Rome, 2800 years of history – Great location for a scientific meeting

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C and Avelina Espinosa

We just visited Rome for the second time. Our first journey was back in 2010 when we traveled to Sicily, Rome, Florence and Pompeii before heading to the UK. But the last encounter with this imposing capital was, finally, what we always wanted: extensive, no rush and with enough opportunities to explore everything possible during three weeks in a 2800-year-old settlement.

As readers of EvoLiteracy know, we do not take vacations, but we explore Earth as much as we can within our academic schedules to attend scientific meetings. We never engage into “checklist traveling” (adding names of locations briefly visited) but rather dedicate quality time to experience –and learn about– each destination in detail. Time, however, is always a constraint.

Our primary reason for going to Rome was the ECOP-ISoP 2019 gathering or the “VIII European Congress of Protistology – International Society of Protistologists Joint Meeting” (July 28 to August 2). Avelina is Program Committee Chair of ISoP and oversees the academic planning and organization of the conference(s), including symposia and special events; local organizers materialize each meeting via specific committees. PDFs of the program (talks, poster sessions) can be downloaded from this LINK.

We attend the ISoP meetings yearly and have reported about them before: Vancouver (2018),  Prague (2017), Moscow (2016) and Seville (2015). Previous conferences have taken place in Banff (2014), Oslo (2012), Berlin (2011) and Kent-Canterbury (2010), which we have attended as well (no postings of those years, but see photography and science traveling during the past 15 years).

This time, the package of the ECOP-ISoP 2019 meeting included a flyer describing our book “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health” (2018), together with endorsements by Joan E. Strassmann (Washington University in St. Louis), Virginia P. Edgcomb (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and Joachim G. Frommen (University of Bern). Additional info about the book can be obtained from the publisher Cambridge Scholars.

Nowadays, we are getting used to presenting posters; they bring back memories of our student years when poster presentations were the main format available to us. Fun though. Here is what we shared at ECOP-ISoP 2019 (click on image for higher resolution). Note at the bottom that we highlight two of our cover-journal articles (2012 and 2019), and the book “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health”.

While exploring Rome, we walked 417,024 steps, equivalent to 209 km or 130 miles (about 10 km or 6.2 mi a day); we took 8,879 photos, of which 154 (1.7%) were shared on social media (Facebook and Twitter). Between the two of us, we lost 10 pounds, despite eating pizza daily. – Here are the most important locations (dots) at which we stopped to do something other than walking.

Below is a graphic account of our experience, before and after the ECOP-ISoP meeting. The images (more than 100) follow a chronological order of the sites visited. No doubt Rome is a great location for a scientific meeting, enjoy:

Above: the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, as seen from the Angel’s Castle.

Above: a closer look B&W of the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Above: colors at the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican [secular camera].

Above: colors inside the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican [secular camera].

Above: the main pulpit at the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican [secular camera].

Above: colors inside the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican [secular camera].

Above: the Pantheon [secular camera].

Above: Fontana di Trevi, the 5th most visited place in Rome after the Colosseum, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pantheon and Vatican Museums.

Above: Piazza Venezia… day

Above: Piazza Venezia… night.

Above: Fontana dell’Adriatico, Piazza Venezia.

Above: the imposing monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Venezia.

Above: another take of the imposing monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Venezia.

Above: up close, Piazza Venezia.

Above: the Castel Sant’Angel.

Above: Michael de Archangel at the Castel Sant’Angelo (on top of the castle).

Above: another take of Michael de Archangel at the Castel Sant’Angelo (inside the castle).

Above: the Sant’Angelo Bridge as seen from the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Above: pigeon photobombing at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Look at the St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

Above: through an opening, shots at the Vatican (this is what we wanted to show in the previous image before the pigeon photobombed it).

Above: impossible to not know what it is.

Above: ROME, monumental… beyond monumental.

Above: ROME, monumental… beyond monumental.

Above: ROME, monumental… beyond monumental.

Above: when PROTISTS meet ancient ROME. Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes (2018) made it to the Foro Romano…

Above: Colosseum from within…

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: just outside the Colosseum – Image One of Two – taken at the right place and time.

Above: just outside the Colosseum – Image Two of Two – taken at the right place and time; for this one, we went back to the Colosseum a few days later and looked for the exact spot to take the picture (different angle, of course).

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: Measuring the Evolution Controversy (our 2016 book) at the Vatican…

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: ROME, bellissima…

Above: ROME, bellissima…

Above: at the Palatine.

Above: …and the last one of the Colosseum (for this particular day).

Above: ROME, bellissima.

Above: QUESTIONS IN ROME (at the ECOP-ISoP 2019 meeting) – colleagues asked us a few questions about “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes” – (1) Are there alternative ways to order the book (meaning to make the purchase affordable)? The best option is to order it directly from the publisher. Another option is to ask your university library to purchase the book and have it at your campus. – (2) Is the book suitable for high schools? Short answer yes. Long answer, as we state in the book “offering over 200 figures and diagrams, this [book] will appeal to a broad audience, including researchers in academia [our first target audience: scientists], postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research undergraduates. Science writers and college educators will also find it informative and practical for teaching”. We know of two high school teachers that have gotten the book for their own use as reference for lectures. – (3) Do we sign copies of the book? Yes, if you are at ECOP-ISoP- Rome-2019, approach us with your copy and we will sign it.

Above: theistic evolutionists have a crush on this guy…

Above: water clock…

Above: there is symmetry in this image, and for a reason.

Above: Roma, bellissima… Ponte Fabricio.

Above: just outside the Pantheon.

Above: the Pantheon.

Above: Head of Saint Giovanni Battista at Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Above: Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori, even more spectacular than the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Above: Galileo Galilei by Tsung Dao Lee, Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Above: …and the outdoors of the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori, ROME… today’s walk [secular camera].

Above: we went back to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori for a few B&W and color shots – This monument rivals the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Above: we went back to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori for a few B&W and color shots – This monument rivals the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Above: we went back to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori for a few B&W and color shots – This monument rivals the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Above: ScooteRome…

Above: spectacular Rome, Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Rome, ancient…

Above: Rome, ancient…

Above: …and another basilica in ROME (impossible to miss them in every block) – Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, another competitor in beauty [secular camera].

Above: National Museum of the Venetian Palace.

Above: Giordano Bruno at the Campo Dei Fiori (where he was burned in 1600 for heresy).

Above: at Piazza Navona.

Above: mirror showing “the heavens” [figuratively, of course] at the Gesὺ Church in Rome [secular camera].

Above: Giordano Bruno… ROME, today’s walk – “…On February 8, 1600, when the death sentence was formally read to him, he addressed his judges, saying: ‘Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.’ Not long after, he was taken to the Campo de’ Fiori, his tongue in a gag, and burned alive…

Above: the SHHH paradox – “SHHH”… they tell you on loud speakers at the Vatican museums. The SHHH itself is louder than the noise made by hundreds of people visiting the exhibits. The SHHH is to show respect at the temples and for the deities that are always deaf.

Above: only Rome looks like this…

Above: we got great tickets to Noche Española with Plácido Domingo (row 13, center).

Above: Rodin at the Vatican…

Above: Egypt at the Vatican Museums…

Above: sarcophagus of Imhotep at the Vatican Museums…

Above: we found this Roman cat roaming around ancient Rome. It soon decided to pause, self-groom and sleep…

Above: woman on scooter and Rome…

Above: THOTH [Egypt 1300 – 1250 BC], a baboon, Vatican Museums.

Above: detail of oil on wood by Filippo Balbi 1855 at the spectacular Terme di Diocieziano.

Above: One of the “Colossal Animal Heads of the Michelangelo’s Cloister”.

Above: Socrates at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Above: we visited the Bioparco di Roma (the ZOO) and took some images. The zoo is quite good for education, with great signs and posted info about what is in the enclosures; a particular emphasis on animal behavior is evident in the posting (i.e. tips about what the animals do and what it means).

Above: under a fig tree…

Above: pygmy hippo.

Above: close up with a primate-cousin.

Above: reticulated giraffe…

Above: the story of Rome as told at the Bioparco di Roma (the Zoo) next to the wolves enclosure…

Above: a few more shots of reticulated giraffes at the Bioparco di Roma… Trilogy.

Above: a few more shots of reticulated giraffes (mom and offspring) at the Bioparco di Roma.

Above: and one more shots of reticulated giraffes at the Bioparco di Roma.

Above: a few more shots of reticulated giraffes at the Bioparco di Roma.

Above: Lowland Amazon tapirs nose-pointing at something [feeding time], Bioparco di Roma

Above: TAPIR TRIO – top: tongues in – bottom: tongues out… Bioparco di Roma…

Above: chimps feeding…

Above: this is what captivity can do to apes.

Above: an empire collapsed, then gravity took everything else down.

Above: the famous Loba Capitolina at the Capitolini.

Above: Marcus Aurelius at the Museum Capitolini.

Above: Bernini’s Medusa, Museum Capitolini.

Above: …and a fantastic mosaic made of marble… Museum Capitolini.

Above: it does rival any other best museum in the world… the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: Hercules at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: same spot, same time…

Above: the spectacular Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: another take of Centaur at the spectacular Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: and yet another take of Centaur at the spectacular Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Above: main door, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Above: inside details of Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Above: From Egypt to Rome…

Above: Jacob Wrestling With The Angel [Giacobbe e l’Angelo by Stefano Maderno] – Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: Lion (well, half of a lion) Gallerie Nazionale D’Arte Antica.

Above: BEE – ROME… Gallerie Nazionale D’Arte Antica.

Above: Monumento Celebrativo del “Bicentenario dei Carabinieri”. Imposing, we tried to give it a winter touch (Rome was 100-F-hot on that day).

Above: splendor of Latona e i figli by Domenico Pieratti (1600s) Gallerie Nazionale D’Arte Antica.

Above: Piazza della Repubblica.

Above: CLAUDIO… Emperor of Rome [Museo dell’Ara Pacis].

Above: Museo dell’Ara Pacis.

Above: shot of the Colosseum at dusk.

Above: “TRUMP supporters or Celtics fans”? – That was the question when purchasing the tickets to the Catacombs of San Sebastian (located Southeast of Rome’s downtown); apparently, a joke to anyone requesting info in American-English. We offered a simple answer “we are atheists stopping by.” – This is the original of Bernini’s 1679 The Salvator Mundi (restored 2006), spectacular work on marble, his last sculpture at age 82.

Above: The last shots of Rome – Palazzo della Consulta.

Above: FONTANA di TREVI – despite the thousands of people around, we elbowed ourselves a spot and took some shots of the Fontana, the 5th most popular site in Rome… arrivederci.

Above: BOSTON – back home and to conspiracy inferences that “the plane was not landing due to an arbitrary decision [by the Italian pilot] to take us somewhere else.” – In fact, as the pilot explained and it was obvious to see from the windows, there were very low clouds at ground level allowing visibility to only 1,000 feet (about 300 meters), unsafe for landing. We made it about an hour later, after flying in loops (identical in shape to the Circus Maximus in Rome) to make up time. The human mind is so prone to believing on anything but facts; and yes, it only takes one adamant passenger to trigger the rumor. ‒ EvoLiteracy © 2019

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New Review of “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Joachim “Jo” G. Frommen, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern, has written a review of our book “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health.” The article came out (as early view) in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology (JEUK-MIC). Before sharing details of Jo’s take on our work, here is an excerpt that captures his overall opinion:

This a highly timely and interesting book. People not being too familiar with microbiology will find it a fascinating and inspiring introduction into kin recognition in non-animal systems, which thereby challenges our thinking of underlying cognitive processes such as learning. Students of evolutionary biology will find it highly useful to read, for example, about the advent of multicellularity and sociality, leading to major transitions in evolution. Researchers in microbiology will appreciate a comprehensive summary of the field, with some additional dives into methodological details. Teachers will take advantage of the more than 120 detailed figures showing experimental setups, results and schematic diagrams, as well as of the great appendix linking to recent media resources that can be downloaded and included in lectures… This is a great book, which I can highly recommend.”

Well, first, thanks to Jo for a sharp and generous assessment. Avelina Espinosa (my coauthor) and I were quite pleased to see that Jo grasped the book precisely in the way we wrote it, plus the intention with which we put it together. We spent much time conceptualizing the chapters, their order and content, the illustrations and terminology boxes, the recapitulations of previous sections prior to “diving” deeper into more complex themes, and the didactic summaries at the end of each major subject.

Jo further summarizes the book as follows:

“…Chapter one (Kin recognition: Synopsis and the advent of protists models) sets the stage for the following chapters by explaining the most important terms and concepts of the kin recognition literature. It further highlights the importance of kin recognition in animals and introduces protists as promising model organisms. Chapter two (The genetics of kin recognition: from many cells to single cells) explains the genetic mechanisms of kin recognition (e.g. green beard effects) using red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and social ameba (Dictyostelium discoideum) as examples. Chapter three (Can protists learn phenotypic cues to discriminate kin?) introduces learning as possible nongenetic kin recognition mechanisms. While this chapter is intentionally rather speculative, it is highly inspiring at the same time when thinking about definitions of terms like learning or memory. Chapter four (Entamoeba clone-recognition experiments: morphometrics, aggregative behavior, and cell-signaling characterization) introduces one of the authors’ own study systems, and how it might help us understanding clone recognition. Although the book focuses mainly on kin recognition in protists, the authors devote almost 100 pages of chapter five (The prokaryote´s tale) to show the impact of relatedness on the evolution, ecology and pathogenicity of prokaryotes. By doing so, they largely increase the breadth and information content of the book and open it to a wider audience…

Indeed, Jo got it just right. We purposely dedicated a comprehensive chapter to kin discrimination/recognition in bacteria (most case studies) and Archaea (a few case studies). In fact, there is so much excellent research in prokaryotes that a book dedicated entirely to them should be compiled (not by us, but by somebody else).

Jo continues:

[click to enlarge]

…Chapter six (Protists´ clonality, kinship and pathogenicity) illuminates the gregarious and social behaviors of pathogenic protists like Plasmodium or Trypanosoma. In chapter seven (Micro-biogeography: kinship and social/spatial structure) the authors focus on the local and global distributions of various protist species, with a special focus on Becking’s Everything is Everywhere hypothesis. Chapter eight (Multicellular aggregations: from single cells to many cells) highlights the importance of understanding the multifarious levels of protists’ social organization and cooperation, when aiming to understand the evolution of multicellularity more generally, which is considered as one of the Major Transitions in Evolution. The short ninth chapter (Conclusions and future directions) eventually provides a brief summary of the book and suggests promising future research avenues for the study of kin recognition in protists…

Yes, we do suggest in the book some directions in which the field of kin discrimination/recognition could venture in the immediate and longer-term future, particularly now that unicellular organisms have been incorporated into research programs worldwide. We state, for example, that “…despite the academic progress made during the past two decades, the field of kin recognition in protists and other microbes is just getting started. For the immediate future, we predict a significant increase in studies on the genetics, evolution, behavior and health aspects of the cell-to-cell molecular mechanisms of communication, cooperation, facultative or permanent multicellular aggregations, as well as mathematical modeling on high-complexity organismal systems, and their interactions, for which microbes will generate the data central to the simulations.”

Jo makes a fair observation:

…As a grain of salt, I would have loved to see some more terminological strictness at some occasions. The field of kin recognition is full of semantic debates, often leading to confusion whenever researchers from different backgrounds come together. The same is also true for the concept of learning. Defining clear terms before opening the discussion would have been helpful to the reader, even if not everybody may agree on the definition itself. The authors acknowledge this mess of concepts and try to avoid the debate by using very broad definitions, which I agree are inclusive, but may be too broad to be useful at the same time. However, these are very minor shortcomings that reflect current debates in the field and do not diminish the scientific and scholarly value of this great book, which I can highly recommend.

Yes, as we noted in the book “…the field of kin recognition, has no consensus on definitions or proposed mechanisms, likely due to the vast diversity and complexity of life histories across organisms, and also because researchers use terminology depending on circumstances or preference…” We deliberately avoided the discussion of terms and the way they have been used by specialists in the field, a debate that goes back decades, and a topic that might require a separate review for comprehensive coverage. Terminology guides us and is central to scientific inquiry; but it can, occasionally, drag us back and prevent us from making progress, or even accepting the obvious, like “learning abilities” in microbes, which continue to be skeptically honored by scholars due to the customary deference for “high-cognition learning in humans” versus the “learning-like mechanisms” in other organisms. Research with microbes suggests that learning is ubiquitous in nature and that “unicells” sense stimuli coming from the environment, selectively react to chemosignals excreted by themselves or others, store information about such signals and retrieve it when needed (although, in our book we linked “potential learning” primarily to protists’ recognition/discrimination of close genetic relatives, kin).

In sum, Avelina and I thank Jo Frommen for his attentive and positive review of “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health.” ‒ EvoLiteracy © 2019

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Related Readings

Other Reviews of Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes

Book Website

Link to Book at publisher Cambridge Scholars

No, There Is Not “A” Grandeur In This View Of Life – Oh My Darwin!

“…As for the ‘a’ in the t-shirt, which echoes the pain of a tattoo gone wrong, well, there is not ‘a’ grandeur in this view of life, as per Darwin 1859 (TIES must now produce a clever errata t-shirt amending the misfortune). Neither science is ‘like magic but real,’ as also disseminated by TIES with fervor on Facebook. Nor is the theory of evolution, as presented by Sewell in his misguiding article shared by TIES ‘…a ‘necessary’ truth… not contingent on supporting evidence.’ Nor do ‘Sea Turtles Swim Against the Darwin Current,’ another nonsense from Evolution News that TIES contributed to set in motion in yet another post. — We closed our friendly alert [to TIES] with an ‘Oh My Darwin!!!'”

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

Typos and errors in scientific publications, or in any long text, are not rare. Even experienced copy editors of journals, magazines and books have their share of faults during volume production. That is why errata exist, to report “wrongs” and, if possible, amend them a posteriori. For example, in our two books, Measuring the Evolution Controversy: A Numerical Analysis of Acceptance of Evolution at America’s Colleges and Universities (2016, best seller 2017), as well as in the recent Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health (2018), we discovered mistakes after publication, even though the publisher and us copy edited and corrected the manuscripts numerous times. We posted the errata online (see Typos and Errors 2016 and 2018) and asked readers to help us spot additional mistakes. Future re-editions will be improved. But keep in mind that our 2016 book was a 198-page and 57,420-word manuscript; and the 2018 volume contained 139,142 words in 428 pages, including +200 figures/sub-figures and tables in each book and their captions (with statistical notation).

“I fully accept the evidence of evolution —including human evolution, but I have to question the grammar on the back of this jacket.”

Although the grammar-correction software available to publishers and authors are powerful enough to detect misspellings, incorrect use of verbs, word redundancy and syntax problems in a text, typos and errors continue to be our most unwanted companions. But errors can be small, sometimes trivial, others substantial, and a few we wish had never been made:

How about introducing error in one of Darwin’s most famous statements “there is grandeur in this view of life” (an eight-word quote from the last paragraph of On The Origin of Species… 1859) and print it on the back of a t-shirt [*] as “Evolution: There is a grandeur in this view of life” (our emphasis on the bold a)? Well, that is precisely what the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) did, a few weeks ago, in a promotional campaign to “Unlocking the Wonders of Life for Teachers and their Students,” as printed on the front of the t-shirt (in reality, a long-sleeve sweatshirt).

I fully accept the evidence of evolution —including human evolution, but I have to question the grammar on the back of this jacket” commented one of TIES followers (TP) on Facebook. His wit received likes and smiles [*]. But another (MW) was moved: “Every time I read this I think, such profound words from such a humble man. Makes me shiver every time.”

TIES mission is to “…familiarize interested middle school science teachers with the concepts of natural selection, common ancestry, and diversity in order for them to confidently cover the topics in their classrooms and fulfill their curriculum requirements.” TIES also clarifies that “a middle school science teacher will typically cover many areas of science within his/her annual curriculum, including earth science, physical science, and life science.” And remarks that “it is virtually impossible to become an expert in all of these areas, at least not initially.” Sounds reasonable, however, misquoting Darwin’s ultra famous statement “there is grandeur in this view of life” is a biggie; it denotes cluelessness at best.

“Are we making a big deal out of a silly t-shirt? The ‘a’ in Darwin’s old saying? Below we explain why the ‘a’ symbolizes a pattern of missteps, and there is nothing trivial about them.”

A Google search of Darwin’s phrase gives you 19.5 million hits in 0.28 seconds, at 10:18 AM of a Tuesday in Northeastern United States. In our search, hit number ten corresponded to a 2009 Richard Dawkinsvideo precisely titled “There is grandeur in this view of life,” an impeccable talk delivered at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Burbank, California.

Are we making a big deal out of a silly t-shirt? The “a” in Darwin’s old saying? After all, it just resembles misquoting Genesis 3 and going to press with “…Let there be light: and there was electricity.” Below we explain why the “a” symbolizes a pattern of missteps, and there is nothing trivial about them.

TIES and Dawkins are connected directly since the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science is part of the Center for Inquiry (CFI, a pro secularism organization), which, in turn, is an amalgamation partner of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS). In fact, in 2016, CFI merged with RDFRS. Both organizations originally explained in their websites the rationale (here is the link to F.A.Q. for CFI-RDFRS Merger, but see note below): “…CFI and RDFRS have similar objectives and it makes eminent good sense to combine their resources. CFI’s stated mission is to foster a secular society based on reason, science, and humanist values, and RDFRS shares that goal. And CFI shares the stated mission of RDFRS: to remove the influence of religion in science education and public policy and eliminate the stigma that surrounds atheism and non-belief…” [Note that CFI has a brand new website and this statement from 2016 no longer appears, but in the now-cyber-space-fossil-record CFI had also stated “…By combining their talents, brainpower, and resources, they (CFI-RDFRS) now become the largest freethought organization in the United States. As a result of this merger, they will have greater success in advancing their shared mission. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science will continue as a division of the Center for Inquiry…”].

“Anyone following the evolution wars must have a grasp of the historic players on both sides: evolution versus creationism and its morphs.”

Our discontent with TIES, which has been mounting up for a while (e.g. its ambivalence to openly and up front endorse secularism in science education when interacting with teachers —which is a concern to us, as researchers of the evolution controversy from the perspective of the incompatibility hypothesis and as science educators), reached lava-flow level this past Memorial-Day weekend after TIES posted on its Facebook page a link to a pseudo-science and pseudo-philosophy article by Granville SewellWhy Evolution is More Certain than Gravity,” an attractive yet impostor heading. TIES engaged its Facebook followers with the bait “check this out” and soon the post received +40 likes and 12 shares [*]. Whoever did this at TIES-Facebook had no idea, or forgot, that Evolution News & Science Today, the platform where the Sewell blurb was unleashed, was a news outlet for the Discovery Institute and its Intelligent Design disciples, the writers at Evolution News.

Anyone following the evolution wars must have a grasp of the historic players on both sides: evolution versus creationism and its morphs (design creationism or intelligent design, theistic evolution, creation science, evolutionary creation, young-earth creationism YEC, or BioLogos, all proponents of proximate or ultimate supernatural causation in evolution, or full deniers of evolution, like YEC). And the 2005 Dover-Pennsylvania trial on ID (Tammy Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al.) should be in the memory of those who profess the proper teaching of evolution in America’s classrooms: ID lost in court 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.”

We immediately alerted our Facebook community that TIES had made that mistake (although some educators had already shared the Sewell article without digesting it; we inferred they did it after trusting TIES and assuming that TIES knew what was being disseminated on social media), and copied Bertha Vázquez, TIES Director, on our post (one of us, GPC, did it). We stated that “…we hope she [Bertha] acts on this immediately and instructs her staff to stop making mistakes like this…” We also referred to the “a” in the t-shirt misquoting Darwin as another bout of inattention in TIES’ record (made public weeks earlier when promoting the slogan Unlocking the Wonders…), and added “…if the excuse is that the post [Sewell’s article] just aimed at generating discussion, well there are hundreds of topics available in the news that can be used for the purpose, rather than sharing, without much thought, a ‘check this out’ article written under the umbrella of INTELLIGENT DESIGN, DESIGN CREATIONISM.” We closed our friendly alert with an “Oh My Darwin!!!” [*]. Bertha did not respond, but the TIES’ post was later deleted. Good for TIES and its Director; amending is what science educators ought to do when erring.

“If there is anything that we remember about our first face-to-face exposure to Richard Dawkins, as graduate students back in the 1990s, is that Richard never tolerated brainlessness or sloppiness in science. — We want TIES to succeed, as much as Dawkins’ brave legacy to prevail.”

TIES states in its Facebook “purpose,” that it “…provides busy educators [our emphasis], homeschooling parents, and curious science lovers with an easily accessible online version of our professional development events and other helpful resources…” Hopefully, our observations to TIES and its Director help those in charge to improve their path of action and honor the association with the prominent RDFRS brand, and with Dawkins himself. We want TIES to succeed, as much as Dawkins’ brave legacy to prevail.

If there is anything that we remember —and we remember a lot— about our first face-to-face exposure to Richard Dawkins, as graduate students back in the 1990s, is that Richard never tolerated brainlessness or sloppiness in science. His talks then, as much as now, were a delight, challenging, inspirational and transformative to colleagues and scientists-to-be. And his sharp, unyielding approach to outreaching the public by conveying the plain scientific truth, the power of evidence and nothing else to engage-bait the skeptics of evolution or give them the impression of harmony between reality and faith, influenced our careers —and deeply— as researchers and evolution/science communicators.

TIES, a fairly new association of vibrant educators, has a unique opportunity to play a different, courageous and original role in public outreach in matters of evolution and science. Fill in the available niche to educating teachers and the public with no stoppers of thought or restrains on logic; and without, as Dawkins often puts it, “bending over backwards” in attempts to finding harmony between science and belief (i.e. paracreationism, still prevalent among science educators in the US). As progeny of the hybrid CFI-RDFRS, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science must also contribute to “remove the influence of religion in science education and public policy and eliminate the stigma that surrounds atheism and non-belief,” and do it so explicitly that teachers and the public know —from the beginning, to the middle and to the end of an interaction with TIES— that they are dealing with a pro-secularism organization committed to “question and challenge the extraordinary claims of religion, pseudoscience, and the paranormal” (goals that are central to the CFI mission, the conceptual umbrella over TIES).

All statistics suggest that the American youth is heading toward a more science-based approach to life and living (e.g. Pew Research science and religion; see also Evolution and the Upcoming Challenges of a Predictable Landscape). Thus, TIES must lead the reason and science debate that projects science educators to the future, rather than inaugurate its journey by experimenting with outreach strategies already entertained by the evolution-and-faith accommodationists of the past.

“We wonder why TIES-Facebook is captivated by the writings of the very Dawkins’ adversaries. Is TIES-Facebook aware of how anti-evolution internet memes become viral in social media via blind sharing? BTW, we take for granted that TIES-Facebook knows who coined the term meme.” 

As for the “a” in the t-shirt, which echoes the pain of a tattoo gone wrong, well, there is not “a” grandeur in this view of life, as per Darwin 1859 (TIES must now produce a clever errata t-shirt amending the misfortune). Neither science is “like magic but real” (despite its 665 million hits on Google), as also disseminated by TIES with fervor on Facebook (the fact is that science is like science and magic is an illusion). Nor is the theory of evolution, as presented by Sewell in his misguiding article shared by TIES “…a ‘necessary’ truth not contingent on supporting evidence.” Nor do “Sea Turtles Swim Against the Darwin Current,” another nonsense from Evolution News that TIES contributed to set in motion in yet another post (May 22, 2018), and about which evolutionary biologist and philosopher of science Kirk Fitzhugh commented “You do realize that EvolutionNews is a mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute and intelligent design?” Yet, TIES gave Kirk a like and kept the post; thus, validating it [*]!

But, in hindsight, that is not all. On April 19, 2018, TIES shared [*] “Cambrian Explosion Shrapnel Still Hitting Evolutionary Scenarios” (the article was from March 28, 2018), a potpourri of statements amassed by the Evolution News staff in which the Cambrian proliferation of life forms was mocked via recycling ID’s favorite smoke grenades: the late “bacterial flagellum” (which ID still believes was designed by a Designer as an “irreducibly complex” structure) and the “blind-Darwinian-evolution analogy” twisted —ID-style—  to invalidate Dawkins’ 1986 The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (a fantastic read!). We wonder why TIES-Facebook is captivated by the writings of the very Dawkins’ adversaries. Is TIES-Facebook aware of how anti-evolution internet memes become viral in social media via blind sharing? BTW, we take for granted that TIES-Facebook knows who coined the term meme.

And for the busy passionate and curious science lovers, we recommend to seriously explore The Extended Phenotype (1982), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009), as well as The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (2011). We are not ignoring The Selfish Gene (1976), which we read as undergraduates in the 1980s (and continue to cite in our academic papers A, B), since those aware of Richard Dawkins “the author” —or his contributions to evolutionary biology— often assert to have read it. — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

* For supplementary materials “[*]” to this article, go to EvoLiteracy-Supp-06-07-2018

Contact info: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com  Avelina Espinosa aespinosa@rwu.edu — Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @gpazymino  GPC-Facebook — @AvelinaEspinosa  AE-Facebook.

Related Articles

Evolution: Is There a Controversy?

Evolution and the Upcoming Challenges of a Predictable Landscape

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation

Darwin’s Skepticism about God

Evolution Wars: Debunk II

 

Typos and Errors – Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes

Last Update: May 31, 2018

In this post —to be updated with alerts about typos and/or errors that we get to identify in Kin Recognition Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health— readers will have the opportunity to learn about such cases as colleagues and readers help us spot mistakes. The book was released officially by Cambridge Scholars Publishing on April 1, 2018. The manuscript was, of course, proof-read numerous times before it went to press, but it shall not be unusual to identify mistakes that were made during the preparation of the text (139,142 words in 428 pages), the formatting of more than 200 data figures, maps, tables and explanatory boxes, and the revision of the proofs and statistical notation. We will continue to improve the book in future editions. – GPC

ABOUT THE BOOK – Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes can be ordered directly from Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 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.

Typos and Errors Updates

Update: May 31, 2018

Page 86, bottom paragraph, line twelve, reads “…scatter…” It should read “…scattered…”

Page 94, top paragraph, line eight, reads “…M. fulvus strain (member of recognition Group C)…” It should read “…(… Group D)…”

Page 95, center paragraph, line one, reads “…rod-shaped bacteria…” It should read “…bacterium…”

Page 115, center paragraph, line three, reads “…contact-dependent grown inhibition…” It should read “…growth inhibition…”

Page 119, third paragraph, line five, reads “…free-living bactera…” It should read “…bacteria…”

Page 140, top paragraph, line nine, reads “…sources (cheaters)…” It should read “…resources…”

Page 170, top paragraph, line one, reads “…set or recognition loci…” It should read “…set of…”

Page 204, top paragraph, line six, reads “…M8-haplotype 8…” It should read “…M8-haplotype 2…”

Page 206, top paragraph, line four, reads “…M8-haplotype 8…” It should read “…M8-haplotype 2…”

Page 218, Fig. 6.12, the labeling of gene “…Pft1…” should read “…Rft1…”

Page 294, center paragraph, line six, reads “…single cells as show in...” It should read “…shown...”

Page 304, top paragraph, line ten, reads “…Papua New Guinea N = 99...” It should read “…N = 21...”

Page 323, bottom paragraph, line thirteen, reads “…turining into growth-arrested...” It should read “…turning...”

Page 371, top paragraph, line eighteen, reads “…via de apical...” It should read “…via the apical...”

Page 371, bottom paragraph, line eight, reads “…as show in the cross section...” It should read “…shown...”

Page 372, bottom paragraph, line eight, reads “…not pasimonious...” It should read “…parsimonious...”

Page 407, center of paragraph, line four, reads “…ST often leaded to clonality.” It should read “…often led...”

Page 408, second paragraph, line twelve, reads “…discoideum, illustrated that allorecognition…” It should read “…demonstrated that allorecognition...”

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

Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes is the first volume (428-pp hardback) dedicated entirely to the genetics, evolution and behavior of cells capable of discriminating and recognizing taxa (other species), clones (other cell lines) and kin (as per gradual genetic proximity). It covers the advent of microbial models in the field of kin recognition; the polymorphisms of green-beard genes in social amebas, yeast and soil bacteria; the potential that unicells have to learn phenotypic cues for recognition; the role of clonality and kinship in pathogenicity (dysentery, malaria, sleeping sickness and Chagas); the social and spatial structure of microbes and their biogeography; and the relevance of unicells’ cooperation, sociality and cheating for our understanding of the origins of multicellularity.

Offering over 200 figures and diagrams, this work will appeal to a broad audience, including researchers in academia, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research undergraduates. Science writers and college educators will also find it informative and practical for teaching – BOOK website. ‒ Authors: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa.

How to cite the book:

Paz-y-Miño-C, G., and A. Espinosa. 2018. Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health (428 pp). Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom. — ISBN-13: 978-1-5275-0764-7 — ISBN-10: 1-5275-0764-5 — BOOK website. — Read Reviews

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

Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health

New BOOK 2018 — “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes” covers the advent of microbial models in the field of kin recognition; the polymorphisms of green-beard genes in social amebas, yeast and soil bacteria; the potential that unicells have to learn phenotypic cues for recognition; the role of clonality and kinship in pathogenicity (health); the social and spatial structure of microbes and their biogeography; and the relevance of unicells’ cooperation, sociality and cheating for our understanding of the origins of multicellularity.

Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes is the first volume (428-pp hardback) dedicated entirely to the genetics, evolution and behavior of cells capable of discriminating and recognizing taxa (other species), clones (other cell lines) and kin (as per gradual genetic proximity). It covers the advent of microbial models in the field of kin recognition; the polymorphisms of green-beard genes in social amebas, yeast and soil bacteria; the potential that unicells have to learn phenotypic cues for recognition; the role of clonality and kinship in pathogenicity (dysentery, malaria, sleeping sickness and Chagas); the social and spatial structure of microbes and their biogeography; and the relevance of unicells’ cooperation, sociality and cheating for our understanding of the origins of multicellularity.

Offering over 200 figures and diagrams, this work will appeal to a broad audience, including researchers in academia, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research undergraduates. Science writers and college educators will also find it informative and practical for teaching – BOOK website. ‒ Authors: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa.

Endorsements

“New theories predict phenomena we see only when we know to look. A stunning example of this is kin recognition, predicted by Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness. This book is a rich treatment of kin recognition and discrimination in the microbial world, made particularly accessible by a wonderful collection of diagrams and illustrations. Anyone interested in fascinating new stories of how microbes treat their kin should read this book.” ‒ Joan E. Strassmann, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis.

“Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa have produced a real gem! Anyone interested in the evolution of life on Earth from any perspective would find this a great read. The authors beautifully synthesize, for the first time, the historical literature (including their own considerable contributions) on taxa-, clone-, and kin-discrimination/recognition in unicellular eukaryotes (protists) and other microbes. They contribute their own observations and insights, as well as ability to place what is known about the genetics, behavioral and chemical aspects of kin recognition into a balanced evolutionary perspective. The carefully-chosen case studies, definitions of terms, and summaries provided in each chapter result in a book that is accessible to a wide range of readers; a valuable resource for experts in the field, as well as students and interested non-experts looking for a stimulating and very thought-provoking volume.” ‒ Virginia P. Edgcomb, Associate Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Book Information and Content

Authors: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa. — Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom, 2018 — Format: 15 x 21 cm (6 x 8.5 inches), 428 pages (hardback), 200+ scientific figures. — Subjects: genetics, evolution, behavior, protists/protozoa, phylogenetics, biogeography, organismal biology.

The volume can be ordered directly from the publisher Cambridge ScholarsBOOK website.

For a PDF sample of the first 16 pages of the book go to View Extract. See also Read Reviews.

Acknowledgements (vii) — Preface (viii – xiii)

Chapter One – Kin Recognition: Synopsis and the Advent of Protists Models (13 pp). — The Advent of Protists Models. — Fig. 1.1 and Table 1.1. — Box 1.1 Essential kin-recognition terminology. — Box 1.2 Darwin and the puzzle of the sterile social insects. — Box 1.3 Hamilton and the concepts of fitness. — References.

Chapter Two – The Genetics of Kin Recognition: From Many Cells to Single Cells (16 pp). — Figs. 2.1 to 2.6 (figures include subfigures). — Box 2.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — Box 2.2 FLO genes and flocculation in yeast. — Box 2.3 The tgrB1 and tgrC1 genes in Dictyostelium discoideum. — References.

Chapter Three – Can Protists Learn Phenotypic Cues to Discriminate Kin? (34 pp). — Association, Phenotype Matching and Kin-detection. — Conclusion. — Figs. 3.1 to 3.9 (figures include subfigures). — Box 3.1 Jennings and The Psychology Of A Protozoan. — Box 3.2 Error-correction in simulated mate-choice trials in the heterotrich ciliate Spirostomum ambiguum. — References.

Chapter FourEntamoeba Clone-Recognition Experiments: Morphometrics, Aggregative Behavior, and Cell-Signaling Characterization (20 pp). — Morphometrics. — Aggregative behavior. — Cell-signaling Characterization. — Summary of Results and Conclusions. — Figs. 4.1 to 4.6 (figures include subfigures), and Table 4.1. — Box 4.1 Methods to culture amebas in the laboratory, measure them individually and in clusters, assess their aggregative behavior, and characterize their cell-signaling secretions. — References.

Chapter Five – The Prokaryotes’ Tale (103 pp). — Myxobacteria. — Bacillus. — Burkholderia. — Escherichia. — Kin vs. Kind. — Proteus, Pseudomonas, Vibrio, Agrobacterium and Other Prokaryotes with Discrimination Abilities. — Quorum Sensing and Kinship. — Biofilms and Kinship. — Prokaryotic Multicellular Aggregations. — Kinship, Spatial Structure and Micro-Sociogeography. — Conclusions. — Figs. 5.1 to 5.31 (figures include subfigures), and Table 5.1. — Box 5.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — Box 5.2 Kind discrimination and kind selection. — References.

Chapter Six – Protists’ Clonality, Kinship and Pathogenicity (45 pp). — Plasmodium. — Trypanosoma and Its Social Migration. — Conclusions. — Figs. 6.1 to 6.13 (figures include subfigures). — Box 6.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — References.

Chapter Seven – Micro-Biogeography: Kinship and Social/Spatial Structure (129 pp). — Coenochloris and Chlamydomonas. — Oxyrrhis. — Pseudo-nitzschia, Thalassiosira, Skeletonema and High(er)-Taxa Community Analyses. — Dictyostelium (social amebas) and Meriderma. — Tetrahymena. — Plasmodium: falciparum versus vivax. — Trypanosoma: brucei versus vivax versus cruzi. — Conclusions. — Figs. 7.1 to 7.43 (figures include subfigures), and Table 7.1. — Box 7.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — Box 7.2 The everything is everywhere (EiE) hypothesis. — Box 7.3 Scenarios of clone-clone discrimination in social ameba. — References.

Chapter Eight – Multicellular Aggregations: From Single Cells to Many Cells (35 pp). — Experimental Evolution of Multicellularity in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. — Aggregative Multicellularity in Dictyostelium. — Relatedness, Cheating, and Genetic-Conflict Resolution. — Conclusions. — Figs. 8.1 to 8.7 (figures include subfigures). — Box 8.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — References.

Chapter Nine – Conclusions and Future Directions (21 pp). — “…This work is the first in which taxa-, clone- and kin-discrimination/recognition in unicellular eukaryotes (protists) and other microbes is organized from a historical perspective (i.e. the advent of protists and microbial models in the field of kin recognition; Chapters One and Five). We discuss(ed): the genetics of kin discrimination/recognition in unicellular organisms, including green-beard-gene polymorphisms in social amebas, yeast and bacteria (Chapters Two and Five); the potential that microbes have to learn phenotypic cues during socio-sexual encounters and use such decoded information adaptively in behavioral responses (Chapter Three); the exchange of chemical signals, often released into the environment, and used for taxa-, clone- or kin-discrimination/recognition in amebas, ciliates and soil bacteria (Chapters Three, Four and Five); the relevance of clonality and kinship for pathogenicity, particularly in Entamoeba, Plasmodium and Trypanosoma, and for biofilm formation in the bacteria Escherichia, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus and Vibrio (Chapters Four, Five and Six); the correlations between kinship, social structure, spatial distribution and micro-biogeography at local, regional and continental scales, as well as at microscopic levels (Chapters Five and Seven); the relevance of protists’ and other microbes’ cell aggregations, cooperation, sociality and cheating (or avoidance of it) for our understanding of the origins and evolution of multicellularity (Chapters Five and Eight); and the directions that the field of kin-discrimination/recognition shall take in the future now that microbes are increasingly being studied —under such perspective— in the laboratory and field (Chapter Nine)…” — Fig. 9.1. — References.

Appendix A Figures’ Notes and Sources (5 pp). — Appendix B Media Resources (6 pp). — About the Authors (1 p).

Book citation — Paz-y-Miño-C, G., and A. Espinosa. 2018. Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health (428 pp). Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom. — ISBN-13: 978-1-5275-0764-7 — ISBN-10: 1-5275-0764-5 — BOOK website. — Read Reviews.

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.

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

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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.