Politics delivered a bizzare insect soundbite this week. A GOP leader was being questioned about policies mandating medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, limiting access to birth control, and other recent policy initiatives considered anti-woman. His response?
Priebus rejected the idea that Republicans are waging a war on women.
“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”
How the HELL do you explain that thought path??
Women –> Sluts –> Uterus control –> CATERPILLARS.
Also? Denying there is a war on women only works if, in fact, there isn’t a war on women. Hundreds of bills are being introduced all over the US that limit women’s rights. Just last week Wisconsin quietly revoked an equal pay bill.
The analogy with insects doesn’t work either if, in fact, there actually is a GOP war on caterpillars. Let’s continue to use Wisconsin as an example. Wisconsin sponsors a major project to kill the Gypsy Moth. Go look. It’s WAR, people. There are areas clearly marked for “suppression.”
Texas recently cut health services to many women. They also are persecuting cactus moth caterpillars. In fact, there is a tri-state consortium devoted to killing these caterpillars; here’s some representative language: “In the wake of the Cactoblastis, only death and destruction are found, presenting a threat to human welfare…” Sounds pretty warlike to me!
Michigan, a state that recently banned same-sex partner benefits, has quarantines in many areas, and routinely stops people with firewood for warrantless searches. What are they looking for? GRUBS. The Emerald Ash Borer is marked for elimination. You are even encouraged to turn in suspicious characters by calling a hotline.
The GOP-controlled House introduced a “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act” in 2011 that would reduce pesticide regulation, including removing some pieces of the Clean Water Act that currently restrict pesticides in watersheds.
There is evidence of flip-flopping by Mitt Romney on the caterpillar issue. He labeled a project to control the invasive species of winter moths as “porkbarrel spending” in 2006, and didn’t fund it. His current position on funding the War on Caterpillars is unclear.
Clearly, the War on Caterpillars is REAL. Of course, there is a reason why caterpillars are targeted by both the GOP and farmers.* It’s simple math that goes all the way back to Malthus. Populations have the potential to grow faster than their food supply. So, if you want to control an insect pest, you attack its reproductive cycle.
But why in the world would you want to prevent women from having access to birth control, or the ability to control their own bodies? This seems counter-productive for a bunch of fiscal conservatives. How will we provide water and food for a expanding population? How will those babies be employed in the future when they grow up? How will all those kids be educated? We are building more prisons than schools, which doesn’t bode well for anyone’s future prospects.
Obviously, I think women should have control over their bodies because it’s a basic human right (recognized since 1968 by the UN, in fact). It just seems like the current focus on womb control is very short-sighted from a fiscal/living-in-the-real-world point of view, as well.
Legislation was introduced to require women to provide a written explanation about why they wanted birth control to their employers. Legislation has been introduced to define you as pregnant 2 weeks before conception. Women who have miscarriages are charged with murder. This is some serious heinous fuckery, people. It’s 2012. The state should not be getting all up in my lady business.
There is an upside to all this. The best thing to come out of the GOP war on caterpillars was the explosion of #GOPWarOnCaterpillars on Twitter. This charge was led by the wonderful John Scalzi, who decided see if he could get the tag to become a “trending topic”. Here are some of my favorites–feel free to suggest more slogans in the comments!
*Actually, these are all invasive species and it’s ok with me if they kill them. But that kind of detracts from my point, so it’s a parenthetical down here.
I Could Not Make This Shit Up If I Tried.
I’ve mentioned before that the nickname Bug Girl is occasionally used by people that are not me. But this one is a new and unusual twist.
I think they look remarkably like my avatar.
What do you think?
You may have heard that I told a slightly rude story at the ScienceOnline2012 conference. If you missed it, here you go!
Everything I said is true; there are even photos. (Think carefully before you click this link. You’ve been warned.)
Ben Lillie’s story is right after mine, and is very different, and incredibly powerful. I got a little verklempt. Ben now runs The StoryCollider, which is an amazing project to collect science stories.
I had been mentally drafting something about storytelling and science, but then Emily at This View of Life wrote something so spot on in summary of ScienceOnline I defer to her:
“I think that this tendency to focus on the sexy or the gross, the morbid or the taboo, is not just a symptom of our four days of very little sleep, more than a little alcohol in some cases and a deep sense of intellectual and cultural overstimulation.
No, this is an integral part of who we are as a group. We focus on duck penises because we almost have to.
We are all story tellers, whether scientists, journalists or educators. We take data and create hypotheses. We take facts and construct narratives. We take a curriculum and transform it into inspiration.
What she said. Go read the rest.
I’ll try to put together a more meaningful summary of the Science Online conference later this week, but for the moment I’m enjoying the accomplishment of briefly trending on Twitter. Even if it is for telling a story about Seamonkeys in your Pants.
I read a lot of strange stuff on the internet. I mean, I’ve covered Extraterrestrial Cows and Mail-order public lice. But I really don’t expect to run into silly conspiracy stuff in Forbes, of all places.
In an article entitled “The Black Death: Longing for the Good Old Days,” James Taylor ties together global warming denialism, DDT boosterism, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Black Death (i.e. Bubonic Plague) to make…a really big pile of something that steams.
He suggests that everything was hunky dory when the climate was hot, but when things got cold–OMGPLAGUE:
“What brought about the Black Death? A thousand years ago, Europe was experiencing a golden age. The fair climate of the Medieval Warm Period, with temperatures similar to or warmer than today’s climate, stimulated bountiful crop production, supported unprecedented population growth,….
Longer winters and cooler, shorter summers decimated crop production throughout Europe. The rains that fell were cold, persistent, and slow to dry up. Famine and plague, which had largely disappeared during the Medieval Warm Period, became the norm rather than the exception. And by 1350, the grim, cold climate brought about the dreaded Black Death.”
He goes on from this to imply that environmentalists want to curb global warming in order to kill us all by bringing back the Black Death. Oh, and malaria, but we’ll get to that part later.
I actually have spent a lot of time over the years researching Bubonic plague, and the 14th century European “Black Death” in particular. I have never read of climate being implicated as a cause for the European plagues. Never.
I would also like to point out that the Little Ice Age actually occurred several hundred years AFTER the period of the bubonic plague outbreaks in Europe. A recent review paper listed the start date around 1570. So, the dots he’s trying to connect, in addition to being unrelated factually, are also unrelated chronologically.
The more interesting theories about why the Black Death was so devastating to Medieval Europe center on increasing urbanization and commerce. In order to have a massive epidemic, you need populations of potential victims to be concentrated. If you get the plague in the middle of nowhere, you will die horribly…and that’s it. There is no one to transmit the plague TO.
On the other hand, if you have concentrations of people in cities and towns; and you have movement of both people and animals between cities and towns, then you have a situation that is ripe for an outbreak. If you add in poor sanitation, it’s a dream for a disease bacterium.
There is a well-documented timeline of outbreaks moving from Asia over to Italy, and then up through Europe. Rats in grain and rats in ships moving from place to place for commerce were probably the primary movers of the disease. (In case you’ve forgotten, fleas are the vector of plague between humans and other animals. In other words, fleas transmit the plague bacteria from infected people/rats to new victims.)
Mr. Taylor is a lawyer working for the Heartland Institute, which advocates for unregulated trade (and also says that cigarettes are harmless). Somehow he seems to have missed the obvious connection between free markets and plague. Hmm.
So, what else? Oh, the Malaria–right. From the article:
“Malaria was becoming a distant memory 50 years ago, but the World Health Organization now reports that over 200 million people contract the disease each year and nearly one million people die from the disease each year. A single, small application of DDT to the inside walls of a hut – in which malarial mosquitoes most frequently infect their victims – will keep malarial mosquitoes at bay for months, but environmental activists have forbidden this chemical infringement on The Natural Condition.”
Let’s start with that first sentence. 50 years ago, Malaria was becoming a memory for the US and Europe; they launched very successful campaigns to control mosquitoes. Malaria eradication was not, however, successful in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. In fact, some areas never were part of any Malarial control campaign. It’s certainly correct to say that too many people die of malaria each year; but it is not correct to say that more die now than in the past. If you look at WHO data for most regions, there is a clear downward trend. Global control of malaria has been slowed by resistance to treatment drugs, as well as mosquito resistance to DDT.
Which brings us to his next claim. In his second sentence, he claims that DDT can be applied to the walls of a “hut” and provide protection from malarial mosquitoes. News flash–not everyone lives in huts–your imperialism is showing. But, hey, let’s run with it.
This is an incorrect statement for a variety of reasons. Indoor Residential Spraying (IRS) is actually not a preferred methodology for the World Health Organization Malaria group; they specifically recommend against using the same chemical year after year. Increased resistance to pesticides is strongly tied to indoor sprays in the report I linked. A quote: ”it is unlikely that universal vector control coverage can be achieved in Africa by IRS alone.”
Taylor’s pollyanna approach ignores the the reality of DDT and malaria in the world today. A hundred countries currently have a malaria problem. It is patently absurd to think that one single chemical (and methodology) can solve a problem that is global in scope.
There isn’t only ONE species of malaria mosquito–there are dozens (And they don’t all bite you when you are inside). There is not just ONE kind of ecosystem in which people and malaria interact. Designing a malaria control methodology has to take into account the political, environmental, and socio-economic situation of a particular community. What, if any, data do we have on the resistance of the mosquitoes to insecticides? It is not a one-size-fits-all problem with one solution.
His last sentence is also untrue. DDT is part of current WHO treatment guidelines. It is not “forbidden”. But DDT is only one piece of a huge, huge complicated problem, and over-reliance on it can actually make things worse by leading to greater insecticide resistance.
What I want to know now is–Why did Forbes let this douche write an article full of BS that was VERIFIABLY FALSE? And what are they going to do about it?
All hail the internet, which has once again delivered something strange and wonderful to my virtual doorstep:
Ant Egg Oil Cream.
It is, as best I can tell, a traditional hair removal remedy from the middle east–Iran and Turkey, specifically.
You get all the common pitches in the marketing playbook:
“Tala Ant Egg Oil effect was proven in laboratory experiments with doctors. “
Of course, what exactly the doctors were actually experimenting with or about, who knows. My experiment on human subjects with this product produced a nearly 100% response rate of “WTF.” And I just showed them a picture.
We also can be sure it’s safe, because it’s:
You are also warned to beware of substitutes:
“There are lots of fake ant egg oil products so you should buy original Tala Ant Egg Oil.”
Also, this is probably my most favoritest FAQ on the internet:
Q: Is this ant egg oil smell like ant ?A: No. It doesn’t smell like ant.
Here is the thing that is marketing genius. The way this stuff works? You remove all your hair FIRST. Then you put the ant egg oil on and massage it in for about 10 minutes. So, basically:
1. Shave or wax all your hair off
2. Apply Ant Egg Oil
3. Excelsior! Enjoy not having hair!
Part of the marketing pitch is that it is safe for babies. In fact, putting it on babies specifically to prevent growth of hair is part of how this product is promoted. Which, I suppose, is quite effective for about 14 years.
Lest you think that I am just making fun of an internet site put up by someone whose first language is clearly not English, I want to point out this much more upscale version, that pretty much repeats all the same marketing lines, with the same lack of evidence. Although they use numbers and percentages to make it look even more sciencey!
The breakthrough GUTTO Ant Egg Oil Cream reduces the amount of hair in the applied area by 65%, delays the re-growth by 75% and weakens by 46%. It is a completely natural product found as a result of scientific and dermatological tests.
It’s fascinating that on the same page where this company claims scientific testing found the product, they also use an Appeal to Antiquity/Argumentum ad Populum by telling us this stuff is derived from “widespread traditional usage of ant egg oil of Ottoman women.”
What I really want to know, but can’t find anywhere, is information on the manufacturing. What kind of ant eggs? And how do they get the eggs???
If, indeed, their claim that a protein in the ant eggs destroys the root of the hair is true, you are going to need a LOT of ant eggs in order to have enough to sell in creams. Also, in general, my experience is that ants can get quite cranky about you taking their eggs.
Inquiring minds want to know. If anyone happens to find more info, please send it along.
You might remember my coverage of the giant spiderweb that ate Texas in 2007. For Halloween 2010 I am happy to report for your creeping-out pleasure that a new giant spiderweb was recently reported in Maryland!
Greene, Albert; Coddington, Jonathan A.; Breisch, Nancy L.; De Roche, Dana M.; Pagac, Benedict B. (2010). An Immense Concentration of Orb-Weaving Spiders With Communal Webbing in a Man-Made Structural Habitat (Arachnida: Araneae: Tetragnathidae, Araneidae). American Entomologist, 56 (3), 146-156
The giant web was inside a waste water treatment plant, an open building covering almost 4 square acres. And “immense” doesn’t really begin to cover it. From the paper:
“We were unprepared for the sheer scale of the spider population and the extraordinary masses of both three dimensional and sheet-like webbing that blanketed much of the facility’s cavernous interior. Far greater in magnitude than any previously recorded aggregation of orb-weavers, the visual impact of the spectacle was was nothing less than astonishing. In places where the plant workers had swept aside the webbing to access equipment, the silk lay piled on the floor in rope-like clumps as thick as a fire hose.”
Remember, that paragraph was written by 5 mid-career professional entomologists and arachnologists. If they were a bit freaked out by the size of the web….Well, you can draw your own conclusions.
One of the amazing bits of info in this paper was a quantification of just how much of this facility was filled with web. As you can see from this data table, in several areas over 95% of the space was filled with spider webbing. The webbing was so dense that it actually pulled some of the 8-foot long fluorescent light fixtures out of place! The authors also measured the number of individual spiders per cubic meter–and got up to 35, 176 spiders/m³ in some areas.
Oh, and the authors describe their estimates of total web volume as “markedly conservative” and “representing a minimum volume” (emphasis mine). OMFG, indeed!
The researchers also mentioned the giant Texas spiderweb in their discussion, and suggest that giant multi-species webs may be more common than we realize. Yay!
BTW, one of the authors on this paper also authored a recent paper on gigantism in spiders. I mention that mostly to have an excuse to link to Kingdom of the Spiders. William Shatner + Giant Spiders = Epically Bad Movie WIN!
(also, am I the only one that thinks that torch placement is….unfortunately suggestive?)
I give you: a giant aggregation of Daddy Long Legs, also known as Opiliones. The coolest thing about this is that no one really knows WHY they form these aggregations. Is it predator defense? Thermoregulation? Maximizing their smelly gland effects? A plot to totally creep us all out?
I smell a dissertation in this!
EDITED TO ADD: I don’t think I was clear enough that these actually aren’t spiders–they are in a separate group. They do, however, have a lot of very long legs, and provoke the sorts of reactions spiders do. They don’t have venom or silk glands, and they don’t make webs. They will eat just about anything they can grab.
Apparently, a pest control company in the UK has decided to drum up business by COMPLETELY MAKING SHIT UP.
This image shows some of the numbers of insects estimated to be on public transportation, as reported in a newspaper that picked up on a (now expunged of fake numbers) press release by the company Rentokil.
Ben Goldacre was on the case:
“After a bit of prodding, its PR company, Brands2Life, explained: no buses or trains were studied.
How did people get the wrong end of the stick? I have no way of knowing, as Brands2Life and Rentokil both declined to show me what they had sent to journalists but, in any case, contrary to what was said earlier, these numbers did not come from measurements and counts – they are based on a “theoretical model.”
As Ben goes on to explain, the assumptions that were made to generate those numbers included an unlimited food supply, completely unchecked reproduction, and survival of roach offspring at 100%. Which, as anyone who knows anything about biology, is complete and utter shite. Public transportation is regularly cleaned and fumigated. And they are not filled with an infinite food supply, nor do stampeding commuters never create mortality for little creatures that are trampled. Any introductory biology class covers exponential growth, and how it is the potential for living populations–but very rarely the reality!
The whole fiasco was a shameful attempt by either the company, the company’s PR agency, or both, to drum up entomophobia. And, by extension, business.
Yes, roaches and bed bugs are a reality. But no, there are not 50 bedbugs on the average bus in London!!! Cripes.
There is an acronym I learned in the dot.com world when I worked there: PIDOMA. It stands for “Pull It Directly Out of My Ass.” This is where these numbers came from.
Since Rentokil have a history of changing things after the fact, I took screen-shots of their current blog post and the news story; you can find them at Flickr. They get a zombie roach, since clearly something has eaten their brains. I hope that the National Pest Management Association will issue a statement strongly condemning this company and it’s PR mess.
(Also: BEN! DUDE! Why did you not invite me to the UK to help out with this?)
I happened to stumble across this really horrifying story last week:
Last week the Web site UsedWinnipeg.com ran an advertisement headlined “Native Extraction Service” with a photograph of three young Native boys. The service offered to round up and remove First Nations youth like wild animals, and “relocate them to their habitat.”
The text of the ad read: “Have you ever had the experience of getting home to find those pesky little buggers hanging outside your home, in the back alley or on the corner??? Well fear no more, with my service I will simply do a harmless relocation. With one phone call I will arrive and net the pest, load them in the containment unit (pickup truck) and then relocate them to their habit.”
Beyond the obvious hateful racism, there is something else going on, and it’s a pattern: Talking about people of color as pests or insects.
“Nits make Lice.” Remember that one? When Col. John Chivington ordered the use of howitzer artillery guns to fire upon unarmed Cheyenne women, children, and elders in 1864?
And if you treat them as pests, well.
You know what you do with pests, right?
You EXTERMINATE them.
What do pests and native/other people have in common in this world view? They don’t respect boundaries. They go where they are not wanted. Bugs and mice come in your house. First people come….into your neighborhood.
Let’s just ignore the fact that the boundaries are completely artificial, and it was their habitat in the first place before they were colonized.
I’ve linked here to an image of racist US propaganda from WWII. Same thing, different context. This is why white supremacists talk about “mud people.” Non-whites aren’t humans. So killing them is easier. And killing them is a duty, not a sin.
Goebbels used this metaphor to rationalize death camps:
“Since the flea is not a pleasant animal we are not obliged to keep it, protect it and let is prosper so that it may prick and torture us, but our duty is rather to exterminate it. Likewise with the Jew.”
William Porter, Chief of the US Chemical Warfare Service in 1944, said “The fundamental biological principles of poisoning Japanese, insects, rats, bacteria and cancer are essentially the same.”
This metaphor between humans, insects, and war is pernicious and common. It dehumanizes its target. It makes them less than human.
Please. Don’t let it go unchallenged.
- Nits Make Lice: Drogheda, Sand Creek, and the Poetics of Colonial Extermination. Katie Kane. Cultural Critique, No. 42 (Spring, 1999), pp. 81-103.
- “Speaking of Annihilation”: Mobilizing for War Against Human and Insect Enemies, 1914-1945. Edmund P. Russell. The Journal of American History, Vol. 82, No. 4 (Mar., 1996), pp. 1505-1529.
- The trailer for March Point, the movie about 3 young Swinomish men (the ones that had their images stolen and used in this hateful ad.) The movie is available for purchase on iTunes, BTW.
Ok, I’m a couple of days late to this, but that’s mostly because I had to wait until I could stop cussing and breathing in a bag to calm down. If you haven’t already heard, Anthony Cognato got sandbagged by Fox News when they sent Tucker Carleson in to interview him about a grant he received from NSF to upgrade the MSU insect collection facility.
They called it wasted stimulus money! OMGWTF?
I think the issue of why keeping historic specimens is important has been addressed elsewhere, and Anthony had a pretty good answer in the video–it’s a library of the past, that we need to preserve. Aside from just knowing what species occurred where, the genetic material in those specimens is invaluable. How have insects changed since the introduction of different agrochemicals and introduced competitors? It’s all in this library of dead insects.
I’m sure my friends at the NCSU Insect Museum can provide a better and more detailed explanation of the value of insect collections. (*cough* HINT!) Their blog makes their work more public, which is a great idea! People don’t value what they don’t understand. Witness: The Fox “news” story.
Those of you who have not worked with historic collections (insect or otherwise!) may not be aware that dead insects and other animals are very fragile things. It is a constant battle to keep them from being eaten or decaying. The primary culprits are dermestid beetles–little larvae that can wreak havoc on everything from a 200-year old insect specimen to your favorite sweater.
In fact, dermestids are good enough at eating things that they are commonly used by museums in another context–to clean off all the remaining flesh from a vertebrate skeleton.
Many, many students have made fabulous insect collections, but not listened to my admonitions to use a tightly sealed box with moth balls or other repellents …and ended up with a box of brightly colored dust. It is very, very difficult to keep dermestids out, because they are so tiny. You need specially sealed cabinets. And that is why MSU applied for, and received, a grant to upgrade their storage for a collection that dates back to 1867.
An additional issue is human health: everything that is commonly used to repel insects from collections is toxic to people. While I find the aroma of mothballs relaxing and homey, most people recognize it as a carcinogen. And keeping those vapors sealed tightly in a cabinet is healthier for entomologists.
Want to know more?
Check out this National Park Service publication for horrifying photos of the kinds of damage that dermestids (and other insect pests) can do:
Anthony explains what the grant was for…without the entomophobia hype or anti-gubmint crap:
Want to skeletonize something at home? How to Skeletonize a mammal with Dermestids (UofM Museum)