Cafe Scientifique tonight

The 2014/2015 Cafe Scientifique series in Morris starts today! Come on out to the Common Cup Coffeehouse at 6pm to hear Michael Ceballos of the biology discipline talk about Malaysia: Intersections between Modern Science and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge. All the cool people will be here.


The next Café Scientifique will take place on Tuesday, September 30, at 6 p.m., at the Common Cup Coffeehouse (501 Atlantic Avenue, Morris, MN 56267). Michael Ceballos, assistant professor of biology, will lead the discussion, “Malaysia: Intersections between Modern Science and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge.” All are welcome to attend. Audience participation is encouraged.

The indigenous people of Borneo, or bumi putra, enjoy a rich history of utilizing natural resources to produce food, shelter, clothing, medicines, weaponry, and artesania. This traditional ecological knowledge and the flora, fauna, and microbiota of Borneo have more recently been explored by modern-day scientists. This discussion will focus on current research efforts underway on the island—some of which are being conducted by University of Minnesota, Morris students and faculty with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Café Scientifique is an ongoing series that offers a space where anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology for the price of a cup of coffee. Meetings take place outside of a traditional academic context and are committed to promoting public engagement with science. Interested audiences can look forward to additional discussions, typically held on the last Tuesday of selected months.

Café Scientifique is supported in part by a grant to the University of Minnesota, Morris from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program. Additional information is available at

It’s going to be good. If you don’t show up, Michael is going to hunt you down with that blowgun.

What happens when you lose a piece of your thalamus?

Some of the best evidence against dualism is the experience of stroke victims — in an instant, a small biological incident can completely change who you are. This story by Christina Hyung-Oak Lee, about her stroke at the age of 33, is fascinating and terrible. Also a bit scary, since her stroke symptoms didn’t fit any of the standard easy diagnostics, and it was days before she went in for treatment.

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Myth: multicellular life arose in the Cambrian


Creationists are much vested in the idea of “suddenly” — they love the idea of inserting the fingersnap of God into every abrupt transition. This is why they are infatuated with the Big Bang and the Cambrian Explosion, and why they flirted with the idea of renaming “Intelligent Design” to “Sudden Origins” theory. If something had no antecedents, no gradual build up, well then, we have to explain it with “God did it!”.

Unfortunately, the media plays along with it. I found a bit of scientific misinformation on the Raw Story — such obvious stupidity that anyone with any basic training in evolutionary biology would have caught it. I just gave my first year biology students an exam, and they would have caught it (I hope). Multicellular life did not arise in the Cambrian — it’s much older than that.

Here’s the story. A fossil of a multicellular organism was found, and…here comes the hype.

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Learn from the baboons

A primatologist looks at 4chan and reddit, and sees something familiar:

Light from the monitors cast lurid shadows upon their pallid, staring faces as their right hands pumped rhythmically up and down over the F5 key to reload their screens. “I can’t refresh fast enough,” one commenter typed ecstatically, while another announced, “This is the best night of my life!” Many of the men in this online forum attempted to outdo one another by bragging about how many times they had “fapped” that night—a euphemism for masturbation. They went to great lengths to assert their masculinity by insisting how often they had jerked off in front of a screen being watched by other men. Like baboons sitting with their legs spread wide so that passing males could witness their small red phalluses, there was a mixture of sex and status involved in this public display.

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Chocolate brains

The ever-charming Sam Harris has smarmily connected me to Deepak Chopra, so now I’m getting a flood of both smug, superior cluelessness from the Vulcans of Planet Sam, and the spacey vacuous nonsense of the Chopralites. Thanks, Sam! Although, I must say, so far Chopra freaks are doing a better job of actually saying something. Which isn’t saying much.

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VESTIGIAL: Learn what it means!

Vestigial organs are relics, reduced in function or even completely losing a function. Finding a novel function, or an expanded secondary function, does not make such organs non-vestigial.

The appendix in humans, for instance, is a vestigial organ, despite all the insistence by creationists and less-informed scientists that finding expanded local elements of the immune system means it isn’t. An organ is vestigial if it is reduced in size or utility compared to homologous organs in other animals, and another piece of evidence is if it exhibits a wide range of variation that suggests that those differences have no selective component. That you can artificially reduce the size of an appendix by literally cutting it out, with no effect on the individual (other than that they survive a potentially acute and dangerous inflammation) tells us that these are vestigial.

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