Leaf-peeping on the run

2012.09.30 - Mississippi shores Autumn on the Mississippi. Photo by jby.

The camera on my iPhone (4, not even S) is really pretty lousy. But when I’m on the last long run before a marathon, it’s the camera I have with me. And it does give you some sense of how colorful things have become in the parklands that line the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to Saint Paul, my regular running route. More photos after the jump!

I like these cities.◼

New words

Climate hawk. Noun. A person who judges that the risks associated with climate change necessitate immediate, vigorous preventative action and investment. Analogous to “deficit hawk.” Climate hawks in the Senate have opposed the bill, saying it provides insufficient funding for wind farm development. [Source: Grist]

Malinformed. Adjective. Ignorant or misinformed on a topic, not through lack of access to knowledge, but as the result of active deception perpetrated by a newsmedia organization, a governmental institution, or oneself. I can’t have a civil conversation with someone so malinformed that he thinks that President Obama is a Muslim. [Source: Slog]◼

Science online, seeds of subversion edition

Sweet & Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds Don’t roast all those pumpkin seeds—save some to plant. Photo by satakieli.
  • This week, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! The evolutionary origins (or lack thereof) of type II diabetes.
  • Caveat: adaptive evolution requires (1) heritable variation and (2) time. Make your home garden more self sustaining, and maybe better adapted to a changing climate by saving seeds.
  • In which “functional” means about 80% of what you thought it means. Further complaints about the spinning of ENCODE.
  • Wait, what? Yes, colonoscopies can (rarely!) cause patients to explode.
  • Yeah, you’re probably going to need to declare that in your conflict-of-interest statement. When your new study linking cancer and GMO corn is also central to your new book and documentary film.
  • Size labeling matters. People eat more cookies when they’re labeled “medium”.
  • But probably not, you know, a causative one. An association between type II diabetes and gut bacterial profile.
  • Paging Dr. Jones … Paging Dr. Indiana Jones. A Tibetan statue brought to Germany by the Nazis was made from a meteorite.
  • Wallace’s online. A new online archive of the work of Alfred Russell Wallace.

Video for the week: “Plants are cool, too!” is a botannical YouTube series. And yes, it’s cool. Here’s an episode featuring University of Idaho (go Vandals!) biologist Dave Tank, who acts as a tour guide through a famous fossil site not far from the UI campus.

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: An evolutionary origin for diabetes?

550d - Bubblegum Bowl Photo by @Doug88888.

This week at the collaborative blog Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, Jon Yoder (my brother) takes a look at the possible evolutionary origins of type II diabetes from his perspective as a medical student:

Currently, around 285 million people worldwide are affected and that number could potentially climb to 430 million by the year 2030. Diabetes also accounts for 12% of all health care expenditure. It is also a highly genetically associated disease, at least Type 2 Diabetes. Now, in type 2 diabetes the individual will have high levels of circulating insulin. Insulin is a key regulator of fat storage. It is released following meals in response to glucose from the meal and stimulates the uptake of that glucose into liver, muscle and fat. It also acts to antagonize other hormones that would breakdown and use the stored glucose as energy. So, this is where I got to thinking, if there is a gene that is linked evolutionarily to helping survive famine, is there a potential link between such genes and diabetes.

To find out more, go read the whole thing.◼

The Molecular Ecologist: Genes … in … space!

(A) Geography, and (B) genetics. Figure 2 from Wang et al. (2012).

I’ve got a new post up over at The Molecular Ecologist, discussing a new paper that tries to take a quantitative approach to a phenomenon that keeps turning up in human population genomic datasets, in which genetic data mirrors the geography of the places it was collected.

It’s something of a classic result in human population genomics: Go out and genotype thousands of people at thousands of genetic markers. (This is getting easier to do every day.) Then summarize the genetic variation at your thousands of markers using Principal Components Analysis, which is a method for transforming that genetic data set into values on several statistically dependent “PC axes.” Plot the transformed summary values for each of your hundreds of samples on the first two such PC axes, and you’ll probably see that the scatterplot looks strikingly like the map of the places where you collected the samples.

Of course “looks strikingly like” is not a very quantitative statement. To see how the new study deals with that problem, go read the whole thing. And yes, I manage to shoehorn in a reference to the Muppets.◼

Science online, roller derby to tenure edition

coconut You’re not hydrated—you’ve got two empty halves of coconuts and you’re banging them together. Photo by Minette Layne.
  • This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! Sarah Hird reports on a workshop, The Ecology and Evolution of Host-Associated Microbiota.
  • And at The Molecular Ecologist: Making maps with R.
  • Applying sports psychology to an academic career, part I and part II—and further thoughts on that theme.
  • Prepare for a whole week of Friday Weird Science. Scicurious gets ready to blog the Ig-Nobels.
  • Endangered species, catfish, and—gasp—American ginseng. What a DNA barcoding study found in dietary supplements.
  • Bird brains. The only thing that drives Creationists crazier than fossils is fossils of feathered dinosaurs.
  • The stuff from the tap still wins. Running the nutritional—and hydrational—numbers on coconut water.
  • Maybe if they drink enough coconut water? Could humans become photosynthetic?
  • Splitters v lumpers, round eight thousand. The arguments, pro and con, on whether to split genus Anolis.
  • Convenient. Turns out that many of the most-sustainable and least-mercury-laden fish species are also better for you.

Still running …

Me, running the Portland Marathon three years ago. Looks fun, right?.

Hey, remember that thing where I’m running a 5k, then a marathon, to raise money for the campaign against an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage?

Well, so far readers have made some very nice contributions—$110, to be exact. Which is great! But I have reason to suspect that a lot of folks still haven’t chipped in. I know, I know. You, my readers, are about evenly divided between impoverished, ramen-subsisting graduate students and the kind of young, hip professionals who just blew their discretionary budget on a new iPhone—but you have five bucks, right? Minnesotans United for All Families, the campaign against the amendment, would be happy to have five bucks. It’s not a lot, but it would add up. The average post at D&T scores a couple hundred pageviews; if every page-viewing person kicked in a fiver, we’re talking folding money.

And what will your five bucks will go toward? More phone banks to make our case to each and every Minnesotan we can reach, more canvassing for support, and, as we get closer to the election, TV ads like this brand new one:

Seriously: go chip in five bucks?◼

The lab is open!

The Best Science Writing Online 2012, the latest incarnation of the Open Lab anthology of online science writing, is officially available for purchase today. This year’s collection includes my “Intelligent homosexual’s guide to natural selection” alongside contributions from many far better popular science writers—including Carl Zimmer, Eric M. Johnson, Christie Wilcox, Maryn McKenna, Brian Switek, Ed Yong, and Maggie Koerth-Baker.

To mark the release, Open Lab series editor Bora Zivkovic and 2012 edition editor Jennifer Ouellette will be holding an online chat about the book, the history of OpenLab, and how the 2012 edition came together. It’ll be over at the Scientific American website, starting at noon Eastern time (GMT -5h).◼

Science online, grafted glitter-berries edition

Swimming with Dolphins These two mammalian species evolved bigger brains via changes in the same gene. Photo by Sagolla.

Give the NSF a piece of your mind

This last year, the Biological Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation—one of the biggest single funders of ecology and evolutionary biology research in the U.S.—introduced a new process for reviewing grant proposals.

Lots of other folks with better first-hand knowledge have written about the new process. The key change is that, where formerly NSF offered two opportunities per year to submit a proposal for funds, the new procedures introduced a “pre-proposal” stage in which biologists write a much shorter pre-proposal first. If this mini-proposal is judged worthy, the applicant is then invited to submit a full proposal several months later.

This effectively reduced the workload (in terms of full proposals) for NSF reviewers, and it makes the funding rate for “full” proposals look much better—as long as you don’t look too closely at the triage (i.e., rejection) rate for preproposals, which, eek. But it also cut the “real” opportunities to submit a grant proposal in half. If you’re trying to land NSF funding in the few short years before a tenure review, that might make you a bit … concerned.

So a bunch of biologists wrote to NSF about this [PDF], pointing out that the new process

  • Creates a much longer “lag time” between submitting a new idea as a proposal and recieving money to pursue the idea, effectively slowing down the pace of basic science;
  • Reduces the scope and complexity of ideas that can be proposed; and
  • Provides less feedback for applicants, which makes it difficult to improve rejected proposals for the next round of applications.

That letter, and followup discussions, got NSF thinking about (or maybe thinking about thinking about) some changes to the new process. I’ve just learned via an e-mail from the Society for the Study of Evolution that there’s a very short survey that interested parties (i.e., those of us who study ecology and evolutionary biology, and might like the NSF to pay for some of our work) should fill out by next Tuesday, the 18th. It took me about a minute. So maybe go do it now?◼