Nerds, rise up!

Smarting from her failure to crack the top 1000 in the science blogger hot-or-not contest, Janet has declared a Nerd-off, in which us geeks, dorks, nerds, and poindexters compete to see who is the King or Queen of the pocket-protector crowd.

I think I should get bonus points for bragging about it a whole year ahead of time.

This conflict could spill over elsewhere, I warn you. Already the fellows at Sadly, No have joined in…even if they aren’t science bloggers, their nerdiness has long been apparent. I bet they were in the A/V club in high school. Actually, most of the big-name bloggers are obviously nerdworthy: come on, Duncan Black has to be a major geek, right?


I also think I should be declared victor for this photo alone. Man, if we open up this competition to photographic documentation, Janet doesn’t stand a chance.


I am nerdier than 99% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Yeah, got this Nerd Score without even breaking a sweat.


As long as James Kakalios is gloating about his nerdy comic book habit in the comments, I’ll have to document what’s on my desk right now:

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From back left to front right, that’s Darwin, Marx, and Freud; a naked mole rat; a bowl of cocktail squid and Fetopia beads; a nice springy squid; and the books are The Sandwalk Adventures(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), Five Fists of Science(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and The Prehistory of the Far Side(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)

It’ll be a warm February in Minnesota before I’m outnerded.

Stem cell soundbite

While browsing through the UW Alumni magazine (yes, I read it; no, please don’t ask me for money, I’m poor), I ran across a nice quote I thought I’d share:

Imagine it like the software in a computer that is five years old…these [stem] cell lines are inherently inferior. We’re forced to focus our efforts on lines that are inherently less innovative.

Dr Anthony Blau, commenting on Bush’s veto of a bill that would open up new cell lines for research

Ken Ham spits on Steve Irwin’s corpse

My baby sister (she was in her thirties and had two kids of her own, but she’ll always be my little sis) died a few years ago of one of those sudden, massive infections—the kind of unexpected reminder of bacterial dominance that killed Jim Henson. When I attended the funeral, I was reminded of another lower life form that afflicts humanity: the minister was an ecstatic Jesus freak who, rather than talking about the young woman we’d lost, or trying to give words of reassurance to a grieving family, instead tried to turn the affair into a revival meeting, asking people to TESTIFY FOR JESUS!!! and otherwise making her superstition the center of attention, rather than Lisa and loss. It galled me no end, as you might guess, and if it weren’t for my respect for members of my family I would have grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and thrown her into the street.

Maybe I should have anyway. Goddamn all preachers, pastors, and priests.

My anger was rekindled by Ken Ham’s “eulogy” for Steve Irwin. The sanctimonious prat uses it as an excuse to babble rationalizations for his religion, throw a little fear at readers to proselytize for his false promises, and use death as a threat. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but the implications he makes are clear. Irwin wasn’t a creationist. Ham knows that people tried to reach out to him with creationist literature. For all his wealth and popularity, Irwin died—and you will too. Repent or burn in hell for all eternity. We’re left to guess where Steve Irwin is right now…except you’d better accept Jesus or you’ll end up in the same place.

Ham is a vile little man, but his sentiments reflect standard Christian tropes. The promises and fears of an afterlife are used to herd the flock into the approved norms of behavior—norms that include respect for and gratuities to the shepherd, naturally—and death becomes an opportunity for reinforcing ‘spiritual’ authority rather than a time for reflection and appreciation. They don’t even use it as a reason to emphasize the importance of living well—death is a reason to waste your time in worship of a phantasm.

The life and death of Steve Irwin reminds us of mortality and enthusiasm and danger and passion. The life of Ken Ham reminds us of how low and despicable and worthless our lives can be if we let religion leech our minds away. Just remind yourself that someday death will whisk Ham away, too, and all he’ll leave is a legacy of lies.


Speaking of insensitive jerks, I’ve been told that Scott Adams also did a little corpse-spitting, had second thoughts, and deleted the entry. The episode has been archived, though.

Needs more arrows

But I like it anyway. It’s a series of charts illustrating channels of communication of science.

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I appreciate the distinction made between “Average Citizen” and “Informed Citizen.” Maybe there ought to be another box interposed between “Mainstream Media” and “The Average Citizen” labeled “Fox News/Talk Radio/Other Organs of Propaganda,” though. And shouldn’t there be another arrow from “Mainstream Media” to “Informed Citizen”?

Developmental Biology 4181: Week 1

I’m teaching a course in developmental biology this term, and as part of the coursework, I’m making students blog. The idea is to force them to ferret out instances of development in popular culture, in their personal experience, and/or in their reading—I’m not asking for treatises, but simply short articles that let me know their eyes are open. This year I’m also encouraging outsiders to take a look at and comment on what they’re saying, so every week I’ll be posting a round-up of links to the developmental biology blog…and here they are:

Feel free to comment on any of them if the mood strikes you, but I am going to be particularly protective of my students, so I insist on only constructive comments. I will ruthlessly delete anything abusive or irrelevant or otherwise distracting.

One other thing we’re doing in the class is working through Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and before each discussion I ask the students to write up short summaries of the reading. Tomorrow, we’re going over chapter 1 and 2, and there are six different summaries up on the site right now:

A,
B,
C,
D,
E, and
F (no, those are most definitely not the grades!). I’ll usually have these things linked up a little earlier before the class, but I gave the students extra slack this time since it was a holiday week. Comments and questions there are also appreciated—if there’s something you think the students ought to bring up in the discussion, let ’em know!

Write letters!

One after the other, I got two requests to promote some worthy causes which need letter-writers to help out. Here they are:

Save wilderness:

Over the strong objections of Native people, wildlife biologists, sportsmen’s groups, and the general public, the Bureau of Land Management remains intent on leasing one of the most remarkable wetlands complexes on the planet. The place is the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the largest single block of wild public land left in the United States.


Save minds:

On Monday, the Ohio Board of Education will hold its first fall meeting. Creationists on the board are hoping to introduce a Controversial Issues Template, which would not only allow for the teaching of intelligent design in science classrooms, but demand that teachers question global warming and highlight the religious right’s opposition to stem cell research.


Don’t just sit there! Do something!