Monday, February 20, 2012

Evolution in Politics - Why it matters (to me)

I have mentioned to people at times that I will not ever, ever, ever, vote for a candidate that doesn't "believe"* in evolution. Most of my friends agree because we are scientists, this is one thing we agree upon. But I have gotten the comment before:
Why? Where does evolution play into politics? They are separate issues. Evolution is not going to reduce the deficit. It is not going to employ millions of Americans. It is not going to get you cheaper health care. Why should you care?
And originally, I cared because it mattered to me. I was told once to pick a couple of issues you are passionate about and vote for a candidate based on those, not on everything else. Because you're never going to find the perfect candidate. Are you passionate about reducing taxes? Vote for someone that will do that. Are you a strong pro-choice or pro-life supporter? Vote for someone who believes as you do. It all made sense. So one of my things was evolution. Do you "believe" in evolution?

Then this Republican campaign (2012) has gotten me thinking about things. There is so much anti-science rhetoric and scientific dismissal out there now that it has even spurred a "movement" of people posting stuff about how they are scientists and how scientists are real people. We are not aloof people who do things just to piss off the masses. We are not amoral or immoral. We are all different. We have the same diversity as non-scientists. Anyway, that is a different topic. Back to my point.

Why is "belief" in evolution so important to me as a candidate then? I see it this way. The president I would like elected is one that can take a whole lot of ideas coming from many different people and be able to assimilate them, and choose the one, or few, that best helps solve the problem at hand. This basically works for anything, ideas on whether to go to war or not, how to increase employment, how to just make the lives of Americans better. So if they can do that, why can't they take the insurmountable evidence for evolution and proclaim that it is a valid hypothesis and that it is occurring. It is basically as much "fact" as you can get in the scientific arena. If you can't do that, then I don't trust you with whether we should go to war based on assumptions you don't know how to understand.

This post was going to be written earlier when there were much more "wackoes" in the political race than there is now (Bachmann and Perry anyone?). But there is still at least one. Santorum. He has made it a goal of his to be anti-science (and anti-non-christian) at every step of the way. So, he has spurred my publishing of this. I'm not sure what Romney's stance on evolution is. I believe he has no official stance on it. Paul as well does not have a stance on it (he feels he doesn't understand it and it isn't a big deal to him) and Gingrich is pro-evolution (although I have some problems with his other political stances).

So, take this as you will. These are my thoughts on how a political leader should think. Not just on what their beliefs are.

* I do not use the term "belief" as in religious belief or taking things on faith. I use it just generally as do you think that evolution is a valid scientific hypothesis. Please do not take my use of the word "belief" out of context.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Geological Quote of the Week

It has been a little while but here is another geological quote of the week. This one shows that apparently my thesis work is done. This sentence states it all.

"We know that closely related species are similar among themselves, and they differ in many ways from other less closely related species"
Check out the previous incarnations over at my site.

Harvey, P.H., & Nee, S., 1997, The phylogenetic foundations of behavioural ecology, in Krebs, J.R., and Davies, N.B., Eds., Behavioural ecology; an evolutionary approach: Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishing, p. 334-3349.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

UFOP Meeting Announcement for Tonight - Jeff Eaton

Dear UFOP Members, Friends, and Associates,
This is a reminder that the Utah Friends of Paleontology, Great Basin Chapter Meeting will be held on Thursday, February 9th at 7 PM in the Department of Natural Resources Auditorium, 1594 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City. Our speaker will be Jeff Eaton from the Department of Geosciences at Weber State University who will give a talk entitled:
“A Review of the Stratigraphy and Fossils of the Bryce Canyon Area and Recent Advances."

Friday, February 03, 2012

GeoJeopardy! Fridays #81

Time for GeoJeopardy! Fridays, because, the rat saw his shadow.

- A Matter of Gravity -

British scientist Henry Cavendish made the first reliable measurement of gravity late in this century

  NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab puts astronauts in a simulation of this condition that's experienced during space flight


 The Sun's gravity is said to perturb, or affect, this path of the Moon relative to the Earth


Building on the work of Galileo and Kepler, he published the first quantitative theory of gravitation in 1687


There's "gravity" in this term for the point in an object that, if supported, puts the whole object in equilibrium

All the answers as well as any other previous GeoJeopardy! questions can be found over at my website by clicking the link.

And if you enjoy this post as well as others, please consider subscribing to my blog via Google Reader or some other RSS feed so that way I better know my readership. Thank you.

Questions, images, and videos courtesy of

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

What are ... Trace Fossils?

I have been meaning to start a new series where I describe certain attributes in geology, and what I am working on in particular, in a new series called What are Wednesdays. The first entry in this group is called What are ... Trace Fossils? I picked this topic because this is what I am working on and basically it is the easiest for me to write up. This won't be a weekly series but one that comes up from time to time as I find interesting things to write about. If you have anything you would like me to write about please feel free to email me or place it in the comments.

So on to the topic, What are Trace Fossils? Trace fossils are not like your typical fossil. They are basically what an animal creates as it does stuff. Stuff can include walking, burrowing, sitting, eating, living, etc. Whenever an animal interacts with the world around it, it leaves evidence, a trace if you will. These traces are what I study. They are not the actual animal but sometimes are found in association with the animal. The easiest way to visualize this that I can think of is with footprints in the snow (as seen below). Footprints are the most basic type of trace fossil. They illustrate locomotion of an organism, whether it is a human, a rabbit, an insect, or anything in between.

But why study trace fossils? What can they tell us other than an organism was there? Well look at the footprint above. You can tell a lot by the spacing of the prints, the shape of individual prints, and even what information may be missing. The shape tells us what animal possible made it. The spacing and inclination of the prints tell us the speed that it was moving and possibly if there was something wrong, like a limp. If there is more than one set of prints you could tell if they were traveling in groups, or maybe even being hunted. There is a lot of information that can be gleamed even from a simple set of tracks.

Now just looking at the three above pictures you can tell that different organisms made them and possibly even what they were doing when they made them, looking for food, searching for shelter, migrating, snowshoeing, etc.

Now take this information and apply it to the rock record. Rocks record things similar to snow except that it has the potential to remain forever. There are many people who study dinosaur tracks just like we were looking at the tracks in the snow above. I personally study burrows on the bottom of the ocean made by some unknown invertebrate animals. Different types of tracks and trails are made in different environments and knowing what environment that is, it makes it possible to determine the environment of deposition of the rock by just knowing what a certain track looks like. It is actually a very useful tool and one that not only paleontologists use but many geologists for determining different aspects from what the ancient environment was to using them to find oil.

I will probably go into this in more detail at a later date but for some good trace fossil blog posts check out  Life Trace of the Georgia Coast by Tony Martin, an expert ichnologist from Emory University. Any questions please feel free to ask.