Long day ahead



I’m going to spend most of it locked in a small car. I’m driving to Minneapolis to deliver a friend & colleague to the airport so she can fly off to a new job, but we’re also taking advantage of our day on the road to hit up some grocery stores and stock up, now that our local grocery store is an obliging nexus of disease, and we’re going to deliver a high-quality mask to our son to reduce the chance we might have to attend his funeral. We’ve got a lot to do so that once we get home this evening we can batten down the hatches and not emerge again for a while.

Oh, also, in the near future I have to write a will. Maybe I can short circuit a lot of flailing about in the internet by just asking here — what’s a quick cheap way to get an official, legal document that says when I drop dead, everything goes to my wife and kids? As a bonus, being able to raise a figurative middle finger to the government and institutions that want to throw me into association with 1500+ young people in the middle of a pandemic would be nice. I want to make sure my family are as well taken care of as possible, while also communicating a properly vengeful attitude.

You all let me know about that when I get back, because I’ve got the latest Journal of Arachnology and a couple of papers on spider eyes that I’ll be reading when it’s my wife’s turn to drive. Hmmm, maybe if I had eight eyes I could do my reading while driving…

My job has always been toppling idols



A curious phenomenon: after my post yesterday about Krauss’s bad op-ed, I got complaints. I always do, but these had this odd tone: ‘I used to like you, but now you’re being critical of my heroes’. It confuses me. Why do you have heroes? Why do you think being critical of people is bad? Wait…why are you being critical of me? It all smacks of unthinking idolatry. We should be critical thinkers, and prominent people who aspire to be leaders and inspiring figures should be criticized most of all.

(Don’t look at me. My aspirations nowadays mainly involve spiders.)

I went easy on Krauss. That op-ed was dishonest right-wing trash that lied about the people who were “cancelled”, and could only have been published on the sleaziest of conservative publications, like the Wall Street Journal opinion pages. For a more thorough dissection, you might want to read John Jackson’s exposure of Krauss’s lies and misrepresentations.

  • Krauss claims one of Hsu’s “crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability—something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics.” Well….yeah, manipulating the genetic material of humans for certain traits for the sake of future generations is kind of the definition of eugenics. Krauss doesn’t explain why it wouldn’t be nor why people should be unconcerned with such a plan. So, this doesn’t really advance any argument he thinks he’s making.
  • “He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn’t clearly support claims of racial bias.” Well, as I explained before, that study was mentioned on Twitter, but nowhere else during the controversy. So, technically true, but largely irrelevant to the controversy.
  • “Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign.” Ten days, actually, Mr. Objective-Intellectual-Standards. And welcome to the land of post hoc ergo propter hoc. The two things Krauss listed preceded Hsu’s resignation in time therefore, Krauss concluded they caused Hsu’s resignation. Here’s few possible causes completely unmentioned by Krauss:

That’s just the stuff Krauss wrote about Stephen Hsu! His whole op-ed is that repulsively dishonest about everything, as one might expect of a disgraced academic who is lashing out at those who uncovered his bad behavior.

The author of this fallaciously argued piece is Lawrence Krauss, a man who was found guilty of sexual misconduct by his own university and has been banned from the campuses of three others. Hsu, who hosted a Holocaust denier on his podcast has now defended himself with a neo-Confederate and a serial sexual harasser. These are people who obviously have problems with presenting the truth. Credibility counts and Hsu’s defenders have none.

If these people are your heroes, and if you’re more annoyed at those who point out their feet of clay than at their bad behavior, you’ve got a problem.

You can’t complain about spiders when ichneumonid wasps exist



There we were, innocently gamboling about Green River Park, looking for cute and charming little spiders, when I glance at a tree and…what is that shiny yellow&black evil-looking machine over there? It was an ichneumonid wasp with its long glistening ovipositor probing under the bark for plump grubs to parasitize with eggs.

Wicked. First one I’ve seen here.

OK, we did see one pretty little Philodromus. Cute. Not terrifying like she expects you to bow down and worship her, puny mortal.

But of course Lawrence Krauss has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal



Krauss & friends

He was “cancelled”, so he’s got to complain about all the “cancelling” going on, only, you know, it’s not just asshats like him being served their comeuppance, it’s The Ideological Corruption of Science. It’s not simply scientists being handsy or racist, this is an ASSAULT ON THE VERY FABRIC OF SCIENCE. Oh, fuck you.

In the 1980s, when I was a young professor of physics and astronomy at Yale, deconstructionism was in vogue in the English Department. We in the science departments would scoff at the lack of objective intellectual standards in the humanities, epitomized by a movement that argued against the existence of objective truth itself, arguing that all such claims to knowledge were tainted by ideological biases due to race, sex or economic dominance.

There’s the root of the problem right there, that he would scoff at other disciplines, and that he had this hierarchical notion of the value of knowledge that placed physics, no doubt, at the pinnacle of rigor and true science. Meanwhile, scholars in ‘lesser’ disciplines like sociology and psychology were doing real work to expose why, for instance, physics was so oppressive to women and why biology was infested with racists. One of the reasons is that so-called hard scientists have tended to dismiss the work of scholars outside their narrow domain.

Yeah, I was a grad student and post-doc in biology in the 80s. I saw that attitude, too, only I could see through it to the ignorant elitism behind it. Why can’t Krauss?

It could never happen in the hard sciences, except perhaps under dictatorships, such as the Nazi condemnation of “Jewish” science, or the Stalinist campaign against genetics led by Trofim Lysenko, in which literally thousands of mainstream geneticists were dismissed in the effort to suppress any opposition to the prevailing political view of the state.

Oh, yes, there has never been any political or social or economic influence on the hard sciences — those grants were awarded in a frictionless universe, professorships earned in a perfect vacuum, promotions achieved by pure disciplined calculation. Do tell me more.

Or so we thought. In recent years, and especially since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, academic science leaders have adopted wholesale the language of dominance and oppression previously restricted to “cultural studies” journals to guide their disciplines, to censor dissenting views, to remove faculty from leadership positions if their research is claimed by opponents to support systemic oppression.

You mean science has finally started cleaning up the deadwood and kicking the exploiters and frauds to the curb? You do realize that policies of oppression have affected the make-up of science, don’t you, and that granting agencies have slowly, deliberately begun cracking down on institutions that don’t practice the necessary principles of equal opportunity, right?

Well, let’s look at some of the examples Dr Krauss uses to bolster his argument. It’s curious how he thoroughly downplays the bad ideas of these “victims” to pretend that this is an attack on the purity of science.

… At Michigan State University, one group used the strike to organize and coordinate a protest campaign against the vice president for research, physicist Stephen Hsu, whose crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability—something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics. He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn’t clearly support claims of racial bias. Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign.

Hsu was outright promoting eugenics. He was making extravagant claims about genetics, a subject in which he has no expertise, and about intelligence (ditto), to propose ideas that were flatly rejected by the American Society for Human Genetics. Of course he would be found out and his qualifications rightfully questioned! Also, he only resigned from his administrative position. He is still employed as a professor. Perhaps Krauss is envious?

… Shortly after Mr. Hsu resigned, the authors of the psychology study asked the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science to retract their paper—not because of flaws in their statistical analysis, but because of what they called the “misuse” of their article by journalists who argued that it countered the prevailing view that police forces are racist. They later amended the retraction request to claim, conveniently, that it “had nothing to do with political considerations, ‘mob’ pressure, threats to the authors, or distaste for the political views of people citing the work approvingly.” As a cosmologist, I can say that if we retracted all the papers in cosmology that we felt were misrepresented by journalists, there would hardly be any papers left.

Is it common for cosmology papers to be used to justify discriminatory policies and police violence?

Also, there are a lot of papers in cosmology that ought to be retracted, because they are bad and go far beyond what the evidence warrants.

Actual censorship is also occurring. A distinguished chemist in Canada argued in favor of merit-based science and against hiring practices that aim at equality of outcome if they result “in discrimination against the most meritorious candidates.” For that he was censured by his university provost, his published review article on research and education in organic synthesis was removed from the journal website, and two editors involved in accepting it were suspended.

Oh, right, Tomas Hudlicky, who wrote a paper so backward and regressive that a large number of the board members of the journal promptly resigned in protest. It’s so good of Lawrence Krauss to come along and second guess prominent experts in the field in question.

Hudlicky also was not fired.

An Italian scientist at the international laboratory CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider, had his scheduled seminar on statistical imbalances between the sexes in physics canceled and his position at the laboratory revoked because he suggested that apparent inequities might not be directly due to sexism. A group of linguistics students initiated a public petition asking that the psychologist Steven Pinker be stripped of his position as a Linguistics Society of America Fellow for such offenses as tweeting a New York Times article they disapproved of.

Right, Alessandro Strumia — hey! Have you noticed that Krauss is careful to not mention the specifics, like the names, of these more egregious cases? Is he afraid we might look them up? Or remember what stinkers they are?

Strumia is one of those physicists who dismissed the concerns of women physicists and scoffed at the humanities, so maybe he and Krauss are sharing a moment of fellowship. He also cherry-picked his data and used bad statistics to bolster his claim that Cultural Marxism was corrupting academia with the womens.

Whenever science has been corrupted by falling prey to ideology, scientific progress suffers. This was the case in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union—and in the U.S. in the 19th century when racist views dominated biology, and during the McCarthy era, when prominent scientists like Robert Oppenheimer were ostracized for their political views. To stem the slide, scientific leaders, scientific societies and senior academic administrators must publicly stand up not only for free speech in science, but for quality, independent of political doctrine and divorced from the demands of political factions.

We live in a country where climate data is suppressed, epidemiology disregarded, and the government is wrecking education, yet Krauss wants to compare the people who demand rigorous application of knowledge from all disciplines, even those less privileged than physics, to Nazis and Commies.

I’m more worried about scientific elitism that thinks it is above criticism and finds joy in spitting on research work that might expose their own flaws.

Oh, and Larry — are you still mad about those people who questioned your association with convicted pedophile and all-around sleaze, Jeffrey Epstein? It’s amazing that prominent publications still accept op-eds from you.

Capitalism and sexism wrecks comic books now



I remember when comic books were synonymous with weekends at my grandmother’s, buying 10 for a dollar, swapping old comics with my cousins, picking up a paper sack full of tattered, coverless copies at the Goodwill store. It was all innocence and fun times. Maybe not so much now.

The month of June saw the comics industry rocked by successive waves of predatory conduct allegations, amid similar reckonings around sexual harassment in the affiliated worlds of video games, twitch streaming, tabletop games, professional wrestling, and professional illustration. Some of the allegations, as with superstar writer Warren Ellis, were new. Others brought renewed scrutiny to lingering problems like the allegations against Dark Horse editor Scott Allie and DC writer Scott Lobdell. Most of the stories came from marginalized creators who’d previously been silent for fear of being blacklisted. In June, that wall of silence cracked, and what showed beneath was red and raw and deeply, viscerally angry.

“A huge reason why abusive, predatory, and discriminatory practices go unchecked in the comics industry is this: the impetus is always put on the victims to come forward,” Maï wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “Victims are expected to speak out at great personal cost—at risk of losing jobs and damaging their financial livelihood, at detriment to their mental health and threats to their personal safety… For every story you hear, there is also an unimaginable amount more that are not heard.” (Stewart did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)

Maybe not so much when I was a kid, either.

The comics industry has long been synonymous with exploitation. The early comics publishers were wheeler-dealers and back-room grifters, with their hands in everything from the pulps to softcore pornography. They cut vague handshake deals, crushed attempts to collectively organize and built their industry almost entirely on “work for hire” contracts and freelance labor. The result is a history of dirty dealing that has, over time, been reduced to a litany of names, a Mount Rushmore of the fucked: DC’s mistreatment and neglect of Superman creators Siegel and Shuster; Jack Kirby’s struggle for his original artwork and equal credit for his work with Stan Lee; Alan Moore being screwed out of the rights for Watchmen; Steve Gerber’s long-running battle with Marvel over Howard the Duck.

The modern industry is almost entirely made up of freelancers: writers, artists, colorists and letterers. “Freelancers and people trying to break in are incredibly vulnerable,” writer Devin Grayson (Nightwing, Black Widow, Gotham Nights) told The Daily Beast, particularly when it comes to people working for companies centered around the comics direct market—DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Oni, and the like. That senior editors hold the power to hire and fire is true across most industries, she said. “But then add in factors like freelancers having zero job security, no health insurance, no access to HR departments or higher-ups, no union. If we’re talking mainstream superhero comics, [there are] essentially two large companies—so two chances, period—to get their foot in the door. What happens to you if you piss off just one person in one of those companies, much less voice your concerns in a wider arena?”

If it was so awful in the 50s and 60s, and it’s getting worse now, and they’re screwing over the labor, where is all the money going? Marvel is making bank right now with their movies, and none of that is benefiting the talent that brought them to where they are? It sounds like an industry taken over by amoral profiteers.

You’re a dope. #sorrynotsorry



These people exist.

Imagine Typhoid Karen here, and others like her, undermining every effort to contain the spread of a disease by intentionally moving from area to area, finding the places with the most lax enforcement of standards, and dispersing the infection as much as she can. She’s pretty intelligent, for a virus.

Any sick people in Idaho can blame their governor and people like her.

Here’s another one: Kelly Anne Wolfe in Toronto. She has 13 degrees in psychology and is a member of MENSA, so you’ll never be as smart as her…and she’s handing out fake mask exemption cards to passers-by.

Man, I’m such a failure. I only have 2 degrees, a bachelor’s and a Ph.D. She’s like 6.5 times smarter than me!

Darwin cancelled?



Noah Carl is a notorious racist who was fired from a position at Cambridge for racism. Now he’s complaining that Darwin might get “cancelled” because he wrote racist stuff in the 19th century. Yeah, so? Would that mean we couldn’t worship Darwin as a god anymore? Because we don’t anyway.

So I had to grumble a bit.

I don’t even know what “cancelled” means yet.

I can fix this plan!



Sure, this is a little problem for a plan to open schools in Utah. They have to prepare to inform people if anyone dies.

I can fix it, though! Just delete that bullet point. Poof, gone, no worries, at least, not until it actually happens.

My university has a plan, too. It’s called the Return to Campus plan. They seem to be instinctively following my advice and not mentioning the awkwardnesses that would follow if the plan doesn’t work. There’s a lot of questions there that they answer neatly, but the ones I want to ask aren’t there. See, if the question doesn’t exist, you don’t have to have an answer to the problem! So, I wonder:

Will tests be available on campus? What do students & staff have to do to get one? How often will testing be done? Are there conditions for mandatory testing?

What about contact tracing? If a student, for instance, is diagnosed with COVID-19, will we trace and test and isolate anyone they were in contact with? Or do we just shut the whole campus down?

How will the success of the opening plan be evaluated? Are there criteria in place for re-establishing a lockdown? Is there a number of cases or deaths that will make the administration reverse course? Do we only abandon the plan if we get 1% student deaths?

I notice that, in the plan, there is a vague mention of our study abroad programs. Is anyone aware that most countries have closed their borders to US travel? Even Canada!

Has there been any consideration of our liabilities? With all the fiscal concerns, are we prepared for lawsuits?

Speaking of money, do the faculty get hazard pay? Oops, how silly, We’re getting pay cuts instead.

Returning to the original point, who at the university has been assigned the job of writing the casualty letters? My son, the one who is serving in the army, has been periodically put on death duty — one week periods in which he is responsible for traveling to families to inform them of military deaths in his unit. It sounds like a horrible job, and it is. Who is taking that responsibility here?

I know, discussing these possibilities just makes the whole plan look half-assed. Never mind, just pretend I didn’t ask.

Regeneration — it’s a good deal



Here’s a heart-warming story for Sunday morning, but it’s about a huntsman spider, so I guess it had better go below the fold.

This is Peggy 2-Leggy, a poor huntsman spider who was found missing 6 legs. That’ll slow you down a bit and make it difficult to get food or escape predators, and it looks like she already had at least one close encounter where she lost limbs. So she was taken in by a kindly spider keeper and sheltered and fed.

Then one day, she molted, and all 8 of her legs popped back. The End.