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Corante Blogs examine, through the eyes of leading observers, analysts, thinkers, and doers, critical themes and memes in technology, business, law, science, and culture.

The Press Will Be Outsourced Before Stopped

Vin Crosbie, on the challenges, financial and otherwise, that newspaper publishers are facing: "The real problem, Mr. Newspaperman, isn't that your content isn't online or isn't online with multimedia. It's your content. Specifically, it's what you report, which stories you publish, and how you publish them to people, who, by the way, have very different individual interests. The problem is the content you're giving them, stupid; not the platform its on."
by Vin Crosbie in Rebuilding Media

Travels In Numerica Deserta

There's a problem in the drug industry that people have recognized for some years, but we're not that much closer to dealing with it than we were then. We keep coming up with these technologies and techniques which seem as if they might be able to help us with some of our nastiest problems - I'm talking about genomics in all its guises, and metabolic profiling, and naturally the various high-throughput screening platforms, and others. But whether these are helping or not (and opinions sure do vary), one thing that they all have in common is that they generate enormous heaps of data.
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

Disrobing the Emperor: The online “user experience” isn't much of one

Now that the Web labor market is saturated and Web design a static profession, it's not surprising that 'user experience' designers and researchers who've spent their careers online are looking for new worlds to conquer. Some are returning to the “old media” as directors and producers. More are now doing offline consulting (service experience design, social policy design, exhibition design, and so on) under the 'user experience' aegis. They argue that the lessons they've learned on the Web can be applied to phenomena in the physical and social worlds. But there are enormous differences...
by Bob Jacobson in Total Experience

Second Life: What are the real numbers?

Clay Shirky, in deconstructing Second Life hype: "Second Life is heading towards two million users. Except it isn’t, really... I suspect Second Life is largely a 'Try Me' virus, where reports of a strange and wonderful new thing draw the masses to log in and try it, but whose ability to retain anything but a fraction of those users is limited. The pattern of a Try Me virus is a rapid spread of first time users, most of whom drop out quickly, with most of the dropouts becoming immune to later use."
by Clay Shirky in Many-to-Many

The democratisation of everything

Over the last few years we've seen old barriers to creativity coming down, one after the other. New technologies and services makes it trivial to publish text, whether by blog or by print-on-demand. Digital photography has democratised a previously expensive hobby. And we're seeing the barriers to movie-making crumble, with affordable high-quality cameras and video hosting provided by YouTube or Google Video and their ilk... Music making has long been easy for anyone to engage in, but technology has made high-quality recording possible without specialised equipment, and the internet has revolutionised distribution, drastically disintermediating the music industry... What's left? Software maybe? Or maybe not."
by Suw Charman in Strange Attractor

RNA Interference: Film at Eleven

Derek Lowe on the news that the Nobel Prize for medicine has gone to Craig Mello and Andrew Fire for their breakthrough work: "RNA interference is probably going to have a long climb before it starts curing many diseases, because many of those problems are even tougher than usual in its case. That doesn't take away from the discovery, though, any more than the complications of off-target effects take away from it when you talk about RNAi's research uses in cell culture. The fact that RNA interference is trickier than it first looked, in vivo or in vitro, is only to be expected. What breakthrough isn't?"
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

PVP and the Honorable Enemy

Andrew Phelps: "Recently my WoW guild has been having a bit of a debate on the merits of Player-vs.-Player (PvP) within Azeroth. My personal opinion on this is that PvP has its merits, and can be incredible fun, but the system within WoW is horridly, horribly broken. It takes into account the concept of the battle, but battle without consequence, without emotive context, and most importantly, without honor..."

From later in the piece: "When I talk about this with people (thus far anyway) I typically get one of two responses, either 'yeah, right on!' or 'hey, it’s war, and war isn’t honorable – grow the hell up'. There is a lot to be said for that argument – but the problem is that war in the real historical world has very different constraints that are utterly absent from fantasized worlds..."
by Andrew Phelps in Got Game

Rats Rule, Right?

Derek Lowe: "So, you're developing a drug candidate. You've settled on what looks like a good compound - it has the activity you want in your mouse model of the disease, it's not too hard to make, and it's not toxic. Everything looks fine. Except. . .one slight problem. Although the compound has good blood levels in the mouse and in the dog, in rats it's terrible. For some reason, it just doesn't get up there. Probably some foul metabolic pathway peculiar to rats (whose innards are adapted, after all, for dealing with every kind of garbage that comes along). So, is this a problem?.."
by Derek Lowe in In the Pipeline

Really BAD customer experience at Albertsons Market

Bob Jacobson, on shopping at his local Albertsons supermarket where he had "one of the worst customer experiences" of his life: "Say what you will about the Safeway chain or the Birkenstock billionaires who charge through the roof for Whole Foods' organic fare, they know how to create shopping environments that create a more pleasurable experience, at its best (as at Whole Foods) quite enjoyable. Even the warehouses like Costco and its smaller counterpart, Smart & Final, do just fine: they have no pretentions, but neither do they dump virtual garbage on the consumer merely to create another trivial revenue stream, all for the sake of promotions in the marketing department..."
by Strange Attractor in Total Experience

The Guardian's "Comment is Free"

Kevin Anderson: "First off, I want to say that I really admire the ambition of the Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free. It is one of the boldest statements made by any media company that participation needs to be central to a radical revamp of traditional content strategies... It is, therfore, not hugely surprising to find that Comment is Free is having a few teething troubles..."
by Kevin Anderson in strange
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

The Loom

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September 14, 2005

Traditional Norms, Animal-style

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Posted by Carl Zimmer

"March of the Penguins," the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing." --from an article describing how some religious leaders and conservative magazines are embracing the blockbuster documentary.

Well, it's 2010, and what a remarkable five years it's been. The blockbuster success of March of the Penguins in 2005 triggered a flood of wonderful documentaries about animal reproduction, all of which provide us with inspiring affirmation of the correct way to live our lives. Here are just a few of the movies that can guide you on your path...

Dinner of the Redback Spiders: This documentary follows the heartwarming romance between two spiders that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate, his reproductive organs still delivering semen into the female as she devours him.

Toxic Love of the Fruit Flies: In this movie, male fruit flies demonstrate their ingenuity and resourcefulness by injecting poisonous substances during sex that make it less likely that other males will successfully fertilize the eggs of their mates. Sure, these toxins cut the lifespan of females short, but who said life was perfect?

Harem of the Elephant Seals: Meet Dad: a male northern elephant seal who spends his days in bloody battles with rivals who would challenge his right to copulate with a band of females--but doesn't life a finger (or a flipper) to help raise their kids.

Step-fathers of the Serengeti: Guess who's moving in? It's a male lion taking over a pride of females. Watch him affirm traditional norms by killing their cubs so that they can father his own offspring.

Funky Love of the Bonobos: The sexual shenanigans of some of our closest living ape relatives. Male-female, female-female, and on and on it goes. Warning: Definitely not suitable for children.

Comments (15) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Evolution


1. hoopman on September 14, 2005 11:58 AM writes...

Or, as PZ Myers said over at Pharyngula, "It was a movie about pitiless Darwinian circumstances. Drop the egg, it freezes and the embryo dies. Newborn chick wanders away, it freezes and dies. One parent dies of predation or weather, the other has to abandon the young to starve, freeze, and die. As an inspiration to conservative Republican ruthlessness, I can see it…but Intelligent Design? No way". And I might add - inept, clumsy predators attack the chicks while mothers and fathers stand by and do nothing to help. And understand, these are NOT predators that the larger penguins had anything to fear from a personal standpoint of survival. Any one of them could have taken a run at these birds and they would have flown off in terror, let alone if several of them had combined efforts. In fact, several DO combine such an effort in keeping a chickless mother from trying to "steal" a chick from another in the colony, so it's not such a momumental leap that they would do such a thing to protect chicks from predators.

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2. Scott Belyea on September 14, 2005 12:12 PM writes...

Well, now, that's just the way they were designed ... who are we to question it?? :-)

"...that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate"


When I saw that comment by Medved, it struck me as a stunning example of seeing what you want to see coupled with a lack of knowledge/perspective. Thanks for the counter-examples, of which there could of course be many more.

Including some human examples. I have a cousin who ... no, no, better not ...

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3. cats on September 14, 2005 12:24 PM writes...

"passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing"?

yes, Michael Medved will be shocked if he can see the mating hobits of chimps...

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4. linguist on September 14, 2005 12:42 PM writes...

Well put!

I get so sick of people trying to draw parallels between human social behavior and the behavior of animals.

For instance, there's this story, in which the "gay" penguins at a zoo in Germany, were obviously proving that their nesting instincts were stronger than the lack of females by adopting rocks as egg substitutes. When zoo officials tried to bring in more females, gay rights groups objected and the zoo backed down!

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5. daen on September 14, 2005 05:35 PM writes...

Another example from "The Panda's Thumb" by Stephen Jay Gould concerning Acarophenax tribolii, a species of mite: "Fifteen eggs, including but a single male, develop within the mother's body. The male emerges within his mother's shell, copulates with all his sisters and dies before birth."

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6. Bruce on September 14, 2005 05:36 PM writes...

Equally heartwarming are the swans of the Boston Public Garden

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7. Mary on September 14, 2005 11:48 PM writes...

These are excellent (and hilarious) examples of the dangers of drawing too much inspiration from the mating habits of other species. Didn't that penguin movie mention something about the penguins choosing a new mate every breeding season? I could have sworn I remembered hearing that, although how anyone finds conservative Christian values in that or anything else in the movie is beyond me. The conservative reaction to this movie amazes me.

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8. hoopman on September 15, 2005 12:07 AM writes...

Mary, you are absolutely correct. Again I point to the recent post at Pharyngula (although it might be easier to say, yes, I saw the movie 4 days ago and that is EXACTLY what was stated in it. However, I'm just not as FUNNY as PZ Myers is!

"Let's just remember that it is a seasonal monogamy—they get different breeding partners in different breeding seasons. This apparently justifies the practice of the Republican leadership in cashing in their old wives for new trophies. Penguins do it, so why not Newts"?

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9. Babbler on September 15, 2005 12:24 AM writes...

George Will wrote about "March of the Penguins" (& "Grizzly Man") a few weeks ago, and seems to have dawn a different conclusion:

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10. hoopman on September 15, 2005 01:44 AM writes...

Babbler, thanks for the enlightening link. Nice to see that not all conservatives spew nonsensical Republican rhetoric. Yeah, those Penguins were lucky to have such a wonderful "designer".

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11. Joel on September 15, 2005 10:08 AM writes...

Donald Kennedy, Science editor, "Emperors on the Ice, Science, September 2", used the movie as an evangelistic opportunity also:

"By all means see March of the Penguins. Better still, you can accomplish a good work by inviting an advocate for ‘intelligent design’ to accompany you. After the show, buy him or her a beer, and ask for an explanation of just what the Designer had in mind here."

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12. Gerry L on September 16, 2005 12:32 AM writes...

At the Oregon Zoo we have a male Humboldt penguin who shows no interest in girl penguins or boys. But he is quite attracted to human footwear.

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13. Jonesy on September 20, 2005 06:41 AM writes...

I have to wonder how much of the reason for Medved sayng this is that he's just being a troll. He knows he's going to get attention from "liberals", and he knows its going to annoy, so thats why he says it. These people (Medved, Coulter, Limbaugh...) don't care whether theyre being rational or not, they just want attention and want to get a rise out of the other side.

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14. inwit on September 21, 2005 07:23 AM writes...

The description of the mite genus Adactylidium in that essay of Gould's that daen quoted from is even more graphic:

"[S]ix to nine eggs hatch within the body of a female Adactylidium. The larvae feed on their mother's body, literally devouring her from inside. Two days later, the offspring reach maturity, and the single male copulates with all his sisters. By this time, the mother's tissues have disintegrated, and her body space is a mass of adult mites, their feces, and their discarded larval and nymphal skeletons. The offspring then cut holes through their mother's body wall and emerge."

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15. Bangbus on December 15, 2005 01:03 PM writes...

Mary, you are absolutely correct. Again I point to the recent post at Pharyngula (although it might be easier to say, yes, I saw the movie 4 days ago and that is EXACTLY what was stated in it. However, I'm just not as FUNNY as PZ Myers is!

"Let's just remember that it is a seasonal monogamy—they get different breeding partners in different breeding seasons. This apparently justifies the practice of the Republican leadership in cashing in their old wives for new trophies. Penguins do it, so why not Newts"?

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