Category Archives: sex

Balter Provides Some Background on Why Science Magazine Fired Him

Yesterday we learned that Michael Balter had been fired by Science magazine, and that it had something to do with his article last month on sexual harassment in academia. Today, he has published his promised blog post in which he has provided some additional background.

Based on the additional details he provides, it sounds like it was a combination of a couple of things.

First, a historical pattern of not being sufficiently deferential to the higher-ups. Particularly troubling was this tidbit:

I’ve already talked above about the culture at AAAS that allowed four colleagues to be fired precipitously in 2014, and will not elaborate on that here–except to say that just as I was beginning the Brian Richmond investigation, one of my editors asked me to delete a key blog post about that episode in which I criticized our Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt for parroting the party line put out by former AAAS CEO Alan Leshner. I declined to engage in this sanitizing of the historical record, not least because I consider that episode to be one of the proudest moments of my life. It’s not often that one gets to put one’s career on the line for something one believes in, and I have no regrets.

Second, it sounds like the editors, or at least some of them, were never fully on board:

But it is important to note that Science did not jump on the story when we first found out about the allegations concerning Richmond last August. There was discussion about whether we should focus on this one person, about whether Richmond and his alleged actions were important enough to write a story about, and related issues. I don’t think my editors will contest the fact that I pushed the hardest for us to do a story; but even after the Geoff Marcy sexual harassment case broke at Berkeley, and the astronomer was forced to resign, there was still a great deal of ambivalence about whether the Richmond case was newsworthy.

Balter seems to suggest that Science‘s reluctance was motivated primarily by an excess of caution — fear of lawsuits, and I’m sure that was part of the story.

But it is also important to keep in mind that Science is one of the most prominent mouthpieces of the scientific establishment. That’s one of the things that made the original article so powerful and important.

That’s not to say that the scientific establishment is pro-sexual harassment per se. But, the fact is that power, including sexual power, over young people has long been one of the implicit perks of success in academia. Some people exploit that power, and some don’t, but giving away power is rarely a high priority.

I’m not arguing for a conspiracy here. It’s just that the people closely associated with a publication like Science, whether as editors, or publishers, or authors, or journalists, are people who have risen to the top in the current system — often with good cause. But it is natural for them to be wary of things that challenge the status quo.

Natural, just not admirable.

As Balter notes, it will be interesting to hear what, if anything, Science says publicly about this. In the meantime, the good news is that there’s an excellent science journalist out there with some time on his hands. You should hire him.

Update: AAAS has issued this statement:

Michael Balter was provided notice on March 10, 2016 that his contract as a freelance writer for Science magazine was being discontinued. Mr. Balter has written many stories for Science‘s news section, including one published February 9, 2016 on a sexual misconduct case.

Science editors stand by the February 9, 2016 story as published. The goal of editing was to ensure that the story was both powerful and fair.

AAAS remains committed to providing leadership on stopping sexual harassment in science and empowering women in STEM fields.

Which, you know, okay.

Science Magazine Fires Michael Balter, Who Wrote That Sexual Misconduct Article

About a month ago, Science Magazine published an excellent long article on a sexual misconduct case involving Brian Richmond, the Curator of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History. The article framed the case in the context of the recent rash of high-profile misconduct cases at top universities and the culture of harassment throughout academia.

[Aside: If you’re an academic who is struggling to figure out when your behavior does or does not constitute harassment, I wrote this handy guide for you.]

It’s an infuriating issue, in part because it is typically so difficult to convince people in positions of authority to take it seriously. So, this very serious treatment in one of the flagship science journals seemed like a promising development, maybe even an indication that we — the academic community — were turning a corner of sorts.

Then, today, Michael Balter, the author of that article, announced on twitter that Science had fired him.

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Balter has promised a blog post to explain the details, but it sounds like yes, it was related to that article. Specifically, he says that his firing stemmed from conflicts in the run-up to the publication of the article, where he pushed back hard against the editors in order to not “water down” the article.

Update: Balter’s blog post is now available, as is my follow up.

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Hard to imagine what Science was thinking here. The only two scenarios I can make work in my head are 1) he really pissed the editors off, and was basically fired for insubordination, or 2) Science has been getting flack from somewhere, and had to appease someone. Presumably someone who does not

This little tidbit makes number 2 seem more likely

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Very much looking forward to that explanatory blog post — as well as whatever Science has to say for themselves.

A Field Test for Identifying Appropriate Sexual Partners in Academia

Last week’s issue of Science included an article on yet another case of sexual harassment in academia — this time in Physical Anthropology. This case involves a research assistant who claims that her supervisor at the American Museum of Natural History, Brian Richmond, sexually assaulted her at a conference in Italy. I won’t go into the details here, but I would encourage you to read the excellent article by Michael Balter.  The good news is that, the response of the institutions involved, and the broader field, seems to have been pretty appropriate, despite the fact that Richmond is a prominent member of the field.

Incidents like this typically happen in the absence of third-party witnesses, and we wind up with nothing to go on but the statements of the accuser and accused. This provides room for rationalization by the morons who reflexively defend anyone in a position of authority. And it leaves the rest of us (trained as we have been by political “journalism”) to assume that the truth must lie somewhere in between. And often — though perhaps not in these most recent cases — that uncertainly provides universities with an excuse for not taking substantive action against prominent (and well funded) faculty.

With that in mind, I think it’s worth looking at Richmond’s side of the story. From Balter’s piece:

Richmond, who was also at the meeting, has vigorously denied the accusations in a statement to Science and in email responses. (He declined to be interviewed in person or by telephone.) The encounter in the hotel room, he wrote, was “consensual and reciprocal,” adding that “I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

The piece also describes a long-term pattern of behavior by Richmond at the Koobi Fora Field School in Kenya, which led to his resignation from his role as an instructor there. Again, Richmond’s side of the story:

Richmond notes in his statement to Science that before the incident in Italy, “there had never been a complaint or report against me throughout my career,” including from students at the field school. He stresses that he “voluntarily resigned my affiliation” with the field school, and explained in an email that he hoped his resignation “would help address the anger Wood reported to me” from those accusing him of inappropriate behavior.

Richmond also says that his relationships with female researchers were consensual. Nevertheless, he says in his statement, “I take full responsibility for exercising poor judgment in the past by mixing my professional and personal lives, including having consensual affairs, and I have changed my thinking and my behavior. I am deeply distressed to learn that I have upset the women involved and colleagues in my field. I regret that I was not sensitive to how my academic position could impact the dynamics of consensual relationships.”

Here’s the thing that I don’t understand. Even if we assume that the truth is exactly Richmond’s version of events, his behavior was wildly inappropriate in a way that should be obvious to anyone who does not have a vested interest in perpetuating a culture of harassment and exploitation in academia.

I mean, it’s great that he now understands that “mixing [his] professional and personal lives” is a bad idea and that his “academic position could impact the dynamics of consensual relationships”. But there is no excuse for his not having understood these things before. It’s just not that complicated.

Here’s the rule: When you have substantial power over someone, don’t hit on them.

If you do, best case scenario, whatever happens between you is tainted by the fact that you can’t be sure if they’re really into you. Worst case scenario, you don’t care if they’re really into you, which puts you somewhere on a scale that runs between “manipulative creep” and “rapist”.

So how do you know if you’ve got substantial power over someone? Well, if you’re Curator of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History, you sure as hell have a lot of power over a research assistant who works for you. When you’re a prominent anthropologist, you sure as hell have a lot of power over young anthropology students attending a field school in Kenya. But what about the rest of us?

The Power of Destruction

Academia is hierarchical, perhaps irrevocably so. Senior academics have power over junior academics, because academic careers depend on connections and recommendations. Moreover, an academic career can easily be derailed by a phone call from the right person. As Paul Muad’Dib says, “The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it.”

Kyle MacLachlan Dune.jpg

It doesn’t matter that you would never destroy someone’s career just because they spurned your advances. If you could — or if they perceive that you could — the power dynamic is in there. And that academic power structure exists in addition to all of the power structures of society — the ones based on gender and race and age and socioeconomic status and everything else. You have somewhat less “power of destruction” over, say, a white male student whose parents are both professors at your university. You have more over a minority female student whose family lives in poverty in a third-world country, whose English is not great, and whose visa will be revoked if she leaves grad school.

To be clear, you should not sleep with either of those students. But the extent of your ability to threaten, coerce, and manipulate is very different in the two cases. Or rather, there is a big difference in the extent to which any advances on your part can not fail to be perceived as coercive and threatening.

A Field Test for Identifying Appropriate Sexual Partners in Academia

I’m going to assume that I’ve already alienated the remorseless sexual predators, and that if you’re still reading, you’re someone who wants to do the right thing, that you don’t want to exploit your power and reputation. But even with the best of intentions, it can be hard to tell where exactly the line should be.

The problem is that power differentials are often invisible to the people holding the power. To the extent that they do see their power, they feel entitled to it, and probably view themselves as benevolent dictators who would never abuse it. That makes it all too easy to ignore, or rationalize away the hazards of a sexual encounter with a student, employee, or junior colleague.

These issues are always matters of degree, and the right answer may depend on the details of the situation in a way that can be captured only very approximately by rules like “no relationships between a faculty member and a student in their department”.

I’d like to propose a thought experiment that you can deploy when you find yourself asking, “Should I hit on this person?”

Imagine that this junior person in your field — maybe a grad student or a postdoc — made a completely false allegation against you. You’ve never even been alone in a room together, but they accuse you of sexual assault. Maybe they’re just a pathological liar. You’re the victim here, but you feel a moral responsibility to make sure that this person doesn’t wind up in a position where they have authority over other people. Because you’re a hero. If that were to happen, could you stop an unsuspecting department from hiring them?

If you hypothetically could do this, then you have no business getting involved with this person — or anyone else with whom you have a similar relationship.

For fans of the mixed metaphor: If you insist on shitting where you eat, pick on someone your own size.

If we’re talking about a student, postdoc, research assistant, etc., who is under your subordinate, you absolutely have this power of destruction — so write that one off right away.

But what about other students in the department, or at other institutions? This is where the thought experiment is useful, I think. For example, if you’re an untenured assistant professor, you probably don’t have power of destruction over the career of a student who works under the chair of your department. There are a lot of other reasons why a relationship is probably a bad idea, but your power over the student might not be one of them.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the biggest stars in your field — you bring in millions of dollars of grant money, and your name comes up every year around Nobel-Prize time — you probably have power of destruction over not just all of the students in your department, but those at other schools as well. In fact, you would do well to steer clear of relationships with junior faculty in the field.

If you’re applying this to yourself, I think it’s important to use the test as I’ve described it — imagining the scenario where you’re the victim — as it will make it easier to recognize the power you have.

If you’re applying it as a third party, it’s maybe easier. If you can imagine saying to someone, “Don’t alienate Professor Whatsit. That could really mess up your career”, the corollary is that a relationship between that person and Professor Whatsit would also be inappropriate. Or, more concisely:

If Pat can’t afford to screw over Chris, then Chris has no business screwing Pat.

A Final Note on True Love

One of the objections that is always raised in these contexts is this: What about true love? What if your one true soul mate just happens to be a student in your laboratory? I’m skeptical of this argument on its face, given that most people just happen to find their soul mate — the only person they could possibly be with — within the vanishingly small fraction of the population they actually encounter. But, for purposes of argument, let’s entertain it.

If your defense is that each of you can’t possibly live without the other, that’s fantastic, and I wish you all the happiness in the world. The more senior of you just needs to quit your job. You can probably move to a new university, or, depending on the situation, maybe you just need to move to a different department.

What’s that? You say it’s hard to find faculty jobs? Well, you could leave academia! After all, yours is a love for the ages, one for which you would be willing to make any sacrifice, right? That’s what you told the folks in HR, anyway.

No? You couldn’t possibly rob the world of your singular intellect? And isn’t it unfair of the university to punish you for falling in love? Why should you have to sacrifice your career? Hmm, this is starting to sound less like “Star-crossed lovers find redemption in May-October romance” and more like “Entitled asshole deals with mid-life crisis through sexual exploitation of vulnerable subordinate while cynically exploiting naive romanticism to cover it up.”

Yes, ALL Men’s Rights Groups are Responsible for Elliot Rodger’s Murders

On Friday, May 23, the nation was stunned by 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, who went on a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, where he murdered six people, sent seven others to the hospital, and eventually killed himself. Details about Rodgers emerged quickly, most notably a trail of extreme misogyny in the form of a 140-page manifesto, online videos, and participation in discussions on a site for failed pick-up artists. In his last video message, he said

You forced me to suffer all my life, now I will make you all suffer . . . All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And all of you men for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men. I hate you. I hate all of you. I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve, annihilation.

Within a couple of days, though, the race was on to control the narrative, to define what, exactly, had caused this tragedy. Some people (e.g., at the New Statesman, the American Prospect), pointed to a misogynistic ideology, which is pervasive through much of our culture, and can be found in its most distilled form in the Pick-Up Artist (PUA) and Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) communities.

Other, stupider people tried to point the finger elsewhere. In the Washington Post, film critic Ann Hornaday argued that it was because the “schlubby arrested adolecsent” in Judd Apatow films always gets to have sex. Fox News – presumably after having tried and failed to find some way in which Rodger was actually Black, or Muslim, or a secret-pro-gun-control-false-flag-sacrificial-lamb – ran a segment in which they brought in a psychotherapist / psychologist to speculate that the shootings were the result of his “fighting against his homosexual impulses”.

Obviously, guns were involved in the crime, and the shooting is already being used to argue for new gun control laws, but it appears that the first three victims were stabbed to death. Likewise, mental health was clearly an issue, as it almost always is in these cases. However, to the extent that blame for this crime can be ascribed to “gun culture”, or to the systematic deficiencies in our mental healthcare “system”, both of these causes pale in comparison to the normalization of an extreme, violent misogynistic ideology.

So how, exactly, are the MRA and PUA groups to blame here?  No one is saying that they are directly responsible for these murders. However, in the absence of these groups, and the broader culture of mainstream misogyny, I think it is unlikely that Elliot Rodger would have wound up where he did.

The key concept here is psychological priming. When we evaluate things, whether actions, or people. or values, we evaluate them in comparison to something else. Marketers know this, and they exploit it regularly: sales are attractive because they make us feel like we’re getting a bargain. The fact is, I have no absolute sense of how much a box of mac and cheese should cost. If I walk in to the grocery store and see that it costs $1.59 for a box, I’ll think, “Okay, I guess that’s how much it costs.” But, if I see that it normally costs $1.99, but is on sale for $1.59, I’ll feel like I’m getting a great deal.

Similarly, fancy restaurants often have one or two high-priced items on the menu, and wine stores will stock a handful of bottles of extremely expensive wine. Even if no one ever orders or purchases these high-end goods, it is worth their while to stock them, because their real value is in making the rest of the prices look more reasonable. If there’s a thousand-dollar bottle of wine on display, you’re more likely to spring for the hundred-dollar bottle.

There’s not much question that Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. Maybe it was inevitable that he was going to lash out against women in some way, that he was going to do something horrible that went three steps over the line. MRAs don’t bear any responsibility for that.

What the MRAs and PUAs are responsible for is where the line was. And they’re responsible for working to make it seem normal – even admirable – to stand as close to the line as you can get.

Like most poisonous ideologies, misogyny tends to get whitewashed with Orwellian double-speak and dog whistles. In public discourse, at least, MRAs are not “against women”, they are against “women getting special rights”, just as homophobic bigots are against “special rights for gays”.

More broadly, very few men would claim to have a problem with women, but a lot of men have a problem with women who are “stuck up bitches”, or who are “psycho”, just as most racist troglodytes “don’t have a problem” with black people in general, just the “lazy” or “criminal” or “entitled” ones.

Whether we’re talking about racism or homophobia or misogyny, there is a societal sense of what sorts of statements and actions are and are not appropriate – of where the line is. The finely carved rhetoric of most MRAs is an attempt to make sure that they stay on the right side of that line. In a way, that’s a good thing. The problem is that when you normalize behavior that is just on this side of the line, you make it that much easier for someone who is angry or mentally ill to cross over that line. Because that is how our brains work.

No matter what the societal norms are, there will always be people who are outliers. That means that if you work to create societal norms that are just this side of physical violence towards women, you all but guarantee that there women will be targeted with physical violence.

Imagine if we lived in a society where misogyny was not endemic. Maybe in that society, Elliot Rodger still winds up as a mentally ill kid with a lot of frustration and anger directed at women. Maybe he still steps way over the line of acceptable behavior. But maybe that means that when he goes to a party, hits on a girl, and gets turned down, he throws his beer in her face and calls her a bitch.

Imagine if that was what three steps over the line looked like, and calling a woman a bitch for not going out with you was national news, the sort of thing that would result in someone like Rodger receiving the psychological help he needed.

Is that scenario even possible? Well, just how far the line of societal norms could be moved depends on the answers to a whole lot of nature/nurture questions. But there is no doubt that we could achieve something closer to that scenario than what we have at the moment.

But the other problem is that we have gangs of the Men’s Rights Activists and Pick-Up Artists tripping over each other to position themselves just on this side of what is acceptable. It’s like that scene in World War Z, where the zombies pile on top of each other until some of them can make it over the wall. Elliot Rodger is the one who made it over the wall, but all the MRAs and PUAs who have been normalizing misogyny helped him over, and they absolutely bear responsibility for the murders he committed when he landed on the other side.

Legitimate rape, seminal priming, and preeclampsia

So, as you are well aware, a couple of days ago, human-shaped pile of garbage Todd Akin articulated his belief that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy, due to the magical uterine “shutting that whole thing down” properties of the uterus. Here at Lost in Transcription, we discussed the fact that there are some species that do, in fact, exhibit the capacity for “post-copulatory female choice.” However, humans are not one of these species, unless you count the set of medical interventions that Akin is trying to outlaw (along with Romney, Ryan, and the official Republican party platform).

If you’re interested, Kate Clancy wrote up an excellent summary of the actual science on the topic of pregnancy and rape.

Jesse Bering (an evolutionary psychologist who has been featured on this blog previously) also weighed in on the science, using twitter to point to an article that had recently written on “Darwin’s Morning After Pill.” In the article, Bering outlines an argument for the adaptive value of preeclampsia. The argument features “seminal priming theory,” which Bering calls “criminally unread,” and which has been promoted by Gordon Gallup (who, like a certain goat I know, has an adaptationist story for just about everything).

Roughly, the argument is this. Women don’t want to let a man get them pregnant unless they are certain that the man is going to stick around for the long haul. So, you want to have a biological mechanism that prevents pregnancy from one-night stands, but encourages pregnancy when you are in a committed relationship. Preeclampsia is a convenient (if life threatening) way for mother nature to terminate your pregnancy when it would be better not to have a baby. Therefore, preeclampsia should be more common for pregnancies resulting from sex with an unfamiliar male. Preeclampsia should be less common when it is the product of a long-term sexual relationship.

The proposed mechanism is that exposure to a male’s semen sort of habituates the female to the biochemistry of that particular male. Preeclampsia is associated with certain inflammatory features that share some similarities with an immune response. In that sense, preeclampsia is sometimes thought of as the mother rejecting the foreign body of the fetus, sort of like how one might reject a transplanted organ. The idea, then, is that through exposure to the male’s semen, the female ratchets down this response, thereby allowing the pregnancy to move forward.

One way of thinking about preeclampsia is as the rejection of an alien body by the mother

Jeremy Yoder has written a nice piece detailing how, even if we accept all of this, it is ridiculous to think of this mechanism as an adaptation. In particular, even under the most generous set of assumptions, natural selection acting on such a mechanism would be vanishingly small. And, of course, even to get there, you have to buy the typical evolutionary psychology assumption of an “environment of evolutionary adaptation” that looks an awful lot like the normative middle-class, suburban values of 1950s television America.

There are a few lines of evidence that are cited (by Bering, and in general) in support of the idea. The bulk of the evidence hinges on the observation that changing partners increases a woman’s probability of preeclampsia. For example, if your second pregnancy has the same father as your first pregnancy, you are less likely to develop preeclampsia than if the two pregnancies have different fathers. This is a finding that has been replicated a number of times, and with very large samples, so that’s pretty solid, right?

Actually, no. While the association between paternity switch and preeclampsia is true, it probably doesn’t mean what Bering and Gallup think it means, and the relevant data doesn’t actually support the seminal priming theory.

The problem is that a change in paternity correlates with time between pregnancies. So, if your two kids have different fathers, it is more likely that the two pregnancies were spaced farther apart. My reading of the literature is this: in every case where there is an association between paternity switching and preeclampsia, the study has not separately controlled for time between pregnancies. In each study where time between pregnancy is explicitly controlled for, the association with paternity switching vanishes. (See, e.g., this or this.)

In fact, controlling for time between pregnancies, if you have preeclampsia in your first pregnancy, switching partners actually makes you less likely to have preeclampsia in your second one. Don’t get too excited though. The converse is also true. If you don’t get preeclampsia in one pregnancy, switching partners makes you more likely to get it in the next one.

What that suggests (to me, anyway), is that some fathers are more likely to produce preeclampsia than others (or, alternatively, that the probability of preeclampsia depends on some interaction between the maternal and paternal genotypes). According to this explanation, if you don’t get preeclampsia, it means that you and your partner are at low risk. If you switch partners, though, you go back into the standard risk pool. (This interpretation is also consistent with this study, which followed fathers.)

There are a few other lines of evidence, which are cleaner in their implications. One study on artificial insemination finds preeclampsia more often in cases where the woman was inseminated with a stranger’s sperm than in cases where she was inseminated with her partner’s. There is also a study that finds that frequent oral sex correlates with a reduced risk of preeclampsia. (That’s her performing oral sex on him, not the other way round.) Does the frequency of oral sex correlate with the spacing between kids? I don’t know. I’m hoping that some of you will weigh in on that in the comments.

Males ingesting female gametes also has well documented health benefits.

The problem with these studies is that, unlike the partner-switching studies, we’re looking at small numbers. Whether or not they will hold up under more extensive analysis it not yet clear.

My read on the whole thing? At the moment, the data just isn’t there. All that exists in support of the seminal priming theory is an adaptationist fairy tale and a couple of small studies that have yet to be reproduced.

Oh, and also a whole bunch of studies that, if you cherry pick from among them, and ignore all of the studies that contradict them, support the theory. Of course, that’s pretty much true of any theory, which is exactly why evolutionary psychology continues to be such a booming field.

Post-copulatory female choice in crickets and Missouri

So, maybe you’ve seen the news today about Representative Todd Akin. He’s the republican nominee for Senate in Missouri, running this year against Claire McCaskill. In an interview he said that he opposed abortion in all circumstances, with no exception for rape, because rape does not lead to pregnancy, see, because, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (Quotes on Jezebel, video here.)

After realizing that he sounded like a complete shithead, even for a contemporary Republican (and probably after receiving a scolding from national Republicans), he issued a statement in which he claims that he “misspoke,” which is politician speak for, “I accidentally said what I actually thought, and then discovered that it will negatively impact my election chances, so I’m going to lie now. No backsies!”

Although, to be fair to Akin, nowhere in his statement did he back down from the position that abortion should be outlawed without exception, merely that he would advocate for “justice.” Also, jobs!

Setting aside for the moment the woeful state of politics, is it true, or even possible, that the female body could have “ways to try to shut that whole thing down”?

Actually, in a lot of non-human animals, something sort of like that does exist.

In species where polyandry (where females mate with multiple males) is common, there is often competition for reproductive access both before and after copulation, where one male may participate in a larger share of a female’s reproduction. In many cases, this is going to be something like sperm competition, where differential reproductive success depends on traits associated with the sperm, and by extension, with the competing males. This is not really what we’re talking about, though.

In a few cases, you can actually get “post-copulatory female choice,” where it is clearly the female deciding whether or not to allow fertilization. One such set of cases occurs in some spiders and crickets, where the male transfers a spermatophore to the female. This is basically a bag full of sperm that is attached to the female during copulation. She may then modulate the success of the sperm through the amount of time she permits it to remain attached to her.

For example, here‘s a paper on field crickets that shows not only that females modulate spermatophore retention time in response to male song quality, but that this modulation is contingent on the female’s prior experience. This is important because it emphasizes the aspect of female choice.

But what about humans? Well, actually, yes. Human females have the capacity to engage in post-copulatory female choice, such that they do not necessarily have to give birth to their rapist’s child. It’s called safe, legal abortion. It still exists in this country, but if too many more Todd Akins get elected, the American female body will no longer have “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Rebar, D., Zuk, M., & Bailey, N. W. (2011). Mating experience in field crickets modifies pre- and postcopulatory female choice in parallel Behavioral Ecology, 22, 303-309

Gender remixer will inspire all emotions simultaneously

So, here’s an excellent thing that didn’t exist, but now does, and the world is a better place. The Gender Remixer allows you to combine highly gendered advertisements aimed at girls and boys. You get the video from one and the audio from the other.

The experience is disorienting, enlightening, infuriating, and other stuff, all at the same time. The thing that surprised me most was how much I wanted to buy the hypothetical toys that my brain constructed during the experience.

Check it out!

via Boing Boing.

Toxoplasmosis Extravaganza: Ride Complete!

So, this week at Darwin Eats Cake, we celebrated our one-year anniversary with a series of nine strips on the zooparasite Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite, which causes Toxoplasmosis, is the reason why pregnant women are encouraged to avoid cat litter.

Here’s the full series, presented for your one-stop-shopping viewing pleasure. The strips do not, I think, assume any expert biological knowledge, so you don’t need to be a parasitologist to enjoy them. However, a dorky and juvenile sense of humor will help a lot. Alternatively, you can read them on the Darwin Eats Cake website, where they look a little better, I think. The series starts at

At this point, Darwin Eats Cake will return to its regular programming schedule, with twice-a-week updates, usually on Mondays and Thursdays, except for those days that have been recognized as official holidays by the Darwin Eats Cake Council of Freeholders and its chairwoman, the duly elected Queen of Naboo.

So, stop by on Monday for a new strip, or any time to trawl the archive:

The most astounding thing about the universe

So, Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome, with a capital AWE. Here’s one reason why. This is a video of Tyson describing the single most astounding fact about the universe. His answer is from a 2008 interview, which has recently been set to music and accompanied by an excellent video by Max Schlickenmeyer.

via io9.

Of course, the other thing that I love so much about him is the way that when you look at him, his eyes are like “I would like to make sweet, sweet love to you,” but then his clothes are all, “but I am physically incapable of doing so.”

Just look:

I mean, seriously, how can you not love this guy?

Woman in supermarket has dirty, dirty pipes

So, you know that sense of satisfaction when you’ve just finished cleaning something? No? Me either, but, this woman certainly does.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a recent paper on sperm competition in Drosophila.

Yeh SD, Do T, Chan C, Cordova A, Carranza F, Yamamoto EA, Abbassi M, Gandasetiawan KA, Librado P, Damia E, Dimitri P, Rozas J, Hartl DL, Roote J, & Ranz JM (2012). Functional evidence that a recently evolved Drosophila sperm-specific gene boosts sperm competition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (6), 2043-8 PMID: 22308475