General Electric versus the NSF

So, you may have seen the recent New York Times article about General Electric. Here are the key numbers: 14.2 billion dollars in profits globally in 2010, 5.1 billion of which came from the US; negative 3.2 billion in US taxes. That’s right, not only did they pay no taxes, they claimed at 3.2 billion dollar tax benefit. That’s billion, with a b.

Here’s something to put that in perspective:

And, of course, there’s the fact that Jeffrey Immelt, head of GE since Jack Welch stepped down, was appointed as the chair of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. What could possibly go wrong?

If you would like to embed this comic in your own blog, here’s the URL:

The best URL for sharing is:

Or, to view the comic in its natural habitat, go here.

If you want to feel more outraged and depressed by this, I recommend Tom Scocca’s post on the matter.

G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether, David Kocieniewski, New York Times, March 24, 2011.
NSF budget numbers from LiveScience.

Kin Selection: Nowak vs the world

So,  if you’re an evolutionary biologist, or really if you follow the biology literature at all, you have probably heard about the paper published last fall in Nature by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson. The paper claims that all theories based on kin selection and inclusive fitness are fundamentally flawed and unsupported by any empirical evidence.

Recently, responses to the paper were published in Nature, and the original article has been criticized on a number of counts. The controversy sparked by the paper has been covered journalistically by Carl Zimmer (and others, I’m sure).

I’ll just say that I am not really sure what the authors of the original article were hoping to accomplish. From my read, the article seems to reveal a rather disturbing lack of familiarity with a huge body of scientific literature from the past few decades. Either that, or it represents a rather disturbingly disingenuous attempt to misrepresent that huge body of scientific literature. I’m sure that there are other possible explanations, but I’m not coming up with them off the top of my head.

I also don’t know what the editors at Nature were thinking when they published this paper. Or, rather, I have some personal theories as to what they were thinking, which I am afraid do not reflect well on their competence, professionalism, or honesty.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I tend to side with the critics of the paper.

Anyway, there has already been a lot written about this subject, so I won’t write more. Rather, I thought that I would dramatize the situation using a few quotes and paraphrases from the debate, as well as my own opinions.

I hope that this is obvious, but just in case it is not, please keep in mind that the video is presented primarily for entertainment purposes. I have made an honest attempt to portray the spirit of the arguments accurately. However, let’s just say that it is possible that some of the nuance may have been lost.

For another thing, I have lumped together various criticisms, which has no doubt done some violence to the arguments that have been put forward. If you’re interested in the topic, I strongly encourage you to read the original article and the published responses. Citations and links are provided at the end of the post.

In the meantime, enjoy:

Like everything else on this blog, the video should be treated under creative commons. So, feel free to share this, or to embed the video into your own blog. Just don’t sell it.

Update: Now also on YouTube. That version I think will work better for embedding, if you want to share the video.

Update 2: I have added a follow-up post in which I try to provide more background context and attempt to explain why this paper generated such a large response from the evolutionary biology community.

Sources used include:

The original article:
Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010). The evolution of eusociality Nature, 466 (7310), 1057-1062 DOI: 10.1038/nature09205

Responses in blog form:
Jerry Coyne
More Jerry Coyne
Richard Dawkins

Published responses in nature:

Abbot, P., Abe, J., Alcock, J., Alizon, S., Alpedrinha, J., Andersson, M., Andre, J., van Baalen, M., Balloux, F., Balshine, S., Barton, N., Beukeboom, L., Biernaskie, J., Bilde, T., Borgia, G., Breed, M., Brown, S., Bshary, R., Buckling, A., Burley, N., Burton-Chellew, M., Cant, M., Chapuisat, M., Charnov, E., Clutton-Brock, T., Cockburn, A., Cole, B., Colegrave, N., Cosmides, L., Couzin, I., Coyne, J., Creel, S., Crespi, B., Curry, R., Dall, S., Day, T., Dickinson, J., Dugatkin, L., Mouden, C., Emlen, S., Evans, J., Ferriere, R., Field, J., Foitzik, S., Foster, K., Foster, W., Fox, C., Gadau, J., Gandon, S., Gardner, A., Gardner, M., Getty, T., Goodisman, M., Grafen, A., Grosberg, R., Grozinger, C., Gouyon, P., Gwynne, D., Harvey, P., Hatchwell, B., Heinze, J., Helantera, H., Helms, K., Hill, K., Jiricny, N., Johnstone, R., Kacelnik, A., Kiers, E., Kokko, H., Komdeur, J., Korb, J., Kronauer, D., Kümmerli, R., Lehmann, L., Linksvayer, T., Lion, S., Lyon, B., Marshall, J., McElreath, R., Michalakis, Y., Michod, R., Mock, D., Monnin, T., Montgomerie, R., Moore, A., Mueller, U., Noë, R., Okasha, S., Pamilo, P., Parker, G., Pedersen, J., Pen, I., Pfennig, D., Queller, D., Rankin, D., Reece, S., Reeve, H., Reuter, M., Roberts, G., Robson, S., Roze, D., Rousset, F., Rueppell, O., Sachs, J., Santorelli, L., Schmid-Hempel, P., Schwarz, M., Scott-Phillips, T., Shellmann-Sherman, J., Sherman, P., Shuker, D., Smith, J., Spagna, J., Strassmann, B., Suarez, A., Sundström, L., Taborsky, M., Taylor, P., Thompson, G., Tooby, J., Tsutsui, N., Tsuji, K., Turillazzi, S., Úbeda, F., Vargo, E., Voelkl, B., Wenseleers, T., West, S., West-Eberhard, M., Westneat, D., Wiernasz, D., Wild, G., Wrangham, R., Young, A., Zeh, D., Zeh, J., & Zink, A. (2011). Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09831

Boomsma, J., Beekman, M., Cornwallis, C., Griffin, A., Holman, L., Hughes, W., Keller, L., Oldroyd, B., & Ratnieks, F. (2011). Only full-sibling families evolved eusociality Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09832

Strassmann, J., Page, R., Robinson, G., & Seeley, T. (2011). Kin selection and eusociality Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09833

Ferriere, R., & Michod, R. (2011). Inclusive fitness in evolution Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09834

Herre, E., & Wcislo, W. (2011). In defence of inclusive fitness theory Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09835

And the response by Nowak et al.

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2011). Nowak et al. reply Nature, 471 (7339) DOI: 10.1038/nature09836

Well Thank God for THAT: Cloud Girlfriend

So, I sincerely hope that this is a real thing, because I am honestly beginning to think that it may be the last hope for **Name Redacted**.

Step 5: Disappoint your parents, but in a way that is likely to be different from any of the myriad ways you have disappointed them in the past.

Supposedly launching soon. They have a place where you can enter your e-mail, because, as they explain: “Due to high demand we are only able to accommodate a limited number of users to the site. Register early to get in line.”

Personally, I put it at 50/50 as to whether or not this is real, or just a setup for some sort of phishing scam. Either way, I’m almost certain that that giving them your e-mail will set you up for an ungodly amount of spam. So, unless you are having trouble finding anyone on the internet who is willing to sell you viagra, I would recommend against signing up at this stage.

How about this. If you heed my advice, and refrain from giving them your e-mail, but then find that when the service launches, they’ve already filled up, I will send you an message once a week asking if these jeans make me look fat.

via Geekologie

Update: My wife is worried that the last bit there might come of as misogynistic, although I would argue that it is meta. As in, I assume that this is the sort of cliche, misogynistic message that would constitute the bulk of the communications from a virtual girlfriend service.

Also, she says that yes, these jeans do make me look fat.

Well Thank God for THAT: Breastfeeding Doll

So, here’s the latest must-have Christmas gift for the parents who want to raise their daughters to believe that their only value to society is their ability to breed. Introducing Bebé Glotón. I’m going to deliberately refrain from employing Google Translate here and just say that it means “Gluttonous Baby” in, let’s say, Provençal.

Now, I should say that I’ve got no horse in the breastfeeding race. And, to be fair, as far as sex-role stereotypes that get reinforced by children’s toys go, this at least has a reasonable physiological basis.

The thing that really strikes me is how much this toy would . . . er . . . suck. Just look at the girl’s face as she is demonstrating feeding and then burping Gluttonous Baby. That look in her eyes is her pleading with her overbearing stage parents to please, please let her go play with a more entertaining toy, like maybe that stick on the ground that they walked by on the way to the studio.

Sketch Chair, or maybe SketchChair

So, here’s a cool thing. These folks at an outfit called Diatom have a project called SketchChair, maybe with a space, I’m not sure. They’re developing software that will allow you to design your own chair, and virtually test it for structural stability and comfort. Then, you can have it digitally fabricated and shipped to you. The software will be open source, with the aim of allowing designers to share and collaborate.

The other cool thing is that it is being crowd-funded through this outfit called Kickstarter. What Kickstarter does is collects funds to support creative projects like this one. They set a pledge goal and a time limit. If enough people pledge to support the project, they get the money. The pledges turn into donations only if the pledge goal is reached in the time limit.

The idea is that donors only actually give money if there are enough people giving to make the project go. These are donations, not investments, although it sounds like the project fundees typically offer something to donors. For instance, a donation of more than $300 to SketchChair will get you a chair.

If you’re interested in supporting SketchChair, you can check it out here.

Kickstarter funds all sorts of projects, from film to writing to dance to food. If you want to see if there is anything that tickles your fancy, you can check them out here. I’ve just stumbled across this, so if I find anything particularly cool, I’ll post it here.

Darwin Eats Cake: Red Queen

So, have you spend all day looking for a comic that integrates Red Queen evolutionary dynamics, commentary on the application of parsimony arguments in biology, and Newt Gingrich’s recent flip-flopping on Libya? No? Well, hopefully you’ll enjoy this anyway. For a more viewable image, see the original at Darwin Eats Cake.

URL for sharing:
URL for hotlinking or embedding:

For more on the flip-flop check out Think Progress or Weigel.

Van Valen, L (1973). A New Evolutionary Law Evolutionary Theory, 1, 1-30

One-legged man could kick your a$$

So, depending on your personality, this story will either be inspirational or humiliating. Me, I find being humiliated to be inspirational, so I get it both ways.

This weekend was the NCAA Wrestling championship, where the winner of the 125-pound weight class was Anthony Robles. Robles was born without a right leg.

Could Anthony Robles out-wrestle you with one hand tied behind his back? I’m going to say yes. Image via NBC Sports.

According to the AP story (also via NBC Sports), Robles “got the only takedown in the first period of the match and worked a pair of tilts to secure five back points,” which makes me realize that I know absolutely nothing about wrestling.