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Your relatives are bacteria

When Charles Darwin’s famous book, “On the Origin of Species,” was published in 1859, it took science and society by storm. Coming on the heels of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, Darwin’s book catalyzed a veritable new industry of trying explaining the natural world, both to good and ill effect (for instance, the idea of evolution gave racists new ammunition in their efforts to discriminate against non-whites). To-date (save…

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Teaching evolution in Kentucky

Rarely do I have a Kentucky student who learned about human evolution in high school biology. Those who did usually attended high schools in large urban centers like Louisville or Lexington. Given how easily it can provoke parents, the teaching of human evolution is a rarity in high school, so much so in Kentucky that it startled me when I first arrived. The story of our evolutionary history captivates many…

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Pope gives Church a little nudge toward science

Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe. “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the…

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Politics and religion influence opinions more than facts

Polls relating to publicly controversial scientific issues often trigger a great wailing and gnashing of teeth from science advocates. When large proportions of a population seem poorly informed about evolution, climate change, or genetically modified foods, the usual response is to bemoan the state of science literacy. It can seem obvious that many people don’t understand the science of evolution, for example—or the scientific method, generally—and that opinions would change…

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Bill Nye lost the debate by showing up

On many mornings, I wake up and think, “You know what this country needs? More culture war.” As I scramble up a couple eggs, I find myself wishing—fervently wishing—that we could spend more time reducing substantive issues to mere spectacle. Later, as I scrub the pan, I’ll fantasize about how those very spectacles might even funnel money toward some of the country’s most politicized religious groups. Fortunately, Bill “the Science…

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Texas Public Schools Are Teaching Creationism

Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is “sketchy.” That evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth. These are all lies. The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions…

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Should Scientists Debate Creationists?

The perpetually-bowtied science educator Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is slated to debate creationist Ken Ham, the founder of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, on Feb. 4. ABC News quoted Ham as saying that “This debate will help highlight the fact that so many young people are dismissing the Bible because of evolution, and even many young people who had grown up in the church decided to leave the church because they…

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Genomic and computational tools provide window to distant past

Out of the estimated 23,000 or more genes in the human genome, about 100 of them will differ–they will be present or not–between any two individuals. Genes lost or gained over time result from evolution and adaptation, as species respond through the years to their environment and other influences. The availability of genomic sequences now allows scientists to study the presence or absence of whole genes among individuals and between…

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