Animated Extinctions

I saw this animation posted to Imgur by user Waffurur, showing the five biggest mass extinction events in Earth’s history (as far as we know, really):

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Most people are familiar with the Cretacious-Tertiary mass extinction about 65 million years ago, which killed off the last of the dinosaurs. Well, except for birds, which are totally still dinosaurs.

Some people know about the Permian mass extinction, which left only about four percent of species alive. That’s also the one that finished off the trilobites, which is a bummer because they seem pretty cool.

"Kainops invius lateral and ventral" by Moussa Direct Ltd. (Moussa Direct Ltd. image archive) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, it also brought an end to the eurypterids—a/k/a sea scorpions that reached eight feet or more in length (but were generally harmless)… Continue reading


The NTIs Are Here

The bloodbelly comb jelly appears to offer evidence that aliens have already arrived on Earth and found the oceans preferable to land.


Sometimes a joke is just too obvious

Case in point:

Giant Methane Storms on Uranus

Heh heh. You said “meth.”

[A]ll we have previously known about the atmosphere of Uranus has been ’thrown to the wind’ with observations made last year.


What I’m Reading, February 16, 2015

The Tragedy of the American Military, James Fallows, The Atlantic, January/February 2015

This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.


This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military—we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them—has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm. But it is not. When Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a five-star general and the supreme commander, led what may have in fact been the finest fighting force in the history of the world, he did not describe it in that puffed-up way. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, he warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.” As president, Eisenhower’s most famous statement about the military was his warning in his farewell address of what could happen if its political influence grew unchecked.

At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.

Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.

The Surprising Thing People Who Resist Authority Have in Common, Krystnell Storr, Science.Mic, January 14, 2015 Continue reading


The Joy of Politics


That is 20 minutes of my life I’ll never get back arguing that vaccines don’t cause autism with Deuce Bigalow, male gigolo.

– California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), on a recent political kerfuffle (h/t Todd W.)


What I’m Reading, February 2, 2015

Why I Am Not a Maker, Debbie Chachra, The Atlantic, January 23, 2015

Every once in a while, I am asked what I “make.” A hack day might require it, or a conference might ask me to describe “what I make” so it can go on my name tag.

I’m always uncomfortable with it. I’m uncomfortable with any culture that encourages you take on an entire identity, rather than to express a facet of your own identity (“maker,” rather than “someone who makes things”). But I have much deeper concerns.

An identity built around making things—of being “a maker”—pervades technology culture. There’s a widespread idea that “People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t.”

Genetic Testing and Tribal Identity, Rose Eveleth, The Atlantic, January 26, 2015 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, January 30, 2015

Enough Is Never Enough with Blaming Anti-Vaxxers, Science Babe, January 24, 2015

Let’s get one thing straight; if a blogger with zero medical credentials tries to claim that they have more accurate science than the vast majority of the scientific and medical establishment, they are, on every level, wrong. I promise you, somebody who got their degree at Google University and has a waiver on their website that says “my advice isn’t designed to treat anything” has nothing to lose by giving you terrible advice. A real doctor’s advice doesn’t come with an asterisk. They will give you advice that’s grounded in real science.

Friend in Need: The tragedy of my friend’s life and death is that he lived in a society that left him to deal with it alone, Saul Elbein, Texas Observer, January 21, 2015 Continue reading


A Seat on a Rocket Ship



If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Christa McAuliffe (September 2, 1948 – January 28, 1986)


What I’m Reading, January 8, 2015

Bafflingly hyperbolic, PZ Myers, Pharyngula, January 4, 2015

As for the claim that creationists will be terrified by this discovery…excuse me, but I have to go off somewhere and laugh for ten minutes or so.

Creationists don’t understand thermodynamics. Heck, they don’t understand basic logic. You think an obscure bit of theory by some brilliant wonk, written up in journals they’ll never read? My dog, man, I’ve still got creationists asking me, “If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” and you think they’re going to be stunned into silence by a technical paper in a physics journal on entropy, heat dissipation, and molecular self-organization? Look at England’s paper — it’s got math in it. The only thing that’s going to terrify the religious right is the prospect of reading the thing.

I Am Trying Not to Hate and Fear Men, Laura Bogart, AlterNet, January 1, 2015 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, December 23, 2014

Dear Antivaxxer: This is why I do not care for you, Skewed Distribution, March 26, 2012

Over the years I have heard many plaintive cries from the anti-vax movement about those who would dare to confront them. They ask for respect for their opinions and don’t understand why I am so “mean” to them. Here you go, anti-vaxxer. Here is why I am the Honeybadger, and you are the cobra.

1. You believe that your opinion should be respected no matter how ridiculous it may be.

I must quote Poland and Jacobson to begin with. “Ultimately, society must recognize that science is not a democracy in which the side with the most votes or the loudest voices gets to decide what is right“. Anti-vaxxers, your opinions regarding vaccination are not based on science. They are ill-formed things with little basis in any reality and are due no respect whatsoever. I do not know where the idea that all opinions must be respected came from, anyway. Should I respect the opinion of a racist or a bigot? No, I should not. And I do not now, nor will I ever, respect yours. Just because you state your dangerous antivaccination views “politely” on an internet message board does not mean that you are due any kindness. It’s like putting a pretty red bow on a turd. The underlying basis of your belief system is about as rude and harmful as can be imagined; therefore, I do not feel compelled to be “nice” to you for any reason.

[Emphasis in original.]

My week in the right-wing lie machine: When Fox News, Twitchy and Montel Williams declared war on me, David Masciotra, Salon, December 18, 2014 Continue reading