Jul 18 2014

July Online Gender Workshop: An exercise in the utility of definitions

When last we left our intrepid workshoppers, one month ago, we had had a rollicking discussion of definitions of gender, sex, and related terms.

One of the things that came out of that discussion is that when we are each pressed to define exactly what each of us as individuals mean by each person’s specific, personal use of terms like “gender” and “sex” and “transsexual” we not only consistently come up with different definitions, but we also routinely fail to come up with terms that actually cover everything we want to say.

In looking at people overtly performing gender, many of us struggled to find a way to express exactly what we wished to communicate using the terms we had just defined. Worse, in something little discussed as of yet, those people who are assumed to be the best and most skilled of us frequently declined to use gendered pronouns for some performers, but not others.

Why is this the case? If declining to assume an appropriate pronoun for Conchita Wurst is respectful, why not decline to assume an appropriate pronoun for Julie Andrews or Shirley Temple? One of the things we should, in fact, be discussing is the coercive nature of many gendered interactions. Did Shirley Temple choose the clothing or choreography for that scene? Did Temple have more agency in creating a gender (or a gendered image) than Conchita Wurst? At age 3 and 4? Given the legacy nature of Temple’s income and ability to work, what are the implications for Temple’s gender agency at age 40? And if Shirley Temple can’t be assumed to have had a free gender hand, why are we willing to trust an application of a gendered pronoun for Temple more than we trust an application of a gendered pronoun to Wurst?

To help solve some of these problems, it is necessary to have a common language. As revealed in previous exercises, we do not currently have that. We have idiosyncratic usage as created and modified by our successes and failures in conceptualizing and communicating sex and gender concepts. That simply isn’t enough when the times get rough.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 18 2014

Friday Cephalopod: You don’t need knees to be mobile

I’m suddenly seeing more to admire in the beautiful octopus.

Jul 17 2014

I wonder why women find themselves discouraged from pursuing science careers?

In case you hadn’t heard yet, Science magazine is making a play to reach the supermarket checkout aisle and tabloid market, with exciting new covers featuring sexy womanly body parts and leaving out pointless details like their faces.


I don’t know, they could have taken it a step further and featured dramatically posed dead sexy women.

It should be obvious that this photo is problematic. Seelix has a good summary of the concerns. The via Science Editor-in-Chief has apologized, strangely, on a blog that apparently was set up for just this purpose that contains only one post, the apology.

The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jarkarta was selected after much discussion by a large group and was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group.

I have one question: how does a photo of the bodies of women “highlight the fact that there are solutions”? So, if they publish an article on elements of the JAK/STAT signaling pathway, will they splash of photo of George Clooney on the cover to hightlight the fact that he carries genes of this pathway?

None of this makes sense. But then the @SciCareerEditor piped up on twitter, and it all became clear: the management at Science includes many oblivious jerks.

Weird. So the @SciCareerEditor thinks transgender women don’t have problems with objectification? What planet is he from?

He might want to read this personal account of a transgender woman in science. It seems to me that assuming it’s OK to focus on the sexual attractiveness of women in a study is a good part of the problem.

Especially when they see it as a joke.

Oh. Ha ha, they’ll sure be shocked when they find out that chick has a penis! So, it was some kind of gotcha cover?

But he was able to top that.

Oh, man, he should have followed through with how much he hates drama-blogging, and they only do it for the hits. The only thing becoming boring is how repetitive privileged people can be, always making the same tired excuses for belittling other people’s problems.

I do wish the people who express disinterest in the moral concerns of others would carry through and say what they really think: that in this case the plight of transgender sex workers is unimportant to them. Or that they think abuse of women is simply an unimportant problem. Or that if it’s not about rich white men, it’s not a problem that warrants moral indignation.

Jul 17 2014

Quote-mined by Casey Luskin!

Once again, Casey Luskin demonstrates that he’s a biological ignoramus. He is much buoyed by a science report that chloroquinone resistance in the malaria parasite requires two mutations, claims that Michael Behe has been vindicated because that’s exactly what he said, and demands an apology from all of Behe’s critics.

Will Ken Miller, Jerry Coyne, Paul Gross, Nick Matzke, Sean Carroll, Richard Dawkins, and PZ Myers Now Apologize to Michael Behe?


Here’s what his critics actually said. We have no problem with the idea that a particular functional phenotype requires a couple of mutations; I can think of lots of examples of that, such as the work of Joe Thornton on corticosteroid receptors. That the malaria parasite needs two mutations was never a point of contention, nor was it particularly worrisome. What was wrong with Behe’s work is that he naively claimed that the two mutations had to occur simultanously in the same individual organism, so that the probability that could happen was the product of multiplying the two individual probabilities. That’s ridiculous.

As Sean Carroll explained:

Behe’s main argument rests on the assertion that two or more simultaneous mutations are required for increases in biochemical complexity and that such changes are, except in rare circumstances, beyond the limit of evolution. .. Examples of cumulative selection changing multiple sites in evolving proteins include … pyrimethamine resistance in malarial parasites (6) — a notable omission given Behe’s extensive discussion of malarial drug resistance.

To show that the activity required two mutations, as the new paper says, is not an issue; it would have to claim that two simultaneous mutations were required, and that the cumulative accumulation of mutations in the population does not happen. And Behe goes further and declares on the basis of his bogus calculations that no evolution, beyond minor changes in a species or genus, occur at all.

So it’s weird to see Luskin announce that I’ve already conceded Behe’s point. No, I have not.

What we’ll probably get is nothing more than PZ Myers’s concession, offered in the context of the rant quoted above:

Fair enough; if you demand a very specific pair of amino acid changes in specific places in a specific protein, I agree, the odds are going to be very long on theoretical considerations alone, and the empirical evidence supports the claim of improbability for that specific combination.

Well, that’s more or less what’s required to generate chloroquine resistance. We’ll gladly take this — i.e., simply being proven right — in lieu of an apology.

Yet if you actually read the post in question, you’ll see that I’m not conceding that Behe is right — I’m explaining that a low probability is not a barrier to evolution.

Yet his argument for this dramatic conclusion is not only weak, it’s wrong. I could, for instance, correctly argue that the odds of getting a straight flush dealt to you in a 5 card poker hand is about 1 in 6×104; we could calculate this with probability theory, and we could also deal lots of poker hands and determine it empirically. No one’s going to argue with that part of the math.

But now, if I were to define a Straight Flush Complexity Cluster (SFCC) parameter and wave it around and claim that “no hand of the same complexity as a straight flush has been dealt by chance in the last ten years of poker games here in town,” that players can only possibly win one hand in 60,000, or worse, that no one has won a poker hand without cheating and stacking the deck, you’d know I was crazy. But that is basically Behe’s entire argument — he claims to have found the “edge of evolution,” and that it is much sharper and steeper and more impassable than anyone but a creationist could believe.

I’m flattered that Luskin thinks a concession from me would be so significant, but he ought to wait until I’ve actually made one before declaring victory.

Ken Miller wrote to second my comments:

With respect to the malaria mutations, your rebuttal is exactly correct. I’m attaching my review of Behe’s book in Nature. The portion of that review that directly deals with Behe’s contention about two mutations is this:

Behe, incredibly, thinks he has determined
the odds of a mutation “of the same complexity”
occurring in the human line. He hasn’t. What
he has actually done is to determine the odds of
these two exact mutations occurring simultaneously
at precisely the same position in exactly
the same gene in a single individual. He then
leads his unsuspecting readers to believe that
this spurious calculation is a hard and fast statistical
barrier to the accumulation of enough
variation to drive darwinian evolution.
It would be difficult to imagine a more
breathtaking abuse of statistical genetics.

Then, later on, I wrote:

“Behe obtains his probabilities by considering
each mutation as an independent event, ruling
out any role for cumulative selection, and
requiring evolution to achieve an exact, predetermined
result. Not only are each of these
conditions unrealistic, but they do not apply
even in the case of his chosen example. First,
he overlooks the existence of chloroquine resistant
strains of malaria lacking one of the
mutations he claims to be essential (at position
220). This matters, because it shows that there
are several mutational routes to effective drug
resistance. Second, and more importantly, Behe
waves away evidence suggesting that chloroquine
resistance may be the result of sequential,
not simultaneous, mutations (Science 298,
74–75; 2002), boosted by the so-called ARMD
(accelerated resistance to multiple drugs)
phenotype, which is itself drug induced.”

I hope these quotes are useful to you and your readers. As usual, Luskin is playing the “pretend” game of taking a new scientific paper and telling folks that it presents a “problem” for evolution. Ain’t life grand?

Best Wishes,


Jul 17 2014


This is Thunderdome, the unmoderated open thread on Pharyngula. Say what you want, how you want.

Status: UNMODERATED; Previous thread

Jul 16 2014

There goes my pro football career

I’ll never get picked up in the NFL draft now.

Those of you who read the comments know I was whining a little bit about this sudden knee pain that developed over night. I was actually downplaying it — any time I bent my knee I was in excruciating agony. My wife can tell you that there was much screaming and groaning and cussing at our house the last few days. I’ve been basically immobile.

So I got into the doctor’s this morning. They poked and prodded and twisted and bent the joint, and I dutifully turned pale and howled and threatened to vomit, cursing the entire medical profession. In revenge, they first pulled out a gigantic needle and a huge syringe, and tapped my knee, sucking out large quantities of synovial fluid. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also hospitalized me — I’m under observation and pain management for a few days, while they carry out tests to figure out what made my knee joint go bad. If it turns out to be an infection…surgery. Whee.

Until then, I’m stuck in a bed with needles stuck in me, and they’re pumping me full of antibiotics and morphine and a whole bunch of good happy drugs. I’m already feeling blissful and sleepy. I might be out in 24 hours, or maybe 48, or maybe they’ll be hacking cartilage for a while. You don’t need me right now, right?

Jul 16 2014

Nina Paley explains the Middle East

Warning: Includes excessive, prolonged violence, and Andy Williams singing without a hint of irony.

Confused about who is killing who? See the dramatis personae.

Jul 16 2014

Minnesota Republicans are not nice

We try. We really try. But no matter how progressive the state might be, we’re still afflicted with horrible, demented people who run for office. Fortunately, there’s a tell: they always join the Republican party.

Look, here’s Michele Bachmann (she’s still around?). She thinks because a few immigrants committed crimes once upon a time, the entire recent influx of foreigners — including the children! — are all an invading horde of rapists.

“Foreign nationals that have come into the United States are between 300- to 500,000,” Bachmann told an incredulous Crossfire co-host Van Jones. “My heart is broken for a female college student in Minnesota who was raped, murdered and mutilated by a foreign national who came into our country. We had a school bus full of kids in Minnesota — four children were killed on that school bus because an illegal alien driving a van went into that schoolbus.”

“There are lines that can’t be crossed here,” Jones responded. “I’m sorry, congresswoman. Are you gonna scapegoat children for the crime of this despicable person?”

Uh-oh. Did you know the guy who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby was Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German? All you Germans — out of my state. Robert Hanson was a serial killer in the 1980s. Look at that name. Scandinavian. All you Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes…out. The Lakota…you can stay. Clearly all those European immigrants were a bad influence.

But Bachmann is a fading star, soon to be out of Minnesota politics altogether and persisting only to haunt the media, where a dumbass conservative is always welcome. Are there any others we should watch out for?

Meet the Freys.

Bob Frey is running for state office. His big issue is sodomy, and he has a theory, which is his, about what causes AIDS.

“It’s more about sodomy than about pigeonholing a lifestyle,” he explained. “When you have egg and sperm that meet in conception, there’s an enzyme in the front that burns through the egg. The enzyme burns through so the DNA can enter the egg.”

But Frey said that it was a different story when the “sperm is deposited anally” because “it’s the enzyme that causes the immune system to fail.”

“That’s why the term is AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome,” he opined.

That’s an amazingly distorted version of the acrosome reaction. Yes, the sperm head releases enzymes like hyaluronidase to digest away matrix that surrounds the egg, and also triggers changes in the oocyte membrane to facilitate fusion at the entry point and to also inhibit fusion elsewhere. This has nothing at all to do with AIDS. For one thing, the reaction is specific; it requires recognition of receptors on the egg surface that are not present in generic epithelial cells. For another, we know how the HIV particles (which are not sperm) enter immune system cells and it doesn’t involve a mechanism anything like the acrosome reaction. We also know quite obviously that sperm aren’t the cells involved in transmission.

Mr Frey is an idiot.

Also, if his sperm is transmitting anything, it seems to be idiocy. His son Mike also has the same silly idea.

Last year, Frey’s son, Mike, used the exact same theory while testifying against a same-sex marriage before the Minnesota House Civil Law Committee.

And earlier this year, Frey distributed a DVD that claimed an anti-bully bill was part of a plot to infect the general population with AIDS through sodomy.

I’m trying to puzzle out how anti-bullying legislation would spread AIDS. Because…if bullies aren’t beating kids up, they’re … having …anal sex … with them?

I’m also reminded that years ago, when Cheri Yecke was on her crusade to get creationism into Minnesota public schools, Bob Frey was a particularly loony witness at state hearings, who would show up with a giant plastic bone, claiming he had proof that there were giants in the earth in those days, and therefore every word of the Bible was true. He also threatened the education committee.

Frey: I have about 25 hours of presentation material with lots of slides of dinosaurs, lots of slides of this sort of thing, and also the consequences of teaching known fraud and everything to society.

Kelley: Thanks very much Mr. Frey .. .

They’ve always got hours and hours of noise.

Oh well, if it’s any consolation, this dynasty of Freys will end with this generation. No one is ever going to marry a Frey ever again.

Jul 16 2014

Botanical Wednesday: Kiss, kiss

Jul 16 2014

Weird Al tackles a problem that plagues us all

There are no naked women in this video.

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