Monthly Archives: February 2015
Yes, that’s Dave, Boris, and the rest of their Old Etonian pals, in purpose-tailored  getups, before the notorious Bullingdon Club dinner, which year after year ended in drunken rioting, invading and smashing up the rooms of ordinary students (who were referred to as “trogs” i.e. troglodytes), the occasional debagging (an old tradition; see Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall), and then moving on to more serious stuff like smashing up shops.
And while we’re at it, a few years later here‘s George Osborne, Number 16. Jo Johnson, Boris’s younger brother,is at Number 8.
We saw this happening, when I was a student, year after year, and groaned. It would be interesting to see the police records of Dave and Boris’s Bullingdon nights, if they still exist.
But no need to worry. Not only was the State paying their student fees, plus a token minimum grant (not loan), but they knew that daddy would show up with cheque-book and persuade the shop owner not to press charges. In David Cameron’s case, daddy was a hard-working stockbroker, and rose to be senior partner of the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon & Co., now with offices in Switzerland and Singapore, despite the handicap of having had a father and grandfather who were also partners in the firm, and Cameron has pointed him out to us as an example of what can be accomplished by hard work and diligence.
I was hoping you would see a lot more of Dave and Boris enjoying themselves in the run-up to the Westminster election. As I had hoped before the last one. But this was not to be.
In 2007, the copyright owners of the picture suddenly and mysteriously decided to ban its further distribution. I wonder why.
I am glad that the story has now resurfaced. It was the BBC who carried it in 2007; I am not hopeful that they would do the same today.
Just remember, we’re all in this together; Dave said so. And have a thought for what else the people in these photographs have smashed.
h/t Geoffrey Braterman, RealPaulLewis
1] Cost, £1,000, or 200 hours minimum wage earnings, when the story was written. I’m told (see comments) that this was uninflated and should in present day money be £3,500, or pushing 600 hours minimum wages, or 49 weeks benefits living allowance in Glasgow. But remember, that includes the special biscuit-coloured waistcoat. And you do get two more chances to wear it, if you make it into the Club in your first year.
I have had enough of arguing with creationists. If force of argument could defeat them, they would have disappeared long ago. The reality is that people believe what they want to believe, that they like what they like, and that they are much more interested in what relates to them directly than they are in scientific abstractions. So the way to defeat creationism is to present the scientific reality in ways that are engaging, enjoyable, and above all personal. In this post, I review one of three recent books that succeed in doing this, using very different approaches. The other two will form the subject of a later post.
Animal Weapons, by Douglas J. Emlen, is subtitled The Evolution of Battle, and compares the evolution of weaponry by animals with that of human warfare. The book is greatly enriched by drawings by the graphic artist David J. Tuss, who specialises in the dramatic portrayal of scientific material, although, thanks to the extraordinary development of animal weapons, I found some of the illustrations difficult to follow.
Emlen himself is a professor of biology at the University of Montana, and his laboratory’s website is itself a feast to behold. One of his group’ aims is, as stated on that site, to actively communicate the excitement of evolutionary biology to broad audiences through books and the popular press, contributing to public understanding of animal diversity and morphological evolution and Emlen is co-author, with Carl Zimmer, of Evolution, Making Sense of Life, one of the few university level textbooks I have come across that can be read for pleasure. Emlen’s own original Ph.D. project, which he refers to in the book with evident nostalgia, involved fieldwork in Central America studying dung beetles. It turns out that some species of dung beetles do, and some do not, develop extravagant weapons. Ball-rolling dung beetles squabble over balls of food carved out from the droppings of larger animals, but the fights are free-for-all scrambles and they do not become heavily armed. Tunnelling dung beetles hide their trophies in burrows with narrow entrances. Females feed and hatch their young at the bottom of these tunnels, and males duel fiercely to retain possession of these. This duelling situation leads to direct selection pressure in favour of larger weapons, despite their cost; Emlen himself showed that selecting for larger weapons exacted a direct cost in poorer development of other organs, such as the eyes. Burrowing dung beetles develop weapons, while ball-rolling dung beetles do not.
This illustrates a general point about weapons developed for control to resources. The resources need to be defensible, like burrows, or (to take other examples that Emlen cites) tree branches, or sap-oozing nicks on tree trunks.
Throughout the animal kingdom, some species do, and some species do not, develop fierce weapons whose only function is to fight others of their own kind. Among large animals, these weapons are generally a feature of the males, and are used in duels to decide access to females, either directly or through control of resources such as food or territory. The costs of these weapons to those who possess them are enormous. Stags, for example, devote so much calcium and phosphorus to building up the calcium phosphate in their antlers, that they cannot get enough from their food and deplete their skeletal bones to make up the shortfall. The most extreme example in the deer family is the extinct Irish elk (Lascaux cave painting shown R), where extravagant and development seems have been so demanding as to leave the animals with no margin to spare when changing climate reduced the amount of fodder available. However, the cost of not having the best weaponry is, from an evolutionary point of view, prohibitive. There is nothing worse for your genetic inheritance than failure to secure mating opportunities.
Less extreme are weapons developed by some carnivores, such as sabretooths, who had 10 inch long canines capable of breaking the back of a mammoth. But these also are expensive to their possessors, requiring adaptations of the skull and neck that make fast running impossible, and sabretooths are thought to have ambushed their prey by dropping down from trees.
The counterpart of offence is defence, and the counterpart of weaponry is armour and fortification. A mediaeval fortress would be defended by two sets of walls, the outer one shielding the inner from bombardment, the only entrances being narrow gateways easily guarded by a few heavily armed soldiers, in a space too confined for attackers to take advantage of numerical superiority. The same is true of termite mounds, which are capable of withstanding attack by a column of army ants; similar causes produce similar effects.
Human weaponry evolves rapidly, under cultural pressures, as the result of technical innovation, with long periods of stasis in between. The invention of the battering ram transformed ships from mere vehicles for fighting men into weapons able to destroy each other, so that naval warfare became a matter of duels in which the largest and fastest ship would be the winner. This led over the course of some 300 years from 600 BCE onwards to the development of multiple rows of oars until the ships grew too unwieldy to manoeuvre (one of my very few complaints about this book is that it tells this same story twice). Individual human weaponry can become very expensive, like knightly armour. Such weaponry can also suddenly disappear, as armour became useless against improvements in crossbows, longbows, and, eventually, firearms, much cheaper and more available to the common citizenry than the panoply of a mounted knight, only to reappear in our own time with the development of Kevlar. The arms race between fortification of cities and the development of siege warfare machinery came to a rapid end in modern times with the appearance of artillery. Human warfare can also evolve in surprising ways, as in the development from the Vietnam War to the present day of asymmetric combat, depending on small locally based militias operating in small groups against the massed might of great powers.
In nature, arms races can come to an end in several different ways. They can reach equilibrium, when the additional expense of even larger weapons is not enough to compensate for the sheer difficulty of maintaining them. In a population of lumbering heavily armed creatures, small, nimble variants can become, at least for a while, more successful, but once these have taken over completely the arms race can start all over again. This has happened many times in dung beetles and in antelope. Heavy weaponry can be bypassed or its owners tricked. For example, small dung beetles can dig parallel burrows that bypass the guarded main entrance, mate with the female, and leave the same way they came, with the guardian none the wiser. Or, as in the case of the Irish elk, changed circumstances may make the hereditary weaponry nutritionally unsustainable, bringing the arms race to an end through the disappearance of the population.
There is one important difference between human and animal arms races that Emlen does not discuss. Natural selection is brutal but rational, and expensive armament does not survive unless it does in reality contribute to its owner’s individual fitness. Human weaponry is very different, because it is the result of political choices. Hence the persistence of such enormously expensive projects as the US Stealth Bomber programme (each B2 bomber, shown L, cost $2 billion in 1997 dollars), the entire British and French “independent” nuclear weapons programmes, or the bloated nuclear arsenals of the United States and, in its time, the Soviet Union and now of Russia, despite their total irrelevance to any actual or conceivable military situation. Indeed, if the author’s account of the Able Archer crisis of November 1983 is correct, the last of these came perilously close in November 1983 to bringing our civilisation to an abrupt end for no good reason whatsoever. Dung beetles have better sense.
In a later post, I will be reviewing The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, by Alice Roberts, and Grandmother Fish, by Jonathan Tweet.
Animal Weapons, by Douglas J. Emlen, Henry Holt, pp 288, Hardback ISBN-13: 978-0805094503, Nov. 2014, from £ 11.19/$13.95; Paperback, Picador, scheduled for December 2015; Audio CD/Audiobook available.
Irish elk, as shown in book, HTO, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Double-walled Alcazaba of Malaga, 11th Century, Photo Gaxul via Wikimedia. Sneaky male dung beetle from book. B2 image by USAF via Wikipedia.
Disclosure: the copy reviewed was my own personal purchase.
This review first appeared on 3 Quarks Daily, here.
An analysis (with link to full scholarly critique) of this deceptive and slippery claim, which creationists continue to promote despite rebuttals from the very scientist whose work they are misdescribing. The red “blood” colour is merely iron oxide; the preserved structures are encased in bone mineral; the only preserved organics are fragments of notoriously tough connective proteins, stabilised by cross-linking over time (I would add from my own scientific experience that the microcomposite bone-collagen structure will add further stabilisation); and the scientist responsible (Mary Schweitzer, who happens to be a devout Christian) has herself protested against the use of her data to promote an indefensible Young Earth agenda.
For fossils as old as dinosaurs (over 65 million years), the conventional wisdom has been that no original organic material could remain. If the delicate structure of soft body parts is discernable, that is only because these parts were converted to some type of inorganic mineral in the fossilization process.
However, over the past two decades, paleontologist Mary Schweitzer has rocked our world by presenting visual evidence of soft tissues recovered from the interior of dinosaur bones, and biochemical evidence indicating that these are in fact the remnants of the original cells and structures from within the dinosaur bone pores. For instance, here is a network of blood vessels, containing little round red things that look like red blood cells:
High magnification of dinosaur vessels shows branching pattern (arrows) and round, red microstructures in the vessels. Source: Schweitzer, et al., “Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex”, Science, 307…
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Reblogged from geologictimepics Rockin’ countertops–geologic time in our kitchens and bathrooms!
Compare this with my description of a single pebble here. In these twice-metamorphosed slabs of rock, the fragment under high local stress (asterisked) is that little bit more soluble as a result, The beauty of rock structures is something that continues to amaze and delight me.
I stopped by a “granite” supplier yesterday –the kind of place that sells “granite” and “marble” slabs for countertops. Besides the fact that almost none of the slabs were actually granite or marble, they were spectacular rocks that showed wonderful wonderful detail. I nearly gushed at the idea of taking a geology field trip there. It’s local, and you seldom find exposures like this anywhere else!
Generally speaking, “granite” in countertop language means “igneous” or “metamorphic” –crystalline rocks that form miles beneath Earth’s surface and so require great lengths of time to reach the surface where they can be quarried. When I first started this blog, geologic time with respect to igneous and metamorphic rocks were some of the first things I wrote about –it’s such pervasive and important stuff.
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God of Evolution, which I regard as an ally against the forces of darkness, writes:
I don’t remember the part of the biblical flood story where Noah sues the government for not giving him millions in tax breaks. Maybe that’s because Noah actually was interested in following the God’s directives, you know, unlike some people.
This work by godofevolution.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
And if you think that Ken Ham and all he stands for is irrelevant to Scottish schools, think again.
Darwin Day 2015: Scotland’s creationist ‘dinosaur’ John Mason is fighting to take God back to school
With further memorable comments on creationism, miracles, and the age of the Earth.
Unfortunately, despite the headline, Mason is not fighting to take anything back. He is merely attempting to maintain the status quo. As I commented on the ibtimes site,
The shocking truth is that Mason is not fighting for change, but to maintain the status quo. He is reacting to attempts [Parliamentary Motion; Scottish Secular Society Petition] to get the Scottish Government to issue guidance to stop separate creation being presented in Scottish schools as a viable alternative to the established science of evolution and an old Earth. At present, no such guidance exists, and the Scottish Government, so far, is pretending that none is necessary.
Here, without cherry picking, is what Mason is reported as saying on the subject:
I don’t like creationism. It’s not a word that I ever use myself, like ‘fundamentalist.’ I’d see that as being a part of a package that’s more than a belief that god created the world. If that’s what you mean by creationism I’m fine with that, but I feel it has a lot of baggage. It gives a wrong impression.
I’m a mainstream Christian. The key thing is only that God created the world, I don’t get excited whether it’s six days or 6 million years. I don’t think timescale is important.
That’s why I put in the [Parliamentary] Motion with the option of God creating the world, be it over 6 days of six million years. That’s not fundamental to me. There are some things fundamental to Christianity, such as Jesus dying on a cross, but how long God took to create the world is not one of them.
In the words of the ibtimes reporter, Gareth Platt, Mason continues by insisting that neither creationism nor evolution can be proved by science. I want to press him on this… So, I ask my interviewee, how much proof do you need?
None of these positions can be disproved by science. Science has to know its limitations. The Bible says Jesus turned water into wine. Science can look at that wine but, assuming that miracle happened, science could not tell us whether that wine was five minutes or five months to make.
If God creates miracles, science is out of its depth. I don’t think science can make a statement on where we’ve come from, it is based on the assumption that God hasn’t created a miracle.
To discover something means finding out things that are already there. My fundamental belief is that God created the world and all the rules of science, so science cannot find out that god doesn’t exist. I’m totally committed to the truth so I want science to find out new things. Other people start off with the assumption that god does not exist, so there are assumptions being made on both sides.
The idea of a God that creates the world is a very central belief to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There’s nothing revolutionary about it. It is fundamental to the whole Christian belief that there is a creator, and Christianity would unravel if creationism was proved wrong.
I don’t see how you could be a Christian, Muslim or Jew and not believe that God created the world. Even those who accept evolution would say there was a God who set it in motion.
Concerning the East Kilbride scandal, Mason believes
that particular church probably went too far. It’s a privilege for any group to be operating in schools, we’ve got a long historical relationship between churches and schools and the state, [but] clearly we are now in a more secular society so the churches should be sensitive.
I am against abortion. I have no problem with gay rights, although I voted against same-sex marriage. But there’s a wider issue here. We’re trying to ensure that all minorities are respected, and there’s been more progress on some issues than others.
Let me comment briefly. I agree with John Mason when he says that we should be careful about how we use the word “creationism”, because it is so easy to slide from the general idea of God creating the world, to the specific anti-scientific belief that he did so more or less as described in some Iron Age document. Indeed, Mason does exactly that during the interview. That is why the Petition that I helped draft does not refer to “creationism”, but to “separate creation… as a viable alternative to the established science of evolution”
I also agree that if we assume a God who can do anything, it follows that he could have made a world that looks 4.5 billions (not just millions) of years old, within a universe that looks 13.8 billions of years old, in six days. I cannot imagine why he should wish to do any such thing, and indeed have said that I regard the suggestion is blasphemous, since it has him perpetrating the largest possible act of total deception. But let that pass. Perhaps John Mason has more insight into the mind of God than I do. However, if we are only supposed to teach those facts that could not be illusions resulting from a miracle, I don’t see how we can ever teach anything. After all, maybe the entire universe with all our memories was created only five minutes ago, by a God with a very twisted sense of humour. Science, I admit, can never disprove such a theory.
I am glad that John Mason admits that at Kirktonholme, the church “probably” went too far. As I commented on the ibtimes website, the church handed out, to every pupil in school assembly, two books saying, among other things, that dinosaur graveyards were the result of Noah’s flood, that radioactive dating is a trick to discredit the Bible, that evolution is an indefensible theory, and that the reason so many people accept it is in order to justify their moral irresponsibility. It does indeed show a certain lack of sensitivity to tell schoolchildren that the Curriculum for Excellence syllabus is a lie and that their science teachers are tricking them.
As for his final sentence about minorities, I do not have the faintest idea what he means. I know that some of John Mason’s allies pay me the compliment of reading my posts, and would be glad if one of them would tell me.
The Holyrood Dinosaur, John Mason MSP, has pooped again. Last month he told us that science can’t disprove the theory that the Earth was created in six days. He’s quite right, of course; according to his chosen standards, no one can ever disprove anything. This month, however, he is busy telling us what is or is not important for schools to teach. His exact words, according to the Sunday Herald, were
… you can argue science is all about theories, but there is enough to teach in science without having to go into how old the earth might or might not be.
Good idea. Let’s just take out of the science syllabus everything that requires having to go into how old the Earth might or might not be. Goodbye to:
Everything to do with the Big Bang, the initial formation of hydrogen and helium, the formation of gas clouds, gravitational collapse, and the conversion of hydrogen to helium within stars
Red giants, supernovas, and the formation of the heavy elements (“heavy” in this context means anything heavier than helium)
The formation of the Sun, then the Earth, then the Moon, in that order (sorry, Genesis 1:1 – 18), from the collapsing and sorting of the material in the planetary nebula
Radioactive dating, and how we know the radiometric clock runs true
The whole of geology, including plate tectonics, mountain forming, the time needed to form and erode sediments. And while we’re at it, the whole of geography, geochemistry, mineralogy, and the science of looking for fossil fuel deposits and other useful materials, like building stones and metal ore
The entire fossil record. After all, it is full of missing links, and the more fossils you find, the more missing links there must be in between them
Human palaeontology and archaeology. These tell us that our ancestors split off from the ancestors of other kinds of ape some 5 million years ago, and that the Egyptians were in the middle of building the Great Pyramid when Noah’s Flood is supposed to have happened (funny that the work doesn’t seem to have been interrupted)
Anything whatsoever to do with ev*l*t**n. After all, ev*l*t**n takes a very long time, and we can’t prove that there was so much time available because we can’t prove that the Earth was not made in six days.
Dino poop. Together with the formation of petrified wood, coal, oil, and natural gas (did I mention them already?), the much-misdescribed mineralised blood vessels of dinosaurs, all other minerals formed by displacement or metamorphosis, and anything else that takes a really long time
So what should we teach instead? Luckily, John Mason has already given us the answer:
… some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it; considers that none of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold, and further considers that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.
So this is what we should make children in Scotland’s schools aware of, in the time freed up by the above deletions.
Analysing a dinosaur’s poop gives valuable information about its diet. And in the case of the Holyrood Dinosaur, confirmation that the diet is dangerously lacking in science, logic, common-sense, or anything else even vaguely connected with reality.