Sorry for being absent!

Hey guys, I just want to apologize for not posting much the last couple of days. I’ve been recovering from my Idaho trip, but also preparing for my Alaska trip. I’ll be gone from Wednesday June 24th at noon to Tuesday July 7 at noon. I won an Undergraduate Student Research Award for the ASM conference, which means I’ll actually be giving a 15 minute talk there. For those of you not familiar with biology conferences, it’s kind of crazy for an undergrad to be doing anything more than presenting a poster, and even that’s unusual. So yeah, I’ve been working my butt off the last couple of days making sure my Powerpoint presentation is perfect and that I’m really comfortable with the material. I think it’s going to go well!

I’ve also been working to make a lot of posts that will go up once I’m gone. I will probably have internet the first week while I’m still at the University of Fairbanks, but after that I’ll be hiking. There’s a possibility I’ll have internet through my phone, but I doubt it since I’ll be in the middle of nowhere. Even if I do, the most I’ll be able to do is twitter, so if you really can’t make it two weeks without me (hopefully not…), follow me there.

Don’t forget to also send me random questions! Either comment here or email me at jmccreig(at), and I’ll try to answer your questions in posts.

Atheist Shirt & Airports

I mentioned before I left that I may wear my atheistic club t-shirt for my return trip home as a sort of social experiment. I’m not sure what I really expected – maybe some funny looks or the occasional glare. The front of the shirt isn’t too in-your-face just because the font is sort of small, but the back is kind of provocative: it has Robert Ingersoll’s quote “The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of infidels.”
Well, I wore it. Caught the bus to the Pullman, Washington airport (tiny place, only conference people leaving) then left for Seattle. Then Seattle to Chicago, then desperately running to my plane to go to Indianapolis (made it!). I hadn’t noticed any reactions, really. This could be for a couple reasons. One, I was working on four hours of sleep, so maybe I wasn’t as perceptive as usual. Two, the back of the shirt is the more controversial side and I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, so maybe I missed all of the glares. Or three, people in airports are too busy worrying about their own flights to care about some chick’s atheist shirt.

As I was getting off of my plane in Indianapolis, a guy probably in his late 30s or early 40s moved in front of me, turned to me looking at my shirt, and mumbled something. All I heard was “*mumble* shirt.” For all I knew, it could have been “nice shirt” or “fucking shirt” or who knows what. I just sort of smiled awkwardly, but then he kept talking.

“Non-theist, eh? So is that not quite an atheist?” he asked. When I’m talking to people where I don’t know their views on issues, I tend to give very dictionary-like answers. “Well, non-theist is an umbrella term for atheists, agnostic, or other nonreligious people. It includes all of them.” “Hmm, what’s that other one?” he asked. “Secular…secular something.” “Secular humanist?” “Yeah, that’s it! Well, cool shirt, I like it.” I felt really relieved at that point. “You don’t know how good it is to hear someone say they like it. I get the opposite response more often.” He laughed and we walked to the baggage claim together. It only took about a minute for me to be sure that he was some sort of non-theist. We ended up discussing Dawkins, Dennett, various atheist philosophy, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and my work with the club. Apparently his dad was a philosophy of religion professor, so he actually knew more than your average non-activist atheist might. We ended up talking for nearly 20 minutes (baggage took forever) and it was pretty awesome.

I’ll probably never see this guy ever again, but it was really fulfilling to randomly meet another nonreligious person who you could have a civil conversation with. I guess that’s why I like wearing the shirt to begin with. I don’t want to get the glares and dirty looks, which I have certainly gotten. I still remember the mother with three small children who was staring at me like I had horns growing out of my head. No, I put up with the dirty looks for the rare friendly one. Those make it totally worth it.

Social experiment a success =)

(Also, related post by Hemant on reactions to atheist shirts)

Grrr American Health Care

My dad just got the bill for my exciting trip to the doctor for my bronchitis last month. It was nearly $1,000! Holy hell. $400 was just for going to the emergency room, since I don’t have a family physician down at campus and I had a 103 degree fever, so I needed to go somewhere quick. Our lovely insurance is only paying $350 (to quote my dad, “Those crooks. I hope Obama puts them all out of business). Thankfully my family isn’t poor, but we’re not rich either, and having to pay $650 so someone can tell my I have bronchitis (which I could have guessed, since I was around my friend who had it) and prescribe me meds is pretty crappy.

I don’t claim to understand all of the inner workings of insurance, but this seems a bit ridiculous to me. I hardly ever get sick enough to go to the doctor. Other than regular physicals required for school and sports and my bronchitis last month, I think the last time I had to go was when I broke my foot when I was 5. So tell me again why we’ve put all this money into an insurance company for me, and then when I actually get sick, they only pay a tiny fraction of a cost? They won’t even pay for my birth control or my Gardasil vaccines because they consider it “optional” instead of “preventative.” Instead I shell out $600 bucks a year to make sure I don’t spit out a baby or having crippling periods. They should be paying me to make sure I don’t clog up the welfare system with another kid and that I finish earning my degree so I can some day have a wonderful job that stimulates the economy and cures cancer (or something like that).

Sorry to rant, but it’s pretty annoying. I know insurance companies love people like me who never get sick but keep putting money into the system. I just wish that when I do get sick, they would actually do their freaking job.

Home! And Q&A

Hey everyone! I’m finally back in good ol’ West Lafayette. Flights went well and I have a couple stories to tell, but right now I’m just going to enter a vegetative state and skim through my 250+ blog posts I’ve accumulated. Oi. Look for real posts later tonight or tomorrow.

Though on a semi-real note, I need something from you guys. I’ll be in Alaska from June 24th to July 5th to attend the American Society of Mammalogists meetings and to go hiking. I have no idea how much internet access I’ll have – it’ll probably be somewhere between limited or absolutely none. I want to prepare some posts before I leave so you don’t have a big drought, and I don’t want to just post silly videos.

This is where I need you. Let’s have a little Q&A session. Either comment here with a question you’d like me to answer, or email me at jmccreig(at) with “Blag Hag” in the title somewhere. You can ask whatever you want no matter if it’s atheism/biology/blog related or something absolutely random. I figure you guys haven’t known me for very long, so there’s a lot you can ask. I’ll pick my favorites to answer. Don’t be afraid to be silly or philosophical, but also don’t expect me to dole out my credit card number or something.

Or if this is totally lame, I guess you can just ignore my blog from June 24th to July 5th. But I hope you won’t do that!

Almost done

I should probably have a lot more to post about now that the conference in almost over, but I’m so brain dead that I can’t come up with much. Hearing technical biology talks (80% of which are over my head) from 8 to 5 is just mentally exhausting after a while. That being said, I really enjoyed the conference. There’s so much cool science going on out there, and now I have all these neat ideas floating around in my head. And while the whole grad school application process still freaks me out, I feel like I have a lot better idea of what I need to do since we had some talks about that.

Though honestly, the best part was just being around so many nerdy biologists. It was amazing sitting in a bar, and instead of hearing people talk about sports, hearing people talking about transcriptome characterization or population genetics or who knows what. Everyone just went into absurdly geeky mode. Take this dinner conversation, just one example out of many:

My Prof: Those are all the Oregon State people over there, and those are all the Michigan people sitting there.
Me: And all of us Purdue people clumped together here.
My Prof: Yeah.
Me: So overall we have a diverse population, but when you look at subpopulations there’s very low variation.
My Prof: Yep!

One more, just if you don’t believe me:

Me: Excuse me! *trying to scoot past someone to get in a seat* Sorry!
Guy: Oh, don’t worry, it’s an open niche that needs to be filled!

My flight leaves 6:45 am tomorrow and I’ll be back in my apartment around 7 pm (hopefully). I plan on wearing my atheist club shirt for that trip, so we’ll see if I get any fun stories out of that. You know you’re officially a blogger when you start doing random crap just for the potential blog posts.

Heathen Mecca

Conference is going well so far. Saw talks by Eugenie Scott, David Sloan Wilson, and some professors I’m interested in for grad school who were really nice. Also saw an awesome professor from Canada who gave his whole talk (titled Origins & maintenance of sex: The evolutionary joy of self sex) not wearing shoes (yay hippie evolutionists). Though the best thing by far is how often people giggle about creationism and Intelligent Design, how people joke about us all being heathens and atheists, how when people refer to religion or religious people they’re doing so as outsiders like religion is this weird cultural phenomena (instead of actually believing it)… For the first time, I am somewhere where I am an atheist and I am a part of the majority. I can’t explain how awesome that feels. Thank you, Evolution 2009.

Maybe one day I’ll feel this way all the time. Maybe I just need to move to England.