Milo Yiannopoulos talk canceled at University of California at Davis

Once again, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos has been prevented from speaking, this time at the university where I did my postdoc: the University of California at Davis.

As CNN reported yesterday:

A speech by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos’ at UC Davis was over before it even started Friday after protests erupted, forcing sponsors to cancel the event.

Thirty minutes before the Breitbart tech editor was scheduled to speak, the UC Davis College Republicans canceled the controversial talk after consulting with the university’s police department and student affairs officials.

Former pharmaceutical executive, Martin Shkreli had also been scheduled to speak at the event.

“I am deeply disappointed with the events of this evening,” said Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter.

“Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent. As I have stated repeatedly, a university is at its best when it listens to and critically engages opposing views, especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive.”

Earlier in the evening, protesters blocked access to the venue. Surrounding the lecture hall with signs, they chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, racists are not welcome here.”

The implicit idea is not just that Milo is a racist, but also those who want to hear him speak.

Shkreli is the guy who, you may recall, got the rights to manufacture an antiparasitic drug and then raised the price by 56-fold. I have no use for that stuff, but he, too, was invited.

Here’s a video of the protestors:

Note, too, that Milo was invited not by the University, but by (as usual) the College Republicans. I am pleased that the interim Chancellor spoke up in favor of free speech. Yiannopoulos is indeed something of a provocateur, and often says things that I’m not sure even he believes (i.e., “there are no such things a lesbians”), but he also can be serious, provoking discussion about things like feminism, affirmative action, and free speech itself.

Once he’s invited, protestors have every right to picket the venue, but not to shut down an event itself. What we see above are protestors trying to censor speech that they simply don’t like.

In the long run, this will ensure conformity of thought by intimidating those whose thoughts go against the opinion of the majority. And that’s precisely why we have laws protecting freedom of speech.

An editorial in “The Aggie,” the UC Davis student newspaper, is called “Davis college Republicans provide platform for hate speech.” Read it for yourself; it does recount Milo’s unconscionable calling out of a transgender student in Wisconsin (something I decried), but also adds this:

The disclaimer on the event page for Yiannopoulos’ talk states: “[Yiannopoulos] is known for discussing topics, both political or not, that may offend some people but not others.” But the ideas espoused by Yiannopoulos should offend all people — at least, all people with any shred of humanity or decency.

One of those idea they mention is that we do not live in a “rape culture.” I think that claim is at least worthy of discussion, since the meaning of “rape culture” is not clear, and American culture certainly does not officially condone rape—not by any means. But what bothers me most about the above is that not all of the ideas espoused by Yiannopoulos, such as equity feminism, “should offend all people.” Who can determine which ideas “should offend all people”? And if someone claims that right, do they then have the right to block those espousing such ideas?

A “superbug”, resistant to all antibiotics, kills Nevada women

PBS reports on the death of a Nevada woman who had a bacterial infection resistant to all known antibiotics (they tried 26). Microbes, it seems, are evolving resistance faster than humans can devise new antibiotics.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control is here; the bit below is an extract from the PBS article:

Public health officials from Nevada are reporting on a case of a woman who died in Reno in September from an incurable infection. Testing showed the superbug that had spread throughout her system could fend off 26 different antibiotics.

“It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States … and was not effective,” said Dr. Alexander Kallen, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of health care quality promotion.

The case involved a woman who had spent considerable time in India, where multi-drug-resistant bacteria are more common than they are in the U.S. She had broken her right femur — the big bone in the thigh — while in India a couple of years back. She later developed a bone infection in her femur and her hip and was hospitalized a number of times in India in the two years that followed. Her last admission to a hospital in India was in June of last year.

The unnamed woman — described as a resident of Washoe County who was in her 70s — went into hospital in Reno for care in mid-August, where it was discovered she was infected with what is called a CRE — carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. That’s a general name to describe bacteria that commonly live in the gut that have developed resistance to the class of antibiotics called carbapenems — an important last-line of defense used when other antibiotics fail. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called CREs “nightmare bacteria” because of the danger they pose for spreading antibiotic resistance.

In the woman’s case, the specific bacteria attacking her was called Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bug that often causes of urinary tract infections.

Here, from Wikipedia, is K. pneumoniae growing on an agar plate;


And here’s a video about the superbug:

One thing I think could have been usefully added to the PBS piece—and to the video above—was that this is a case of evolution in action. They don’t even mention that “antibiotic resistance” is simply the result of natural selection: those bacteria who can survive an antibiotic are those that leave offspring, and those offspring carry the genes for antibiotic resistance. Many people harbor the misconception that “antibiotic resistance” somehow involves the infected human acclimating to the antibiotic, when it fact it’s the bacterium undergoing natural selection in the body.

Second, it’s always puzzled me that when bacteria resistant to antibiotics become resistant to a new antibiotic, they doesn’t lose resistance to the old ones. In many cases in evolution, there are “costs to resistance”: it takes special enzymes or physiological changes in a bacterium to fend off antibiotics, and those would reduce its reproduction in the absence of the antibiotic. (These are also called “tradeoffs”.) For example, if you adapt fruit flies to a medium that’s high in salt, they will adapt to it, but then if you put them back on normal medium, they’ll lose the salt tolerance. That’s because the salt tolerance involves adaptations that, in the absence of the salt, reduce your reproduction compared to non-tolerant individuals.

This doesn’t appear to be happening in bacteria: they seem to have an infinite ability to acquire resistance to one antibiotic after another, without losing resistance to the antibiotics they previously encountered but are no longer exposed to. That’s what makes the whole problem so hard, because otherwise we could just go back and try old antibiotics, not used for years, on bugs that have acquired resistance to new ones.

Why is there no “cost to resistance” in bacteria? I’m not sure, but I suspect some readers will know. My own guess is that the resistance is often due not to simple mutations in the bacterium’s own circular chromosome, but is carried in plasmids—bits of circular DNA that can be exchanged among bacteria, and that carry the genes for antibiotic resistance. Once you acquire a plasmid that confers resistance, it may simply be hard to get rid of it, for it’s just sitting there in your cell and either may not incur a reproductive cost (though I’d think it would, by slowing down reproduction). Alternatively, there may not be “mutant” bacteria that somehow lack the plasmids.

Still, the video above indicates that some antibiotic resistance comes from mutations in the bacterial DNA itself; and that implies that if you stopped using that antibiotic, the bacteria would, due to the cost of resistance, revert to being sensitive again after a period of time when it’s not exposed to the antibiotic. (That reversion to sensitivity is itself produced by natural selection; individuals with resistance are at a reproductive disadvantage in the absence of the antibiotic.)

If you know that answer to this puzzle, weigh in below.

h/t: Mark N.

Readers’ wildlife photos

We have a few non-animal photos today: abstracts from nature. The first three are from reader Ken Phelps with this note:

Last day of frosty weather here, so went out and got a few shots of hoar frost, snow on twig, and an icicle with an odd face inside. Wood siding on cabin gave the brown background color.




A piece of tree bark in the Pennsylvania woods; photo by Nicole Reggia:


Monday: Hili dialogue

Good morning; it’s Monday, January 16, and a holiday in the U.S.—Martin Luther King Day. As for me, I’m off in a short while to tape the Rubin Report, and then immediately flying back to Chicago. That means that posting will be light today.

As for food holidays, it’s National Fig Newton Day (“Fig Roll” if you’re in the UK), and International Hot and Spicy Food Day. In the U.S. it’s also National Religious Freedom Day, honoring the Virginia Assembly’s adoption on this day in 1786 of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—the precursor of the Constitution’s First Amendment.  Here’s the last paragraph of Jefferson’s statute, one of the three accomplishments engraved on his tombstone (“President of the US” was not one of them):

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

On this day in 1945, Hitler and his retinue moved into the underground bunker (Führerbunker), where he and others (Eva Braun, Goebbels et famille), met their end as the Russians took over Berlin.

Notables born on this day include Eric Liddell (1902), the “muscular Christian” in the movie Chariots of Fire, famous for refusing to run in the Olympic 100-meter heats because they were held on a Sunday. He later became a missionary in China, was interned by the Japanese, and died in 1945 of a brain tumor. Here he is running in the British Empire games in 1924:


Others born on this day include Dian Fossey (1932), Susan Sontage (1933) and Sade (1959). Those who died on this day include Edward Gibbon (1794) and evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong (1986). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is working a guilt trip on her staff; perhaps she’s petulant because she can’t go outside in the snow:

Hili: I wonder what you have in your defence.
A: Defence in what case?
Hili: Think it out for yourself.
In Polish:
Hili: Ciekawa jestem, co masz na swoją obronę?
Ja: W jakiej sprawie?
Hili: Sam się domyśl.
As lagniappe we have two Jesus memes today. This one is from reader Ivan and is called “Republican Jesus”:
And from reader jsp: “Bird Jesus”:

A new general book on evolution by Steve Jones (and one on climate change by Prince Charles)

I often get emails from parents asking if there are good books on evolution for their kids. I’ve recommended some (Grandmother Fish is quite good), and some day I’ll compile a list, though I haven’t read them all and really can’t compare them. But at least I can call your attention to new ones. In this case it was reader Michael who told me about two new books, one on climate by Prince Charles (and coauthors) and the other (aimed at adults, but probably useful for older kids) by my old friend Steve Jones, an emeritus professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London. Michael wrote about both books from England:
There is news today that Ladybird Books is publishing a new book co-authored by Prince Charles on climate change
Ladybird Books is an iconic children’s books publisher – anyone learning to read in Britain in the early 60s knows [and loves] the brand from that and also the “Learn about” series of instructional books for [mainly] children
These books have an instantly recognisable appearance [layout, style of illustration, slim, hardback]; and recently the imprint has tried to recapture their old audience with fairly jokey titles for adults such as their guide to The Hangover & The Hipster [these & similar have also been published for the US market as “The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to…”, but I doubt that it will catch fire over there without the history!]
Anyway, I had a look around and discovered there’s one coming out on Evolution by Steve Jones.
The Amazon site has a very thin description of Steve’s book. There is, however, a funny “about the author” bit undoubtedly written by Steve himself:

Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London and is one of the world’s top six experts of snail population genetics (the other five agree).

Here’s the book, coming out January 26; it has 56 pages, and so is a short read:


There’s more information on Steve’s book from  the Kobo site:

Part of the new Ladybird Expert series, Evolution is a clear, simple and entertaining introduction to Charles Darwin’s pioneering and revolutionary theory of how all life changes through natural selection.

Written by broadcaster, prize-winning author and geneticist Professor Steve Jones, it explores the extraordinary diversity of life on our planet through the complex interactions of one very simple theory.

You’ll discover the common origins of dogs and Brussels sprouts, how it is we’re all mutants, where wings, ears and tails came from, why sex is good for you, how some dinosaurs evolved and survived, and why human evolution may finally have stopped. [JAC: I disagree with that, and so do many others. There is plenty of evidence that human evolution has NOT stopped.]

Written by the leading lights and most outstanding communicators in their fields, the Ladybird Expert books provide clear, accessible and authoritative introductions to subjects drawn from science, history and culture.

For an adult readership, the Ladybird Expert series is produced in the same iconic small format pioneered by the original Ladybirds. Each beautifully illustrated book features the first new illustrations produced in the original Ladybird style for nearly forty years.

If you want a quick overview on evolution, this might be the book for you. For a more comprehensive take aimed at scientifically literate adults (no degree required), check out Oxford University Press’s Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth. That “VSI” series, which now includes over 400 titles on subjects as diverse as quantum mechanics, French cinema, and free will, is a great way to get up to speed on lots of things. There’s even a VSI on atheism, I believe by Julian Baggini.

And the BBC News describes Prince Charles’s book on climate change, which, I trust, is more scientifically sound than his views on homeopathy. Judging from the cover, it looks to be:



Sean Caroll’s keynote talk at LogiCal

Last night, Sean Carroll (a cosmologist at CalTech and the Official Website Physicist™), gave the keynote address at the LogiCal meetings. As he told me at dinner beforehand, he was trying to condense all five of his Gifford Lectures (given in Glasgow last year) into a single hour. It was, like his Gifford Lectures, a summary of his excellent book The Big Picture.

Given his task, he did a good job, laying out the reasons why we completely understand all the physics of everyday life (he is of course a physical determinist), explaining why dualism isn’t possible, but also noting that we can talk about things, like meaning and purpose and value, that are “emergent phenomena”, consistent with but not possible to explain in the language of particle physics.

The only part of his talk that baffled me, as it did in his book, is his explanation of why entropy seems to be a violation of the symmetrical laws of physics, since it increases with time, but why (or so I thought), the passage of time from past to future is more or less an illusion. He asked a very good question: “Why do we remember what happened yesterday but don’t remember what hasn’t happened yet?” His explanation—that we don’t fully grasp the Second Law of Thermodynamics—didn’t satisfy me, and I’m still seeking an answer. Any reader who can explain this to me is encouraged to do so below.

Sean has developed into a very dynamic and engrossing speaker, with a lot of humor, and it was a very good after-dinner talk, but one with a lot of brain food.


Sean presenting “The Core Theory”: the equation that completely explains the physics of everyday life. It’s in his book.


I had the pleasure of dining with Sean before the talk, and asked him the perennial question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” His answer was that the question doesn’t make sense—yet. “Why questions”, he said, always come embedded in a larger framework—often, in my view, a religious one—but in this case, said Sean, it’s possible that that question, meaningless now, might someday find an answer if we learn more about the circumstances that produced our universe and that may be producing other universes.

Anyway, I urge you to read his book, The Big Picture, which is deservedly popular. Although I don’t agree with some of it, most notably his compatibilism on free will, by and large it’s a rewarding read, and accessible to all educated people.

This afternoon, Dan Barker, co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, is giving his own take on the issue: “Free Will, a Beautiful and Useful Illusion.” I’ve read the draft manuscript for him on this issue, and, as you can imagine, we had long and strong disagreements. I’ll see from his talk whether I had any influence on his thinking. Given his responses in our email correspondence, I doubt it. I’ll report back.

National Geographic’s “The Story of God”: back for another season

As I’ve documented repeatedly, since Rupert Murdoch took over National Geographic, the magazine and its spinoffs have become increasingly oriented toward religion—and in a friendly way. Last summer Morgan Freeman hosted a National Geographic series called “The Story of God”; here are its six episodes. screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-51-40-pm

Now, according to PuffHo, there’s a second season in the offing, with the first episode airing tomorrow (there will be three). The website for the new season is here, and you can watch two clips here). PuffHo‘s blurb notes that—for crying out loud—it’s going to be about theology (my emphasis):

The first season aired in the spring of 2016 and became National Geographic’s most-watched series of all time. On Monday, Season 2 will premiere with Freeman exploring a fresh set of theological questions.

“We’re dealing with esoterica here, things that are more internal than external. So there are always going to be more questions,” Freeman told The Huffington Post on Wednesday. “It’s one of those situations where the more you delve into it the deeper it gets.” [JAC: sort of like a cesspool.]

The second season features just three episodes exploring three fundamental religious themes. The first episode explores the concept of the “chosen one” ― people who have been singled out throughout history for purportedly having direct access to the divine. Next, the show explores “heaven and hell,” with a look at how people’s beliefs about the afterlife influence their actions in this life. The final episode dives into the age-old question of whether there’s “proof of God,” and the subtle ways people of faith find look for it.

Do you think the last episode will also deal with the “age-old” issue of the evidence against gods, or the lack of evidence for anything divine? I’m betting against it.

Now I’m not going to watch this show, for I don’t have cable; and even if I did, I wouldn’t watch it anyway. But my prediction is that it will involve heavy osculation of the rump of faith.

Now why is Freeman doing this? What are his own beliefs? PuffHo, in an earlier article connected with the first season, first implied that he’s an atheist, but then backpedaled (my emphasis):

Morgan Freeman has played God on the big screen, but in real life he sees the Almighty as an invention of the human mind.

It might seem curious, then, for the 78-year-old actor to star in a National Geographic Channel show all about God and religion. But “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” which airs its season finale on Sunday, isn’t so much a celebration of God as it is an exploration of human beings’ unending search for the divine, Freeman says.

. . . “Life is more about what you believe than almost anything else. That’s why God still exists,” he said.

What he should have said is “that’s why the IDEA of God still exists,” but of course he’s walking a fine line here, trying to pretend that the human construction of God is itself evidence for God—something likely to be lost on the viewers.

People spend their lives searching for God, he continued, when true divinity may be in front of us all along. In Hebrew, Freeman recounted, the word for God is derived from the verb “to be,” making it translate roughly as “I am.” He used this example to explain his own beliefs on the subject.

“God is in all things — a sunset, a bloom, a rose,” he said. “The ultimate answer to the question of God’s existence is ‘God is.’”

Well, if you’re a pantheist, as Freeman seems to be in the last sentence, then you can say “God is” if you see God as a rose, a sunset, or even a pancake. But that’s cheating, for Freeman—and National Geographic—know full well that this series will be seen as a vindication of religious belief and of God’s existence. That, of course, explains why it’s been so popular. It also explains the popularity of books like Proof of Heaven and Heaven is for Real. 

What a great shame that National Geographic, which used to educate people about the real world we live in, is now trying to deceive people about a numinous world that doesn’t exist.

I get more creationist email

Since I posted a letter from a creationist student last week, as well as other commentary on the faithful, I’ve been inundated with comments telling me that Jesus loves me, and that if I only sought that love, I’d become a convinced Christian. Talk about confirmation bias! You’d think that if Jesus really loved you, he’s make you aware of his love even if you weren’t seeking it!

This comment came (with ID given) from the author of the religious site Gleaning the Scriptures.  It was offered as a comment on my post “Adam and Eve: More than two ancestors?

God made Adam and Eve. If God made Adam and Eve He can make others and not include that in The Bible: testing our faith. Yahova does not have to include everything in The Bible. is not a spoon feed set up. There is a lot of knowledge that comes to people who have turned to Yahova.

Why evolution is not true: We have been studying and recording nature scientifically for thousands of years. If eveolution is true you must be able to show me one instance, ONLY ONE, of a mother giving birth to another species. One mutation after another, yes, but there must be a point where the DNA goes from that of a man to that of a “whats to come”.

If you are a woman, let me know when you give birth to a “whats to come”. People bear people and salmon bare salmon. This has been, is and always will be. Its really simple.

Note: The new species has to be able to give birth to more of its same species, or be able to give birth at all. There is no continuation of life in a mule or whatever that thing is.

Further, when have you seen, ever, where a mutation has aided an animal in both life and finding a mate: never. the only thing evolution has to hinge on is the fact that there are many species with similar attributes. This is because God created them and the environment that they survive in. Darwin was wrong.

I think readers here should now be educated enough about evolution to refute the two big claims in this critique (put in bold), so I’ll leave it to you to do that, and then will email your responses to the author.  The author is an adult, and seems pretty set in his/her ways, so you needn’t treat the person with kid gloves. But, of course, please try to be temperate in your response. I am not, however, going to cut out mockery of faith this time.

It’s fun crowdsourcing responses to creationists.

Google Doodle celebrates botanist Carrie Derick

This didn’t appear on my Google screen, but reader Dennis tells me that yesterday Google in Canada posted a Doodle honoring the 155th birthday of Carrie Matilda Derick (1862-1941).


Derick, a geneticist specializing in plants, was in fact the first female professor in any subject in a Canadian university. She was also the founder of the botany department at McGill University, but wasn’t made a professor for three years after she’d been running the department! (See below.) The Library and Archives Canada recounts some of her achievements, which were not only in botany, but in popularization of science and political activism:

As well as teaching and doing research, Derick published numerous articles on botany, including “The problem of the ‘burn-out’ district of southern Saskatchewan,” “The early development of the Florideae,” and “The trees of McGill University.” Many articles were aimed at the scientific community, earning her the respect of colleagues around the world and the distinction of appearing in the 1910 edition of American men of science. Others were intended to bring an understanding of nature to a general audience. In addition, she wrote biographical sketches and political essays.

At the same time that she was leading a busy and sometimes difficult academic life, Derick was deeply involved in social activism. Her main interests were women’s suffrage and education, but she worked for many causes throughout her life. Her energy and commitment are reflected in a partial list of the organizations she was involved with: the Local Council of Women (Montreal); the Protestant Committee of the Council of Education; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Montreal Suffrage Association; the National Council of Education; the Federation of University Women of Canada; and the Montreal Folklore Society.


Carrie Derick

Sadly, this Doodle is seen only in the blue places below, i.e., Canada. It’s the first one-country Doodle I’ve seen, and that’s a shame. It does us well to remember the indignities suffered not all that long ago by women in academia, and to mourn the loss of scientific advances caused by the marginalization of women. Wikipedia gives the evidence (my emphasis)

In 1891, Derick began her master’s program at McGill under David Penhallow and received her M.A. in botany in 1896. She attended the University of Bonn in 1901 and completed the research required for a Ph.D. but was not awarded an official doctorate since the University did not give women Ph.D. degrees. She then returned to McGill and “continued to work, teach, and administer” in the botany department. In 1905, “after seven years of lecturing, assisting Penhallow with his classes, researching and publishing, without any pay increments or offers of promotion, Derick wrote directly to Principal Peterson and was promoted to assistant professor” at one-third the salary of her male counterparts. Derick was only officially appointed as professor of comparative morphology and genetics by McGill in 1912 after three years of running the department following Penhallow’s death. She was the first woman both at McGill and in Canada to achieve university professorship. She retired in 1929.


Sunday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

by Grania

Good morning! I’m fending off the damp cold of Cork by sipping on Spanish Hot Chocolate (indistinguishable from any other kind of hot chocolate in my opinion).

Today is the anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after colliding with birds after take-off. It was less of a miracle for birds as they ended up being culled by the thousands in an effort to prevent such an accident from happening again.


Today is also the 16th birthday of Wikipedia which first went online on this day in 2001. Although it is not without its problems, it still remains a valuable starting point for researching anything quickly online.

Today is also the birthday of Finnish composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä and American singer Lisa Lisa.

Over in Poland, the four-footed cousins are once again engaged in serious discussions of serious subjects. I’m not sure why the subject of entropy is bothering Cyrus today. Could it be the cold winter?

Cyrus: We should talk it over thoroughly.
Hili: But what exactly?
Cyrus: Well, maybe the second law of thermodynamics?


In Polish

Cyrus: Powinniśmy to wszystko przedyskutować.
Hili: A co dokładniej?
Cyrus: No chociażby to drugie prawo termodynamiki.

And out in Wlockawek, Leon has had a fright:

Leon: What’s that? Strangers are attacking!