Taming a Fox in the USSR

“More than a ‘tit for tat’ encounter between Lee and Lyudmila, I see the production of this volume as an act of academic altruism, an exemplar of the evolution of goodness and cooperation between humans, in which the story of Vulpes vulpes, Dmitri and Lyudmila has been rescued from the glacial night and eternalized in a book for the large, youthful crowds. How to Tame a Fox resembles the launching of Sputnik and Vostok, but rather than commissioning Laika or Yuri Gagarin to pioneering our presence in space, it seems to have sent the red foxes, Dmitri and Lyudmila in a journey to the stars, where they belong.”

by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Almost two decades ago, a graduate student in a lab in which both of us were associates, she as a second-year trainee and I as a postdoc, gave me an end-of-the-year card with a wolf sketched on the cover and a note inside: Don’t Let Them Tame You. I loved it. Darkness in the sky, a snowy cliff and a grayish Canis howling at the moon were softly printed on pale paper.

Over the years, I have realized that her intention was to warn me, at least symbolically, about the nasty working environment I had just joined, and which required ferocity to survive. We both did it, no taming in trade. — But the card’s message at that time simply got me thinking of Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859), in which he discussed “Variation Under Domestication” (Chapter I) and the many examples of humans’ successes in taming —over centuries and millennia— all sorts of animals and plants. In fact, Darwin’s central inference that Nature played the role of a “beast master” in shaping not only behavior but entire species’ anatomies and functions came directly from the evidence of domestication. He later dedicated a whole book, The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), to expand on the ideas first presented in The Origin.

“…If anything, the book’s wedge is Taming a Fox in a Dystopian USSR…”

Photo credit The Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Novosibirsk (with permission – LAD).

When biologist Lee A. Dugatkin approached me in January 2017, via Facebook, to ask me to share one of his posts announcing the upcoming How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog), I volunteered to —instead— write a review of the book for EvoLiteracy. Before long, I received an electronic copy of the proofs, read them enthusiastically non-stop, and came up with a 600-word commentary. I gave the book three stars, but never posted the narrative. I found the story light and told Avelina Espinosa (my research collaborator and co-author in papers and books) that How to Tame a Fox will become a best seller and do well in the popular science market: my review will make no difference. Besides, I said, this book is hard to assess without turning too critical. Starting from the title, nobody tames a fox and builds a dog, but rather selects for a tamed fox, the actual product. To me, the heading was equivalent to stating “how to tame a Grévy’s zebra and build a horse;” or tame a white-lipped peccary and build a pig; or a lynx and build a cat. All misleading premises; all involving relatively close taxa: canids (foxes and dogs), equids (zebras and horses), tayassuids and suids (peccaries and pigs) or felids (lynxes and cats). Although, it is true that the foxes were tamed –for the most part– in the dog’s image, no fox was ever turned into “The perfect dog” (Prologue). This early analogy fogged reality and remained latent, subliminal in the chapters.

“…The book narrates the work, struggles and joys of Russian scientists Dmitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut, whom in the early 1950s started one of the most ambitious experiments in domestication: the turning of a wild red fox (Vulpes vulpes) into a pet-lookalike…”

Along its pages, How to Tame a Fox resembles the ornate prose of the Victorian Era (Dugatkin’s style, also evident in Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, 2009). The book narrates the work, struggles and joys of Russian scientists Dmitri Belyaev (1917-1985) and Lyudmila Trut, whom in the early 1950s started (i.e. Belyaev) one of the most ambitious experiments in domestication: the turning of a wild red fox (Vulpes vulpes) into a pet-lookalike. The igniting motivation was commercial (for the fox fur industry) as much as inspired by scientific curiosity (an attempt to fast-domesticate a wild animal by means of intense selective breeding), although the outcomes remained little known outside the Soviet Union during the Cold War (but see American Scientist 1999, BioEssays 2009). Sixty years later, Lee has teamed up with Lyudmila to host the late Dmitri’s journey together with his companion foxes. An arrangement of convenience, I suppose, to achieve harmony between writing and factuality in telling the story.

Back in April 2017, I put aside my commentary on How to Tame a Fox, continued working on my own writing, and waited for the public’s reaction to the book (not that it would change my views). While in Prague, in July-August 2017, I asked Miklós Müller, a knowledgeable critic of the villainous Trofim Lysenko‘s work in the former Soviet Union (see Volumes I and II) and his influence on distorting science for ideological reasons in the USSR and Eastern Europe during the 1940s-50s (times that coincided with the starting of the first Belyaev fox investigations, toward the late 50s), if he —Miklós— was aware of the foxes book. Indeed, we both had read a blurb in The New York Times drafted by Marlene Zuk in May 2017: How Do You Make a Fox Your Friend? Fast-Forward Evolution. — Miklós and I had a passionate conversation about Lysenko; we put the foxes on hold, and then were interrupted by the beginning of a scientific talk about unicellular eukaryotes (protists), the purpose of our overlapping presence in the Czech Republic (for related article see A visit to Prague and Kutná Hora).

“…the red fox trials are analogous to the long-term evolution experiments in Escherichia coli, in which, in only a few years… new geno-phenotypes emerged relatively quickly under persistent directional selection…”

Excerpts of How to Tame a Fox have been reproduced in numerous venues (e.g. American Scientist, Evolution Institute, for endorsements go here). However, there are two academic reviews of relevance that I recommend. A generous one by Dan Blumstein, published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, and a more critical by Adam Miklosi, which came out in Current Biology. Adam states “…this experiment [i.e. the foxes’ breeding for tameness] should have been referred to as an animal model of domestication in which foxes were selected for ‘tame’ behaviour. So just to be clear, nobody has domesticated these foxes. These are not domesticated animals, they are the result of a scientific experiment — no more, no less…” So far, so good, Adam is right. But he also highlights that “…scientists working in this field [animal domestication] agree that domestication is an evolutionary process taking place on a 1000–10000 (or longer) year time scale and it involves complex interaction between people and a specific set of animal species (e.g. dogs, pigs, bees etc)…” Here Adam misses the point. The Belyaev and Trut experiments demonstrate that, under controlled conditions of directional —and relentless— selection with a clear intention in mind (to tame the foxes), the “domestication-like-outcome” (i.e. significantly reduced aggression in the foxes toward humans or each other) was comparable to what has been accomplished over thousands or tens of thousands of years with dogs, pigs or bees. Of course not in all possible traits correlated with domestication, like some features of dog cognition that seem to have evolved in parallel with tameness, but at least in one specific dimension: reduced aggression and, therefore, increased amicable behaviors toward humans and conspecifics. In this respect, the red fox trials are analogous to the long-term evolution experiments with Escherichia coli (late 1980s – present), in which, in only a few years and thousands of generations (nothing unusual for bacterial populations that replicate every couple of hours), new geno-phenotypes emerged relatively quickly under persistent directional selection [(i.e. the emergence of aerobic metabolism based on an organic-acid nutrient called citrate, rather than on ordinary sugars, which E. coli “prefers;” but again, nobody domesticated or tamed the bacteria to build another microbe; the cells were selected to tolerate citrate and their descendants expressed geno-phenotypes that allowed them to feed on the citric acid –for an encyclopedic summary see E. coli LTEE)].

“… How to Tame a Fox does little to challenge the reader and engage him/her into inferring time or space connections via literary devices, even though the vast historical setting and wealth of the Russian literature were accessible to the authors; after all, Lyudmila was a contributor…”

My discontent with the book was not the buoyancy of the science, its redundant passages, the sticky narrative or emphasis on people (Lee, as narrator of historicity, Dmitri and Lyudmila as heroic characters struggling to doing science in a “communist regime”) rather than on the foxes, which are elements cleverly assembled into the text to precisely appeal to a broad readership prone to loving cute pets and being empathic with non-human animals; a multitude shallowly aware of the advent of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, and predominantly uninformed about the monumental cultural ancestry of the Russian people. How to Tame a Fox feeds on the stereotypic views the West has about life in the USSR; it swiftly examines the geopolitical past with Western values of the present, a no-no approach among academic historians. [(And this observation is not, by default, an endorsement of Stalin’s brutality, which still roams the mental architecture of Moscow’s modern politicians, nor a denial that the USSR imploded due to self-inflicted wounds plus its unsustainable clashes with the gluttonous capitalists, whom today form West-and-East alliances of their own to extort the world)]. If anything, the book’s wedge is Taming a Fox in a Dystopian USSR. As Miklós Müller justified it when we spoke in Prague: well, it is because an American author wrote the book.

How to Tame a Fox does little to challenge the reader and engage him/her into inferring time or space connections via literary devices, even though the vast historical setting and wealth of the Russian literature were accessible to the authors; after all, Lyudmila was a contributor. This only required creativity. — By contrast, the book secures an intellectual safe space; the discomfort is in others (Dmitri, Lyudmila, the foxes, the Soviets, the communists, the totalitarians, the thugs, the cronies, them), the comfort is in the self (the flawless bookworm). Yet, it is fun to explore its passages and envision its events in a video-clip fashion. And more than once I pictured the foxes jumping and playing adorably with their caregivers, unaware that their ancestors had been tamed —selectively— by scientists. Sometimes, I even envisioned their DNA changing as the experiments progressed: I felt The Commotion in the Genes as referred to in Chapter 10.

Early this year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded How to Tame a Fox one of the 2018 AAAS/Subaru Children’s Science Book Prizes, in the category Young Adult Science Book. The work is currently —as I predicted a year ago— a best seller, and it is being translated into other languages (Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian and Korean –not Russian, yet). But the fortune of this tale might travel farther than that, and it is not wild to imagine a Hollywood animation about gentle versus vicious foxes; good battling evil in the cold, endless winters of Siberia; with oppressors wearing ushanka hats and mismatching Cossack attires; with Lysenko- and Stalin-like characters plotting malice against scientists and the creatures of the snow. A mirage of the imprinted allegories about the past.

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs.” — Leo Tolstoy

More than a “tit for tat” encounter between Lee and Lyudmila, I see the production of this volume as an act of academic altruism, an exemplar of the evolution of goodness and cooperation between humans, in which the story of Vulpes vulpes, Dmitri and Lyudmila has been rescued from the glacial night and eternalized in a book for the large, youthful crowds. How to Tame a Fox resembles the launching of Sputnik and Vostok, but rather than commissioning Laika or Yuri Gagarin to pioneering our presence in space, it seems to have sent the red foxes, Dmitri and Lyudmila in a journey to the stars, where they belong.

I do recommend this enchanting book to all audiences, just don’t let it tame you.

— EvoLiteracy © 2018.

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Exploring Hawaii when the false alert of a missile threat happened

“…The regrettable human error, or plain stupidity, will be part of the Hawaiian history. The wrong button was pushed; in reality, double clicked by a suboptimal employee abusing a computer mouse at times when the contest on who had the ‘much bigger nuclear button that works’ was in the news. And more than one real war has been triggered in the past by a surreal, confusing event…”

by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

I was in Oahu on Saturday, January 13, when the false alert of a missile threat to Hawaii was issued on TV and also reached cellphones in the entire archipelago “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” We (my research collaborator and co-traveler around the world, Avelina Espinosa) knew there was something wrong with the broadcast. First the message came out early in the morning, when test alarms usually take place (like the weekend before when we were already in Hawaii). Second, the sirens did not go off, which was puzzling (they were supposed to join in loud and shock every city, town or rural area in case of an imminent catastrophe). Third, no additional alarms followed, but the city of Honolulu became quiet for a few minutes. We had the windows opened at a 26th-floor apartment and the usual traffic noise, construction workers, service trucks and even people talking in the streets became silent, just like in the middle of the night. And that was surprising.

Wrong Button? Honolulu “oopses” False Missile Alert, Star Advertiser (click on image to enlarge)

Although our rational minds were telling us that the alarm did not make sense, adrenaline was inevitably circulating. Conditioned fear is such a peculiar sensation. Freeze, fight or fly responses emerged together, at the same time that rationality gradually suppressed them. Our education was, in the end, the victorious opponent to the illogical. Soon we found ourselves finishing our Kona Coffee and looking at the majestic Diamond Head Crater in front of us. Honolulu continued to be awaken and warmed up while the sun brushed in yellow the slopes of the Koolau mountains. After 20 minutes, no nuclear blast occurred; it was 5 minutes overdue. At minute 38 an anti-alarm was sent “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.”

The regrettable human error, or plain stupidity, will be part of the Hawaiian history. The wrong button was pushed; in reality, double clicked by a suboptimal employee abusing a computer mouse at times when the contest on who had the “much bigger nuclear button that works” was in the news. Hawaii might not have the biggest, but for sure now has the wrongest red switch. And more than one real war has been triggered in the past by a surreal, confusing event.

I have visited Oahu three times (2014, 2016 and 2018) and Hawaii on six occasions (Big Island 2012 and 2013, Oahu and Kauai 2014, Maui 2015, and Oahu 2016 and 2018), and written about it in Mauna Kea Telescopes to Sink in the Pacific, EvoLiteracy Update from Hawaii, and The Elegant Feral Chickens of Hawaii – Moa. This post is about my latest trip to the island of Oahu (first two weeks of January 2018), where the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu, is located. Readers might find similarities between previous posts and this one, particularly images of places I have visited before and reported about, but much of the material below is new.

Together with Avelina, we drove 801 miles (or 1282 kilometers) across Oahu (click on map to enlarge). This time, we concentrated on less driving and more on in situ hiking, landscape watching, bird watching, plant/wildflowers watching, coral-reef watching, visiting (historic monuments, museums, the University of Hawaii), and exploring (towns, cities, streets, particularly the non-touristic areas). We do not take vacations, but we travel with an academic mind to as many destinations as possible… to Explore Our Planet. We like islands and have reported for EvoLiteracy from the Galapagos (A, B) and Jamaica (C) in the past few years. Often, our cargo is heavy, this last time 200+ pounds of equipment (scuba, photography, books and field guides).

Enjoy the images, they speak for themselves (click on them for higher resolution); no particular order, except for the obvious beginning and end of the trip, Aloha.

Above: On our way to Hawaii. Frozen River, Minnesota – A cold beginning to a warm end… 2017-2018 – it will be tropical.

Above: ONE of OUR LAST VIEWS of EARTH during 2017- day 365 – the Rocky Mountains (between Montana and Idaho) on Dec 31st, from 36,000 feet (11,000 m) elevation.

Above: Even the airport has the Spirit of Aloha, Honolulu.

Above: The legendary Waikiki (btw, there are many “Waikikis” in Honolulu).

Above: Diamond Head Crater as seen from the Kapiolani Park.

Above: Diamond Head Crater as seen from within (spot the Zebra Doves).

Above: At least five species of coral-reef fishes. Manybar Goatfish, Moorish Idol, Convict Tangs (the common ones) and a couple of Acanthuridae.

Above: The many rainbows of Hawaii.

Above: Sketching Honolulu, local time 6:35 PM.

Above: Iconic Honolulu, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Above: We rescued this cute creature (a Jackson’s Chameleon) from the middle of the road, nearby Hawaii Kai, and released it back to a tree, still disoriented.

Above: Students’ outdoor art at the University of Hawaii Manoa, what a gorgeous campus; rich in nature and human diversity.

Above: If you ever find a sea cucumber drifting, you may gently place it in the bottom of the sea. Near the Aukai Beach Park.

Above: Water falling on glass, looks like oil on canvas, Honolulu.

Above: Manana Island (left) and Kaohikaipu Island (right), Oahu.

Above: Sky, Island, Ocean, Sand… Ka’ena Point State Park (Northwest Oahu).

Above: One with the ocean…

Above: the Koko Crater.

Above: Textures of nature (a Beaucarnea), Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

Above: Majestic Fever Tree (Acacia) at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

Above: Golden Barrel Cactus, look like they are rolling somewhere.

Above: Spiny bloom of the Golden Barrel Cactus.

Above: Palms and Sun W&B at the Huilua Fishpond.

Above: The Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: A leviathan, main exhibit, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: Milionia moths, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: Polymita snails (originally from Cuba) at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: Achatinella snails, endemic to Hawaii, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: “CLASSIFICATION” by Pax Jakupa (Papua New Guinea) at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: Kumulipo Ke Ao – The Day, at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: All sorts of coffee…

Above: Coffee beans being dried in the open, Waialua.

Above: Close up of coffee beans being dried in the open, Waialua.

Above: Coffee Beans… world quality.

Above: Feral, it feeds on local endangered birds et al. Encounter at the Koko Crater.

Above: Frightening Forest… where the non-existing ghosts roam.

Above: Encephalartos at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

Above: Euphorbia at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

Above: Spot the humans… Koko Crater.

Above: Kamaka ukulele (right). Good sound and projection, simple varnishing and polishing; thus, aiming at looking classic. The strings were weird, some tightened in the opposite direction (never seen that before), Honolulu.

Above: Antidote to when kids don’t want to go to school, Waimanalo.

Above: A peculiar Soap Factory in Waialua.

Above: Honolulu awakening; in the background the Diamond Head Crater.

Above: Honolulu, the evening after the false-alarm missile attack – a historic mistake to be remembered forever.

Above: The evening after the false-alarm missile attack – a historic mistake to be remembered forever.

Above: Tunnel to The Sky, Honolulu.

Above: Japanese Light Tank, 1940s, Hawaii Army Museum.

Above: United States Light Tank, cf. 1940s, Hawaii Army Museum.

Above: Cute ukuleles of tourists quality.

Above: Statues at the Mall, Honolulu.

Above: Udon Noodles… among the best in the world, Honolulu.

Above: The gorgeous campus of the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Above: The gorgeous campus of the University of Hawaii Manoa, George Hall.

Above: The Hamilton Library (at the University of Hawaii Manoa) now has a copy of “Measuring the Evolution Controversy.”

Above: More of the gorgeous campus of the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Above: Oahu’s wilderness as seen from the Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park.

Above: Rock (volcanic), wildflowers and ocean… Ka’ena Point State Park.

Above: Sand and symmetry, near Punaluu.

Above: The Iolani Palace, Honolulu, spot the tern.

Above: The Throne Room at the Iolani Palace.

Above: Dress ornaments made of PEACOCK FEATHERS, on display at the Throne Room, Iolani Palace.

Above: The Dining Room at the Iolani Palace.

Above: Quilt made by Queen Liliʻuokalani while under house arrest in the 1890s, Iolani Palace.

Above: Upstairs the Iolani Palace.

Above: Coronation Pavilion, Iolani Palace.

Above: The Many Gods, Honolulu.

Above: “…The only Gods the people ever saw with their eyes were the images of wood and stone…” David Malo 1835-36 (historian and later minister himself), Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Above: Ficus, a tree that can be a vine that can be a root that can be an epiphyte, Honolulu.

Above: Ukuleles of fine quality.

Above: Honolulu’s night life.

Above: Noodles, a moment of Chi — the right portion is in the hand; it feels correct; the small bowl is there to verify it, not for the server, but for the customer.

Above: This was our first B&W of 2018 at the Kapiolani Park, Honolulu.

Above: Ocean and wildflowers, Ka’ena Point State Park.

Above: Spot the glider at the Ka’ena Point State Park.

Above: A yellow close up at the Ka’ena Point State Park.

Above: Signs of a Satellite Tracking Station, Northwest Oahu (Ka’ena Point State Park).

Above: A purple close up at the Ka’ena Point State Park.

Above: Ka’ena Point State Park.

Above: Oahu’s landscape as seen from the Huilua Fishpond.

Above: More Textures of Nature, Huilua.

Above: Fury after the false alert missile inbound.

Above: The day after the missile threat false alert.

Above: Waiting for Sunset, Honolulu.

Above: Distasteful snacks, sardine-packing comfort… photo looks better than reality.

Above: Welcome return at the airport, Dallas, Texas, across the AA arrival gate. They knew exactly how the plane service was.

EvoLiteracy © 2018 — You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

The Rigorous PhD

“…Although it is true that the PhD degree has been criticized in recent years for remaining classical and reluctant to being seduced by a more market-oriented skill-based training system, it still is the strongest higher-education formative experience ever developed in academia. The globalization of science and technology and international exchanges of professionals have led to agreements that attempt to equate higher-university titles across disciplines (the functional equivalents to a PhD), but it has also triggered worldwide the proliferation of fake, self-granted PhD acronyms to doctoral degrees that are no match to the education provided by the rigorous PhD-granting institutions…”

by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Before listing what makes a PhD-training unique, I will share the latest data about the United States. The statistics below come from the National Science Foundation and correspond to 2016 (released early December 2017). You will have to wait until late 2018 for NSF to process the data from 2017.

In 2016, the United States graduated 54,904 PhDs and doctorates (the latter included non-PhDs but doctors in education, law, business administration, social work, international relations, health-care professions like physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and clinical psychologists, and technical posts like pharmacy) at 436 higher-education institutions. Of these graduates, 38,406 were American citizens and residents, and 16,498 were temporary visa holders of diverse nationalities (=international students). The top five PhD/doctorate-granting institutions were the University of Texas-Austin (849), University of Wisconsin-Madison (823), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (819), University of California-Berkeley (796) and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (787).

The top five PhD/doctorate-granting institutions to the international students were Purdue University-West Lafayette (372), Texas A&M University-College Station and Health Science Center (328), University of Florida (297), University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (278) and Ohio State University-Columbus (267).

23% of the graduates obtained degrees in the life sciences, 17% in engineering, 16% in psychology and social sciences, 12% in physical and earth sciences, 10% in humanities and arts, 9% in education, and 7% in mathematics and computer sciences; the rest graduated in other fields, including business, management and administration, as well as communication (adding to 6%).

54% of the graduates were men and 46% were women. The men/women gap varied across fields, as follows: in the life sciences, 55% were women and 45% were men; in engineering, 77% were men and 23% were women; in psychology and social sciences, 59% were women and 41% were men; in physical and earth sciences, 69% were men and 31% were women; in humanities and arts, 52% were women and 48% were men; in education, 70% were women and 30% were men; and in mathematics and computer sciences, 76% were men and 24% were women.

“All PhDs are doctoral degrees, but not all doctoral degrees are PhDs”

What did those who got PhDs do to be granted the degrees of “philosophiae doctoris” or “doctor of philosophy”? My listing below is summarized and applicable particularly to the life sciences:

“…if your doctoral certificate does not read ‘philosophiae doctoris’ or ‘doctor of philosophy,’ chances are you might not have a PhD…”

Number 1 – Application. All began when they sent applications to multiple PhD programs in the US, knowing that, if lucky, a couple of institutions might accept them. Crucial to their applications were five components: a statement of interest (a sort of letter of intent, but broader, explaining why they wanted to pursue research), the curriculum vitae (CV), three letters of recommendation (preferably by academics with PhDs themselves), GRE / TOEFL scores if already available (the originals were sent directly to the universities by the GRE– / TOEFL-test agencies), and the undergraduate academic records (the “transcripts”). The personal statement had to be competitive in relation to the hundreds/thousands of statements submitted by students from all over the world. It revealed, in a few pages, the genuine intellectual potential of the applicant; his/her curiosity-driven mind and interest in seeking scientific knowledge. The CV needed to summarize the evidence that the applicant was a scientist in the making (format and content had to be just right). The letters of recommendation convinced a reviewing committee (made of professors in multiple fields and student representatives to the “graduate committee”) that the applicant will endure the challenges of the PhD academic environment (survive and succeed in it). The undergraduate transcript had to simply document that the applicant was as ordinarily outstanding as the other applicants (previous research experiences were always a plus, even more important than the excellent grades). Perhaps now the reader realizes how significant were the personal statements and CVs (the latter as supplements), considering that the letters of recommendation and undergraduate records of all competitive applicants were comparable.

Number 2 – Interview. This was done in multiple ways and more than one semi-formal or formal interview(s) took place. Via Skype (the first approach) and a later visit to the graduate program during which the potential student met with the graduate committee (usually with each of its members and also with the group), interacted with diverse research teams with which the student might work in the future (if accepted into the program), participated in a journal club discussion or laboratory meeting (for which the applicant was given scientific publications to read in advance, so that his/her contribution to the discussion was meaningful), and socialized over dinner, or equivalent gathering, where members of the program (faculty, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students) got to talk, briefly, to the applicant. As the interview(s) made progress, the members of the graduate committee got feedback from those whom interacted with the applicant(s). Each potential student was ranked in respect to others and, after various meetings, the graduate committee made recommendations (to higher-instances in the institution) as to the list of students whom should be offered a “graduate student line” (i.e. the type of funding the student shall receive, either as research or teaching assistant, or both). In most cases, a database was created with quantitative scores as per all aspects relevant to the applicant(s) performance: personal statement, CV, letters of recommendation, undergraduate transcripts (this also applied to those with masters degrees in a separate column), GRE/TOEFL scores (or equivalents), research experience, publications (when applicable, as coauthor or leading author), presentations at regional, national or international scientific meetings (posters, talks), scientific competitive awards (including mini-grants), interview performance, participation in journal club/laboratory meeting discussion while visiting the program, and interaction with members of the department (e.g. scoring 1 = poor; 2 = fair; 3 = good; 4 = very good; and 5 = excellent). All applicants were ranked from highest to lowest scores, and only those voted positively by the graduate committee were contacted and offered the graduate student line. Not all the top-ranked accepted since some had several offers.

“…during two years, the PhD students were transformed by a rigorous academic environment in which ‘quality education’ was at the center of their intellectual development…”

Number 3 – The First Two Years. The entire PhD program lasted about 6 years; but years 1 and 2 probably marked the most significant transformation in the students. They were required to enroll in courses that emphasized further development of their analytical skills (i.e. strong in statistics, data processing or synthesis-writing), integration of information from the primary literature (hundreds of articles were required to be read) and weekly take-home assignments (mini-reviews of the literature and/or long papers addressing conceptual questions prepared by a professor). If the students had previous masters degrees or non-PhD-doctorates, only a fraction of the courses already taken were accepted into the PhD program. Everyone took new courses taught by world specialists in specific fields; double dipping was rarely allowed in more than 1/4 or 1/3 (exceptionally 1/2) of the total PhD curriculum. — Thus, in most cases, two in-house courses were taken per semester, combined with a discussion-based-third-course (a “graduate seminar”) based on weekly student presentations of scientific articles (about 5 articles per student, per week, in a class of 16 students and 1-2 instructors/facilitators). The latter were the foundation of the training in the “argumentative format,” which the students got to internalize. The graduate seminars were both in-depth academic discussions of the philosophical foundations (as per philosophy of science) of recent or classical literature, and intense exchanges in which the student leading the session was grilled by his/her peers and instructor(s). This format helped students to become aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses; all in the open, with peers and mentors watching. — Many PhD students worked 14 to 16 hours a day, all days; some took on and off naps while working continuously for weeks, occasionally months under that rhythm. At public institutions, most PhD students had “teaching-assistantship” lines (TAs) that paid their salaries, and they were responsible for teaching or co-teaching laboratory or reading sessions for freshman/sophomore undergraduates, grading exams and reports, and holding weekly office hours to mentor undergraduates. Each semester, their teaching performances were evaluated by the undergraduates and TAs-supervisor(s). — On top of the course work and TA responsibilities, all graduate students were required to attend weekly seminars by an internationally-known speaker invited by the program; they met with the speaker one-on-one, or in small groups, and read articles published by him/her. Weekly, sometimes twice a month, members of the PhD program (faculty or graduate students) hosted at their homes/apartments semi-formal evening-talks by local speakers (from sister institutions in the area); these discussions were enthusiastically attended by the “graduate community” (a voluntary practice built on the desire to reinforce a culture of learning). — And on top of these activities, the students participated at weekly meetings with their PhD advisor’s team in which they discussed the science being done in the laboratory or research group. At such meetings, the fresh PhD students were constantly taught by everyone else in the team (i.e. advanced research undergraduates, other PhD students, postdocs and the principal investigator) the methodological and conceptual rationale behind the research carried out by the team. — In many programs, the students participated in mandatory “rotations,” which consisted in doing practical research work at a laboratory, or with a research team other than his/her own and, after a semester, presented the results of that experience to the entire academic department in a public talk (1 to 3 rotations during the first two years of the PhD program, each up to 20 hours/week work). The purpose of each rotation was to expose the students to different fields of scientific inquiry, diverse working environments and mentors, and open the possibility for the students to change their minds and complete their PhDs in fields just discovered during the rotation experiences. — Some programs also required the students to participate in practical internships (3 to 8 weeks), during the summer of their first or second academic years (paid by the PhD program or by an external agency). As interns at known State or Federal agencies, or at NGOs, the graduate students “tasted and practiced, hands-on, the professional world” (e.g. National Institutes of Health, US-Congress, The World Bank, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Geographic, Department of Justice, Smithsonian Institution, Department of Labor; click on internship opportunities for graduate students). At their return, they submitted reports of their experiences and presented talks to their departments. — In sum, during two years, the PhD students were transformed by this rigorous academic environment in which “quality education” was at the center of their intellectual development.

“…Only if the students passed the qualifying exams satisfactorily, they were finally and officially called ‘PhD candidates,’ a placebo status of psychological value only to students…”

Number 4 – Qualifying Exams (Preliminary Exams = Prelims, or Candidate/Candidacy Exams). Before the second year was completed, PhD students took the most challenging test ever in their lives. The goals of the qualifying exams were multiple: test the analytical-thinking ability developed since the students joined the PhD program; assess the academic maturity gained during the first two years; evaluate their retention of information and capacity to integrate scientific knowledge coming from multiple sources; verify their capacity to answer “why” questions (i.e. ultimate causality) when confronted with theoretical academic scenarios that they were asked to solve; challenge them to propose the immediate and future directions an entire academic field should take to make significant transformations in science. These goals were accomplished via different exam-formats, including complex questions given to the students in advance, which they had an entire semester to think about, compile library information, scrutinize scientific papers and structure comprehensive answers to later be presented in written and/or oral examinations. Other formats consisted in developing research proposals on topics unknown to the students, although tangentially related to their areas of expertise (according to NIH, NSF, Department of Education guidelines), and that the students had to prepare as if they were world experts and later defend such proposals in front of the graduate committee. Or prepare a theoretical review of the literature, in an entire field of expertise, and present it to and answer questions from a team of professors. The qualifying exams took months to prepare (including in most cases the end-of-the-year break –no vacations!) and 1-2 entire days of in-writing and/or oral examinations by the graduate committee. — Only if the students passed these exams satisfactorily, they were finally and officially called “PhD candidates” (PhDc), a placebo status of psychological value only to students. In many programs, those who did not pass the qualifying exams were given a terminal masters degree and sent home. A few programs granted the students a second chance to retake the exams (usually in a more rigorous setting) and made final decisions by the end of the second academic year. — Some programs did not require qualifying exams, but had other formats of PhD-candidacy assessment; such programs were exceptions, rather than the norm.

Number 5 – PhD Dissertation Proposal. This document had to be approved by the students’ PhD-dissertation committees, and later defended in a public presentation (sometimes in close-door meetings with the thesis committees) at the end of the first or second semesters of year 3. The “thesis proposal” was comprehensive in its theoretical background (placing the students’ intended research in a historical context, as per the chronology of a research field), with central and auxiliary hypotheses to be tested, detailed in methodology, statistical analyses, expected results (i.e. figures and tables already built and specifying all outcomes based on hypothetical data), significance of the work in terms of generating new knowledge and advancing science, future grant-proposals to be submitted to local, regional or national agencies, as well as the forecast of conceptual publications (at least three) to be generated from the research. — The thesis committee (per individual student) likely included five members: an advisor, sometimes a co-advisor, 2-3 professors from within the PhD program, and a researcher from another PhD-granting institution. Depending on the field of expertise and program, the thesis committees occasionally included even more members (as many as the students needed for proper advice; 6-8 members were not rare). The approval of the dissertation proposal was done first by the thesis committee and later certified by the Department (remember that faculty, postdocs, graduate students and research undergraduates attended the oral presentation and thesis-proposal defense) and university. The officially approved thesis proposal turned into a “contract” that the students had to complete satisfactorily, within 3-4 years, in “partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of” philosophiae doctoris or doctor of philosophy. Note that some programs granted the PhDc status only after the thesis-proposal was approved (i.e. after the first two years of course work plus completion of the qualifying exams); thus, the students became PhDc during year 3.

“… the science was conducted in the open, shared with the institutional community, and subject to criticism and feedback all the time… Advanced or just starting in their PhD education, the students were pushed beyond their comfort zones. Seniority was rarely observed…”

Number 6 – The Research, Grant-Proposal(s) Submission(s), Participation at National and International Meetings. During years 3, 4 and 5 the students conducted the research to which they committed themselves in the PhD-thesis proposal. Those in TA lines continued to teach. — Weekly or monthly, they reported progress to their advisors and research teams (semi-formal oral presentations of results and/or difficulties delaying the project); once per semester, they met with the thesis committee for the same purpose (i.e. semi-formal presentation of data and analysis of partial results); and once a year they submitted comprehensive progress reports to the PhD Program Director (i.e. the parts of the research already completed, work in progress, poster or oral presentations at significant scientific meetings, awards, mini-grants or grants under review, as well as those that were funded) and received a letter of evaluation from the PhD Program Director; in it, the individualized expectations of the program to secure timely completion of the work were specified (note that the continuation of institutional funding to the student’s salary, including the TA line, depended on a positive evaluation). — As PhD-researchers, the students were expected to train undergraduates and provide and receive feedback to/from peers (this was part of the culture of academic reciprocity, which the program community embraced). They were also required to submit doctoral-dissertation grants to national agencies (e.g. NSF), regardless of them being funded or not. Each semester, they submitted competitive mini-grants to their own PhD-programs (from less than $1000 to up to a few thousand dollars), departments, colleges or universities, as well as to scientific societies (i.e. funds for traveling to international meetings or for materials and logistics related to the research). Each of those grants varied in narrative-length and conceptual/practical emphasis; in this way, the students became skillful at summarizing their projects in a few hundred words, or in lengthy documents with detailed budgets and justified expenses; all on a competitive basis and repetitively during years 3-5. Those researching off campus, in the field or other countries, returned each semester, or yearly, to their institutions and shared their progress via oral presentations (data oriented) and discussions with the entire program. Thus, the science was conducted in the open, shared with the institutional community, and subject to criticism and feedback all the time. — While on campus, the students continued to participate in journal clubs, seminar discussions, advising and mentoring sessions. Advanced or just starting in their PhD education, they were all pushed beyond their comfort zones. Seniority was rarely observed.

“… Every PhD dissertation aimed at becoming a unique and crucial contribution to science (work that had never been done before); many, perhaps most, accomplished it…”

Number 7 – Completion of Data Collection, Analysis and Writing of the Dissertation. By year 5 in the PhD program, the data collection ended and both the comprehensive statistical analyses and writing of the dissertation began. This was likely done in combination with a couple of papers already published, or manuscripts submitted during years 4 and 5 (or extended to year 6), but many students could not write such papers until full collection and processing of the data. It did take from six months to a year to complete the no-long-ago seemingly-eternal thesis. In the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics, the thesis was fairly short (200-300 pages, including raw data and analyses attachments), but in the humanities and arts the documents often reached +400 pages. Depending on the field of specialization, the students were expected to publish, at least, three comprehensive, conceptual (not descriptive!) papers of their own that contributed significantly to advance the scientific knowledge in their fields. As members of a productive team of researchers, they likely co-authored an equal number of additional articles (a combination of descriptive work, notes, reviews with their advisors, or joined papers with master students or undergrads). The important aspect of the PhD research was that it covered interrelated, yet separate topics (usually three, but often four or five), each comprehensively designed for testing, with specific conceptual questions, hypotheses, predictions and exhaustive approaches to examining each hypothesis and its predictions. Every PhD dissertation aimed at becoming a unique and crucial contribution to science (work that had never been done before); many, perhaps most, accomplished it.

“…After a month or so, the graduates received in the mail a modest certificate declaring them ‘philosophiae doctoris’ or ‘doctor of philosophy.’ Another document of little use considering that the certification that a PhD degree had been granted was usually extended by the university via official copies of the graduates’ transcripts –with the entire academic history…”

Percentages of doctoral degrees granted by OECD countries in 2014; left = N ca. 237,000; right = per capita (click to enlarge).

Number 8 – Thesis Defense and Graduation. The departmental seminars in which the PhD candidates presented and defended their dissertations were announced publically and attended by faculty from various universities, postdocs, graduate/undergraduate students and, occasionally, by the candidates’ family members. The students were introduced as “today’s seminar speaker” or, more frequently, in non-solemn manners since, although successful presentations and thesis-defense were expected (otherwise the students had not been allowed to get that far in their programs), prudent enthusiasm was honored. The 50-minute seminar was followed by 30-40-minutes of Q&A by the audience, and by close-door meetings between the students and their graduate committees (up to 2-3-hours). By the end of the day, social gatherings were often organized to celebrate the events. During the following weeks, sometimes months, the students made adjustments to the dissertations (from minor to substantial) and prepared final versions of the documents. These needed signatures of approval by each committee member. The properly formatted original and copies of the documents were then submitted for the universities’ final approval and filing. [Note that copies of all PhD dissertations written in the US are stored at national archives with access to the public, examples include ProQuest or DissExpress, but there are others]. Attendance to “graduation day” (i.e. the universities’ bi-annual ceremonies) was an option for all PhD students; quite a few did not participate (a common excuse was their mental fatigue and desire to just move on). After a month or so, they received in the mail a modest certificate declaring them “philosophiae doctoris” or “doctor of philosophy” (another document of little use considering that the certification that a PhD degree had been granted was usually extended by the university via official copies of the graduates’ transcripts –with the entire academic history).

To close: the National Science Foundation indicates that, in 2016, about 30% of the PhD/doctorate graduates in the life, physical and earth sciences were headed to postdoc positions (2-3-years of additional research experiences in science productivity). By contrast, only 17% of their counterparts in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering had similar plans. And about 60% of most graduates were simply moving into research and development jobs (see Science).

Although it is true that the PhD degree has been criticized in recent years (see A, B, CD) for remaining classical and reluctant to being seduced by a more market-oriented skill-based training system, it still is the strongest higher-education formative experience ever developed in academia. The globalization of science and technology and international exchanges of professionals have led to agreements that attempt to equate higher-university titles across disciplines (the functional equivalents to a PhD), but it has also triggered worldwide the proliferation of fake (see E, F), self-granted PhD acronyms to doctoral degrees that are no match to the education provided by the rigorous PhD-granting institutions. — EvoLiteracy © 2018

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

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Honorary Authorship, Coercive Citations and Padding in Scientific Papers

“…Academics ‘are trapped; compelled to participate in activities they find distasteful,’ including the intricate world of scientific publications, which involves a range of journal publishers, editors, book producers, open-access periodicals, for-profit series, online-journals and other venues to disseminate research; plus, of course, individuals —charming, powerful or both— that free ride at the expense of others’ work…”

Cartoon by Pedro Velica

by  Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

In an article just published in PLoS ONE, December 2017, Eric A. Fong and Allen W. Wilhite, researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, document three practices in academia: (1) the inclusion of “honorary authors” in scientific publications (i.e. the addition of individuals to manuscripts as authors, even though they have contributed little, if anything, to the actual research), (2) coercive citations (i.e. when editors direct authors to add citations to articles from the editors’ journals ‒arguably to boost the journal’s citation index), and (3) padding (i.e. when authors add superfluous citations to a paper in an attempt to increase its chance for publication). Fong and Wilhite surveyed 12,000 scholars from 18 disciplines (i.e. health-care, engineering, science, social sciences and business) at diverse universities in the United States.

The specific fields of specialization of the interviewed researchers were: medicine, nursing, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, engineering, ecology, accounting, economics, finance, marketing, management, information systems, sociology, psychology, and political science. The Fong and Wilhite’s study is comprehensive and I suggest the reader to look at the original publication for details. In the figure below, I simply share the statistical trends that summarize the research. I have adapted an image from the PLoS ONE article (open access journal) to make it more appealing to a non-specialized audience.

In the image, note the following: (1) Adding honorary authors to manuscripts was common practice among 1 in every 3 of the surveyed scholars; it reached +40% in the health-care professions. (2) About 1 in every 5 scholars added such authors to a grant proposal; and, again, about 40% was typical in the health-care professions. (3) Coercive citations were common in +5% of the scholars in science, and beyond 20-25% in engineering and business. (4) The practice of padding a scientific article with irrelevant citations was common among, at least, 1 in every 5 authors, and particularly evident among those in science and engineering (around 30%), and +45-50% in business and the social sciences. Finally, (5) padding in grant proposals was common in +10-20% of all disciplines, and up to ≈40% in business.

The responders to the survey acknowledged that the main reason for adding honorary authors in their manuscripts was the relationship of director/authority of the honorary author in respect to the “real authors” of the paper (+20% of the responders thought that way); others included as co-authors their mentors, colleagues, individuals-for-reciprocity-reasons, for their reputation, or for funding. However, 60% of all responders added honorary authors to their grant proposals simply due to the latter’s “reputation,” and, thus, to increase the chances of getting the projects funded.

Interestingly, between ≈60% and +90% of all responders disapproved of the coercive citation practice across disciplines. But keep in mind that, despite the quantitative approach to the study, the responses were also based on perception, i.e. the researchers’ insight about honorary authors, coercive citations or padding in scientific publications and grant proposals.

Fong and Wilhite concluded that:

“…there is a significant level of deception in authorship and citation in academic research and while it would be naïve to suppose that academics are above such scheming to enhance their position, the results suggest otherwise. The overwhelming consensus is that such behavior is inappropriate, but its practice is common. It seems that academics are trapped; compelled to participate in activities they find distasteful…”

“…misattribution, spans the academic universe. While there are different levels of abuse across disciplines, we found evidence of honorary authorship, coercive citation, and padded citation in every discipline we sampled. We also suggest that a useful construct to approach misattribution is to assume individual scholars make deliberate decisions to cheat after weighing the costs and benefits of that action. We cannot claim that our construct is universally true because other explanations may be possible, nor do we claim it explains all misattribution behavior because other factors can play a role. However, the systematic pattern of superfluous authors, coerced citations, and padded references documented here is consistent with scholars who [are] making deliberate decisions to cheat after evaluating the costs and benefits of their behavior…”

To close: In my (our) own experience, I (we) have never included honorary authors in my (our) publications, or have never been an honorary author of a paper. But some colleagues have asked me (us), more than once, why have I (we) included such and such person in that or that paper, assuming that that individual did not deserved it. My (our) rationale has always been that if a substantial aspect of a manuscript had not been possible to be completed, unless that person had contributed directly or indirectly to the research, that individual ought to be acknowledged as co-author. This includes the very conceptual transformation of a manuscript due to crucial feedback, interpretation of results, and substantial modification of the scope with which an article was put together. — In cases like that, I have expected my name to be included as co-author, but that has happened sporadically (more during the times I was a postdoc and contributed with conceptual, methodological, analytical and copy-editing feedback to graduate students’ dissertations). In various occasions, I have requested to not be included in manuscripts as a co-author; this practice is not unusual among researchers.

In terms of coercive citations, I have never been asked by a journal editor to cite an irrelevant paper with the purpose of contributing to boosting the journal’s citation index (which, by the way, would require hundreds of authors to be simultaneously coerced to cite multiple articles to have a statistical influence on the journal’s performance), although I have been suggested by journal editors to take a look at some studies (published in other journals), of which I was not aware, and that I actually found very helpful to come across, and decided to discuss and cite them in a paper. However, and this is a big “however,” peer-reviewers have attempted to coerce us (Avelina Espinosa and I), more than once, to cite their papers (or their close collaborators’), or papers of their liking, in our studies. In many cases, such papers were irrelevant, or we disagreed fundamentally with them to even give them a citation in our manuscripts. On one occasion, a well known individual in a field insisted that we should cite non-scientific books in our work, and did so with assertive authority (plus specifically stated where in our text we had to acknowledge the merits of the organization with which the individual was affiliated ‒sounds surreal, right?), an issue we later resolved with the journal editor, who agreed with us and considered the suggestion to be imprudent. So, yes, coercive predators do exist and attempt to exert power at will… if you let them. But journal editors are very experienced, for the most part, and tend to not allow such approaches to peer-reviewing.

On grants, we have never included potential honorary recipients to increase our chances of getting funded. But, when attending a national-funders meeting in Washington DC, a few years ago, we were advised to add a specific anchor-individual to our team, otherwise “we will continue to be seen as outsiders” (verbatim) in that specific community of peer-reviewers. Of course, we declined to include that person in our proposals (three of which were not funded by the agency), although we did complete the research and publish the papers (N = 14) that we projected in the proposals to be the outcomes of the projects. Not only that, we were fortunate to publish an academic best-seller-2017-book summarizing all the research and with no strings attached to any honorary contributor.

I alert the reader that Fong and Wilhite are not suggesting in their paper that the academic system is unethical, which, at our current times of anti-intellectualism, the general public might be susceptible to believe (i.e. in response to anti-science campaigns, anti-evolution, anti-climate-change, anti-vaccines). Not at all. Broad unethical behavior has not been, or is, the case in academia. And Fong and Wilhite are not implying that in their PLoS ONE article. Although, it is true that academics “are trapped; compelled to participate in activities they find distasteful,” including the intricate world of scientific publications, which involves a range of journal publishers, editors, book producers, open-access periodicals, for-profit series, online-journals and other venues to disseminate research; plus, of course, individuals —charming, powerful or both— that free ride at the expense of others’ work. — EvoLiteracy © 2017

UPDATE: I thank George A. Lozano for pointing at his article “The Elephant in the Room: Multi-authorship and the Assessment of Individual Researchers. Current Science 105 (2013): 443-445 [PDF]” in which he proposes a solution to the multi-authorship problem.

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

On secularism the Czechs have it right – A visit to Prague and Kutná Hora

I finally had the chance to complete this post, which was in the making for quite some time. Preparing 100 images, as included below, can take many hours and much energy. I thank the friends and followers of EvoLiteracy for being patient and for continuing visiting the site and sharing its educational contents. On average, people from about 50 countries visit this portal, thousands a year.

I was in Prague and Kutná Hora during the end of July and beginning of August, 2017. Part of the time was dedicated to attend the ISOP meeting (Prague), or the International Society of Protistologists annual gathering. A conference for specialized biologists and other scientists interested in the lives and histories of microscopic organisms that happen to be unicellular, but that, unlike bacteria like E. coli (a mandatory companion in the human gut), these microbes have a nucleus (= eukaryotes; eu = true; karyon = nucleus, in reality it means nut). Unicellular eukaryotes are also called “protists” (a generic, all-inclusive term). I have written about them in the past, and readers can find that material here.

Today’s pictoric post is divided in three parts: Part One is about the ISOP meeting, with a few self explanatory photos. Part Two covers selected statistics about the Czech Republic, specifically about public acceptance of evolution in respect to other Central- and Eastern-European countries (the Czechs lead on this), views on  secularism, separation between church and state, and the need of believing in God [or not] to be moral and have good values. Readers might find the Czech example impressive. It is indeed a demonstration that an advanced society –organized around highly educated citizens– can reach prosperity (after its devastation during World War II), public education and health care for all; a community that can turn secular and, at the same time, continue to honor and celebrate its cultural past, monuments, cathedrals, castles, arts, music and life. A true case-scenario of civility and modernity in which the monarchs were removed for good. Part Three includes images of Prague and Kutná Hora; they speak for themselves and will be part of my long-lasting memories. — Hope you enjoy the graphic journey below and decide, some day, to visit Prague and Kutná Hora, and make these cities and their peoples part of your own secular soul. – GPC

Part One: ISOP meeting

Above: this is the second time we do a poster presentation for an international meeting. As students, we used to do it in the past (click on image to enlarge, full + resolution).

Above: What is this? A tossing MICROPHONE. Very clever. A 15-cm soft (spongy) cube equipped with a microphone inside. It can be tossed to the audience and expedite the Q&A. I think it does encourage people to participate and ask questions just for the fun of tossing and receiving the cube. The electronics are programmed to shutdown the noise while the cube is bouncing, but the microphone activates itself once stabilized at no-rough motion.

Above: remarks by Miklós Müller during the presentation of the Hutner Award (given yearly to a researcher in protistology), always relevant and a good perspective.

Part Two: Statistics

Above: Acceptance of evolution in Eastern Europe. Note how the Czech Republic leads in public acceptance of evolution: 83% think that humans and other living things have evolved over time (left). And 73% think that humans and other living things have evolved due to natural selection.

Above: 72% of Czechs consider themselves unaffiliated in terms of religious identity.

Atheists Agnostics Nones - M vs W Central Eastern Europe PEW 2016

Above: Atheists, agnostics and nones in Central and Eastern Europe (left). Gender difference in believing in God in Central and Eastern Europe (right). The Czechs lead in terms of atheists (25%) and nothing in particular (46%) in contrast to other Central and Eastern Europe countries. More women (36%) than men (22%) say they believe in God.

Separation Church State - Morality Central Eastern Europe PEW 2016

Above: 75% of Czechs favor the separation of church and state (2nd in Central and Eastern Europe, left). And 87% think that it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values (right).

Part Three: Images

I took 1,914 images during the visit to Prague and Kutná Hora, below is a sample of them:

Above: the spectacular Theology Hall at the Strahov Monastery Library.

Above: Reader, at the National Library.

Above: the Philosophical Hall at the Strahov Monastery Library.

Above: Prague as seen from its “TV Tower” (93 meters above ground).

Above: Prague’s famous (or infamous) TV Tower, the babies climbing up are plastic replicas of the bronze “Babies” by David Černý.

Above: Bronze “Babies” by David Černý.

Above: Bronze “Babies” by David Černý.

Above: the iconic Charles’ Bridge.

Above: one of the towers guarding the Charles’ Bridge (West side).

Above: officers patrolling the Charles’ Bridge.

Above: the “American Embassy” in Prague? Not really, but it was in the movie Mission Impossible – The Lichtenstejnsky Palace.

Above: Prague’s Astronomical Clock (under renovation).

Above: astronomers Tycho Brahe (Danish) and Johannes Kepler (German). Their destinies merged in Prague.

Above: Church of Our Lady and the Old Town Square.

Above: Jan Hus Memorial, Old Town Square.

Above: Prague’s meridian, Old Town Square.

Above: Franz Kafka by David Černý.

Above: honoring Franz Kafka by Jaroslav Róna.

Above: in Kafka’s name.

Above: the Faculty of Philosophy building in downtown Prague.

Above: honoring Jan Palach, outside of the Faculty of Philosophy building in downtown Prague.

Above: the Rudolfinum (we went to its “ongoing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” excellent).

Above: the majestic stage at the Rudolfinum, just before the recital began (we got third-row-center tickets).

Above: the decorated corridors at the Rudolfinum.

Above: the Estates Theater where Mozart’s Don Giovanni was first played.

Above: Il Commendatore by Anna Chromy.

Above: the National Theater.

Above: marionette related (we went to see Don Giovanni at the National Marionette Theater; we gave the play three *** generous stars).

Above: the Saint Vitus Cathedral.

Above: inside the Saint Vitus Cathedral.

Above: back interior of the Saint Vitus Cathedral.

Above: back outdoors of the Saint Vitus Cathedral.

Above: the Saint Vitus Cathedral as seen from the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: Darkness in the Saint Vitus Cathedral; statue of Friedrich Johannes Jacob Celestin von Schwarzenberg.

Above: torture equipment at the Guard’s Tower, Prague’s Castle.

Above: the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: museum at the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: Measuring the Evolution Controversy at the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: decorated arches at the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: details at the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: more of the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: God, Christ, Spirit at Rosenberg Palace.

Above: at the Prague’s Castle (Rosenberg Palace), where the monarchy is history.

Above: the Wallenstein Garden.

Above: Measuring the Evolution Controversy posing before the Senate building, Wallenstein Garden.

Above: the Devil at the Wallenstein Garden.

Above: don’t know these people, but they are up to something important.

Above: the spectacular Spanish Synagogue (my personal favorite, world quality).

Above: the main dome at the Spanish Synagogue.

Above: more beauty at the Spanish Synagogue.

Above: one of the pillars at the Spanish Synagogue.

Above: and another pillar at the Spanish Synagogue.

Above: at the Jewish Cemetery.

Above: more of the Jewish Cemetery.

Above: Names, thousands of names, Jewish Cemetery.

Above: the Maisel Synagogue.

Above: tryptic stained glass at the Maisel Synagogue.

Above: stained glass next to central hall, the Maisel Synagogue.

Above: the Pinkas Synagogue.

Above: Measuring the Evolution Controversy at the National Library in Prague.

Above: the Strahov Monastery, afternoon.

Above: details of the Strahov Monastery.

Above: iron bronze gate at the Strahov Monastery.

Above: more details of the Strahov Monastery.

Above: a zoom-out view of the Strahov Monastery.

Above: Petrin Tower, the Moon, and Strahov Monastery.

Above: Petrin Tower.

Above: Saint Vavřince church (center) and Prague as seen from the Petrin Tower.

Above: and a close up of the Saint Vavřince church.

Above: the famous Funicular…

Above: the majestic Santa Barbara Church in Kutná Hora.

Above: the Saint Vitus Cathedral as seen from the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: outdoors Strahov Monastery Library.

Above: a close up of the Theology Hall at the Strahov Monastery Library.

Above: decorated Evangeliary at the Strahov Monastery Library.

Above: kids choir at the Church of Our Lady.

Above: at the entrance to the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora.

Above: shield of arms made of humans bones at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora.

Above: skulls and baby angel at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora.

Above: ornament made of bones at the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora.

Above: the plague left its marks; the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora.

Above: Church of the Assumption in Kutná Hora.

Above: Bronze friendship.

Above: Symmetry at the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: Measuring the Evolution Controversy resting at the Queen Anne’s Summer Palace.

Above: the pipe organ at the Saint Nicholas Church, one of Mozart’s favorites.

Above: dome at the Saint Nicholas Church.

Above: more of the Saint Nicholas Church.

Above: the Prague’s Castle as seen from the Kampa Museum.

Above: view of Prague from the Strahov Monastery.

Above: The Crossing to Prague.

Above: the Prague’s Castle as seen from the Vltava River.

Above: water lily nearby the Prague’s Castle, can you spot the bee?

Above: the Lennon Wall.

Above: souvenirs.

Above: walking back to our hotel.

Above: my last view of Prague (airport).

Copies of Measuring the Evolution Controversy at World Libraries

“…MTEC now available at university libraries in the United States, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel and Scotland…”

Measuring The Evolution Controversy is now available at university libraries in the United States, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel and Scotland, either as hard copy, e-book or both. Some data bases locate the book in Australia, South America and Asia, but the library-catalogue entries are difficult to confirm. I will continue to update this post as new libraries join the list. If your institution has the book and is not listed below, please let me know (write a comment at the end or contact me via email). The book can be ordered from Cambridge Scholars. — GPC

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Library

Boston University, School of Theology

Brigham Young University-Idaho David O. McKay Library

CSD WMS Testing Awesome Library Test

Hope College

Illinois State University

Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya

Israel Institute of Technology TECHNION

Iowa State University Library

Irvine Valley College

McGill University Library

Michigan State University Libraries

National Library of Scotland

North Carolina State University

OCLC Library

Princeton University Library

Rice University Library

Roger Williams University

Saint Louis University – Main Campus

Stanford University Libraries

Texas Tech University Libraries

The New School

The University of Texas Libraries

Universität Marburg, Zentralbibliothek

Universitatsbibliothek Kassel UB-LMB Kassel

Université d’Ottawa

Universiti Malaysia Kelantan

University of Alberta Libraries

University of California, Davis

University of California, Merced

University of Delaware Library

University of Georgia Libraries

University of Hong Kong

University of Missouri St Louis

University of Texas Libraries

Virginia Commonwealth University

Washington & Lee University

Wichita State University Library

Book Endorsements

“The great contribution of ‘Measuring the Evolution Controversy’ is the rich content of data and analysis that asks detailed questions about the social, economic and political backgrounds of those who tend to reject evolution vs. those who accept evolution as science. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa deftly analyze their data drawn from institutions of higher learning in the United States and particularly New England —which stands as a microcosm of the rest of the country, and indeed elsewhere in the world. It is their scientific approach to these issues which makes this book stand out as a uniquely original contribution.” — Niles Eldredge, PhD, Curator Emeritus of Paleontology at The American Museum of Natural History, New York.

“Pro-science activists and educators constantly bemoan the resistance to the teaching of evolution in the United States. All of us have anecdotes about encounters with the public, parents and students who are misinformed by their churches, Religious-Right groups, and creationist organizations. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa present hard data that support the anecdotal evidence. They also show that although anti-evolutionism typically begins with religion, it is a multi-faceted problem that intersects with political and cultural ideologies. Gathered through careful research over a period of years, their data will enable scientists and defenders of science education to comprehend the roots of the evolution controversy and counteract resistance to evolution more strategically and effectively.”Barbara Forrest, PhD, co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2007), and expert witness for plaintiffs, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005).

Measuring the Evolution Controversy can be ordered directly from Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Amazon US, or Amazon CA . The publisher has made available a “VIEW EXTRACT” (in PDF), which includes the first 30-pages of the book: Cover, Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Preface, Chapter ONE and the beginning of Chapter TWO. For PDF of color illustrations go to Image Resources of Didactic Relevance. — GPC — EvoLiteracy 2016.

How to cite the book:

Paz-y-Miño-C, G & Espinosa, A. 2016. Measuring the Evolution Controversy: A Numerical Analysis of Acceptance of Evolution at America’s Colleges and Universities. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, United Kingdom. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9042-1, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9042-7.

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Suggested Readings and Related Links

Evolution: Is there a Controversy?

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation

Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars

Darwin’s Skepticism about God

Evolution Wars: Debunk II

*  *  *  *  *     *  *  *  *  *     *  *  *  *  *

Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars (2013). By NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.comAmazon UK.

Paz-y-Mino-C_Book_Cover_Evolution_Stands_Faith_Up_JPEG“The sweet spot of this collection of essays is the interface of science, history and literacy. Paz-y-Miño-C is, in essence, a champion of rationalism and a passionate defender of literacy standards. His essays deftly weave hard survey data and memorable turns of phrase with evocative imagery… While the essays in this collection are vast in coverage —from climate change to energy policy, stem cell research, vaccinations and, especially, evolution— a clear underlying theme emerges: [the author’s] goal is no less than to counter, through the lens of history and the majesty of rationalism, social forces that sanction ignorance, celebrate denial and… continue to diminish our global status in the fields of science and technology.” Jeff Podos, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA.

“Paz-y-Miño-C  is a firm believer in evolutionary processes. He would like to see decisions made on the basis of facts, not unsupported opinion. He abhors and fears irrational thinking, especially ‘the views of those who see evil in truth and menace in the realities discovered by science.’ He marvels at the intricacy and diversity of life, and how it came about through natural selection… and is clearly frustrated by the unwillingness of so many to see the beauty and majesty in this view of the world and all that it explains.” – Jan A. Pechenik, PhD, Professor of Biology, Tufts University, USA, author of The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species, as Edited for Modern Readers.

Evolution: Is There A Controversy?

evolution-is-there-a-controversy-evoliteracy

“…Scientific research –not catchphrases– informs us that the evolution controversy in society is a cancerous zombie, difficult to eradicate. And outcomes of the last elections warn us that assaults on science will metastasize in the United States. Not because researchers ‘do not see’ or ‘do see’ a controversy in the science of evolution, or climate change, or the dark fate of our sun. They have no doubt these are realities. But because unrests resurface in communities whenever we have irreconcilable differences around fiction versus facts. And yes, there is a profound conflict between Faith and Science, intrinsic to their fundamental incompatibility…”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C  &  Avelina Espinosa

The new strategy among the pro-faith-in-evolution supporters (i.e. theistic evolution, creation science, evolutionary creation, BioLogos, or the Creator-Designer-and-Darwin-in -the-same-sleeping-bag) is to spread the slogan “there is no controversy about evolution” with the purpose to persuade the religious public that evolution is real, and that there is no scientific doubt about it, period. The latter is true.

It is also true that after a memorable judgment, in 2005, when Intelligent Design lost in court (Dover, Pennsylvania, Kitzmiller et al. versus Dover School District et al. 2005) for violating the rules of science by “invoking and permitting supernatural causation” in matters of evolution, and for “failing to gain acceptance in the scientific community,” the opportunistic idea to “teach the controversy” over evolution in the science class gained track.

The vested interest was to publicize that there was a “scientific disagreement” over evolution (note that this view was a fabrication, since most of today’s scientists take evolution for granted), and that students ought to be exposed to the “dispute” to secure good schooling. By “teaching the controversy,” designers aimed at injecting creationism into the mix.

“…The sinister drive was to keep the Creator-Designer in the classroom. Of course this was –still is– a controversy, political and ideological.”

Thus, the slogan “there is no controversy about evolution” emerged in response to the proposal to “teach the controversy,” which, in turn, insinuated that modern scientists questioned the authenticity of evolution. The sinister drive was to keep the Creator-Designer in the classroom. Of course this was –still is– a controversy, political and ideological (see facts about the debate).

The sensu stricto scientific controversy between evolution by means of natural selection, as per Charles Darwin, 1859, and the views of the religious-naturalists of his time (Richard Owen, Adam Sedgwick, John Stevens Henslow, among others) is a fact in history (see also the timeline of the creation-evolution controversy 1650s-2000s). By all epistemology principles, this was a confrontation between Darwin’s naturalistic explanations of how species originated and differentiated over time, versus the core conviction of the Victorian scientific establishment: God, the Creator of nature, its laws and mechanisms.

In consequence, the refurbished slogan “there is no controversy” is, for the most part, a wishful tactic to redirect the “rejection of evolution” back at the “rejectors” themselves, under the premise that –in their minds– the “notion of controversy” enhances the very dismissal of evolution. It is a circular, cosmetic reasoning, with little empirical support, but memed in the social media with enthusiasm.

Now, the contemporary academic topic “evolution controversy” (arguably traceable to the Twentieth Century, 1920s onwards) has never been about any sort of “hypothetical rejection” or “acceptance” of evolution by credible researchers (the spectacular majority of them know evolution happens, contrary to Darwin’s generation), rather, it has been –at least in the United States– about the phenomenon of societal dismissal of science/evolution on the grounds of religious beliefs and conservative political ideology. All sound conceptual studies demonstrate this (e.g. A, B, C, D).

The storm has been about, for example, the support to anti-evolution legislation by lawmakers and their constituents; the low acceptance of evolution by the misinformed general public, and by educators at all levels, who teach creationism because they fear embracing proper science (E, F); and, ultimately, the persistence of ignorance despite the extensive access to knowledge. “That” is –it has been as per chronology– “the controversy.”

“…Imagine asserting that there is no societal controversy concerning ‘alternative facts’ versus facts…” 

Here is some food for thought. Imagine asserting that there is no –societal– controversy concerning: climate-change deniers and their opposition to data-based projections of extreme weather fluctuations; or about “alternative facts” versus facts; or homeopathic and chiropractic cures versus scientific medicine; or antivaxxers versus proven herd-immunity effects; or faith healing versus surgical oncology; or anti-GMOs versus no-negative-health-effects-scientifically-attributable-to-GMOs; or pray-sex-health/abstinence versus unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted-diseases… just because –allegedly– no serious scientist gives a damn about the “beliefs in non-facts” by those who worship imagination.

bill-nye-vs-ken-ham-debate-2014In 2014, public educator Bill Nye debated creationist Ken Ham over the legitimacy of evolution. The encounter itself was controversial, it took place at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Opponents to the match argued that, by debating, Nye would grant notoriety to Ham’s Museum and the Young-Earth-Creationism agenda. The ‘Science Guy’ defeated Ham at the debate, but it is true that private donations poured in to support the exhibits after the televised event. Currently, the Museum struggles financially and faces sharp criticism by the scientific community.

“…evolution, the ‘E’ word… and E-correctness…”

Since the sticky slogan proclaims “there is no controversy,” it is worth asking: are the science education surrogates expected to put aside the “yuge” societal clash between anti-science and science, or between superstition and empirical reality, and equate them to a minor disagreement, a stone in the shoe?

Like evolution, which continues to occur despite our level of understanding or acceptance of it, the societal controversies are factual and must be addressed as such under reason and science principles, not under the hope that, if we concur to post-like-and-share the catchphrase “there is no controversy about _blank_”, we will make the problem –or part of it– go away. And that is the fallacy of slogans coined to go viral regardless of their silliness. Self deception never pays.

“…any ‘acceptor’ of evolution who believes that God was involved –somehow– in the Creation of the universe, or its laws, is a creationist in principle…”

Is the next step to call evolution the “E-word” so that we rarely use it and, therefore, avoid offending someone? To be E-correct so that our students and public love us as educators, at the same time that we smuggle pseudo-science subliminally into their souls via “teaching techniques“? Or, worse, is the companion, accommodating agenda (to the catchphrase) to force-marry Darwin with Faith to secure that believers accept His message?

Creationism and its disciples come in a range of flavors, from Young Earth Biblical Creationists to Design Creationists, and to any position in which the Creator shows up, even vaguely, in the background of causality (i.e. theistic evolution, creation science, evolutionary creation, BioLogos; links above). In other words, any “acceptor” of evolution who believes that God was involved –somehow– in the Creation of the universe, or its laws, is a creationist in principle. And all morphs of creationism are destined to fail because they merge, deceptively, desire with veracity.

“…as for the fortune of the slogan, trash it…”

Scientific research –not mottos– informs us that the evolution controversy in society is a cancerous zombie, difficult to eradicate. And outcomes of the last elections warn us that assaults on science will metastasize in the United States. Not because researchers “do not see” or “do see” a controversy in the science of evolution, or climate change, or the dark fate of our sun. They have no doubt these are realities. But because unrests resurface in communities whenever we have irreconcilable differences around fiction versus facts. And yes, there is a profound conflict between Faith and Science, intrinsic to their fundamental incompatibility.

As for the fortune of the slogan, let us close by being both historically and E-correct: trash the slogan. — EvoLiteracy © 2017.

G. Paz-y-Miño-C and A. Espinosa are authors of Measuring the Evolution Controversy (2016), Evolution Controversy: A Phenomenon Prompted by the Incompatibility between Science and Religious Beliefs (2015), The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation (2014), The Everlasting Conflict Evolution-and-Science versus Religiosity (2013), Why People Do Not Accept Evolution (2012). For access to their studies (PDFs) go to GPC and AE.

clarence-darrow-william-jennings-bryan-scopes-trial-evoliteracyPHOTOClarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes Trial (i.e. The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes 1925) in Dayton, Tennessee. At the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, teacher John T. Scopes was accused of violating the TN’s Butler Act, which considered it illegal to teach human evolution in the state’s public schools. The Scopes Trial is iconic in the history of America’s evolution controversy.

 

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Related Articles

Evolution and the Upcoming Challenges of a Predictable Landscape

Bill Nye defeats Ken Ham at Creation Museum

Evolution Wars: Debunk II

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation