I’ve never been the victim of bullying, either in science or social media. I have, in fact, been called a bully (and worse) for some of the things I’ve written on this blog (Responses from both Davids (I’m Goliath)). But I know I’m among the privileged (white, cisgender, middle-aged heterosexual male) few who are least likely to experience bullying. So when Ed Yong tweeted his approval of a Slate article by Simine Vazire, “Criticizing a Scientist’s Work Isn’t Bullying. It’s Science,” I checked it out.
— Ed Yong (@edyong209) October 24, 2017
The backlash Yong received on Twitter would lead one to believe that the actual article was much more extreme than it really was:
The story of Amy Cuddy, as told in a recent New York Times Magazine story, illustrates why self-correction is so rare in science. In painting a moving portrait of Cuddy’s life over the past few years, it conflates Cuddy’s experience as the target of scientific criticism with her experience as the target of something much more vicious and universal: actual bullying.
It’s not even good science fiction. Good science fiction may require suspension of disbelief, but it should at least be internally self-consistent. Here’s part of the story from CNN:
Investigators continue to examine the circumstances surrounding as many as 50 attacks that may have involved the use of an acoustic device, a US official has told CNN.
The device was so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound, the official said. And it was so damaging, the source said, that one US diplomat now needs to use a hearing aid.
Now multiple news sources report a cell phone recording of a mysterious high-pitched sound, for example The Independent:
The high-pitched frequencies are believed to have injured at least 22 diplomatic staff, who suffered problems with hearing, cognitive function, vision, balance and sleep.
Wait, I thought it was “so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound.” Get your story straight, will you?
Last week, I asked, “What do all these quotes have in common?“, including things like “Fucking moron,” “Just pathetic,” and “completely unhinged.” Well, no one guessed, so here’s a hint:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 16, 2017
Jordi van Gestel and Corina Tarnita have published a ‘Perspective’ in PNAS, “On the origin of biological construction, with a focus on multicellularity“:
…we propose an integrative bottom-up approach for studying the dynamics underlying hierarchical evolutionary transitions, which builds on and synthesizes existing knowledge. This approach highlights the crucial role of the ecology and development of the solitary ancestor in the emergence and subsequent evolution of groups, and it stresses the paramount importance of the life cycle: only by evaluating groups in the context of their life cycle can we unravel the evolutionary trajectory of hierarchical transitions.
Trump may be setting the US on the path to World War III. —Sen. Bob Corker 2017-10-08
Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.” — Sen. John McCain 2017-08-31
Fucking moron. — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (alleged)
One of the biggest changes in evolutionary theory in the late 20th century was the growing appreciation for the central role of changes in gene expression in macroevolution. Developmental genes, especially Hox genes, turned out to be remarkably conserved across lineages that diverged over half a billion years ago. The subsequent huge changes in morphology were more often due to changes in when and where those genes were expressed than to changes in the coding sequences of the genes themselves.
Even more recently, an entire new class of regulatory mechanisms was discovered and found to be important in developmental processes. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short (21-24 nucleotides) sequences of RNA that reduce gene expression by promoting the breakdown of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) and by repressing translation of mRNAs into proteins. We have only known that microRNAs even existed since the early 1990’s, and their importance in gene regulation and development wasn’t appreciated until the 2000’s.
Although they are structurally similar, plant and animal microRNAs repress gene expression through very different mechanisms. A new paper by Betty Y-W. Chung and colleagues in Nature Plants shows that the regulatory mechanisms of Chlamydomonas microRNAs have both striking similarities and important differences with animal miRNAs:
A reader commented by email about my criticism of the PLoS ONE article that inferred a multigene phylogeny of eukaryotes, with Chlamydomonas reinhardtii as the outgroup (“A cautionary tale on reading phylogenetic trees“).
Although you are of course correct to complain about nearly everything in the paper (esp. re “basal” and node rotations), and I am sure the tree is wrong in more ways than it is right, I think you might reconsider or put in context complaints about the “provides a link between”. My thought is simply that if one has a long branch between two nodes in a tree, if you add a taxon group that branches off in the middle of this long branch, then it does, in a sense, provide a “link” between these two nodes. A more proper way to put it is that it provides information concerning the ancestral state at the two original nodes (i.e., may substantially modify the posterior probability of the states at the two nodes). I doubt that the authors mean it in this sense, but in the general context of teaching people about trees, I would want students to understand this.
I don’t want this to become the ‘Cuba’s sonic weapons are bullshit’ blog, and I apologize for my readers who are just here for the Volvox. But there is a massive failure on the part of major news organizations to apply the most rudimentary skepticism to outlandish claims of mysterious weapons, and there’s every reason to think that it’s affecting United States foreign policy toward Cuba.
The story is starting to change as news organizations acknowledge what their experts have been telling them from the start, namely that sonic or acoustic weapons are not a plausible explanation for the reported symptoms of U.S. embassy personnel in Cuba. CBS, one of the least skeptical sources right from the start, is desperately clinging to the magic sound gun narrative:
Investigators are now probing whether the attacks were caused by something more than just mysterious sonic devices after U.S. government personnel complained about hearing loud, bizarre and unexplained grinding and insect-sounding noises in homes and hotels, sources tell CBS News.
“My own multiple sources are saying that some of the evidence, medical evidence, being shown by the patients that have been affected could not all be related to sonic waves,” said Dr. Andy Gomez, interim director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “What other measures did whoever the perpetrator was committing these acts do to cause these health issues with our U.S. personnel in Havana?”