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Aug 2

A male Eggfly or Blue Moon Butterfly, Hypolimnas bolinaPhoto credit: Sylvain Charlat/Science Extraordinary Flux in Sex Ratio | Science. This example of evolution from 2007, the evolution of the Blue Moon butterfly on the South Pacific Samoan islands of Upolu and Savaii, is one of the fastest on record other than the rare occasions of a stable hybrid giving rise to a new species. It appears to have happened in just a few years, over some ten generations, in response to intense selection pressure from a killer bacterium. In 2001, researcher found that in the Samoan Islands, in populations of this butterfly, only about 1% were males. This was caused by a bacteria of the, Wolbachia genus, which infects females and which causes male embryos to die before hatching. The resulting success rate for egg hatching was also low. We usually think of natural selection as acting slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years, but the example in this study happened in the blink of the eye, in terms of evolutionary time, and is a remarkable thing to get to observe. Gregory Hurst, senior author on the paper and researcher in evolutionary genetics, University College London. Quoted in ScienceBlogsIn evolutionary terms, the strategy used by Wolbachia which infects females was to kill of the male competition for food resource with, of course, no planning or forethought that this could lead to the eventual extinction of the females too. If produced more Wolbachia with this capability, so more Wolbachia had this capability. Wolbachia is a genus of bacteria that infects arthropods including many insects and normally adopts a strategy which involves favouring females. In one tiny species of wasp, Trichogramma, Wolbachia bacteria have replaced male gametes, so the wasp is unable to reproduce without them but produces only females. It turns up again in the tsetse fly where it inhabits the gonads although its effects are unknown. In other species Wolbachia causes cytoplasmic incompatibility between individuals infected with different strains. But, in the Samoan Islands at least, the male Blue Moon butterflies are staging a fight back. When the islands were again surveyed during 2005 it was found that on Upolu the male to female ratio was 1:1 but on Savaii out of 100 specimens caught, not a single male was found. The males on Upolu had acquired a gene which suppressed Wolbachia. But, and this is where the rate of evolution was most astonishing, by 2006, the ratio on Savaii was also approaching 1:1. In a single year the suppressor gene had reached Savaii and males were increasing rapidly in the population. These males were also carriers of the mutant, suppressor gene. Hatching success rates of the eggs had also improved in line with this recovery. It's not know how the mutant gene was acquired. It could have come by chance migration from Southeast Asia where it is established, or it could have arisen by mutation in the local population. The important thing though is that natural selection is undisputedly the cause of the rapid increase of this allele in the population on these two islands. ABSTRACT The ratio of males to females in a species is often considered to be relatively constant, at least over ecological time. Hamilton noted that the spread of "selfish" sex ratio-distorting elements could be rapid and produce a switch to highly biased population sex ratios. Selection against a highly skewed sex ratio should promote the spread of mutations that suppress the sex ratio distortion. We show that in the butterfly Hypolimnas bolina the suppression of sex biases occurs extremely fast, with a switch from a 100:1 population sex ratio to 1:1 occurring in fewer than 10 generations. Extraordinary Flux in Sex Ratio; Sylvain Charlat, Emily A. Hornett, James H. Fullard, Neil Davies, George K. Roderick, Nina Wedell, and Gregory D. D. Hurst; Science 13 July 2007: 317 (5835), 214. [DOI:10.1126/science.1143369] The suppressor gene allows infected females to produce males. These males will mate with many, many females, and the suppressor gene will therefore be in more and more individuals over generations. Sylvain Charlat, lead author on the study, post-doctoral researcher, University of California, Berkeley.Now, for doubters of evolution, what else would you expect, where a chance mutation has conveyed protection on the males? With fewer males being killed and so more males hatching and being available to mate with the females, why would you not expect more males carrying this mutation to appear in the population? To doubt evolution you have to doubt the simple maths in this formula. Is there a creationist prepared to explain why more males hatching would not lead to more males, and why, if the males hatching carry the mutant gene, more males would not carry the mutant gene? Is there an Intelligent (sic) Design advocate who can explain why designing a bacterium to kill off the males of a species then having to redesign the males to avoid them being killed off is an example of intelligence? Is this perhaps an example of this 'Intelligent' designer thinking of a 'brilliant' design for making more Wolbachia bacteria, then panicking when it realised the stupidity of its design and having to rush through a work-around? Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Aug 2

ChristianTodayJudge dismisses atheist's lawsuit seeking to remove Ten Commandments monumentChristianTodayA Pennsylvania judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by an atheist who is seeking to remove a Ten Commandments monument in front of a school. In his ruling, US District Judge Terrence McVerry said plaintiffs Marie Schaub, a member of the atheist group

Aug 2

There is no one way to prayI have written a column on the routine attempt to Christianize college sports teams.  The idea that student-athletes "need" spiritual guidance is itself a biased religionist assumption that is too often unchallenged. There is no single way to pray, and the idea that all Christians pray in the same way is also untrue.Read more »

Aug 2

AlterNetBill Maher On Running For Office: Americans Would 'Probably Elect a Pedophile ...AlterNetHe also recorded a short PSA earlier this year for Openly Secular, an atheist group developed by the Richard Dawkins Foundation and similar organizations, comparing anti-atheist prejudice to discrimination against LGBT communities and encouraging

Aug 1

The Prophet at prayerCrowds flock to Mali's 'religious wall sign' - BBC News It's official. The Prophet is a stain. And all those blasphemers who have been drawing images of Muhammad have got it all wrong. We now know Muhammad is shaped like a white blob. Crowds are flocking to a toilet in a compound in the Mali capital, Bamako, to see his image which appeared on an outside wall last weekend. Riot police and the national guard have been deployed to keep the crowds under control. Visitors who queue throughout the night include several Malian government ministers. The image has been widely circulated on mobile phones and is drawing in visitors from neighbouring Senegal. Southern Malians are mostly Tijani Muslims, regarded as a moderate sect, who, like Catholic Christians, are known to place a high value on 'miracles' as confirmation of their faith. Look closely! Can you see it? Isn't it obvious? And isn't it obviously a miracle for which no scientific explanation is possible? What else could it possibly be? No? Oh ye of little faith! You obviously hate Allah and his Prophet! You probably hate Mali too! Only the one true Prophet can appear on a toilet wall! It's a miracle, I've seen it. It's obviously true. It's a sign from God to Mali that our nation is great. Aboubakar Diarra, schoolteacher on looking at the wall. Crowds queuing to see the 'miracle'.God bless Ameri er... Mali! The stain, which has been changing shape since it appeared, bears a striking resemblance to a patch of drying cement. Although no one has actually seen it do so, though many people know of someone who knows someone who has, and no film exists of it, the stain is widely believed to leave the wall and move around the compound. We believe it is a vision of our prophet. People have come from Senegal to see it and several Malian government ministers and religious leaders have paid us a visit. Sometimes the white apparition leaves the wall altogether and moves around the compound. Then it goes back. Mr Aliou Traore, compound resident, interviewed by the BBC In common with many Catholic Christian 'miracles', whilst there is no formal charge for looking at the stain, the owners of the wall have thoughtfully provided a means by which visitors can show their gratitude and piety with a pecuniary donation - in this case, a bucket which is emptied regularly. Jesus on toastThis example of confirmation bias, which is so blindingly obvious to anyone who isn't desperate to have their evidence-free bias confirmed, is no different to the many other examples of vague images, or even reports of visions that no-one else actually saw, that are one of the mainstays of Christianity, especially Catholicism which traditionally elevates 'miracles' to the status of official doctrine and from which the Church derives a substantial portion of its wealth. There can hardly be a Catholic diocese in the world which doesn't have its miraculous appearance of 'Virgin Mary' to draw the adoring crowds and Jesus regularly makes an appearance on anything from toast to the pattern of foliage against a wall, such it the capacity of human pattern-recognition and the search for confirmation of bias in the absence of any real evidence, and despite the protestations that no evidence is required because 'faith' trumps evidence anyway. 'via Blog this' Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Aug 1

Patheos (blog)Atheism needs no TestamentJamaica Gleaner (subscription)Martin Henry in his article 'Atheists need a New Testament', published July 26, made many claims which have no factual bases. Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. It has nothing to do with belief. It needs no testament. It is not a faith (as ...Is Atheism Wishful Thinking?Patheos (blog)all 2 news articles

Aug 1

Raw StoryBill Maher on running for office: Americans would 'probably elect a pedophile ...Raw Story“Second, I could never even come close to winning, because I'm an atheist. Poll after poll shows Americans would elect almost anyone before they elect an atheist. They would probably elect a pedophile before an atheist. Atheism, in the American lexicon ...and more

Jul 31

Electron micrograph of an Ebola viral particleSource: Wikipedia Photo credit: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Ebola vaccine efficacy trial suggest vaccine provides high protection against disease | Science Daily It's been a bad couple of days for this 'Intelligent (sic) Designer' creationist loons keep telling us made everything and did everything they don't understand. In this fantasy world, this assumed designer did everything, but we have to ignore the bad stuff. We have to ignore childhood cancer, the fact that illness and misfortune strike the pious and the impious alike, that there are random large-scale slaughters from natural disasters. We have to ignore the fact that supposed design with intent and for a purpose produced genetic diseases, worms that make children blind by eating their eyeball from the inside; that the viral, bacterial, protozoan, helminth and arthropod parasites that make us sick, disabled or dead were also designed by the same assumed designer, and we have to ignore the fact that this designer appears to be on the side of these harmful parasites when it redesigns them to overcome the antibiotics, insecticides and anti-heminitics we've made to defend ourselves against them. We have to ignore all this stuff because creationists like to imagine they have a close personal relationship with the creator of the Universe and it made it all just for them because it loves them. We have to ignore this, otherwise creationists don't feel important enough. So, it must be galling for creationists when science does what it's done on two consecutive days now. Yesterday, medical scientists with the WHO announced that they are close to eradicating polio in Africa, reducing this once common and dreaded child-killer worldwide to a few pockets in the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. And today, the results of a small-scale trial of a vaccine against another of this Intelligent Designer's nasty little designs, ebola, published in The Lancet, show the vaccine was astonishingly successful and holds out real hope that this virulent disease, with the potential to devastate the human population on a scale not known since the Intelligent designer's last substantial success in the Middle Ages with the Black Death, can be defeated. Ebola, which has recently infected nearly 28,000 people in West Africa, killing over 11,000 of them including health workers, and which looked at one time like getting out of control, has been reduced by good medical care and rigorous preventative measures to just 7 cases last week, now looks distinctly beatable, just as smallpox was. The vaccine was prepared by splicing a piece of the ebola virus RNA onto a harmless virus. This doesn't harm the recipient but causes their body to produce antibodies that recognise ebolavirus, making them able to combat infection. As well as having an effective vaccine, the strategy was the 'ring' strategy that was effective against smallpox. This involves vaccinating all the contacts of the patient so creating a biological 'buffer zone', rather like a fire break, between them and the rest of the population. This was extended to contacts of contacts to widen the buffer zone and add a margin of safety. The trial was necessarily a small-scale one because the preventive measures have been so successful that there are too few cases now to mount a bigger study, so the results have to be treated with some caution. However, if, and when, ebola stages another comeback, we now have an effective vaccine and a tried and tested containment strategy. Also, unlike poliovirus which only infects humans, ebolavirus can infect other species which can act as a natural reservoir, so even if we can completely contain an outbreak we may not be able to eradicate it completely. And of course, with this natural reservoir to work with, creationism's Malevolent Designer (i.e. evolution by natural selection) can always 'design' a resistant strain. Additional reading: Ebola vaccine is 'potential game-changer' - BBC News 'via Blog this' Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Jul 31

India.com'American Desis' Podcast Explores Body Image and Atheism with Comedian Tushar ...India.comFor the past two episodes on the “American Desis” Podcast, co-hosts Arjun Gupta and Akaash Singh sat down with their guest Tushar Singh for a back-to-back discussion. When they introduced Singh as a person of Indian origin who was born and raised in

Jul 31

Cuba: Not So Atheist AnymoreWorld Religion NewsIt wasn't until 1991 that the Communist Party removed that ban, and the following year, Cuba changed from atheist to secular. However, there has never been an authoritative source, at least not one that is independent of any religious institution. We ...

Jul 31

Christian News NetworkJudge Throws Out Atheist Lawsuit Against Pennsylvania Ten Commandments MonumentChristian News Networkten-commandments NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — A federal judge in Pennsylvania has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the presence of a Ten Commandments monument at a local high school, declaring that the complainants have not suffered injury from the

Jul 31

TheBlaze.comHere's What Happened When a Supposedly Atheist 'Daily Show' Correspondent ...TheBlaze.com“The Daily Show” poked fun at a Christian pastor who expressed his belief that the faithful in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, are being discriminated against following the city's passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance earlier this year. Pastor Randall ...and more

Jul 31

Patheos (blog)Is Atheism Wishful Thinking?Patheos (blog)One of the jabs atheists make towards Christians is that our religion is all wishful thinking. They like to blame us for believing in a sugar daddy in the sky–a kind of invisible Santa Claus who is going to make everything okay one day. When we die we ...Atheism needs no TestamentJamaica Gleaner (subscription)all 2 news articles

Jul 31

Agnostic or Atheist? What's the Difference? (Video)Patheos (blog)When people who are not atheists use the words “atheist” and “agnostic,” they often mean things which the people who label themselves as such would never allow. Like I've written before, some Christians seem to think the word “atheist” applies to ...

Jul 31

New Zimbabwe.comAtheism: Blind men arguing about sunsetNew Zimbabwe.comI COULD NOT resist sharing a beautiful story I heard after coming across a recent wave of campaigns by a militant Atheist group in the United States going by the name 'Undo Jesus.' The group is on a “mission” to rid the world of Christianity. They ...

Jul 31

AL.comAtheist website takes aim at Matthew Brown appointment to Alabama State Board ...AL.comA national atheist blog is the latest to weigh-in on Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's selection of Matthew Brown to the State Board of Education. The "Friendly Atheist" blog's founder and editor Hemant Mehta, who boasts over 38,400 Twitter followers ...and more

Jul 30

African golden jackal, Canis anthusPhoto credit: Eyal Cohen Source: AAAS Science Magazine Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species | Current Biology The world has a new species of dog - and creationists have another embarrassing fact to ignore. Although strikingly similar, scientists have shown that the African and Asian golden jackal, until now classified as a single species, Canis aureus, are actually two different species which diverged from ancestral coyotes and grey wolves at different times; 1.3 and 1.9 million years ago, respectively. The similarity is probably due to very similar habitats, food and lifestyle giving rise to parallel evolution. The team have proposed the new name Canis anthus (African golden wolf) for the African species. The key to the difference was found in the mitochondrial DNA which the team of researchers found differed by 6.7%. Other genetic evidence supported the finding. Highlights African and Eurasian golden jackals are genetically distinct lineages. Divergence between lineages is concordant across multiple molecular markers. Morphologic convergence is observed between African and Eurasian golden jackals. African golden jackals merit recognition as a distinct species. Summary The golden jackal of Africa (Canis aureus) has long been considered a conspecific of jackals distributed throughout Eurasia, with the nearest source populations in the Middle East. However, two recent reports found that mitochondrial haplotypes of some African golden jackals aligned more closely to gray wolves (Canis lupus), which is surprising given the absence of gray wolves in Africa and the phenotypic divergence between the two species. Moreover, these results imply the existence of a previously unrecognized phylogenetically distinct species despite a long history of taxonomic work on African canids. To test the distinct-species hypothesis and understand the evolutionary history that would account for this puzzling result, we analyzed extensive genomic data including mitochondrial genome sequences, sequences from 20 autosomal loci (17 introns and 3 exon segments), microsatellite loci, X- and Y-linked zinc-finger protein gene (ZFX and ZFY) sequences, and whole-genome nuclear sequences in African and Eurasian golden jackals and gray wolves. Our results provide consistent and robust evidence that populations of golden jackals from Africa and Eurasia represent distinct monophyletic lineages separated for more than one million years, sufficient to merit formal recognition as different species: C. anthus (African golden wolf) and C. aureus (Eurasian golden jackal). Using morphologic data, we demonstrate a striking morphologic similarity between East African and Eurasian golden jackals, suggesting parallelism, which may have misled taxonomists and likely reflects uniquely intense interspecific competition in the East African carnivore guild. Our study shows how ecology can confound taxonomy if interspecific competition constrains size diversification. Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species Klaus-Peter Koepfli, John Pollinger, et. al., Current Biology 30 July 2015, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060 © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Published by Elsevier Inc. Asian golden jackal, Canis aureusSource: Wikipedia So why should this be yet another embarrassment for creationists? Basically, there are two types of creationist: those who flatly deny that there is such a thing as evolution so they won't accept that there is any relationship in terms of common ancestry between any species. According to their superstition, an invisible magic man magicked everything in one day a few thousand years ago. It's not those loons who need to feel any more embarrassed than having those childish beliefs should make them feel anyway; the ones who will be embarrassed are the second version of creationism. This version says that evolution does happen and sometimes at warp speed with lots of new varieties, regional forms and subspecies evolving in a single generation, in order to explain how we have so many different varieties, subspecies, etc., in just a few thousand years from just two or three pairs. However, this version of creationism insists that while this form of evolution is perfectly possible, though they never explain how it works so quickly, for it to progress to the point where taxonomists classify the results as different species it has to involve a different mechanism of evolution which is declared to be impossible. They call these versions of evolution 'micro-' and 'macro-' evolution respectively. Now, had we been having a discussion last week about how the Eurasian and African golden jackals differed, creationists of the second type would be quite happy to explain that this was just 'microevolution' so it was entirely consistent with their superstition and its holy book; no problem at all with natural selection acting on small variances because they were both Canis aureus and not different species. Now, they have to argue that the mechanism they would have been quite happy with last week, is now impossible and never happened. Creationists are normally quite use to these sorts of embarrassment. Indeed, most of them seem so ignorant of the science and its implications for their superstition that they don't even realise they should be embarrassed by reality. 'via Blog this' Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Jul 30

Poliovirus (bar = 5nm)Photo Credit: F.P. Williams, U.S. EPA Source: http://www.epa.gov/nerlcwww/polio.html Nigeria's polio-free year sees Africa inch closer to eradication - New Scientist The great news for creationists is that we are on the verge of defeating their malevolent 'Intelligent (sic) Designer'. How can that be good news for creationists? Read on. One especially nasty little invention of this invisible magic entity (for those who've fallen for the hoax) is the virus that cause poliomyelitis, normally, but not exclusively, in children, hence its formerly common name, 'infantile paralysis'. It couldn't have evolved so it must have been designed, and design always has a purpose, if you've swallowed the hoax. So creationists have no alternative but to accept that their imaginary friend is hideously malevolent. It might well be extinct within a year or so in Africa, despite the best efforts of religious fundamentalists to prevent it, thanks to medical science. Polio, as it's also called, strikes without warning. In 90-95% of cases it causes no symptoms at all, in most of the other 5-10% if cause flu-like symptoms including diarrhoea, vomiting, aching muscles and head ache. Recovery normally takes about a week or two. In the other 0.5% however, it often kills and rarely leaves the survivors unmarked. Many of them will be seriously physically handicapped, often dependent on others or on technology to stay alive. The 90-95% of asymptomatic or mildly sick victims nevertheless act as factories for making millions more viruses. Let none admire That riches grow in Hell; that Soyle may best Deserve the precious bane. John Milton, 1667It was once regarded as a punishment for sin, often not a punishment on the sufferer but on their parents who had to care for a handicapped child who had been perfectly fit and healthy a few days earlier. My maternal grandparents bore the burden of guilt for my aunt's handicap and she never married because she felt she was unworthy. God would not have made her a cripple for nothing. Although polio left her with only a relatively minor handicap - a pronounced limp - the stigma of it dominated her life. The cause is infection of the nervous system by poliovirus which is a subtype of Enterovirus C. It only infects humans. It consists of a single strand of RNA encapsulated in a simple protein. It is believed to be one of the simplest of all viruses and is believed to have evolved by mutation from the ancestor of another human enterovirus, Coxsackie A. The poliovirus appears to do nothing other than make more copies of poliovirus and in doing so makes humans ill, killing or seriously handicapping mostly children as it does so. Given that design is always for a purpose, believers in the Intelligent Design hoax have to believe that the poliovirus was designed to harm humans and for no other purpose. This is an eradication project, and unless we get to zero cases we're not going to finish this disease. Nigeria will need to keep immunising and protecting the population.Oliver Rosenbaum, WHOBut we're on the verge of defeating polio, just as we defeated smallpox and rinderpest. There are several vaccines but the most widely used is that developed by Albert Sabin. This is an 'attenuated' form of the virus which is given orally. It replicates quickly in the gut - its 'normal' human habitat - but it can't infect the nervous system and is thus harmless. However, it is recognised by the human immune system which produces antibodies for all three serotypes. Those so immunised are not only protected but also can't pass on infection, so reducing the rate of transmission even where the 'wild' virus is endemic - the so-called 'herd immunity'. This means that we don't have to vaccinate everyone in a population, just enough to reduce the rate of new infection below a threshold, at which point the virus is on a trajectory to local extinction. The virus doesn't live in the soil, or in other animals, so when it no longer infects humans, it is effectively extinct. Against all odds and despite the best efforts of Boko Haram (education is evil) Islamic fundamentalists whose leader believes in a flat earth, to disrupt the WHO effort, Nigeria has recorded no new polio cases in the last 12 months. Somalia is due to reach that milestone on August 11, at which point, the whole of Africa will have been polio-free for an entire year. The only two countries where there is significant incidence of polio are now Afghanistan and Pakistan - where the main obstacle to eradication is again Islamic fundamentalism. The most vociferous advocates of Intelligent Design outside the USA seem to be doing their utmost to make sure one of their putative designer's more malevolent 'designs' continues to harm children. Meanwhile, many Christian fundamentalist creationists inside the USA militantly oppose vaccination campaigns and use the same disinformation and appeals to ignorant incredulity as they do to promote creationism. There seems to be a pattern here. 'via Blog this' Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Jul 30

newtoncitizenJOHN PEARRELL: Primary reason for choosing atheism is to justify wrong actionsnewtoncitizen#I find it totally amazing that people who don't believe the Bible will quote it to you in a heartbeat if you challenge them on something. Actually, they don't quote it, they misquote it — but even in their misquote they are at least appealing to ...and more

Jul 30

Rockdale CitizenJOHN PEARRELL: Primary reason for choosing atheism is to justify wrong actionsRockdale Citizen#I find it totally amazing that people who don't believe the Bible will quote it to you in a heartbeat if you challenge them on something. Actually, they don't quote it, they misquote it — but even in their misquote they are at least appealing to ...and more

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