Welcome to the thirty-sixth edition of the Tangled Bank—the bi-weekly repository of some of the best science blogging that can be found anywhere on the Internet. As an occasional science writer myself, typically on astronomy, physics, or Earth-science subjects, it is an honor to be your host.
It has been a tragic week in this corner of the world. A great city and numerous smaller towns not far away from here have been decimated and an untold number have been killed, due to a combination of natural power and human neglect. But, as hundreds of thousands of displaced Louisiana residents find temporary shelter in my state of Texas and all over the country, the power of human kindness has reached out to dampen the pain and to attempt to reverse the course of tragedy.
This edition of Tangled Bank contains fascinating entries on a wide variety of topics, as it typically does. Not surprisingly, a few concern Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. But first, we must go back in time—to learn about how life forms on our planet took the forms they have. And much, much more.
* The post Café Scientifique and Jack Cohen, from Alun at his eponymous blog, goes far back in time, discussing the evolution of life on Earth and what features of organisms represent unique developments in evolutionary history.
* Traveling comparably far back in time, Afarensis at Afarensis: Anthropology, Evolution and Science writes about Ichthyostega in How Cool Is That!. Ichthyostega is "one of the first land dwelling vertebrates," as I discovered from a slightly earlier post of Afarensis'.
* Shooting forward hundreds of millions of years, we come to the The Fall of Rome. No, this is not a post by Edward Gibbon, who, perhaps to his regret, did not survive to witness the Internet and the blogging phenomenon. Rather, this is a post (actually, a book excerpt) by Bryan Ward-Perkins, at Oxford University Press's blog. It discusses archaeological evidence that the fall of Rome was not a painless transition from a Roman world to a medieval one as some suggest, but rather was indeed the "end of a civilization."
* Moving further forward in time, we come to the subject of a the post A Bark With Bite by Matt at Pooflingers Anonymous. He proposes a hypothesis for how primitive tribes of Peru discovered the medicinal properties of quinine.
* Discussing events of a century ago, Josh Braun of Wide Aperture writes about the Cardiff giant and "attempts to bolster Christian doctrine with scientific rationales" in Poor science, lousy religion, and the circus in America.
* The present, at least in this part of the globe, is dominated by the horrible news out of hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi. Addressing the increased vulnerability of New Orleans to powerful storms due to the gradual erosion of its surrounding swamps, Mike at 10,000 Birds asks the question What Good is a Wetland?, and concludes that "We as a species are inextricably tied to our environment, whether we'll admit it or not."
* In response to the destruction and loss of life, The Questionable Authority, in Science, misuse of science, Katrina, and responsibility, calls for scientists to do more to fight the abuse of science: "It is time to fight for reality."
* Jim Hu at blogs for industry discusses some details about the measurements of the degree of contamination of the water that has taken over New Orleans. Not something anyone would want to be stuck in.
* What does the future hold? Human-induced climate change is a virtual certainty in the short-term. Daniel at A Concerned Scientist, in Literature Review: Climate Change, discusses the scientific consensus on climate change. He brings up the 2004 publication by Naomi Oreskes that caused a stir amongst the global warming skeptics.
* Switching from a chronological path to a specialty-oriented path, we come to a few posts on the subject of genetics. Dr. Hsien Hsien Lei at Genetics and Public Health Blog writes about, as she puts it, "a touchy subject"—the genetics of skin color in her post MC1R Gene Locus and Skin Color.
* Reed Austin Cartwright at Derem Natura tells us about one of his all-time favorite scientific illustrations in Chimps are Laughing at You. This figure illustrates that the genetic differences between us humans are far less than variations in many other species.
* Providing a welcome public service, PZ Myers at Pharyngula has read the recent scientific paper describing the chimpanzee genome so that we don't have to. He summarizes the findings for us and offers some personal commentary at the end.
* Ruth Schaffer at The Biotech Weblog tells us about the development of a new drug that may help prevent or slow the onset of AIDS in HIV-positive patients in her post Vif Dimerization Antagonist: Drug Candidate against AIDS.
Biology and ecology
* Andrew at Universal Acid relates the tale of creatures than can literally cause other creatures to jump into a lake against their will, even if the latter creature cannot swim—and there are no firearms involved. Read Bizarre parasite manipulation to find out the gory details.
* Alien species are a major problem these days. Not the outer space kind, of course, but the outside-of-their-historical-location kind. Nuthatch at bootstrap analysis writes, in as the worms turn, about a synergy between introduced earthworms and introduced buckthorn. The result is a situation that complicates habitat restoration beyond removal of a single alien species.
* Meanwhile, Jennifer Forman Orth at Invasive Species Weblog, in Molluscan Mess, provides a brief update on the possible treatment of a Massachusetts lake with herbicide to kill off an invasive species. This is obviously not an extremely popular course of action with those who live nearby.
Science and the Public
* GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life offers some of her Thoughts on the Value of Blogs to Science. She has a very clear idea about the most compelling value of science blogs, and it is one with which I heartily concur: "public outreach and education." Read her post to find out why she thinks the scientific community needs to work harder on this front.
* James at Ruminating Dude has some thoughts of his own—they are about how to best teach chemistry in high school. In A Practical Chemistry Curriculum, he discusses what he feels are the shortcomings of the current approach.
* For at least some good news on the public front, the Mad Scientist at The Daily Transcript has a post on Public understanding of Science. It discusses some research on the state of science literacy in the United States, and, while the absolute numbers may not be anything to jump for joy at, the trends (in a few cases, at least) are in the right direction. And as a Ph.D. astronomer, I am amazed that even 11% claim to "understand the process of radioactive decay." I'm not sure I do anymore. Or that I ever did.
* After the emotionally exhausting events of recent days, perhaps it is wise to end with a collection of humorous and satirical posts. Alexander Blaisdell at FrinkTank is amazed at the latest pronouncement from Chinese scientists that "lake monsters can't possibly be real."
* Finally, Patrick Francis at The Science Creative Quarterly writes about How the Scientific Developments Elucidated in Science Magazine Will Affect My Life (Volume I).
Coming soon... Tangled Bank #37
And so the thirty-sixth edition of Tangled Bank comes to a close. The next edition will be on Wednesday, September 21, just up the road at milkriverblog. (For those who attended 'I and the Bird' here last month, this handoff may sound familiar.) Send your submissions to either firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. See you there!