Intolerance toward Free Speech at America’s College Campuses

“…Colleges and universities must lead freedom of speech, nurture the battlefield of ideas, pursue world-competitive standards, deter grade inflation (a historical, pervasive companion of conflict resolution), stand for science and reason, teach the realities of the cosmos and evolution without spiritual justifications, and be the safe spaces where the trigger warning ‘no ignorance allowed’ is respected…” – GPC

Free-Speech Intolerance - Ferst Amen Mint by Gary Varvel - Evolution Literacy

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @gpazymino@EvoLiteracy – Facebook – ResearchGateAcademia.edu

Free Speech Intolerance On College Campuses

[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]

There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that, no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.”

Disinvitations of Speakers at US College Campuses 2000 - 2014 The FIRE

Source The FIRE – Click on image to enlarge. See also List of Campus Disinvitation Attempts, 2000–2016.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge them. Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas.”

These were President Obama’s remarks at the Howard University commencement ceremony, back in May 2016. He highlighted a nowadays generalized concern in academia: that millennials (the generation born between the 1980s and early 2000s) have grown intolerant of any view contrary to their deepest, yet maturing convictions, a phenomenon documented by Gallup in its latest report “Free Expression On Campus.”

Although “college students believe First Amendment rights remain strong” in the United States, they also hold conflicting views about “shuttering free speech and impeding a free press under certain circumstances.” For instance, even though 81 percent of college students think that freedom of the press is very secure or secure in the country, and 73 percent think likewise about freedom of speech, one in every five college students (22 percent) believe that “to create a positive learning environment for all, it is more important for colleges to prohibit certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased, than to create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints —even offensive or biased.”

“…boycott actions against free speech may be rooted in capricious interpretations of First Amendment rights by students active and verbal at their institutions…”

But, what is offensive or biased rhetoric? Slurs and language that intentionally seek to hurt or offend (69 percent of students think so), or the wearing of costumes that stereotype racial or ethnic groups (63 percent believe that), or political views that may upset or offend (27 percent of students think colleges should limit such speech). The Gallup data, therefore, implies that boycott actions against free speech may be rooted in capricious interpretations of First Amendment rights by students active and verbal at their institutions.

Support for Campus Policies Restricting Expression Political Views - Gallup 2016

Source: Gallup Poll “Free Expression On Campus” (2016)

Should the media cover protests held at colleges and universities? One in every four students (28 percent, mean of men + women) opposes reporters’ coverage of demonstrations in campus. This view is noticeable among women (37 percent) and African Americans (32 percent). Gallup calls this overall occurrence “support of free press rights in the abstract” (or “in principle”) but not in practice. Protesters believe the press will be unfair in its reporting (49 percent say this), they assert to have the right to be left alone (48 percent), and want to tell their own version of the story on the internet and social media (44 percent). In fact, 86 percent of the polled students prefer the social media for allowing them more control over the story.

Support for Preventing Reporters from Covering Campus Protests - Gallup 2016

Source: Gallup Poll “Free Expression On Campus” (2016)

Free Speech and Safe Spaces - Evolution LiteracyWhy has intolerance of free speech become ubiquitous? Only tentative answers exist to this question. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” have taken a psychological path to explain how “in the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.” The ultimate aim, Lukianoff and Haidt state, “is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. This movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally.”

“…Emotional reasoning, distorted thinking, magnification of events, and catastrophizing incidents seem to be central to the individual and collective minds of those who perceive offense in daily experiences…”

The “impulse” is called “vindictive protectiveness” and, as described by Lukianoff and Haidt, “it is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” Emotional reasoning, distorted thinking, magnification of events, and catastrophizing incidents seem to be central to the individual and collective minds of those who perceive offense in daily experiences. Thus, via negative filtering, groups develop a culture which focuses almost exclusively on the unconstructive, and this allows for simpleminded demonization.

“…The challenge is to identify objectively what is intellectually or psychologically damaging and what is mild…”

GETTY IMAGES - Evolution Literacy

Universities must be the safe spaces where the trigger warning “no ignorance allowed” is respected – GETTY IMAGES

Of course aggressions are real, more so in a society —ours— in which micro- and macro-bullying are widespread (see also Cyberbullying). The challenge is to identify objectively what is intellectually or psychologically damaging (hence provide cognitive-behavioral support) and what is mild. At the same time, colleges and universities must lead freedom of speech, nurture the battlefield of ideas, pursue world-competitive standards, deter grade inflation (a historical, pervasive companion of conflict resolution), stand for science and reason, teach the realities of the cosmos and evolution without spiritual justifications, and be the safe spaces where the trigger warning “no ignorance allowed” is respected. — EvoLiteracy © 2016.

Trigger Warning - Life Is Tough - Evolution Literacy 2016

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

Related Articles

College Educated But Deeply In Debt For An Overpriced Degree

Imminent Collapse of Basic Science Under For-profit Model

Dehumanizing Academia by Dismantling the Humanities

Fragmentary Truths and the Intellectual Imbalance in Academia

Suggested Readings

Hate Speech on Campus – American Civil Liberties Union ACLU

First Amendment – Legal Information Institute, Cornell University

List of United States Supreme Court cases involving the First Amendment

What does Free Speech Mean? United States Courts

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Measuring the Evolution Controversy - Hard copies 2016

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.

BOOK small format - Measuring the Evolution Controversy 2016Measuring 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.

“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).

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

Paz-y-Mino-C_Book_Cover_Evolution_Stands_Faith_Up_JPEGPaz-y-Miño-C., G. 2013. Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars. NOVA Publishers, New York. By NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.comAmazon UK

“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.

Science Writing and the Pseudoscience Trap

“…Error magnification is the single most vicious and pervasive meme in popular science miscommunication. It is seeded and driven by the science communicator him/herself and feed-back-looped into society, creating a cycle of half truths rather than educating the public…” — GPC

Science Writing Evolution Literacy

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

I am not fond of giving unsolicited advice, I almost never welcome it, although one should be open to internalizing constructive guidance when sincerely offered to us. And writers of any kind need editors to help us spot mistakes in our articles and improve format and content.

But I do have some experience writing about science for the general public. Occurrences that I can share with all.

My first article (1987), for El Comercio, explored the impact of aggressive shrimp-farming on the pristine mangrove ecosystems of Ecuador. The piece summarized a hands-on and in situ research project conducted as a biology undergraduate. Not only did it ignite my interest in investigative coverage, but led me to editorialize –ever since– on science, technology and the environment. Twenty-plus full-page reports –text and pictures– followed up to 1993 in Diario Hoy (another leading newspaper in Quito) and wildlife magazines. When I came to the United States to attend graduate school, I contributed 35 op pieces to El Popular (1996 to 2000), the foremost Hispanic newspaper in Toronto.

“…English has an advantage, it is the currency of modern science. It is an idiom of exploration, almost anything goes. Unfortunately, junk-writing is also part of this trial-and-error…”

Over time, I transitioned to writing almost exclusively in English (my second language), which has its own science etiquette, quite distinctive from Spanish. But English has an advantage, it is the currency of modern science. It is an idiom of exploration; anything goes. Unfortunately, junk-writing is also part of this trial and error.

Writing about science for the American readership –lay or specialized– is always a challenge. The landscapes (e.g. editorials, chronicles, reports, notes, blogs), styles, theme trends, and audiences’ interests change constantly. The internet has brought dynamism to sharing science news, via imaging (photos and video), more than text, or in short reports (150 to 300 words, rather than the usual 600 to 800 expected by publishers in the past), and quick and dirty delivery. The latter is a powerful temptation that a cautious columnist should avoid.

Editing Proofreading Marks for use on blogs and social media

Proofreading marks were used in the past for copy-editing scientific manuscripts and articles. They are extinct nowadays (the image shows a humorous version of proofreading symbols broadly shared in the social media). The edition and copy-edition of manuscripts is currently done automatically on computers and online servers. Still, human intervention is needed.

“…I do not consider myself a science writer, although I have been called ‘science journalist,’ as an insult, by a rodentologist incapable of graceful interaction with people…”

Before advancing any further, note that I do not consider myself a science writer, although I have been called “science journalist,” as an insult, by a rodentologist incapable of graceful interaction with people. But, I am a biologist who happens to write about science. I come from a background of journalists (my grandfather, father and a sister), essayists (two brothers who are professors in academia and regular contributors to newspapers), and a novelist sister. Plus, my father’s line run, for decades, a publishing initiative. Books were around us. Still, my only assertion here is that the publication process, from paper to ink on it, or to the sorting of pages and final binding of volumes, is the foundation of my cultural imprinting.

Learning to Spot Mistakes

A good, skeptical eye is essential in a writer, and this can be acquired by training. In my case, I worked as a copy editor for the journal Biotropica while I was a graduate student and, later, a postdoc (1996 to 2003). I revised 80 manuscripts by world authors and on multiple subjects. My responsibility was to find mistakes (typos, grammar errors, non-sense sentences, contradictions and, occasionally, bring content issues to the attention of the editors). That experience taught me to minimize the errors I still make while preparing scientific papers and perspectives. Perfection is never achieved, only sharpness to spot what seems incorrect and improve the outcome.

“…The skill of spotting mistakes shall make anyone a better author…”

And not to forget, I was also production editor and copy editor for Animal Behaviour (2001 – 2003), something I remember with mix feelings: although I did not revise as many manuscripts as for Biotropica, the AB Editorial Office in Indiana passed on to me difficult, long manuscripts, loaded with problems, arid science, although written by famous ethologists. In retrospect, I am grateful to my colleagues for the tedious assignments, and for forcing me to examine unpolished papers. The skill of spotting mistakes shall make anyone a better author.

Learning to Be an Editor

From 2003 to 2012, I became founder editor of The Conservation Behaviorist, a biannual periodical of the Animal Behavior Society’s Conservation Committee, which I chaired for three years (2003 – 2006). I edited and produced, from scratch, each of the issues of the ten volumes published during that decade.

“…One must avoid the pseudo science trap, sequel of adopting language that feeds the readers’ unsophisticated comfort zones, at the expense of hurting scientific rigor via distortion…”

What I value most from that activity is that I discovered how to adapt the texts submitted by scientists —in the interface animal behavior / conservation biology— to a media-friendly format, language and delivery. I spent hours reshaping the prose without changing the intention of the writers or the scientific accuracy of their proposals. And that is key in science writing. One must avoid the pseudoscience trap, sequel of adopting language that feeds the readers’ unsophisticated comfort zones, at the expense of hurting scientific rigor via distortion.

This malady is widespread in the work published in major newspapers, magazines, blogs and social media. Here is an example: claiming that naked mole rats are “cancer free” is not only falsehood, but it does not make scientific sense (i.e. relative lower incidence of cancer in a given organism, in respect to others, including humans, does not mean cancer-immunity, nor its absence; UPDATE: for a comprehensive review see Cancer Across The Tree of Life: Cooperation and Cheating in Multicellularity). As much as it was questionable, when in the 1990s, the “shark- cartilage pill industry” made a fortune ecociding sharks, milling their dried skeletons and selling “miracle powder” in anti-cancer capsules for the pro-natural-medicine ignoramus. Science writers must not fall in love with inaccuracies or fables like these.

The point here is that, by being an editor, one can learn to honor science, respect its integrity rather than allow free ride to sensationalism by promoting “breaking news” soon-to-be debunked.

Network of Science Communication Lemerg dot com - Evolution Literacy

The Network of Science Communication. The pseudoscience trap is inherent to networking. Science writers must not fall in love with inaccuracies and fables (image iStockphoto/Thinkstock).

Developing Your Own Style

You do not need to please everyone, particularly family, friends, colleagues or supervisors. Actually, it works best to stay away from their never unbiased reviews (except if they are writers themselves). But it is important to define the type of science writer you want to be, and develop a style with which a readership identifies you.

“…it is important to define what type of science writer you want to be, and develop a style with which a readership identifies you…”

When I wrote my initial op piece for The Standard Times in 2010, it was welcomed instantly, but two subsequent editorials were rejected. I spoke with the Editor in Chief and persuaded him that we needed to develop –together– a readership for the types of articles I would offer: an analysis of science topics with my personal take, rather than a report-story vast in empty phrases like “scientists say” or “according to researchers” or “in the opinion of experts.” Reluctantly, he agreed and months later we enjoyed the interaction with the readers and their feedback; positive and, sometimes, disapproving.

The Standard Times and I published 28 editorials (2010 – 2015) under the “Your View” column, thus conveying that I, as a writer, was one more member of the community, discharging from the inside my criteria and views about dissimilar or related topics, including: the relevance of curiosity-based research, the anti-vaccine movement, the collapse of basic science under the for-profit model, the scientific challenges to the reputation of the Stradivari violins, the wrongly called God-particle (Higgs boson), or the false beliefs in faith healing (for complete access to articles go to publications).

Being Aware of Your Skills

Because pop science writing lacks the editorial process of a scientific article, it is tempting to avoid fact-checks. Editorial reviewers of newspapers and magazines pay more attention to the journalistic aspects of the story than to its scientific accuracy. Many science writers have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the humanities, with some training in science and technology (note that this is evolving and today’s media firms hire contributors with graduate certifications and previous experience in the job). If they possess a doctoral degree, it often lacks the postdoctoral practice that a recently-graduated student needs. And if a postdoctoral training is under the belt, the exercise of peer-reviewing (or being peer-reviewed), editing, publishing and, most importantly, reading thousands of scientific papers is just not there.

Peer Review Process Evolution Literacy

The Peer-review System of Scientific Papers

“…If, as a science writer, you feel confident with your grasping of scientific papers, think twice. You are probably wrong…”

Not only science writing is difficult, but also reading and correctly translating what the scientists communicate in their publications. Cutting-edge research is usually understood by highly specialized investigators. The best a science writer can do is to seek the original source and obtain interpretations of findings directly from the horse’s mouth. Do not rely, to write your own report, on other writers’ stories in the media. That will only magnify the error. And error magnification is the single most vicious and pervasive meme in popular science miscommunication. It is seeded and driven by the science communicator him/herself (including the press-releases from university campuses about their faculty’s discoveries) and feed-back-looped into society, creating a cycle of half truths rather than educating the public.

If, as a science writer, you feel confident with your grasping of scientific papers, think twice. You are probably wrong. Principal investigators all over the country read the same articles you claim to understand and discuss them in journal clubs with colleagues, postdocs, and graduate students. They dissect the articles to a level of extreme, yet fine criticism and end up comprehending the experiments, the math and statistics, the theoretical context and significance of the studies. If they struggle collectively in this effort, what makes you think that you have it clear?

“…It is up to you, therefore, to publish well-documented perspectives or copious shallow reports…”

In addition, writing hundreds of 300-to-600-word notes about science is not equivalent to preparing a single peer-review publication for a scientific journal. If you do investigative coverage, which might take days, weeks or months (to confirm the veracity of the info), any average science writer could surpass you in production by spawning hourly articles. It is up to you, therefore, to publish well-documented perspectives or copious shallow reports.

Your Work Is Needed

Society needs science communicators, and science writers are crucial in this respect. But be realistic, just examine the turnout of science writers at any major newspaper or magazine (info available online under “contributors”), and realize that, after a few years, the entire staff might have crossed the revolving door. Although there are still more job opportunities for science writers than for TV or documentary anchors. Writing for radio is also an alternative, yet with limited employment. Freelancing, therefore, shall be your probable route.

If you have passion for writing about science, it can be an enjoyable journey. However, here are additional tips:

  • Obtain the highest education possible and dismiss the notion to not pursue formal schooling and, instead, “learn on the job.” The latter is damaging advice, usually given by people without specialized education, or by those who benefit from your unpreparedness. If you actually get the job, you will always “learn the praxis” while on it. But you will never compensate, “on the job,” for the formal education you missed. Science, math and technology are not taught in the streets.
  • Read by far more topics than you can write about; develop a sense for science.
  • Travel internationally to scientific meetings and try to understand the cultural contexts in which science is done elsewhere; this could be difficult since we all see the planet through parochial preconceptions. However, modern science is done collaboratively and international partnerships are ubiquitous. Writing from home will keep your mind at home.
  • Write about science itself, rather than people in science. Do not celebritize individuals, but grant credit to all who deserve it.
  • Do not become enticed by the ivory-tower institutions as the sole source of science stories to report; that will turn you into a snob writer.
  • And remember that a good science tale should be good by itself, no matter its origin, but only a good story teller would make it shine.

Science writing can be art or artistic, profound and beautiful, but also commercial and prone to “likes” and “shares” in the social media, which are addicting. If you want to “go viral,” then consequential science communication might not be the path to take. It is not for you. After all, the most significant science books and articles for the general public are written by scientists (some in collaboration with reporters), not by science writers. But you can create a niche for yourself as science communicator-facilitator in a way that servers your local community and society. — EvoLiteracy © 2016.

Acknowledgment: I thank Avelina Espinosa for editorial comments and feedback to improve this article.

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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Measuring The Evolution Controversy - FourBooks - Paz-y-Mino-C & Espinosa 2016

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.

BOOK small format - Measuring the Evolution Controversy 2016Measuring 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.

“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).

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

Paz-y-Mino-C_Book_Cover_Evolution_Stands_Faith_Up_JPEGPaz-y-Miño-C., G. 2013. Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars. NOVA Publishers, New York. By NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.comAmazon UK

“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.

Kin Recognition or Kin Discrimination in Single-Celled Organisms – Protists

EvoLiteracy News 04 04 2016

Can single-celled organisms distinguish between same (self or clone) and different (diverse clones)? Can they tell apart kin from non-kin? Can they “learn” to discriminate or recognize members of their own versus others’ cellular lineages? Answers to these questions are provided in three articles (first, second, and third) just published (early view) in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology. The studies summarize outcomes of the symposium “Evidence of Taxa-, Clone-, and Kin-discrimination in Protists: Ecological and Evolutionary Implications,” which took place at the VII European Congress of Protistology, organized last summer in partnership with the International Society of Protistologists (ECOP-ISOP 2015), and hosted by the University of Seville, Spain. I participated at this Symposium and co-authored two of the trilogy papers. But my purpose here is to bring attention to the topic “kin discrimination” or “kin recognition” in unicellular organisms, an area of research that has made much progress in the past fifteen years. There are some technicalities in the text below, but I ask the readers to make an effort and try to understand the broad themes, while being patient with the details. Enjoy! – Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C.

Entamoeba invadens IP-1 Green-and-Red 3-hours - A Espinosa 2016

The unicellular eukaryote Entamoeba invadens (a protist) colored with Green or Red markers. When the Green and Red cells fully aggregate in mixed assemblages, they look yellow under the microscope, an indication that the amebas are able to distinguish members of the same clone, without being affected by the coloration. When grown in the laboratory with non-clone members, the amebas only aggregate with same-clone cells, an indication of preference to group with themselves. Photo courtesy of A. Espinosa 2016.

Readers unfamiliar with “protistan” biology might benefit from grasping some terminology (i.e. protist, prokaryote, eukaryote, clone, multicellularity, kin recognition/discrimination), which I explain next by answering simple questions. For those trained in biology, it might be fine to skip the first five subtitles, below, and move on directly to “From multicellular to unicellular: a round trip:”

What is a protist?

Remember that some organisms are made of single cells. Yes, the entire organism is a cell. For example, bacteria (like the E. coli that lives in the human gut) or amebas, which are also microscopic and can be found in a pond. However, one of the main differences between a bacteria and an ameba is that the former has no nucleus, in contrast to the latter that has it. For that reason, bacteria are called prokaryotes (pro = “before” or “prior to” or, in this case, no nucleus) and amebas are called eukaryotes (eu = “well” or “good” or, in this case, with nucleus). However, many other organisms have nucleated cells (and are, therefore, eukaryotes), like a frog, an orchid, a chimpanzee, a maple tree, or a Blue Whale. The term “protist” applies to unicellular eukaryotes, while the amphibian, the plant, or the aquatic mammal are called multicellular eukaryotes, since their bodies are made of billions of nucleated cells.

Now, the term “protist” is tricky because it includes extremely diverse organisms (which earliest ancestors likely emerged two billion years ago), and over the years scientists have realized that many exceptions exist of organisms that, although are not always unicellular in their life cycles, they are (or should be considered) protists. One of them is the social ameba (or amoeba), Dictyostelium, which forms multicellular assemblages (moving “slugs;” watch video) during its life stages, and also lives in nature as a single-celled, free ranging ameba. To learn more about the ambiguities intrinsic to the term “protist,” and for more examples, go here.

What is a clone?

Ameba cell division cartoon EvoLiteracyBecause unicellular organisms reproduce, in many cases, via simple cell divisions, the resulting progeny is often identical to the parental cell. A single ameba, for example, can give origin to 2 identical daughter cells, which, in turn, can generate 4 cells (i.e. 2, 4, 8… see cartoon on the right). The resulting thousands, or millions, of cells are “clones” (identical copies of each other). Now, during so many cell divisions, mutations that change the sequence of DNA can –and do– occur, making the descendant cells gradually different from the parental ones. Over time, maybe hundreds of years, a cell line could change enough to become a different clone. Moreover, after thousands or millions of years, different species of amebas can emerge, each distinctive from one another and from the species that gave them origin in the past, a phenomenon known as speciation.

What is multicellularity?

Volvox colonies

Volvox (a green-algae protist) forms large sphere-colonies made of hundreds, or thousands, of individual cells (see daughter colonies inside). Click on image for source.

Perhaps a more didactic question here is ‘where do multicellular organisms (i.e. frogs, orchids, chimps, maple trees, blue whales) come from’? A first, quick answer is that all multicellular organisms known today originated –at some point– in ancient assemblages of unicellular ancestors (traceable to billions of years ago). However, a more cautious answer is that we have a fragmentary understanding about how primitive single-celled eukaryotes took the path (here I mean driven by natural selection) toward permanent associations in immense cellular cooperatives, which we now call multicellular organisms (note that scientists consider the advent of multicellularity a “major evolutionary transition” in the history of Earth). And that is why studying modern protists, like gregarious amebas (in the genus Entamoeba), or facultative social amebas (i.e. not always social, but in response to environmental circumstances), like Dictyostelium, can give us hints about how multicellularity originated. This particular topic is discussed in the three articles published in JEUKMIC (first, second, and third), and to which I refer in this post. But before I get into that, take a look at the image of Volvox (inset). The organism Volvox is a green-algae protist, which forms large sphere-colonies made of hundreds, or thousands, of individual cells. Inside these spheres, daughter colonies develop and, when they mature, the parental spheres bursts and the descendant colonies are released into the aquatic environment, where they continue to grow and proliferate. Today’s multicellular aggregations of protists, like Entamoeba, Dictyostelium or Volvoxgive us clues about how multicellularity might have originated in ancient Earth. Moreover, they are good model-systems to study kin recognition or kin discrimination (which include an organism’s skills for grouping and cooperating with the right partners, and behaving altruistically toward them) in the context of the origin and evolution of multicellularity.

What is kin recognition or kin discrimination?

 “The ‘field of kin recognition’… has no consensus on definitions or proposed mechanisms, possibly due to the vast diversity of life histories across organisms and their phylogenetic complexities…”

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly Photo Tony Cenicola

NASA’s twin astronauts Scott, left, and Mark Kelly. Photo: Tony Cenicola. In humans, identical twins are the only natural “clones;” their genetic relatedness is equal to 100% (represented by r = 1.0). However, the rest of us are related to our siblings only by 50%, or r = 0.5. Our relatedness with our parents is the same, r = 0.5. Can the reader tell why? If so, here is a question: what would be your genetic relatedness with an uncle/aunt, or with a grand parent, or with a second cousin?

This topic can be a bit confusing. However, in one of the articles (the first one listed below), the authors explain why: “…The ‘field of kin recognition’… has no consensus on definitions or proposed mechanisms, possibly due to the vast diversity of life histories across organisms and their phylogenetic complexities (here, phylogeny means ancestry, somewhat analogous to genealogy, not of your own family, but rather of distinctive species or kinds of organisms grouped in distinctive categories). [The authors] refer to “recognition” as an organism’s ability to identify kin [family members] versus non-kin [members of another family]; in addition, [the authors] use the term “discrimination” as the capacity to distinguish one clone from another. Because [the authors] discuss instances of taxa- [taxa = in this particular case means species], clone-, and kin-discrimination/recognition in single-celled organisms capable of both discriminating between same and different, and discriminating/recognizing among clones of distinctive [degree of genetic relatedness, like, for example, values of r less than 1.0], [the authors] use these terms together…”

Why is it relevant to study kin recognition or kin discrimination in single-celled organisms?

To answer this question, I will borrow, again, text from the first article: “…Multicellularity is a major evolutionary transition in which single-celled organisms switched from living individually to permanent assemblages. It is possible that multicellularity originated —more than once— in clonality, via a gradual aggregation of closely related cells, capable of recognizing one another by means of chemical cues, and which lived consistently in intimate proximity and benefited from specialized division of labor (i.e. distinctive tissues and organs with given functions). Such specialization included the full allocation of soma-reproduction [soma = the entire body of an organism] to a small population of cells within the soma, the gametes [i.e. ovules, sperm]Protists are central to the reevaluation of the theoretical framework and concepts in the field of kin recognition, and to research about the origins and evolution of multicellularity...

From multicellular to unicellular: a roundtrip

The first article (by Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa) is a concise review on “Kin Discrimination in Protists: From Many Cells to Single Cells and Backwards.” In it, the authors summarize the current understanding of the genetics of kin discrimination/recognition in unicellular Eukaryotes, and they do it historically by going back in time, to Darwin and his Origin of Species (1859; Darwin speculated* that selection may be applied to the family; kin discrimination/recognition rely on kin-selection theory), and the influential 1960s, when the modern field of kin recognition was, arguably, born. Here is a simplified version of the first article’s abstract:

During four decades (1960s to 1990s), the conceptualization and experimental design of studies in kin recognition relied on work with multicellular eukaryotes, particularly invertebrates and vertebrates, and some plants. This pioneering research had an animal behavior approach. During the 2000s, work on taxa-, clone- and kin-discrimination and recognition in protists produced genetic and molecular evidence that unicellular organisms could distinguish between same (self or clone) and different (diverse clones), as well as among conspecifics of close or distant genetic relatedness (Table 1, below). Here we discuss some of the research on the genetics of kin discrimination/recognition and highlight the scientific progress made by switching emphasis from investigating multicellular to unicellular systems (and backwards). We document how studies with protists are helping us to understand the microscopic, cellular origins and evolution of the mechanisms of kin discrimination/recognition and their significance for the advent of multicellularity...”

[Click on Table 1, below, to enlarge]

Table 1 Kin-discrimination in Protists Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa JEUKMIC 2016

Readers might find the following excerpts from this article quite intriguing, e.g. “learning” in unicellular organisms (is that possible?):

“…In 1899, H. S. Jennings wrote: ‘Paramecium… an animal that learns nothing, that exercises no choice in any respect, that is attracted by nothing and repelled by nothing, that reacts entirely without reference to the position of external objects, that has but one reaction [movement –watch video below] for the most varied stimuli… can hardly be said to have made the first step in the evolution of mind, and we are not compelled to assume consciousness or intelligence in any form to explain its activities.”

Above: movement behavior in Paramecium. This video is 13-min long and shows various types of Paramecium. If you watch it for a couple of minutes, it shall give you an idea about how these ciliates look like and move.

Except for mind, consciousness and intelligence, which are not prerequisites for kin discrimination or recognition (both can also operate in a reflex manner: stimulus-response), Jennings was mistaken about his entire characterization of Paramecium. Since the early 1900s, sensitization, trial-and-error learning, and classical or operant conditioning (relevant attributes among some of the multicellular eukaryotes that learn to recognize kin) have been documented in Paramecium; [including] micro-tube-escape swimming behavior via discrimination learning (1910s), habituation to approach baited and un-baited targets using bacteria as food-reinforcer (1950s), and swim-approach behavior toward mild-electrically-charged fields in learning discrimination tasks using positive and punishment reinforcements (2000s).”

And the authors add: “…But, to our knowledge, there is no direct, experimental evidence that protists can rely specifically on sensitization (i.e. the enhancement of a response to an incremental exposure to a stimulus, for example, the differential frequency exposure to kin versus non-kin during a life cycle), trial-and-error learning (i.e. repeated attempts to solve a task until success, for example, attempts to behave altruistically toward kin, and the benefits it entails, versus the costs of maladaptive altruism toward non-kin), or classical or operant conditioning to discriminate between kin and non-kin (i.e. learning to associate a behavioral or chemical cue with the advantages/disadvantages of aggregating, cooperating or reproducing with conspecifics of [diverse degree of relatedness]). All these topics, remain open areas of investigation and experimentation with protists since, like Paramecium, they possess basic sensory perception capabilities, which could have been co-opted [= adapted] during evolution to function in kin discrimination/recognition…”

Social amebas (or facultative social)

The second article (by Strassmann) is a another review, in this case on “Kin Discrimination in Dictyostelium Social Amoebae.” In it, the author recounts her research program on various species of social amebas, including Polysphondylium violaceum, D. purpureum and D. giganteum. Here is a simplified version of the abstract:

Evolved cooperation is stable only when the benefactor is compensated, either directly or through its relatives. Social amoebae cooperate by forming a mobile multicellular body in which about 20% of participants ultimately dies to form a stalk [watch video below]. This benefits the remaining individuals that become hardy spores at the top of the stalk, together making up [a] fruiting body. In studied species [of social ameba] with stalked migration, P. violaceum, D. purpureum, and D. giganteum, sorting based on clone identity occurs in laboratory mixes, maintaining high relatedness within the fruiting bodies. D. discoideum has unstalked migration where cell fate is not fixed until the slug forms a fruiting body. Laboratory mixes show some degree of both spatial and genotype-based sorting, yet most laboratory fruiting bodies remain chimeric. However, wild fruiting bodies are made up mostly of clonemates. A genetic mechanism for sorting is likely to be cell adhesion genes tgrB1 and tgrC1, which bind to each other. [These genes] are highly variable, as expected for a kin discrimination gene. It is a puzzle that these genes do not cause stronger discrimination between mixed wild clones, but laboratory conditions or strong sorting early in the social stage diminished by later slug fusion could be explanations.”

Above: the amazing videos of social behavior in amebas, by John Bonner, Professor of Biology at Princeton University. He obtained the images as an undergraduate student. This is a 2-min video of historical value, watch it to the end (it turns spectacular).

Gregarious amebas

The third article (by Espinosa et al.) is a multi-clone characterization of Entamoeba species; it is titled “Entamoeba Clone-recognition Experiments: Morphometrics, Aggregative Behavior, and Cell-signaling Characterization.” The authors discuss their laboratory trials with seven ameba varieties; here is a simplified version of the abstract:

Phylogeny of Entamoeba clones Espinosa et al JEUKMIC 2016

Schematic phylogeny based on ssrRNA sequences of the Entamoeba clones discussed in the Espinosa et al. article. Free-living: E. moshkovskii Laredo; commensal E. terrapinae and E. dispar; and parasitic E. invadens IP-1, E. invadens VK-1:NS, E. moshkovskii Snake and E. histolytica HM-1:IMSS.

Studies on clone- and kin-discrimination in protists have proliferated during the past decade. We report clone-recognition experiments in seven Entamoeba [varieties] (E. invadens IP-1, E. invadens VK-1:NS, E. terrapinae, E. moshkovskii Laredo, E. moshkovskii Snake, E. histolytica and E. dispar). First, we characterized morphometrically each clone (length, width, and cell-surface area) and documented how they differed statistically from one another (as per single-variable or canonical-discriminant analyses). Second, we demonstrated that amebas themselves could discriminate self (clone) from different (themselves versus other clones). In mix-cell-line cultures between closely-related (E. invadens IP-1 versus E. invadens VK-1:NS) or distant-phylogenetic clones (E. terrapinae versus E. moshkovskii Laredo), amebas consistently aggregated with same-clone members. Third, we identified six putative cell-signals secreted by the amebas and which known functions in Entamoeba spp. included: cell proliferation, cell adhesion, cell movement, and stress-induced encystation. To our knowledge, this is the first multi-clone characterization of Entamoeba spp. morphometrics, aggregative behavior, and cell-signaling secretion in the context of clone-recognition. Protists allow us to study cell-cell recognition from ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Modern protistan lineages can be central to studies about the origins and evolution of multicellularity.”

Conclusion

Again, I would like to quote the first article: “…because protists are among the most ancient organisms on Earth, belong to multiple taxonomic groups and occupy all environments, they can be central to reexamining traditional hypotheses in the field of kin recognition, reformulating concepts, and generating new knowledge [to our current understanding of the origins and evolution of multicellularity].” – GPC – Evolution Literacy.

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com

UniCellular Eukaryotes or Protists

Protists are among the most ancient organisms on Earth; they belong to multiple taxonomic groups and occupy all environments. Studies with protists can be central to generating new knowledge to our current understanding of the origins and evolution of multicellularity.

Suggested Readings and Note

JEUK-MICRO - COVER - May-June 2016Article I: Paz-y-Miño-C, G. & Espinosa A. 2016. Kin Discrimination in Protists: From Many Cells to Single Cells and Backwards. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 63: 367-377. DOI: 10.1111/jeu.12306.

Article II: Strassmann, J. E. 2016. Kin Discrimination in Dictyostelium Social Amoebae. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 63: 378-383. DOI: 10.1111/jeu.12307.

Article III: Espinosa, A., Paz-y-Miño-C, G., Hackeya, M. & Rutherford, S. 2016. Entamoeba Clone-recognition Experiments: Morphometrics, Aggregative Behavior, and Cell-signaling Characterization. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 63: 384-393. DOI: 10.1111/jeu.12313.

I also suggest to explore the paper that inspired the organization of the ECOP-ISOP 2015 symposium:

Espinosa, A. & Paz-y-Miño-C, G. 2014. Evidence of Taxa-, Clone-, and Kin-discrimination in Protists: Ecological and Evolutionary Implications. Evolutionary Ecology DOI 10.1007/s10682-014-9721-z.

* Darwin (1859) speculated about the “puzzle of the sterile social insects,” in which female workers at a nest dedicate their lives to the persistence of the colony (structured around a large progeny), via assisting a fertile queen to reproduce with the available males. Darwin suggested that, in such cases of apparent sacrifice —by the workers— for the good of all, “selection may be applied to the family.” But, in the late 1800s, he could not offer a detailed mechanistic explanation for the latter. Fisher (1930) and Haldane (1932, 1955) wrestled with the genetics and mathematics of altruism and the anecdotic expression “I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins” became legacy of their work. Hamilton (1964) and Maynard-Smith (1964) further reasoned that the ability to discriminate between close and distant genetic relatives could be directly linked to survival and reproductive success, and, ultimately, to kin selection (Maynard-Smith 1964, 1977). — For references, go to source.

College Educated But Deeply In Debt For An Overpriced Degree

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C PhD — © 2015

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @gpazymino@EvoLiteracy – Facebook  ResearchGateAcademia.edu

College Educated, But Deeply In Debt For An Overpriced Degree

[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Ivory Tower 2015

“The breakdown of the Ivory Tower is figurative in the architectonic sense, but not in the intellectual. Education does not need to be cheap, just affordable, sincere. Not vibrant entertainment.” – GPC

“…The race among higher-ed campuses to capture the funds available to students for education is self inflicted, a textbook example of out of control free market competition, in which education is a commodity, rather than a priceless investment in culture, the ultimate possession of a nation…”

The current for-profit model of higher education in America is destined to crash. Its failure will injure primarily the students, today’s borrowers of $1.19 trillion. What for? Mostly tuition and collateral life expenses in exchange for an overpriced degree.

During the past three decades the cost of college has grown 1,120 percent, doubling health care (600 percent), and more than quintupling the expenses of food (200 percent higher since 1978). A reality aired in Ivory Tower, the 2014 documentary by Andrew Rossi on how “the very concept of the institution of higher-learning is about to be broken.”

Price Increases Since 1978 Ivory Tower Evolution Literacy

Source: Ivory Tower 2014 – Documentary by Andrew Rossi

“…education is expensive and its alternative, ignorance, would be more damaging in the long term…”

If the quality of higher education had improved parallel to its fees, then the argument for an overcharged college certificate would be unsound. Now, education is expensive and its alternative, ignorance, would be more damaging in the long term. But, how expensive should education be to justify its actual cost?

Total Debt Balance 2015 Evolution Literacy

By 2015, the total debt balance in the U.S. reached $11.85 trillion; 69 percent of it corresponded to mortgages; 10 percent to student loans; and the remaining amount to auto, credit cards, and revolving loans. Note how from 2003 to 2015 student loans (red bars) grew significantly in respect to other types of loans. Image source: Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, May 2015.

The race among higher-ed campuses to capture the funds available to students for education is self inflicted, a textbook example of out of control free market competition, in which education is a commodity, rather than a priceless investment in culture, the ultimate possession of a nation.

About 40 million Americans are borrowers of student loans, two million of them currently owing at least $100,000. But the situation is complex and a distinction must be made between undergraduate and graduate student loans.

Ivory Tower Evolution Literacy 2015“…the assumption has been that post-graduate degree holders shall be reliable payers, and not flock toward debt-forgiveness programs. A risky supposition…” 

Sixty percent of the $1.19 trillion debt belongs to the undergraduate students. The technicality here is that the remaining 40 percent of the balance corresponds to 14 percent of the borrowers, who are graduate students. Thus, the per capita obligation is much higher for the latter. In either case, the responsibility to pay back is substantial, although the assumption has been that post-graduate degree holders shall be reliable payers, and not flock toward debt-forgiveness programs. A risky supposition considering that since 2007, when such initiatives started, additional rescue plans emerged, including President Obama’s 2012 Pay As You Earn.

The forgiveness paths facilitate government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector to hire debt-borrowers to work for a reduced salary and, in return, benefit society by taking public-service roles during a prearranged period. Other alternatives, like the President’s debt relief law, include the capping of monthly payments at 10-15 percent of the borrower’s discretionary income, thus lessening the stress while carrying the loan over time.

“…the national student debt is… a time bomb… comparable to the mortgage transactions of the 2000s, which benefitted financiers but turned unmanageable for home-owners wannabes…”

Despite these damage control policies, the national student debt is, in foresight, a time bomb. Its societal sequels will unveil in a few years. As The Wall Street Journal characterizes it: “offering unlimited loans to students, with the prospect of forgiveness, creates a moral hazard by allowing borrowers to amass debts they have little hope or intention of repaying, all while enriching institutions and leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab.” Sounds comparable to the mortgage transactions of the 2000s, which benefitted financiers but turned unmanageable for home-owners wannabes.

Percent of Balance Delinquent by Loan Type 2015

By 2015, student loans reached the highest percent of balance 90+ days delinquency in contrast to credit card, mortgage, auto loan and revolving loans. In essence, 10+ percent of student borrowers were not repaying. Image source: Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, May 2015.

And this situation is central to the looming collapse of our country’s higher education, the repercussion of handling colleges and universities like corporations. Statistics from the New America Education Policy Program —which uses information from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Studies— are telling:

In 2004, the typical borrower (combined graduate and undergraduate) owed $40,000 upon graduation (undergrads $20,000). In 2012, the latest data processed by NAEPP, the standard student borrower owed $57,000 (undergrads $25,000). These are median values, which convey fractional information: one in every ten borrowers owed $153,000 once graduated.

These figures varied according to field of expertise and as per typical borrower: $161,000 among those graduating from the medical and health sciences, $140,000 from law school, $58,000 from a master of arts program, $50,000 from a master of science or education, and $42,000 from a master in business administration.

Share of Graduate Degrees NAEPP 2014 Evolution Literacy

Typical debt of borrowers (share of graduate degrees). Source: New America Education Policy Program, March 2014.

Among the in-debt, the typical monthly payment, at a 6 percent interest rate and 15-year repayment term, was: $1,365 among graduates from the medical and health sciences, $1,187 from law school, $494 from the arts, $429 from science or education, and $354 from business administration (values adjusted to 2012).

“…The present generation of student borrowers is fated to limited socio-economic mobility, to be trapped in an unsustainable system in which, as customers, they demand satisfaction…”

On the administrators’ side, in contrast, the finances have been blooming. The top ten U.S. public college presidents‘ earned, in 2013-2014, from $1.5 million to $745,000, while their top five counterparts at private colleges made from $7.1 to $1.8 million in 2012.

Highest Paid Presidents Public Private Colleges US Evolution Literacy

Top: highest paid Presidents at public colleges in the United States. — Bottom: highest paid Presidents at private colleges (smaller numbers in histogram = base pay salaries). Data from The Chronicles of Higher Education (see summarized list in Business Insider).

The breakdown of the Ivory Tower is figurative in the architectonic sense, but not in the intellectual. The present generation of student borrowers is fated to limited socio-economic mobility, to be trapped in an unsustainable system in which, as customers, they demand satisfaction, rather than proper schooling.

Education does not need to be cheap, just affordable, sincere. Not vibrant entertainment.

— © 2015 by Evolution Literacy all rights reserved.

Student Debt by Donkey Hotey

Illustration by Donkey Hotey

Related Articles:

Imminent Collapse of Basic Science Under For-profit Model

Dehumanizing Academia by Dismantling the Humanities

Fragmentary Truths and the Intellectual Imbalance in Academia

Evolution Illiteracy at America’s Colleges and Universities

Massachusetts Gets an A- in Science Standards

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

Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars 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

“This is an inspiring, readable collection of essays of reflective value to everyone. Paz-y-Miño-C points to the vain attempt by many to try and accommodate scientific rationalism with supernatural beliefs. They are simply incompatible. The author has a marvelously eloquent style of writing, full of inspiring metaphors and lateral observations that reinforce connections to the foundations of scientific inquiry and to biological evolution in particular. These thoughtful essays… are inspiring… [and] help clear the fog in our communities and arm our neighbors [with arguments] against theistic anti-science, medical quackery and other irrational nonsense.” – Greg M. Stott, PhD, Geoscientist with the Ontario Geological Survey, Canada.

“Paz-y-Miño-C doesn’t ask the reader to ‘believe’ in evolution. He provides overwhelming evidence, clearly written, that shows how scientific inquiry leads to important and practical results, while superstition and faith lead nowhere. Although we may not be able to reason someone out of what they were never reasoned into, the author presents a roadmap for those whose minds are open to discover the wonders and beauty of science.” – Herb Silverman, PhD, author of Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.

“Too many of our colleagues work so hard to appear open minded that their brains seem to have fallen out. When they teach our students that they can pick and choose when to be logical, critical thinkers, they are modeling the type of reasoning that leads to the politics of convenience and its bridesmaids: racism, sexism, and the whole host of xenophobias. Paz-y-Miño-C is a prolific essayist, he does not pull any punches, but when he cuts to the core of an argument, he does it with the flare of a true artist.” – Stan Braude, PhD, Professor of Practice in Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, USA.

EvoLiteracy News 03 28 2015

Science, the universal language…

Happy Saturday everyone, here are a few of my favorite news, videos and science links about topics of broad interest, enjoy!

Earth’s tectonic plates skitter about, from Science Magazine.

“…Geoscientists have unveiled a computer model that maps the details of [Earth’s crust] tectonic dance in 1-million-year increments—practically a frame-by-frame recap of geologic time. It shows that the [tectonic] plates speed up, slow down, and move around in unexpectedly short bursts of activity…” Read full story in Science Magazine and watch the amazing video below. “The animation portrays the motion of continents (grey, yellow, orange and red) and oceanic plates (blue) since Pangea breakup from 200 million years ago.”

 

Liftoff! US, Russia Launch Historic One-Year Space Mission.

US Russia One Year Mission to ISS“An unprecedented one-year mission to the International Space Station [began] Friday (March 27). NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko [did] launch toward the orbiting lab aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, at 3:42 p.m. EDT (1942 GMT), from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakshtan.” According to NASA, “…a crewed Mars mission could take 500 days or more; learning more about the potential problems astronauts could experience during a long mission is important [for planning  future missions to the Red Planet]…” See The Yearlong Space Station Mission: Full Coverage.

Below, Mars One introduction film (plus many other related videos).

 

Dynamic evolutionary change in post-Paleozoic echinoids and the importance of scale when interpreting changes in rates of evolution PNAS.

C exquisitus by Simon Coppard The Natural History Museum LondonFrom the cover of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Authors Melanie J. Hopkins and Andrew B. Smith provide “…an example of a 265 million-year-old marine invertebrate [sea urchin] clade where evolutionary rates show a net increase over time. This is punctuated by intervals of high rates of morphological evolution, coinciding with major shifts in lifestyle and the evolution of new subclades. The study demonstrates the dynamic nature of evolutionary change within major clades.” For complete study go to PNAS.

Debate over Kin Selection generates yet another response to the controversial 2010-Nature article authored by Martin A. Nowak, Corina E. Tarnita & Edward O. Wilson. The new critique was published in PLoS Biology.

Acanthognathus teledectus Photo April Nobile

Acanthognathus Photo April Nobile

The latest rebuttal to the Nowak et al. (2010) article is titled “Relatedness, Conflict, and the Evolution of Eusociality,” authored by X. Liao, S. Rong & D. C Queller. The researchers summarize their work [a theoretical mathematical model] as follows: “The evolution of sterile worker castes in social insects has fascinated biologists ever since Darwin; how can selection favor a trait that decreases reproductive fitness? W. D. Hamilton solved this dilemma in the 1960s with a theory showing that reproductive altruism could evolve if it increased the worker’s inclusive fitness, which included effects that it had on increasing the fitness of its relatives. This solution to a crucial evolutionary problem, sometimes called kin selection, was challenged in a recent paper (Nowak et al. 2010). The paper generated much controversy, but no one has contested its new theoretical model of the evolution of eusociality, which appeared to overturn much of what was previously thought to be true from kin selection theory. Here we [Liao et al. 2015] examine this model in greater depth, showing that its apparently novel conclusions are overgeneralized from narrow and often inappropriate assumptions. Instead, this modeling strategy yields results that confirm important insights from kin selection and inclusive fitness, such as the importance of relatedness and the existence of conflicts in social insect colonies.” For complete open access to article go to PLoS Biology.

Learn more about the kin selection debate in Op Piece “Dehumanizing Academia by Dismantling the Humanities,” including the crossfire between Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson.

Cartoon

Stuck The Landing cartoon Mars Curiosity Rover

Antivaxxers and the Educated-Public-Herd Effect

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C PhD — © 2015 with updates during 2016, 2017.

New England Science Public – An Initiative for the Public Understanding of Science – on Twitter @EvoLiteracy@gpazyminoResearchGateAcademia.edu

Antivaxxers will only Succumb to Educated Public

[click on subtitle to be redirected to The Standard Times]

“…It is a risky bet… to attempt to replicate the antivaxxer-meme and infect the populous with the reckless idea that we should refuse, as a matter of self-determination and individual freedom principles, to ‘put unnatural substances [vaccines] in our bodies,’ or, worse, continue to link vaccinations to ‘mental retardation and autism in children,’ a fabricated story long ago debunked by science… [The] anti-science gang will only succumb to a robust ‘educated-public-herd effect.’”

Anti-vaccination views can spread quite infectiously in society, mimicking the contagious nature of pathogens. But a “culturally immune” community —here I mean aware of the fundamentals about how vaccines work— can remain forever-protected from, or, at least, resistant to antivaxxer-memes.

The_Selfish_Gene

The Selfish Gene 1st Edition (1976)

Not only good ideas, but also ill ones, like the opposition to inoculations, can self-replicate, mutate analogously to a gene, and disseminate in a population. Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme,” in The Selfish Gene (1976), to refer to such units of information/ideas sharing, although his examples were not about antivaxxers (people who nowadays battle against vaccines on pseudo-science grounds, religion, or consensus-ignorance —my emphasis) but rather illustrated how catchphrases, fashion or melodies emerged and settled in culture. Dawkins wrote: “we need a name for [this kind of] replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene.’ I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.”

The word meme itself passed around as a replicator among academics, it became highly scrutinized, as well as valued, and an entire field of study, memetics, was born in the 1980s. Sadly, by 2005, the Journal Memetics: Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, the peer-reviewed forum for scholarly articles, published its last issue. JM became dormant more than extinct.

The metaphorical merit of the meme concept was both its major strength (for suggesting a didactic model to explain cultural information copying from one mind to another) and weakness (for not attaining consensus in the scientific community due to its subjectivity and the challenge to measure it). However, Dawkins and later “memeticists” (specialists in memetics) did manage to keep alive the meme debate for decades, and there is no indication that the meme hypothesis is irrelevant to modern science. After all, “cultural entities” are certainly hosted in brains, mimicked, subject to variation, competition for survival, and inheritance. Good, with-adaptive-value memes stick around, bad ones are prone to vanishing, but not without first instigating considerable damage.

Herd Immunity

Source: Illustration by Autumn Mariano

But, let us go back to antivaccination memes and their harmful makeup. As long as the number of vaccinated individuals in a population overwhelms the amount of unvaccinated, the “herd-immunity effect” will continue to protect those who have not yet developed defenses. The rule is mathematically simple: the probability of infection —and death— increases when the number of unvaccinated people augments. In fact, those lacking vaccine-induced immunity to smallpox, rubella, polio, pertussis, mumps, measles or diphtheria can “free-ride” in society only when the vast majority of the population has been vaccinated at an average rate of 83-88 percent, depending on the disease. That is perhaps all a nation needs to understand to get the shots!

But if the “public good” argument is no antidote for antivaxxer-poison, here I offer a single, yet historically gruesome example that illustrates why vaccinations have become required in many countries: smallpox, the sole predator of 300 to 500 million people during the 20th century, and possibly of 20 million North-, Central- and South-American natives after the Europeans’ arrived —from the Caribbean— in the 1520s.

Smallpox is caused by the variola virus, which transferred from wild or domesticated animals to Sub-Saharan humans, at least 3,000 years ago. Variola behaves like a “hit and run” pathogen, incessantly moving to the next target. Once it enters via inhalation the airway passages of the host’s lungs, it incubates for one or two weeks in lymphatic ganglia and disseminates to multiple organs. The patient becomes symptomatic when lacerations or blisters appear in the skin and endothelial membranes (inside the mouth, nose and throat), combined with fatigue, fever, forehead ache, overall muscle soreness and joint pain, nausea and vomiting. Ineffective immune response leads to death in 1-2 days. Smallpox is fatal in up to 30 percent of cases.

Smallpox Virus Images Evolution Literacy

Smallpox virus (click on image to be redirected to source:  gettyimages)

The key point is that when the virus runs out of “fresh prey,” it dies out, and this makes it vulnerable to vaccines. Via safe inoculations of laboratory-engineered-strains of the virus, scientists can “trick” the immune system to generate antibodies against variola. Relying on this procedure, smallpox was eradicated in the late 1970s. And by vaccinating most infants, in urban and rural areas worldwide, we all gradually built the herd-immunity effect on which the unvaccinated can freely —but unsafely— ride.

It is a risky bet, of course, to attempt to replicate the antivaxxer-meme and infect the populous with the reckless notion that we should refuse, as a matter of self-determination and individual freedom principles, to “put unnatural substances in our bodies,” or, worse, continue to link vaccinations to “mental retardation and autism in children,” a fabricated story long ago debunked by science (links to references provided below).

Lethal No-Injection Cartoon Evolution Literacy

Lethal Injection vs. Lethal Non-injection

Although non-adaptive memes are destined to disappear in the milieu of great-versus-wicked ideas, the human cost, in health and lives, during the path to eradicating the anti-vaccination movement, will be regrettably painful. Still new diseases will emerge in the future, old ones resurrect, while competent physicians try to manage them in crowded environments. But the anti-science gang will only succumb to a robust “educated-public-herd effect.” — © 2015 by EvoLiteracy, with updates during 2016 and 2017, all rights reserved.

Scientific paper on a 67-country survey on the state of vaccine confidence

The State of Vaccine Confidence 2016: Global Insights Through a 67-Country Survey, see also a commentary about this article in Science.

And on the same topic: The Vaccine Wars: Debunking myths, owning real risks, and courting doubters from Science.

Graphic generated by Science with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Visual proof of why vaccines do more good than harm (Science)

Scientific papers rejecting the alleged association between childhood vaccines and autism, and between maternal immunization and autism (source PLoS)

Watch 4:34 min excellent video on “How We Conquered the Deadly Smallpox Virus”

 

Watch 8:47 min video “Just for Hits” by Richard Dawkins (2013)

 

And another video on “Should you get vaccinated?” by Piled Higher and Deeper PHD Comics 

national-average-vaccinations-usa

Above: Animation: Herd Immunity, How it Works

Above: Animation: Regional reduction in the unvaccinated population from 2000 to 2015

A - Measles Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

Measles vaccination and GDP 2014 The Economist - Evolution Literacy

B - Hepatitis-A Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

C - Mumps Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

D - Pertussis Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

E - Polio Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

F - Smallpox Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

G - Rubella Project TYCHO data for Health 2015

Additional Readings and Resources 

Memetics publications on the web.

Autism’s fight for facts: A voice for science. Convinced by the evidence that vaccines do not cause autism, Alison Singer started a research foundation that pledges to put science first. Nature 479, 28-30 ( 02 November 2011 ).

CDC AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. CDC is committed to continuing to provide essential data on ASD, search for factors that put children at risk for ASD and possible causes, and develop resources that help identify children with ASD as early as possible.

Learn about the latest Ebola research in Science Magazine.

Reduced vaccination and the risk of measles and other childhood infections post-Ebola, also in Science Magazine.

How the Anti-Vaxxers Are Winning – The New York Times

Watch how the measles outbreak spreads when kids get vaccinated – and when they don’t – The Guardian

The Next Pandemic? – The Economist

Autism and Vaccines

Source: The Scientific Facts About Autism and Vaccines nowsourcing.com

support-to-vaccinations-by-religious-group-and-ethnicity-us-pew-2016

Support to Vaccinations by Religious Group and Ethnicity United States – Pew 2016

Cartoons

Anti Vaccines Cartoons Evolution Literay

EvoLiteracy News 03 23 2015

Is Autumn the neglected season in climate change research? Researchers at Boston University and the University of Connecticut think so! (03 2015).

Autumn leaves“…This neglect occurs despite the importance of autumn events, including leaf senescence, fruit ripening, bird and insect migration, and induction of hibernation and diapause. Changes in autumn phenology alter the reproductive capacity of individuals, exacerbate invasions, allow pathogen amplification and higher disease-transmission rates, reshuffle natural enemy–prey dynamics, shift the ecological dynamics among interacting species, and affect the net productivity of ecosystems…” The review article was published in the March issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution Vol. 30 (3).

Watch 2:48 min video “Climate change: Earth’s giant game of Tetris – Joss Fong:”

 

Coral-reef fish changes color to imitate other species and eat their progeny. Study just published in Current Biology (03 19 2015).

Colour-morphing reef fish Curr Biol 2015Researchers at the University of Cambridge have reported that “The dottyback changes its colour to match surrounding damselfish species, enabling it to counter the defences of its damselfish prey by disguising itself as a harmless part of their community, then swoop in to hunt their young… By changing colour to imitate local damselfish communities, dottybacks are able to overcome the predator avoidance behaviour in the juvenile fish they hunt.” Watch graphical abstract of research at Current Biology: Phenotypic Plasticity Confers Multiple Fitness Benefits to a Mimic.

Is the Human chin –its unique shape among the apes and other primates– an adaptation for chewing stress, speech, or a sexual ornament? Are chins spandrels —byproducts of selection operating elsewhere in the mandible or face? Are chins the product of genetic drift (some inbreeding among ancestral humans)? (03 17 2015).

Jaws Richard Kiel actor Bond Movies TWO

Richard Kiel in the role of “Jaws”

The Journal of Human Evolution has an article addressing theses questions. The findings can be summarized as follows: “Quantitative measures that capture the degree of chin expression were gathered from a sample of 123 primate taxa, and evolutionary rates associated with these measures were reconstructed in the primate phylogeny. The evolutionary rate associated with these measures was reconstructed to be far higher along the Homo tip (∼77 times greater than the primate background rate of evolution) than elsewhere in the primate phylogeny.” The results suggest that the human-chin morphology  is an exceptionally derived trait relative to other primates and a product of selection. — Note: the large chin in actor Richard Kiel was actually product of a syndrome called acromegaly.

Golden retrievers genetically predisposed to  cancer. Research has applications to understanding human cancer. From the cover of PLoS Genetics (02 02 2015).

Golden Retriver PLoS Genetics 2015PLoS Genetics summarizes Tonomura et al.’s work as follows: “Dogs are not only ‘man’s best friend’ for their loyalty, they are also the geneticist’s best friend. The artificial breed structure has created genetically isolated groups of dogs, with differential predisposition to diseases they share with us. This facilitates mapping of diseases relevant also to humans. Golden retrievers are predisposed to various cancers, including B-cell lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma. The genetic risk factors for these diseases in humans are still being elucidated. Surprisingly, golden retrievers have two nearby genetic loci with haplotypes predisposing to both diseases.” The complete article is available open access at PLoS Genetics.

Cartoon: Climate Change is a Hoax

Climate Change is a Hoax cartoon