May die of discouragement soon

I need to vent. I’m grading lab reports, and one of my banes is this: students who assemble a series of tables and plunk them into the results section with no text narrative. Nothing to glue them together. Just Table 1, Table 2, Table 3, I’m done. I tell them in Cell Biology that I hate this, that it’s completely unacceptable, and these students have gone through cell bio. I tell them again in Genetics; I tell them I want them to imagine that all of their tables and figures fell out of the manuscript, but I can get the gist of what the results are from the text. I tell them that a table or figure does not exist if it is not referenced in the text. They’ve done one lab report earlier in the semester, in which this rule was reiterated, and I gave them big fat zeroes on their results section if they committed this sin. Then have to know by now. I’ve emphasized it so many times this term. I tell them in lab. I tell them in lecture. I warn them that this is a huge peeve of mine, and students keep doing it despite my tirades, and this year, finally, I hope the whole class will get it.

First 6 student lab reports: they just have a string of tables for a results section.

Jesus fucking christ. This isn’t hard. Can I just give them all failing grades, quit my job, and apply to be a Walmart greeter? They’re doing worse than they did on the first lab report.

I am not encouraged to continue, but I must. If the next lab report fucks this up, I’m going to explode and my poor wife is going to come home to an office painted in blood and body parts.

I had to think back to the instructions I gave the students with the first lab report.

Introduction. You should explain what a complementation cross is, and you should explain what each of the mutants, scarlet and brown, do. I will not be expecting an extensive literature search; citing your textbook and will be adequate.

Methods. Think back: you did a cross of st x st and bw x bw just to make lots of flies. You isolated virgin females to cross st x bw (and maybe did a reciprocal cross) and generate F1 flies. You then crossed the F1 flies to make an F2 generation. Explain all those steps! Imagine that your methods will be used by next year’s students to replicate this experiment.

Results. The core of the results section will be the data that is currently in a spreadsheet on Google. Reformat that into two pretty tables. You don’t have to include the entirety of the raw data; you might want to sum up particular categories. It’s all up to you how you present it. NOTE: Just the tables will not be an adequate results section. You must have a text narrative that explains the tables.

Discussion. Now interpret the results. Tell me what you expected, summarize what you observed, and do some statistics. Did what we saw fit the expectations? Remember that you looked at multiple phenomena. Are the sex ratios what you expected? Was one mutant more viable than the other? Are there anomalies in the data set, like maybe some groups got completely wacky results? Explain what must have happened. Another NOTE: there’s always a tendency to agonize over what went wrong. Try to emphasize the positive conclusions from the experiment.

I pretty much told them exactly what I expected. I also went over this in lecture and lab. I don’t know what went wrong, so I’m just going to blame COVID-19.

Lab reports are all graded now, and I didn’t die, yet. I’ve got to escape, though, so I’m going out for Mexican (I’m vaccinated! I can!): fish tacos and a margarita should help. Then I come back to do the next big assignment.

Agreed, it’s not just a Southern thing

I mentioned how my Yankee education didn’t praise slavery, it just kind of ignored it. But someone on Twitter pointed out that we get some egregious racism in the Northern schools, too.

The investigation began after the assignment on Feb. 1 presented sixth-grade students at Patrick Marsh Middle School [in Madison, Wisconsin] with the following scenario: “A slave stands before you. This slave has disrespected his master by telling him, ‘You are not my master!’ How will you punish this slave?”

The report said the assignment also “included other offensive questions.”

Please don’t ask students to imagine themselves in the role of slavemasters. Also — do I need to say this? — don’t ask them to role play being a Nazi concentration camp guard. It’s asking them to empathize, even temporarily, with horrible human beings.

The students are all done!

My final exams were due yesterday, and the students worked hard and got them all done and submitted online. I imported them all into Google Docs so I could mark them up electronically, and there they all are, lined up in nice tidy rows and columns on my drive, pristine and clean and organized. Lookin’ good! Pages and pages and pages of neatly typed essays and answers to problems! I give the computer an A+ for holding and organizing all that data. I admire the students for getting so much done.

Wait, what do mean, I’m not done?

I have to read all these things? And grade them?

Holy hell, that’s insane. Look at all of them! And I’m so damn tired.

OK, here’s the deal. I’m going to flee the house on a morning walk, but I’ll come back and then buckle down to methodically plowing through all this stuff, with the goal of maybe getting it all done by Friday, because I have things to do. I’m not going to enjoy myself, though. But I know I’ve got 58 students waiting anxiously on my final judgment, so I guess I’m going to have to do it.

But then, this weekend, I intend to be completely free.

Bad textbooks are the reason we need Critical Race Theory

I’ve been involved in textbook battles for decades — conservatives/creationists have been smart, and worked to undermine elementary school education, and it’s been effective. The Texas Board of Education has been a running sore on science education for years. Check out the NCSE!

I’ve mainly been focused on science textbooks, but the rot goes all the way through to everything. To show that, Michael Harriot did something absolutely brilliant: he looked into the educational background of those prominent Republican opponents of critical race theory, and asked what these people were actually taught as kids. There’s a lot of work here, but it’s all public information. He just looked up where and when certain Republicans went to school, and then looked up what textbooks were in use, and read how they treated race in America.

It’s horrifying.

Read it if you really want to know what kind of crap poisoned the young minds of Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, John Kennedy, Mitch McConnell, Tommy Tuberville, and Tim Scott. The Daughters of the Confederacy were busy shaping children’s plastic little brains. Here, for example, is what Moscow Mitch was taught.

After moving to Louisville, Ky., and attending duPont Manual High School, McConnell would have learned from an education department that provides grants to Kentucky Educational Television for Kentucky’s Story, which still teaches this about slavery in Kentucky:

Because many owners and servants worked side by side or had frequent contact, the bond between them was more patriarchal than was the relationship shared by slaves and masters in other states. While exceptions can be noted, it is generally believed that Kentucky’s slaves experienced a less harsh life than did those living elsewhere…

Many aspects of the slaves’ lives resembled those of white laborers…In addition to these evening and Sunday activities, masters encouraged their chattels to engage in recreational activities, such as dancing and singing, that provided emotional release; happy slaves worked better than did discontented ones.

Religion also played an important role in the slaves’ existence. Churches encouraged masters to treat their people kindly and urged slaves to be good Christians, to serve their earthly masters as they would their heavenly father and to look for rewards in the hereafter for services rendered on earth.

It’s weird. There’s also this strange vibe where each state, in addition to claiming that they really treated slaves nicely, has to explain they were really so much better than those other Confederate, slave-holding states. They all had happy slaves, but our slaves were the happiest.

Unfortunately, Harriott doesn’t get around to analyzing Yankee textbooks — but there’s a fair amount of work in what he did cover, so I understand. I was educated in Washington state, a part of the country that wasn’t even a state at the time of the Civil War, and I have no recollection of learning anything about black people or civil rights. We sure learned about Lewis and Clark and the Whitman Massacre and Chief Joseph, though, which meant we were inculcated with the idea of the Noble Indian who had to fade away to make room for the heroic white destiny. There was also some mention of the Japanese internment, but, you know, we had to win the war. It was such a shock to learn that Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle. There are black people in Seattle? They didn’t teach us that, I had to find out for myself!

In my education, the schools committed the sin of omission, but at least my teachers skipped over the dancing, singing slaves and their kindly masters.

We also didn’t do horrifying in-class exercises like these:

Slavery was just like being denied recess!

In case you were wondering how Trump’s blog is doing…

Oh, you weren’t? You kind of forgot that it exists? You don’t really care what he says anymore?

Then you already know. It’s a bust.

Four months after former President Donald Trump was banished from most mainstream social media platforms, he returned to the web last Tuesday with “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” essentially a blog for his musings.

A week since the unveiling, social media data suggests things are not going well.

The ex-president’s blog has drawn a considerably smaller audience than his once-powerful social media accounts, according to engagement data compiled with BuzzSumo, a social media analytics company. The data offers a hint that while Trump remains a political force, his online footprint is still dependent on returning to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Part of his problem is that his blog isn’t particularly good or well designed.

“In the case of Trump’s new platform, it is so technologically primitive that there is no way for his followers to even migrate,” Blackburn said. “Who cares about a platform where you can’t even own the libs? There are plenty of other newsletters that people have been adding to their spam boxes for years.”

I know. You weren’t wondering. But now you know!

Never again? It rings a bit hollow nowadays

Once again, Israel’s boot is stomping down hard on the Palestinians, and the Israelis are positively giddy about it.

I’m trying hard to see both sides in this conflict, and this article, for instance, is doing it’s best to present a balanced story. All I see, though, is a chronicle of a grossly asymmetric battle.

A day of upheaval at the holy sites of this contested city quickly widened into a night of warlike violence in communities across the country early Tuesday, with hundreds of rockets from the Gaza Strip causing injuries in Israeli neighborhoods and retaliatory airstrikes killing at least 22 Gazans, according to officials there.

Something is not adding up. Hundreds of rockets are launched, but the end result is only a few injured civilians?

Air-raid sirens sounded every few minutes in towns where many Israelis had already passed the night in bomb shelters. On Tuesday afternoon, more than 200 rockets struck southern Israel within the span of an hour, including in the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon just north of Gaza, according to media reports. At least four members of a family were reported injured when one rocket hit an eight-story apartment building.

These things seem to be remarkably ineffective. Are they little more than glorified fireworks? I had to look them up on Wikipedia to get the basics, and yes, they are nasty little things I wouldn’t want fired in my general direction, but they aren’t useful weapons of war.

The Qassam rocket is the best-known type of rocket deployed by Palestinian militants, mainly against Israeli civilians, but also some military targets during the Second Intifada of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. According to Human Rights Watch, Qassam rockets are too inaccurate and prone to malfunction to be used against specific military targets in or near civilian areas, and are mainly launched for the purpose of “harming civilians.”

They have a range of 3 or 4 kilometers, are grossly inaccurate, and most of them seem to fail, one way or another. In the recent escalation,

Military officials said more than 500 rockets had been launched from Gaza since the start of the flare-up, although a large percentage of them failed to cross into Israel and exploded, landing inside the enclave itself. The army’s expansive antimissile defense network, known as Iron Dome, destroyed more than 90 percent of the rockets that reached Israeli airspace, the army said.

These are tools of impotent rage that mainly seem intended to harass civilians. Israel knows this, too.

In 2006, the Israeli Ministry of Defense viewed the Qassams as “more a psychological than physical threat.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli response is somewhat more deadly and distructive.

In response to the launches, the Israel Defense Forces carried out sustained retaliatory strikes inside the Gaza Strip overnight and into the morning, with warplanes conducting more than 140 attacks. The IDF said it killed 15 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters in strikes that targeted rocket manufacturing and storage sites, training and military complexes, two underground tunnels and the home of a battalion commander.

Images from the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City on Tuesday morning showed scenes of destruction following at least one Israeli airstrike that appeared to target the top floor of a nearby residential building. The building’s concrete rooftop collapsed onto the apartment below, where residents were shown picking through the rubble.

So Palestinians are churning out a lot of these in metal shops across their territory…

…and Israel retaliates with this.

That’s stupid. If that’s how the war is being fought, F-15s vs homemade rockets, Palestinians are doomed and flailing futilely. But Palestinians aren’t stupid, so maybe we shouldn’t assume that’s how the war is fought, and just maybe the stupid ones are the Israelis. This is a political campaign fought on a global stage, and all I see is a heavily armed bully murdering people armed with popguns, and then the bully dances in the street while innocents burn.

Who is going to win that war? I know for sure that the loser is any high-minded principles or history of courage by the people of Israel.

“tastes like the casual cruelty of the universe”

I have been working with lab alcohol for decades. I’ve got liters of the stuff. When we’re using it in the teaching labs I might sometimes make a feeble joke about how I don’t want to catch any of the students taking a snort, but I can tell that no one is ever tempted. It’s a fierce-smelling chemical that you’re not going to want to try.

It’s 95% alcohol, which is the same concentration as a product you can buy at the liquor store, called Everclear.

Sad to say, I have tried Everclear. My seriously, tragically, horribly alcoholic grandfather would drink the stuff, and he once gave me a sip. Just a sip! That was enough. I guess I have no taste for an industrial solvent.

Not even my grandfather would drink it straight, though. He’d add a spoonful of brown sugar to his glass.

Eww, I just shuddered involuntarily at the memory.

Are you OK, Arizona?

You’re acting strangely. You’re carrying out a partisan, biased “recount” of an already settled election, and your deep investigation involves searching for bamboo fibers in the ballot, because that would mean they were printed in China? Why would you think they’d pre-print them in China, and go to all the trouble of shipping them across the Pacific, when — I don’t know if you’re aware of this — we have plenty of paper and printers and all that sort of thing right here in the US? This is a conspiracy theory, and it is stupid.

In which case, this makes more sense: to guarantee the future supply of stupid people who will fall for stupid conspiracy theories, the Republicans want to compel schools to teach stupid ideas.

Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to punish teachers who don’t present both sides of controversial science or events, a move some lawmakers say could force them to seek out and present contrary views on everything from climate change and slavery to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust — and even whether Joe Biden really won the election.

The measure approved along party lines requires any “controversial issues” discussed in the classroom must be done “from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

Well, that’s familiar: that’s the creationist “Teach the Controversy” strategy that they deployed to enable them to introduce garbage into the classroom. Now it’s just being broadened by Arizona Republicans.

I don’t know why they’re doing this. Were they jealous of Florida’s reputation? Are they hoping to get everyone else to laugh at “Arizona Man”? Because it’s not going to happen as long as Matt Gaetz lives.

Although, I do confess, this was a pretty good effort.

Plumbing the depths of psychic research

Does anyone else roll their eyes when they see that Dean Radin has come out with another paper about psychic powers? His latest is Genetics of psychic ability – A pilot case-control exome sequencing study, so you can see he’s now going to pretend he’s got genetic and molecular evidence. Let’s take a look at the abstract!

It is commonly believed that psychic ability, like many mental and physical traits, runs in families. This suggests the presence of a genetic component. If such a component were found, it would constitute a biological marker of psychic ability and inform environmental or pharmacologic means of enhancing or suppressing this ability.

“Commonly believed” is not evidence, so claiming that a “common belief” justifies “suggesting” there is a genetic component is a huge reach. If this paper wasn’t rejected at the first sentence of the abstract, it should have been thrown out at the second.

Then to say they’d have a marker of psychic ability if they found a genetic component is absurd. This is like saying, “If I had some bread, I could make a ham sandwich, if I had some ham” (literally on the nose, I have neither ham nor bread in my house right now.)

A case-control study design was used to evaluate differences between psychic cases and non-psychic controls. Over 3,000 candidates globally were screened through two online surveys to locate people who claimed they and other family members were psychic. Measures of relevance to the claimed abilities (e.g., absorption, empathy, schizotypy) were collected and based on those responses, individuals with indications of psychotic or delusional tendencies were excluded from further consideration. Eligible candidates were then interviewed and completed additional screening tests. Thirteen individuals were selected as the final “psychic cases,” and ten age-, sex-, and ethnicity-matched individuals with no claims of psychic ability were selected as controls. DNA from the saliva of these 23 participants was subjected to whole-exome sequencing. Two independent bioinformatics analyses were blindly applied to the sequenced data, one focusing exclusively on protein-coding sequences and another that also included some adjacent noncoding sequences.

They found their “psychics” with an online questionnaire. They invited people to basically write in and claim they had paranormal abilities, and got lots of submissions. I guess I’ll have to look at their results beyond the abstract to see what’s going on. Boy, was the population full of super-powered people…at least, on self report. They got 3,162 people writing in saying they had all kinds of powers!

The psychic cases reported various ages when their abilities began, with “0-10 years old” being the most commonly reported answer (n = 9). The psychic cases endorsed the following abilities in descending order (number of psychic cases in parentheses after each ability): claircognizance (psychic “knowing,” n = 13), clairempathy (psychic “feeling,” 13), emotional healing (13), precognition, premonition and precognitive dreams (12), animal communication (11), clairvoyance (11), mediumship (11), telepathy (11), astral projection (10), aura reading (10), clairaudience (10), clairsentience (10), lucid dreaming (10), channeling (8), clairalience (8), nature empath (8), remote viewing (8), physical healing (7), retrocognition (7), psychometry (6), geomancy (5), psychokinesis (4), automatic writing (3), levitation (1), and psychic surgery (1). Clairgustance and pyrokinesis were not endorsed. On average, cases endorsed 9.5 +/- 8.9 abilities.

Of course, they’re not so stupid that they’d simply accept them on their say-so. They winnowed out the real crazies with an online psychiatric test, and then subjected them to one of those online psychic power tests. They were very rigorous. They got the number of subjects down to 13. Before you get too excited, though, they actually failed most of the tests, but got accepted anyway.

The cases’ performance was better than controls on most tasks, although this difference only reached statistical significance on the Remote Viewing test.

The “Remote Viewing test” was basically, “What does my table look like?”. That’s it.

So, using a sloppy lazy test, they picked a tiny random group of 13 people to spit in a test tube, and they shipped the saliva off to a company to sequence the exons — that is, the part of the genome that was transcribed and translated to produce proteins. I’m going to have to criticize their methodology again. Not only is their sample so tiny that they have no statistical power, but also what they’re looking for is vague and unspecified. They’re fishing for any kind of silly correlation.

What’s really surprising is that they didn’t find any!

Sequencing data were obtained for all samples, except for one in the control group that did not pass the quality controls and was not included in further analyses. After unblinding the datasets, none of the protein-coding sequences (i.e., exons) showed any variation that discriminated between cases and controls. However, a difference was observed in the intron (i.e., non-protein-coding region) adjacent to an exon in the TNRC18 gene (Trinucleotide Repeat-Containing Gene 18 Protein) on chromosome 7. This variation, an alteration of GG to GA, was found in 7 of 9 controls and was absent from all psychic cases.

That’s right. They got diddly-squat.

No significant results were found when comparing psychic samples with general population samples obtained from a large-scale public sequencing database. This analysis followed standard practice
and excluded consideration of intronic regions.

They make a big deal of how they’re only looking at exon sequences in the methods, but then, when they found nothing, they decided, well, hey, let’s look at some introns. Again, this is bad design. They’re desperately looking for anything that might correlate with their “psychic” population. They found one thing.

However, probing intronic DNA adjacent to coding regions in exomes did find one non-coding region with a variation from the wild-type DNA sequence in 7 of the 9 control samples that was identical in all case samples and matched the sequence most commonly found in humans (i.e., wild-type). The variant was a modification from GG to GA in the intron region of the TNRC18 gene (Trinucleotide Repeat-Containing Gene 18 Protein) on chromosome 7 (rs117910193 position 5,401,412).

This is unimpressive. This is bad. They went trawling through billions of nucleotides to find a variant that might show up preferentially in their ridiculously defined “psychic” population, and they found one in an intron, a class of the genome that they initially excluded from their analysis. They demonstrate a truly pathetic incomprehension of probability and statistics.

But then, incomprehension of probability and statistics is a prerequisite for being a psychic power researcher.

And then…

The most conservative interpretation of these results is that they result from random population sampling. However, when the results are considered in relation to other lines of evidence, the results are more provocative. Further research is justified to replicate and extend these findings.

Wow. The only reasonable interpretation is that their result is the product of random population sampling. Their statistical power is feeble, they got no statistically significant results, except when they ignore their experimental protocol and reach for any variation that they can weakly correlate with their test population — which also showed no significant psychic ability, except that they were able to guess the color of a table.

You might be wondering what these “other lines of evidence” might be. So am I. I read the discussion, and they don’t give any. Not one bit. Instead, they offer a lot of excuses for why their results were so pathetic. For example:

For example, one cross-cultural sociogenetic hypothesis that potentially explains the observed variation is that the rise, spread, and prevalence of Christianity in the Early to Middle Ages may have contributed to the reduction of the wild-type variant across populations. Christianity has been historically associated with an extraordinary degree of cross-cultural success, both in terms of the extent of its spread and temporal persistence across populations, relative to other religious creeds. The historical spread of “Western Church” Christianity, or Roman Catholicism, measured using an indicator of historical Church exposure, was found to be responsible for psychocultural variation among contemporary Western populations, including low rates of consanguineous mating, high rates of monogamous marriage, and individualism. This would be consistent with the action of culture-gene co-evolutionary selection pressures stemming from the historical (and contemporary) tendency for Christianity to favor these sorts of behavioral and reproductive patterns. Christianity also strongly proscribes mystical and psychic experiences, such as mediumship, outside of a limited range of contexts (e.g., monasticism in some cases). Thus, as part of this broader psycho-cultural “syndrome,” Christian cultural values, once established, may have historically attenuated the fitness of those prone to these and other sorts of psychic experiences (i.e., wild-type carriers). Conversely, the alternate allele carriers’ fitness (controls) may have been enhanced

Now I’m no fan of Christianity, to say the least, but to claim without evidence that Christianity is at fault for extinguishing the genes responsible for granting psychic powers because they couldn’t find anyone with psychic powers with a molecular correlate to their non-existent powers is a bit loony.

The paper is embarrassingly bad. But then, it’s typical of the journal, Explore, that had the lack of standards to allow it to publish it.

EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing addresses the scientific principles behind, and applications of, evidence-based healing practices from a wide variety of sources, including conventional, alternative, and cross-cultural medicine. It is an interdisciplinary journal that explores the healing arts, consciousness, spirituality, eco-environmental issues, and basic science as all these fields relate to health.

Yeah, right.

Fundraising, stories, and a new video

It’s true, we’re still digging out from under our legal debt and begging for donations. Check out our Fundraising page! There’s new stuff there!

Also, very importantly, Kris Wager is matching donations, up to a thousand dollars total. This is the perfect time to kick in a little bit to our our paypal account.

My contribution this time is a video about a science paper — a case study of an XY woman who gave birth to a child.

You can read the original paper right here, or a transcript of my remarks below the fold.

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