Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Merch that makes sense!

Merchandising! Images from Denim and Tees.

If you enjoy the group science blog Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!—and I hope many of my readers here are also fans of NiB—you can now wear that appreciation on your sleeve. Or on your chest, anyway. NiB is officially launching its first merchandise, including tee shirts and coffee mugs bearing a selection of icons from the website header, and (with apologies to Theodosius Dobzhansky) a variation of the site’s slogan. All proceeds will go toward the costs of maintaining the site, so if you like the work we’ve been doing over there, go place an order.◼


New blog on the block: Dynamic Ecology

2007.03.09 - Gray fox Photo by jby.

I’ve been remiss in failing to note a nontrivial and, one hopes, adaptive* change in the fabric of the science blogosphere: Jeremy Fox, probably the most prominent voice at the Oikos blog since 2011, is striking out on his own with a new site, Dynamic Ecology. He’s already off to a strong start, so update your RSS readers and bookmarks accordingly, folks, lest you miss the next installment in the “zombie ideas” saga.◼

* Apparently some people might be tempted to say that, since Fox’s move is a dispersal event, it is likely to be a product of “neutral” ecological processes; but readers of the Oikos blog will immediately recongize that this is a very silly thing to say.


Science online, #Evol2012 hangover edition

2012.07.10 - Parliament from the river Canadian Parliament, which is apparently composed of wizards. Photo by jby.
  • This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! We went to Evolution 2012, and Sarah Hird tried to decide what to do when her paper was accepted by a “predatory” journal.
  • I’m shocked, shocked! In which Huffington Post and the Daily Mail manage to screw up coverage of dinosaur sex.
  • I’m sure there’s a game theory model to explain this. The ongoing fight between proponents of group selection and kin selection has surprisingly peaceful origins.
  • Because they’re underrepresented, actually. Why members of underrepresented minorities in academia should have blogs.
  • Good thing they’re so stupid. Oppossums are exceptionally resistant to poisoning, and the molecule that protects them also works for rats.


#Evol2012: Ottawa in retrospect

2012.07.09 - Parliament Parliament, viewed across the Rideau Canal. Photo by jby.

I’m now back from Evolution 2012 and in the process of getting back up to speed with non-conference life—i.e., a daily routine that isn’t eight hours (less a lunch break) of listening to people talking about science in fifteen-minute chunks, then going out to drink and talk about the science until midnight. Returning to a schedule in which I can think about the same scientific topic for hours on end is a bit disorienting.

For in-the-moment (more or less) writing about the meetings and everything discussed there, I suggest, of course, contributions by myself and the rest of the crew at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, plus notes from Jeremy Fox at the Oikos blog (with posts for days one, two, and three). And, of course, there’s the formidable feed of updates via the conference’s Twitter hashtag, about which more below.

All in all, I had a great time, and saw a lot of really cool science. This was the first Evolution meeting I’ve been to where I was never at a loose end—every moment I was in the Convention Centre, I had someone to go see, or a talk to go hear. And, honestly, I finished the meeting without having checked in with everyone I’d have liked to.

My talk went pretty well, if I do say so myself. I finished well before the buzzer, and the questions afterward generally suggested that the audience understood what I was presenting. Plus, Pleuni Pennings, one of the authors of a cool series of papers I’d read and thought about a lot in preparing the analysis, came to the talk, and she had both good things to say, and some interesting suggestions.

I’ve posted my slideshow (which, I should warn you, presents preliminary results, and has relatively little explanatory text) online as a PDF document, in case you’re curious.

2012.07.10 - Museum of Civilization The Canadian Museum of Civilization, site of the end-of-meeting banquet. Photo by jby.

The Ottawa Convention Centre was a great venue for a huge meeting, and the critical support—coffee, snacks, lunch—was good, if somewhat parsimoniously distributed. The final banquet at the Canadian Museum of Civilization was nice, but marred by badly distributed (and, ultimately, insufficient) food. The timer chimes—or, as Luke Harmon called them, the call of the Canadian Electro-Frog—weren’t as annoying as I’d thought they’d be, though I do think they made things a bit too regimented until folks got used to them.

This was also far and away the most-tweeted Evolution meeting I’ve been to; it was actually possible to sample what was going on in the other sessions thanks to other Twitterers at the meeting. We’ve come a long way since I first suggested people live-blog and tweet the 2009 meetings, and hardly anyone showed up to do it. It’s a pity, then, that the Convention Centre wi-fi was unprepared for the volume of traffic that inevitably resulted—and which was probably exacerbated by the fact that most of the U.S. residents in attendance were using wi-fi with their smartphones rather than rack up huge bills for using “foreign” cellular data services.

I was also happy to be involved in re-starting “Outgroup,” a meet-up of queer folks at the conference that hasn’t convened since the 90s, apparently. I’d heard about it from Chris Smith, who was at one of the last Outgroup gatherings, and we both agreed it’d be nice to do again. So we put up a handwritten notice on the conference bulletin board, and I put the word out on Twitter that LGBT folks should meet up for lunch Sunday—and people showed up! (Although, as Sarcozona noted, the group was an overwhelmingly male. C’mon, ladies!)

But so I made some nice new connections via Outgroup, and the lunch added an extra level of networking to the meeting: hearing a bit about being out in a professional context back when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell counted as a compromise and marriage equality was a pipe dream; or what it’s like to negotiate a faculty contract in a state where state schools are forbidden by law to provide benefits for non-married partners. I think we’ll definitely be gathering Outgroup again next year, when Evolution meets in Snowbird, Utah.◼


Diversity in Science Carnival, Pride 2012 Edition

Rainbow Test Tube Photo by nezume_you.

The new Pride edition of the Diversity in Science blog carnival is online over at Balanced Instability, where Gerty-Z does an excellent job tying together a huge list of contributions from queer folks and allies in the sciences (including a couple from yours truly). It’s a great turnout for the Carnival—more contributors than last year, if I’m not mistaken, and including a lot of new voices. Go read the whole thing.◼


Science online, Ottawa vacation edition

Ottawa Canada June 2010 — Nepean Point Views  2 Ottawa skyline. Photo by dugspr.

Short list this week, what with my preparations for the Evolution meetings in Ottawa. (In fact, I’m there right now!) I’ll be writing about the meetings with the crew over at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, so check there for updates. In other science-y news:

  • Excuse me, I have some textbook illustrations to throw out. Like, all of them. A new, 150-million-year-old fossil suggests that most dinosaurs had feathers.
  • It’s either God or the missing link. Headlines differ. Physicists announced this week that the Large Hadron Collidor has found evidence of a new particle that could be the Higgs Boson. See also: a good Q&A here, and a great (original) visual analogy here.
  • Can’t make trees into coal if the fungi get there first. When fungi evolved the capacity to digest woody tissue, coal formation slowed way down.
  • Although causation could go either way. The cat-associated parasite Toxoplasma gondii is associated with greater suicide risk in infected humans.


Best. Flash mob. Ever.

I especially like the little girl who climbs up onto a lamp post to conduct.

Fun facts about this movement from Beethoven’s Ninth: the lyrics are based on an eighteenth-century German poem that appropriates religious language for Enlightenment ideals; and it’s the anthem of the European Union, which maybe explains why folks are singing along in the video?

Via Jen Graves at Slog.◼


Confidential to Dan Savage

Are you sure you want to be getting all uncritically book-endorse-y with Jesse Bering? I mean, yes, Bering’s a snappy writer with a nose for edgy topics, and the bit you excerpted—concerning the good ol’ “plunger penis” hypothesis [$]—is intriguing.


This is Jesse Bering we’re talking about. Jesse “gay-bashing is adaptive” Bering. Jesse “natural selection is the only misogynist here” Bering. Jesse “Deep-Thinking Hebephile” Bering.

I mean, I don’t want to be making an ad-hominem argument here, but I tend to think that the point of popular science writing is for the audience to benefit from a writer’s perspective and expert judgement. And Jesse Bering’s judgement is in pretty serious question. (Don’t just take my word for it!) He might very well be a great psychologist—that field is beyond my expertise to assess—but it’s pretty clear that Bering’s knowledge of evolution begins and ends with an exceptionally superficial understanding of natural selection, and, more often than not, he rallies that superficial understanding (but not much actual scientific evidence) for the defense of some pretty damn’ regressive ideas.

Plus which, “plunger penis” isn’t exactly news: the paper Bering seems to be citing is from 2003, and Jared Diamond discussed the ways in which the human penis stands out (heh) in comparison to those of other apes in The Third Chimpanzee, which was first published in 1992. Wasn’t this covered in Sex at Dawn?

All I’m saying is, read that new book with a saltshaker handy.◼


Gallup, G. G., R. L. Burch, M. L. Zappieri, R. A. Parvez, M. L. Stockwell, & J. A. Davis (2003). The human penis as a semen displacement device. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 277-89 DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(03)00016-3


Carnival of Evolution, July 2012

The Mousetrap Photo by annavsculture.

A new Carnival of Evolution is online at the Mousetrap. This edition of the monthly collection of online writing about evolution sorts a long list of blog posts into mousetrap-related themes, and it includes more than enough to fill up your e-reader for, say, the long flight out to some sort of academic conference in the capital of Canada.◼