Readers’ wildlife photos

September 23, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos come from reader Christopher McLaughlin, whose notes are indented. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

I’ll offer up this handful of wildflower/landscape photos, hopefully they are of interest. I don’t have fancy equipment, just an iPhone 11.  They were taken last summer, July 17, 2021, in between storms at Jerry Smith Park (supposedly a remnant prairie) in south Kansas City.

Silphium laciniatum [Prairie Compass Plant]:

Silphium laciniatum, Liatris pycnostachya [Prarie Blazing Star],and  Echinacea pallida, [Pale Purple Coneflower]:

Silphium integrifolium [rosinweed]:

I am not certain on the species, or even the genus of this crayfish, possibly Orconectes virilis, the rather common Northern Crayfish. This was taken on a rainy spring morning at Gama Grass Conservation Area, Vernon county MO.

Otherwise not an exciting find, as crayfish are quite common, but finding her loaded with babies was a treat. Pardon the dirty hands and fingernails.

Silphium perfoliatum [cup plant]from my back yard. Silphium being my favorite genus, I have four of the five species that grow in Missouri in my yard, with seeds of the fifth species on the way. They are excellent for attracting pollinators, including hummingbirds, and the seeds are eaten by several birds.

Friday: Hili dialogue

September 23, 2022 • 6:30 am

Greetings at a chilly end to the work week (in Chicago): it’s September 23, 2022, and the first full day of autumn, which began last night at around 9 p.m. It’s also National Pancake Day. Here are some Polish pancakes that I had when I visited Poznań in 2016:

It’s also National Great American Pot Pie Day (an underappreciated dish), National Snack Stick Day, Native American Day, Love Note DayCelebrate Bisexuality Day ,and International Day of Sign Languages

Not much happened on September 23, but these things did:

  • 38 – DrusillaCaligula‘s sister who died in June, with whom the emperor is said to have an incestuous relationship, is deified.
  • 1642 – The first commencement exercises occur at Harvard College.
  • 1806 – Lewis and Clark return to St. Louis after exploring the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The journey and back took them about 2½ years.  Here’s a map of the expedition; note that the eastern part of the journal is red outlined in green, implying that they retraced their steps:

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

The caption: “The Knickerbockers (left) posing with their rivals in 1858.” Is the guy in the top hat an umpire?

Here’s the last strikeout in the record, now shared with the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.  But the record number of consecutive strikeouts during any part of a game is ten, held by three pitchers. Now what is the record number of strikeouts in a single game by one pitcher? That’s also shared by three pitchers, one of whom accomplished the feat twice. Check the link.

  • 2002 – The first public version of the web browser Mozilla Firefox (“Phoenix 0.1”) is released.

Da Nooz:

*As I reported recently, there’s a mass exodus of draft-age Russian men from their country, either avoiding being called up in the new mobilization of 300,000 reservists, or fear that they will be called up in a second and universal mobilization.

Turkey already was among the countries that received a large exodus of Russians at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion. Many were fleeing the crackdown at home, including the criminalization of dissent, with speaking out against the invasion or even calling it a war now carrying serious penalties. Others worried about the impact of international sanctions and Russia’s growing isolation on the economy and their jobs.

Now, a new wave may be beginning, and while the exact scope of it was not immediately clear, the rush for plane tickets and the long lines of cars at the borders were indications that the prospects of an expanded conscription have alarmed a swath of Russian society.

Apparently Russian men were getting called up for service within hours of Putin’s announcement, and it hasn’t been received well. Nobody wants to die in a useless and unpopular war:

By declaring for the first time that Russian civilians could be pressed into service in Ukraine, Mr. Putin risked a public backlash but said the move was “necessary and urgent” because the West had “crossed all lines” by providing sophisticated weapons to Ukraine.

Despite the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent, protests erupted on Wednesday night across Russia in response to Mr. Putin’s move, with at least 1,312 people arrested, according to the human rights watchdog OVD-Info. Many Russians sought to travel to other countries to escape being called up to fight as men across the country reported to draft offices.

Russian officials said the call-up would be limited to people with combat experience. But Yanina Nimayeva, a journalist from the Buryatia region of Siberia, wrote on Thursday that her husband — a father of five and an employee in the emergency department in the regional capital — had been called up despite never having served in the military. She said he had received a summons to an urgent meeting at 4 a.m. in which it was announced that a train had been organized to bring reservists to the city of Chita.

. . . In Ulan-Ude, the regional capital of Buryatia, draft papers “were distributed to houses and apartments all night,” according to a report from Arig-Us, a local independent television station. The local news media reported that new recruits had gathered at a military facility a short walk from a sports complex where funerals are held for soldiers who die in Ukraine.

Can you imagine the pandemonium that would ensue if Putin decides to mount a full mobilization—a full draft? You’d have to be crazy to want to go to Ukraine to fight, for even many Russian civilians know that this is an unjust war. There would be mass protests, and perhaps Putin would have to go.

*A federal appeals court overruled part of District Judge Aileen Cannon’s decisions about the disposition of papers seized from Trump at Mar-a-Lago. As you may recall, Cannon ruled that not only would all the papers be vetted by a “special master”—something the Justice Dept. did not appeal—but also that the government could not yet use about 100 files labeled “classified” in its criminal investigation of Trump. That would have impeded the government’s investigation—but that was the part overruled by the appeals court:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday freed the Justice Department to resume using documents marked as classified that were seized from former President Donald J. Trump, blocking for now a lower court’s order that had strictly limited the investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of government materials.

In a strongly worded 29-page decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit set aside key parts of an order by a Florida federal judge that has kept the department from using about 100 files with classification markings in its inquiry into whether Mr. Trump illegally retained national defense documents and obstructed repeated efforts to recover them.

The appeals court also agreed with the Justice Department that Mr. Trump’s lawyers — and an independent arbiter recently appointed to review the seized materials — need not look at the classified documents that the F.B.I. carted away from Mr. Trump’s estate, Mar-a-Lago, on Aug. 8.

The Justice Department “argues that the district court likely erred in exercising its jurisdiction to enjoin the United States’ use of the classified records in its criminal investigation and to require the United States to submit the marked classified documents to a special master for review,” a three-judge panel of the appeals court wrote. “We agree.”

The decision by the Atlanta-based court was a repudiation of the decision by Judge Aileen M. Cannon, whom Mr. Trump appointed to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, to broadly intervene in the Justice Department’s investigation. The appellate ruling will permit the arbiter, known as a special master, to review most of the more than 11,000 files seized from Mar-a-Lago, but allow prosecutors unfettered access to the smaller batch of classified records.

The appellate panel consisted of two other Trump appointees, Judges Britt Grant and Andrew L. Brasher, and Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum, an Obama appointee.

And this is the sad but hilarious part (see tweet below showing the exchange):

But in an interview that aired late Wednesday, Mr. Trump made the extraordinary claim — not advanced by his own lawyers or supported by prior practice or legal precedent — that he had the right as president to declassify documents by wordlessly willing it to be so.

“You can declassify just by saying ‘it’s declassified,’ even by thinking about it,” Mr. Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

The deranged ex-President says he has magical powers; he doesn’t even need a formal procedure to declassify documents! He just thinks away their classified nature!

*I didn’t realize that the Republicans were contemplating legislation that would impose a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks, but that’s what Senator Lindsey Graham just proposed. Now given the composition of the House and Senate, this has no chance of passing right now, and if the Senate stays Democratic or 50/50, it still won’t pass in the next two years even if the House flips to a Republican majority. But it shows you where the Republicans are going.

Upending the political debate, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a nationwide abortion ban Tuesday, sending shockwaves through both parties and igniting fresh debate on a fraught issue weeks before the midterm elections that will determine control of Congress.

Graham’s own Republican Party leaders did not immediately embrace his abortion ban bill, which would prohibit the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy with rare exceptions, and has almost no chance of becoming law in the Democratic-held Congress. Democrats torched it as an alarming signal of where “MAGA” Republicans are headed if they win control of the House and Senate in November.

“America’s got to make some decisions,” Graham said at a news conference at the Capitol.

The South Carolina Republican said that rather than shying away from the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer overturning Roe v. Wade’s nearly 50-year right to abortion access, Republicans are preparing to fight to make a nationwide abortion ban federal law.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, we’re going nowhere,” the senator said while flanked by female advocates from the anti-abortion movement. “We welcome the debate. We welcome the vote in the United States Senate as to what America should look like in 2022.”

. . .Reaction was swift, fierce and unwavering from Democrats who viewed Graham’s legislation as an extreme example of the far-right’s hold on the GOP, and as a political gift of self-inflicted pain for Republican candidates now having to answer questions about an abortion ban heading toward the midterm elections.

“A nationwide abortion ban — that’s the contrast between the two parties, plain and simple,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

I’m not surprised that Graham’s proposal wasn’t enthusiastically embraced by Republicans! A recent Pew poll showed that 61% of all adult Americans think that “abortion should be legal in all or most cases“—a standard even more permissive than that of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade, which ruled that states could restrict but not absolutely prohibit abortion during the second trimester.

Only 37% said that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Given that Republicans in many states have managed to restrict abortion nearly completely, surely a nationally unpopular stand, the Republicans are choosing a strange hill to die on. It’s no surprise, then, that savvy Democrats are campaigning on a pro-choice plank, as they are here in Illinois.  Ad after Democratic ad on t.v. show clips of the Republican nominee for governor, Darren Bailey, saying that he doesn’t think abortion should be allowed even in cases of rape or incest. What a goon! I wonder if James Carville has anything to say about this. “It’s the fetus, stupid!”

And, lo and behold, I just found Carville discussing this (he agrees with me) and other ways the Democrats need to approach the impending midterms.

*If you don’t know by now that the “squad” in Congress is anti-Semitic, favoring the elimination of Israel by uniting it with Palestine, or allowing the “right of return” of millions of Arabs descended from those who left Israel in 1948 largely at the behest of Arab states, then you aren’t paying attention. As in this clip, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib calls Israel an “apartheid state” when, in reality, it is Palestine that is the apartheid state, banning Jews, gays, oppressing women, and so on. (This reversal of the truth is a diagnostic sign of an anti-Semite).

Now Tlaib tells us that Democrats cannot be “progressive” if they support the “apartheid state of Israel.  (h/t Malgorzata)

Several House Democrats on Wednesday slammed Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) over her claim that supporting “Israel’s apartheid government” is incompatible with “progressive values.”

“I want you all to know that among progressives, it’s become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values, yet back Israel’s apartheid government, and we will continue to push back and not accept that you are progressive except for Palestine,” Tlaib said in an online forum hosted by “American Muslims for Palestine” and “Americans for Justice in Palestine Action.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) accused Tlaib of antisemitism.

“The outrageous progressive litmus test on Israel by [Tlaib] is nothing short of antisemitic,” Wasserman Schultz wrote on Twitter. “Proud progressives do support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Suggesting otherwise is shameful and dangerous.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, tweeted, “In one sentence, Rep. Rashida simultaneously tells American Jews that they need to pass an anti-Zionist litmus test to participate in progressive spaces even as she doubles down on her antisemitism by slandering Israel as an apartheid state.”

To wit:

Do people not know who these “progressives” really are? Is it really “progressive” to support terrorists, the killing of gays, apostates, and atheists, to teach little children to hate Jews, and to oppress women?

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili disses Szaron (they’re still not fast friends):

Szaron: Do you have a moment?
Hili: No, I’m very busy.
Szaron: Czy masz chwilę czasu?
Hili: Nie, jestem bardzo zajęta.


From Divy. Will we be seeing this soon as a court exhibit?

From Nicole; life the way it should be:

Remember, though, NEVER FEED BREAD TO DUCKS! But I do the same thing when the bread comes. . .

Two Tweets of God.  And He’s plenty pissed off at the recent murder in Iran (a woman who didn’t wear her hijab properly!), and at the country’s theocracy. And yes, the government has shut down the Internet.


From Malcolm: a cool painting:

From Ken, who says this: “Makes sense, doesn’t it? This guy is going to get even more crazy, and more dangerous, now that he’s cornered.” Apparently when Trump thinks about declassifying a document, it becomes declassified. It’s magic!

From Simon: A response to “thought declassification”:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. The first video, from Iran, is horrifying. Only now is the media beginning to apprehend the horrors this country inflicts on its people—especially its women.

Poor kitty!

This is very sweet:

Is Mātauranga Māori really a “way of knowing”?

September 22, 2022 • 12:45 pm

As I’ve written many times, Mātauranga Māori (MM)considered the “way of knowing” of the indigenous Māori, who arrived in what is now New Zealand from Polynesia in the 13th century—has been the subject of some kerfuffle in NZ. That’s because there’s a movement, promoted not just by the Māori but by many white “allies”, to make MM equivalent to “modern science” (sometimes called “Western science”) in the school curriculum. And by “school” I include “kindergarten through college,” because that’s what MM proponents want. Because all things Māori are valorized in NZ, and more or less off limits to criticism within the country, only the brave will investigate MM further. Is it really science? Is it part science? And if the latter, what are those other parts?

But when you do investigate whether MM is equivalent to modern science, as I have, you find out that it’s not even close. There are bits of “practical knowledge” in it—stuff like when to harvest berries and catch eels—but it lacks a coherent methodological underpinning. Instead, MM is a mishmash of practical knowledge, traditional lore, theology, morality, codes of behavior, stories, myths, and so on.

I continue to read and write about it because nobody in New Zealand, with rare exceptions, has my freedom as a foreigner to analyze MM without being, well, canceled. Yet I know that there are many Kiwis opposed to accepting the equivalence of MM and modern science, much less teaching that equivalence in science classes. I know this because every week I get emails from disaffected Kiwi scientists who applaud me for criticizing the “equivalence” trope and telling me that they dare not question it themselves. Indeed, some who have questioned it have lost their jobs.

Wikipedia says this about MM:

Mātauranga Māori has only recently gained recognition in the scientific community for including some knowledge consistent with the scientific method; it was previously perceived by scientific institutions and researchers as entirely mythological lore, entirely superseded by modern science. In the 21st century, Mātauranga is often used by academics and government institutions when addressing particular environmental problems, with institutions or organisations partnering with iwi [roughly, Māori subunits equivalent to “tribes”], typically with government funding.

Note the weak tea here: “some knowledge consistent with the scientific method.” Yes, that’s true: there is a time to gather berries and a time to let berries ripen; a time to gather eels together and a time to refrain from gathering. But this is the “practical knowledge” of MM.  And no, it’s not entirely mythological lore, but MM surely includes a ton of mythology. As for imbuing government initiatives with MM, that is largely a form of obeisance to the Māori done largely from guilt.  (I am not denying here that many Māori were treated abysmally by immigrants from Europe, but rather questioning whether we need to absorb their traditional lore into modern science.)

After I read the paper below, published in 2015 in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand , as well as the MM “flash cards” that I’ll deal with in a forthcoming post, I realized two things:

1.)  MM is not a way of knowing but a way of life: it encompasses virtually all of Māori culture. While parts of it are “consistent with science”, most of it is not. This is explicit if you read the “flash cards” I’ll show tomorrow. A “way of knowing” implies a methodology, and MM has no methodology except, in the empirical bits, the use of trial and error. To assert that there are gods, that all things are connected through descent from earth and sky and divine creation, and so on, is not “knowledge” but belief. MM, then, is most often a form of belief, and comes close in many ways to a religion. Its assertions cannot be questioned, are regarded as sacred, there are divinities to be worshiped and propitiated, and so on. This religious aspect is part of the MM “way of life.”

2.) The promoters of MM have higher ambitions than I thought: they not only want MM seen as the indigenous science, but want reparations for the previous hegemony of Western science, part of the reparations consisting of having “respect” for the tenets of MM and of teaching MM in science class as a kind of science.

To fathom the hard-core advocates of Mātauranga Māori and their ambitions, I recommend your reading this short paper, which is online free (click on screenshot, pdf here). 

I will put the explanatory MM “flashcards” in a later post as including them might make this too long.

The paper’s abstract really shows that it is a big demand for incorporating MM into not just the science of NZ, but as an accepted part of Kiwi culture that cannot be criticized by non-Māori:

All peoples develop their own academic traditions: philosophies grounded in their experiences over successive generations, and theories for growing knowledge and wisdom. Mātauranga Māori (mātauranga) is the Indigenous knowledge system of these lands. It is dynamic, innovative and generative. The mātauranga continuum is the knowledge accumulated through this system. Government policies and systems have marginalised mātauranga and prioritised Western science, and the past 100 years have seen a slowing in the expansion of the mātauranga continuum. Unless the survival of mātauranga is prioritised, it will cease to flourish. Māori have discussed and written extensively about the ongoing impact of colonisation on mātauranga and tikanga Māori. This paper builds on those discussions, arguing for tino rangatiratanga, including Māori ownership of mātauranga, fulfilment of the government’s obligations to Māori, and the reinstitution of mātauranga as a primary knowledge system in Aotearoa. It explains why mātauranga revitalisation is important and outlines some of the steps towards this goal. We are calling for Western academics to support mātauranga revitalisation, with the vision of two functional knowledge systems operating that are unique to New Zealand.

Even seven years ago a paper in the J Roy Soc NZ was larded with untranslated Māori words (as we’ll see in a day or so, the language itself is considered part of the “way of knowing”.) Note that the second sentence is misleading, as MM is not an “indigenous knowledge system”. While it includes some knowledge, it is not a way of producing knowledge, which itself comes from trial and error rather than any widespread toolkit like that of modern science. Further, a lot of MM’s “spiritual knowledge” is dubious at best, and the divinities that oversee the whole system don’t exist.

To “reinstitute MM as a primary knowledge system in Aorearoa [the Māori word for ‘New Zealand’]” is to make a mockery of the very word “knowledge”. It’s as if one described Orthodox Judaism as a “knowledge system”. And of course to assert that the Māori “own” MM is the equivalent of saying that outsiders cannot criticize it. That’s why the seven Auckland University Professors who said that MM, while sociologically and anthropologically important, was not the same thing as science, were widely attacked, with two of them even investigated by the Royal Society of NZ.  No, science and MM are not “two functional knowledge systems.”. Science is, while MM is a way of life that includes many things that don’t count as knowledge.

I’ll give a few quotes from the paper, which I’ll indent:

Definition of MM:

In this paper, mātauranga refers to Māori knowledge and all that underpins it, as well as Māori ways of knowing. Mātauranga is in our stories, our environments, our kawa and our tikanga. Mātauranga includes ‘language, whakapapa, technology, systems of law and social control, systems of property and value exchange, forms of expression, and much more’ (Waitangi Tribunal 2011a, p. 22). It is passed between generations and developed through our arts and technologies. Rāwiri (2012, p. 20) describes it as a ‘theoretical and applied values and knowledge creative activity base’. Mātauranga has expanded in response to exploring, theorising and understanding at local whānau, hapū and iwi levels. As an experiential system, it emphasises relationship-based learning using whānau and hapū understandings in our own environments. It is a complete knowledge system that includes science.

Well, I won’t define all the terms, but you can already see that it’s more than a “system of knowledge”, but also “all that underpins it”, which means “Māori culture.”

It can’t be partitioned into science-y and non-sciency parts:

This paper refers to the currently dominant knowledge system as Western epistemology, and its science as Western science. Western science incorporates knowledge from non-Western epistemologies. However, the structures of Western science—such as the specific compartmentalisation into disciplines, the hierarchies organising knowledge within those disciplines, and the types of knowledge that are excluded or included—reflect Western philosophical traditions.

This part isn’t true. As we’ll see on the next MM post, MM can be partitioned into disciplines like marine biology. But let’s continue:

Pūtaiao, which refers both to Western science when taught in te reo Māori and to a subset of mātauranga most recognisable to Western science (Stewart 2007), is not discussed in this paper. Dividing mātauranga into science and non-science, or any of the compartments that Western knowledge systems use, is inappropriate. Mātauranga is its own system with its own organisation, and it is this system and organising that we want to prioritise.

It’s not clear whether they are “prioritising” it only in the paper’s discussion, or in NZ education, but what’s clear is that this is something that cannot be taught as coequal to “Western science”.

“Reparations” for MM:

Western knowledge has taken much from Indigenous knowledge systems (Kuokkanen 2007, p. 150). Western academics must consider how they will give back to mātauranga. The relationship between Western epistemologies and mātauranga is currently one of domination, power and control. Those who have benefited most from this unequal relationship should support mātauranga to develop equally and independently.

I would question whether Western knowledge has taken much from MM in particular, and I would argue that modern science has done a lot more for the health and progress of Kiwis, including Māori, than has MM. Scientific medicine is one example, and if it has “domination,” it’s because it works—in contrast to the chanting and herbal and spiritual treatments of Māori.  And those who have benefitted hugely from the “unequal relationship” are the Māori themselves, who certainly avail themselves constantly of the fruits of modern science (antibiotics, to mention just one item).  Western academics have virtually nothing to give back to mātauranga in terms of knowledge, but perhaps what the authors mean is “power and control.” That is, advocates of MM want it to become coequal with modern science. This is why the government (and many NZ academics) are pushing to have MM taught as science. The whole argument is about power, but in the end the fruits of science will show which “way of knowing” is more fruitful.

Cooperation is not the goal.  (my emphasis)

Although there will be opportunities to work together, that is not the goal of revitalising mātauranga. The goal is not partnership; it is tino rangatiratanga and reinstituting mātauranga as a primary and independent knowledge system. Future relationships will be between equals.

I’m sorry, but they are not equal. MM is not a knowledge system, and even its empirical bits do not make it “equal” to modern science. This undergirds the attempts to force MM to be taught as an “equal” to modern science—practice that will be a disaster for all the inhabitants of New Zealand, who will not only be confused about how to find out truth, but who will also fall behind the rest of the world in science education, as has been happening for some time.

Finally, some gobbledygook:

This approach has implications for innovation and generating new knowledge. Exposing all New Zealand academics to mātauranga will reveal the presuppositions underlying Western knowledge systems, and expand their thinking beyond those limits. This could inspire new conceptions of knowledge and approaches to creating knowledge. It will also assist in developing skills that promote conversation and learning from different knowledge systems. . . Teaching multiple knowledge systems gives us the ability to experience the world in different ways, to recognise how those systems affect our perception and understanding, and to extend our understandings (Kuokkanen 2007; Stewart 2007).

This sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s nonsense. As is usual in these discussions, not one example is showing how the infusion of MM into science will improve our understanding of the universe. Indeed, the infusion will degrade science, since we would be forced to take seriously creationism, gods, lizard spirits that control rivers, and so on.  Teaching “multiple knowledge systems” may be of anthropological and sociologcal value, but teaching MM is of no scientific value at all.

RIP: Richard Cook

September 22, 2022 • 9:15 am

Team Duck and I are deeply saddened by the recent death of one of our members, Dr. Richard Cook, who passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 31. He was only 69.  An anesthesiologist by training, he was also a polymath, something I discovered only after he died. Richard’s many talents are highlighted in one of the articles below; I did not know of these, for we Team members rarely talk about their work while on duty at Botany Pond. Usually we feed the ducks and then gather on the bridge or at a nearby table for a while, soaking in the beauty of the pond, chatting about this and that, and, of course, discussing the ducks and the vagaries of their behavior.

Richard and his wife Karen were on the team for two years, faithfully appearing every day two summers ago at 6:30 a.m. to do the morning feeding of Honey and Dorothy’s ducklings, and coming regularly after that.  Beyond the quotidian tasks of tending ducks, which require diligence and commitment, Richard had two special talents. One was to design various contrivances to assure the safe arrival of ducklings at the pond (cushions, covered holes, padding on spikes, and so on). He and Karen spent a long time preparing for the arrival of one brood of ducks this year (as well as Dorothy’s last year). Unfortunately, this year’s nest, under my air conditioner, never produced offspring, as the mother abandoned her nest after all the preparations. I am leaving up these preparations as Richard’s legacy to Team Duck.

Richard was also superb at calming me down during the many moments of anxiety I had as Duckmeister over the last couple of seasons. Perhaps it was his “bedside manner” acquired during his years as an M.D., but whatever it was, he helped me immensely to put things in perspective—to accept the things that I could not change, and to suggest how to proceed with the things I could change. He was a soft-spoken and gentle man, and though he was surely suffering from the disease during much of the time I knew him, we didn’t learn how ill he was until just a few months ago. Pancreatic cancer is a cruel ailment, and I could never have borne it with the fortitude he did.

Karen sent us the sad news, but added a summary of Richard’s life, work, and persona that I reproduce below; it was put together by his friends:

I have asked Richard’s closest professional friends to capture the arc of his career and highlight a few of his major accomplishments in the next couple of paragraphs. But because his career was both long, storied and highly influential, they have also put together a longer summary of his professional impact on many fields available at the following link:

What stands out, professionally, about Richard is how he dedicated himself to the health and safety of others in the many ‘acts’ of his career.

It is rare for people to have second, third or even fourth acts in their careers (some concurrently). He was foremost a caring physician and anesthesiologist dedicated to his patients well being (for 25 years at the Ohio State University (OSU) and University of Chicago Medical Centers). For example, after the massive Haiti earthquake of 2010, Richard helped lead a University of Chicago-sponsored medical mission to set up a field hospital caring for the injured and destitute.

But, both at the beginning and at the end of his career, he worked on computing challenges as a software engineer (after college at Control Data Corp.; after ending clinical practice, co-founding a successful software engineering company, Adaptive Capacity Labs).

Alongside these careers, he was a researcher for 35 years – at OSU, University of Chicago, KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), and OSU again. From the beginning he pursued new paths in Human Factors, in Human-Computer/Automation Interaction, and in Resilient Performance in complex systems, and then helped young researchers expand the new directions. His ideas and innovations arose from his commitment to learning from incidents – close observation of actual work, not work as imagined from afar. As a result, he made lasting contributions to the fields of Cognitive Systems Engineering (designing joint systems of people and computers in high performance, high risk settings) and Resilience Engineering (how people provide a unique and critical form of adaptive capacity to make complex systems work). His publications and recorded talks in these areas are a gold mine for young researchers (google “How Complex Systems Fail”).

As a patient safety advocate, he used his science and engineering expertise to contribute to the start of the patient safety movement (he was a founding board member of the National Patient Safety Foundation in 1996 and co-founded the GAPS Center in 2000 to conduct a major patient safety campaign in the VA of Ohio). He was unafraid to speak out whenever the movement veered off-course from the science.

Through all of the varied acts of his career, he looked closer, thought harder, saw deeper, and envisioned new directions. As one colleague said, “Richard is a genius troublemaker.” Then he patiently shared his wisdom with varied emerging talents he encountered across the diverse ‘acts’ of a storied life.

Richard leaves his wife, Karen, three children, Cliff, Kristin, and Kara Schwandner and their spouses, his father, Richard G. Cook, his siblings, Sue and Paul Cook and six grandchildren. He is remembered as an extraordinary person, both funny and generous with his time, an incomparable doctor and a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. He was a lovely man in every sense.

It is only now, as I said, that I’m learning what a polymath the man was. We will miss him, as will our feathered charges at the pond.  Here are Richard and Karen photographed on the bridge on November 10 of last year, at the tail end of duck season:

And here’s the memoriam to Richard assembled by three of his colleagues; click on the screenshot to read it.

Like our ducks in the fall, he left us suddenly and unexpectedly, and we won’t see his like again. We join his friends and family in remembering him and being grateful for the time we had in his company.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 22, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have extraterrestrial “wildlife”—astronomy photos sent in by Terry Platt as singles or small batches. I’ve collected them and present six images with Terry’s descriptions (indented). You can (and should) enlarge the photos by clicking on them

Here are a few more H-alpha images from the CygnusCepheus region of the Milky Way.

The NGC 6960 image shows another portion of the ‘Veil’ supernova remnant – this time in the Western arc in Cygnus. This part is often called ‘The Witches Broom’ and is about 1,470 light years away.

The ‘Elephant’s Trunk’ is a region of dark dust that projects into the large H-alpha complex called IC 1396 in Cepheus. It is a region of active star formation and one of these new stars occupies the cavity at the end of the feature. The trunk is being compressed by UV radiation from a massive star at the centre of IC 1396 and this is triggering new stars to form from the dust and gas. The distance is about 2,400 light years.

SH2-112 is a small, but photogenic, globule of gas and dust, just west of the star Deneb, in Cygnus. It always makes me think of a nautilus shell, probably because of the radial dust streaks at the top right. The distance to it is about 5,600 light years.

This is the ‘Cocoon’ nebula – IC 5146 – in northern Cygnus. It is about 3,262 light years away and is embedded in the end of a long dark nebula, called Barnard 168. Barnard 168 is visible as a reduction in the star count in the region to the upper right of the Cocoon, but it stretches a long way out of the frame. The Cocoon itself is a hole in the dark nebula, illuminated mainly by the hot star BD +46 3474, seen in the centre.

We had a very clear night last night and I captured this new object.

This is NGC 7635 – usually called ‘The bubble nebula’ for obvious reasons. It is a roughly spherical cavity in a hydrogen cloud that is located in the constellation of Cassiopeia, a short distance along the Milky Way from Cygnus.

The cavity is being formed by the strong stellar wind from the extremely hot star BD +60 2522 that is embedded in it. The distance seems to be uncertain, but between 7,000 and 11,000 light years.

Here is an H-alpha image of the nebula Sh2-155 in Cepheus. This is often called ‘The Cave’, due to the dark dust cloud that looks like an entrance to the underworld. It is at around 2,400 light years from Earth.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

September 22, 2022 • 6:30 am

Greetings on Thursday, September 22, the day of the Autumnal Equinox (it’s a holiday in Japan). Yes, the first day of fall begins at 9:04 p.m. today, so most of today will still be summer.  And it’s National White Chocolate Day, though “white chocolate” isn’t really chocolate since the white stuff contains cocoa butter but not cocoa solids (the latter are required for something to really be “chocolate.” They should call it “white Choklet”, along the duplicitious lines of the faux foods “krab” and “kreme-filled donuts.”

It’s also National Ice Cream Cone Day, Hobbit Day (the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins), National Elephant Appreciation Day,    National Centenarian’s Day (which centenarian?), and World Rhino Day.

From two years ago: Indian one-horned rhino Tensing and her new baby at the Denver Zoo. Notice that they’ve cut her horn off, implying that she came from the wild where horns are removed to protect the animals. 

Stuff that happened on September 22 includes:

  • 1692 – The last hanging of those convicted of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials; others are all eventually released.
  • 1776 – Nathan Hale is hanged for spying during the American Revolution.
  • 1823 – Joseph Smith claims to have found the golden plates after being directed by God through the Angel Moroni to the place where they were buried.

This story is so bogus, what with the hat, the peepstones, and the mysterious disappearance of the plates. Yet a whole religion is founded on it, and serious people believe this stuff. In fact, in the book of Mormon 11 people testify at the beginning that they saw the plates. Here are eight, and there’s separate testimony comes from three others. 11 eyewitnesses!

From Wikipedia: “A 21st-century artistic representation of Joseph Smith translating the golden plates by examining a seer stone in his hat.” His translations were written down by another guy who, of course, was separated from Smith by a curtain. I suggest looking into the Book of Mormon, for the very cadences of the writing come straight out of the Bible. Smith, like Ron L. Hubbard, was a fraud who is now worshipped by a gazillion people for confecting a religion. 

This is a weird one:

The Lindal railway incident happened on Thursday 22 September 1892 near Lindal-in-Furness, a village lying between the Cumbria towns of Ulverston and Dalton-in-Furness. A locomotive shunting at sidings disappeared into the ground after a large, deep hole opened up beneath it. The locomotive was never recovered and still lies buried beneath the railway, though the depth remains a source of speculation.

It’s at least 60 feet down (photo below), but it’s strange that they can’t tell for sure. Given that nobody died in the accident (only the locomotive went down, and the engineer and fireman jumped free), maybe they just don’t care:

  • 1896 – Queen Victoria surpasses her grandfather King George III as the longest reigning monarch in British history.

Ah, but now she’s surpassed, by almost 7 years exactly. Here are the three longest monarchies in British history:


  • 1941 – The Holocaust in Ukraine: On the Jewish New Year Day, the German SS murders 6,000 Jews in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Those are the survivors of the previous killings that took place a few days earlier in which about 24,000 Jews were executed.

Total: 30,000. Here’s a famous photograph of a Vinnytsia Jew about to be killed by a member of  Einsatzgruppe D.  Named “The last Jew in Vinnytsia,” the photo was taken between 1941 and 1943, and perhaps he was the last of the approximately 30,000 murdered. In the pit in front of him lie the bodies of those previously executed. This is an iconic photo that has haunted me ever since I first saw it.

  • 1948 – Gail Halvorsen officially starts parachuting candy to children as part of the Berlin Airlift.

Here’s the heartening story:

Gail Halvorsen, one of the many Airlift pilots, decided to use his off-time to fly into Berlin and make movies with his hand-held camera. He arrived at Tempelhof on 17 July 1948 on one of the C-54s and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the aircraft. He introduced himself and they started to ask him questions about the aircraft and their flights. As a goodwill gesture, he handed out his only two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum. The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could, even passing around the wrapper for others to smell. He was so impressed by their gratitude and that they didn’t fight over them, that he promised the next time he returned he would drop off more. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over. He replied, “I’ll wiggle my wings.”

The next day on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that, the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon, there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, “The Chocolate Uncle” and “The Chocolate Flier”. His commanding officer was upset when the story appeared in the news, but when Tunner heard about it, he approved of the gesture and immediately expanded it into “Operation Little Vittles”. Other pilots participated, and when news reached the US, children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon, major candy manufacturers joined in. In the end, over three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin and the “operation” became a major propaganda success. German children christened the candy-dropping aircraft “raisin bombers” or candy bombers.

Here’s a candy drop:

Here’s Halvorsen, also known as “The Candy Bomber”, preparing his candy parachutes:

  • 1975 – Sara Jane Moore tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford, but is foiled by the Secret Service.

Here’s the aftermath of the assassination attempt. Moore was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 2019 after 32 years in stir. She’s still alive at 92.

  • 1979 – A bright flash, resembling the detonation of a nuclear weapon, is observed near the Prince Edward Islands. Its cause is never determined.

Here are two explanations given by Wikipedia:

The Vela incident was an unidentified double flash of light detected by an American Vela Hotel satellite on 22 September 1979 near the South African territory of Prince Edward Islands in the Indian Ocean, roughly midway between Africa and Antarctica. Today, most independent researchers believe that the flash was caused by a nuclear explosion—an undeclared joint nuclear test carried out by South Africa and Israel.

The cause of the flash remains officially unknown, and some information about the event remains classified by the U.S. government. While it has been suggested that the signal could have been caused by a meteoroid hitting the satellite, the previous 41 double flashes detected by the Vela satellites were caused by nuclear weapons tests.

Here’s “4Q7, a fragment of the book of Genesis found in Cave 4”.  The scrolls generally date between the 3rd century BCE to the first century AD:

Da Nooz:

*Putin has taken one step towards a “general mobilization” of Russian soldiers (i.e., a draft). In a speech yesterday, he announced it along with some other slightly chilling stuff:

In a rare address to the nation, Mr. Putin stopped short of declaring a full, national draft but instead called for a “partial mobilization” of people with military experience. Though Moscow’s troops have recently suffered humiliating losses on the battlefield, he said that Russia’s goals in Ukraine had not changed and that the move was “necessary and urgent” because the West had “crossed all lines” by providing sophisticated weapons to Ukraine.

The videotaped speech was an apparent attempt to reassert his authority over an increasingly chaotic war that has undermined his leadership both at home and on the global stage. It also escalated Russia’s tense showdown with Western nations that have bolstered Ukraine with weapons, money and intelligence that have contributed to Ukraine’s recent successes in reclaiming swaths of territory in the northeast.

Mr. Putin accused the United States and Europe of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” against his country and warned that Russia had “lots of weapons” of its own.

“To those who allow themselves such statements about Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and some components are more modern than those of the NATO countries,” he said.

In case you didn’t get the import of that last sentence, he’s certainly implying tactical nuclear weapons. If he used them, what would we do? Give some of ours to Ukraine? Well, let’s hope it doesn’t get to that, but if 300,000 reservists aren’t enough, start worrying.

*The Russians are protesting even the partial mobilization Putin announced. The NYT reports that protests are spreading across the country, and that at least 1,252 people were detained in 38 cities.

In Moscow, hundreds of protesters gathered on the Old Arbat, a well-known pedestrian street in central Moscow. They screamed “Send Putin to the trenches!” and “Let our children live!” Footage showed riot police dragging people away.

In Tomsk, a woman holding a sign that said “Hug me if you are also scared” smiled serenely as she was dragged away from a small protest by three police officers. In Novosibirsk, a man with a ponytail was taken away after he told police officers, “I don’t want to die for Putin and for you.”

Protest is effectively criminalized in Russia, where before this week almost 16,500 people had been detained for antiwar activity, according to OVD-Info — including the simple act of an individual standing in a public place holding a blank piece of paper. Since March, it has been illegal to “disseminate false information” about the war and to “discredit the Russian Army.”

Russians came to protest despite a warning from the general prosecutor’s office issued Wednesday that unsanctioned protests could result in punishment of up to 15 years of prison for spreading false information about the military, which became a criminal offense in February.

Jailed dissident Alexei Navalny (remember him?) is also calling for more protests. It’s a sign of Russian discontent that so many protestors are willing to risk stiff jail sentences. In another sign, after Putin’s announcement of mobilization, one-way flights out of Russia are selling like hotcakes, and overpriced ones:

Tickets to visa-free destinations such as Istanbul; Dubai; Yerevan, Armenia; and Almaty, Kazakhstan, were either sold out for the next several days or their prices had skyrocketed.

There were no one-way tickets out of Moscow to Yerevan, Istanbul or Dubai for Wednesday on an airline ticket aggregator that is popular in Russia. Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, had no tickets to Istanbul or Yerevan for this week, according to its website. Aeroflot operates up to eight flights per day to the two cities, according to its schedule.

Who on earth would want to fight for Putin in Ukraine? Not only do you stand a good chance of being killed or injured, but it’s an unjust war of aggression. And that reminds me of Vietnam.

*Other protests are spreading in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, which was almost certainly a murder by Iran’s “morality police”. Amini, 22, was detained by the morality cops for not wearing her hijab properly. Witnesses say she was beaten up inside the police van, while Iran says she suffered “heart failure” while waiting to attend a “re-education class”. Who do you believe? Her family says she had no record of heart problems.  Amini died last Friday after three days in a coma, and has become a symbol of Iranian repression, especially against women.  CNN reports that women throughout the country are burning their hijabs in solidarity against the regime and its oppression of women (see also the NYT story here).

In the video, a massive crowd cheers as a woman lifts a pair of scissors to her hair — exposed, without a hijab in sight. The sea of people, many of them men, roar as she chops off her ponytail and raises her fist in the air.

It was a powerful act of defiance Tuesday night in the Iranian city of Kerman, where women are required to wear hijabs (or headscarves) in public, as outrage over the death of a woman in police custody fuels protests across the country.

Iranian authorities said Wednesday that three people, including a member of the security forces, have been killed in the unrest, which has stretched into a fifth day.

Human rights groups have reported that at least seven people have been killed.

The death last week of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in Tehran by morality police — a dedicated unit that enforces strict dress codes for women, such as wearing the compulsory headscarf — has sparked an outpouring anger over issues ranging from freedoms in the Islamic Republic to the crippling economic impacts of sanctions.

From Masih:

And they’re writing her name:

Can these brave women be the catalyst that finally deposes the mullahs? I doubt it, at least now, but the people of Iran are truly yearning to breathe free—and let their hair blow in the wind. I’m heartened by the number of men who are joining the protesting women.

This is a heartening tweet; watch the whole thing, particularly the woman chewing out the man at 1:09:

*A new trove of Hemingway material has been revealed, consisting of stuff he left 8 decades ago at one of his favorite watering holes, Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West, Florida.

And in a notebook entry from 1926, there is a three-page meditation on death and suicide — 35 years before he took his own life.

The items, part of the most significant cache of Hemingway materials uncovered in 60 years, are in a new archive recently opened to scholars and the public at Penn State University. Called the Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway, the material includes four unpublished short stories, drafts of manuscripts, hundreds of photographs, bundles of correspondence and boxes of personal effects that experts say are bound to reshape public and scholarly perception of an artist whose life and work defined an era.

For years, most Hemingway scholars could only salivate about the Bruce collection, uncertain of its exact contents or even location. What they did know was that in 1939, after his second marriage crumbled, Hemingway, a notorious pack rat, left his belongings in the storeroom of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, his favorite watering hole in Key West, Fla. He never returned to collect them.

After Hemingway’s death, his fourth wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, went through the material, packed up what she wanted, and gave the rest to longtime friends, Betty and Telly Otto Bruce, known to his friends as Toby. Toby Bruce was part of Hemingway’s inner circle for years, not only as his right-hand man, but also as his contractor, mechanic and sometime chauffeur.

The trove of materials spent decades uncataloged in cardboard boxes and ammo storage containers, surviving hurricanes and floods. Years ago, Betty and Toby’s son, Benjamin Bruce (known as Dink) and a local historian, Brewster Chamberlin, began creating an inventory of the haul in consultation with the Hemingway scholar Sandra Spanier. It was here, amid bullfighting tickets, checks, newspaper clippings and letters from his lawyer, family members and friends like the writer John Dos Passos and artists Joan Miró and Waldo Peirce, that they discovered a stained brown notebook. Inside was Hemingway’s first known short story, about a fictional trip to Ireland, written when he was 10 years old.

There are excised portions of published work, unpublished work, unflattering portrayals of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and all manner of memorabilia. Here’s one bit:

There’s a check for $10 to Arnold Gingrich, the co-founder of Esquire magazine, to settle a boxing bet.

*The Webb Telescope has produced a breathtaking photo of Neptune’s rings (I didn’t know the planet had any until the other day).  (h/t: Malcolm)

The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope is showing off its capabilities closer to home with its first image of Neptune. Not only has Webb captured the clearest view of this peculiar planet’s rings in more than 30 years, but its cameras are also revealing the ice giant in a whole new light.

Most striking about Webb’s new image is the crisp view of the planet’s dynamic rings — some of which haven’t been seen at all, let alone with this clarity, since the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989. In addition to several bright narrow rings, the Webb images clearly show Neptune’s fainter dust bands. Webb’s extremely stable and precise image quality also permits these very faint rings to be detected so close to Neptune.

Neptune has fascinated and perplexed researchers since its discovery in 1846. Located 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, Neptune orbits in one of the dimmest areas of our Solar System. At that extreme distance, the Sun is so small and faint that high noon on Neptune is similar to a dim twilight on Earth.

This planet is characterised as an ice giant due to the chemical make-up of its interior. Compared to the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune is much richer in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. This is readily apparent in Neptune’s signature blue appearance in NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images at visible wavelengths, caused by small amounts of gaseous methane.

Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captures objects in the near-infrared range from 0.6 to 5 microns, so Neptune does not appear blue to Webb. In fact, the methane gas is so strongly absorbing that the planet is quite dark at Webb wavelengths except where high-altitude clouds are present. Such methane-ice clouds are prominent as bright streaks and spots, which reflect sunlight before it is absorbed by methane gas. Images from other observatories have recorded these rapidly-evolving cloud features over the years.

More subtly, a thin line of brightness circling the planet’s equator could be a visual signature of global atmospheric circulation that powers Neptune’s winds and storms. The atmosphere descends and warms at the equator, and thus glows at infrared wavelengths more than the surrounding, cooler gases.


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the apples are falling:

Hili: An apple fell again.
A: Yes, they are getting ripe and starting to fall.
Hili: THat’s why I’m sitting here and not there.
In Polish:
Hili: Znowu spadło jabłko.
Ja: Tak, dojrzewają i zaczęły spadać.
Hili: Dlatego siedzę tu, a nie tam.

And a still life: “Kulka with Grapes”:


From Nicole:

From Malcolm, a Bizarro Cartoon by Dan Piraro.  I missed it at first because I didn’t read the caption carefully.

From Anna, a Scott Metzger cartoon:

God is very upset about the murder of Mahsa Amini, and rightly so. See Da Nooz above:

Do you really think this bird (a crow, of course) knew it was instigating a fight?

From Simon: an over-the-top mockery of today’s world:

Reader Paul sent a screenshot of a tweet, nothing that “One lucky photographer covering the funeral got to stroke Larry the cat. Now that definitely beats getting a knighthood.”  What I wouldn’t give to experience that! The Number 10 Cat: the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office!

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew.  I don’t know where this swing is, but I’d love to try it:

This is a real heartwarmer. Be sure to click each frame separately:

The “old Yiddish sayi below was also in “Fiddler on the Roof”:

Discussion thread

September 21, 2022 • 1:15 pm

I am now officially debilitated after three nights of getting but 2-3 hours of sleep. The result is that I have no ability to concentrate, and stagger to work in the morning like a drunken man. (Writing the morning post damn near killed me.) But that’s my problem, and you needn’t try to solve it. Your problem is to see if you can cobble together a discussion. I am loath to subject subjects, but here are a few ideas:

The midterm elections are only six weeks away. Which party will take the Senate and/or the House? What about the state races?

On what issues do you think that both parties should be campaigning on? DId the Republicans hurt themselves by flying/busing immigrants to ritzy areas?

Russia went to increased militarization today, calling up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine. Will that help Putin? If not, will he go to full militarization, or even tactical nuclear weapons?

Will Elizabeth Holmes get a new trial? If not, what will her sentence be?

What is the best book ever written? (“My favorite book” will suffice.)]

UPDATE: I’ve put my 2 choices answering the last question in the comments.

Jonathan Rauch: Should academic journals appoint themselves social justice gatekeepers?

September 21, 2022 • 9:30 am

The piece below from Nature Human Behavior, published in August, calls for the editorial censorship of scientific research that, though its results may be correct or even important, could be “harmful” to society. You can access it by clicking on the screenshot, or getting a free pdf here):

I managed to put up a short piece highlighting its flaws, and pointed out this reproving tweet from Steve Pinker:

But now there have been two longer and better critiques of the Nature Human Behavior op-ed, critiques that are both devastating. The first, which I mentioned in a Hili post, was by Bo Winegard at Quillette: “The fall of Nature“. I’ll leave you to read that for yourself, but it’s mentioned in the second critique, the piece by Jonathan Rauch below originally published in FIRE. Now it’s in Persuasion, and you can access it there (for free) by clicking on the screenshot.

Rauch is a respected  scholar who works for the Brookings Institute, is a contributing editor of The Atlantic, and an author who produced a spate of books, among them his superb 1995 book defending freedom of thought and speech, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Rauch considers, properly, that the Nature article is indeed an attack on free thought, but also a censorious attempt to squelch scientific research.


Rauch’s opening question is this, and you can guess how he answers it:

Should academic journals appoint themselves social justice gatekeepers?

First, Rauch’s precis of the Nature article:

Nature Human Behaviour, a respected member of the Springer stable, thinks so [i.e., journals should be social justice gatekeepers[. “Science has for too long been complicit in perpetuating structural inequalities and discrimination in society,” the editors declare in a recent manifesto. “With this guidance, we take a step towards countering this.”

The editors assure us that “advancing knowledge and understanding is a fundamental public good.” Okay. They say that research should avoid harming the individuals it studies; not a controversial proposition. But then, in a move that deserves to be very controversial, they broaden their definition of unacceptable harm to include negative social consequences for studied groups.

Researchers should “minimize as much as possible…risks of harm to the studied groups in the public sphere,” they say (my italics). “Research may—inadvertently—stigmatize individuals or human groups,” they add (again, my italics). “It may be discriminatory, racist, sexist, ableist or homophobic. It may provide justification for undermining the human rights of specific groups, simply because of their social characteristics.”

The phrases I italicized do a lot of work. A researcher might not have a discriminatory bone in her body, and she might take exquisite care to avoid biasing her research. Her evidence may be solid, her methods sound, and her conclusions actually true. Nonetheless, the editors may reject her article, require revisions, or even retract and repudiate it if they believe it “undermines the dignity or rights of specific groups; assumes that a human group is superior or inferior over [sic] another simply because of a social characteristic; includes hate speech or denigrating images; or promotes privileged, exclusionary perspectives.”

In essence, the journal is saying, “We will not publish (or may censor) any article that is seen as offensive, harmful, or a manifestation of “hate speech”.  Indeed, they exlicitly mention “hate speech”, and “privileged exclusionary perspectives,” and variants of “harm” appear twice in the subtitle.

You know the problem with this: many scientific findings can be (and increasingly have been) interpreted as offensive. But how many people have to be offended before the journal squelches an article? One? Ten? In fact, journals have no business policing the social implications of submitted articles. If that job is to be done, it should be done by reviewers pointing out unwarranted statements, not censorious editors enacting a progressive agenda. Rauch quotes Winegard here:

In Quillette, the social psychologist Bo Winegard does a masterly job dissecting [the journal’s statement]. He takes note of the guidance’s terminal vagueness. “Ambiguity is piled upon ambiguity to expand the capricious purview of the censor,” he writes. “It does not require clairvoyance to predict that these criteria will not be consistently applied.” He notes the tendentious ideological assumptions embedded in the document. He identifies some of the legitimate research that could be squelched and chilled.

Findings about group differences—sexual, racial, cultural, and so on—would be suspect. Winegard notes that a paper finding homosexual men to be more promiscuous on average than heterosexual men might be deemed unacceptably stigmatizing, even if the findings “might…lead to a reduction in the rate of sexually transmitted infection”—something the editors would have no way to anticipate.

A biologist might feel inhibited about stating that humans are sexually dimorphous, that male and female are biologically distinguishable, or that sex differences exist at all. Some of my own writing could be suspect, for instance on the value to children of two-parent families and the dangers of radical gender ideology. As Winegard points out, the guidelines are so vague and so broad that they are bound to be chilling.

I could add to this list research on “maternal instincts” (sexist), any work that deals with human ethnic groups, including describing genetic differentiation for any traits (racist), taking “other ways of knowing” to task (colonialist), promoting evolutionary psychology (offends the “blank slaters”), attempting to say anything about the origin of recent human remains, including their sex (they could have been transgender)—the list goes on and on.  As Rauch notes, there is no reason for editors to proclaim themselves gatekeepers of research, for their instincts will be to bow more to social pressure than to scientific truth or importance.

But Rauch’s main aim is to dismantle what he sees as the three most powerful arguments for the kind of censorship advocated by Nature. I’ll put the arguments for editorial censorship in bold and then give a summary of Rauch’s rebuttal:

1).  “Scientists and journals always consider social impact when they make research decisions. We’re just doing it explicitly.” Rauch admits that the premise is true, though I’d disagree based on my own research. Did I consider social impact when I studied migration behavior in fruit flies, or why, if only one sex is sterile or inviable in animal hybrids, it’s almost invariably the sex with two different sex chromosomes?  I don’t see how. The vetting of social consequences, as described by Rauch, is far less ubiquitous than he implies:

Every day, researchers, journals, and grant-makers consider the wellbeing of society, including effects on marginalized groups, when they decide what to work on, what to publish, and what to fund; if they did not, science would become sociopathic and reprehensible. I myself once urged a prominent researcher to excise a book chapter that, even if it were empirically sound, would irresponsibly damage race relations and his own reputation.

Yes, the NIH in particular looks for work with consequences on human health (though they funded my work for decades), but the vast bulk of work supported by groups like the National Science Foundation is pure research, not designed to affect human society or even human welfare—beyond the benefits of satisfying curiosity and understanding our Universe. But even assuming Rauch is right, we are already doing what the editors want to take on themselves:

A dilemma, here, is fundamental. How can science consider social responsibility without politicizing research? This problem is hard. Over the centuries, science has worked out an imperfect but very functional answer: subsidiarity.

What he means is this:

For the most part, we trust trained professionals to make socially responsible research decisions. For the most part, they do. Questions about social harm and social justice are hashed out in conversations and debates among members of the research community, not settled peremptorily by a handful of editors.

In this disaggregated, decentralized system, journals play the essential role of middlemen. They assess research’s importance, vet its quality, and, on approval, usher it into the marketplace of ideas. Of course, they can’t be perfectly apolitical, because they’re human; but, traditionally, they aspire to be ideologically neutral so that the political inclinations of editors don’t supersede the scientific expertise of researchers. We want them to act as quality controls, not political checkpoints.

By explicitly making social justice an element of editorial policy, NHB breaks with this tradition. To the extent it does so, the results will be bad. However professional and well intentioned NHB’s editors may be, they are not qualified to decide on society’s behalf whether research is socially harmful or desirable. In fact, they have no idea how a piece of research will ramify.

Of course reviewers often aren’t qualified, either (pure science has a way of ramifying in unexpected directions), but I’d trust reviewers rather than editors, just as I’d trust faculty to choose who to hire rather than have job applications first vetted by DEI committees for their commitment to diversity and inclusion. And remember, if research results are misappropriated to create bigotry, that is not the responsibility of the researchers but of the appropriators.

2).  “We’re aware of the danger of politicization but we won’t succumb. As our editorial says: ‘Ensuring that ethically conducted research on individual differences and differences among human groups flourishes, and no research is discouraged simply because it may be socially or academically controversial, is as important as preventing harm.’”

There’s that subjectively determined “harm” again. Part of Rauch’s response:

Good luck, NHB [Nature Human Behavior], with your good intentions. We have 300 years of scientific tradition that helps researchers and editors understand what constitutes scientific merit. We know that Bayesian reasoning is more reliable than cherry-picking; that double-blind controlled trials are better than convenience samples; that equating correlation with causality is an error; and much, much more.

“Preventing harm,” by contrast, is a completely and inherently subjective criterion. The new policy invites activists and interest groups to veto “harmful” research. They will accept the invitation, claiming that whatever research offends them is oppressive, unequal, stigmatizing, traumatic, racist, colonialist, homophobic, transphobic, violent, and—you get the idea.

When they demand the rejection or retraction of whatever research offends them, NHB, having committed to preventing “harm,” will have nothing definite to fall back on. If the editors don’t cave in right away, they will soon.

Moreover, NHB’s guidance patently is political. Consider this criterion for problematic content: “Submissions that embody singular, privileged perspectives, which are exclusionary of a diversity of voices in relation to socially constructed or socially relevant human groupings, and which purport such perspectives to be generalizable and/or assumed.” If you can figure out what this gobbledygook means, you are smarter than I am. What it does unambiguously convey, however, is woke-left identity politics. The editors might as well post a sign that says, “Conservatives Not Welcome.”

3).  “Well, don’t you agree that science has shown itself to be biased in ways that harm marginalized social groups? Shouldn’t we do something about that?”

Rauch’s answer:  “Yes, and yes. But I have a better plan: more and better science.” He mentions one example how the advance of research eliminated “science” that harmed marginalized groups: the change from characterizing homosexuality as a “disorder” to “one of a variety of human sexual behaviors not indicative of mental disturbance”. (Rauch notes that he’s gay.) Research showed that randomized psychological assessments conducted by Evelyn Hooker couldn’t find any aspect of personality that distinguished gays from straights. After that result, the American Psychiatric Association decided to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a psychiatric disorder.


It was an example of science’s most unique strength: its ability to self-correct.

A question I ask myself: In 1956—when it was a given that homosexuals are perverts who pose a danger to themselves and society—would Evelyn Hooker’s research have passed the equivalent of NHB’s guidance? Would the journal’s editors have published it? Or would they have smothered it because of the “social harm” it might cause?

In the end, Rauch makes a counteroffer to the journal, and the last paragraph, which I’ve put in bold, is a corker:

Here is my counteroffer to Nature Human Behaviour.

Understand that it is not your job to stop science from “perpetuating structural inequalities and discrimination in society.” Go back to doing what you know how to do. Understand yourselves not as riding astride the stream of research, judging what does and does not advance justice or harm society, but as humbly serving a community of scholars who collectively have infinitely more knowledge, wisdom, and experience than you do.

Allow your thousands of researchers, reviewers, and readers to make their own various and diverse determinations of how research might ultimately benefit or harm groups, individuals, and the public good. Accept that it is arrogant and self-important for anyone, including yourselves, to set themselves up as visionaries capable of prejudging the scientific process. Apply the non-political standards of scientific merit and editorial excellence which have been honed over centuries.

Above all, remember that by far the greatest engine of social justice, human rights, and equality has been the advancement of knowledge, and the rolling back of ignorance, by a community of truth-seekers empowered to follow evidence wherever it leads. If you care about making society better and fairer, you will serve that community, not appoint yourselves to direct it.

Believe me, it’s no picnic to stand by, after a long career, and see my beloved science attacked by all manner of authoritarians who want to police research and inject politics into STEM, substituting “correct ideology” for “merit” and “scientific importance.” There’s almost nothing I can do to stop this juggernaut propelled largely by the Authoritarian Left, except to pump out pathetic posts like this one—posts read largely by those who already agree, and are doomed to rejection by ideologues determined to stick their progressive noses into the scientific tent.

And, increasingly, it is those ideologues who are the gatekeepers of science: journals, scientific societies, and even those scientists themselves who feel they’re doing the Lord’s work by infusing our field with wokeness.  My only hope is that the many people who disagree with the authoritarians—and I know from private communications that they are many—will find a way to speak up against the madness. It’s a sign of the times that scientists—scientists!—who are brought up to question accepted wisdom, are too sheepish to oppose the crumbling of their discipline.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 21, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have bird photos taken yesterday Paul Edelman.  His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Fall migration is starting in Tennessee and so I have been looking for migrants.  The attached photos were all taken on 9/20/22 at Radnor State Park, just a 20-minute drive from my home.  The photos were taken with a Nikon D500 using a Nikkor 500mm f5.6 lens.

The big attraction of migration are the warblers.  Here are the four that I was able to capture– the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), the Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens), the Common Yellowthroat (eating a spider!) (Geothlypis trichas) and a female American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla).  A little bit larger bird is the Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons).

Black-and-white Warbler:

Black-throated Green Warbler:

Common Yellowthroat:

American Redstart:

Yellow-throated Vireo:

Finally, there is a large lake at Radnor and a perfect habitat for flycatchers.  I’ve got two here, an Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) and an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe).

Eastern Wood-Pewee:

Eastern Phoebe::