Sensitivity, charm and cleverness: very sexy

Ah, the life of the female giant Australian cuttlefish…males fight for her affections, and during the mating season she will have sex with 2-8 different males each day, with an average total of 17 copulations per day. She can be picky, too, and rejects most of the mating attempts (yet still manages to mate up to 40 times a day). It must be a good life.

Males have a rougher time of it, I would think. There are many more males than females, and so it’s a struggle to get access to one; the bigger, stronger males will guard females, acting as a consort, and use aggressive displays to chase off competitors. What to do if you’re a smaller, but clever male?

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Whipping up a carnival frenzy

A quick carnival update:

Chicken, archosaur…same difference


My daughter is learning about evolution in high school right now, and the problem isn’t with the instructor, who is fine, but her peers, who complain that they don’t see the connections. She mentioned specifically yesterday that the teacher had shown a cladogram of the relationships between crocodilians, birds, and mammals, and that a number of students insisted that there was no similarity between a bird and an alligator.

I may have to send this news article to school with her: investigators have found that a mutation in chickens causes them to develop teeth—and the teeth resemble those of the common ancestor of alligators and chickens, an archosaur.

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The Salem Hypothesis

The Salem hypothesis is an old chestnut from It was proposed by a fellow named Bruce Salem who noticed that, in arguments with creationists, if the fellow on the other side claimed to have personal scientific authority, it almost always turned out to be because he had an engineering degree. The hypothesis predicted situations astonishingly well—in the bubbling ferment of, there were always new creationists popping up, pompously declaiming that they were scientists and they knew that evolution was false, and subsequent discussion would reveal that yes, indeed, they were the proud recipient of an engineering degree.

Stating the Salem hypothesis was also a good way of stirring the pot, because there are always engineers around who have not succumbed to creationist nonsense, and they’d get all huffy and denounce the very idea. Of course, it doesn’t say that engineers are all creationists: it says that creationists with advanced degrees are often engineers, a completely different thing altogether.

Here’s an excellent example of the Salem hypothesis in the form of letters to the Electronic Engineering Times. Engineers, your honor is safe: for every foolish declaration that organisms are examples of design, there are a couple of sharply worded smackdowns.

My only problem with email is the quantity

Maybe it’s Minnesota, or maybe it’s me, but this situation with professors complaining about student email doesn’t really affect me. It’s been my experience here that UMM students are usually friendly and trouble-free with email (haven’t you heard? We’re all nice up here!), and I even welcome the complaints—I’d rather hear from the students than not hear from them, especially if they’re worried about something. I also like my email terse and to the point, so I’m not at all discomfited by a message that would be rudely abrupt if said to my face.

One thing would absolutely drive me nuts, though, and it’s this horrible piece of advice.

Meg Worley, an assistant professor of English at Pomona College in California, said she told students that they must say thank you after receiving a professor’s response to an e-mail message.

“One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back,” Professor Worley said.

Ugh. Email is a communication medium, and the less we clutter it up with rank and power and hierarchical crap the better; there’s enough real power disparity between me and my students that I don’t need it acknowledged, and I’d prefer it were minimized. As for bouncing back with a superfluous “thank you”…no, thank you. That’s just noise in the channel, one more scrap of clutter in my mailbox.

(via The Washington Monthly)

I think Tim Burke and I agree on this one, and I note in the comments that Worley was misquoted—what she was suggesting is actually much more reasonable.

Summers is out for school

I can’t say that I’m surprised by anything in this except for the length of time it has taken: Summers has stepped down from the presidency of Harvard. I suspect he still doesn’t know what hit him, but I think stupidly belittling the intrinsic capabilities of a significant number of successful, hardworking, and intelligent faculty for an irrelevant difference has led to some just desserts.


Some of the scienceblogs have been experiencing difficulties (unresponsiveness, sluggish commenting, and some of us can’t even post), and part of the problem can be traced to spammers turning their attention to us and pounding at the door. We’ve been asked to increase the level of security in commenting to suppress some of that activity, so now comments here require a valid email address.

Switching the level of security has an unfortunate side-effect with some browsers—it confused my copy of Safari so much it wouldn’t allow me to comment on my own blog. One solution, though, is to get rid of the old cookies for the domain in your browser. If you’re getting a “Comment Submission Error”, try that solution.

If anyone wants to leave other bug reports here, I bet the developer will see them. I know of a few glitches:

  • Text encoding incompatibilities—this ISO vs UTF-8 stuff that I barely understand.
  • The search page (and others?) don’t seem to be php-enabled, so funny stuff appears.
  • Syndication includes only the entry body, and if there is an extended entry, there’s no indication that something is incomplete.
  • I want a captcha system for comments. Some spam still gets through that I need to manually delete.
  • No Pirate Mode and I need more logos! OK, this is still a very low priority…more serious bugs need to be fixed first.

I know there are lots of these little things floating about, but overall I’m so happy with the improved performance that I’m not too concerned, yet. And of course, the number one priority has to be correcting major bugs like Orac has had.

Hey! If you check your syndication feeds, you’ll see that now not only is there an indicator that there’s more to the post, but there’s a link to and count of the comments. See? Complain here, the developer will notice, and things will get fixed.

Eloi and Morlocks had to start somewhere

Some Pennsylvania private schools have a new advertising campaign:

The billboard ads say “Intelligence … by Design” and show a Bible Baptist teacher and students.

The Harrisburg Christian radio ad features the voice of science teacher Stephanie Morris. She describes weaknesses in the theory of evolution and says, “The foundation of my biology course is a personal God and creator.”

Harrisburg Christian has 302 students and costs up to $6,600 per year. Bible Baptist, with 475 students, costs up to $4,400 a year.

That’s 777 students getting a sub-standard education in the sciences, and $4,083,200 getting flushed down a rathole. It’s an odd situation, where the wealthy yank their kids out of the public schools and put them in an expensive pit of ignorance by choice, and at the same time fight to underfund the public education they’ve abandoned and turn the schools the poor and middle class rely on into holding pens. We all lose.