Ask a Biologist

More people, especially public school teachers, ought to be aware of the Ask a Biologist website — it’s an excellent and easy resource. Kids (and adults) can fire off a quick question that gets tucked into the database, and then someone on their team of volunteer professionals will try to answer it. There are some big names on that list!

AAB also turns one year old today, so let’s celebrate by getting more schools to send in questions.


  1. says

    He left because you were a very naughty boy, and he now has a new good family, with pleasant, intelligent, attractive children, and he doesn’t want to see you ever again.

    When you Ask a Biologist, you don’t always get the answers you want to hear.

  2. Chas says

    Don’t leave out the Mad Scientist Answering Forum ( Their answers are not limited to biology.

  3. says

    Thanks so much PZ for flagging us. I wouldlike to think we are doing a good job. The site is undergoing a rennovation right now, so hopefully it will be more up to date and user friendly soon. Please keep ’em coming we are only as effecitve and educatioal as the visitors we get!

  4. says

    Splendid! This is something I’ve wished for for a long time – making science accessible and understandable.

    I’ll be linking both sites promptly.

    Don’t worry, it won’t affect your bandwidth…sigh….

  5. MikeM says

    Wow. Ultimate helicopter parent here, and I mean this in the worst possible way.

    It turns out, through a set of wild circumstances and coincidences, that my daughter, as her 8th grade science project, is doing a “Career Science Document.” She needs to have an interview with an expert in the field she chose to research.

    It turns out she chose “Marine Biologist.”

    I swear to dog, I ain’t makin’ this up. I sincerely am not.

    I rarely do anything this personal, but can you help?

  6. says

    It turns out she chose “Marine Biologist.”

    I swear to dog, I ain’t makin’ this up. I sincerely am not.

    I rarely do anything this personal, but can you help?

    Posted by: MikeM

    I think Marine Biology was fun up until the point where people wanted to see what lives in depths greater than your average swimming pool.

  7. Tim Tesar says

    PZ said:

    There are some big names on that list!

    I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that one of the names on the list is: “Professor PZ Myers, University of Minnesota” ?

  8. says

    Mike M @ 6: There is a blog by marine biologists on this site. It’s Deep Sea News. You might try contacting the bloggers. If none of them are able to provide an interview, they might be able to point you (or your daughter) at someone can.

  9. says

    By the way, if anyone’s looking for cheap entertainment, check out this energy creature trolling for blog hits:

    The Atheist Lie
    March 14, 2008

    Any second-year science student knows that you cannot disprove the existence of God.

    Therefore, agnostics can defend their position.

    Atheists say there is no God, in the name of science. This is embarrassingly unprofessional of them, and reveals their true assertion: they don’t want God to exist. There’s a huge difference. They just won’t be honest about it. That is the atheist lie.

    [Edit] Now all-of-a-sudden all of my intellectual atheist friends don’t think semantics matters anymore. Nonsense-you carefully chose the label “atheist”. You’re proving to me that you’re a pack of liars. You’ve lied to us all, and you’ve lied to yourselves. Just admit it: YOU DON’T WANT GOD TO EXIST.
    Posted by pauljub
    Filed in Christian, Religion, atheism ·Tags: agnosticism, atheism, Christianity, deceit, deception, God, lie, lies

    Yeah, I fell for his blatant trolling. My response (which I somehow doubt will make it past his moderation, at least not intact):

    Phoenix Woman said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    March 14, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Wow. Saying that atheists (let’s make big fat sweeping generalizations here!) don’t want god to exist is like saying gays want to have the stuffing beat out of them by religious people.

    The origins of religion lie in the desire to find (or at least wish for) a way around physical death. If you’re an atheist, you’ve very likely resigned yourself to the idea — which has so far yet to be disproved — that there’s no such thing as an ‘afterlife’ ruled over by some powerful spirit.

    This is why many atheists aren’t willing to make nice with religion. They see it as offering an attractive but false hope, and using that false hope to part desperate, death-fearing people from their worldly goods. (After all, you won’t need those worldly goods in Heaven, right?)

  10. DwarfPygmy says

    Kids (and adults) can fire off a quick question that gets tucked into the database, and then someone on their team of volunteer professionals will try to answer it.

    I’ll ask how they explain PYGMIES + DWARFS.

  11. paul lurquin says


    Of course not! PZ’s innate modesty would never permit such gross self-promotion!

    Also note the slight misinformation. PZ calls himself “Professor” when in actuality, he is an associate professor, not a full. Still a professor, though. In addition, he calls his campus U of Minnesota rather than U of Minnesota-Morris, which is a teeny branch campus without graduate degrees. The hoi polloi will find this a non-issue, obviously. But in fact, a knight in shiny armor should be ultra-clean or he’ll get hammered. Reminds me of Bill Dembski claiming that he has a PhD from the U of Illinois. Correct, but this is Illinois-Chicago, not Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. Again, technically correct, but slightly off nonetheless.

    The Peezer does a decent job but he often gets carried away by the adulation of his cronies.

  12. says

    Oh, please. I do not hide away any of the details — you can find that info upfront, right there on the top left sidebar. The title is professor, the rank is associate; I’ve only been tenured for about 4 years. And I am quite proud to be affiliated with UMM, which is an excellent university. By leaving off the “Morris” part, it actually diminishes the import of the connection.

    You seem to be a bit more invested in the significance of titles than I am.

  13. says

    In addition, he calls his campus U of Minnesota.

    Your armour is the one that needs polishing, Pauly. In the time that I’ve been reading this blog, I have never, ever, not-even-once-in-a-typo-that-was-immediately-corrected ever, read the university that PZ teaches at referred to as anything but the University of Minnesota, Morris or UMM.

    Do you have problems reading, or are you just an asshole?

  14. says

    Well, yeah. It does me no good if the best students go to the branch campus in distant Minneapolis/St Paul — I want them to come here.

  15. Gregory Earl says

    @Dungeon Inhabitant: You mean Nobel laureates don’t waste their time responding to trolls? How shocking.

  16. says

    Do you have problems reading, or are you just an asshole?

    I find “either-or” choices so limiting.

    Yup, this is a double diagnosis if ever one existed.

  17. paul lurquin says

    Hey OM #14,

    You’re the one who needs reading lessons. Go to the site “Ask a biologist” and you’ll see what I mean. End of discussion.

  18. says

    I am reminded of that tool on Conservapedia who always puts “Professor” in quotes when he writes about Richard Dawkins because the Oxford website describes Dawkins as “the first holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science”; dimbulb doesn’t think holding an endowed chair at Oxford makes one “a real professor”.

  19. says

    Hey Pauly #20:

    You’re right, the site does say University of Minnesota, not University of Minnesota, Morris.

    Now for the discussion, even though you claimed to end it, assface: if you’re going to suggest that that’s deliberate and not merely an error, you’re going to have to do a lot better than faff on about ‘cronies’ and ‘adulation’. Maybe point out where on PZ’s blog he leaves off the Morris part as the co-conspirator he obviously is. Perhaps cite some more evidence of misrepresentation rather than one example from a site he doesn’t necessarily maintain. If you weren’t, in actuality, a shithead, you might’ve said, “Hey PZ: The site says you’re at the University of Minnesota–that’s not right,” or something to that effect rather than your dishonest mudslinging.

    Now that you’ve demonstrated that you can indeed read, I guess we’re left with option 2, asshole.

  20. says

    Oh, and since you’re so concerned with titles, you might consider that my nom d’écran is ‘Brownian’–the OM is a postnominal honorific.

    End of discussion. Pissant.

  21. Nowan says

    @paul lurquin, Brownian,

    To leave off the campus when stating an affiliation is neither dishonest, nor a mistake, nor indeed worth mentioning. The University of Minnesota, Morris IS (part of) the University of Minnesota.

    @paul lurquin,

    even assistant professors get to call themselves “Professor”, and everyone knows it.

    Now, THAT is the end of the discussion.

  22. says

    Oh, but I actually am employed by the University of Minnesota, officially and genuinely. I can walk into the faculty club at UMTC without a qualm, my university library card is accepted out there in Minneapolis, the regents and the president of the U come out here periodically, we actually have “University of Minnesota” right there in our names.

    I am a University of Minnesota professor, plain and simple.

    Does Lurquin also chide those profs at that other campus if they leave “TC” off their UM affiliation?

    As for the claim that I’m trying to hide my residence at a branch campus, the situation is quite the opposite: I prefer to make prominent note of the fact that I’m at UMM. Morris has a very, very good reputation in our state — I’m exhibiting a kind of snootiness when I take care to mention that I’m good enough to be a teacher at one of the best liberal arts colleges here. Leaving “Morris” off the title is a kind of modesty.

  23. Anna K says

    Thanks for the link. I too have an 8th grade daughter who wants to become a marine biologist. I will let her know it about it. (I may use it myself . . .)

  24. monyNH says

    Well I, for one, thank you heartily for letting us know about AAB. As a high school librarian–that is, assistant librarian–I am always looking for sites to promote to students as alternatives to Google and (ack!) Wikipedia. Ask A Biologist will be next week’s Website of the Week!

  25. Nevyn says

    OK, PZ, I just sent them a ripper that’s been bugging me for months. If they can’t answer it, I’m holding you personally responsible.

  26. says

    Oh Wow! This is GREAT news! Finally, I can delegate all this pesky Bio Lab homework! (Think they’re familiar with that iodine/starch/baggie thing? Because I hate that thing…)

  27. says

    Hi! If I’m “trolling for blog hits” then why are you granting me more hits by putting a link to my page on your blog? (And let me guess, you wouldn’t be a hypocrite or anything… you’re not the least bit interested in getting blog hits.)

  28. Ariann says

    Unfortunately many of the responses on AAB I’ve seen so far have been remarkably disappointing, if not flatly inaccurate.