Note to readers

August 9, 2022 • 8:30 am

Once again I should remind readers to try to limit the emails they send me, as the volume is getting unmanageable, and I am both missing some emails and failing to acknowledge others.

Therefore, I’d ask readers to send me AT MOST one email per day with tips about interesting material, or perhaps one every two days.  If readers accumulate multiple “tips”, better to combine them in a file and then send them to me at once than to send each link as they find it.

This of course does not apply to errors I make in my posts; corrections are welcome at any time.

—The Mgmt.

Call for suggestions:

August 4, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’m rethinking this website (no, I’m not at the point where I’ll give it up, although all the cool kids are doing podcasts—which I simply can’t do), and am asking readers what they’d like to see more of. Please don’t tell me what you want to see less of, or what you don’t like, as I’m sensitive today. Science posts don’t seem to be very popular, and, given that they’re the hardest posts to write, I’d like to know if people want more of those.

And of course there are other kinds of posts I could write about, but I’ve pretty much covered the gamut: wine, my life, music, and so on. I’m not trying to cater to readers’ whims to get clicks, but, truth be told, the usual run of posts has gotten a bit boring, and I’m looking for new directions.

Feel free to comment below, but don’t say stuff like, “I could do with fewer Caturday posts”!


WEIT quiz

August 2, 2022 • 9:15 am

Once again I’m debilitated from lack of sleep, having slept for a handful of hours last night. I have no idea why my insomnia recurred, as I’m following my sleep hygiene rules pretty carefully. But the upshot is that my brain isn’t working well, and posting is a huge effort.  It will be light today, and I’ll divert my minimal energy into preparing talks for my upcoming lecture cruise to the Galápagos.

But I thought I’d pose ten questions to the readers of this site to see how attentive they are. (Yes, this is a bit solipsistic.) To answer them all, you’d have to have been a reader for a while. Some are easy, others aren’t, but no Googling or searching the site allowed.

1.) What does PCC(E) stand for?

2.) Give two reasons why canids are usually spelled “d*g” on this site

3.) Why don’t I like WEIT to be called a “blog”? What’s the preferred term for the site?

4.) What is the name of my favorite duck, and how many years in succession have I taken care of her?

5.) How did this website get started?

6.) What was the name of my last cat, and what kin of cat was it?

7.) From what region does my favorite red wine come?

8.) What must all readers do before they put up their first comment?

9.) What is the name of Steve Pinker’s teddy bear? (This was the subject of a contest a long time ago.)

10.) What was the great insight I had on an acid trip when I was in college?

The weirdness of our most popular posts

June 14, 2022 • 10:30 am

Like all people who write a website, I like to know how many people are reading it, and what attracts them.  But I’ve never written about issues that I thought would attract clicks, so I’m always surprised when a “throwaway post”, like the second one below, gets so many reads.

Here’s a list of the top posts read with links to them; I believe this holds over the entire span of this website—since January, 2009.

The Art Institute Post was by far the most widely read, and most widely cited, too. It was about Chicago’s premier art museum firing all its unpaid docents to replace them with a more “diverse” staff.  II heard about it from a website called “The Barbershop“, not one that I’d heard of before. (The creator, Dennis Byrne, was a journalist who had a long career in Chicago, working for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News.)

Still, it didn’t get much airplay until I wrote in some detail about it. I’m nor sure why, as I’m a small fry, but it resonated with all kinds of people, including art lovers and people who were educated by the wonderful Art Institute docents (who are still fired). The story was picked up and carried by many venues, and the Art Institute got many objections, including from people who canceled their membership.

The Art Institute of Chicago fires all 122 of its (unpaid and volunteer) docents because they aren’t sufficiently “diverse”  167,359 Views

This one, which just went up last week, is still gathering lots of reads every day. This was of course totally unpredictable: I wrote it on the spur of the moment to express a beef about consumer products like ice cream getting smaller and relatively more expensive. I guess it struck a nerve since every consumer is feeling ripped off these days. And almost everyone has noticed the decline in quality and quantity of most brands of ice cream.

The ice cream scams  76,807 Views (and counting)

Who would have thought that accusations of racism against Ed Wilson would draw such attention? Well, clearly the people who did a hit job on him, like this author in Scientific America. (Lots of people have probably read Ed’s books, too.) The Sci Am article was abysmal, even accusing Mendel of racism! Maybe a lot of people read the magazine, but they shouldn’t. It’s way too woke and lacks judgment, as in this piece:

Scientific American does an asinine hit job on E. O. Wilson, calling him a racist 39,394 Views

Likewise: why should Americans be interested in the doings of science educators and authorities in New Zealand? But they were:

“Ways of knowing”: New Zealand pushes to have “indigenous knowledge” (mythology) taught on parity with modern science in science class  30,231 Views

Finally, three cat posts. Now this one from last Christmas baffles me: why should so many people want to see pictures of our readers’ kitties in a Christmas theme?

Caturday felids: Christmas edition with readers’ kitties! 29,174 Views

Ditto. I fail to understand the attention given to these two Caturday felid posts, but of course the Internet is made of cats.  Many times I’ve contemplated ditching the Caturday felid posts.

Caturday felid trifecta: Celebrities’ cats; cat has rare brown kittens; giant cat screen in Japan; and lagniappe  22,748 Views

Caturday felid trifecta: Rescuing a baby Pallas’s cat; man builds elevator to help senior cat up and down stairs; kitten therapy at a retirement home; and lagniappe  16,339 Views

These aren’t a huge number of reads compared to those posted by someone like Andrew Sullivan, but I have no aspirations to be a professional “blogger.” This was always an avocation, but one that blew up beyond its original goal.


Once again, please try not to dominate the comments section

April 18, 2022 • 2:00 pm

I have to remind people of this from time to time as some people comment over and over again in comments sections, often involve in a back and forth that is almost invariably unproductive. I remind you once again of stricture #9 in Da Roolz:

Try not to dominate threads, particularly in a one-on-one argument. I’ve found that those are rarely informative, and the participants never reach agreement. A good guideline is that if your comments constitute over 10% of the comments on a thread, you’re posting too much.

I can raise that to 15%, but that’s one comment out of six or seven, and I think that’s sufficiently frequent.

Thank you for your adherence.


February 21, 2022 • 9:00 am

I’ll be going to Antarctica and the Falklands next Sunday, and will be gone a bit more than four weeks. I suspect I’ll be busier with lecturing this time than I was two years ago, so I wanted to warn people in advance not to expect much posting during my absence. Last time I was there, it took forever to post, as internet in that area is—as you’ll understand—slow and dicey. To post photos, for example, I had to downsize each one to about 250kb, and it was time-consuming.

All I can say is that I’ll do my best to keep readers informed and also to send photos when I can.  Because of the email situation, I ask that you keep communications with me to a bare minimum, i.e., no wildlife photos. If you have important articles, send them, but please combine them into one email every week or so. As always, I’ll do my best.

This week’s postings will also be sparse as I have a gazillion things to do to prepare, for I’m doing another lecturing trip—this time to the Mediterranean—two weeks after I return. More on that later.

I wanted to put just one photo up of my last trip, but I got obsessed. Here’s why I wanted to go back so badly. (Click photos to enlarge.)

One of the world’s only three species of flightless duck!

On the way soon!

Notes to readers

February 8, 2022 • 10:15 am

I have several items to impart today:

First, many people have asked how to send me photographs. I’m preparing a “page” that will live in the left sidebar telling you how to do this. In the meantime, please send photos to my email that you can get by clicking “research interests” at the upper right of the main page. Please follow the format that most people use: 12-15 pics at most, give a brief narrative along with species IDs, and don’t forget the Latin binomials! I of course encourage submission of photos, but please see that they’re roughly of the quality that I post daily.  (High!) Thanks.

Second, I keep bringing this up, and many people keep ignoring it.  The issue is of people over-commenting in threads, with the result that often a substantial fraction of the comments in a thread are made by one or a few people. In one thread the other day, for example, 7 out of 28 comments, or more than 25%, were made by a single person.

As I guideline, I refer you to this item (#9) in Da Roolz:

Try not to dominate threads, particularly in a one-on-one argument. I’ve found that those are rarely informative, and the participants never reach agreement. A good guideline is that if your comments constitute over 10% of the comments on a thread, you’re posting too much.

I’ll raise this to about 15% (one in 7 comments or so), but please try to be concise and try not to put up comments that don’t add anything to the discussion.

Also, please do not email me too often, as I often get several hundred emails per day, and it’s very time-consuming. And when there are so many, I can miss some, including important ones.  If you see an error in a post or have an urgent question, of course you may email me right away. Otherwise, try to combine your comments or links into one email sent every two or three days.

Finally, let me emphasize again that I always call for civility. Try to treat other people as if you were speaking to them personally (yes, I know, I sometimes slip up too). If you are addressing me, pretend you’re doing so in my living room. After all, that’s sort of what you’re doing. Lately, it seems, incivility has increased and I attribute this to the pandemic and people getting antsy and peeved. If you are heated up, I’d urge you to take a bit of time to ponder before you post something strong.

Thank you,



Upcoming post at 6 p.m.

January 21, 2022 • 1:30 pm

Because evening posts are often missed, I wanted to call your attention to a post I’ll be making at 6:01 (per agreement with a newspaper) involving YET ANOTHER multiply-signed letter defending a good biologist who’s been unfairly defamed. I can say no more, but do check the site or your email around 6 pm Chicago time this evening

In the meantime, this will be the last post until then as I have lectures to write for Antarctica. They’re now asking me to do some 5-minute “mini-talks” on evolution, a task I find very difficult.  I need to convey the idea of evolution in five-minute bits, and four of them.

Here’s what I’ve chosen (not in order), but the fourth one will be nearly impossible.

1.) What is the “theory of evolution”?

2.) What are the biggest misconceptions about evolution?

3.) How could you disprove evolution?

4.) What is the evidence for evolution?

I can do the other three in about 7-8 min. each, I think, but I have a 100-minute (two-session) lecture on the evidence for evolution that I used to give to my students.

If anybody can suggest other interesting 5-minute topics about evolution, put them below. One might be “why people oppose evolution”, but the answer is largely “religious belief,” and that doesn’t go down well to an audience on a cruise, who are not in the mood for any religion-bashing. Remember, these are for laypersons who don’t know much evolution,