Ernst Haeckel and radiolarians

I’m going through old books at home, currently a stack of “Horizon,” a hard-backed quarterly from the American Heritage Publishing Company. (The contributors range from Arnold Toynbee to T.S. Eliot. I’m reluctant to send them to the Goodwill.) The Spring 1976 issue contains “The Stately Mansions of the Radiolaria,” by Stephen Jay Gould.

Here’s what he says about the much-maligned Ernst Haeckel:

Ernst Haeckel was the Thomas Huxley of Germany. A brilliant and indefatigable writer and lecturer, he became the continent’s chief publicist for evolution. His books certainly had a greater impact on the general public than those of Darwin. He is best remembered today for his intriguing, but basically incorrect theory that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”—that is, that individuals repeat the stages of their evolutionary ancestry during embryonic growth….

Haeckel also introduced a multitude of terms into our biological language—”plankton” among them. in his own day, he was a force to reckon with. He railed against the established church and the privileges of aristocracy, and hoped to establish an evolutionary humanism as the basis of ethical judgment. But when he was not fighting his cosmic and romantic battles, he liked to work on the taxonomy of radiolarians, for he was overwhelmed by the beauty and variety of their shells. He wrote an illustrated an enormous monograph to describe the radiolarians collected by a famous scientific expedition, the voyage of H.M.S. Challenger in 1872–1876.

In his monograph of 1877, Haeckel could do little more than catalogue in wonder. He estimated the number of known radiolarian species at 4,314, of which he described 3,508 for the first time [my emphasis] in that single work. Haeckel’s plates are a marvel of natural illustration, though in retrospect they contain as much imagination as observation. Haeckel was so convinced of the unerring geometric regularity of radiolarian parts that he drew many perfect symmetries not quite obtained by the real beasts.

This is a man who should not be dismissed in a single sentence about embryos if there’s space for more.

P.S. I made this comment over on the Pharyngula Endless Thread and decided to preserve it here.

P.P.S. Radiolarian plates.

Part of Plate 15 in Radiolarians


Christopher Hitchens appears

Christopher Hitchens came to the Texas Freethought Convention in early October to accept a Richard Dawkins Freethinker of the Year award. He took the time to recommend a reading list for a young girl who asked what she should read.

Centenarian runs marathon

For most people, 100 is too old to run a marathon. But not for one very spry gentleman. Fauja Singh, aged 100, finished the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in Toronto on 16 October 2011.

Just three days before, Singh — who’s known as “The Turbaned Tornado” — set eight world records at Scarborough’s Birchmount Stadium track for running distances as short as 100 metres to as long as 5,000 metres.

Reposted from Road of Iron.

Evolution of the bacterial flagellum

Dr. Ian Musgrave

Pace Michael Behe and William Dembski, bacterial flagella are not irreducibly complex. Here is Ian Musgrave’s clear explanation, “Evolution of the Bacterial Flagellum.”

Dr. Musgrave points out, “The specification of “ an outboard motor,” which provided the IC [irreducibly complex] system description of motor, shaft, and propeller, is a flawed human analogy to the actual flagellar system.” He also points out that Behe’s own definition of irreducibly complex systems excludes flagella, whose original function was not motility but secretion. Dembski, by building on Behe’s flawed description, in my opinion goes further astray into “Why bumblebees can’t fly” territory.

There’s much more! Read the article.

Case study: notorious spammer brought down

Tim Farley has gathered the timeline and sample threats to show how the Montreal Police were finally induced to take an interest in notorious death-threat spammer Dennis Markuze.

Knowing he was in Montreal and even having an address and phone number for his family, I figured the local police in Montreal would be the natural choice. They seemed unwilling to take my call. When I finally did get an answer from them, they said I had to complain to my local police department. Fair enough, my local police can verify my identity more easily, after all.

And so on a Saturday in January, I killed one whole afternoon at my local Atlanta Police zone office filling out paperwork with a detective. She told me I could get a copy of the incident report within a few days at another office.

Others did the same thing. Phil Plait gave a report to a sheriff by telephone. Michael Shermer told me he obtained a restraining order to ensure Mabus would stay clear of him. Canadian skeptic Steve Thoms and blogger Greg Laden also filed reports. There are no doubt others.

On February 10, 2011 I was finally able to get a copy of my report from yet another Atlanta Police office across town. I quickly took it to a local print shop and faxed it to the Montreal Police.

And nothing happened. For me or for anyone else.

Months went by. People got frustrated, and often complained on Twitter. Other victims such as @Inrideo and Travis Roy attempted to interest Canada’s RCMP to no avail.

Thank goodness for the persistence of people who reported Markuze time and again until it stuck.

PZ Myers wins International Humanist award

The face of a bearded, cheerful, middle-aged man with the Thames river and London in the background

Prof. PZ Myers

PZ Myers, author of the blog Pharyngula, has been named the International Humanist of 2011, at the 18th World Humanist Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Oslo, Norway. He’s now the distinguished author!

Commenter Strange Gods before Me pointed out:

This puts you [PZ] in very distinguished company (besides us [his loyal readers], I mean).

International Humanist Award

1970: Barry Commoner (USA), environmentalist professor, for his activities in the field of preservation of the world environment. Commoner played a major role in achieving worldwide commitment to the cause of ecology.

1974: Harold Blackham (UK), who played a key role in founding IHEU, for his long-standing involvement with ethical Humanism in Britain and his achievements in the field of moral education.

1978: V M Tarkunde (India), a former judge of the Bombay court, who had shown great courage during the state of emergency in his country. He defended the values of democracy and dealt with many cases that were related to the repressive measures of the Indian government in that period.

1982: Kurt Partzsch (Germany), a former Minister for Social Affairs of Lower Saxony, for his contributions to the cause of human well-being and for his initiatives in social work in particular.

1986: Arnold Clausse (Belgium). A professor emeritus of education, who as president of the Ligue Internationale de l’Enseignement had promoted a public educational system based on the principles of equal chances for all, free inquiry and high quality.

1986: The Atheist Centre (India), for their efforts to being Humanism in practice, by means of education, social work and their fight tagainst superstition and religious intolerance.

1988: Andrei Sakharov (USSR), atom scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, for his indefatigable struggle for the cause of human rights in his country, and for his Humanist ideals. The award was presented in absentia, as at that time the Soviet authorities refused to give him permission to leave the country.

1990: Alexander Dubcek (Czechoslovakia), in recognition of his attempts in the 1960s to give communism in his country a more human face. Dubcek, who after 1968 had to pay a heavy toll for his dedication to his ideals of democracy and humanity, stressed in his speech that it is morality and humanity that give meaning to life.

1992: Pieter Admiraal (Netherlands), a Dutch anaesthetist, for advocating the right of self-determination in the field of voluntary euthanasia.

1996: Nettie Klein (Netherlands) for services to IHEU as volunteer secretary general, 1982-1996.

1999: Professor Paul Kurtz (USA), in recognition of the immensely important role he has played for both the American and the international Humanist movements.

2002: Amartya Sen (India), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics, for contribution to the recognition of the purpose of development as the enhancement of individual freedom: to increase the choices available to ordinary people.

2005: Jean-Claude Pecker (France), a distinguished scientist, a member of the French Legion of Honour, a former President of the International Astronomical Union, and a stalwart Rationalist and Humanist.

2008: Philip Pullman (United Kingdom), author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a triumphant work of freethought.

The Congress is held every three years.

Sophie in ‘t Veld wins International Humanist Award

Sophie in 't Veld, MEP

Sophie in ‘t Veld was named an International Humanist of 2011 at the 18th World Humanist Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Oslo, Norway. Ms. In ‘t Veld is a member of the European Parliament for the Dutch democratic party D66. She is the chair of European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics. According to Google Translate:

Chairman of the IHEU Sonja Eggerickx praises in ‘t Veld’s commitment to privacy, women’s and gay rights, and its initiative for the establishment of the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP).

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