Field of Science

Carnival slump?

What's up? Seems to me the number of submissions to Carnival of Evolution is not. This summer we had one edition with 60+ submissions, but last month is was down to less than half that. And it looks like tomorrow's November edition will be the same, because right now I see only 27 posts submitted on, and some of those are spam.

Are people just writing less about evolution these days? Or are bloggers feeling that carnivals matter less than they used to think, so they can't bother submitting? Is creationism winning, with more and more science bloggers avoiding topics in evolution?

I, for one, am blogging less these days, or months, but I have excuses. What about the rest of you? Are you also inundated with teaching, applications, deadlines...? Emotional upheaval? If so, I get it. Otherwise, you can submit right here.

Get some ignorant science advisers now!

It's *almost* hard to tell whether this republican science adviser is for real or not. The giveaway is of course that republicans don't have those...?

We will survive

For Christie, who writes so eloquently about the pain of loss of loved ones.

I lie flattened, like the weight of his words has literally crushed me. I need to do something, anything to lessen this ache. The thought crosses my mind to self medicate, but I quickly decide against that. Mild analgesics like ibuprofen would be useless, as they act peripherally, targeting the pain nerves which send signals to the brain. In this case, it is my brain that is causing the pain. I would have to take something different, like an opioid, which depresses the central nervous system and thus inhibits the brain’s ability to feel. Tempting as that might be, painkillers are an easy – and dangerous – way out. No, I need to deal with this some other way.

Ayala donates $10 million to science

Francisco Ayala is donating $10 million to the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine - money earned from his vineyard. The Templeton Prize money he earned last year was donated to UCI as well ($1.5M).

Read the accompanying interview about his work and about accommodating religion and evolution:
Q. Is there a tendency in our society to mix up religion and evolution?

A. I am afraid largely so. I think it is wonderful to teach the Bible, but not to pretend the Bible is an introductory textbook for biology or astronomy.

We succeed in keeping these kinds of things out of the schools, but then the impact on the public at large is not as good as you would expect to have. In the last few weeks, two or three of the Republican presidential candidates have expressed skepticism about evolution. And yet, evolution is confirmed as much as any scientific theory, and better than most. Evolution is confirmed as well as (the idea that) the Earth goes around the sun, or that matter consists of atoms.

It's a matter of scientific ignorance. It's a matter of religious ignorance; as you surely know, most religious authorities, most
churches, are in favor of evolution. As, famously, an Anglican minister -- a theologian -- said, (evolution) appeared first as an enemy, and has turned out to be our best friend, because evolution can now explain all of these sorts of cruelties or mistakes that exist in the world of life.

Let's start with a simple example. The human jaw is not large enough for all the teeth. So we have to pull wisdom teeth -- sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three, sometimes all four. An engineer who designed the human jaw would be fired. And yet here we are, saying that would have been designed by God.

Much more extreme and much more serious is the human reproductive system. The human reproductive system is a mess. Twenty percent of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, or miscarriages, in the first two months, because the human reproductive system is so badly designed. They blame God for 20 million abortions per year; there are about 100 million births in the world a year. [Emphasis added.]
If evolution was first an enemy and then a best friend, then how does the negation of a literal reading of the parts of the Bible that speak on biology (and other sciences) not call all of it into question?

No one lifts a finger for Chinese girl run over by van

Without questions, this is the most horrific video I've watched in my entire life. You might not want to see it, but everyone should know about it.

A two-year old Chinese girl is in the street alone (!), and a van runs into her, knocking her over, and then drives over her with the front wheel. After stopping for seconds, the van continues, running the girl over with the back wheel.

Lying bleeding in the street, people on foot and in vehicles just pass by her without doing anything. Later, a truck actually runs over her again.

Reports: 1 2 3

What the fuck is wrong with you people? When did a life become so worthless? Shit.

Many people in China are hesitant to help people who appear to be in distress for fear that they will be blamed. High-profile law suits have ended with good Samaritans ordered to pay hefty fines to individuals they sought to help.

Update 10/21:

The little girl has now died from her injuries.

Please stop it with the commas!

Lately I have been reading a bunch of papers. I'm teaching a seminar course on evolutionary dynamics, taking a seminar course on multidimensional selection, and I am writing a paper on metagenomics that requires a lot of reading too. So I'm getting picky about commas. It's pretty annoying when people overuse them. I don't care whether there is a consensus that it's appropriate to put them all over the place - even if there is, it's still annoying.

People really like to put them after the first word or first few words in a sentence, as if some big a cumbersome sentence awaits, and for which we must be prepared by taking a deep breath for god measure. For example, one paper had this in the first line of the abstract: "Here we describe, the longest microbial time-series analyzed to date..."1 The hell? What is that comma doing there? Much more common is to write "Here, we cluster networks..."2 But to what end? What is the function of that comma? Are we not really doing it here? Here, we are?

What if I wrote the first paragraph like this:

Lately, I have been reading a bunch of papers. I'm teaching, a seminar course on evolutionary dynamics, taking a seminar course on multidimensional selection, and, I am writing a paper on metagenomics that requires a lot of reading too. So, I'm getting picky about commas. It's pretty annoying, when people overuse them. I don't care, whether there is a consensus that it's appropriate to put them all over the place - even if, there is, it's still annoying.

1. Gilbert et a;, 2011, Defining seasonal marine microbial community dynamics
2. Rahat et al., 2007, Cluster conservation as a novel tool for studying protein–protein interactions evolution

Artificial Life 13: Call for papers

Artificial Life 13

The Thirteenth International Conference on
the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems

“Evolution in Action”

July 19–22, 2012, Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan, USA

You are invited to submit papers to the upcoming Thirteenth International Artificial Life Conference.

The 13th conference for Artificial Life is going to be held next year here at Michigan State University. Dates are July 19-22, 2012, and it's going to be a blast, because we'll have great keynote speakers (Benner, Catts, Kerr, Nagpal, Szostak), and lots of sessions on various aspects of evolution (evolutionary dynamics, simulations of evolution, experimental evolution, viral and bacterial evolution, evolution of drug resistance). I went last year and gave a talk on the structure of complex fitness landscapes (pdf), and was happily surprised at the number of evolutionary biologists there. Next year will surely be the same.

Center of the 99% world

The anti-Wall Street protests going on in the states and elsewhere(!) have a website. There you can find your local Occupy Together group - and I suggest you go join them.

What I wanted to point out here, though, is that the map they have on the site with "meetups" has a curious feature. If you start zooming in and keep going, you'll end up right where I live, in East Lansing, Michigan. Try it.

Anyhow, I just thought that was weird.

P.S. Oh, and something about evolution...

Carnival of Evolution #40 at last

The 40th Carnival of Evolution is up today at Kevin Zelnio's blog, EvoEcoLab at Scientific American.

Next month it will be over at EcoDevoEvo aka The Mermaid's Tale. Never too early to submit...