Category: Uncategorized

Mais non! Evolution has Nothing to do with Sexual Violence Against Women.

Last week, with a great deal of hesitation, I wrote a small emotional post about some social concerns of mine, a kind of post that I usually keep reserved for a different blog. I did not think that there would be any further occasion for me to revisit the contents of that post in Scilogs. Lo and behold! This morning greeted me with an essay from a fellow Scilogs blogger, Danny Haelewaters, a veterinarian and PhD student at Harvard. The title of the essay was rather intriguing and bit shocking to me, “Evolutionary history has led us to today’s rapes“, and so I dove right in.

What I read outraged me. I left the following comment:

I condemn this essay, well-written as it is, in the strongest possible terms. Putting an evolutionary slant to this heinous crime and talking in terms of sexual activities completely misses the point that rape has nothing to do with sex. Rape is not a sexual phenomenon; rape is an ultimate act of subjugation, an act of display of power and ultimate control, and a act of the ultimate perversion in which a pleasurable act is forcibly converted to one of violence and abuse.

Biological evolution has done nothing to bring humanity to this sorry state of affairs, and to say so is to distract from the real culprit, a vile culture of misogyny and patriarchy, often sanctioned, aided and abetted actively by various religions and religious traditions – a culture that teaches young males that women are not equal human beings endowed with equal human rights, that women are playthings, that women are chattel or property to be used, abused, bought, sold or given away as and when desired by the males. THIS, and only this, is the reason behind the terrible and horrific tragedy of those Burundi women, and the women in India that this essay mentions.

I understand that this essay seeks to find some answers to the seemingly unrelenting spate of rapes and violent sexual abuse against women erupting all over the world, as we are all. But burdening the evolutionary process with the responsibility is not that answer.

Others, in the comments, have done a better job than I did driven by my outrage. For example, David Marjanović, a paleontologist by profession, has capably eviscerated many of the non-arguments made in the essay, including touching upon the punitive aspects of rape, i.e. sexual violence perpetrated upon victims as punishment. User Dhorvath has driven home another important point:

Men rape women because they can, because they are raised to think they deserve sex, and because they are raised to see women, family, friend, or stranger, as a means to that end.

Which, of course, speaks broadly to what I said above – the reason male privilege extends to forcing non-consenting individuals for gratification of sexual desire is because the prevalent social customs and traditions effectively conditions males to consider women as objects. Change, for it to be effective, must be brought at the root – the mindset, by denouncing anachronistic social customs and religious traditions, and training men to get rid of the centuries-old social conditioning that breeds disrespect for women in them.

Rest In Peace, Maxine Clarke (1954-2012)

With a great deal of sadness, I just got to learn via Twitter about the passing of Maxine Clarke, the Publishing Executive Editor at Nature, after a prolonged battle with cancer. My friend and erstwhile Nature Network blog colleague, Dr. Steffi Suhr, has written a heartfelt tribute to Maxine, and I can’t but feel sure that there are many who share her sentiments – including me. I started interacting with Maxine right from the time when I started commenting at various Nature Network fora, way back in 2008. As the-then moderator of the Nature Opinion forum, she was the indefatigable initiator of topics of great pertinence, which invariably attracted a lot of discussions (many of which I am proud to have participated in).

In another touching tribute, another erstwhile Nature Network blog colleague, Dr. Eva Amsen, has written, “In 2006, when almost nobody read my blog, Maxine did.” This is true in more ways than one, and for more individuals than Eva. When I started blogging at the Nature Network in 2010 and commenting in my colleagues’ blogs, Maxine seemed to be everywhere, and she would always leave in-depth and constructive comments (even when, on a rare occasion, I crossed swords with her!). As the moderator of the Nature Opinion forum, she had once caught an embarrassing gaffe of mine (I had rushed to leave a comment in a completely wrong forum) and directed me to the right one. Once when I had asked her a copyright-related question related to my blog, she was kind enough to patiently explain certain pertinent facts about copyright matters – even if she was not a part of the Nature Network Management team – and direct me to the ever helpful Ms. Lou Woodley, who served as a Community Manager for the Nature Network at that time. In many ways, small and big, Maxine Clarke had touched the lives of those she worked with, both online and off. As the official Nature Obit for Maxine puts it:

She never ceased to care and advocate for the working lives of those whom she managed. But, as I know from unsolicited compliments from authors over the years, she was highly valued outside the office too… As a senior colleague put it: “Maxine was Nature through and through.”

And that is the truth of it. Rest in peace, Maxine; my respects to you, and my thoughts are with your family, friends and colleagues, who mourn your loss.

Diabetes and Chronic Inflammation – connecting the dots, Part Un

Nature Medicine has recently featured studies dealing with obesity-related insulin resistance which leads to a type of diabetes, called Type 2 diabetes. Of these papers, one by Pal et al. (Nature Medicine, 18(8):1284, August 2012) highlights some specific aspects of the disease, including prospects for future therapeutics. I found it interesting – for various reasons* – enough to spur me to write about diabetes in the context of their observations. I shall make it a 2-part series; in the first post, I would talk a bit about diabetes in general, and follow it up with a review of the main findings of their elegant studies. (Full disclosure: I have parents and grandparents who are/were diabetic.)

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“Water memory” – a myth that wouldn’t die

Holy pseudoscience, Batman!

Homeopathy websites (too many to list; I found the material for this post here) are all gleefully abuzz today** with the following factoid – New Research From Aerospace Institute of the University of Stuttgart Scientifically Proves Water Memory and Homeopathy.

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A Glad Venture With Tintin

Stealing from our busy professional lives a couple of hours in a rather buccaneer fashion (Red Rackham would have approved!), my wife and I – ever the partners in crime – went to watch the newly released (in the US; the world – alas! – has watched it much before us) Spielberg movie, “”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0983193/" style=“text-decoration: none;”>The Adventures of Tintin".

I don’t mind admitting that there was a certain amount of uncertainty, even trepidation, involved at first: would Spielberg do it justice? This is the movie adaptation of a much-beloved comic book series that we have grown up with. We are intensely familiar with the spread of delightful characters created by the Belgian comic book artist and writer, Georges Remi (or, more popularly, Hergé): Tintin, the young journalist, and Snowy, his adorable and intelligent canine companion; Captain Archibald Haddock, an old Sea-dog with a heart of gold and a vocabulary full of wonderfully made-up cusswords; Professor Cuthbert Calculus, the absent-minded and deaf-as-a-door-post but brilliant inventor; Thomson and Thompson, the duo of bumbling, articulation-challenged detectives, who nevertheless find themselves representing the law under the most interesting circumstances; Bianca Castafiore, the ‘Milanese Nightingale’, the Soprano whose voice can crack glass when it hits the highest notes; General Alcazar; the deliciously evil Rastapopoulus; and so on and on. The adventures were breathtaking in their imagination – oh, the places they went and people they met! – and the drawings had such motion, such flow – despite being bound in the two dimensions afforded by small box-panels – such cinematic quality, with long-shots, close-ups, masterful use of light and shadow. Would Spielberg (Director) and Peter Jackson (Producer) do it right?

The Adventures of Tintin
Low resolution image adapted from imdb.com; original image © Paramount/Dreamworks

There was also the question of the animation technique. I am not a fan of the motion-capture animation, having been sorely disappointed by the 2004 release, The Polar Express, which popularized this technique; the computer-aided process could successfully animate a vast range of motions of the characters except the eyes, giving the on-screen characters a rather zombie-like countenance with expressionless, dead eyes. The technology must have been refined since then, but we weren’t quite sure.

Well, I am happy to report that our trepidations were unfounded.

The animated credits at the inception were exquisitely done; visually pleasing, with intelligently placed graphics and moving images, and more than a passing nod to certain animated sequences made popular by the created-for-TV animated adaptations of the books, we thoroughly enjoyed it. The animation and effects in the main movie didn’t disappoint either. Even with their animated feel, the characters came alive on screen; their interactions were fluid, with an unexpected élan. Depictions of nature and the action sequences were crafted adroitly and realistically; Hergé would have been proud.

So what about the main gripe against the movie that I have been hearing from my fellow Tintin-enthusiast Indian friends? The story… as it almost always is. This is what the Tintin Purists found most offensive and whine-worthy. The writing team, which includes the British Writer Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame), did not stick to the original storyline and chronological sequence of events described for these characters. They took major elements, story and visual, from no less than three Tintin books, and resynthesized the narrative into a cohesive plot that moves at a fast and smooth pace.


Low resolution image adapted from Wikipedia, here and here; depicted characters © author/publishers, as appropriate

Granted there were inaccuracies that jarred. The real story behind acquisition of the Marlinspike Hall, for example. Professor Calculus featured in the original storyline in a major way, but not in the movie; the meeting between Tintin and Captain Haddock also didn’t quite occur as depicted in the movie; and the entire series of events surrounding the models of the 17th century ship Unicorn were imagined very differently by Hergé, from which the movie deviated significantly. The movie narrative, based primarily on The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, nevertheless incorporated random plotlines snatched from many of the other adventures.

However, Tintin Purists (me included) need to understand one thing. Spielberg’s Tintin movie of 2011 is being presented primarily to an audience that has largely no previous exposure to the comic book and its characters, unlike the audience in India or various European countries. The US movie-goers may or may not take to the franchise, at all; consequently, there may or may not be any sequels to this production. To account for this unfortunate element of unpredictability, the writing team must have had to incorporate as many plot elements as they could, in order to make a story that is enjoyable even to the uninitiated.

Well, it worked. It was a GREAT effort. I must admit, Bianca Castafiore was as delightful as I have always imagined her, even though in this movie, she didn’t sing, “My beauty past compare…” What was also fabulous was the inclusion of Easter-egg like inside jokes that only the seasoned Tintin aficionados would get. Right from the first scene, there were displays, on the sly, of the comic-book characters that we so love. Certain elements of the desert scene were so reminiscent of The Crab with the Golden Claws, and a later scene at the dock allowed a surreptitious glimpse of the peculiar brand of cigar as in the Cigars of the Pharaoh. There were several others: can one find them all?

Needless to say, we loved the movie, and hope Spielberg would not stop just with one. After all, material is plentiful in Hergé’s long list of creations!

Come on, NN and NB! Really?

This ranty-whiny post was inspired by a recent conversation a few members had with a site moderator, in which I had characteristically rushed in – like the proverbial bull in the China shop – complaining about site issues, and was very nicely, politely and roundly admonished. It had struck me at that time that I should substantiate my claims with evidence, and organize the issues in a manner as can serve as a checklist – no, call it a bucket list, with all implications thereof.

And this post was born – FWIW – highlighting a few issues.

Site Design distractions and profile grief!

  1. URL network.nature.com/blogs – The Blogs tab. On clicking it, one reaches a page that is badly designed, with terrible (non-)utlization of screen real estate, and singularly uninformative. There is also no way for user customization. On the right-hand side of the reading area, there is a gaping hole, which could easily be populated with boxes such as ‘Featured Posts’ or ‘Recent comments’ – boxes that are there, but currently languishing way down, so that only way to see them (without having to click another button/link) is to scroll, scroll, scroll down.
  2. If some tenacious soul does scroll down, amongst all the boxes, what does one find? Something called ‘Questions’, dating back to 4 months earlier at today’s reading. Why? No one else dared or bothered to ask any other question in these four months? Does this section even have a relevance if it keeps serving ancient information?
  3. I would like to be able see at a glance blogs that I have been commenting on, not just what is ‘most popular’ or ‘most recent’ and so forth.
  4. It would be nice to be able to get to my own blog from the blogs page without any complicated, convoluted steps – currently impossible.
  5. If clicking on my name (which is a hyperlink) at the top of the NN page is going to bring me to my profile only, what is the point of having another link called ‘Your Profile’ to its right side?
  6. In my profile synopsis, strange problems that I had pointed out L-O-N-G back still remain. Of all my publications, one JI paper has mysteriously missing the volume, page and year info, and one JAC paper lists an invalid DOI link with – wait for this – the PMID number written, but no pubmed link. I have ascertained that the pertinent information is correctly written when I see them in the Edit mode, but they will not display properly. How difficult can this be to correct?
  7. I have tried this in three browsers, but have never seen any Orange Button that allows me to get to the blogger dashboard (despite Lou’s ‘fixes’). So long I have been following – as a workaround – the link that Matt provided me with at the very beginning, but the non-inclusion/non-appearance of the dashboard button is baffling and counter-intuitive, to say the least. And others have complained about this, too. Nothing happened.
    [update: IF the system recognizes me as logged in, then I do get to see the Orange Button ‘Write New Entry’ on the sidebar for the blog-posts now, and it works :)]
  8. URL: blogs.nature.com – Why does the front page have O-L-D stuff (from Aug and July!!) displayed, like, forever?

Intractable Login Issues. Sigh!

  1. Bob O’Hara once advised Richard Grant to ‘befriend’ himself on NN as a solution to his login issues. Apparently, it was possible at the time – not any more. But I am constantly reminded of this curious and funny scenario when the NN right-side box proclaims that <my name> (not to mention, that ugly mug) has commented on such-and-such blog after my last comment – EVEN when I am logged in. For some reason, NN has this persistent inability to recognize current and past logins by the same user. Who woulda thunk.
  2. Another unresolved problem that still bugs me every time is that even if I am logged into Nature Network, clicking on my blog link (or typing the URL in) will still get me to a page that requires me to sign in – again. I have earlier even provided screenshots of this when I pointed this out. To no avail.
  3. Strangely, the front page of the NB recognizes me as logged in, but the moment I go to ANY damn blog, I have to sign in to comment. What gives?
  4. Just now, despite being logged in on Nature Network AND a member of the NN Bloggers private group, I was denied access to the discussion board of the group.

    Clicking on the ‘View Discussion Board’ link brought me to a page which shows me as not logged in, and asks me to log in.
  5. When I re-log in, it just returns me to the main NN page. AAAARRRRGGHHHHH!!! Can the login page be configured to return the user to the same page prior to the login action? This is not super-duper high tech, I am sure. Lots of websites do this easily.
  6. I guess, I should be glad that I can still sign in. My friend, Ian Brooks, has not been so lucky. Despite a communication from Lou with assurances three weeks ago, nothing has been done to resolve his login issues, and he still can’t log in to his blog or to comment on posts. RPG had commented upon this in March highlighting a similar problem, and even then – per Lou’s response – their IT had fixed some of the logins. Why ‘some’? Why not all? Why are such login issues continuing, even for old bloggers?

Incommunicado?

  1. Jacqueline Floyd asked a question about RSS widgets and related features in July, 2010. We all would have wanted to know. There was no response.
  2. Cath, Jenny and Grrl made a complaint about missing comments in July 2010. Beyond “Will let you know”, there was no solution posted.
  3. In late July, Lou communicated that they have brought in an MT4 expert and that the team was pushing out batches of fixes on a fortnightly basis. A lot of discussion was generated in that thread, with many of us chiming in, talking about the attack of the spambots, lack of trackbacks, login for commenting (which turns off a lot of readers and would-be commenters, lack of site stats, and so forth. Then… silence. Does anyone have a clue whether any of the suggestions were considered?
  4. Matt responded to Richard’s complaint about inability to comment from iPhone or iPad, saying that it was not an overnight solution. Absolutely. But that was in the middle of September!
  5. In the beginning of October, Jacqueline Floyd made a very pertinent comment about the design of the NN home page, about how the “Recent Nature Network Posts” box creates a terrible impression to visitors and prevents truly recent posts from receiving timely traffic. No comments on that thereafter.
  6. Have we yet heard from the consultants about the Comment Previewing feature that Mike Fowler asked about the 4th instant?

To my knowledge (which is admittedly meager), this is by no means an exhaustive list of the current, unresolved issues. I didn’t have time to go through all the discussion threads. If anyone else has similar, or other issues, please jot them down in the comments.


I must acknowledge that since the sainted MT4 migration, quite a few improvements (inline image attachment function, faster page load, noticeably less spam, among many others) have been made in response to the bloggers’ questions, and have been communicated to us by Lou, bless her, as well as Matt and a few others from time to time. I thank the moderator team for their hard work and patience with all my heart.

But mods, please ask yourselves honestly: is this the right pace? Would you have been happy with the progress, had you been in our place?

Most importantly, even after this, will there be improvements? At this juncture, IDK.

Pet peeve… and all that

We live in a confusing world. Okay, more accurately, I live in this world, confused. There are so many things I don’t get. I don’t get people who have a professed problem with contractions, such as isn’t (for ‘is not’), don’t (for ‘do not’), shan’t (for ‘shall not’), wouldn’t, can’t, haven’t, aren’t – not to mention the quirky ain’t (originally for ‘am not’). [Yes, Abbie, I am looking at you!] I also don’t get people who confuse (including a certain well-admired Professor who shall remain nameless) between it’s (a contraction of ‘it is’) and its (the possessive form). I seethe with frustration (Yes, I love Lynne Truss!) when people write ‘your’ when they mean “you’re” (contraction of ‘you are’), or say/write the abominable ‘would of’ instead of “would’ve” (contraction of ‘would have’).

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Back to the pavilion…


I just flew back to Los Estados Unidos from India, and oh boy, are my arms tired!

It was a relatively short trip home, but very hectic. But for me the major sore point was the regrettable lack of proper internet access for the most part of my stay – which is why I seem to have missed out on rather interesting exchanges over at the NN Bloggers’ forum.

Well, I am back now, eager to jump into the fray.

Allons-y!

A Quick Snippet Re Scitable Via Nature Publishing Group

Ars Technica today published an interesting report on Nature Publishing Group (NPG)’s launch of Scitable, and the recent NPG study (published as a Nature Education position paper) that suggests that:

[…] emphasis on research at the expense of teaching at the university level may be partially responsible for the scientific underperformance of advanced students worldwide.

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