Category Archives: Reblogs

Flowering plants remain viable after passing through the guts of waterfowl

Why Evolution Is True

We’ve long known that plant seeds can remain viable not only after floating a long time in fresh or salt water, but also when passing through the guts of birds, including waterfowl. In fact, I believe that at least half of the plants that arrive on oceanic islands, later to form new species, come from seeds pooped out by birds—as opposed to having floated across the ocean.

Now, however, there’s a new method of dispersal: instead of plant seeds being transported in bird guts, plants themselves can pass through a gut and remain able to reproduce (at least asexually). This is the first time it’s been shown for any flowering plant (“angiosperm”) in any bird, though there are previous reports of moss fragments and fern spores being able to pass through and remain viable in the guts of waterfowl. The study described here allows plants a new way of dispersal…

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Darwinism in the modern era: more on the evolution of evolutionary theory – part II

Footnotes to Plato

1 (2)The many conceptual and empirical advances in evolutionary biology during the second half of the twentieth century that I have briefly sketched in part I of this essay naturally led to a broader theoretical turmoil. More and more people felt like the Modern Synthesis (MS) was increasingly becoming too restrictive a view of evolution to keep playing the role of biology’s “standard model.” This group included Carl Schlichting and myself, Mary Jane West-Eberhard (2003), Eva Jablonka, and others. But arguably none made a more concerted, if partial, effort than Stephen Jay Gould in his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, published in 2002.


The Structure is comprised of two parts, one tracing the history of evolutionary ideas, both pre-and post-Darwin, and the second one presenting Gould’s view of contemporary theoretical debates within the field. While the constructive part of the book focuses too much on paleontology and multilevel selection…

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Darwinism in the modern era: more on the evolution of evolutionary theory – part I

Footnotes to Plato

1 (1)Scientific theories are always provisional accounts of how the world works, intrinsically incomplete, and expected to be replaced by better accounts as science progresses. The theory of evolution, colloquially referred to as “Darwinism,” is, of course, no exception. It began in 1858 with joint papers presented to the Linnaean Society by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace and was formalized shortly thereafter in On the Origin of Species. The original theory featured two conceptual pillars: the idea of common descent (which was accepted by a number of scholars even before Darwin), and that of natural selection as the chief mechanism of evolution, and the only one capable of generating adaptation.


The first bit of tinkering took place shortly thereafter, when Wallace himself, together with August Weismann, proposed to drop any reference to Lamarckian theories of heredity because of the newly proposed notion of the separation between sexual and somatic cellular…

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Australian traffic lights signal virtue

These do look more like virtue signals than traffic signals. Do the benefits justify the cost?

Why Evolution Is True

This is not something to be outraged about, even if you’re like me and find great distress in the Regressive Left. After all, the people who designed these traffic signals mean well (but don’t they always?): they’re trying to make gay couples seem welcome. I suspect, though, that gay couples don’t face much opprobrium in Australia, and, at any rate, they celebrate gay male couples rather than lesbian couples (stick figures are clearly “men”, as you see below). At any rate, click on the headline below to go to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s report:

From the article:

Eight new lights have been set up in the inner-north suburb of Braddon featuring both male and female same-sex couples.

The lights function like any standard pedestrian crossing signal.

But they have marked an important crossroad in Australia’s history, coinciding with the first anniversary of the same-sex marriage postal survey results.

Here is…

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Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne @ the National Gallery

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Ruddock Report summary and responses (Part 2)

Law and Religion Australia

Following my previous post giving comments on Recommendations 1, 5-8 and 15 of the Ruddock Report and the Government Response, I will comment here on another set of recommendations (Recs 2-4, 9-12) and the likely outcome. Comments on recommendations 13-14, and 16-20, will (hopefully) be made in Part 3!


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The Ruddock Report has landed! (Part 1)

Law and Religion Australia

The long-awaitedReligious Freedom Review: Report of the Expert Panel(chaired by the Hon Philip Ruddock) has now been released publicly, along with the formal Government Response. After the prior leaking of its 20 recommendations there were no major surprises as to the final conclusion, but there is much interesting background to the recommendations (and in one or two cases the full Report seems to have a significant impact on how one should read the language of the recommendations.) It is also important to see the announced intentions of the LNP Government as to how they will respond.

In this first post in response to the full Report I will comment mainly on recommendations 1 & 5-8 and recommendation 15, with the other recommendations to be left for part 2 or later.


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Readers’ wildlife

Why Evolution Is True

Reader Tom Carrolan found snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus)! Some of his pictures of eagles will appear next week.

Up in Northern NY surveying Rough-legged Hawks, but…

[JAC: The first one’s either a female or a youngster, as they are flecked with brown, but males are nearly pure white, and you see one in the second photo]

Tom sent this one a few days ago with the caption “Happy Owlidays”:

Reader Peter Jones sent some black swan photos from Australia:

I am not sure if the black swans in Oz (Cygnus atratususe “counter-current heat exchange” in their feet. But, recently I was over in Victoria and at one of its small port towns, Williamstown, on Port Phillip Bay (almost 35 times the size of the more famous Sydney Harbour). A bit of history, the Confederate raider ship, CSS Shenandoah, docked in Williamstown for repairs on January…

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Once again: Why sex is binary

Why Evolution Is True

Over at Medium, Alex Byrne, who happens to be a professor of philosophy, and chair of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has written an article criticizing Anne-Fausto Sterling’s NYT Op-Ed, “Why Sex is not binary.” Click on the screenshot below to see Byrne’s take, which is pretty sensible.

I also criticized the NYT article, as did psychologist Debra Soh.  My own criticism concluded that sex—defined as either “male” or “female”, each of which has a correlated suite of primary and secondary sexual traits connected with (and the evolutionary result of) the production of large or small gametes—is pretty much binary, and certainly strongly bimodal, with only a very small fraction of people who don’t fit neatly in the slots. For all practical purposes, sex is a binary, and it should be, since evolution produced (in most animals) two sexes that must…

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Academic mob goes after scholar for simply urging debate on issues of race, genes, and intelligence

Why Evolution Is True

This is the first piece from Quillette I’ve seen that doesn’t have an author—it’s an editorial written by “Quillette Magazine”. (Could that be Claire Lehmann?) But it doesn’t matter, for the piece describes a genuine academic witch hunt, one of many we’ve seen in the past two years. Click on the screenshot to read the editorial, and note that its title mocks along with the Stalinist nature of these mobs and of the “open letter” denouncng social scientist Noah Carl of the University of Cambridge:

Carl’s interest is “how intelligence and other psychological characteristics affect beliefs and attitudes,” and his Big Sin was to defend the right of academics to study and write about race, genes, and intelligence. As Quillette notes, Carl argues “that stifling debate in these areas is more likely to cause more harm than allowing them to be freely discussed by academics.”  But these topics are some…

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