Strangely enough, it all turns out well


Speaking of genetics, this is the week the results from our big triple point cross (it’s a kind of mapping cross where we determine the distances between three different genes) come rolling in. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking for me, because this is the first time these students have worked with flies, it involves a series of crosses with multiple points where they can screw up, and if they all messed up, we don’t have enough time in the semester to repeat it. So every week I go into the lab, and there are students who are staring confusedly at their bottles, and wondering if they did something wrong, and telling me they are are afraid they might have added males of the wrong phenotype, or they have confused which generation is which, or things are just addling their brain and they can no longer understand what they are doing.

And my job is to puzzle it all out, or figure out how we can test and make sure they’ve got the right flies, or to explain everything to ease their addlement. This is a simple experiment, but with a mob of novice Drosophila geneticists the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Every time. I feel a bit like Philip Henslow in this clip from Shakespeare in Love all semester long.

And he’s right! It does turn out well in the end, for mysterious reasons that always puzzle me. They’ve started turning in the numbers from the first few groups who are ready, and they’re pretty much what I expected, and there are no major anomalies, and everyone did every single one of the crosses correctly (major errors would lead to obviously and sharply different results, so I can tell). I think we can just trust the students to try hard to do everything right.

Now they just have to analyze the data and write up a formal lab report. Where is the report? Oh, it’s coming. It’s coming.

Andrew “Boo Hoo” Wakefield complains

His fraudulent anti-vax film got kicked out of the Tribeca film festival, and rightly so. He’s unhappy about that.

To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to reverse the official selection of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, opened a March 26th statement from the film’s Director Andrew Wakefield and Producer Del Bigtree.

Kavin Senapathy succinctly describes him.

Disgraced former gastroenterologist and researcher Andrew Wakefield, known for a fraudulent 1998 paper linking the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism, directs the movie which aims to reveal an alarming deception that has contributed to the skyrocketing increase of autism and potentially the most catastrophic epidemic of our lifetime.

I have to remember that line. I think Wakefield ought to have his name legally changed to Disgraced Former Gastroenterologist And Researcher Andrew Wakefield, Known For A Fraudulent 1998 Paper Linking The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine With Autism. I know, it’s kind of long, but we could just call him Disgraced for short.

How not to teach genetics


Robert Dillon teaches genetics at the College of Charleston…or rather, he is officially assigned the job of teaching genetics, but one might question whether his students are actually learning anything. He’s tenured, but is currently suspended from teaching over a dispute about his syllabus that has snowballed into a mess of a case.

I started reading this article with some sympathy for Dillon. I teach genetics, too, and I’ve been teaching it almost as long as he has. I’m a little bit demanding in the classroom — this is conceptually difficult material for many students, and you can’t lead them by the hand through every step of figuring out every problem, and at some point the students have to figure out for themselves how to do the work, or they haven’t succeeded in being independent thinkers. I also get annoyed at some of the dictates from on high, where we are told to fit our work to a template designed by people who don’t teach our classes. I can feel for his resentment.

But we also have a job to do. It looks like he’s not doing it.

[Read more…]

Who is to blame for the current chaos in the Republican party?

I love it when Charles Pierce cuts loose.

For four decades now, ever since Ronald Reagan fed it the monkeybrains in the 1980, hitching his party to the snake-oil of supply-side economics and to the sad remnants of white supremacy, often as expressed through an extremist splinter of American Protestantism, the Republican Party has been afflicted with the prion disease that now has blossomed into utter public madness. That’s the story everyone was too blind, stupid, or afraid to tell. You know who in the media really created He, Trump? Anyone who laughed at Ronald Reagan’s casual relationship with the truth and with empirical reality. Anyone who blew off Iran-Contra. Anyone who draped C-Plus Augustus in a toga after 9/11. Anyone who cast Newt Gingrich as a serious man of ideas. Anyone who cast Paul Ryan as an economic savant, that’s who. Anyone who wrote admiring profiles of how shrewd Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were. Anyone who put Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck on the cover of national magazines based simply on their ratings. Anyone who put Matt Drudge on a public-affairs program. Anyone who watched the conservative movement, the only animating force the Republican party has, drive the party further and deeper into madness, they are the ones who share the blame. He, Trump merely has taken the bark off ideas that were treated as legitimate for far too long by far too many people, most of whom don’t really give a damn about the plight of the vanishing middle class except for its use as fuel for rage-based, self-destructive politics.

I could not believe it when that dopey clown Reagan got elected — that bozo should have been slapped down before he became governor of California. I was even more appalled when the dopier, clownier W got elected, and once again, I was wondering why the media just peddled it as a great way to sell advertising minutes on the news. And now…

Limbaugh and Beck and Drudge and Breitbart continue to be treated as oracles into the guts of the American psyche, and have become the American psyche.

I can’t even bear to watch the network pundits any more. When David Brooks is treated as if he’s the serious, sane one, we’re done.

Speaking of bad science, never trust the American College of Pediatricians


I know! It sounds so official and sciencey! It’s got “college” in it, which is formal and academic, and “pediatricians”, which are a kind of doctor, and you can never go wrong slapping “American” on your brand label. But they are a lie.

It’s also because the ACP is not a legitimate medical organization; its name is designed to be mistaken for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is a national organization with some 60,000 members. The ACP, by contrast, is estimated to have no more than 200 members, and it has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBT positions.

“The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex,” the statement reads. “Facts – not ideology – determine reality.” The “facts” that follow actually reflect a social conservative ideology that rejects the very reality of what transgender children experience.

They’ve issued a statement that transgender kids are being harmed, based on claims that believing you are of a gender other than the one you were born with is a mental disorder (psychologists disagree), that it’s just a phase kids go through (nope, again — that’s based on some bad studies), and that sex reassignment surgery, rather than discrimination and hatred, triggers suicide at a high rate (you can figure that one out).

I’m all in favor of facts. Unfortunately, painting the word “fact” on a lie does not make it true.

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: Rorqual!

This is a Minke Whale, in life.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a little harder to see them in life. The Japanese whaling fleet has just returned to base with a lot of carcasses that will be destined for cans and pet food.

Japan’s whaling fleet has returned to base with the carcasses of 333 minke whales, in apparent violation of a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

Reuters quoted a statement by Japan’s Fisheries Agency that said 103 male and 230 female whales were caught during the fleet’s summer expedition to Antarctic waters. Ninety percent of the mature females were pregnant.

Did you know that Japanese whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission, with one little loophole left for scientific research? They’ve been abusing that loophole for years.

The court said the research program had generated only two peer-reviewed papers that together refer to nine whales.

‘In light of the fact that [Japan’s program] has been going on since 2005 and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited,’ the court wrote in its judgment.

By a 12-4 vote, the court based in The Hague decided Japan must ‘revoke any extant authorization, permit or license granted in relation to’ its whaling program, ‘and refrain from granting any further permits’ related to it.

You had me at your contempt for mowing lawns

The Roaming Ecologist has a few words about lawns.

Lawns – those myopically obsessive (and evil) urban, suburban, and increasingly rural monoculture eyesores that displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day* in favor of sterile, chemically-filled, artificial environments bloated with a tremendous European influence that provide no benefits over the long term; no food, no clean water, no wildlife habitat, and no foundation for preserving our once rich natural heritage. And there’s the unbearable ubiquitousness of mowing associated with such a useless cultural practice, which creates a ridiculous amount of noise pollution, air and water pollution, and a bustling busyness that destroys many peaceful Saturday mornings. The American lawn is the epitome of unsustainability.

I would like to subscribe to your newsletter, and attend your weekly meetings protesting grass, rather than mow my lawn. That season is soon upon us.

But then he also shares this excellent illustration of native prairie plants. They’re all roots! Unlike that scrubby shallow Kentucky bluegrass film on the left, that just forms a superficial mat of roots.

Illustration by Heidi Natura, 1995, of Living Habitats.  Click on image to see larger version.  80% of a prairie’s biomass is below ground, which is a part of the reason why prairies are the greatest soil carbon factories in the world.  Those roots break up compacted soil, and as a portion of those roots die each year, they add organic matter and decompose into carbon, further enriching the soil; all of this is done without deadly pesticides or equally deadly petrochemical fertilizers.

Illustration by Heidi Natura, 1995, of Living Habitats. Click on image to see larger version. 80% of a prairie’s biomass is below ground, which is a part of the reason why prairies are the greatest soil carbon factories in the world. Those roots break up compacted soil, and as a portion of those roots die each year, they add organic matter and decompose into carbon, further enriching the soil; all of this is done without deadly pesticides or equally deadly petrochemical fertilizers.

OK, now what can I do to kill the ground hugging parasites covering my yard and replace them with cool plants like that?

Even our Republicans are better than yours

I’ve been bragging about the progressive Democrats we have here in Minnesota: Dayton, Klobuchar, Franken, for instance. But sometimes even our Republicans surprise me.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Keith Downey is breaking from leading Republican presidential candidates after controversial remarks about Muslims by Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Downey spoke at “Muslim Day at the Capitol” last week after deadly attacks in Brussels by Islamic terrorist group ISIL. The attacks prompted Trump and Cruz to call for closer scrutiny of Muslims to protect the country from dangerous extremists.

The GOP chairman, who spoke at the annual event for the first time, quoted extensively from letters he exchanged with Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota and an organizer of the discussion. Downey told the audience that “the political debate occurring in this context unfortunately is severely hampered by a lack of knowledge about Islam and the Muslim community in America.”

I’m still not ever voting for them. But they’re taking steps in the right direction.

(Before 300 million people pack up and move to Minnesota, I’ll remind you all of the downsides. Cold. And mosquitoes. Also, occasional outbursts of accordion music.)

Oh. It’s Easter.

That’s right, today is the most boring and unbelievable of the Christian holidays, when we’re supposed to be all reverent because people claim some dude came back from the dead a long time ago, on a date almost incomprehensibly difficult to calculate because it has something to do with the moon. We celebrate this unlikely event by wearing fancy clothes and going to church and making our children chase eggs, none of which is particularly pleasant or entertaining, or possessing any special appeal to anyone.

Until now.

This day is about some guy resurrecting, and now a lot of loony people want him to resurrect a second time. No one ever seems to ask whether we want some manic charismatic rabbi from the ancient Roman empire to come back and tell us what to do. What we need is some kind of Jesus repellent. Something that would totally repulse some sanctimonious geezer with a purity fetish.

Oglaf has come up with the celebration to drive religious redeemers away (totally not safe for work). As a bonus, it should also work on Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other such obnoxious proselytizing intruders. It probably wouldn’t work on Ted Cruz, but then no method is perfectly fool-proof.