Too much truth

I have to agree with this video. It lines up too well with my experience.

About the point that stupidity is a sociological phenomenon: look at the mess we’re in, and then look at Fox News. There’s the breeding ground, that and all the other awful social media, like Facebook.

Numbers go up, numbers go down, what does it all mean?

Now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter, I’m hearing reports of more popular liberal people on the platform losing hundreds of thousands of followers as people read the handwriting on the wall and abandon Twitter. OK, I can sympathize with that, but most of the people I follow are still there — I think it’s a matter of recognizing that whether it’s Jack Dorsey or Elon Musk, it’s assholes all over the top, and you have to wait and see if they actually do anything to compromise your experience. That is, compromise it more than it already is.

I thought I’d check my follower count, to see if I’d been losing people in droves, but the problem there is that I haven’t paid any attention to it for years. I recall that I looked at it several years ago, and was surprised that it was something around 70,000. I looked this morning, and it was 158,000! Why, I don’t know. I can’t determine whether I’ve had a recent decline, though, with my sloppy sampling. I’ll just peg that number to April 2022, and if I remember, I’ll check back in a few weeks or a month. Maybe I’m losing already. Or maybe I’ll get a surge of Nazis hate-following me!

I do know one thing for sure: starting yesterday, my usual quiet Mastodon account got hundreds of new followers (I have 1,700 followers there). I guess some are checking out the alternatives to Twitter already.

Hot tip: if you’re interested in Mastodon, don’t sign up for, which is the biggest instance and is seeing a huge traffic surge. There are lots of instances, almost all connected to the federation, so pick one that seems to have a high up-time and has been around for a while, so that you have a stable entry point. I’m using, but there’s a long list of alternative sites as well.

In case you’re wondering what the difference between Mastodon and Twitter is, on the surface, there isn’t much. The big difference is that Mastodon doesn’t have a centralized server, but a lot of smaller, distributed servers that are independently managed and just share data with one another. Musk was free to buy his own Mastodon server, set it up, and manage it, and it wouldn’t have cost him $44 billion…but it also wouldn’t have allowed him to dictate how every other server is managed.

Oh. I guess that is a big difference.

Vulcanized fossil spiders

And they fluoresce, too!

Part and counterpart of two fossil spiders shown in plain light and under UV illumination.

These are part of a well-known invertebrate fossil bed, 22.5 million years old, in France. It contains lots of well preserved insects and spiders, and one question is…why? What makes this particular place so good at preserving these delicate specimens?

The fluorescence was a clue. They dug into the chemistry of the fossils, and figured out that the glow was produced by the sulfurization of chitin, that as the dead spiders sank in the diatom-rich waters of an ancient pond, the sulfur in the diatoms reacted with the chitin carbohydrate to produce a tough carbon polymer, inedible to the microbes, that could last for millions of years.

Cartoon shows the entire proposed pathway: spider becomes entrained in planktonic diatom mat. Pieces of the diatom mat, both with and without spiders entrained within fall to the sediment floor against a background sedimentation of other diatoms and algae (gray dots). With time, these sediments become compressed and preserved into the rock record. a Chemical composition of chitin. Two chains of chitin are illustrated, organized in anti-parallel. Gray boxes indicate the carbonyl functionalities on the chitin. b Sulfonate-containing molecule, which are common in diatom EPS, can undergo microbial sulfate reduction (MSR), leading to the production of sulfide. c Chitin molecule after sulfurization. C–S bonds could potentially replace the carbonyl functionalities, and S–S bridges could form across the chitin chains. d Idealized molecule representing a chitin polymer after further diagenetic alteration, which could result in the formation of aromatized carbon.

I thought that was kind of neat. It’s also a reminder to biology students that you never know where that organic chemistry we make you take might be useful.

If you’re sane, you should be afraid

Warning: the video below may induce seizures if you triggered by strobing lights.

That’s a promo for a QAnon conference. It’s utterly insane. It has everything: junk DNA, vaccines, Hitler, Illuminati, Trump, transhumanism, the Jews, prophecy, etc., etc., etc. It’s also got evil in it, but I think that was entirely self-referential.

After watching that hateful bullshit, the one question in my mind is…do I need to buy a gun to protect myself?

These are not good arguments against “wokeism”

What do you get when a gang of far-right loons gather together to complain about modern medicine? An amazingly revealing expose of what actually bothers them. This essay, In Medical Schools, Woke Ideology Trumps True Healthcare, is a summary of a discussion sponsored by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a far right conservative/libertarian organization that tries to tell universities what they ought to do, and they hosted a little group of conservative nuisances to whine about medical schools.

The webinar, entitled “Hypocritical Oath: The Origins and Consequences of Woke Medical Education,” featured Dr. Sally Satel, a practicing psychiatrist, lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, and Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute [enough said]; Aaron Sibarium, associate editor at the Washington Free Beacon [a conservative website founded by a billionaire hedge fund investor]; and John Sailer, a research associate at the National Association of Scholars [I’ve written about these clowns before] and author of numerous articles on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) in medical education.

Oh, no! Not the “Wokes” again! Perhaps they’ll start out by defining what they mean by “woke”.

Satel began the talk by speaking about how woke ideology has taken over psychiatric care. She stated, “any kind of psychotherapy that takes place under such conditions, where patients are reflexively branded as oppressed and encouraged to see themselves as feeble victims, is doomed to fail.” She made the point that therapy is meant to help individuals identify the inadvertent ways in which they undermine their best interests and how they can adapt if they are unable to change. To be sure, one’s health can be affected by social factors—but not exclusively. There are other factors that impact health, despite the new social doctrine of the day.

No, that’s not what it means. I agree that any psychotherapy that reflexively branded as oppressed and encouraged to see themselves as feeble victims their patients is going to fail, but that’s not what goes on. Can you imagine trying to motivate a mass movement under the banner of “YOU’RE ALL FEEBLE VICTIMS!” Sorry, nope, being conscious of oppressive social systems is not the same as accepting victimhood.

She also parrots the conservative/libertarian line about personal responsibility.

The choices one makes on a daily basis, for example, have long-term effects on health. Satel highlighted an often ignored fact: individuals, no matter their circumstances, still have some agency when it comes to their own health. Unfortunately, the concept of individual agency has slowly withered away, replaced by the far more popular victimhood ideology. In today’s victimhood society, it is almost unthinkable to take responsibility for one’s actions and the possible negative effects they may have.

Sure, personal responsibility is important. So why can’t rich entitled folks acknowledge their personal responsibility for denying others civil rights, or a living wage, or some measure of security in housing and food? Everyone has some agency, but we also have an unequal distribution of privilege and ability. We have “some” agency, but we also have “some” unfair societal biases. Sally Satel does not work harder than someone in an Amazon warehouse, and “personal responsibility” isn’t going to pay your medical bills.

Sailer spoke next about how institutional policy has resulted in woke medical schools. He noted that UNC-Chapel Hill has twenty-four paid DEI officers, and half of these officers are in fields related to healthcare (12), and a majority of those are in the medical school (8). The university, as a result, has convened a task force to integrate social justice into the curriculum. Sailer says these kinds of policies and task forces are present on almost all medical campuses in the country.

DEI and social justice, for example, are now a part of the tenure and promotion process at many medical schools. This means that if one objects to the politically correct idea of the day, one’s job as a professor may be in jeopardy. Objective truths such as, “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman,” may now cause faculty to lose their jobs.

Whoa there, John. You forgot to tell us why diversity and equality and social justice are bad things for doctors to learn about. Why shouldn’t we expect a doctor to care about the health and welfare of their patients? Shouldn’t doctors oppose unhealthy working and living conditions?

Also, you’re being sneaky and dishonest, John. a man is a man, and a woman is a woman is only an objective truth if you’ve clearly defined what you mean by the complex terms “woman” and “man”, and I suspect you’re trying to smuggle in some bigotry.

Sailer also spoke about the White Coats for Black Lives group and its beliefs. Its members believe in a variety of radical notions including, but not limited to: dismantling fatphobia, abolishing prisons, dismantling capitalism, and queer/trans liberation. What is remarkable is the effectiveness with which this radical group has enacted concrete policy changes, including at the University of Michigan, the University of California-Davis, the University of Minnesota, and many others.

Yes? Again, what is your objection to dismantling fatphobia? Do you think we should build more prisons? Do you fail to see the glaring flaws in capitalism? What do you want, queer/trans imprisonment? Sailer is simply taking for granted that his audience opposes these things that humane people with the goal of making the world better are trying to implement. Just like his “a man is a man” statement is just a call for bigots to fill in the blanks.

I look at the list of things these anti-“wokists” oppose, and they all look like fine ideas to me, and they always fail to explain why they’re agin’ ’em. What’s wrong with queer/trans liberation? What are they afraid will happen if queer people have equal rights and autonomy and are protected from discrimination and hate? It’s the unspoken stuff behind their words that is most revealing.

Please, medical schools, continue to make it a priority to train doctors to be ethical human beings who respect the existence of others. That’s what “woke” really means, you know.


A giant squid washed ashore in Japan. Surprisingly, it was still alive!

That looks like a sick squid to me — alive, but barely. I’m seeing conflicting reports that it’s already died, or that it’s living in an aquarium, or that it was airlifted to a secret kaiju laboratory on a remote volcanic island in the Pacific.

Who wants to break the news to them?

I consider this a clear case of pathological skepticism. Or perhaps more charitably, naive skepticism. A professional 747 pilot has set up a kickstarter to charter a passenger jet to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Perth, passing over Antarctica, to prove to flat-earthers that the Earth is spherically, or at least, that Antarctica isn’t an ice wall surrounding the rim of a disc-shaped earth. Why would you think that this, on top of all the far easier to obtain evidence, is the final clincher to convince a tiny group of delusional ranters that they are wrong?

It’s going to cost $1.5 million dollars to book this 16 hour flight, and it’s all supposedly for the benefit of educating flat earthers. Buy them a good introductory physics book instead. It’s less flashy, but probably more likely to work, given that this isn’t going to work at all.

Skeptics ought to be familiar with studies of the end-of-the-world cults, in which a prophet predicts armageddon or the rapture or some such nonsense to occur on a specific date, and the cultists gather and pray and wait and…nothing happens. It turns out that they don’t instantly drop their beliefs, which were socially expensive to acquire — getting ostracized by the out-group hurts — and which gave them the benefit of being valued by the in-group. Instead, they rationalized (that is, made excuses) and believed even more firmly. The flat-earthers are also a gang of conspiracy theorists who will invent various subterfuges that were made to undermine the truth by the pilot, who is obviously part of the plot.

It’s apparent that the flat-earthers don’t believe in their delusion because they’ve used science, so why would you imagine science would get them to think otherwise? Also, even a glance at most flat-earth literature will reveal that it’s all paranoid religious gobbledy-gook, and they aren’t going to be dissuaded by an airplane ride.

There is a documentary, Behind the Curve, about these fanatics. They are repeatedly shown evidence that demonstrate they are wrong, and they even design their own experiments to prove the earth is flat which consistently fail. They don’t change their minds. This is more of the same, only with a $1.5 million price tag, and it’s going to be another exercise in futility.

Textbook give-away!

As I announced yesterday, I’m clearing out the accumulated bookage of my office shelves and giving away free books on Patreon. Patreon has a few rules I have to follow, though:

  • I can’t bribe people to sign up for Patreon, which is fair enough, so it has to be open to anyone and everyone.
  • I can’t use chance to decide who gets the books, because then it would be a raffle. No gambling allowed!

So here’s my plan. I’m going to show you three pairs of books, each pair consisting of one lovely, useful, science-filled textbook, and one horrid, wretched, lying piece of garbage. You have to accept them as a set, although they’re yours at that point, and I can’t tell you what to do to them. I only ask that you don’t give away creationist trash to libraries or whatever; let’s keep those away from impressionable minds, OK? The good texts are still useful, they’re older editions or redundant copies, and not white elephants at all. The others? Just trash I want to get rid of.

The way this will work is that I’ll list 3 pairs, Set A, B, and C, and you can comment on Patreon and let me know which set you want. Say why! I’ll use your comment to judge who gets them this time. If you don’t get it, don’t panic! I have lots and lots of books, and plan to do this weekly.

I have to add one other pragmatic criterion: I’ll favor North American recipients, and will be sparing in sending them overseas, just to save myself some extravagant shipping costs. I won’t totally exclude you furriners, though — if you give me a really good reason, I’ll find a way.

Here are this week’s choices:

Set A: Essential Cell Biology, 4th edition, by Alberts and others. It’s a good basic cell & molecular textbook. I’ve got a couple of copies of the most recent edition, so I can spare this one. I’ve paired it with one of Michael Behe’s, The Edge of Evolution. I’ll never read that book again, it was a waste of time the first time, but maybe you can a use for it.

Set B: Essentials of Genetics, ninth edition, by Klug and others (this one is paper bound). It’s a solid introduction to transmission genetics. Again, I’ve got multiple editions and copies, and I teach out of Concepts of Genetics, so this is another quality text I don’t need. I’m throwing in Jeanson’s Replacing Darwin, since if you understand genetics at an undergrad level you’ll be able to see why it’s crap.

Set C: Neuroscience, 3rd edition, by Purves and others. Most of the neurobiology texts I’ve gone are great thick monsters, but this one is comparatively slender and digestible. It’s still a good reference text, though. I’m flinging Meyer’s ungodly bad Signature in the Cell at it, since he seems to be under the delusion that he understands intelligence and the mind. He doesn’t.

Let’s give this a try! If you’re interested, leave a comment that says which set interests you, why you would find the books interesting, and mention if you live overseas (which won’t disqualify you, it just means I’ll be limiting my expenses a bit). I’ll make a decision by next weekend and get another set ready.

Help me clear 20cm off my bookshelf!

Because he’s rich and he wants it

It looks like Elon Musk is about to buy Twitter. It’s not because he’s a productive business manager — he’s not. It’s not because he’s a great human being who will make Twitter better — he’s an abusive petty tyrant. It’s not because he’s really good at social media — he’s an asshole on Twitter already. It’s not because he’s an all-around super-genius — no, he has repeatedly exposed himself as a dumbass who hires people smarter than he is to do the real work.

So what makes him the right person to take over Twitter?

Easy. He’s obscenely rich, and the shareholders want a piece of his money. That’s it. He gets to do what he wants on a whim because capitalism has unjustly given him far more money than he deserves. And the system is set up so there are shareholders who put short term profits above all else — if Musk runs the company into the ground, they don’t care, they’ll have pocketed their money and can move on to mismanage a different company.

Incompetence and greed rise to the top under this system.

Now I get to worry. If you want social media reach, Twitter and Facebook are the two must-haves, and I already killed my Facebook account. Where do I go if/when Musk poisons Twitter (this is a question I’m seeing a lot of people asking today)? I’m already on Mastodon, which has a small fraction of the reach of Twitter, and everyone is talking, tentatively, about Tik Tok, which is a completely different medium, and not one I particularly trust (not that any of the social media giants are trustworthy).

I guess I’m holding tight for now and hoping the rich asshole gets bored and decides to go make a flamethrower or a truck with bulletproof windows or something. Or until an alternative begins to take off.

Here’s a whole Twitter thread about how worthless Musk is.

Maybe he can move to Mars?