follow-up on Lawrence

Re yesterday’s post:

It’s an interesting essay. I think Science were right to reject it on the basis that it presented no positive suggestions for action. One could be left with only the message that the status quo is acceptable in some situations, if we accept that men and women bring different plates to the table.

The way I see it, there are a number of issues here.

1. The degree to which men and women are different at different things. I have no problem with this. Men and women ARE different. Different bits, different brains, different developmental experiences.
2. Where those differences come from and how they develop. I’m unable to discern what sort of take the author has here and to what degree he thinks in terms of nature/nurture and biology = unchangeable.
3. The culture of academia and how it favours certain traits–something which has a history in itself. With respect to the question of why all the women disappear as one moves into more senior positions, I think this is actually vastly more relevant than any on-average “suitability”.
4. “Is” and “Ought”. Just because women may be on-average more (for example) nurturing, doesn’t mean we ought to be happy with a predominance of women psychologists. The whole concept of “on-average abilities” should surely fly out the window when we are talking about highly skilled/intelligent/trained individuals, because we’re dealing with those people in the upper tail end of their respective curve, not the average 68%. What we should be happy with is an absence of the commercial model in academic culture, one that allows a diversity of people to be thoroughly considered on a number of qualities for any given position.

I was more interested in the mention of creativity and originality in science. It’s a tired old truism that it’s hard to be creative and viable in many areas of science, but I’d like to know what creativity actually means. How could I foster “creative” approaches to my own work? Answers, plz.

phylogeny comparison applet

A nifty little web-based applet for comparing the topology of two phylogenies and identifying where the differences lie. Could be useful in the future. Works for me on a G5 with Firefox. The paper referring to it is:

Nye, T. M. W., Lio, P. & Gilks, W. R. (2006) A novel algorithm and web-based tool for comparing two alternative phylogenetic trees. Bioinformatics, 22: 117-119.

alumni events

The University of Auckland is having an alumni event in London next month. I’m vaguely interested in the proposal (for a Centre for NZ Studies in the University of London system), but more importantly, I’m wondering about networking opportunities. I’ve not made an effort with alumni events so far (granted, they’re limited on the other side of the world), but in under a year I shall be Seeking Employment, and wonder if I should get on that ship and start sailing.

expectant dads get fat + parable of hats

New Scientist reports on research in Biology Letters, demonstrating that, in marmosets and tamarind monkeys at least, dads-to-be put on weight during pregnancy as well as the mothers. The hypothesis is that the extra weight gain (about 10%) provides an energetic reserve for when the infants are born and dad has to cart them about on his back.

Pharygula has the most marvellously satiric parable: Planet of the Hats.

Darwin Correspondence

The Rev. Charles Kingsley (he wrote The Water Babies) received a copy of Origin from CD and wrote the following letter:

C. KINGSLEY TO C. DARWIN.

Eversley Rectory, Winchfield,
November 18th, 1859.

Dear Sir,

I have to thank you for the unexpected honour of your book. That the Naturalist whom, of all naturalists living, I most wish to know and to learn from, should have sent a scientist like me his book, encourages me at least to observe more carefully, and perhaps more slowly.

I am so poorly (in brain), that I fear I cannot read your book just now as I ought. All I have seen of it awes me; both with the heap of facts and the prestige of your name, and also with the clear intuition, that if you be right, I must give up much that I have believed and written.

In that I care little. Let God be true, and every man a liar! Let us know what is, and, as old Socrates has it, epesthai to logo-follow up the villainous shifty fox of an argument, into whatsoever unexpected bogs and brakes he may lead us, if we do but run into him at last.

From two common superstitions, at least, I shall be free while judging of your books:—

(1.) I have long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species.

(2.) I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore and pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which He Himself had made. I question whether the former be not the loftier thought.

Be it as it may, I shall prize your book, both for itself, and as a proof that you are aware of the existence of such a person as

Your faithful servant,
C. KINGSLEY.

I doubt many clerics nowadays would be willing to go so far in their acceptance of radical new ideas. It says much about the Victorian delight in the exchange of ideas.

Language: hip-hop

Hip-hop and linguistics: you ain’t heard no research like it. Calgary linguist Daryn Howe investigates Black vernacular in hip-hop lyrics. Jeff Long, the GWUM[1], was the hip-hop fan here. The message: Black speech has lots of ain’t.

I was sitting on the bus this week idly eavesdropping on conversations and just could not understand the boys behind me, who were conversing in their particular northeast London urban Black/chav patois that I assume is an “in-group” dialect and meant to be unintelligible to me. It succeeded. It succeeded so well that I thought one of them was replying in French to his mate. I could make out a few words, but my ear honestly thought the pronounciation was Gallic. When I listened harder it became apparent it was the aforementioned dialect, but really? Couldn’t understand for the life of me.

[1] Grunt-Work Undergraduate Minion. We’ve all been there.

Edited to add:  I wondered about the possible offensiveness of my phrase “northeast London urban Black/chav patois”, but I can’t really think of a better way to put it. It’s not exclusively Black. It’s not exclusively a class thing, either, and chav is the nearest I can come up with.

Darwin Correspondence

The Writings of Charles Darwin on the Web is an amazing resource which allows you to search the texts–including, at an offshoot site, some of his correspondence! When I was writing my honours dissertation I had to stop myself reading the letters obsessively, seeing if I could glean some overlooked insight about language buried in amongst the natural history anecdotes and Darwin’s bleating about his poor health.

This letter (reference only) to his sister Caroline was a great find. In it, Charles used the hypothetical age of the Indo-European languages, and their differences from Chinese to agree with Herschel that yes, the earth must indeed be older than 6000 years as argued by the Bible.
I also love this one (below) that CD wrote to Thomas Henry Huxley. I confess to being a bit of a Huxley fan myself, but their mutual admiration society makes me smile…

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