Home again!

We left Las Vegas on a 12:30am flight to Des Moines, IA, had an hour and a half layover, got into Minneapolis sometime around 7:30, made the 3 hour drive from there to Morris, and now I sit here a little shell-shocked and worn out. Give me a little time to bounce back and Pharyngula will be chugging along with fresh material again.

Now…coffee, or nap?

Remember George Deutsch?

The young partisan hack appointed to NASA, who took it upon himself to filter the science a little bit to suit right-wing biases? It seems he was a demonstrably bad boy.

I wonder what ever happened that unqualified creep? I know he resigned from NASA, I’m just wondering if he has now fallen upward to a Republican think-tank or something, the usual wingnut reward for incompetence.

Nerd overload

My geekishness has a limit, I’ve discovered. We have a long afternoon and evening to kill in Las Vegas before our plane leaves, and we visited the Hilton, which has a huge Star Trek themed room and exhibit, and Mary even offered to treat me to the Star Trek Experience for Father’s Day.

I’m sorry, but it was too, too geeky for me.

Usually, I can wallow in any SFnal environment just fine; I can hang out in comic book stores with the kids, no problem; I’ll even seek out fringe SF and devour it as my guilty pleasure. But a place with nothing but ST memorabilia, bins of tribbles, a blue guy dressed as an Andorian, televisions everywhere replaying old episodes, and clerks in Star Fleet uniforms? I shudder. No, no…too much. I had to turn down my Father’s Day gift.

Please don’t take away my membership in the community of nerds.

YK Counterprogramming

We wouldn’t want to leave everyone with the feeling that YearlyKos was heaven made manifest on earth, so I’ll just mention that Socratic Gadfly is blogging up a whirlwind of anti-Kos sentiment. I think it’s a bit overdone, but there is a germ of truth to some of his complaints.

I’d worry a little bit about an excess of Kos idolatry, but it was less in evidence than you might think from the name of the conference, and what you might read in dKos diaries. Firedoglake, MyDD, Glenn Greenwald, Atrios, and AmericaBlog were all big players here, and the attendees were highly egalitarian, more so than a list of panel members would indicate (this was a real problem, I think; way too many panels had the same people showing up on them, and a little more outreach to respected but low traffic blogs would be a good idea.) Gadfly thinks there is too much groupthink and narrow channeling of accepted views at dKos, but as long as a wide range of other bloggers are accepted at the convention, that shouldn’t be a big concern to the online activist community. I think it’s also good to have bona fide liberal skeptics like the Gadfly barking at their heels to keep them honest.

YearlyKos wrapup

I’ve been off at the big meeting, and it’s been a long and tiring weekend in Las Vegas. It’s been strange, too: we’re surrounded by slot machines and show girls, and our crowd hardly notices them; I took a moment to step outside, and I had to tell my wife, “the sunshine…it hurts…” and we went back in. We were intense, nerdly aliens in a neon world.

It was a good weekend, though. I’ll dump a few of my impressions below the fold.

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That revolting article about earwax and smegma


Not all the email I get is from cranks and creationist loons. Sometimes I get sincere questions. In today’s edition of “Ask Mr Science Guy!”, Hank Fox asks,

I was thinking recently about the fact that wax collects in one’s ears, and suddenly thought to be amazed that some part of the HUMAN body produces actual WAX. Weird. Like having something like honeybee cells in your ear.

And then I started to think about what sorts of other … exudates the human exterior produces. Mucus, possibly several different types (does the nose itself produce more than one type?). Oils, possibly several different types. That something-or-other that hardens into your fingernails. Saliva, if you wanted to count our frequently-open mouth as sort-of exterior. What else?

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Clausen, Keck, Hiesey


To continue a bit of theme, I mentioned that there were some different ways to approach biology, and that old-school systematists with their breadth of knowledge about the diversity of life are getting harder and harder to find. This is something I also bring up in my introductory biology course, where we discuss how biologists do their work, and I mention that one distinction you can find (which is really a continuum and frequently breached) is that there are bench scientists and field scientists, and they differ in multiple ways. Bench scientists tend to be strongly reductionist, tend to focus on one or very few species, and may study just one specific, highly inbred lab strain of a species, and try to minimize environmental variables. Variation is noise that interferes with getting at basic mechanisms. Field scientists, on the other hand, argue that the simplicity of the lab is unrealistic, that the proper study of organisms has to be done in the messy complexity of the real world, and think that variation, rather than being uninteresting noise, is fascinating stuff, the meat and potatoes of evolution. Both points of view have their place, and speaking for all biologists, I think we appreciate the power and necessity of both approaches. The money seems to mostly go to the bench guys, though, which does unfortunately skew the field as a whole.

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Is it just me?

Is anyone else getting flooded with email spam? More than the usual, that is…I’m getting 5-10 thousand heavily randomized and seeming pointless email messages an hour right now. I’ve tweaked my filters a bit to get rid of most of it, but some still leaks through, and it’s rather disturbing to see the numbers on the junk mail folder ticking upwards at such a rate.

I think I despise anti-environmentalists as much as I do anti-evolutionists


Ah, the libertarian extremists have found my site and are making comments. It’s a peculiar pathology that thinks environmentalism is an evil plot, that planning is communism/socialism, and that Jesus was a good capitalist. It is particularly irksome to try and deal with people who are so far gone that they deny science warning them of environmental dangers and impending problems.

How irksome? Imagine that a scientist and one of these deranged libertarian right-wing anti-environmentalist science deniers go out for a drive one day…

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