— WitmerLab (@WitmerLab) June 24, 2016
— WitmerLab (@WitmerLab) June 24, 2016
I’m sorry to have forgotten who sent this clip to me, but the three-minute excerpt from the BBC’s “Life in the Air” series is enthralling. It’s a Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), with some of the most amazing video I’ve seen of bird flight. I have no idea how they filmed it, but suspect the bird was trained. I loved how the bird flew through the gate without missing a beat. (Note that this species is not the same as the American “sparrowhawk”, Falco sparverius, now known as the American kestrel.)
And the kill, from Wikipedia:
Small birds are killed on impact or when squeezed by the Eurasian sparrowhawk’s foot, especially the two long claws. Victims which struggle are “kneaded” by the hawk, using its talons to squeeze and stab. When dealing with large prey species which peck and flap, the hawk’s long legs help. It stands on top of its prey to pluck and pull it apart. The feathers are plucked and usually the breast muscles are eaten first. The bones are left, but can be broken using the notch in the bill.
Molecular cytogenetics is hardly my field, so this paper was a bit hard for me, but the results were so interesting that I’ll do my best to present it. The paper is by Quingua Zhou et al. and was just published in the early, non-print edition of Science. (reference and free download below). It’s about what happens to mitochondria in embryos. There’s another paper in the same issue that shows the same thing, by S. Al Rawi et al, (reference below), but I didn’t read that one. There’s also a perspective on both papers by Beth Levine and Zvulun Elazar, which I also haven’t read (I’m busy!)
As you may remember from your biology courses, mitochondria are “organelles” in the cell that function in respiration and metabolism (the generation of energy) and in “apoptosis,” or programmed cell death. They contain a circular DNA molecule that produces gene products (proteins) as well as transfer RNAs—the small molecules that lock onto amino acids and help assemble them into proteins. One of the big findings of my lifetime, suggested by Lynn Margulis among others, is that mitochondria are actually the evolutionary remnants of bacteria-like prokaryotes that were ingested (probably by another prokaryote), forming a mutualistic relationship that led to the first “true” cell: a eukaryote.
The interesting thing about mitochondria is that in nearly all sexually reproducing species they’re inherited purely maternally: while both mother and father have them, only the mother’s mitochondria are passed to its adult offspring. This is why, for instance, we’re able to identify a “mitochondrial Eve”: the ancestral woman from whom all the mitochondrial DNA of living humans is descended. (Of course the rest of our DNA, which is far greater in extent, comes from a diversity of other “Eves,” so this doesn’t support the Biblical narrative in any way.)
Although a late-stage developing embryo contains only the mitochondria from the mother, sperm that penetrate the egg do have paternal mitochondria, and, at least in the “model organism” studied (the tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans), they are present in early embryos. But then something happens—something that is amazing. You can see it happening in the photograph below.
The first photo, “A,” shows normal mitochondria in C. elegans sperm. B-C are the paternal mitochondria, derived from sperm, in embryos. Shortly after the embryo is formed, abnormal aggregates begin to form in those mitochondria (blue arrows; scale bars are 300 nanometers, or 0.3 microns, long). The cristae, or internal mitochondrial membranes, begin to break down (B & C). Then an “autophagosome” (yellow arrow) begins to form around the paternal mitochondrion (C); this is a membrane that the cell puts around structures that it intends to destroy. The contents of the autophagosome are subsequently degraded by special organelles called lysosomes. In photo “D”, the mitochondrion is on its way out; its membrane has broken down and it will soon degenerate. The paternal mitochondria are all destroyed in this way. Only the maternal ones remain as the embryo develops into an adult worm.
There are four questions here:
Zhou, Q., H. Li, H. Li, A. Nakagawa, J. L. J. Lin, E.-S. Lee, B. L. Harry, R. R. Skeen-Gaar, Y. Suehiro, D. William, S. Mitani, H. S. Yuan, B.-H. Kang, and D. Xue. 2016. Mitochondrial endonuclease G mediates breakdown of paternal mitochondria upon fertilization. Science, published online: DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4777
Al Rawi, S., Louvet-Vallee, S., Djeddi, A., Sachse, M., Culetto, E., Hajjar, C., Boyd, L., Legouis, R., & Galy, V. (2011). Postfertilization Autophagy of Sperm Organelles Prevents Paternal Mitochondrial DNA Transmission Science, 334 (6059), 1144-1147 DOI:10.1126/science.1211878
As you know, the UK has just voted in a referendum to leave the EU. Prime Minister Cameron, who called the referendum to quell dissent within the ranks of his Tory party, has stated that he will resign by the beginning of October. Billions of dollars have been taken off the paper value of the UK economy as the pound has crashed and the stock market has fallen.
There will almost certainly be a second referendum on Scottish independence (Scotland voted overwhelmingly for remain, and can legitimately argue it does not want to be taken out of the EU), with it being highly likely that this time the Scots would vote to leave the UK. Even more worryingly, it seems probable that the Good Friday Agreement, which led to peace in Northern Ireland, and which was entirely based on EU money and support, will come undone, perhaps with catastrophic consequences. A new right-wing Brexit government, which no one has voted for, will come to power in October, probably led by the cynical pretend-buffoon Boris Johnson, who opted for Leave because it gave him the best chance of becoming Prime Minister.
I voted Remain, not because I think the EU is a perfect institution, but because membership has transformed the UK for the better. I lived for 18 years in France, and when I returned to the UK I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the country had changed, and the little England tendencies I grew up with had been overlain by a relative sophistication in most things. The Leave vote suggests that I was mistaken.
Since the 2008 crash in particular, UK politics has increasingly been dominated by the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farage, a millionaire stockbroker who has somehow managed to persuade people that he’s an ordinary bloke because he smokes, likes a pint and flirts with racism. The campaign was widely disliked, marked by lies and distortions (primarily on the Leave side, but the Remain side focused its campaign on ‘project fear’ and failed to give a positive reason for staying), and by populist rabble-rousing by Johnson, Farage and the odious Michael Gove, who spent his time contemptuously dismissing the views of ‘experts’.
The culmination of this awful atmosphere was the unveiling of a vile UKIP poster which coincided with the terrible murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed a week before the vote. The man charged with her killing gave his name in court as ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’.
The results of the referendum are complex. Remain was a majority in Scotland, London, and some of the major cities – Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol… Leave dominated the countryside (including Wales) and in particular the once-industrial areas which have been in crisis for decades, and in particular since 2008. The main sociological factors that explain the voting pattern were age – young UK citizens voted overwhelmingly for Remain, while the older generations (who, to be frank, will not have to live for long with the consequences of their vote), voted Leave – and educational level (72% of university-educated people voted Remain).
The Leave campaign was focused on the slogan of ‘getting back control’, in particular over immigration – the free movement of workers in Europe has led to a substantial influx of young workers, in particular from Eastern Europe who have kept the economy ticking over. This growth (less than 0.5% per year) was portrayed as being the cause of problems in the National Health Service in particular, problems which were in fact due to the government’s austerity policies. Migrants are more likely to be working in the NHS rather than spongeing off it, plus migrants are more likely to be in work than UK citizens, but these are just some of the facts that were ignored in favour of demagogic slogans.
People voted Leave, it appears, for many different and complex reasons (that’s one of the problems with referendums: people do not necessarily answer the question in the way that was intended). Among the factors cited are dissatisfaction with a bureaucratic EU, fears about immigration (often expressed in areas with the lowest levels of migration) and a deep feeling from those in the more impoverished communities of being left behind. It is interesting, however, that areas of Scotland that are also affected by these factors nevertheless voted Remain.
So British society is fractured. It is fractured along age and geographical lines. Workers in areas that are relatively prosperous voted Remain, those in poorer areas – ironically those that rely most on EU financial support – voted Leave. The Leave victory is being portrayed as a victory over ‘the establishment’, and yet the Leave leaders – and the probable future political leaders of the country, are the usual Eton, Oxbridge and millionaire gang.
Although the referendum is not legally binding – the UK will only begin the process for leaving the EU when it invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – I do not believe for an instant that there is any prospect of the UK not leaving. That decision has been taken, with a clear majority, and I do not expect there to be any shift in the situation in my lifetime.
The Leave camp are confident that the UK will move into bright uplands, as they trash the regulations that the EU has put on business, leading to lower wages, fewer workers’ rights, less environmental protection and riskier business practices. The Remain camp predicted dire consequences for the UK economy – indeed for the world economy. We will see who is right.
If the promises made by the Leave campaign are not realised – and I do not see how they can be – then those disaffected and poor sections of society who voted Leave will have to turn to some other scapegoat, apart from Europe, migrants, the Establishment, or whatever motivated their Leave vote. As we can see in France, this could turn very nasty indeed.
On a parochial level, UK universities, and science in particular, are going to be clobbered. Funding will drop, interactions with Europe will decline, and there will be bad times all around. I predict that many colleagues who are European will be looking for jobs elsewhere – why stay in a country that doesn’t want you? If I had known what was going to happen, I would never have returned to the UK in 2002.
If you are an academic outside of the UK looking to recruit some bright young people, I suggest you start trawling through UK university websites – I suspect you will find many people eager to discuss moving.
What are the lessons? For me, I should have taken out French nationality when I could easily have done so, some time in the 1990s. I didn’t because I couldn’t see what the point was. How stupid of me. For US voters, think very carefully before you dismiss the possibility of Trump becoming President. There is a right-wing populist movement going on, feeding off fears and discontent, potentially transforming them into something even more dangerous. Use your vote in November, even if you loathe Hillary and all she stands for. The unthinkable could happen – it just did here.
Readers are welcome to chip in and argue the Leave case below. I won’t be replying though. I’m done with this.
To sum up my mood, here’s a very moving video by the Bristol-based trip-hop band Portishead. It’s a cover of Abba’s ‘SOS’ and is a tribute to murdered MP Jo Cox, closing with words from her first speech in parliament, last year: ‘We have far more in common than that which divides us’. It is very hard to feel that way today.
There was a special Education section in Wednesday’s New York Times, and you can get there by clicking on the screenshots below. If you’ve already used up your ten free NYT articles for the month, as I have, you can always access any article by simply typing its title into the search box, and maybe adding “NYT’ (without quotation marks) to be sure.
There’s more, too.
Here are a few articles I found interesting:
“In college turmoil, signs of a changed relationship with students” by Frank Bruni. An excerpt:
The rightful passing of that paradigm [the “faculty as priesthood”] created a need for new ones, and Mr. [Jonathan] Haidt said that the two in vogue now were “the therapeutic model and the consumer model.” In accordance with the first of those, students regard colleges as homes and places of healing. In accordance with the second, they regard colleges as providers of goods that are measurable and of services that should meet their specifications.
And that has imperfections all its own, the best laundry list of which appeared in “Customer Mentality,” an essay by Nate Kreuter, an assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University, that was published by Inside Higher Ed in 2014.
He noted a “hesitance to hold students accountable for their behavior,” be it criminal or a violation of what is too frequently a “laughable university honor code.” He noted an expectation among many students that their purchase of a college education should be automatically redeemable for a job, as if college were that precisely vocational and the process that predictable.
“That’s simply not how life works,” he said in a recent interview. “So we have a lot of students who are disenchanted.”
“Affirmative action as a tool for a racially integrated society” by Lee C. Bollinger. An excerpt.
It is, therefore, an oddity of the debate over affirmative action that even as the status quo is challenged, few dispute the ways in which a variety of beliefs and perspectives yields better ideas than would emerge from a single vantage point. Without a truly diverse student body and faculty, a university simply will be unable to achieve the highest levels of excellence in teaching, research and intellectual discovery. And without the instrumental consideration of race in admissions currently allowed by the Supreme Court, that diversity will become an elusive goal for many universities and colleges.
As important as it is to preserve this holistic consideration of race, that goal is insufficient. I believe that the court and society must also come to grips with the fact that any discussion of the constitutionality of affirmative action necessarily forces us to consider a larger question: namely, whether one of America’s greatest engines of individual and communal advancement — our institutions of higher education — shall be enlisted in achieving a racially integrated society that transcends the nation’s legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation.
I was a member of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, put together by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The report we produced, The Heart of the Matter, discussed this issue in depth, outlining three goals that America’s educational institutions should advance:
Educating Americans in the knowledge, skills and understanding that they need to thrive in a 21st century democracy; fostering a society that is innovative, competitive and strong; and equipping the nation for leadership in an interconnected world.
The commission took the position — and I agree wholeheartedly — that “these goals cannot be achieved by science alone.”
No doubt we have to improve our schoolchildren’s performance in math and science; we need more homegrown engineers of varying types. But not everyone wants to be an engineer, or can be. And, as leaders in science and the tech industry have acknowledged over the years, innovation is spurred by people who are creative in different ways. The gathering of ideas from seemingly disparate fields often brings new ways to think about problems and allows creativity to flourish.
“Teaching inclusion in a divided world,” by Nicholas Christakis, the beleaguered Yale sociologists who, with his wife, was hounded by students out of their residential masterships at Silliman College at Yale. An excerpt:
Students are demanding greater inclusion, and they are absolutely right. But inclusion in what? At our universities, students of all kinds are joining traditions that revere free expression, wide engagement, open assembly, rational debate and civil discourse. These things are worth defending. In fact, they are the predicates for the very demands the students have been making across the United States.
Conversely, it is entirely illiberal (even if permissible) to use these traditions to demand the censorship of others, to besmirch fellow students rather than refute the ideas that they express and to treat ideological claims as if they were perforce facts. When students (and faculty) do this, they are burning the furniture to heat the house.
. . . And so the faculty must cut at the root of a set of ideas that are wholly illiberal. Disagreement is not oppression. Argument is not assault. Words — even provocative or repugnant ones — are not violence. The answer to speech we do not like is more speech.
If we fail to see this, we risk confirming for our students the old joke that we wouldn’t want to join a club that would have us.
Tara Tanaka has a brand-new video of young Wood Storks (Mycteria americana) feeding. Be sure to go to the Vimeo page and watch in in high-definition and enlarged. Her notes:
I was photographing birds when I saw this pair of Wood Stork chicks bowing and calling in unison, and decided it could only be properly shared with video. As I watched I realized that one of the parents was on a limb above them, and they were imploring mom or dad to come and feed them. Every heron, egret and stork species I’ve observed seems to have its own calls and movements that it uses to get the parent to feed it. It almost appears that the nestling’s movements and sounds might help the adult regurgitate the meal it’s brought back to the nest. I couldn’t see it through the viewfinder, but I was really surprised to see just how many fish the adult was able to bring back in one trip.
Shot with the GH4 + Nikon 300mm f2.8 using manual focus.
Tara added that the mom “looked like a fish vending machine.”
The Cornell bird site says this about Wood Storks:
A large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps, the Wood Stork is the only stork breeding in the United States. Its late winter breeding season is timed to the Florida dry season when its fish prey become concentrated in shrinking pools.
And the range map:
Here’s a cartoon by reader Pliny the in Between inspired by yesterday’s post on theistic evolution. It’s called “Seems like a lot of work.” And indeed it is: God not only has to watch the sparrows fall, but make sure that every nucleotide in every individual either doesn’t mutate (after all, He’s “sustaining creation”) or mutates in the right direction.
If you can’t read the text, it says “Micromanaging the diversity/earth/one set of hydrogen bonds at a time.”
Well, I woke up today (June 24) to find out that the world has changed: Britain’s citizens voted to leave the EU in the Brexit referendum (technically, the result isn’t legally binding) and David Cameron has resigned as prime minister. Matthew has a few choice things to say about that, so hold your comments and discussion until I put up his post. In the meantime, let us first console ourselves with kittens listening to music:
On this day in history, besides Brits voting themselves into a disaster (2016), we have the first performance of the song O Canada in 1880. And, in 1916, the deadly battle of the Somme began.
Those born on this day include Fred Hoyle (1915), Anita Desai (1937), Mick Fleetwood (1947) and Lionel Messi (1987). Those who died on June 24 include Grover Cleveland (1908), Jackie Gleason (1987) and Paul Winchell (2005; who remembers him?) Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the dialogue between cat and dog is puzzling. I asked Malgorzata for clarification and got this:
Cyrus probably mixes up “threshold value” with the concept of a threshold of pain. Hili answers that she can tolerate everything which doesn’t demand from her a swift action with her paw.
Cyrus: What is the threshold value of a cats’ tolerance?Hili: Anything below a pat with a paw is OK.
Cyrus: Jaka jest wartość progowa kociej tolerancji?
Hili: Wszystko poniżej pacnięcia łapą.
This is the fifth post about the making of my Last Pair of Boots, under construction by Lee Miller of Austin, Texas. I hope by now you’ve gotten an idea about how complex the whole process of making a custom boot really is. I was just told that the pictures are behind the boots, which will be done Friday, so there will be more to come—right until they’re put into the box. I’m also told that the leather tannery is no longer making rust kangaroo color, so these will be the last ones in rust Italian kangaroo—for everyone. The photos and captions are by Carrlyn Miller.
Here the wrappings have been taken off, and you see the insole that has been nailed on. As we get into making the boots, the nails will be removed.
Lee is skiving the rust kangaroo for the name.
Skived pieces are waiting to be put in.
The pieces for the name have been cemented in.
The reverse side.
Preparing to put the rose in.
The rose plug that you saw earlier is put back in. This helps the rose to puff out.
The piece cemented in.
The green was put in for the stems and leaves before putting the plug back in.
The yellow has been put in, with the detail of the leaves drawn in.
Lee is sewing around the stems and flower.
A close up view.
Around the rose has been sewn in. The flourishes for the name have been drawn in.
When doing fancy stitching, the pattern that you saw earlier that had the pin holes marking the design is taken and laid on the tops, and a bag with powder is rubbed on the pattern. When you pull the paper pattern away…
Here’s a Wall Street Journal video about Lee and his work. at 2:31 he shows some Italian-tanned kangaroo which I believe is my rust color. And note the pinched yellow roses at the end; I have four on mine.
We all know that some universities, when they espouse an allegiance to free speech and open debate, really mean they want only speech that doesn’t offend anyone, and only want debate about issues that aren’t controversial (but then why have a debate?). Fortunately, that’s not true of all universities—my own is a welcome exception. But the lip service to free speech combined with hand service slapping down offensive free speech is going on in an invidious way at one school, the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley.
Reports at Heat Street, as well as at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), detail how two UNC professors were investigated—simply for asking students to discuss and debate controversial topics. In both cases, student complaints triggered (sorry for the pun) inquires by the school’s “bias response team,” a group devoted to sniffing out and punishing incidents of offensive speech. Heat Street obtained the records of these investigations simply by using the Colorado version of the Freedom of Information Act.
Here’s one described by both sources (wording from Heat Street):
In one report reviewed by Heat Street, a professor, whose name was redacted, had asked students to read an Atlantic article entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” about college students’ increasing sensitivity and its impact on their mental health.
The professor then asked his students to come up with difficult topics, including transgender issues, gay marriage, abortion and global warming. He outlined competing positions on these topics, though he did not express his personal opinion.
In a report to the Bias Response Team, a student complained that the professor referenced the opinion that “transgender is not a real thing, and no one can truly feel like they are born in the wrong body.”
“I would just like the professor to be educated about what trans is and how what he said is not okay because as someone who truly identifies as a transwomen I was very offended and hurt by this,” the student wrote.
A member of the Bias Response Team met with the professor, the report says, and “advised him not to revisit transgender issues in his classroom if possible to avoid the students expressed concerns.” The Bias Response Team also “told him to avoid stating opinions (his or theirs) on the topic as he had previously when working from the Atlantic article.”
Now that’s bizarre. I’ll take the professor’s word, as reported by FIRE, that he was simply inciting debate (I did that all the time when lecturing as a creationist in my “Creation vs. Evolution” course at the University of Maryland), but it’s unconscionable to tell the professor to avoid stating opinions expressed in the article itself. In fact, the Atlantic article by Jon Haidt and FIRE president Greg Lukianoff, which I’ve mentioned before, would be a great thing for students to debate. It should be required reading item during the fall “indoctrination period” given to incoming first-years at nearly every American college.
Here’s the second report from Heat Street (my emphasis):
In a separate incident, a professor, whose name was also redacted, asked his students to choose from a list of debate topics, some of them regarding homosexuality and religion.
The Bias Response Team’s notes summarized: “Specifically there were two topics of debate that triggered them and personally felt like an attack on their identity (GodHatesFags.com: is this harmful? Is this acceptable? Is this Christianity? And Gay Marriage: should it be legal? Is homosexuality immoral as Christians suggest?)”
The student, whose name is redacted and who is referred to as “they” in the report, complained that “other students are required to watch the in-class debate and hear both arguments presented.”
“I do not believe that students should be required to listen to their own rights and personhood debated,” the student wrote. “[This professor] should remove these topics from the list of debate topics. Debating the personhood of an entire minority demographic should not be a classroom exercise, as the classroom should not be an actively hostile space for people with underprivileged identities.”
The Bias Response Team wrote that while this incident “did not reach a level of discrimination,” members still contacted the professor to “have a conversation… [and] listen to his perspective, share the impact created for the student and dialogue about options to strengthen his teaching.”
The Bias Response Team wrote that once the conversation was completed, they wanted a full report of “the outcome of your time together. . . so I can document and share with the student that outreach was completed.”
I really feel sorry for that professor, who has Big Brother looking over his shoulder and is apparently expected to grovel.
In fact, these students are going to go out into a world in which many people think homosexuality is immoral, and that gays shouldn’t marry. Shouldn’t they discuss this issue before they do? (I presume this was taught in a course in which the issue was relevant.) Asserting that “gay marriage is a right,” which is presumably what this student would say, isn’t much of an argument, for assertions of rights are meant to shut down debate. They’re not reasoned arguments. Why are they considered rights? This is the kind of thing students should be pondering.
If I were teaching a class on the use of evidence, for instance, an appropriate topic would be Holocaust denialism, for it’s a pervasive topic and held by many. It is, in fact, the topic of a new book that I have, Denying History by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman. Shermer has written about this before, and I found the topic fascinating. I suppose, as a secular Jew, I should be offended by such a debate, but that’s absurd. The arguments held by denialists were unfamiliar to me, as was much of the evidence refuting them. I learned a lot from that chapter in one of Shermer’s earlier books, I look forward to reading about the issue at greater length.
Here’s another topic worthy of debate: Peter Singer’s argument that infants with incurable deformities or diseases should, in some cases, be euthanized. That is, it’s a form of post-birth abortion of life. I think there’s a case to be made for that, and it would be fascinating to put students on teams to debate the issue. (When I taught my course in Maryland, the last assignment was such a debate, but I put all the evolution-accepting students on the pro-creationist side, and the creationists on the pro-evolution side.)
If we are going to discourage debate in the classroom, or limit it to topics that can’t offend anyone, then we do the students a disservice. It’s a hard world out there, and lots of people have opinions you’ll find completely misguided. (42% of Americans, for instance, are young-earth creationists.) If we’re to function in a democracy, we have to be able to state our positions clearly and defend them rationally. What UNC is doing is shutting down that avenue, perpetuating a generation of coddled adolescents who can’t stand to even hear an opinion differing from theirs.
To see other things the UNC Bias Response Team has investigated, go here. One student filed a report when the student health center asked her if she needed birth control!
Finally, here’s the logo for the UNC Bias Response Team. Note the dissonance between “valuing intellectual and academic freedom and open exchange of ideas” and fostering “well-being and inclusiveness”. As the incidents above show, these ideals are incompatible.
Values: The University of Northern Colorado believes that its distinctive service to society can only be offered in a student-centered atmosphere of integrity that is grounded in honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. For this reason, the University is committed to promoting an environment in which:
academic integrity is valued and expected;
excellence is sought and rewarded;
teaching and learning flourish;
diversity of thought and culture is respected;
intellectual freedom is preserved; and
equal opportunity is afforded.