Comics and convergent evolution in trees

September 3, 2015 • 1:30 pm

Here’s a recent xkcd strip called “Magic tree”, which has an evolutionary twist:


When you “mouse over” the strip, you see this:

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 7.46.04 AM

In other words, artist Randall Munroe is giving a humorous example of “convergent evolution,” in which those trees that most closely resemble cellphone towers are those that leave their genes. This form of evolution would, over time, produce trees that resemble those towers. This example is bogus, of course, because a tree generation lasts a long time—longer than cellphone towers have been around. But if you want to read about real examples of convergent evolution, try the Wikipedia article or Eric Pianka’s nice essay at the University of Texas zoology website.

In WEIT I briefly discuss convergent evolution, giving the famous example of convergence between species of placental mammals and marsupials in Australia. I also give an example from plants: the strong resemblance between cacti in the New World and euphorbs in the old.

But there are also examples in which non-treelike plants have, similar to the example above, evolved to resemble trees. I’ll leave readers to hunt for those, but put your answers in the comments below.

h/t: Steve, John

The cartoon that has it all

August 23, 2015 • 11:10 am

As reader Ben Goren said when sending me this Non Sequitur strip by Wiley Miller, it has it all: evolution, faith, and cats!



But it also shows one of Americans’ most common misconceptions about evolution: that what evolves are individuals over their lifetimes, not populations over long periods of time. This is a common misunderstanding of how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, giving rise to the idea that individuals somehow acquire a physiological tolerance to the drugs.

Monday humor: Felidae

June 1, 2015 • 7:20 am

Shall we start off the week with some felid humor? Yes, why not.

First, a tw**t about the World’s Worst Idea:

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 6.56.43 AM

And here’s yesterday’s Get Fuzzy, featuring Bucky, a cat who is a complete, self-centered jerk (and of course in that way represents all cats). Bucky’s staff consists of Rob, the human, and the long-suffering Satchel, a d*g:

Get Fuzzy

h/t: jsp, Grania

A trickster God

May 11, 2015 • 7:00 am

When reader Ben Goren sent me the latest strip from Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, he asked me if Miller had received an advance copy of my book. And indeed, I’ve used the “moving stars into words” trope before as one of the things that could help convince me that there was indeed a god. (Some anti-theist readers would reject this as convincing evidence, saying that it could be a trick by space aliens.)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t so clever as to invent this form of “evidence”. As far as I know, it first appears in Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World as one of the things that God could have done to convince us of his existence (I think Sagan hypothesized God spelling out “I am that I am in Hebrew”). If you reread that book, or especially The Varieties of Scientific Experience, you’ll find that Sagan was far more of a “strident” atheist than people recall.

But I digress; here is Miller’s cartoon, and it’s a good one:

Non Sequitur
Non Sequitur

One of Them: Part IV

April 30, 2015 • 6:38 am

Wiley Miller continues his series on America’s Hate Laws at Non Sequitur. (Why does that old dude have a cat on his shoulder?)


Reader “Micky pearce” (who won’t be seen here in the future) tried to comment on this post, demonstrating precisely the kind of religiously-inspired bigotry shown in the strip:

This is unfair freind. Who wrote that. Not accurate complete picture. pro-gay businesses have rejected Christian approaches too. If homosexuals are wicked enough to approach and target Christian businesses instead of the hundreds of others who would happily fulfil their requirements, seeking trouble and the imposition of their agenda upon others, who really is the uncharitable and divisive party at work here. Bigotry works in all spheres, including the refusal to accept someones Christian position.

Is there a correlation between conservative religiosity and the inability to write and spell?

h/t: Linda Grilli

Evolution funnies

February 8, 2015 • 2:10 pm

The latest Herman strip, drawn by Jim Unger, shows us one way of accommodationism. And it comes perilously close to those theistic evolutionists—including both scientists and creationists—who accept evolution but say that God either set up the process so that it would be guaranteed to produce Homo sapiens (the view of Simon Conway Morris, whose theory we discussed earlier today), or tweaked evolution from time to time to ensure that we’d appear.


And over at The Onion, there’s a grim report on natural selection (click on screenshot below to see the piece):

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.51.45 AM

An excerpt:

EARTH—In a seemingly unstoppable cycle of carnage that has become tragically commonplace throughout the biosphere, sources confirmed this morning that natural selection has killed an estimated 38 quadrillion organisms in its bloodiest day yet.

Numerous reports from biomes on all seven continents revealed that over the past 24 hours, the ruthless biological phenomenon had ended the lives of a record 360 trillion animals and 908 trillion plants, along with 36.7 quadrillion fungi, protists, and bacteria.

“What we’re seeing here is the work of a hardened, practiced killer,” said Yale University evolutionary biologist Richard Prum, describing the brutal process through which a massive number of victims—among them thousands of starfish, countless patches of moss, and entire colonies of intestinal protozoa—were massacred with little to no warning. “These weak and helpless organisms, all of which appeared to have had no way to defend themselves against this latest wave of violence, were wiped out in cold blood.”

“It is painfully clear this slaughter was perpetrated by a force that holds zero regard for the value of life,” Prum added . . .

What’s curious is that there really is an evolutionary biologist at Yale named Richard Prum. I wonder if he really said that stuff (in jest, of course). They also quote a “University of Calcutta zoologist” who appears to be fictitious. Jeez—they’re making stuff up!

h/t: Steve