The Roolz reiterated

On the sidebar you will see a document called “Da Roolz!,” which gives guidelines for posting at this site (you can also access it here). I guess I have to call attention to it from time to time, as people may not see it.

I want to mention the two Roolz that continue to be violated most frequently:

7.  Try not to dominate threads, particularly in a one-on-one argument. I’ve found that those are rarely informative, and the participants never reach agreement. A good guideline is that if your comments constitute over 10% of the comments on a thread, you’re posting too much.

12. I am glad to receive items from readers, though at times their number is a bit overwhelming! But many of my posts come from those contributions, and I try to remember to h/t readers if I use their contributions. (Sometimes I forget this acknowledgment—in which case my apologies.) If you send me a link and I don’t write about it, please do not feel bad. I get many more tips, photos, and other stuff than I can possibly use, and have to choose. But please do not send me items asking me to post them, or saying, “I think this would make a great post for your site.” That feels a bit presumptuous and coercive, and, as readership grows, I’m starting to get these requests more frequently. Also, please do not ask me to publicize your or your friend’s book, business, or any other endeavor.  If you want to call something interesting to my attention—and of course it must be of potential  interest not just to me, but to readers—that is great, but don’t ask me to post things.

I continue to receive requests from people to publicize their books or posts on their websites. Likewise, I get items which readers say (or imply) that I should post about because they’re of general interest.  Please let me make that determination; I don’t like to be pressured, even slightly.

I will work on Da Roolz as things develop, but I’d like to add one more thing—not a binding rule, but a request. If you want to criticize my views on my site, or link to a post on your own site in which  you do the same, please have the guts to use your own name. So often these comments or websites are pseudonymous, and I consider that cowardice. Stand behind words. It simply cannot be true that every one of these critics have really good reasons to hide their real names. Some of them may, but I suspect that people, freed from the responsibility of having their words associated with their names, simply hide behind a pseudonym.  If I can espouse strong and unpopular views under my real name, so can many of you.

It’s squirrel week

. . . at least, according to reader Melissa, it is at the Washington Post, which is running a number of articles on squirrels that are really interesting and funny.  I think Squirrel Week ends today, but it may already be over. Happily, the articles remain. It appears to be the creation of reporter John Kelly, who is clearly obsessed with these adorable rodents.

You particularly want to click on the “Ask a Squirrel Expert” link, where, for a next week, you could ask squirreley questions of Kelly and Dr. Etienne Benson of the University of Pennsylvania. (Benson, curiously, is not a biologist, but an assistant professor of the history and sociology of science. He has a really nice article in the Journal of American History [free online] on “The urbanization of the eastern gray squirrel in the United States“, and you’ll want to read it if, like me, you love these wily little rodents.)

Here’s a sample of the Q&A:

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 9.19.14 AM

The link to the Canadian origin of black squirrels is here.


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The link to the piece of squirrel/birdseed wars is here.


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There’s also a Squirrel Photo Contest. Here’s the winner and a description:

The winner was Ian Richardson, a retired aeronautical engineer and church administrator who lives with his wife at Leisure World in Lansdowne, Va. Ian is an avid amateur photographer. He was out taking a walk on the grounds of Leisure World when he spied a squirrel going in and out of a hole in the trunk of a dead tree. He set his Nikon D600 — fitted with a Sigma 300-800mm telephoto lens — on a tripod and, he said, “happened to be lucky enough to catch two of them trying to do it at the same time.”

Ian professed no special affection for squirrels. “They’re kind of cute, but a nuisance,” he said.


A few other entries:

‘Rocky Rocking the Red Leaf’ This little squirrel is wearing its Easter bonnet in this photo by Melissa Leone.  /Melissa Leone

‘Rocky Rocking the Red Leaf’ This little squirrel is wearing its Easter bonnet in this photo by Melissa Leone.

‘Flying Squirrel’ Photographer Yvonne Landis wrote, “This squirrel was taking a flying leap from a nearby fence post to get to the woodpecker feeder. He had made two previous attempts, giving me time to grab my camera. He did stick the landing on this jump.”

‘Flying Squirrel’ Photographer Yvonne Landis wrote, “This squirrel was taking a flying leap from a nearby fence post to get to the woodpecker feeder. He had made two previous attempts, giving me time to grab my camera. He did stick the landing on this jump.”

‘Squirrel Television’ Wrote Kim O’Keefe: “Our three-legged cat, Patrick Swayze, catches the latest episode of ‘Squirrel Television’ from our deck.”

‘Squirrel Television’ Wrote Kim O’Keefe: “Our three-legged cat, Patrick Swayze, catches the latest episode of ‘Squirrel Television’ from our deck.”


‘Stealing the Bird Food’ “Of course, the squirrels love to eat any food put out for the birds,” wrote Diana Root. This one is intent on snacking.

‘Stealing the Bird Food’ “Of course, the squirrels love to eat any food put out for the birds,” wrote Diana Root. This one is intent on snacking.



Sunday: Hili dialogue

This afternoon I head back to Chicago, but first will visit the local colony of burrowing owls.

Meanwhile, life goes on in Dobrzyn, and here Hili reads an article on Listy by Leo Igwe about witchcraft in Ghana.

Hili: Are there really people who believe in witchcraft?
A: Millions.
Hili: How does the human mind work?

In Polish:
Hili: Czy naprawdę są ludzie, który wierzą w czary?
Ja: Miliony.
Hili: Jak działa ludzki umysł?

Moar homeopathy in Davis

I remained curious about the statement “*scientifically tested” that appeared on the homeopathic remedies sold at the Davis Food Co-op, which rips off its customers with a whole array of overpriced placebos. So, passing the store today, I went in to see what the asterisk indicated.

Here’s just a small portion of the quackery on tap:

Array of medicines

Here’s one LOLzy brew whose photo I posted before: EMF (electromagnetic field) remedy, which purports to detox your body from all the damage done to it by your computer and cellphone. Notice the “scientifically tested” statement by the asterisk. That’s what I went back to find out about. This shot is from Amazon, which also sells the stuff (shame be upon them):

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 5.56.33 AM

The ingredients: water and ethanol. It’s vodka! Right next to EMF is LD, which will detox your liver.


Here’s the answer, which is a non-answer. What does “testing in accordance with scientific homeopathic methodology” mean? Controlled double-blind testing? Somehow I don’t think so.

EMF Science

And here’s what all the quackery should be replaced with: slightly diluted solutions of ethanol, hops, and malt. There’s no pretense that it cures what ails you, but it helps you forget those ills. This is the amazing selection of beers at the Food Co-Op, whose effects the Liver Detox nostrum is supposed to remedy:

Real cures


A lovely fossilized beetle

Reader Ant sent me a link to this photo and short article from ZME Science showing a beetle that is way, way old, with jeweled exoskeleton nicely preserved. The caption (the website is starting a “Fossil Friday” feature):

So, here’s a jewel beetle from the Messel Pit, Germany, 47 million years old. It’s fossilized in such a way that it maintains its iridescence and you can still see the contour of the exoskeleton – stunning!

Image via Reddit user archaeopteryxx.




Readers’ wildlife photos

Stephen Barnard continues the saga of the bald eagle nest that was built in the middle of a great blue heron rookery. Apparently the eagle chicks have hatched, but haven’t been seen yet.

This is the male eagle guarding nest area, perched on an abandoned heron nest. These birds have sexually dimorphic behaviors. I haven’t seen the female off the nest in many weeks. She’s incubated eggs in some very cold weather. The male is active, fishing for the female and now for the eaglets, and when he’s not fishing (most of the time) he’s on guard for intruders. The herons have given up on the rookery. That’s sad, but life goes on. They’ve moved to build another rookery across a field, but they probably won’t have a good breeding season. Someday the eagle nest will blow down — it’s not sited well — and they’ll move and the herons will move back in, and I may live to see it.

Guarding eagle~*~

What Ayaan Hirsi Ali would have said

The Wall Street Journal’s “Opinion” section has an abridged versions of the remarks Ayaan Hirsi Ali would have delivered had her honorary degree at Brandeis University not been revoked out of the University’s fear of Islamic opprobrium.

They are hardly inflammatory; indeed, they are stirring and inspirational. Their publication shows Brandeis up for the craven and cowardly institution it is. Read them all; here’s an excerpt (my emphasis):

Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.

Sadly, the list could go on. I hope I speak for many when I say that this is not the world that my generation meant to bequeath yours. When you were born, the West was jubilant, having defeated Soviet communism. An international coalition had forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The next mission for American armed forces would be famine relief in my homeland of Somalia. There was no Department of Homeland Security, and few Americans talked about terrorism.

Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women’s basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.

Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.

. . .When there is injustice, we need to speak out, not simply with condemnation, but with concrete actions.

One of the best places to do that is in our institutions of higher learning. We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged. I’m used to being shouted down on campuses, so I am grateful for the opportunity to address you today. I do not expect all of you to agree with me, but I very much appreciate your willingness to listen.

I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.

The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.

So I ask: Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? Is it blasphemy—punishable by death—to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era? Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation.

Is such an argument inadmissible? It surely should not be at a university that was founded in the wake of the Holocaust, at a time when many American universities still imposed quotas on Jews.

The motto of Brandeis University is “Truth even unto its innermost parts.” That is my motto too. For it is only through truth, unsparing truth, that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes.

How horribly strident! Good thing that Brandeis nipped these dreadful, Muslim-bashing remarks in the bud!

Look at the paragraph I put in bold. Does that call for the elimination of Islam? Hardly; it calls for a reformation of Islam’s inherent and pervasive misogyny.

The publication of her abridged speech shows what a terrible misstep Brandeis has made. And it shows once again that the thuggery of some Muslims—the implicit threat carried in their opposition to these palpably true accusations—is highly effective at cowing Western liberals.

h/t: Gregory

What we’re up against: Weekly roundup of creationist comments

It was a big week for creationists trying to comment on this website (there was lots of other craziness too), so I can present only a short selection:

From creationist dentist Don McLeroy, once head of the Texas State Board of Education when it was trying to purge evolution from state biology textbooks. I asked him to present the evidence he had for the existence of God.  Here’s his answer, in an attempted comment on my post “The New Cosmos”:

Don McLeroy

Sorry for not getting back sooner. For a starter I will give you the first apologetic (EVIDENCE) that I teach my fourth grade Sunday School class: Look at the Jew. There is no naturalistic explanation for their prominence in world affairs today. Check out Deuteronomy 28-30–especially “That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.” Deu 30:3 This is pretty amazing!

Yeah, look at the Jew! No naturalistic explanation for their prominence in world affairs? What about the cultural emphasis on education and achievement?


A reader commenting on the post “The tracks of a ghost“:


where is the recantation by the faithful followers of Darwinian evolution?
the Tiktaalik was hailed as the “missing link” of transitional form from sea creature to land animal by Darwinian evolutionary scientists (oxymoron). Now that tetrapod tracks were found “20 million years before the Tiktaalik”, proof to a Darwinian evolutionary scientist that the Tiktaalik was NOT “the missing link”, and that Tiktaalik was just a fish similar to fish in our days (just as it was Designed), we can confirm again that there is No evidence for Darwinian evolution.
Darwinian evolution is just a Non-Scientific Belief of no God, with No Observable Scientific Evidence, created by the imagination of men to avoid their accountability to our Creator.

We’re not sure about those earlier tetrapod tracks, and even if they are real, Tiktaalik wasn’t touted as the one species all of whose descendants were the tetrapods, but simply as a transitional form that may have been related to that one common ancestor. But surely Tiktaalik was more than a fish; if you don’t see its transitional features between fish and amphibians, you haven’t read Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish. And “Spike’s” claim that there is no evidence for Darwinian evolution shows him to be profoundly ignorant. To fix that, all he has to do is read either my book or Dawkins’s on this topic.


A reader commenting on, ironically enough, March 29′s “Weekly craziness from readers“:

John Voris

Evolution has many logical gaps that science ignores in their overly zealous energy to promote atheism.

Science is about visible, physical evidence, while we live and die for the invisible and abstract ideas. This is obvious to anyone which is why the world looks to religion for answers.

Most know that science left objective reporting long ago. Real facts have been filtered by Liberalism before reaching the public. While the physical sciences have performed miracles in pharmaceuticals evolutionists have lost credibility in explaining the human condition. Our humanity and psychologism tell us that evolution is misleading if not wrong altogether. (Where are all the missing links)

Yeah, where are all the “missing links”?  What you mean, John, is “transitional forms,” and there are plenty of them. Have you done the slightest bit of investigation, or has your religion blinded you to their existence. If you’re open-minded, try here. I’m curious, though, how our “humanity and psychologism” show that evolution is misleading.


A reader commenting on “Trigger warning for EVOLUTION at children’s science center“:


I believe that evolution is science trying to explain what GOD does. And as far as atheists go: they don’t believe that God exists. But as far as God is concerned, atheists DON’T EXIST!!!

I don’t know; I just looked in the mirror and I’m pretty sure I’m here. Can’t God see me? I’ve heard this comment before about God not believing in atheists, and I’ve never understood it.


Finally, a reader concerned with the afterlife comments on “‘In Heaven, everybody’s young’: a new movie proving Heaven“:


I’ve read several accounts where in Heaven everyone is young? The exact age is unknown? But I am with you, Liz! I am looking forward to seeing my loved ones again, no matter what age we are. Thank you very much for sharing Joe’s book as well. Looks fantastic.

No comment.


The common theme of these and many creationist comments seems to be the lack of “missing links”, which of course are nearly impossible to find because they represent a single species whose descendants split into the two “linked” groups: say, humans versus other apes. But we don’t need to find a single species. As I discuss in my book, “transitional forms” that occur at the right time, and combine the characteristics of the two linked groups, are great evidence for common ancestry. And those we have in surfeit: intermediates between early fish and amphibians (e.g., Tiktaalik), between early amphibians and reptiles, between early reptiles and early mammals (the “mammal-like reptiles”), between theropod dinosaurs and early birds, between ancient artiodactyls and early whales, and, of course, between early humans with characteristics intermediate to those of ancient apes and modern humans. Australopithecus, for instance, had a head with the brain about the size of a modern chimp sitting atop a postcranial skeleton that was distinctly similar to that of modern humans. How often do I have to say this, and show the fossils, before people listen?

But of course their ears are stopped with verses from the Bible. ~

Will humans become two subspecies?

UPDATE: I’ve heard from Dr. Curry about this piece; he’s appalled that it was published and explains the situation:

I’m sorry that you had to waste some of your valuable time dealing with the old news story about the future of human evolution. The story purports to be about my ‘research’ on the future of human evolution; it is in fact a PR stunt by the television company Bravo. The real story is that, back in 2006 I was commissioned by Bravo to write an essay on the future of humanity. The essay was science fiction, intended to illustrate some aspects of evolutionary theory to an audience of television executives. It was not serious academic research, let alone a prediction about our actual future(!). However, Bravo put out a sensationalist press release about the essay, portraying it as science fact, and this press release was subsequently reproduced by the media (including the BBC). I watched in horror as the story spread around the world, and I am equally horrified each time the story bubbles up on the ‘most read’ list on the BBC homepage (as it does every few years, for reasons that are mysterious to me, as it did again the other day, hence your flurry of emails). As I am sure you can imagine, this is a recurring professional nightmare for me; and I am grateful to you for correcting some of the misunderstandings that the story has generated.


I haven’t read the paper that this BBC article refers to, nor do I know whether it’s even been published in the scientific literature, but several readers sent me this piece and wanted my take on it. Since it’s from 2006, I’m not sure why several readers sent it simultaneously.

The piece at BBC News is given the provocative title, “Human species may split in two.” And the theory floated in that piece, by Dr. Oliver Curry, a lecturer at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford and a research associate at the London School of Economics, seems deeply unsound: in fact, not even wrong.

Here’s how the BBC describes his “theory,” but again, if there’s a paper about it (one isn’t mentioned), I haven’t read it. All the article says is that Curry’s views were presented on a “men’s satellite TV show”:

Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics expects a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass to emerge.

The human race would peak in the year 3000, he said – before a decline due to dependence on technology.

People would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species, he added.

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the “underclass” humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

. . . Further into the future, sexual selection – being choosy about one’s partner – was likely to create more and more genetic inequality, said Dr Curry.

The logical outcome would be two sub-species, “gracile” and “robust” humans similar to the Eloi and Morlocks foretold by HG Wells in his 1895 novel The Time Machine.

. . . He carried out the report for men’s satellite TV channel Bravo.

I see no evidence that humanity will divide into two moieties in this way. In fact, intermarriage between humans will become more prevalent with greater migration between countries, creating genetic admixture between all kinds of genetically different populations. I’m curious how Curry manages to conclude that the human species is—or will be—splitting into two groups that will remain genetically and reproductively distinct, and that there is a bimodal distribution of matings, with attractive, creative, and tall humans on one end and short, squat, and ugly ones at the other. Is there any evidence of this happening now? Not that I know of.

Further, even if there were assortative mating for looks (and I suspect there is), it’s neither complete or associated with intelligence. Where are the data showing not only bimodal mating for height and attractiveness, but that those traits are strongly associated (for a strong association is needed to split the species) with intelligence?

There is simply no data to butress these speculations, which get press only because they’re sensationistic, smacking of 1984.  Any tendency for such assortative mating wouldn’t create bimodality unless it was mandated by the government, for there’s sufficient gene flow between his dichotomous categories (attractive people of one sex marrying not-so-attractive people of the other, and so on) that this kind of “splitting” will not occur.

Curry goes on about receding chins, our loss of capabilities due to medical technology that allows the medically deficient to breed, and so on, but I’ll ignore that for the nonce. He adds this:

But in the nearer future, humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts, while life-spans will have extended to 120 years, Dr Curry claims.

Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.

This is again insupportable. 1000 years is only about 30-40 human generation, and if we are supposed to increase a foot in height by then, there would have to be pretty strong directional selection for height (or sexual selection practiced by both sexes). Again, I don’t know of any evidence for a higher reproductive output of people whose genes make them taller. We have no such data, nor do we know how much of height difference between human populations is based on genetic versus environmental differences. Since World War II, for example, the Japanese have increased several inches in height, but that change is due entirely in improvement of diet, as there’s only been one or two generations since then and nutrition has improved markedly. As for those squarer jaws, longer penises, and pert breasts, that’s just bunk. As far as I know, we have no data showing reproductive advantages (actually offspring number) accruing to men or women with those features.

The stuff about human morphology becoming more uniform over time is one thing that Curry probably got right (even a blind pig can find an acorn). Certainly humans are moving around more now, and people from different ethnic groups are intermarrying, evening out the lumps in the landscape of human morphology.  We all know of “hybrids” between people of different ethnic groups; I see them all the time among my students: children of Asian/Caucasian marriages, for instance. And you can often recognize them because their facial features and hair color are an admixture. But I don’t think we’ll be uniform in even a millennium.

And really, penis length? What data do we have that men with larger generative organs leave more offspring? Curry’s talking through his hat here.

This kind of unsupported speculation gives evolutionary biology a bad name.



Caturday felid: exchange cat

A couple expects an exchange student but gets a lovelorn French moggie instead. It’s a hilarious video, and there are others at the Cat CATastrophes channel.

h/t: Doc Bill and Kink


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