54 posts · 47,762 views
So, recently (last week, maybe?), Randall Munroe, of xkcd fame, posted an answer to the question "How many unique English tweets are possible?" as part of his excellent "What If" series. He starts off by noting that there are 27 letters (including spaces), and a tweet length of 140 characters. This gives you 27140 -- or about 10200 -- possible strings.
Of course, most of these are not sensible English statements, and he goes on to estimate how many of these there are. This analysis is base........ Read more »
C. E. Shannon. (1951) Prediction and Entropy of Written English. Bell System Technical Journal, 50-64. info:/
So, last week featured a lot of news about a paper that came out in the Quarterly Review of Biology titled "Homsexuality as a Consequence of Epigenetically Canalized Sexual Development." The authors were Bill Rice (UCSB), Urban Friberg (Uppsala U), and Sergey Gavrilets (U Tennessee). The paper got quite a bit of press. Unfortunately, most of that press was of pretty poor quality, badly misrepresenting the actual contents of the paper. (PDF available here.)
I'm going to walk through the paper's ........ Read more »
Rice, W., Friberg, U., & Gavrilets, S. (2012) Homosexuality as a Consequence of Epigenetically Canalized Sexual Development. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 87(4), 343-368. DOI: 10.1086/668167
So, like, I heard this song the other day. It was by this indie band called "Carly Rae Jepsen." You've probably never heard of them.
Actually *removes hipster glasses* while most of the appeal of "Call Me Maybe," the song that dominated the summer of 2012, comes from its earnest simplicity, there is one line in the lyrics that has some real texture to it:
Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad
This line captures something universal and not at all trivial, the way that our memories o........ Read more »
Meyvis, T., Ratner, R. K., & Levav, J. (2010) Why Don't We Learn to Accurately Forecast Feelings? How Misremembering Our Predictions Blinds us to Past Forecasting Errors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139(4), 579-589. info:/10.1037/a0020285
So, remember when not all kids books were about teenage wizards and sexy vampires? Well, it turns out that, if you know where to look, you can still find books like that. Enter The Mapmaker and the Ghost, by Sarvenaz Tash.
[Disclaimer: Sarv is a friend of my wife's. They got to know each other through the fact that both are in the New York area, and both had their debut middle-grade novels come out this year. If you are concerned that this may color the objectivity of this review, may I refer y........ Read more »
Katsumoto, Y., Fukuchi-Mizutani, M., Fukui, Y., Burgliera, F., Holton, T. A., Karan, M., Nakamura, N., Yonekura-Sakakibara, K., Togami, J., Pigeaire, A.... (2007) Engineering of the Rose Flavonoid Biosynthetic Pathway Successfully Generated Blue-Hued Flowers Accumulating Delphinidin. Plant Cell Physiol., 48(11), 1589-1600. DOI: 10.1093/pcp/pcm131
So, Sam Arbesman has a post up at Wired where he discusses a recent study on the work habits of scientists in around the world. As a proxy for "working," the authors look at the pattern of downloads of papers or book chapters from Springer. The work makes use of a cool real-time mapping of IP addresses accessing those papers. If you want to see what it looks like, check it out here: http://realtime.springer.com/map.
They do a more detailed analysis of the top three countries (in term........ Read more »
Wang, X. W., Xu, S. M., Peng, L., Wang, Z., Wang, C. L., Zhang, C. B., & Wang, X. B. (2102) Exploring Scientists’ Working Timetable: Do Scientists Often Work Overtime?. Journal of Informetrics, 6(4), 655-660. DOI: 10.1016/j.joi.2012.07.003
So, maybe you've seen the news today about Representative Todd Akin. He's the republican nominee for Senate in Missouri, running this year against Claire McCaskill. In an interview he said that he opposed abortion in all circumstances, with no exception for rape, because rape does not lead to pregnancy, see, because, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." (Quotes on Jezebel, video here.)
After realizing that he sounded like a complete shithea........ Read more »
Rebar, D., Zuk, M., & Bailey, N. W. (2011) Mating experience in ﬁeld crickets modiﬁes pre- and postcopulatory female choice in parallel. Behavioral Ecology, 303-309. info:/
So, one of the most interesting questions in evolutionary biology is the origin of collective behaviors. This can be the complex division of labor that we see in social insects and human societies, flocking behavior in migratory birds, or microbial formation of biofilms. It can be predators engaging in collective hunting, or prey engaging in collective being hunted. It's this last one that we're going to be talking about today.
As with many questions in evolutionary biology, there are a couple ........ Read more »
So, you know how sometimes at night you're lying in bed when you burp, but then the burp turns out to actually be you throwing up into your mouth just a little bit, and it tastes like a combination of whatever you ate for dinner and evil? Well, this is sort of like that.
Four years ago, a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen published a nice paper on the genetics of blue eye color. In that paper they look at a bunch of Danish families in which some people have blue eyes and so........ Read more »
Eiberg, H., Troelsen, J., Nielsen, M., Mikkelsen, A., Mengel-From, J., Kjaer, K., & Hansen, L. (2008) Blue eye color in humans may be caused by a perfectly associated founder mutation in a regulatory element located within the HERC2 gene inhibiting OCA2 expression. Human Genetics, 123(2), 177-187. DOI: 10.1007/s00439-007-0460-x
So, welcome to the first Genetical Book Review of 2012, where we're going to talk about The Postmortal, by Drew Magary. As the book starts, Science!™ has developed a cure for aging, so that people can live forever. What follows is an exploration of the psychological and sociological consequences of immortality.
I love this picture. You can almost hear Death going, "D'oh."
I don't think I'm giving anything away when I tell you that the book winds up being predominantly dystopian. Basically,........ Read more »
Glazier, D. (2008) Effects of metabolic level on the body size scaling of metabolic rate in birds and mammals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1641), 1405-1410. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0118
Mitteldorf J, & Pepper J. (2009) Senescence as an adaptation to limit the spread of disease. Journal of theoretical biology, 260(2), 186-95. PMID: 19481552
Williams, G. C. (1957) Pleiotropy, Natural Selection, and the Evolution of Senescence. Evolution, 11(4), 398-411. info:/
So, I just discovered the blog of Miles Corak, an Economics Professor at the University of Ottawa (via this short piece in The Atlantic Wire). He has been doing a series of posts about wealth and income inequality that are really interesting and accessibly written. At this time, there are five posts in the series (here, here, here, here, and here).
If you're interested in a thoughtful, nuanced, and readable discussion of the economic factors underlying the Occupy Wall Street protests, check it ........ Read more »
Corak, M., & Piraino, P. (2011) Intergenerational Transmission of Employers. Journal of Labor Economics, 29(1), 37-68. info:/10.1086/656371
So, there's an article published in yesterday's Guardian titled, "The mathematical law that shows why wealth flows to the 1%," which is fine, except for the fact that the "law" is not really a law, nor does it necessarily show "why" wealth flows anywhere.
To be fair, it's a perfectly reasonable article with a crap, misleading headline, so I blame the editor, not the author.
The point of the article is to introduce the idea of a power law distribution, or heavy-tailed distributions more general........ Read more »
So, Robert Pinsky wrote a cool little piece in Slate the other day titled "In Praise of Memorizing Poetry – Badly." In it he argues for a particular benefit to be gotten from misremembering a poem: that it brings into focus the choices that were made in the poem, the the consequences of using one word rather than another. He illustrates his argument with Yeats's "On Being Asked for a War Poem," which he presents like this:
“On Being Asked for a War Poem” I think it better that in time........ Read more »
Sharma RP, & Chopra VL. (1976) Effect of the Wingless (wg1) mutation on wing and haltere development in Drosophila melanogaster. Developmental biology, 48(2), 461-5. PMID: 815114
So, if you're an Evolutionary Biologist, you're already familiar with the dust-up prompted by a Nature paper published in 2010 by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson. If not, I wrote about the paper, and the response from the community, here and here.
Briefly, the article attacked one class of approaches to modeling the evolution of traits affecting social interaction: models based on kin selection and inclusive fitness. The authors made strong claims about the effectiveness of........ Read more »
So, welcome back to the Genetical Book Review! This episode? The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronon. Ronson is the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, which the movie was based on.
Also, his name is what my name would be if I were from Iceland.
The Psychopath Test traces Ronson's exploration of psychopathy: what a psychopath is, how you identify one, the effect they have on society, and society's efforts to contain them. The book is written engagingly, and makes for a quick read, even if you........ Read more »
Hare, R. D. (1980) A research scale for the assessment of psychopathy in criminal populations. Personality and Individual Differences, 1(2), 111-120. info:/10.1016/0191-8869(80)90028-8
So, Guillaume's Mailbag has continued on its mission to provide an adaptive explanation for every existing trait. The most recent trait Guillaume has been tackling was submitted by John Wilkins, who asked, "Why do we make odd faces when we orgasm?"
In case you missed when I've plugged him before, JoHn Wilkins (no recent relation) is a philosopher of science in Australia. His most recent book is Species: A History of the Idea, and he runs an excellent blog called Evolving Thoughts. He recently c........ Read more »
Ross HE, Cole CD, Smith Y, Neumann ID, Landgraf R, Murphy AZ, & Young LJ. (2009) Characterization of the oxytocin system regulating affiliative behavior in female prairie voles. Neuroscience, 162(4), 892-903. PMID: 19482070
Carmichael MS, Warburton VL, Dixen J, & Davidson JM. (1994) Relationships among cardiovascular, muscular, and oxytocin responses during human sexual activity. Archives of sexual behavior, 23(1), 59-79. PMID: 8135652
Krüger TH, Haake P, Chereath D, Knapp W, Janssen OE, Exton MS, Schedlowski M, & Hartmann U. (2003) Specificity of the neuroendocrine response to orgasm during sexual arousal in men. The Journal of endocrinology, 177(1), 57-64. PMID: 12697037
So, here's the latest in adaptationism:
Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=39
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/39.jpg
Hat-tip to Justin Blumenstiel, who is the king of transposable elements, which I think means that every time one of them transposes, they have to tithe to him.
Changizi M, Weber R, Kotecha R, & Palazzo J (2011). Are Wet-Induced Wrinkled Fingers Primate Rain Treads? Brain, behavior and evolution PM........ Read more »
Changizi M, Weber R, Kotecha R, & Palazzo J. (2011) Are Wet-Induced Wrinkled Fingers Primate Rain Treads?. Brain, behavior and evolution. PMID: 21701145
So, Farther's day was almost a week ago, but I wanted to share this video, which illustrates all the good-timey ho-down fun that led to your father becoming your father.
Did I just call your mom a ho? It sure seems like it, doesn't it?
If you want to try this (or something like it) at home, check out the ideas in this article:
Joseph P. Chinnici,, Joyce W. Yue,, & Kieron M. Torres (2004). Students as “Human Chromosomes” in Role-Playing Mitosis & Meiosis The American Biolog........ Read more »
Joseph P. Chinnici,, Joyce W. Yue,, & Kieron M. Torres. (2004) Students as “Human Chromosomes” in Role-Playing Mitosis . The American Biology Teacher, 66(1), 35-39. info:/
So, today (June 23, 2011) marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, British supergenius who played a critical role in winning World War II and is one of the founding fathers of computer science.
He was also gay, which was illegal Britain at the time. In 1952 he was prosecuted under the same law that had sent Oscar Wilde to gaol. He chose to undergo chemical castration (in the form of treatment with feminizing hormones) as an alternative to prison.
In 1954 he committed suicide in ........ Read more »
Turing, A. M. (1950) Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Mind, 59(236), 433-460. info:/
So, over the weekend, Nicholas Kristof wrote a nice piece in the New York Times in which he laid out the basic facts and statistics regarding the cavalier use of antibiotics in agriculture. His column is full of interesting (i.e., depressing) figures, one of the most striking of which is that the agricultural use of antibiotics in the state of North Carolina exceeds the medical use of antibiotics for the entire United States.
Anyway, the basic punchline is this: when someone in your family is h........ Read more »
Sørensen SJ, Bailey M, Hansen LH, Kroer N, & Wuertz S. (2005) Studying plasmid horizontal transfer in situ: a critical review. Nature reviews. Microbiology, 3(9), 700-10. PMID: 16138098
So, here's a thing:
Best URL for sharing: http://www.darwineatscake.com/?id=30
URL for hotlinking or embedding: http://www.darwineatscake.com/img/comic/30.jpg
This relates to a criticism that I made of evolutionary psychology, but which applies to many naive adaptationist arguments: it is easy to come up with a plausible-sounding adaptive explanation of just about anything. In most cases, it is equally easy to come up with an equally plausible-sounding explanation of the exact opposite phenom........ Read more »
Barnett AG, Plonka K, Seow WK, Wilson LA, & Hansen C. (2011) Increased traffic exposure and negative birth outcomes: a prospective cohort in Australia. Environmental health : a global access science source, 26. PMID: 21453550
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