Gardens provide fresh vegetables and spiders

I’m getting a little worried about my wife. She’s been getting a bit…obsessive. She’s been gardening this summer, and sure, it’s great getting fresh vegetables, but she’s taken to getting down on her knees and looking under every leaf and at every stem, and I think she’s currently spending more effort pursuing spiders than anything else. It’s a little weird. So she just had me run to the lab and bring back a dozen vials so she can continue her perverse hobby of peering at arachnids.

This is her latest discovery, a lovely tetragnathid.

Do you think she’s getting rather carried away with this spider mania? What should I do?

Wasn’t Bret Weinstein supposed to be the biologist brother?

I have to ask because he wrote one of the most absurd evolutionary arguments ever.

The hair in your armpits broadcasts adaptive messages we don’t know much about, therefore there is no patriarchy. You wouldn’t be stinky if it weren’t adaptive.

Everything in that is just wrong.


Steatoda triangulosa, hovering watchfully over her egg sac.

We also set up 8 Parasteatoda tepidariorum with mates today. For the most part, all went well, with the males approaching tentatively and plucking at the female’s web, as they should. One female went berserk when we added a male, chasing him all over the cage while he frantically scurried away. We were concerned that we ought to split them up, but they’d reached a cautious détente after about 20 minutes, so maybe their relationship will work out.

We’ll know in a week or two if we see more egg sacs.

What? Convergence is next week?

It is. I’m doing a few panels at Convergence…a fairly light load, compared to previous years. They didn’t have as many sciencey panels to sign up for this time around, perhaps in part because I and several others contributed more to panel suggestions in previous years, and I was a terrible slacker this year. That might be a good thing, or I’d have stuffed the place with spiders. Stephanie Zvan has posted her panel list, and here’s mine:

Friday, July 5
Insects, in Sex
Insects are already wildly fascinating but do you know some of the mating behaviors and outcomes? Praying mantis may be one insect you think of, because the female will often eat the male after copulation, but what are other examples of unusual behaviors? Participants: Arthur Kneeland (mod), Jessica Wyn Miller, PZ Myers, Kelly Jo Fredrickson

I’m going to pretend that one is actually about arthropods, so I can talk about spiders.

Saturday, July 6
Weird Biology
Animals that don’t exactly die, terminal reproduction, and aspen tree colonies. Weird and cool stuff about the world around us. Participants: Laura Okagaki-Vraspir, Lathan Murrell, Brittany Ann Kerschner, PZ Myers, Colleen C Caldwell (mod)

There is no such thing as weird biology. Or rather, there is no such thing as normal biology.

Sunday, July 7
Ask a Scientist
Kid-friendly panel to ask questions to scientists. Participants: Renate Marie Fiora (mod), Miriam Krause, Shannon Negaard-Paper, PZ Myers, Sarah Molasky

I don’t have to prepare for that one. Who knows what oddball questions people will ask? Maybe they’ll ask about spiders.

The Spider Times

I’m trying to keep my spider-squad informed about plans for the lab, so I’ll be periodically sending out notifications to them. I figured maybe other people might be interested in the goings-on, at least those of you who aren’t currently horrified at my arachnological obsession of late.

Hey, spider-people! I bring you news.</p>

1. Two weeks ago, we set up new cages for the female Parasteatoda in the colony: spacious, clean, with cardboard frames to clamber on. The spiders seem very happy, and have been busy filling the frames with cobwebs.

2. Last week, I was away at an arachnology conference that extended longer than expected, because of terrible airline delays. When I got back on Sunday, I fed everyone. They were hungry. All the spiders dived for the flies with impressive speed and were munching away ferociously.

3. I’m planning on regular feeding times every Monday and Thursday at noon — but not today, since I fed them yesterday. Feel free to stop by to watch the spectacle!

4. Today is a special day for another reason. After giving the females a week to construct webs in their new housing, today at noon is the day we’re going to introduce males into their chambers. We’re hoping the roomier quarters means they won’t immediately eat their mates. Come on by for the nuptials!

5. I’m planning the next phase of the Stevens County spider survey. We’re going to start on 8 July, and we have over 30 houses to visit. We’ll have the goal of doing 6 houses per day, with each house taking half an hour or so to screen. Let me know if you want to participate.

6. The new Spider-Man movie also comes out the week of 4 July. Anyone want to join me some evening that week? My treat, we just have to work out a good day. (Alternatively, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is on Netflix, starting in a few days…we could take over one of the classrooms and project it there.)

7. In other news, I’ve been posting photos of the spiders we meet to iNaturalist, in the Spiders of Minnesota project. We have the honor of the first recorded observation of Pholcus manueli in Stevens county! It was caught right here in the Science Atrium. It’s a good thing we caught it, too, because our diligent custodians eradicate any spider web they encounter.

8. You all saw the article in the Stevens County Times, right?

9. We have an egg sac that’s over a week old in the incubator, laid by Steatoda triangulosa, which isn’t the species I was planning to work on, but I’ll take anything now. The egg case is gauzy and semi-transparent, and you can see the embryos right through it. It could hatch out any day now, giving us a swarm of spiderlings.

So, things to look forward to:

  • Regular spider feedings at noon on Monday and Thursday
  • Mass wedding of a dozen spiders today at noon
  • Spider survey resumes on 8 July
  • Possible S. triangulosa spiderling hatch any day now

Holy crap, turn off your irony meters before you read this one!

Jesus, no. They can’t do this to me. Can a creationist say something so ironic, so oblivious, so un-selfaware, so stupid that my head might explode? Danny Faulkner comes very close. He’s a young earth creationist associated with Answers in Genesis, he was ponderously featured in Eric Hovind’s creation movie, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy.

He thinks the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that the Big Bang is bunk, but he is also confident that the Earth is a sphere, and he patiently explains how flat-earth dogma is wrong. He is very concerned about the flat-earth movement, and tries to explain why they are wrong.

Flat-earthers raise an excellent epistemological question: how do we know what shape is the earth? For three decades, I asked this very question of students in the first semester of my introductory astronomy class. The context of this question was the early history of astronomy. I would ask my students what shape they thought the earth had. All my students would answer that the earth was a sphere. I retired from the university more than six years ago, just about the time the modern flat-earth movement was starting, so I expect that if I were teaching classes now, I frequently would encounter students who think that the earth is flat. When I asked my students how they knew the earth was a globe, not one student could give me a good reason.

Aww, the ignorance of students concerns him. Me, too. I’m not retired, I still engage with students, and I can say that I’ve never met one who thinks the Earth is flat, but I’ve met more than a few who think the Earth is young. I was not prepared for the degree of irony to come, though.

…few students ever develop proper critical thinking skills. When someone comes along with a few arguments for the earth being flat, most people have absolutely no knowledge or resources to counter them. Flat-earthers, for example, typically testify that when they first heard about the earth being flat, they thought it was the dumbest thing that they ever heard. The soon-to-be converts thought that they easily could disprove that the earth was flat, but they quickly realized that they couldn’t. Perhaps out of frustration, they finally concluded that the earth must be flat. It never occurred to them that perhaps their education had failed them in not better preparing them for refuting the notion that the earth is flat.

Just as an exercise, reread that paragraph, but change the word “flat” to “young”. It stops being a description of students, and instead is an indictment of…Danny Faulkner.

Keep going. Keep changing “flat” to “young”. It’s amazing.

There is an important difference between gossip and flat-earth cosmology. Mere gossip rarely is life-changing (except perhaps for the poor victim of gossip). But if one becomes convinced that the earth is flat rather than being spherical, that is a major change in one’s worldview. If the earth truly is flat, then we have been lied to about the earth’s shape our entire lives. One must ask how and why this lie was created and perpetuated. Ultimately, this line of thinking leads to the conclusion that there must be a vast conspiracy about the earth’s shape that has been going on for a long time (since the time of Columbus in most flat-earthers’ estimation, since they generally subscribe to the Columbus mythology). And coming to believe that a vast conspiracy is responsible is a relatively small step for most flat-earthers, because, by definition, a conspiracy is a secret knowledge, and the allure of secret knowledge generally was a major factor that led them into flat-earth belief in the first place. The thirst for secret knowledge is why so many people find belief in all sorts of conspiracies so appealing.

We’re not done yet. Let us look at the Bible through this lens.

In their new-found fervor, flat-earthers often become very bold. Flat-earth Christians think they have found cosmological truth in the Bible, and they aren’t about to let anyone dissuade them from this belief. It doesn’t matter that until very recently virtually no one within the church saw the Bible as teaching that the earth is flat.

Has Danny Faulkner read Danny Faulkner’s testimony?

I had never given much thought about what I would do with my life, though I had always loved astronomy. Almost immediately after my rededication, I came to realize three things: that one could make a living doing astronomy, that I had the ability to do that, and that I believed God had called me to do this. About this time I read The Bible and Modern Science, by Henry M Morris. This was the first book of his that I read, and I’d eventually read many more. A year or two earlier I had read two books that taught day-age and probably even theistic evolution. I realized that what these books espoused was a bit different from what I had understood the Bible to mean, but I respected these men and thought that they probably were right. But I quickly saw that what Henry Morris wrote made much more sense biblically, so I immediately became a recent creationist.

Four decades ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a Bible professor from whom I took two semesters of Pauline epistles. He said that if you see something in a passage that no one else has seen before, there’s probably a very good reason: it isn’t there.

Until very recently, no one within the church saw the Bible as teaching that the Earth is 6000 years old. The day-age explanation he mentions, as well as the gap theory, were more common among educated theologians a hundred years ago, and in fact protestant churches were interested in reconciling the Bible with the science of geology. The Catholic church even today is just fine with the Earth being ancient. There was a trickle of a strain of belief over the last few hundred years (thanks, Archbishop Ussher), but no one saw the Bible as explicitly setting a date for geological events.

That is, until Whitcomb and Morris stole some prophecy from the Seventh Day Adventists and published The Genesis Flood in 1961, claiming to see something in the Bible that no one else had seen before.

Faulkner just charges on, completely unaware that he’s talking to a mirror.

Some flat-earthers also fashion themselves to be experts on science and the methodology of science. Consequently, they think of themselves as competent to dictate to scientists, both godly and ungodly, on how science ought to be conducted. But their definitions and practice of science appear to be formulated to make science as generally understood impossible.

Where do these flat-earthers get the notion that they are capable of rewriting so many disciplines of study? This is particularly galling when one considers the limited science education that most flat-earthers seem to have achieved.

OMG. I am so done here. I refuse to explode, though, because this is the only fate appropriate to Mr Faulkner.

And now for the official word from American Airlines

American Airlines responded to my complaints, sort of. Actually, they evaded and lied, which is exactly what I expected.

We’ve taken a closer look and again we are sorry for the frustration. We never want to cancel our flights, however, due to the safety of our passengers and crew sometimes it is unavoidable. After further research we found your flight was delayed due to the weather. This situation was largely out of our control and we do not issue compensation or reimbursement of additional expenses.

No. My first flight was cancelled due to weather (I didn’t see any sign of storms on the ground, but I’ll trust that the atmosphere might well have been more complex, especially at altitude above mountains). The flight from Charlotte to Minneapolis was delayed for a day and dragged out over a long night of abandonment because of a maintenance problem — they told us quite clearly that there was a broken part in the cockpit air conditioning.

Maintenance is something that is in AA’s control, I assume.

Anyway, I don’t care. I expected nothing from them. If they want to run their business into the ground with terrible customer service, they are free to do so. I won’t be flying with them in the future.

Someday, when I’m a real boy, I’ll be better at photography

Mary, again…she was out in the garage, and spotted a pair of P. tep. getting frisky. The male kept approaching the female and waving his forelegs for attention, and Mary told me I should capture some of the action (she’s an amateur pornographer, too? She can do everything). Of course I rushed out to set up a tripod and my biggest lens to see if I could get some real wildlife photography. Unfortunately, this was the best I could do.

That’s the lady spider, near the center right; her suitor is the darker, smaller spot to the left. That’s all the oomph my Canon t5i with the EFS 17-85mm lens has. It’s not enough. This is what I’m using to photograph spiders outside the lab.

The big thing hanging off the end is a nice bright LED ring light.

If I want to get any good at this, I know I’m going to have to practice, practice, practice, but I’m also going to need a better lens. Any photography experts out there want to give me some advice? I’ve been eyeing the Tokina at-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro Lens, or maybe these Macro Lens Extension Tubes which are much more in my price range, although I wouldn’t just stack lenses in my microscope to get a magnified image, so I’m a little leery. I’ve also read that the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens is kind of optimal for my purposes, but that’s way out of my price range.

Actually, everything is out of my price range, because I’ve still got that vile SLAPP suit hanging over my head. If that would go away, maybe I’d have a little room in my budget.

But hey, advice and dreams are free, right? Aim me in the right direction.