Friday, May 29, 2009

So how did it go?

The interview turned out to be quite long after all, and rather enjoyable, although these type of things always make me nervous. We were a panel of three: a catholic preist (whose name I didn't catch due to my hyped up state before the interview)and Jens Franzen, the lead author on the Darwinius paper. Straight off the bat the religious aspect was deflated by the priest stating categorically that the church accepted evolution as the correct mechanistic explanation for the diversity of life and that this was an unguided naturalistic process (I must admit I was surprised to hear a member of the clergy accepting an unguided evolutionary process), as long as god was the creator of the whole show. I was then asked whether or not Darwinius was 'the missing link' urggh! So I attacked the idea of 'missing links' as a valuable concept at all and explained that Darwinius was a primate, like us, but simultaneously quite ancient and distant from us as far as primates go. Towards the end of my little speech I mentioned that its real significance was that it may have been a bit more closely related to anthropoids (monkeys, apes and humans) than to lemurs and thus may have been a very early member of the haplorhine branch of the primate family tree. I was quite equivocal about wether this was a firmly established scientific case. This may have antagonised Jens Franzen a little who went into quite a long discussion about why it was a haplorhine and not a lemur relative. The interview was rapidly in danger of becoming much like a technical question and answer session at a palaeontological conference (mores the pity that it didn't) so the topic was changed and Jens was asked many things about the discovery of Darwinius and its dating. This part of the interview was very informative. Of course the produces wanted more of the religion angle so we were asked our opinion of 'intelligent design'. The prist denounced it saying that it required an intervenionist god to create each lifeform sepparately which is flatly at odds with the evidence. I joined in with some fairly scathing remarks along the lines that it was a scam cooked up by the young earth creationists to get their particular narrow literal biblical interpretation taught as science in American schools. It of course isn't science and it failed in court.
And that is about it. I was told afterwards by several people that I came across clearly and confidently - which is great because I certainly didn't feel it.

UPDATE. Yes there is an MP3, you can download it from here.
I need to say three things here. 1) The preist was Father Anthony Egan - my apologies for not remembering.
2) My voice is not so clear, probably because I was on a cell phone at home.
3) the faint cries heard in the background was Matthew, who decided he wanted milk urgently, sometime during the middle of the interview.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Radio Interview

For those of you in South Africa* - I'll be interviewed on classic FM at 7.30 tonight. Apparently they want a palaeontologist's opinion on the religious implications of Ida, the new fossil primate that everyones all het up about. Religious implications?! There AREN'T ANY! Should be a short interview.

*huh! who am I trying to kid, I'm sure I have no readers left at all after the long dark silence that has descended over my blog

Monday, May 18, 2009

Organisms I Hate: Khaki Bush

Allow me to vent my spleen a little. Although I revel in biodiversity and am fascinated by so many orgnaisms there are some I just plain hate. This is one of them. Khaki bush/mexican marigold (Tagetes minuta)- an unpleasant stinking weed that grows profusely where-ever I need to do field work in South Africa. These tenaciously sticky seeds come off from the seed heads at the slightest touch and embed themselves in any form of clothing. After walking through a field of these you can end up looking like you are covered in black spiky fur.

This was what I bought me out into the field over the weekend - a partial dinosaur skeleton from an odd mudstone lens way up in the Clarens Formation, where dinosaurs are rare. Somewhat disappointingly it turned out to be just another basal sauropodomorph. Oh well.