Archive for July, 2013

Cotyledion and creationists

Inferno
Inferno
Mon Jul 22, 2013 11:32 am by Inferno

I often search creationist websites for new arguments, but they’re usually the same: “Evolution is wrong because of X, therefore creation”. In addition to that, they haven’t really found new examples for the last five or so years. Since Kitzmiller vs. Dover, there has been surprisingly little from creationists. Even finding a new organism to criticize is a relative novelty for creationists.

So I was surprised to find that the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) had an article up (this was about mid January) criticizing the evolutionary history of Cotyledion tylodes. Now even though this article appears under my name, this is a joint project between Isotelus and me. I wrote it and she heavily criticized and improved it. So, let’s take a look at the ICR article.

Another Cambrian Discovery Discredits Evolution

A fossil creature from the phylum Entoprocta (invertebrate animals that have tentacles and lacking a mineralized skeleton) was found in marked abundance (over 400 individuals) in Burgess Shale. The Burgess is a sedimentary layer that’s purportedly part of the Cambrian period about a half-billion years ago, according to evolutionists.1 The problem for paleontologists is that the supposedly 520 million year old creature looks exactly like its living counterparts, only up to 8 eight times larger.

First, let’s quickly explain what Entoprocta is and where it fits in. They are animals in the superphylum “Lophotrochozoa“, just like we are in the superphylum “Deuterostopmia“. Lophotrochozoa includes Molluscs, Annelids and of course Entoprocta.

Entoprocta differs from the largely similar Bryozoa (or Ectoprocta, archaic) in one major aspect: All Bryozoa have the anus on the outside, while Entoprocta have the anus on the inside. Entoprocta range from the early Cambrian until today, with a fair number of living relatives still around. (Examples include LoxosomatidaeBarentsiidaePedicellinidae and Loxokalypodidae) These represent four families with around 150 species.

One thing to note is that I couldn’t trace C. tylodes to the Burgess Shale (Canada), but rather to Chengjiang in China. Now that’s not a huge problem since both “lagerstätten” are roughly of the same time period. (505mya and 520mya respectively) However, the fossils are significantly closer to the Cambrian Explosion (~550mya) I could also be missing something and this fossil was actually found in the Burgess Shale, but there’s no indication for that. Indeed, Zhang et al. (2013) and Luo et al. (1999, original find) both mention the Chengjiang Konservat-Lagerstätte.

This is another testament to the stunningly thorough research abilities of creationists: The Burgess shale fossil they’re confusing C. tylodes with is Dinomischus, which has an unknown affinity.

But let’s now look at the anatomy. Sadly, the picture provided by LiveScience is incorrectly labelled (Isophagus instead of Esophagus), the original one can be found in Zhang et al. (2013), Figure 1.

Here’s the incorrectly labelled version for better viewing pleasure, the original is too small:

Figure 1.: Extinct Entoprocta, C. tylodes, interpretative drawing

The creationist contention is that C. tylodes look the same as their living relatives. Now I already pointed to the four families above, so we’ll look at a few species. Loxosomella vivipara (apparently now called Loxocalyx raja?), Loxomitra kefersteiniiLoxosomella crassicauda They all look fairly different from C. tylodes, though of course the main structure remains.

A quote from this article is spot on:

Indeed, researchers are coming to realize that the term “living fossil” is a misnomer. One by one, the classic examples—horseshoe crabs, coelacanths, cycads, and more—have turned out to be very different from the fossils that they apparently resemble, either at a genetic level or through subtle physical changes. Their recognizable nature is a red herring—these creatures simply did not exist in their current form millions of years ago.

Let’s recap those last two points: Contrary to the creationists statements, extinct Entoprocta look different than their extant counterparts. But even if they did not change much morphologically, it’s certain that they would have changed genetically.

Now we already know that size isn’t at all relevant when it comes to animals’ and plants’ evolutionary status, but what if C. tylodes really was more complex than his ancestors? That would be a completely different discussion. Now to check that, the only resources available to us are the pictures I provided above and peer-reviewed articles talking about their structures/anatomy/etc.

The pictures already showed some differences, but that doesn’t solve the question of complexity. In the case of C. tylodes, the creationists were very specific in their criticism:

Interestingly, the fossils of C. tylodes also appear to have somewhat more complex features than modern entoprocts. Unlike living entoprocts, the stem and flowerlike feeding cup of the “ancient” version was covered by tiny hardened protuberances (sclerites), and the creatures were much larger.

Now there’s absolutely no denying that the average C. tylodes was much larger than modern Entoprocta, extant ones being between 0.1mm and 7mm, extinct ones between 8mm and 56mm long. I already explained that size really doesn’t matter, so we can safely skip over that point.

So on to the next point: tiny scelerites. This too is true, in fact the 2013 paper (Zhang et al.) is actually called “A scelerite-bearing stem group…” But is that really a sign of complexity? Let’s look at the rest.

Figure 2.: Extant Entoprocta anatomy

This picture shows what extant Entoprocta look like. Well, it’s of course either a general form or one specific species, I couldn’t determine that. (Note: Isotelus suggests it’s most likely a general form.) Notice the tentacles on the left (extended) and on the right (retracted). This is actually a very important quality in this Phylum, because they feed by putting stuff into their mouths with their tentacles. In Zhang et al., they specifically state that C. tylodes was able to retract the tentacles a bit, but not as much as extant Entoprocta.

In addition, there is some evidence that the tentacles may have been contractible and could have been retracted into the membranous band where they originate from (Fig. S4a–c), suggesting some degree of retractability of the tentacles that corresponds functionally and structurally to that seen in those of the extant entoprocts [1].

So C. tylodes was well on its way to retracting them fully, but they don’t seem to have been as mobile as their contemporary counterparts. This may be due to the fossils we found, since none of them exhibit the degree of curling that modern examples do. So on this, the jury is still out. The scelerites mentioned may also be the reason why the tentacles are so well-preserved. Which isn’t at all unexpected, given how well preserved other fossils from that location are.

However, Zhang et al. also note other differences to extant Entoprocta.

In addition, recent entoprocts are pseudocoelomate, with the cavity surrounding the calycal (aka. calyx, see Fig. 2) organs and extending into the stalk in-filled by a hydrostatic skeleton of loose mesenchyme cell or narrow primary body cavity [1].

So there we have it, folks: Extinct Entoprocta were different from their extant descendants and they were almost certainly not as complex. (Whatever creationists mean by that.)

Resources/References:

Clausen, S. B.; Hou, X. G.; Bergström, J.; Franzén, C. (2010). “The absence of echinoderms from the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang fauna of China: Palaeoecological and palaeogeographical implications”. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 294 (3–4): 133.

Iseta, Tohru. (2002) Loxocorone, a New Genus of the Family Loxosomatidae (Entoprocta: Solitaria), with Descriptions of Two New Loxomitra (sensu stricto) and a New Loxocorone from Okinawa, the Ryukyu Archipelago, Japan Toological Science 19: 359–367 (2002)

Luo, Huilin, Hu, Shixue, Chen, Laingzhong, (1999). “Early Cambrian Chengjiang Fauna from Kunming Region, China. Yunnan Science and Technology press, Kunming China. (<–Only in Chinese, if you really want to read it…)

Zhang, Z.; Holmer, L. E.; Skovsted, C. B.; Brock, G. A.; Budd, G. E.; Fu, D.; Zhang, X.; Shu, D. et al. (2013). “A sclerite-bearing stem group entoproct from the early Cambrian and its implications”. Scientific Reports 3

My political views

Laurens
Laurens
Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:51 pm by Laurens

I often feel unable to adequately describe my political views, but I thought perhaps the best way to elucidate them would be to describe my ideal world (or at least snippets thereof) rather than detail any particular philosophies I adhere to. I am ever aware that all political ideologies should be tempered with realism, however I do not feel that my intellect is entirely capable of completely sticking to this principle. For that reason I would welcome any criticisms and ideas in the comments thread.

 

I believe that a prosperous society should be focused upon improving technology. Technology greatly improves the standard of living and has many economic benefits. A better quality of life for all individuals is something that should be strived for .The pursuit of technology will greatly increase our odds of overcoming many of the issues facing our species.

 

Tied to this point is the very important topic of education. It goes without saying that we need engineers and scientists to push forward technology. Also the higher the standard of education in all subjects the greater our standard of living and culture would be. I feel rather strongly that putting barriers (such as incredibly high tuition fees) in front of university level education is going to impede our ability to generate the next generation of great thinkers. Obviously universities need to economically sustain themselves somehow, but I feel restricting access to them by having absurdly high fees is not the best way to go about it (although admittedly I could not tell you what exactly the best way to go about it would be).

 

One thing I feel that was sorely missing from my own education was critical thinking. I was in my early twenties when I first began to learn about this important subject—which is indicative of a failing in our education system. With simple critical thinking tools one is endowed with a greatly accentuated ability to educate oneself. Being taught disparate facts and snippets of information and retain them for just long enough to pass the exam was not a great way of helping me actually learn in any real sense of the word. I felt disengaged with the learning process and viewed education in a somewhat negative light until fairly recently. What we really need is a population of individuals that are highly engaged in learning as a life-long process. Though I do not presume to know exactly how this might be implemented, or whether such a radical change would be economically viable, I do feel that a nation of educated thinkers would vastly improve our culture, our innovations, and endow us with a highly skilled workforce.

 

Of course I would not wish to live in a society in which people are forced to become lifelong learners or penalized for not aspiring to this, as this would be antithetical to basic principles of liberty. However, I feel that in order to attain a fully liberal society, individuals must be given the greatest possible opportunities to achieve their potential. If you want to be a bin man that’s fine, but nobody should be in the position of being a bin man simply because other opportunities were denied of them. In my current situation, I feel denied of opportunities because my ability to gain the qualifications I need in order to fulfill my potential has been hidden behind a wall of cash. Thus I am in a position in which I am having to seek employment in areas that are completely beneath me in terms of what I know I am capable of. I would like to live in a world in which as few people as possible wind up in a similar position, and I think the flaws in the education system have a great deal to do with it.

 

In essence my political focus would be to raise the floor of our society and culture by greatly improving education and opportunities. This simple factor would, in my opinion have a knock on effect in almost all aspects of politics. A population of critical thinkers is liable to approach issues more reasonably, be less affected by the media, and more innovative—which in turn would pave the way to prosperity in the long term.

 

As for other areas of politics and economics I remain largely naïve. It can be said of me that I am a liberal secularist, with some socialist tendencies. I am also an advocate of democracy, which is something I feel could be improved with technology also (particularly information technology). I’ve never aligned myself with a particular political party, and I tend not to devote a huge amount of my time to elucidating my political views in discussions. Hence why the focus of this post is somewhat narrowed to subjects I feel comfortable expressing my views on. If you have any further questions about my political beliefs, please feel free to comment in the thread and I shall endeavour to answer them.

Politics – Part 3: The Greens

Inferno
Inferno
Sun Jul 07, 2013 1:38 pm by Inferno

As promised in my last post, I now want to focus on the Greens.

As with the centre right party, their program is over 70 pages long, so I won’t read through it all. I want to make you aware of something though: The extreme right-wing party has a program 17 pages in length, the left wing party (SPÖ) has one 31 pages long, the centre right 68 pages and the Greens is 88 pages long. Now obviously the quantity of the program says nothing about the quality, but a lack of quantity… hm, maybe.

I’ve also decided to drop the extreme-left parties, instead I’ll talk about recent trends in politics, new parties and some tools. After that, as I’ve already explained, I want to start a big discussion about “the ideal party”.

Anyway, the Greens…
In general, the Greens parties will be moderately to extremely left-leaning and have “the environment” as their main agenda. Sometimes they’ll have some social issues on their agenda (LGBT-rights, women’s rights, etc.) and sometimes some lefty political/anti-state issues, but in general they’re a very specialized party and won’t attract a wide range of clientèle. As a result, it’s seldom you’ll see them top the 10% margin. Indeed, most green-parties have managed only a single 10%+ result.

In Austria specifically, there was one excellent Greens-chairman, Alexander Van der Bellen. This is irrelevant, but there’s a nice little story to it. In 2008, his party lost votes for the first time, going from 11.05% to 10.43%. Then from one day to the next, he suddenly said “duck it all” and left. The party has been in disarray since, but interestingly they’ll probably get a huge boost in 2013.

Now that in itself is rather interesting, I think. In the last ten years (you always vote every five years in Austria) the leading parties (ÖVP/SPÖ) have fucked up so badly, that Austrians sought an alternative. At first, in 2008, that alternative was the BZÖ/FPÖ, the two extreme right wing parties. (Gain 13% total, 6.5% each) Now, in 2013, there is one new party, Team Stronach (TS), and the Greens, who are the winners. TS won on average 8%, in some cases even 10%, while the Greens nearly doubled their votes in some states, but definitely grew quite drastically.

The reason for TS’s and the Greens’ gain can be attributed to them not being involved in the scandals, the huge loss of BZÖ/FPÖ to… well, nothing new, I guess. Who wants to hear “immigrants are shit” every day of the week?

Now in Austria, you get to vote for your state (we have 9 states) and then again country-wide. There were four state-votes this year:

Salzburg was a tremendous win for the greens, going from 12% to 20%. That’s the largest they’ve ever been in a state. ÖVP/SPÖ lost a huge deal 7.5%/15% respectively and both TS (8%) and FPÖ (4%) made gains.

In Carinthia,  the FPK (the FPÖ of Carinthia) went from being the strongest party (44.89%) to being the second strongest (16.85%), a whopping loss of 28.04%. The SPÖ picked up (+8% to 37%) and the Greens more than doubled. (+7% to 12%)

In both Tyrol and lower Austria, the votes remained largely the same, all parties except the Greens (+1-2%) lost a bit and TS achieved 9.5% quite consistently.

This changes the political landscape quite a bit! The Greens will achieve anything between 16% and 20% in the upcoming elections (huge boost, a potential double), the SPÖ will lose very slightly (1-2% to 27%), the ÖVP will remain roughly the same (25%) and TS will achieve about 8-10%. The huge uncertainty-factor will be the FPÖ. Having lost so much in Carinthia (~100.000 votes) and gained very little in the other states (~10.000 votes), they’re still predicted to make a net gain for the nation-wide votes (total of 17-19%). That’s because the votes are generally quite different, people lean more to the left in state elections but are very right-wing in nation-wide elections.

In any case, the Greens… Seriously now…

When reading the party’s program, I noticed that it is… wishy-washy. I’m not saying that their program is bad, I hope I’ve been fair enough to be rather neutral. (Mostly because I think all party-programs up until now were shit, but that’s a different story.) The problem is that the language is so passive, so neutral… For example:

A solid community of free people in an intact environment – that is our vision. This vision doesn’t describe an end-point, but rather an open future, which we want to form with our values, principals and our politics.

Now call me a cynic, but when I read that the first time I imagined hippies dancing to oriental music, throwing flowers through the air. The rest of the program goes on in the same tone. Anyway, I’ll try to pick out their main points and explain their ideology that way.

As stated in the opening paragraphs, the Greens have a moderate to strong “left” tendency. This is reflected in their roots:

Die historischen Wurzeln der Grünen liegen in den neuen sozialen Bewegungen: der StudentInnenbewegung, der Frauen-, Umwelt- und Friedensbewegung, in Bürgerrechtsbewegungen und BürgerInneninitiativen, den kritischen ChristInnen, WissenschafterInnen und GewerkschafterInnen, der entwicklungspolitischen Solidaritätsbewegung und den Bewegungen alter und neuer, sozialer oder kultureller “Minderheiten”.

In short: The Austrian Greens developed out of feminist, peace- and environment-movements as well as citizens’ actions committees and other grass-root organisations.

This multi-faceted history is reflected today: They are in favour of multi-cultural societies, a multi-national approach to problem-solving and, as already stated, an ecologically stable society.
However/additionally, they are also clearly opposed to labelling, as that would only add to existing divisions.

As also explained, they are more socialist than conservative, which shows in the following:

Alle Versuche, Solidarität auf einen engen Kreis von NutznießerInnen zu beschränken, haben in Sackgassen geführt.

Every attempt to limit the gains of society (or to limit solidarity) to one group of beneficiaries has always resulted in a dead end.

This is a clearly socialist approach to society and economics. Interestingly, the Greens in Austria tend to form coalitions with conservative parties about as often as with socialist parties. This may be due to the above discussed problem the Greens have: They’re usually very small. (In the US, they have yet to gain more than 2.74%!)

The next bit might surprise you a bit:

Grüne Politik folgt Utopien.

Green politics follows (is) Utopia.

I have purposefully included the (is), you will hopefully forgive me for inserting judgement here. Green politics IS Utopia. One of the main criticisms levelled against the Green parties I know of is that they’re out of touch with reality. Their ideas are sometimes excellent, but they’ll not be able to deliver what they want, simply because there are political limits.

The do claim to be realistic about their goals, but that’s not true at all.

(more…)

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