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Friday, April 21, 2006
New Fossil Snake with Legs
A newly discovered fossil snake has two small legs and a pelvic bone, placing it very near the base of the snake evolutionary tree. Najash rionegrina, discovered in Argentina, was found in terrestrial deposits, lending strong support to the hypothesis that snakes evolved on land rather than the sea, an issue in hot dispute amongst herpetologists.

Pharyngula reprints the abstract from Nature, along with pictures of the bones, and the hypothesized placement of the species on the evolutionary tree.

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4 Comments on "New Fossil Snake with Legs"
Ahh, the process of science continues to add empirical evidence and to advance our understanding of the natural world.

I wonder how may folks understand that scientific knowledge is tentative? And that phylogentic analyses produce hypotheses of relationships that may indeed be overturned with new evidence?

Anonymous Laja @ Sun Apr 23, 08:59:00 AM EDT  
I don't imagine most people know what phylogenetics is, much less acknowledge/understand the basic tentative nature of scientific findings. It is a shame that the country is so scientifically illiterate....argh!

Anonymous Felid @ Sun Apr 23, 09:24:00 AM EDT  
Most of us have difficulty with the idea that knowledge is tentative. Many people appear attracted to simple, definitive answers (especially answers with a seemingly high degree of certainty) - and particularly when delivered by an authority figure.

One of the difficulties is, unfortunately, that people don't trust in their own ability to think through an issue to arrive at a (tentative) conclusion. They don't want to think for themselves - it is hard work and quickly leads to areas of uncertainty in their own knowledge. Some will seek out the information necessary to address gaps in understanding - and accept that the knowledge to date is imperfect. Others will take the easier route - and rely on some voice of authority to tell them what to think. And people in positions of authority, like parents, religious leaders or politicians, take advantage of this to great effect. For an example from politics, just look at the confidence-inspiring spin on the flimsy evidence used to justify the war in Iraq.

A second difficulty is that folks don't "like" to change their minds in light of new evidence. This is interesting - why is it so socially unattractive to change your mind in light of new evidence? It is a necessary part of the way science advances knowledge, but it is considered an anathema to the general public. Just think back to how easy it was for the Bush election machinery to label it's opponents as "wafflers" - and how damning that was in the public's eyes....

Anonymous Laja @ Tue Apr 25, 08:24:00 AM EDT  
Interestingly, there is a non-theist philosophy that has identified the desire for permanence in life as the root of all suffering. The insight is pretty compelling, given how difficult it is for most of us to accept change in our lives and in our thinking. Accepting impermanence appears to be a significant cognitive challenge for humans.

A marked contrast to accepting impermanence can be found in the theistic belief systems, like those popular in the USA. In such belief systems there are traditions (books, ceremonies, etc.) that instill local cultural "norms" of behavior. Indoctrination in such beliefs hinges on appeals to predetermined authority figures that are often characterized as all-knowing and all-powerful entities. From such an entity comes the unchangeable and the unchallengeable "Word of X" which is conceptually embued with an unassailably high "Truth-value". It is a simple reicpe really: believe in "X" because what "X" says is "True" for all time. This is really a very cunning method to take advantage of our human tendancy to prefer simplicity over complexity, and our desire for permanence over impermanence.

Anonymous Felid @ Tue Apr 25, 09:54:00 AM EDT  
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