The First Record: The Oldest Fossils (February 4-8)

Hard to believe we’re already in the fourth week. We are a class behind because of our “too cold for school” day, but we’ll gradually catch up. With this online material I’ll pretend we’re on schedule!

We will begin with continued discussions of origins, especially hypotheses about the origin of life. Please be sure to look at the links listed for last week on this topic. We will also examine the earliest fossil record, which goes back at least 3.5 billion years. Rhode Island College has a nice page on the six kingdoms of life, which makes a good start. For an updated summary (and way more than we can cover) the Wikipedia page on the evolutionary history of life is very good. Our whole course in one page! Just read the first parts relevant to this topic for now. Here is a good article on the oldest fossils we know thus far (in the traditional meaning of fossils).

Your first lecture examination is on Friday, February 15. For preparation, linked here is a sample test and the Fall 2018 student HOL test #1 answers. I highly recommend reading it through. The student answers are not necessarily the best, but they were good enough to receive full credit. Note that there are always topics we covered in the past that we may not have done this semester, and vice versa. Test seating: Students with last names starting with A through L in Room 205 (our regular room); M-Z in Room 216 (across the lobby). Test doors open at 7:50 a.m.; all tests due at 8:50 a.m.

Trace fossils from the Gog Formation (Middle Cambrian), Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.

Geology in the News –

Mutant blue-eyed coyotes invading California! Two interesting themes for us here; mutations (and thus far there is no indication that this one is being selected for or against) and the amazing spread of coyotes throughout the urbanized West. Evolution in action.

Your classmate Dan gives us this older study suggesting that Medieval diseases like The Plague and smallpox may have selected for mutations conferring immunity to HIV infection for some modern Europeans. Grim, but a good example of natural selection for humans.

We live in an anti-science age in which scientists and scientific ideas have lost considerable credibility with the public. Here is an interesting take on why we should not call this a “war on science” as so many do. Such aggressive language usually has a negative effect on audiences. What we should do to restore respect for the scientific method and discourse is unclear.

Here is a related study of the public attitudes towards science these days. When it comes to assessing evidence, “people think more like lawyers than scientists“. It is not education levels, knowledge, or even interest in science — people often cherry-pick those “facts” that support their preconceptions. It is the end of the Enlightenment Age.

NASA has released Hubble Space Telescope images showing “the farthest-ever view” of the Universe. Stunning. A triumph of science, creativity and investment. Beautiful perspective, too.

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