Crowdsourcing for a good cancer text

Among the many joys plaguing me recently is learning that I get to teach, for the first time for me and for the first time at my university, I get to teach a course in cancer biology this spring term. I’m not totally unprepared for this — I was on a cancer training grant for about 5 years, got some basic education in clinical oncology as well as the basic science of the processes, and really, it’s all about gene regulation, cell cycle control, signal transduction, and specification and commitment, all stuff that is eminently familiar to a developmental biologist. But still, you can guess what I’ll be doing over Christmas break: cramming for one of the most depressing subjects in the world.

Anyway, here’s what I need. I’m going to have to order books for the students next month: the prerequisite for the course is simply cell biology and major status, so I need something that’s not too advanced, but has a good overview of mechanisms. This will not be a course in clinical oncology, but on the cell biology of cancer…but still, students will expect at least a little bit of direct medical relevance (I’ll probably ask around to find a local doctor who’d be willing to give a guest lecture, too). I am not a medical doctor, and this will not be a course to give out medical advice at all.

So, request #1 is for a good solid intermediate level cancer textbook.

Request #2 is for me: I’m going to have to dive into a crash cramming event in December/January to bring myself up to speed on current developments in the field, so I can be smarter than the students. What are some good review texts for a guy who knows a fair amount of biology but took his last course in oncology about 15 years ago?

(Also on Sb)

Theocracy will sneak in one justification at a time

Rick Perry is unsuited to high office. That he’s a cretin is one thing, but that he has an anti-American, unconstitutional attitude towards the law is another. He thinks the US is in an alliance with Jesus, as revealed in his recent comments about Israel.

Well, obviously, Israel is our oldest and most stable democratic ally in that region. That is what this is about. I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.

So the US role in the Middle East is driven by Christian fundamentalist theology? That’s scary stuff to announce, on top of practicing.

I don’t even know what the Israel of the Bible is, except that it is defunct and doesn’t exist anymore. To equate the modern state of Israel with the fantasy kingdom of the Bible is even more absurd than pointing at Italy and calling it the Roman Empire.

Old Atheists, same as the New Atheists

Wait a minute here…this cartoon is from 1903?

And it prompted this comment?

And I have realized that C.C. Moore was reincarnated as PZ Myers.

I feel weirded out by the comparison, but I did go ahead and order the collected writings. We’ll have to see if I experience deja vu and start having flashbacks or mysterious dreams of my past life.

Mainly, right now I want my own Whip of Ridicule and Sword of Cold Facts. I think I’ll pass on the funny hat with the candle.

(via Camels With Hammers)

The abuse thread

I am so bogged down in work…I’m clinging on to the faint hope of liberation as all my deadlines are past next Tuesday (and they will be met! They must!), but until then, I’m thoroughly tied up and sweating over a gazillion things that have to be finished right now. So blogging will be light for a bit.

Until I’ve leapt past the work essentials though, I’d like to keep you occupied, so I’m open for insults. Vent over my failures and laziness by calling me names in the thread below. Try to be creative; zoological insults are particularly appreciated, and please avoid trite scatology.

I’m going back to the word processor, so the time to start is…NOW.

(Also on Sb)

Have you got plans for May?

Maybe you should make some. Visiting Köln looks like a good idea.

Atheists from Europe and around the world will meet in Cologne, Germany on 25 – 27 May for the “2012 European Atheist Convention: Perspectives of Atheism – national, regional, global”, co-hosted by Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten (IBKA, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists) and Atheist Alliance International (AAI).

The conference will cover a broad range of topics relevant to atheists, freethinkers, humanists,rationalists, skeptics, agnostics and secularists. Attendees will interact with leading personalities from the worlds of science, activism, literature, entertainment, philosophy and the media.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Carsten Frerk, author and editor of the German Humanist Press Service

  • PZ Myers,biologist and author of the Pharyngula science blog

  • Annie Laurie Gaylor, Founder and Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF)

  • Dan Barker, former evangelical preacher, author and FFRF Co-President

  • Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Executive Spokesman of the Giordano Bruno Foundation

  • Taslima Nasrin, physician, author and international human rights activist

  • Michael Nugent, Chair of Atheist Ireland

  • Rebecca Watson, Skepchick blogger and promoter of critical thinking among women

Announcing the conference, IBKA Chairman René Hartmann said: “With this convention we want to bring people from various nations togetherto discuss atheism, secularism, and the separation of state and religion. There are many issues in Germany and across Europe – the privileged status of churches, women’s reproductive rights, discrimination against same-sex oriented people – where religion intrudes into our lives, even the lives of those of us that are not religious.”

Tanya Smith, President of AAI, said: “It is very exciting to build on the momentum of the successful series of AAI conventions in Europe, including the 2010 Gods& Politics conference in Copenhagen and the World Atheist Convention in Dublin earlier this year. These conventions are a fantastic opportunity to hear fromworld-class speakers and for non-religious people to get together and enjoy the company of critical-thinking, rational people.”

Further information on the 2012 European Atheist Convention can be found at the convention website: and on Facebook: Tickets for the convention will go on sale later this year.

Urge to kill…fading…fading…fading

Steven Pinker has a new book coming out next week, and I’m very much looking forward to it. It is titled The Better Angels Of Our Nature: How Violence Has Declined, and its premise is that humans have been becoming increasingly less violent over time. I’m very sympathetic to this view: I think cooperation, not conflict, has been the hallmark of human evolution.

There’s an overview of Pinker’s argument at Edge.

Believe it or not—and I know most people do not—violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. The decline of violence, to be sure, has not been steady; it has not brought violence down to zero (to put it mildly); and it is not guaranteed to continue. But I hope to convince you that it’s a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars and perpetration of genocides to the spanking of children and the treatment of animals.

It’s full of charts — all kinds of graphs illustrating correlations and changing rates of war fatalities, homicide, slavery, etc. He identifies five causes of violence: exploitation, dominance, revenge, and ideology (I know, that’s four…I guess he left one out). He also identifies four forces that counter violence: the state as a mediator of justice, trade, an expanding circle of empathy, and reason.

I think the final and perhaps the most profound pacifying force is an “escalator of reason.” As literacy, education, and the intensity of public discourse increase, people are encouraged to think more abstractly and more universally, and that will inevitably push in the direction of a reduction of violence. People will be tempted to rise above their parochial vantage point, making it harder to privilege their own interests over others. Reason leads to the replacement of a morality based on tribalism, authority and puritanism with a morality based on fairness and universal rules. And it encourages people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, and to see violence as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.

It would be so nice to read a book that’s optimistic about humanity’s future. I’m definitely getting a copy.

(Also on Sb)