Archive for the 'AABQOTW' Category

I do wish they didn’t bother

You can understand why those with an agenda will try to challenge or trap a biologist in order to bolster their cause or knock down what they see as the opposition. They think that they can see weaknesses or flaws in science and that they know how to exploit them. What they tend to do of course is merely demonstrate their own ignorance, bankruptcy of ideas or lack of scruples when it comes to an academic exchange (well academic on one side).

It takes an especially confident frame of mind therefore to try and challenge an entire suite of biologists on something so utterly fundamental as the basis of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Would you believe that this didn’t turn out well and, despite an exceptionally polite tone, the destruction of the position taken is quite beautiful and simple. I thought you’d enjoy it as an example of such exchanges, one only hopes that something is taken away from this.


My thanks to Matt van Roojin for pointing me in this direction and my apologies for not spotting or mentioning it sooner. The folks over at Art Evolved have been running one of their speed-painting competitions based on questions and answers from Ask A Biologist. There’s some fun stuff on there, not least this effort on that most pressing of zoological problems – who would win in a fight between a shark, a bear and an eagle?

Oh, and since I set up this post (but obviously before I posted it) they’ve now done a Musings challenge. Check out things based on this very blog such as ‘What colour was Anchiornis?” and a very dapper looking Darren Tanke Gorogosaurus preparation.


Following on from my recent media-related posts I thought an appropriate AABQOTW would be this one: Just how accurate is the TV show Primeval? To see how a bunch of professional palaeontologists rank the show, follow this link.


Birds seem to be the blogger’s theme of chocie right now (provided you are not talking about boring Messel-based primates) so I thought I’d keep with the trend. This time out a combination question that really deals with both avian evolution and a more general concept about ancestors and descent: Are all modern birds descended from a single ancestor?

The answers are here.


I’m rather pleased with soem of the odd requests we get on Ask A Biologist from time to time, it rather shows we are doing our job and providing a real service and of course the questions can lead you into soem intersting disucssions and unusual areas of biology. We have taken questions from teachers and students of course, but also specific ones from guys trying to settle bets, quiz masters, playwrights, authors and in this case, a game designer.  There is lots of good science fiction based on real science, or in this case specifically human physiology, and it’s an interesting concept – how could you modify a human to give them super endurance? As ever, the answer is here.


Obviously this is a late one in two senses as not only have we been AABQOTW free for 2 weeks wile I was in the field, but also I normally ost these very early in the day but it’s quite late here in Beijing. The problem is a nasty virus affecing my PC which hopefully I can clean out on Monday with a bit of help from the IVPP tech support. I know this is not a hugely popular theme on the Musings but I’ll keep ’em coming.

This week I hope to generate at least a little early internet buzz based on the general theme and I am sure a number of you can guess what it relates too. All will of course be revealed in due course but I do hope the relevant paper will be out very soon. The question this time out, do birds have fingers? The answer as ever ies this way…


This week I want to deal with something more fundamental to research and science as a whole – how your work is assessed in terms of its ‘scientific significance’. This is an are I have touched on before when discussing taxonomy, and my general whinging about the bad things in a career as an academic but here the issue is at least more limited in scope and has a discussion involving researchers who are not me, so the view is likely to be less biased. The crux of the question therefore is “How bad is the pressure to ‘publish or perish’?”. To read the discussion, follow this link.


An odditiy of dinosaur research this week, but something that is important in terms of communication and etymology. Just how do you pronounce some dinosaur names? As ever the answers are over here on Ask A Biologist.


Back to the dinosaurs for the first time in a while in an AABQOTW. Rather a frivolous one, but it’s one of those things that normally make it only into a pub debate in palaeontolgoical circles (and with good reason) but that doesn’t mean it’s not talking about in public if only becuase it is fun and a great excerise in ‘what if…’ science.

So this time out, assuming we could, why should we clone dinosaurs? To see the answers provided, follow this link.


This time out that vexed question of opposable digits in theropod dinosaurs. At least some of you will be aware of a rather special dinosaur that will hopefully flower in the literature soon with important implications for this area (and a few others) but for now you’ll have to stick to troodontids. As ever, follow the link to get to the answer to “did troodontids have opposable thumbs?”.

Just to make thngs clear after bit of recent confusion, the point of these posts is to link to interesting  discussions on the AAB website, you are not supposed to answer the questiosn here. The answers are already provided. That is not to say that I dont welcome further questions or disucssion on here (or additional questions on AAB) but that there’s not a lot of point is providing a simple answer here.


Data for palaeontological research can come from a variety of unusual and unexpected places. Without direct fossil evidence, some things can be almost impossible to determine, but not necessarily. So, how do you know if extinct big cats had a mane?


This is a fascinating question and one with a very limited answer. That’s no reflection on the answer or the person giving it, but it does show just how little we know about some things and how far we have to go to learn more. Even in those animals we think we have studied incredibly intensively (like rats and fruit flies) there is still a ton more to learn. As I noted recently, biology is hard! The question is a poser, certainly: can ferrets see in infra-red?


Daspleto rt lat edited skull




@Dave_Hone on Twitter


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 580 other subscribers