Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Poetry Thursday

Here is a poetry site with a great idea-Poetry Thursday. You share a poem on your site and send them a link as a comment. A bit like a carnival. So I sent them a link for In the Fennel. You don't have to send in original poetry but can send in a poem that moves you. Just read their guidelines for using copyrighted material first.

This week's poetry Thursday link.

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In the Fennel (For Kit)


Sitting among the fennel
i wish i had you here to hold
but unstead i watch the umbels unfold
each tiny flower at the end of the spokes
fingering the yellow air
like light from the cone of myself
touching your hair
from afar.

Copyright 2006 © Paul Decelles

Comment: the light cone reference is from A Brief History of Time.

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Water Lily Blossom

Couldn't resist posting this flower already from my pond. I bought a waterlily in bud so could watch the bloom grow and as you can see, it just took a couple of days for the bloom to emerge and open.


Update! A shot from 2008 of blooms from the same plant.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

My Synthetic Pond

pond1Been a bit preoccupied this week building a pond in my yard. I call it a synthetic pond because it really is after all a glorified aquarium without the full richness of a real pond. My pond is small, only about 4.5 foot by 6.0 foot and a maximum of 24" deep-enough depth for me to have water lilies. On Saturday, got the edging more or less done so yesterday was plant day. So I went down to the Water's Edge and spent about $100 on aquatic plants. I got some marginal plants including a pickerel "weed" and a dwarf lotus. I wanted one of the BIG lotus plants but they are are so big that one plant can fill my whole pond. Also I got a hardy water lilly and a couple of water hyacinth. Yes I know the latter will fill my pond in no time if I am not careful.

Of course I needed some terrestrial plants and the next stop was Sunset Garden, where I got some sedums, and another porcupine grass. This is a nice yellow green grass with yellow horizontal striping, so the effect is similar to the pattern on a porcupine quill. That and some mint from my other garden is pretty much it. Oh I did buy a nice shrubby Willow with cool blue green foliage to soften things up a bit.

Having water even just a small pond as mine makes a big difference. The reflections in late afternoon are just magical. Already, I have found a diving beetle and have dragonflies mating. Probably next week I will add some fish, no Koi my pond is too small but perhaps I will go to the local bait shop and get some feeder goldfish just for looks and get some mosquito fish from the wetlands. Oh and maybe an otter and a manatee to keep the water hyacinth under control.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

UFO's and Creationism

While avoiding doing any real work this morning, I ran across this article on unidentified flying objects(UFO's) on One thing that impressed me is how similar UFOology and creation science are to each other. Consider:

1. Both recycle outdated information. UFO believers often make reference to cases long debunked, and creation "scientists" often recycle long debunked claims such as no transitional fossils exist or that evolution can't happen because of the second law of thermodynamics.

2. Both are fertile grounds for con-men and hucksters. Just consider the raft of Roswell material or take a visit to the Raelian website for evidence. Note that the Raelian website's opening title is "Intelligent : Design - Message from the Designers", obviously capitalizing on intelligent design, the latest incarnation of creationism.

As for Creationist hucksterism, how about good old Dr. Dino whose exploits have been documented in numerous places such as this site devoted entirely to him or here at

Intelligent design seems to be spawning it's own hucksters such as George Gilder of supply side economics fame. Of course the Intelligent Design hucksterism is a bit more sophisticated, but hucksterism it is and may be less obvious by some folks since it is politically motivated.

3. Both argue from ignorance- and I might add capitalize on the public's ignorance of science. For instance UFOologists use the classic argument from ignorance Here with respect to UFO claims the article notes:

"...the claim that aliens must have careened out of control above the New Mexico desert simply because some classified government documents sport a bunch of blacked-out text. "How does the latter prove the former?

Sure, the missing verbiage is consistent with a government cover-up of an alien crash landing, Shostak said. "But it's also consistent with an infinitude of other scenarios, not all of them involving sloppy alien pilots..."

Creationists including the intelligent design people do the exact same thing...since there are things we can't currently explain about evolution, therefore evolution must be wrong. Why else do the ID advocates spend so much time arguing from ignorance unless it's to hide the third similar thing between Creationism and UFOology.

3. Both UFO's and Creation Science (Including ID) have an embarissing lack of empirical evidence. About UFO's the article notes:

"despite a torrent of sightings for more than a half-century, I can't think of a single, major science museum that has alien artifacts on display ... Contrast this paucity of physical evidence with what the American Indians could have shown you fifty years after Christopher Columbus first violated their sea-space. They could have shown you all sorts of stuff —including lots of smallpox-infested brethren —as proof that they were being 'visited,"

Creation Science, likewise has no positive evidence. Where are the human fossils along side dinosaurs. Of course we do have the Taylor trail footprints from Texas, which have been completely debunked. Why am I just a wee bit skeptical of images such as this one?

4. Both Ider's and UFOologists believe that there is proof . Scientists refuse to see it because they are biased or there is some sort of vast conspiracy to cover up the Truth. That is well documented in both the UFO and Creationist literature. Intelligent design recently has picked up much of the same rhetoric, claiming scientists are dogmatic secular fundamentalists and that's why they just don't see the Truth.

5. Finally both UFOology and Creationists including intelligent design invoke the promide of new paradigms. For instance from the article:

"Physics is leading to new and potentially paradigm shifting understandings about the nature of our universe and its physical properties," Roe said. "These understandings may point the way towards an acceptance of the probability of interstellar travel and communication by spacefaring races."

Likewise, especially by the ID type Creationists evolutionary scientists are painted as being closed to new paradigms. In answering the question as to why intelligent design is controversial the IDEA website notes that:

"it challenges the reigning philosophical paradigm reigning over science, as well as the reigning theory of origins in biology, namely evolution. Additionally, it challenges the metaphysical beliefs of many practitioners of science. These changes lead to predictable "paradigm change resistance" that characterizes the discovery and promotion of new ideas in science"

These similarities may be accidental, and possibly there is something to the notion of Creationism, just like there might be something to the UFO phenomeon. There are after all many things about the universe we do not understand. That said, scientists want empirical evidence and neither creationists including ID and UFOologists have shown any. So while you are waiting for real scientific evidence, have fun visiting these entertaining Creationist and UFO sites. Me? I am going back to work.
Great fuzzy UFO pictures.
New UFO sitings keep pouring in. I love the little smiley saucers.
Whose mission is the scientific study of UFO's for the benefit of Humanity
Links to other UFO sites
Creation Science?
six days?
Where's the beef?
Now this seems like science...or is it merely politics.

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Mendel's Garden #2 Call for submissions!

The second edition of Mendel's Garden will be hosted over at Genetics and Health. More information is at the Garden's blog, or through the carnival site. Remember you don't have to be a genetics geek toi submit. Dr Lei at Genetics and Health is very interested in how genetics affects people's lives and I bet she would like some personal stories.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Of Dogs and Human Genetics

This morning on NPR there was a great report on a rare genetic disorder called Batten Disease. The report detailed the collaboration between Tibetan Terrier breeders and researchers into the human form of the disease. Batten disease(OMIM 204200), at least the juvenile form is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. The incidence of human Batten's and related disorders is between 2 and 4 per 100,000 live births.

image from

Where do the Tibetan Terriers come in? It turns out this breed also shows a form of this disease and equally important for human researchers, the Tibetan Terrier breed club has the first DNA database for it's breed. Also American Kennel Club has been promoting research into dog genetics through its Canine Health Foundation. So human researchers have a an animal model for studying the disease not only at the individual level, but also for studying the disease at the population level, and perhaps through the activities of dog breeders, models for other human genetic disorders.

This is a wonderful case study illustrating how different lines of genetic research converge in unexpected ways. I believe this sort of collaboration is especially critical for rare genetic diseases that are less likely to attract research monies, simply because they are so rare.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006


This Spring we have had lots of fireflies(Coleoptera:Lampyridae) in our yard and I enjoy watching them just after dusk. Last night we had some family from Texas who were thrilled to see them because they don't have fireflies in their area.

That was odd because catching fireflies in a jar is one of those things that defined childhood where I grew up. But I was thrilled at their reaction because it tells me that there is hope, perhaps only a modicum, that people today can still appreciate simple things in nature.

Today while taking a few minutes to prowl around for some links about fireflies. I found this link about a networked firefly system in jars by John Schimmel where LED's stand in for real fireflies. Jars can be placed around the house and people can tap on them to communicate a message to other jars which glow in response. Well you can't do this with real fireflies, but this sounds like a fun project that gets at another childhood moment, communicating with siblings late at night while supposedly being asleep, or sneaking a listen to my brothers ham radio communications, bleeding through on my little crystal radio, or listening to late night talk shows on the old Zenith that end up in my room.

I might just build this project for myself and give some firefly jars to the grandkids.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mendel's Garden #1

Is out!

Since I started editing it on the shows up here! Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Shifting Paradigms

One of my interests is human nature and identity and Seed magazine has a very interesting article titled No Longer a Mind of Our Own. This is one of a number of recent articles dealing with the psychology of other species and raising the question of the sort of treatment we should give other species if the boundaries between human and non human are blurred.

As the article notes:

"Streams of new data and theories, critically from neuroscience, are converging into a new, trans-species model of the psyche. Humans are being reinstated back into the species continuum that Darwin articulated, a continuum that includes laughing rats, octopuses with personalities, sheep who read emotions from the faces of their family members and tool-wielding crows."

This is a quite different view from when I was an undergraduate when we were taught, that the mental abilities of other animals were quite limited and that we should not anthropomorphise other animals. But now thinking of elephants and other non human animals having psychiatric disorders homologous say to traumatic stress syndrome is not so far fetched.

Yet there does not seem to be a clear consensus about what this means for the treatment of other species. First there are people such as Steve Jones who argue that yes be nice to other animals (here referring to primates) but arguing that they ought to have some sort of rights

"demeans our own position and, even worse, reduces chimpanzees to the level of diminished human beings."

Then there is the proposal in Spain to give certain primates some of the rights we normally accord humans. In this proposal, the great apes would basically become wards of the state, and no longer would be considered property. This position, the article points out is related to one advocated by a group called the Great Apes Project. This group's mission is according to it's web site is

"... to end the unconscionable treatment of our nearest living relatives by obtaining for non-human great apes the fundamental moral and legal protections of the right to life, the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and protection from torture."

This position seems difficult to square with those who advocate medical testing on great apes when necessary, or with those who propose to grow human organs in other animals, such as pigs. After all, pigs are pretty smart as anyone who has worked around them will tell you.

I don't think there is an easy solution here. I personally don't know if other animals should have rights in the same way that we have. It seems that the concept of right has developed as a way to regulate interactions within our own species and perhaps ought not be extended to other species. That said, I am a firm believer in what Aldo Leopold in Sand County Almanac called the ethical sequence, namely that as we develop as individuals (and perhaps as a species) we extend concern and ethical treatment from our immediate family, to the tribe, to society and also to other species, and to some degree to the the planet's ecosystems as a whole.

Ethical treatment of other people and species, is different than rights, though clearly they are connected. If societies want to regulate the treatment of other animals, that is perfectly fine with me, but let's not talk about animal rights in an absolute sense. After all, certain animals do have greater moral and ethical status tied to their evolutionary relationship with us and shared cognitive abilities. What does it mean to give great apes protection from deprivation of liberty? I really don't know. Does liberty mean anything to a Chimpanzee?

Yet on the other hand the ethic and moral status of chimps demands that we not cause them undue suffering and provide them with proper environments and, I might add, preserve their natural habitats and populations. The folks at the Great Ape Project talk about a community of equals, but cognitively other animals are not really our equals so the community of equals does not make sense to me. But I do believe in the interconnectedness of all life. For me it is through a combination of our evolutionary and emotional attachment (again following Leopold) that our behavior to the rest of the biological community should spring. As Leopold notes in Sand County Almanac "we can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in."


Leopold, Aldo(1949) A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press. NY xiii+226pp

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Kudos for the Kansas State Board of Education

Supposedly being a biology teacher in Kansas is among the worst jobs in the country, but the Kansas Board of Education certainly makes my blogging avocation much easier and more fun. When there is not intelligent design, or statements that dinosaurs are metaphysical speculation, to write about, the BOE is sure to provide bloggers such as myself or Pat Hayes over at Red State Rabble lots of new material.

Take the Board's stance on sex education as described today in the Lawrence Journal World. It used to be that if parents did not want their children to take sex education, they could tell the school to keep their child out of sex education, the so called opt out option. But now the board wants parents to opt in, that is tell the school if they want their kids to take sex education.

Now how stupid can you get. Consider the parents who just don't care about there kids education- and if you think these are a small minority of parents, you must be watching too many Leave it to Beaver reruns. Under the old system, their kids would get sex education but under the new system they won't unless the districts actively court them. Consider the parents with strict fundamentalist beliefs. The new system will provide their kids with one less way to get exposed to different sorts of ways of looking at the world and giving kids exposure to different viewpoints is one of the missions of real education. So for either group, and the children are not served.

Oh and it gets better. The conservative members of the Board are toying with abstinence only sex education. Now last time I checked most teenagers are not interested in abstinence. Even those teens who take these so called virginity pledges seem a bit less interested in abstinence than they profess. They might have fewer partners but according to a recent study by Janet Rosenbaum (abstract) cited in the Washington Post...

Previous studies have found that teenagers who make pledges contract STDs at nearly the same rate as those who don't, but that they have fewer sexual partners, are less likely to use condoms and more likely to engage in anal or oral sex.

Of course the proponents of abstinence only education are calling Rosenbaum's study junk science. But what astounds me, is the BOE's willingness to completely ignore the experts on sex education programs and what makes an effective program. This makes great populist politics for the religious conservative base in those parts of Kansas that have kept the conservative majority on the BOE, but it's bad for our kids.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A New Science Blog

At least it is new to me; came up in my technorati links this morning:

The owner attempts to select the best from the other science blogs. Must take a lot of time since there are so many good science blogs out there! But check this blog out. It has a nice clean interface, good selction of articles and even has a little chat room.

Been a bit busy

In addition to teaching and taking an online course guessed it-constructing online courses, I have also been getting the genetics carnival, Mendel's Garden off the ground. So if you have missed it and have a genetics related post that you want to submit, jump on over to for more information about the carnival. Or go the featured carnival link in my side bar.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Mendel's Garden #1

Lot's of good reading for the first edition of Mendel's Garden, so grab a cool drink and sit a bit and enjoy the harvest.

First up from RPM at Evolgen is an article on the evolution of gene regulation: The Evolution of My Thinking about the Evolution of Gene Regulation. RPM observes that much evolutionary change involves regulatory elements that affect the transcription of protein coding genes, or portions of genes. These elements are classed as being cis or trans regulatory elements. Cis regulatory elements (CRE's) are regions of DNA associated physically with the protein coding sequence they regulate and these cis elements either enhance or prevent transcription when regulatory proteins bind to them. Trans regulatory elements (TRE's) may be in another part of the genome, and code for regulatory protein that diffuses to another part of the genome and may help regulate gene expression of a number of different genes.

RPM's article critically examines the question of which type of element is most important in evolution. Right now, because of the work of Sean Carroll and others the emphasis has been on CRE's but RPM sees evidence for the role of TRE's. So check out his article for some good reading. A useful review of gene regulation is here.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula reviews a new book on the sequencing of the genome of Drosophila in a submission called Won for All from the book's title. For my non genetics readers, if you have left bananas out too long you are probably familiar with these little fruit flies that have played a very important role in understanding genetics. While you are there jump on over to the article on Clausen Keck and Hiesey. He didn't submit this but it is a nice blast from the past and touches on concepts related to many of the other submissions- well at least to my caffeine powered synapses.

Just in case you think that the genetic code is completely understood and that there are only 20 amino acids used for making proteins comes these articles from Sandra Porter's blog on selenocysteine with some choice commentary. Even though I have commented on these elsewhere, these are a great illustration of how science works, along with some interesting cautions about some of our protein data bases, so I offer up for your pleasure Future Shock and Selenocysteine Part I and Part II from her old archive at Blogger.

Dan Rhoads over at Migrations steps back and looks at the evolution of kinases and it's relationship to phylogeny on a grand scale in his post Kinomes: Evolution of an enzyme, from Yeast to Man. Dan notes that analysis of Kinases indicates that different kinases diverged very early in the history of life and that:

"Differences between kinase subfamilies and genes across species strongly reflect changing cellular functions, including the loss of kinases involved in unicellular-specific functions, and acquiring of kinases involved in immunity, neurobiology, cell cycle control, and morphogenesis"

Not too suprising given the importance of these enzymes. By the way here is a nice site dealing with the Human Kinome where you can even download a color poster showing the relationships among human kinases.

Ruth Schaffer provides a couple of short but interesting submissions. The first one from the Biotech Weblog summarizes an article from Reuters on a company planning to use genetically modified chickens to produce human antibodies. The second one from the allergizer blog examines the link between depression and allergies. The article notes that parental depression, more precisely maternal depression is correlated with allergies in children and the authors of the article suggest that there may be common genes related to both depression and allergies. As an aside that may be true, but perhaps the influence is through some sort of maternal affect.

Speaking of chickens, From Coturnix over at A Blog around the Clock we have transgenic chickens only this time a thoughtful gripe about the press releases by which these sorts of technical advances are announced to the public.

Next Hsien-Hsien Lei has a topical article given the sports news lately on Gene Doping in Soccer from her nice blog, Genetics and Health. Apparently a biotech company has engineered a viral vector to deliver the human erythropoetin gene through injections into the muscle to treat certain sorts of anemia. When oxygen levels are low, production of erythropoetin is stimulated resulting in more red blood cells. At least one coach has allegedly inquired about obtaining this product which goes by the trade name Repoxygen. She links to an article in New Scientist called 'Gene Cheats'

A new role for RNA, interference RNA, or RNAi has been in the news recently for its potential to treat various diseases including cancer. Coffee Mug at Gene Expressions provides us with a primer on RNAi, called appropriately RNAi fundamentals. I have read about RNAi but didn't realize that there are two types. The first type called siRNA's start out as pieces of double stranded RNA's from transposons and RNA viruses. The second type called, miRNA's appear to be important in regulation of gene expression. Razib says:

"miRNAs are purposefully endogenously produced to play a regulatory role in several cellular processes. They are conserved across higher eukaryotes, and are estimated to regulate some 30% of human genes."

Wow a whole new regulatory pathway! In fact both type of RNAi are collectively small regulatory RNA.

Gene expression is on everyone's mind it seems, and Salva Almagro at Vivalaevolution , discusses a really neat article from PLOS that notes that gene with high G or C content in the third codon base tend to be expressed at higher rates. Interesting since all U--->C (think wobble) and most A ---->G substitutions in that position don't make any difference in the amino acid coded for by the codon.

Veering away from molecular genetics we have a clutch of articles that more of an methodological, historical and philosophical bent. The first one is from Jacob at Salamander Candy with a wonderful synthetic article on the mistakes geneticists make in reasoning about the causal relationships between genes and environment, pointing out some logical and interpretive errors in some published literature. By the way Salamander Candy is put together by a group of grad students at Oregon State who describe themselves as:

"...a hive mind of geeky zoology graduate students in Oregon who have nothing but vast amounts of spare time in which to write silly blog posts."

I suspect the Blog is really a form of stress release for them, but hey that's OK. :-)

In a related vein, but getting a bit more into the societal aspects of genetics is an interesting discussion of the heritability of IQ and other traits related to well, "getting ahead" called Why genetic determinism is inevitable in a meritocracy from Razib also at Gene Expressions.

Razib comments:

"The title says it all, I make an argument that assuming particular
genetic parameters you can make some long term sociological
predictions which might undermine intuitions. In this case, the
heredity principle might win in a meritocracy over the long haul...."

Razib argues that in a meritocracy social mobility may actually decrease over time. This is because in lower class environments heritability of say intelligence is relatively low. This would be expected if, he argues, the poor are "buffeted" by more influences that can adversely affect intelligence, whereas the rich are in a more uniform environment for intellectual development. If you improve education so that everyone is in a rich and uniform environment then the variation in intelligence that is available will be due to genetics, and the result would be a sorting based on genetics and a reduction in social mobility.

Razib says:

"In a perfect meritocracy, where environmental variables are mitigated by equal opportunities the differences due to genetics would be paramount because those are the only major non-stochastic parameters."

Now Razib is not arguing that we should not improve educational opportunities, so this is no Bell Curve type of argument. Also there are lots of other factors he is ignoring and assumptions he makes, but the article is worth reading if only because of the explanations about heredity. It also has an extensive set of comments about social mobility. A nice entry to lead into a more general question about whether or not our species is still answer FYI is yes by the way.

Finally A Blog Around the Clock never stops and I have to include Coturnix's Lysenko Get's a D-Minus On My Genetics Test. Lysenko is the Soviet era biologist usually blamed for the failures of Soviet Agriculture. I can remember being taught way back when something to the affect that he believed that environmental effects on the phenotype could be inherited, a la the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Coturnix places Lysenko in the context of some of the debates that were raging at the time about the role of genes and environment. He notes in contrasting science in the United States with Soviet Science that:

"..1948 U.S. was genocentric and Soviet science was Lamarckist. Who is to say which is "worse"? They are both wrong. They were both consistent with the information available at the time."

That of course does not mean Lysenko's science was correct, but Cortunix argues that there are a number of threads leading to Lysenko's stance. Indeed Cortunix even attempts to relate the sort of competitive view point taken by Darwin and other early evolutionary theorists vs the cooperative view of evolution taken by Lysenko.

Thanks for everyone who submitted and I hope those who stop by at the Garden to visit the blogs and submissions have as much fun as I did. Remember if you are interested in hosting Mendel's Garden on your blog, visit the Garden's home page or feel free to e-mail me. ;-)

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Night Cactus

The unknown flower began
as a bud I thought was dead,
or a scar on the face
of the cactus
until I moved the plant outside
for the summer

the unknown flower began
to lengthen and swell its head
into a neck with trace of leaves
on its throat
arching and stretching
like the layrnx of a woman

the unknown flower began
to open its lips at the noon
but only sang her aria to the night
to the moths that do not exist here,
sang alone at the night
with no one to really hear.

Copyright 2006 © Paul Decelles

Comment: The cactus is a plant I got this Spring at a plant sale. It has a white night blooming flower that lasts for one night; I suspect the cactus is moth pollinated. What kind of cactus is this?

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Organ Farming

I know this is sick humor, but I laughed myself silly at this link from the Onion:

Thanks to the folks at the Bioethics Forum for the link. So if you are offended-blame them.

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Postscript: A bit more about CMA

My wife who is in the medical field, was surprised at my mild reaction to CMA, and she argued that faith ought not enter into therapy. She has a point, so to elaborate: I guess I was thinking in terms of a patient whose desire and goal was to live within the teachings of the Church. That said, I do not believe that any therapist should impose his or her moral judgments on the patient if the patient goals lie elsewhere. Therapy should be non judgmental, and I certainly would question a CMA affiliated therapist's ability to do that.

The big issue I was focusing on was the distorted view of science and human nature being pushed by CMA. I might point out that CMA appears to be instrumental in the hardline being taken by the Church toward homosexuals in the priesthood and unfairly scapegoating them. See their open letter to the Bishops based on the same flawed science and view of human nature as their publication on therapy. Also CMA supports the moral right of medical providers to refuse to give patient requested treatments the provider objects to on moral grounds, a position I find both unethical and morally questionable.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Natural Law and the Catholic Medical Association

A recent visitor to my web site e-mailed me and asked me to comment on the Catholic Medical Association's publication on homosexuality, Homosexuality and Hope, this after reading my posts about the identity police. The CMA's position is that homosexuality is changeable through therapy, maybe not cured but changeable. For instance the publication claims that:

"If the emotional and developmental needs of each child are properly met by both family and peers, the development of same-sex attraction is very unlikely. Children need affection, praise and acceptance by each parent, by siblings and by peers. Such social and family situations, however, are not always easily established and the needs of children are not always readily identifiable."

In other words same sex attraction is seen as a symptom of family issues, not something that is biologically based, and certainly not genetically based, and the authors give a long laundry list of what they see as risk factors for the development of homosexual behavior.

The publication argues that homosexuality does not have a genetic basis. For instance the publication claims that :

"If same-sex attraction were genetically determined, then one would expect identical twins to be identical in their sexual attractions. There are, however, numerous reports of identical twins who are not identical in their sexual attractions. (Bailey 1991[11]; Eckert 1986; Friedman 1976; Green 1974; Heston 1968; McConaghy 1980; Rainer 1960; Zuger 1976) Case histories frequently reveal environmental factors which account for the development of different sexual attraction patterns in genetically identical children, supporting the theory that same-sex attraction is a product of the interplay of a variety of environmental factors. (Parker 1964[12])"

Unfortunately this misuses, twin data by ignoring the very real possibility that genetics and environmental factors interact with each other. Many traits are what geneticists call multifactorial- that is they arise through an interaction between genetics and environment. Any good general genetics book will discuss this sort of interaction in greater detail.

The data to date really seem to indicate that homosexuality is just this sort of trait. But most of the twin studies are flawed because the samples were either not properly drawn or the twins were not really reared in different environments. For a dated yet balance discussion of twin studies of homosexuality see Taylor(1992). Even more recent studies attempting to look for genes causally related to homosexual behavior, for instance Dupree(2002), warn that available twin studies should be viewed with caution. Very recently Backlandt, Horvarth, Vilain and Hamer have found evidence that a certain class of homosexuals have mothers with extreme skewing of X chromosome inactivation rather than the random 50:50 inactivation supposedly typical in humans. Whether this indicates a role for the X chromosome in the son, or represents an effect on maternal environment is not clear, at least to me. The point is that genetics and environment seem to interact in complex ways and that there are likely to a number of levels of causality involved.

The CMA then notes:

"Persons should not be identified with their emotional or developmental conflicts as though this were the essence of their identity. In the debate between essentialism and social constructionism, the believer in natural law would hold that human beings have an essential nature -- either male or female -- and that sinful inclinations (such as the desire to engage in homosexual acts) are constructed and can, therefore, be deconstructed."

Notice the belief that gender being either male or female is part of our essential nature as determined by natural law. Natural law according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, citing St. Thomas, is "..the rational creature's participation in the eternal law.", that is the law of God. (As an aside, the CMA continuously conflates same sex attraction with gender identity issues, such as Gender Identity Disorder.)

Thus Natural Law in this sense is related to design, since God sets forth how God wants us to behave in Scripture. Indeed according to the Catholic Encyclopedia Natural Law is universal and every one is bound by it, and it is immutable, unchanging. So there is really no room for any sort of moral relativism or any room for sexual behavior outside of the context of "normal" sexual behavior and of course no room for any gender variance. This sort of typological view namely that we have an essential and universal nature is also very similar to the way scientists used to view species as opposed to the messy but more realistic approach to species taken in biology today.

Now I have some sympathy with some of things stated by CMA from a Catholic perspective for instance:

"For a Catholic with same sex attraction, the goal of therapy should be freedom to live chastely according to one's state in life. Some of those who have struggled with same-sex attractions believe that they are called to a celibate life. They should not be made to feel that they have failed to achieve freedom because they do not experience desires for the other sex. Others wish to marry and have children. There is every reason to hope that many will be able, in time, to achieve this goal. They should not, however, be encouraged to rush into marriage since there is ample evidence that marriage is not a cure for same-sex attractions. With the power of grace, the sacraments, support from the community, and an experienced therapist, a determined individual should be able to achieve the inner freedom promised by Christ."

The CMA at least recognizes that one may always have same sex desires and that the goal of therapy at least from a Catholic perspective is not really to cure homosexuality. However, if by "chastely" means that homosexuals should not act at all on same sex attractions, that is a more complex issue. Perhaps the goal ought to be to allow people to live authentic lives in the context of committed relationships- maybe the same sort of chastity that married men and women are supposed to practice or whatever the patient's goals for therapy are.

Obviously I am not a therapist, but therapy it seems is an art that blends science with dealing with a patients' values perceptions and feelings. If one wants to do therapy from a Catholic perspective, that is fine and quite frankly laudable if thats what the patient wants. See my next post. But one needs to operate from the best science available which seems to be that human nature is more complex than the theological concepts embodied in Natural Law might lead one to think. As Joan Roughgarden amply documents in her recent book Evolution's Rainbow, human sexual and gender variation from "the norm" is way to common to be a disease or disorder. Indeed I suggest that rather than trying to shoehorn people (and scientific findings) into a concept of Natural Law that dates to before the rise of modern science, that Catholic theologians need to reinterpret the basic concept of Natural Law in the light of modern science just as Genesis has been richly reinterpreted in the light of evolution.


Roughgarden, Joan. (2004) Evolution's Rainbow. University of California Press. 474p

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Little things

Been a bit busy this week so just a few short takes:

Tangled bank #54 is online at Get Busy Livin', or Get Busy Bloggin' with two contributions from theforcethat:


But of special interest in Tangled Bank is a wonderful post from another Kansas blogger, Josh Rosenau, on emergent properties which I tend to share with my students tonight.

If you want a to see a good use of blogging a trip, check out my friend Doug Patterson's postings from Las Vegas at the Gambling Geek. Wonderful photos Doug!

Oh and I almost forgot! Be sure to visit the Kansas Guild of Bloggers latest carnival at:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sex, gender roles and gender identity

While rummaging around the noosphere this morning over coffee, ran across Alice Dreger's article, The Social Construction of Sex and Me. Dr. Dreger is involved with the Intersex Society of North America, and her article very nicely balances biology and social construction to cut through a lot of the fog generated in certain academic circles about the distinction between biological sex, gender roles and gender identity.

On biological sex she notes as have I (Sometimes I like it when people agree with me) that:

"Nature doesn'’t care that we humans tend to like discreet categories. The real world is messy."

So while most people fall into nice binary categories in terms of biological sex, not every one does. At the same time it is clearly a logical error to assume as some writers do that these categories have no biological reality. After all as she notes most human males have XY chromosomes and most females have XX chromosomes. Her work concerns the exceptions to these generalizations.

With respect to gender roles, she makes a clear distinction between gender roles, the parts males and females are expected to "play" in society and gender identity which she describes as ones internal feelings of "...Being a boy, girl, man, woman, or something else." She then asks if gender is something that is socially constructed, with no biological basis, or does biology enter in to gender roles and identity.

She concludes that both gender roles and identity are at least in part based on biology noting in part in reference to the social construction of gender:

"When I started doing intersex work, I thought so. I thought we were taught to feel, act, and behave like girls and boys. But I don'’t think that anymore. That is to say, sure we'’re taught these things, but many of us probably get our core gender identities as much from our biological origins as we do from our gender educations. I've met too many people who, in spite of careful gender educations, —sometimes even intensive gender educations, —just clearly felt the gender assigned to them was the wrong one."

I am reminded of an experience with my son when he was small. We had decided not to expose him to guns, but one day while we are eating (He was I think around 4), my son took a slice of bread and neatly chewed it into the shape of a gun and started shooting every one at the table. We gave up at that point. Needless to say he has turned out just fine.

As an aside, she argues that those people who think that gender is socially constructed really are extreme biological determinists in that the brains are "empty slates" at birth waiting to be filled. I seem to remember E.O. Wilson making a similar point during the flap over sociobiology in response to the charge that he was a biological determinist. As I recall, he argued that claiming that human behavior is due to environment is the same thing as saying that people are slaves to the environment.

Without getting in to the free will vs determinism flap, clearly as individuals our ontogeny involves genetics and external environmental influences. But there is more. We also have an interior environment of the mind which influences itself. Perhaps it is this interior environment, this interior life which makes us free.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

The Intelligent Designer Speaks

The intelligent design folks claim that knowing who or what the designer is, is not relevant to intelligent design theory. Well I guess the designer got sick of this claim because out from the noosphere comes the designer himself...and he really looks the part in a quirky sort of way.

So check it out at

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Other Voices

Check out Other Voices. Volume 21 just out has six of my poems in a very small collection the editor called I Live in the Shadow, taken from one of the poems in the collection. My thanks to Ron Hudson who asked me to submit poetry to Other Voices.

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First Monarch of the Year!

Had my first monarch visitor to my butterfly garden this year. Not a great picture but I was on my way out, ran back inside to grab my camera.

monarchjun3 004

Could it be the adult of this larva from summer 2005?


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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Carnival of Bent Attractions now online!

The 7th edition of the Carnival of Bent Attractions is now online at Ron Hudson's blog 2sides2ron, including my report on the Identity Police. If you are interested in LGBT issues, be sure to check it out at

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Friday, June 02, 2006

The Carnival of Genes (Mendel's Garden)

Update! RPM and I are currently setting up a blog just for this carnival, soon to be at:

Carnivals seem like great fun; I have been in several and thought it would be fun to organize one for genetics in the broad sense. So if you have posts about any aspect of genetics, send them on and let's see what happens. The deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm on June 15.

Possible topics could include classical genetics(what ever that is), evo devo, population genetics and evolution, behavioral genetics, viruses, regulation of gene expression, medical genetics , genetic counseling and ethical issues.

Note this Carnival has been renamed Mendel's Garden. A tip of the telomere to RPM at Evolgen.

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Ramble through Prairie Park

Had a nice ramble at Prairie Park which is about 1/2 mile from my house. If you are ever in Lawrence it is worth a visit (map). There are about 5 miles of easily walkable trails, a nice little museum, a state fishing lake called Mary's Lake(Hey it's a large pond but very popular) and a small patch of native prairie.

This dragonfly is the only one of many that cooperated with me. The vertical pose of the abdomen caught my eye. Don't know if that is characteristic of this species, but this one would move and then take up that abdomen up pose.


I was pleased to find this carpenter bee(Xylocopa virginica). I don't think of these bees as being common in this area, but I have seen several around my garden and they were all over this legume.

Xylocopa virginica male

Another tiger beetle, I know. But this one cooperated very nicely.

tiger beetle at prairie park

Finally a few flowers such as this small phlox. There was not a whole lot in bloom in the native prairie area.

prairieparkjun2 018

A Prairie Mimosa.
prairie mimosa

Lastly, a very delicate prairie pink. I like the mottled petals:

prairie pink

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Follow up on Identity Police

As a follow up to my earlier post, Joe Nadeau, the choir director fired from St Agnes, has taken a job at First Lutheran Church in Mission Hills KS. Good to see he found an accepting church. What I find most telling is this quote from the Kansas City Star:

St. Agnes' pastor, Monsignor Gary Applegate, declined to comment on the situation.

The law doesn'’t allow me to comment on personnel matters, he said.

Uh huh.

I wonder how much of this is due to an emboldenment on the part of conservatives with the election of Pope Benedict. OK, the Church does not like homosexuality, but I think She blundered here badly, forgetting Her own teachings about the power of music. I know in my own faith life there have been times, and increasingly now is one of those times, when music is what connects me to God and the Church. I have, by the way, been in choir since I was eight or so. But last night I really questioned how I can do this, given the behavior of the Church on this issue.

Still other details are in this Kansas City Star article.

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Garden things

Getting ready to go out this afternoon for a ramble and decided I'd better see what's on my camera's memory card:

This peony is actually from last month. I have always been fascinated by the association between these flowers and ants. My peonies have been struggling and it is partly a drainage problem, but I think maybe it's the lack of ants in my yard.

Speaking of insects. Here is a tiger beetle. Usually they don't hold still along enough for me to shoot, but yesterday this one perched on a Viburnum twig for about a minute. I only wish I had a macro lens!

This paper wasp, Polistes exclamans, was foraging on my honeysuckle vine yesterday. Not sure what for, as it didn't seem to be finding any prey. A lot of wasps also collect nectar or aphid sap and it is probably an important source of energy for the adults.

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Kansas Guild of Bloggers

From emaw_kc comes news about the Kansas Guild of Bloggers:

Three O'Clock in the Morning: This thing's got legs

Check it out and if you are a Kansas Blogger, show your stuff.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Unintended consequences of invasive species

An interesting article in this week's PLOS Biology reminds us that when we alter ecosystems, or for that matter any complex system, we cannot do just one thing. Stinson et al show through a set of very convincing experiments that an invasive species, the European Garlic Mustard, has an interesting effect on tree seedling in forests. Apparently this non native mustard reduces the growth of native tress seedlings by disrupting the mutualistic relationship between the roots of trees and the fungi that live with the roots. These sorts of mycorrhizal fungi are particularly important for woody plants but the garlic mustard and many other weedy invasive species apparently do not have these sorts of relationships.

Image from

The authors did a complex series of experiments to examine the affects of the mustard on woody seedling growth and colonization of roots by the mycorrhizal fungi. They concluded that the mustard does inhibit the colonization of woody seedling roots by the fungi, and that this inhibition is due to a chemical produced by the mustard that somehow inhibits the colonization of roots by the fungi.

What is unsettling is that the authors note that this effect is more pronounce in undisturbed habitats. They write:

"The strongest effects were observed for woody species most typically found in forested sites. These results indicate that the invasion of garlic mustard is more likely to negatively impact highly mycorrhizal-dependent tree seedlings than less-mycorrhizal-dependent plants. Thus, garlic mustard's successful colonization of understory habitat may be attributed in part to its ability to indirectly suppress woody competitors, and its effect on the native flora may be more detrimental in intact forests than disturbed sites. In addition, the data suggest that invasion by garlic mustard may have profound effects on the composition of mature forest communities (e.g., by repressing the regeneration of dominant canopy trees, and by favoring plants with low mycorrhizal dependency such as weedy herbs)."

The reason this is unsettling is that often in ecology we teach that mature, undisturbed habitats are less prone to invasion by weedy non native species and that these invasive species are problem mainly for disturbed habitats. Clearly this may not be the case!


Stinson KA, Campbell SA, Powell JR, Wolfe BE, Callaway RM, et al. (2006) Invasive Plant Suppresses the Growth of Native Tree Seedlings by Disrupting Belowground Mutualisms. PLoS Biol 4(5): e140

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