Monday, September 14, 2015

Throwing "like a girl"

A recent exchange arose when a scientist used the phrase "throws like a girl" on twitter. I had a conversation about this very recently, and so I was inspired to record that interaction here. The upshot is that I was surprised to find out that there is a lot of scientific literature about the differences in throwing ability between males and females. This got me thinking about the question of when political correctness could go too far.

I play and coach a lot of baseball and I have an interest in the origins of baseball. Because of these interests, I recently had a discussion about games related to baseball with a European colleague. She grew up in Germany, and played a game called schlagball growing up. She said that she was never very good at schlagball, and she said her gender probably played a big role.

As a father of a daughter, son to a mom, husband to a wife, and as a person who every day reads about unfair biases of women in science, I reflexively disagreed with her. I said something like "well, I'm sure if you would have practiced as much as the boys, you'd be just as good". I believed that, too, I was not just saying it.

She strongly disagreed, stating there is scientific evidence that girls cannot physically throw as well as boys. I agreed that is very interesting - but we didn't have a lot of time, and our discussion moved to our own research on evolution.

A few weeks later, we then had a short email exchange about throwing differences between males and females.

She wrote to me: "As for throwing abilities of women, I tried to quickly look up the paper I read a long time ago, that there is a difference in arm morphology (not just muscle power), which makes it harder for women to throw well. But there is sooooo much literature. There are people claiming that the difference in throwing abilities is the most pronounced gender difference in humans, and there are all kinds of hypotheses around why this is the case: training differences, because girls are not encouraged to play with balls as much as boys (though aboriginal girls in Australia throw as much as boys and don't differ in muscle strength from boys before puperty and there is still a gender difference); neurological differences, because male and female brains steer the body differently; psychological differences, morphological differences...
One theory says that it's all due to genetic differences going back to a time, when men had to be good at throwing to allow their families to survive (hunting and in primitive warfare).

Anyway, I gave up on this, because I rather work on the proposal now."

I responded: "That is very interesting, your findings on gender differences. There is an old saying (an insult) that someone "throws like a girl". But no one is allowed to say that anymore. Sometimes I feel like in our politically correct world, males and females are now supposed to be equal in all ways. I for one am not very good at child birth."

She then responded: "oh yes, I know. In some preschools, teachers shall not address children by "hon" (she) or "han" (he), but use "hen" (a neutral construct) to make sure there is no gender specific education. As if the differences were not obvious to the teachers, the first time they change the child's nappies.
And when I was expecting the children, I was told that I should say "Vi är gravid" (We're pregnant), because the father is equally involved. I thought this was one of the most stupid things I had ever heard, because it was me and not the father who was nauseous and vomiting for several months and had this near-death experience of giving birth four times. I would happily let the fathers take over this part, if they wanted.


I understand that the phrase "throws like a girl" is used only as an insult - so I understand that it usually is offensive. But at the same time, I realize now that my own political correctness biased my perceptions of the world. I was genuinely very surprised to find that there could be real morphological differences - even independent of strength - that could cause girls to throw differently than boys. I have not taken the time to really assess this literature. So I am not certain what is most supported as the cause of these gender differences. But the point is through my political correctness, I had convinced myself to fully assume equality. I honestly had not considered that assumption could be faulty. This is important because as I tell my kids, "fair" does not necessarily mean "equal".

As a scientist, I must always be vigilant in looking for bias. I see here that biases can arise even when trying to cover other biases.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Graduating Little League

Before the actual day, I worried about the arrival of my 40th birthday. But when that day came, it felt like any other day. I was still me, just a day older. I felt the same for “Y2K”, the year 2000. After months of doomsday scenarios, January 1, 2000 was just like any other day that saw the sun rise and saw the sun set. All our computers still turned on. Partly because these were so normal, I am caught off-guard that today does not feel like any other day. As strange as it may sound, the end of my son's 12-year-old Little League year feels like I thought age 40 or Y2K might feel; like the end of an era. In many ways, my son and his baseball buddies are no longer children. Today, our boys have graduated Little League.

It is true that Little League goes on past age 12. But the 12-year-old year is the privileged year. The name of the 12U division is simply “Little League”, as if to assert the 12-year-old division is Little League. In our town, the 12 year-old division is top dog. It's considered first in scheduling games and practices and batting cage time. It's the only division without a time limit on games. At 12, Little Leaguers traditionally play their final year on the small field, where T-ballers and mini-minor kids also learn the game. Next comes a big transition to a full, major-league-sized field. Many kids do not make the transition to the more demanding field and they leave baseball behind. There are other reasons to stop Little League after 12. Some of the best players leave to focus only on more competitive club teams. And so the 12-year old year is the peak of Little League participation and competition. The kids fortunate enough to be selected to represent their league as All-Stars extend their regular seasons with summer tournaments against other leagues. For the 12U Little League division, the tournament is truly world-wide, culminating in The Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, watched by millions each year on television.

This year, my son's 12-year-old Little League year, he and I were especially fortunate. He represented his league as an All-Star, with me as a coach. It was a special team that exceeded expectations. It was a special team that got significant contributions from every player. It was a special team because the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. It was a special team with strong leadership and strong families. Most of all, it was a special team of great boys who worked hard, who played hard to win, who never gave up, and who had fun. Had these boys lost in their district, not many people would have been surprised. Defying expectations, these boys breezed to the District championship. Then they went even farther. They won a Sectional championship with two comeback, walk-off victories in a row. One of the Sectional victories was against a power house team, last year's 11U state champions. In so doing, our team became only the third in our league's 47-year history to be Section champions. As Section champions, they were one of ten teams to remain alive in all of Southern California, usually the very strongest region of Little League baseball in the world.

Our team celebrates their walk-off Sectional Championship.

For all but a handful of players and coaches, the Little League tournament ends in defeat. We know all along that the odds of reaching a Williamsport dream are very long, and we assume that defeat will come eventually. Yet with every win, the dream stays alive. Why couldn't it be us? Why shouldn't it be us? We could be the team of destiny. These boys deserve to be the team of destiny. With every win we keep working, every day. We keep practicing and we keep playing hard. We do not give up and we focus on getting better. In every game, we expect to win. In every game, we plan to win. And so we do not mentally prepare for losing. Until we lose. Then it all changes in an instant.

It is not the loss of a game that is so difficult. Perhaps it is the loss of an opportunity. Maybe it is the loss of our summertime family, with whom we cheered and celebrated. When players finish their season at age 10, they look forward to moving up to the Little League Majors division. When they finish at age 11, they look forward to their privileged year, when their Williamsport dreams become most vivid. But when they are 12, and their season comes to its inevitable end, they will never again be little boys playing on a little diamond. My son is someone I can still play catch with, but no longer can I play catch with my little boy. Today, our little boys have graduated.

Even though I will miss the days of playing baseball with a great group of boys on a perfect Santa Barbara summer afternoon, I know that graduations are also a time to be proud. We are so proud of what these boys accomplished. We know they will become strong young men. These will be young men who strive to win. These will be young men who will always do their best, and who never give up. These will be young men who support each other and who contribute to communities and teams in ways that maximize their individual strengths and gifts. These will be young men who know that sometimes, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. These are young men who today graduated Little League.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Everything's comin up peropsin

(Or maybe coming up RGR). My research activities on opsin have lately led me to peropsin and RGR. These are opsins in the RGR/Go superfamily (a la Plachetzki et al 2007) [Note Porter et al 2012 named this superfamily Group IV, but I don't like that name as much because it is not clear there are actually four superfamily groups].

Below is a report I sent to the first author of a paper that just came out. The paper is here:
Battelle, B., Kempler, K., Saraf, S., Marten, C., Dugger, D., Speiser, D., & Oakley, T. (2014). Opsins in Limulus eyes: characterization of three visible light-sensitive opsins unique to and co-expressed in median eye photoreceptors and a peropsin/RGR that is expressed in all eyes Journal of Experimental Biology, 218 (3), 466-479 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.116087

I've taken to writing reports for collaborations, as it focuses me to get done the work, and to share it with collaborators in a way where they can easily extract information for the publication. Below is such a report that I created for the above-cited paper:

Limulus Peropsin-like gene phylogeny report

In 1997, (Sun et al. 1997) reported a new opsin, found in cDNA libraries of human eyes, and shown by immunohistochemistry to be expressed in Retinal Pigment Epithelium. Another name for peropsin is RRH (retinal pigment epithelium-derived rhodopsin homologue). The most closely related gene to peropsin in the human genome is RGR (RPE−retinal G protein−coupled receptor), first discovered in 1993 (Jiang, Pandey, and Fong 1993). Based on mouse knockout experiments, RGR is a photoisomerase involved in the generation of 11-cis-retinal (Chen et al. 2001). Both of these vertebrate genes belong to a large clade of opsins called “RGR/Go” (Plachetzki, Degnan, and Oakley 2007; Feuda et al. 2012) or “Group-IV” opsins (Porter et al. 2012).

Nagata et al (2010) claimed to find the first peropsin from a protostome, a jumping spider, Hasarius adansoni. However, their phylogenetic analysis showed only weak support (77%) for the spider gene as the sister to peropsins and was based on overly simplistic phylogenetic techniques (neighbor-joining based on an unspecified distance model). Eriksson et al (2013) discovered a gene from the spider Cupiennius salei that is very similar to the jumping spider gene. While their phylogenetic analysis shows good support for these spider genes in the Group IV clade (1.0 posterior probability in Bayesian Inference), their placement with peropsin is again tenuous (0.62). Hering and Mayer (2014) reported a third chelicerate peropsin-like gene from the genome of the spider mite Tetranychus urticae. The three chelicerate genes form a well-supported clade within Group IV opsins, but their phylogenetic position was again uncertain with respect to peropsin and RGR. In some analysis of Hering and Mayer (2014), the chelicerate genes are weakly supported as sister to all other RGR and peropsin genes and in one analysis they are weakly supported as sister to RGR.

I conducted phylogenetic analyses on 30 opsin sequences, including our putative Limulus peropsin/RGR-like gene, 27 genes of the RGR/peropsin (=RPE/peropsin) clade of Hering and Mayer (2014), plus two outgroup opsins with solved crystal structures (Bos taurus c-opsin (Palczewski et al. 2000) and Todarodes r-opsin (Murakami and Kouyama 2008)). I conducted all phylogenetic analyses using the Osiris phylogenetics package (Oakley et al. 2014) within Galaxy (Blankenberg et al. 2005). I first aligned all 30 sequences using MUSCLE (Edgar 2004). I next used RAxML version 7.4 (Stamatakis 2006), assuming a GTR+G model to search for the Maximum Likelihood phylogeny, and conducted 100 bootstrap pseudoreplications to gauge node stability.


The new Limulus peropsin/RGR-like gene forms a clade with the three “peropsins” previously described from chelicerates (100%), and is sister to the two spider “peropsins” (93%). The relationships within chelicerates are not consistent with taxonomy, which would predict that Limulus, as the only non-arachnid, should fall as the sister gene to the other three chelicerate genes. Our results are similar to previous analyses that cannot confidently place the chelicerate genes in a specific position between RGR and peropsin.

We found a gene in Limulus that is very similar to other chelicerate genes known in the literature as protostome “peropsins”. However, a careful examination of previous studes, and our own results, indicate that the chelicerate genes may orthologs of peropsins or RGR genes, or that vertebrate RGR and peropsins are in paralogs compared to the chelicerate genes. The inability of phylogenetic analyses to unequivocally place the chelicerate genes could be caused by sparse sampling of invertebrate genomes. In addition, many of the peropsin/RGR sequences found in invertebrate full genome sequences have not been experimentally verified, nor has function been demonstrated for them. Clearly, there is much to learn about this clade of opsins.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Little League Ethics

Our local Little League does not have lights to play night games. Because baseball cannot be played in the dark, the lack of stadium lights imposes a highly unnatural rule on some of our baseball games: a time limit.

One of the truly beautiful things about baseball (besides that the defense has the ball!) is there is not normally natural time limit. It's what led Yogi Berra to say “It ain't over til it's over”. In typical Yogi style, his famous quote makes no sense and perfect sense, all at the same time. A team always has a chance in baseball, even when down by a huge margin, if they can just score enough before their final out.

It truly ain't over til it's over.

Until there is a time limit.

A time limit in baseball changes everything. It raises strategic and ethical dilemmas: Is it ethical to stall to try to reach the time limit and preserve a win? Is it ethical to purposely speed up the game to reach the time limit and preserve a win?

I have encountered these ethical questions forced by Little League time limits, and these ethical questions to me are critical. In my life, I strive for excellence. One goal is to achieve excellence in sportsmanship and ethics – especially in Little League. By definition, excellence is not easy to achieve. Excellence requires dedication. Excellence requires plain old fashioned hard work. Excellence requires a lot of thought and discipline. Excellence is the highest achievement for which I can strive, and I can think of fewer more important goals than setting an example of excellence in sportsmanship and ethics for our youth. This is serious.

In a baseball game with a time limit, the visiting team can take the lead in the final inning – only to have the game revert back to penultimate inning – resulting in a loss – if the time limit is reached. This is highly unnatural in baseball, but it does come up. Many tournaments must be on a time limit. Rain storms sometimes even impose time limits in Major League Baseball.

After much thought, I believe that speeding up a game intentionally under the rules, even in Little League, is ethical. I believe that slowing down the game intentionally is less clearly ethical, but can mainly be moderated by the umpire anyway.

Here is an example. My team will be the visiting Brewers, the home team will be the Giants. Going into the last inning, the home Giants are winning 8-6. The sun is going down, and the rule is that when the ambient light gets low enough, an automatic light goes on. When that light is on, there is one more batter. If the game's final inning is not complete, the score reverts back to the last complete inning.

On this night, the Brewers stage a valiant comeback. There was a walk or two, but our Brewers were hitting and running and scoring. They were jubilant. They had taken back the lead in dramatic fashion. Yogi was right, it wasn't over! Life lesson speeches on not giving up write themselves after comebacks like this one. This kind of come back is beautiful. It is powerful.

The Brewers went up 11-8, with only 1 out in the last inning! But now the ethical dilemmas start. If time runs out, the Brewers lose. Once that light goes on and the umpire calls the game, the score reverts back to last final inning. The comeback – officially – is erased. But it is not erased from the minds of the Brewers. It is not erased from the minds of the Giants. The rule is for safety, so there are no games after dark, and so umpires don't push it. But tell that to Alex when his game winning hit is nullified. Tell that to Andre, when his game-tying run no longer counts. Let the games begin!

It's the final inning. The Giants' coach takes a leisurely stroll to the mound to talk to his pitcher. And most of the defense. While infuriating to the opponents, a coaches' visit is well within the rules. It might even be advisable to calm down the pitcher and the defense. I conclude such a visit is ethical. However, the umpire MUST keep a tight leash on how long such a visit can last. Stalling must be controlled by the umpire, but I do think it is actually ethical for the team with that advantage to slow down a little bit: within the rules and within reason. What if a coach tells a kid to tie his shoe 4 times? This is pushing the limits dramatically now. But here again, I believe the umpire can have some control on the stalling. He can yell “play ball”. If the kid is tying his shoe on the base, that is his team's disadvantage. If a batter will not get in the batters box, the umpire can allow a pitch, and call a strike for each one. Soon, pitch timers will be part of the major leagues, like shot clocks in basketball. So, I don't believe there is strong ability for a team to stall the game with a strong umpire who keeps a lid on it. Of course, a stalling team could purposely try very hard to get no outs and prolong an inning indefinitely. Although the other team could counter, I think this would now cross the line for me into unethical. The stalling team would be purposely failing in order to salvage a win on a technicality: a time limit.

Now, what about the team that went ahead with a fight to the end and a dramatic come back, our visiting Brewers? Can those Brewers ethically speed up the game to bring the end more quickly? I believe this is ethical. After taking the lead by three, can they purposely make their final two offensive outs to get on to the field faster, and try to get their final three defensive outs in time? Can they purposely steal a base when they think there is a VERY strong chance they will be thrown out? Can they purposely strike out, no matter where the pitch is thrown? Or is asking kids to do that for the team going too far?

My instinct tells me rushing to outs is, in fact, an ethical tactic. Unlike excessive stalling, it is striving to finish the game to AVOID the technicality. It's striving to finish the game naturally, before getting to the time limit. In the words of the Little League pledge, it is “Striving to Win” – and I believe it is also “Playing Fair”.

I read an interesting story on Little League ethics that parallels my thoughts. I won't recount the whole story, but the link is here

Without retelling the entire story, one quote is particularly apropos, edited slightly to fit this current situation
“True, [running into an out or striking out purposely] was superficially a violation of the League's "strive to win" ethic, but in this odd instance it was really the opposite: only by [quickly making outs] could his team win.”

Of course trying to win cannot dictate everything. It has to be within the rules. But clearly, trying to steal a base is within the rules, and striking out is also.

The link to the ethics story also points out an interesting parallel. When we ask a player to perform a sacrifice bunt, s/he is purposely (probably) making an out for the betterment of the team. I maintain that getting outs quickly to finish a game before a time limit is in fact directly akin to a sacrifice bunt. I'd like to award Jack a sacrifice steal, and Justin a sacrifice strike out.

This is important to me. I want to do the right thing. I believe sacrificing for the good of the team is noble. I believe striving to win is critical to sport. I believe fighting to avoid the nullification of a brave and jubilant comeback is itself noble and ethical. I believe in running into an out. I believe in a quick strike out. I believe in the sacrifice bunt.

And I would fight that fight again.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Question on Independent Origins Test

We just published a paper on convergent evolution, which uses a new test of convergence called the "Independent Origins Test". In the main text, the description of the test is limited (however see the supplement).

Just now, I received a question about this test, and I paste my answer below, in case others might benefit from the answer.

THE QUESTION: Dear Dr Oakley I read you article:  Predictable transcriptome evolution in the convergent and complex bioluminescent organs of squid (great!)

I do not undestand the logic behind this
The observed data are approximately and conservatively 5,000 times less likely to have arisen from an evolutionary history with less than three gains of photophores than from an evolutionary history with three or more photophore gains 
we should compared 1 gain (ancestral) follow by 8 losses versus 2 independent gains here you compare less than 3 gain (1 or 2 (which is the case here)
versus 4 ,5 ,6 
could please tell me what am I missing

  Yes, the traditionally more common way to frame alternative hypotheses to test independent origins is to compare the likelihood of X gains versus Y losses. This is what we did for example in Oakley and Cunningham (2002) 

    However, the "independent origins" test in this 2014 paper frames the alternative hypotheses in a different way. The alternatives are: 1 gain of the trait (= homology) versus more than one gain (=independent origins). The test calculates probabilities (assuming the model of trait evolution, the phylogeny, and the distribution of traits on the tree) of these alternative hypotheses.

    Why, you might ask then, did we compare the probabilities of "1 or 2 gains" to "3 or more gains"? The general reason is to be conservative.  More specifically, in the case of these squid, there is a clade where photophore might have evolved more than once within that clade itself. This was not the focus of the paper, and we were really interested in whether two distantly related clades (loliginids and sepiolids) evolved photophores separately. Since the independent origins test counts total number of gains on the entire tree, it was not distinguishing between two gains in those distant clades versus a separate gain within sepiolids. To be conservative then, we reported the probability of at least 3 gains. Examining "at least 2 gains" would yield even higher differences between alternative models.

    I believe the easiest critique of this approach is the simplicity of the model, which assumes the same rate of character gain and loss for the entire tree. In simulations I have done (a la Simmap), a little bit of homoplasy on a tree leads to estimated rates of trait evolution that require HUGE numbers of gains and losses on a tree, to the point of being biologically very unrealistic. I believe that models that allow different rates of evolution on different parts of the tree could do better at yielding biologically realistic rates of trait evolution. See for example Skinner (2010) 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Starting a lingustic foray into evolution - cray cray?

This holiday season, I've learned a new word from my nephews, and that word is 'cray-cray'*. According to my nephews, and the Urban Dictionary, cray-cray means 'really crazy'.

Researching this word has led me - yet again - to some parallels between evolution and linguistics. I want to start documenting these parallels more formally, because I think it could be important. My biology research is focused on how new traits originate during evolution, sometimes called 'evolutionary novelty'. How did eyes originate in evolution? How about hair or milk? Although I could be cray-cray, I believe this area of evolution has received less attention than other areas, and the theory and concepts are underdeveloped. Yet in linguistics, it seems novelty is a central area of theory.

Cray-cray is a new word, a novelty. Languages change so fast, with such full documentation, it seems as though linguists have a richer theory for explaining how novelties arise. One aspect of novelty in linguistics is called Word Formation, and there are several ways in which word formation occurs. I believe many of these have parallels in organic evolution, although they may not generally be differentiated or articulated. I want to explore that on future posts.

Craycray seems to be due to a particular type of word formation that is not particularly common in English, called reduplication. Actually, as I read and understand further, it seems reduplication is considered to be a change in grammar, and not as a mechanism of word formation. From this perspective, cray cray is not a new word, but is rather a grammatical change to convey a new meaning. In both evolution and linguistics, it seems challenging to think clearly and consistently about structure (word) and function (meaning) and their relationship to each other.

Reduplication is quite common in many languages, and is used in several different ways. Our cray cray example seems to be reduplication for the purpose of intensifying a noun. I don't think this is common in English. Wikipedia gives an example from Hebrew, where Gever means 'man' and 'Gever Gever' seems to mean something like a man's man or a manly man, or perhaps a macho man. A man, intensified, just as cray cray means crazy, intensified.

According to the same Wikipedia site on reduplication, there are some English examples of reduplication. We mimic baby talk, as in 'bye-bye'; use rhyming reduplication, as in super-duper; or sometimes change the vowel sounds in the reduplication, like zig-zag. An interesting example is the 'schm' reduplication - adding 'schm' to belittle something, or to indicate irony: 'craycray, schmacray - I can just say lunatic'. Schm-reduplication is said to be 'productive', because it can be used with most any word. We also use reduplication to clarify a literal meaning versus a figurative meaning. An example that comes to mind is to clarify hot - 'do you mean spicy-hot or HOT-hot'?  HOT-hot is clarifying the meaning as temperature. By the way, I think we should adopt the Spanish word picante to mean spicy-hot, a word we need in English!

Besides cray cray, I can't think of any other examples in English of intensifying reduplication. From that perspective, it might not actually be reduplication, since reduplication refers to grammar. In English, our grammar doesn't usually intensify using reduplication, so cray cray perhaps really does fit more into Word Formation. But I also cannot fit it into established modes of Word Formation, either, such as those explained on Wikipedia or a Rice site (by the way the Rice site counted zig-zag as compound word formation, not as reduplication). Instead, cray cray is part clipping - taking just part of a longer word, like ad for advertisement, or dis for disrespect - and part compounding - putting two words together, like phone booth. Crazy clipped is cray and compounded is cray cray.

My purpose here is to understand novelty in linguistics to draw parallels to evolution. For example, thinking genetically, I know that protein domains are often 'reduplicated' within the same gene. It will be interesting to think this through and research it. What types of function can protein domain reduplication provide? Are the biological-functional implications similar to linguistic-grammatical implications? I believe intensification of biological function does happen by domain reduplication (I can think of some examples, that I won't go into). But what about other parallels? That will perhaps be the subject of a future post.

I should end now before this post is so long as to be cray cray.

* I believe this is mainly a spoken word, such that the spelling is not yet standard. It could be craycray, cray-cray, or cray cray. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The resurrection of Evolutionary Novelties

I've decided to resurrect the Evolutionary Novelties blog. While I wrote fairly regularly from late 2007 until 2009, I stopped writing any blog posts after that. Although I didn't specifically plan the regular writing sessions or the hiatus, I've felt lately that I would like again to use this forum to share some ideas.

Why the hiatus? Blogging changed my brain

Late in 2009, I began to feel that blogging changed my brain in ways that I did not like at the time. Namely I felt like I was thinking too much about blog posts. Blog posts - at least good ones - are short, punchy and catchy - like a quick sprint. Yet conducting research and writing scientific papers takes dedication and persistence - like a marathon. When writing Evolutionary Novelties posts regularly, I began thinking about posts a lot; so much I felt like it was taking 'thinking time' and writing time away from my research. Professional research takes a huge amount of thinking time, from brainstorming to problem solving to deciding how to pitch grant proposals and publications.

There are also two more mechanistic reasons I took a hiatus from writing blog posts. First, I got my first smart phone around that time. Instead of doing a lot of reading (email, news, papers, other blogs) on a computer with a keyboard at the ready - I began reading on a mobile device. Without a keyboard under-finger, the possibility of a response became less immediate, and my habits changed. The second mechanistic reason is personal. My son grew to genuinely love playing sports and following professional sports. This rekindled my childhood love of sports, and I've come to spend much more time coaching, playing, and following sports. Following and participating in sports also competes for my online time, and my 'thinking time', so writing blog posts fell away.

Why the resurrection? I have things to say

Writing blog posts can be a great outlet for certain topics, and some such topics have become priorities for me.
  1. I feel I am becoming a good mentor, and I would like to share more broadly mentoring advice. Well, actually, I think I've always been pretty good at mentoring because I genuinely care about the people I mentor, I care about their careers, and I generally have good instincts about career decisions (it's something I think a lot about). I also sometimes worry that with more students and postdocs in my lab, that there is not enough time for me to be effective at mentoring everyone all the time. Pointing to a blog post with career advice might sometimes be effective, and might help people outside my lab. In this regard, I've been inspired by Sociobiology.
  2. I've lately focused my research efforts and ideas more squarely on my 'home group' ostracods, and I'd like to share more about their amazing biology. During the golden era of Evolutionary Novelties, I wrote about these animals in a series I called 'ostra-blogs'. I'd like to continue this part-travellogue, part nature writing series because we've had some fun adventures lately. My students have also expressed interest in writing ostra-blogs, and they make a good vehicle for possibly telling the public about ostracods (or is it ostracodes?).
  3. I want to document ideas about parallels between Evolutionary Novelties and the linguistic novelties. I have a long-term goal to write a book that teaches concepts of how new things evolve, using examples from linguistics. I need to learn and remember a lot about linguistics before that can happen.
So, I am going to try to find the time to contribute to Evolutionary Novelties more regularly. At least until I want my brain back again for other things...