Another map!

This one speaks for itself.

California’s rate of gun deaths has declined by 10% since 2005, even as the national rate has climbed in recent years. And Texas and Florida? Their rates of gun deaths have climbed 28% and 37% respectively. California now has one of the 10 lowest rates of gun deaths in the nation. Texas and Florida are headed in the wrong direction.

It’s too bad that data and evidence are irrelevant to what the Republicans will do.


Spider battles a wasp!

I know a lot of people here dislike spider photos, but this is a video, and it’s a battle between a handsome Steatoda and a much larger wasp. Usually wasps win these kinds of fight, but not in this case, which made me happy.

Also, watch the spider pause once the wasp is lethally envenomated, step towards the camera, and preen for a bit before going back to hog-tie the beast. Bravo!

[Read more…]

A geography lesson, with automobiles

A few fleeting thoughts about these maps:

  • I notice that the two states in which I lived the longest, Washington and Minnesota, are among the safest. Coincidence? I think not.
  • I have driven across North Dakota and Montana and Idaho. Those bloody dark colors do not lie, although they and Wyoming are also among the more thinly populated states.
  • What’s going on in the deep South? Those are places I’ve rarely visited, again suggesting the importance of my talismanic presence.
  • Of course, everyone in Europe must be better drivers than most Americans. Or, possibly, they are sensible and don’t drive as much.
  • I am intrigued by the mysterious vast empty space in the North Sea. Is it possible that a hidden land mass lurks somewhere in the open ocean there?
  • Avoid Wyoming at all costs.

Ancient Romans were diverse? Who would have thought it?

I wouldn’t have guessed that they’d ever get DNA from the dead of Pompeii, but they have. It’s not complete — heat isn’t compatible with DNA preservation — but they were able to make some mundane conclusions.

The man’s genome assembly had just 0.42x coverage, indicating that the reads had little overlap, and there were gaps. Still, according to Scorrano, the sequence was good enough to analyze certain aspects of the DNA. The results suggested the Pompeian man was genetically similar to modern Mediterranean populations and, when compared to other published genomes from ancient Rome, that he was closely related “to Imperial Roman Age individuals,” Scorrano says, adding that that’s what the team expected to find. But at the same time, he notes that Rome was packed with people from diverse genetic backgrounds back then. In fact, the markers of the man’s maternal and paternal lineages were absent among those previously published sequences, which suggests the region had high genetic diversity during that time.

The Italian Peninsula was “incredibly heterogeneous” when Vesuvius erupted—people were “coming from all over the empire” into Rome or into port cities like Pompeii, says University of Chicago archaeologist Hannah Moots, who did not participate in the study but has previously characterized the genomic pool of ancient Rome. It is exciting to have genomes from Italian regions outside Rome, she says, adding that looking at sites like Pompeii is “really interesting” because they can provide insights into more rural areas.

Mundane isn’t bad — it’s what was expected. And they did find some novel markers. Just learning that Roman society was diverse is a good reminder to all those people who think monocultures are superior.

What are the responsibilities of geneticists?

Still works. Just replace “philosophy” with “genetics”

Janet Stemwedel has published an essay in Scientific American. It’s good. You should go read it. It’s also on a subject that I, someone who teaches genetics to college students, worry about. All you have to do is look at racists on the internet, or any of those gomers of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, and you’ll find them chattering away about their version of genetics, citing genetics papers they’ve read or glanced at, but barely understand, and drawing sweeping, and unlikely, conclusions from, for instance, GWAS studies. We’re all so interested in what we can do that we aren’t cautious enough about saying what we can’t do, and what are the invalid interpretations that can trap people searching for genetic certainty in their genomes.

She has some strong suggestions.

For one thing, they [scientists] must be frank and vocal about the weakness of studies that purport to find correlations between race and differences in traits like intelligence or propensity violence. This includes methodological weaknesses like treating IQ as a good proxy for intelligence, or treating “race” as something with clear genetic grounding. A finding that particular genes or sets of genes are associated with a complex behavior does not demonstrate a causal relation or rule out the importance of environmental factors—and indeed, the assumption that genes and environment vary independently is usually false. An average difference in a trait associated with a set of genes between two populations does not rule out that the individual variations within those populations may be greater than the average difference between populations. All of which is to say it’s hard to draw conclusions that are strong, clear and well-supported from much of this work. To the extent that race science is just bad science, scientists have a duty to call it out, rather than letting it stand unchallenged.

I’ve been thinking that I ought to incorporate one of Richard Lewontin’s books into my genetics class — something like It Ain’t Necessarily So : The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions, maybe. The catch is that in a traditional genetics course, we have an obligation to teach the core concepts, and taking time to teach about how genetics is misused is sometimes premature.

For another thing, scientists must do some soul-searching about why they are so motivated to look for evidence that traits like intelligence or propensity to violence are written in our genes, or that they would be different for people in different racial groups. Of all the bits of truth they could discover about our complex world, why this focus? Could it be that scientists are following their preexisting hunches, biases that come from being humans living in a culture built around those biases—or that funders are seeking scientific validation for their biases? Any scientist who dismisses this possibility has forgotten that objectivity requires the communal project of scrutinizing scientific conclusions to find how they might be mistaken.

I’ve got a few awful books on my bookshelf, often written by evolutionary psychologists, that make me wonder about the mental state of the authors. They have some grand theory about human behavior that I know can’t possibly be backed up by significant genetics research, but apparently the public wants that nice pat answer to explain why everything is the way it is.

Also, a lot of those kinds of books seem to be written by professors of marketing. Seriously, if you see a book that purports to be about biology, and the author is employed in a business school, don’t waste your time. Which leads into Stemwedel’s next point…

There’s a further question scientists ought to ask themselves when reflecting on why they study the scientific questions they do: What will the knowledge I’m building be good for? How could it be put to use? Do scientists imagine that a finding of genetic differences in intelligence among racial groups would be used to drive more school funding to Black and brown communities, or as a justification to focus school funding on white communities? Or that a finding of genetic differences in propensity for violence among racial groups would be used to do anything but double down on current overpolicing of communities of color?

In the case of James Watson, for example, I think he’s made a career of trying to buttress evidence that he is an intrinsically superior person. They didn’t call him Lucky Jim for nothing — he stumbled into a major discovery, and I wonder if he wonders what might have made him so fortunate. It can’t possibly be that anyone with the right training could have done it, so he finds a refuge in the fact that he’s Scots-Irish. Others know that the status quo has treated them well, so they want to perpetuate what is currently a racist society for the benefit of themselves and their children. Others, I think, are so steeped in a culture of racial bias that they don’t even think about it — black people must be inferior, so let’s search for a rationalization for holding what is an odious belief.

It’s probably a messy mix of all of those things, and more. I’m pretty sure that if genetics has broad fuzzy edges that psychology is probably even worse.


ACAB is a pithy summary, but now we learn that All Cops Are Cowards, too.

Community members including relatives of students expressed anger and frustration Thursday about the time it took to end the mass shooting at an elementary school here, as police laid out a timeline with new details about their response.

Victor Escalon, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a briefing that the now-deceased gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, lingered outside Robb Elementary for 12 minutes firing shots before walking into the school and barricading himself in a classroom where he killed 19 children and two teachers.

Mr. Escalon said he couldn’t say why no one stopped Ramos from entering the school during that time Tuesday. Most of the shots Ramos fired came during the first several minutes after he entered the school, Mr. Escalon said.

So what were these cops doing while hanging about outside the school? They were roughing up the parents who had rushed to the school as soon as the news got out.

A Border Patrol tactical team went into the school an hour later, around 12:40 p.m., was able to get into the classroom and kill Ramos, Mr. Escalon said.

Ms. Gomez, a farm supervisor, said that she was one of numerous parents waiting outside the school who began encouraging—first politely, and then with more urgency—police and other law enforcement to enter the school sooner. After a few minutes, she said, U.S. Marshals put her in handcuffs, telling her she was being arrested for actively intervening in an active investigation.

Ms. Gomez convinced local Uvalde police officers whom she knew to persuade the marshals to set her free. Around her, the scene was frantic. She said she saw a father tackled and thrown to the ground by police and a third pepper-sprayed. Once freed from her cuffs, Ms. Gomez made her distance from the crowd, jumped the school fence, and ran inside to grab her two children. She sprinted out of the school with them.

Ms. Gomez had more guts than the cops, I guess.

But, you know, the guy inside had a gun. The parents were unarmed, so they were a preferred target by the police.

Videos circulated on social media Wednesday and Thursday of frantic family members trying to get access to Robb Elementary as the attack was unfolding, some of them yelling at police who blocked them from entering.

“Shoot him or something!” a woman’s voice can be heard yelling on a video, before a man is heard saying about the officers, “They’re all just [expletive] parked outside, dude. They need to go in there.”

Parents can be heard yelling to each other that their kids were inside the school and that they needed to get in. A woman can be heard yelling at a police officer, “He’s one person! Take him out!”

Police aren’t there to stop crime. Their job is to bully civilians.

After the confrontation ended with Ramos dead, school buses began to arrive to transport students from the school, according to Ms. Gomez. She said she saw police use a Taser on a local father who approached the bus to collect his child.

“They didn’t do that to the shooter, but they did that to us. That’s how it felt,” Ms. Gomez said.

On a more positive note, there was one person there who was more useless than the cops.

“God is here with us tonight,” Pastor Tony Gruben, of Baptist Temple Church, told the people gathered at the Uvalde County Fairplex. “God still loves you and God still loves those little children.”

A local resident comments.

The Uvalde police department has a $4 million budget. I don’t think the citizens got their money’s worth.

…Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said “it is a fact” that due to the quick response of law enforcement officials, “they were able to save lives. Unfortunately, not enough,” in a press conference Wednesday. Abbott went on to list more than 20 state and federal agencies, including more than two dozen law enforcement agencies, involved in responding to the shooting. (These included immigration enforcement agencies housed under the Department of Homeland Security, which promised to refrain from deporting and arresting people in the area “to the fullest extent possible” for the time being.)

Taken in by a trolling parody

I’ve deleted the part of the previous post where I was fooled by a parody account. It seemed plausibly extreme — in a party that includes Ted Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Greene it’s become almost impossible to tell reality from insanity — and I saw it cited in multiple places, but I didn’t check thoroughly enough.

That kind of parody account is taking advantage of a tragedy to get laughs at the expense of a political opponent, and whoever they are, they are scum.

I was informed that it was bad earlier this morning, and I would have taken it down earlier, but I was off at the optometrist’s to get my eyes checked. Even now I’m mostly blind from the eye drops, so I have to stop here with my mea culpa.