Science online, visibly relevant edition

Dandelion Dandelions are packed with yummy glucosinolates. Photo by nothingtosay.

The Molecular Ecologist: Relentless Evolution

Medium Ground-Finch (Geospiza fortis) Darwin’s finches, like this medium ground finch, are a prime example of what John Thompson calls “relentless evolution.” Photo by David Cook Wildlife Photography.

When I was just starting graduate school, one of the first things I wanted was readings to get me up to speed on the current state of research on the evolution of interactions between species. My dissertation advisor handed me The Geographic Mosaic of Coevolution, by John Thompson (who, it should be said, had been my advisor’s postdoctoral mentor). Thompson turned out to be just the author for the job, wrangling a huge body of research into a clear, straightforward text, and all in support of his argument that metapopulation dynamics—populations linked by migration across a landscape of varied environments—are the engine driving much of evolution.

Now, Thompson’s published a new book, titled Relentless Evolution, which pretty much picks up where The Geographic Mosaic left off. And I’ve reviewed it for The Molecular Ecologist.

Gould’s “paradox of the visibly irrelevent” holds that, if we are to understand the river of evolutionary history, we must look below the spume and spray of year-to-year adaptative change to find the deeper currents that can, over time, carve canyons. In his new book Relentless Evolution (University of Chicago Press, $35.00 in paperback), John N. Thompson makes the opposing argument with gusto: To Thompson, studying the roiling eddies that Gould dimissed as transient and superficial is the only way to understand the deeper currents, and the river’s course ahead of us.

Should you run out and buy a copy? If you’re even slightly on the fence, I suggest you go read my whole review.◼

Science online, on the road edition

2006.06.19 - departure lounge Barnacles. Photo by jby.

Science online, where no one has gone before edition

To the best of my knowledge, Spock never scanned sushi. Image via Frankie’s Soapbox.


IMG_6311 The dome of the Minnesota State Capitol. Photo by ckschleg.

Almost exactly six months after the election in which Minnesotans decided they didn’t want their state constitution to ban the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, their elected representatives provided that very recognition.

Last Thursday the state House passed a bill allowing the state to recognize same-sex couples in all the same ways it recognizes straight couples; today the Senate passed it, too; and tomorrow Governor Dayton will sign it into law. It’s almost exactly two years since another bunch of state legislators passed bills to amend the state constitution with a ban on same-sex marriage—which makes this some kind of record turn-around.

Of course, that turnaround happened because those two years contained an uprecedented campaign against the amendment by Minnesotans United for All Families leading up to a huge get-out-the-vote effort on election day that, incidentally, also saw the Democratic Farm Labor party take control of both houses of the state legislature. Almost immediately after the election, MNUnited moved to take advantage of the new, friendlier state government, re-tooling into a lobbying effort for the legislative measures that just passed.

I wasn’t anywhere near as closely involved in that new effort as I was in the campaign against the amendment—I made a couple donations, but otherwise stayed home and kept an eye on the news. This time round the action was in lobbying legislators, and I’d already helped get the out the votes to win DFL control of the legislature, and both my state rep and my state senator were co-sponsors on the House and Senate versions of the bill. Once again, a bunch of distant strangers were voting on the fullness of my citizenship—only this time the group of strangers was smaller, we already knew how most of them would vote, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of use calling up representatives and senators on whom I had no electoral claim. But the folks who did the work behind the scenes—and the folks who did call legislators and show up to rallies at the state capitol and generally keep up the pressure once the bills had been introduced into committee—made it happen.

This is far from the end of the struggle to achieve full equality before the law for all queer Americans—notably, there are 38 other states and at least one big Supreme Court decision to go, just on the single issue of civil marriage.

But it’s a mighty big step for the state of Minnesota—and it feels like we might just be riding the historical moment of inflection for the rest of the nation.

Edited to add: here, via the Minnesota Public Radio YouTube channel (with hat-tip to Joe My God), is what things looked like in the Capitol rotunda after the Senate’s vote today:

Because, duh.

Science online: Opening lab closets everywhere edition

weather Do we have enough time to teach conservatives about climate science before the storm hits? Photo by oldbilluk.

“This is water,” now in convenient filmic format

Via Slate’s Brow Beat blog, and just in time for graduation season, David Foster Wallace’s perennially apt commencement address has been adapted into a video.1

And, lest you think that this only applies to all those bright-eyed twenty-year-olds in the silly hats, see also.◼

1 There are actual, onscreen footnotes, even though I’m pretty sure the original didn’t have any, but I guess they’re there because, DFW.

Holy poop! Scicurious is pseudonymous no more

Super-blogger Scicurious is taking off the mask. Metaphorically speaking.

Her full statement is over at her Scientific American blog.

I’ve known Scicurious as an Internet friend for years now, even met her at ScienceOnline, and gone running with her, and I never knew “real” name. She was totally cool about the use of the pseudonym, politely but firmly protective of her other identity. But it’s still very nice to meet Bethany Brookshire. It feels, just a little bit, like she’s come out of … well, maybe not the closet. Some sort of smaller-than-necessary, confining space with opaque walls. Er.

Anyway: Congratulations, Bethany! It turns out that I love your work.◼

New project: Surveying LGBTQ folks working in science

Rainbow leds Photo by Julio Martinez.

I’m pleased and excited to announce that a project I’ve been working on for the last few months is finally ready to launch: A new, nationwide survey of queer folks working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

You may recall that back when I hosted the first Pride Month edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival, one of the recurring themes was that, although we know lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and trans* folks work in STEM fields, our presence isn’t very visible. A few months ago, I started poking around the peer-reviewed literature, looking for studies of LGBT folks in science. I didn’t find much. Studies of LGBT folks in academia either focus primarily on undergraduate students, or consider faculty and staff across all academic disciplines as a group, or they consider very small, localized samples. And careers in STEM extend well beyond the campuses of research universities—what about folks outside the ivory tower?

I brought this up with my friend Allison Mattheis, who just happens to be the perfect person to talk to about this kind of thing: she’s just finished a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, and who is starting a faculty position in the College of Education at California State University Los Angeles this fall. Together we decided that, yes, there’s a real gap in the existing literature—and we want to close that gap.

So, in our not-very-considerable spare time, Alli and I have been putting together the first stage of a study to answer the questions we have about queer folks in STEM: who we are, what we study, and how our identities have shaped our interest in science and our experiences of working in research. That first stage is an online survey, which we’re hoping to distribute as widely as possible using a strategy called (heh) “snowball sampling”—asking folks who take the survey to pass it on to their friends and colleagues.

As of today, that survey is live and accepting responses at a dedicated website, If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*, have at least a Bachelor’s or technical degree, and are currently working in a STEM field in any capacity—from grad school to tenure-track faculty to corporate R&D to government employees to teachers—then we want to hear from you. Go take the survey, and then help us spread the word by sharing the short-link on Facebook and Google Plus, tweeting it (with the hashtag #QueerSTEM, if you please), or e-mailing it to folks who should contribute.

The plan is to leave the survey open for sampling until we’re satisified that we’ve collected a large, thorough sample of queer folks working in STEM in the U.S. I’ll share prelminary results as they become available—both here and on the blog at—and, with any luck, we’ll ultimately publish what we find in an appropriate scholarly journal. We’re very excited to see the picture of sexual diversity in scientific careers that emerges from this work.◼