Of pigs and people


Calm down, people. Nobody is making human-pig hybrids, even if the news is making a big deal about it. To be honest, I’m not even very impressed with the utility of the experiment, although it is interesting and technically accomplished. It’s being touted as a step in developing pigs with human-derived organs for transplants, and no, I just don’t see it.

The experiments involve xenografts in the blastocyst; that is, they take pluripotent stem cells from one organism, and inject them into the embryos of a different species at a very early stage of development, when the embryo is a hollow ball of cells with an inner cell mass that will eventually become the fetus proper. Then they look for incorporation of the injected cells into the embryo.

It doesn’t always work. The inner cell mass doesn’t necessarily accept these alien cells, or the injected cells don’t thrive in this unusual environment, so you might do the injections, implant the resultant hybrids, and when you open up the host days or weeks later, your injected cells are all gone. It is non-trivial to get this to work, so what they’ve accomplished is technically impressive.

It was a lot of work, too. They injected 2,181 pig blastocysts with human pluripotent stem cells, cultured them in vitro for a few days, and had 2075 embryos that were then implanted in masses of 40-50 embryos into host pigs (which implies that many would be expected to be lost), and collected 186 embryos about 4 weeks later. This is a good yield — I’ve done experiments with much lower rates of success — but the real question is whether any of the human cells were incorporated into the pig embryos.

It worked! They got incorporation of human cells into the pig embryos. Unfortunately, there are a few problems: one is that the embryos with incorporated human cells were significantly retarded in their growth. This ought to be expected; just the timing of development for the two kinds of cells will be out of sync, so I’d actually have expected even greater problems. It’s promising that they got incorporation at all. The other problem is that the incorporation was very low: 0.001% of the embryo’s cells were human. Uh, that’s not very good. If you’re trying to generate organs grown in pigs that have exclusively human antigens, even 99.9% human isn’t going to be good enough — it’s going to trigger an immune response when transplanted.

None of these cells made up the majority of cells in any organ, even; the experiment doesn’t really test the feasibility of accomplishing that, and I suspect that trying to increase the percentage of human cells is going to also increase the incompatibilities and lead to greater and greater rates of developmental failure. They do have some interesting ideas for increasing the rates, though. If the host pig cells are transgenically modified to make them unable to make a pancreas, for instance, any pancreas in the pig would have to be derived from human cells. It would still be infiltrated with pig-derived nerves and blood vessels and connective tissue, though, so that’s insufficient to create a transplant-ready organ.

As pure basic research, it’s a good experiment, and I’ll be interested to see how much further it can go — if nothing else, it’s going to expose evolutionary disparities in development between different mammalian species. The head investigator has an appropriate perspective on it, I think:

Scientific American: So this is very, very basic biology?

JCIB: So I feel that there has been a little bit of exaggeration of where we could go with this now. If you look on the Internet you see images of chimeras between human and animal. And I feel that that’s a little bit of exaggeration. It’s true that it works very nicely between rat and mouse — just this experimental protocol that I am telling you. It’s only a couple of months ago that we have been able to put human cells into another animal. In this case in a mouse and realized that they can differentiate in the three germ layers. The three germ layers are the mesoderm, ectoderm and endoderm that will give rise to the more than 250 different cell types. So that’s a major accomplishment I will say. But from there, dreaming that they will generate a functional structure, I think we’re going to need time and a lot of luck.
So we need to go for a lot of basic research still. It’s my own feeling, of course. There are other people who think that tomorrow we are going to create human organs. And I wish that I am wrong and they are right, but I think it will take time.

Yes! It’s basic research, which is a grand and worthy thing. It’s too bad so much of the press coverage can only grasp it in terms of making organs for human transplantation — I doubt that this approach will ever work for that, but will instead teach us more about development and evolution and molecular biology.

The second week of ecological developmental biology


I’m trying to do weekly assessments of how my new class is going…and also to have a regular record of concerns and successes so I can remind myself of what not to do next time I teach the course. We’re wrapping up a rapid survey of a few developmental systems just to expose them to some of the concepts of the field first; last week we blitzed through early polarity formation and gastrulation. This week we covered neural tube formation and neural crest on Tuesday, and this morning it was limb formation and craniofacial development.

One of my concerns is that it’s really easy for me to dominate the class hour. Yeah, just trigger me with a few phrases like apical ectodermal ridge, progress zone, and zone of polarizing activity, wind me up, and I’ll happily talk about cool experiments and nifty results for a few hours, my eyes glazing over as I forget that those students are there. That’s bad. I have to slap myself out of that habit. And as I mentioned last week, it’s not helping that it’s 8am and the students eyes are a bit glazed over, and I’m concerned about drawing them out to talk more. My ideal class would be one where I just help answer questions for the entire period.

I’m happy to say that, while they aren’t quite at that point yet, the students are warming up and I’ve been getting a few sharp questions, including some that I was unable to answer, which always leaves me overjoyed. Challenging stuff! It’s the best!

It also helped that the last half of today was something completely different: I gave them a short review paper that was rather densely technical on craniofacial development. I warned them that I was throwing them into the deep end of the pool to start with, so we struggled our way through all the acronyms and unexplained syndromes and weird little genes. We puzzled out the molecular basics for common developmental problems, like cleft palate, and more exotic and severe ones like Bartsocas-Papas syndrome (if you read the paper, you might not want to follow up by googling the syndromes, because you’ll encounter lots of tragic children). I learned a few things myself, like how common ribosomopathies are in these craniofacial disorders — there are genes like TCOF1 which produce proteins that act specifically in the nucleolar regions to regulate ribosome expression in specific tissues, and haploinsufficency leads to all kinds of failures in cell migration and differentiation.

I got even more questions. That’s good — I wasn’t looking forward to a semester of talking at nodding heads. I’m beginning to relax a little now.

Next week will be even more of a shock. I won’t be leading the discussions at all — I’ll be the one sitting back and answering questions. Tuesday will be student-led reviews of the stages of human embryonic development, with discussions of clinical correlates. Each student has been assigned a tiny snippet of the sequence to explain to us. Thursday they all have to explain The Triple Helix to me. Next week is all about student engagement!

The first week of Ecological Developmental biology


We’re off to a slow start in my brand new course, largely because I’m in the awkward phase of trying to catch everyone up on the basics before we plunge into the deeper waters, but also because the 8am scheduling is not good for inspiring interaction. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision to begin with a crash course in introductory concepts in developmental biology, because it’s encouraging the students to think that I’m going to do nothing but pour knowledge into their brains, but I’m at a loss to know how to get right into the primary literature without making sure they’re comfortable with the terminology and ideas of the discipline first.

The theme of the first week really was fundamental: polarity. How does a single-celled zygote figure out which end goes up? The students had to read a few chapters from the Gilbert developmental biology text (which is free online, at least in the 6th edition, which is good enough for a quick summary), specifically the chapter on anterior/posterior polarity (which is almost entirely about Drosophila, I added a fair number of examples from Ciona and echinoderms), and the chapter on the organizer in amphibians. That covered a good range, from an organism in which the orientation is pre-specified by maternal RNA (flies) to a case where it’s determined by an environmental interaction — the sperm entry point followed by a cortical rotation reaction (frogs). I also added a bit about mammals, where the decision by the blastula cells to form inner cell mass vs. extra-embryonic membranes is basically a chance event, biased by location in the cluster of early cells.

In all of the examples, though, the key point is that the decisions are not determined exclusively genetically, whatever that would mean, but are contingent on interactions between genes and cytoplasm, which also has structure and pattern, and that that structure may also be influenced by the external environment.

It was fun and familiar to me, but again I’m concerned that when I do most of the work, I’m encouraging passivity in the students. That role is continuing this week, when I give them the stories of neural tube and limb development, as examples of later organ systems that rely on complex interactions. The third week, though, I completely turn the tables on them: they’ve got some reading assignments for that week, and have to do short presentations in class. I’m just going to sit back and ask questions, and hope I don’t get bleary-eyed silence in response.

In my notes for what to do next time I teach this course:

  • Lobby for a better course time. 8am is too damn early for young men and women, even if it is just fine for us oldsters who don’t sleep as much and get up early anyway.

  • This section is a prime candidate for a flipped classroom approach — I could make some short videos ahead of time that they need to watch in their homes, with an accompanying set of questions that they’ll have to discuss in class. The problem there is that in-class responsiveness is one of their weaknesses right now.

  • Later in the course we’ll be trying some different pedagogical approaches: watch for what works best with this group, and maybe revise our crash course section to use that.

I’m a little worried about teaching genetics

I start teaching my genetics class today, and usually I plunge right in to simple Mendelian genetics to get through the easy stuff quickly. I’m making a big change, though, for social and political reasons. In a country rife with neo-Nazis and racism, it’s a bad idea to encourage simplistic thinking about genetics — too many people know a little bit about Mendel’s pea plants (trust me, those traits were chosen for their discontinuous properties and apparent simplicity), a teeny-tiny bit about Darwin and selection, and turn that into sweeping pronouncements about the True Nature of Humanity, as understood by idiots. It’s embarrassing. So I’ve decided to start the genetics course with a little demonstration of humility. Think before you leap to conclusions about how genetics works!

This page on the myths of human genetics is extremely useful for that purpose, so we’re going to go through a few examples right there in the classroom, and show some of the data. There has been a historical tendency to shoehorn traits into a simple Mendelian model, and it’s easy to show that there are cases where that doesn’t work, at all.

We’re also going to take on that popular nonsense about finger lengths, which is just a classic example of overinterpreting tiny amounts of variation (which is still statistically significant!), and making grandiose claims about human nature as derived from a morphological feature. It’s little more than modern palmistry…I’ve even found a page on palmistry that just runs on at length about these ridiculous claims about personality derived from the length of your index finger. And then there’s Joseph Mercola, who claims that you can use finger length to predict your IQ, SAT scores, and of course, autism, in addition to your sexual preferences.

In the end, I’m going to give them a short list of basic intellectual and ethical ideas they ought to have when beginning a study of genetics.

  • Avoid value judgments. What is a flaw to one person might be a virtue to another.

  • Do not concatenate assumptions. An individual might have a particular trait, but it does not imply that they have another, and another, and another, creating a false picture from a single data point.

  • Genetics is a mighty fine hammer; it does not mean everything is a nail. In particular, individuals are the product of gene products interacting with each other and the environment. Don’t disregard one component at the expense of another!

  • Reductionism is essential for a beginning of understanding, but is not sufficient for a thorough understanding. We start simple because that’s what we’re sure of; but our purpose is to build a more accurate model on that foundation, that will inevitably be more complex.

  • We do not understand everything about heredity. An ethical culture refuses to stereotype people on the basis of limited knowledge…or worse, false knowledge.

  • Nullius in verba. Critically assess all claims.

On Monday we’ll review basic Mendelian genetics, which seems to be all students come out of high school knowing anything about (and even at that, they’ll make lots of mistakes). It just seems to me, though, that in the current political climate it is irresponsible to put off a discussion of the limitations of science and ethical concerns until the very end of the course.

Cheap toy failures

The other day, when I was doing some online shopping, an ad popped up for a clip-on microscope for my phone. I thought, “I’m a professional microscopist! I should have a microscope I can carry around in my pocket!” and on a whim, I ordered it. It was only $8, so what the hey.

My dream has not yet been accomplished, I’m sad to report.


First sign of trouble: It claims 60-100x magnification, and looking inside, there’s a cheap plasticky looking lens set well back inside — it’s got maybe a 30mm focal length. Nope, that’s not going to work. I haven’t even tried it yet and I’m doubtful.

Next step is to attach it to your phone, which is really, really easy, using a big clip to clamp it to the camera lens. Except that the clamp is not very solid, and your phone is going to be hanging off to the side. It won’t stay clamped for long. You also just have to eyeball the positioning, since there’s nothing to lock it in alignment with the phone camera lens. Aligning it is a constant struggle. The clamp can’t even hold the phone in place, it certainly won’t hold it in alignment. If you’re lucky enough to get a picture, be prepared for uncontrollable wobbly vignetting.

The next problem: there are a couple of crude, hard to work knobs on the side. One is for magnification: forget it. Set it to the lowest mag, “60x”, and just leave it there. The other is the focus knob, which is also clumsy and hard to turn. Now imagine juggling a loosely held phone clipped to the side of this thing, you’re trying to hold it steady because any wobble will shift the camera lens away from the “microscope”, and you’ll understand that this is a frustrating exercise in imppossibly precise coordination.

So I got it together, pulled out a couple of prepared, stained slides of chick embryo sections, about the easiest targets possible, and tried to take a picture. Nooooope. I briefly saw a few images wander by, afflicted with ghastly spherical and chromatic aberration, but if I moved a finger to click a picture, they’d wander off again. I thought briefly about making it work with a couple of ringstands and some clamps, but realized that the agglomeration would be bigger than my dissecting scope and produce crappier pictures, so there was no point.

Caveat emptor. You get what you pay for. Sometimes less than what you pay for.

I’ve peeked in on both sides now

Marcus has a long post on hacker mythology — I don’t have his depth of experience on it, but I’ve had a little exposure.

Back in the 80s/90s, I was on the edge of hacker culture. I was cracking games, I was doing a little phone phreaking, I was poking around in that culture, reading the magazines and trying stuff out. My general impression: “This is easy.” A little knowledge about computers — an epiphenomenological sort of knowledge — was easily amplified into some success in breaking into things. I talked with “hackers” online, and was unimpressed. They could talk a good game, but they didn’t understand much. Their primary skill was in bragging.

Then I got a job as a systems manager for an academic unit, working with VAXen for a lot of scientists who just saw them as tools to get a job done, and they needed someone to take care of keeping everything running smoothly. I worked at that for a couple of years. General impression: “This is hard.” You had to dig deep to understand how to prevent harm to the system. Those were big complex operating systems, and you knew all it took was one of those idiots I used to be reading about some hole in one of many subsystems to take advantage, so you had to read everything and keep up with all those DECtapes that came rolling around with technical issues.

I pretty much lost all respect for so-called “hackers” fast, and have never seen the virtue of hiring hackers to improve security. You don’t hire people who know how to smash things with hammers to enhance the security of locks — they don’t know anything you don’t.

r/K selection theory does not justify racism

Last night I was entertaining myself by reading a few of the angry rants I’m always being sent, and a couple of them led me to a simultaneously familiar and disconcertingly off bit of territory — it was people proudly using Science as a warrant for bigotry. It was weird because they were using terms I knew and that were legitimately part of a scientific discipline, but they were using them in ways that were crazy inappropriate and that revealed they actually didn’t understand the science. There are a surprising number of people who are babbling about r/K selection theory on the internet.

r/K selection theory gets its name from a simplified equation that tries to quantify how quickly a population’s size can change. It reduces the number of parameters that affect the rate of change in population size, N, to just two: r, the maximum growth rate, and K (for carrying capacity), the maximum number of individuals the environment can sustain. It leads to this appealingly trivial equation:

dN/dt = rN(1-N/K)

That seems to fit, intuitively. When you colonize a new environment and your population size is very far from the carrying capacity, your best bet is to be weedy and breed like rabbits…and if two species are in competition, the one that will fill up the environment first is the one that can pump out babies the fastest. If you’re in a stable environment that’s at capacity, r becomes less important — there’s nothing new to exploit, population size isn’t going to change much anymore, so K becomes the dominant factor in defining your population limits. So if you’re a dandelion or a sea urchin, spew out great clouds of cheap zygotes, 99.99% of which will die, but you’ll be able to grab a foothold in any new patch of sea floor or suburban yard that opens up. If you’re an elephant or a blue whale, there are never going to be very many of you in the world, so it’s better to invest more in infant care, so that, while you don’t have many of them, your babies are more likely to survive.

The nice thing about r/K theory was that it was so danged simple…and that was one of the reasons it has long slipped out of favor. Its predictive power was weak, because it went too far and reduced populations to too few parameters. Biology is complex, and species have many more strategies for optimizing their success than just how fast they can make babies. This is not my field, but I saw r/K theory decline rapidly in popularity: in the 70s and 80s, when I took and first started teaching introductory biology courses, it was all over the textbooks; and then it slowly faded away. It was replaced with more complex and more accurate demographic models, and a broader study of life history evolution (you want more, you can read about it in Ecology (pdf), again, well outside my field). I rarely encounter the term any more.

Except in one place.

Racist tirades on the internet!

Go ahead and look for yourself. Google “r k selection” and see what comes up. Among the Wikipedia references and a scattering of course pages (which do get it right), I see triumphant declarations from right wingers and MRAs that r/K selection theory proves that they are right. r/K Selection Theory Ends All Political Debate, they announce; all you need to know is a little bit of biology and you can destroy all those liberals. Except the ones that are biologically literate, that is. Would you believe that they are seriously claiming that black people are more like echinoderms and white people are more like elephants, and that being K-selected is superior to being r-selected? Of course you would, because you know they’re stupid. They’re even abusing the theory to claim that different political/religious systems are driven by their misinterpretations of a biological theory.

While Christianity is far more ‘K’ selected than say Marxism, it’s still more ‘r’ selected than the pre-Christian European social orders. An exception to this would be the Roman empire which was based on a pagan belief system, but through its expansion and conquest it gradually became increasingly ‘r’ selected from things like the abundance of sex slaves they kept. This eventually turned into all out sexual degeneracy practiced by many Romans, but especially the elites.

You can’t do that, I splutter. Setting aside the bad history there, the r and K parameters are a simplified (too simplified) abstraction for a lot of biological properties that affect population growth. r is the same in all of those groups; human pairs can pop out roughly one baby a year, but most don’t. K is dependent on the environment as well as the biology of the organism. Because there are multiple factors affecting it, you can’t look at just the number of babies produced and announce that a population is r or K selected; the same organisms with the same r values will grow at different rates in different situations, which is what that r/K formula says. If I put a pair of rabbits on an island with a lot of food, they’ll reproduce rapidly; if I put a similar pair on an island with little food, they’ll reproduce more slowly. This does not imply that there are different r values in the two sets of rabbits.

They do a lot of this kind of misinterpretation and failure to grasp the basic concept. It’s driven by the fact that they also have a peculiar set of value judgements. r is bad, so you take every human characteristic you dislike and assign them to the r strategy. K is good, so all virtues get lumped under that category. This is not biology. Those parameters are abstractions, not descriptions of ethical qualities. K is not synonymous with courage, and r is not the same as promiscuity. You can’t just reify these abstractions to declare that “Person X is like a cowardly little rabbit, therefore he is r-selected, which is a sciencey term, therefore Science has just put the stamp of absolute truth on my assessment.” You can’t do that.

You especially can’t do that because r and K are properties of a species and an environment. But they happily apply them to individuals and categories of individuals. For instance, did you know that some women are r-selected, and others are K-selected? It makes no sense, but it’s all over the place.

With an r-strategy, the quality of the mate isn’t very important; you just spread your genes far and wide. With a k-strategy, you select the fittest mate and monopolize their womb/sperm.

These differing strategies result in differing behaviors and attitudes. A heavy r-woman is a mega-slut (having sex in her teens). She’s bitchy and masculine in her behavior. She’s interested in style over substance (think Jersey Shore skanks).

A heavy k-woman has very few sexual partners over her lifetime. She is feminine and agreeable. She is interested in a long-term, stable relationship with a man of substance.

Wait, wait. So masculine behavior is associated with women being r-selected? Not so fast. It turns out that sometimes not being masculine enough is an r value.

The white (k-selected) population built this country, despite any revisionist history to the contrary, and it is systematically being destroyed, not just by minorities, but by women, and pussy ass men inevitably r-selected by their general lack of aggression/decisiveness. Does this not sound like the modus operandi of r-selection?

I get so confused reading this stuff. Here’s an example of failing to understand what r is, inappropriately applying it to individuals, and being self-contradictory.

*** Feminism is r-type

“In r-type populations, females exhibit more male traits, such as increased size, aggression, and competitiveness. In this milieu, this is an effective aspect of an r-strategy, as r-females need to both provide for their offspring, and fend off threats, due to male abandonment.

It is interesting that modern feminism, so often associated with the left, exhibits a denigrating view of the rewards offered by offspring rearing, an embrace of sexual liberation for women (ie promiscuity), a denigrating view of men which would facilitate short-term mating relationships, as well as an increased drive to compete aggressively alongside males, in traditionally male endeavors.”

You can’t do that. You can’t declare that feminists, who are biologically human, are r-selected, while misogynists, who are also biologically of the same species, are K-selected. This is simply rank nonsense.

But further, this same article defines the r strategy as having lots of offspring. But talk to a feminist: they are all about limiting and controlling reproduction, having fewer children or none, and pursuing other roles in society beyond just making babies. By their own deeply flawed definition, feminism is K-type. But apparently the attributes of these parameters vary depending on sex…which makes no fucking sense at all. They argue that r/K selection theory is an incredibly powerful paradigm, capable of flaying a liberal’s mind faster than any other concept on the planet. I think they’ve confused stupefaction at the demonstration of egregious idiocy by the ‘conservative’ with “flaying”.

Oh, we’re not done with the inconsistencies. Did you know that Homosexuality is a dishonorable mating strategy? On some days, homosexuality is biological futility, doomed to die out as they fail to reproduce, and on others, well, we have to fit this into the r/K paradigm somehow, and r is bad remember, so they’re somehow using this to breed rapidly.

This example finally provides an evolutionary justification for homosexuality. Mimicking a female gives the Anticompetitive cuttlefish access to females, which he would otherwise never acquire. Likewise, almost all human fags are bisexual, and many men become gay only after failing with women. Being gay permits the occasional “experimental” bang with a girlfriend. Hence the K male’s aversion to fags and fag hags.

I don’t even…

Here’s another blatant attempt to coopt science to defend their bigotry. Hatred for liberals is genetic, they say.

“…Competitors who evolved to revile those who violated the Competitive strategy. These groups would easily dominate such a group competition. Individuals that were imbued with a fierce contempt for cowardice, a hatred for selfishness, and aversions towards such behaviors as interference in free competitions between men, opportunistic advantage taking, rule breaking, sexual sneaking and disloyalty to the group would form, and function within, successful groups unusually well.”

In other words, homophobia is not latent homosexuality, it is a rational genetic strategy. As is hating hippies.

You know, none of that follows. It doesn’t even make logical sense, even if one accepts the false premises underlying it.

This bogosity is incredibly popular among the ignorant, however. Would you believe liberals and conservatives can be explained by r/K theory?

For humans, it would be advantageous to be able to switch from one mode to the other as the situation demands. A microbiologist over at anonymousconservative.com thinks that humans do just that. There is evidence, he says, for bit of programming in our brains that triggers a transition from “r” to “K” mode, based on environmental cues. In a 30-page scientific manuscript titled “Modern Political Thought in the Context of Evolutionary Psychology” posted at his website, he makes his case that left-wingers (i.e., American-style liberals) are acting in r-selection mode, while right-wingers (i.e., American-style conservatives) are acting in K-selection mode.

Oh, god. Look at the formula at the top of this article. There is already a switch in that oversimplificat that triggers changes in rates of population growth: it’s N. You don’t have to invent brain programming to do it.

I don’t even understand how, when all you’ve got in the formula is a reproduction rate, you can leap to the conclusion that conservatives are K-selected and liberals are r-selected. Again, it is totally inappropriate to mangle the theory this way, but who makes more babies? Rural Mormon conservatives or upwardly mobile urban feminists?

Note also the entanglement of evolutionary psychology here. This is another common theme: our conservative, exploitive, bigoted perspective is supported by evolutionary psychology and ecology, and therefore it is true. Never mind that EP is a collection of ad hoc myths calculated to justify inequities, and that they have to lie about ecology to twist it to fit their preconceptions.

We can’t just blame this behavior on stupid people engaging in circular arguments to excuse their biases, however. These ridiculous appropriations of an old theory in ecology have also been ripped off by racist cranks and published in the academic literature. J. Philippe Rushton, anyone?

This article discusses the r/K theory of Social Biology and how it relates to humans. The symbols r and K originate in the mathematics of population biology and refer to 2 ends of a continuum in which a compensatory exchange occurs between gamete production (the r-strategy) and longevity (the K-strategy). Both across and within species, r and K strategists differ in a suite of correlated characteristics. Humans are the most K of all. K’s supposedly have a longer gestation period, a higher birthweight, a more delayed sexual maturation, a lower sex drive, and a longer life. Studies providing evidence for the expected covariation among K attributes are presented. Additional evidence for r/K theory comes from the comparison of human population known to differ in gamete production. The pattern of racial differences observed to occur in sexual behavior has also been found to exist on numerous other indices of K. For instance, there are racial differences in brain size, intelligence, and maturation rate, among others. The findings suggest that, on the average, Mongoloids are more K than Caucasoids, who in turn, are more K than Negroids. Recently conducted studies have extended the data in favor of r/K theory, and further research is currently underway, including whether r/K attributes underlie individual and social class differences in health and longevity.

Aaargh, the stupid, it burns. Let’s use some archaic racial classifications, try to update it with some hot new sciencey lingo (this paper was published in 1988, when the r/K stuff was on the wane…but it’s not as if a guy who peddles 19th century racial “science” is going to be very current), and then pretend we’re actually doing research to measure population-specific variation in r values. This is typical Rushton, trying to bullshit his audience with false claims of a scientific foundation for his prejudices.

But it’s an amazingly popular strategem. This is lying with science on a par with what creationists do, and it’s everywhere in the most unpleasantly odious communities on the internet: racists, misogynists, and crank conservatives, all the people who have recently won bigly in the political arena. We should be afraid. And we need to fight back more against pseudo-science.

Friday Cephalopod: Well, now I’ve lost my appetite

Sometimes, you just don’t want to know about the lifestyles of the tentacled.

The vampire squid lurks in the eternal midnight of the deep sea and a cloak-like web stretches between its eight arms. When threatened, it turns inside out, exposing rows of finger-like projections, called cirri. Vampire squid eat mostly “marine snow”—a mixture of dead bodies, poop, and snot. The soft cirri help the animal transfer food to its mouth, seen here in the center of the frame.

Uh, yum?