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Skeptic Summary #357

By The Staff
Posted on: 2/20/2012

The blurry mammoth, gay marriage, yeast, IDiocy, biodiversity and more!

Week ending February 19, 2012 (Vol 9, #6)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
New Species! The Blurry Mammoth - Footage from the wild, improved with CGI.

U.S. judge overturns California gay-marriage ban - Expect an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Yeast evolves multicellularity in lab in 60 days - Answers in Genesis disagrees, and so does an ID-shill on SFN.

Editor’s Choice: A disturbing trend, ’er no? - The Intelligent Design corpse won’t lay down and die in peace.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
The Center for Biological Diversity: Because life is good. — Okay look: I’m not exactly a tree-hugger. But like any sensible person, I do care about environmental issues. I care about protecting old growth redwood forests; I care about the destruction of wetlands, rainforests, coral reefs and other areas that support an incredible diversity of life. I care about biodiversity and I care about the danger of extinction that many species of animals and plants face at our hands and the consequences, what we might face with their disappearance, which we still don’t fully understand. I get that there is sometimes no way out for developing nations to go after some of the resources that will effect habitat, but at the same time bring the nation into the 21st century. It’s a delicate balance of practicality vs. sustainability vs. exploitation vs. biodiversity, and so on. That’s to say that we need the diversity of life that still exists on our planet as much as we need to understand the realities of emerging economies. But we also need to deal with the entrenched thinking of the terminally short-sighted in politics and some very greedy folks who populate or fund our politicians at all levels government and in all countries.

Extinctions and extinction events (mass extinctions) are, of course, nothing new. It’s estimated that 99.9% of all species that have lived on our planet are now extinct. And from an evolutionary point of view, that’s not a bad thing. Climate changes leading to changing habitats, and even the occasional mass extinction, have opened up niches that are inevitably filled by new species that have adapted to the new conditions. In other words, extinction is a major driver of evolution. The diversity of life that exists on our planet now wouldn’t, if it weren’t for previous extinctions. We are only here because some long-ago ancestor of ours was better suited to exploit a niche than some other species. Where did the previous tenant go? In most cases, its time here was up and it became extinct, whether by catastrophe or by a steady loss of habitat and an inability to adapt to new circumstances. Our ancestors went out the same way. But the line leading to us survived, no doubt with many branches that lead to many other animals. This is basic stuff for understanding the diversity of life on our planet.

Thanks to a long ago ancestor,
well-adapted to fill a niche, we are here.

It’s generally agreed by scientists that there have been five mass extinction events in the past with the last one being the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, which took out a great many species and is generally credited with taking out the dinosaurs, which was good news for mammals.

But now it is being argued by some scientists that we have entered a sixth mass extinction event, and much of the cause of the current extinction, it is argued, is at the hands of humans, by way of agriculture, disruption of ecosystems and habitat, over-hunting and -fishing, over-population and at least some, if not a lot of help, in boosting both the rate and the severity of climate change, as well as other anthropic reasons given for the alarmingly high die-off rate of many species in a relatively short period of time, when compared with previous mass extinction events. (While this one doesn’t yet compare in numbers with the die-offs during previous mass extinction events, it’s the rate of the extinctions that has scientists talking.) None of the reasons I’ve listed is hard for this skeptic to believe, given the ever-growing scientific consensus that we are in a sixth mass extinction event. So the question becomes, now what?

Aside from what we already do as skeptics, when faced with climate change denial and related issues, this might be a good time to get involved with a group that has already made some significant headway in the area of protecting the biodiversity of our planet.

From the About page:

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.


…The Center’s innovation was to systematically and ambitiously use biological data, legal expertise, and the citizen petition provision of the powerful Endangered Species Act to obtain sweeping, legally binding new protections for animals, plants, and their habitat — first in New Mexico, then throughout the Southwest, next through all 11 western states and into other key areas across the country. With each passing year the Center has expanded its territory, which now extends to the protection of species throughout the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and international regions as remote as the North and South poles. As our range grew, and first tens, then hundreds of species gained protection as a result of our groundbreaking petitions, lawsuits, policy advocacy, and outreach to media, we went from living and working on a shoestring to having offices around the country — from relying on donated time from pro bono attorneys at large firms to building a full-time staff of dozens of prominent environmental lawyers and scientists who work exclusively on our campaigns to save species and the places they need to survive.

We’re now fighting a growing number of national and worldwide threats to biodiversity, from the overarching global problems of overpopulation and climate change to intensifying domestic sources of species endangerment, such as off-road vehicle excess. Based on our unparalleled record of legal successes — 93 percent of our lawsuits result in favorable outcomes — we’ve developed a unique negotiating position with both government agencies and private corporations, enabling us, at times, to secure broad protections for species and habitat without the threat of litigation. Now in our twenty-first year, we look forward to a future of continued expansion, creativity, and no-holds-barred action on behalf of the world’s most critically endangered animals and plants.
On the site menu there is a pull down list of animal and plant species that are endangered, with descriptions and photos of each one. Once again, I’m not going to list all of the topics, because I’ve taken up enough space here already, and because all you have to do is click the link to the page, and check it out for yourself.

An adult California tiger salamander saved
from extinction with help from the
Center for Biological Diversity

Please visit The Center for Biological Diversity, and do what you can do. Thanks!

The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit.
— Carl Sagan

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday the 8th: First out: Flirting, or at least awkward attempts at it. And pickup lines, each and every one worse than the other. Then we discussed online privacy policies, since Google is changing theirs. We had some puns, about four-letter words like ‘work’ and ‘love’. Kil complained that a cat’s ass isn’t the cat’s best side. After that: more cats and puns. Octopus and the amazing ability some species have which allows them to change color and texture: the ultimate camouflage. The chat ended a little early since everyone logged off.

Wednesday the 15th: Storm turned up to chat for the first time in a long while. So we started testing mind-reading. It turned out to be pretty easy to read Kil’s mind: it was all food, money and sex, and not necessarily in that order. We still got to talk a lot about ESP and the paranormal. Eventually we got some reports from the New Age Expo. After that, more woo on the home front. Everything from “something affected my EMF-meter” to “Aliens visited earth and taught apes how to think and to become humans.”

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
10 Species Our Population Explosion Will Likely Kill Off

10 ways to evade Alzheimer’s

64-year-old tub of lard found in Germany — still edible

Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot

AMA Request: Nate Phelps; the atheist, gay rights advocate son of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps

Amazonian Rainforest Fungus Eats Polyurethane, Potentially Solving a Big Landfill Problem

Arsenic-Based Life Claim Gets Another Blow

‘Big cat’ in Gloucestershire ruled out by DNA tests

Castaway lizards provide insight into elusive evolutionary process, founder effects

Changing the rep of Fungi one mushroom-based robot thingie-builder at a time

Conquistador Was Deep in U.S.: “Stunning” Jewelry Find Redraws Route?

Cute kitten has a protective wolf for a mother

Deception at Duke

Did Early Humans Ride the Waves to Australia?

Did Easter Islanders Mix It Up With South Americans?

Dogs Probably Feel Sorry For Us

Doubtful Newsblog

Entire genome of extinct human decoded from fossil

Fifth Grader Accidentally Concocts a New Explosive Molecule

Future of Long-Distance Love Is Cool But Creepy

FYI: Do Animals Dream?

Gamers ignore corpse in Internet cafe

Global experts question claims about jellyfish populations

Hearing metaphors activates brain regions involved in sensory experience

How the zebra got its stripes

How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused

How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy

Is it possible to reanimate the dead? Can dead people be brought back to life?

Jeff Bezos-Funded Bigot Search Engine Powers Android Siri Rival

Key to immune cell’s ‘internal guidance’ system discovered

Kraken Sea Monster Account “Bizarre and Miraculous”

Life on Earth Began on Land, Not in Sea?

McDonald’s drops use of ‘pink slime’ in hamburger meat

Muslims Declare Jihad on Dogs in Europe

NASA Report: Greenhouse Gases, Not Sun, Driving Warming

Pictures: Civil War Sub Finally Revealed

Piranha vs. Arapaima: Engineers find inspiration for new materials in piranha-proof armor

“Psychic” Sally Morgan Sues Critics for £150,000 After Refusing $1 Million to Prove Her Powers

Randal Rauser on hating God

Rapunzel number helps scientists quantify ponytails

Scorpion Shell Inspires Machine Shielding

Skepticality #176 — A Midsummer Night’s Foxconn

This Is How Spaceships Are Born

This Week in Intelligent Design

Tricks of the Psychic Trade

Tuaregs Use Qaddafi’s Arms for Rebellion in Mali

What If All the Cats in the World Suddenly Died?

What’s New by Bob Park

Woolly mammoth caught on video? It looks fishy

Yellow-cedar are dying in Alaska: Scientists now know why

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
The Diversity of Life, by Edward O. Wilson.

“‘In the Amazon Basin the greatest violence sometimes begins as a flicker of light beyond the horizon. There in the perfect bowl of the night sky, untouched by light from any human source, a thunderstorm sends its premonitory signal and begins a slow journey to the observer, who thinks: the world is about to change.’ Watching from the edge of the Brazilian rain forest, witness to the sort of violence nature visits upon its creatures, Edward O. Wilson reflects on the crucible of evolution, and so begins his remarkable account of how the living world became diverse and how humans are destroying that diversity.

Wilson, internationally regarded as the dean of biodiversity studies, conducts us on a tour through time, traces the processes that create new species in bursts of adaptive radiation, and points out the cataclysmic events that have disrupted evolution and diminished global diversity over the past 600 million years. The five enormous natural blows to the planet (such as meteorite strikes and climatic changes) required 10 to 100 million years of evolutionary repair. The sixth great spasm of extinction on earth—caused this time entirely by humans—may be the one that breaks the crucible of life. Wilson identifies this crisis in countless ecosystems around the globe: coral reefs, grasslands, rain forests, and other natural habitats. Drawing on a variety of examples such as the decline of bird populations in the United States, the extinction of many species of freshwater fish in Africa and Asia, and the rapid disappearance of flora and fauna as the rain forests are cut down, he poignantly describes the death throes of the living world’s diversity—projected to decline as much as 20 percent by the year 2020.

All evidence marshaled here resonates through Wilson’s tightly reasoned call for a spirit of stewardship over the world’s biological wealth. He makes a plea for specific actions that will enhance rather than diminish not just diversity but the quality of life on earth. Cutting through the tangle of environmental issues that often obscure the real concern, Wilson maintains that the era of confrontation between forces for the preservation of nature and those for economic development is over; he convincingly drives home the point that both aims can, and must, be integrated. Unparalleled in its range and depth, Wilson’s masterwork is essential reading for those who care about preserving the world biological variety and ensuring our planet’s health.”

— Book Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  2. A disturbing trend, ’er no?
  3. Yeast evolves multicellularity in lab in 60 days
  4. Shit New Age Girls Say
  5. Funny FAILS
  6. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  7. Fif50ty FreAkieSt AnIMaLS
  8. The Battle of Tehran
  9. Marscape
  10. Scientist: No knuckle-walkers in human ancestry
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  3. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  4. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  5. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  6. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  7. TAM4
  8. Skeptic Summary #356
  9. Scientific Truth
  10. N. 25, June 2002: Ecology vs. ecophily — being reasonable about saving the environment
There were 6,804 daily visitors this week.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

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