They really are all about controlling your life, aren’t they? »« Let’s put this 17 year old in charge of the American sex ed curriculum

John Logsdon hits the big time

Last night at #nwc36 we were talking about evodevo, and one of the topics that came up was the importance of Drosophila reasearch in providing the foundation for comparative genetic analysis…which led to Sarah Palin. Remember Palin’s ignorant mockery of fruit fly research? This is what we get from the Republican party.

Now Michelle Malkin’s blog chimes in with a similar complaint. John Logsdon got an NSF award to study reproduction in snails. WASTE OF MONEY! CUT THE DEFICIT! HOW DARE THEY SPEND MONEY ON SOMETHING SO STUPID!

Malkin’s blogger, Doug Powers, and the majority of the commenters there are embarrassingly ignorant. They quote the award announcement with some annotations.

The study, first funded in 2011 and continuing until 2015, will study the New Zealand snails to see if it is better that they reproduce sexually or asexually – the snail can do both – hoping to gain insight on why so many organisms practice sexual reproduction.

“Sexual reproduction is more costly than asexual reproduction [just paying for the drinks can end up running into the thousands of dollars over a lifetime – DP] [fucking moron – PZM], yet nearly all organisms reproduce sexually at least some of the time. Why is sexual reproduction so common despite its costs,” the study’s abstract asks.

And then doubles down on the cluelessness.

“Why is sexual reproduction so common despite its costs”? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously. That’s an important question in biology. Selfish stupid libertarian/republican idiots ought to understand this clearly.

Look at it this way, Doug. When you go to reproduce, you — perfect, powerful, independent, self-serving you — need to go to a mere woman and in order to produce offspring, you only pass on half your genes, and they are mingled with half the genes from your partner. That’s what we mean by the cost of sexual reproduction. You don’t get to produce a literal self-made man: you need to cooperate with a partner, and your genome will be diluted with that of some other person. That other person is using YOU as well, parasitizing off the perfect efficiency of your genes to propagate her patently inferior genes.

Any good conservative Republican ought to be outraged at this state of affairs. Think about it: your God, President Ronald Reagan, instead of cloning himself, had to randomize his genes with some other person and produced a son, Ron Reagan, who is a politically liberal atheist. You ought to be throwing far more money at this problem!

Snails are an interesting choice to study this problem because, unlike humans, they have options to either reproduce in that familiar sexual way, or to do it asexually and essentially clone themselves. The question is why any individual would elect to throw away half their genes each time they reproduce.

If Doug Powers can explain that, he could get published in some big name science journal instead of the blog of an ignorant political hack.

Hey, we should study that choice, too, except we haven’t yet found any molluscs stupid enough to have to decide whether they want to be published on Michelle Malkin’s site or not.

Comments

  1. noastronomer says

    I have even worse news for Doug… not only does he throw half of his, obviously, perfect genes away each time he reproduces but I’m afraid, and the evidence is pretty unambigous on this, sometimes even that half will wind up in the body of a mere woman.

    Mike

  2. unclefrogy says

    proud obstinate ignorance is the most amazing and appalling thing I know, seems to also come along with bigotry and cruelty most of the time
    uncle frogy

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Snails are an interesting choice to study this problem because, unlike humans, they have options to either reproduce in that familiar sexual way, or to do it asexually and essentially clone themselves.

    Yet some people still say that sexual orientation is not a personal choice!

  4. Rey Fox says

    Yeah, goodness gracious. That’s money that could be spent on what, one half of a fighter jet?

  5. daniellavine says

    Speaking of Malkin I was just reading this about her book on the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans:

    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2004/09/malkin-and-historical-revisionism.html

    Here’s a great quote:

    “The hallmark of Malkin’s response has been to ignore the core criticisms — particularly the absence of any discussion of the role of racism and its history in a text one of whose central theses is that racism was not a proximate cause of the internment — and to instead launch a thousand non-sequiturs, while mischaracterizing and distorting her opponents’ arguments. ”

    I find this to be a fair description of pretty much any right wing response to liberal criticism.

    For example, I predict that Malkin and Powers will ignore the core criticisms of their positions — the lucid explanations of why this research is important — and focus instead on irrelevancies and red herrings. And their canned audience will lap it up. People always say “preaching to the choir” as though it’s a bad thing but it certainly has its advantages — one never need formulate a coherent or convincing argument for one.

  6. says

    I thought the asexual vs. sexual reproduction was linked to the stability of the environment. If the environment is undergoing a lot of changes, it would be advantageous to get a mix of genes that could possibly come in handy.

    I don’t really understand

    “Why is sexual reproduction so common despite its costs”? Seriously?

    I mean, I don’t expect them to know that the cost of sexual reproduction is that not all of your genes get passed on, but what are they implying? That there is no cost of sexual reproduction? That they think asexual reproduction is more costly than sexual reproduction?

  7. cyberCMDR says

    Two edged sword here. If women could produce asexually, what do they need Doug for?

  8. jamessweet says

    If Doug Powers can explain that, he could get published in some big name science journal instead of the blog of an ignorant political hack.

    But, uh, doesn’t the latter pay better?

  9. jaranath says

    Jamie:

    You’re not thinking at their level. It’s difficult and painful, I know, but with sufficient practice and pain tolerance it can be accomplished.

    “Seriously?” is not an academic attempt to argue that the cost is not higher. Rather, it is a crude shorthand for “OMG science nerds don’t know sex is fun lol!!!” THAT’S what we’re dealing with here.

  10. says

    This has never struck me as a particularly puzzling question in principle — sexual reproduction greatly accelerates evolutionary adaptation by mixing the genes. Two benefits: a) you get all kinds of mixed up genotypes in every mix and match combo, so the better ones have a chance to be represented, and b) beneficial adaptations can spread through the population more quickly. Since it’s basically evolve or die, organisms that reproduce exclusively asexually are eventually going to be shit out of luck.

    I understand that the math works out best when you’re dealing with rapidly evolving pathogens and parasites and it’s really those antibodies that drive it, since that’s where the strongest, rapidly changing selection pressure comes from. But I didn’t think it was a huge mystery, I thought it was largely settled. Am I wrong about that?

  11. robro says

    Re Doug’s lost 50% — It’s ok. Apparently no big loss. In fact, 100% is even better. We’ve got enough Doug-like spawn in the world.

    Speaking of Palin…She doesn’t see the value of money for research, yet $368 million for a “Bridge to Nowhere” was a good idea. Illogical, Captain. Perhaps someone she knows was at the end of that bridge money funnel.

  12. Sastra says

    jaranath #12 wrote:

    “Seriously?” is not an academic attempt to argue that the cost is not higher. Rather, it is a crude shorthand for “OMG science nerds don’t know sex is fun lol!!!” THAT’S what we’re dealing with here.

    Yes. I was going to point this out, but you got there first.

    A lot of non-scientists apparently think scientists use words and concepts the way they do. The “cost” of sexual reproduction is taken very literally and applied to how they would use the term when talking about their own reproductive experiences. The sexist remark about the drinks probably wasn’t entirely meant to be metaphorical.

    Watch. This could very well be spun into a claim that liberal atheist scientists hate traditional families and babies so much they want to clone people. Because sexual reproduction is so expensive and messy, it needs to be eliminated by the rational. That’s what they mean when they worry about scientism.

  13. Ichthyic says

    This has never struck me as a particularly puzzling question in principle — sexual reproduction greatly accelerates evolutionary adaptation by mixing the genes.

    you have to recall this is all about fitness.

    Think of it this way:

    say you’re in a stable environment, deep ocean for example. Been in the same general location for many many generations. You sexually reproduce and leave 20 offspring, which, because of sex are comprised of a variable set of phenotypes. Now, some of those phenotypes will be obviously slightly better suited to that particular environment than others. So there will be differential reproductive success in the next generation. Maybe half of your offspring will reproduce that same 20 individuals you did, the rest fewer.

    Imagine instead if you cloned yourself 20 offspring. Those 20 offspring are exactly as suited to that environment as you are, and so they can also all produce 20 offspring.

    win for cloning, as cloners would outcompete sexers rapidly.

    now add in the energetic costs of producing sexually to begin with (specialized tissues, gametes, etc), and behaviorally (having to reliably find a mate, etc.), and the result compared to a cloner becomes even less competitive.

    You have to have some serious selective pressure to balance the scales in favor of sex, and yet, most deep sea benthos are still sexers.

    It’s actually one of the biggest puzzles in biology, and to date NO hypothesis is the stand out winner.

    It’s likely multiple selective pressures that favor sex, but my personal favorite has always been the Red Queen hypothesis.

    here’s a simple take on it:

    http://www.indiana.edu/~curtweb/Research/Red_Queen%20hyp.html

  14. says

    I learned about the Sarah Palin mocking fruit fly research when I went to a Science Café in Cleveland.

    Pretty funny to hear them quote Palin, then the researches go on to say all the discoveries from fruit flies and the people that won Nobel prizes from it.

  15. Ichthyic says

    Watch. This could very well be spun into a claim that liberal atheist scientists hate traditional families and babies so much they want to clone people. Because sexual reproduction is so expensive and messy, it needs to be eliminated by the rational. That’s what they mean when they worry about scientism.

    *closes eyes*

    no! you can’t make me watch that!

    ;P

  16. Ichthyic says

    “OMG science nerds don’t know sex is fun lol!!!”

    but I thought republicans thought sex is teh evil!

  17. Ichthyic says

    organisms that reproduce exclusively asexually are eventually going to be shit out of luck.

    you do know that by biomass, most of the world consists of organisms that are apparently “shit out of luck”?

  18. Ichthyic says

    I thought it was largely settled. Am I wrong about that?

    yes.

    Still a HUGE area of active research.

  19. noastronomer says

    @cyberCMDR

    Two edged sword here. If women could produce asexually, what do they need Doug for?

    Actually I’m not entirely sure what they need Doug for even under the prevailing conditions.

    Mike

  20. noastronomer says

    @Ichthyic

    you do know that by biomass, most of the world consists of organisms that are apparently “shit out of luck”?

    Cervantes did kinda walk right into that one didn’t she/he. Though I think you could have been generous and pointed out that at least some of those organisms found other ways of exchanging genetic material.

    Now that I think about it the question I have is why aren’t more organism capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction?

    Mike

  21. john3141592 says

    Oh, PZ, you forgot about Patti Davis (Patricia Ann Reagan), who wrote a book called Bondage and posed nude for Playboy.

  22. jaranath says

    Ichthyic:

    Precisely. Sex is teh evil because it’s fun. Yeah, I know, there’s a lot more to it than that and that’s probably not the main factor…but I do think it’s A factor.

  23. okstop says

    @Ichthyic (#16):

    I take it that the advantage of holding onto a known-good set of genes outweighs the deleterious impact of the ratchet effect? I’d imagine that while asexual reproduction might be a good short- or even medium-term strategy, as a long-term strategy, the accumulation of harmful mutations would be a killer.

    Mind you, if this really is a live question, I assume there must be more to it than my naive understanding of the situation. ;)

  24. Ichthyic says

    Now that I think about it the question I have is why aren’t more organism capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction?

    excellent question.

    my answer?

    developmental constraints.

    probably only covers part of it though.

  25. Ichthyic says

    I take it that the advantage of holding onto a known-good set of genes outweighs the deleterious impact of the ratchet effect? I’d imagine that while asexual reproduction might be a good short- or even medium-term strategy, as a long-term strategy, the accumulation of harmful mutations would be a killer.

    well, there are long lived organisms that reproduce entirely asexually, and exhibit no problems with accumulation of deleterious mutations.

    In fact, wouldn’t it be obvious that selection would favor alternative mechanisms for dealing with that in species that don’t reproduce sexually?

    great case in point… the local stick insects here (which actually make kinda interesting pets btw*), are entirely parthenogenic.

    been that way for hundreds of thousands of years… no problems with mutation rates there.

    I have to admit that I’m not up to date on the latest papers in molecular genetics that look at what the mechanisms are that limit mutation build up in asexual species, but I’m sure a quick search through google scholar would pop up a few.

    *They are all female, and you can put one on a juniper bush in your yard, and they’ll stay there happily munching away on juniper buds. They produce few young, and the young typically don’t migrate far, so you will usually see and endless replacement of the original female on your bush. It’s like having a tiny green phoenix as a pet.

  26. says

    I could see contorting the drink comment a bit to come out with “women buy themselves drinks, and getting gussied up to go out in the first place has a big time and money cost that can hitch a ride on the comment for the sake of not wasting space on a inefficient tangent,” but that’s giving them so much credit- I’d have to be trying to pretend that there aren’t awful people in the world.

  27. says

    “Seriously?” is not an academic attempt to argue that the cost is not higher. Rather, it is a crude shorthand for “OMG science nerds don’t know sex is fun lol!!!” THAT’S what we’re dealing with here.

    Spot on. I think they interpret the question as being “why do people have sex?” and that’s what they’re responding to.

  28. noastronomer says

    @okstop #27

    I take it that the advantage of holding onto a known-good set of genes outweighs the deleterious impact of the ratchet effect? I’d imagine that while asexual reproduction might be a good short- or even medium-term strategy, as a long-term strategy, the accumulation of harmful mutations would be a killer.

    How would the accumulation of harmful mutations even become an issue? Natural selection is just as brutal to asexually acquired mutations as it is to sexually acquired ones.

    Mike.

  29. carlie says

    Heh.

    As I was reading your first, Ichthyic, I was all “WTF, no good hypothesis, what’s he got against the Red Queen?” and then I got to the end.

  30. lpetrich says

    Reminds me of Senator William Proxmire and his Golden Fleece awards, some decades back. He’d ridicule the recipients in the fashion of Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin. I recall when he ridiculed a college’s experimental walking robot by describing what wonders it will do for that college’s football team.

    I recall someone imagining how some Proxmire-style ridicule of some great discoveries might have gone.

  31. lpetrich says

    Oops, it wasn’t Michelle Malkin herself, but Doug Powers who ridiculed that snail study.

    As to notable discoveries, imagine Proxmire/Palin/Powers ridicule of:

    A proposal to consider the question of whether the force that makes apples fall is the force that keeps the Moon moving around the Earth, and the Earth moving around the Sun.

    A proposal to study inheritance of various features in pea plants.

    A proposal to investigate how chemical elements may be related to each other.

  32. okstop says

    @noastronomer (#32):

    Well, just as you’re no astronomer, I’m no biologist – keep that in mind. ;)

    That said, from what reading I’ve done (and I did have to do some reading for my phil bio class in grad school), fitness-depressing mutations aren’t all or nothing. An organism could have a mutation that only depresses fitness very mildly – say, it’s slightly smaller than other organisms of its type and can’t hunt as well. The variability that comes with sexual reproduction means that it’s likely that not ALL of this organism’s offspring will have the same mutation; it’ll probably get “washed out” in the mix for most or at least some of them. And, of course, since the mutation only mildly depresses fitness, we’re assuming that the organism will breed. However, if the organism reproduces asexually, there’s nothing to “wash out” the mutation. Once it’s in the genome, it’s there to stay. That’s the “ratchet effect.”

    So given two creatures who have manifested a similar mutation (being a little smaller than average), the sexually-reproducing creature can rid most of its gene line of the mutation just by mixing up its genes with a partner – going into the next generation, the disadvantage it acquired in the last generation is mostly gone, so the overall reproductive disadvantage to this particular gene line is greatly reduced. Conversely, the asexually-reproducing creature has no such option – going into the next generation, the disadvantage it acquired in the last generation remains the same. If we see the challenges of the natural environment to a given gene-line as a series of random tests against a “fitness” score, as it were, over a long period of time, even a small disadvantage will start to yield a large number of “failures” compared to some other gene-line.

    Does that sound about right, PZ?

  33. says

    If you’ve only got half the reproductive apparatus about your body, that means less to go wrong. On the other hand, it means you need to find someone else with the other half in order to reproduce.

    Splitting it up finer (e.g. requiring three or more individuals to breed; it’s not too big a stretch of the imagination to divorce egg production from incubation, then successful reproduction would require for both a sperm and an egg to be injected separately into a third party’s uterus within a timeframe) enhances individual fitness but makes reproduction harder, as you now have to find two or more someone elses in order to get a full set of bits together.

    This is before you even begin to consider the effect on spread of mutations throughout the population. When you’re a bad fit for your environment, sexual reproduction gets you to a better state much faster than asexual.

  34. esmith4102 says

    Science illiteracy is rampant in America, we can all agree, and there are far too many “morons”, each with his own agenda, casting about in his own personal sea of uncertainty. The anti-science stance is not confined to the political right alone, but across the political spectrum. I, personally, felt a sense of betrayal when the “liberals” led the effort to cancel the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas in the 1990s because it was too expensive and the money could be better spent on the “war on poverty”. The progressive ideals of a better society through advancement of knowledge is viewed with suspicion by many, but it is only through science our society will advance beyond the stranglehold of our Bronze Age myths and politicians who hold the country’s purse strings will have to come to terms with this.

  35. yubal says

    Qick sloppy answer to the sloppy question “why would organisms throw away 50% of their genome and reproduce sexually? ”

    Maybe the organism does guess a fraction of its own genome might be rubbish and the offspring could be better of with some other genetic input on top of the own 50%.

  36. Snoof says

    Maybe the organism does guess a fraction of its own genome might be rubbish and the offspring could be better of with some other genetic input on top of the own 50%.

    That only works if it assumes that the other genetic input has a better rubbish-to-not-rubbish ratio. Else one is (statistically speaking) replacing garbage with an equal amount of garbage.

  37. Kate McKiernan says

    I have to say, this makes me even prouder to have had John as my undergraduate adviser.

  38. yubal says

    Snoof

    hm, yah, but it is only rubbish in the context of the “other” 50% and the current environment. The context of the other (putative) 50% from a partner is unknown.

    Hypothesis:

    The slug initiates mating when the environment is unfavorable for its own active set of alleles. Else it prefers asexual reproduction.

    Experiment:

    Put those slugs under selective pressure. Make sure the pressure is specific to 50% of the individuals but not to the others who do (not) carry the respective allele. Document the choice of sexual vs. asexual reproduction in each cohort when applying pressure and when not applying pressure.

    What do you see? (Is it significant? )

  39. =8)-DX says

    @Jamie

    “Why is sexual reproduction so common despite its costs”? Seriously?

    I think this is supposed to be an expression of exhasperation and bewilderment about the fact that scientists are doing science, i.e. trying to find out things that appear trivial/unimportant/pointless. (Compare with “Why is the sky blue? Seriously? Why do things fall down, not up? Seriously?”)