Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Hide the children: creationist Ken Ham is coming to Blighty

Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum in Kentucky, will be delivering several talks in the UK over the next month. You know what to do, my freethinking friends:
28-30 March Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales (Firm Foundations Creation Conference, a "residential conference" *shudder*)

31 March Liverpool

1 April Grimsby

2 April Bedford

3 April Leicester

4-5 April London (Creation Conference)

9-10 May Belfast (this is an important one, methinks, because it seems likely to attract proponents of the notorious Giant's Causeway Creation Committee)
I am going to try and attend the London conference. It is a ticketed event and so I have emailed the organisers (yes, using my real name) and will post an update here as soon as I know any more.

Hat tip to Marc.

Update: Tickets to the London event cost £5 for Friday, £10 for Saturday and £15 for both days. So, is it worth a fiver to confront Ken Ham in person? Hmmm.

Here is a part of the PDF I received in response to my ticket enquiry:

Monday, 24 March 2008

Sheer comic genius from Rick MacPherson

Click the crop to see the full comic strip...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

On my honour, I will try (3/4)

This is the third post in a four-part series, begun over on the Beagle Project Blog in Part 1 (which includes an introduction to The Science Scouts) and Part 2.

ere is the third batch of my Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique badges:

The "I've done science with no conceivable practical application" badge. Well, maybe I lack imagination but I simply cannot conceive of a practical application that might come from an understanding of the evolutionary mechanism of interspecific variation in fruit fly eggshell morphology. The whole point was to understand evolution just a little bit better, and to me that is enough to make it worthwhile. That said, science for curiosity's sake also sometimes leads to practical applications that are only as yet inconceivable but may very well become earth shatteringly important at some later stage. For example, there's the story of that guy who was fascinated by the mold spores that landed on his petri dish (inconceivable!) but then it turned out to be the source of Penicillin. 'Nough said.

The "science has forced me to seek medical attention" badge. More people can claim this badge than probably realise it, especially if we count mental health, which I think we should. I get the badge for a number of reasons: 1) repetitive strain injury, numbness in my right hand and a strained muscle in my neck, all from writing my thesis, 2) astigmatism partly due to looking through a microscope for too many hours per day in grad school and 3) Temperomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) from PhD related stress.

The "somewhat confused as to what scientific field I actually belong to" badge. This badge was made for me. During my PhD I moved from developmental genetics to evo-devo. Now it's even more pronounced; you see, sometimes a geneticist can feel rather alone in a natural history museum. For example, whenever I meet a new member of staff or visitor, the question always comes up, "so, what group of plants do you work on?" Me: "Uh, um, well, see, I work on genetics/genomics as they apply to just about any group of plants." Them: "oh" *walks away*. It turns out that when one's "specialty" is (or was) Drosophila melanogaster, that doesn't seem to count. Sometimes this transdisciplinary thing isn't all it's cracked up to be. Oh well, it seems to be working out okay.

The "works with acids" badge. Two words: deoxyribonucleic acid. Then there are all the other acids which come with working in any wet lab. I won't bore you with the details. They really are boring. Really.

One batch of badges to go! Sneak preview in the sidebar.

Friday, 21 March 2008

What are you doing here?

...when you could be wetting yourself with laughter over what will likely be one of the biggest stories to hit the science blogosphere this year: the famous biologist-blogger PZ Myers (but inexplicably not the even more famous biologist-author Richard Dawkins) was expelled from a screening of creationist propaganda film Expelled! Many thanks to Greg Laden who has put together (and kept up to date) an impromptu blog carnival about it. Now get on over there for a dose of hand-rubbing glee!

Update 1: What Bad Astronomy said.

Update 2: Digital Cuttlefish has already set the saga to verse. Bravo!

Update 3: Thoughts from Kansas has a wonderfully concise analysis:
"If you make a movie that falsely claims there's a massive conspiracy to expel dissenting voices, it's probably unwise to then expel dissenting voices."

Thursday, 20 March 2008

In which I recant my aversion to marriage

As most of my friends and family know (and some lament), I am apathetic about and occasionally hostile towards the institution of marriage. But today, my armour has been chinked by the thought of a bridal registry that includes this:

"evo-cut" cutlery by Harry White
evo-cut is a one-off set of cutlery designed according to the principles of population genetics and natural variation. Rather than just having two sizes, this set or population of cutlery shows continuous variation in size and shape. Further, the set shows inheritance of several kinds of mutation, as explained by a family tree, that alter the cutlery functionality, sometimes in unexpected and useful ways. Because the cutlery pieces show natural variation in size, there is always a piece suitable for every age, appetite and ability. Through use and exploration, the true adaptive potential of different pieces will be discovered and the novel functionalities revealed when the situation demands it, just like evolution. evo-cut is now the property of Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design and is occasionally on display.
You can view close-ups of both the cutlery and its pedigree at Harry White Design. This is simply wonderful. Morning cereal would never be the same.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

A Somewhat Old, But Capacious Accolade

Many thanks to MissPrism at A Somewhat Old, But Capacious Handbag who has rated lil' ol' Data Not Shown "E for Excellent"!

Of course, the decks were stacked in my favor (just a little), because it was yours truly wearing my Beagle Project Blog hat who rated MissPrism "E" in the first place. But hey, I'll take it, because when one's blog is young and still a little wayward like Data Not Shown, one is obliged to enthusiastically trumpet any and all instances of link love that one can get.

And I now humbly bestow the "E for Excellent" upon the following blogs (yes, it's an entirely separate list from the Beagle bestowal):
  • Botany Photo of the Day was my very first regular blog read from way back in the day when I didn't even know what a blog was... you know, like two years ago.
  • Just today I discovered the Londonist, for Londoners in the know.
  • A Natural History of Runswick Bay, written by none other than fellow Beagle Blogger Peter McGrath, brings all manner of treasure from England's northeast coast direct to our desktops.
  • Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita, a real-time blog by intrepid marine environmental scientists, on location from the place where plastic crawls away to die live forever.
  • The Oyster's Garter: smart and sassy, in a sciencey way. In other words, I love it.
  • Space Cadet is off to kind of a slow start but I really like what I see there and think it should be encouraged.
  • xkcd, "A webcomic of math, romance, sarcasm and language". Also has an utterly fabulous online shop.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Pharyngula readers: what a handsome bunch!

While I was stuck at home coughing up greenish phlegm, a gaggle of previously unacquainted Pharyngula readers descended (as planned) on the Doric Arch near Euston Station in London. Malcolm FCD reports by email:
"We started at the Doric Arch, and went on for a pizza. We pretty well agreed we'd like to do something similar in 6 - 8 weeks... Starting with Debi on the left and going clockwise around the table, we were ___, ___, Malcolm, ___, ___, ___ and ___. Disclaimer - I don't know who wants their names published... Malcolm (posting as Malcolm, FCD)"
I'm really bent that I couldn't make it, but delighted to hear there will be a next time! I think you'll agree, this looks like an excellent bunch of people. If you were there and don't mind having your name attached with your face, please let me know in the comments and I'll fill in the blank that corresponds to you.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Giant's causeway digression

I just can't hold it in any longer. I've been over at the Beagle Project Blog writing my counter-response to the Causeway Creation Committee's reply to my 2007 post "Not just an American Problem (Part II)". I was really trying to keep the whole science vs. religion thing out of it, focusing instead on science vs. young-earth creationism. But when I read this:
"the philosophical view of the atheistic naturalist scientist (as opposed to the observational scientist) is that human life is of no more worth or value than a dust cloud or a black hole" got personal. Paul, I am getting really, really tired of the claim that the ability to value human life must necessarily stem directly from a belief that human life was purposefully created by a big guy in the sky. It mustn't. In fact, often religiosity correlates with bad behaviour. Get over it.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Science spam

The daily barrage of Viagra, Microsoft software and Rolex rip-offs is bad enough, but recently I've noticed a category of specialised spam reserved just for us scientists. For example, today I received this:
Dear Dr. James,

Cloning is tedious and unpredictable. The process can get stuck anywhere. For example, the template may be hard to get or a restriction site may be not available. Sometimes ligation doesn’t work. All these problems may stop your great idea from becoming a high-impact publication. Our Gene Synthesis Service offers an easy and affordable alternative to solving all these problems by yourself.

And keep the rest of the matter in mind:

· De novo synthesis can start right after we receive your sequence
· Codon optimization is included, compliments of GenScript
· Unlimited mutations – at any position
· We deliver your gene in any vector, including those suitable for protein expression

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Our customer representatives are available 24 hours, Monday through Friday. You may contact us anytime for assistance. Please check our contact page for our local reginal numbers.

Gen Script Corporation - VWR Strategic Partner
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Tel: 1-732-885-9188 ext 128
Fax: 1-732-210-0262
Sadly, it appears that even science spam is rife with bad English ("And keep the rest of the matter in mind") and innuendo ("sometimes ligation doesn't work", "unlimited mutations - at any position"). What do they think, that I'll be titillated by their promise to "deliver your gene in any vector" and do some impulse shopping at VWR?