Sunday, February 26, 2006


After reading about the pro-test march in oxford via scientific activist I decided it was time to not just be annoyed at the awful behaviour of the 'animal rights' extremists and show support for the oxford lab and scientific research in general. So I went to oxford and waved a placard and shouted a bit. Here is a pic of me doing that stuff:

I am the one with the placard from

It was a really good march, the turnout was much larger than I expected (500-800) and dwarfed the rival demonstration (150-200). Everyone was very calm in contrast to the 'animal rights' protest which are marked by scuffles with the police. I guess it's the difference between people who have made a rational choice and fanatics who have lost all sense of perspective in pursuit of their ideology.

While in oxford I had time to check out the attractions such as the Pitt Rivers Museum, Museum of the History of Science (lovely astrolabes) and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Some Links:

The Founder of Pro-test, Laurie Pycroft's livejournal:

The research defence society: & Blog:


Various blog posts about the protest: Here, here, here, here and here


The Scientific Activist has an excellent post on the demo:

Also more blog posts: Here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Coco Pops Straws

"Which? has today complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the Kellogg's Coco Pops Straws TV advert is misleading and socially irresponsible by marketing a chocolate straw biscuit as a way to get children to drink more milk. "

Who would have thought that Nestle would produce deceptive adverts for unheathy food?

Nearly everything marketed as being 'healthy' is a con, you end up paying more for stuff that is worse for you than unprocessed foods.

It seems that now the companies that have spent vast amounts of money turning us into junk food addicts have now realised that they can make more money by flogging fake cures for the ailments that they have created.

More global warming

The Arctic and global warming
Researcher describes possible disruption to marine mammals' food web

Studying Arctic phytoplankton has played prominently in Smith's research. Here, Smith (left) is shown on the Coast Guard ice breaker HEALY in 2004, recovering plankton nets.
A warmer Arctic Ocean may mean less food for the birds, fish, and baleen whales and be a significant detriment to that fragile and interconnected polar ecosystem, and that doesn't bode well for other ocean ecosystems in the future. That's the word from University of Miami Rosenstiel School's Dr. Sharon Smith who will speak on "Potentially Dramatic Changes in the Pelagic Ecosystems of the Marginal Seas of the Arctic Ocean due to Anthropogenic Warming," today at 3 p.m. HST (8 p.m. EST) in Honolulu at the American Geophysical Union's 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting.

See also: Observations of Anthropogenic Climate Change in the Oceans and Their Implications for Society II

And more Oceanic acidity

BBC four is having a 'global warming' season, This would be brilliant if anybody actually watched BBC four, but at least it shows willing. The first programme 'Meltdown' was pretty good and presented the case that current global warming is caused by anthropogenic emissions well.

As part of this season they are running an experiment in which you can download a climate simulation that runs on home computers (windows/linux only). If you can give it a try and hopefully you will be contributing to a useful project.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Arabic calligraphy

Beautiful calligraphy by mouneer al shaarani There's more at his Gallery (via).

See also The Art of Arabic Calligraphy
Arabic calligraphy

Ugly Criminals?

This story in the Washington post 'The Ugly Face of Crime' is being widely discussed. The original article on which this story is based is based on 'Ugly Criminals' by H. Naci Mocan and Erdal Tekin:


Using data from three waves of Add Health we find that being very attractive reduces a young adult’s (ages 18-26) propensity for criminal activity and being unattractive increases it for a number of crimes, ranging from burglary to selling drugs. A variety of tests demonstrate that this result is not because beauty is acting as a proxy for socio-economic status. Being very attractive is also positively associated adult vocabulary test scores, which suggests the possibility that beauty may have an impact on human capital formation. We demonstrate that, especially for females, holding constant current beauty, high school beauty (pre-labor market beauty) has a separate impact on crime, and that high school beauty is correlated with variables that gauge various aspects of high school experience, such as GPA, suspension or having being expelled from
school, and problems with teachers. These results suggest two handicaps faced by unattractive individuals. First, a labor market penalty provides a direct incentive for unattractive individuals toward criminal activity. Second, the level of beauty in high school has an effect on criminal propensity 7-8 years later, which seems to be due to the impact of the level of beauty in high school on human capital formation, although this second avenue seems to be effective for females only. (PDF)

It's tough being a minger.

Oceans may soon be more corrosive than when the dinosaurs died

This could be a far bigger problem than temperature rise:

"Increased carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly making the world's oceans more acidic and, if unabated, could cause a mass extinction of marine life similar to one that occurred 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology will present this research at the AGU/ASLO Ocean Sciences meeting in Honolulu, HI on Monday, Feb 20.

Caldeira's computer models have predicted that the oceans will become far more acidic within the next century. Now, he has compared this data with ocean chemistry evidence from the fossil record, and has found some startling similarities. The new finding offers a glimpse of what the future might hold for ocean life if society does not drastically curb carbon dioxide emissions.
"The geologic record tells us the chemical effects of ocean acidification would last tens of thousands of years," Caldeira said. "But biological recovery could take millions of years. Ocean acidification has the potential to cause extinction of many marine species."

When carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil, and gas dissolves in the ocean, some of it becomes carbonic acid. Over time, accumulation of this carbonic acid makes ocean water more acidic. When carbonic acid input is modest, sediments from the ocean floor can buffer the increases in acidity. But at the current rate of input--nearly 50 times the natural background from volcanoes and other sources--this buffering mechanism is overwhelmed. Previous estimates suggest that in less than 100 years, the pH of the oceans could drop by as much as half a unit from its natural value of 8.2 to about 7.7. (On the pH scale, lower numbers are more acidic and higher numbers are more basic.)

This drop in ocean pH would be especially damaging to marine animals such as corals that use calcium carbonate to make their shells. Under normal conditions the ocean is supersaturated with this mineral, making it easy for such creatures to grow. However, a more acidic ocean would more easily dissolve calcium carbonate, putting these species at particular risk.

The last time the oceans endured such a drastic change in chemistry was 65 million years ago, at about the same time the dinosaurs went extinct. Though researchers do not yet know exactly what caused this ancient acidification, it was directly related to the cataclysm that wiped out the giant beasts. The pattern of extinction in the ocean is consistent with ocean acidification--the fossil record reveals a precipitous drop in the number of species with calcium carbonate shells that live in the upper ocean--especially corals and plankton. During the same period, species with shells made from resistant silicate minerals were more likely to survive.

The world's oceans came close to an acidic catastrophe one other time about 55 million years ago, when the temperature of the Earth spiked and large amounts of methane and/or carbon dioxide flooded the atmosphere. There is no evidence, however, that this caused a mass extinction event.
"Ultimately, if we are not careful, our energy system could make the oceans corrosive to coral reefs and many other marine organisms," Caldeira cautions. "These results should help motivate the search for new energy sources, such as wind and solar, that can fuel economic growth without releasing dangerous carbon dioxide into the environment."

Carbon Dioxide and Ocean Chemistry Change: What Does the Geologic Record Tell us About the Future (session abstract)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Myth of Sexual Selection?

In the latest issue of Science Joan Roughgarden has written a review that challenges current ideas about sexual selection.

"Theories about sexual selection can be traced back to Darwin in 1871. He proposed that males fertilize as many females as possible with inexpensive sperm, whereas females, with a limited supply of large eggs, select the genetically highest quality males to endow their offspring with superior capabilities. Since its proposal, problems with this narrative have continued to accumulate, and it is our view that sexual selection theory needs to be replaced. We suggest an approach that relies on the exchange of direct ecological benefits among cooperating animals without reference to genetic benefits. This approach can be expressed mathematically in a branch of game theory that pertains to bargaining and side payments."

Science 17 February 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5763, pp. 965 - 969
Reproductive Social Behavior: Cooperative Games to Replace Sexual Selection
Joan Roughgarden, Meeko Oishi, Erol Akçay
(link-science) (link- free pdf)

There is another article describing Roughgarden's theory in California wild called "The Myth of Sexual Selection" and a response by Michael T. Ghiselin: "Sexual Selection"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Interesting new blog

Darren Naish a vertebrate paleontologist from the University of Portsmouth has a nice new blog:

"Welcome to my blog site, which over the next weeks and months will include assorted thoughts and comments on various of the issues that interest me: predominantly, what's going on in the world of tetrapod zoology, and particularly the stuff I'm researching, or involved in. Of special interest to me right now are the dinosaurs of the British Wealden (of course), the intriguing tie-ins between Wealden fossil collectors, Conan Doyle's Lost World and the Piltdown fiasco, convergence between different fossorial tetrapods, manatee evolution, and British big cats (yes, really). More to come on these matters and much more in future, honest."
His latest post is on basal whales: - interesting stuff

Saturday, February 11, 2006

3D Museum

I have found the website of the 3d museum via palaeoblog:

"Welcome to 3D Museum Website, maintained by the Vertebrate Paleobiology Lab of the University of California, Davis. This site was designed to explore the ways of communicating 3D morphological data over the Internet. The website is slowly under expansion, so please check back every three months or so to see its progress. Please send us suggestions. "

I really like this idea, it makes specimens available to a huge potential audience and they can be viewed and manipulated in ways that would be impossible with real objects. Let's hope this project is successful and continues to grow.

Friday, February 10, 2006

New Herefordshire Lagerstätte fossil

In the last few years many astonishingly well preserved fossils have been discovered in the Herefordshire Lagerstätte. The most amazing feature is that they are preserved in 3 dimensions inside nodules. Because of the way they are preserved the foosils can only be revealed by grinding thin sections of the nodules, taking pictures of the fossils and then reconstructing them in 3d in a computer.

The latest fossil to have been revealed is a platyceratid gastropod and it reveals amazing details of the soft tissue anatomy including "gonads, digestive gland, pedal muscle, radula, mouth and foot" - exceptionally unsual in fossils.

Many more fossil containing nodules have been found at this site but due to the slow process involved in extracting the information from them they have not been looked at yet. I wonder what other amazing fossils are waiting to be revealed.

Fossilized soft tissues in a Silurian platyceratid gastropod
M.D. Sutton, D.E.G. Briggs, David J. Siveter, Derek J. Siveter.
Proceedings: Biological Sciences (in press)

Some Other related links:

Herefordshire Lagerstätte page:

Three-dimensional preservation of a non-biomineralized arthropod in concretionsin Silurian volcaniclastic rocks from Herefordshire, England PDF


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

old maya excavations

Tikal Temple I 'between 1929 and 1957'

I was browsing the Harvard Visual Information Access database and found that they have loads of old photographs from early excavations of many famous mayan sites such as tikal, copan, palenque, uxmal and chichen itza. It' s fascinating to see how different they look like today:

Tikal temple I today, pic from here

Sunday, February 05, 2006

One Planet, Many People

I have just heard about the atlas 'One Planet, Many People' via the map room and discovered that it is available to download here.

From the press release:

"Produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment compares and contrasts spectacular satellite images of the past few decades with contemporary ones, some of which have never been seen before.

The huge growth of greenhouses in southern Spain, the rapid rise of shrimp farming in Asia and Latin America and the emergence of a giant, shadow puppet-shaped peninsula at the mouth of the Yellow River are among a string of curious and surprising changes seen from space.

They sit beside the more conventional, but no less dramatic images of rain forest deforestation in Paraguay and Brazil, rapid oil and gas development in Wyoming, United States, forest fires across sub-Saharan Africa and the retreat of glaciers and ice in polar and mountain areas."

It has some really amazing satellite imagery and scarily illustrates the rate of enviromental destruction. It is great that it can be downloaded for free, so that this information can be spread as widely as possible.

Download link:

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Extinct already?

I mentioned in my post on that the world's smallest vertebrate* that it was was threatened. It seems events have moved faster than anyone feared and it now seems that it could be already extinct. From the annotated budak

"I was supposed to study the behaviour of Paedocypris for my Research project in NUS.

JANUARY 2005 I visited North Selangor Peat Swamp (NSPSF) with Dr Tan in January 2005 to collect this fish. We visited all the sites that the fish had been previously collected. We could not catch a single fish. On top of that, of other peat swamp species, we caught fewer fish species than previous collections in NSPSF.

This may have been because of two reason, 1) The fish is seasonal, 2) North Selangor was in the process of being drained for agriculture, the disturbance may have caused the species to go extinct.

JULY 2005 I visited these same sites in July 2005. By this time the swamp was in worse condition. The streams were all nearly dry and overgrown with vegetation, we sampled here and again found no Paedocypris, and found even fewer fish species than we had in January.

OVERVIEW 50 species of fish have been collected from North Selangor Peat swamp forest (NSPSF), 20 of which can only survive in the acid water conditions of peat swamp forests, and a further 5 species restricted to NSPSF."


This is heatbreaking, it could have been extinct even before it was published.

This story illustrates the importance of World Wetlands Day which is today, the swamps of the world need your help! Via Pruned

* There is some dispute about who is the very smallest vertebrate it seems that Paedocypris may only be the smallest freshwater fish LINK

Offensive cartoons

The row about the offensive cartoons continues. You can see them on flickr HERE.

The interesting thing is that there are regularly far more offensive and violently anti-semitic cartoons in the arab press LINK. And racist and religiously offensive lies are viewed as entertainment in the muslim world LINK. The hypocrisy is galling, and the threats of violence are an anathema to anyone who cares about freedom.