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Re: [SACC-L] Ardipithecus and David Letterman

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  • Philip Stein
    Mark, don’t expect a lucid explanation of cis-regulation from me. It has become very apparent that the basic Mendelian genetics that we teach in physical
    Message 1 of 34 , Oct 4, 2009
      Mark, don’t expect a lucid explanation of cis-regulation from me. It has become very apparent that the basic Mendelian genetics that we teach in physical anthropology has become very simplistic. While it is sufficient for an understanding of basic evolutionary theory, it does not truly represent today’s level of understanding. As our knowledge becomes more complex and specialized, it becomes more and more difficult for even experts to see the whole picture.
      We tend to view genetics in terms of DNA coding proteins. Ah, the simplicity of the good old days. Now we know that a great deal of DNA is involved in regulation—that where the cis-regulation comes in. Thus a simple comparison of the actual protein-coding regions of DNA really isn’t adequate to draw an accurate conclusion about the relatedness of animals based on their genomes.
      I’ve started reading through the Science articles on Ardipithecus. There is much more than simply a description of a fossil skeleton. White et al. draw many interesting theoretical conclusions. For example, they write: “…there is now no a priori reason to presume that human-chimpanzee split times are especially recent, and the fossil evidence is now fully compatible with older chimpanzee-human divergence dates [7 to 10 Ma] than those currently in vogue.”
      Returning to the subject of genetics, I would be very interested in hearing how others handle genetics in their physical anthropology courses. I have to confess that I’m teaching less genetics today than I used to for a number of reasons. First, there are so many exciting topics in physical anthropology in the areas of paleontology and primatology that I simply don’t want to spend a lot of time going over the basics of genetics. I want to teach anthropology, not biology. Second, genetics has become so incredibly complex today that it has become virtually impossible to teach a group of general education, science illiterates the details of cell division and protein transcription. So I spend 2 weeks on genetics, giving the class what they need to understand evolutionary theory, but not much more. But I am feeling a little guilty. How do the rest of you handle this?

      --- On Sat, 10/3/09, Mark Lewine <mlewine@...> wrote:

      From: Mark Lewine <mlewine@...>
      Subject: Re: [SACC-L] Ardipithecus and David Letterman
      To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Saturday, October 3, 2009, 9:15 PM


      We are very fortunate to be close to O. Lovejoy at Kent and the Cleveland Museum team here, and they are very generous with helping teachers at our community colleges and high schools with the latest finds and interpretations. I want to share and get some responses to one comment that I just received from Lovejoy after I asked him to explain what he thought was most significant about chimp-bonobo- human evolutionary similarities and differences;
      " bonobos and commons are, of course, equally distant from humans since their split is post-divergence. BUT I think 1) too much has been made of base pair similarity rather than cis-regulation, and 2) I think the divergence is old--8-10 mya...Papers address this and are free at Science on line...O."
      Now he tried to explain this cis regulation to me and I am not sure I got it right: it seemed to me that he is saying (along with others that really understand genetics) that evolutionary changes are reflected in a few most significant trait patterns that regulate important features such as limb length among primates. I tried reading further about this and came up with an article that almost made sense to me, but would appreciate Phil or others in the bio side explaining this cis regulation deal.

      One other comment about Lovejoy: I know that when he first published his "provisioning hypothesis", he meant it to be a serious attempt at stimulating a shared search for an interdisciplinary syncretic approach to this fundamental question about human and hominid evolution. The reaction in the scientific and anthropological communities was mostly political and specialized. ..parts were disputed by specialists, political feminists attacked him...almost no one attempted to deal with the whole theory. It seemed more of a comment on over-specialization trends in science and even in our field that no full discussion took place. Give him credit for continuing to try, while grounding his science at all times in the latest genetic and bio-mechanical analyses. Bob's comment that his provisioning theory is "old" is true and I have seen that comment now several times elsewhere. I just wish that we could also hear some actual arguments about his theory taken as a
      whole, with provisioning related to the complex adaptative pattern that Owen argues fits the record.

      From: Bob Muckle
      To: SACC-L@yahoogroups. com
      Sent: Saturday, October 03, 2009 8:55 PM
      Subject: [SACC-L] Ardipithecus and David Letterman

      The pr machine behind Thursday's media blitz on Ardipithecus did some wonderful job. Wonderful in the context of getting publicity I mean. Within 24 hours, some 600 plus articles appeared in the popular press. Kate Wong of Scientific American was tweeting from the press conference. Some science journalists blogged about it, videos were released, on-line discussions were occuring on facebook,... and more. Now it is going to be interesting to see how it all plays out, critically I mean. Now we wait for the critical evaluation of the interpretations. The hobbit (H. floresiensis) was pretty big back in 2004, but not Ardipithecus big. I can never recall any kind of scientific report being so hyped, in any science.

      (On an aside, it is kind of interesting to see some old ideas re-appearing. ..like Owen Lovejoy of the Ardipithecus team re-invigorating the male-provisioning hypothesis ....and Elaine Morgan on ted.com and elsewhere bringing back the aquatic ape hypothesis. It rather reminds me of the rock groups of the 60s and 70s that disappeared for a few decades and now have found new life on the casino circuit).

      David Letterman's revelations on Thursday of his own sexual indiscretions, and experience with extortion and blackmail had nothing on Ardipithecus. I don't mention Twitter much in my classes and it is not required that students read any of the things I tweet either on my own twitter account or the one I set up specifically for Anthropology students at my institution. So, I was somewhat surprised when I went in to my Friday class and there were far more students that were aware of the Ardipithecus reports than the sexual life of David Letterman.

      I sense that there was quite a bit of excitment in the world of biological anthropology on Thursday. It will be interesting to see, this time next year...how many infants will be named 'Ardi.'


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    • Monica Bellas
      I didn t get a chance earlier to thank everyone for your suggestions. I am incorporating a few ideas for my syllabus, and will also be speaking to them the
      Message 34 of 34 , Dec 20, 2009
        I didn't get a chance earlier to thank everyone for your suggestions. I am incorporating a few ideas for my syllabus, and will also be speaking to them the first day of class about how I managed to get through college despite marriage, two kids, and working.

        Thanks again!

        Monica Bellas

        Cerritos College

        Norwalk, CA

        To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
        From: lloyd.miller@...
        Date: Thu, 29 Oct 2009 17:02:34 -0500
        Subject: Re: [SACC-L] Suggestions for student/prof expectations


        I did almost the identical thing some years ago (I retired in 2000).
        I scolded the entire class for a total of about 15 minutes, then
        walked out, telling them that if they wanted to talk to me, I'd be in
        my office for the rest of the class hour. I guess they were somewhat
        stunned; the few who did come by said as much and something to the
        effect of, "Gosh, we didn't know you cared that much!"

        So in subsequent syllabi, I included a section of what I expected of
        them (courtesy toward me and each other, attentiveness, preparation
        for class--I can't remember it all, but something like if you're not
        going to at least show good student behavior, don't come to class. I
        offered extra credit for good attendance). They could expect from me
        that I would also be prepared for class, that I would grade and return
        to them promptly tests and other assignments. I would show them the
        respect due them and treat them fairly and equitably; again, I can't
        remember all I had, because in later years I changed my message to
        them somewhat, but kept the same intent and spirit.

        I will send you a pdf of several pages of a syllabus by separate email
        because the listserv doesn't accept attachments. One item on it is
        titled, "Some Characteristics of Successful Students" that I got from
        a colleague in psychology. It presents good student behavior to them
        impersonally as a study rather than as a direct exhortation from me to
        them. I'll also send you a pdf of Tom Wayman's delightful poem, "Did
        I Miss Anything?" that we reprinted in SACC Notes, Vol. 12, No. 2 2006
        (in case you didn't save all your issues of SACC Notes in gold-
        embossed, leather-bound volumes). :)


        On Oct 29, 2009, at 3:39 PM, Monica Bellas wrote:

        > I have a question which I'm sure the many experts on the listserv
        > can answer. I just scolded (very strongly) my students in one of my
        > sections for not reading their textbook and not studying for their
        > exam. I'm seriously thinking about included a list of "expectations"
        > for future students, which would be part of my syllabus. (I would
        > also include a list of what they should expect from me.) Has anyone
        > done this before? If so, what did you include? (Please note I'm not
        > talking about an "Honor Code," but what I expect from them.)
        > Thanks so much,
        > Monica Bellas
        > Cerritos College
        > Norwalk, CA
        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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