I agree with Mano and Nina

I have not been happy with the DNC, and haven’t been for years. It’s been a captive of the neo-liberal wing of the party, and is too corporatist and too conservative to win elections any more. And now there’s argument over who should run the show, either Tom Perez, the choice of the Obama/Clinton faction, or Keith Ellison, favored by the more progressive Sanders wing. They had a debate this week, but I did not pay attention — I know who I’d like to see in charge.

Ellison is black and Muslim, and as Mano points out, he’s been getting some rather bigoted push-back. Personally, I don’t care that he’s Muslim — if he weren’t, they’d be promoting a Christian, and I really don’t see a difference between the two. What matters to me is who is backing the candidates, and I’m a bit tired of billionaires dictating policy. So I’m with Mano, I’d rather see that connection broken with Ellison.

So when we say, correctly, that the Republican party is beholden to the wealthy, we should remember that the current ruling segment of the Democratic party is equally beholden. They just have different billionaires to please.

This is why the control of the Democratic party has to be wrested away from the Obama-Clinton neoliberal faction that has run the party into the ground by making it Republican-lite, and put in the hands of the Sanders faction.

I also like what Nina Turner has to say.

I am supporting Congressman Ellison. If the DNC doesn’t elect him, I’m not so sure the party is serious about changing. Because the party structure itself has to regain its integrity. That is what’s so biting about what happened in 2016. Not just that Senator Sanders was not treated fairly, but that the structure that is the Democratic Party lost integrity.

We have to acknowledge that. Berniecrats deserve an apology. The sins must be confessed and whoever is the next leader must say very clearly that what happened to Senator Sanders in the primary will never happen to anybody again, whether they’re running for Dog Catcher or President of the United States. That the DNC, by its own bylaws, will be neutral in a primary. That no bodies, no fingers, no thumbs will be placed on the scale. There needs to be a healing within the Democratic Party.

We have to go and get the people who were not necessarily diehard Democrats but who started to believe because of the candidacy of Senator Sanders. But in order to get them, the Party must show it learned its lesson. And that the leadership will change and that every person who works for the DNC understands very clearly what their role is. The D should matter. It shouldn’t just be some letter or symbol that automatically gets you elected.

We lost our way in 2016 and we lost the election because of it. Let’s face it: we’ve been losing statewide and legislative elections since 2009. It’s not just about the President but the State Senators and State Reps and Governors and Secretaries of State and auditors and Attorneys General. And we have to stop talking about off-year elections. There’s no such thing. Every single year there is an important election and we need people to come out and vote, and to run and to care. And we need elected officials to do what is necessary to change the lives of the people who elected them. They need to stop whispering sweet nothings into voters’ ears every time it’s time to run, but then are nowhere to be found when it’s time to put up.

The pattern established with Bill Clinton has to be broken. It’s not working, especially not when people are finding little to distinguish between generic Democrats and generic Republicans (the current crop of R’s are anything but generic, though — they are exceptionally Republican).

Bernie Sanders just trolled the f*ck out of Trump

A month into his presidency, and Donald Trump still can’t let go of the dispute over the numbers of people who showed up to his inauguration. So when Trump returned to the subject in an offhanded tweet this Saturday morning, Bernie Sanders was on hand to give the President a little ribbing.

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Juggling flies, fish, and students all week long


Time for another reflection on my mundane week of teaching. I know this is unexciting, but I’m trying to be self-aware about what I’m doing in the class.

I’ve already summarized some of what I did this week: we explored the meaning of “epigenetics”, and I made a big push to get them to think critically about the papers we’re reading. They’re supposed to be developing a topic they’ll explore independently, so I’ve had them doing library work to find a line of research they find interesting, and master the skill of extracting the key questions the work is trying to address. I’ve got a small stack of short papers that I’m going to read this weekend and we’ll see how well they can do that.

We also discussed symbiotic interactions in development, and next week the topic is other environmental effects. They are getting much, much better at opening up and talking at the miserable hour of 8am.

The other regular highlight of my week is FlyDay, when I have to scrub dead maggots and pupae out of fly bottles. I had to postpone FlyDay this week! Yesterday I was scheduled to meet with students and parents visiting the university to confirm their plans to attend, and I was all spiffed up in a nice suit, which isn’t the best thing to wear when one is flicking bits of chitin and gooey medium around. I went in early this morning to scrub bottles and get them cooking in the autoclave.

By the way, at that student meeting I was the official biology representative, and although biology is currently the largest major on campus, almost no one stopped by to talk to me. It might have been my terrifying glare, or my sciencey reek, but no: it was because there was a separate table for the pre-professional programs (pre-med, pre-vet, pre-dental, etc.). This is a minor peeve of mine: this is not 19th century England. You do not graduate from your public school education and go straight into medical school — no, here in 21st century America you get a broad-based undergraduate education first, and then you apply to med school. You should be thinking about your liberal arts education first, and in a couple of years we’ll start coaching you on how to get into those professional programs.

Oh, well. They ignore me now, but I know that I’ll get my claws on most of them soon — they’ll want all those bio classes to prep them for the MCATs.

I should mention that I am teaching another course beyond ecological development — I’m teaching a lab course on transmission genetics. They’ve been doing crosses with flies all semester long, and we’re getting to an interesting point.

The first half semester we’re doing a mapping cross, using recombination to estimate the distances between a couple of genes on the X chromosome. We’re using flies that are mutant for eye color (white, w), wing length (miniature, m), and bristle morphology (forked, f), and I’ve also got a few groups mapping body color (yellow, y), wing veins (crossveinless, cv) and forked, f; the latter are doing a pilot test to see if I want to add that cross to our regular repertoire.

The way this works is that they are given wild type and triple mutant flies. I first have them raise a new generation of the purebred stock, simply to get a little practice in sexing flies and basic skills in growing them. So they first do these crosses:

♀w m f/w m f x ♂w m f/Y

which produces bottles full of homozygous white-eyed, miniature-winged, forked-bristled flies, and

♀w+ m+ f+/w+ m+ f+ x ♂w+ m+ f+/Y

which produces bottles full of homozygous wild type flies.

Then I have them do a reciprocal cross of flies from the two bottles. These are X-linked traits, so it matters which strain is the mother and which the father, and I want them to see that. That is, they cross wild type females to triple mutant males, like so:

♀w+ m+ f+/w+ m+ f+ x ♂w m f/Y,

which produces progeny that are all wild type, both male and female (they all inherit the dominant wild type allele at all loci from their mothers). After they’ve scored the flies from this cross, we dispose of them all and don’t think any further about them.

They also cross mutant females to wild type males, like this:

♀w m f/w m f x ♂w+ m+ f+/Y.

That has the useful result that all the sons inherit w m f from their mother and a Y chromosome from their father, so they all express the mutant phenotype. The daughters, however, are all heterozygous, inheriting the mutant alleles from their mother and a wild type chromosome from their father, so their genotype is:

♀w m f/w+ m+ f+

Now the fun begins. Meiotic recombination in those flies will rearrange the +’s and -‘s in those chromosomes with a frequency dependent on their distance from one another — you’ll get less recombination between genes that are close to one another.

This week, they completed the reciprocal cross and got their heterozygous females and mutant males. Yay! That worked. They are now setting up a test cross to assess recombination frequencies.

I just want to say that I think I planned everything perfectly. That test cross will be ready to score next week, which is the week before spring break, which means we’ll have the data for all the calculations before they leave, and when they get back, I’ll be able to lead them through all the theory. It also means I’ll be able to purge a lot of fly bottles and get them scrubbed up over the break (you can tell already that I have glamorous plans for my short vacation). Trust me, though, this is good — there have been semesters where, due to student error, the flies haven’t been ready, and then my spring break is spent maintaining 120 bottles of student flies.

It also means we can launch into the next experiment as soon as they get back: we’re going to do a complementation cross between two eye color mutants, brown eye (bw) and scarlet eye (st). If I’ve got this one all timed out correctly, we’ll be getting F2 results of crosses between heterozygotes for both loci a week before the end of classes.

Now you know. I choreograph fly sex for my convenience.

Next up, I have to choreograph my schedule. It turns out I have been summoned to Howard Hughes headquarters on 8 March and 18 April, which punch big holes in my planned lessons, and which I hadn’t accounted for in my syllabi. I’m going to have to juggle lectures and exams and rearrange the order of various things in a big way this coming week.

Where did these people go to college?

These remarks by Betsy DeVos at CPAC are revealing. It sounds like she, and the cheering crowds, have no idea what college is actually like.

The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.

Those are lies. What we want, at real universities, is for our students to question everything intelligently. I just gave my class an assignment to critically analyze a paper — to read it specifically with a mind to finding flaws and developing arguments and tests to evaluate its validity. That’s standard practice.

DeVos attended Calvin College. I’d really like to know what classes she took that failed to give her an education.

Atheist Receives Death Threats After Ten Commandments Decision

More of that Christian love: Atheist mom receives death threats after a public school is forced to remove a Ten Commandments monument. Some conservative Christians are angry after a Pennsylvania school district agreed to remove a 6-foot tall granite Ten Commandments monument in front of a public high school. The New Kensington-Arnold School District says [Read More…]

Practicing Evidence-Based Medicine

By Steven Novella

An excellent article in ProPublica by David Epstein discusses the problem of doctors not adhering to the best evidence-based standards. The full article is worth a read, and I won’t just repeat it here, but I do want to highlight a few points which align well with what I have been writing here and at SBM for years.

The essential problem is that there is a disconnect between the best evidence-based standards and what is actually practiced out in the world. There are actually two problems here. The first is the scientific evidence itself. The second is the alignment of practice to this evidence.

Scientific evidence in medicine has a few challenges. There is publication bias, researcher bias, p-hacking, the decline effect, and problems with replication. What all of this adds up to is that there is a lot of published preliminary evidence, most of which is wrong in the false positive direction. There is a tendency, in my opinion, of adopting treatments prematurely.

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This Hinged Skull Helps Dragonfish Eat Prey Bigger Than Its Head

By Jackson Landers

Don’t try to eat anything bigger than your own head. That’s good advice for most living things, but a group of creatures called the dragonfishes found an evolutionary way to break that rule.

A pair of scientists have discovered how the dragonfishes are able to swallow prey that is almost as big as they are. They found the first known hinged cranium in a fish and described it recently in the journal Plos One.

These dozens of dragonfish species live in extremely deep areas of the ocean in almost total darkness. With a long, glowing barbel hanging beneath their face, the creatures uses bioluminescence to attract prey. But in the deep, dark ocean it could be months between one fish sighting and another. So these dragonfishes must be able to take advantage of any opportunity to eat—even something nearly their own size.

“Probably close to 100 years ago someone looked at the anatomy of dragonfishes and noticed that there was a gap by the brain case,” says Dave Johnson, a curator in the division of fishes at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of the study along with Nalani Schnell of the Muséum national d’Histore naturelle at the Sorbonne in Paris. “But at that time they didn’t have X-rays.”

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