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?

Vox’s evidence for evolution from vestigial traits in humans

June 14, 2022 • 2:00 pm

Here’s an old video from Vox that shows morphological evidence for evolution in the human body based on vestigial organs and traits. Most of these can be found in Why Evolution is True, but it’s good to see them in video like this.

This takes the website back to its original aim: giving the readers evidence for why evolution is true.

How Asian honeybees kill their fearsome hornet predators

May 10, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I can’t remember why I opened the natural-selection chapter in Why Evolution is True (chapter 5: “The Engine of Evolution”) with the story of the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarina) and of the counterdefense of its prey of native honeybees. (The European honeybee, more recently introduced into Asia, has not evolved such a bizarre and amazing defense.)  The giant hornet is much to be feared by both honeybees and humans: it’s as big as your thumb, and several humans (and millions of bees) die from its attacks every year.

Since you all should have a copy of WEIT (as Hitch would say, “Available at fine bookstores everywhere”), I won’t recount the story of the native honeybees’ defense, but it involve luring the voracious hornet scout into the bee nest and the cooking it to death:  surrounding it with a ball of vibrating bee bodies that raises the ball’s internal temperature to 117 degrees F (47°C): a temperature that kills the wasp but not the bees.

I suppose I put that story in because it’s a stunning example of the power of natural selection to shape behavior (in both wasp and bee), and not many people knew about it. Now I hear that a lot of readers especially liked that story. It is a true one, and in this segment from BBC Earth, you can see the nefarious hornet scout discovering a hive of native honeybees.

The scout marks the hive with pheromones and usually flies back to recruit a swarm of fellow hornets to return to the nest to destroy it: a process that can take only a short while as the wasps  nest in minutes, decapitate adult bees and steal their honey and and bee grubs. But, as I relate in the book, sometimes, as here, the hornet scout never gets back to its own nest because of the counterdefense. The native bees lure it inside and cover it with vibrating bees that kill it.

This video is, of course, far more vivid that what I could say in words, so I want to show it here. But imagine the sequence of evolutionary steps that produced this defense!

If you want to see how these hornets slaughter the non-native European honeybees, watch this gruesome attack (each wasp can kill 40 bees per minute!). I’m sure I’ve shown this video somewhere in the distant past.

Now if you’ll excuse me, i’ll go home to rest.

Readers’ wildlife photos

February 5, 2022 • 9:00 am

Today’s photos are of the Galápagos Islands and its wildlife, taken by reader Joe Baldassano. His commentary and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Attached are some photos of my November 27 thru Dec 6, 2021 trip to the Galapagos Islands.

First, you will recognize the Island below (not named in the attachment) as Daphne Major. I want to mention to your readers that this was the site of Peter and Rosemary Grant’s studies of finches which led to the book The Beak of the Finch, a work I highly recommend. This island is off limits to visitors without special permission from the government.

During this trip, I visited the islands of Genovesa, Balta, St. Cruz, Santiago, and Isabella.  Most of the wildlife has no fear of humans and I believe credit for that rests with the government of Ecuador.  All excursions into the islands are closely regulated and visitors are accompanied by a well-trained naturalist. You can get very close to the animals, but no contact is permitted.

Each island offered an opportunity for snorkeling, and I was able to swim with sea lions, fur seals, sea turtles, manta rays, white tip sharks, and penguins. On one particular snorkeling excursion, a large sea gull did not welcome our presence and swam over to me and began pecking at my goggles; he/she was not happy and began pecking at my arm. I just swam backwards and the gull focused attention on my snorkeling buddy by ripping one of the filters off of his underwater camera.  It was very exciting provided and comic relief for all of us.

Seeing the giant tortoises and all of the wildlife found nowhere else was a gift,and I would encourage any follower of your WEIT site to put the Galapagos Islands on their bucket list.

Nazca Booby (chick):  Sula granti:

Blue Footed BoobySula nebouxii:

Galapagos Sea LionZalophus wollebaeki:




Magnificent FrigatebirdFregata magnificens:

Galapagos HawkButeo galapagoensis: 

Galapagos penguinSphensicus mendiculus: 

Galapagos short-eared owlAsio flammeus:

Ground Finch: (I do not know which finch I photographed; there are six different ground finches):

Land Iguana:  Conolophus subcristatus:

Red footed booby: Slua slua websteri:

With egg:

Round Shell Tortoise: Chelonoidis Nigra:

Saddleback Tortoise: Chelonoidis becki:

Sea (Marine iguana): Amblyrhynchus cristatus:

Green Sea TurtleChelonia mydas mydas:

Swallow-tailed gull: Larus furcatus:

Yellow warbler: Dendroica petechia aureola:

Darwin Research Station [b: An especially good photo!]:

One more post about WordPress glitches

November 17, 2020 • 9:30 am

I’m getting fed up with the unresponsiveness of WordPress, which changes formats without warning, causing problems for this site and others. Yesterday I was informed, after several glitches over the past few days, that my “theme” is no longer supported, though I was told the day before that that everything would be fixed.

As a result of these problems, I’m informing readers about the changes that have occurred, how to deal with them, and then I’ll advertise for someone to redesign this site.

First, the left and right sidebars, with the search boxes, number of subscribers, and place to subscribe yourself, have somehow combined and migrated to the bottom of the screen, so if you want to find them, don’t look top right and left, but scroll all the way down. As for making comments, you may have to fill in your information when you do. (I have to do this as well, and never had to before.) Chrome autofill might make this easier. There’s also a new “like” button for comments, which appeared briefly during the last glitch about a year ago (it mysteriously disappeared). Use it or ignore it if you wish.

My own posting has become quite a bit harder. The site runs much more slowly, embedding photos is extremely slow, and I can no longer insert, say, New York Times URLs and have the article appear as a click-on shot. Instead, I must take a screenshot and then link it to the article. Saving drafts and resurrecting up past drafts takes a lot of time. I’m bearing with it, though life is short.

For me, the obvious remedy is to find someone to redesign the site, using a theme that is supported. (I’m sufficiently conservative to not want to migrate to a new host.) My wish is to keep the appearance of the site as unchanged as possible given the use of a new theme. In that way I’m also a conservative, though open to suggestions. Thus, I’m looking around for someone who can redesign a site to make it work well, but also to keep it much the same. If you have extensive experience designing WordPress sites, and are willing to play around with this one, please get in touch with me (email is best). I am of course willing to remunerate designers for their time and work.

My other alternative is to say screw it and stop writing here, but I’m not ready to do that. I know this because I felt pretty bad yesterday having to deal with these issues, which meant to me that I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel. But damn, WordPress is an unresponsive organization, despite the dosh I give them under the expensive “business plan.”

New WordPress glitch involving commenting

August 6, 2020 • 8:15 am

All of us, including me, are now subject to a new glitch on the site. When you want to leave a comment, you have to do so at the bottom of all the comments, which will show your sign-in requisites. Further, if you want to reply to a comment already on the thread, PLEASE hit “reply” below the comment to which you’re replying. The same sign-in box will appear, but your comment will be properly placed as a reply.

I don’t like this any more than you do, and I am fighting with WordPress, who says it’s an unavoidable “occurrence” with an outdated site design. I don’t believe that, as surely something can be reversed to fix it. At any rate, I ask you not to be deterred by this new glitch. I’ll try to get it fixed, but please bear with it until it is fixed (or not).

—The Management

On blogger’s block

July 13, 2020 • 8:15 am

Yes, I used the b-word, as “website-writer’s block” has neither beauty nor alliteration. At any rate, I usually have a few things to read in the evening that I might post about here the next day. Yesterday I had nothing: everything I read, including a science paper, was either tedious, poorly written, said nothing new, or wasn’t intriguing.

And then I remembered that for about the first 8 years of this site or so, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to write about when I walked to work in the morning. In fact, that was a pleasure: to see a website appear out of neurons and thin air.

Those days are gone. In fact, they’re so gone that, when I was in that situation this morning, I felt I had to apologize for it here. Why? I suppose I feel a greater responsibility to produce content, and that’s buttressed by the many people who write me saying that they’re faithful readers, with some averring that WEIT is the first thing they read in the morning with their coffee. While that pleases me immensely, it also has imposed a bit of pressure on me to keep the interesting posts coming. I remember fondly the days when I didn’t feel that pressure, though I haven’t looked back to see if I post more now than I used to.  (The total number of posts, by the way, has been 22,285, including this one, with 1,098,183 comments.)

One result is that I’m constantly starting posts and discarding them when I lose interest: the third figure below is stuff that you’ll probably never see:

There’s an 80-page list of draft posts, and I might as well delete them all save the Caturday felid posts, which I construct as readers send me cat items.

The other result—and not a good one—is that sometimes I weigh what interests me against what might interest the readers. When they coincide, it’s good. Often they don’t, as in cat posts, boot posts, duck posts, and even science posts. But when I think that what interests me might bore other people, I go ahead and post. When the converse obtains, I deep-six the post, accounting for the 1,586 draft posts.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 10+ years I’ve been writing this site, it’s that I have to write about what intrigues me rather what I think would incite readership and discussion. (I could, for example, write a gazillion posts dissing Trump, but that’s just boring; go to HuffPost or the New York Times if you want that.) So nothing much will change, though I’m delighted to receive suggestions (except for those urging me to can the duck and cat posts!) The mantra will remain, “to thine own interests be true.”

Oh, I just thought of something to write about!

Now: WEIT in Arabic

December 4, 2019 • 8:00 am

When they started translating Why Evolution is True into different languages (I think there are 18 of them now), my fondest wish was to see it in Arabic, for Muslim lands, due to the religious creationism inherent of many believers, don’t get much instruction in evolution. In fact, Turkey, once a bastion of enlightenment among Muslim countries, has gone backwards under the Islamist Erdogan government, who has now eliminated the teaching of evolution from all classes before college. (Iran, however, is an exception; I understand that evolution is taught regularly there. Plus they speak Farsi, not Arabic, and I’m not sure whether this book would even be useful to Farsi speakers.)

I tried for several years to find someone who wanted to translate it, and I didn’t want any royalties, as having the evidence for evolution presented to the Arab-speaking world was important to me.

It took a while, but eventually the Egyptian Translation Service, with the help of Professor Samy Zalat, agreed to do the job. Then it was interrupted by Arab Spring, and so it was delayed for half a decade.

But now the book is out, although it isn’t advertised and seems to be available in small numbers at only one bookstore in Cairo. But I got a copy today from Samy, and so I’ll show you what it looks like.

As for availability, it’s on the internet as a pirated version, and so if you’re an Arabic speaker and want the book, perhaps judicious inquiry can lead you to a copy.

The cover—dinos and fish and planes, oh my!

The title page:

A page with an illustration:

And the back cover:

Apparently where you can get it:

If you can read Arabic, I would love to have a translation of the front cover, title page, and back cover. Please put them in the comments if you’re so kind as to translate.

You can’t win

July 16, 2019 • 12:15 pm

When I criticize Ilhan Omar, I get faulted for not mentioning Trump or Omar’s death threats. Now, when I criticize Trump, I get this (not posted, of course):

As the saying goes, you can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time.  But I’m sick and tired of this kind of stuff, and of accusations of whataboutery: “Why didn’t you denounce [opposite ideology from what I’ve denounced]?” Trump doesn’t just happen to be saying mean things on Twitter, of course: he’s wrecking the country. But Samedi wants me to go after the left-wingers more. I suggest he—again, I’m presuming it’s a male—read Breitbart.