Think of the cost of shoes

This is the most extreme case of polydactyly I’ve seen — a child in China born with 31 fingers and toes.


They’re hoping to carry out a surgical correction, which can cause new problems…but in this case it’s necessary, because apparently the child’s thumbs have been transformed into other digits, or failed to form, so all they’ve got is 15 fingers. Opposable thumbs are generally useful.

Oh, and look at those big toes — triphalangeal digits? Developmentally fascinating, personally tragic.

SETI is bad science


I thought I’d take a different tack on understanding science denialists. Are there any subjects on which I would be called a science denialist?

I can think of a couple of examples immediately. I’ve been called anti-science because I reject the bigotry of the “human biological diversity” or hbd crowd; I’ve also got quite a few fuming ranters who hate the fact that I reject evolutionary psychology as an ignorant fraud. I’ve written about those things before, though, and they also seem to draw in a lot of angry privileged assholes, so let’s not go over that again.

Instead, here’s something that maybe we can discuss dispassionately, but where I do sneer at the status quo.

I am a Search-For-Extraterrestrial-Intelligence (SETI) denier. I really am. It seems to be a popular topic among pro-science people, but I just roll my eyes whenever it comes up, and I’ve written a few things where I state my biases against it, but I’ll just make it crystal clear: I think it’s bad science driven by unrealistic fantasies, I don’t think its proponents think rationally about it, and we ought to stop throwing money at it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not because I disbelieve in aliens — I rather suspect that life is relatively common in the universe. It’s not because I think it’s impossible for us to contact aliens — I just think the odds are prohibitively low. But every time a SETI person opens their mouth (like, for instance, Seth Shostak, who I also think is an extremely nice guy, and also very intelligent), I hear nothing but innumerate babble.

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I don’t understand what’s going on in denialist’s heads

Jimmy Kimmel featured a video of scientists reacting to climate change denialists.

It raises an interesting question. Why? Why do some people think climate scientists are telling the world about anthropogenic climate change? I’d really like to know.

Do they think scientists somehow profit from this? Because they don’t. The people with all the money are the oil and coal interests. If a scientist wants to make money, they should be sucking up to Exxon-Mobil.

Is it ideological? Do they think scientists just have an irrational hatred of the rich, or desire to see the end of the world? Because that isn’t the case, either. If they were welcoming the apocalypse, the best thing to do would be to advocate for more neglect and more consumption.

You know, we don’t have a holy book that revels in an end-of-the-world story. Scientists really don’t get much fame and glory, and no money at all, for coming to difficult conclusions.

I can understand why the deniers deny: wishful thinking — like us, they don’t want global warming to occur — and ignorance cultivated by the corporations that do profit from burning more oil. But I’m unable to figure out what they think we’re thinking.

This is also the case for creationists. I can understand their religious commitments that lead them to deny the evidence, but what do they think scientists gain from supporting evolution? Evolutionary biology is not lucrative. There is no religion of evolutionism. I’m interested in seeing the evidence evaluated rationally, but that’s about it: if there were good evidence that the Earth couldn’t be more than 10,000 years old, I’d be discussing that.

What do the anti-vaxxers think? Why would doctors be promoting a series of treatments that didn’t work? Do they believe that autism is some sort of highly profitable illness, or that doctors are racking up big stacks of bills with low cost vaccinations?

I confess to a total failure of empathy. I can’t put myself in their shoes when it comes to putting themselves in my shoes. I’ve talked to creationists one-on-one about this before, and they can’t tell me what I’m thinking at all accurately — it’s usually some nonsense about hating God or loving Satan, and it’s not at all true. But at the same time, I’m able to explain to them why they’re promoting creationism in a way they can agree with.

Maybe it’s that I can’t empathize with someone who is totally lacking an ability to empathize with others.

Harry Kroto has died

Oh, crap. This is another big loss. Kroto won the Nobel 20 years ago, and most admirably, turned his fame and money towards advancing science education. Somehow, I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of lengthy conversations with him at meetings, and while one thing we had in common was atheism (he was also a freethinker and humanist and vocal atheist), it seemed we always spent most of our time talking about science education and his work on global educational outreach. He was opinionated and outspoken, but always broad-minded.

He also knew that science is a philosophy.


I always enjoyed talking with Harry. I’m going to miss that.

Watch out, the birds are getting feisty


This morning, I heard a loud thump against our living room window, and thinking that some poor innocent little bird had accidentally hurt itself, I rushed to look out. I was wrong. It was a huge blue jay, its feathers a bit ruffled, clutching some unidentifiable small mammal in its claws. It saw me and flew off into the trees across the road with its victim.

That and all the loud singing and whistling and cooing outside my bedroom window every morning at 5am is getting to be a bit much. Don’t these dinosaurs know they’re supposed to be extinctified?

The “moment” of fertilization?


What moment? Fertilization is a complex process, with a series of steps.

  • First, the sperm cell binds to the pellucid zone surrounding the egg. This is specific; sperm and egg have to recognize each other and bind appropriately. You don’t want the sperm to bind to every epithelial cell of the reproductive tract, after all, and you don’t want the egg cell to be receptive to every passing white blood cell.

  • This binding triggers the acrosome reaction. The tip of the sperm cell ruptures releasing enzymes that break down the glycoproteins surrounding the egg and exposing the sperm cell membrane and the egg cell membrane locally.

  • Those two membranes then fuse, and the sperm cell nucleus is drawn into the cortex of the egg. This is called docking and invagination.

  • Docking triggers a wave of electrical activity in the egg cell membrane; from the point of entry, a ring of depolarization sweeps rapidly across the egg, causing vesicles to fuse and dump their contents into the space surrounding the egg, creating a barrier to additional sperm trying to enter. This can be visualized using chromophores that change color in response to membrane voltage, or that react to the binding of calcium, the important ion that crosses the membrane at this step.

  • The germinal vesicles, or nuclei, of sperm and egg then move via cytoskeletal transport towards each other and fuse to create a single diploid nucleus.

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