Spider fans gather at #Arachnids20 today!

Hey! Tonight! It’s the start of the 2020 American Arachnology Society Virtual Summer Symposium, and it’s going to be great.

We’re very excited to launch the AAS 2020 Virtual Summer Symposium TODAY, June 25, 7-9 PM ET with a brief welcome and overview of the symposium, and the keynote address by Martin Ramirez, Senior Researcher at Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This talk is honoring the contributions of Norman Platnick to arachnology: “From roots to myriad leaves: the legacy of Norman Platnick on spider systematics”.

So it’s going to start with a discussion of this Platnick.

I anticipate some spicy conversations about cladistics.

Also note, tomorrow is all about social justice.

We also want to share updates and encourage you to join the Forum tomorrow, Friday June 26, 3-5 pm ET where we will host a community discussion of impacts of racism on arachnology and potential actions the AAS can take.

At a science conference?!?? Of course. Smart people care about correcting racial inequalities.

Mythicist Milwaukee is back, and I can smell the stench all over the midwest

Last year at around this time, Mythicist Milwaukee was putting together a con called “Minds IRL”, to be held somewhere near Philadelphia. They were cagey about precisely where; everyone knows that the Mythicist crew is a gang of racists and frauds, so there were protests planned, and the Top Secret Location was only revealed by email at the last minute. It was finally held in a casino. If you wanted to revel in the presence of Sargon of Akkad, Count Dankula, Tim Pool, and Andy Ngo, this was the place to be. If you couldn’t make it, Talia Levin committed a photo journalism and took pictures of all the white people chortling over the N word. It looked to be exactly as bad as you would have predicted it to be.

Well, shucks, guess what? The same org is planning another right-wing confab this year in August. It has another name change to Better Discourse, ironically enough. It’ll be in Milwaukee, somewhere — once again, they’re playing peek-a-boo with the exact venue — and they’ve dug deeper into various rat holes to pull up some even bigger rats! Carl Benjamin AKA Sargon of Akkad will be there again, because he was such a beacon of hate the first time around, but now they’ve found an even shittier star…Milo Yiannopoulos! And you thought his 15 minutes of fame were over months ago.

Also on the roster: Peter Boghossian. He’s going to have Impossible Conversations with various racists which will probably be nothing but mutual circle jerks. Fun!

They got Jack Posobiec III! He’s the pizzagate loon, now a “serious” journalist for OAN, who will be on a panel to evaluate “President Trump first four years in review”. You can guess how that’s going to go.

David Silverman is showing up, in case you wondered what slum he’d fallen into lately. There are various other ne’er-do-wells scrounged up to populate the event and take up space and get media attention.

It’s weirdly organized. There are only five sessions, all panel conversations, in a one-day con: the aforementioned Trump fluff, the minority celebrities get a panel to talk about how to overcome racial inequalities (sounds good from the title, but featuring a rap artist fresh from appearances on Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, and Ben Shapiro, and a comedian whose schtick is funny middle-eastern accents, it’s less promising than you think), White People Explaining Why Immigration is Bad, Free Speech Warriors scheming to cancel “Cancel Culture”, and a spirited defense of racial slurs. That’s it. That’s all of it. All for the low, low, low price of $350, you can bask in the welcoming atmosphere of more conspiracy theorists and racists and pseudo-intellectuals than you can shake a stick at in a clandestine hide-away in Milwaukee, and party with them afterwards. When it’s all over, you get the big prize of going home with a nice viral load, since this is an in-person con, and you know most of the attendees believe face masks impinge on their civil liberties.

It’s being put on by an atheist organization. Remember the good old days when everyone was howling at Skepticon because it wasn’t a “true” skeptic/atheist conference, because it included all that crap about humanism and diversity and social justice? “Mission creep,” they whined, “you’re stretching the meaning of the words beyond all reasonable interpretation!” Keep in mind what they really meant, that reason can only bend in one direction, towards right-wing zealotry and conspiracy theories and racism.

And “Cancel Culture”? Really? If “Cancel Culture” were a real thing, Milo Yiannopoulos wouldn’t be your headliner.

Fuck. If I had a time machine, I’d go back 20 years to tell myself to avoid getting involved in this up-and-coming atheist movement. It’s just bad.

At least Mothman never owned slaves

I would support the effort by West Virginians to replace Confederate monuments with statues of Mothman.

Now Minnesota, though — we need to rethink those giant statues honoring Paul Bunyan before the environmentalists notice. I recommend more statues celebrating spiders, in every town.

The data is suggestive

It’s been almost a month since George Floyd was murdered, and protests erupted across the country (and the world) very shortly after, so there’s been time enough for the coronavirus to piggy-back on the crowds and cause a surge in infection rates. But look at these plots, especially for Hennepin county!

That’s good news, but it’s a little confusing. Why aren’t those big crowds perfect petri dishes for the pandemic?

What’s more, a new analysis based on cell-phone tracking data suggests a surprising reason for the lack of protest-related spikes in COVID-19: In the cities with large protests, the wider population actually spent more time at home during the demonstrations — suggesting that any surge caused by virus transmission at the protests themselves would have been countered by an increase in social distancing among the rest of the cities’ populations.

While experts consulted by BuzzFeed News agreed that wearing masks and being outside may have reduced the risk of viral transmission at the protests, they pointed to other possible factors as well. Many of the protesters were young, for example, meaning that new infections that occurred while they were demonstrating would be less likely to cause severe disease and show up in official case counts. And even though hundreds of thousands participated in the protests, that’s still a relatively small number compared to the total population of the cities involved — so it might be hard to notice transmission of the coronavirus at the protests.

“The fact is that we will just never know for sure, because there’s too many moving parts,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, told BuzzFeed News.

Epidemiology is hard — too many variables, too many moving parts. This suggests, however, that you shouldn’t expect dramatic surges from the recent Republican rally, for the same reasons: small crowds relative to the greater population. That participants were generally older might have more effect, though, and BLM protest participants seem to be a lot more careful about using masks and distancing..

What’s worrying is that the article also shows recent rapid rises in states like Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and South Carolina, and the country overall. That’s associated with states that have been generally opening up, and reducing mask and social distancing expectations. The lesson: general policy is far more influential than limited events. Republican governors are greater threats to public health than grassroots protests.

The cops sure are working hard to craft a victimhood narrative

If the cops want to argue that a large part of the public mistrusts and actively hates the police, I’d have no problem agreeing. My impression of cops has nose-dived from “well-meaning but flawed civic servants” to “overpaid bullying racist thugs with way too much fondness for violence” in the last decade or two, so I feel it’s true from personal experience, not to mention all the incidents of cops flat-out murdering people.

But when you’re reduced to claiming that the public is also a master of devious sleight-of-hand, trying in numerous sneaky ways to attack the police, my belief is greatly strained. I don’t believe that service workers are trying to poison cops, or intentionally making them wait at McDonalds, or slipping tampons into their frappucino. That’s just silly.

You want to tell me that some protesters have thrown rocks at cops in riot gear at demonstrations, I’ll believe you. You even have video of that sort of thing. But I’ll also tell you that cops have been using tear gas, sometimes firing it nearly point blank into people’s faces, and that if the worst you can say is this dubious claim that a Starbucks barista put a tampon on your drink, I’m not going to be impressed.

We already know your reputation has hit rock bottom, and that you’re still digging.

Shut up, Shaun King

The right-wing and evangelical Christian sites are all lit up with the news that a BLM activist has declared that statues of white Jesus should be torn down. Cool your jets, people!

  • The statement is from Shaun King, the shameless self-promoter and grifter. He’s just found a new way to inject himself into the discourse.
  • If it’s a Jesus statue on government land, of course it should be torn down, because that’s a violation of church and state separation.
  • If it’s in a church or on private property, leave it alone. You can go ahead and build a shrine to Robert E. Lee in your home, it’s only a problem if it’s on public land and represents a government endorsement of religion (or white supremacy).

I’m an atheist and no friend of Jesus, and I don’t see the point of this fake news.

AAS Meeting starts Thursday!

Maybe I’m the only one enthused by it all, but the 2020 American Arachnology Society Virtual Summer Symposium starts the day after tomorrow. Online admission is only $10 if you want to see it! A quick summary of the schedule:

  • Thursday evening is a keynote recognizing the contributions of Norm Platnick.
  • Friday is a Discussion: Impacts of Racism on Recruitment and Retention of Black Arachnologists. Every scientific society is finally trying to pay attention to this issue.
  • Saturday, we have a workshop on using iNaturalist for science and outreach.
  • Sunday is the online poster session.
  • Monday looks like wall-to-wall 15 minute presentations.

A jolly time will be held by all. It’s more spread out than the usual in-person scientific meeting, which means, I hope, it will be low-stress and a little less exhausting than the usual affair.