Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A slight rant about organic agriculture

The scientific blogging community has largely become a voice not just for science, but also for skeptical inquiry. Legions of established scientists, scientists in training, citizen scientists, science enthusiasts, and everyone in between have made it a personal collective mission to evaluate claims about the world at large with an eye towards interpretations backed by evidence. Rightly so, this cadre of skeptics tears apart claims of the paranormal, faith healing, alternative medicine and other quackery in the name of evidence and reason.

There is a sort of "dark side" to all this, however, in that some things get a bad reputation due to their close proximity or endorsement by people who generally accept worldviews contrary to those of the skeptic army. One such field that has a tendency to get shit all over by skeptics is the organic foods movement. One would assume that a movement that largely aims to reduce pesticide use in farming, decrease the dependence on monocultured growing practices, and take a skeptical view on GMO crops wouldn't be too difficult of a sell for most anyone with a basic understanding of ecology. Unfortunately the tendency for proponents of organic agriculture to have a decidedly "anti-science" attitude tends to draw the skeptic community like flies, and they waste no time denouncing these "wackos" and criticizing the entire shebang. Now, it is fair to say that there are some legitimate criticisms of the organic movement, especially with the increasing desire to commercialize and oversell the claims made...but this doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the pesticide-free bathwater!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A return to blogging -or- interesting bug of the week!

As it turns out, moving to the other side of America and starting your PhD program has a negative correlation with posting on your blog.

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But! No longer will this little corner of the internet languish in a state of shameful neglect! I mean, come on I spent like a whole hour making that banner image at the top of the page!

So, without further ado, I resume posting starting now.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Steak Made from Poops?

I pretty much doubt it. Not only is this wildly implausible, the people reporting the story don't even bother to see if the words they are using are actual science words.

Like this quote:
After isolating those proteins in the lab, Ikeda's team then combined them with a reaction enhancer and put them in an exploder. What eventually came out was no filet mignon, but it was edible.
a reaction enhancer and an exploder.

Its like these people aren't even trying.

Now, maybe I could see if "reaction enhancer" was a weird way of saying "PCR", or maybe some sort of peptide synthesis but they put them in an exploder? Come on now, homologous recombinaltion tiniker at least tried to sound like science gobbledeygook!

Salon is reporting, thankfully, that this story is most likely a hoax

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Letter to PZ Myers

 The following is an email I sent to PZ Myers after reading his letter to Emma B.

PZ, I would like to slowly applaud your recent post. If I had it handy, a famous internet .gif would be included with this email displaying exactly how impressed I was with your letter.

As of writing the initial email, I have since found that .gif

I would like to take a quick second and give a defense of South Carolinian homeschoolers. You see, when I read Ken Ham's post, I noticed that the young girl in question was wearing a shirt that says "100% All Natural Homeschool Chick". As a "100% all Natural Homeschool Dude", from the same state as poor Emma B, I must give the disclaimer that we are not all like that!

In fact, the majority of the homeschooling community in South Carolina was either non-religious, or if they were, "religion" wasn't their reason for keeping their children from the public school system. Rather, it was the abysmal state of the public schools coupled with the lack of concern and outright hostility towards public education demonstrated by our legislators.

Given that seven out of the eight children I grew up with that were homeschooled along with me went on to achieve at LEAST a bachelor's degree, I don't want Emma B's mother to tarnish the reputation of the homeschooling community in South Carolina.

Some of us not only are committed to furthering our education and asking questions, but some of us are even scientists!

Also, I really think you should find a way to send that letter to the young girl, or at least her mother.

Sincerely, RZINZ

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why *aren't* there insects in the sea?

This is a question I have been asked many times, and have thought about myself.
Matthew Cobb over at Why Evolution Is True gave his take on this a few days ago

I basically agree with Matthew, but want to add something. I have two main points.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Raw Food, Soy Protein Isolate, and Misleading Claims

Today someone asked me (as I am a vegetarian)

"Hey RZINZ, do you know anything about vegan protein powder?"

I really didn't, but I looked around and found something interesting

Before I post it, I must also give the disclaimer that the site I took this from looks legit. That is, to someone without the proper resources, it looks like a trustworthy authority on healthy eating and living.

Unfortunately, what I found is that at least some of the content isn't just slightly misstated scare-mongering about "bad food", some of it is literally flat out wrong.

The quote below may only be one sentence long, but it carries a lot of meaning and some serious implications.
Here’s the deal: the protein isolates that are known carcinogens are soy protein isolates
Whoa there nelly hold the fucking phone.

This not only literally untrue, but also has the added benefit of making people think that soyfoods give you cancer. Which is also the exact fucking opposite.

Time to drop some motha-fuckin' science

Monday, April 11, 2011

This is EXACTLY what this blog was made for!

so, ERV runs a rather fantastic science blog over at, well, science blogs

she is involved with cool research that is WAYY more applicable to humans than my future work, but this isn't about that


this post is about the newest threat to human life: homologous recombinaltion tiniker

far be it from me to explain this most dangerous threat to our brains; just follow that link (or maybe this one is better),  read about it yourself and return here




as i said, this is exactly the kind of thing my blog was made for

i have been training for this my whole life you guys

here goes! (after the jump, of course)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I guess my posts should contain some "LOL" once in a while!

So far out of my auspicious three posts, only one is even slightly funny- and only because someone got fired because he mis-clicked. But really that isn't funny. Losing your job isn't funny.

So anyway here is something I found amusing.

I am slightly (very) pedantic when it comes to the difference between "venomous" and "poisonous".

So I was rather amused to see these two things float across my radar in the last few days

This showed up after the Bronx Zoo's Cobra escaped, on said Cobra's twitter (I love the internet).

And this lovely gem just came to my attention thanks to the glorious folks over at Fake Science

Beware the Wesson Cobra

Evolution and Rape?

[trigger warning, potentially]

I thought we were done with this, but apparently not.

When people ask me why I am extremely critical of Evolutionary Psychology, it is so easy to point them to articles and events like this- some professor or other decides to claim that things like rape are adaptive behaviors. This idea is, of course, ludicrous for multiple reasons.

I am glad that other scientists (and other entomologists even!) levy similar criticisms against Evolutionary Psychology as I do. One that I constantly make goes along this line: "Simply demonstrating ubiquity of a behavior or trait in a species does not demonstrate or explain its evolutionary origin, nor does it necessarily make that trait an adaptation."

Buggirl makes a similar point-
Sure, all current human behavior has been shaped by our evolutionary past. But to argue on top of that truth that everything we do is not only adaptive, but must have been selected for somehow, is ridiculous and reductionist.  There isn’t any data in these studies that shows that behavior is heritable, or that it conveys fitness benefits.  It’s usually just “This happens a lot. Ergo, it must be important evolutionarily.”
I want to take a second and say something sort of tangential as well.

As many of you know, I am going to be an entomologist.
So I have an insect biology book I picked up a while ago, written by one of the (now deceased) biggest deals in entomology- H.E Evans

I was reading through it and kept seeing "Thornhill" cited over and over...naturally, the only "Thornhill" I knew of was rather infamous.

I did some digging and realized that it was the same Thornhill.
Once again, I agree with buggirl when she says this:
Randy Thornhill is cited copiously through the papers of Shackelford. Who is this Thornhill dude, anyway?
Thornhill claims that rape is an adaptation by low status men to reproduce.  He’s a pundit that shows up on TV to talk about women’s estrus cycles and tips at strip clubs.
He’s an entomologist.
No. Really.
The source of his insights about women and sexuality? These insects.  Scorpionflies.
Wait a minute, Bug Girl,” you may be thinking.  ”This dude used his observations of forced copulation in insects to theorize about rape in humans?”  Why, yes, he did go there.
And I don’t know how he got from point A to point B either, because he seems to have passed through Points Q, R, S, and 42 along the way.
This pretty much highlights my thought process when I realized this, especially the bolded bits- glad to see I am not alone in thinking that this is a very unsatisfactory comparison.

Monday, February 28, 2011

the problem with mis-clicking

so a few weeks ago the entire internet was up in a tizzy about the future of meat, thanks to a researcher who works in my building.

From huffpo condescendingly telling all vegetarians that they should all eat this lab-grown meat, to people generally interested in the idea, to futurist Ray Kurzweil betting the future of humanity on it (among other things), it seemed that everyone was talking about this research, which made me smile. Most often South Carolina is in the news for something horrible.

I even jumped into the fray, with a few posts about my opinions of the science and how it relates to being vegetarian.

What I didn't see reported after the Internet got bored of this story, however, is what greeted me a week ago- apparently the PI for the project had been suspended for "Academic Misconduct"....and none of my lab partners (some of whom worked with this man) knew exactly what that meant.

well, now we know what happened, thanks to Nature News:

Mironov says he feels he wasn't getting enough financial support for his lab or enough input into how the grant was being used. At a grant meeting on 7–8 February in particular, he says he felt that his views were being squashed by one of the grant's co-principal investigators, Scott Little, who is also director of the South Carolina Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and the Institutional Development Awards office.

Mironov sent a very strongly-worded, accusatory email of complaint to Little, disinviting him from participating in a panel that Mironov convened for the 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington DC on 21 February. Mironov says he accidentally hit 'reply all', sending this e-mail to a list of more than 100 people.
This is exceedingly unfortunate, but I have to wonder exactly what was in that email that warranted shutting the entire lab down.

Unfortunately it looks like this is another sad bit of news from good old South Carolina, and it also looks like it puts quite a lid on the PETA-funded in-vitro meat project. Nick Genovese, the visiting scholar associated with this grant, has now gone on record as saying that if Mironov is permanently let go that he will look to other places to continue his research. Right now, the future of "charlem" is unclear.

Let this be a lesson- be careful what you click!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

science funding and the GOP

I wrote this post a while ago on my personal tumblr when I first saw PZ myers' post on it. The obvious disclaimer is that i am pretty left-wing politically.

This doesn't mean I am completely blind to some right-wing issues though; our national debt is kind of insane right now.

So yes, we need to reign in some spending.

Cue Eric Cantor, the incoming republican majority whip. One of his new ideas is to get the populace involved in what should and shouldn't be cut to balance the budget, in a new program called "YouCut". Ignoring the blatant appeal to the popularity of YouTube, let us instead focus on one of the ideas he decided would be awesome for the general public to investigate for wasteful spending.
He thinks that it would be a GREAT idea if the general public were to go in, search the NSF for grants they thought were a waste of money, and report back to him. 

No, I am not kidding