Giant prehistoric penguin is reconstructed in New Zealand

I just blogged about giant fleas in the Jurassic.  Now, I’ve got to mention the giant Penguin that has just been reconstructed from fossils found in New Zealand.  The penguin lived about 26 million years ago and does not look like any modern penguins.  It was about 1.3 m tall (approximately 50 inches), and weighed about 60 kg (around 132 lbs), which is about 50% larger than the biggest modern penguins.

It also had vestigial wings, much larger than current day penguins, which might indicate an intermediate species between the common ancestor to all birds and the modern species.  Based on its body shape, it probably could go deeper and faster than modern penguins.

via Giant prehistoric penguin is reconstructed in New Zealand | Science | guardian.co.uk.

Dinosaurs assist the Confederacy in the Civil War

Dinosaurs attacking Union Soldiers.

Recently, documents have been uncovered that have provided evidence that during the Civil War, Union paleontologists found a lost valley in Virginia where dinosaurs still survived 65.5 million years after the last one died.  In a typical move, the Federal Government took over the project and had the Union Army attempt to train the dinosaurs to fight against the South.  The dinosaurs rebelled, killed the Union soldiers and helped the South win the war. Continue reading “Dinosaurs assist the Confederacy in the Civil War”

BBC News – La Nina ‘linked’ to flu pandemics

BBC News – La Nina ‘linked’ to flu pandemics.

An interesting article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences correlates the La Niña conditions in the equatorial area of the Pacific with flu pandemics.  The authors propose that the La Niña conditions (which upwell colder water to the surface, changes migration patterns of migratory birds.  Since birds are one host for the influenza virus, these changed migration patterns may change how the birds interact with other species moving new influenza subtypes into different parts of the world.

We are, however, a long way from predicting a pandemic based upon a La Niña event.  Right now, the authors can only correlate pandemics and the Pacific circulation patterns in just four cases:  the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, The Hong Kong Flu of 1958, and the Swine Flu of 2009.  It’s hard to make a case for causality based on these four data points, but the authors do lay out a compelling argument.

Whenever I critique a correlation vs. causation argument, I first determine if the causality is even possible.   I often make the argument that MMR vaccinations cause broken arms in 12-16 year old girls, because a small, but significant proportion of kids being vaccinated get broken arms (or car wrecks, gastroenteritis, an itchy nose, and angry comments to their parents).  However, there is no physiological, biological, or scientific reason why a broken arm might result from a vaccination.

In this article, the authors do make a scientifically plausible case that avian migration patterns do change in La Niña events, so they are on the path to providing outstanding evidence to support this hypothesis.