Monthly Archives: March 2007

Bosnian Pyramid Update

I really did not have time to follow up on the whole case, but Alun has so check out his latest…. And you can always be up to date by following the postings on the APWR Central blog. I wish the whole thing was just an April’s Fool joke, but unfortunately, it is just one’s fool’s joke that threatens to destroy some real archeological treasures in the region.

Blogrolling for today

Pursuing praxis

Chaos Theory

Fish Feet

Science After Sunclipse

Barbara’s Blog (Barbara Ehrenreich)


Mass Eyes & Ears

Uri Kalish – Urikalization

Mythusmage Opines

Squid Drawing

Jenna drew a squid. Perhaps if I post it here, PZ will see it and post it as well, and send Jenna a Pharyngulanche of visitors to her blog.

Evo-Devo: what new animal models should we pick?

A review of evo-devo (Jenner, R.A., Wills, M.A. (2007) The choice of model organisms in evo-devo. Nat Rev Genet. 8:311-314. Epub 2007 Mar 6.) is starting to make rounds on the blogs. I cannot access the paper (I’d like to have it if someone wants to e-mail me the PDF), but the press release (also found here) is very vague, so I had to wait for some blogger to at least post a summary.
This is what the press release says (there is more so click on the link):

The subject of evo-devo, which became established almost a decade ago, is particularly dependent on the six main model organisms that have been inherited from developmental biology (fruit fly, nematode worm, frog, zebrafish, chick and mouse).
To help understand how developmental change underpins evolution, evo-devo researchers have, over recent years, selected dozens of new model organisms, ranging from sea anemones to dung beetles, to study.
One of the selection criteria deemed most crucial is the phylogenetic position of prospective model organisms, which reflects their evolutionary relationships.
Phylogenetic position is employed in two common, but problematic, ways, either as a guide to plug holes in unexplored regions of the phylogenetic tree, or as a pointer to species with presumed primitive (ancestral) characteristics.
Drs Ronald Jenner and Matthew Wills from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at the University of Bath (UK), call for a more judicious approach to selecting organisms, based on the evo-devo themes that the organism can shed light on.

Larry Moran and PZ Myers went into a completely different direction which I find quite uninteresting: evo-devo was and currently is a study of animals and if people who study other organisms want to make their own equivalents, good for them, more the merrier, hi-ho-hi-ho, etc.
I have no problem with the idea that Earth is a planet dominated by bacteria and that the animals are a recent afterthought. I sympathize with those who lament the lack of interest, funding and teaching in the ares of plant, protist and fungal biology. But evo-devo is currently an area of Zoology, so the search for new animal models, as opposed to plant models, is a perfectly appropriate question. We want to know how animals develop and evolve and evo-devo tries to put those two questions together. I am sure botanists, mycologists, microbiologists are working on their own version within their own domains – and hopefully the groups will read each other and learn – but that is outside the realm of this particular review paper.
What bothers me about the press release is its vagueness. Different people have different definitions of the terms “development”, “evolution” and “evo-devo”. Different people have different evo-devo questions they deem important and the review appears to reflect the biases of the authors (and so do posts by Larry and PZ).
Some people focus on the early embryos and things like pattern formation, determination of dorso-ventral axis, or limb development. Others consider the entire life-cycle, including growth, maturation and senescence, to be parts of development. Some focus on patterns of expression of developmental genes. Others are more interested in phenotypes. Some focus entirely on the development of anatomical structures, while others are more interested in the development of biochemical, physiological and behavioral traits and how they evolved. Obviously, people with different focus in development will ask evo-devo to pursue different questions.
Again, some people are interested in genotypic evolution. They use the population-genetic definition of evolution as “change in frequency of alleles in a population over time”. Their models can detect some things (e.g, type, strength and direction of selection), but not others (levels/units of selection, effects of population structure, etc.), so they focus on the former and the latter is ignored, or given lip-service, or even deemed unimportant (or even non-existent!).
Others are interested in phenotypic evolution. After all, genes are invisible to selection – it is organisms that get selected and the changes in gene frequences are a downstream result of that process. They have different aims and goals for evo-devo as a discipline.
Using the broadest definitions of both development and evolution, the classical studies of imprinting, developmental ‘windows’ for learning birdsong, and organizing vs. activating effects of hormones are smack in the middle of evo-devo research – the mainstream onto which some genetic stuff has been added lately.
Evo-devo is short for “evolution of development”. But, it actually asks three distinct questions:
How animal development evolved
Trying to trace and document how various developmental mechanisms evolved over time, in essence building a phylogenetic tree of developmental changes in animals on this here planet Earth since the apperance of first animals until today.
How animal development evolves
Figuring out generalizations, hopefully rules, and perhaps even laws, about the ways different evolutionary mechanisms affect different developmental mechanisms.
How animal development affects animal evolution
Figuring out the way different developmental mechanisms affect the way evolution can proceed, i.e., developmental constraints in the positive sense of ‘funneling’ evolutionary direction by making some directions more likely than others. From the very inception of the field, fueled by the publication of Stephen Jay Gould’s “Ontogeny and Phylogeny” (his by far the most influential book, though ALL the others are more popular), the focus has been on things like allometry, heterochrony, heterotopy, etc. This paper appears to be focused on this goal as all the suggestions appear to have such processes in mind:

Developmental programming. Allometry of horns in the beetle Onthophagus nigriventris.
Developmental bias. Variation in body size in C. elegans.
Developmental constraint. Shell morphology in the gastropod Cerion.
Redundancy. Anterior-posterior axis development in Drosophila melanogaster.
Modularity. Sense organs in the cavefish Astyanax mexicanus.
Evolvability. In silico cell-lineage evolution.
Origin of evolutionary novelties. The sea anemone Nematostella vectensis (bilateral symmetry, triploblasty).
Relationship between micro- and macroevolution. The three-spined stickleback and Heliconius butterfly wing patterns.
Canalization and cryptic genetic variation. D. melanogaster phenotypic variation increase during HSP90 impairment.
Developmental and phenotypic plasticity, polyphenism. Ant caste polyphenism and caste determination by primordial germ cells in the parastic wasp Copidosoma floridanum.

Frankly, ALL of these topics I find immensely exciting and, sure, I’d love to see these ideas implemented and these models adopted, and this research done. But what bothers me is that this list just enlarges the Big Six list into a Big Many list. It does not do what it is purported to do – move from separate studies of devo and evo to an evo-devo research program.
You can study development in an organism, but to study evolution of development you HAVE to do comparative work. This means that choices of single species miss the mark completely. If I have written this paper I would have suggested pairs and groups of species, not single species.
For some questions, one wants to compare closely related species, perhaps all in the same genus, e.g., Drosophila (D. melanogaster, D. pseudoobscura, D. yakuba, etc.). Rudolf Raff made great strides early on in the field of evo-devo by comparative studies of two closely related species of sea-urchins, one of which undergoes metamorphosis (i.e., goes through a larval stage) and the other one skips it and develops directly from an egg to an adult.
For other questions, one may want to look at somewhat less related species that cover a greater spread of evolutionary relationships. Perhaps a bunch of different insects: fruitlies, house flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, termites, beetles, butterflies, moths, sandflies, wasps, honeybees, etc. (like this paper does, for instance), or a bunch of different fish, e.g., zebrafish, medaka and fugu, or comparing chicken to quail to turkey to ostrich.
For yet other questions, looking at the philogenetic depth is quite fine. It is exciting what we are learning about the origin, evolution and development from the studies of Cnidaria (see this, this and this for an example), or about the origin of Vertebrates from the comparative studies of echinoderms, hemichordates, urochordates, cephalochordates, agnathans and fish (check out this and this).
So, if you had unlimited space, time, manpower, money and freedom, tell me what pairs or groups of animals you’d choose as new evo-devo models, not individual species, and what would you study with them? What for? Which of the defintions of development and evolution you ascribe to? Which of the three evo-devo questions excite you personally?


The best way to make it easy for the low-brow followers to kill the enemy is to dehumanize it. That is what right-wing talking-heads have been doing for a while. Of course, if someone actually gets killed, they did not do it – they were just telling “jokes” on radio or TV.

When Yes means No.

When I ask a guy for something, I may get Yes as an answer half the time and No half the time. Yes mostly means Yes and No means No. If the answer is “Let me think about it”, that means usually that within 24 hours or so I will get a definitve Yes or No answer.
If I ask a woman for something, I rarely ever get a No. I may get Yes half the time and “Let me think about it” the other half. And moreover, Yes need not necessarily mean Yes, and “Let me think about it” ALWAYS means No – as in: I never hear about it again from that person.
On the surface, that sounds like dishonesty and playing games, and sure is inconvenient not to know what the real answer is. But I am aware of the deeper psychological reasons for not being able to say No to anyone, as I was once like that (and learned through persistence and hard work not to be). It is a matter of politeness mixed with a dose of fear (of being ostracized or something).
And it is certainly much more ingrained in – or inculturated into – women than men. How? Check this post and the 85 comments in the thread under it.

At an IDC conference – Jason reports

Jason drove down to Knoxville and attended an ID-Creationist “conference” and lived to tell about it. And tell he did, in five installments:
All the usual suspects were there and all the usual nonsense was spouted, but the most interesting part was the Subway-line conversation Jason had (in Part Four), debating a handful of attendees and noticing age-difference in their thought-processes and debating strategies.

Invertebrate Blogging of the Month

Circus of the Spineless #19 is up on Burning Silo

Physics Blogging of the Week

Philosophia Naturalis #8 is up on Metadatta.

Publishing on blogs in social sciences

Alun Salt will be leading a session about the Peer-to-peer publishing and the creative process, i.e., publishing papers on blogs at the Classical Association conference at Birmingham so he has written a post on things he wants to say there – quite an excellent summary of pros and cons of the idea and clearing away some common misperceptions.


Time has convinced me of one thing: Television is for appearing on – not for looking at.
– Noel Coward

Barbara Ehrenreich endorses John Edwards

On her blog, of course:

For my money, John Edwards is the best candidate out there. Clinton has Iraqi and American blood on her hands; Obama has yet to lay out clear economic alternatives; and, although they might once have been Republican moderates, McCain and Giuliani are shamelessly snuggling up to the Christianist Right. I like Edwards because he’s taken up the banner of the little guy and gal in America’s grossly one-sided class war. He’s laid out a plan for universal health insurance; he wants to repeal Bush’s tax cuts for the rich; he shows up at workers’ picket lines.
I met him on a panel last fall, he is good-looking enough to merit Coulter’s suspicion that he can’t possibly be straight (though, really, Ann, if you want to crank up your “gay-dar,” you should get away from those pimply right-wingers and meet some new guys.) He’s modest, low-key, friendly, and, although he’s wealthy now, he spoke movingly from his family’s experience of poverty.

Read the rest – quite moving about Elizabeth Edwards from one cancer-survivor to another.
Hat-tip: TomP (if you are a DK user, please recommend this Diary).

Save the Mountain Walrus

First, there was a Tree Octopus, but now, there is an even more endangered animal – the Mountain Walrus:

Having just eaten a substantial meal, this herd will not have to hunt again for many days. For now, these mustangs are safe from the satiated walruses. Mountain walruses are carnivorous animals. They eat many species of animals, from mice to horses and elk. The cows will venture forth in small groups and hunt for the entire herd. They will bring whatever meat they were able to find back to the dens and all will partake. The younger cows are in charge of looking over the calves while the bulls protect the herd. The hunting cows can bring back enough food to last for a week before having to hunt again. They may travel as far as 10 miles to find food.

Mythusmage has more.
…hmmmm….should have saved this post for April First and written it seriously….

Sharks down => Rays up => Scallops down

In today’s issue of Science, there is a study showing that hunting of sharks, by eliminating the main predator of rays, leads to a decline in the ray’s – and ours – food: the scallops:

A team of Canadian and American ecologists, led by world-renowned fisheries biologist Ransom Myers at Dalhousie University, has found that overfishing the largest predatory sharks, such as the bull, great white, dusky, and hammerhead sharks, along the Atlantic Coast of the United States has led to an explosion of their ray, skate, and small shark prey species.
“With fewer sharks around, the species they prey upon — like cownose rays — have increased in numbers, and in turn, hordes of cownose rays dining on bay scallops, have wiped the scallops out,” says co-author Julia Baum of Dalhousie.

Here is a local North Carolina angle:

Too many sharks have been killed, so they’re no longer devouring a voracious predator that feasts on bay scallops, marine researcher Charles “Pete” Peterson concludes. As a result, North Carolina’s bay scallops fishery, once worth $1 million a year, has been wiped out.
The finding, reported today in the journal Science, is evidence that harm to one creature in an ecosystem can unexpectedly injure another, Peterson said.
“The marine environment is so vast and three dimensional, there are many linkages,” he said. “There are cascading and domino effects.”
Sharks don’t eat scallops. But the top predators do feast on cownose rays — kite-shaped creatures that migrate through North Carolina waters. And the rays eat scallops, hordes of them, as they make their late-summer and early-fall travels south.
The timing of the cownose trip past North Carolina is particularly harmful to scallops, Peterson said. The rays arrive from from mid-August to mid-September. Scallops, which live about 18 months, don’t start spawning until September. So the rays eat them before they can reproduce.

Learn more about the Cownose Ray.
Craig has some more (and may write even more later so check his blog again).

Science Labs

There is a growing, glowing discussion about the usefulness of college science labs that was started with an anti-lab post by Steve Gimbel and responded to, with various degrees of pro-lab sentiment by Janet Stemwedel, Chad, Chad again, Chad yet again, Razib, Jeremy and RPM and numerous commenters on all of their posts (also check older posts on the topic by Sean Carroll and Janet). Of course, I felt a need to chime in. I teach labs, after all (and I took many as a student as well).
The core of the problem is the very existence of the institution we call ‘college’.
Let me explain.

Continue reading

My picks from ScienceDaily

Overfishing Large Sharks Impacts Entire Marine Ecosystem, Shrinks Shellfish Supply:

Fewer big sharks in the oceans mean that bay scallops and other shellfish may be harder to find at the market, according to an article in the March 30 issue of the journal Science, tying two unlikely links in the food web to the same fate.

Continue reading


Love is space and time measured by the heart.
– Marcel Proust

Help prevent natural gas drilling in Chaco Canyon

I guess some people have no sense of aesthetic pleasure, no personal connection to nature, and no ability to think beyond money, money, money. They want to drill in Chaco Canyon, of all places! Apparently, there is more time to act, as the drilling is being assessed. During that brief respite, we can try to tip the scales by peititoning people whose job is to make the final decision. Afarensis has all the details, additional information about the case, and the contact information for you to use to try to prevent this disaster.

The Tar Heel Tavern – call for submissions

The April Fool’s Day edition of the Tar Heel Tavern will appear on Sunday, April 1st, on Scrutiny Hooligans, so send your entries by Saturday at midnight to: scrutinyhooligans AT yahoo DOT com


Heureka is an online popular science magazine in Austria which you should check out, especially if you can read German. But some things are in English, including this interview with yours truly…
There also blurbs about it (in German) in derStandard online and hardcopy, as well as on their science blog Sciblog.

Skeptical Blogging of the fortnight

Skeptics’ Circle #57 (The Zebra Spilled its Plastinia on Bemis!) is up on Aardvarchaeology

Stem Cell Experiment in The Scientist

On The Scientist website you can find their new experimental feature – an article with questions to the public that will be used in forming the articles for the print version of the magazine next month. Go see Special Feature: Stem cell cloning needs you: In a unique experiment we’re inviting you to participate in a discussion that will help shape our next feature on stem cell research and post comments:

We’re inviting people to give us their thoughts and questions on whether we need to rethink the scientific and ethical approach to stem cell cloning to help shape a feature that we’ll be running in the June issue of the magazine. [...] we’re treating this more as an experiment in user participation, which we’d love to do for more articles in future if people respond to this.

The three main questions are:
Is the nuclear transfer challenge one of understanding or technique?
Is it time to reevaluate the ethics of stem cell cloning?
Does stem cell cloning need new terminology?

So, go there and post comments. So far, there are only 17 comments and the thread has already been hijacked by embryo-worshippers. It would be really nice if people could go there and actually address the issue and try to answer the questions. Adding a comment is easy with no special registration hoops to go through. Hey, if you don’t have time to write multiple long comments, you can always blogwhore: post links to your posts in which you have already answered these quesitons in the past.

My picks from ScienceDaily

Ewwwww! UCLA Anthropologist Studies Evolution’s Disgusting Side:

Behind every wave of disgust that comes your way may be a biological imperative much greater than the urge to lose your lunch, according to a growing body of research by a UCLA anthropologist.

The Delayed Rise Of Present-day Mammals:

It took 10 to 15 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out before modern mammals – including our ancient human ancestors – were able to diversify and rise to their present-day prominence across the globe, a landmark new study has found. The surprise finding overturns the widely held belief that the ancestors of modern mammals were able to quickly evolve and spread to fill many of the empty niches left behind following the mass extinctions of dinosaurs and many other large animals when a huge asteroid crashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago.

A High Beef Diet During Pregnancy Linked To Lower Sperm Counts In Sons:

A mother’s high beef consumption while pregnant was associated with lower sperm counts in her son, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Rochester.

Transplanting Organs From Animals To Humans: What Are The Barriers?:

Given the huge shortage of donor organs, researchers have been trying to find ways to transplant animal organs across different species (known as “xenotransplantation”), with the eventual aim of transplanting animal organs into humans. The major stumbling block, says Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin (US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) in a paper in PLoS Medicine, is that the immune system in the animal receiving the organ tends to reject the transplant.


If time were the wicked sheriff in a horse opera, I’d pay for riding lessons and take his gun away.
– Wystan Hugh Auden

Who gets whose Last Name at the Wedding?

Times are changing and the variety is endless. See what Anton and Erin, The Woomers and Jenny F. Scientist ended up doing and why.
Then, read the posts and comment threads by Amanda and on Chaos Theory.

AnthropoBlogging of the Week

The latest edition of The Four Stone Hearth is up on Afarensis

Open Science On Marketplace

And in the marketplace. Jean-Claude Bradley was one of the people interviewed for a segment on Open Science on NPR’s Marketplace this morning. You can read the transcript and hear the podcast here. Thanks Anton for the heads-up.

EduBlogging of the Week

Carnival of Homeschooling #65 is dedicated to Charles Darwin and Evolution, up on Alasandra.
112th Carnival of Education is up on Education Wonks.

Liberal Blogging of the Week

Carnival of the Liberals #35 is up on Framed.

My picks from ScienceDaily

Migratory Birds: Innocent Scapegoats For The Dispersal Of The H5N1 Virus:

A review to be published shortly in the British Ornithologists’ Union’s journal, Ibis, critically examines the arguments concerning the role of migratory birds in the global dispersal of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1. Ecologists of the Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat and of the GEMI-CNRS in the Camargue (France), Michel Gauthier-Clerc, Camille Lebarbenchon and Frédéric Thomas conclude that human commercial activities, particularly those associated with poultry, are the major factors that have determined its global dispersal.

Common Fungicide Causes Long-term Changes In Rats’ Mating Behavior:

Female rats avoid males whose great-grandfathers were exposed to a common fruit crop fungicide, preferring instead males whose ancestors were uncontaminated, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have discovered. Their research shows that environmental contamination could affect the evolution of wildlife through changes in mating behavior.

Dark Chocolate, Nicotine Patches Examined For Impact On Heart Function:

Genetics and family history play a large role in a person’s risk for heart disease, but factors in diet, lifestyle and the environment are also thought to influence susceptibility to the disease. A number of studies presented recently at the American College of Cardiology’s 56th Annual Scientific Session look at how health-related behaviors can influence a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease.


Times change and men deteriorate.
– Gesta Romanorum

Science Blogging of the Fortnight

Tangled Bank #76 is up on Balancing Life.

MedBlogging of the Week

Grand Rounds Vol. 3, No. 27 are up on MedViews

Belgrade Zoo needs to move!

Long time ago, I mentioned here something about the Belgrade Zoo. The power of Google brought a Belgrader, Sonja, to my blog, who alerted me to the dire conditions in which the Zoo is right now and the existence of her website (made by her and her students) called Zoo SOS whose goal is to force the City government of Belgrade to move the Zoo from its present location to a better place outside town (not having to deal with the Animal Rights terrorists there, they must have placed a link to PETA by mistake – they do not know the distinction between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Update: The PETA link has been removed.).
Belgrade Zoo is located on Kalemegdan, the most ancient (from Roman through Turkish times) part of Belgrade. The zoo is small, and most of it is on stone and concrete. You can see some pictures of it here (just keep clicking on “Next” until you see them all).
Belgraders love their zoo. It is one of the favourite spots to spend a weekend. But it is also depressing to see animals crowded in small cages. It is especially painful for those of us who have seen modern zoos, like the one here in Asheboro, where animals are free to roam over many acres of land specifically designed to mimic their natural habitats.
The Belgrade Zoo is better called a ‘menagerie’ than a Zoo. It is an old-style city zoo, where the main goal is entertainment, while conservation and education play small or no role. It is not affiliated with any international zoo associations, so the nasty conditions in which animals live are cannot be addressed in any way by the rest of the world.
From its very inception, 80 years ago, there was a talk about moving it outside of the stony fortress and onto a bigger, nicer piece of land. Of course, that would make it less accessible to the citizens and tourists, thus probably reducing the revenue. So there has always been a tension between the people who did and people who did not want to see the Zoo moved.
After decades of neglect, Belgrade Zoo got a new Director in the mid-eighties: Vuk Bojovic. The relationship between the citizens of Belgrade and Vuk is quite schizophrenic – some love him, some hate him, but most have a strange love-hate relationship with him.
He is, in person, actually quite a pleasant fellow. But working for him is horror.
He loves animals and has a nice ‘touch’ with them. On the other hand he does not know anything about animals and is not prepared to listen to the experts.
He loves the attention he gets, but that also brings attention to the Zoo, so nobody is really sure how much of his posing is self-love and how much is a Zoo-promoting stunt.
He built a legend around himself as the only person who could pack medication into the tooth of the elephant Boy (who died a couple of years later, just to be replaced by an unwanted, man-killing female ditched by a Dutch zoo). Unlike his predecessors, elephants Tasa and Mita who were sweethearts (I remember feeding them peanuts by hand when I was a kid), Boy had a nasty temper, so the regular elephant feeders gladly let Vuk take the job and the spotlight – just one less dangerous elephant duty to do every day.
Vuk also brought in the first, one and only chimpanzee that the Zoo ever had – Sammy. Sammy was a smart guy so he made it a routine to escape from his cage and go galivanting around Belgrade. On one hand, that demonstrated that the Zoo is incapable of housing a chimp. On the other hand, he became a media darling – showing up on TV every time he escaped. Again, Vuk built a legend around himself as the only person who could approach, catch and recapture Sammy. So, TV crews often had great fun filming 40-something bearded Vuk climbing a tall poplar trying to lure Sammy down.
All those stunts brought interest of Belgraders back to the zoo after many decades. People started coming in. Money started flowing in. And the money was used to make the Zoo pretty – for people. Nothing was done to make the life of animals much better.
Now, that marketing strategy – painting the buildings, opening a new restaurant, offering pony rides for kids, etc. – may have been OK if it lasted the first year or so until enough money is collected to actually start using it for the benefits of animals. But, after 20 years, it does not sound so smart any more.
Then, the 90s came and the wars and sanctions ruined the economy of the country – not to mention the psyche of the people living there, painted as pariahs by the world, painted as villains in the movies, and not given any help to actually get rid of Milosevic (not to mention to retain Kosovo, and get rid of the Al Qaida HQ located there – aiding the KLA terrorists)…
There was no money to feed people, so who had the money to feed the animals? And as the war spread throughout the country, many small zoos had to be evacuated and all the animals brought to the Belgrade Zoo. Already lacking space and resources, the Zoo had to accept dozens of wolves, bears, wild boars, deer, etc. They all had to end up in tiny little cages because there was just no space for them. Yet, although hungry themselves, Belgraders donated meat to the Zoo to feed the animals.
In the 1999, when Belgrade was bombed, electricity would run out and all the meat would get spoiled in the freezers – good only for vultures and hyenas. Water was fouled. There was not enough water to keep the pools for hippos, polar bears, sea lions and penguins full. Eggs of rare birds rotted in the incubators. Daily bombing turned even the calmest animals into psychos – one tiger started chewing his own front toes!
During all that time, Vuk started doing some shady business, including smuggling of exotic animals (he almost smuggled in another elephant!). And now – he is the most vocal opponent of the move to the periphery of the city.
The initial idea was to relocate the Zoo to the Veliko Ratno Ostrvo, a large sandy island in the middle of the Danube at the spot where river Sava flows into it – that is: smack in the middle of Belgrade, but away from any regular streets (they would have built a bridge for the Zoo – right now the only way to get there is by boat).
Right now, the new proposed location is in Surcin, between Sava and the airport. It is not as big as Asheboro Zoo – not even close – but it is much bigger land than what the Zoo has now and it is not all stone and concrete! It would definitely be an improvement and, being built from scratch, it would be built in the most modern way possible, keeping the welfare of animals first and foremost as the goal of the entire operation.
As the Zoo is not part of any international association, and Serbia is now not a signator of any international agreements on regulation of animal keep and trade, and as the Zoo Director himself is the most vocal opponent of the move, the only people who can do something about it are the members of Belgrade city government and the mayor. And those people need LOTS of pressure to move on any matter, not just the Zoo. Most of that pressure has to come from locals, but we can help, by signing this petition, by writing about it and spreading the word. So, do it.

My picks from ScienceDaily

Chimpanzee Facial Expressions Are Helping Researchers Understand Human Communication:

Behavioral researchers led by Lisa Parr, PhD, director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center Cognitive Testing Facility and Chimpanzee Core, have found understanding chimpanzee facial expressions requires more attention to detail than researchers initially thought. Correctly interpreting the subtleties within chimpanzees’ facial expressions may be key to understanding the evolution of human emotional communication.

Continue reading


We all find time to do what we really want to do.
– William Feather

Pediatric Blogging of the Month

Pediatric Grand Rounds: Vol 1 Issue 25 is up on Musings of a Distractible Mind. The theme is Tom and Jerry.

Intelligent Timekeepingism

This is, after all, A Blog Around The Clock, so, I guess I should be a strong and vocal proponent of the Clock Theory aka Specified clockplexity. After all, nobody’s ever seen a clock move! So, I should start fighting against vile, rabid, Atheistic Blindtimekeepingism:

Atheists often level a strawman at Intelligent Timekeepingist (hereafter referred to as IT) views. They force you to stare at a clock for 5 minutes or so and claim vindication when the big hand of the clock moves. But DTists all agree that the big hand moves! This is simply microtimekeeping, and it does not go against ITist views. The problem is that these movements of the big hand are just as likely to give an incorrect movement as they are to give a correct movement. There is no new information about the current time added by these microticks! *Nobody* has ever seen the little hand of a clock move. This is what we refer to when we say macrotimekeeping. It does not really matter if the current minute is 13, 14, or 15, but it *does* matter what the current hour is. Are we to believe that billions of people show up to work on time every day due to chance?

Have you nominated a post for the 2007 Science Blogging Anthology yet?

First three months of the year are almost over and… we have only 14 entries so far for the next Science Blogging Anthology!
Everything written and posted since December 20th 2006 is fair game. Have you written something really good since then? Send it in. Have you submitted something to a carnival this year yet? Send it in. Have you hosted a carnival and received some really cool posts? Send them in. Have you discovered a great new science blog that you think everyone should know about? Pick their best post and send it in.
It’s easy, just use the submission form or click here:
Openlab 2007
Help spread the word by placing the button (code can be found here) on your own sidebar.
Also, I am wondering if there are some enterpranurial people who will assemble anthologies of the best MedBlogging, EduBlogging, EnviroBlogging, Skeptical blogging, Godless blogging, Liberal blogging, etc…. Start a whole new industry and bridge the gap between blogs and blog-shy folks by presenting our best to them in the format they are used to and they trust – the printed-on-paper books.

Homer Evolving….

BrainBlogging of the Week

Encephalon #19 is up on Peripersonal Space


Medlar Comfits

The Anterior Commissure

Greta Christina’s Blog

George Bristow’s Secret Freezer

Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog


The Webby Way

Triangle Blogging Teach-ins

If you are in the Triangle area on these two dates (Saturday, April 28 from 10am to noon and Saturday, May 5 from 10am to noon) and want to get some help starting your own blog, or at least starting a WordPress blog, come to the Durham Library and we’ll help you.

A high-school science blogging contest?

Alvaro of Sharp Brains (in a comment here) links to a high-school student’s science essay that he posted on his blog and asks:

Why couldn’t we approach a number of websites where science teachers hang out and propose some kind of essay contest for high-school students, with winning essays published in our blogs?

What do you think?

How Elephants Walk on Hot Coals? By Having Hot Feet

Russ noted that someone is using thermography to study thermoregulation in elephants:

Wits University has just completed studies on how elephants cope with high African temperatures and how that influences their behaviour. In African savannahs, elephants are exposed to high environmental heat loads during the day and low ambient temperatures at night and yet these animals are able to cope quite adequately.

Animals that run the risk of losing energy by dissipating heat often deal with this via regional heterothermy, i.e., wading birds have cold legs so there is less of a heat loss when they are standing in cold water. This is often accomplished by using counter-current setup which I explained in detail before. Elephants have the opposite problem – overheating and they solve it by heating the periphery (e.g., ears) and letting the heat dissipate. They also deal with walking on hot ground by heating their feet, it appears.
Or, if you’d rather look at basic principles than biological details, you may just start by assuming an elephant as a sphere. Bigger the sphere, smaller the surface-to-volume ratio and harder it is to lose heat. That is why penguins in the Antarctica are bigger than penguins living further north on the coasts of Africa or New Zealand (this is also called Bergman’s rule in ecology).
Also, deviating from the shape of the sphere increases heat loss. That is why desert foxes have longer ears, snouts and tails than Arctic foxes (this is called Allen’s rule in ecology).
Since the elephants at the NC Zoo are about to get a new house with a pool, perhaps this can be a good place to study elephant thermoregulation as well.

The First Annual Blogger Bioblitz

During the National Wildlife Week (April 21th – 29th), if you can, please participate in the First Annual Blogger Bioblitz:

Pick a neat little area that you are relatively familiar with and is small enough that you or the group can handle – a small thicket, a pond, a section of stream, or even your backyard – and bring along some taxonomic keys or an Audubon guide, or if you’re lucky enough, an expert in local flora and fauna. Set a time limit. Try to identify the different species of organisms that you find as well as the number of each species that you find. Take pictures if you have a digital camera, compile your numbers, make observations, set up your post however you wish as long as you include your numbers in a digestible fashion (I’ll have more details on that later) – then submit it to me and I’ll include it on the list. We will also be tallying total numbers of each species found, and then a grand total. There has also been talk of coding an interactive Google Map with distribution information, geotagging regions with a blogger’s submitted information.

Bruno has all the necessary additional information on how to participate (and why).

My picks from ScienceDaily

Salamanders Suffer Delayed Effects Of Common Herbicide:

Pollution from a common herbicide might be causing die-offs in stream salamanders, according to biologists who say findings from their long-term study raise concerns over the role of atrazine in global amphibian declines.

Continue reading

The Iraq War is four years old…

…yet even at the start of it, back in March 2003, The Onion understood the dynamics of war and the psychology of defenders of war better than almost half of Americans and all of GOP today.
[Hat-tip, commenter Lindsey]


How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.
– Albert Einstein

A question regarding dog training

We’ve had a few dogs over the years and housebreaking them was never a big problem. But now we got my mother-in-law’s puppy labradoodle – who is a real sweetheart – for a couple of weeks to see if we can housebreak him because she was not successful.
My wife turned out to be a better animal psychologist than I am and figured out what the problem is. This is not a case of a little puppy who is not yet housebroken. This is a case of a puppy that was inadvertenly trained to poop inside the house and not outside. What we think happened is either that the dog got yelled at when he soiled the carpet, or something unfortunately scary happened when he was doing it outdoors. He seems to be worse about it now thahn he was two months ago. Now, he appears to be afraid of doing it when a human is watching. And out on a leash-walk, a human is always watching. Indoors, there can always be a moment when one can sneak away and do it in the bathroom (or wherever the door is not closed at the time).
He’s been with us for a week and he managed to poop outside only once – for my wife – and promptly got rewarded and fussed over. But once is not enough. Only once I managed to catch him in the act and, without any anger, I quickly took him for a long walk during which he did NOT do it!
Now, if I had a fenced in yard, I’d let him out – it’s been in the 80s here lately so it is warm even during the night – and keep an eye on him through the window so, if I saw him pooping outside, I could get out quickly to give him a big reward. But I do not have a yard at all – we live in an appartment complex, so even tying him up on a very long rope is out of the question. Perhaps getting one of those super-long leashes would do the trick as he could get 20, 30 or 40 yards away from me (forgetting the whole training on how to walk properly on a leash) and do his tricks without me hovering over him – perhaps one of those fancy leashes with the button to haul him back for a reward afterwards.
I will have him for another week. After that he has to go back so we can thoroughly clean the house and wash the carpets in time for the Passover dinner (perhaps he can come back for a second course afterwards). And I am out of ideas.
I don’t know if Christie still reads my blog, but I assume that some of my readers have some experience and knowledge and good ideas about what to do. Shoot them in the comments.