Review of Biological Individuality by Pierrick Bourrat

Biological Individuality

S. Lidgard & L. K. Nyhart, eds. 2017, Biological Individuality: Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Pierrick Bourrat has reviewed Scott Lidgard and Lynn Nyhart’s book Biological Individuality: Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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The pitiful cowardice of “fake news”

Donald Trump’s accusations of ‘fake news’ aren’t just disingenuous, they’re cowardly. Some of those accusations are specific, and those are usually smacked down, hard:

Those aren’t the ones I’m talking about. At least, in those cases, he’s making a claim that can be fact-checked. More often, it’s just poisoning the well against (essentially all) legitimate news organizations:

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Nice Aeon article on biological individuality

Siphonophores by Ernst Haeckel

By Ernst Haeckel – Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 17: Siphonophorae (see here, here and here), Public Domain, Link

Derek Skillings from University of Bordeaux/CNRS has a new article at Aeon about biological individuality:

For millennia, naturalists and philosophers have struggled to define the most fundamental units of living systems and to delimit the precise boundaries of the organisms that inhabit our planet. This difficulty is partly a product of the search for a singular theory that can be used to carve up all of the living world at its joints.

Skillings reviews the deep historical roots of the question, touching on the views of Charles Darwin and his grandfather, both Huxleys (T. H. and Julian), Herbert Spencer, and other 19th and early 20th century thinkers, as well as some more recent authors, including Daniel Janzen and Peter Godfrey Smith.

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Not so fast

I like PLoS ONE. I know a lot of scientists don’t. I think there’s a niche for what my PhD advisor called ‘bricks’: papers that may not be groundbreaking, but present rigorous results that contribute to building a larger structure (he was, BTW, describing one of my papers, and it wasn’t a compliment). It’s also possible that research that may not be obviously important when it’s done turns out to have big implications that weren’t at first obvious. PLoS ONE explicitly aims to ignore the ‘impact’ of a paper in accepting or rejecting papers, focusing only on the rigor of the results:

PLOS ONE will rigorously peer-review your submissions and publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound. Judgments about the importance of any particular paper are then made after publication by the readership, who are the most qualified to determine what is of interest to them.

But a couple of recent developments are worrying. First, as I’ve previously written, a recent article reporting a phylogenetic tree for eukaryotes was published in a form that never should have survived peer review (“A cautionary tale on reading phylogenetic trees,” PLoS ONE responds“). The article contains numerous misinterpretations of the tree, unexplained contradictions in the inferred divergence times, and, most importantly, a choice of outgroup that pretty much invalidates all of the phylogenetic inferences.

I have contacted the editors by Twitter and by email, and so far I haven’t gotten much more than “we’re looking into it.” I am very interested to see what the journal does about this, because, as I said before,

The only thing that separates a high-volume, open access journal like PLoS ONE from the dark underbelly of scholarly publishing is a rigorous peer review process.

Now there’s a whole new reason to worry.

Okay, that line above is exactly how far I got before reading the paper I’m about to write about. I’m leaving it in as a caution against rushing to judgement.

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Cyclist killed in Atlanta

Source: WGCL

I have pretty much quit riding my bike here in Atlanta. A substantial proportion of the drivers here (much higher than Tucson or Vancouver or Missoula) seem to have the attitude that the roads belong to them and cyclists can fuck right off. I’ve had people drive right up behind me and lay on the horn (on Piedmont, where there are four other lanes going the same direction), yell at me, and give me the finger, and others in my lab have had similar experiences.

I don’t know if that’s the kind of driver that killed a cyclist less than two miles from here, but I give it better than even odds.

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Tell me more about the “very, very unified” Republican Party

My list of Republican criticisms of President (in a few cases candidate) Trump just got a bit longer. David Weigel at the Washington Post has some zingers from members of the “Meeting of the Concerned”:

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Volvox meeting posters

I thought I had already done this, but if so I can’t find it. Here are the full-resolution versions of all four Volvox meeting posters:

  • First International Volvox Meeting (Volvox 2011, Tucson, Arizona) pdf jpg
  • Second International Volvox Meeting (Volvox 2013, Fredericton, New Brunswick) pdf jpg
  • Third International Volvox Meeting (Volvox 2015, Cambridge, U.K.) pdf jpg
  • Fourth International Volvox Meeting (Volvox 2017, St. Louis, Missouri) pdf jpg (there wasn’t really a poster for this one; this is the cover of the abstract booklet)

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