Another ecosystem, another parasite

It seems to be a universal rule: every ecosystem has its parasites. Wherever there is money being spent or media being consumed, people will find a way to exploit it. Thus we have Craigslist scammers, Amazon scammers, spammers on every platform, sellers of social media followers, predatory scientific journals, and sellers of dissertations, among many others. It seems there’s no ecosystem too small; even my academic website, which averages tens of views per week, gets a steady stream of spam comments:

Spam comments

So I shouldn’t have been surprised that there are people exploiting Craigslist to make a buck:

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Ernst Mayr on the importance of definitions

The Growth of Biological Thought

Image from Goodreads.

One of my pet topics is the concept of biological individuality, which I’ve written about quite a lot here. One question that comes up often, in fact what I initially asked Dr. Pepper when he used to carry on about it, is why does it matter?

So much ink has been spilled trying to define what an individual is, in the peer-reviewed literature of philosophy and of biology, as well as several books dedicated to the topic. What is the point of all this, to justify so much intellectual effort and so many dead trees?

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Who said we were playing?

A coauthor posted our new paper to reddit, where the comment thread blew right the hell up. I and the poster answered some of the comments and questions, but there were far too many to even read all of them. It also got some traction on Twitter and on Facebook:


There’s also a short article by Fiona MacDonald at ScienceAlert, which was reposted word-for-word without attribution (stolen, in other words) by True Viral News. Every ecosystem has its parasites. Inevitably, there was some pushback along with the wows, some thoughtful and some, well…
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A helpful translation

I’m never sure whether I should be amused or horrified to see intelligent design’s PR firm, the Discovery Institute, trying to pose as a scientific organization. Right now I’m tending decidedly towards amusement, as their inept aping of the scientific process only serves to reveal how fundamentally they misunderstand it.

As always, I’m here to help.

Recent posts from members of the Discovery Institute show that their authors have learned to imitate the language of science without actually understanding it. I’m going to do my best to translate a few things. For example, when David Klinghoffer (who is, in a sense, a ghost) says,

I’m currently seeking to place an awesome manuscript by a scientist at an Ivy League university with the guts to give his reasons for rejecting Darwinism. The problem is that, as yet, nobody has the guts to publish it.

what I think he means is

our manuscript has so far failed to pass peer review.

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Manufacturing controversy

Darwin Devolves cover

If you read the same blogs I do, you’re no doubt aware that Nathan Lents, Joshua Swamidass, and Richard Lenski published a not-very-flattering review of Michael Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves, in Science. As you would expect, various members of the Discovery Institute, including Dr. Behe himself, have responded to the review. I haven’t read Darwin Devolves yet, so I there’s a lot on both sides of the argument that I won’t try to evaluate.

What I am going to talk about is the attempts, mostly by David Klinghoffer, to imply that there is something underhanded about the review itself. Klinghoffer takes issue not just with the content of the review, but with its authorship and timing:

Three? Why Not One?

Why was it [the Lents et al. review] written and published in this way? It’s odd to review a book that hasn’t been publicly released yet.

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John Tyler Bonner announcement from Princeton

John Tyler Bonner

John Tyler Bonner
Photo by Denise Applewhite, Princeton University Office of Communications.

Close on the heels David Kirk, another of my scientific heroes, John Tyler Bonner, died two weeks ago. Now Princeton University has published an announcement that gives some background on Bonner’s life and career:

A three-time chair of the Department of Biology, Bonner served on the Princeton faculty for 42 years and remained active teaching and researching for more than two decades after transferring to emeritus status in 1990.

Primary among Bonner’s accomplishments were his discoveries about the behavior of slime molds, which are found in soils throughout the world. He led the way in making Dictyostelium discoideum a model organism central to examining some of the major questions in experimental biology.

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Reminder: tomorrow is the deadline for the Kato Memorial Bioscience Foundation travel fellowship

¥50,000 is ¥50,000! Applications for travel fellowships from the Kato Memorial Bioscience Foundation for the Fifth International Volvox Meeting are due tomorrow. These fellowships are to help non-Japanese students and postdocs travel to Tokyo for the meeting. ¥50,000 is around $500, a pretty good return for an easy application. Answer a few questions, send an email, and your trip could be $500 cheaper:

Applicants are required to submit a pdf file of the completed application form (download here) to Volvox2019 Office (E-mail: volvox2019 (at) gmail.com)

The Royal Society of Biology deadline is also coming up soon (March 1).

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Say hello to Volvox zeikusii!

Volvox zeikusii

Figures 13-20 from Nozaki et al. 2019*. Light microscopy of female strain of Volvox zeikusii Nozaki. Abbreviations: c, cytoplasmic bridges; d, daughter spheroid or developing embryo; e, egg; i, individual sheath; p, pyrenoid; s, stigma.
Figs 13–19. Asexual spheroids. Fig. 13. Optical section of spheroid. Scale bar = 50 μm. Fig. 14. Optical section of spheroid stained with methylene blue. Scale bar = 50 μm. Fig. 15. Front view of somatic cells showing cytoplasmic bridges. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 16. Front view of somatic cells showing individual sheaths of the gelatinous matrix stained with methylene blue. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 17. Lateral optical section of somatic cells positioned in anterior region of spheroid. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 18. Surface view of somatic cells positioned in anterior region of spheroid. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 19. Surface view of newly formed daughter spheroid. Scale bar = 50 μm. Fig. 20. Sexual female spheroid. Scale bar = 200 μm.

Hisayoshi Nozaki and colleagues have discovered a new species of VolvoxVolvox zeikusii. Or more accurately, they have discovered new strains of an old species and decided that some of the old strains with that name are something else.

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