Welcome to the ninth edition of Scientia Pro Publica.
Scientia Pro Publica is a blog carnival devoted to celebrating the best science, nature, and medical writing in the blogosphere. Submissions may discuss any science-related topic, as long as they are written for a general audience (the Pro Publica part of the title), were published within the past two months, and do not promote the many forms of pseudoscience. The previous edition is at A DC Birding blog. Lists of previous editions and the hosts of future ones are available at BlogCarnival.com, where you can also find a link to submit to future editions.
Please help spread the word about Scientia PP any way you can, for the love of science.
The posts of this edition fall neatly into three categories: biology, brains, and a hodgepodge of everything else. Let's begin...
It is sometimes heard how intelligent birds are - in fact I personally believe crows (genus Corvus) to be smart as heck based on personal observations of their behavior, plus of course, this famous video of a crow bending a piece of wire to get food out of a jar. It's a total must see. (Also recommended is The Crow Paradox on their ability to recognize human faces.)
Juvenile Brown-Headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
But, as Corey Finger explains on 10,000 birds, North America's most notorious brood parasite, the Brown-headed Cowbird, lays it's eggs in nests of smaller species of birds, like Yellow Warblers, who then - stupidly - raises the cowbird chicks as their own. One could imagine that it would be a rather simple ability to evolve, to be able to distinguish your own offspring from another species, which, by our standards, looks quite dissimilar. No? No crow with respect for itself would ever fall for such a dirty trick.
Botany and Birds: The Black Hawthorn
Ecesis of Cascadia, Oregon, is very interested in birds and plants, and here lists the bird species that use the Black Hawthorn as habitat, food and for breeding. At The Neophyte Naturalist.
Biological Engineering. Now in Colour!
S. Gould on Lab Rat explains how genes can function as logic gates.
The harmonious ape
Jerry Coyne, recent author of Why Evolution Is True (book and blog), has a post about a paper in which an experiment with a Chimpanzee suggest it has a preference for harmonious sounds - yet another trait we share with our closest living relatives. This in turn suggests that the human preference for consonant music lies in our genes - yet another trait which is not entirely cultural.
The mystery of the rotating seeds
Katherine Porter of Galley Proofs writes about a paper in Science on the biophysics of rotating, winged seeds, such as the familiar maple seed. In a beautiful experiment, the authors showed that leading edge vortices on the maple seed wing produce a large lift the same way they do on many insect wings.
What to beetles, cuttlefish, and orangutans all have in common?
Zinjanthropus is a graduate student studying human and primate evolution, and on A Primate of Modern Aspect presents three papers detailing three species that share some unusual mating strategies: imitating females and other tricks to get to the females behind the back of the guy who thinks he's in charge.
Why sexual reproduction is so popular
Eric Kuha writes on Spin-½ about a study that tested and seemingly confirmed the hypothesis that sex evolved as a defense against parasites. The idea is that recombination shuffles the genomes so that the parasites have a hard time adapting to become a perfect nuisance.
Fiddler crabs - more than just cute to look at
On Observations of a Nerd, Christie present what might be the most important paper of the year. Or so she says. See if you can figure out why she would say that.
Architecture and Neuroscience
Is there a link between neuroscience and architecture? Surely, but how are the two supposed to be linked? On Dr Shock MD PhD, Dr Shock reports on an essay by the founder of ANFA, The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. I am, quite frankly, surprised that this is a field of research that is thought to be very important, but I do find neuroscience fascinating. I just finished reading On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, who presented a model of how the neocortex works. I imagine Hawkins would have a word or two to say about the neuroscience of architecture.
Romeo Vitelli spent 15 years as a staff psychologist at a maximum-security prison, so perhaps he really knows what he is talking about. On Providentia he tells the sweet tales of my own homeland, Denmark, where Berserkers used to spread fear. Did they go berserk by drinking urine of reindeer fed with a certain mushroom? (I've never heard of reindeer in Denmark before.) Did they imbibe other interesting substances, was their ability to go berserk a culture-specific psychosis, or was it perhaps "episodic dyscontrol syndrome characterized by episodes of impulsive violence and irrational behaviour?"
The Nature of the Neocortex
On AK's blog, AK's Rambling Thoughts, we are treated to the development and evolution of the mammalian neocortex. It's a fairly easy read, compared to most texts about neuroscience, and it is a great place to start learning about the neocortex. For those who want to learn more it includes numerous references/links both to Wikipedia entries and journal papers.
Free Will and the Brain
Mike writes the following on Brain Stimulant:
Normally people who are right-handed would choose to move their right hand 60% of the time. However, when the right hemisphere of their brain is stimulated with TMS they would choose to move their left hand 80% of the time. Even with this obvious manipulation of behavior, people's perception of free will remained intact. They still erroneously believed that they had chosen that behavior by their own cognizance.Ponder that, and read this great post.
Fueling the Future... With Urine and Chicken Remnants
On Mauka to Makai, Kelsey describes how to make fuel from two new abundant sources: by producing hydrogen from urine (e.g. from cows) and by extracting the oil from chicken feathers, blood, and innards. I'm all for it, but... yuck!
Forensic Astronomer Tackles Three More Munch Paintings
On Surprising Science, Sarah Zielinski tells us how a forensic astronomer proves when and where Norwegian painter Edvard Munch [ˈmuŋk] painted three of his paintings, by comparing the stars and other details in his paintings with astronomical data and flagpoles.
Cloaking from earthquakes
On Stochastic Scribbles, Yoo reports on research that has shown that the seismic waves of earthquakes can be diverted by clever use of plastic rings placed below buildings. But, as the researchers say, "The waves are then directed outside the cloak where they return to their previous size. The cloak does not reflect waves – they continue to travel behind it with the same intensity. At this stage, therefore, we can only transfer the risk from one area to another, rather than eliminate it completely." I wonder what they have in mind for the receiving end of the waves.
"The Canon" and Scientific Literacy
On Science On Tap Arj reviews The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier from 2007. The book receives a B+. ARJ then talks about science literacy in America, and suggests that "the youngest (still pliable) people coming up through the education system (...) ought be taught physics first, then chemistry, and then biology."
Organic foods aren't more nutritious
A brief post from myself about a recent paper that, according to research in the past 50 years, could be used to argue that you shouldn't buy organic foods because they are more nutritious (though other reasons might suffice).
The Natural Basis for Inequality of the Sexes
Last but not least, on Greg Laden's blog, Greg Laden's Blog, we are given plenty of good reasons why it would be incorrect to justify gender inequality by comparing us with other species, and we see examples of arguments that he purports have committed the naturalistic fallacy.
And with that, I could end this ninth edition of Scientia Pro Publica, but I do have a few more things to say.
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Greg Laden's post is a rewrite of a post he wrote back on December 31st, 2008, The natural basis for gender inequality. That needed not raise anybody's eyebrows, but it raised mine all the way to the back of my head for a particular reason. The original post was written based on a longish list of comments that I made in an earlier discussion on another of Greg's post about the difference in salary between men and women, Adding insult to insult. I invite you to go read the discussion there yourself.
In other words, Greg deliberately rewrote the post and submitted it to this edition of Scientia, knowing that I was going to be the host.
Let's look at a couple of the things that he changed in the new post. First is his edited reason why he uses those comments:
I've collected a list of phrases that are typical of the naturalistic assumption being applied to the question of salary, paraphrased from comments over a period of time made on my blog. The purpose of this list is to provide an evidence based description of what people are saying about women's salary."Evidence based?" Apart from the fact that the comments are all taken from one person (me), "evidence based" would at the very least require that those comments were accurate. By "paraphrased", Greg really means "rewritten" to support his claim that this commenter committed the naturalistic fallacy.
At this point I'd like to say that the ~24% difference in salary between men and women in the United States is a number based on comparing how much all men earn with how much all women earn. Two numbers, not taking into account how many men and women work for salary, or anything else for that matter. It is not some average of the difference in salary between men and women in the same jobs in the same place, for example. There are, however, examples of women suffering the humiliation of being paid less that male coworkers, and I cannot say loud enough how reprehensible I find that. (One exception might be in jobs where each worker is able to negotiate their pay at the time of hire, but for the many jobs where this is not the case, any differences in pay ought to be removed.)
Keeping this measure of 24% in mind, take a look at what I said in my first comment:
Is paying men and women equally really fair? Women and men are different, have different strengths and advantages, and different limitations. Those are obviously a very large part of the reason why salaries are skewed. Another reason is that it is evolutionarily more important for men to earn money, as money is earned for status, and not for consumption. These differences results in salaries being set differently, but not deliberately. The worth of someone in a job depends on a lot of things, notably more than what can be measured by education and job experience. Does it make sense to eliminate those by force?I can understand why people can take this as a justification for the salary difference, but it was by no means my errand. I wanted to understand what factors contributes to the difference, rather than accept that all of it is due to discrimination (which is what the video in the Greg's first post implied).
The particular paraphrasings include the following three. I first list the way the comment is written in the new post, followed by how they were written in the old post (which is how I wrote them).
Is paying women and men the same salary really fair? The two sexes are different, having different strengths and advantages, and are limited in different ways. Those differences justify the fact that salaries are skewed.Original version:
Is paying men and women equally really fair? Women and men are different, have different strengths and advantages, and different limitations. Those are obviously a very large part of the reason why salaries are skewed.The text has been changed from "part of the reason why" (an explanation) to "Those differences justify."
...in divorces it is the wife who gets the children. .... it is reasonable to consider the higher salary of men as a compensation for that.Original version:
...in divorces it is usually the wife who gets the children. .... I choose to view the higher salary of men as compensation for that fact.I wrote the "choose to view" somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but that of course has been completely lost in translation. (My point was that if I ever divorce, I'd much rather get the children than the money, but as a father, that wouldn't be too likely.) Instead, in the new version it is reworded to be a justification.
Clearly, the salary difference has a biological basis. Until it is thoroughly understood why this biological difference exists it is wrong to say that it should be abandoned.Original version:
Bottom line is that I think the salary difference has a biological basis. Until it is thoroughly understood why there is that difference I will not come out and say it should be abandoned.Greg has here elected to change the meaning from "salary difference" to "biological difference." I do think biology can explain part of the reason for the salary difference, but what was saying is that until we understand why there is a difference in salary, I (personally) am not sure that forcing men and women to earn the same nation-wide is the best thing to do.
Greg's thus changes my words so that they fit better with his story, which is that we cannot deduce from what is what ought to be, aka the naturalistic fallacy.
Another thing that has been changed in the new post are Greg's characterization of my person, which has been completely removed in the new post:
I am not going to fault the person who has made these remarks. I happen to believe that this individual is someone who is undergoing several transitions at once ... a cultural transition moving from one country to another, a lifestyle transition moving from the real world into graduate school, a personal transition having to do with his family and relationships, and an intellectual transition in grappling with behavioral biology for the first time. So, I'm not going to fall into the blogospheric trap of "calling him out" ... presumably on the proverbial carpet ... to cause damage to him and make myself look smart or powerful. After all, my power comes from my extraordinarily high salary (NOT!). All I will say at this time is the following: This individual is a graduate student in the biological sciences. If he was my graduate student, he would not be cruising past the qualifying exam stage with such a poor understanding of the relationships between biology and society. These are not matters of opinion nor are they matters of political correctness. The discussion at hand has a deep and rich intellectual history, and embracing pure and unadulterated naturalism in such a male-biased way (or any way for that matter) as a PhD in biology is no more acceptable than embracing a heliocentric universe as a student of physical sciences. We've been there, done that, and we called it the Middle Ages. That was when the phrase "calling out on the carpet" came into being, by the way.1. Greg and I do not know each other personally in any way. What he believes about me going through transitions, culturally (actually, I've lived in the US for almost eleven years, and I feel quite adapted), lifestyle (I have been in academics since 2003, before which I had a job in the "real world" for two and a half years after I graduated the first time), personally (my wife and I have been married for seven years, and we have two boys of 5 and 2), and intellectually (yes, I am not a behavioral biologist, I am an evolutionary biologist), is pure faith and guesswork on his side, and quite honestly borders on defamation.
2. In choosing not to "call me out" and "cause me damage," that is of course exactly what he does. He does not list my name in the original post, but anyone with half a brain could find out that it was me by reading the post that I commented on, and indeed, someone did call me out by name in the comments. Greg's remarks that I am unfit to be his graduate student (I promise that was never an option for me either), and the fact that I embrace "pure and unadulterated naturalism" as a "PhD in biology" in an informal discussion on the internet is to Greg the worst of the worst. He chooses to follow the politically correct line in not calling me out while calling me out, thus done in the politically correct way. And then, when I am the host of Scientia, he submits a revised version of the whole thing, dare I say, in my face.
3. After reading the original post, I emailed Greg and asked him why he would write all this personal tripe about me. If you think about it, while my comments certainly are a good start for a post about the reasons for the salary difference, claiming that I have committed the is-ought fallacy is by my understanding of my own comments plainly incorrect, and by any other's a bit of a stretch. Be that as it may, I had hoped that Greg would at least acknowledge by email or on his blog that my views had been somewhat twisted to make a point. But the only reply I ever got from him was a suggestion to rewrite my objections and questions to him as a post on my own blog. So at least I got advice.
4. As for the blurb about my person - which I swear was close to making me faint with rage when I first read it - there was absolutely no reason (and no justification) for including it in the first place, which I suppose has something to do with its omission in the new version of the post.
So you see, it seems somewhat conspicuous that Greg would rewrite and submit the post when I am hosting Scientia. I don't profess to know much about Greg, but in searching for answers to his actions, the most plausible thing I have come up with is pure spite. Anyone else got a better idea?
• • • • • •
And with that this edition of Scientia Pro Publica has finally come to an end.
And with that with that, all there's left to say is to take your canvas bags with you when you go to the supermarket.