October 28, 2004
Discovery of previously unknown species of miniature human
The Sidney Morning Herald reports that the remains of a previously unknown species of miniature human, about the size of a modern three-year-old, that co-existed for tens of thousands of years with our own species and might have died out only 500 years ago (yes, you read that right – five hundred years ago) was recently found in a cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores. Link to American press coverage.
The discovery of the species, published today in the journal Nature, is being hailed as one of the most important in a century in the study of human origins. Until now, it had been thought our only recent cousins were the Neanderthals in Europe, who died out about 30,000 years ago. Click here to read the Nature's coverage of this amazing discovery.
Professor Mike Morwood, an archaeologist from the University of New England said the little people were thought to have evolved from larger archaic humans, Homo erectus, who managed to sail across to Flores from Java about 800,000 years ago.
"They weighed around 25 kilograms and had a brain smaller than most chimpanzees," Professor Morwood said. "Even so, they used fire and made sophisticated stone tools. Despite tiny brains, these little humans almost certainly had language."
They evolved into dwarfs, like the elephants on the island, because small creatures had a better chance of survival on a remote island where there was little food and no major predators.
Homo erectus spread from Africa to Asia more than a million years ago, but were eventually replaced by our species, Homo sapiens, who left Africa about 120,000 years ago, according to the leading theory of human movement.
The little Homo floresiensis species survived on Flores long after Homo sapiens had moved into the region and begun to colonise Australia and New Guinea 50,000 years ago.
Bert Roberts, of the University of Wollongong, said there were a lot of detailed folk tales on Flores about little people. "These stories suggest there may be more than a grain of truth to the idea that they were still living on Flores up until the Dutch arrived in the 1500s," Professor Roberts said. "The stories suggest they lived in caves. The villagers would leave gourds with food out for them to eat, but legend has it these were the guests from hell. They'd eat everything, including the gourds."
October 27, 2004
Bush Administration suppresses scientific information on global warming
James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told a University of Iowa audience on Tuesday that the Bush Administration is trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed.
Mr Hansen said the administration wanted to hear only scientific results that "fit predetermined, inflexible positions." Elaborating, Hansen explained that the scientific community generally agreed that temperatures on Earth were rising because of the greenhouse effect - emissions of carbon dioxide and other materials into the atmosphere that trap heat. These rising temperatures, scientists believed, could cause sea levels to rise and trigger severe environmental consequences, he said. Mr Hansen said such warnings were consistently suppressed, while studies that cast doubt on such interpretations received favourable treatment from the Bush administration.
Mr. Hansen also said that reports that outlined potential dangers of global warming were edited to make the problem appear less serious. “This process is in direct opposition to the most fundamental precepts of science," he said.
This information came to me through an online subscription to the Sidney Morning Herald. Bob Whitson has an in depth look at how, under the Bush administration, science has become a partisan issue.
August 03, 2004
This weekend I found a baby bird with its eyes still closed and barely covered with pin feathers on my patio. As a result, in the past few days, I’ve learned a great deal about rescuing baby birds.
First, if the bird has its eyes open, is more or less fully feathered, but seems unable to fly, leave it alone. Young birds live on the ground for two – three weeks after they leave the nest. Its parents watch over it, and continue to feed it.
Second, if the bird’s eyes are closed or it is not fully feathered, pick it up and put it gently back in its nest. Its mother has a very poor sense of smell, and she will welcome the little fellow back. (Unless she pushed it out of its nest in the first place, which she will do if she finds the bird to be defective. The Rogers Wildlife Bird Sanctuary representative, here in Dallas, told me about a single eyed Robin fledgling that she rescued and raised to maturity that was rejected by its mother for this reason.)
Third, if you can’t find the nest, put the bird in a lined box and get it to a wild bird rescue facility as soon as possible. If the rescue facility is closed and you need to keep the bird overnight, get some dry Science Diet cat food. Soak it in water, and feed the fully moistened nuggets to your little bird, with a pair of angled tweezers every time the little guy squawks for food. This will be about every twenty minutes – sun-up to sundown. Don’t give the bird water, to drink, either in a dish or by eye dropper. It does not need water, in this fashion, and it will drown. Don’t give the bird milk. Only mammals drink milk.