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Our Neandertal Brethren

Genome sequencing has revealed our common humanity
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According to the late Harvard University biologist Ernst W. Mayr, the greatest evolutionary theorist since Charles Darwin, “species are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups.”

Reproductive isolation is the key to understanding how new species form, and many types of barriers can divide a population and split it into two different groups: geographic (such as a mountain range, desert, ocean or river), morphological (a change in coloration, body type or reproductive organs), behavioral (a change in breeding season, mating calls or courtship actions), and others. After isolation, if members of the split populations encounter one another and cannot produce viable offspring that can themselves later successfully interbreed and produce viable offspring (hybrids such as mules are infertile), then these two populations constitute two different species. (continue reading…)

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Darwin Misunderstood

On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday two myths persist about evolution and natural selection
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On July 2, 1866, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection, wrote to Charles Darwin to lament how he had been “so repeatedly struck by the utter inability of numbers of intelligent persons to see clearly or at all, the self acting & necessary effects of Nat Selection, that I am led to conclude that the term itself & your mode of illustrating it, however clear & beautiful to many of us are yet not the best adapted to impress it on the general naturalist public.” The source of the misunderstanding, Wallace continued, was the name itself, in that it implies “the constant watching of an intelligent ‘chooser’ like man’s selection to which you so often compare it,” and that “thought and direction are essential to the action of ‘Natural Selection.’” Wallace suggested redacting the term and adopting Herbert Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest.” (continue reading…)

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Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie
interviews Michael Shermer

During his book tour Michael Shermer visited the offices of Reason magazine, who have recently added Reason.TV to their media package, a project helped launched by Drew Carey, who turns out to be a big fan of Skeptic magazine and all things skeptical. In this interview Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie interviews Shermer on his new book, The Mind of the Market.

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Evonomics

Evolution and economics are both examples
of a larger mysterious phenomenon
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Living along the Orioco River that borders Brazil and Venezuela are the Yanomamö people, hunter-gatherers whose average annual income has been estimated at the equivalent of $90 per person per year. Living along the Hudson River that borders New York State and New Jersey are the Manhattan people, consumer- traders whose average annual income has been estimated at $36,000 per person per year. That dramatic difference of 400 times, however, pales in comparison to the differences in Stock Keeping Units (SKUs, a retail measure of the number of types of products available), which has been estimated at 300 for the Yanomamö and 10 billion for the Manhattans, a difference of 33 million times! (continue reading…)

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Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe

Michael Shermer discusses his latest book with Steven Novella, President of the New England Skeptics Society, and James Randi discusses the business of astrology.

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