I usually have a rule that it is best to read one’s own work only when it is unavoidable (because one often finds things that could have been done better, etc.). However, I have been working on finishing up my most recent paper for Evolution: Education and Outreach, and I have had to go back through a few of my previous articles in the process. In a few places, I noted a particularly decent line that I thought I would probably quote sometime if it had been written by someone else. It then occurred to me that one can, in blog format at least, quote oneself and not feel too vain about it. So, here are the ones I liked.

From Evolution as fact, theory, and path:

“That evolution is a theory in the proper scientific sense means that there is both a fact of evolution to be explained, and a well-supported mechanistic framework to account for it. To claim that evolution is “just a theory” is to reveal both a profound ignorance of modern biological knowledge and a deep misunderstanding of the basic nature of science.”

“Evolutionary biology has as its purview the entire history and diversity of life, encompassing an unbroken chain of ancestry and descent involving innumerable organisms and spanning billions of years. In light of the tremendous scope and complexity of its subject matter, it should come as no surprise that details regarding the path and mechanisms of evolution are often subject to heated debate. The fact of evolution, however, remains unsinged.”

From The evolution of complex organs:

“As a career, science would hold very little appeal if all it entailed were the confirmation of existing knowledge or the memorization of long lists of well established facts. Science thrives on what is not yet known: the more vexing a problem, the more inspiring it is to investigate.”

“…the evolution of complex organs does not involve re-design from scratch at each stage; whether by direct adaptation or shifts in function, the process builds upon and modifies what is already present. “

“By definition, natural selection is the non-random differential success of individuals on the basis of heritable variation and therefore the cumulative outcome of this process – adaptation – is the opposite of random chance.”

“Because organs are built by tinkering rather than design, their features are impacted by historical contingency and inevitably reflect holdovers of past states. The net result is that all complex organs represent a mixture of optimizations and imperfections, both of which are accounted for by their evolutionary history.”

“Following in the tradition of Paley (1802) from two centuries ago, it is sometimes asserted that if a natural explanation is unavailable to account for an observation, then the only alternative is to assume a supernatural one. Such an assumption misses the obvious third option, and the one that drives scientific inquiry: that there is a natural explanation that is not yet known.”

From Artificial selection and domestication: modern lessons from Darwin’s enduring analogy:

“No reliable observation has yet been made to refute the notion that livestock, pets, and crops evolved from wild predecessors. On the contrary, the details of when, where, and how this occurred are becoming increasingly clear. Where there is disagreement, it relates not to the fact of evolutionary descent but to specific points about the mechanisms, locations, or timing of change. All of these considerations apply in the study of evolution by natural selection as well.”

From Understanding natural selection: essential concepts and common misconceptions:

“The occurrence of any particular beneficial mutation may be very improbable, but natural selection is very effective at causing these individually unlikely improvements to accumulate. Natural selection is an improbability concentrator.”

“The process of adaptation by natural selection is not forward-looking, and it cannot produce features on the grounds that they might become beneficial sometime in the future. In fact, adaptations are always to the conditions experienced by generations in the past.”

“Intuitive interpretations of the world, though sufficient for navigating daily life, are usually fundamentally at odds with scientific principles. If common sense were more than superficially accurate, scientific explanations would be less counterintuitive, but they also would be largely unnecessary.”

“…it is abundantly clear that teaching and learning natural selection must include efforts to identify, confront, and supplant misconceptions. Most of these derive from deeply held conceptual biases that may have been present since childhood. Natural selection, like most complex scientific theories, runs counter to common experience and therefore competes – usually unsuccessfully – with intuitive ideas about inheritance, variation, function, intentionality, and probability. The tendency, both outside and within academic settings, to use inaccurate language to describe evolutionary phenomena probably serves to reinforce these problems.”

“Natural selection is a central component of modern evolutionary theory, which in turn is the unifying theme of all biology. Without a grasp of this process and its consequences, it is simply impossible to understand, even in basic terms, how and why life has become so marvelously diverse.”


Some more (I will use this page as the main collection):

From Darwin’s two-for-one deal (Globe and Mail):

“There are two major reasons that scientists accept common descent as fact. The first is that it is supported by, and accounts for, a multitude of independent observations, including data from genetics, developmental biology, the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and the geographical distribution of species. The second is that not a single observation or inference made over the past 150 years has provided convincing evidence that modern species are not descended from common ancestors. The notion of common descent has even withstood the rise of entirely new scientific disciplines, including molecular genetics and, most recently, comparisons of entire genomes.”

“Evolution is not “just a theory,” any more than germs, atoms, or gravity are “just a theory”. The common ancestry shared by all life is the unifying principle of biology, making sense of an otherwise bewildering array of diversity and complexity. Our understanding of how this has occurred is, itself, constantly evolving.”

Granting agency beaurocracy jumps the shark.

NSERC has done some weird things in the past. Like running a peer review system that costs more than just giving every qualified researcher the amount of an average grant. Like cutting the MSc scholarship to one year. Like offering other scholarships that are much higher than the average lab’s operating grant. Like being notoriously averse to funding discovery science under the “Discovery Grants” program.

But this memo, which I assure you is not a joke, marks the moment when the shark truly was jumped.

Eligible and non-eligible expenses for stationery and office supplies

General Rule
Funding agencies expect institutions to assume the indirect costs and general expenses of the research project. Grant funds are used to cover the direct costs of research, including costs that would not have been incurred if the research project had not been undertaken. Funds cannot be used to pay for general expenses such as costs associated with office accessories normally already provided for institution staff.

The funds must be used effectively and economically, and the expenses must be essential to the research supported by the grant.

It may be concluded that an expenditure on supplies is admissible if they are not part of the “basic equipment” of the university’s academic and research mission and if they are not normally provided for institution staff. Moreover, the recipient must explain how those supplies are essential to his/her research activities.

Equipment and Supplies
Expenditures on research equipment and supplies, as well as costs of training staff who will use the specialized instruments or facilities, are eligible.

Examples of Eligible Expenses:

  • laboratory notebooks
  • paper used for laboratory operations in the context of a funded research project (correspondence with clients, printing of results)
  • paper used for data collection (questionnaires)
  • printing of an equipment user manual for a new researcher or assistant working on the funded research project
  • printing of e-journal articles relevant to the research project

Examples of Ineligible Expenses:

  • office accessories for laboratory employees, researchers and students (paper clips, pens, file folders, writing pads, ring binders, day planners, wastebaskets)

Dissemination of Research Results
Costs associated with the dissemination of findings, i.e., through traditional venues as well as videos, CD-ROMs, etc., are eligible, as are costs of preparing a research manuscript for publication.

Examples of Eligible Expenses:

  • paper and ink cartridges for printing of different manuscript versions
  • research-related paper documents, posters and pamphlets distributed to conference, workshop and focus group participants

Services and Miscellaneous Expenses
Costs for the purchase of books or periodicals, specialized office supplies, computing equipment and information services not formally provided by the institution to all academic and research staff are eligible.

The funding agencies note that certain miscellaneous education-related expenses, such as costs of thesis preparation, tuition and course fees and costs associated with the preparation of teaching materials, are ineligible.

Examples of Eligible Expenses:

  • special paper or writing tools required for the research project
  • laboratory notebooks or special binders in which to archive research project data

Examples of Ineligible Expenses:

  • paper used by students to print different versions of their dissertation or thesis
  • paper used to prepare course notes
  • filing cabinets and hanging files

Agaporomorphus colberti.

Quentin Wheeler and Kelly Miller have named a beetle after faux-blowhard Stephen Colbert.

Agaporomorphus colberti

This might be pretty cool, if not for the following issues:

1) This was done explicitly to get publicity.
2) It has already been done. (A spider was named after Colbert last year).
3) Apparently without intending to be ironic, Wheeler has also named species after Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

I absolutely support the need to gain attention for the importance of taxonomy. I also think the tradition of naming species in honour of individuals is amusing. Heck, I’m still waiting to have something with my name attached to it. But I’m not sure that naming species after people willy nilly just because they might bring attention is very dignified. On the other hand, maybe Wheeler thinks Colbert is right wing (apparently his illusion is effective among conservatives) such that there’s no inconsistency there.

Do crabs feel pain?

I posted some time ago about a study suggesting that crustaceans may feel “pain”. It is obviously very difficult to assess what this means outside of humans, but there is a new follow-up study being discussed in the science news that adds a little more insight. Here are some links:

Crabs Not Only Suffer Pain, But Retain Memory Of It

Crabs’ memory of pain confirmed by Queen’s academic

Boiling Mad: Crabs Feel Pain

The actual paper.

PDF and reference managing.

I know there is (what looks like) a good program for Macs entitled “Papers” that is something like iTunes in that you can have a single folder full of PDFs and manage both the files and the reference information very easily.

Problem: I don’t use a Mac. So, I am looking for something similar along the “iTunes” line, where one can keep all the PDFs in one place and then create “playlists” with links to the papers. I think the new EndNote may do this. I am going to try it out. Does anyone know of any other possibilities for PCs? I am sure many of us would love to have a list of programs.



  • EndNote looks like it will do what I have in mind. $250 but worth it if a) no other options, and b) can install on several computers (not certain about that yet).
  • Zotero, Mendeley, and JabRef have been recommended. Have tried Zotero previously, and it looks good but I prefer something that isn’t dependent on a browser.

Other Darwin year goodies.

As you know, I have been involved in a little side project designing Darwin year stuff, with half the proceeds going to conservation charities and half to be invested in developing online evolution resources (coming soon, by the way). We’ve had some great success, and it’s been lots of fun.

I think there is more than enough space within this Darwiniana niche, so I don’t mind pointing out other sources for great products: