back 500 million years or so and allowed to run again, evolution would produce a completely different mix of living things - one without us. Penn State evolutionary biologist Blair Hedges says his observations have...
July 14, 2011 |
Have you ever noticed how Phillies players wear their uniforms isn't always uniform? The differences are subtle, but still noteworthy. Warning to baseball purists: No, this has nothing to do with what happens on the field. But cut us a break. We style watchers can't help but pick up on these tiny nods to player individualism and speculate over what they might reveal about a player. For instance, Cole Hamels wears what appears to be an inexpensive titanium necklace around his neck, which purportedly has energy-balancing properties that help reduce stress and fatigue.
June 27, 2011 |
When the contestants in the Miss USA pageant last week were asked whether evolution should be taught in schools, many volunteered that they either "believed" or "didn't believe" in the concept. "I don't believe in evolution," said Miss Alabama. "They should teach both sides since some people believe in evolution and some people believe in creation," said Miss Arizona. "It's something people believe in," said Miss Florida. "I believe in evolution . . . and I like to believe in, like, the big bang theory," said Miss California, who won the crown.
June 15, 2011
As promised, I'm posting a rebuttal to a recent letter. To begin with, there are a couple of factual errors in this paragraph: "When I was young and going to school, I was taught that fossilization was a natural occurrence. That proved to be false. They told me that mankind was destroying the ozone with fluorocarbon. That proved to be false. Just because someone is a scientist doesn't mean they get it all right. Just because someone believes in evolution doesn't mean it is true. After all, people used to believe that the world was flat, right?"