Midwest Science of Origins conference…all done!

I’m extremely impressed with this group of students, the organizers of the first ever #msoc.

They pulled it off: they brought in a great lineup of speakers, Marco Peloso, Michael Wilson, Dan Demetriou, and Neil Shubin,* who did a fine job of explaining how science works, why we’ve got the answers we do, and the importance of scientific thinking. A special thanks to Neil Shubin, a scholar and a gentleman who made a major effort to support a student run event.

They also drew in a respectable number of community and regional citizens. I’m so used to having science events in Morris, and the usual suspects — students and faculty of our science and math division — show up, but no one else. These two days I looked out at the audience in wonder, because I didn’t recognize most of the people!

Another bit of good news is that in that collection of student organizers are a fair number of sophomores and juniors…they aren’t all graduating this year. And what that means is continuity and experience, ripe for MIDWEST SCIENCE OF ORIGINS II! You didn’t really think we were completely done, did you? There will be another, even if I have to take a whip to the students (which I won’t, since they were all totally enthusiastic and disciplined about this one).

One last note of appreciation: I have to thank Answers in Genesis for making it all possible. It was Terry Mortenson’s lies and ignorance, proudly paraded in a series of church-sponsored lectures last year, that outraged these students and inspired them to respond productively, bringing in scientists to report the facts accurately, rather than that awful creationist propagandist. Good work, Ken Ham! It’s amazing how effective you are at motivating young scientists to fight back!

Although, speaking of Terry Mortenson, one thing I noticed at that lecture was that the church was packed: where were you church attendees this weekend? You missed an opportunity to learn something. But don’t worry, like I said, there will be another chance next year at #msoc2.

*I know, they know…all men. They tried to get more diversity in the speakers, but this conference was assembled on a shoestring, and there were other speakers who turned them down. Next time, with a proven track record, the hope is they’ll be able to get more money and be able to afford speakers from elsewhere other than the upper midwest, and also get more positive responses. First time events are hard, but now we’ve got momentum.

I get email

Seriously, people, I am so sick of the April Fool’s jokes. I just got this in my email.

Dear Dr. Myers:

I’m writing to you in your capacity as a biology faculty member at University of Minnesota Morris. I’m originally from Minnesota— I’m from just south of Mankato, and I’m a St. Olaf alum. Currently, I’m the Dean of Research at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in Portland, Oregon. My PhD is in Immunology, from the University of Colorado, and I did a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University. I noticed that you earned your PhD at U of OR. My partner’s daughter graduated from U of OR 2 years ago.

This past year at NCNM, we’ve launched a Master of Science of Integrative Medicine Research (MSiMR) program. It’s a 2 year accredited program that is a combination of an MPH and a Master of Clinical Research program. As integrative medicine is on the rise, it’s important to determine what works and what doesn’t. Our MSiMR students are building the evidence base for integrative medicine. We do applied, basic, and clinical research. It’s an exciting program that examines nutrition, exercise, behavior change, massage, herbal medicine, and other natural modalities.

In addition, the MSiMR program has the potential for international medical research. I personally have collaborations in Tanzania, Brazil, and Nicaragua, and will be taking two students with me to Tanzania this summer. Thus, students who are interested in global health may be interested in this program. I’m attaching 2 brochures so that you can get a flavor of the program.

I know Morris is a little out of the way, but I’m going to be in Minnesota visiting my family April 18th-22nd, and I’m happy to make the drive if you know of students who are interested in natural medicine (naturopathic or Chinese medicine degrees) or integrative medicine research. I interviewed at Morris when I was looking at colleges for undergrad. In the past, I’ve met with the pre-med clubs at St. Olaf, Gustavus, and Minnesota State Universities. I’d like to make sure that Morris students have the same opportunities. If you’d like me to give a seminar or an informal talk for pre-med or graduate school bound students, I’m happy to do so. I’m also available to drop by a classroom and chat for 10 minutes if you think your students would be interested.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I am being teased. I would so love to have Heather visit my classroom, just to see the look on her face when the horde of students raise their heads, eyes all a-glitter, and smile and bare their needle-sharp fangs in those last few minutes before she is shredded. I suspect, though, that if I eagerly offered her access to the students, she’d look a little closer at the content of my site and flee like a tuna before the shark.

Have you ever noticed that real polymaths tend not to call themselves polymaths?

I was alerted to the existence of Jonathan Bishop on twitter: he is, apparently a super-genius who will “write papers on-demand” and “work with leading academics” in just about any field. As proof of his bonafides, he plasters a photo of him wearing a mortar board everywhere. I’ve got one of those goofy hats somewhere, I should start wearing it more often. So I’d look smart.

The hat is silly, but what he says is sillier.

I’d like to know whether HERV is linked to Lucy’s more rigid brain as I believe schizophrenia makes the brain less ‘rigid’.

My question now is: can/did retrotransposons viruses transfer from fruit flies to humans via fruit to create more rigid brains?

So many assumptions: what does Mr Bishop know about endogenous retroviruses? What does he know about the molecular biology of Lucy’s brain? What does it mean to say a brain is more or less rigid? Where’s the link between this putative rigidity and endogenous retroviruses? Why are we drawing a link between australopithecines, schizophrenia, and retroviruses?

To answer these questions, I checked out Mr Bishops’ website. Something about it reminded me of Kent Hovind, for some reason.

Hi, my name is Jonathan Bishop. I am an IT polymath with professional expertise and Masters degrees in the scientific, legal and economic aspects of online communities and e-learning systems. I have direct experience in working in government, industry and academia and using this to push the boundaries of online community and trolling research. I hope that by the end of my career to have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of knowledge, practice and policy in the fields of information technology, the arts, law and sciences.

Oh. Well. I guess that settles that. Of course, when I looked at his publications, just about all I see are conference presentations at IT meetings; I don’t see much evidence of a polymath.

You have reached The Official Website of Jonathan Bishop. I am regarded by Incisive Media to be one of ‘Britain’s foremost exporters of online community and e-learning research to the USA and Mainland Europe‘. I am regarded as the leading authority in the world on trolling and increasing participation in online communities.

Never heard of him. Oh, and the “trolling research”? He’s got a couple of blog entries about some incident at a football game. If that’s all it takes to be an expert in trolling, I must be the Einstein of trolls!

I told him that he was babbling BS. So he replied:

We’ll see Mr Myers when my empirical research paper on plasticity and social/emotional/cognitive imparment is published!

Oooooh, he’s submitted a paper. Where, I wonder?

I sent it to Nature Neuroscience, so it will probably get into the Daily Mail after! I am based at the Insitute of Life Science!

Heh. Chewtoy. He’ll probably appreciate the brief surge of traffic this post brings to him.

Enriching Vibrants? WTF?

I thought Dave Futrelle was pulling an April Fool’s joke for a moment. He’s got post up, full of quotes, on these conversations racist MRAs are having about Enriching Vibrants. That phrase sounds like great name for a New Age band, but no…it is apparently a term of art for having sex with immigrants or non-white people. I think. Their scribblings are so incoherent and badly written, and they are so incapable of making a simple clear point, that I have no idea what they could actually be talking about.

But Futrelle’s links are valid. I looked at those sites, and the “vibrating enrichers” stuff is only a small part of the offensiveness flourishing in the Men’s Rights cesspit of the internet.

Unless…could it be…are the MRAs just the grandest, most elaborate, extended April Fool’s joke ever?

Why I am an atheist – Steve

I went to a Catholic parochial school in St. Paul for six years, was an altar boy, could pretty competently read Latin, and casually accepted my Catholic faith. But I never believed in it, any of it. It all, even to a child, seemed to not…work. But I didn’t finally lose all semblance of any belief in a god until I worked for the prison system here in MN. I’m an RN, and have always chosen to work in the underbelly; treatment and detox centers, group homes for profoundly developmentally disabled adults who also had mental illness diagnoses, psychiatric units, hospice, and where I totally lost my faith, in a maximum security prison hospital unit.

Every day I addressed the health care needs of many offenders in the system, some not so bad, some inconceivably horrid, and dangerous, most stupid, lazy, and incompetent. But one offender, a sexual predator and murderer of children, totally destroyed any possible belief in a god. This man kidnapped a five year old girl from a church, and over the course of a day, forced upon her almost every filthy, violent, savage assault you can even imagine, and many you most probably can’t. But it wasn’t the rapes, or cigarette burns, or hair yanked out, or the beatings that killed her. It was his feces forced down her throat. Then he tossed her in a dumpster like some dead cat.

I usually never read the court transcripts from any of the men I took care of. I didn’t want to know, afraid I might be influenced to provide less than good health care. I wish I hadn’t looked up this piece of shit’s court record as well. But here’s what killed god for me. This little girl “loved Jesus” according to her mother. And god is supposedly all good, powerful, knowing etc. All I could think of was where is god? When this child went through every possible humiliation, forms of pain, terror, you add your own adjective here, where was god? Theodicy is always the fly in the ointment, Epicurus nailed it a long time ago, but the kindest thought you could take from this is that god is, as Twain put it, a malignant thug. No manner of convoluted magical thinking can excuse what happened to this little girl. If there is a god, even remotely like what most of us have been taught, he’s an enemy, beneath contempt, worthy of our hatred. If he exists, fuck him. But he doesn’t.

One last thing, to all those idiot whining pharmacists and other “health care professionals” who are troubled by Plan B birth control pills. I provided competent, professional care to the monster in prison. I changed his diaper, he was an old man by the time I knew him, after a quarter century in prison, gave him his medications, checked his blood glucose levels, in short, acted professionally. Professionals don’t get to pick and choose who they care for.

United States

Who needs an IQ test when you’ve got coalescence?

I am just blown away by the consistency of this observation. You know, the creationists are not all stupid; there’s a wide range of intelligence in their camp, even if they are all wrong. But this one recent paper on the gorilla genome has become such an excellent tool for discriminating the competent from the incompetent.

This was the paper that unsurprisingly explained that gorilla genes reveal a mosaic; that some gorilla genes are closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other. If you understand the logic of coalescent theory at all, you know this is an expected result. The only way you could fail to see the distribution we observe is if the population went through a bottleneck of exactly two individuals.

But once again, one of the so-called scientists of intelligent design creationism blows it. Doug Axe has announced that the ape family tree is hopelessly broken, and that the gorilla data should call evolutionary theory into question.

Until recently, the answer was that a real family tree should generate a fully consistent pattern of similarities. [Not true at all. Coalescent theory is an extension of Fisher/Wright models of large populations, and the formal mathematics were worked out in the 1980s] For example, we are told that chimps and humans came from the same ancestral stock (call it CH stock) and that gorillas, chimps and humans all came from an earlier ancestral stock (GCH stock) [Correct so far]. If so, then the human and chimp genomes should consistently be more similar to each other than either is to the gorilla genome [WRONG. They should not be consistently more similar. Does he know nothing of probability?], since the human and chimp histories were one and the same thing more recently than the human and gorilla (or chimp and gorilla) histories were.

Well, the recent publication of the gorilla genome sequence shows that the expected pattern just isn’t there [Jebus. Read the paper. The pattern observed is the expected pattern.]. Instead of a nested hierarchy of similarities, we see something more like a mosaic [AS WE’D EXPECT.]. According to a recent report, “In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other…”

That’s sufficiently difficult to square with Darwin’s tree that it ought to bring the whole theory into question. And in an ideal world where Darwinism is examined the way scientific theories ought to be examined, I think it would. But in the real world things aren’t always so simple [And yet the creationists keep throwing up their simplistic models and being surprised that they’re wrong].

Axe is the one guy the creationists keep touting as a real scientist, a guy with genuine chops in molecular biology, the man who is doing serious scientific work. You know, if you’re going to publicly criticize an observation and claim it calls into question the entirety of evolutionary theory, you ought to first look into it and see whether that observation actually fits a prediction of evolution — actual evolutionary theory, not that cartoonishly naive caricature of evolution the creationists all have in their heads.

Here’s a nice, short history of coalescent theory by Kingman. It’s been around for decades, long before the gorilla genome was sequenced, and it predicted what kinds of distributions we ought to see in our comparisons of different species…predictions that were borne out by the paper Axe thinks contradicts evolutionary theory.