Readers’ wildlife photos

We have a new contributor today, so put your hands together and welcome aboard reader Bill Turner, who sends some photos from Oz.

We recently corresponded about the Talkeetna Airport cat and I promised to send you some wildlife photos. The attached are not the ones I intended (I have thousands from trips to the Galapagos, Africa, Alaska etc). However, I am sojourning in the centre of Australia so offer some very recent photos for your collection.
The first two are, respectively, of a male and female zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), a species I have seen many times in captivity, but this is the first time I have seen them in the wild. As they live in a desert region, they congregate around ready water sources, in this case, water tanks used to reprovision hikers at Kata Tjuṯa (better known as the Olgas), in the Kata Tjuṯa-Uluru National Park.
The second series of photos were taken in the shadows of Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock). It shows very interesting behaviour. A pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) flew onto a branch with a Gould’s Wattled Bat (Chalinolobus gouldii) in its beak.
The butcherbird then lodged the bat in a ‘v’ formed by two twigs and then proceeded to use that as a brace to strip the flesh off the bat. I believe that this behaviour is what gives the bird its name – butcherbird – as it uses the branch as a butcher’s hook.
In the first photo, you can see the bird stripping away the skin from a wing. In the second, you can see the now denuded wing. I add a third with prey and predator, for good luck.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Good morning: in the U.S. it’s Saturday, September 23, 2017, and it’s going to be hot again in Chicago, with a high of 88° F (31° C). And we’re predicted to be sweltering until Tuesday. It’s the hottest early fall I remember, and every day we’re setting records. I hate to think about global warming. . . .

It’s National Pancake Day, but I’ve already had my breakfast: a buttered baguette and a large latte: a French-style déjuner.  Today is the day the world is supposed to end as the “hidden planet” Nibiru crashes into Earth and then the trumpets blown and weird beasts occur.  I’m betting a thousand dollars it won’t happen (any takers?), but you’d be foolish to bet against me because you couldn’t collect if you won. It’s also the Feast Day of Padre Pio, the man with the fake stigmata. I doubt seriously whether you can have Stigmata by Munchausen’s, and strongly suspect he made the wounds himself.  Anyway, here’s a picture of the Padre with his “stigmata”:

Today’s Google Doodle (click on link to see) celebrates the 100th birthday of Asima Chatterjee, an Indian organic chemist. Working most of her life out of the University of Calcutta (she died in 2006), her major work was on the organic chemistry of alkaloids and the isolation of useful compounds from plants.


On this day in 1642, Harvard University had its first commencement—a weird time of the year for graduation (the University was founded in 1636). On September 23, 1806, Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis after their famous expedition to the American Northwest. In 1962, the Lincoln Center for the performing arts opened in New York City, and in 1980 Bob Marley played his last concert, in Pittsburgh. Already ill from metastasized melanoma (he had collapsed two days before), he lived for another few months before dying on May 11, 1981. His life might have been saved had he let the doctors amputate his toe, where the lesion occurred, but he feared it would hamper his movement. Instead, it ended his life. Finally, exactly 15 years ago, the first public version of the web browser Mozilla Firefox (“Phoenix 0.1”) was released.

Notables born on this day include the Roman Emperor Augustis (63 BC), Kublai Khan (1215), Walter Lippmann (1889), Louise Nevelson (1899), Mickey Rooney (1920), Ray Charles (1930), George Jackson (1941), Bruce Springsteen (1949; same year as me!), Jim Morrison (1952), and Sean Spicer (1971). Those who died on this day include Wilkie Collins (1889), Sigmund Fraud Freud (1939), Padre Pio (1968), Pablo Neruda (1973), Bob Fosse (1987), and Irv DeVore (2014).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Cyrus have a sleepy debate about free will. In fact, Hili’s being crushed was determined in advance; there was no alternative:

Hili: I’m crushed.
Cyrus: But you have freedom of movement and choice.
Butt to butt!
In Polish:
Hili: Jestem przygnieciona.
Cyrus: Ale masz nadal swobodę ruchu i wolność wyboru.

And once again I’ve stolen two cat tw**ts from Heather Hastie:

Rare film of Pallas’s cat hunting

Via The Rainforest Site we get some rare footage of my absolute favorite wild cat, the Pallas’s cat, or “manul” (Otocolobus manul) hunting in nature. It’s a denizen of the Asian steppes, and, with its luxuriant fur and small ears, well adapted to deal with cold. The cubs appear 20 seconds into the video.

The skinny:

On August 31, the Pallas cat International Conservation Alliance announced that they had captured footage of the elusive animal in Mongolia’s Zoolon Mountains. Using remote sensor research cameras, the footage shows a full-grown Pallas cat hunting in the daylight. The cameras also recorded cubs exploring the strange cameras during the night.

Well that wasn’t long enough to satisfy our desire to see this wonderful beast, so have a two-minute video from PBS. Look at that fur!

And note the eyestripes, something present in Felis silvestris, and ancestor of the house cat. I’m sure there’s ample speculation about possible adaptive functions of this pattern, but I don’t know what it is. Any guesses?

Felis silvestris, the European wildcat

Domestic tabby (Hili)

h/t: Moto

Internal emails at Evergreen State reveal climate of racial hostility

An article by Jillian Kay Meolchior in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Inside the madness at Evergreen State” (behind a paywall, but I thank a kind reader for sending me the text), reveals that, contrary to the college’s claims, The Evergreen State College (TESC) had a toxic atmosphere of authoritarianism, so that accusations of racism were leveled on the thinnest of evidence—or no evidence at all.

The problems at TESC came to light when biology professor Bret Weinstein refused to leave campus last spring during the “Day of Departure”, as he was white and considered a demand to leave as an oppressive act. As you’ll know if you read this site, Weinstein had a history of anti-racist activism, so he was hardly someone to demonize. Yet demonized he was, to the point that he and Heather Heying, another biology professor and Weinstein’s spouse, were called racists, hounded, threatened, and eventually forced to leave the town of Olympia, Washington, for their own safety. Weinstein and Heather just settled with TESC for $500,000—only two years’ salary for the pair—and resigned from the college yesterday.

Meolchior managed to get hundreds of pages of internal TESC correspondence through the state’s public records act, and says this:

 The emails show that some students and faculty were quick to levy accusations of racism with neither evidence nor consideration of the reputational harm they could cause. The emails also reveal Mr. Weinstein and Ms. Heying were not the only ones concerned about a hostile and dangerous campus.

I’ve already commented about how dysfunctional and regressive TESC is, so I’ll put some of Ms. Meolchior’s findings in bullet points for the record—to make them available to those misguided souls who think that everything’s hunky dory at TESC. The bullet points are direct quotes from the WSJ piece. The bolding, though, is mine:

  • Consider a February exchange, in which Mr. Weinstein — a progressive who is skeptical of identity politics — faulted what he called Evergreen administrators’ “reckless, top-down reorganization around new structures and principles.” Within minutes, a student named Mike Penhallegon fired back an email denouncing Mr. Weinstein and his “racist colleagues.”
  • Another student, Steve Coffman, responded by asking for proof of racism within the science faculty. Mr. Coffman cited Christopher Hitchens’s variation of Occam’s razor: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Jacqueline McClenny, an office assistant for the First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services — a campus office that helped organize the Day of Absence — observed that because Hitchens’s razor is an “Englishman’s popularization of a Latin proverb,” it “would seem to itself be the product of at least two traditionally hierarchical, imperialist societies with an interest in disposing of inconvenient questions.”

That’s how insane people are acting there.

  • Media professor Naima Lowe [JAC: one of the big instigators of student unrest] urged one of Mr. Weinstein’s defenders to read about how calls for civility are “often used to silence and/or dismiss concerns about racism.” She also said that the “white people making changes in their white supremacist attitudes and behaviors” were those “who do not immediately balk and become defensive,” instead acknowledging that “white supremacy is literally ingrained in everything.” In other words, merely defending oneself against the accusation of “white supremacy” is evidence of guilt.

  • After a mob occupied the library, the college’s facilities engineer, Richard Davis, wrote in an email that he believed “the students are testing how much lawlessness will be tolerated,” and “they have not found a boundary yet.” He described how two students stalked him and screamed at him, adding that he was disturbed by the lack of police. “Many of us are stating that as long as the students are not violent, their behavior is acceptable,” Mr. Davis continued. “Apparently, violence in this context is bloodshed.” (Mr. Davis retired in June.)

  • The protests were “loud and at times intimidating,” wrote John Hurley, Evergreen’s vice president for finance and administration. “Unfortunately some members of our community were stopped as they tried to leave campus and that was scary and others felt barricaded in their office.”

JAC: I suspect that in the “new” version of TESC, the role of the campus police will be minimized. Most of the humanities students hate them anyway, and they weren’t called out by President George “Invertebrate” Bridges to quell disturbances. It’ll be a tough job to be a campus cop at TESC!

Finally, there’s this:

  • Nancy Koppelman, an American studies and humanities professor, described being “followed by white students who yelled and cursed at me, accused me of not caring about black and brown bodies, and claimed that if I did care I would follow their orders.” Ms. Koppelman, who is 5-foot-1 [JAC: she appears to be white], said the students towered over her, and “the only thing they would accept was my obedience.” She reported that the encounter so unnerved her that she was left physically shaking.   Ms. Koppelman wrote that she was worried about “features of the current protest strategy that violate the social contract, and possibly the law.” Tolerating such tactics, she argued, “may create a working environment which is too hostile for some of us to continue our employment at the college.” Her email concluded: “I have not decided whether or how to share these thoughts more widely. If I do, I will very likely be tagged as ‘a racist’ by some of my colleagues and the students they teach.”

Clearly the students now think they’re running the place, and now that they’ve had their Pyrrhic victory by driving two great teachers away from the school, they’re going to feel more empowered. I can’t even imagine teaching there, much less being a student who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid. It’s a sad day when people like Professor Koppelman can’t even write about being intimidated by students without fear of being called a racist.

The mess of Title IX in US colleges

UPDATE: Betsy DeVos has just reversed the “Dear Colleague” policy. As the New York Times notes in a brief report:

Reversing a key part of government policy on campus sexual assault, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday issued new temporary rules that could give accused students greater protection against campus rape and sexual misconduct claims.

Ms. DeVos said that colleges may now use a higher standard of evidence before finding students responsible for sexual assault, a decision that can lead to discipline and even expulsion.

The change, the latest in a widespread rollback of Obama-era rules by the Trump administration, had been long sought by advocates of accused students, mostly men, who had complained that campus judicial processes had become heavily biased in favor of women accusers.

The rules, a sharp break from the Obama administration’s directives, will now permit colleges and universities to raise their evidence requirements to a “clear and convincing standard” of proof. The Obama administration had demanded colleges use a lower “preponderance of evidence” standard.

The interim rules permit colleges to maintain the preponderance standard if they so choose, but the change suggests Ms. DeVos wants colleges to consider adopting the higher standard, if not actually forcing them to do so. The rules will remain in effect while the Education Department seeks public comment on a permanent set of rules.

I suspect that most colleges will keep the “preponderance of evidence” standard out of simple inertia—unless lawsuits by those found guilty start to accumulate.


In 2011, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) of the U.S. Department of Education sent its famous “Dear Colleague” letter to American colleges and universities, suggesting how sexual harassment and assault cases should be handled. Before that, it was pretty much up to the colleges how to handle such in-house investigations, and different colleges used different standards of evidence.  There are three that could be used (see here for more explanation):

  • Conviction requires guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which of course means that the bar is very high for conviction.
  • Conviction requires “clear and convincing evidence”, that is, it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault occurred. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher that the assault took place.
  • Conviction requires a “preponderance of the evidence” for assault or hasassment. This means that it is more likely that not (likelihood > 50 %) that the offense occurred.

Criminal courts in the U.S. use the first standard for conviction. The “clear and convincing” standard is used in some administrative court determinations and certain civil or criminal cases (a prisoner seeking habeas corpus relief from capital punishment, for instance, must prove his innocence using this standard). The “preponderance” standard is used in civil and family courts; it is, for instance, the reason why O. J. Simpson was found guilty of by a civil court for damages in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, thus owing them lots of money even though he was exonerated in his criminal trial.

The “Dear Colleague” letter, although said by the Obama administration to be only “advisory”, made a strong suggestion that adjudicating sexual assault cases in colleges should use the lowest standard of proof. Here’s an excerpt (my emphasis):

As noted above, the Title IX regulation requires schools to provide equitable grievance procedures. As part of these procedures, schools generally conduct investigations and hearings to determine whether sexual harassment or violence occurred. In addressing complaints filed with OCR under Title IX, OCR reviews a school’s procedures to determine whether the school is using a preponderance of the evidence standard to evaluate complaints. The Supreme Court has applied a preponderance of the evidence standard in civil litigation involving discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.

. . . Thus, in order for a school’s grievance procedures to be consistent with Title IX standards, the school must use a preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred). The “clear and convincing” standard (i.e., it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred), currently used by some schools, is a higher standard of proof. Grievance procedures that use this higher standard are inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX. Therefore, preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence

The rationale, as you see, put the Title IX standards in line with that of civil rights violations rather than criminal actions. Although this was touted as a “guideline”, it was made clear that colleges might suffer withdrawal of federal funds if they didn’t adhere to the 2011 standards, and also be subject to on-site inspection by the OCR. Virtually every college now adheres to the standards laid out in the “Dear Colleague” letter.

If you’ve followed the news even cursorily, you know that there were other provisions of the letter (like allowing a form of double jeopardy for the accused) that led to a mess and a bunch of lawsuits by those who were convicted—almost all men. Students could be tried even if the “victim” didn’t complain or even denied that any assault took place: a simple third-party complaint would do. And professors got in trouble merely for discussing other people’s cases, making them subject to their own Title IX complaints (see the recent article in the New Yorker, “Laura Kipnis’s Endless Trial by Title IX“). For other reports of how Title IX has led to widespread confusion, see the articles here and here, as well as Emily Yoffe’s three-part series in The Atlantic (links here).

In response, four women professors at Harvard’s Law School have called for the use of the “preponderance of evidence” standards previously used by Harvard. Further protests were summarized in a letter by 21 law professors:

Criticisms of OCR Criticism of OCR’s enforcement of its directives has come from a broad range of stakeholders, including law professors, civil libertarians, and others. This is a sampling:

  • Twenty-eight Harvard Law professors protested that OCR’s directives“lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.”
  • University of Pennsylvania law professors expressed “outrage” at the fact that campus sexual assault has become “a justification for shortcuts in our adjudicatory processes,” criticizing the practice as “unwise” and contradicting “our principles.”
  • Members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted OCR’s “disturbing pattern of disregard for the rule of law” in addressing campus sexual violence and observed that “nowhere in the text of Title IX, which has been used to justify the school’s need to adjudicate outside the justice system, or in earlier Office for Civil Rights regulations does it state such a low burden be used.”’
  • Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard professor of civil rights, has described OCR’s policies restricting the due process provided to accused students as “madness.”
  • Cornell University professor Cynthia Bowman reported “general agreement among faculty at the Law School that the procedures being proposed are Orwellian.”

Professional organizations have expressed concerns, as well:

  • The American Association of University Professors warned OCR that use of the lower standard of proof would “erode the due process protections for academic freedom.”
  • The National Association of Scholars has urged Congress to “[r]ein in education administration on ‘unlawful’ bullying, sexual assault policies.”

The mess that we’re in started as an admirable attempt to make sure that women were treated equally on campuses (the original purpose of Title IX) and then later to ensure that as few sexual assaults as possible would occur on campuses. We’re all in favor of these things. But the mess came from two sources: the reduction of the standard of evidence for guilt to the lowest possible bar, and to adjudicating criminal acts by colleges acting on their own rather than using the legal system. Further, universities aren’t really set up for this kind of trial system, and widely varying standards of evidence and procedure resulted. Some of the stories are frightening.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently announced that the Trump administration is going to look at the Obama standards and perhaps change them, tightening the standards of evidence. This has been met with outrage by liberals and feminists as the Trump administration’s attempt to “normalize” rape culture. (Surprisingly, an article in the New Yorker by Jeannie Suk Gersen, a Harvard Law Professor and the author of the aforementioned piece on Kipnis, approves of DeVos’s move.)

Now I’m as suspicious of DeVos as anyone else is, but we can’t simply reject every new policy simply because it comes from a Trump appointee. As Gersen said of DeVos’s speech on the subject, what the Secretary said would be uncontroversial if it came from an Obama appointee:

In short, DeVos appears to be proceeding exactly as an agency head should: give notice, take comments, and explain why a given policy is being adopted. But the intent to depart from an Obama-era policy, which itself did not go through those steps, will undoubtedly garner outrage and dismay. “We must continue to condemn the scourge of sexual misconduct on our campuses,” she said. “We can do a better job of making sure the handling of complaints is fair and accurate,” she also said. If these statements were made by a different official in a different Administration, they would seem rational, uncontroversial, and even banal. The idea that an adjudicatory process should be fair to both sides is about as basic as any facet of American law can be, even when it is articulated by an individual who is noncommittal on the basic educational rights of L.G.B.T.Q. students and students with disabilities, and who believes that guns belong in schools to protect against grizzly bears. But in these times, especially following the equivocal statements made by President Trump on the violence in Charlottesville, the very concept of “both sides” may approach moral peril (to say nothing of the fact that Trump himself has boasted of sexual assault).

It’s clear that Title IX needs fixing. I’m not sure how to do it, but I think the “preponderance of evidence” standard needs to go. Sexual assault is a serious matter—a heinous criminal act—and should be judged according to higher standards of evidence.

One solution is that all cases reported to colleges be reported to the courts first, who will determine what to do and, if there’s determined to be sufficient evidence for a trial, find the accused innocent or guilty. If guilt is determined, then the college can make its own judgment about how to treat the guilty student. Others object to that because not all victims want to report assaults to the police. But then it doesn’t seem fair that someone can be convicted by a much lower standard of evidence (granted, they’d just get suspended rather than incarcerated)—especially a “>50%” one that comes close to a judgment call.  I haven’t yet formulated a strong opinion on this, but am asking readers to weigh in on one of four choices.

First, you can choose whether or not all sexual assault cases reported to colleges should be immediately given to the police for handling, and only after the courts have resolved the issue should the college step in. (I’d think that a finding of “not guilty” would end the matter, but maybe not.)  Or, if you think that colleges should judge these cases independently of the courts, using their own standards of evidence and procedure, which of the three standards above should the college use?

These are mutually exclusive choices, so please vote for one and please justify your answer in the comments if you have time. You can view the results after you vote.


h/t: Grania


Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have some nice photos from reader Mark Sturtevant. His notes are indented:

These are some pictures of arthropods that I have taken this summer.  The first picture is a common but lovely red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus). These are a kind of longhorn beetle that feeds on milkweed, and the bright colors are likely a warning that it is toxic. A character of many longhorns is the possession of compound eyes that wrap around the base of the antennae. This species takes that trait to extremes because the eyes are split by the antennae – so here is an insect with 4 compound eyes! The scientific name refers to this feature.

The next two pictures are of an ant mimicking jumping spider, Synemosyna formica. These things are tiny, and so the picture was taken with the aid of a Raynox 150 on my macro lens. She was pretty cooperative for a jumping spider, but she would wander around on this leaf and occasionally pick up this bit of food and nom on it. She would then put it down, explore the leaf a bit, then return to the morsel for another tasting.

[JAC: Isn’t this a remarkable mimic?]

The next picture is of a mating pair of bee-like robber flies (Laphria sp.). These flies are fearsome predators, and are always worth looking for. The male (on the left) was alarmed by my presence and kept trying to buzz away. But he was firmly attached to the female who did not want to fly off, so he was repeatedly yanked to a halt. I hope it was not too painful.

The next three pictures are of some odd-looking grasshoppers. These are adult pygmy grasshoppers (I think Tetrix arenosa) that are only about a quarter inch in length. Another peculiar feature of these ‘hoppers is that the dorsal plate of their first thoracic segment (the pronotum) is extended rear-ward to cover their wings. The first individual has what seems to be mites, and these may be the larval stage of the red velvet mite (see below). The second picture is of a female I spotted only because she had moved. So I got comfortable on the muddy trail and was taking her picture when I noticed a furtive movement nearby. It was a male, and he was creeping up on the female. The male attempted to climb on her but she would kick him off. This happened a few times, but the male was persistent. In the last picture we see he did manage to clamber aboard but his problem is obvious.

The red velvet mite (Trombidium sp.) in the last picture was creeping around on the forest floor, so I moved it to a place where I could more easily take its picture. It turns out that they have pretty interesting lives. Red velvet mites start out as nymphs which attach themselves to a larger arthropod to suck their hemolymph, as shown here. The nymphs later grow up to be the cute little velveteen critters that we see here. At this stage they are predators of soil arthropods, but of course their minds are really on sex. The sex lives of velvet mites resembles an X-rated soap opera. This story was shown here in WEIT several years ago, where Jerry linked to an educational online cartoon from The Oatmeal. That lesson bears repeating, and so the link is here .

JAC: Here’s a video Mark sent showing the creature in action.

Friday: Hili dialogue

Good morning and happy End Of the Work Week: it’s Friday, September 22, 2017, and we’re into fall. It’s also the 265th day of the year, so we’ve got but a hundred to go until 2018.  Today is also my last physical therapy bout for the shoulder, so my aging carcass, having suffered some trauma, is healing well—though of course my finger remains crooked.

It’s the Autumn Equinox, when the day is as long as the night, and Google is celebrating with this cute animated Doodle. The rodent, however, is using a tea bag, when we all know that rodents prefer a proper cup of tea brewed with leaves.

It’s National White Chocolate Day; lacking chocolate liqueur, and beefed up with milk solids and sugar, this substance is basically cocoa butter, better applied to your skin than your stomach. I can eat the stuff only in white-chocolate/macadamia nut cookies. I’m surprised there isn’t a postmodernist article on the stuff. And it’s HOBBIT DAY, celebrating the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins as recounted in Tolkien’s books; it’s also the beginning of Tolkien Week. As I said, I haven’t read the books for decades, and haven’t seen a single Tolkien movie, but that epic stands as the greatest fantasy book of our time. Wikipedia notes this about Hobbit Day.

Some Tolkien fans celebrate by having parties and feast emulating the hobbit’s parties. Other fans celebrate by simply going barefooted in honor of the hobbits, who don’t wear shoes. Some schools and libraries use this as an opportunity to pique interest in Tolkien’s work by putting up displays and hosting events

Well, I’m barefoot now (in bed, and as I write this it’s 4:20 a.m.), but not for long.

On September 22, 1692, the last person convicted in the Salem witch trials was hanged, with the other accused people released. On this day in 1776, the 21 year old Nathan Hale was hanged by the British for spying. It’s banner day for Mormons, for on this day in 1823, Joseph Smith claimed he retrieved those golden plates after the Angel Moroni, directed by God, led him to their burial site in New York. On such thin and unbelievable tales are religions founded. On this day in 1888, the first issue of National Geographic was released, and it’s been going downhill for a long time, publishing soppy articles on Where Jesus Walked.

Finally, on this day in 1896, Queen Victoria passed her grandfather (King George III) as the longest-reigning British monarch. She eventually ruled for 63 years and 216 days. But now Elizabeth II has passed that: as of today she’s been reigning for 65 years and 226 days. But both pale compared to other monarchs; in fact, according to Wikipedia’s list, Victoria is only #50. The longest reigning ruler of any country given there is Sobhuza II, ruler of Swaziland from December 10, 1899 to 21 August, 1982—a total of 82 years and 252 days. When he died he had had 70 wives and left over a thousand grandchildren. (Take that, Cordelia Fine!) Sobhuza II became king at the age of only four months. Here he is after having reigned many years:

Wikipedia says this, which I didn’t know: on September 22, 1948, “Gail Halvorsen officially started parachuting candy to children as part of the Berlin Air lift.” In operation “Little Vittles,” Halvorsen dropped bubble gum and chocolate to the sugar-starved kids of Berlin. On this day in 1975, Sara Jane Moore unsuccessfully tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford, and exactly five years later, Iraq invaded Iran.

Notables born on this day include Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism (1539), Michael Faraday (1791), Debby Boone (1956) and Joan Jett (1958).

Those who died on this day include Nathan Hale (1776; see above), Shaka Zulu (1828), Marion Davies (1961), George C. Scott (1999), Isaac Stern (2001), Eddie Fisher (2010), and Yogi Berra (2015).  The video below is in honor of Scott in his greatest performance, Patton. Who wasn’t mesmerized by this opening scene? (Note: don’t bother to tell us if you don’t like it; just don’t watch it). Make American great again!! Punch Nazis!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, where the staff is eating plum pies [ 😦 ], Hili is more interested in her kibbles:
A: Hili, you had your breakfast half an hour ago.
Hili: Yes, but I burned up all those calories in walking around. I need my strength to be able to sleep.
In Polish:
Ja: Hili, pół godziny temu jadłaś śniadanie.
Hili: Tak, ale wszystkie kalorie spaliłam podczas spaceru, muszę nabrać sił, żeby móc się przespać.

Matthew sent two tw**ts; this one shows a young seal leaping into a boat to avoid Death by Orca. When I wrote back, “Poor seal,” Matthew responded “Poor orcas,” and then lectured me on how horrible nature is. I think he didn’t have a good breakfast.

And a baby rhino and mom:


A loveless left-handed snail can’t find a mate

Is there a for gastropods? Because if there is, “Jeremy,” a rare left-handed variant of what the Torygraph says is a garden snail (Cornu aspersa) needs to put up his profile pronto:

Left-handed garden snail seeks mate for companionable dinners (no garlic butter!), long crawls on the beach, and, above all, mating. No right-handed snails need apply.

Most land snails have right-handed coiling, but the Torygraph reports that researchers at Nottingham University found a rare, left-handed variant: a one in a million find. Naming it “Jeremy” (these are hemaphrodites), they started a worldwide search for another left-handed snail, because, for reasons shown just below, lefties can only mate with lefties, and righties with righties:

Alas, poor Jeremy was a big-time loser. As the Washington Post reports:

And just weeks later, after drawing international attention, Jeremy’s love story appeared to reach a fairytale ending. Not one, but two left-coiling mates came forward: “Lefty,” a snail owned by a collector in England, and “Tomeu,” a snail rescued at a restaurant while awaiting a fate as a menu item.

As winter hibernation came to a close, Davison hoped the heat would turn up for Jeremy and one of his two possible mates.

“But in a tragic twist, Jeremy has been left shellshocked after being given the cold shoulder by both of his suitors,” Davison said.

That’s right, Jeremy was thrust into a love triangle. The other two snails took a liking to each other, leaving Jeremy a bachelor once more. Lefty and Tomeu began copulating, and now have produced about 170 eggs between them, Davison announced Wednesday.

“We liken it to when you’re interested in someone romantically and you end up introducing that person to your best friend,” Davison said. This first batch of eggs to hatch were “fathered” by Lefty and laid by Tomeu in April. (Snails are hermaphrodites so they can take on the role of either mother or father.) Two more batches of eggs — another laid by Tomeu and one laid by Lefty and fathered by Tomeu — will soon be hatching.

The curious thing is that all the offspring of Lefty and Tomeu have right-handed coiling! How could that be? Well, it’s an interesting story of snail genetics and how the genes for coiling are inherited and activated, but I’ll let a reader fill in that part.

Here’s Jeremy along with a snail of opposite coiling:

Photo by Angus Davidson

And Lefty and Tomeu mating (TRIGGER WARNING: SEX: NSFW!) Poor Jeremy!

“Lefty” and “Tomeu” are pictured mating. (Courtesy of Angus Davison).

As of last May, the aging Jeremy was still a virgin. Lefty went back to hir owner (these are rarities), but the researchers still hope that Jeremy and Tomeu will mate. With further judicious crosses, they could produce an entire race of left-handed snails, and they’d in effect be producing a new species, since members of that group couldn’t mate with the right-handed type.

“Testosterone Rex”, a biased polemic, wins the Royal Society book prize

I’ve now finished Cordelia Fine’s newest book, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. I’ve also read her earlier work, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, so I’ve polished off both of her highly-regarded books on sex differences in behavior. Both books have a similar thesis: there’s essentially no evolved difference between males and females that can account for differences in behavior, preference, and so on. (The former book is more about brain structure and the latter about hormones, but since hormones affect behaviors mediated through the brain, it’s basically the same egalitarian thesis.) Fine’s lesson is that the sex differences we do see are overwhelmingly the result of cultural influences (read: males enforcing behavior differences).

Now that’s a bit of an exaggeration, for when pressed Fine will come out with an admission like this (taken from the review of Testosterone Rex [“TR“] I’ll mention in a minute):

To be very clear, the point is not that the brain is asexual, or that we shouldn’t study sex effects in the brain… genetic and hormonal differences between the sexes can influence brain development and function at every level… [I]nvestigating and understanding these processes may be especially critical for understanding why one sex can be more vulnerable than the other to certain pathologies of brain or mind.

As Stuart Ritchie, who reviewed the book in March for Quillette, notes, that statement is about pathology, and is a bit weaselly, for immediately Fine qualifies it. As Ritchie notes after reading Fine’s admission above:

Absolutely! AutismAlzheimer’sdepression and other conditions have very skewed male:female ratios—a primary reason neuroscientists are interested in sex differences. How odd, then, that Fine ends the paragraph by saying: “The point is rather that, potentially, even quite marked sex differences in the brain may have little consequence for behaviour”. True, this contains a “potentially” and a “quite” and a “may”, but it’s a strange conclusion. Unless you’re a dualist who thinks that behavioural differences—such as the reliable sex differences in physical aggression or spatial ability—are manifest somewhere other than the brain (and unless you think pathologies don’t lead to behavioural differences), the same logic Fine is happy to use for pathology applies just as much to behaviour.

Before I started TR and then while I was reading it, I wrote two posts (here and here) about Fine’s claim that there’s no evolved differences in male and female behavior. I also criticized her completely muddled and erroneous claim (based on bogus statistics) that sexual selection doesn’t work because the “Bateman experiment”—showing a greater variance in reproductive success among male than among female fruit flies—was wrong. Well, it wasn’t wrong, it was inconclusive, and later work, as Ritchie notes, has supported the sex difference in reproductive-success-variance that’s a crucial assumption of sexual selection. Bateman’s result was just a one-off that tells us nothing. Sexual selection is alive and well, and supported by tons of data. Nevertheless, Fine’s argument, which is really dumb if you know even a bit of biology and math, persuaded many people, including a Guardian reviewer, and Ritchie takes it apart in his review.

I’m not going to review TR in detail here (Ritchie’s piece makes that superfluous) except to say that its style and tactics are much of a muchness with Delusions of Gender. Fine is very good at taking apart bad scientific papers, especially those that have an agenda of female inferiority, but she is not good at dealing with papers that go against her hypotheses, and, at best, relegates them to footnotes. In other words, she cherrypicks the literature to support what seems to be her preconceived belief: there are no biological difference between men and women.

I’ve written about that in detail before, particularly in the post I cited above, “When ideology trumps biology.” It’s in the interest of the Regressive Left to ignore science that goes against their belief in an “everybody’s equal” hypothesis, for, they think, showing differences in behavior, preferences, abilities, and so on between genders or ethnic groups will supposedly lead to racism and sexism.

Yet as I’ve said many, many times, that’s bogus: while scientists have in the past buttressed racism with supposed group differences (often fabricated), there is no need for us to do that, for a biological “is”, whatever it may be, doesn’t translate to a social “ought”. If males and females differ genetically in behaviors and preferences, as I think they surely must, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the same rights in our society, or not have the same opportunities. That kind of equality is a moral issue independent of whatever differences groups may have. Making social equality contingent on biological equality leaves you open to having to revise your conclusions if biological differences are found—a bad way to ground your social justice.

I was glad to see that Ritchie’s review reaches the same conclusions as I did: Fine is good on some things, but undercuts her credibility by cherrypicking the literature, and treating studies inimical to her aims differently from those congenial to them. In other words, her book, like the earlier one, is plagued by confirmation bias. As Ritchie says:

This fits into a pattern: evidence contrary to Fine’s position is often cited, but it’s not mentioned in the text, instead being relegated to endnotes where it can’t cause too much trouble. Witness, for instance, Fine’s mention of “stereotype threat”, where a single supporting study is discussed in the text but a contrary meta-analysis is only mentioned in the endnote. Or her discussion of a 2015 paper on how males’ and females’ brains aren’t essentially different, but are a mosaic of features: you wouldn’t know that four strong scientific critiques of the study had been published (with a response) unless you flick to the back of the book. This allows Fine to use the main text to critique only the most overblown claims about sex differences, and avoid having to deal at length with more reasonable arguments.

Admittedly, Fine does deal effectively with those overblown claims. Her chapter on testosterone itself is a useful pushback against assertions about the ubiquity and power of a molecule whose behavioural effects are not well-understood. But for all her stinging critiques of “Testosterone Rex” research, Fine is far more magnanimous—often completely silent—about the weaknesses of the research that supports her view. For instance, in response to self-reported studies of numbers of sexual partners, which are subject to expectancy bias (they might over-report male promiscuity), Fine cites an interview study of 50 men who frequent prostitutes, apparently not realising that such qualitative research is far more vulnerable to the same kind of bias. The final chapter speculates heavily about the idea that “gendered” toys (blue versus pink; cars versus dolls) have effects on girls’ career choices, uncritically citing weak studies (for instance this one, which included only 62 children). The harshest Fine gets about a sympathetic paper is when she discusses a ropey-looking social-priming study on men’s “threatened masculinity”, finishing with the bland statement that “we have to be careful that findings like these are robust and replicable”.

And his conclusion is on the money (I’ve added a link to “curate’s egg” since it’s a British idiom):

In the end, Testosterone Rex is a curate’s egg (or perhaps, given the topic, a curate’s egg-and-sperm). It’s a semi-straw man, successfully debunking the most extreme and simple-minded claims about sex differences, but giving a terribly one-sided view of the science. If you’re a dinosaur who thinks men and women are completely different species, or that testosterone is the only reason sex differences exist, the book might be a useful corrective. Anyone with an even slightly more nuanced view should look elsewhere.

Testosterone Rex is not a bad book, but a biased book. It’s not a judicious work of science, but a polemic. So I was amazed to see that it just won the Royal Society’s Insight Investment Book Prize, to the tune of £25,000 pounds. You can see the panel at the link; Richard Fortey was the Chair. The announcement:

Judges praised Fine’s powerful book for its eye-opening, forensic look at gender stereotypes and its urgent call for change.

Chair of this year’s panel, palaeontologist and award-winning writer and television presenter, Professor Richard Fortey FRS, said: “A cracking critique of the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ hypothesis, Cordelia Fine takes to pieces much of the science on which ‘fundamental’ gender differences are predicated. Graced with precisely focused humour, the author makes a good case that men and women are far more alike than many  would claim. Feminist? Possibly. Humanist? Certainly. A compellingly good read.”

“Call for change”? Did the judges not know the details about sexual selection in both humans and other animals? Or did they not care? Were the judges trying to make a political statement and flaunt their virtue despite some wonky science? Claire Lehmann, editor of Quillette, seems to think that’s the case:

Now they want to demonize Francis Crick

The Statue-Removing Squad has finally jumped the shark. I can sympathize—and even agree—with people’s desire to remove statues honoring the Confederacy, though I quail a bit at taking down statues of Robert E. Lee, who did fight for the Union before secession. But now, it seems, everyone from the past who uttered an offensive remark, or evinced any sign of racial or sexual bigotry (and that includes Mahatma Gandhi), must have their statues taken down.

The problem with wholesale statue removal and effacing of people’s memorials is that before the 20th century, nearly every white person evinced some bigotry, and nearly every male evinced some sexism. As Steve Pinker has pointed out in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the world has undergone a moral improvement in the last few centuries, and what was once acceptable speech or thought is no longer acceptable. Yes, some people keep bigotry to themselves, but you’d be foolish to argue that there’s been no improvement in the recognition and dispensation of human rights.

So what do we do about those statues and memorials? Perhaps some statues of truly odious characters can be moved (rather than destroyed), or accompanied with plaques or counter-statues to emphasize that things have changed. But if we just sanitize history by taking down statues of Gandhi, Woodrow Wilson, or anyone else who every said anything offensive, we’ll have an empty history—or rather, a history populated by statues of oppressed minorities who, it’s often said, cannot be racist—or by women who, by the same token, cannot be sexist. (Remember that racism and sexism = power PLUS prejudice).  I’m truly undecided about the statue issue, about which so many people seem to have moral certainty. No country has a history that’s is totally admirable, and I think we need to find ways to remember it without extolling the bad parts.

But, by God, things have gone too far when some whippersnapper starts suggesting that we start taking down statues and renaming institutions honoring people like Francis Crick. Yet that’s what Yarden Katz (identified as “a fellow in the department of systems biology at Harvard Medical School and an affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University”) wants to do with Francis Crick. This opinion appears in Katz’s Guardian piece called “It’s time to take the ‘great’ white men of science off their pedestals.” (Note that he doesn’t say some great white men, nor mention any women or people of color, despite the fact that such people, too, were sometimes bigots. No, he’s referring to “great white men” in general, for of course that’s a universally denigrated group.)

Katz begins by calling out, properly, a hamhanded Nature editorial defending the statue of J. Marion Sims who, it turned out, advanced gynecological surgery, but only by experimenting on black slave women and infants—clearly an odious thing to do. That seems, to me, to tip the balance of his contribution toward the bad side, for such advances would eventually have been made without doing Nazi-style experiments. If there’s any criterion for whether we honor or efface a person, it must somehow involve whether, in the net, their contributions to humanity have been good or bad.

But Katz, on his high horse, goes further. He denigrates a Nature editorial partly extolling H. G. Wells because Wells saw white people as superior to Jews and people of color.

And then he starts on Francis Crick: