I am once again diminished by the loss of a friend. Sir John Maddox, former editor - twice - of the prestigious science journal, Nature, has passed away. This small ceremony of acknowledging his existence is only slightly tempered by the fact that he had attained the respectable age of 83, had earned the respect, gratitude, and admiration of the scientific community, and he had given me, personally, many insights into the workings of his perceptive, considerate, and careful thought processes during my limited experience with him.
John was mostly tweed. Welsh by birth, craggy in appearance, and the very image of a scholar and intellectual, he was the sort of man for whom Harris Tweed was created. They complimented one another: tough and strong, serviceable and dependable, dignified and adaptable to the real world, and attractive in a totally practical sense, John Maddox and his favored attire worked together to present the world with their image of a British man of letters who took no nonsense, stated his case, made his point, and gave us the benefit of his wit, wisdom, and intellect, in full. It is said that his editorship of Nature was what put it in the forefront of science reporting.
So, as skeptics, we evaluate evidence and come to a provisional conclusion. Sometimes, we’re told a story and we simply don’t have the evidence to come to a conclusion. This is often the case with ghost stories and alien sightings, though to date, most skeptics agree that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to support a belief in either.
What do we do if such a story is on the news? Mosnews from Russia reports that a man was taken to the emergency room complaining of severe chest pain and coughing up blood. Suspecting cancer, surgeons performed a biopsy and found not a tumor but a tree. Or a least a sapling… a young fir 5cm long was growing in the man’s lung.
That’s the story. The evidence… needs some discussion.
Wow! Very nicely done. The drawing is part of an exhibit of portraits of magicians that will go on display later this year. Helvin mentioned that he'll be making a book of these portraits later this year as well. Randi's birthday is in August, so I can hope the timing will be just right...
As regular Swift readers know, last week we released the 2009 Pigasus Award winners, those unfortunate people who have done their best in the past year to snuff out the light of science and reason. Rob Breakenridge of the radio station CHQR in Canada interviewed Randi for the show "The World Tonight" about the awards, and the interview is available online at the CHQR website. They chatted about our recent YouTube woes, and Randi gives some details and insight on this year's "winners". Don't forget that the Pigasus awards were the topic of a recent Randi Speaks too!
As an astronomer, my familiarity with the details of biological evolution are about on par with that of an interested layman (though being trained scientifically helps with that understanding, adding insight to the process of the scientific endeavor). I'm familiar with the concepts of descent with modification, genetic mutations, natural pressures for adaptations, and the like. I'm less familiar with other aspects, like allele frequencies, how specifically pressures can change adaptations, and what transitional fossils are in the record, but I can probably hold my own against your run-of-the-mill creationist.
That's why I loved the book Why Evolution is True by biologist Jerry Coyne. This is a clear, easy-to-understand work that shows you - with no compromising and no backing down - that evolution has occurred, the evidence is overwhelming, and that no other explanation fro what we see around us makes sense.
He goes through many, many arguments about this: how we do see adaptation to changing environments, how the DNA records support the change in the genome of life with time and environment, how fossils support evolutionary change.
Moreover, he shows that the scientific theory of evolution by natural (and in some cases, sexual) selection makes clear predictions which are borne out by observations. And on top of that he shows why these conclusions make no sense at all if you think there is some Creator that made us the way we are out of thin air (or dust, I suppose).