You aren’t owed admission to Harvard, Kyle

Harvard has rescinded an offer of admission to Kyle Kashuv, Parkland shooting survivor, pro-gun advocate, former member of Turning Point USA, and young rising star of dumbass conservatism, because of stupid things he wrote on a message board. He’s now complaining that he should not be judged on the basis of crap he wrote when he was 16 or 17.

That ridiculous defense has now reached peak absurdity. The whole college admissions process is about evaluating your prospects on the basis of what you did in high school! What’s the acceptable window here? Can I say you can’t criticize me for something I wrote yesterday, because I’m a new me today?

The late teens is a period of rapid changes, and we see lots of increases in maturity in college age students. It’s possible he has acquired wisdom in the last few years, but he has to show it, not just say it, and his affiliation with TPUSA is not a good sign that he has become a better adult. Also, the messages go a long way to reveal the content of his character, and it’s not good.

Wow. There’s some remarkable code-switching going on here, because, setting aside the ugly content, that’s not college-eligible writing. That’s simply vomiting up toxins from the id.

Oh, well. He has defenders. The “Intellectual” Dork Web is out in force, deploring the no-platforming of another asshole. Ben Shapiro is whining something fierce, and this guy is, of course, supporting the racist twink.

Lo, the Skeptical Movement.

My first day really hanging out with arachnologists

Good morning from the arachnid meetings! I had a busy day yesterday, soaking in new knowledge and trying to absorb it, and boy is my brain tired. This is a whole new experience for me.

When I go to zebrafish meetings, there is one thing you know for sure: everyone is going to be working on pretty much the same highly inbred organism, raised in similar sterile institutional environments, and when there’s a subtle difference in some individuals, everyone wants to jump on it and dissect out the causal mechanism. These meetings are…the opposite of that. The exact opposite. Everyone is confronting this massive diversity of form and species, and diverse forms within species, and trying to map it out without recourse to stuff I would have thought routine. You’ve got some oddball individual? Cross it with others, clone it, breed it up into a large working population, figure out what genes are involved. Grind it up, sequence it, tell me what nucleotides are responsible.

You can’t do that when trying to puzzle out a few hundred species living in natural environments, and it’s not even the approach most people want to take. Yesterday I got to sit through lots of taxonomy talks where the number of claws on the foot of 1800 species (or is it 800 species? Depends on who did the naming) there are. I’m left wondering whether all of this is allelic, or even just developmental noise, and no one is even looking at that aspect of the problem, because they can’t. They’re just drowning in data.

I think the answer is that we’re going to have to train an army of 10,000 arachnologists, give each of them multi-million dollar grants for the indefinite future, and turn them loose. The problems are so big that that’ll give them a reasonable start.

Oh, also, most of yesterday seemed to be talking about Opiliones, non-spider arachnids. The fact that this was an arachnology meeting, not limited to mere spiders, was thrust into my face repeatedly. Fine. I’m here to learn stuff I don’t know, so go ahead, throw all the exotic arthropods at me willy-nilly.

There were a few talks that fell into my comfort zone. There was some stuff on sex determination pathways in Parasteatoda tepidariorum, all preliminary, but with enough connections to known pathways in Drosophila and mice that I could see roughly where it was going and where interesting surprises would lurk. There was a long session on nothing but circadian rhythms in diverse spider species that had me wondering lots of things, like why there aren’t a hundred labs working on this one problem.

Spider circadian rhythms are freakishly weird, unlike what you see in other animals. The endogenous rhythm is wildly variable in different species, some running on a 16 hour clock, others on a 29 hour clock. That’s part of the opportunity in spiders — so many species, and you can just toss one in a testing apparatus and get lots of data. They also exhibit different patterns when free-running, sometimes changing their periodicity. They just don’t care about phase shifts, recovering with surprising rapidity from jet lag. Everyone is trying to figure out why they’re so different from other animals; I’m thinking maybe the answer is simple, that they’re uncoupled from any need to maintain a rhythm, and that what we’re seeing here is the vestiges of an evolutionary relic that’s being retained for its coupling with other pathways, but that doesn’t really do anything for a circadian clock anymore. It’s a lot of broken clocks, all broken in different ways.

But what do I know? Put more experts to work on the molecular signaling pathways in spiders, I say.

Today is more of the same strangeness — the whole morning is dedicated to silk. That’s another phenomenon unique to spiders, and sure to leave me reeling. In a good way.

I think there’s also another taxonomic session coming up. I’m mainly going to that for the disruptive confusion it induces in my brain. It’s like taking random drugs all day long, although I won’t be going home with a filthy systematics habit, a little adventurousness for a week is fine.

Good morning from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia!

I’m out here at Washington and Lee University to attend the American Arachnological Society 2019 meeting, and the sessions start in a few hours. It’s going to be intense: the sessions today are on functional morphology, morphological evolution (the session I most look forward to), molecular phylogenetics and systematics, and circadian rhythms. Damn, I’m interested in them all. My brain is going to be running hot all day long, so it’s a good thing the program culminates in a trip to a brewery to cool it back down.

There are no zebrafish talks to give me a retreat to the familiar, so it’s going to be a challenging day.

Oh, also, I met another first-timer here at AAS, and learned she has a blog called Spidermentor — it’s very good. It’s full of stories about collecting and raising and observing spiders in Western Pennsylvania, and is first-rate science communication. Check it out while I’m getting a high-speed cerebral infusion today.

Regretful Father’s Day

Hey, Dad…

James Clayton Myers 1935-1992

Just thought I’d let you know how things are going. When you left us, I was a weird nerd doing incomprehensible things with insects for a living, with three little bitty kids. Well, I’m still a weird nerd — some things never change — and now I’m doing incomprehensible things with spiders, after doing incomprehensible things with fish for a long time. The kids are grown-up adults now, and have moved out. The oldest works in a law office, the middle boy is a captain in the army, and the youngest is a grad student doing incomprehensible things with computers. You’d be proud of them. We are.

They’ve provided you with two more great-grandchildren. I wish you could meet them, and even more, I wish they could meet you. They’d like you, but then, all kids liked you. All I can do is tell them about you when they’re a little older. Maybe I can take them fishing. Read some comic books. Make some pancakes. Do some tiny fraction of the things you did with me.

Oh yeah, I’m as old as you were now. That feels weird. I’m supposed to be littler and younger than you.

Mom’s still doing fine.

Miss you. Wish you were here.

The journey begins — I’m off to the @AAS_arachnology meetings

It takes a while to escape the gravitational pull of Morris, Minnesota, so we’re about to leave for the Twin Cities so I can catch an early morning flight to exotic Lexington, VA for the American Arachnological Society 2019 meeting. It feels a bit strange. There’s some imposter syndrome going on in my head, only I really am an imposter — I just started exploring arachnology this year, so I’m nothing but a novice.

I’m going to pretend I’m a bewildered and confused and uncertain first-year graduate student at this meeting. Just ignore the wrinkles and the grey beard, OK?

I’m also excited to get my first spider meeting t-shirt.

Disband the Phoenix police force and blacklist all the current officers

It’s the only way to be sure. There’s something wrong with those damn people, as the latest incident reveals: a dozen armed police descended on a report from a Dollar Store that a child had shoplifted a doll, and they abused and threatened a young family with murder over it. The force is a gang of thugs drunk on power.

This is madness. Those policemen are not competent or of an appropriate temperament to do their jobs.

You have to decide which part of the club charter matters most

Remember when Francis Collins published a book containing his goofy, ridiculous testimonial about how he became a Christian because he was out hiking and saw a waterfall in three parts, demonstrating the Trinity? Oh man, that was stupid. Then he became director of the NIH.

Remember when Francis Collins announced that equality in science was so important that he was refusing to speak on non-inclusive science panels?

“It is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as ‘manels,’” Dr. Francis Collins wrote in an online statement this week. “Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences.”

“When I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities,” he continued. “If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part.”

Good for him. That’s the right decision.

Hey. Hey…remember when swarms of popular atheists proudly declared that god is a fiction, and that feminism is a cancer and women can’t be funny and atheism doesn’t have the estrogen vibe that would encourage women to disbelieve in gods? Remember that?

Fucking hell. You get to choose between the club that still does silly prayers and wacky rituals, but thinks women are people, or you can choose the club that supports the obvious conclusion that gods don’t exist and girls and brown people are inferior. I hate choices like that, but I guess they aren’t choices at all — I’m part of the former, at least until atheism wises up.

I think it’ll be a long time before that happens. People are sneering at Collins not for his religious beliefs, but for his ideas about human equality — people like Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist and atheist.

What an ugly clubhouse…

Pretty babies

I may be becoming notorious in Morris. Since we got mentioned in the local paper, I’ve gotten a few phone calls from community members asking about spiders. The latest was an excited call that a swarm of baby spiders had hatched out on their screen door…so of course we had to leap into the Spider-Mobile and race across town. I suggested to Mary that we ought to get a giant fiberglass spider mounted on the roof and one of those magnetic sirens/flashing lights that I could attach on the roof for these moments when I get emergency Spider-Alerts.

Anyway, we got there, and they were adorable. Hundreds of baby spiderlings stretching their limbs on the door.

We took a sample, but left most alone. We took a few photos and then turned them loose on a bush outside my office window. I don’t mind seeding my yard with orb weavers.