Sacrifices made in the name of lust

Some spiders have a serious problem: runaway evolution sometimes produces maladaptive conditions. Here’s a spider, Tidarren sisyphoides, that exhibits extreme sexual dimorphism — males have about 1% of the mass of the females.

Male and female T. sisyphoides in copula. The minute male (indicated by the arrow) on the female’s ventrum is ≈1% of the female’s mass. (The scale bar represents 1 mm.)

That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that the males maintain a massive pair of palps. Really gigantic. They probably clang when they walk. Look at these two big boys, and the monster intromittent organs dangling from the front of their faces.

You may notice that the top spider has the normal two palps, which are so large that they’re interfering with each other. The bottom spider has only one palp. The surprise is that this is a product of self-mutilation.

During copulation, males generally use both pedipalps in an alternating fashion to inseminate the paired spermathecae in the female. In Tidarren, however, one pedipalp is removed (either left or right pedipalp, seemingly at random) before sexual maturation which has also been described for another spider of similar size and closely related to Tidarren (Echinotheridion). Just after molting to the penultimate instar, the male secures one of its pedipalps to a silk scaffold and then twists it off by turning in circles and pushing the bulb with the third and fourth pairs of legs.

Ouch. There’s a reason for their partial emasculation, though.

We found that, for male Tidarren sisyphoides, maximum speed increased (44%) significantly and endurance increased (63%) significantly after pedipalp removal. Furthermore, spiders with one pedipalp moved approximately 300% greater distances before exhaustion and had a higher survival after exertion than those with two pedipalps. Removal of the pedipalp may have evolved in male Tidarren because of enhanced abilities to search for females (higher endurance and survival after exertion) and to out-compete rival males on the female’s web (higher maximum speed). Our data also highlight how the evolution of conflicts can result in the evolution of a novel behavior.

Not recommended for humans, unless your testicles are the size of basketballs.

Ramos M, Irschick DJ, Christenson TE (2004) Overcoming an evolutionary conflict: removal of a reproductive organ greatly increases locomotor performance. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101(14):4883-7.

Stupid old bigot says the quiet part out loud

Tommy Tuberville, the dumb-ass Republican who has been single-handedly holding up various military appointments, spoke out about why he voted against the latest general to go up for confirmation.

“I heard some things that he talked, about race and things that he wanted to mix into the military,” Tuberville said about Brown.

“Let me tell you something: Our military is not an equal-opportunity employer,” he said.

“We’re not looking for different groups, social justice groups,” Tuberville said. “We don’t want to single-handedly destroy our military from within. We all need to be one,” he added.

He also said, “Our military is becoming so political that we’re going to go south when it comes to readiness.”

You know, the military is an equal opportunity employer — about 31% of the members belong to racial minorities. Maybe he was confused because the senior ranks are far less egalitarian?

At least his last sentence is correct. It’s just that he represents the problem.

Dianne Feinstein is dead

She had quite a career, and if she’d retired gracefully a few years ago, I’d have nothing but good things to say about her. But she didn’t, so I don’t, and I’ll shut up there.

I’ve been planning my own retirement, so it hits close to home. I’m still fine and I think I’m doing an OK job at my profession, but I think I should make room for new blood before those things aren’t true anymore.

Anthropology panels, Elizabeth Weiss, and the devious self-serving propaganda of “gender critical” bigots

The other day, I mentioned that a few people were protesting the cancellation of a panel session at a meeting of the American Anthropological Association and the Canadian Anthropology Society. The first clue that the session was intended to be something unpleasant is that the cancellation outraged Kathleen Stock, the anti-trans advocate who lost her professorship because she was such a big fan of conversion therapy, opposed the idea of gender self-identification, and was a trustee of the LGB Alliance, that group that openly repudiated the idea of trans rights. I’d be wary of support from such a person.

Then I learned further that the panel was a collection of gender critical feminists (the new term for TERFs) who were going to use the panel for their ideological propaganda from Elizabeth Weiss! I’m doubly wary now. Weiss was an anthropologist at San Jose State University who hated the idea of repatriating the bones in their collection, and stirred up a major row after being photographed making light of the remains.

She had claimed she was the target of cancel culture after being blasted for tweeting a photo of herself returning to campus following COVID lockdowns in the fall of 2021, holding a skull with her bare hands and writing: “So happy to be back with some old friends.”

She had already been the subject of criticism over her recently published book — “Repatriation and Erasing the Past” — that opposed laws returning skeletal remains to Native American tribes when 870 academics from Stanford to Oxford denounced it as “explicitly racist ideology.”

In the midst of the backlash, San Jose State University Provost Vincent Del Casino Jr., posted a letter to faculty saying the image of Weiss holding the skull “evoked shock and disgust” and asked, “in what context is it ever ethically appropriate for an academic to handle remains while smiling with ungloved hands while calling these remains ‘friends?’”

In an emailed response to the provost, Weiss wrote that her tweet was showing her admiration for the collection: “We should be celebrating the lives of these first occupants of Silicon Valley — not allowing their voices to be silenced by a vociferous campaign orchestrated by woke activists whose strategy is to try to shut down debate, and promote superstition over science.”

If you’re “celebrating the lives,” why is it that the native peoples whose ancestors you’re treating so cavalierly are complaining? I would think that sensitivity and respect are important parts of your training and work. I guess Ms. Weiss was absent that decade in class. Furthermore, Weiss was the third wife of J. Philippe Rushton, the infamous racist and face of the Pioneer Fund. I can tell whose side she would be on — marrying a prominent racist is a loud commitment to a repugnant point of view.

Are you beginning to see a theme here? You don’t have to scratch a gender critical very deeply to find a fascist.

But wait, there’s more! The organizer of the conference panel was Kathleen Lowry, a proud gender critical feminist whose anti-trans views have been protested.

“The university has said it’s perfectly OK to fire people for doubting that men can get pregnant, for doubting lesbians can have penises,” she said. “The implications are very dangerous because this is a live issue in our contemporary Canadian democracy.”

She was not fired, by the way. She was removed from a university committee, nothing more, which is something many of us would consider a reward.

I think you can see why the panel was dissolved, though. The conference organizers could clearly see that they were going to be platforming a crew of notorious bigots who would be assembling a bomb on stage, that they would be facilitating an ugly exercise in one-sided anti-trans prejudice that would definitely do harm to other attendees at the event.

I don’t feel like being fair to Weiss and her cronies, but I will note that she has expressed her perspective on the cancellation online, at a page titled “Discussing sex is no longer allowed at anthropology conferences”. I will note that even the title is dishonest, since sex is a legitimate topic in anthropology — what isn’t is inflammatory bias and the rhetoric of hate.

The one good thing to emerge from this repugnant episode is that the anthropological society has published a beautiful statement explaining their decision titled “No Place For Transphobia in Anthropology”.

The AAA and CASCA boards reached a decision to remove the session “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” from the AAA/CASCA 2023 conference program. This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, in order to ensure the safety and dignity of all of our members, as well as the scientific integrity of the program.

The first ethical principle in AAA’s Principles of Professional Responsibility is to “Do no harm.” The session was rejected because it relied on assumptions that run contrary to the settled science in our discipline, framed in ways that do harm to vulnerable members of our community. It commits one of the cardinal sins of scholarship—it assumes the truth of the proposition that it sets out to prove, namely, that sex and gender are simplistically binary, and that this is a fact with meaningful implications for the discipline.

Such efforts contradict scientific evidence, including the wealth of anthropological scholarship on gender and sex. Forensic anthropologists talk about using bones for “sex estimation,” not “sex identification,” a process that is probabilistic rather than clearly determinative, and that is easily influenced by cognitive bias on the part of the researcher. Around the world and throughout human history, there have always been people whose gender roles do not align neatly with their reproductive anatomy. There is no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification. On the contrary, anthropologists and others have long shown sex and gender to be historically and geographically contextual, deeply entangled, and dynamically mutable categories.

The function of the “gender critical” scholarship advocated in this session, like the function of the “race science” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is to advance a “scientific” reason to question the humanity of already marginalized groups of people, in this case, those who exist outside a strict and narrow sex / gender binary.

Transgender and gender diverse identities have long existed, and we are committed to upholding the value and dignity of transgender people. We believe that a more just future is possible—one where gender diversity is welcomed and supported rather than marginalized and policed.

I’m already seeing people trying to argue against that statement that “There is no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification,” largely by insisting that their standard, whatever it may be, is definitive, by definition. I’ve seen this strategy used for decades: first it was morphology, they can tell who is a woman by looking at them; then it was X/Y chromosomes; then it was hormone titers; now many of the bigots have congealed around a definition based on gametes. They never seem to appreciate that the variety of arbitrary ‘standards’ are often in conflict with each other, or that many of them are outright invisible or dependent on invasive and offensive examinations. Do you determine the ‘biological sex’ of people you meet by asking for a sperm sample? I would hope not.

I like the comparison of “gender criticals” to “race scientists”. It’s particularly apt given that at least one of the people behind this panel is a closet race scientist herself.

We can skip the accreditation process and go straight to the employers

Joining the esteemed ranks of the University of Austin and Prager U, Jordan Peterson will be accepting applications for his fake college, Peterson Academy, in November. It will be teaching a high level of conscientiousness, but not so much a real curriculum, and he announces that he doesn’t need any accreditation. Instead, he angrily announces that if employers have any sense, they’ll hire his graduates, and that he’ll be teaching skills that are valuable to any employer with a clue. Hire them or else, woke moralists!

He claims to have 30 reputable people lined up to teach courses (online, I presume?), but he won’t name any of them. He also says that it will only cost you $4000 to get a degree from Peterson Academy, although the value of that unaccredited piece of paper isn’t worth that much. It sounds exactly like a diploma mill grift, so I hope no one is seriously applying.

Summer research presentation time!

My students talked about their work today — this picture was taken before the crowds put them to work.

Violet took full advantage of the medium, a big screen connected to a laptop, and instead of a static display, the ‘poster’ rotated through a big collection of images. They had the prettiest poster of the group, as long as spiders are considered to belong to the category “pretty”.

Dinosaur embryos…on the MOOOOOON!

I’m a guy who knows his way around an embryo, and is also knowledgeable about evolution, and to a lesser degree am interested in space exploration, so this article title is major league clickbait to me: Dinosaur eggs with fossilized embryos on the Moon. Awesome!

It’s a rather funky weird image, but I’m curious to know how they collected embryos from the Moon. Were these found in rocks brought back by Apollo or some other probe that scraped up some lunar dust, or pebbles, somehow? I had to read the methods section to find out. No, they aren’t looking at samples. They’re looking at Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) images.

Their published images all include latitude and longitude (that picture above is from Lat. 38.39144, Lon. 321.00588), so you can go directly to the LROC database and look at it for yourself. Here it is, straight from the source.

Huh. There’s a crater there with some clutter in it. Is that it? It’s hard to tell, especially since the authors defy convention and don’t include scale bars in their images. But then you have to realize that the LROC camera has a best resolution of 0.5m per pixel, look at the number of pixels in the “embryo,” and it’s suddenly clear: that “egg” is about 20km across. It’s a heavily processed and pseudocolored photo of a lunar crater!

This is justification to assign a scientific name to them, in their minds.

The two fossils of dinosaur embryos described here have not been reported anywhere so far and may belong to different genera and species than the known dinosaurs of the Earth. We tentatively name them as Lunasaurussaxenaii (Gen. novelsi, Spp. novelsi) [the author’s name is Saxena, so he’s naming it after himself] and Chandrasauruspolaris(Gen. novelsi, Spp. novelsi) (‘Chandra’ is a Sanskrit word, meaning the Moon), respectively for reference.

He also indulges in some raving speculation about how they got there.

The images presented here could be the first direct evidence of presence of higher form of life on the Moon during some stage of its evolution and example of extraterrestrial life answering the Fermi Paradox (Sandberg et al., 2018). Since dinosaurs became extinct at the Cretaceous – Tertiary boundary period coinciding with a massive asteroid impact on the Earth, it may be possible that a few dinosaur eggs and fossils and other animal fossils may have been ejected from the Earth along with rocks and debris due to the impact and could have reached the Moon due to the huge force of the collision and pulled towards the Moon due to the lunar gravity. However, in that case, the eggs would have not remained intact. Alternatively, there could have been life on the Moon in various forms during its evolutionary history and large animals may have persisted for some time on the Moon after its separation from the Earth but vanished later on due to unfavourable ecological and atmospheric conditions and hostile climate on the Moon

Nowhere does he address the observation that these things are many kilometers across.

He’s got a substantial collection of articles, all published in cheap-ass pay-to-play journals, with many interesting claims based entirely on mangling and misinterpreting NASA images. For example, he thinks he has found a Hindu temple on the Moon.

The present report is the first record of discovery of a mysterious object with Sri Yantra like shape near the Shackleton crater on the South Pole of the Moon suggests of earliest attempts of colonization of the Moon by Hindus.

He also claims to have disproven the theory of relativity, which is rather mundane crankery, and of course he has a mathematical proof for the existence of God, which he illustrates with this pretty scrawl:

I tried to extract some sense from the text, but couldn’t find any. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what the hell he is babbling about.

Don’t waste our time with Kathleen Stock’s hateful agenda

I have to correct the statement below.

You cannot be a responsible teacher or researcher if you cannot tolerate ideas with which you expect you might disagree.

You cannot be a responsible teacher or researcher if you tolerate lies and demonstrably false ideas.

There is a line we have to draw where we openly repudiate bad ideas presented in bad faith. We should no more have a conference panel at a serious meeting on fallacious ideas about sex than we should have conference panels on creationism and flat earth…unless it’s to flatly reject them. And even then, that has limited utility.

Fervent Catholic conservatives make for very bad doctors

A few medical students in Duluth are very unhappy with what they’re being taught.

My days were filled with so many lectures and guidelines that I knew were not right or ordered at all and they were most definitely against our beliefs as Catholics, wrote Emma Pero, the first president of the group, in an essay on the site.

How do you know they’re not right or ordered? You’re a student. You’re there to learn. Duluth is a good school, it’s not a Bible college, I’m pretty sure they’re not telling you what to believe, they’re teaching practices that have been empirically demonstrated to be beneficial. Of course we know how she knows they’re wrong, the hint is right their in the quote: she’s Catholic, and a far right conservative Catholic at that.

So what were they teaching her that was not right? That’s pretty clear, too.

A Catholic group for students at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth that opposes gender-affirming care is fracturing the small, rural-focused program.

The student section of the Catholic Medical Association, which also includes students enrolled in the U’s Duluth campus College of Pharmacy, formed in 2021. It aligns with Catholic beliefs that largely oppose gender-affirming care for minors, which includes medications to suppress puberty and hormones for older teens, as well as contraception and abortion, according to its website.

The group is called St. Raphael’s Guild, and these students are heeding the words of old men in funny hats rather than the words of the experienced medical professionals who are their actual professors. They plan to graduate with medical degrees and then scatter to small medical practices across the rural Midwest, where, in addition to refusing to administer health care to trans teens, they will oppose birth control and abortion. They are the worst.

The Duluth medical school is also clear on what students should learn. This is cautiously sensible.

The school teaches its students to care for patients of all backgrounds, he said, and its approach to controversial topics is to teach them to transfer patients to another provider if they must, but to always ensure the patient receives care.

“Our hope is that message gets carried on and that students take that to heart and put it into practice,” Diebel said.

To second-year medical student Jamey Sharp, it appears the group is “working against best practices” that students are taught regarding LGBTQ care, and it makes class uncomfortable, he said.

“It’s really important for trans folks, queer folks, women, to feel comfortable working in this field and feeling like they would be safe and free of discrimination throughout the educational process,” he said.

The St Raphael’s Guild students strongly disagree. They bring in fanatical Catholic weirdos with dubious credentials who explicitly argue against the best practices taught by the school.

In 2022, members of the student group gathered in a conference room to watch a virtual lecture held by the guild. It featured Dr. Quentin Van Meter, a controversial Atlanta-based pediatric endocrinologist who in 2020 was discredited by a Texas court as an expert on puberty blockers and gender-affirming care.

He is the former president of the American College of Pediatricians, a group declared to be a hate organization by the civil rights nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.

During the lecture, he called the Southern Poverty Law Center a hate group and told the room full of students that professional medical societies, most of which support gender care, don’t represent science.

He argued against using preferred pronouns with patients.

This is just acquiescing to nonsense and pathology and plays into their delusional thoughts, he said in a recording of the lecture.

He advised avoiding referring minors to transgender care centers, calling them a conveyor belt to hell. Affirming a child’s chosen gender can worsen mental health, he told the students, who should refer minors instead to mental health providers.

Gosh. “acquiescing to nonsense and pathology and plays into their delusional thoughts” sounds like an apt description of Catholic zealotry.

I’ve always thought of the University of Minnesota Duluth to be an excellent branch of the system I’m in, with both a well-regarded medical school and pharmacy school. We send graduates of my university there every year. I guess I still have to be wary of some of the doctors that come out of there.