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A holiday chocolate?

Why Evolution is True Feed - 1 hour 18 min ago

But which holiday? This photo came from reddit (I can’t vouch for its authenticity), and was sent by reader Woody, who said that it was “both funny and deeply disturbing”:

I’m guessing it is real, and that they simply wrapped chocolate rabbits (for which they already had a mold) in a deceptive wrap to celebrate a religious holiday.

Categories: Science

Random photos in Delhi

Why Evolution is True Feed - 2 hours 2 min ago

Breakfast at the hotel in Delhi: a dosa (they had a dosa station where a guy would make them to order), fresh fruit, baked yogurt with raisins (a dish new to me) and a passionfruit smoothie. Afterwards I had fresh watermelon juice and a cappuccino.  I ate very lightly because we were going to Karim’s for lunch (more on that tomorrow).

A pi dog on the street. Most revert to this yellow color in villages, but in cities they get color genes from domestic dogs and so are more varied. Don’t worry—it’s not dead (I checked); it’s just napping in the sun.

A bicycle rickshaw driver: the world’s hardest job. I tried driving one once, and it was nearly impossible. These guys work until they’re old, and then they die. Life is tough for most people here.

The reflected face of our motor-rickshaw driver in a terrible Old Delhi traffic jam (it’s always terrible) on the way to Karim’s. Pictures of a meaty lunch at Karim’s tomorrow.


Categories: Science

Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein tell their Evergreen State story

Why Evolution is True Feed - 2 hours 47 min ago

I’ve written a lot about the ideological shenanigans at The Evergreen State University (TESU) in Olympia, Washington, and about how Leftists Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, both professor of biology, were first vilfied, then attacked, and then more or less asked to leave by the University—all because Bret wouldn’t leave campus on the “Day of Departure” to allow it to be occupied solely by people of color. Even the campus police couldn’t protect them against threats because the cops were told to “stand down” by University President George “Invertebrate” Bridges.

Now, in the Washington Examiner, Heying and Weinstein give their joint take on the events, which corresponds pretty much to what I know from other sources.  It’s at once a sad and disgusting tale, and one not much reported by the mainstream media. (Of course, if there were an eruption of white supremacy on a college campus, with black professors asked to leave campus, and then demonized and called “racists” if they wouldn’t, and then mercilessly hounded by the students it would be all over the news.)

At any rate, you can read the 4,500-word piece yourself. It’s fascinating, and I’ll append two excepts:

These protests at Evergreen were not like protests many readers will remember from their own college days. Nor were they like the ones we had participated in ourselves. Both of us protested as college students before the first Gulf War, and again after the bailouts that followed the 2008 financial collapse with the Occupy movement. It was heady stuff, but it never approached violence. And, agree with us or not, we were objecting to policy, not claims of bias that are immune to scrutiny. This was different.

The protesters did let Bret leave[they confronted and surrounded him], but they assigned “handlers” to him and his students. And although Bret was able to have a productive, if tense, dialogue with protesters in small groups, the leaders inevitably intervened to stop such off-script activity.

By the next day, any gains were lost. Protesters stormed the last faculty meeting of the year, where newly emeritus faculty members were being lauded. They took over the meeting, stole a celebratory retirement cake, and said things like “Didn’t you educate us on how to do shit like this?”

The radicals blockaded the library, trapping employees and students inside, frightening several. One faculty member who had participated with the students in shutting down the faculty meeting held court outside the library, telling two faculty colleagues that “you are now those motherfuckers that we’re pushing against.” She told them to “go inside and listen to the students … or take your ass home … Two options: Go inside, go home.”

The protesters subjugated and humiliated everyone who did not fall into line. When they ordered the college president to stop gesticulating with his hands, on account of the presumably aggressive nature of his hand gestures, he promptly did so. When they insisted that he have an escort to use the bathroom, he acquiesced. They hurled obscenities and insults at him and others.

That evening, the same faculty member who had been issuing peremptory commands outside the library wrote to the campus community to say how proud she was of the protesters, and to reinforce an earlier thought from one of the radicals. “They are doing exactly what we’ve taught them today,” she wrote. What do you suppose the response to this email was? Horror, shock, quiet distaste? In some circles, yes, but the only people who responded publicly wrote to thank her.

I believe that faculty member was Naima Lowe, a toxic Regressive Leftist who harassed and vilified her colleagues for not taking the part of the students. According to the local paper The Olympian and other sources, however, Lowe is leaving Evergreen:

Naima Lowe, a media arts professor, resigned Dec. 6, according to Evergreen spokesman Zach Powers. Lowe had been on personal leave since the beginning of the school yearbecause of “online attacks on her (that) have multiplied through the summer,” according to a letter to faculty in September.

Powers said the resignation was a condition of a settlement Lowe reached with the college. She will receive $240,000, which includes final wages and attorney fees, to settle a tort claim she filed claiming discrimination and a hostile work environment, according to Powers.

Here’s an infamous video of Naima Lowe haranguing her colleagues. She seems deeply unhinged, and note that she’s holding a small d*g:

There’s were two other resignations as well:

Last month, the college announced Rashida Love, director of the First Peoples Advising Services, had resigned. Emails between Love and professor Bret Weinstein about the college’s annual Day of Absence/Day of Presence fueled tensions last spring and pulled Evergreen into a national debate over free speech and institutional racism on college campuses.

Stacy Brown, Evergreen’s police services chief who also was a target of protesters, left in August to become a Tumwater police officer.

The Heying/Weinstein article continues with an explanation for the police chief’s resignation:

Protesters showed up at the swearing-in ceremony of the new campus police chief, Stacy Brown, and shut it down. Brown, an officer with impeccable credentials and a good heart, who is herself also an Evergreen graduate, was thus denied the honor she deserved. One faculty member added insult to injury by writing to her to say that police are not wanted on campus. . .

Brown, the police chief, resigned in August, telling us that she had been given all of the responsibility, but none of the authority, to keep people safe on campus. Zimmerman, the ousted provost, testified in a congressional hearing to both the value of a liberal arts education, and to the madness occurring on campuses. We were told, during mediation with the college at the very end of summer, that the college was quite pleased with the direction it was going, and that there would be no veering from the course that we continue to regard as disastrous. We suggested that we could help change Evergreen’s reputation as a laughingstock to that of a beacon of hope, of viewpoint diversity and actual civil rights, in an ever bleaker higher education landscape. The college wanted no part of it.

We asked for leave, and were denied it. The college made it clear that they wanted us gone permanently. And so, in shock, feeling betrayed, heartbroken and livid, we left. We settled with the college for half a million dollars — about two years’ joint salary after our legal fees — a small price for two tenured professorships. Grief takes many forms, and we feel it, but we also feel that we were paid to leave a burning building. Unfortunately, we can do nothing for our many friends — students, staff, and faculty — still stuck on the inside.

The story goes on and on and on. There are so many threads and subplots that it feels dishonest to tell any version without all of them, but we must.

Heying and Weinstein settled with TESU and will not return, but they got only about two years’ salary for both of them. They still haven’t settled on what they’ll do, but I’m hoping that some truly enlightened college hires the pair. Their teaching evalutations (go to Rate my Professors here and here) were both outstanding, and it’s a damn shame that science education has been eroded by Authoritarian Leftist ideology purity. So much the worse for biology students at TESU.

Oh, and be sure to read Heying and Weinstein’s tale of the “canoe meeting” of the Evergreen State faculty. It completely epitomizes the infantilization and intimidation of the professors by Authoritarian Leftist students and administration.

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying

Categories: Science

The CDC bans 7 words and phrases from work conducted by their scientists

Why Evolution is True Feed - 3 hours 48 min ago

Several readers sent me links to an odious new policy implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. This link to the Chicago Tribune‘s article, source of the quotes below, comes from reader Ron.

This new policy was of course forced on the CDC by the Trump administration.  My emphasis below:

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases – including “fetus” and “transgender” – in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

“Fetus”? “Evidence-based”? “Transgender”? These of course are an attempt of the administration to foster Orwellian Newspeak. Why on earth, for instance, is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes” better than “evidence based”? Because of the weaselly words “in consideration with community standards and wishes”? Because the latter means “what some people (i.e., Republicans) consider to be “evidence”.  And that may exclude evidence for global warming or even evolution.

And even if the Trump administration doesn’t like the word “fetus,” well, fetuses exist. What are they going to use: “embryonic full human being”? Jebus.  “Transgender”? That will probably be effaced, or perhaps replaced with “those mentally ill individuals who think they’re members of another gender.” (NOTE: I am just spouting Republican doctrine here.)

But of course this is all to foster the appearance that the CDC is down with Republican jargon, and they’d better be if they want money from the budget:

The ban is related to the budget and supporting materials that are to be given to CDC’s partners and to Congress, the analyst said. The president’s budget for 2019 is expected to be released in early February. The budget blueprint is generally shaped to reflect an administration’s priorities.

Federal agencies are sending in their budget proposals to the Office of Management and Budget, which has authority about what is included.

Neither an OMB spokesman nor a CDC spokeswoman responded to requests for comment Friday.

The longtime CDC analyst, whose job includes writing descriptions of the CDC’s work for the administration’s annual spending blueprint, could not recall a previous time when words were banned from budget documents because they were considered controversial.

The CDC scientists, of course, don’t like it:

At the CDC, the meeting about the banned words was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in CDC’s Office of Financial Services, according to the CDC analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly. Kelly did not say why the words are being banned, according to the analyst, and told the group that she was merely relaying the information.

Other CDC officials confirmed the existence of a list of forbidden words. It’s likely that other parts of HHS are operating under the same guidelines regarding the use of these words, the analyst said.

. . . The reaction of people in the meeting was “incredulous,” the analyst said. “It was very much, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding?’

“In my experience, we’ve never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint,” the analyst said.

Well, welcome to 1984, in which science must be forced into the Procrustean bed of ideology.

Oh, there’s one more bit:

HHS has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. The department’s Administration for Children and Families, for example, archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.

Now that’s just stupid and even vicious. Hiding information about how to get help or federal services?  By God, when Trump puts his little hands into how science is done and presented, that’s the breaking point for me. The sooner he goes the better, but of course Mike Pence is waiting in the wings . . .

Categories: Science

Caturday felids trifecta: More on Max, the banned library cat, why cats show you their butts, and Boomer leaps dogs

Why Evolution is True Feed - 4 hours 48 min ago

Yes, I know it’s Sunday, but I’m writing this while it’s still 10:30 pm on Saturday in the U.S.; and I don’t think we’ve missed a Caturday felid in years. So here’s a quick one.

First, remember the library that banned Max the Cat, but did so in a way that resembled a children’s book?

This is basically halfway to being a children's book

— Erin McGuire (@e_mcguire_) November 29, 2017

Well, has an article on Max that actually shows the trespassing moggie:

Max, who lives with his family just by the campus of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, likes to wander. The animal rescue group he was adopted from a little over a year ago even issued a write-up about the gallivanting feline, saying he’d been picked up after being “out without any apparent purpose or chaperone,” Lipton said.

Here he is, and he’s sweet (he’s wearing an ‘adventure vest’, as he’s being trained to go outside on a leash):

Max roams when he has the opportunity. Lipton says he just likes to be where there are a lot of people who might pay attention to him.

He would pay visits to student foreign language houses, the science building, the athletic center. He’d hobnob at social gatherings — Lipton, a nurse, recalls getting a phone call from a party attendee once, informing her that Max was there — and liked to relax at a local cafe.

And, of course, Max was a regular at the the DeWitt Wallace Library on Macalester’s campus, where his dad is a professor — until recently, that is, when Max was famously banned with a most delightful sign:

“Please do not let in the cat,” it reads. “His name is Max. Max is nice. His owner does not want Max in the Library. We do not want Max in the Library. Max wants to be in the Library. Please do not let Max into the Library.”

Now Max is an internet darling. A local bookstore has put out the welcome mat for him, but he’s now under house arrest and can’t go outside alone:

One of Max’s fans even made him a library card!


From BGR we have the intriguing article, “Here’s what a cat is telling you when it shows you its butt“. Well, what is it saying?

Longtime cat owners are plenty used to this by now, but cats really, really love their own butts, and they’re not shy about showing them off. Petting any average house cat has about a 50% chance to result in the cat raising its tail high and showing off its dirtiest of orifices. As cat researcher Mikel Delgado explained to Inverse, that’s really just the way cats are programmed.

“For cats, it’s normal for them to sniff each other’s butts as a way to say hello or confirm another cat’s identity,” Delgado told the site. “It’s hard for us to relate to, but for them, smell is much more important to cats and how they recognize each other than vision is. So cats may be ‘inviting’ us to check them out, or just giving us a friendly hello.”

Cats, not unlike dogs, communicate a lot through scent. When you pet your cat, you’re sharing your scent with them and allowing them to place their own scent on you. Because cats are territorial by nature, the “butt scent” is one way they communicate who they are and allow other animals to know what they’ve laid claim to. When your cat raises its tail it’s a sign that they’re greeting you in the most intimate way they can, and it’s a sign that your cat sees you as someone to be trusted.

And cat butt magnets! I have a set on my fridge!


Finally, Boomer the Aussie cat, who is a Bengal, has been trained to leap dogs. What a cat!

h/t: Grania, Charleen

Categories: Science

Marketing bros are the worst. Especially when they mangle science to fit their preconceptions

Pharyngula Feed - 6 hours 44 sec ago

Taylor Pearson is this fellow who clearly knows nothing about evolutionary theory, has missed the point of the most basic concepts, but has no problem with appropriating evolution to justify his simplistic versions of business. No, really, he’s got this article titled Cambrian Leaps: One Way to Apply the Genius of Warren Buffett to Your Life which doesn’t actually have anything to do with Warren Buffett, dispenses useless, vague advice, and along the way trashes punctuated equilibrium while praising his flawed understanding of it.

He starts off by praising Darwin and evolution, because his insight helps us understand…marketing.

More than that, it provided a metaphor for many other systems in the world around us. We talk about people, marketing, and ideas evolving in the same way species do.
However, Darwin got one thing wrong in On the Origin of Species, which has an important implication on how you think about evolution as a metaphor for how to change your life.
He believed species evolved gradually and linearly.

Wrong. We could argue about “gradually” — Darwin was necessarily vague about the rate of evolution, and what seems slow and gradual from a human perspective might actually be rapid from a geological perspective — he definitely did not argue for linearity. The most famous illustration from his notebooks says otherwise!

He clearly had branching cladogenesis in mind. What does Pearson have in his ill-informed mind? Apparently Gould and Eldredge’s punctuated equilibrium. But he doesn’t understand that, either!

This phenomenon, called punctuated equilibrium, is the way that most natural systems evolve. Understanding punctuated equilibrium is essential to understanding how to change your life.

The left image is a gradual, linear view of Darwin’s theory of evolution where species emerge gradually and consistently over time. The right image is a “punctuated equilibrium” view of evolution where there are long periods of very little change and short periods of “explosions” with huge amounts of evolutionary activity.

No, that’s not a good model of punctuated equilibrium. All he’s got in his head are two versions of anagenesis, or gradual evolution within a single lineage in the absence of branching. In his left cartoon version, he’s got everything involving continuously at the same rate. His species 1, 2, and 3 are simply chronospecies that blend insensibly into one another. In the right cartoon, there are variations in the rate of evolution, nothing more, but you’ve still got a single lineage progressing into a couple of different species over time. That’s a poor and uninteresting model for punctuated equilibrium.

As well as not understanding the theory, he doesn’t get the facts right.

The Cambrian explosion is the most well-known example of the rapid growth stage of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary history.

Over a period of only 20 million years (a short period in evolutionary time representing only 0.5 percent of Earth’s 4-billion-year evolutionary history), almost all present animal classes appeared.
Before the Cambrian explosion, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells. By the end of that time period, the world was populated by a huge variety of complex organisms.

The Cambrian explosion was an adaptive radiation. That’s different from punctuated equilibrium. Multicellular animals preceded that Cambrian by about a billion years. There was a long period of soft-bodied complex animals that were evolving before the Cambrian. “Class” has a specific taxonomic meaning; most animal phyla arose before or during the Cambrian, but not most extant classes — there was no class Aves or Mammalia anywhere near the Cambrian. This is just a horrible mish-mash of mangled concepts. I’d give it an “F” if it were an undergraduate essay I was grading (grading is on my mind right now, as finals week ends).

But his gravest, most fundamental error is that he doesn’t grasp that evolution is a property of populations, not individuals. It means that all of his analogies make no sense at all, or even suggest models that contradict what he’d like to be true.

This is revealing. He gives all this pseudoscientific background to justify his picture of how people’s progress in a career works. He’s trapped in a mode of thinking that is narrow and linear.

So, because people’s individual lives are not a constant monotonic rise to ascendancy, but have stops and starts, he thinks it’s useful to use punctuated equilibrium as a model.

Gah. This isn’t how it works. Think instead about peripatric speciation.

Here’s a better analogy. Taylor Pearson starts a company to sell polka-dotted widgets. He’s doing fine, there’s a stable demand, he’s got a 100 people manning the phones, pushing those widgets. Some of those salespeople are doing great, hitting their quote, making their bonuses, but others are lackluster and uninspired and just flopping…so he lets them go, hires fresh people, he’s still got a hundred employees and is keeping up with demand.

But a couple of those fired employees get together and resolve to try something new — they start working for themselves, selling paisley widgets. The market is thrilled. They were tired of those boring polka dots, and soon the paisley widget sellers overwhelm everyone, Taylor Pearson is out of business, reduced to peddling polka dot widgets out of a tin can on a street corner. Maybe with his free time he can hang out in the library more, actually reading up on evolution.

That’s punctuated equilibrium. All the observer from the outside sees as they’re digging through the rubbish heaps left by this civilization is that polka dot widgets were the default widgets for years and years, and then fairly abruptly there was a shift, and almost all the widgets in higher strata were paisley. You could decide that all the individuals in the widget population underwent a simultaneous, gradual transition, or you could argue that an emergent novelty in a small subpopulation led to a sweeping expansion of that group and replacement of the prior dominant group. The latter is more likely.

I have to ask, though, about a more substantial criticism than the fact that he’s got the facts and theory all wrong. What do these marketing people gain by slapping an inappropriate label on an observation about variable rates of success? When Pearson says, How To Change Your Life with Cambrian Leaps, what does that mean? He’s attached a buzzword to a phenomenon, but naming it doesn’t suddenly give insight into how to take advantage of it, even if there were some relevancy to the phrase. It’s all empty noise.

And then I read the comments, which were all full of praise for his brilliant insight. I realized that this isn’t about providing useful knowledge — it was about self-promotion. It’s about selling Taylor Pearson as the marketing guy who knows about Science! Unfortunately, he’s only going to fool the people who know even less science than he does, and to the rest of us, he’s just the half-assed bullshit artist who is cultivating an audience of wanna-bes. I guess it’s a living.

Categories: Science

I still have a few questions

Pharyngula Feed - 7 hours 5 min ago

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Trump administration has informed the CDC that they’re no longer allowed to use the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based”. That’s weirdly specific and random, in addition to being contemptibly authoritarian. There’s something funny going on here. I have questions.

Why? This is strangely like telling someone “Don’t think of an elephant” — don’t think of a vulnerable transgender fetus with your evidence-based brain, people! So what are the scientists at the CDC supposed to think when, for instance, they see statistics on Zika-induced developmental abnormalities? As Tara Smith points out, scientists were also given alternatives: instead of talking about science, they should say CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes. So we’re supposed to consider what people wish were true? All right, I wish I had the body of a 30 year old and a million dollars.

Damn. Doesn’t seem to be having an effect.

But I also want to know why those specific seven words. Why not “homosexual”, “abortion”, “euthanasia”, “pollution”, “climate change”, “infertility”, and “tampons”, which conservatives would also find enraging? What specific input triggered the need to dictate censorship of these words?

Who? This edict came from somewhere, from someone who thinks they have the power to police the language. This is really mysterious. The HHS, which is in charge of the CDC, is currently leaderless, although Alex Azar has been nominated to run the show. Azar is an Indiana Republican who ran HHS under the Bush administration, and since has worked as a lobbyist and division head for Eli Lilly, a big pharmaceutical company. His appointment hasn’t been approved, so would he have any say at all? Why would a “pharma shill” object to science and evidence? The Indiana connection is ominous (is Pence tinkering behind the scenes?) but it sounds like maybe, once again, it’s underlings running amuck while the system is rudderless.

What’s next? If they think they can purge a useful, non-ideological word like “vulnerable”, there’s nothing to stop them from getting rid of all of the substance coming out of work from scientific organizations and replacing it with nothing but bureaucratic glurge, which, it wouldn’t surprise me, might be their real goal.

You know, I was also just wondering why anyone would want to be known as a Trump appointee. It seems to carry the taint of corruption and incompetence. I know if Trump tapped me to run the CDC (a position for which I’m completely unqualified), I’d have a terrifying moment of introspection in which I’d wonder what horrifying crime against nature and humanity I’d committed to deserve this rebuke.

Categories: Science

Sunday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - 8 hours 24 min ago

by Grania & Jerry

Good morning everyone, Sunday is upon us. Commiserations if this means back to the office tomorrow.

Out in Winnipeg, Gus is flummoxed by the new Christmas tree, but, being an olfactory cat, he likes its smell:

From reader Charleen, a walrus doing situps with a human:

Walrus Workout:

Categories: Science

Here are our favorite science books of 2017

Science News Feed - 9 hours 18 min ago
Science News writers and editors make their picks for top science books of the year.
Categories: Science

Graphene in zero G promises success in space

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 1:35pm
Experiments testing graphene for two different space-related applications have shown extremely promising results.
Categories: Science

Graphene in zero G promises success in space

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 1:35pm
Experiments testing graphene for two different space-related applications have shown extremely promising results.
Categories: Science

Nanostructures control heat transfer

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 12:42pm
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in precisely controlling temperature-dependent thermal conductivity with the help of polymer materials. These advanced functional materials were initially produced for laboratory experiments. The findings are of great relevance to the development of new concepts of thermal insulation.
Categories: Science

The Skeptics Guide #649 - Dec 16 2017

Skeptics Guide to the Universe Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 8:00am
Forgotten Superheroes of Science: Kathleen Drew-Baker; News Items: Space Policy Directive 1, Group Perception, Ticks Dinosaurs and Amber, Antarctic Extremophiles, Water Cloak; Who's That Noisy; Your Questions and E-mails: Earthing; Science or Fiction
Categories: Skeptic

I have landed!

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 7:08am

It was a long 14½-hour flight to India. The plane food was decent Indian grub, but the movie selection was dire (I had to watch Out of Africa for the gazillionth time). Further, three guys got drunk and rowdy at the back of the plane, and apparently couldn’t be calmed down. I didn’t see the kerfuffle, but the captain came on the intercom and announced that if the three guys didn’t calm down, he’d divert the plane to a place where they’d be taken off and “not treated very nice”, like Kabul.  Fortunately, we didn’t divert, but before we disembarked in Delhi the cops came aboard and took the guys away.

I’m settled in a lovely hotel near Connaught Circus (the epicenter of New Delhi), and two young Drosophila researchers took me out for dinner. Since neither was a “Delhi boy” (both came from other places, and one lives in Chandigarh), I led them to my own favorite South Indian restaurant nearby.  We had a splendid dinner. I had an onion and tomato uttapam, and my two friends had ghee masala dosas, cooked in clarified butter and filled with spiced potatoes, served (as was my uttapam) with three chutneys and sambar, a spicy vegetable soup. I also had a fresh lime soda: fresh lime juice served with an unopened bottle of cold soda water (safe to drink) and a small shot glass of sugar syrup to sweeten the drink to taste. My companions had small metal glasses of strong South Indian coffee, made with milk and chicory.

Uttapam with sambar and three chutneys (the white coconut one is best):

Dr. Rhitoban Raychoudhury and his giant crispy dosa:

A dish new to me, a south Indian breadlike substance called an appam, made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. It can be dunked in both savory or sweet dishes; in this case we had it as a dessert dunked in cardamom-flavored coconut milk. Yum! Note that all the dishes are served on fresh banana leaves—a South Indian custom.

Tomorrow we’re lunching at the old and famous Karim’s Restaurant in Old Delhi, famous for mutton dishes, various kebabs, and their naans (oven-baked bread). Here’s where we’ll be, as depicted by the “Food Ranger,” Trevor James. The bit on Karim’s starts at 10:20, but we’ll also wander these small and fascinating streets.

Then, at 5 pm, Rhitoban is accompanying me on the three-hour train journey to Chandigarh, where I’ll admire the architecture and give two talks.


Categories: Science

Is “celebrity” synonymous with “hemorrhoid”?

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 6:08am

I’m beginning to think so. The latest asshat to have used his influence to engage in sexual harassment is “celebrity” chef* Mario Batali, who then issued an apology for his behavior as his business and reputation flamed out with spectacular rapidity. He’s resigned from his multiple restaurants, he’s lost his TV appearances, and Walmart and Target aren’t selling his line of crap anymore. I’m a little exasperated with the big rich guys who suddenly decide an apology after the fact will rescue their crumbling empires, but Batali took it to the next level. His apology starts out well, but then…

How can you possibly hold groping unconscious women against me? I give you pizza dough cinnamon roles! Delicious!

Do the substitution. Hemorrhoid Chef Mario Batali. You’ll never want to eat there again.

Categories: Science

The star war was…OK

Pharyngula Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 5:31am

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of the better ones, actually, which isn’t saying a heck of a lot, but it does mean you won’t be embarrassed by it, as you were by the horrible prequels or the patent marketing ploy of the Ewoks. It also survived the most unpleasant test of a movie ever.

About halfway through the showing here in Morris, someone in the theater crapped their pants. It wasn’t too near me, so all I suffered through was the occasional eddy of air passing through bearing the odor of hot buttered popcorn and poop, and fortunately I hadn’t bought any popcorn or snack food, so it was only sporadically unpleasant — but no one left the theater. Not the poopy pants person or anyone seated near them. So I think we can say the movie was at least that engaging.

Just a hint of etiquette, though: you may think it’s a good idea to test the dedication of an audience, but still, when you’ve shat your drawers please excuse yourself and clean up.

The burning question, though, is about the plot. No spoilers here, but remember how the last one was practically a remake of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, and you could slot all the characters into analogs of the first movie’s cast, with some of that cast also making significant appearances, and the plot was just “blow up the Death Star”, only with an even bigger Death Star? Yeah, this one shows it’s bones are the same as the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Those bones have been creatively jiggered around, so you’ll still get some surprises. The ice planet battle with rebels in trenches fighting the oncoming, ponderous army of massive imperial battle machines is still there, it’s just been put near the end instead of the beginning, for instance.

It’s such a clone that there’s even a scene where the whiny Darth Vader copy, Kylo Ren, breaks the heart of the Luke version, Rey, by informing them of their parentage during a climactic battle. Don’t worry, though, it’s not something like, “I, Kylo Ren, am your third cousin twice removed” and Rey goes, like, “NOOOOOO. It can’t be!” It’s a little more realistic than that.

Also, the movie is overstuffed with irrelevant side-conflicts and tangents and sudden swordfights which turn the whole story into a sloppy turducken of confusion, but it’s OK, they’re entertaining, just go with it.

The porgs were clearly tossed in as comic relief. They weren’t very amusing. That’s the level of humor we’re working at here, so don’t expect much to laugh at. Do not buy the inevitable porg toys, or I will have to unfriend you.

The primary plot devices are all about Force magic. The hokey religion angle is wearing thin, but OK, it’s a fantasy story, I guess we need to allow it.

By the way, is it now a requirement that every sf/fantasy movie include one character rendered so badly that it breaks all suspension of disbelief? In this one it’s Yoda. He still looks like a cheesy foam puppet made in the 1970s, and his scene just goes on and on. He’s dead. He’s a Force ghost. Let him rest in peace, ‘k?

Bottom line: if I were twelve years old again, I’d probably be saying “This is the greatest movie ever!!!” I’m not, unfortunately, so I’m just going to say it’s fine, light, forgettable entertainment. It would be improved by having an audience that could control their bowels, but otherwise it’s exactly what it says on the label and as long as you don’t expect depth or greatness, and it truly is a nice representative of the Star Wars genre.

Categories: Science

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 5:11am

by Grania

Good morning and welcome to Saturday. Jerry has arrived safely in India after an epic flight.

I’m off to see the new Star Wars movie. It had better be good, but I’m hopeful.

— lee gatlin (@neilaglet) December 15, 2017

In the mean time, here’s an amazing photograph of a frog swallowing a snake, and the full story of the photo in NatGeo.

The story behind the epic photo of a snake-swallowing frog

— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) December 16, 2017

Over in Poland, Hili is reflecting on the long, dark teatime of the soul.

Hili: The darkness of the Middle Ages.
A: Where?
Hili: Outside the window.


In Polish:

Hili: Mroki średniowiecza.
Ja: Gdzie?
Hili: Za oknem.

Categories: Science

How Long Can a Rocky World Withstand the Blasts From a Red Dwarf Star?

Universe Today Feed - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 3:47pm

Red dwarf stars have become a major focal point for exoplanet studies lately, and for good reason. For starters, M-type (red dwarf) stars are the most common type in our Universe, accounting for 75% of stars in the Milky Way alone. In addition, in the past decade, numerous terrestrial (i.e rocky) exoplanets have been discovered orbiting red dwarf stars, and within their circumstellar habitable zones (“Goldilocks Zones”) to boot.

This has naturally prompted several studies to determine whether or not rocky planets can retain their atmospheres. The latest study comes from NASA, using data obtained by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter. Having studied Mars’ atmosphere for years to determine how and when it was stripped away, the MAVEN mission is well-suited when it comes to measuring the potential habitability of other planets.

The study was shared on Dec. 13th, 2017, at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, Louisiana. In a presentation titled “Spanning Disciplines to Search for Life Beyond Earth“, a team of NASA scientists and researchers from the University of California-Riverside and the University of Colorado-Boulder explained how insights from the MAVEN mission could be applied to the habitability of rocky planets orbiting other stars.

Artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet’s upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/GSFC

Launched in November 18th, 2013, the MAVEN mission established orbit around Mars on September 22nd, 2014. The purpose of this mission has been to explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and its interactions with the Sun and solar wind for the sake of determining how and when Mars’ atmosphere went from being thicker and warmer in the past (and thus able to support liquid water on the surface) to thin and tenuous today.

Since November of 2014, MAVEN has been measuring Mars’ atmospheric loss using its suite of scientific instruments. From the data it has obtained, scientists have surmised that the majority of the planet’s atmosphere was lost to space over time due to a combination of chemical and physical processes. And in the past three years, the Sun’s activity has increased and decreased, giving MAVEN the opportunity to observe how Mars’ atmospheric loss has risen and fallen accordingly.

Because of this, David Brain – a professor at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the CU Boulder is also a MAVEN co-investigator – and his colleagues began to think about how these insights could be applied to a hypothetical Mars-like planet orbiting around an red dwarf star. These planets include Proxima b (the closest exoplanet to our Solar System) and the seven planet system of TRAPPIST-1.

As Brain he explained in a recent NASA press release:

“The MAVEN mission tells us that Mars lost substantial amounts of its atmosphere over time, changing the planet’s habitability. We can use Mars, a planet that we know a lot about, as a laboratory for studying rocky planets outside our solar system, which we don’t know much about yet.”

At one time, Mars had a magnetic field similar to Earth, which prevented its atmosphere from being stripped away. Credit: NASA

To determine if this hypothetical planet could retain its atmosphere over time, the researchers performed some preliminary calculations that assumed that this planet would be positioned near the outer edge of the star’s habitable zone (as Mars is). Since red dwarf’s are dimmer than our Sun, the planet would have to orbit much closer to the star – even closer than Mercury does to our Sun – to be within this zone.

They also considered how a higher proportion of the light emanating from red dwarf stars is in the ultraviolet wavelength. Combined with a close orbit, this means that the hypothetical planet would be bombarded with about 5 times more UV radiation the real Mars gets. This would also mean that the processes responsible for atmospheric loss would be increased for this planet.

Based on data obtained by MAVEN, Brain and colleagues were able to estimate how this increase in radiation would affect Mars’ own atmospheric loss. Based on their calculations, they found that the planet’s atmosphere would lose 3 to 5 times as many charged particles through ion escape, while about 5 to 10 times more neutral particles would be lost through photochemical escape (where UV radiaion breaks apart molecules in the upper atmosphere).

Another form of atmospheric loss would also result, due to the fact that more UV radiation means that more charged particles would be created. This would result in a process called “sputtering”, where energetic particles are accelerated into the atmosphere and collide with other molecules, kicking some out into space and sending others crashing into neighboring particles.

To receive the same amount of starlight as Mars receives from our Sun, a planet orbiting an M-type red dwarf would have to be positioned much closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Lastly, they considered how the hypothetical planet might experience about the same amount of thermal escape (aka. Jeans escape) as the real Mars. This process occurs only for lighter molecules such as hydrogen, which Mars loses at the top of its atmosphere through thermal escape. On the “exo-Mars”, however, thermal escape would increase only if the increase in UV radiation were to push more hydrogen into the upper atmosphere.

In conclusion, the researchers determined that orbiting at the edge of the habitable zone of a quiet M-type star (instead of our Sun) could shorten the habitable period for a Mars-like planet by a factor of about 5 to 20. For a more active M-type star, the habitable period could be cut by as much as 1,000 times. In addition, solar storm activity around a red dwarf, which is thousands of times more intense than with our Sun, would also be very limiting.

However, the study is based on how an exo-Mars would fair around and M-type star, which kind of stacks the odds against habitability in advance. When different planets are considered, which possess mitigating factors Mars does not, things become a bit more promising. For instance, a planet that is more geologically active than Mars would be able to replenish its atmosphere at a greater rate.

Other factors include increase mass, which would allow for the planet to hold onto more of its atmosphere, and the presence of a magnetic field to shield it from stellar wind. As Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator at the University of Colorado (who was not associated with this study), remarked:

“Habitability is one of the biggest topics in astronomy, and these estimates demonstrate one way to leverage what we know about Mars and the Sun to help determine the factors that control whether planets in other systems might be suitable for life.”

Multiple survey have revealed evidence of rocky planets orbiting a red dwarf stars, raising questions about their habitability. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (

In the coming years, astronomers and exoplanet researchers hope to learn more about the planets orbiting nearby red dwarf stars. These efforts are expected to be helped immensely thanks to the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to conduct more detailed surveys of these star systems using its advanced infrared imaging capabilities.

These studies will allow scientists to place more accurate constraints on exoplanets that orbit red dwarf stars, which will allow for better estimates about their size, mass, and compositions – all of which are crucial to determining potential habitability.

Other panelists that took part in the presentations included Giada Arney and Katherine Garcia-Sage of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Stephen Kane of the University of California-Riverside. You can access the press conference materials by going to NASA Goddard Media Studios.

Further Reading: NASA, AGU

The post How Long Can a Rocky World Withstand the Blasts From a Red Dwarf Star? appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

How to purge yourself of The Gay

Pharyngula Feed - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 12:14pm

I was darned close to a perfect 0 on the Kinsey scale, exclusively heterosexual. But let’s face it, we’re all able to experience some degree of same-sex attraction — even I could feel a little internal tremor when I saw Jason Mamoa. But no more. I have achieved a perfect 0. You might ask how, how can you too drive yourself to Absolute Heterosexual Manliness? And I will tell you.

I started reading this interview with Matt Damon, who I might once have said was reasonably attractive in the right light. But as I read deeper, I first felt that there was something mildly disturbing here, like, how can he be so self-centered about accusations of harassment? Then when he starts rationalizing about how we ought to forgive Louis CK because he has been punished enough, the self-loathing started to well up. And then by the time he says his response to a hypothetical accusation against himself would be to lawyer up and buy her off, my journey was complete: I now hate all men. Jason, I’m sorry. I couldn’t bear to spend any time with you now.

I thought that was enough. I was now pure. But I didn’t know that Tom Hanks — sweet, avuncular, gentle Tom Hanks — was going to speak up.

He he told the New York Post newspaper’s Page Six column: If you threw out every film or TV show that was made by an a**hole, Netflix would go out of business. I think you do just have … to wait because this is a long game.

Fuck damn. I’m thoroughly suffused with the spirit of misandry now. All of my Y chromosomes are cowering in a dark corner of my nuclei. This might be sorta like a massive autoimmune reaction, and I might die.

Categories: Science

Easier paths to quantum-based techology

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Fri, 12/15/2017 - 11:57am
Engineers have shown that a widely used method of detecting single photons can also count the presence of at least four photons at a time. The researchers say this discovery will unlock new capabilities in physics labs working in quantum information science around the world, while providing easier paths to developing quantum-based technologies.
Categories: Science


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