Monday, October 29, 2012

It is so easy to fall behind

I've been really excited to get started on several different projects. The great thing about having different projects is that there is always something to work on, and leaves me without an excuse about boredom (because I can just switch projects). The bad thing about having so many projects (and not having a lab of my own yet) is that sometimes everything needs your attention at the same time. In a way, being a scientist is like being part of a family. Some projects are constantly begging for attention, others sit quietly and wait for you to play with them. And then, sometimes one project slipped while running around the corner to avoid naptime and needs you to tend its bumped head, while the other project is nudging your arm while whining to be let out to pee, and yet another just wants you to come say hello because you've both been working long days and it seems like you never just enjoy each other's company anymore. 

Uh, projects... right. 

So, I'm in the position of having a few projects that I'm very excited about, and wondering when I'm going to find the time to complete them all. One step at a time, I guess. That's what keeps me on track. I make small manageable goals, and eventually they'll all get done.

Last night I finished some data parsing and sent it off to my collaborator in Denmark. It is for a project where we're assessing the amount of allele-specific expression in the genome. All autosomal genes have two copies, and generally scientists think that each copy gets expressed at the same level (50% from copy 1 and 50% from copy 2), but there is evidence that sometimes one copy, or allele, is expressed much higher (or lower) than the other copy. This is what we call allele-specific expression (ASE), and together we are working to assess ASE, while accounting for technical variance in the data.

I'm also working on some re-analysis for a manuscript studying diversity on the non-sex chromosomes (autosomes), and the sex chromosomes (X and Y). Our paper was rejected after nearly 11 weeks in review, but I think we have a good chance of acceptance after making some small additions. I'll also be giving a talk about this work at the upcoming ASHG meeting, and am working on putting my talk together.

A third project I'm working on is analyzing evolutionary strata across the whole X chromosome in mammals, starting with humans. I am collaborating with people in Texas on this project, and was fortunate to meet with them in person a little over a week ago. It is sometimes easier to stay focused, when you know your collaborator (or PI, or student) might stop by at any given moment, but, for now, I'm staying on track.

I'm also looking forward to doings some raw RNAseq analysis in humans, studying pig genomes, and looking at expression variation within and between bird species.

Now, back to work!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Academic mansplaining

A friend shared this with me, and I'm sharing it with you all.

Academic Men Explain Things to Me:

I'm lucky to have only a few stories to share, yet. But, here is a recent example:

While talking with the male driver and male passenger in the Super Shuttle on the way to the airport last weekend, I was explaining my research on sex chromosome evolution. I had just started describing the phenomenon of male mutation bias,  where, because most mutations are due to errors during replication, we expect more point mutations to accumulate in the male germline (because sperm continue to replicate throughout a male's lifetime) than in the female germline (because eggs are all formed by a female's birth. The male passenger piped up, "Well, it's a good thing you're a female studying this. I don't think a male could get away with it."


I debated pointing out that the first person to introduce this hypothesis was Prof. Takashi Miyata, a male, but decided to let it slide. We all choose our battles, and this one wasn't worth my time. I was more excited to actually share some cutting edge science with these guys, who were asking lots of questions, than get hung up on some perception about who can study what in Science.

I wish I had more opportunities to just shoot the breeze about the cool stuff I'm studying. As a result of bringing up what I do, I learned that the other passenger is the lead administrator for the local children's hospital transportation unit (moving sick kids to the best hospital for their care), and the driver's daughter went to grad school for forensic science. Rock on!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scientist mom: Perspective

This morning the Bear and I got up to get some milk (for her) and make some tea (for me), and she decided she didn't want the milk, but just to sit with me and read books. So we did. Then we got dressed, and I checked my email, while Husband made us some bagels.

After over 10 weeks in review at Nature, my first post-thesis manuscript was rejected. Sigh. I skimmed the reviewer comments and sent them to my collaborators. I was starting to think of how to respond...

...and then the Bear offered me a piece of her bagel and started dancing in her chair.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Scientist mom: Farming

Last weekend the Bear and I met up with friends at the Little Farm at Tilden Park. Unfortunately she vomited all over herself and her carseat when we pulled up to park. I think it was a combination of the windy-drive with coughing due to her cold that just affected her gag reflex. Afterwards she felt fine. When I parked to clean her up I told her we were just going home, and she said, "no, farm!". She seemed fine, so I scrounged around (of course I didn't have an extra outfit with me), and fashioned her a dress out of my tank top, pulled up her long socks, and snuggled her up in my jacket, topped off with a hat.

We had a great time feeding lettuce to the cows, geese, goats, and sheep. Then, along with our friends and their 10 month old daughter, we explored the Nature center. Later we met up with some other parents and their kids for a delicious picnic.

When we got home I cleaned out her carseat, taking it completely apart. I was surprised at how far apart I could dismantle it. I hung the cover up to dry in the bathroom.

The Bear had fallen asleep on the way home, but woke up after 45 min, a little disoriented. I picked her up and she fell asleep, so we took a nap together on the couch. It was awesome.

In the afternoon, Husband, Bear and I walked down to check out Sunday Streets Berkeley. It was pretty neat to walk down Shattuck, one of the main throughways here in Berkeley. We only made it near the tail-end of the event, so I can't make an overall judgement of it, other than it was very pleasant to walk around with so many other families, people, and dogs out just enjoying the day. I hope they do it again.

Oh, and, I got into an argument with a woman at the Sunday Streets who was blindly encouraging people to "Vote Yes on 37", the GMO-labelling proposition on the ballot here in California. If she weren't so pushy, I would have been able to avoid her. But... she was spewing absolute nonsense and I couldn't resist telling her so. "Did you know that over 150,000 farmers have committed suicide because of Monsanto?", she said. Ignoring the fact that this claim seems intentionally provocative and perhaps unfounded (although I found the reference here from an Indian filmaker, and have yet to determine its truth), I told her that I agreed that Monsanto is a conglomerate who has done many deplorable things, and I think they should be regulated. But prop 37 doesn't address Monsanto or their actions in the slightest. 

This caused her to pause for a minute before she said, "Well, we just want to know what we are eating." I responded that the labeling requirements in 37 are also not sufficient to label GMOs, and appears to be aimed at fear-mongering the public rather than informing them about any potential dangers. It would be, I argued, similar to labeling only red fruits as "containing DNA". I think the general public is not aware that everything we eat contains DNA. And even if they are aware, it would be suspect to label only some fruits as containing DNA, and many people would be afraid to consume red fruits simply because of the label. 

Further, the proposition includes many exceptions, including foods that are "unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material". If the goal of the proposition is really to inform the public, then why make exceptions for foods that contain genetically engineered material, just because it wasn't intentionally put there. That's like only requiring labeling of peanut-containing food if the product intentionally contains peanuts, ignoring other products made on the same assembly-line. 

There are several other exceptions that make me think this proposition would only increase bureaucracy and tax-payer expenses, while not actually addressing the ethical, social, environmental, or health concerns related to genetically modified organisms. The latter I can get on board with. But please don't try to scare me into legislation with faulty arguments.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Please consider removing Ms. Maggie McGlinchy's access to post to the Onward State blog

* I sent this letter to the Onward State blog editorial contact today.

Dear Onward State,

As a Penn State alumna, and someone concerned with the image of Penn State and its students, I implore you to please remove Ms. Maggie McGlinchy's access to post on the Onward State Blog.

The mission of Onward State, in its own words, is:

Onward State is an independent, alternative Penn State blog that seeks to foster the student voice through the combination of commentary that is fair, authentic, and sometimes humorous; analysis that is critical and irreverent; and news that is relevant and accurate. Onward State works to generate honest and frank conversation in the hopes of enriching the Penn State community and experience.

Unfortunately, Ms. McGlinchy has repeatedly shown that she is neither fair, authentic, nor humorous. She continues to demonstrate her inability to think critically, or to provide accurate information. 

I appreciate irreverence, and encourage frank discussions, but Ms. McGlinchy fails to grasp the subtle difference between irreverence and bigotry. In her most recent failure, Ms. McGlinchy offended countless current students and alumni, with over 126 negative comments accumulated less than two days after publication (here). It has taken just a few moments to assemble some samples of Ms. McGlinchy's dim wit, with numerous more examples of her failure to fulfill the mission of Onward State readily accessible:

(describing "obscure" clubs at Penn State)
"Association of Women in Computing – At first you think “WOOF” then you think $$$$."

(referring to a comment from a student returning from study abroad and her response) 
“It’s so weird not being able to just order a beer right now.” Guess what, it was weird for me too when I lost my fake but you don’t hear me crying about it. Besides you’re a lot closer to 21 than I am so shut the hell up and black out with me already.

"First of all, as a self-proclaimed University Park elitist, I’m going to tell you this now: Commonwealth Branch campus kids are weird. Not only do they think they’re on the same playing field as you even though they went to Altoona (which, HELLO, is basically a glorified high school and now they’re gonna get a job just as good/better than yours) but they’ll be older and probably offer to buy you beer and tell you to take the bus to Vairo Boulevard or wherever the fuck they live."

"Thinking about wasting $50 on that bandage skirt you saw at Urban the other day? Think again, because when you walk into that frat party you’re going to on Friday you’re going to see it on about 7 other girls– and chances are it’s going to get doused in beer, anyway. Ah, the beauty of going to school in bumblefuck, PA. I mean. can you imagine if I showed up somewhere in shoulder pads or boyfriend jeans? Not only would I go home alone, but probably in a straight jacket as well."

Specifically, her disdain for women is especially disturbing. 

By continuing to allow her to post unchecked on your blog, you choose to disregard the mission of your organization, and to misrepresent the general quality of students at Penn State. 

Please consider removing Ms. McGlinchy's access to this broad platform for sharing her insipid idiocy. She will still be free to share her insights on her private blog, but without the implied support of the Penn State students of Onward State. If nothing else, I can only hope that she will take the time to reflect on the long-term implications of her words, on both her own career, and the reputation of Onward State.

With Concern,

Dr. Wilson Sayres

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Scientist mom: red eye

I'm on my way to Denton, Texas to meet with collaborators and give a talk at the University of North Texas. My first meeting is at 8am.

So, I put in a full day today in lab, met Husband and Bear at the park, tried a new (to us) Mexican restaurant for dinner, then came home to pack up, play, shower and read bedtime stories. I hugged Husband and said goodnight to the Bear as he took her back to bed before gathering my things and walking to the BART. I had to make a quick detour to lab to grab my adaptor, in case there isn't a computer for me to use, and I need to plug in my own.

I am very excited to be going. I am also sad to miss anything at home. But, I'm lucky to know that the Bear is in good hands, and I will get to see everyone soon.

I took the wrong BART train transfer and went North one stop. I realized as soon as I stepped on the train, but it was too late. Still, not so bad because the next SFO bound train was only 10 min out, and there were plenty of seats.

I made it to the airport, yay! Then the voice came over the loud speaker to tell us the AirTran, to zip between terminals is down. Eh, I don't mind the walk.

Getting ready to go through security. Just need to grab my driver's license. Oh. No. Where is it?! I called husband frantic about it. He found it, among the other cards the Bear was playing with yesterday. But, we both realize that there isn't enough time for him to make it here and me to make my flight.

It turns out you can go through security without a government issued ID, if you have two other forms of identification, and you submit yourself and a of your things to a thorough search. The head of TSA here at SFO was actually really great about it.

And, thanks to the iPhone, I have already cancelled my rental car and booked a taxi for the morning. I just need to figure out tomorrow afternoon, but that will come tomorrow.

Whew! Now time to practice my talk and maybe read some papers about the X chromosome.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I love Science

In case you're not on Facebook, I'll start out by telling you that there is a page called, "I Fucking Love Science" that posts many popular science posts. Many of these are mildly inaccurate, or not really even Science, but they're about liking Science.

A person named Maddox has had enough, posting this:

I understand this person's frustration, especially with the bad science that is being propagated, but, I still think that getting people to like science, even superficially, is a step in the right direction.

However, the association of sexy super-models with being nerdy is something I can agree is ridiculous. I'm all about nerds being sexy, but because they're smart. Smart should be sexy. It is sexy. But nerds are  generally awkward, and too busy staying up late reading manuscripts, debugging code, running experiments, and figuring out how things work to spend time waxing, pruning, preening, and counting calories. Sure, most of us aren't completely oblivious, and we want to be healthy, and we want to look good. But I think a sign of a true nerd is that when it comes down to a choice between science or image, science wins.

And that's sexy.

Why is this still okay?

Last week on my way to work, I got cat-called by a guy in a car, making suggestive movements. It was 8am.

Not that it matters, but I was wearing a flowy-ish dress, black leggings, long black sweater, and flats. Might I remind you, I was on my way to work, and it was 8am. What the what?

Y'know, because being a womangoing outside the house, dressing nicely is basically just an invitation.

And wearing a sexy costume, well, that's just asking for it. Or, not. This person is my hero:

Monday, October 15, 2012

These things shouldn't happen

This morning the Bear and I were on our own. We got ready and made sure to put on our jackets, because it was chilly this morning. The Bear snuggled into her new sweater from Nana, and was surprisingly cooperative getting into the stroller for our walk to daycare. She was a little hesitant to leave me, but then gave Gloria a big hug, and went on it. I grabbed my bag and zipped my coat up and started walking into work.

About halfway to work I passed one of the grates that blows warm air. There was a 50-something looking man, curled up, asleep on the grate. He had no jacket, and no visible belongings. His face was thin, but relaxed in sleep.

This shouldn't happen. No person should be without food, shelter, medical care or clothing.

Homelessness is a problem. It's a problem that stares me in the face every day here in Berkeley.

The city has a lot of resources, including a shower program, and several drop-in programs and shelters, but most have limited hours. Surprisingly, the Youth Emergency Shelter is only open half of the year. 

I am especially impressed with the women's daytime drop-in shelter, which offers breakfast and lunch, a series of programs and counseling to aid single parents in transitioning to long-term housing, and encourages patrons to volunteer to assist with the upkeep of the shelter. 

We give food directly to some of the homeless people we've met, and for one particular gentleman, we've given him money directly. But, I am generally cautious about giving money to anyone. Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I really want the money we spend to go towards providing food, shelter, medical attention or clothing. As such, tonight I donated to the women's daytime drop-in shelter. 

But, regardless of my desire to give them money, I try to make eye contact, and say "hello", or otherwise acknowledge the people who ask for money along Berkeley's streets. It is the same as I do with just about anyone I pass. Granted, as the cities I live in get bigger and bigger, I tend to stick out more, but I just can't get over my mid-west up-bringing. 

I think all human beings deserve to be acknowledged. And, I'm ashamed of how I've changed here in Berkeley. I admit that I don't always interact with people on the streets, especially when I'm alone with the Bear. I can't risk her safety. There's only been twice that I've been genuinely concerned about our safety here.

The first was when we first moved here. The Bear was only 6 months old, and she and I were walking to the grocery store. A woman, who was yelling profanity and fragmented thoughts, was sitting on a bench. As we walked past she stopped yelling and started whispering. When I got about 10 feet away she sprung up and ran to catch up with us. She just stared at the Bear, whispering, and keeping pace with me. I was on a main road, and turned into the first store I came to. She waited outside for us for several minutes, then walked off somewhere else. 

The second was a few weeks ago. The Bear and I were walking home from daycare with Little Brown Dog, and a tall man was stumbling up the other side of the street. He saw us and crossed, without looking. He asked if my dog would bite. I said, probably not, but that he is shy (at this point all the hair was standing up on Little Brown Dog's back, and his ears were flat against his head). I started to walk away, and the man blew marijuana smoke at me and the Bear, then started to curse at me for something I couldn't understand. He walked to the middle of the street and yelled at us until I was too far away to hear him.

Poverty is one of the biggest factors affecting homelessness, but these two experiences highlight, for me, how important assessing and treating mental health are for tackling homelessness.

For a snapshot of homelessness last year: 
In 2011, 636,017 people experienced homelessness for at least one night, with about 107,148 chronically homeless. Of the 636,017 people, nearly 67,495 of them are US veterans, and 236,181  are people in families including children. 

To put those numbers in perspective, consider the population of:
- Syracuse, Nebraska: 1,950
- State College, Pennsylvania (home of Penn State University): 42,499
- Carlisle, Pennsylvania: 19,072
- Lincoln, Nebraska (home of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln): 262,341
- Berkeley, California: 113,905
- San Francisco, California: 812,826

We have a lot of work to do to help our fellow humans. We can start by recognizing humanity reflecting back at us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Informed voting

I was pretty impressed with the thoroughness of the website,, for their coverage of many different issues that are often important to voters in the US.

I was surprised to see that I am nearly evenly split between agreement with Barack Obama and Jill Stein. I still haven't decided how I'm going to vote, though.

In the two-party system we seem to support here in the US, I feel like choosing someone other than Obama or Romney is basically throwing my vote away. However, perhaps it is because everyone feels like this that the two-party system persists. I'm sure it is a little more complicated than that (e.g. funding behind the two major party candidates, voters having the time to investigate all candidates, candidates being able to get on the ballots in every state, etc...).

The website, above, however, was very useful, in my opinion, for giving me a starting point to learn about the ways the candidates differ on a variety of topics. I would like to take this quiz a few times to see how consistent my results are, but I'm not sure I'll be that motivated. I did take it twice. The first time, I agreed with Jill Stein on something just above 90%, and she was my top hit, but then I accidentally closed the browser. The image from above was taken from the summary of results a few days later. 

But, rather than test out their quiz, I think I'll spend the time reading up on all the propositions here in California. We got our mail-in ballots yesterday (yay!), and they need to be returned as soon as possible. 

Happy voting!

Friday, October 12, 2012

You know you're a scientist when... is nearly 10pm on a Friday night, and you're excited to stay up and analyze the data a collaborator just sent you.

I'm too psyched to feel embarrassed about this!!!

(Maybe someday I'll look back on this and shake my head, but not tonight.)

New data (sex chromosome stuff), oh yeah!

Happy weekend

I'm finally getting around to making some playlists for work, since I got my phone/music player/distraction toy. I hope you are all having a great weekend, even if you're just dancing in the dark.

A good week

It's been a busy, but good week.

My K99/R00 was submitted this morning. The revisions for the last manuscript from my thesis were submitted yesterday. I got mini-scooped on an idea, but it is exciting because it shows that the idea was actually valid - and was published in Genome Research. I'm reading up on background for a new and exciting collaboration.

Sounds like a good time to finish up and head home for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thank you, thank you

I am very new to the whole grant submission process, but can already say that there is some tension between the Sponsored Programs Office (the people who submit the grant on behalf of the individual and the University), and the individual PIs. There are deadlines, and things get stressful for everyone all at the same time.

I would like to pause and thank the SPO contact, and SPO office here at Berkeley, for helping me get my K99/R00 in order. Between the two, they found a few small errors that would have added up to a big "doh!", when I realized what I'd done:
1. Included one document twice (meaning I omitted one, similarly named, necessary document).
2. Added an older version of my mentor's statement with placeholder comments (opps!).
3. Calculated the overhead including the fringe benefits, when they should have been excluded. This one is, in my opinion, much more minor to the acceptance of the application, but still good to catch.
4. Not errors, so much as tidying up the way I presented the budget (I had too much detail that might have painted me into a corner if things change between now and the possible funding date).

Those four items took me the better part of the night to complete but I think hope everything is ready to go now. 

In other news, the revisions of the last manuscript from my thesis work should also be submitted by Friday (or else we pass a deadline, and it will be considered a new submission). This will be the fourth time out to review, so let's hope we addressed everything properly. I really think we did. This is another case, actually, where I should send out acknowledgments and thanks. The comments from the reviewers really helped make the manuscript much better. So, thank you anonymous reviewers. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Thank you Luvs

We don't have cable, so miss a lot of commercials. Usually that's a good thing, but thanks to the internet, I can watch commercials whenever I want (yay?).

I came across this commercial for Luvs, and wanted to thank them for featuring a breastfeeding mom. I completely felt like the first time mom when we started. I was more comfortable after a few months, but still felt awkward, even when it was just needing to pump at a Scientific conference. We'll see how I do whenever we get around to #2:

Monday, October 8, 2012

No sticker?

I've been reading up on the plethora of ballot initiatives here in California, and was excited when our voter book came in the mail today. I turned it over to find out polling place and instead read this:

What the what?! It seems supremely strange to me to have no polling place, but the National polling place database and the local Alameda County polling place both have our address listed as without a polling place. Weird.

I guess I'll just have to get my vote out in the mail early this year. It will feel a little anticlimactic.

Plus, how am I supposed to show off my awesome citizenship without my "I voted" sticker?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, October 5, 2012


PBS was targeted as one of the first things the Republican candidate would cut to reduce federal spending. The silliness of highlighting cutting PBS funding as a method for reducing spending is stated, very nerdily, by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

But, I don't even know that this is very important. I agree that wasteful spending should be reduced, no matter how small a proportion of the budget it is. But I do not think that PBS is wasteful spending. In addition to supporting educational television, and providing a resource to children whose parents cannot afford or choose not to send them to preschool, PBS is a system of local stations that provide jobs, and connect people within communities.

 PBS has responded with a well-thought and supported statement. Although they also highlight how little, relatively, the federal government spends, they point out that: 
For more than 40 years, Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission – harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Our system serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse. 
A key thing to remember is that public television and radio stations are locally owned and community focused and they are experts in working efficiently to make limited resources produce results. In fact, for every $1.00 of federal funding invested, they raise an additional $6.00 on their own – a highly effective public-private partnership. 
Numerous studies -- including one requested by Congress earlier this year -- have stated categorically that while the federal investment in public broadcasting is relatively modest, the absence of this critical seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end. 

PBS is a resource that I want supported with my tax dollars.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


High School graduation: 
Yay! That wasn't so bad, I guess. I'm excited to get to take some really relevant classes. I know there will be more writing, but I'm ready for it.

College graduation: 
Woot! I'm done with all the big essays I'll ever have to write!

PhD defense: 
Whew! Just finished writing my papers and turned in my thesis (complete with introduction and conclusions). I'm glad that's the last big thing I'll have to write!

Postdoc and beyond: 
Manuscripts, grant applications, letters of recommendation, course notes, peer reviews... I'm glad I invested in the ergonomic mouse and keyboard. Now where is my wrist brace?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How many spaces after a period?

You know you're a geek when things like this are worth your time to investigate.

I've been doing a lot of writing lately, and was surprised to see a colleague of mine adding two spaces after a period. I had learned the "two-space" rule in elementary school, but was taught during college and grad school to only use one space after a period. But, after discussing it with my friend, I started to question whether I was right. Should I instead be using two spaces? How much does it matter?

Cue the internet.

Instead of going into all the details myself, I'll point you to a few places where other people have gone into detail, and highlight a few parts. Basically, however, typewriters used the same amount of space for each letter (monospaced), and so two spaces following a period made it easier to read, but we have proportional fonts now that make the two spaces unnecessary, and even obstructive.

From Farhad Manjoo at Slate:
"Who says two spaces is wrong?" they wanted to know.
Typographers, that's who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences.
Because we've all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.
From Jacci Howard Bear at
The use of proportionally spaced type makes double spaces after a period unnecessary (if they ever were). The extra spacing is often distracting and unattractive. It creates 'holes' in the middle of a block of text — trapped white space on a smaller scale.
And, from Mignon Fogart, the Grammar Girl at
Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence. 

So, the take-home message is to use one space following a period. Full stop.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Communicating science fail

The little Bear and I were playing at the park last week. A pair of parents were discussing dogs, and then one turns to me and says, "Hey, you study genetics. So, how closely related are dogs and wolves?"

Being a complete nerd, and failing to recognize the social situation I was in, I started by responding with, "Well, that depends. If you're talking about the ability to mate, or about genetic relatedness, and then whether you're looking at genes or intergenic...".

At this point, the guy who asked me butted it, "Wait, wait, wait. I just wanted to know a number. Give me a number. How similar are dogs and wolves? 90%? 99.9%?".


I then tried to explain that I didn't know the exact number, but the father responded that I could just give him a ballpark estimate. But, by this point, he said, he didn't care about it anymore.

Communicating science fail.

Later in the week, the dog-wolf discussion came up again, and I told the father that I didn't want to give him an incorrect answer, and have him lose confidence in my scientific credentials. He assured me that he would never have checked up on it, and simply wanted to know the little factoid.

Therein lies the problem. Once people know that I study evolution, or anything related to genetics, many just want me to spew random factoids. But that isn't how Science works.

Science isn't a bunch of mini-absolutes. It is trends, and correlations, and interpretations. When enough of these are independently confirmed, then we have confidence in the results.

I don't know how to convey this to the public in a short response. I don't want to become a factoid-box. I don't want to proclaim myself an expert in fields where I'm not. I don't want to perpetuate the stereotype that scientists think we are always right. But, at the same time, I want to convey the confidence that can be concluded from hundred, or thousands, of independent observations.

So, do I know exactly how closely dogs and wolves are? No, not off the top of my head. But, I do know that modern dogs and modern wolves share a common evolutionary ancestor, and, after a quick literature search, it was likely about 130,000 years ago.

What to do? Perhaps have qualified answers ready. Something like, "I don't study {dogs} specifically, but {dogs and wolves} are {more} closely related than humans and chimps, so probably about {99%}."

Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics

Many thanks to Mike DeGiorgio for bringing this announcement to my attention:

Check it out here: From the website:

Genomics may be a tool of interest to Native American communities. However, Native Americans are underrepresented in occupations and careers incorporating genomics and the sciences in general.  According to estimates from the Census Bureau, Native Americans hold at least 5x fewer occupations involving science and engineering relative to their total population in the United States. Furthermore, there is a lack of Native Americans in advisory roles to the scientific community, which prevents proper relay of cultural values and concerns that developed as a result of difficult histories of Native American encounters with science. This lack of leadership also leaves few individuals who can explain the uses and limitations of scientific research to Native American communities that are considering participating in a scientific project.  To address this problem, faculty and students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus are working with leaders in scientific and Native American communities to create the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING) Workshop.