Highlights from Natural Selections in 2022
Highlights from the past year: We’ve got freedom-loving Canadians; science—the good, the bad, and the ugly; hostile takeovers of once beautiful institutions and cities; attempted obliteration of reality in the name of activism and ideology; and even some lovely, wilder fare. Parrotfish, anyone?
Early in 2022, the trucker’s freedom convoy became reality in Canada. The truckers, and the many non-truckers who came out to support the truckers and to be present for one another, were protesting vaccine mandates. In long snaking lines throughout Canada the trucks rolled, local citizens coming out to cheer them on, and to remember their connections to one another. For this they were by turns ignored by the media and their government, and then vilified. There were other authoritarian measures that the Canadian government was imposing on its citizens, many of which were on display in the response to the convoy once it settled in Ottawa, but vaccine mandates were central. I have never before wanted to be at a protest so badly. But I could not go to Ottawa to see for myself the incredible displays of bravery, tenacity, and humanity, because I could not cross the border unless I got a Covid shot.
Instead, I wrote about it from a distance, for a solid month in deep Winter. I also published many excellent written pieces and photographs by Canadians who were there.
From Dan Arcand’s The Cavalry Rolled In (January 29):
For nine hours straight we immersed ourselves in the electric and timeless moment. It kept on rolling. We were transported into the biggest, cheerleading, flag waving, poster shaking party you could ever want to be at. We shared moment after moment with our heroes and with each other. The names melted away, we were all very, very real. We screamed and cried and hugged strangers. We filled each other’s cups and promised without words that we will not go gently into the night. It was understood implicitly that we had each other’s backs and we were completely aligned for our common purpose, our freedom.
Tara C wrote Mila’s Story, published on February 3. Mila is one of Tara’s beloved daughters; Mila is now gone. As Covid policies destroyed lives, including that of their daughter, Tara and her husband had tried to get the attention of government officials from the Prime Minister on down. Nobody responded. A long time later they went to the trucker’s convoy, where people listened. Tara writes:
Schools were closed. It was near the end of Mila’s grade 11 year then. There were no classes online at that time. A mad scramble ensued to get these kids some sort of education. Eventually, schools tentatively opened for some. We had the option of keeping her home or sending her in. She insisted on going. For the next few months, and into the fall of her graduating year, schools opened. Then schools closed. Then schools opened. Her friend group shrunk considerably.
If you have any doubt about the excruciating toll that anti-scientific Covid policies have had on people, I strongly encourage you to read Mila’s Story.
My final post on the trucker’s convoy came on February 22, with Get Ready for the Biggest Game of Whack-A-Mole the World Has Ever Seen: When protest refuses to die
What happened on the streets of Ottawa these past three weeks, and on overpasses and highways across Canada, and in countless other Canadian cities and hamlets as well, was people reaching across that impossible chasm, the space between human beings, to say: I can see you. I can see that you are human, and so am I, and here we are. Together. Making a go of it.
After nearly two years of forced distance, of the sowing of fear and distrust, of diminishing hope and passion, people came together with love in their hearts, to find one another, to represent the True North, strong and free.
Later in the year, as the silencing and smearing of those of us who have been critical of Covid policy continued, I heard murmurings that those who don’t fall in line must be contrarians. In response, I wrote On Not Being a Contrarian: Staying skeptical among people of faith (June 28), excerpted here:
Scientists should be neither faithful nor cynical. Scientists are skeptics. Scientists do not accept what authorities say simply because the authorities have said it. Scientists do not accept what anyone says simply because a particular person or institution has said it. Some scientists question absolutely everything that comes their way, but most choose their issues somewhat carefully. Their battles, if you will.
During Covid, many people who would normally approach the world with skepticism, with a scientific eye, chose the path of faith instead.
This theme, of what science is and is not, and how fundamental it is to a functioning society, recurred throughout the year in Natural Selections—in On Fraud, for instance, and On Resigning From the Board of the University of Austin, and in Science Misunderstood: And left to fail by those who claim to be its champions (September 6):
One thing that has become all too clear since early 2020 is that most smart and educated people have no experience with or understanding of science. By this I don’t mean that they don’t understand the Krebs cycle or thermodynamics, or that they have never run a PCR. The vast majority of us don’t, and haven’t. But grokking science sufficiently that you understand how claims are made and assessed, and can see where the loopholes exist, should be mandatory for anyone who thinks that they are smart and educated. And yet, while nobody at a fancy cocktail party would admit to being illiterate, people will proudly proclaim their innumeracy. There’s no comparable word for it, but the fancy party goers similarly reveal their failure to understand science when they make pronouncements like “Follow the Science!”
This year, I explored scientific topics having nothing to do with Covid as well—how the land is formed in the Bahamas (long before I or many of you had ever heard of Sam Bankman-Fried), whether you can stave off dementia with exercise, and how dominance hierarchies and deceit play out differently between men and women in modern human interactions (part I, and part II).
I also wrote this year about the public meltdown of The Evergreen State College five years after the fact, on May 23. This was the meltdown that catapulted my husband and me away from being college professors at an experimental liberal arts college, and into all sorts of other endeavors, like authoring and podcasting and being smeared in Wikipedia, to name just a few.
Another of our endeavors was moving to Portland, Oregon, but—and perhaps this will surprise nobody at all—this move did not leave us free and clear of all of the madnesses, especially as Covid broke on the world, and after the death of George Floyd. From Portland: A love letter and an intervention (November 16):
The streets became battlegrounds. The murder rate skyrocketed, as did property crime. Street racing became popular and unchecked, including cars speeding the wrong way over the Marquam Bridge—a high traffic connector between east and west Portland. Business owners tried to protect what was theirs, sometimes with success, often not. Entrepreneurs were being forced into vigilantism because the city government wouldn’t stand up to lazy thugs wielding slogans, lighter fluid, and, occasionally, weapons.
The national media, city officials, and far too many city residents would have us believe that it is a kindness to let this happen. We were told, alternately, that nothing was happening at all, or that what was happening was totally fine.
The madness that is passing for kindness in Portland is also explored in Man does not live by welfare alone (May 31). Mia, the subject of the piece, is a man who is homeless in Portland because his weed-trimming gig dried up and he didn’t bother to find new work, and who wears lipstick and pearls and calls himself a “non-binary they.”
I am a biologist. While I abhor credentialism, I will say that the particular kind of biology that I do—evolutionary biology and animal behavior with a focus on sexual selection and the evolution of mating and social systems—allows me to say with confidence that there is no such thing as a non-binary they. That is a made-up category.
In I Am a Woman: and a biologist (March 29), I take the obvious and yet somehow contentious position that women—which is not a made-up category—are adult human females.
Adults are individuals who have attained the average age of first reproduction for their species. They have reached the age of maturity. The term adult applies across many species, and is used to distinguish them from juveniles, who are not yet capable of reproduction.
Humans are members of the genus Homo. Our relatives in the genus Australopithecus, now extinct, are sometimes categorized as human as well. Every individual Homo sapiens is a human.
Females are individuals who do or did or will or would, but for developmental or genetic anomalies, produce eggs. Eggs are large, sessile gametes. Gametes are sex cells. In plants and animals, and most other sexually reproducing organisms, there are two sexes: female and male. Like “adult,” the term female applies across many species. Female is used to distinguish such people from males, who produce small, mobile gametes (e.g. sperm, pollen).
A bit later in the year, I ask What Do Girls Do? (October 4). My answer: Girls become women.
There is an eight-year-old girl who likes to play in streams and look under rocks for squirmy critters. She not only knows how to throw a ball but enjoys doing it. She loves math and logic, and has no interest in dolls or dresses. She will grow up to be a woman. Because that’s what girls do.
There is another eight-year-old girl who likes to give tea parties for her stuffed animals. She likes to dance all the dances, often with other girls who like to do the same thing. She loves to read, and has no interest in trucks or trails. She will also grow up to be a woman. Because, again, that’s what girls do.
And yet, we are increasingly being told that we cannot believe our own eyes, our intuition, any of the science unless it’s ideologically captured pseudo-science, or even the 500 million to 2 billion year history, in our very own lineage, of having two and only two sexes. We’ve got something better than any of that. We’ve got pixie dust in the form of gender essence, and boy howdy is it all the rage. When little Johnny comes home from school asserting that he is a truck, you do not have to rush him to the body shop for emergency surgery and an oil change. But when he comes home asserting that he’s a girl, you’d best affirm his delusions, else you’re a very bad parent.
On October 25, I published this Public Service Announcement to the Mama Bears: Defend your children
Be a mama bear. Be ferocious in protection of your children, and then, ferocious in protection of all children. Act out of love for your child, not fear of what will happen if you don’t follow the fashion, or the authorities. Do not affirm that which is dangerous. Do not comply with that which is dangerous. Do not let your agreeable nature put your own children in harm’s way.
Happy solstice, happy holidays, and a happy new year to all!
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Why highlights, and not a year in review? When I was a college professor, I was occasionally approached by an academic publisher that wanted me to write a textbook. This is fairly common, at least in the sciences, but I never considered it. The main reason that I never considered doing so is that textbooks inherently digest complexity for the reader. They flatten and smooth it so that it is easier to swallow. Once thus digested, textbooks feed complexity back in the form of facts and conclusions, which are both easy to memorize, and easy to write into exam questions. This is not the way that science actually works, but the fact that many people learn most of what they know “about” science from textbooks, is part of why many people think of science as a static and straightforward set of conclusions. The sentiment that you can #FollowTheScience is downstream of textbooks.
The second reason that I never considered writing a textbook is that the prospect of going through all of some topic large enough to warrant a textbook, truly all of it, with care and rigor, is not a job that I relish. My attempts to minimize bias and be comprehensive would, I think, condemn me to a never ending process of updates and revisions.
It's hardly on the same scale, but I find myself in a similar bind in attempting a year in review for Natural Selections. So highlights it is.
A great selection Heather!
I am very partial to the points on science, especially with respect to your article about contrarianism. I find that many of my more recent posts have been criticisms of some studies cited by "Team Skeptic" (in quotes as I tend to use this phrase as an ambiguous umbrella), and that may come off rather contrarian.
One thing I have struggled to figure out is exactly how much science people have learned in the past few years.
I think your comments are right, in that many people who tout being the experts can't parse science past idioms and constant exclamations that being credentialed somehow infers a knowledge base which many of us are not privy to (and which many of these credentialed folk tend not to espouse).
It's certainly true that being educated is different than being intelligent. With that being said, I find that many people may still want a shortcut, tl;dr (too long; didn't read) rundown of science rather than engage and struggle though the milieu.
Even with all of the crazy going on this year, I thought that this would at least be a golden opportunity for everyone to learn science and this sometimes doesn't appear to be the case.
Anyways, happy holidays and happy New Year's to you and your family! I'm excited to see what both you and Bret cover in 2023!
Thank you, Heather, for your thoughtful, thought-provoking and always beautifully written works this year. You have been an important voice that helped to keep me grounded, somewhat sane and with my humanity intact.