BAH! Fest – 2014

Here at Nothing in Biology, we are big fans of making stuff up (but, uh, not on the blog… or in our scientific publications… or on our tax returns… or, well, you get the point). So a few of us are thinking of entering some of our fantastical(ly bad) evolutionary theories to the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses. This festival is dedicated to “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory”. To get an idea of what it’s about, see the video below. If you’re in or near the Bay Area or Cambridge, Mass this October, think about checking it out!

See you in Raleigh!

I’ve just registered (a whole two days ahead of the deadline!) for the 2014 Evolution meetings, which this year are hosted by NESCent at Raleigh, North Carolina. Up to now, my strongest association with Raleigh is from a childhood of watching The Andy Griffith Show, in which Raleigh is the big city from Mayberry’s point of view—particularly this episode where Andy and Barney drive up to town to apply for membership in a posh social club:

(Click here to go direct to the awkwardness.)

… actually, now that I re-watch this, Barney’s performance is a pretty good primer on how not to behave at scientific meetings, too. “Oh, you remember genotyping-by-sequencing, Andy! It’s genotyping. Done by, er, sequencing.”

BAH! This looks amazing

BAHFest , the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, is a competition to develop “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory.” The whole thing was originally proposed in a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip proposing that human infants have been evolutionarily optimized for long-distance dispersal by catapult.

Coming up with “obviously wrong” scientific hypotheses is clever because it helps us think about why, exactly, we choose to believe the hypotheses that we do, and how we use (and misuse) evidence to make those judgements. My personal favorite example is a 1983 article, published in the journal Evolution, which evaluates all the possible reasons that natural selection has made offspring smaller than their parents [PDF]—smaller offspring are easier to hide, cheaper to make, easier to disperse, and easier to control in the event that their interests conflict with their parents’—but completely (and deliberately) misses the obvious, actual reason.

Last year’s BAHFest winner, Tomer Ullman, proposed that babies cry because the irritating, high-pitched noise helps prepare their caretakers for battle:

The next iterations of BAHFest are scheduled for 25 October in San Francisco, and a date to be announced in Boston.


Ellstrand NC. 1983. Why are juveniles smaller than their parents? Evolution. 37(5): 1091-4. doi: 10.2307/2408423.

Earn your #Evol2013 conference merit badges

Already updated with new badges!

Bottoms upScientific conferences present a lot of challenges, even to those of us who’ve been to a few. A good conference means presenting your own work in an interesting way, learning about a lot of other folks’ projects, asking good questions, meeting a lot of new people, catching up with old friends, maybe even tracking down some of your scientific idols—and then making a good impression when you do.

Making a game out of it all can help—and in that spirit, Sarah put together Evolution Bingo for the Evolution meetings in Ottawa last year. You could certainly re-use that bingo card for the Evolution meetings that start in Snowbird, Utah, today, but we’d also like to offer something new for Evolution 2013: Conference merit badges!

Descriptions for how to earn each are given below; click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution version of the badge when you’ve earned it. We’ll add others as we think of them and Jeremy has time to design them—nominate suggestions in the comments!

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Social networks, and networking, at conferences

Blog Network Carrying Capacity

Cross-posted from Denim and Tweed: Just in time for the Evolution 2013 meeting, Nature has a nice article by Roberta Kwok on how to use social networks and mobile apps at scientific conferences. Oh, and there’s a brief appearence by yours truly:

Twitter is also a crucial networking tool, helping people to connect with fellow attendees who have similar interests. Users can invite Twitter connections for coffee or look out for their name tags at the conference, paving the way for an in-person introduction, says Emily Jane McTavish, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. “That’s made a big difference to me at meetings where I didn’t know people,” she says. Jeremy Yoder, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, used Twitter to help to organize a lunch for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender scientists at the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa last year. And although these connections might not lead to immediate work advantages, one never knows who might be on one’s next grant-review panel or job-search committee, says Cruz.

If you’re bringing a smartphone or a tablet to Snowbird, you should definitely go read the whole thing.

@NothingInBio at #Evol2013: What we’re presenting

Cecret Lake - Alta Utah

The Evolution 2013 meetings are nearly upon us, and most of the team here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! are going to be in Snowbird, Utah for the joint annual meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, the Society of Systematic Biologists, and the Society for the Study of Evolution. Rather than make you hunt through the online program, here’s where we’ll be, and what we’re presenting:

  • Amy will present “The population genetics of rapidly evolving reproductive genes: How much variation should we expect to find?” on Sunday at 9:30, as part of the Evolutionary Genetics and/or Genomics section in Cotton D/Snowbird Center. [program link]
  • Look for some of CJ’s work in a lightning talk by her dissertation advisor, Mark Dybdahl, titled “Identifying the molecular basis of coevolution: merging models and mechanisms” on Monday at 11:45, in Superior B/Cliff Lodge. [program link]
  • Noah will present “What can we learn from sequence-based species discovery? An example using sky island fly communities” on Tuesday at 9:30, as part of the Community Ecology and Evolution section in Peruvian A/Snowbird Center. [program link]
  • Sarah will present “Nature, nurture and the gut microbiota in the brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird” on Tuesday at 10:30, as part of the Community Ecology and Evolution section in Peruvian A/Snowbird Center. [program link]
  • Jeremy will present “Evidence for recent adaptation in genome regions associated with ecological traits in Medicago truncatula” on Tuesday at 2:45, as part of the Genetics of Adaptation section in Rendezvous A/Snowbird Center. [program link]

Looks like we’re in for a busy Tuesday! But this year, you won’t have to choose between us.

Are you going to Snowbird?


I just finished my registration for Evolution 2013, the joint annual meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, Society of Systematic Biologists, and the Society for the Study of Evolution. This year it’ll be at the resort town of Snowbird, Utah—which will be a bit trickier as a travel destination, but promises to provide spectacular natural beauty as a backdrop to the science at the biggest conference of evolutionary biologists and ecologists in North America. For example, Cecret Lake:

Cecret Lake - Alta Utah

Are you going to be there? Should we try to arrange some sort of meet-up for NiB readers and contributors? Let us know in the comments.

Searching for Ronald Fisher (at #Evol2012)

This post is a guest contribution from John Stanton-Geddes, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota. John currently studies the genetic architecture of legume-rhizobium symbiosis in Medicago truncatula, as part of the same lab group as NiB contributor Jeremy Yoder.

If you’d like to write a guest post for Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, email Jeremy.

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to attend the Evolution Society Conference in Ottawa. I saw many great talks, missed even more great talks and had the opportunity to hobnob with many luminaries of evolutionary biology. One theme that emerged through the meeting was “The genetic basis for [insert trait here]. While this goal of mapping phenotype to genotype has been a primary goal of many evolutionary ecologists since the first QTL mapping studies, it has recently come under strong criticism, notably in a fantastic paper by Matthew Rockman in the journal Evolution last year, but also by Pritchard and Di Rienzo 2010 and in a forthcoming article by Ruth Shaw (full disclosure: Ruth was my PhD advisor) and Mike Travisano. Here’s my take on the current state of Genotype to Phenotype (G-P) research from Evolution 2012, and where I’m excited to see it go.

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#Evol2012: My Final Impressions

Evolution this year was fantastic! So many wonderful talks and posters, THOUSANDS of evolutionary biologists and Ottawa was the perfect venue (in my opinion). To wrap up these four days, I’ve listed below some of my personal highlights (and a few lowlights).

** This video introducing how parasites can affect host behavior, which David Hughes used to introduce the ESEB Symposium (“Influential symbionts: Master manipulators of adaptive host behavior”), was very memorable. The first speaker, Sven Pettersson, had an entertaining anecdote about how babies are parasites and they scream at birth because they’re go from a cozy, warm place to being squeezed through a tube out into a cold foreign place, after which the food tube to their host and only world they’ve ever known is disconnected. This, he said, is our first introduction to anxiety and our microbes may begin to influence us that exact moment.
** The SWEEET symposium featured women with PhDs that now work outside Academia. The talks I attended didn’t apply strictly to women (in a good way) and I found it kind of soothing to hear Lalita Acharya talk about her career with NSERC and Jennifer Carpenter‘s journey to journalism and teaching, because that’s what they wanted to do. The question/answer portion of the symposium held no awkward pauses, as many people had excellent questions. The panelists never regretted getting a PhD before heading out into “the real world” and all believed it had been a major asset in their chosen careers.
** The Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator Awards (sponsored by ASN) was terrific! Rowan Barrett talked about massive field experiments in Sticklebacks and mice; Jen Perry talked about sexual conflict in three (yes, three) insect systems and Liam Revell talked about his latest conquests in R and phytools.
** Lunch was provided the first three days and I thought that was really convenient. It allowed lunch to be a time of chitchat and meetings instead of rushing about trying to make it back to the conference center in time. I hope this continues in the future (even though obtaining pretty good food close to the OCC was relatively easy).
** Peerage of Science intrigues me and anyone who didn’t stop by their booth should consider checking out the webpage (or our previous post on the topic here). Turning peer review into something we choose to do (and get recognized for doing well) instead of something we have to do (and all time spent goes away into anonymity) sounds like a good direction to be heading.
** I am now inclined to join Twitter – the tweets were entertaining and surprisingly useful!
** The Ottawa sound and light show! This was an absolutely amazing presentation on the history of Canada, projected onto Parliament. I’ve never seen anything like it!

** The cost of alcohol, am I right?
** I understand the environmental reasons for no swag, but maybe having a pre-set (or pre-ordered?) number of coffee mugs would have been successful way to balance wastefulness and useful awesomeness (i.e., “I wanted a coffee mug”).

Anyone else have highlights to share? Can’t wait until next year, y’all!