Tag Archives: evolution

Hobbits were real?

An ancient, 3-foot-tall human, whose unusually small stature has earned it the moniker “hobbit”, has astounded evolutionary researchers since it’s bones were discovered on the island of Flores, in Indonesia. Some scientists have proposed that the individual was a Homo sapien with a growth disorder.

Endocasts of the skulls of a hobbit (left) and a modern human (right). Credit: Professor Peter Brown, University of New England
Endocasts of the skulls of a hobbit (left) and a modern human (right).
Credit: Professor Peter Brown, University of New England

Recently discovered teeth from the hobbit propose it is a unique species, as opposed to a present-day human with a development issue. The new research also proposes that hobbits may share a immediate ancestor with present-day humans.

The 18,000-year-old fossil remains of the hobbit were found in 2003. From that point forward, scientists have suggested that the hobbit, which had a brain about the size of a grapefruit, was a branch of the human lineage Homo, named Homo floresiensis. On the other hand, separate scientists have contended that the hobbit was truly a current human with microcephaly, a condition that leads to an abnormally little head, a little body and some mental impediment.

To learn more about the hobbit, researchers have now performed the first comprehensive investigation of the ancient human’s teeth. The analysts contrasted the 40 known hobbit teeth and those from 490 present-day people from Asia, Oceania, Africa and Europe, as well as from an assortment of extinct hominins, such as Homo habilis.

The scientists discovered that hobbit teeth were as small as those from short present-day humans. On the other hand, different features of these teeth looked totally divergent from those of present-day humans.

The hobbit teeth showed a mix of more primitive traits seen in early hominids and more advanced traits found in later hominins. Credit: livescience.com
The hobbit teeth showed a mix of primitive traits and advanced traits. Credit: livescience.com

The hobbit teeth showed an exceptional mosaic of primitive attributes seen in early hominins blended with more-propelled characteristics displayed by later hominins, the scientists said. For example, the canine and premolar teeth looked primitive, while the molar teeth looked advanced, or as though they had emerged later in the evolution of Homo sapiens.

These discoveries negate prior assertions that hobbits had teeth completely like those of modern humans. The outcomes likewise propose that hobbits were not simply modern humans with serious abnormalities, the scientists said.

While human ancestry, for the most part, developed bigger bodies and brains through time, the hobbit suggests that seclusion on islands could considerably switch this developmental pattern, Yousuke Kaifu, a paleoanthropologist at Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, said.

The scientists detailed their discoveries November 18 in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Bill Nye and GMOs

For many of us who grew up with Bill Nye the Science Guy as our mentor and guide through the scientific world, he remains an influential and nearly faultless voice of reason. Whether or not you agree with all his opinions, his more recent capacity in the public eye as an activist for climate change and evolution has had him in the spotlight once again.

In Nye’s Nov. 2014 book Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation,  he devoted a chapter to his opinions on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the relatively recent movement towards their domination of our foods. An outlier in the scientific community, he reiterated his skepticism towards GMOs during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything):

Bill Nye as prophet. Graphic by Katie Gibson
Bill Nye as prophet. Graphic by Katie Gibson

“I stand by my assertions that although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem. Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better. So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin.”

Therefore, it has struck many by surprise that in February Nye stated in a video backstage on “Real Time with Bill Maher” that he is now “in love” with GMOs.

Some have expressed anger or have criticized Nye’s sudden change of heart, citing theories of bribes or threats. However, the great thing about science is that you are allowed — encouraged, really — to change or strengthen your opinion with every new piece of evidence you receive.

Nye declares that after visiting Monsanto (a corporation that has become all but synonymous with GMOs) and working closely with the scientists there to learn about the work being done with GMOs and food, he has found evidence for his about-face. Details of this are expected to be revealed further in his revised book (to be released next fall).

Now, although Nye says his opinion on GMOs has changed and indicates that they’re safe for human consumption, he still may be skeptical about the impact on ecosystems where GMOs have been introduced.

The argument for GMOs is that they allow more food, potentially better food, to be cultivated by farmers more easily. Scientists simply pick and choose the traits which food evolves with instead of waiting for natural selection to take its course — speeding the process up dramatically. And while this unnatural evolution makes many uncomfortable — including Nye until recently — there’s no current evidence that it’s any more dangerous than waiting a few hundred years for nature to take its course. Although it isn’t mandatory for GMOs to be tested for human health risks, all those currently on our shelves have volunteered to undergo review.

We may never see the day when we have a full understanding of the effects of GMOs, but at least we have the capacity, as an intelligent species, to seek out information and form our own opinions.

Religion and science can’t be friends

Most people think of religion and science as two very different entities that often conflict. Religion is based mostly on faith. The Bible, for example, constantly preaches to “walk by faith, not by sight.” No one has ever seen God, and the Bible does little to try to argue against this. However, it encourages followers to rely on faith and not be discouraged by the lack of physical evidence for the God detailed in the Bible. Although religion and science tend to disagree, many in the religious community try to marry these two entities.

Can religion and science mix? Graphic by Katie Gibson
Can religion and science mix? Graphic by Katie Gibson

The Bible, or other religious texts for that matter, provide a vague explanation for questions that science has more reliably answered. A family friend of mine recently shared a video of a woman angrily reading a vocabulary assignment for a class, wherein the teachings of Islam were obscurely placed throughout the assignment. The woman argued that the teachings of Jesus Christ would never be allowed in the schools. Ironically, the woman didn’t even have a child in the school or school district. She claimed her husband was outraged by the teachings of Islam being placed in these assignments, but only because passages or teachings from the Bible would never be allowed in schools.

Although I don’t agree with the teachings of Islam (or any other religion) being placed throughout a school assignment, I found it absurd that this woman would take the time out of her day to voice a completely inane theory that Muslims are trying to convert children. I voiced my opinion to this particular family friend that children shouldn’t be taught any religion in school unless, of course, they’re taking a course on religion. Children should be taught how to think, and not what to think. In my personal opinion, I believe teaching science and logical thinking should take precedence over spiritual teachings in a child’s life.

I’m not an anti-theist by any means. I have no issue with people raising their children in a religious environment, so long as the child is raised to be accepting of those who don’t share the same beliefs. If a child is brought up to persecute and demean those who don’t share the same beliefs, there’s a huge issue. However, I find it hard to find a happy middle ground for a child to be a free-thinker and a theist at the same time. Science and religion have no place together. Period.

This family friend that I’ve mentioned earlier argued that she loved science and had somehow found a happy middle ground where she could both be a hardcore Christian and a scientific, logical thinker. This semester, I finally got the chance to take an astronomy course, which I’ve been wanting to take since I first came to Radford. In just the second day of class, my professor took the time to define the requirements for a thoughtful, legitimate scientific theory. He defined science as an, “exploration guided by natural law, is explanatory by reference to natural law, testable against the empirical world, has conclusions which are tentative, and is falsifiable.”

In Dover, Pennsylvania, teachers were barred from teaching intelligent design as an alternative to natural selection. Judge Jones defended the ruling by saying, quite eloquently, that “the breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.” In other words, the judge found that there was no true scientific backing behind the teachings of intelligent design. The defense showed, again and again, that their intentions behind wanting to teach intelligent design were religiously motivated, and not used as a legitimate alternative to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

There’s no plausible way that religion and science can be found hand in hand. The religious tend to reject science and use God as an explanation for many natural occurrences such as evolution, natural disasters, life and death. Science and scientific theories are typically based on observable occurrences. In the last few hundred years,  many scientists and free-thinkers have stepped out to publicly reject God. Many religious folk cry persecution as atheists speak out against religious indoctrination. In reality, their empire of thought-suppression is slowly crumbling, brick by brick. I find it hard to accept their cries of persecution when for many years, atheists has been persecuted for speaking out against extremist religious leaders. Even now, I find admitting to being agnostic much more terrifying than when I once admitted to being Christian.

The Flu: It’s aliiive!

October isn’t just about picking out your new Halloween costume. During this season, many people are also picking out where to get their flu shots. It’s a nasty virus to pick up. It may include chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, congestion in the nose, and a sore throat often accompanied by a cough. The flu can be a student’s worst nightmare because you definitely can’t show up to class with these symptoms.

Flu is argued by most to be a virus that evolves again and again. That’s why people are told to get a vaccination every year. Various strains of the flu are capable of infecting a host. Using hosts’ cells, the virus multiplies into something more deadly. Although the flu is often taken lightly, it has caused massive panic more than once.

Is the flu making you feel like a zombie? Graphic from OK Wassup!
Is the flu making you feel like a zombie? Graphic from OK Wassup!

In 2009 the United States was scrambling to get the H1N1 — otherwise known as the swine flu —  strain under control. In Mexico, the flu virus had gone from pig hosts to humans, becoming something new. According to the CDC’s official website, H1N1 that year was responsible for 98% of the flu viruses recorded.

Each year, the virus does not lie dormant and rise again as the same thing. It evolves and becomes stronger. Each flu season the CDC works with doctors to try and predict which vaccines will be the most effective for the upcoming flu season and update them as the season progresses. At times, the predictions are correct and sometimes they are wrong. However, the vaccine is developed during the flu season for prevention.

The flu is also highly contagious and can spread in several ways. Experts believe that the way to get the flu can be through a cough or sneeze. Even talking can help spread this, which is unfortunate because you are contagious up to one day before your symptoms are even showing on the outside of your body. Bodily fluids from the mouth and nose often infect other people when making physical contact with those that already have flu symptoms. Touching surfaces and then touching your mouth or nose can also cause you to get the virus.

The best way to avoid getting or spreading the flu is to wash your hands, avoid contact with any sick person, and to get your flu shot!

Childhood Destroyed: Pokémon evolution isn’t evolution at all

Something with as much nostalgic value as Pokémon really should be free from any kind of bashing. Beloved by kids and adults alike, Pokémon has become a staple of many childhoods, and evolving Pokémon is undoubtedly one of the best moments within that staple. Trouble is, your Pokémon isn’t actually going through evolution, and Pokémon is guilty of perpetuating a misconception that has plagued Darwinists for years.

There’s so much childhood to destroy with Pokémon, it was hard to pick one. One could talk about the secret and depressing backstory of Gary, the Pokémon war that preceded the games, or even the fact that Gengar is a dead Clefable. But today, we’ll tackle my personal biggest pet peeve of the series, the big scientific inaccuracies.

Evolution in Pokemon is very different than evolution in the real world. Graphic by Grace Higginbotham
Evolution in Pokemon is very different than evolution in the real world. Graphic by Grace Higginbotham

Pokémon evolution isn’t evolution, it’s metamorphosis. The difference is that evolution happens through a series of mutations over many generations via a harsh process called natural selection, in which advantageous mutations ultimately give the more evolved animal more favorable conditions to reproduce. Metamorphosis is what caterpillars do to become butterflies, or tadpoles to frogs. It’s a drastic change that happens within one lifetime.

But what happens when people grow up under the impression that evolution is simply one thing changing into another? We’ve seen notable non-scientists make the claim before that if evolution were true, we would be able to see monkeys evolve into people, so why does Pokémon continue to use this incorrect term to describe the growth of your creatures?

It’s very possible that this misnomer is a result of lazy translations that was never corrected, but the point remains the same. In the US, we have an alarming 33 percent of people who believe humans existed in their present form since the beginning of time. That’s one in every three. Sure, it’s safe to assume a lot of this has to do with religious teachings and things of that nature, but how much of it can be credited to the fact that you can’t watch a monkey turn into a human in its lifetime?

Pokémon has made itself a guilty party to perpetuating one of the biggest myths about evolution. Granted, it’s not quite as catchy to run to your older sibling and shout “Look, my Pokémon is metamorphosing!” But the distinction needs to be made to end the confusion so that third of the country that is lagging behind can catch up.

Sorry, Professor Oak. If you can’t even remember the name of your own grandson, you can’t be trusted to teach kids about science.

“Cosmos” returns to primetime with hopes to change society

Was the “Family Guy” theme song right when it said that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV? Maybe all we need is a powerful science show to educate the masses. The new episodes of “Cosmos” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson aims to do just that. Continue reading “Cosmos” returns to primetime with hopes to change society

Bill Nye & Ken Ham debate creation

You may have spent the evening of Feb. 4 eagerly sitting in front of your computer screen, watching a debate between two renowned men in Kentucky. If not, you may have at least heard talk or seen memes plastered all over the Internet about this exciting event. The debate took place at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky and was moderated by CNN’s Tom Foreman. Continue reading Bill Nye & Ken Ham debate creation

Darwin likes to get it hot

Evolution continues to be a curious topic for humans. It seems as though we’re always looking for explanations and new life. In past decades,  we’ve tried to find other life in our solar system. That quest for life beyond Earth has lead us to study our own planet and how it has evolved over the years. Continue reading Darwin likes to get it hot

A new skull and a new beginning

Humans often ponder why we exist, where we came from and how we got here. We ask questions that are rather deep and intellectual because we’re curious by nature. Philosophy aside, the theory of evolution is deeply rooted in our education.

For the past two million years, the human race has evolved and adapted. Scientists are continuously studying human evolution. These seekers of the past study how our ancestors discovered fire and how we went from nomads to

The skull being unearthed at the dig site. Image from USA Today.
The skull being unearthed at the dig site. Image from USA Today.

farmers. Recently, these scientists found something that might make us rethink human evolution. Scientists in the Republic of Georgia have discovered a skull that may be a missing link in our evolutionary chain. Continue reading A new skull and a new beginning

Sexy aliens? Science says probably not

We humans (or at least, the geekier specimens among us) seem obsessed with human-on-alien action. From the countless conquests of Captain Kirk to the untamed Na’vi beauty Neytiri, science fiction is replete with tales of uninhibited extraterrestrials that know just how to get our motors running.

But is it really likely that even if we’re not alone in the universe, our galactic neighbors will want to pay conjugal visits? Probably not. Continue reading Sexy aliens? Science says probably not

When did junk food become healthy?

You’ve probably gone into the grocery store and seen all the health labels posted on prepackaged food. There’s yogurt that improves immunity and digestion, heart healthy cereal and even pomegranate juice that claims to do everything from lowering cholesterol to alleviating erectile dysfunction. Could we see a decline in health problems with all this apparently healthy food on the market? The problem is that most of these food labels are misleading or downright false. Continue reading When did junk food become healthy?

The myth of the Neanderthal baby

Would you be willing to carry and birth a Neanderthal baby, should the opportunity present itself? This is the question news outlets around the world were asking after an interview with Harvard geneticist George Church.

The story goes that Church and his team were looking for an “adventurous woman” to be a surrogate mother to a cloned Neanderthal baby. He is quoted in The Daily Mail as saying, “Now I need an adventurous female human.”

Would you want a small version of him in your house? Image from Creative Commons.
Would you want a small version of him in your house? Image from Creative Commons.

Church explained that much of the science involved in such an endeavor is actually quite feasible. Sequencing the Neanderthal genome would be the first step, and that was accomplished back in 2010.

He also mentioned that cloning a Neanderthal might benefit society by increasing genetic diversity. Continue reading The myth of the Neanderthal baby

Two chimps are better than one

Way back in kindergarten, most folks were taught the importance of cooperation. It turns out humans aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom to learn this lesson, however. A recent study by behavioral scientist Alicia Melis has shown that our hairy cousins can cooperate in a more sophisticated fashion than previously thought. Continue reading Two chimps are better than one

Literally wrong

Just as genes and viruses change, so do words and word meanings. There are some words that will always stay the same, such as “you” or “I.”  According to Roger Highfield, director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group in London, “these words along with “give,” “water,” and “hand” are likely to persist, [but] there is a 50 percent chance that the word for ‘dirty’ will be different by the year 2750.Continue reading Literally wrong

Math monkeys

Remember that old saw about the monkeys and the typewriters? It turns out a more accurate scenario might have been monkeys with calculators. Recent research has shown that while higher-level math is a uniquely human behavior, the ability to learn such mathematical skills is tied to a primitive sense of magnitude our species shares with many others. Continue reading Math monkeys

The biology of fear

It’s the little chill that goes through your body on dark nights. It’s the tingle at the back of your neck when you feel watched by hidden eyes. It’s the feeling that comes during a confrontation that lets you know somewhere in the distant past, your ancestors are raising their hackles and baring their teeth. The culprit, of course, is fear — a force as old as conscious life itself (or maybe even older).

Everyone knows what fear feels like, but what’s actually going on behind the scenes? What in our bodies and brains drives such a powerful and necessary emotion? Continue reading The biology of fear