So that’s where the penis comes from!

Well, the title pretty much says it all – two recent studies shed some light on the biological origin of the wiener.

Today, two teams of researchers report having solved one part of this mystery, pinpointing how the organ gets its start in snake, lizard, mouse, and chick embryos. Now that they understand the penis’s origin, researchers can track its development in more detail to understand what drives it to follow a different path in females and become a clitoris. The finding doesn’t just answer a biological conundrum; it could also help millions of people born with genital malformations.

Read the research highlight in full here.

Crazy cool picture of a snake embryo, complete with tiny penis buds instead of legs.

Celebrating Alfred Russel Wallace with … a symposium of only straight white men?

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A sample of Alfred Russel Wallace’s butterfly collection, which is a lot more colorful than the panel of speakers UCLA has chosen to celebrate his legacy. (Natural History Museum, London)

Update, 31 October: Elizabeth Long asked me to post the following statement about developments since the letter was sent last week:

Perhaps rather naively, I didn’t anticipate the amount of publicity our letter regarding the upcoming public Wallace Centennial Celebration would generate. I had hoped to start a discussion about the issues surrounding diversity and safety in STEM that were raised, and I’m glad to say that this has happened. I have had several very thoughtful and productive conversations with the event organizers and I can confidently and emphatically say that issues surrounding diversity and equality are very important to them. In various ways they’ve each shown this commitment, throughout their careers, through concrete actions.

I asked one of the organizers to help summarize the history of the event. Paraphrasing our discussion: In this specific case the original grant submission included women speakers (4 of 8 speakers) but for various reasons they were ultimately not able to participate. The event organizers wanted to host speakers who are not only excellent scientists and speakers but are also knowledgeable about Wallace and his legacy, which led to a narrow set of selection criteria and led to the original publicized lineup. The revised lineup includes two remarkable women, one an historian of science, and the other an evolutionary medicine specialist.

Update, 29 October: It’s been brought to my attention that the list of symposium speakers now includes Soraya de Chadarevian and Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, which suggests that the organizers are making some changes.

Update, 25 October: I’ve amended the headline of this post to better reflect, I hope, that what the letter and its signatories object to is not the inclusion of white men on the symposium panel, but the lack of inclusion of similarly accomplished folks from groups that are systematically underrepresented in science. As I note below, the panelists are highly accomplished, and appropriate for the Wallace Centennial—but the panel could include women as well without compromising the prestige or topicality of its membership.

2014 marks a century since the death of Alfred Russel Wallace, who is recognized as co-discoverer, with Charles Darwin, of evolution by natural selection. Appropriately, the University of California Los Angeles is holding a symposium of biologists and natural historians to celebrate Wallace’s life and work. Unfortunately, the panel of speakers chosen for the symposium doesn’t exactly reflect the diversity of humanity, or even humans who are biologists and natural historians. Although there are lots of very accomplished folks on the panel who will likely give interesting talks, they’re all straight (so far as I know) white men. That’s right, the Alfred Russel Wallace Centennial fails the gay bar test pretty spectacularly.

Elizabeth Long, a biologist at UCLA and the Natural History Museum of LA, has organized a group of folks to write a letter to the symposium organizers pointing this out—and, just to make it clear how unnecessary an all-male panel is, included a list of accomplished ecologists and evolutionary biologists who are not men. The letter, which I’ve co-signed, also points out that an all-male panel exacerbates problems that women already encounter in academia, and is at odds with Wallace’s legacy as a supporter of equal rights for women. But I’ll let you read the full text, which is after the jump:

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We’re Not Going To Take It ( #NAWD )

“Adjunct” is the word for non-tenure track faculty positions at universities. They are generally low-paying (without benefits), utterly lacking in job security and can even lead to questionable hires (further reviewed here). The reliance on and mistreatment of cheap PhDs to teach undergraduate courses may have finally reached some sort of tipping point – February 25, 2015 is National Adjunct Walkout Day. They have a group on Facebook and are using the hashtag #NAWD on twitter. Read more about the “adjunct crisis” and the walkout here or here.

And if you’re an adjunct planning on participating, a student being taught by adjunct faculty, a tenure track faculty at a university using adjuncts to teach courses or basically anyone else, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Personally, I can’t get “We’re Not Going To Take It” out of my head…