Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Beware the asexual agenda

"The swift extinction of asexuals, and the absence of big asexual groups, suggests that sex is essential for long-term evolutionary success: giving up sex is a Bad Idea, a kind of evolutionary suicide."

Barack Obama may be hogging the headlines today, but the best thing in the papers is the latest Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Olivia Judson, the evolutionary biologist who explains things in her bailiwick to us clueless mopes better than anyone else.

Judson is writing about creatures called bdelloid rotifers (pronounced in the usual way), tiny animals that reproduce without making whoopee. The trouble with this kind of abstinence, she writes, is that there's no supply of new genes to strengthen the organism for the battles of natural selection.

But wait: It has been discovered that the merry bdelloids may have survived for 85 million years because they're sneakily picking up genes from other, wholly unrelated organisms they swim with in puddles.

It's another endlessly engrossing piece by a gifted writer-scientist.

Can religion be ignored in politics?

By the way, speaking of Obama, one obvious conclusion to draw about this cycle's Democratic and Republican primaries is this: Politicians should stay the hell away from preachers, whether they be on the Religious Left or the Religious Right. The easiest way to do that, of course, is not to go to church at all. But that would piss off all too many voters who measure the governing potential of a candidate by his -- or her -- professed commitment to the Lord. Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don't.

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