Greg Laden

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Biological Anthropologist, Science Blogger.

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  • December 9, 2008
  • 08:54 AM

Social Construction of Race: The Dark Side of Social Status

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Black is beautiful, without a doubt. We are all versions of Africans with varying degrees and patterns of non-adaptive and often unfortunate mutations owing to chance, inbreeding, or genetic isolation, and we are all subject to clinally manifest selective forces resulting in clinally distributed phenotypes. Here and there there may be a pocket of people who really stand out from the rest of the species, but that is rare and is presumably a short term phenomenon, and the level of difference if ........ Read more »

A. M. Penner, & A. Saperstein. (2008) How social status shapes race. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805762105  

  • December 6, 2008
  • 01:52 PM

Dominance and Affiliation Mediate Despotism in a Social Primate

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Individual animals that live and and forage in groups may not always benefit from a particular move (to or from a foraging site) in the same way as other individuals in the group. Therefore, there must be some kind of negotiation among the critters. Theoretical work almost always seem to show that consensus based group decisions will prevail because this minimizes individual costs. The altnernative, despotic decision (where a dominant individual decides where the group goes) should rarely happ........ Read more »

  • December 5, 2008
  • 06:21 PM

Allen's Rule, Phenotypic Plasticity, and The Nature of Evolution

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Allen's Rule. One of those things you learn in graduate school along with Bergmann's Rule and Cope's Rule. It is all about body size. Cope's Rule ... which is a rule of thumb and not an absolute ... says that over time the species in a given lineage tend to be larger and larger. Bergmann's Rule says that mammals get larger in colder environments. Allen's Rule has mammals getting rounder in colder climates, by decreasing length of appendages such as limbs, tails and ears.

All three rules ........ Read more »

  • December 2, 2008
  • 10:21 PM

The evolution of creationists in the United States

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

A new paper by Kevin Padian of UC Berkeley is just out in Comptes Rendus Biologies, a French peer reviewed journal, on American creationism.

Padian summarizes the history of creationism in the US. From the abstract: Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • November 28, 2008
  • 09:01 PM

The Political Gender Gap

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

A new study published by Chiao et al. in the journal PLoS ONE explores the gendered nature of American voting behavior. Subjects were asked to rank politicians -- based only on photographs of each politician's face -- along different quality scales, and also to choose among these photographs who should be President. The study concludes that male and female candidates are evaluated on distinctly different terms, and that male and female voters do this evaluation in somewhat (but not dramaticall........ Read more »

  • November 23, 2008
  • 02:15 PM

Mammoth DNA Sequence

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The genome of the extinct woolley mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) has been sequenced, and reported in Nature. This confirms that elephant genomes are large, like the elephants themselves. It confirms previously proposed relationships amongst the elephants (see phylogeny below) and refines the known phylogeny. Interpopulation differences among mammoths were also demonstrated.

Here's the phylogeny:

Comparison of phylogenies of elephants and hominoids. "We show estimated divergence times, th........ Read more »

Webb Miller, Daniela I. Drautz, Aakrosh Ratan, Barbara Pusey, Ji Qi, Arthur M. Lesk, Lynn P. Tomsho, Michael D. Packard, Fangqing Zhao, Andrei Sher.... (2008) Sequencing the nuclear genome of the extinct woolly mammoth. Nature, 456(7220), 387-390. DOI: 10.1038/nature07446  

  • November 22, 2008
  • 06:27 PM

Giant Gromia (amoebas) may account for ancient sea floor tracks

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

A protist is a single celled eukaryotic organism, and they are usually pretty small. You can often see them, though! Before you put that sample of pond water under the microscope, take a close look: Many protists are at the boundary of visibility for humans.

Then, there are the giant protists, grape size, living on the bottom of the sea where they roll around in the mud. It has been known for some time that there are giant deep sea protazoans that are not mobile. Here, though, is a bit o........ Read more »

M MATZ, T FRANK, N MARSHALL, E WIDDER, & S JOHNSEN. (2008) Giant Deep-Sea Protist Produces Bilaterian-like Traces. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.028  

  • November 15, 2008
  • 06:03 PM

Losing the Big Picture: How Religion May Control Visual Attention

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Atheists are smarter than Calvinists in Dutch Study. But, the Calvinists are quicker at identifying small shapes than the Atheists.

Despite the abundance of evidence that human perception is penetrated by beliefs and expectations, scientific research so far has entirely neglected the possible impact of religious background on attention. Here we show that Dutch Calvinists and atheists, brought up in the same country and culture and controlled for race, intelligence, sex, and age, differ with ........ Read more »

Lorenza S. Colzato, Wery P. M. van den Wildenberg, & Bernhard Hommel. (2008) Losing the Big Picture: How Religion May Control Visual Attention. PLoS ONE, 3(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003679  

  • November 14, 2008
  • 08:20 PM

Can Evolution "Learn" From Past Environments?

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The paper I'm about to discuss is a minefield of potential misconceptions that arise from the way we often use language do describe natural phenomena. This is a situation where it would be easier to start with a disclaimer ... a big giant obvious quotation mark ... and then use the usual misleading, often anthropomorphic language. But I don't think I should do that. We'll address this research the hard way, but the result will be worth the extra work.

Here is the basic hypothesis. The null m........ Read more »

  • November 14, 2008
  • 10:16 AM

When the corn weevil knocks, we are all doomed.

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Maize weevil, Sitophilus zeamais [usda] ... or the corn rust or the corn root cutter or whatever pathogen that comes along that cannot be fought off with a cleverly concocted combination of chemicals. This is because all we eat is corn, or so it seems.

In a paper just published in PNAS, scientists use stable isotopes to estimate the contribution of corn to the standard American diet of meat and fries from fast food. They sampled a disgustingly large number of not so happy meals from Burge........ Read more »

  • November 12, 2008
  • 07:54 AM

The Emergence of Treatment-Resistant Fungus

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

It is hard to kill fungus. Well, not really. They can't handle being burned and chlorine does them in and lots of other chemicals are bad for hem. But when a fungus infects a person ... like with Aspergillos, an infection with Aspergillus in the lungs, fungi are tricky. To kill an infectious agent, one typically poisons it somehow, but to ingest, inject, inhale, or even topically apply a chemical may also affect the person. The reason it is relatively easy to kill an infecting bacterium than........ Read more »

Eveline Snelders, Henrich A. L. van der Lee, Judith Kuijpers, Anthonius J. M. M. Rijs, János Varga, Robert A. Samson, Emilia Mellado, A. Rogier T. Donders, Willem J. G. Melchers, & Paul E. Verweij. (2008) Emergence of Azole Resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus and Spread of a Single Resistance Mechanism. PLoS Medicine, 5(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050219  

  • November 10, 2008
  • 06:47 PM

The Evolutionary Dynamics of the Lion Panthera leo Revealed by Host and Viral Population Genomics

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Cute baby lions. When they grow up, they will want to eat you. I'll never forget the first wild lion I ever saw. It was a pitch black night, on the savanna in the Western Rift Valley. I had climbed on top of the hood of the Land Rover, engine off, but headlights on. My plan was to search the horizon for lights indicating the presence of the research camp I was trying to find. Once I was on the hood, I was about to tell my colleague, still in the vehicle, to cut the headlights so I could s........ Read more »

Agostinho Antunes, Jennifer L. Troyer, Melody E. Roelke, Jill Pecon-Slattery, Craig Packer, Christiaan Winterbach, Hanlie Winterbach, Graham Hemson, Laurence Frank, Philip Stander.... (2008) The Evolutionary Dynamics of the Lion Panthera leo Revealed by Host and Viral Population Genomics. PLoS Genetics, 4(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000251  

  • October 19, 2008
  • 06:24 PM

When Do Immigrants Learn English? Likely, not when you think.

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The North End, Boston, Massachusetts I'm standing outside Luigi's restaurant having a smoke, and Luigi's doorman had joined me. Across the street yellow stingray is parked, as usual, to block the alley. The word is, the fire escape down into that alley leads directly from Baronelli's office. The stingray is an escape pod.

Almost every restaurant on Hanover street and the dozen side streets is like Luigi's: owned by a family from a particular part of Italy or Sicily, with a local cuisine........ Read more »

  • October 13, 2008
  • 11:06 PM

Cultural Evolution from Mosquitos to Worm Grunting

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

A very good day of grunting worms. Credit: Ken Catania So-called Gene-Culture Co-Evolution can be very obvious and direct or it can be very subtle and complex. In almost all cases, the details defy the usual presumptions people make about the utility of culture, the nature of human-managed knowledge, race, and technology. I would like to examine two cases of gene-culture interaction: One of the earliest post-Darwinian Synthesis examples addressing malaria and sickle-cell disease, and the mo........ Read more »

  • October 7, 2008
  • 09:05 AM

Review of SMM Exhibit on Race and Racism

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The Science Museum of Minnesota recently developed an exhibit called "Race: Are we so different?" This exhibit is now at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and will be in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Orleans, Kalamazoo, Boston and Washington DC between now and June 2011.

If you get a chance, go see it.

In the meantime, a review of this exhibit has just been published in the current issue of Museum Anthropology, authored by Mischa Penn, Gil Tostevin, and your........ Read more »

Mischa Penn, Gregory Laden, & Gilbert Tostevin. (2008) Review Essay: RACE: Are We So Different?. Museum Anthropology, 31(2), 148-156. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1379.2008.00015.x  

  • October 4, 2008
  • 01:07 PM

Culture Shapes How We Look at Faces

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Constructivism. Determinism. It is all a bunch of hooey.

A recent paper published by PLoS (Culture Shapes How We Look at Faces) throws a sopping wet blanket on widely held deterministic models of human behavior. In addition, the work underscores the sometimes spooky cultural differences that can emerge in how people see things, even how people think. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Caroline Blais, Rachael E. Jack, Christoph Scheepers, Daniel Fiset, Roberto Caldara, & Alex O. Holcombe. (2008) Culture Shapes How We Look at Faces. PLoS ONE, 3(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003022  

  • September 29, 2008
  • 04:25 PM

Effective Polygyny in Humans: Turns out it is for real

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Human societies tend to be at least a little polygynous. This finding, recently reported in PLoS genetics, does not surprise us but is nonetheless important. This important in two ways: 1) This study uncovers numerical details of human genetic variation that are necessary to understand change across populations and over time; and 2) the variation across populations are interesting and, in fact, seem to conform to expectations (in a "we don't' really care about statistical significance" sort o........ Read more »

Michael F. Hammer, Fernando L. Mendez, Murray P. Cox, August E. Woerner, Jeffrey D. Wall, & Dmitri A. Petrov. (2008) Sex-Biased Evolutionary Forces Shape Genomic Patterns of Human Diversity. PLoS Genetics, 4(9). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000202  

  • September 26, 2008
  • 06:26 PM

Effective dishonesty in pharmaceutical research revealed by new study

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The file drawer effect works like this: Numerous studies are done and the results are random. But because they are random, a small number have, randomly, strong effects that are interesting and that in isolation support some interesting hypothesis. All the results that fail to confirm the interesting (or fund able) expectation are filed away .... in the file drawer. Only the results that seem to show what the researchers want to show are made public.

In areas where research is cheap and o........ Read more »

  • September 12, 2008
  • 11:10 AM

Major Blunder in Science Reporting will Fuel Creationist Claims

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Life Science Teachers: Take special note!

This is not yet an error in the mainstream press, but there is an error afoot, currently represented in the widely read slashdot, which I imagine will propagate. The purpose of this post is to alert you to this problem and prepare you for the occasion when you run into a wackaloon creationist waving their arms around and screaming "Carbon dating does not work! It's been proven." This story also has a Global Warming Denialism component.

What I'm g........ Read more »

  • September 5, 2008
  • 04:24 PM

What is the sound of one hypothesis clapping?

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

Read the following text. As you read it, try to empty your mind. When you encounter grammatical errors or jargon that is impossible to understand, do not try to translate what you are reading. Rather, become one with the obscurity. Read slowly, thoughtlessly, with emptiness of purpose, as though the words were entering your eyes, traveling through your head, and leaving through your ears. The ultimate understanding will be achieved when you reach the end of the abstract and have understood ........ Read more »

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