Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Boss of the Day, With Bonus Quote

I was recently made aware of this brilliant 3-part series by John Oliver, as many of the Daily Show's segments are. John Oliver, boss of the day, for making the point so spectacularly in short clips of awesome-sauce.

It's great, even more so for giving us this excellent example of American Exceptionalism:

John Oliver: What if, hypothetically speaking, what if gun control could work? Which obviously it can't, so, we know that it wont, so that's not a problem, but what if it could, due to that time that it did?

Philip Van Cleave: Okay, when was that?

John Oliver: Australia

Philip Van Cleave: I guess if we're going to go to planet X, and say it's not the United States, it's some, some other planet with different people different everything, I don't know, yea, I don't know, it, it, but in the real world, with real human beings it's not going to work and we, gun control is not going to work.

Emphasis mine

Are you fucking serious? Please, please tell me they took that quote out of context. And yet, it doesn't surprise me either. America is the world. Australia? That's planet X, with aliens, not real human beings. 

Extra Extra Bonus: Australian comedian also making the comparison between US and Aussie gun control, where I actually heard about this first, and also very funny

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When a Negative Statement Becomes A Claim

The other day I got into a bit of a strange discussion with my colleagues, which involved me being alone on my side of the debate defending the existence of male bisexuality.

It all started with the observation that our culture is far more accepting of a fluid sexuality for women, as it is less acceptable for a man to admit to having had the occasional male partner but still claiming to prefer women. While initially the people I was speaking to decried this double standard as unfair, at the end they still claimed that they also thought that any man who has had male partners, or wanted to have male partners is probably actually gay, and that the Kinsey Scale is probably only applicable to women. I disagreed. There are plenty of men, some of whom I know personally who claim to be bisexual, on what basis can they claim that in reality male bisexuality doesn't exist? Personal experience is not science! I was told. That is not evidence! Who am I to say that it does exists? I have just as much justification to claim it does as they do to claim that it doesn't. 

The details of our discussion are not that important to what I want to talk about here. The point is that this whole thing got me thinking about positive versus negative claims, and how sometimes making a negative claim is actually the one requiring a larger burden of proof.

The burden of proof lies on those who make the claim. This is a very common statement used to explain atheism, and why the absence of evidence leads one to assume the negative. There is no evidence that fairies exist, therefore I do not believe they exist. Same goes for unicorns, or dragons. I cannot prove that they don't exist, it is impossible to prove a negative, but I am not going to believe in them until I have good reason to do so. What is more, personal accounts of having seen a fairy or unicorn or dragon (or, for that matter, God) does not count as evidence in the slightest. Given this logic, I am the one with the burden of proof, no? I am the one claiming that male bisexuality exists. They are claiming it does not. Shouldn't I be the one who has the burden of proof in this case?

Their claim that male bisexuality does not exist struck me as a much bolder statement than my claim that it does, and then I realized why.

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to something as personal as sexual attraction, personal statements do count as evidence. With something as complex as human behavior, there is very little in the way of objective evidence that one can collect, akin to something like finding an actual fairy. That doesn't mean that one cannot attempt to design experiments which attempt to collect more objective evidence in order to verify these claims, but in this case the claims themselves do hold significant weight.

Imagine for a moment the more extreme version of this argument. There is no such thing as gay people! People who engage in gay sex are just abusers! Or people who have been abused! Or people who just want to engage in extreme sex! That seems like a very bold statement, no? It seems as though someone who believes that would have to do far more legwork than someone who believes that gay people exist in order to prove their point, even though they're stating the negative.

In this scenario, it's not that any of these people would need to prove that male bisexuality, or homosexuality doesn't exist. This encounters the same problems as trying to prove that fairies don't exist. However, what they would have to do is start by finding a plausible, evidence-backed alternative to explain all of those people who do identify as gay, or bisexual, or whatever. They need to do a lot more legwork to bring the conversation back to an even 50:50, maybe it exists and maybe it doesn't, equal evidence on both sides. Without finding evidence that there is an alternative explanation for all of those people, it is actually far more reasonable to assume that male bisexuality does in fact exist, in lieu of further evidence.

Do you see where I'm coming from? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

That's Not Real.... Is That Real?!

I came across this video on Pharyngula as I was eating lunch at my desk. According to PZ, this is a real, genuine political ad for Rand Paul, but I cannot bring myself to believe it.

I almost choked on my sandwich. I have no words to describe my reaction, the closest I can come is 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Back to Sporadic Updates...

Hey All,

Aren't I just a horrible flake? It looks like I'm back to sporadic updating of this thing. Just when I thought there was a bit of a lull in my workload, I got a whole other pile of crap to do dumped on me. Back to 14 hour work days for the foreseeable future! Woop!

At this point, this song is playing non-stop in my head

Saturday, May 30, 2015

That. Was. Epic.

I loved Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was a kid. He's engaging, funny and just plain fun. Turns out, he can be funny to adult audiences too, and this skit was just perfect.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, always a boss. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

On How Awesome Gecko Feet Are

When my colleagues are not totally sick of hearing me talk, we have an occasional segment in the office known as "this week in Zoology". I work with people who have a background predominantly in Neuroscience, Molecular Biology and Genetics, whereas I got my degree in Zoology. Given this, I know quite a few random and awesome facts about animals, permanently stored in my brain, so I figured why not repeat a few of them here? The very first thing we talked about was the fractal feet of geckos.

Lets start with talking about what a fractal actually is. A fractal is a mathematical concept which is often observed in nature, in which a pattern is maintained at every scale of resolution. This can be seen in branching of biological structures, in which one branch has many branches, each of which has many branches, each of those having other branches etc. This is how gecko feet are structured, which is the secret to their success with climbing virtually any kind of surface.

A snarky way to learn about fractals

Researchers noticed that, among creatures who could crawl on vertical surfaces, geckos are pretty much the best at it. Trying to pull a gecko off the wall can result in ripping its legs from its body, rather than removing the whole animal. So, how do they manage to stick to a surface so well, and at the same time crawl over it so rapidly? Is it suction cups? Electricity? Attempting to coat the surface with oils, changing the materials or passing electrical currents through them led to no changes in the gecko's ability to climb. Finally, they looked at the gecko's toes, and therein was the answer.


It turns out, a gecko's toes are structured like a fractal, they are branched into smaller and smaller structures, until ultimately they can squeeze between the molecules of the surface, taking advantage of the molecule-to-molecule interactions of the surface in order to stick to them.

How amazingly cool is that??!! They are actually penetrating the molecular structure of your wall!

Any random animals you don't think can be cool? Name them in the comments and lets see if I can scare up any ancient memories of weird facts about them!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Respecting Your Parents, But As Equals

My father is coming to visit me tomorrow, kind of spur of the moment. Woop! Given that he lives half way around the world I only get to see him once a year, and even then usually just for a couple of days, so I'm happy he's coming to visit, to see my new place and to just hang out for a bit.

I have not spoken about my father much on this blog, and that is primarily because we do not have any real conflict, especially compared with the tension I have with my mother. However, given his upcoming visit, it reminds me of a weird moment I had when I was visiting my mother's side of the family in the States, and highlighted a deep seeded cultural difference that may go a long way to explain why I clash so badly with my mother. 

So I was sitting in the living room with my uncle, my cousin and her boyfriend. It was a little awkward, we don't really have so much to say to each other, but my uncle used to be really good friends with my father and is always curious to hear what he's up to. Given that my father now lives in Brazil, he was kicking it under the sun while I'm freezing my butt off in December in Seattle. He teases me by sending me the occasional picture of gorgeous palm trees, beaches and crystal blue sea while I'm curled up on the couch inside. So I say to my uncle "hey, look where my dad is now! He just sent me this picture. What a dick! I'm so jealous". My uncle's reaction was one that I would have never anticipated. His face dropped, he gave an awkward laugh, turned to his daughter and said "[daughter], don't you ever ever call me a dick. No matter how much time passes or how far away we are from each other, I hope we don't ever reach a point in which you think you can disrespect me and call me a dick". She looked terrified at the mere thought of it. "No dad, I would never do such a thing, no way". 

She's 20, by the way.

Well, that lighthearted conversation-starter just got hella intense. I was not trying to disrespect my father, far from it. I tried to explain it, saying that if anyone sends you a picture from a remote gorgeous sunny place while you're freezing and wishing you were there, don't you call them a dick? Like teasing? He dismissed it, saying "I know you have a weird relationship with your father, but I would never tolerate something like that". 

This is where I realized that, as much as I love my US family, we just cannot see eye to eye about basic human interaction. 

I'm 28 years old. As such my father has, for quite a few years now, treated me like an adult, like an equal. He will tell me about the drugs he took, a dirty joke he heard, or a funny embarrassing situation he got himself in. We are adults, and we are equals. The idea that my uncle will forever hang on to this parental reverence, this respect me because I'm your father no matter what or else, that my cousin will forever fear calling him out on anything because respect, is heartbreaking to me. When I repeated this story to my Italian grandmother, who is 92, she was just as ready to call my dad a dick for sending me that picture and just as puzzled at my uncle's reaction.

I was raised by an Italian family which believes that parental respect is earned in adulthood. One that has never uttered "do this because I said so" to a child, because children need to understand why certain actions are wrong, not just blindly follow authority. My mother, clearly, was raised in a completely different culture, which is probably why she had so many problems battling with me as a child, and why we still clash to this day. 

Yes, I called my dad a dick, and I wouldn't trade the relationship I have with him for anything, especially not for the one my uncle has with my cousin. The fact that I can talk to him like a person, like a peer, is infinitely more valuable to me than forcing myself into a paradigm in which I am expected to revere a paternal figure which is obviously just a fallible, flawed human like everyone else. Being forced to ultimately respect someone without question because blood, because family, because parent, to me is something that is putting a heavy strain on their relationship.

And for my relationship to be called weird, given that alternative? Fine, I'll take weird over normal any day. In the meantime, I plan on having a bitchin time with my dad this weekend!