Ha ha! Another entire academic discipline torpedoed by a bogus hoax paper! Or, How Lesbians Evolved.

I guess everyone is going to be doing this now. In this case, it’s a ridiculous paper accepted for publication in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and it’s a doozy. It’s about evolution, it says.

In the introduction, it throws around some buzzwords and tries to impress us with elementary scientism.

New alleles can arise from mutations. An allele’s influence on a trait is likely to have both negative (c) and positive (b) fitness effects; thus, the allele will increase in frequency if the balance of positive minus negative fitness contribution (b – c) i.e., the net fitness effect (f), is higher that the respective balance of the original gene, and it will decrease in frequency if the balance is negative. Please note that we refer here to the case averaged across all bearers of the allele, so that an allele will be favored even if it has a net negative effect on the fitness of some individuals as long as it has a net positive effect on the fitness of other bearers of the allele.

The joke’s on you if you read this assuming the paper is about genetics, though. Nowhere in this work do the authors identify any genes or alleles; they don’t even try. They just assume that if a behavior exists, there must be a gene for it, and further, it must have undergone positive selection. They’re also not going to test for fitness of a behavior; in fact, they’re not even going to examine any behaviors directly, but are instead going to rely entirely on self-reported assessments in an online survey of college students.

You’ve probably figured out by new that the discipline in question is evolutionary psychology. Just to titillate you further, it’s arguing for a selective advantage for same-sex behavior.

At first sight, alleles that arise through mutation and predispose for same-sex attraction appear to experience a substantial negative fitness, since they lead individuals to divert part or the whole of their mating effort toward same-sex outlets from which children, who would carry these alleles, cannot be borne. Accordingly, in order to understand the prevalence of same-sex attraction in the population, scholars have argued that these alleles also experience positive fitness effects, which compensate for the negative fitness effects, turning the net fitness (f) positive. There is, however, a different possibility.

Oh, boy. How could a sexual behavior persist that diverts mating efforts in a direction that does not produce children? It’s a mystery.

I can’t wait until the authors learn that heterosexual couples indulge in cunnilingus and fellatio. Their minds will be, umm, blown.

But wait! There’s more hilarity! This is a paper about “The evolution of female same-sex attraction”. Where did lesbians come from, they wonder. What a conundrum! Why would women prefer each other’s company, rather than a man’s? Lesbians can’t put a baby in their tummy! They resolve this problem easily, by suggesting that men provided the selection pressure to favor lesbian genes. It’s all about the cucks.

Men with multiple wives, as opposed to men with one wife, face an elevated probability to be cuckolded, because they have to divide their sexual effort toward several wives so, inevitably, some of their wives will remain unsatisfied. They also have to divide their mate-guarding effort between multiple wives, which makes such effort less effective. If their wives experience same-sex attraction, they can satisfy their urges with other co-wives, who are readily available, reducing, in effect, the risk of cuckoldry (see also Kanazawa, 2016).

Note the Kanazawa reference — another in-joke. This paper is hilarious. There’s also another reason lesbianism is evolutionarily advantageous.

In our proposed theoretical framework, men can benefit from the same-sex attractions of their partners through gaining access to additional women.

That’s right, guys: you should date lesbians because then you’ll get to have sex with their lesbian girlfriends. Yeah, that’s exactly how it would work.

Now you might argue that the fact that this hypothesis is counter-intuitive and is built on a framework of not understanding basic evolutionary theory does not necessarily make it wrong, but maybe they’ve got some kind of empirical evidence that cleverly illustrates the existence of this lesbianism gene, and that men are actively selecting for it.

They don’t.

The ‘experiment’ is basically, “let’s ask guys if they’d mind if their wife had sex with another woman.” I’m not kidding. That’s the experiment. It’s also done with an online survey, because they could get more honest answers in this way.

Here are the results. It shows that a minority of Western men (Greek Cypriots) like the idea of girl-on-girl sex, but that they like it more than women like the idea of boy-on-boy sex. Apparently yaoi isn’t very popular on Cyprus…but shouldn’t the cultural variations clue them in that this is probably not a genetically determined behavior?

To be fair, they do consider that there might be cultural effects, but all they can think of is one factor, religion, and they only argue that it would repress honest expression of the participants’ views.

Last but not least, the observed effects are unlikely to reflect only evolved dispositions, and social and cultural effects may also be at play. For instance, male preferences for same-sex attraction in a partner may be moderated by religious beliefs. Participants in the sample were Greek-Orthodox Christians, and in the Cristian religion same-same attraction is considered reprehensible. Accordingly, male participants may have perceived their preferences for same-sex attraction to be inconsistent with their religious beliefs, and if they were very religious, to have suppressed or have been unwilling to report such desires. The present study did not control for this possibility, and future research can do so by measuring participants’ religiosity.

The possibility of a few cultural biases do not, however, make them question their basic assumption that lesbian preferences have nothing to do with women’s choices, but are entirely a consequence of males selecting for women who do not like sex with them, and would prefer sex with people who do not have a penis. Apparently, lesbians only exist to provide girl-on-girl porn on the internet, and their own desires have nothing to do with it. Or rather, they only have those desires because men have bred them for possession of a hypothetical lesbian allele.

In conclusion, the present study found that a large proportion of heterosexual men considered same-sex attraction in a partner desirable. These findings suggest positive selection on same-sex attraction in women: Men’s desire for women who are attracted to other women selects for women who are attracted to other women. In turn, male desires, along with factors such as arranged marriage, which weakened the negative fitness costs of same-sex attraction, can explain the relatively high frequency of this trait in the population. Future research needs to replicate and extend these findings in order to better understand the evolutionary origins of same-sex attraction.

Or maybe the authors need to go back to school and learn how evolution works.

This paper was so ridiculously bad, though, I’m sure the authors are going to come out with a confession, maybe in the pages of Skeptic magazine, that it was all a set-up to show how absurd the entire field of evolutionary psychology is (I checked; there isn’t a single evolutionary psychology journal in the top 100 of the SCIMago rankings, therefore the field is entirely made of low-quality papers).

Any moment now they’re going to pop up and say, “Just foolin’!”

Yep, any moment now.

Aaanyy moment.

Apostolou M, Shialos M, Khalil M, Paschali V (2017) The evolution of female same-sex attraction: The male choice hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences 116:372–378.

That was fun & disgusting

But I have to warn you: if I show strange symptoms, call the CDC.

I got to spend my morning as the designated safety officer for the biology discipline in cleaning out a refrigerator left behind by a departed faculty member. It mainly consisted of hundreds and hundreds of small vials with cryptic labels; I think these were all samples of exotic biological material collected from tropical jungles by an ethnobotanist. It was mostly harmless, consisting of a little culture medium with bits of plant material floating in it, which I dumped into a big flask and am now in the process of sterilizing in the autoclave.

But I got to thinking: what if I inhaled some tiny spore from a toenail fungus scraped from the claws of a giant Sumatran rat-thing, and I become patient zero in the deadly zombie outbreak of the upper Midwest? If I start exhibiting undead cannibal symptoms, you have permission to shoot me. In the head, of course.

Next I have to figure out what to do with the liter bottle labeled “buffer” that contains a brilliant orange-yellow gelatinous slime blob. I’m afraid to open it. I was considering taking a photo and presenting it to you, the internet audience, to puzzle it out, but I don’t know…it might be a yuck too far.

You want to see the mysterious blob? Video below, because a still picture just doesn’t capture its essence.

[Read more…]

Travis Christofferson, an unimpressive snake-oil salesman

Yesterday, I was being mildly harangued by a cancer quack — I know, this is usually Orac‘s beat, but there’s a lot of non-specific cross-talk by ignoramuses, wouldn’t you know. Anyway, this quack told me I’m supposed to read this book by another quack, Travis Christofferson, and didn’t I know that the Warburg effect was the key to curing cancer? This is annoying, because when I’m given a source I feel obligated to look it up, so I had to waste time digging around the internet for Christofferson. Fortunately, this guy is easy to dismiss.

He has a website titled Single Cause, Single Cure. That’s right, he claims that there is a single cause for cancer, and it’s a metabolic disorder cause by your bad diet. There’s also a single general strategy for treating it, which involves targeting the Warburg effect with a ketogenic diet, among other broad metabolic treatments.

First strike: treating cancer as a single, simple disease caused by one factor. We know this isn’t true. I recently wrote about Tissue Organization Field Theory, that postulates that one factor in generating cancers might be epigenetic shifts caused by the cell’s environment, but no one (well, no one sensible) thinks that’s the only cause. We know about the effect of carcinogens, which may damage DNA; we know about inherited genetic predispositions caused by variations in gene sequence; we know about effects of local inflammation; there are viruses that can induce transformations to a cancerous state. We’ve taken cancers apart gene by gene and found the frequent players that trigger the cancer, and they are genes that regulate, for instance, cell proliferation, cell signaling, and yes, cell metabolism. You are not going to fix a broken retinoblastoma gene with a low-carb diet.

Second strike: Christofferson has zero qualifications. He has a Pre-Medical undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree in Materials Engineering and Science. There is no such thing as a pre-medical degree. A pre-med is someone who has declared an intent to apply to medical school when they graduate; I have lots of students I advise who are pre-med, and all that means is that I recommend that they take courses outside the required courses for their degree within a discipline, so they’re told to take anatomy and physiology courses, a psychology course, a communications course, microbiology, etc., outside of the list of required courses to get a B.A. in biology (they can also be, for instance, an English major and a pre-med), and that I nag them in their junior year about taking the MCATs. You either have a medical degree, which requires going to a qualified medical school, or you don’t. He doesn’t. He has a degree in molecular biology from Montana State University, and either lost interest in or didn’t get accepted to medical school, and instead went to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for a Master’s degree in Material Engineering and Science. SDSMT is not a medical school, not even close.

Third strike: Christofferson is endorsed by Joseph Mercola. When the money-grubbing, dishonest arch-quack is your sponsor, you can trust that everything about it is tainted. Mercola did a fawning interview with Christofferson in which he asked, Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a simple dietary tweak that could not only prevent but treat the vast majority of these cancers?

Yes, it would be interesting. It would also be interesting if every time I sneezed, hundred-dollar bills shot out of my ears. It does not mean that I’m snorting black pepper as a revenue source. That Mercola asks a stupid question does not imply that there exists a simple dietary tweak to cure cancer.

Fourth strike (how many of these do you get before the umpire drags you off the field?): these quacks like to pretend that they have some bold new insight, but the fact is that legitimate cancer researchers have been exploring metabolic treatments for decades, and there are real studies in progress. They aren’t a magic bullet, but tackling metabolic processes in cancer cells might be helpful, and real doctors are testing it.

This brings me back to the question of whether cancer is a metabolic disease or a genetic disease, the answer to which I promised early on. The likely answer? It’s both! Indeed, a “chicken or the egg” argument continues about whether it is the metabolic abnormalities that cause the mutations observed in cancer cells or whether it is the mutations that produce the metabolic abnormalities. Most likely, it’s a little of both, the exact proportion of which depending upon the tumor cell, that combine in an unholy synergistic circle to drive cancer cells to be more and more abnormal and aggressive. Moreover, cancer is about far more than just the genomics or the metabolism of cancer cells. It’s also the immune system and the tumor microenvironment (the cells and connective tissue in which tumors arise and grow). As I’ve said time and time and time again, cancer is complicated, real complicated. The relative contributions of genetic mutations, metabolic derangements, immune cell dysfunction, and influences of the microenvironment are likely to vary depending upon the type of tumor and, as a consequence, require different treatments. In the end, as with many hyped cancer cures, the ketogenic diet might be helpful for some tumors and almost certainly won’t be helpful for others. Dr. Seyfried might be on to something, but he’s gone a bit off the deep end in apparently thinking that he’s found out something about cancer that no one else takes seriously—or has even thought of before.

Fifth strike: the foundation of a useful cancer therapy lies in empirical research. You test it. It’s hard work. You do not leap into publishing books for pop audiences that declare you have a path to the cure, as Christofferson has. If switching to a ketogenic diet could cure cancer, why do people still die of cancer? This is a disease that provokes desperation and fear, the perfect medium for quacks who want to profit by selling false hope.

I am unpersuaded.

I may have to write something up about the Warburg effect later. I am not a cancer researcher, but I am a cell biologist, and I know a fair bit about cellular metabolism — it annoys me to see basic cell biology, which Christofferson would have been exposed to as an undergraduate, being abused by quacks, especially when there are so many readily available papers in the scientific literature about the molecular biology and biochemistry of the Warburg effect.

The Ark Park is a grifter’s dream

I’m afraid this article on the Ark Park and their plans for expansion is a little too subtle. It’s main thesis is that the people behind Answers in Genesis are glorified carnies, working to rake in the bucks from the rubes, while pushing an oddball version of Christianity. Ken Ham is talking out of both sides of his mouth: to his co-religionists, he declares his collection of carnival rides to be a sacred mission for the church, but when he’s talking to anyone else it’s a commercial enterprise that deserves state support because it will bring in jobs.

Except that it doesn’t.

But the project’s single largest source of funding was actually $62 million in junk bonds floated by the town of Willamstown, population less than 4,000, home to the Ark Encounter and the county seat of Grant County, which faced bankruptcy this spring.

“In terms of revenue for the county, we don’t get too much from them,” says the county’s chief executive, Stephen Wood. The Ark Encounter negotiated a vastly discounted 30-year rate on property taxes in 2013 under a previous administration. “I hate it, but that’s the deal,” says Wood.

A town smaller than the one I live in can float $62 million in bonds? I do not understand economics.

And what few jobs it does create have some rather restrictive limitations.

As a condition of employment, the museum and ark staff of 900, including 350 seasonal workers, must sign a statement of faith rejecting evolution and declaring that they regularly attend church and view homosexuality as a sin. So any non-Christians, believers in evolution, or members of the LGBT community — and their supporters — need not apply. (Although, due to less stringent hiring requirements for contractors, an actor who allegedly operated a gay porn site was hired to portray Adam in one of the Creation Museum’s original videos.)

The article is fine on explaining how the Ark Park is a tourist trap constructed with subsidies of dubious legality, but once again, the bad science isn’t adequately highlighted. I guess I’m going to have to do it.

I’m attending the 2017 Midwest Zebrafish Meeting in Cincinnati next month, and on Friday, 16 June, before the meeting starts, I’m planning to visit the Ark Park, take pictures, put together some commentary and rebuttals, etc. Anyone else care to join me?

Unfortunately, one other thing I learned from the article is the cost of admission: $40 freaking dollars per adult. They really are trying to fleece the flock. I’ll go once to catalog the lies, but never again.

The schedule for Convergence is now available

Yes! Convergence is happening on 6-9 July (the weekend before the Society for Developmental Biology meeting — I’m going to be hanging out in Minneapolis a lot in early July), and I’m going to be on 7 panels, which is not the most I’ve ever done, but is a credible effort. Should be fun, if a little tiring.

Anyone else going? Of course you are. There’ll be about 6,000 people there, I would estimate.

Now that’s an interesting variation of the argumentum ad populum

People are crawling out of the woodwork to defend that bogus Boghossian hoax and they’re making some awesomely bad arguments to do so. Here’s one guy who makes a sweeping dismissal of all of the social sciences because few of their journals are highly ranked.

There is a curious lack of social science or humanities journals in the top 100. For instance, there is only one journal dedicated to psychology. If business and economics are counted, then a total of 12 of the top 100 journals cover the social sciences. (Put another way, there are more top 100 journals covering the biomedical subdisciplines of cell biology/microbiology/molecular biology than all the social sciences combined.) SJR considers Administrative Science Quarterly (which we classified as a business journal) to be a sociology journal, so it represents the one sociology journal in the top 100.

How many gender studies journals are in the top 100? Zero. In fact, there is only one gender studies journal in the top 1,000. Titled Gender and Society, it ranks at #933.

The takeaway from this analysis is clear: The hard sciences constitute the hottest fields and most prestigious journals. By comparison, social science journals are not nearly as prestigious. By definition, that means social science journals, as a whole, are not cited by prestigious journals.

There are many reasons for that. But one of them certainly is that the quality of the research just isn’t very good. That’s why penis hoax articles can get published.

That’s a stunningly stupid interpretation. How stupid? Well, he has helpfully organized the list of top 100 journals in descending order for us.

Apparently the quality of the research in mathematics just isn’t very good, using his reasoning.

Another problem is that a system that ranks journals by their ‘significance’, that is, how frequently cited they are by related journals, is going to be sensitive to numbers of participants within a discipline, so this metric is also going to be strongly skewed; popular disciplines will have more popular journals, regardless of their relative quality. So just to give you an idea of the numbers of people working within these general fields:

Number of scientists and engineers in the US: 6.2 million.

Number of psychologists in the US: 188,000.

Number of sociologists in the US: less than 3,000, which does seem awfully low; same source says the number of biochemists, just biochemists, is about 34,000.

So it is totally unsurprising that fewer social sciences journals are listed among the top 100 journals — there are fewer social scientists. It’s also meaningless to compare a broad category of “biomedical journals” with a sub-sub-discipline like “gender studies journals”. Everything about this is bad logic.

But then, it’s also unsurprising given the source. This is coming from the American Council on Science and Health, which is a reactionary pro-industry think-tank of dubious value.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader once said of ACSH,

A consumer group is an organization which advocates the interests of unrepresented consumers and must either maintain its own intellectual independence or be directly accountable to its membership. In contrast, ACSH is a consumer front organization for its business backers. It has seized the language and style of the existing consumer organizations, but its real purpose, you might say, is to glove the hand that feeds it.

Numerous ACSH publications (that do not disclose the corporations that have funded the organization) take positions attacking public concerns about various corporate products and practices, such as genetically modified foods (GMOs), pesticides, herbicides, and more, and have sought to downplay concerns raised by scientists and consumers. However, the tobacco industry has never been an ACSH client, and Whelan has very cleverly used her anti-tobacco stance to gain some credibility among health professionals and some activist groups. All of the tobacco connections were conducted by her partner, Fred Stare.

Some of the products ACSH has defended over the years include DDT, asbestos, and Agent Orange, as well as common pesticides. ACSH has often called environmentalists and consumer actvists “terrorists,” arguing that their criticisms and concerns about potential health and environmental risks are threats to society.[2]

ACSH has been funded by big agri-businesses and trade groups like Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsico, and the American Beverage Association, among others.

It’s also a front for the Koch brothers.

I’m not going to reject a scholarly discipline because some conservative shill found a way to tag it with a small number; I’d have to admit that zebrafish developmental biology must be of lower quality because there are fewer publications on that specific subject than in, say, geology, which is such obvious nonsense the author should have noticed. But I am happy to follow the money to dismiss a source because it is funded entirely by industries that are trying to protect their bottom line with fake science that undermines honest work.

Tear ’em all down

Wow. This is one of the monuments taken down in Louisiana. It does not forlornly honor the war dead, it celebrates a paramilitary seizure of the state government by white supremacists, and it isn’t at all coy about saying so.

United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.

“Gave us our state”. They weren’t shy about saying who owned the state, who belonged there, who was going to control everything, even if it was at gunpoint.

I’m now agreeing that these should be removed, but not destroyed. They belong in a museum. A museum of shame, disgrace, and dishonor. Hey, good ol’ boys, this is what your granpappy fought and died for, for slavery and oppression, and don’t you forget it!