August 08, 2014

6:58 PM | Population geneticists to Nicholas Wade: You know nothing of our work!
Okay, I’m paraphrasing in that headline, but only barely. From Science Insider: A best-seller by former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade about recent human evolution and its potential effects on human cultures has drawn critical reviews since its spring publication. Now, nearly 140 senior human population geneticists around the world, many of whose […]
5:39 PM | Worst Day of My Career
Even nine years later, I still keep thinking back to a day, early in my career as an academic faculty member based in England, that traumatized me. Today I’m going to share my story of that day. I feel ready to share it. This day was part of a research trip that lasted a couple of weeks, […]
4:48 PM | Selecting for a butterfly of a different color
Via NPR: a paper published online this week ahead of print at PNAS reports the results of an artificial selection experiment that changed butterflies’ wings from brown to blue. We used artificial selection on a laboratory model butterfly, [Bicyclus] anynana, to evolve violet scales from UV brown scales and compared the mechanism of violet color […]
4:28 PM | Rendez-vous with a Comet
In the cold reaches of space millions of kilometers from Earth, a ten-year journey is coming to an end and …Continue reading →
2:09 PM | Three reasons not to exercise
Or, three reasons to exercise better: 1) It hurts. 2) It REALLY hurts. 3) It REALLY hurts for a week. Okay, so you get the message. You may also have gathered that I did some exercise recently and it hurt. You’d be right. But why? Common knowledge seems to blame lactic acid, but this does […]
1:00 PM | Stuff online, funny five fingers edition
This week, at The Molecular Ecologist: The many loci of stickleback speciation. Your weekly grammatical rabbit hole. Sussing out the rules of adjective order. High five! The molecular development of fingers. Taking natural history back to the future. By publishing … Continue reading →
1:00 PM | What we’re reading: Estimating linkage in resequencing data, genomics of host-parasite coevolution, and scientific work-life balance
In the journals Maruki, T., and M. Lynch. 2014. Genome-wide estimation of linkage disequilibrium from population-level high-throughput sequencing data. Genetics 197:1303–1313. doi: 10.1534/genetics.114.165514. … we developed a maximum-likelihood estimator of linkage disequilibrium for use with error-prone sampling data. Computer simulations … Continue reading →
11:58 AM | The 6-ton Blue whale model at London’s Natural History Museum
A series of meetings meant that I found myself in London’s Natural History Museum yesterday, and with my friends and Tet Zoo supporters Dan and Felix Bridel (great t-shirt, Felix) I spent a... -- Read more on
11:00 AM | A week of links
Links this week: Academic urban legends spreading through sloppy citation. In PhD land, I have constantly found myself following citation chains that don’t lead to what they claim. Some progress in the replication wars. I’ll post about some of the specific examples over coming months. The evolutionary emergence of property rights (ungated working paper). HT: Ben […]
5:01 AM | Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An Early Cretaceous cobble-dwelling bryozoan
One of my formative experiences as a young paleontologist was working in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels (Lower Cretaceous, Upper Aptian) of south-central England while on my first research leave in 1985. (I was just a kid!) These gravels are extraordinarily fossiliferous with sponges, brachiopods, corals, vertebrate bones, and a variety of cobbles, both calcareous and […]
3:16 AM | Phones for Fieldwork II–Collating Data By Text Message
With the field season winding down, I finally have some time to write the blogposts I’ve been composing in my head for the last two months. To begin, here’s a quick follow-up to my previous post on the utility of … Continue reading →

August 07, 2014

9:13 PM | Scientists Envision Gait of Prehistoric Spider
The fossils were extracted from chert from Scotland and sliced into tiny pieces, allowing the scientists to reconstruct how the arachnid stood and how its legs were positioned.
6:01 PM | Tuscan Cypress
So you want some Tuscan plants, well, this tree is about as Tuscan as a tree gets.  Cupressus sempervirens, called Tuscan cypress here in Italy, but the Mediterranean cypress throughout most of its eastern Mediterranean range.  Tall, dark-green, columnar, the trees are highly distinctive and a dramatic element of the local vegetation.  While native they are widely planted for hedge rows and along drives. Everyone wanted to know what they were right away.  Some in this […]
2:52 PM | Appointment with disappointment (2014)
“Except the heaven had come so near, So seemed to choose my door, The distance would not haunt me so; I had not hoped before.” Emily Dickinson It’s happened to all of us. You make a plan with a friend, and then at the last minute, circumstances beyond the friend’s control force them to cancel. […]
1:00 PM | the OTHER microbiotas
The Body’s Ecosystem is a comprehensive – yet short enough to finish in a single sitting – review on current NON-GUT microbiota research, focusing on the mouth, lungs, swimsuit area, maternal microbiome and skin. It’s pretty interesting and pretty pretty – I really liked the accompanying artwork (including two hand-drawn, possibly NSFW genitalia pictures). It […]
8:51 AM | Teaching as an Exaptation
This is a commentary on Michelle Kline’s target article, “How to learn about teaching: An evolutionary framework for the study of teaching behavior in humans and other animals.
5:25 AM | Hitting the Road
The blog will be quiet for a bit longer, since I’ll be hitting the road tomorrow. I’ll be working out of my NJ office for a few days, which is to say I will be visiting the ‘rents. See ya when I return!

August 06, 2014

4:05 PM | Standing and flowing
Our paper on "The genomic signature of parallel adaptation from shared genetic variation" is finally out in print. Check out the funky cover they used.The paper is also subject of a News and Views by John Welch and Chris Jiggins: is the paper: is the original blog post:
2:00 PM | “Science is Not Democratic”
“Science isn’t a belief system. It’s proven knowledge. It either knows the answer to a problem, or admits it doesn’t and keeps looking for it.” – James Conca “Science is Not Democratic”, Forbes Magazine An excellent article detailing why basic and applied scientific research should be encouraged (and funded, please please please fund us) in […]
12:00 PM | Fall Leaves And Orange Flamingos
Biology concepts – pigment, carotenoids, flamingos, cyanobacteria, bacteriophage, trophic cascade effect, spirulina, algaThese are the two species of Old World flamingos, the greater (upper left) and the lesser (bottom right). Their ranges are included, pointed out by the convenient arrows. Even though the pictures don’t show it because I couldn’t get them to stand next to one another, the greater is twice the height of the lesser, hence the names. Notice the color variation […]

Anderson MJ & Williams SA (2010). Why do flamingos stand on one leg?, Zoo biology, 29 (3) 365-74. PMID:

Peduzzi P, Gruber M, Gruber M, Schagerl M. (2014). The virus's tooth: cyanophages affect an African flamingo population in a bottom-up cascade., ISME J. , 8 (6) 1346-1351. Other:

Kotut K, Ballot A & Krienitz L (2006). Toxic cyanobacteria and their toxins in standing waters of Kenya: implications for water resource use., Journal of water and health, 4 (2) 233-45. PMID:

9:01 AM | Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik | book review | @GrrlScientist
This book uses chemistry, history, psychology and good old fashioned storytelling to explore the nature of the materials that compose ordinary stuff, prompting readers to view the most common objects with newfound appreciation. Most of us don't even think about all the "stuff" that populates our lives -- until we trip over something. As a teenager, Mark Miodownik started out much like all of us, until a stranger on the tube slashed through five layers of his clothing with a razor blade that was […]
9:00 AM | Not the jam study again
Go to any behavioural science conference, event or presentation, and there is a high probability you will hear about “the jam study”. Last week’s excellent MSiX was no exception, with at least three references I can recall. The story is wonderfully simple and I have, at times, been mildly sympathetic to the idea. However, it is time for this […]
6:17 AM | Announcing the 2nd Annual Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest)
You know that science and evolutionary theory have arrived when they become the subject of humor without any overt attempt at education.

August 05, 2014

8:32 PM | To the manor born - not!
Ah, yes, all my relatives especially Mrs. Phactor and the F1 think my retirement was a brilliant move.  Well, at least the part where TPP rented (actually Mrs. Phactor made this happen if truth be known and credit is given where credit is due) a villa so that everyone had an excuse to visit Tuscany.  Presently the number of visitors is 9; next week it’s just 4 (but more troublesome types), then 4 more, and then 5 more the week after that. Thirteen relatives (rent-a-mob), 8 […]
6:45 PM | Chiffchaffs: a view of passerines from the peripheries (part I)
Every now and again I make an effort to get through a little bit more of passerine bird diversity (see the list of articles below for previous efforts). This is such an enormous and vastly diverse... -- Read more on
3:11 PM | How many genes does it take to make a new species?
Three-spined sticklebacks are speciation machines. When retreating glaciers exposed lakes and rivers around the coasts of northern North America and Eurasia, these armor-plated little fish colonized the new freshwater habitats from the ocean, and adapted to the threats and resources … Continue reading →
9:41 AM | Sneak Peak at Baba Brinkman’s New Album
Baba Brinkman, the rapper who covers academic topics ranging from Chaucer to evolutionary science, has a forthcoming animated rap album entitled The Rap Guide to Religion
5:04 AM | Adventure Time Awaits
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me since my qualifying exams. I’ve travelled up to Ottawa a few times to work with my co-advisor and gather a big, new DNA dataset, I’ve put my Google-fu and Google Translate skills to the test, and I’ve learned how spoiled I am by the ease of [...]

August 04, 2014

8:10 PM | BAH! Fest – 2014
Here at Nothing in Biology, we are big fans of making stuff up (but, uh, not on the blog… or in our scientific publications… or on our tax returns… or, well, you get the point). So a few of us are thinking of entering some of our fantastical(ly bad) evolutionary theories to the Festival of Bad […]
5:03 PM | Birdbooker Report 332
SUMMARY: Books, books, beautiful books! This is a list of biology, ecology, environment, natural history and animal books that are (or will soon be) available to occupy your bookshelves and your thoughts. “Words in leather and wood”. Bookshelves in the “Long Room” at the old Trinity College Library in Dublin. Image: Nic McPhee from Morris, MN, USA. 2007. (Creative Commons.) Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them!... Read […]
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