Ignore this if you’re not an arachnophile

I put more spider photos on Patreon and Instagram. Today’s subjects are members of the tribe of Pholcus phalangioides who are dwelling in my basement. They seem to have undergone a population crash recently, though, probably because, while it’s warm enough in our house, they’re probably getting hungry at the lack of invertebrates to eat here in the depths of winter.

The sad, pointless death of Mad Mike Hughes

I’ve mentioned Mad Mike Hughes here a few times before. He claims to be using a rocket to research “flat earth” hypotheses; every time I’ve mentioned him, I’ve pointed out that flying a steam-powered rocket to a height of a few thousand feet doesn’t test the hypothesis at all. Basic Research 101: design your experiment to discriminate between your hypothesis and alternatives. People fly as high as that rocket, and higher, all the time in commercial and private planes, and they do so safely with the leisure to look out the window. Professional astronauts go much, much higher (with more risk), and they depend on a theory of gravity that the flat earth loons have to deny. There was no reason to strap yourself into an amateur rocket and launch yourself to amateur altitudes.

Now Mad Mike Hughes is dead.

The death was filmed by a crew of ghouls from the Science Channel for airing on the Discovery Channel, along with their usual professionally filmed trash fires about the Bermuda Triangle, Ancient Aliens, and stories about the “Secret Life of Jesus”. He was encouraged by flocks of idiots who think the shape of the earth is an open question, who gawp and play stupid gotcha games, and who reject well-tested evidence because it doesn’t fit their hollow-brained theories.

They, and his own ego, killed Mad Mike Hughes. What a colossal waste.

The spiders are hiding on Freethoughtblogs, but they’re still around

I said I’d stop flashing spider photos at you all, so really, it’s safe to come back here if you’re arachnophobic. I still occasionally indulge on the Patreon site, and I just added a few this morning (I’ll put them on Instagram shortly). My model was the lovely Danu, a Parasteatoda tepidariorum I caught at Skepticon in Missouri last August. My lighting setup was far short of ideal, though, so I’m going to have to work on that.

Yes, I still have those St Louis spiders in my lab, they’re doing fine, but in the absence of St Louis males, are not producing babies for me. I guess I’ll just have to go to Skepticon again this year and find some mates for them. Maybe if you go to Skepticon, I can draft you to help!

Who’s been chalking our sidewalks?

When I walked into work this morning, I noticed something odd: all the sidewalk tiles were outlined with ragged, chalky lines. It sure was a lot of work to go to to get such a minimal, if striking effect.

The explanation was obvious (look at the top right tiles), and was clearer a little later when I came home. Melting snow and ice filled the cracks first, and then there’s a race between slow diffusion of meltwater and evaporation due to the sun, leaving precipitated salts at the leading edge of the front.

It looked cool, anyway.

Exam grading done!

That was fairly quick and unexpectedly mostly painless, because I did something I haven’t done before, and that now I’m going to have to do every year. These are all first year students who generally have that deer-in-the-headlights look in class, and I have to coax them to participate. So this year I dedicated one class hour to how to answer an essay question. I told them that grammar and spelling matter, and that one simple recipe for a coherent answer is to describe a few facts and details, and then synthesize in a concluding statement. Facts without synthesis doesn’t mean much, and synthesis without outlining the basic things you’re explaining makes it sound like you haven’t been paying attention in class. We went through a bunch of examples in groups, and I’d evaluate and give them a likely score on the spot.

It worked! The quality of the answers went up — knowing that I had reasonably high expectations meant they took the questions very seriously and answered carefully. It made them much more pleasant to read.

The catch is that it’s expensive. This class only meets twice a week, and dedicating a class hour to something so basic meant that there were other things I didn’t have time to cover. I hope this is a skill they remember, though, so I don’t have to do it again in every class they’re in.

Sonic and Star Trek

Well, I was so fried yesterday that I went to see this new Sonic Hedgehog movie. Boy, was I disappointed. There was absolutely nothing about cell signaling, or the patched receptor, or midline development. It was all about the adventures of Baby Karl Urban and some electrically charged blue mammal battling a guy with five Ph.D.s, which made no sense at all. Why would you have five degrees? And none of them were in developmental biology or molecular genetics. He seemed to be some kind of robotics expert, although being a perpetual student who can’t land a credible job are not credible qualifications for much of anything.

You’re better off watching this balanced summary of Star Trek history from Mikey Neuman. I learned a few things, although this, too, is seriously lacking in the departments of developmental biology and molecular genetics.

Is my brain still fried? Yes, but it’s OK. I’m about to go lock myself in a coffee shop and grade first-year biology exams. After that, I’ll probably need to go drink.

If you thought eugenics was only an abstract notion…

You might want to look up Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist and general bigot, who wrote a piece for John Brockman’s Edge site on Chinese eugenics in which he’s practically drooling at the prospect of manipulating the human germ plasm. No, really, the West is doomed if we allow the Chinese to race ahead of us in practical eugenics!

Chinese eugenics will quickly become even more effective, given its massive investment in genomic research on human mental and physical traits. BGI-Shenzhen employs more than 4,000 researchers. It has far more “next-generation” DNA sequencers that anywhere else in the world, and is sequencing more than 50,000 genomes per year. It recently acquired the California firm Complete Genomics to become a major rival to Illumina.

The BGI Cognitive Genomics Project is currently doing whole-genome sequencing of 1,000 very-high-IQ people around the world, hunting for sets of sets of IQ-predicting alleles. I know because I recently contributed my DNA to the project, not fully understanding the implications. These IQ gene-sets will be found eventually—but will probably be used mostly in China, for China. Potentially, the results would allow all Chinese couples to maximize the intelligence of their offspring by selecting among their own fertilized eggs for the one or two that include the highest likelihood of the highest intelligence. Given the Mendelian genetic lottery, the kids produced by any one couple typically differ by 5 to 15 IQ points. So this method of “preimplantation embryo selection” might allow IQ within every Chinese family to increase by 5 to 15 IQ points per generation. After a couple of generations, it would be game over for Western global competitiveness.

There is unusually close cooperation in China between government, academia, medicine, education, media, parents, and consumerism in promoting a utopian Han ethno-state. Given what I understand of evolutionary behavior genetics, I expect—and hope—that they will succeed. The welfare and happiness of the world’s most populous country depends upon it.

Oh god. The high-decoupling.

First, sequencing DNA is not eugenics. Telling me how many genomes they sequence per year is not the same as telling me they have a eugenics program in operation. The Chinese government’s crackdown on He Jiankui suggests that they are a bit more hesitant than Miller imagines.

Second, the whole idea that they can get a 5-15 IQ point per generation increase is ludicrous. He’s postulating that a) the observed variation is entirely genetic, and b) that a ruthless pattern of selection is desirable and would have no unforeseen consequences. You can get equal, more equitable, and less disruptive effects by investing in better education. Note that IQ scores have been going upwards for the last century without the state choosing to cull the undesirables.

Third, the idea that IQ scores are a proxy for “competitiveness”, rather than the ability to do well on IQ tests, is a fallacious leap.

Fourth, why would you think eugenics would increase welfare and happiness? It would do the opposite for the majority of the population that lacks the arbitrary genetic markers they use for selection.

Fifth, he is an evolutionary psychologist, which means his understanding of “evolutionary behavior genetics” is feeble at best.

But he does imagine a country that tightly regulates its families on the basis of poorly understood DNA sequences is a “utopian ethno-state” that will increase the welfare and happiness of its citizens, which makes him a kind of third-rate villain in a dystopian SF novel.

If DNA data were as powerful as he imagines it is, though, don’t worry about the Chinese supermen overwhelming us. Comrade Geoffrey has done his part to sabotage the program by donating his DNA, corrupting the database with his genome rich mainly in ignorance and arrogance.

Patreon posts will be trickling onto this site, too

As promised, I’m making my Patreon posts freely available, after a bit less than a week. Subscribe if you want them right away, or just want to support me a little bit! There will be another Patreon post going up maybe tonight…if I get all this genetics stuff done soon enough.

We’re up to 121 patrons today! I’ll be able to contribute to our lawyer’s payments early next month, I hope.

Also, don’t forget the online celebration of our victory over a litigious sex pest Sunday night at 6! You can also make one-time donations to our GoFundMe!