January 30, 2011

Human Evolution: Our Ancestors Left Trees 4.2 Million Years Ago

A new analysis of fossil wrist bones shows our ancestors opted for a new way of life on the ground beginning as early as 4.2 millions ago.  This new information has implications for better understanding an important ecological adaptation our ancestors made on the plains of East and Southern Africa millions of years ago.  Their new ecological relationship is one most paleoanthropologists believe had a significant effect on the emergence of stone tool making and use, a new form of new social organization, and perhaps increased animal protein consumption.  It may also have represented a preadaptation for the later emergence of other unique human biological and cultural characteristics....  JEL

Ancestors of Humans Left Trees 4.2 Million Years Ago
Ancient Footprints Show Human-Like Walking Began Nearly Four Million Years Ago

Australopithecus afarensis
A reconstructed head of Australopithecus afarensis for an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. John Gurche/Smithsonian

Top 10 Science Books of 2010

Top 10 Science Books of 2010 by Michael Shermer

In reverse order, #10 at top of list:
Have read The Grand Design and The Moral Landscape and highly recommend both.

Human Evolution: Expansion Of Ancient Humans Out Of Africa And Into Asia Earlier Than Previously Known

New York Times/Science/AAAS
Artifacts unearthed in the United Arab Emirates dating back more than 100,000 years suggest that modern humans first left Africa much earlier than scientists originally believed.

Tools thought to be 127,000 years old were found at Jebel Faya.  New York Times

Tools Suggest Earlier Human Exit From Africa
Humans Migrated Out of Africa Earlier than Previously Thought

South Sudan - Free At Last!

UPDATE:  South Sudan Becomes an Independent Nation, BBC, July 8, 2011

Southern Sudan Referendum: 99% Vote For Independence

January 18, 2011

Sudan - Which Way Abyei?

Photo:  New York Times/Tyler Hicks

The Abyei area between north and south Sudan has not completed its referendum on secession.  Resolution of the area's future could make or break the peaceful birth of Africa's newest state, South Sudan....

Roots of Bitterness in a Region Threaten Sudan’s Future
The Tough Task of Defining Sudan’s North-South Border:

Map of Sudan 
Oil Most of Sudan’s oil is produced in the south, but pipelines that run through the north are essential for distribution.
Map of Religion in Sudan 
Religion Attempts by northern leaders to impose Islamic law throughout Sudan fueled a civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2005.
Map of Languages Sudan 
Language The colors above represent areas where different languages and dialects are spoken. Many ethnic groups straddle the 1956 border line.

Good News in South Sudan!

Foreign observers attest to “fairness, credibility” of south Sudan referendum

January 8, 2011

UK Honors Darwin, By The Pound

Wonder if we'll ever see him on a US coin or bill?

January 7, 2011

Ivory Coast Crisis of Power - Why It Matters For The Rest Of The Continent

Africa's Hour?

Freelance journalist James Traub, though not having written much on Africa in the past, provides a very good summary of the crisis in Ivory Coast and why it matters for West Africa and the continent as a whole.  How African regional bodies such as ECOWAS and the African Union, international bodies such as the UN, and world powers - China, Russia, Britain, France, and the US - react could signal a new era in political crisis response and the quest for sustainable democracy in Africa.

To act against Gbagbo would be a shot across the bow of Mugabe, Bongo, Museveni, Kibaki, and others in Africa who cloak themselves in democracy then behave undemocratically.  Regrettably, I doubt that there will be an intervention in Cote d'Ivoire given the history of such adventures in Africa, Liberia notwithstanding.  But I do hope an ECOWAS intervention supported by the AU and the UN will occur and thereby provide a "shot heard 'round Africa" - No more sheep-clad kabuki democracy hiding autocratic wolves!

January 3, 2011

Top 10 Myths About Evolution - And A Comment On US Science Education

Understanding Evolution:  17 Misconceptions and Their Responses, Science-Based Life, September 4, 2011

  1. “Evolution is a theory about the origin of life.”
  2. “Evolution is like a climb up a ladder of progress; organisms are always getting better.”
  3. “Evolution means that life changed ‘by chance.’”
  4. “Natural selection involves organisms ‘trying’ to adapt.”
  5. “Natural selection gives organisms what they ‘need.’”
  6. “Evolution is ‘just’ a theory.”
  7. “Evolution is a theory in crisis and is collapsing as scientists lose confidence in it.”
  8. “Gaps in the fossil record disprove evolution.”
  9. “Evolutionary theory is incomplete and is currently unable to give a total explanation of life.”
  10. “The theory of evolution is flawed, but scientists won’t admit it.”
  11. “Evolution is not science because it is not observable or testable.”
  12. “Most biologists have rejected ‘Darwinism’ (i.e., no longer really agree with the ideas put forth by Darwin and Wallace).”
  13. “Evolution leads to immoral behavior. If children are taught that they are animals, they will behave like animals.”
  14. “Evolution supports the idea that ‘might makes right’ and rationalizes the oppression of some people by others.”
  15. “Evolution and religion are incompatible.”
  16. “Teachers should teach ‘both sides’ and let students decide for themselves.”
  17. “Evolution is itself ‘religious,’ so requiring teachers to teach evolution violates the First Amendment.”
See also:
Severing the Link Between Darwin and Nazism by Faye Flam, Philly.com, October 24, 2011

UPDATE 3:  New Approach Proposed for Science Curriculums, The New York Times, Science, July 19, 2011.  "Now that the council (the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering) has finished a (new science education) framework, a nonprofit education group, Achieve Inc., will expand it into a set of standards. Similar efforts produced standards for math and language arts that have been adopted by 44 states.  ...  While Achieve is working with states to come up with standards, the core science — including evolution — is not up for debate.  'What we’re not going to do is compromise the science just to get states comfortable,' said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve. States will have the final say on whether to adopt the new approach."

UPDATE 2:  March 25, 2011 A Voice For Evolution From Indiana

Here's some good news.  The state of Florida has decided to update it's secondary school science curriculum to include higher science standards and the teaching of evolution.  The Florida Citizens for Science (FCFS) co-founder who was a central figure in getting this done, Jonathan Smith of Lithia, FL, had this to say:

"Everyone from pastors to politicians argued against the new standards, which replaced a 12-year-old curriculum ranked last in the United States.  ...  It's frustrating to have to debate something when there is really not a question," he said. "There are not two sides. Science is science. Evolution is fact.  ...  It was extremely frustrating. The science classroom is for science. Teaching creationism in science is like teaching alchemy in chemistry class, or astrology in an astronomy class.  ...  In the Florida Citizens for Science, we have atheists, agnostics and some members who are religious. You can have the two, there's no doubt about it. Religion and science just aren't the same thing.  ...  I am an atheist. I haven't seen enough evidence to believe in the supernatural. To me, the difference between a believer and a nonbeliever is, if you showed a nonbeliever evidence that there is a God, we would believe. If you showed a believer evidence there is not a God, they would still believe.  ...  I want to see a set of national science standards put in place for all the schools to use. The problem now is schools don't teach children enough about science, then those children grow up and don't encourage their children to study science. It's a cycle.  ...  When I go speak to adults, some of them don't know the answers to basic questions, like how many days does it take for the Earth to revolve around the sun. The United States has become sort of a laughingstock.  ...  Americans don't put enough emphasis on education. We're running around taking our kids to football and cheerleading practice, but if you ask parents when the last time is they had a conference about their child's education, they'll shake their head."


A major reason there is so much ignorance in America about the natural history of Humankind is that courses on human evolution are not required in our secondary schools.  General science is required and elective courses on physics, chemistry and biology are offered where the nature of the Universe, matter and life are introduced.  In these three natural science electives everything from the largest to the smallest of things material, including living things, and how they work are addressed.  But elective courses that undertake an introduction to the fossil, anatomical, physiological, biochemical, genetic, archaeological and cultural evidence that establish humans as an integral part of this same universe, and as part of the natural history of life on Earth, are scarce to non-existent in our high schools.

Another important reason is that too often, when high school science teachers cover the topic of evolution and place humans in the context of the natural sciences with all other animals, they and their school boards are often pummeled by indignant, outraged creationists.  These defenders of faith-based truth seek the banning of such lessons and demand equal time for their understanding of science, presently in the form of "intelligent design."  That is, if an "understanding of science" is really what their all-knowing and final notions about the Universe, Life, Earth and Humankind can really be called. 

These two reasons are why our children lag behind those in Asia, Europe and elsewhere in the world in math and science.  In America, science education, particularly regarding the teaching of evolution and human evolution, is either blocked, discounted or interfered with by creationists.  The result has and continues to be that many children, and adults, have developed a disdain for and consequent ignorance of science in general, and in particular, its value for understanding the natural history of Humankind.

Outside the US, hundreds of millions of Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jains in Asia, for example, are not railing about what is being taught in their nations' science classes.  They are not badgering school administrators to have their religious understandings taught as science.  Asian and European children from secondary school onward are taught to highly value science and to see human beings as arising from and therefore part of Nature, not divinely created latecomers who are separate from and above all else on Earth.  Only among the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - is there a God, and his word as found in religious texts, that must be defended as the sole source of truth about the Universe, Earth, Life and Humankind.

What can you do?  Get more information, encourage your children and all others to study and read scientific publications.  Here's a good starting point I have developed:  The Case for Evolution - A Reading List.  You can also provide support to the National Center for Science Education, an organization that defends and promotes the teaching of evolution in schools.

Here are the Top 10 Myths.  The above link by the Skeptics Society addresses and debunks them all:

1.  If Humans Came From Apes, Why Aren't Apes Evolving Into Humans?
2.  There Are Too Many Gaps in the Fossil Record for Evolution to Be True
3.  If Evolution Happened Gradually Over Millions of Years Why Doesn' the Fossil Record Show Gradual Change?
4.  No One Has ever Seen Evolution Happen
5.  Science Claims That Evolution Happens by Random Chance
6.  Only an Intelligent Designer Could Have Made Something as Complex as an Eye
7.  Evolution is Only A Theory
8.  Evidence for Human Evolution Has Turned Out to Be Fake, Frauds, or Fanciful
9.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics Proves That Evolution is Impossible
10.  Evolution Can't Account for Morality

January 2, 2011

Experts Say Sudan Vote Will Be Peaceful....

With Much at Stake, a Peaceful Vote on Dividing Sudan Appears More Likely

Africa:  Experts Say Sudan Vote Will Be Peaceful - I Say Intervene If Bashir And The "Unknown Unknowns" Prove Them Wrong

Until the January 9 referendum on southern secession and its aftermath prove peaceful and lasting, I shall remain among the "hand-wringers," as the following excerpt calls those of us who do not trust the Khartoum government and, more specifically, its president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Bashir, who has been indicted on charges of genocide in Darfur, is a murderous dictator with no credibility.  Since taking power in 1989 he has allowed his government forces and local militias to kill thousands of local defenders and innocent civilians in Darfur in western Sudan.  He has done this for political and economic gain, and territorial control.  Over a million southern Sudanese have also died as a direct result of his policies and practices since taking power.

His expressions of support for the will of the southern Sudanese in their pursuit of political self-determination and religious freedom are diametrically opposed to his Islamic political worldview.  This is evidenced by his promise of a more pervasive implementation of sharia in the north if the south secedes.  Why should he wish the southerners well in their pursuit of democracy and religious choice when he will not allow the same for his own people?  It is not something he wishes for his northern Sudanese compatriots.

I hope the professors in Khartoum and experts elsewhere are correct in their predictions the vote will be peaceful.  Bashir's allowing the referendum and secession to occur and succeed will be an admission that his sixteen-year war efforts to deny southern political autonomy and religious freedom have failed.  It appears his defeat by the SPLM/SPLA and fear of Western intervention have forced him to allow the vote and secession to happen.  His well-wishing is no virtue for a forced hand is not a virtuous act.  I wish Mr. Bashir full justice before the International Criminal Court for the crimes against humanity he has commited.

Excerpts from link:

"The stakes are so high that neither side, the Islamist northern Sudanese government or the former rebels who lead southern Sudan, seems to want to be sucked into a war again, or at least to start one. Over the past year, there has been such a steady drumbeat of Armageddon predictions and hand-wringing over the referendum that a broad array of potential problems have been prepared for and contingency plans discussed. The stage is now set for the vote to be historic and highly emotional, but not a catastrophe."
"Though the north will clearly lose out if the south breaks off, northern leaders seem to have accepted that there is little they can do about it. According to Mohammed Hamad, a political science professor in Khartoum, Mr. Bashir will be reluctant to go to war because 'others will use it as an excuse, and Israel and the U.S. will try to dispose the regime.'"
"The biggest risk, then, that a war will break out seems to lie in the uncontrolled elements, the “unknown unknowns,” as former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld famously said.

"For example, in Abyei, one disputed area along the yet-to-be-demarcated north-south border, there are militias aligned to the north and to the south, but they are not necessarily controlled by either. According to several analysts, these militias could fire the first shots, possibly provoked by a land dispute. Then the northern and southern armies, both of which have been buying enormous quantities of weapons in recent years, could pile in.

"Beyond that, there are rebels in Darfur in the west, rebels in the east, rebels in the Nuba Mountains and along the Nile River, raising fears that if war erupted, it could spread rapidly."

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