OK, so where’s the evolution?

This is why I can’t stand evolutionary psychology: the field reduces evolution to a meaningless modifier that isn’t tested or used to inform the results at all. This article on The Science Behind Why So Many Women Want to Befriend Gay Men is not only free of any testing of evolutionary hypotheses, but doesn’t even question the assertion in the title.

It starts with a claim.

During the course of my research, I’ve discovered that the most interesting, compelling—and, arguably, most theoretically coherent—explanation is through the lens of evolution.

Specifically, I believe evolutionary psychology and human mating can help explain why relationships between straight women and gay men tend to flourish.

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Nerds growing old

A review at Ars Technica starts this way: “Dungeons & Dragons just celebrated its 42nd birthday…”. I said no, no way, this is a mistake, it can’t be — I started playing that game the year after it came out, in 1975, which was…41 years ago. Yikes.

I played regularly through college — we had a kind of loose gaming group who would get together every week or two for a long night of goofy fantasy role playing. I drifted away after graduation, though, for two reasons: I’d moved far away from old friends, and they kept tinkering with the game, adding new persnickety rules and turning it into an exercise in bookkeeping rather than storytelling.

The review explains, though, that the latest edition goes back to its roots, simplifying and streamlining the rules, which I think is a step in the right direction, even if I’ll probably never play it again (I now live even farther away from my old friends). I think it’s also cool that they’ve made the basic player’s rules available for free, even if they’re going to still stick the dedicated D&D gamer with an $85 bill for three books, the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and of course, the Monster Manual (D&D Core Rulebook).

So all I need is money, and time, and friends, and I could pretend to be 18 again. Now that’s real fantasy role-playing!

Now it’s anthropology

I’m beginning to feel like an anomaly, because somehow I’ve gotten through 30+ years of teaching without ever groping a student. Harassing students seems to be a common thing. Now Science reports on a big case of sexual misconduct in the field of anthropology, a field that has had reports of problems before.

Although the most recent high-profile cases of sexual harassment in science have arisen in astronomy and biology, many researchers say paleoanthropology also has been rife with sexual misconduct for decades. Fieldwork, often in remote places, can throw senior male faculty and young female students together in situations where the rules about appropriate behavior can be stretched to the breaking point. Senior women report years of unwanted sexual attention in the field, at meetings, and on campus. A widely cited anonymous survey of anthropologists and other field scientists, called the SAFE study and published in July 2014 in PLOS ONE, reported that 64% of the 666 respondents had experienced some sort of sexual harassment, from comments to physical contact, while doing fieldwork.

Even a few years ago, the research assistant might not even have aired her complaint, as few women—or men—felt emboldened to speak out about harassment. Of the 139 respondents in the SAFE study who said they experienced unwanted physical contact, only 37 had reported it. Those who remained silent may have feared retaliation. Senior paleoanthropologists control access to field sites and fossils, write letters of recommendation, and might end up as reviewers on papers or grant proposals. “The potential for [senior scientists] to make a phone call and kill a careermaking paper feels very real,” says Leslea Hlusko, a paleontologist at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.

You should also read Rebecca Ackermann’s personal account of what it’s like to be targeted for harassment.

This is a gigantic problem for science. It’s not just a few people here and there — it’s pervasive across all disciplines, and it means we’ve lost an unknown number of excellent researchers over the years for an arbitrary reason that only benefits abusers.

We’re all bunnies now

The president of Mount St Mary’s University was in the news a short while back because of his cavalier attitude towards students: his grand plan for improving student retention scores was to drive away students earlier, before they counted in the statistics, with the comment that This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.

The faculty who criticized President Simon Newman, and who supported the students who reported the Glock comment, have been abruptly fired. One of them was tenured. Newman’s explanation?

As an employee of Mount St. Mary’s University, you owe a duty of loyalty to this university and to act in a manner consistent with that duty. However, your recent actions, in my opinion and that of others, have violated that duty and clearly justify your termination, said the letter.

Further, the letter said that Naberhaus’s actions have caused considerable damage to the university and that the university might sue him. In addition, the letter told Naberhaus he was designated persona non grata and banned from the campus.

Wow. Not only does Newman hold a Glock to everyone’s heads, he’s willing to pull the trigger.

Does R.K. Milholland spy on me with secret cameras?

I saw this latest comic and started feeling paranoid and checking the ceiling for lenses. It’s been a depressing couple of weeks, and…we’re hosting more cats. My son’s house got flooded by a water main break, he’s sleeping on couches at friends’ places, his gear is stored in various places, including our car, and we had to take in his two cats, temporarily.

It does not ease the situation. Our existing cat is a minion of the devil who hates strangers and strange cats, so we’ve had to wall off the two groups in separate rooms. I still come home to find our satanic beast snarling and hissing at a closed door. We are the only two other creatures on the planet she trusts at all, so far, and it’s a little uncomfortable to be the patrons of the bestial anti-christ.

So don’t do it, PeeJee! Not unless, of course, we can figure out how to translate real creatures into a two-dimensional cartoon world, and you really want a cat that will attack all your patrons on sight.

Which seminar should you attend?

Would you believe that the Twin Cities branch and the Morris campus of the University of Minnesota are having major seminars in the same week? Next Wednesday, UMTC will be hosting Milo Yiannopoulos and Christina Hoff Sommers on feminism (try not to laugh); on Friday, UMM will be hosting a Philosophy of Biology symposium, with Marlene Zuk, Alan Love, Emilie Snell-Rood, and many other highly qualified speakers.


Is it nice or fair of me to compare the two institutions on the basis of an official university event and a crackpot group of students? No, it is not, but you know how institutional rivalries are.

Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to this one. What’s particularly perfect about it is that it’s being held at the same time as my first year course, where we’re talking about evolution. Guess who gets to skip out on teaching that day and instead send all his students to listen to some extremely appropriate expertise?

As for the rest of you, you could attend both, since they’re two days apart. If you’re in the Twin Cities, though, I’ll understand if you decide to flee the stench early and come out to fabulous Morris for an extra day or two.

I think I can skip this one

The Minnesota Republic is another of those fringey conservative student newspapers that get surprisingly well funded by the Republicans, and aren’t at all representative of the campus as a whole. This one is on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota, and they get enough money that they’re bringing in a couple of well-known speakers to discuss an issue of concern.

That issue is feminism.

And to discuss it, they’re flying in two people. Guess who? Hint: they’re not well-informed experts. They have more of a reputation as anti-feminist ideologues. Try to come up with the two worst names you can imagine.

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Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to meeeeeee!

For some reason, those lyrics came to mind as I listened to this video, only, unfortunately, it’s not Freddy Mercury reaching for those notes — it’s Brian Dalton, and no, I’m sorry, you don’t have anywhere near the range.

Let us all consider what is wrong with this rather patronizing monologue.

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Looks like CFI got itself a winner

Robyn Blumner is busily defending Richard Dawkins now.

I think Richard Dawkins is purposefully misunderstood at times as a way to generate clicks on some bloggers’ page. It’s because his name brings page views and eyes so why not generate a lot of heat around something that is pretty tame if you really unpack it.

What is this? 2005? “Blogging for the clicks” is so last decade ago, and it was wrong even then.

Controversy doesn’t bring in long-term viewers. Consistency and frequent content builds an audience. Getting links from other big-time bloggers gets you traffic. This is remedial blogging 101.

What happens is that sometimes someone says something stupid, and when people notice and comment on it, they want to claim that there is some ulterior motive for their personal embarrassment, so they blame the blogger.

What Blumner is saying is simply a classic silencing tactic. You’re a bad person writing for money if you call attention to this other person’s bad behavior! So stop mentioning it!

And in my case, I dragged my heels for a long time, as regular readers can attest, trying and hoping that these outbursts on twitter and in blog comments were not representative of his views. I guess I should have cashed in on all those controversial clicks years ago!

I’ll also point out that criticizing the Heroic Leaders of the Atheist Revolution does not win you accolades and praise and money and appointments to leadership positions at major organizations. It gets you hate mail and stress and non-stop vilification and web sites dedicated to nothing but hating you. Blumner might want to think things through a little more if she thinks misinterpreting the biggest name in atheism is a fast-track path to success in the atheist community. It is a small tribal group that does not do introspection at all well.