I’m going to Cyprus!


I’m heading to Limassol, Cyprus at the end of September to talk about Volvox morphology and evolution. Phycomorph is a European group studying seaweed development and reproduction, with a large focus on cultivation. I have an extra day after the meeting, so hopefully I’ll get to explore a bit.

The organizers were initially worried about the high cost of transportation from Missoula, but I had good news for them: I won’t be flying from Missoula but from Atlanta, which is (seriously) half as expensive. The timing of the flights is a bit unfortunate, though, so I’ll have a couple of very long layovers in Heathrow (17 and 20 hours).


The preliminary list of confirmed speakers is:

Phycomorph speakers


Relentless use of passive voice

Image from ragan.com.

Image from ragan.com.

I have had the phrase “relentless use of passive voice” in my head for years as a criticism of overly dry scientific writing. I thought I learned it from the excellent paper “How to write consistently boring scientific literature” by Kaj Sand-Jensen. Like Gould’s tennis stadium in “Muller Bros. Moving & Storage,” though, when I went back to look for it, it wasn’t where I thought it was. If anyone can tell me where the phrase actually originated, I would be grateful.

Wherever I first heard it, the phase has affected my scientific writing (or should I say ‘my scientific writing has been affected by the phrase’). I have the impression, supported by no hard data whatsoever, that the relentless use of passive voice has declined over the past few decades in scientific writing. It is now common to read about what “we” (the coauthors) did in the Methods and what “we” found in the Results. It’s not even that rare to see descriptions of what “I” did or found in a solo-authored paper (the horror!).

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Problems with major transitions: Maureen O’Malley & Russell Powell respond

The Great Oxidation Event by Adelle Schemm.

The Great Oxidation Event by Adelle Schemm.

In a recent series of posts, I reviewed Maureen O’Malley and Russell Powell’s paper in Biology and Philosophy, “Major Problems in Evolutionary Transitions: How a Metabolic Perspective Can Enrich our Understanding of Macroevolution.” Although they made several good points, I thought that some of their criticisms were off the mark and that their proposed solution to the real and perceived problems with the major transitions framework was unsatisfying.

Drs. O’Malley and Powell are both heavy hitters in the philosophy of biology, and as I usually do when I dig deeply into someone else’s paper, I invited them to respond to my criticisms. They kindly provided a thoughtful rebuttal and permitted me to post it here. I’ll have more to say later, but for now I’ll just say that they make some good points and (most importantly) fairly represent my arguments. As usual for guest posts, I have made no edits to the content of their response, only formatted and added links:

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The evolution of undifferentiated multicellularity: the Gonium genome

Blogging took a backseat to the wedding of two dear friends two weekends ago and to morel hunting last weekend, so I’m only now getting around to a post that should have been written weeks ago (I promised on April 22 that it would be out the following week). Last month, Erik Hanschen and colleagues published the Gonium pectorale genome, filling in some crucial bits of the transition to multicellular life in the volvocine algae. This was a big project, taking several years and involving over 20 authors from over a dozen institutions. The final paper is open access in Nature Communications.

I did post an effort to explain some aspects of the paper to the cdesign proponentsists at Evolution News and Views, who, by their own admission, failed to understand it (“After reading this paper, we’re none the wiser.”). I also complained of the science media’s tendency to refer to all algae as ‘pond scum.’ The lead author of the genome paper kindly followed up with a guest post addressing some of ENV‘s other misunderstandings, such as the purpose of model organisms in biology and the difference between ‘assertion’ and ‘evidence’. But now it’s time to dig into what the genome paper actually says.

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Evolution is religion; intelligent design is science


According to back-to-back posts on Evolution News and Views, evolution is religion, while intelligent design is science. In a badly argued post today, Cornelius Hunter says,

As I have explained many times, evolution is a religious theory…

Yesterday on the same platform, Steve Laufmann explained

…intelligent design is science, though not everyone knows it yet.

Well, he’s right about the second part.

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