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Should we revisit ethically dubious experiments from the past?

New Scientist Feed - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 2:00am
From deadly Nazi medical experiments to sociological studies on children, past science has taken paths we wouldn't tread today, but the results still have value
Categories: Science

Mute crickets can’t chirp but rub their wings together anyway

New Scientist Feed - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 1:00am
Male Hawaiian crickets that have lost the ability to chirp still go through the motion of “singing”, even though females can’t hear them
Categories: Science

True believers, entrepreneurs, and scammers in alternative medicine

Science-based Medicine Feed - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 12:17am
In the online echo chamber promoting alternative medicine, there are varying degrees of deception. There are true believers (who are often victims), entrepreneurs (who are often true believers who found a profitable business), and scammers. The categories are not mutually exclusive.
Categories: Science

It Turns Out, Andromeda is Younger Than Earth… Sort Of

Universe Today Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 5:34pm

Since ancient times, astronomers have looked up at the night sky and seen the Andromeda galaxy. As the closest galaxy to our own, scientists have been able to observe and scrutinize this giant spiral galaxy for millennia. By the 20th century, astronomers realized that Andromeda was the Milky Way’s sister galaxy and was moving towards us. In 4.5 billion years, it will even merge with our own to form a supergalaxy.

However, it seems astronomers were wrong about the Andromeda galaxy in one major respect. According to recent study led by a team of French and Chinese astronomers, this giant spiral galaxy formed from a major merger that occurred less than 3 billion years ago. This means that Andromeda, as we know it today, is effectively younger than our very own Solar System, which has it beat by about 1.5 billion years!

The study, titled “A 2-3 billion year old major merger paradigm for the Andromeda galaxy and its outskirts“, recently appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Led by Francois Hammer, the Principle Investigator of the Galaxies, Etoiles, Physique et Instrumentation (GEPI) department at the Paris Observatory, the team included members from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Strasbourg.

For the sake of their study, the relied on data gathered by recent surveys that noted considerable differences between the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies. The first of these studies, which took place between 2006 and 2014, demonstrated all Andromeda has a wealth of young blue stars in its disk (less than 2 billion years old) that undergo random motions over large scales. This is contrast to the stars in the Milky Way’s disk, which are subject only to simple rotation.

In addition, deep observations conducted between 2008 and 2014 with the French-Canadian telescope in the Hawaiian Islands (CFHT) indicated some interesting things about Andromeda’s halo. This vast region, which is 10 times the size of the galaxy itself, is populated by gigantic currents of stars. The most prominent of which is called the “Giant Stream”, a warped disk that has shells and clumps at its very edges.

Using this data, the French-Chinese collaboration then created a detailed numerical model of Andromeda using the two most powerful computers available in France – the Paris Observatory’s MesoPSL and the National Center for Scientific Research’s (CNRS) IDRIS-GENCI supercomputer. With the resulting numerical model, the team was able to demonstrate that these recent observations could be explained only by a recent collision.

Basically, they concluded that between 7 and 10 billion years ago, Andromeda consisted of  two galaxies that had slowly achieved a encountering orbit. After optimizing the trajectories of both galaxies, they determined that they would have collided 1.8 to 3 billion years ago. This collision is what gave birth to Andromeda as we know it today, which effectively makes it younger than our Solar System – which formed almost 4.6 billion years ago.

What’s more, they were able to calculate mass distributions for both parent galaxies that merged to formed Andromeda, which indicated that the larger galaxy was four times the size of the smaller. But most importantly, the team was able to reproduce in detail all the structures that compose Andromeda today – including the bulge, the bar, the huge disk, and the presence of young stars.

The presence of young blue stars in its disk, which has remained unexplained until now, is attributable to a period of intense star formation that took place after the collision. In addition, structures like the “Giant Stream” and the shells of the halo belonged to the smaller parent galaxy, whereas the diffuse clumps and the warped nature of the halo were derived from the larger one.

Their study also explains why the features attributed to the smaller galaxy have an under-abundance in heavy elements compared to the others – i.e. it was less massive so it formed fewer heavy elements and stars. This study is immensely significant when it comes to galactic formation and evolution, mainly because it is the first numerical simulation that has succeeded in reproducing a galaxy in such detail.

It is also of significance given that such a recent impact it could have left materials in the Local Group. In other words, this study could have implications that range far beyond our galactic neighborhood. It is also a good example of how increasingly sophisticated instruments are leading to more detailed observations which, when combined with increasingly sophisticated computers and algorithms, are leading to more detailed models.

One can only wonder if future extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) will draw similar conclusions about our own galaxy once it merges with Andromeda, billions of years from now. The collision and resulting features are sure to be of interest to anyone advanced species that’s around to study it!

Further Reading: Paris Observatory, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

The post It Turns Out, Andromeda is Younger Than Earth… Sort Of appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Dr. Kip Thorne—Gravitational Waves, Black Holes, Time Travel, and Hollywood feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 2:00pm
If you have trouble watching the Facebook Live Recording on mobile devices, watch here instead.

Kip S. Thorne (photo by Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden (Kip S. Thorne EM1B8790) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Join us for what promises to be one of the deepest and most profound conversations we’ve had in our Science Salon series as Dr. Thorne reflects on his life and career in theoretical physics, his pursuit of the detection of the long-elusive gravitational waves through the LIGO detector, his relationship and bet with Stephen Hawking, how he came to consult on Carl Sagan’s Contact and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, his curious work on black holes, wormholes, and time travel, and what it’s like to go to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize.

Discussion in the main lecture hall at the École de Physique des Houches (Les Houches Physics School), 1972. From left, Yuval Ne’eman, Bryce DeWitt, Kip Thorne. (Photo by A. T. Service (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Categories: Critical Thinking, Skeptic

The voice of Joyce

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 1:00pm

I believe these are the only extant recordings of James Joyce reading his work. They’re on the Public Domain Review, and add up to about 12½ minutes. Even though they’re fragments, I listened to them because I wanted to hear his voice. To me he doesn’t sound Irish, but sort of a hybrid between Irish and English. (Those with a better ear might correct me.)

The two sections are from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; the former from the Aeolus episode (the one with the newspaper headlines); the latter a bit about Anna Livia Plurabelle. I like the latter better, and it almost seems to make sense out of that big gallimaufry of a book. (Full disclosure: I’ve read Ulysses but was defeated early on by Finnegans Wake. In desperation, I read Edmund Wilson’s essay on the Big Book, but just got depressed that that great critic could grasp it so well, while I remained mystified). 

Aeolus (all notes from the website):

Joyce made this recording in Paris at the HMV studios at the insistence of Sylvia Beach (the woman behind Shakespeare and Company, the publisher’s of Ulysses), although HMV would only loan out their equipment at a cost and would have as little to do with the recording as possible. Beach recounts:

Joyce himself was anxious to have this record made, but the day I took him in a taxi to the factory in Billancourt, quite a distance from town, he was suffering with his eyes and very nervous. Luckily, he and Coppola were soon quite at home with each other, bursting into Italian to discuss music. But the recording was an ordeal for Joyce, and the first attempt was a failure. We went back and began again, and I think the Ulysses record is a wonderful performance. I never hear it without being deeply moved. Joyce had chosen the speech in the Aeolus episode, the only passage that could be lifted out of Ulysses, he said, and the only one that was “declamatory” and therefore suitable for recital. I have an idea that it was not for declamatory reasons alone that he chose this passage from Aeolus. I believe that it expressed something he wanted said and preserved in his own voice. As it rings out – ‘he lifted his voice above it boldly’ – it is more, one feels, than mere oratory.

Anna Livia Plurabelle:

This recording of Joyce reading was made in 1929 by C.K. Ogden (the linguist, philosopher, and inventor of Basic English) in the studio of the Orthological Society in Cambridge. Ogden boasted of the two biggest recording machines in the world and wanted to do a better recording of Joyce than the Ulysses recording of 5 years earlier which he regarded as being of very poor quality. Sylvia Beach again:

How beautiful the “Anna Livia” recording is, and how amusing Joyce’s rendering of an Irish washerwoman’s brogue! This is a treasure we owe to C. K. Ogden and Basic English. Joyce, with his famous memory, must have known “Anna Livia” by heart. Nevertheless, he faltered at one place and, as in the Ulysses recording, they had to begin again. Ogden gave me both the first and second versions. Joyce gave me the immense sheets on which Ogden had had “Anna Livia” printed in huge type so that the author-his sight was growing dimmer-could read it without effort. I wondered where Mr. Ogden had got hold of such big type, until my friend Maurice Saillet, examining it, told me that the corresponding pages in the book had been photographed and much enlarged.

I like these better than recordings of Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot reading their work (with the exception of the ensemble play Under Milk Wood, which you must listen to); those other dudes seemed to recite their poetry in a monotone.

Click on the screenshot to go to the recordings (you can also download the mp3s). The text is given should you want to read along. But I wish they’d recorded the last few pages of The Dead!

h/t: Stephen

Categories: Science

Babies can recover language skills after a left-side stroke

Science News Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 12:45pm
Very young babies who have strokes in the language centers of their brain can recover normal language function — in the other side of their brain.
Categories: Science

Here’s the raven!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:45am

Did you find the raven in the photo below?

Find the raven in the postcard

Categories: Science

Catholic teacher fired for same-sex marriage; colleagues warned to stay away from such weddings

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:00am

It’s about time that the Pope has a revelation, and gives some pronouncement ex cathedra, that people can marry others of the same sex.  People happen to fall in love with others of their sex, and there’s no good reason, save an antiquated and fictitious book, to keep them from formalizing their relationship.  I don’t know how, given their history, that Catholics will eventually stop demonizing gays, but if they don’t they’ll lose adherents. Even if the Vatican isn’t moved by the moral suasion, they might be moved by Catholics voting with their feet. You don’t have to eat fish on Friday any more, so clearly the Church can change its tune.

The New York Times (click below) recounts the story of how a great teacher—one beloved by her first-grade students at a Catholic school in Miami—was fired because she married what she called “the love of my life.” That very phrase makes me tear up, and to think that she’d lose her job because of that is shameful. But go ahead, read the story:

Jocelyn Morffi (left above) was fired three days after marrying her girlfriend of two years, Natasha Hass.  The Archdiocese of Miami explained in an email that Morffi was fired “because she violated a contract stipulating that teachers must abide by Catholic teachings and traditions.” By all accounts, Morffi was a “faithful Catholic”. Her “sin” was falling in love with another woman.

The Church wouldn’t clarify what the violation was, but we all know, and so did Ms. Morffi on her Instagram account:

As if that’s not bad enough, the NYT reports that other teachers were put on notice (my emphasis):

Four teachers attended the wedding, one of them told The Times on Wednesday. She asked not to be named out of fear for her career.

After Ms. Morffi was fired, the teacher said, they were called into a meeting with school officials. She said they were warned that if they wanted to continue working for the school, they could not post pictures or attend events that would be considered supportive of same-sex marriage.

The human resources representative at the meeting “didn’t straight out say you’ll be fired if you do, but that’s what she led us to believe,” the teacher said, adding that she was disappointed about how the situation was handled.

“We pick and choose what is considered wrong and what we’re going to enforce, and I think it’s like a joke,” she said.

The teachers were also asked to read a memo written in 2015 by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted.

The memo cited a statement from the Catholic Bishops of Florida that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said that if employees did not lead lives that were consistent with Catholic teachings it could lead to firing, even if the behavior in question occurs outside of work.

Although Dade County, where Morffi worked, has legal protections for gay people, they don’t apply to religious organizations. Morffi’s former students are confused and upset, and the school, out of a screwed-up adherence to outdated morality, has lost a fantastic teacher:

Ms. Morffi was an exemplary teacher, several parents said, and one friend described her as a faithful Catholic.

She encouraged students to distribute food throughout Miami’s poor neighborhoods through a nonprofit she created called Teach Hope. She volunteered as a basketball coach. And Ms. Mills recalled that every morning, as Ms. Morffi’s students filed into class, she played feel-good songs, like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Well, it’s their loss, and I hope somebody snaps up Morffi soon. Best of luck to her with that, and with her new partner.  And the Church can just bugger off.

(From NYT): Ms. Morffi, left, and Ms. Hass. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

Categories: Science

I get email threats

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 9:30am
This is the first email I read when I got up this morning. The name and email address are surely fake, and the title of the email, oddly enough, was “Interesting paper about hybrid speciation”. I reproduce the email exactly as I got it: Anonymous Anonymous <> Hello,

I’m sick of religious fanatics like you trying to shove gOD down my fucking throat. I don’t even need to read your blog to figure out you’re just another Kurt Wise preaching creationism while raping innocent nigger children hypocritically. I’m hacking into the mainframe to find your address right now and when I do don’t be surprised when you wake up with a dick in your mouth and your eyes gouged out. That’s what you get when you mess with Antifa and side yourself with DRUMPF supporters you goddamned motherniggering kike.

James Affleck

Now this person is clearly deranged, if for no other reason than they have no clue about my stand on creationism or my religiosity. Still, this is one of the few nasty emails that I consider a threat, though I’m not really scared.

I have the full email headers, and am inclined to report this to the authorities. But to whom? The local police? The FBI? And are there cybersleuths among the readers who might be able to track this person down from the full email header?

Categories: Science

Garbage in, garbage out: Foerster misinterprets the Paracas skulls, again

Pharyngula Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 9:20am

The paranormalists are all a-buzz right now because Brien Foerster has announced the results of a DNA analysis of the Paracas skulls — the extraordinarily deformed skulls of high caste Peruvians from several thousand years ago. The skulls look weird, warped into conical shapes, so they’ve long been the focus of people like Lloyd Pye, who wants to argue that they’re the remains of extraterrestrials. Or Nephilim, fallen angels. Or ancient hominids from a completely different lineage than Homo sapiens. They aren’t very consistent in their explanations.

Anyway, here’s Foerster announcing the ‘intriguing’ results of having sent off samples from Peruvian skulls to various commercial labs.

I can tell you what part has the fringe groups most excited: Foerster explains that all native american peoples…are of haplogroup A, B, C, and D, but in this set of skulls, the most common haplogroups that showed up were U2, E, and also H, H1a and 2. If you look at where the most prevalent percentage of U2 and the H1s are, it is in between the Black and Caspian seas, as in, the Caucasus Mountains. These people weren’t aliens, or supernatural beings, they were…WHITE PEOPLE. Ta-daa! As we all should know, brown people in South America, or Egypt, or the Mississippi river valley, or anywhere for that matter, could not possibly have developed sophisticated cultures, and white people, or Jews, must have traveled there in ancient times and taught them everything they know.

Man, it’s not surprising at all to discover racism rotting deep in the heart of the ancient astronaut community. He also seems oblivious to the fact that identifying human haplogroups in these skulls tells us that they were fully…human. Not angels, not aliens.

Foerster has a long history of obsession with these skulls.

Brien Foerster managed to persuade Juan Navarro Hierro, director (and owner) of the Paracas History Museum (sic: on the sign outside the museum, the name is given first in English, then, smaller, in Spanish) to part with some tissue samples. He claims that he did this because “[t]he only way to establish the actual age, and possible genetic origins of the Paracas people is through DNA analysis of the skulls themselves”. Dating human tissue by means of DNA analysis is such a new technique that I can find no other use of this remarkable development in any other archaeological investigation. Of course, there is no such dating technique: this is Brien Foerster displaying his ignorance of archaeological dating techniques!

Where did he choose to send the samples? To some prestigious university department, well known for its work on ancient DNA? No. Instead, he chose to send them to Lloyd Pye (1946-2013), a crank who believed in ancient astronauts, the extraterrestrial origins of humanity and, worst of all, touted the “Starchild Skull” as an alien/human hybrid. Why? This suggests that, far from being a dispassionate researcher, Brien Foerster has a preconceived agenda and it’s one that involves aliens. Although his original page lists his affiliation as “University of Victoria, Biological Sciences, Department Member”, his association with the university is as a graduate, not a member of faculty. [Update 11 April 2015: he has a new page that more honestly describes him as an undergraduate.]

That’s from a few years ago. I guess the accusation that his DNA analysis was done by a crank stung a bit, because these latest results were obtained by sending samples to professional, commercial labs. He mentions that one lab refused to send him results, which he attributes to malign motivations, but more than likely it’s because his samples were crap.

In 2016, Jennifer Raff gave a talk on the sloppy methodology of these pseudogenetics researchers, and specifically discussed the poor technique used by these cranks.

As you can see from the image, the individuals attempting to sample DNA from this mummy made some attempt to cover themselves, but it’s entirely inadequate for ancient DNA work. There is exposed skin on every individual in the room, the gentleman’s beard and hair are uncovered, and at one point they start squirting water all over the mummy, claiming that because it’s distilled, it won’t introduce contamination. Wrong. All water used in ancient DNA work has to be purchased from vendors who guarantee that it’s certified DNA free. Distilled water has lots of DNA present in it. Any one of these things could have (and probably did) introduced contamination to the sample they tested.

Yeah, so Foerster’s results are meaningless garbage, tainted with contamination from, no doubt, “Caucasian” investigators who slobbered all over the skulls. None of that will stop Foerster, or his ignorant followers. He promises to publish the results in a book with none other than LA Marzulli, another notorious crackpot. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this on the History Channel in the near future.

Categories: Science

Find the raven!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 8:30am

Here’s some more persiflage: our first “spot the. . .” quiz that isn’t a photo. It’s a drawing on an old British postcard. There’s a raven hidden in it! Can you spot it? Answer at 1 pm Chicago time (h/t: Matthew).

Find the raven in the postcard

Categories: Science

Trouble ahead: Delaware allows students to self-identify by race as well as gender

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 8:15am

First, recall the case of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identified as black and managed to convince others that she really was an African American. Dolezal eventually worked her way up to becoming chairman of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in Spokane, Washington. When she told the local police that she’d been the victim of multiple anti-black hate crimes, her white parents finally outed her. The police found no evidence of those crimes, and she was ostracized for pretending (even if she really believed) that she was a member of a different race. Dolezal resigned from her position at the NAACP and then was dismissed from her job—instructor in Africana studies at Eastern Washington University—as well as being removed as head of the local ombudsman commission of the police department.

The anger from the black community (and many others) at a white woman passing for a person of a different race mystified me a bit. It seemed to me that Dolezal really did self-identify as black; she wasn’t playing some kind of trick or trying to deceive anyone. And if race is a “social construct”, as gender is said to be, then why couldn’t you say you’re black if you feel as if you’re black—just as you can say that you’re a woman if you feel as if you’re a woman, even if you were born with the biological sex of male? (You can’t argue that there’s a difference because the gender dysphoria rests on hormonal titer and neurology, while the racial feeling doesn’t, for Dolezal’s feeling that she was black clearly derived from her brain wiring. In both cases there’s a biological aspect to the feeling of being trapped in the wrong body.) But transgender identity is accepted by most people, while transracialism is not.

To my mind, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be permitted to choose the gender you identify with and not be allowed to choose the race you identify with if both are “social constructs”.  And I don’t really care if people determine their identity this way, though, as I show below, some authorities will have to care.

Indeed, the philosophical equivalence of transgenderism and transracialism was the subject of a now-infamous but decent article in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. The article was written by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and was called “In defense of transracialism“ (it’s free online if you have the free and legal app Unpaywall). Tuvel, after examining the justifications for transracialism and transgenderism, concluded this:

I have taken it as my task in this article to argue that a just society should reconsider what we owe individuals who claim a strongly felt sense of identification with another race, and accordingly what we want race to be. I hope to have shown that, insofar as similar arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play a greater role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized. I conclude that society should accept such an individual’s decision to change race the same way it should accept an individual’s decision to change sex.

Tuvel, however, did not automatically accept that Dolezal truly self-identified as black. But that was irrelevant to her argument, which was comparing the philosophical justifications for accepting transgenderism and transracialism.

As you can imagine, Tuvel’s views couldn’t be allowed to stand! While Tuvel’s conclusions are reasonable, it’s not ideologically convenient for the Authoritarian Left to allow people to identify with another race. After all, that could give someone from a more “privileged” group, like whites, the justification to identify with a less privileged group, as Dolezal did. And that is unacceptable, for those in the latter group will argue that “You can’t claim you’re black since you haven’t had the black experience nor been oppressed when you once identified as white.” (That’s the same argument that “trans-exclusive radical feminists”, or TERFs, make against accepting transgender women as “real” women—they haven’t had have “the female experience” when they were brought up, and haven’t suffered the oppression that is said to go with such an upbringing.)

At any rate, that authoritarian ideology is behind the huge opprobrium that came down on Tuvel for writing what, after all, was simply a philosophical examination of political positions. (See my articles on this controversy here, here, and here.) Some of Hypatia‘s associate editors apologized publicly for “the harms that the publication of [Tuvel’s article] had caused”, hundreds of her colleagues called Tuvel a “transphobe” (she’s clearly not), letters were written to the journal calling for the retraction of her article (it’s still there), two of the journal’s editors (including the main editor) resigned, and the journal’s board of directors suspended the duties of all associate editors pending an investigation and restructuring. Wikipedia now has an article called “The Hypatia transracialism controversy.” which reproduces part of the statement from the associate editors:

We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused.

. . . To compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation. We recognize and mourn that these harms will disproportionately fall upon those members of our community who continue to experience marginalization and discrimination due to racism and cisnormativity.

Objectively, no harms were done, except perhaps to people’s feelings, and those I ignore. Her article dealt with an interesting issue in a reasonable way. And what Tuvel was doing was not comparing Dolezal with a whole group: she was comparing the arguments for Dolezal’s identity to those for transgender identity.

If ever there was an academic witch hunt, and risible behavior by scholars who should know better, this was it. You may not agree with Tuvel’s arguments (I find them pretty convincing), but no sane person can say she deserves the kind of personal attacks she experienced.

Now the whole business is going to start up again, for, as Delaware Online reports (here and here), Governor John Carney of Delaware has directed his Department of Education to come up with a policy that protects children of any race or gender (self identified or not) from discrimination and bullying.  That policy allows transgender students to use whatever restroom and locker room they identify with, and also stipulates that a student can, with his or her parents’ permission, stipulate what gender and race he or she must be recognized as belonging to. Further, the student can use a name different from his/her birth name. If the school deems the parents “not supportive” of the student’s choice, the school can use the student’s self-identified gender, race, and name without consulting the parents. Here’s the part of the bill that’s causing trouble:

Here’s the pdf file of the entire bill, with this being the contentious part:

The bill is designed to bring the schools in line with Delaware’s state prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.  Curiously, only 14 of the 50 states prohibit LGBTQ students from discrimination at school, and 18 against bullying. Actually, no student should be bullied, for any reason, and action should be taken if they are. But I think these restrictions are legal ones, so criminal or civil action can follow if discrimination or bullying takes place based on the criteria above. But shouldn’t the same kind of action be taken against bullying for any reason?

The parents and some Delaware school boards are objecting, of course—largely on the basis of the Dreaded Bathroom and Locker Room Issues. As I’ve said before, a transgender student should be accommodated in those respects as far as possible, but that accommodation must also consider the well being of the other students. So, for example, I see no problem with mixed-sex bathrooms, especially having stalls, but more of a problem if a transgender female who still has male genitals wishes to change in the girls’ locker room. There one might have to put up curtained changing booths.

What brings up more problems, however, is the self-identity principle, both for race and sex. Here are some of the questions it raises:

  1. If a self-identified woman student who is biologically male wants to apply to a women’s college, how far should her transition have gone before she can attend? Will a simple assertion of gender identity suffice, with no attempt to transition, suffice? That’s a decision for the college, and I have no opinion about it. (Are there still any colleges that are all male?)
  2. How will school athletics be handled with respect to self-identified genders that don’t match their biological sex? The concern is usually that a self-identified female who is biologically male, and thus has the male upper body strength, will join a girl’s team and clean up. The Olympics has ways of handling this based on hormone titer over time, but now schools will have to develop their own policies. Again, I leave this in the hands of the experts.
  3.  If a white person claims they’re of a minority race, will they then be allowed to apply for scholarships or other perks reserved for blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities? (This is not a problem for the reverse identification: minorities identifying as white, for there are, so far as I know, no special perks reserved in statutes for whites alone?)

So down the line the schools will have to handle the problem that Rebecca Tuvel discussed. They’re already dealing with transgender issues, and now they’ll have to deal with transracial ones. Will they treat them differently, being harder on the claims of transracial students? Only time will tell.

Whatever the schools do, expect a revival of the transgender vs. transracial fight among Leftists, who haven’t yet become aware of this regulation. As I said, I don’t care what a student wants to be called or considered (well, I may draw the line at animal “otherkins’), but I’m glad I’m not in the position to have to make decisions about athletics or set-asides for members of minority ethnic groups.

Categories: Science

Oglaf has got to quit reading my mind

Pharyngula Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 7:30am

Really, it’s kind of creepy.


“The world is better dead than full of your filthy spawn” is exactly what I’d say to Peter Thiel.

Categories: Science

The Doomsday Preppers of New Zealand

Pharyngula Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 6:51am

I’ve known a few doomsday preppers — there’s even a TV show about them, and it’s part of the Mormon ethos — and they’ve always seemed tawdry and lacking in forethought, for all their obsession with an apocalyptic future. Let’s stockpile a 5 year supply of dried beans! Make sure you get the really good camping gear from REI! It’s as if they can sort of vaguely imagine a transition into chaos, but rather than adapting to it or building new cooperative institutional structures, they plan to ride it out by burrowing into their basements and chowing down on stockpiled canned goods until the crisis is over and they can re-emerge into their nice suburban tract home and resume watching TV. Armageddon will be a blip that will briefly derail their workday, but won’t perturb them much as long as they’ve mastered the art of canning pickles.

And then there are the macho American rednecks who fantasize about the fall of civilization, because then there will be no one to tell them that they can’t haul out their armory and run around shooting people — in fact, the path to glory and power will consist entirely of racking up the most kills, gunning down the weak and becoming the chief warlord. The more realistic end-of-the-world novels (The Postman comes to mind) recognize that the real danger that follows catastrophe is that kind of asshole, who will compound the problems and demolish the emerging social structures needed for humanity to recover. Although, I don’t know — maybe the endlessly repetitious, boring kill-and-be-killed chaos of The Walking Dead is more realistic…humans might just end up wandering from settlement to settlement, blowing them up and scattering violence further, hacking and slashing until blessed extinction comes.

They’re all thinking small, though. If you’re an obscenely wealthy Silicon Valley vampire, you have to dream big and wallow in the grand deadly visions of this book, The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. Mark O’Connell summarizes the book.

It presents a bleak vista of a post-democratic future. Amid a thicket of analogies to the medieval collapse of feudal power structures, the book also managed, a decade before the invention of bitcoin, to make some impressively accurate predictions about the advent of online economies and cryptocurrencies.

The book’s 400-odd pages of near-hysterical orotundity can roughly be broken down into the following sequence of propositions:

1) The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.

2) The rise of the internet, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, will make it impossible for governments to intervene in private transactions and to tax incomes, thereby liberating individuals from the political protection racket of democracy.

3) The state will consequently become obsolete as a political entity.

4) Out of this wreckage will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a “cognitive elite” will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals “commanding vastly greater resources” who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

It’s a wealthy libertarian fantasy, and it’s just as much a fantasy as any bad apocalyptic novel. It’s the same structure. There will be a mighty disaster, all the people you don’t like will suffer and be slaughtered (but they don’t matter), while you hold the secret to survival, be it canned beans, bigger guns, or a ranch in New Zealand, and will emerge unscathed, and even stronger than before. They all rely on a disgust with the current order — the Mormons wanted godlessness and sin swept away to clear the path to an LDS theocracy, but it takes a libertarian to see roads and hospitals and schools as the worldly evil that must be destroyed. They all imagine an emergent New Order with themselves at the center, in this case a “cognitive elite”. How do you know they’re a cognitive elite? Because they have lots and lots of money. As we all know, wealth is always a sign of merit.

O’Connell’s story is all about the Arch Vampire, the selfish villain, Peter Thiel. He’s getting ready for the end of the world by modeling his world view on two fictions, as the “Cognitive Elite” do, The Sovereign Individual and The Lord of the Rings (there must also be a third, the works of Ayn Rand, but they aren’t mentioned in this article), and so he must of course buy up land for a bolt-hole in New Zealand. It’s remote, it’s beautiful, Peter Jackson filmed his Tolkien movies there, so it’s perfect. All the cool entrepreneurs who have profited off the information economy are eager to strip the current system bare so they can move on to the next fertile field, which they will strip bare to fuel their next assault. Sorry, New Zealand, it’s your fault for looking so lovely and attracting all the parasites.

The story discusses a sort of art installation, a set-piece game called the Founder’s Paradox that illustrates how the Thiels of the world operate.

The aim of Founders, clarified by the accompanying text and by the piece’s lurid illustrations, was not simply to evade the apocalypse, but to prosper from it. First you acquired land in New Zealand, with its rich resources and clean air, away from the chaos and ecological devastation gripping the rest of the world. Next you moved on to seasteading, the libertarian ideal of constructing manmade islands in international waters; on these floating utopian micro-states, wealthy tech innovators would be free to go about their business without interference from democratic governments. (Thiel was an early investor in, and advocate of, the seasteading movement, though his interest has waned in recent years.) Then you mined the moon for its ore and other resources, before moving on to colonise Mars. This last level of the game reflected the current preferred futurist fantasy, most famously advanced by Thiel’s former PayPal colleague Elon Musk, with his dream of fleeing a dying planet Earth for privately owned colonies on Mars.

The libertarian ideal is unregulated rapaciousness followed by moving on and abandoning what they’ve destroyed. It’s a locust’s dream. It’s what short-sighted opportunists fantasize about. Even some scientists are susceptible to it. If Earth becomes a dying planet, it’s because the greed of humans killed it…and in particular, the billionaires who think sucking the world dry is just fine because they’re planning to escape it. We have to recognize that the end game of capitalism is self-destruction.

All I can say is, if you meet the Sovereign Individual on the road, kill him. It’s a moral imperative.

Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 6:15am

Reader Joe Dickson sent me many batches of pictures, and here’s one with diverse wildlife.  His notes are indented.

First, the “teaser”:

We returned just today from a trip to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge complex, about 200 miles north of this pair.  I have about 1500 photos, so it will take a couple of weeks to select, sort (mostly delete) and edit the new set.  Meanwhile, attached is a teaser – geese flying into the refuge just at sunrise so they appear illuminated from below.

Here are shots from a December trip primarily to see wintering waterfowl in the Merced and San Louis National Wildlife Refuges over in the California Central Valley, with some nice non-waterfowl bonuses. The most striking concentrations were Ross’s goose (Chen rossii) and snow goose (Chen caerulescens), often in mixed flocks and difficult to distinguish at a distance.

Although more dispersed, ducks were also present in the thousands, mostly northern shoveler (Anas clypeata), cinnamon teal (Anas cyanoptera) and northern pintail (Anas acuta) pictured in that order below.

The most common wader was the black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).


Large flocks of geese flew out from the wetlands early in the morning, only to be found foraging in nearby fields.  All those I got close to seem to be Ross’s.

It wasn’t all waterfowl and waders. Here is a nice red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

A rather laid back coyote (Canis latrans).

And a Black-tailed deer (a subspecies of mule deerOdocoileus hemionus columbianus).

Finally, we did not see sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) on the ground this time but did catch them flying from farm fields back into the refuge in the evening.

Categories: Science

Still more on the color illusion

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 5:45am

Well, a reader demonstrated in an email that the hearts in the color illusion below really were slightly different colors. That reader won an autographed book from Matthew.

There appear to be greenish hearts and bluish ones, though they are the same color.

— Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka) February 16, 2018

HOWEVER, reader Mel made his own illusion, so we know that here the colors of the squares are really identical. His notes:

To demonstrate the phenomenon a bit more cleanly I constructed the following image using a spreadsheet. I used very small cells (0.3 cm x 0.3 cm) and filled them with various colors and then took a screenshot. The image still shows the illusion and only three colors were used in constructing the image (magenta, orange, blue-green).

And another demonstration using magic markers. I think the efficacy of the lines in fooling viewers about the color has been shown. We’ll now leave this illusion behind and move on.

How to make a lightness illusion

— Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka) February 18, 2018

Categories: Science

Sunday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 5:00am

Good morning on Sunday, February 18, 2018. It’s It’s National “Drink Wine” Day (why the scare quotes?), which I commemorated yesterday but was wrong. That day is today, so drink some wine.

I have little to say about this day because I prepared a dialogue yesterday and the events all turned out to be on NOVEMBER 18. For some reason I can’t fathom, I’m always confusing November and February (perhaps I have a mirror image of the year). So here are a few events as I recoup:

On this day in 1885, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) published  the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the U.S. Now schools are busy banning it. As Wikipedia notes, on February 18, 1911, “The first official flight with airmail takes place from Allahabad, United Provinces, British India (now India), when Henri Pequet, a 23-year-old pilot, delivers 6,500 letters to Naini, about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) away.” Why they would use a plane to fly 6500 letters only 10 km, unless it was an experiment, is a mystery to me. On this day in 1930, Pluto was discovered by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh while studying photos taken the previous month. It’s now classified not as a planet, but as a “dwarf planet.”  I reject that classification. There are nine planets in our solar system: the first is Mercury and the last is Pluto. (Do not attempt to argue with me.)  On this day in 1954, the first Church of Scientology opened in Los Angeles. To see what that “faith” does to people, watch the following video featuring Tom Cruise and David Miscavage. It includes Cruises’ famous Scientology meltdown and clips of him receiving an award from Miscavage at the Scientology convention in 2004.

On this day in 1970, the Chicago Seven were found not guilty of inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. (The more of them you can name, the older you are! I came up with five.)  On this day in 2010, WikiLeaks published the first of a gazillion classified documents disclosed by the soldier now called Chelsea Manning. Finally, on February 18, 2013, the Great Diamond Theft occurred at the Brussels Airport, with thieves taking $50 million worth of diamonds. 31 people were arrested for this in May of that year, and some (but not all) of the diamonds were recovered.

Notables born on this day include Wallace Stegner (1909), Helen Gurley Brown (1922), Yoko Ono (1933; she’s 85 today), Cybill Shepherd (1950), John Travolta (1954), Vanna White (1957), and Molly Ringwald (1968). Those who breathed their last on February 18 include Fra Angelico (1455), Michelangelo (1564), J. Robert Oppenheimer (1967), Harry Caray (1998, who now consorts with real Holy Cows), and Dale Earnhardt (2001).  As far as I can see, Michelangelo never drew a cat, but many have been created under his inspiration, like these:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili smells something odd:

Hili: Facinating! A: What? Hili: Exactly—what? In Polish: Hili: Fascynujące!
Ja: Co?
Hili: No właśnie, co?

Here’s a tweet found by Matthew, which pretty much holds for all pet cats:

Cat's busy #Caturday schedule:
-post-breakfast prowl
-2nd breakfast
-pre-sleep snooze
-Main Sleep
-another snooze
-global domination
-harrass human for supper
-feign death from starvation
-turn up nose at supper
-flounce off in huff
-eat supper

— Kate Bevan (@katebevan) February 17, 2018

And there was a big catfight on Downing Street yesterday between Larry, the Official Mouser to the Cabinet Office, and Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat. Larry (left) clearly lost; he’s always been a wuss, and can’t even mouse properly!

Drama at Downing Street this morning – Larry the cat has a face off with Palmerston from the Foreign Office. Fur and collar ripped off in the cat fight. @GMB

— Nick Dixon (@NickDixonITV) February 16, 2018

Sheep ball!

Animals are amazing! RT if you agree!

— The Humane League (@TheHumaneLeague) November 24, 2017

This is sweet and very sad:

My youngest has had my old phone for a couple of years. Just for games, which I download for her before disconnecting the internet. Still has my old contacts though & it turns out she’s been messaging my dad, who died 5 years ago. I may have something in my eye.

— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) February 17, 2018

Grania found an interesting-looking tuxedo cat fascinated with her tail:

Human: My cat has an easy life

— Curious Zelda (@CuriousZelda) December 20, 2017

Categories: Science

Wake up! Baby goats are prancing!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 4:02am

Nobody should be sleeping now if there’s this to watch. (Be sure to turn the sound on.)

Categories: Science

All in favor

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 6:02pm

A national school walkout has been proposed for 14 March, to protest the lack of action on gun control after yet another shooting.

I’d support it and tell my students they could stay home that day, except that they’ve scheduled it for our spring break so we’ll all be staying home anyway.

Categories: Science


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