Learn something about Steatoda!

Here you go, an excellent introduction to the spiders I work on, the false widows.

I should probably require all my students to watch it, because it strikes a good balance on something I struggle with: venom. I tell my students it’s medically significant, a bite can hurt, and the venom can make you sick, but at the same time I tell them I’ve never been bitten, I handle them all the time, and as long as you’re gentle, there’s no real danger.

Also interesting is the geographical difference. I’ve never seen Steatoda grossa or S. nobilis around here — it’s all Parasteatoda (I know, different genus), with some S. triangulosa and rare S. borealis in specific habitats. McEnery makes the interesting hypothesis that it may be the venom, that Steatoda generally makes a venom that’s significantly more potent against invertebrates than the venoms of native species, allowing them to thrive and take over.

The toxic man-children want to fight

This is so childish and ridiculous — Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are going to stage a fight. The Italian government has offered to host it in the Colosseum. If it happens, it’s only going to be good for comic effect.

I don’t think it will demonstrate their competence at running their bloated, broken businesses — quite the opposite. I wouldn’t watch it.

Unless, that is, they bring in a Minnesota Man to hurl Skittles at them while they wrestle. That’s the extra oomph of absurdity I’m gonna need here.

Rerouting around the damage

Our conservative Supreme Court has decided that affirmative action in university admissions must end. By that, they mean that we need to make it easier for white students to get a college education than black students. It’s a white supremacist sort of decision, although white supremacists do love to couch their position as only fair.

Elite universities have contended that without considering race as one factor in admissions, their student bodies will contain more Whites and Asian Americans, and fewer Blacks and Hispanics.

But, “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Our constitutional history is built on a document written by wealthy slaveholders, in a country that has long discriminated against people based on the color of their skin. Those Supreme Court wankers may not understand that history, but universities are full of people who do, and are going to be working hard to defy the court and continue to promote diversity. So, for instance…

Elizabeth H. Bradley, president of Vassar College in New York, said she thinks colleges like hers will figure out how to maintain an inclusive environment. “It’s just so core to who we are,” Bradley said. “We will find a legal way in which that can be accomplished.”

Everyone at my university was sent this memo yesterday from our vice president and provost saying the same thing.

Dear University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff,

As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today on two cases regarding college admissions. The decisions limit the ability of colleges and universities that receive federal funding to consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity in decision-making for admission.

We remain steadfast in our commitments to our educational mission of inclusion and access, to remove barriers to higher education for underrepresented populations, and to ensure that all members of our community have equitable access to the University and its resources.

A working group led by the Provost’s Office, in close consultation with the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), has been preparing for this decision for many months. That group will ensure that our processes in undergraduate, graduate, and professional education are compliant with the new state of the law, and that we continue to live out our values of inclusion and access.

We will continue our recruiting efforts that have yielded increased diversity in our entering classes. We remain committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice on all our campuses.

I’m afraid the Supreme Court will have to hand down an injunction blatantly stating that we can’t admit black students before it will stop the march of diversity. Remember, white people will be a minority in this country in a few years.

Meanwhile, another tool to maintain white majorities is allowed to continue: legacies. 43% of white students at Harvard are legacies, to name an example. What legacies are are admissions based on family connections — your dad was a Harvard grad? Well then, we’ll just ignore those Cs and Ds on your transcript and your low SAT scores, and whisk you right into our school.

I don’t see much of it here in the Midwest, but it was infuriatingly common in East coast schools. It was egregious at the Temple medical school. One year I had two students working in my lab at Temple, and both were applying to the med school. One was a rather lackadaisical student who was full of confidence that they would get in — they didn’t have to worry about grades (and it showed) because they had a grandparent and two parents who were Temple med grads, and they were white. The other was a passionate, hard-working young person with near perfect grades who wanted to get a degree and open a clinic in their black, North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Guess which one waltzed into med school, and which one was repeatedly denied? It drove me crazy. I was writing these glowing recommendation letters, but they didn’t help at all. The students were all fully aware of how the deck was stacked, too. The white students counted on it, the black students had to work twice as hard to overcome it.

And that’s what this court decision is all about: protecting and promoting the advantages of inherited wealth and privilege. Now we’re going to all have to work twice as hard to defy the oligarchs.

Tell me, what is “ideological”?

The Skeptical Inquirer again reveals their true colors. Not only did they publish that crap from Coyne & Maroja, but they think it’s such a big deal that they’re hosting a Q&A for the authors and their fans.

That’s fine, but this is telling.

In “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” the cover feature of the July/August 2023 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Jerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja deliver a powerful and provocative warning about the dangers of trying to make scientific reality conform to the political winds. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who agrees that science must be objective and empirical—not ideological.

What “political winds”? Do they seriously think Coyne & Maroja’s BS is not ideological, and is entirely objective and empirical? It’s conservative bias is naked and flapping in the wind, but apparently conservatism and prejudice and blind defenses of the status quo are not a subjective presentation of an ideology.

It’s only a must-read for anti-“woke” bigots who want their biases reaffirmed.

Another stereotype squashed by the evidence

An Awá woman holds hunting bows and arrows in Brazil’s Caru Indigenous Territory in 2017

A thousand just-so stories have suddenly cried out in shock and died a miserable death. Hunter-gatherer societies don’t think that hyphen separates men from women? This is what you learn when you don’t do your anthropological research by surveying Psych 101 classrooms in Western colleges. These researchers actually did a world-wide survey of foraging cultures!

For decades anthropologists have witnessed forager women—those who live in societies that both hunt and gather—around the world skillfully slay prey: In the 1980s, Agta women of the Philippines drew bows and arrows as tall as themselves and aimed at wild pigs and deer, and Matses Amazonians struck paca rodents with machetes. Observations from the 1990s described Aka great-grandmothers and girls as young as age 5 trapping duiker and porcupine in central Africa.

A study published today in PLOS ONE has united these reports for a first-of-its-kind global view of women hunters. Reviewing accounts penned by scholars who study culture, known as ethnographers, as well as those by observers between the late 1800s and today, the researchers found that women hunted in nearly 80% of surveyed forager societies.

These data flatly reject a long-standing myth that men hunt, women gather, and that this division runs deep in human history.

It makes sense. You’re not going to tell half your community that they can’t exploit a rich and highly-valued food source, so of course women would poke tasty animals with sticks when they could. Restricting women’s choices is a pathological condition that could only be tolerated in a wealthy society with a wasteful surplus already. There were some gender differences, and hunting was a wholesome activity that could be enjoyed by the whole family!

The reports also revealed considerable flexibility and personal preferences, both within and across cultures. Individuals wielded various weapons including spears, machetes, knives, and crossbows. Some relied on hunting dogs, nets, or traps. Women followed tracks to big game and beat the ground with sticks to flush out critters. Child care posed little problem: Mothers carried infants or left them at camp with other community members; older children often tagged along, hunting as well.

The team did discover differences between male and female strategies. For example, among the Agta, men almost always wielded bows and arrows, whereas some women preferred knives. Men were more likely to head out solo or in pairs, whereas women generally hunted in groups and with dogs.

Despite gender differences, the team found little evidence for rigid rules. “If somebody liked to hunt, they could just hunt,” Wall-Scheffler says.

That’s just what people do. But what about the CHILDREN?

Suggestions that children are put in danger by accompanying hunts can be mediated with current literature on the numerous ways in which infants and children are carried during expeditions by parents and alloparents. The importance of infants remaining with adults (versus being parked) is an important part of our lineage, with children accompanying the wide range of expeditions consistently evidenced in the archaeological, as well as the ethnographic record. Data explicitly mentioning that infants are carried while hunting exist for the Aka and the Awa, as well as for foraging bouts that might result in opportunistic hunting (e.g., among the Batek and Nukak). Among both the Hadza and the Aka, children (potentially as young as age three) accompany adults on over 15% of hunting trips. The idea that women are hindered by childcare and thus cannot hunt is an area where increasing data collection and thoughtful interpretation is lending a much richer lens to our understanding of human mobility strategies.

But what about vegetarians?

DEI working exactly as intended

Conservatives like to dismiss Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements as empty posturing and virtue signaling, as the politicization of science, as discrimination against conservative points of view. I would counter that by saying that they work.

Case in point: UCLA didn’t hire a professor, Yoel Inbar, in part because grad students pointed out that he didn’t support DEI. This annoyed Matt Yglesias, who wrote:

Guy says DEI statements as a hiring tool is just way to screen candidates for “an allegiance to a certain set of beliefs.”

Grad students pen letter saying that shows he shouldn’t be hired since he doesn’t pledge allegiance to the right beliefs.

That “certain set of beliefs” is the idea that we should respect all of our students, and give every one an equal opportunity to succeed. (I don’t know what happened to Yglesias’s brain, I think he has a terminal case of centrism.)

Inbar’s case was well-researched by the students, and they responded with a lengthy letter documenting his inadequacies. Inbar has a podcast with 101 episodes in which “he discusses various topics relating to current events in academia, including but not limited to: diversity statements, anti-racism in psychological organizations, sexism and racism on college campuses, freedom of speech, polarization, and conservatism in psychology.” Isn’t that nice? He provided a wealth of data, the data was evaluated, and his proposal was rejected. Evidence-based scientific reasoning! Exactly what we want!

Most concerning to us as students is Dr. Inbar’s opposition to institutions endorsing positions on sociopolitical issues he has deemed “contentious” or “controversial.” In particular, he takes a strong stance against promoting DEI initiatives through the use of diversity statements and DEI criterion to evaluate research. He also takes a firm position against the use of diversity statements as a tool in the hiring process, and specifically criticizes their use in the University of California system’s faculty application process. In episode 15, he remarks that his “skepticism about these [diversity statements] is they sort of seem like administrator value signaling. It is not clear what good they do, how they’re going to be used…” He continues, “to lots of people on the left, diversity is such an obviously positive thing,” and says that the left fails to acknowledge that these statements “[signal] an allegiance to a certain set of beliefs.” Rather than recognizing the value of DEI initiatives to improve representation and inclusion of marginalized scholars, he casts valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion as uniquely “liberal” values reflective of ideological bias. These comments frame diversity statements as a threat to ideological diversity, and reflect a lack of prioritization of the needs and experiences of historically marginalized individuals across the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. In contrast, our institution’s position on this issue is unequivocal: page one of the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion FAQ proclaims “Equity, diversity, and inclusion are integral to how the University of California conceives of “merit.”

So here’s this guy who opposes a key value promoted by the university, the need “to improve representation and inclusion of marginalized scholars,” and he didn’t get hired. Are we supposed to hire people who oppose representation and inclusion?

Inbar did not do well in his on-campus interview, either.

Our concerns were deepened after the graduate student meeting with Dr. Inbar on Monday, January 23rd. During this meeting—which traditionally takes the shape of graduate students asking questions and interviewing faculty candidates—he initially prioritized asking us questions about the Psychology Department and life as graduate students, which would presumably inform his decision on whether to accept a job offer from our program. We interjected to reframe the discussion and ask pointed questions about his past and prospective efforts in advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts both in mentorship and in his line of research. To most of us in the room, his answers to these questions were less than satisfactory, and some responses were outright disconcerting. For example, he responded by indicating that his “work does not really deal with identity, so these issues don’t come up for [him] in a research context.”

As Dr. Inbar studies issues of morality, social attitudes, and political ideology, including how moral psychology shapes prejudice (e.g., Inbar et al., 2009; Inbar et al., 2012), it was deeply troubling to hear that he does not believe identity (i.e., individual background as it pertains to race, gender, sexuality, class, or ability) has bearing on these research questions. It is our perspective that considerations of identity cannot accurately be disentangled from the study of prejudice and moral behavior, and that disseminating these findings requires a high level of sensitivity to how results might be misrepresented or misunderstood given real-world sociopolitical conditions.

Wow. He studies “morality, social attitudes, and political ideology,” but he doesn’t think identity is relevant to his work. OK, man, you don’t get the job, and further, that calls into the question the value of all your published work.

This is exactly what job applications and interviews are supposed to do, screen applicants to determine whether they are good candidates for a position. We also want students to contribute to the decision — every time we have a job candidate on my campus, I announce it in my classes and tell them that we truly, honestly want their input. If they don’t think the person is someone they’d want teaching them, say so! We don’t usually expect a detailed four-page analysis that required research into the papers and podcasts of the candidate, but that is an impressive effort.

Of course, now the media are irate that Students Pressured University Not To Hire Professor Who Questioned ‘Diversity’ Statements. Pressured? No. The students did as requested and as they were supposed to do and evaluated the quality of a candidate and made a recommendation. That’s going to be the message everywhere, though, and they seem to be unaware of the fact that they are effectively poisoning his job search. If he were desperate enough to apply to UMM, for instance, his notoriety means he wouldn’t get past the initial screening of applications. Like we’d want to hire someone at our minority-serving institution who thinks diversity is a waste of time.

On the other hand, he’ll be greeted with open arms at the University of Austin.

My nightmare

This is a story that worries me.

Jinming Li, an arts and business student in the class, was an eyewitness to the event. According to Li, a man of about 20-30 years of age entered the class and asked the professor what the class was about. The man closed the door, pulled two knives out of his backpack and proceeded to attack the professor. Students ran to the back of the class to exit out of the one class entrance.

It was a gender studies class at the University of Waterloo. You know what triggered it — it was an act of stochastic terrorism driven by the right wing’s current moral panic.

The good news is that while a professor and two students were slashed, they’re alive and recovering. The attack occurred in Canada, with knives. Here in the USA, it would have been guns, probably an assault rifle, and the only question would be how high the body count would go.

We do have one thing in common with Canada: an ineffectual response to such events. Waterloo has an app they provide to students, faculty, and staff that’s supposed to send out an alert when active threats are on campus. It took 90 minutes to send out warnings, well after the danger was over.

Is everything a binary?

I don’t think so, but if it were, then Jordan Peterson has just announced that he is trans.

Either that, or he is a liar.

It is most weird how some people get worked up over a simple, non-judgmental descriptor. There is no opprobrium attached to being cis — in fact, it’s a social advantage. So what has got these people irate?

Maybe it’s the implicit acknowledgment that if cis people exist, then trans people do, too.