All those scientists who defended Epstein? Go jump in a lake.

Yeah, you, Trivers and Krauss. I can’t believe you thought Epstein was a credible patron.

Now we find out he owns a $12 million ranch in New Mexico, and that he had grand plans for it.

The financier and suspected sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein told a number of scientists and confidantes he wanted to “seed the human race” with his DNA by impregnating women at his New Mexico ranch, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

He has been discussing the idea since the early 2000s at various dinners, conferences, and other gatherings, The Times reported, citing four sources familiar with his thinking. But there is no evidence he actually acted on the idea.

The idea was to impregnate 20 women at a time by inseminating them with his sperm, The New York Times reported, citing the author Jaron Lanier, who heard the account secondhand from a NASA scientist who told him about her conversation with Epstein.

We already knew he had a Creep Quotient that was pretty high, but now it’s just shot through the roof, and his estimation of the value of his DNA to the human species was repugnantly exaggerated. He must have heard that Alan Dershowitz was rivaling him for the title of King Creep, and this news had to come out to cement his position as the very worst.

I’d like to know if any of the scientists who took money from him were aware of his ludicrous plans, and if they did, why they didn’t back away from this person. Because he could offered me $10 million personally, told me about his freaky ideas, and I would have thrown the money back in his face and told him to never speak to me again.

What horrors lurk in the past of your sleepy little town?

Today’s blast from the past: I know Olalla! I’ve never been there, but I’ve passed by it and seen the signs.

Today the little town of Olalla, a ferry’s ride across Puget Sound from Seattle, is a mostly forgotten place, the handful of dilapidated buildings a testament to the hardscrabble farmers, loggers and fisherman who once tried to make a living among the blackberry vines and Douglas firs. But in the 1910s, Olalla was briefly on the front page of international newspapers for a murder trial the likes of which the region has never seen before or since.

I don’t know if there is a ferry to Olalla, though…it’s on the other side of Vashon Island, and I’ve only gone by it by looping south around the sound and up towards Bremerton. It’s a sleepy quiet place.

But oh yeah, there was a famous murder there? It was before my time, and I certainly never heard about anything exciting in Olalla.

…Hazzard attracted her fair share of patients. One was Daisey Maud Haglund, a Norwegian immigrant who died in 1908 after fasting for 50 days under Hazzard’s care. Haglund left behind a three-year-old son, Ivar, who would later go on to open the successful Seattle-based seafood restaurant chain that bears his name. But the best-remembered of Hazzard’s patients are a pair of British sisters named Claire and Dorothea (known as Dora) Williamson, the orphaned daughters of a well-to-do English army officer.

Wow, I’ve been to Ivar’s Acres of Clams, and I recall those frequent commercials on TV in my youth. His mother died? How?

It’s a shocking story. “Dr” Linda Hazzard was one of those quacks with a cure-all treatment for all kinds of ailments, and she had a “clinic” where her patients got a really cheaply implemented method: she starved them. No food but a thin vegetable broth, with enemas.

The institute’s countryside setting appealed to the sisters almost as much as the purported medical benefits of Hazzard’s regimen. They dreamed of horses grazing the fields, and vegetable broths made with produce fresh from nearby farms. But when the women reached Seattle in February 1911 after signing up for treatment, they were told the sanitarium in Olalla wasn’t quite ready. Instead, Hazzard set them up in apartment on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, where she began feeding them a broth made from canned tomatoes. A cup of it twice a day, and no more. They were given hours-long enemas in the bathtub, which was covered with canvas supports when the girls started to faint during their treatment.

By the time the Williamsons were transferred to the Hazzard home in Olalla two months later, they weighed about 70 pounds, according to one worried neighbor.

It was a very effective treatment. After the patient was thoroughly debilitated, Hazzard drained their bank accounts until they died. When the law caught up to her over the emaciated corpses of her victims, she was convicted of manslaughter and served a two year sentence, and later built a sanitarium in Olalla.

These kinds of nightmares can be found everywhere, I guess — it’s how Stephen King made a fortune, inventing bizarre histories for normal towns.

Nothing like that could have happened in Morris, Minnesota, could it?

Oh, right. I’m sitting next door to an old Indian school. Worse things probably occurred here than I can imagine.


One of my students dropped a petri dish full of newly emerged spiderlings at approximately 10:15am on 31 July 2019. Containment was breached. Occupants of the dish saw their opportunity and immediately began ballooning, rappelling down from the desktop, and generally making a concerted escape. The air was full of tiny baby spiders on invisible strands of silk wafting about; the authorities made an effort to retrieve the escapees, which mainly consisted of staring cross-eyed into the air and trying to snare balloon thread with paintbrushes and fingers. Many were recovered, but others remain at large.

After I was done laughing, I faced a dilemma. Do I report this to the biology safety officer? I err on the side of caution, and immediately explain the situation to the official in charge, who happens to be me.

Me: Scores of baby Parasteatoda tepidariorum have launched themselves into the air in a mad bid for freedom!

Safety officer: Are they harmless, cute, and adorable?

Me: Yes, very.

SO: Quick, release a bottle of fruit flies so the little rascals don’t go hungry!

Also, we captured some of the escapees into different petri dishes, which effectively reduces the population density of the newborns. Good way to redistribute the surplus population.

My colleagues are going to be wishing I went back to zebrafish. The occasional flood now looks benign.

The Republican party has always been the racist party

Not to claim the Democrats are flawless, but these newly released tapes of Ronald Reagan and Nixon are revealing. Also unsurprising.

“Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said in newly unearthed tapes published by The Atlantic.

Nixon replied, “Yeah.”

And Reagan went on to say, “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”

In a subsequent conversation with Secretary of State William Rogers, Nixon echoed Reagan’s sentiments in his description of the African delegates: “Reagan called me last night, and I didn’t talk to him until this morning, but he is, of course, outraged. And I found out what outraged him, and I find this is typical of a lot of people: They saw it on television and, he said, ‘These cannibals jumping up and down and all that.’ And apparently it was a pretty grotesque picture.”

Jesus. Nixon was terrible. Reagan was terrible. I’m skipping over a few more Republican presidents, but Trump is terrible. That these people got elected also tells us that the electorate is terrible.

Hey! Skepticon is next week!

You can still make it, you just have to get yourself to St Louis, it’s free.

In addition to the fabulous named people on the Skepticon schedule, I’m going to be doing one of the workshops on Friday, at 1pm. That’s the only one I know so far, which is a shame, because all the others will be far more interesting, I’m sure. I’m planning to introduce attendees to cladistic terminology and have them build phylogenetic trees from some data…oh god, you’re already falling asleep. Then don’t come! There’ll be lots of fun and intellectually stimulating activities and talks going on! Go to the comedy show, or the dance!

I’ll just sit my lonely hotel room and think about evolution, very deeply. Or maybe I’ll go spider-hunting around the venue. Maybe I should do a spontaneous spider workshop, alone, outside, just for me — don’t be alarmed if you see a strange man lurking in the bushes outside your room.

Devious racists are experts at hiding

Angela Saini, whose book Superior: The Return of Race Science does an effective job trashing racist pseudoscience, has an article in Scientific American summarizing the problem. A lot of it has to do with the poisonous crap on the Internet.

As the media landscape flattens, drawing audiences away from traditional outlets to a plethora of online ones, those with outdated views have found themselves elevated from the lonely shadows into the light. They have moved on from letters in green ink and pulled up a seat alongside reputable writers and academics. The internet has opened the door to racists and sexists, and they have happily walked in. They’re trampling over our carpets with their grubby shoes even as we offer them a drink. They have normalized extremism, pseudoscience and crackpottery.

The blame can be spread widely. Social media corporations, such as Twitter and Facebook, have allowed racist networks to proliferate. Recent research from Western Sydney University, looking at a decade of cyber-racism, has shown that race-hate groups are sophisticated and creative in disseminating racist propaganda to their followers online. The Gab social network and the journal Psych seem to have been set up expressly to give these elements their own unfiltered space. Online magazines such as Breitbart, and the companies that advertise through them, are complicit in presenting a glossy front to bigotry. And then comes the second tier of publicity when, even if only in outrage and disbelief, this content is shared online. This, in turn, has infected mainstream political discourse, lowering the tone a little further every day.

This stuff has been around for ages — a hundred years ago it was in the form of eugenics, it morphed into The Pioneer Fund (established in 1937, a rather telling decade), in the 60s I was exposed to it via the John Birch Society and William Buckley, and we’re still battling it now. It’s just metastasized into a thousand little online outlets, all vying to put up a veneer of respectability over a dungheap of bad ideas.

I feel like Saini could have just said “Quillette!” in 144 point bold Impact font, it’s the same thing. They try desperately to pretend that they hold a legitimate scientific position, when they’re just the Daily Stormer with a facade to shield them from hate crime status.

Not at my university!

Yes at my university. Every college has this problem: a subset of students are privileged young men who have been fed a lie by the media, that college is a free-for-all where you get to lose your virginity and meet hot horny girls, and they act on that vision. Then they’re nestled in a domain where college administrators are struggling to keep enrollments up and keep politicians, who are mostly older men, content, and who don’t want the horrible nasty boy-children to make the front page, so they swaddle everything in a bureaucracy and do as little as possible.

They failed at the University of Minnesota, and not only did wretched serial rapist Daniel Drill-Mellum eventually get convicted, but his story got big attention from the news. After years of this jerk preying on women at fraternity parties (shut down all the fraternities, please), after being accused multiple times by multiple women and walking away, he finally got sent to prison for 6 years.

(Warning: Account of one of his rapes below the fold)

[Read more…]

I already knew college professors don’t discriminate against conservatives

But it’s still nice to have an analysis that confirms that.

Woessner tells me that, when he first went into this field of research, “I came at this expecting to find evidence of discrimination, but the data didn’t support it.” Now, years later, having published a book and over a dozen articles on the topic, he concludes that college campuses, “are not a hotbed of ideological discrimination. There are challenges for any minority in the academy, and that includes political minorities and racial minorities,” Woessner says, and those challenges can lead some conservative students to “lay low.” But there’s just no evidence that college professors—who do indeed trend liberal in many departments—routinely discriminate against conservative students.

Though this broader finding is important, Woessner’s latest work has suggested some narrow correlations between ideology and grades that are worth considering. Students opposed to legalized abortion, for example, enter college with narrowly higher GPAs than pro-choice students, but lose most of that advantage over four years. Is this a sign that professors are discriminating against right-wing students? Probably not, according to the study: The authors argue that high school may play more to the strengths of conservative students, who often prefer a straightforward, right-or-wrong assessment style. Liberal students, the authors conjecture, fare better in the qualitative work prioritized in higher education, especially in the humanities. Over the phone, Woessner stresses that, in the end, he and his co-authors had “to engage in speculation, trying to map our possible explanation ranging from discrimination to skills to interests. [Conservative students] may be not as engaged” when it comes to the humanities, whereas “liberal students are much less happy with their math classes.”

Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets with a perennial grudge against professors have made the curious choice to report on this study as evidence of professorial bias. These reporters must not have read to the end of the paper, where the authors write: “[Our] results do not paint a picture of conservative students under siege. They remain largely satisfied with their college education, and perform nearly as well as, if not better than, their liberal counterparts.” And that’s just as it should be.

Yes! I go into a class with a set of objectives and rubrics; I establish the basis for grading on exams and papers and lab reports and basics like lab attendance, and I lay that all out in a syllabus. When grading time rolls around, I’ve got a spreadsheet with numbers in it that I crank through to spit out grades — I look at student ID numbers, not names. In fact, when I’m grading exams I scrupulously avoid looking at names until the grading is complete. It’s not a personal thing at all.

You could argue that my teaching style biases outcomes, but in intro courses I tend to lean towards basic lectures, occasionally coaxing students to engage in review, while upper level courses I tend to encourage more student-led engagement, where I’m a moderator helping students discuss the topic of the day. Either way doesn’t seem to discriminate against particular political perspectives and my methods aren’t at all radical.

You don’t want to tell me that it’s the content that disfavors conservatives. The most extreme cases where that is true are, for instance, people who show up to argue that the Earth is 6,000 years old. I’m not going to excuse that nonsense. The social sciences/humanities classrooms I’ve witnessed are far more tolerant of discussing alternative views than the sciences are, but none of us are going to stand by and allow ideas that conflict with reality to pass unquestioned. I presume conservatives are not going to use the defense that their more insane, off-kilter, wrong beliefs were criticized.

The story of Monica

This is Monica.

Monica is Steatoda borealis, and she’s huge. She’s twice the size of our Parasteatoda, and looks simply immense after working with our familiar little guys. She’s big even for S. borealis.

I gave her away to another home earlier this summer. A student was looking for a pet spider, and had a nice terrarium setup, and was going to feed her crickets, so it was safe. She showed up at my door today with Monica, and asked, “Is that an egg sac?”

Sure is. Then she said, “I’m not ready to take care of a family,” a very responsible attitude to have, “would you take her back?” And of course I would. So I brought her back to the lab, and set her up in a nice spacious cage, and fed her lots of flies. I pulled out the egg sac and put it in a Petri dish, and that’s when I notice all the little black dots scurrying around in her old jar. This wasn’t Monica’s first go-round. She’d laid an earlier egg sac, unnoticed, which had hatched out probably last week, and laid a second sac, which we’d finally noticed. Here’s one of the many S. borealis babies.

So now I’ve got hundreds of P. tepidariorum babies, a half dozen S. triangulosa babies, and on top of that I’ve just added what looks like 40 or so S. borealis juveniles, and a clutch of S. borealis eggs to nurse. All of these have appeared at my lab door in the last two weeks. Hey, it’s nice, but did they all have to appear at once?

News from the spider baby factory

In the early morning, we go on long spiderwalks looking for wild spiders. In the late morning I go in the lab to look for new spider egg sacs. In the afternoon I sort and tend to spiders. I’m going to have to think of a good spider-themed activity for my evenings.

Oh, yeah, I read papers about spiders.

Anyway, today I can report that a third egg sac is now leaking baby spiders. They are totally cute.

However, in less happy news, the Ministry of Reproduction finds it necessary to report Brienne for willful slacking of her responsibilities. We have been giving Brienne special privileges — the warmest part of the stack of spider cages, lots of food, and we’ve just been expectantly watching her for the last week. Brienne has gotten huge — just look at that swollen abdomen.

Yet she refuses to produce an egg sac, simply sitting in the same spot all the time, growing larger. Well, the Forced Birth Committee of the Ministry is having none of that. We expect her to do her duty and produce a massive quantity of eggs in short order, or we’ll have to move her into a small vial and give her voluminous cage to a more fertile female.

Or maybe we’ll have to give her a new consort. Is she just holding out for a hunkier male?