Busy busy busy

I’ve been neglectful of everything! But then, I’m in the midst of a sudden surge of work.

First, on Saturday, 9 February, I’ll be speaking via an electronic connection (like someone from the future!) to the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie on Charles Darwin and the Web of Interconnectedness, part of their Darwin Day celebration. Here’s the abstract:

Charles Darwin was a conventional naturalist of his day, and yet he had this great insight that led to a revolution in biology. Where did that come from? I will argue that it was from a shift in perspective, from trying to figure out how a species becomes well suited to its environment, to considering the environment wholistically and seeing how many species of plants and animals, as well as geology, interact to generate forces in biology. What made Darwin’s idea great was that it also interacted with a multitude of other ideas to inspire change across whole fields of science. Evolution led to ecology and genetics, and eventually to molecular biology and genomics, none of which would exist without the seed Darwin planted.

I’ll be doing this live at the West Toledo Branch Library, but I’ll probably also turn it into a video later. Right now the talk is a shambles, but I’ve got a couple of days to whip it into shape. Right?

Second, I’ve got a big messy YouTube video in the works, which is also currently a shambles. Yes, my desktop is in a state of chaos, true wreckage with debris scattered all around. This one is kind of complicated and messy — I’m trying to explain how the concept of human genetic immortality, which leads to horrors as diverse as hereditary royalty and racism, is a toxic lie that poisons society. It’s also biological bullshit that annoys me greatly.

Third…I’m planning a summer research project that might — almost certainly — require IRB approval. I’m proposing to survey various sites around Stevens County for their spider populations, including people’s homes (I’m most interested in synanthropic species), and correlating factors in the environment with spider density by taxon. That involves looking at how cluttered garages are, what pesticides are being used, age of residences, etc. I was working out this stuff and realized that I’ll be generating a database that includes people’s addresses (which will be kept private) and the physical state of their homes, and the operative word there is “people”, not just spiders, dang it.

I’ve never had to do this before. But unlike some twits in Portland, or their apologists in Boston or Oxford, this twit in Small Town, Flyover Country thinks maybe he should make sure everything is kosher before he recruits students and charges off to knock on people’s doors.

So I’ve been trying to read the University of Minnesota protocols for a new study. They are somewhat daunting.

It’s sinking in that I’ve got to have a fairly complete and detailed protocol in hand, and then I’ve got to submit a bunch of stuff to the IRB, so I’m trying to put together a comprehensive preliminary survey, listing everything I might want to ask about a site. I don’t think it’ll have any problem sailing through — I won’t be handing out fun experimental drugs, or performing exciting surgeries on anyone — but The Forms Must Be Followed.

That’s my life for the next week or two, I think.


  1. jackal says

    Our university IRB has a checklist to fill out to tell you if you’re doing human research. Since you’re interviewing actual humans, you probably are, but at least it’s a minimal risk study. To avoid some of the privacy risks, you might consider collecting block number or census tract instead of address. I suppose it depends on how urban or rural you’re going whether those would be practical.

  2. says

    I’d have to preserve addresses & contact info because this would be a longitudinal study, so I’d be going back to those residences multiple times.

    Yeah, when I realized I’d have to get information from home owners at each site, I figured I’d have to go through IRB first. But it shouldn’t be a major hurdle, except that I’ve got to work through all these questions & reports & forms first.

  3. nomdeplume says

    Boy you really are getting into spiders in a big way. Good stuff – I am appalled by how many people constantly kill spiders with insecticide.

    “Wholistically”? I guess the W is silent…

  4. DanDare says

    The Forms Must be Followed.
    Sounds like something out of one of the Laundry stories. Everyone is fighting Cthulhu but what they are really scared of is The Auditors.

  5. Kamaka says

    PZ @ 2

    Data collection protocals are their own big project. Though I suppose the software is little more sophisticated than when I last did that kind of work, which included such things as pencils.

    nomdeplume @ 3

    It is beyond me why people think it’s a good idea to kill spiders. It must be a lizard brain thing.

  6. jrkrideau says

    Wait! You have a mob of spiders in the lab and no IRB approval (whatever IRB stands for). Of dear there goes all that grant money!

    I wonder if researchers at the local university would have to get approval from the Animal Care Committee (or whatever they are calling it this week) before setting out to stalk spiders or crickets in the wild?