Friendly Atheist Meme

With a hat tip to Sisyphus Fragment, here’s a cute little atheist meme that I’d like to pass along here. The idea is simple – here’s an assortment of things that atheists do, did, or could have done (in some cases, things that define the “New Atheists”) – with all the things I’ve personally done boldfaced.

Cheers.

  1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge. (There’s probably nothing like that in Hebrew, and if there was, I’d be lynched)
  2. Met at least one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person. (I wish!)
  3. Created an atheist blog.
  4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.
  5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic.
  6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron.
  7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know.
  8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc.
  9. Have come out as an atheist to your family.
  10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.
  11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.
  12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony.
  13. Donated money to an atheist organization.
  14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins.
  15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.
  16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize. (Again, Israel, would be lynched)
  17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away. (Not ashamed of dates, am scared of zealots)
  18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).
  19. Attended a protest that involved religion.
  20. Attended an atheist conference.
  21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel. (he totally rocks)
  22. Started an atheist group in your area or school.
  23. Successfully “de-converted” someone to atheism. (The process is very much personal, but the inspiration came from me)
  24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die.
  25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.
  26. Had to think twice before screaming “Oh God!” during sex. Or you said something else in its place. (lol?)
  27. Lost a job because of your atheism.
  28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count).
  29. Have crossed “In God We Trust” off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills.
  30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
  31. Said “Gesundheit!” (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say “Bless you!”
  32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.
  33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch. (Would have if we had that kinda shit. Do idiot rabbis count?)
  34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.
  35. Have “atheism” listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant.
  36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service). (practically illegal in Israel)
  37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic)
  38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism. (again, prescription for slaughter)
  39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God.
  40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.
  41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public. (should start, but only wear it in Tel Aviv, otherwise lynched)
  42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them.
  43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.
  44. Receive Google Alerts on “atheism” (or variants).
  45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.
  46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the “enemy.”
  47. Refuse to tell anyone what your “sign” is… because it doesn’t matter at all.
  48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to…
  49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.
  50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you.

Averaging

I often get the nasty notion that in many respects, I’m a horribly underachieving person. I’m untidy, rather callous, careless and self-centered. I eat and drink too much, I respond disproportiantely to a great deal of things, and in many subtle and stealthy ways, I have little tiny prickles of evil all over the DMZ of my personality.

So, how do I explain the fact that I’m still, on the whole, a rather amiable person, am considered smart, responsible and useful to employers and peers, and am generally depended upon (definitely by the people close to me)?

Well, this is probably an oversimplification (something that science does run-of-the-mill), but I think that this can be explained, plainly, by “averaging” of traits.

In my opinion, while in most fields I am average or slightly above average in abilities and achievement, there are a few fields in which I am very good or even extremely good at. I’m superb at languages, semantics and connotative analysis. I got extremely fast fingers (which I employ very well as a means of making a living, making an hourly sum surpassing that of my peers immensely). I usually have a superb memory and an uncanny ability to draw the most elusive of memories long after people have forgotten about them.

The mishaps I have with my personality are balanced by my enormous devotion to the people and things I care about: my carelessness is balanced by my exaggerated sense of duty to a selected cause (so even if I spent all of my life living in a shithole, if I make it my business to be tidy, I’ll be tidy, and extravagantly so)

This would be a trivial observation if it weren’t for this implied derivation: perhaps the reason I allow myself my vices is that they are a luxury I subconsciously grant myself due to my virtues.

Maybe it’s some sort of “negative decompensation mechanism” that human beings (and other animals) have when they can allow themselves to take bad advantage of their “wealth”. It’s myopic and destructive in the long run (hence my current attempts to diet out the little beerbelly I’ve grown this past few months) – but in the short run, I could never escape the notion that I could simply “get away with it”.

Vacated!

A much needed vacation is afoot.  This weekend I’ll be chilling with my gorgeous missus in a cabin for two in a beautiful mountainous village (or as we Israelis call those modern hamlets: “Moshav”) on the western Galilee. Any Christian readers this blog might have will actually recognize the name, since it’s the region in Palestine Jesus of Nazerath originated from (I bet ye for’ners din’ know that Nazerath is still a city in modern day Israel). The missus was kind enough to correct me that it’s actually a place near Kinneret, the Israeli chief fresh water lake and favourite pissing pot.

I’m taking the laptop (too attached to it), but I doubt it there’ll be wi-fi, and even if there will, I’ll be too busy snoozing in the jacuzzi with my blessedly bathing-suited babe of a girlfriend.

Too bad I have two days of hardcore studyin’, trainin’ and workin’ to do before that. I promise to post some pictures (not just beautiful landscapes, but some of the smoochin’ couple, too).

Monday Organism: Strange Mammals!

This week’s Monday Organism is not going to be about evolution, and also, not going to be about one organism. Since I rather keep these posts non-technical (not an easy thing to do), I’m going to write a little exposee on two truly amazing mammals:  the Aye-Aye and the Flying Squirrel.

A.The Aye-Aye – Daubentonia madagascariensis

ap_aye_aye_080529_ssh

The Aye-Aye is one of those rare occurences that can only happen in a place like Madagascar. That might not be 100% accurate, but the fact Madagascar is ecologically detached (for land animals, anyway) from mainland Africa has probably done some evolutionary magic to create the wondrous biota living there.

The Aye-Aye has a somewhat (for Primatology laymen anyway) esoteric taxonomy, it is a Strepsirrhine. Strepsirrhines are what can only be reasonably called “wet-nosed monkeys”, although the Aye-Aye, at least, has some attributes that make it quite unlike the normal “monkey image” in our head.

The Aye-Aye looks like a mix of a rodent, a squirrel, a monkey, and a demon. I say “demon” because the Aye-Aye is a nocturnal primate (and the largest known, at that) – which means he has quite large eyes that glow ominously at night (the presence of the Aye-Aye is considered ominous in Malagasy villages).

The most distinguishing feature in the Aye-Aye, however, is in fact his middle finger. The Aye-Aye’s have an elongated middle finger with an alarmingly developed “fingernail”, although this finger is distinct mainly due to its unusual, “evil-witch” bone-structure. This finger is used to forage food by probing tree-holes for grubs, seeds, etc. This is basically the same thing a woodpecker does, only with fingers!

aye-aye_hand

B. The Flying Squirrel – Pteromyini

606-004-6430387f

The Flying Squirrel is a not just an amazing animal, it’s also a visual (and intellectually painful) reply to the notorious creationist question: “what good is half a wing?”. Well, apparently, it’s a world of goodness, at least for the flying squirrel. The Flying Squirrel is a moniker for a family of species who all have the same distinct “gliding organ”: the Patagium: Flying Squirrels have an extension of skin on their back not unlike that of bats, which can be steered to control their gliding in the air (making them actually “gliders” and not really “flyers”, hence “half a wing”).  They also use their tales as stabilizing and to monitor their speed (it can be used for “braking” when the squirrel needs to “land”).

Those Rude, Rude, Deaf People

I gotta say, this week’s ISL class was exceptionally dull, except for that bit when we’ve gone through the signs for the world’s countries (it appears that the ISL sign for Zimbabwe kinda looks like that thing they do on “Walk Like an Egyptian”.) Also, I found myself surprising the missus that there’s actually a sign for “Macedonia” in sign language. A few months ago, I couldn’t even sign “Greece”.

Usually, I find 3 out of 5 classes particularly indulgent: Ethics, Sign Language, and Deaf Culture. Like I said, SL rocked, but Ethics was rather a snore and Deaf Culture, for the first time, was also kinda dull. Maybe I was just tired, but I just couldn’t relate to the “theme” Gal, the teacher, had in mind. We were supposed to be two opposing (and apposing, now that I think of it) juries in a trial where the defendant is the Deaf Culture. Cool concept, but unfortunately, at the onset, Gal simply abandoned it and simply turned the trial into a class discussion. We’ve basically reached some very old conclusions that didn’t enhance our knowledge at all: the Israeli Deaf are aggressive, callous, crude, direct and frankly, a bit rude and often insolent.

These are facts that both the Deaf Community and the Friendly Hearing (and I think CODAs fit into that category like a glove) conceded a long time ago and normally don’t give it much thought (nor is it a knot in anyone’s knickers. There, I finally found use for that phrase!). Since Gal is the one who brought it up, nobody can say that we were assaulting the deaf “unprovoked”. I always thought that the Deaf are somewhat ruder and more impertinent than the Hearing simply because they tend to be intellectually isolated from the Hearing population, and that leads them to a sort of collective social retardation, easily alleviated by education, exposure and inoculation of the right social skills. This is probably still true, but Gal gave another explanation which I find simply fascinating and elegant:

Deaf people, like all people, are in a constant state of ignorance. To mitigate that ignornace, we ask questions, imitate, go to school, read books or even find out for ourselves the things we don’t know. Even though research and books and even schools are excellent tools for getting smarter and better, there is little subsitute to social immersion, and that, unfortunately, is the great bane of the Deaf experience. As Helen Keller succinctly put it: “Blindness distances you from scenes, Deafness distances you from people” (I paraphrased it a bit, since I couldn’t find a citation I can trust).

The problem for the Deaf, Gal explained, is that for the most part of their lives, they’re disconnected from the most important means for alleviating their horrible affliction: they’re lonely island of silence. Because of that, once they’re finally grouped together, capable of injecting in a hordes a cornucopia of (often trivial) details, they grant no quarter when they’re finally allowed a lively exchange of information and ideas. Sure, the internet allows the Deaf to communicate, sure, signed TV exposes the world to the Deaf, but there’s nothing that can replace the raw trade of ideas, feelings and interactions that exists in one-on-one communication (by the way, this is passionately animated by the new Israeli Deaf trend of using Webcams for conversations.)

So the explanation elegantly explains the cultural “vices” of the Deaf: you insert this kind of psychological pressure, that horrible affliction of social isolation, on members of a society, and you will not find yourself surprised if they skip the formalities and just fire away whatever it is that they want to ask or know. There’s no time for trying to figure stuff out behind people’s back (thought that obviously happens, too), you can’t call the other guy to affirm what was just said, you’re very much confined to the social event, which usually takes place about once a week, and you have the make the most of it at the minimum of time.

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Monday Organism: To Everything, Fern, Fern, Fern

hi-fern-forest-2

Back in the old forum days, I used to write on specific organisms frequently. Now that I’m doing Botany, I think this little spot would be missing a lot if I didn’t give some spotlight to the greater picture, especially in regard to groups of organisms most of us take for granted, such as plants.

This last week brought us undergrads face-to-face , for the first time,  with real hardcore terrestrial plants, and the first such plants were a group of organisms called Ferns.

Even though I’m alt-tabbing the wiki article for fact verification (and digging up fun facts as well), I can, sans wiki, sum up  what are the interesting differences between Ferns and all the other plant taxa we’ve learnt of so far.

Ferns are similar to mosses in some respects, and like mosses and all evolutionary descendants of mosses, they’re embryonic plants, with distinct sporophytic stages that develops from a protected embryo that is grown and shielded within the parent fern.

Ferns actually have independent sporophytic stages, which is a bit odd. Flowering plants don’t have that, and neither do mosses (which can be very roughly considered the evolutionary “befores and afters” of Ferns). In mosses, the sporophyte is, if not completely “parasitic” on top of the gametophyte, is still an attached (above-ground) outgrowth of it.

In flowering plants, the gametophyte is situated atop the sporophyte, which is the reverse for mosses. I won’t get any deeper into that, since I haven’t studied about them yet 🙂

Ferns are distinguished in the plant kingdom as the first truly Vascular Plants. It’s not that more primitive plants don’t have some means of relaying organic material and water around the body of the plant, but in Ferns, we witness the first instance of complex, all-body vascular organs, namely, the Xylem and the Phloem. The X and P are just fancy words for “tube for shifting organic compounds” and “tube for shifting water”, respectively. As the first hardcore terrestrial plants, vascular organs are a must-have adaptation. Growing taller is a logistic nightmare, but with the enormous selection pressure on short plants that compete on the same sunlight, it’s a must. It’s a good evolutionary explanation for why those Ferns went through all the trouble, and this is actually a distinguishing feature in Ferns: they’re specialists. Their penchant for being taller is just the tip of the iceberg (they’re also adapted to hostile habitats, habitats which constrain the flowering plants but not Ferns).

The most revealing innovation in Ferns is the organ that most of us seem to readily associate with plants: Leaves.

To begin with, I was simply delighted to finally understand what this organ actually is. Up until next week, leaves to me, as they are to most laymen, were simply “green bits on them flowers and whatnot”. There’s more to that, or merely, a more accurate description. Leaves are firstly defined as the photosynthetic organs. In short, what the mouth does for heterotrophs like us, the leaves do for autotrophs like plants. In short, it’s the plant’s way of getting chow. Up until now, photosynthesis wasn’t confined to specialized organs, and hence, leaves are  truly a hallmark of evolutionary innovation.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that evolutionary innovations are often a precursor to two things:
A.Enormous comparative fitness (evolutionarily-speaking, as opposed to simpler organisms)
B.An evolutionary dead-end. Jacks-of-all-trades have more “promotion possibilities” than “Masters-of-one-trade”. This is why bacteria outlived many metazoa (and will probably outlast us!)

Since I’m an evolution afficionado, I want to have the finishing part of this post to focus on some interesting evolutionary tale, but I think I can combine that with some cool info on Ferns in general. What I mean by that is that you can actually see for yourself the evolutionary “nodes” in Fern evolution by observing the various stages of leaf evolution.
Like Is said, leaves are the photosynthetic organs of plants, but leaves haven’t sprouted de novo out of ancient moss-like thalluses (even though even weeds have leaflike apparatuses).

The first instance of leaves comes in the shape of protophylls (ancient leaves). Protophylls are nothing but dandruff like scales without any actual vascular tubes for carrying the photosynthetic products to the body of the plant. Since the protophylls are usually small and aggregate, this is not a big problem, and obviously this is an ample condition for evolutionary advance: now that we have the specialization in order, all we have to do is grow some tubes. 🙂

Psilotum - a protophyllic fern

Psilotum - a protophyllic fern

The second and third stages of leaf evolution are very similar: Microphylls and Macrophylls. The noted difference between the two is that microphylls have only one artery-like tube and macrophylls have a branching like web of vascular tubes. It’s quite easy to imagine how one evolved to the other, but not so easy to come up with how protophylls evolved into either, or should I say, to one and then the other. 🙂

Lycopodium - a microphyllic fern

Lycopodium - a microphyllic fern

So, yet again, we come across an oft-taken-for-granted plant group and find that it tells us fascinating evolutionary stories. Mainly, that those cheeky bastards are opportunistic little buggers that probably gave us the precursors for modern plants, meaning that Shakespeare and other like-minded cupid-heads should give them some credit. The true journey to dry land starts with Ferns, and so the true evolution for the plants we hold as familiar starts with them.




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Ignorance isn’t Bliss, Lack of Introspection Is

Frankly, this is something that’s been nagging in my head for some time now (due to stuff that’s happening in my personal life, and thus aren’t particularly interesting enough to post about). I’m saying “frankly” because I’m not sure how to phrase the idea I’m talking about in an interesting way, but I’ll give it a try, anyway.
I had a chat with the missus today about how miserable I get because I’m constantly aware of how inferior I am all the time. This is, I told her, not an indication of superior intelligence, but only of a bad habit of over-comparison with everybody else. It’s a dangerous occupation I can’t rid myself of, and it brings me my penchant for horrible, incapacitating moods (that’s okay, I only have them when no one’s watching, which is most of the time 🙂 ).

I’m well aware that there are people out there who are beyond ecstatic on a perpetual basis, and for some reason, the fact that I run faster or have a bigger vocabulary than theirs does not shatter their jubilance in the least. When I was (an even more) arrogant adolescent, I viewed this apparent imperviousness as stupidity or ignorance. This was sadly disproven when I noted that people like that are my vast superiors in many respects, and it further pestered me that even “idiots” can beat me at my own game.

Well, needless to say, I was using the wrong paradigm. It’s not that they were idiots, they just didn’t bother as much as I did (and do) with comparative introspection. The truth of the matter is that I will be a much happier man if I just “lightened up”, but I really can’t do that. It’s my eternal quest for scoring more points than everybody else that seems to propel me to do greater things, and without that, I really don’t know if I’d push as hard as I do.

This doesn’t mean that I’m afraid I won’t be as successful (I’d probably be more) if I stopped sizing myself up all the time, but the fact remains that I can’t stop, even though I want to.

Who’s The Culprit?

It is often said (mainly by apologetics, and in a way, that’s how they’re defined) that religion is not to blame for religious bigotry or for religiously-motivated violence. The garden variety argument is that even though evil people can be religious, it is not religion itself that is responsible for their crimes and evil deeds.

An interesting discussion has sprouted at Sisyphus Fragment, and most interestingly so, the line of defense was held not by religious apologetics, but simply by everyday rational, coherent, intelligent people. The crux of their argument is that religious people would be ignorant to simply use religion (or brainwashed, and the difference is tricky) as a means to do evil, and that religion is not the only thing that’s being used to promote evil causes. This is very much true, and since no one said that religion is the only cause for evil, quite irrelevant in the defense of religion as a culprit.

An interesting argument defending religion arose when someone said that religion itself is not evil, but can be manipulated by evil men, and those attacking religion is not only pointless, but can be counter-productive. I’m not going to say anything about it being counter-productive not because I can’t imagine it being productive, but because I much rather base such a claim on credible sources and not just scatter historical examples and thought experiments.

What I will say, however, is that it is an interesting reduction of human evil to say that no doctrine of its own is culprable, including religious doctrine, but that only human beings are. In that respect, Nazis aren’t culprable by their adherence to the party, but only by the fact that they gassed prisoners to death (well, it’s more complicated than that, but the example is clear enough).

Anyway, I can’t completely disagree with that, and in many respects, I sometimes get the feeling that religious people get too much heat merely by entitling themselves religious. Religious people, like everyone else, pick and choose what they think is right or wrong (and many of them will agree, even elusively, that their morals are not dictated by the bible. No surprise there). So, this definitely flies in the face of every graffitti that goes “Christians are shit”, and even though a lot of well-intending atheists might sympathize (especially former Christians) with that sentence, I don’t.

But is Christianity, itself, a culprit? Obviously, Judaism will share the same cell should Christianity gets thrown to the tanty, but is it guilty of the crimes people commit in its name?

My answer to that is “not exactly”. Evil people will find some other way of grinding their axes at other people’s expense even if the Abarahamic religions never existed. The flip-side of that is that good men or women, or good-intending ones, might wrong their fellow mortals simply because the bible tells them so. They might even feel a horrible pain while doing so, and will even hate themselves for not being committed enough. They will feel a two-layered guilt: sympathy to the oppressed and servile guilt to their Master, the one who decreed that they should do things they really don’t want to, and really think they shouldn’t.

So addressing religion as “guilty” is meaningful only in the respect of specific laws and decrees that plainly, in a non-open-to-interpretation-way (see Deuteronomy), state that evil should be done. This is not an indictment of all religious people and not even of all religious laws or canonized books. This is an indictment of very specific laws that were barbaric when they were written (by whoever) and they’re still barbaric today, and religious people and athiests who aren’t, well, insane, will agree on that.

Jeff, a charming soul who also happens to be a Christian, would probably never even dream of committing any crimes in the name of Christianity or Jesus Christ, and he would agree that killing homosexuals is an evil decree (he won’t agree that that’s what the bible says, but if he did, he would agree it’s an evil religious decree).

So the real culprit is between the lines, not on the cover of the bible. Religion does not go to prison, only the written text in its holy books that sends good men to do the work for evil ones.

Monday Organism (Yes, I’m Aware It’s Sunday) – Cyanobacteria

On most Sundays, I won’t be around to post, except in the evening, half-brain dead from ISL class. Anyhow, I’m a day off to recuperate from last week, so I have time to post my very first “Monday Organism”, and a day early, at that!

Since this is the first weekly organism, I think it’s appropriate to explain why there is, in fact, a weekly organism. Since this blog is about biology, it’d be mighty improper unless it had  periodical items about animals, don’t you think? I mean, come on, it’s no use running a blog about biology without fluffy animals in it (or angry wobbly ones or, well, extremely tiny ones).

Also, the Monday Organism is sometimes going to be about higher taxa as well (usually very high taxa, mainly to illustrate an interesting point about evolutionary biology)

The first Monday Organism is actually not an Organism, but a Phylum: Cyanobacteria.

c810x2cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria literally means “blue bacteria”, but they’re actually called “blue algae” in Hebrew. The wiki on Cyanobacteria states that the taxonomy of Cyanobacteria is under revision, which is no surprise. In class, this group was even (I think most appropriately) called “Cyanophyta”, meaning “blue algae”.

Cyanobacteria are a fascinating group, and their existence is sound evidence for various evolutionary theories, the most important one is probably the evolution of the chloroplast organelle, the organelle in plant cells in which photosynthesis occurs.

The truly amazing thing about Cyanobacteria is the fact that they’re actually prokaryotes (having no distinct cell nuclei), and yet, they have photosynthetic pigments in their cells which are used to produce organic material by absorbing light energy from the sun. This means, in effect, that Cyanobacteria are the evolutionary precursor for the eukaryotic plants.

While it is obvious that all algae are commonly related, the truly interesting characteristics of Cyanobacteria are the ones that point out to the evolution of plant organelles. When I first learnt about Endosymbiont theory, I was plainly told that “endosymbiont bacteria eventually became permanent organelles”. Now these endosymbiont bacteria have a name: Cyanobacteria. In fact, the evidence shows that the Cyanobacteria themselves evolved into the chloroplast, and it is quite possible that every plant cell is, in a way, a symbiotic colony of eukaryotes and prokaryotic photosynthetic bacteria!

Obviously, the radiation of photosynthetic taxa is prolific enough to rule out such a simplistic story, but the evidence shows similar genetic and biochemical traits in modern day chloroplasts and in the makeup of Cyanobacteria. Since this isn’t an encyclopedic article and I rather focus only on one interesting concept at the time, I’ll give just one example for “evidence” of the common descent of CB and chloroplasts :  the genetic makeup of chloroplast DNA (yes, they have their own DNA and they replicate on their own!) is similar to Cyanobacteria DNA. This alone is solid evidence for common descent for the two.

There’s lots of special cases of endosymbiosis that show not-so-common descent, but rather “common descents”, but I’ll leave that to the avid reader.

The main point of this post is not so much to tell about CB anatomy (warning: other posts might deal with interesting anatomy and physiology!), rather it is to illustrate classic tools in evolutionary research: genetic, anatomical, biochemical and physiological comparison as instruments for detecting common descent. It’s a crucial way of thinking in all of biology, and it highlights the sometimes elusive practical value in evolutionary theory: knowing the genetic relationship between different taxa can be critical in any biological endeavor. If one seeks to find antibiotic weaponry against infection and disease, knowing the culprit’s phylogeny can be of tremendous use, and phylogeny is best derived from the comparative tools I’ve briefly illustrated here.

Can I do research?

I know I’m only a biology undergrad, but I can’t help thinking that I might not have what it takes to be a researcher. Am I creative enough? Smart enough? Innovative enough? What does it take? Can I get a clue now before I spend 10 years on my life pursuing a career I won’t be any good at?

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