Don’t be superior.

wonder woman

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When I first read this post about Wonder Woman by A Mighty Girl (, there was a comment by a woman who said that she didn’t mind the qualification “for a girl” because men are biologically stronger than women.

I do not accept this reason.

1. There is a difference between saying a characteristic is due to biology versus saying that it’s due to genetics. Men are not biologically stronger. The only biological difference between men and women is in the gonads and reproductive organs: men have testes (etc.) and women have ovaries (etc.). Continue reading

Spotlight: Custom

Spotlight, November 7, 2014: Ẽṭo

eto noodlesFood customs in North India are influenced by the idea of ṭo (pronounced, as closely as I can determine: engtao). Ẽṭo can refer either to food which has come into contact with the eater’s saliva and therefore become permeated with his or her essence or to the state of being so permeated due to contact with the mouth or another object which is ṭo. Your hands can easily become ṭo if you hold a cup while drinking or a fork while eating, so you must wash your hands immediately afterward in order to prevent the spread of this ṭo condition.

By touching an object or food that another person has made ṭo, you take in some of their essence, so people are very careful around those from whom they wish to stay distant. On the other hand, people who wish to be close to someone else (e.g. a wife to a husband, a servent to an employer, or close friends or siblings among themselves) will often freely share food. Such fastidiousness likely prevents the spread of disease, and the custom provides a form of social structure.

Source: Lamb, Sarah. White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India. Berkeley: U of California, 2000. 30-34. Print.

What is a tax?

I first saw this image on a calendar that one of my college professors had. It's meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I've met people who have this opinion steadfastly and without humor. Photo credit:

I first saw this image on a calendar that one of my college professors had. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I’ve met people who hold this opinion steadfastly and without humor. Photo credit:

Why do we think taxes are bad? Why do we characterize them as unfair, as an immense and crushing burden? Why do we let politicians use taxation rhetoric to influence us?

I have always been confused by the way Americans think about taxes. By living in this country as  citizens, we all agree to contribute money to build roads that facilitate trade, to provide medical care to the poor so that we can curtail the spread of disease, to educate our children so that they can participate effectively in an advanced civilization, and to defend ourselves from invaders. Continue reading

Which came first?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Answer 1 (to emphasize the value of descriptiveness over brevity): Obviously, the egg came first. Current knowledge dates the domestication of the chicken at no earlier than 10,000 years ago, while reptiles pioneered the hard-shelled egg idea about 300,000,000 years ago when they diverged evolutionarily from Paleozoic amphibians (Carroll, Robert L. “Problems of the Origin of Reptiles”Biol. Rev. 1969, 44, pp. 393-432).

Let’s rephrase the question:

Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?

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Save the (empty) rainforests

Today, I am going to challenge the way you think about habitat. A habitat is the place where an animal or plant or other organism lives, like tigers in the jungle, poison ivy in areas of forest floor with generally poor soil, and archaea in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park and in the rumens of cows. Well, most of the time that’s what it is. There is an important biological exception: metapopulations.

A metapopulation is a group of organisms of the same species that occupies discrete patches of suitable habitat within a continuous range, but which is considered to be a single population because individuals migrate from patch to patch within their lifetimes.


The range of a metapopulation (dotted line) encompasses many patches of suitable habitat (shaded areas).


Organisms can migrate among the patches during their lifetimes.

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Why I wear my lab coat

I work with a soil bacterium, Myxococcus xanthus. All of the safety procedures my lab employs are designed not to protect us from it but rather to protect it from, well, everything. We don’t wear gloves, we don’t use goggles, there’s no strict wash-your-hands-before-you-leave-the-lab policy, and most of us don’t wear lab coats.

There really isn’t a point to wearing a lab coat when you work in an environment where you are the most dangerous thing around. Maybe you’d want it on media-making day if you’re a bit clumsy or if you forgot that it was media-making day and accidentally wore nice clothes, but except for protecting you from agar spills, the coat doesn’t do much.


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