Great Science Questions

Seed has started this thing they’re calling “Ask a Science Blogger,” in which we’re supposed to take provocative questions and answer them here. You know, like those ice-breaking party games, supposed to get the social bonding thing going, foster unity, etc. Only thing is, they don’t quite get the idea yet—they’re asking the science bloggers to come up with questions to ask the science bloggers. “What’s that?” I say, “why not cut out the middleman and not ask the questions that nobody’s asking that we’re being asked to answer? Saves time.”

That’s too mean-spirited, so let’s turn it around in true weblogging fashion and ask you, the loyal readers, to invent the questions that we’ll ask the bloggers that they might then answer. These will then get passed up the corporate food chain, filtered and processed, and come back down to us in a little game of telephone. You know, you’ll ask some great question like “How does a pycnogonid eat an opisthobranch?” and the question of the week will be “How do pygmies greet the opposite rank?” and we’ll all sit here baffled. It will be great Science.

To prime the pump, here are a few questions that I thought would be fun.

  1. What’s your favorite body part, and where did you get it?
  2. How to address the help: EYE-gor or EEE-gor?
  3. How does science help you in the bedroom?
  4. Mad scientist movies: which ones get it right, and which are a kind of wishful ideal?
  5. What mutation do you wish you had?
  6. …maybe we could hybridize questions 3 and 5…
  7. What music puts you in the mood for a little lab work?
  8. When making chimeras, which manimal is best avoided?

I’m sure you can come up with much better ones. If you don’t feel like asking questions, there’s nothing stopping you from answering them!

Speaking of Nazis…

Watch this video of police action against an anti-war protest in Portland. It clubs you over the head with the Nazi imagery interspersed with video footage taken from police cameras, which is unfortunate and unnecessary overkill: they could have left it out, and you’d still be thinking it. The most effective moments are when the television airheads all parrot the claim that the hoses and pepper spray and pellet guns and nightsticks were all applied in response to someone in the crowd “throwing a bottle”, which is already a rather lame excuse…but then you get to see the police making their plans, and it was clearly not a spontaneous reaction to crowd violence, but intentional, organized suppression of a peaceful demonstration.


Tristero hits the nail on the head with his post about the possibility of a National Christian party (NaXis)—as much as we liberals would like to see the Republicans self-destruct under the influence of the Religious Right, it does us more harm than good if it further weakens the Rational Right.

So, yes, Republicans should boot the Bible-thumpers out of positions of serious influence in their party. But no, the christianists should not be encouraged to form a NaXi Party as that could rapidly lead to Very Bad Things which all of us, especially liberals, would come to regret. And let’s not make the mistake many liberals (and mainstream conservatives, too) made in the 70’s and 80’s. The christianists represent a very, very dangerous element in American culture; they should not be ignored, dismissed, underestimated, or in any way encouraged.

Immigration solved, the Christian Libertarian way

Just when you think the lunatic Right can’t possibly get any more deranged, we’ve got Minnesota’s own Christian Libertarian, Vox Day, to raise the wingnut bar another couple of meters. He doesn’t like our president, but not for the reasons I dislike him: it’s because George just doesn’t realize the full extent of American power. The immigration problem is nothing, and is easily solved.

And he will be lying [GW Bush, in his address to the nation], again, just as he lied when he said: “Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic—it’s just not going to work.”

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn’t possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don’t speak English and are not integrated into American society.

Now you might be thinking that this is a terrible idea, and that turning the force of the State against millions of people sounds fascist and not at all like what a good Christian Libertarian would propose, and you’d be right. Mr Day isn’t suggesting that we enable a large authoritarian state to do the work: at the first word of a pogrom, I mean “deportation program”, he thinks a third of the aliens will immediately skedaddle, and market forces and the mob are sufficient to take care of the rest.

A fence is not necessary, for there are other means of efficiently resolving the problem without resorting to such an obviously dangerous measure. Instant deportation policies, employer fines and bounty programs combined with the denial of all social services to non-citizens would suffice to settle the matter without the need to imprison the American citizenry. As the Minutemen have proven, again, unleashing the power of motivated private citizens is far more efficient than relying on government bureaucrats.

Strip illegal immigrants of all rights and privileges, set bounties, unleash the armed mobs, and the immigration problem is solved! Now why didn’t we think of that?

Oh, right. Because we aren’t freakin’ nuts.

(via Yowling from the Fencepost)

The Seed Crystal Ball

Our Seed Overlords have submitted yet another question to their blogulous oracle, i.e., us: Will the “human” race be around in 100 years?

I don’t think it’s a particularly good question, I’m afraid. The answer is simply “yes”. If the question were about prairie chickens, cheetahs, or chimpanzees, it would be a more challenging question, but with a population of 6.5 billion of us, I don’t think there’s much doubt. We’ll be here. The only question is what state we and the world will be in. I’ll speculate a bit on possible outcomes.

  1. We keep going as we have been. The population is double what it is now or more, and resources are scarcer. We continue to tear at the planet, squabbling over what’s left, and we’re wallowing in poverty and war and desperation. That can’t last, of course: sometime beyond that century mark, or before, we hit scenario 2.
  2. There is a major resource crash. The oceans are exhausted, climate change wrecks agriculture, plagues rip through a bloated population, and there is a massive die-off of humanity. Populations drop precipitously, leaving only scattered enclaves. Civilization as we know it ends. Humanity continues, but in a barbarous state.
  3. The optimistic scenario: some cultures practice restraint, using technology to control population growth and develop sustainable food and energy resources. They work to bring about scientific and technological advances that improve their chances for survival and progress. Unfortunately, the whole world won’t do that: the gap between the haves and have nots widens. On one side, population reductions by choice and with little disruption; on the other, population reductions by starvation and suppression and war.

I don’t think there will be any significant biological changes in us. Four or five generations for a population as large as ours just isn’t enough time for major transformations. Changes populations of bacteria and viruses is another matter—humanity is one giant culture dish as far as they are concerned, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some hugely traumatic disease does arise in our near future. I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Expect populations of other large and fragile organisms to continue to experience our existence as a disaster. The only real question of import is how much biodiversity will be lost before we come to our senses (unlikely) or are taken down by a few orders of magnitude by nature (much more likely).

Hey, nobody said these questions have to prompt happy stories.

Happy news at the end of a long day

Take a look at the guest list at next January’s ConFusion—there I am! It’s cool that they also mention Chris Clarke’s pulpy turn (maybe they should have invited Chris to attend). This is going to be great fun!

Not so fun is the way I spent my day: grading. I can at least say that one class is completely done, and my physiology students can now look their grades up, if they want to. I’ll be putting in another long day tomorrow to wrap up the second class.