Thursday, September 18, 2014

Awesome Dead Shit: Glyptodonts

Amy saw an armadillo last week so she is now inspired to write about some of their extinct cousins, the glyptodonts.
Awesome art by NachoSammich

Glyptodonts were crazy cool mammals that lived during the Pleistocene Epoch from 2.58 Ma until they went extinct about 10,000 years ago, possibly from climate, disease, or from people over-hunting them and using their shells as emergency shelters. Talk about a fulfilling meal! They lived in South America and migrated as far north as Arizona and Texas during the Great American Biotic Interchange about 2 million years ago along with some other South American fauna, like our old friend Thylacoleo. This biotic interchange was the first time South America had come into contact with another continent since the breakup of Gondwana back in the Mesozoic, meaning that the South American fauna had ~63 million un-interrupted years of evolution all to themselves, which is why those endemic species are so flippin' WEIRD. Glyptodonts are no exception to that rule and belong in the superorder Xenarthra along with sloths, anteaters, and armadillos, which of course means they are phylogenetically awesome.

Monday, September 8, 2014

An Ode to the Paleo Road

Recently Amy and her boyfriend Kelly completed a 32-day road trip from Juneau, Alaska to Austin, Texas. Considering they both suffer from Paleo/Geo Nerd Syndrome they made many stops along the way to admire the rocks of geological and/or historical significance, as well as a few stops to visit their nerdy friends like Meaghan! To recount this thrilling 7,000 mile opportunity to discuss regional tectonics and ancient seas we're bringing back our favorite form of poetry: Limericks.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hopeful Monster Hypothesis

Warning: this is not a trailer review, though Hopeful Monsters does sound like a cinematic masterpiece. Rather, this is a discussion of a form of evolutionary theory: Hopeful Monster (or Discontinuous Variation if you prefer the dry scientific term, and who doesn't) is the hypothesis that suggests evolution proceeds through the same mechanism that basketball athleticism has: organisms who used to be a bit odd and possibly insanely tall now find their niche, excel, and rise to the top.

Prior to basketball, his height simply gave him neck cramps

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Lot of Oreodont Drawings

This summer Meaghan has been working as a Geocorps Paleontologist for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, working on resolving John Day oreodont taxonomy. It's been a lot of fun, but it also means that oreodonts have been at the forefront of her mind literally all summer... so she's drawn a lot of them. As the summer has progressed, her oreodonts have become a lot more like My Little Ponies, with big feet and ridiculous expressions. Meaghan is now headed off to Kyrgyzstan for a month (to help this lady scientist with her dissertation work), and is too lazy to write blog posts ahead of time so in lieu of other blog material.... here are a bunch of Meaghan's oreodont sketches with her brilliantly witty commentary!

Coy Agrochoerus antiquus is an ass during hide-and-seek

Merychyus elegans just pranked the shit out of someone.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to Avoid Common Myth-Debunking Mistakes

We've all been involved in some sort of myth-debunking: evolution, climate change, vaccinations, genetically modified organisms, different ways of curing hiccups - all are important hot topics that are surrounded by lies and misinformation. It is pretty hard to hear some of the bat-shittery around these ideas and not fight back - after all, public policy on these and other topics are often dictated by people who buy into conspiracy theories. Also, some of us have little self-control when it comes to tolerating other people's stupidity.

Because for fucks sake, these are not equally-valid sources!!!

The logical way of battling a myth is to address the myth itself. For example:

Your Drunk Uncle at Thanksgiving: "We're pumping poor babies full of mercury before they're even 6 months old!"
Your Drunk Uncle (Sam)
You: "Thimerosal isn't toxic in the low amounts we give in vaccines, they're necessary to preserve vaccines from fungal and bacterial infection, and they've been phased out from the vaccines we give babies anyway. BOOM!"

YDUaT: "Yeah, well vaccines also cause autism! That playboy bunny says so."
You: "The one article that ever showed a link was debunked; that guy was 100% lying. Also please take health advice from your doctor, not a celebrity."

YDUaT: "We don't bother to test whether giving vaccines to babies so fast is a bad thing or not! Nobody looks at this stuff. Poor babies."
You: "Scientists totally test that shit. Also, would you rather your kids got measles and died? You make no sense to me."

Seems pretty self-explanatory: someone tells you about a bullshit theory and you tell them how they're wrong, their minds heal and become better and everyone is happy, right? Yeah, we wish. Unfortunately for you and our country, the mind is a tricksy place. Ask your uncle after your conversation about some vaccination myths, and he'll likely get about 20% of those myths wrong still. Ask him 3 days later he will still retain on average, a belief in about 40% of the myths that he previously asserted. What's even worse is that since he has talked to you, his well-educated niece or nephew about it, he now has a reinforcing valid "source" - you. Oops!

It turns out that addressing the illogical with the logical is actually not that effective for eliminating myths and misconceptions.  In fact, if you try and debunk a myth you can often end up reinforcing it instead simply by talking about it. So what's the best way to convince the Drunk Uncles of the world to join the 21st century, regardless of the topic? Here we lay out the commandments of Myth Debunking, the cardinal rules of how to work around people's crazy to get them to hear the logic of your actual content. These rules are our own, but we've compiled them after reading up on the psychology of bias emergence and attenuation. That's right. We read psychology papers for you mother fuckers, because we love our country. 'MERICA.

Sidenote: if you've never googled "the most patriotic picture ever" then you need to.
This picture nearly lost to the Star Spangled Donuts that were further down the page.