Want to learn more about the future of genomics?

My department is hosting a panel on “The Future of Genome Sciences” that is free and open to the public. Here are the details:

Panel Discussion: The Future of Genome Sciences
Monday, May 7th
7:00 pm, Kane Hall EDIT: 120
University of Washington
Seattle, WA
free, no registration required

The speakers will be:

Dr. Bruce Alberts who President Obama has appointed as one of his first Science Envoys.  Dr. Alberts is editor of Sciencemagazine, author of The Cell, and former President of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Natalie Angier who is a science writer for The New York Times and the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.  In 1991 she received the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.

Dr. James Evans who is the Bryson Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Medicine at University of North Carolina and directs the Clinical Cancer Genetics Services at UNC.

Dr. Keith Yamamoto who is Vice Chancellor for Research, Executive Vice Dean of the School of Medicine, and Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco.

The moderator is Dr. Maynard Olson, who is a Professor in the Departments of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington and is one of the founders of the Human Genome Project.

If you’re near Seattle, I hope I’ll see you there!

Christianity is bullshit, and I’m not apologizing for saying that

Religious bigots are furious with Dan Savage yet again. This time their rage is inspired by a speech Dan gave at the National High School Journalism Conference, where he points out the “bullshit” in the Bible and a trickle of Christians get up and walk out of his talk. Watch the video for a wonderful speech and the poor butthurt Christians leaving (in a single file line that starts in unison…smells like a planned walk-out to me):

Here’s a transcript of the speech for those of you who can’t watch the video:

“People often point out that they can’t help it. They can’t help with the anti-gay bullyings because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in Timothy, it says right there in Romans that being gay is wrong.  We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things.

The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slave owners waved Bibles over their heads during the Civil War and justified it. The shortest book in the New Testament is a letter from Paul to a Christian slave owner about owning his Christian slave. And Paul doesn’t say Christians don’t own people. Paul talks about how Christians own people. We ignore what the Bible said about slavery because the Bible  got slavery wrong. Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation points out that the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong: slavery.

What are the odds that the Bible got something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? 100%. The Bible says that if your daughter’s not a virgin on her wedding night – that a woman isn’t a virgin on her wedding night, that she shall be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death. Callista Gingrich lives. And there is no effort to amend state constitutions to make it legal to stone women to death on their wedding night if they’re not virgins. At least not yet. We don’t know where the GOP is going these days. People are dying because people can’t clear this one last hurdle. They can’t get past this one last thing in the Bible about homosexuality.

One thing I want to talk about is – ha, so you can tell the Bible guys in the hall that they can come back in because I’m done beating up the Bible. It’s funny that someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react to being pushed back. I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings but I have the right to defend myself, and to point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible and insisting that we must live by the code of Leviticus on this one issue and no other.”

I transcribed that speech so I’m sure you know exactly what Dan Savage said… because right-wing lunatics seem to have listened to an entirely different speech. Focus on the Family was the first time chime in, opportunistically on their bigoted anti-Day of Silence event:

“Using profanity to deride the Bible—and then mocking the Christian students after they left the room—is obviously a form of bullying and name-calling. This illustrates perfectly what we’ve been saying all along: Too many times in the name of “tolerance,” Christian students find their faith being openly mocked and belittled in educational environments. Incidents like this one stand in stark contrast to the principles we’ve continually espoused on our Web sites, truetolerance.org and dayofdialogue.com, which call for a free exchange of ideas and respect for different viewpoints, including those that are faith-based and socially conservative.”

You see, it’s exactly the same. On one hand, we have someone pointing out that certain ideas of an oppressive majority group are wrong. On the other hand, we have that oppressive majority group bullying children until they commit suicide because those children have a biological trait that the oppressive majority finds abhorrent because their invisible sky daddy told them so in a really old book. And Focus on the Family is pro-dialogue because they’re allowed to talk about their beliefs, but you have to shut up about yours.

Duh.

It’s not just Focus on the Family: the various conservative fundies have chimed in with the typical “Help, help, us poor Christians are being oppressed and bullied! Waaaah!” The concept of Christians being persecuted in the US is laughable, but I’m not laughing. Why? Because Christians who scream “persecution!” are doing it to silence dissent. It even worked on Savage, who apologized for calling the walk-out “pansy-assed” (which it was) and explained that he wasn’t calling Christianity bullshit:

“I didn’t call anyone’s religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—”untrue words or ideas“—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue. I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised. I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against—and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying “motivated by faith”)—because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong. Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don’t believe.”

Sure, not all Christians are hypocrites. We have the Westboro Baptist Church, Ken Ham, and other Biblical literalists as perfect examples of unhypocritical Christians. But they’re still wrong. They’re still following a bullshit book and a bullshit religion. And despite the whining of Focus on the Family, Christians deserve to have their faith mocked and belittled, because it is an idea worthy of only mockery and belittlement.

And I’m not just talking about the Phelps of the world. I mean the moderate and liberal version of Christianity too. Because it all boils down to believing in ludicrous superstition you have no evidence for, and much evidence against. That sort of thinking wouldn’t be tolerated or respected in our society if it weren’t for the unfairly special status religion holds. We can use “bullshit” to describe ideas like astrology, reptilian conspiracies, alien abductions, Big Foot… but God is off limits, despite being equally ridiculous.

That’s why Christian groups cry foul when someone points out flaws in their religion. It’s not their emotions that are so fragile: It’s their faith. Because Christianity, like all religions, simply cannot stand up to questioning. It’s why so many parts of the Bible actively denounce questioning faith. It’s why Christians have to run out of talks and make press releases about persecution. Because Christianity crumbles in the face of history, biology, and analytical thinking. Silencing dissent is the only way for Christianity to survive.

And I don’t want a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, anti-science, and simply false idea like Christianity to survive.

Now, am I going to be violent toward Christians? Am I going to enact laws banning Christianity? Am I going to run around burning churches? Of course not. I’m going to be a radical evangelical atheist by writing blog posts for whoever cares to read them, and by giving talks for whoever cares to attend. I’m going to destroy religion through convincing arguments that people have to understand on their own time, not through guilt or social ostracization or threats of eternal damnation (the tactics of religious evangelicals).

That’s why Christians want to shut up people like me and Dan – because they know our tactics work.

I’m on a boat

A skeptical boat, that is.

This is the cover of The Humanist for their story “Getting Real: A Look at the New Skepticism.” It’s a large article featuring a number of different types of skeptical activism, and I made my way onto the boat because there are a couple of paragraphs about boobquake.

…Yeah, all white people, three women. I’m not going to say anything else other than I love this comment at Friendly Atheist:

“All the other women are in the lower level having a beer and discussing their tactics for world domination. Give them a break for Pete’s sake.”

Apparently female musicians are extremely disappointing

At least, that’s the message I got from Buzzfeed this morning when I saw their article “12 Extremely Disappointing Facts about Popular Music.”

  1. Not a single female musician exists in the examples of good singers or bands.
  2. 8 out of 12 of the “extremely disappointing” musicians are exclusively female or have female lead singers
  3. Yes, we know you hate Justin Bieber. Because he’s not hyper masculine and appeals to young girls. Therefore he sucks. Yawn. Old news.

Yes, yes, it’s a dumb site that pumps out top 10 lists and memes. But this sort of sexist thinking is everywhere in our culture. These female bands and singers are all just shitty compared to real music.

Not to mention this bothers the scientist in me. Of course newer artists are going to sell more albums and singles than 50 years ago, because you didn’t correct for the increasing rate of singles and albums sold. But science doesn’t matter when your goal is to laugh at female musicians.

OMG ASTEROID MINING!

That noise you hear is millions of scifi nerds squeeing in unison. The startup Planetary Resources has announced its mission to investigate and mine resources from asteroids in space. While the fact that fricking asteroid mining is theoretically possible is awesome on its own, I really like their big picture view of the project:

“This is an attempt to make a permanent foothold in space,” he said. “We’re going to enable this piece of human exploration and the settlement of space, and develop the resources that are out there.”

…“The investors aren’t making decisions based on a business plan or a return on investment,” he told me. “They’re basing their decisions on our vision.”

I love it. Sure, some of the investors probably aren’t totally selfless. Just imagine if you went down in history books as being one of the first people made a new era of space exploration possible. But I love that some people aren’t just motivated by profit, and they see the inherent worth of settling space. I’m just jealous that I don’t get to live forever and see how this plays out.

I highly recommend you check out the rest of Phil Plait’s coverage. He breaks down the steps of their plan and explains the feasibility of the project. It’s really fascinating stuff.

Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

Tonight I went to a talk at Seattle Town Hall by E. O. Wilson, one of the most famous evolutionary biologists still alive today. I admit I went for two different reasons. One, Wilson is super famous and also very old, and I wanted a chance to see him speak because another chance might not come. But two, I saw that the topic was how group selection shaped human evolution, and I wanted to see what controversial arguments he would make.

Controversial because Wilson has recently been stirring the pot by trumpeting group selection and saying kin selection has been debunked. I don’t want to rehash the whole event, but Carl Zimmer has a good summary in the New York Times. The basic thing you need to know is that most biologists consider group selection to only occur in very rare and specific circumstances, and that selection usually takes place at the level of the individual or the gene.

But you wouldn’t know that from the talk. Wilson asserted that his controversial Nature paper definitively overturned kin selection theory and that “no one” responded to his critique of kin selection. This set off a red flag in my head, because I definitely remembered reading criticism of the paper at least in the blogosphere. I grabbed my phone and instantly dug up this critique by Jerry Coyne and this one by Richard Dawkins.

But maybe he meant a published critique. So I googled “response to Nowak 2010″ and instantly found a list of papers also published in Nature criticizing his paper:

Abbot, P., Abe, J., Alcock, J., Alizon, S., Alpedrinha, J., Andersson, M., Andre, J., van Baalen, M., Balloux, F., Balshine, S., Barton, N., Beukeboom, L., Biernaskie, J., Bilde, T., Borgia, G., Breed, M., Brown, S., Bshary, R., Buckling, A., Burley, N., Burton-Chellew, M., Cant, M., Chapuisat, M., Charnov, E., Clutton-Brock, T., Cockburn, A., Cole, B., Colegrave, N., Cosmides, L., Couzin, I., Coyne, J., Creel, S., Crespi, B., Curry, R., Dall, S., Day, T., Dickinson, J., Dugatkin, L., Mouden, C., Emlen, S., Evans, J., Ferriere, R., Field, J., Foitzik, S., Foster, K., Foster, W., Fox, C., Gadau, J., Gandon, S., Gardner, A., Gardner, M., Getty, T., Goodisman, M., Grafen, A., Grosberg, R., Grozinger, C., Gouyon, P., Gwynne, D., Harvey, P., Hatchwell, B., Heinze, J., Helantera, H., Helms, K., Hill, K., Jiricny, N., Johnstone, R., Kacelnik, A., Kiers, E., Kokko, H., Komdeur, J., Korb, J., Kronauer, D., Kümmerli, R., Lehmann, L., Linksvayer, T., Lion, S., Lyon, B., Marshall, J., McElreath, R., Michalakis, Y., Michod, R., Mock, D., Monnin, T., Montgomerie, R., Moore, A., Mueller, U., Noë, R., Okasha, S., Pamilo, P., Parker, G., Pedersen, J., Pen, I., Pfennig, D., Queller, D., Rankin, D., Reece, S., Reeve, H., Reuter, M., Roberts, G., Robson, S., Roze, D., Rousset, F., Rueppell, O., Sachs, J., Santorelli, L., Schmid-Hempel, P., Schwarz, M., Scott-Phillips, T., Shellmann-Sherman, J., Sherman, P., Shuker, D., Smith, J., Spagna, J., Strassmann, B., Suarez, A., Sundström, L., Taborsky, M., Taylor, P., Thompson, G., Tooby, J., Tsutsui, N., Tsuji, K., Turillazzi, S., Úbeda, F., Vargo, E., Voelkl, B., Wenseleers, T., West, S., West-Eberhard, M., Westneat, D., Wiernasz, D., Wild, G., Wrangham, R., Young, A., Zeh, D., Zeh, J., & Zink, A. (2011). Inclusive fitness theory and eusocialityNature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09831

Boomsma, J., Beekman, M., Cornwallis, C., Griffin, A., Holman, L., Hughes, W., Keller, L., Oldroyd, B., & Ratnieks, F. (2011). Only full-sibling families evolved eusociality Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09832

Strassmann, J., Page, R., Robinson, G., & Seeley, T. (2011). Kin selection and eusociality Nature, 471 (7339) DOI:10.1038/nature09833

Ferriere, R., & Michod, R. (2011). Inclusive fitness in evolution Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09834

Herre, E., & Wcislo, W. (2011). In defence of inclusive fitness theory Nature, 471 (7339) DOI:10.1038/nature09835

Yeah, and he said “no one” responded. And it’s not just that Wilson is out of the loop – he came off as being purposefully disingenuous. Not only did he publish a response to the responses (Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2011). Nowak et al. reply Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09836), but during the Q&A he changed his story and said that people did respond but they were 1. Wrong and 2. In the minority. Even though 1. He never explained why their critiques were incorrect and 2. The vast majority of biologists disagree with his views of group selection and the authors of the critiques weren’t random nobodies; they were very important and accomplished researchers.

I want to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt. Maybe when he said “no one responded” he meant “no one responded in a way that we think invalidates our hypothesis.” But even then, the rest of his talk was incredibly sloppy. He asserted that human eusociality evolved via group selection, but didn’t offer a shred of evidence the whole time. No proposed mechanism, no genetic evidence, nothing. He just waved the Wand of Group Selection and asserted it happened. He asserted that humans first ate cooked meat by scavenging carcasses from wildfires. That’s one hypothesis among many, but he presented it as a known truth and gave no evidence or citation for it. He asserted that eusociality only evolved recently but again gave absolutely no evidence as to why he thought so. I mean, maybe he’s right, but eusociality isn’t exactly something that fossilizes well, so it could have possibly existed in past species. At least put some sort of qualifier or explanation of your reasoning out there.

When someone in the Q&A asked him to explain why people disagree with group selection so much, he didn’t explain the objections or why he thinks kin selection was wrong. He instead stated that his paper was reviewed by a mathematician from Harvard and that it got into the prestigious journal Nature. Therefore it is right, or something. Here’s an alternative hypothesis: Your paper got published in Nature because you’re insanely famous and it was incredibly controversial, which Nature eats up. Nature is more about prestige and sexy topics than good science nowadays. Its retraction rate has increased ten fold in the last ten years when the number of papers published in all journals has only increased by 44%.

Look, I’m not a priori against group selection. Maybe Wilson is right and group selection is applicable in more situations that we currently think. But I’m not going to accept it until he presents compelling evidence, which he utterly failed to do. You can’t just say “Harvard” and “Nature” and leave it at that.

The most irritating thing about the night was that this was a talk given to an educated general public. These people are smart enough to appreciate science and know Wilson is a famous scientist, so they’re going to believe whatever he says. On the way out people were raving about how interesting the talk was. But he presented none of the controversy, no evidence, no reasoning, no citations, no qualifiers…nothing. I understand that a talk to the general public isn’t going to get into extreme detail, but asserting your incredibly controversial ideas as scientific fact is incredibly dangerous. This talk reminded me more of stuff I’ve seen from creationists and climate denialists than scientists.

Honestly, I left feeling bad for him. E. O. Wilson made huge advances to evolutionary biology, sociobiology, and conservation. “Huge advances” is an understatement. But tonight he went outside his expertise and left science behind, and it was kind of embarrassing. I would have loved for him to give an hour long talk about ants instead.

Gender Salary Equity in Higher Education

I’m an active member of Women in Genome Sciences, a group in my department that works to make our field more accepting and welcoming to minorities. Today in belated honor of Equal Pay Day we hosted Dr. Laura Meyers who did research here at the University of Washington on the gender pay gap in higher education. I figured it was a topic my readers would be interested in, so here’s a summary of her talk:

Even though the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed over 40 years ago, female faculty still make less. The average salary in 2009-2010 for men was $80,885, while for women it was $66,653. Dr. Meyers wanted to investigate potential causes of such a pay gap, like:

  • Segregation of women to lower paying jobs/fields (Education field is predominantly female and not well paid)
  • Nonmarket responsibilities as mothers/caregivers
  • Higher attrition rates in tenure-track positions
  • Devaluation of women’s work. Women are more likely to have  more teaching and service tasks (being on committees, running events and seminars, participating in outreach). However, research gets paid better than teaching or service
  • Lack of training and on-the-job education
  • Salary negotiation – are women not as good at it for whatever reason?
  • Organization behaviors and equity/salary/promotion policies

Her work takes three main categories of variables into account:

  1. Gender (Your gender and the percentage of your field that’s female)
  2. Human capital (Amount of training, rank, tenure status)
  3. Structural effects (Average faculty class loads, percent of faculty with funded research, average number of publications)

What is the effect of gender on things like base faculty salary, base faculty salary by discipline type, and base faculty salary by institution type? What is the effect of being in a female dominated or male dominated field? To answer these questions, she used the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, the most comprehensive survey of faculty out there. It includes 11,257 Faculty affiliated with 26 disciplines and 860 institutions. The downside is that it’s a single snapshot of time and from 8 years ago, but it’s really the best data we have.

Her major findings were:

  • When looking at gender alone, there is a 14.3% gender salary gap. This is reduced to a 4.8% gap when you take the other variables into account. The variable that had the most effect on reducing the gap was rank and status. This is because there’s a high attrition rate for women in tenure track positions, especially in STEM fields, mostly due to policy and climate. So professors who are farther along in their careers and have tenure get paid better, but there aren’t as many women in these positions.
  • Controlling for other variables, the gender salary gap increases as you move toward institutions that offer higher levels of degrees. Associate’s programs are the most equal, followed by Baccalaureate, then Master’s, with Doctoral institutions being the worst with a 5.7% gap.
  • The gender gap is larger in research based positions than in teaching or service positions. Male faculty receive a larger benefit by focusing on research instead of teaching.
  • A higher proportion of female faculty in a discipline is associated with lower overall faculty salaries in that discipline
  • The gender salary gap is larger in institutions with less female faculty than in institutions with more female faculty. This results in male faculty benefitting financially by working in institutions with less female faculty, but females benefitting financially by working in institution with more female faculty

Dr. Meyers made the following suggestions on how we can combat this remaining pay gap:

  • Have flexible tenure/promotion policies and encourage/require faculty to take advantage of them. Often times alternative policies are in place, but there’s social pressure to not take them.
  • Recognize and reward alternative/varied ways that faculty contribute to a department institution. Women tend to do teaching and service more, and these are often seen as less important as research
  • Female faculty should focus on research that is aligned with mission/goals and tenure/promotion policies of their department. If your department is focused on research, limit service and teaching responsibilities. This is especially true when women are basically guilted onto being on every committee or every outreach event because they’re effectively the token minority. Feel safe in saying “No.”

A professor from my department asked if having publicly available salary data makes a difference. Are women more likely to ask for raises if they know what other people in their department are making? Dr. Meyers said she didn’t know for sure because no research has been done looking at that specifically, but she guessed having that knowledge would help. Someone floated the idea of making this gender gap data publicly available so people could see which institutions suck and with the hopes of the public shame changing things. Dr. Meyers responded that research institutions were the biggest offenders when it came to the pay gap, so you’d have to some how tie it into them receiving grant money for them to care.

#mencallmethings: r/atheism edition

Ted Cox sent me a friendly email this morning alerting me that I made the front page of reddit. It was a photo of me with my Reason Rally sign, and it was being upvoted in r/atheism. I was actually kind of surprised by the comments. While the photo had garnered a lot of upvotes, most of the comments were the tired old trope that I’m an evil New Atheist who’s just as bad as evangelicals because I’m trying to destroy people’s beliefs just because I disagree with them, and that I’ll never succeed anyway. I responded with this to clear it up.

But the comments that didn’t surprise me? The ones about my appearance, which always show up whenever r/atheism links to me:

From RealAmerica1776:

“She has the face of a horse like most liberals such as Chelsea Clinton”

From HeatBeat:

“Best part of picture: Moderately attractive female in the back right side.”

Not only is my hideous body blocking the view of someone more easy on the eyes, but a glimpse of a possibly attractive woman is way more important than discussing the point of the photo, the sign. A sign about atheism. In r/atheism. Not r/gonewild.

And my favorite, from the lovely named “cuntcrust“:

“she looks like a fat roger waters. she’s annoying and an attention whore “lol look at me i’m an atheists” luckily for her you virgins will fall in love immediately, pathetic.”

Separated at birth!

Ah, he’s on to me. Yes, you see the atheism thing is all an crafty ploy I created when I realized I was just too egregiously ugly to ever get laid. I call the men I sleep with my “Virgin Sacrifices.” It plays well into the whole feminism thing, too. I hope my boyfriend isn’t too shocked by the realization that he was actually a virgin with a Roger Waters fetish.

EDIT: lol they keep on coming:

CannedHamlet:

You also destroy erections…

You see, he thinks he’s clever because he used the same word that was in my sign, except to insinuate that I’m ugly. Haaaaaa.

FILTHYASSMP:

If she was better looking I would take this more serious

At least he’s honest about his misogyny.

charlatan74:

Obama should tell you this isn’t the 70′s and to not part your hair in the middle. Am I the only one that thinks this chick’s bush is probably huge?

I got nothing, lol

Sorry for the lack of posts

I just haven’t been feeling it recently. I can’t even muster up the will to create filler posts with geek news or atheist memes or kitten photos. Part of it is work related. My general exam is at the end of May, so I’m spending a lot of time preparing for that. I also just got a new huge load of data to analyze, so I’ve been excitedly poking that. Part of it is just that real life is actually appealing. I have a wonderful boyfriend that I can go do fun things with, especially now that the weather is getting warmer. We’ve been having a lot of fun planning our trip to Dublin and Paris.

And on the flip side, the blogosphere just isn’t…motivating for me at the moment. I’m burnt out. I don’t care about the newest atheist book or billboard or stupid sexist controversy. I don’t want to deal with the egos of some people in the atheist movement. I can’t even muster rage about legislators making terrible laws about women’s health. I’m just…burnt out from frustration. I objectively know these are important issues and worth writing about in the long run, but right now I just want to be selfish and obliviously ignore everything going on in the world for a little bit. I never get to do that.

I’m not quitting, don’t worry. I’m just in a funk. Writers block. Lack of inspiration. Something will hit me, but right now I’m more interested in research and sun and cuddles and Pottermore (got sorted into Gryffindor despite my love for Ravenclaw) and beer and doodles and traveling and concerts (Jeff Mangum tonight, Justice next week, woo).

It’s just… for the first time in a long time, I’m happier off the internet. And happiness is the number 1 way to kill my creativity. You should all keep hoping Jehova’s Witnesses move in next door or my apartment gets infested with spiders again.