Tag Archives | science lessons

R you ready for this? Statistics for free!

If you’ve listened to the show for a while or if you’ve been reading the paleocave blog from the beginning (like when we actually used to update it regularly), then you might know that I’m rather fascinated with statistics. Imagine my delight a few years ago when I found out that one of the most powerful statistical tools available (the one that most of the cool kids use) was available for free! That tool is called R.  It’s a great tool but a terrible name.  R is named both for the developers Robert Gentleman and Ross Ihaka (Robert and Ross), and as a sort of pun because it was an open source rewrite of the S language. That’s cool, I guess, but R as a name is horrible search engine optimization. Oh well, keeps out the riff-raff I suppose.

The vast majority of people would call R a programming language. Real computer programmers (the kind of people that argue about Ruby vs Perl) will tell you it’s not really a ‘language,’ it’s a ‘programming environment.’ Whatever, I don’t think I really know the difference.  Don’t get intimidated, because it’s pretty easy to do as much or as little as you want in R.
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Diagraming Evolution, or How to read a Cladogram

Remember the Linnaean system of classification you probably learned in grade school or high school (heck, maybe even college)? It went something like this…

Kingdom -> Phylum -> Class -> Order -> Family -> Genus-> Species

Linnaeus started using this classification system in the 1700s and he had a good run; we still use his system in certain situations. However, we’ve moved away from this ranking system mostly because of the discovery of transitional fossils that screwed with Linnaeus’s idea of neat little boxes for all of life to be categorized into. This system falls apart, for example when you have two equivalent ranks, let’s say class Osteichtyes (boney fish) and class Amphibia (amphibians), and find a transition between the two.

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Triceratops is Safe and Sound

Numerous popular press outlets reported last week that Triceratops was going the way of the dinosaur (haha) and that Triceratops was no longer a valid genus name because it was potentially just an example of a juvenile stage of a dinosaur with another name, Torosaurus. Here are some examples. At Science… sort of you would think that we would not be swayed by the popular press, we would go straight to the primary literature, read the study ourselves and then report on what the actual scientists said, maybe even interview them. Wrong; we made the same blunder that many popular press outlets did in our podcast episode 48 – No Frills. When it came down to it, we were rushed to put a show together and had already read too many pop press accounts of the Triceratops article that many a member of the Paleoposse had sent us. As a result, we gave the primary literature only a quick once over before we (or at least I) thought we understood the crux of the argument.

Oh, did we miss the boat. Continue Reading →

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10 Animals You Probably Didn’t Know About

Well if you are the kind of person that goes around reading articles with titles like “10 Animals You Probably Didn’t Know About” then maybe you already know about these, but most people don’t.

1. Pangolins

You may have actually heard us mention this on Science… sort of, but there were no pictures then, and you might have thought to yourself, I think I know what they were talking about. You didn’t. Here’s a picture. Continue Reading →

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