Geeks hate the GOP (shouldn’t be news to anyone)

Among employees who work for Google, Mr. Obama raised about $720,000 in itemized contributions this year, against only $25,000 for Mr. Romney. That means that Mr. Obama took almost 97 percent of the money between the two major candidates.

Apple employees gave 91 percent of their dollars to Mr. Obama. At eBay, Mr. Obama took 89 percent of the money from employees.

Over all, among the 10 American-based information technology companies on the Fortune’s list of “most admired companies,” Mr. Obama raised 83 percent of the funds between the two major party candidates.

Mr. Obama’s popularity among the staff at these companies holds even for those which are not headquartered in California. About 81 percent of contributions at Microsoft, which is headquartered in Redmond, Wash., went to Mr. Obama. So did 77 percent of those at I.B.M., which is based in Armonk, N.Y.

via In Silicon Valley, Technology Talent Gap Threatens G.O.P. Campaigns –

Here’s the thing…when the platform of your party disavows some of the most amazing discoveries in the history of our species…expect those that tend to like amazing discoveries to not like your party.   When a certain group is very pro-science, and your party is very anti-science, expect that group to not like you.

When your party platform is based largely on ignorance about the outside world, expect those that work to make that world accessible NOT LIKE YOUR PARTY.

So there’s a reason the GOP’s GOTV (Get Out The Vote) system failed so miserably…very few people who know how to make good software like the GOP.

I’m officially embarrassed for my state

CNN Political Ticker

One woman who did not appear to be affiliated with the protesters ushered her son up to the governor and prompted him with questions for Perry like “do you believe in evolution?”

“It’s a theory that’s out there,” Perry told the child. “It’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both Creationism and evolution.”

The mother then told her young son:

“Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science,” as Perry continued into the cafe.

Can someone *please do that*?

The Latest Bit of Evidence To Be Dismissed by 40% of the American populace….


Scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute last month discovered another striking instance of human genetic change. Among Tibetans, they found, a set of genes evolved to cope with low oxygen levels as recently as 3,000 years ago. This, if confirmed, would be the most recent known instance of human evolution.

[full story]

The difficulty of identifying these shifts is also covered in the article (and the reason this is dismissed by so many…it’s hard).

One of the signatures of natural selection is that it disturbs the undergrowth of mutations that are always accumulating along the genome. As a favored version of a gene becomes more common in a population, genomes will look increasingly alike in and around the gene. Because variation is brushed away, the favored gene’s rise in popularity is called a sweep. Geneticists have developed several statistical methods for detecting sweeps, and hence of natural selection in action.

About 21 genome-wide scans for natural selection had been completed by last year, providing evidence that 4,243 genes — 23 percent of the human total — were under natural selection. This is a surprisingly high proportion, since the scans often miss various genes that are known for other reasons to be under selection. Also, the scans can see only recent episodes of selection — probably just those that occurred within the last 5,000 to 25,000 years or so. The reason is that after a favored version of a gene has swept through the population, mutations start building up in its DNA, eroding the uniformity that is evidence of a sweep.

So as soon as an “upgrade” is available in the gene pool, it changes the color of the pool, so to speak, and immediately new dyes start seeping in, searching for that next true hue. 

The theory also makes predictions that have also been observed, such as….

The fewest signals of selection were seen among people who live in the humid tropics, the ecoregion where the ancestral human population evolved. “One could argue that we are adapted to that and that most signals are seen when people adapt to new environments,” Dr. Di Rienzo said in an interview.

 To continue the pool analogy, those born in the the deep blue of the tropics and stayed, were good with that color.  But you start getting to more extreme environment (cold, altitude) that same color doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

The second page is a basic discussion on skin color and how there is enough adaptability in the human genome for light skin to have evolved in at least two ways.

The difficulty in comprehending the theory (much less applying it) also lies in the complexity of the systems themselves.

Most variation in the human genome is neutral, meaning that it arose not by natural selection but by processes like harmless mutations and the random shuffling of the genome between generations. The amount of this genetic diversity is highest in African populations. Diversity decreases steadily the further a population has migrated from the African homeland, since each group that moved onward carried away only some of the diversity of its parent population. This steady decline in diversity shows no discontinuity between one population and the next, and has offered no clear explanation as to why one population should differ much from another. But selected genes show a different pattern: Evidence from the new genome-wide tests for selection show that most selective pressures are focused on specific populations.

However, within that complexity, one can expose new insights (again, in keeping with the theory).

One aspect of this pattern is that there seem to be more genes under recent selection in East Asians and Europeans than in Africans, possibly because the people who left Africa were then forced to adapt to different environments. “It’s a reasonable inference that non-Africans were becoming exposed to a wide variety of novel climates,” says Dr. Stoneking of the Max Planck Institute.

The final bit is about the “soft sweet” which continues to occur regardless of outside pressure.  

But the new evidence that humans have adapted rapidly and extensively suggests that natural selection must have other options for changing a trait besides waiting for the right mutation to show up. In an article in Current Biology in February, Dr. Pritchard suggested that a lot of natural selection may take place through what he called soft sweeps.

Soft sweeps work on traits affected by many genes, like height. Suppose there are a hundred genes that affect height (about 50 are known already, and many more remain to be found). Each gene exists in a version that enhances height and a version that does not. The average person might inherit the height-enhancing version of 50 of these genes, say, and be of average height as a result.

The article uses a primitive example of this, but I could just link here…and then draw the pictures….taller = more money, more money = more health/breeding partners, = taller species.  Although this last  (the money/height connection) has only been going on for 20-30 generations and only a couple generations for all people of all genomic heritage (in my country).  It will be interesting to see how these studies move forward in the future, as genome databases grow and more cross-testing is available.

It would be quite a thing to get a six-month gene therapy treatment before that next stint on Everest/in the Arctic.  Or at least it would be if that kind of stuff isn’t outlawed by people who don’t believe in evolution [search : Gene Manufacturing]


Charles Darwin biopic having trouble finding American distributor

Charles Darwin biopic having trouble finding American distributor

Paul Bettany plays Charles Darwin in Creation
Paul Bettany plays Charles Darwin in Creation

The next round of the war on culture is coming soon (or not) to a theatre near you.

From the Telegraph:

Creation, starring Paul Bettany, details Darwin’s “struggle between faith and reason” as he wrote On The Origin of Species. It depicts him as a man who loses faith in God following the death of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie.

The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia.

However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

I read this news with a rather heavy sigh.  When I read those numbers (and recall recent attacks on science in my homeland) I feel nothing but sadness and shame for my state.  After a weekend when the U.S. lost one of its great scientists, I can’t help by be bothered by the irony at work here [1].

On the one had, we have a scientist using the understanding brought to the world by Darwin on the functioning of living species.  Indeed, some of Darwin’s direct work was on the changes brought about in species of plants and animals that had been domesticated by our own.

This hand includes work that saved an estimated 245,000,000,000 lives by improving crop yields to such a degree that predictions of global collapse brought about by our species’ proclivity for reproduction [2].

For his insights into the nature of nature, Darwin is castigated as the embodiment of evil by some., an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as “a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder”. His “half-baked theory” directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to “atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering”, the site stated.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as “a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying”.

This sad and hateful bias against science and explanatory theories, even as it saves millions of lives and averts global disaster, is a big part of why I have such issues with the conservative movement in the U.S.

People often lament about the lack of agreement is political circles about how to go forward given the deep problems we are currently facing.  In the case of politics, there is often a deeper and more rational reason for that divide, being that each of has has different life experiences which guide and inform our politics and therefore differ on how to properly deal with reality.

When it comes to science, however, the purpose of the scientific method t is to remove thae bias of personal experience and propose theories that *anyone* would find to be true if they collected their own data.  Sadly, however, the politics still come into it, as we will soon see when the next legislative battle regarding how to deal with global warming, and our responsibility to deal with *another* looming apocalypse comes to the political fore [previously foreshadowed here].

Perhaps there will be another Borlaug, using the insights of Darwin, to turn Gore into another Malthus.

One can only hope.

[1 source]

Norman Ernest Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009)[1] was an American agronomist, humanitarian, and Nobel laureate, and has been called the father of the Green Revolution.[2] Borlaug was one of only five people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.[3] He was also a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honor.

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations.[6] These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation.[7] He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

[2 source]

A Malthusian catastrophe (also called a Malthusian check, crisis, disaster, or nightmare) was originally foreseen to be a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth had outpaced agricultural production. Later formulations consider economic growth limits as well. The term is also commonly used in discussions of oil depletion.

Based on the work of political economist Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), theories of Malthusian catastrophe are very similar to the subsistence theory of wages. The main difference is that the Malthusian theories predict over several generations or centuries, whereas the subsistence theory of wages predicts over years and decades.

The Story of the Evolution of Hot Peppers (they’re for the birds)

Watt’s up with that tackles hot peppers.

Some plants do not want to get eaten. They may grow in places difficult to approach, they may look unappetizing, or they may evolve vile smells. Some have a fuzzy, hairy or sticky surface, others evolve thorns. Animals need to eat those plants to survive and plants need not be eaten by animals to survive, so a co-evolutionary arms-race leads to ever more bizzare adaptations by plants to deter the animals and ever more ingenious adaptations by animals to get around the deterrents.One of the most efficient ways for a plant to deter a herbivore is to divert one of its existing biochemical pathways to synthetise a novel chemical – something that will give the plant bad taste, induce vomiting or even pain or may be toxic enough to kill the animal.

But there are other kinds of co-evolution between plants and herbivores. Some plants need to have a part eaten – usually the seed – so they can propagate themselves. So, they evolved fruits. The seeds are enveloped in meaty, juicy, tasty packages of pure energy. Those fruits often evolve a sweet smell that can be detected from a distance. And the fruits are often advertised with bright colors – red, orange, yellow, green or purple: “Here I am! Here I am! Please eat me!”

So, the hot peppers are a real evolutionary conundrum.

Read on to see how nature solved *that* little dilemma.

Palin Not Such a Big Fan of Paleontology

The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor’s race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state’s public classrooms.

Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night’s televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, ‘Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.’

Afarensis: Intelligent Design and the Alaska Governor’s Race.

Nice.  And she can even use McCain as a specimen (hey-yo!).

The more I look into this lady, it looks like she’s a fundy reformer.  Doing some good stuff on the corruption-side (well, one good thing).

Frankly, it seems she could do the U.S. the best work by staying in Alaska and fighting the oil companies there.


More info on this one here.

Changing the World, Internet Style

So there’s been an ongoing battle in the United States over the nature of our knowledge. Which is to say, how we communicate our knowledge to the next generation of Americans. While the vast majority of this battleground is decided, there is a persistent hotspot regarding the nature of Human Creation.

Or perhaps I should more accurately say, human evolution.

I’m not going to go into all the details right now, but basically all life on this planet is related. Small genetic changes over time have led to different species, including our own. That’s basically it. If I had to reduce it to a verse or two to hand down verbally over many generations, that’s how I’d say it.

If I didn’t have knowledge of genetics and DNA and all the evidence that supports their existence and the theories and science surrounding them, I might instead reduce all human knowledge to something poetic. Maybe along the line of …

24 ¶ And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 ¶ And God said, Let us make man in our image, 1 Cor. 11.7 after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Mt. 19.4 · Mk. 10.6

[more here]

That’s pretty much all background information for the meat of this story, which is how the Internet is helping us help each other teach the next generation a…shall we say…more enlightened understanding of how we came to be we.

As mentioned previously, the topic of the battleground is Evolution. The location of the battleground is Kansas. The time of the battleground is the Election.

And so bOINGbOING gets the ball rolling…

Progressive geek looking for 3,000 people to help him win Kansas election against dinosauric anti-science/pro-surveillance dude

Sean Tevis is a geeky geek from Kansas who’s fed up with his state rep, an anti-abortion, anti-evolution, pro-censorship, pro-surveillance, anti-gay incumbent. Tevis — an unknown — is polling within three points of his opponent, and is looking to raise some Internet dough to kick this guy’s (extremely tight) ass, and to promote his cause, he’s made a fantastic, XKCD-style toon called “It’s Like A Flamewar with a Forum Troll, but with an Eventual Winner.” Specifically, he’s looking to raise $8.34 from 3,000 people (no state rep in Kansas history has ever had more than 644 donors). I’m in*. Who’s with me? Link (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)*Actually, I’m not. I’m a dirty foreigner and I’m not allowed to meddle in American elections. Someone else donate $8.34 to this guy for me, OK?

Which then got picked up by Digg.

And somebody on Kos mentioned it. If it involves fundraising and progressive causes, Kos is going to be a part of the solution.

Anyway, all of that led to this.




We’ve met our goal to run a competitive campaign, but you can help us win. It’s for an excellent cause, you’ll be making history, and you will be greatly appreciated.

…which is awesome.

You can read the whole story, XKCD-style here.

We’ll keep you updated on the story of this guy…

And his fight to help make things a little bit better in one way or another.

/Sean Tevis pimping over.

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I’ve Eaten All Types of Birds…

News | Opelika-Auburn News

WASHINGTON (AP) — It looks like chickens deserve more respect. Scientists are fleshing out the proof that today’s broiler-fryer is descended from the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex. And, not a surprise, they confirmed a close relationship between mastodons and elephants.

Fossil studies have long suggested modern birds were descended from T. rex, based in similarities in their skeletons.

Now, bits of protein obtained from connective tissues in a T. rex fossil shows a relationship to birds including chickens and ostriches, according to a report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

…and I’ve eaten all types of lizards.  They all taste like Dinosaur.

Meatsacks. That’s All You Are

Pharyngula: Reproductive history writ in the genome

We don’t have any fossilized placentas, but we know that there was an important transition in the mammalian lineage: we had to have shifted from producing eggs in which yolk was the primary source of embryonic nutrition to a state where the embryo acquired its nutrition from a direct interface with maternal circulation, the placenta. We modern mammals don’t need yolk at all … but could there be vestiges of yolk proteins still left buried in our genome? The answer, which you already know since I’m writing this, is yes.First, a little background. It’s not that surprising to find traces of yolk proteins in our genomes, because we also have the evidence of embryology that shows that our embryos still make a yolk sac! Below is a series of diagrams of the human embryo over the last several weeks of the first month of pregnancy, and you can see the large sac hanging from the embryo; it’s a useless fluid filled space that contains no yolk at all, but is homologous to similar structures that form in birds and reptiles.

Nothing but a bunch of meatsacks. Real organisms are made of steel. Like Superman.