No more Howard

The winners of the World Fantasy Award for 2015 have just been announced, so if you’re looking for interesting reading, there you go.


The winners are given that hideous statuette to the right, a bust of HP Lovecraft. Now we’re all winners, because it has just been announced that the caricature of the goggle-eyed racist will not be handed out in the future — winners in 2016 will get something that they won’t tuck out of sight and turn towards the wall (and here’s another take on the controversy over HP).

I’ve been a big fan of the Cthulhu mythos, but I agree with this change — if it were a statuette of Cthulhu, I would approve, but a statuette of HP Lovecraft the man is honoring the wrong thing, not the creation, but the horrible complicated twisted creator.

Why did it have to be physics?

Tom Levenson has a new book, The Hunt for Vulcan:…And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe, and it’s getting interesting and positive reviews. I’ve also got two flights coming up at the end of this week, so I need something tasty to read.

But it’s physics. There are a heck of a lot of good physics books coming out all the time — one of my colleagues here at UMM, Chrissy Kolaya, also has a new book, Charmed Particles: A Novel, also about physics, wouldn’t you know it. I’ll have to read both, I think.

But people! Don’t you know that developmental biology is the most interesting subject in the universe?

Another children’s science book

We need more of these, and here’s another: Great Adaptations: A Fantastical Collection of Science Poems. It contains short rhyming summaries of scientists’ work on adaptations, all nicely illustrated.

Here’s one from Sarah Hrdy’s work on empathy and cooperation.


Doesn’t that make you want to run out and buy it right now? How much would you pay? $5? $10? $25?

Well, you can’t. Instead, you have to go to this website and download it for free.

Writing the book was a labor of love, so I hope you love it too! Lastly, because our objective is to get as many people reading and learning about evolution, we’re offering the E-book for free.

Those wacky scientists. They know nothing of capitalism. Isn’t it great?

Just doing my part

A clinic in Virginia took a pro-active stance against the anti-choicers preaching and sermonizing outside: they tried to drown them out with a recording over a loudspeaker. I don’t actually approve of that tactic — the first consideration ought to be welcoming patients, and compounding cacophony isn’t helpful. Interestingly, though, their choice of a recording was the audiobook of The Happy Atheist, as read by the resonant Aron Ra.

“We are apes and the descendants of apes,” the recording of Meyers’ book “The Happy Atheist” declared. “We’re the descendents of rat-like primates, who were the children of reptiles, who were the spawn of amphibians, who were the terrestrial progeny of fish, who came from worms, who were assembled from single-cell microorganisms, who were the products of chemistry.”

“Your daddy was a film of chemical slime on a Hadean rock and he didn’t care about you—he was only obeying the laws of thermodynamics,” it continued. “You aren’t here because of grand design, but because of chance, contingency and selection.”

Not only was Aron Ra given no credit, they also…misspelled my name. I guess I should learn to expect that. When I got married, I suggested that I adopt my wife’s name instead, but she squelched that. No one would ever misspell “Gjerness”, would they?

But actually, much as I appreciate the attention and the anger of Christians, don’t blare my words at women just looking for care. It’s not appropriate and is counterproductive.

The Hugo Awards for 2015


You’ve all been wondering about these awards, haven’t you? Even some people who don’t care about science fiction have been curious. This is the year politicking and block voting came to the fore, with several categories tainted by a slew of nominations from two right-wing niche voting cliques, the Sad and Rabid Puppies, led by people like the Odious Vox Day. If they couldn’t win a popular vote by, you know, being popular, they were determined to conquer by being disciplined.

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Punks and anarchists unite!


I’m a bit shell-shocked today — man, that was a long drive yesterday — and I stumbled into work today thinking this might be a really good day to bag it early and take a nap. And then I found something in my mailbox that perked me right up.

As a little background, I’ll summarize my talk in St Louis. I pointed out that there was more to evolution than natural selection. Natural selection answers the question of adaptedness — how do organisms get so good at what they do — but there’s another important question, about diversity and variation — why do organisms do so many things in so many different ways? And I made the point with stories about people like Spencer and Galton, who so emphasized optimality and how Nature, red in tooth and claw, ruthlessly culls the weak allowing the survival of only the fittest. Spencerian evolution is a very narrow and limited kind of biology, but unfortunately, it often seems to be the only kind of evolution the general public has in mind.

And then I contrasted it with Kropotkin’s ideas about Mutual Aid (pdf), and the greater importance of cooperation in survival.

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Move over, Eye of Argon


The Eye of Argon is a legendary work of bad fiction (you don’t have to trust me, just read a page or two), but we have to be fair: its author did not try to publish it, didn’t try to tell the world that it was the greatest work of fantasy ever, and didn’t brag about his book and movie deals.

That modesty is not a property of Gloria Tesch, author of the Maradonia Saga, a series I was introduced to just this past weekend. It may not be as badly written as Eye of Argon (although it comes close), but the ego of the author is astonishing.

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We fish need to hang together

Somebody calling themselves “True Free Thinker” is irate that anyone would teach kids about evolution. As you might guess from the moniker, this person is actually anti-atheist and anti-science; what you might not immediately realize is that he’s a terrible thinker, terrible writer, and even worse video editor. He’s assembled a very strange video which is like a slow, bad ad for the book, Grandmother Fish.

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Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome


I made a dreadful mistake. Before embarking on my trip to Germany, with those long transatlantic flights, I stocked up my Kindle with a couple of books to keep me entertained. One of them was Nessa Carey’s Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome. It was a poor investment. I could not finish it. I got maybe a half hour worth of reading out of it before I was too exasperated to continue, and instead watched a ghastly Night at the Museum sequel being shown on the plane’s entertainment system. It was a terrible movie, but better than this book.

Actually, it didn’t take me a half hour to become peevish. The very first page after the acknowledgments, in a section called “Notes on Nomenclature,” contained this abomination.

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