What’s up, doc? The ills of race-based medicine.

I know you’ll all be mightily impressed to learn that I read The Lancet [although I hardly understand any of it]. I even have a subscription – actually several subscriptions: to The Lancet, The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology and The Lancet Oncology [I have “email subscriptions” to these journals, which are free and contain lots of links to paywalled content I can’t afford to read and probably wouldn’t understand anyway]. Despite being imprisoned by the Evil Elsevier Empire, there is actually plenty of open access Lancet content available to anyone with a web browser [and delusions of scientific literacy in multiple areas of cutting-edge medical research]. Some of that content is accessible in every sense of the word, and so outstanding that you might consider becoming a regular reader of The Lancet yourself. Exhibit A comes from the current issue: a “Viewpoint” titled From race-based to race-conscious medicine: how anti-racist uprisings call us to act.*

While I would encourage you to go read the whole thing [perhaps with another browser tab open to a medical dictionary?], I just want to highlight a few…uh…highlights.

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Erasure: Women in STEM and Your Liberal Media.

One of these things is not like the other:

Two news feed headlines. 1- New York Times: "Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to 2 Scientists for Work on Genome Editing" and 2- Washington Post: "Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to two women who developed CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing tool"The difference is equally apparent in the summary blurbs from NYT and WaPo:

From this morning’s New York Times email briefing:

Two scientists, one from France and one from the U.S., were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. They discovered a tool that allows researchers to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with high precision.

From The Washington Post breaking news alert:

University of California at Berkeley biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, a French scientist, were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for their work developing CRISPR, which is contributing to new cancer therapies and helping to cure inherited diseases.

Listen up, motherfucking New York Times. Feminism does not mean erasing gender. Just like equality in the broader sense does not mean erasing human diversity. Erasure is not a neutral act in a world where women are systematically denied opportunities to advance their careers, particularly in STEM, and face institutional bias (and worse) as they try.

It would be different if people of all genders enjoyed full equality across the board. But until that happy day comes when women (and minorities!) in roles and professions historically and visibly dominated by (white! cis! able-bodied! het!) men are equally commonplace and visible, their representation in these contexts is vitally important for everyone to see.

And yes, for those keeping score at home, this is reason number 6,858,945 I hate The New York Times. But not to worry! I ain’t goin’ soft on ya! I still hate The Washington Post, too! Both of them get it right a lot of the time, which only makes this all the more infuriating because it proves they are perfectly capable of doing so. And getting it right sometimes hardly exonerates them for all the times they get it very, very wrong.

Bad news day.

[CONTENT NOTE: racist police violence, f-bombs.]

I awoke today, as many did, to news of more widespread protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by white police, and the murder of Breonna Taylor, a black woman, by white police, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, by white racist thugs, and, and, and, and…

I want to say this here as unequivocally as I can (and have said before): I stand in solidarity with communities of color around the country and around the world, in opposition to state violence and murder, militarized policing, unprecedented mass imprisonment and surveillance, social and economic and environmental injustice, and imperial wars.

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
Emma Lazarus

I also want to cosign Jacob Frey, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, who said this:

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Behold my magnificent and selfless sacrifice FOR SCIENCE: posting a survey link on my blog.

Full disclosure: I don’t have anything close to a scientific background. I majored in Theatre ferchrissakes, and graduated with my B.A. a few credits shy of a minor in Philosophy. Unfortunately I had crappy science teachers in high school, and as an undergrad I managed to dodge rigorous science classes by meeting my degree requirements with shit like Meteorology 101 and whatnot.

Years later however, I fell deeply and madly in love with the sciences in general, and with evolutionary biology in particular. (In the credit-where-credit-is-due department, that doucheweasel Dawkins’ books contributed in no small part to my intoxicating enlightenment; also, Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish remains one of my favorites reads of all time. Mind: blown.) So although I can spot a cumulonimbus cloud along with the best of ’em, during my formal education I missed out on so much cool science stuff (OMG astronomy! Geology! Marine biology!!!).

My worst regret about all of this is that I have contributed nothing of any significance to the truly amazing troves of knowledge humans have acquired via the scientific method.

Until now.

I am thrilled to announce that the Atheist Research Collaborative is conducting a survey study on how and why people become atheists. FreethoughtBlogs has been encouraged to publicize the survey to our readers, so I am posting about it in case participating in this research might be of interest to you godless heathens out there. From the researchers:

The study is open to those who are at least 18 years of age, and those who once believed in god(s) but do not now; this means you are not eligible to participate if you have always been an atheist/nonbeliever. The survey is a maximum of 76 questions, and a minimum of 64 questions.  On average, the survey should take 20 to 30 minutes to complete, although individuals may find that it takes them more or less time than this, depending on their answers. The survey can be found here.

Joseph Langston ARC Affiliate/Web Admin

Phew! Wow. Doing this science stuff sure is exhilarating – and exhausting! I had no idea.

Well I’m sure we can all agree that I’ve stepped up in a REALLY BIG WAY and done my part for SCIENCE. And that obviously I deserve at least a co-author credit on any published research that comes from this survey data. And of course the best part is this: “make major Nobel Prize-worthy scientific contribution” is now crossed off my bucket list.

What a great day.

:D

I will have a personal teleportation device very, very soon.

The first object has been teleported by Chinese researchers from the Gobi desert to an orbiting satellite 500 kilometers above the Earth. The teleported object was a “photon”—which, from what I understand about particle physics (nothing), is not the same thing as a “live human being.” But obviously that technical detail only presents a minor obstacle, one that will undoubtedly be overcome in short order.

The way teleportation works is this: quantum entanglement something something replicating information in space blah blah blah WHATEVER. The important thing to note here is that I have already developed not one but two Sooper Seekrit lists: one of all the places to which I will soon be teleporting myself, and another of all the people I will soon be teleporting to satellites orbiting the Earth.

Needless to say, the squirrels will be joining them.

I want one.

Very exciting!

After the last of its kind died out about 12,000 years ago, a strange animal that stumped Charles Darwin is finally being added to the tree of life, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Macrauchenia patachonica lived during the last ice age. It resembled a bulky camel without a hump, with a long neck like that of a llama and a short trunk for a nose.

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Multicellularity, male privilege and also I need $10 million.

I watched the vid of my colleagues here at FtB, Matt Herron of Fierce Roller and PZ Myers of Tentacly Overlord infamy, discussing some very cool science-y stuff about the evolution of multicellularity. One of the most interesting takeaways for me is that it had long been thought that evolving multicellularity would be an exceedingly rare and difficult jump to make. But it has been discovered, only in the last five to ten years, that this is actually relatively easy and common:

Matt (@3:51): I think there’s been sort of a natural assumption that it has to be difficult. And maybe it is difficult to evolve a complex multicellular organism, with lots and lots of cell types and tissues and maybe even organs, because that hasn’t happened very many times. But Rick Grossberg has a paper where he argues basically what we’ve found, which is that at least the initial steps towards a multicellular lifestyle really aren’t that difficult. It’s happened lots of times that we know of, at least a couple of dozen times, and probably more because in a lot of cases these things don’t leave any fossil record. It is surprising, compared to what people thought five or ten years ago, that multicellularity evolves so easily, but now we’ve seen it in several of these experiments. And in a lot of cases it happens within just a few hundred generations.

OMG cool, right?

Then they touch on the intersection of philosophy and biology, and specifically the question of what exactly constitutes an individual organism, as opposed to, say, a colony of creatures that appear to function as one. I don’t know about you, but this kind of stuff really gets my beanie spinning. I am reminded of my unfortunate encounter with a species known as Physalia physalis, a.k.a. the “floating terror,” a.k.a. the Atlantic Portuguese man o’ war, which I would henceforth (and forevermore) refer to as a “sea squirrel.” Despite its similarity in appearance to the common jellyfish—an individual multicellular organism that will also sting the everloving shit out of you if given a chance—it turns out that the Sea Squirrel™ is actually something very different:

[T]he Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which, unlike jellyfish, is not actually a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals called zooids or polyps. These polyps are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are unable to survive independently, and therefore have to work together and function like a so-called individual animal.

Mind: blown.

These weird little fuckers are carnivorous, wielding their wickedly venomous tentacles to paralyze prey (e.g. small fish), and to inflict upon barefoot beachwalkers excruciating pain even after they are long dead (the sea squirrels, not the beachwalkers).

Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live organism in the water and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the organism or the detachment of the tentacle.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention an interesting cephalopod angle here. Blanket octopuses are immune to sea squirrel venom, which is an amazing enough trick to evolve. But these cephalopods go waaaaaay beyond that: they rip the venomous tentacles right off of those critters (hopefully while mocking them mercilessly), and then they carry the tentacles around with them to wield as weapons for defensive (and possibly offensive) purposes. Now that is some serious next level shit, blanket octopuses! I mean, can you just picture that? Because I sure can!

Octopus Wielding Sea Squirrel™ Tentacles Against Douchefish.
©Iris Vander Pluym
8′ x 11′
(oil on canvas)
$10,000,000.00

But! I digress. As beanie-spinning as all of this clearly is (as evidenced by the foregoing blather), it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post.

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