21 March 2008

Weekly sampler 11

First day of spring, 2008.
Right.

1. PZ Myers blogged about this interesting new report: examination of the genes for yolk proteins and milk proteins reveals a clear story of the evolution of proteins that nourish embryos and young in vertebrate animals. Pseudogenes figure prominently, and the explanation makes no sense without them. The article (in PLoS Biology) was accompanied by a nice lay summary, but PZ's post is very good too.

Speaking of PZ, if you haven't heard about his hilarious expulsion from a screening of a propaganda film that I won't name, check out his description of the event, or Greg Laden's Blog for bunches of links.

If your kids ever ask you to explain the concept of irony, tell them that Alanis is very confused, then tell them about how PZ was expelled from a movie with a curious title.

2. Are you a former physicist who is feeling ignorant of basic principles of biology? Feeling silly about some of the things you've written about biology, that you now know are complete nonsense? Want to learn a little about biology? Just ask a biologist. They might misspell 'color' and 'honor', but they'll surely know plenty about genetics and evolution, and a quick consult might save you from the humiliation of being thought an arrogant ignoramus. Try it!

3. I've mentioned before that our little state of Michigan, with the worst economy in the U.S. and without any hope of affecting the Democratic presidential nomination, is a hotbed of world-class evolutionary biology. The walking whale Rodhocetus kasrani? In a free museum on the University of Michigan campus. The famous ongoing experiment on selection and evolution in bacteria? In a lab in East Lansing. I could go on. Here's this week's sample: the Digital Evolution Lab at Michigan State. Their simulation program is Avida, and they used it in a prominent study published in Nature in 2003. Lately, with NSF funding, they've been adapting Avida for educational use. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm very interested in the possibility of using it in the classroom.

4. Is it a waste of time – or even counterproductive – to engage folk science and/or pseudoscience? Brian at Laelaps and Abbie Smith at ERV are two of my favorite science bloggers, and they both took the bait when a blogger at ScienceBlogs suggested that responding to anti-science propaganda "enables" it. I assume you already know where I stand: with Brian and Abbie. Via Pharyngula.

5. Dr. Hunter O'Reilly, BioArtist. Very cool.

6. I just looked over an article called "Spending money on others promotes happiness." Reader's Digest? Joel Osteen? The Living Bible? Mr. Rogers? Give up? Here's a hint: the same issue of the same magazine includes an article on a proposal to let scientists edit GenBank, the massive genomic database, in essence turning it into a wiki. (Sounds smart to me.) The magazine is Science, and here's the abstract of that article on "promoting happiness":
Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one's income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.
I wonder if there's a pseudogene involved somewhere...

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