Monthly Archives: September 2014

I hope Judith Curry apologizes for this.

I’m not going to talk about Mark Steyn, other than to say that if you know who Rush Limbaugh is, Mark Steyn is a bit to the right and a tad more obnoxious, but not as smart.

You can find out more by clicking here, using the Climate Change Science Search Engine.

I’m also not going to say much about Judith Curry except that, unlike Steyn, she was a regular scientist who did climate science. Over time the material she has written, both in peer reviewed journals and on her blog, has become increasingly aligned with those who are highly skeptical that global warming is real. She has a theory that global warming is an artifact of models (even though we can see it without the use of models), and I’m pretty sure she’s been wrong about almost everything she’s done recently. But, that’s how science works. Sometimes a scientist is wrong. Some are not wrong very often. Some are wrong almost all the time. It’s a thankless job, but somebody’s got to do it. Maybe someday she’ll start getting more useful results with her work.

Anyway, Mark Steyn has recently aligned himself with the Mens Rights Movements, and Slyme Pit (you know who they are), in other words, antifeminist, pro harassment, not-too-concerned-about-rape crowd, in their cottage industry of giving me a hard time on the Internet. That fits since he is, after all, to the right of, and not quite as smart as, Rush Limbaugh.

And now, Judith Curry, has aligned herself with Mark Steyn and his systematic harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann, and to a lesser extent, me.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 10.09.27 PM

This is a tweet favoriting a tweet by Mark Steyn pointing to his own blog post in which he carries out obnoxious attacks on Mann and me. For my part, he points to this post on my blog, which he takes to be an indication that I stalked a particular woman. Go read the post. Tell me if shutting down a crazed graduate student who was harassing other grad students, an undergrad, and a few others, using standard procedures (telling mom and dad, in this case) is stalking. It isn’t. Also, tell me if Judith Curry’s favoriting of this tweet indicates her approval of Steyn’s methods. Does it?

This “favoriting” of Steyn’s tweet of his post by Curry seems to align Curry with the worst of the worst. Did she also “like” Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that Sandra Fluke needs to keep an aspirin between her knees, and that the tax payers should not be paying her to have sex? Or Rush Limbaugh’s comments making fun of kids who need help getting a simple lunch at school? I’m hoping, though, that Judith Curry simply was unaware of how much of a misanthrope Steyn is, maybe she’s never heard of him before and doesn’t know that he is this incredibly offensive person, and just saw someone taking a jab at Mike and clicked on the little “favorite” button.

It was after all, just a “favoriting” of a tweet by Steyn. Which means Curry can step back from this with a simple apology to Michael Mann and me. Then, no big deal, I’d move on. Up to her.

Or, she could not do that. But I really didn’t think she was that kind of person. But maybe she is.

(See also this response to Steyn’s tweet.)

Ebola Will Not Become Airborne And Here Is Why

This discussion has been going on for some time, and a handful of recent events have prompted me to jump into it (beyond a simple comment or two). First, I saw a bunch of yammering among various biology teachers about this topic. Then Michael Osterholm wrote a well intentioned but seemingly deeply flawed opinion at the New York Times, then Dina Fine Maron wrote an excellent piece at Scientific American deconstructing Osterholm’s piece, then the latter two (and more) were summarized and expanded on in a post by Ann Reid at the NCSE.

Here, I will expand on this by applying first principles from evolutionary theory, organizing our thoughts in Tinbergenesque Terms.

There are four categories of reasons that Ebola won’t go airborne. I’m going farther out on a limb here than most others, who say things like “it is possible, but…” Imma say it just isn’t going to happen. Technically, over time, the Sus lineage of mammals (pigs) could give rise to a flying form, like what happened with some earlier lineage of mammal that gave rise to bats. So what I’m really saying is that Ebola will go airborne when pigs fly. Both are possible. But if that is what you really think of as “possible” instead of just “no, it won’t happen” than you may need to calibrate and stop buying those lottery tickets!

Here is why Ebola won’t go airborne.

First, diseases in general, including viruses, do change which species they infect sometimes, and they change in virulence and the exact effects on the host, but they really don’t change their mode of transmission. At the largest evolutionary scale there have been some novelties, obviously (or there would be no variation!). I am pretty sure many of the influenza viruses are not transmitted through the air, but the only ones we bother to name and study do, and are a subset of a larger group that transmits via water. I may have that wrong (going on old personal communications here) but if I am wrong that just crosses off Influenza as a virus that changed mode of transmission. Ebola is in a large group of viruses that are actually found in plants. Obviously, there was a change in transmission at the origin of Ebola. But really, this does not happen very often. If you can think of examples please tell me. (For a non virus example, Malaria is transmitted the same way all the time even if it changes (rarely) which species it affects or otherwise evolves like crazy to stay ahead of interventions.)

In short, we expect strong phylogenetic inertia in mode of transmission.

Second, there is no in place mechanism, probably. Ebola does not infect the tissues it would need to infect to make its way into a sneeze or cough. That would require a major change.

Third, developmentally, the first step in a virus’s life cycle is getting itself into a cell. Airborne viruses need to have a key that matches a lock on the outside of respiratory tissues. So Ebola not only lacks the means for getting out through a sneeze or cough, it also lacks the ability to do much if it did.

Fourth, it is not adaptive. Yes, a virus can mutate to do something stupid and maybe get a Darwin Award, but the chances are at least somewhat reduced. Ebola is very deadly in humans. Humans and the animal vectors that may stand between fruit bats (the likely wild host) and humans are not good hosts for Ebola. The chances of Ebola evolving to infect an unsuitable host are reduced.

Phylogenetically unlikely, mechanistically unlikely, ontogenetically unlikely, adaptively unlikely. Evolution is like baseball but slightly different. Four Tinbergen Strikes and you are out.

Now, the usual arguments in favor of Ebola doing the Hollywood thing rely on references to other viruses, like Influenza. Well, Influenza is way different from Ebola in its reproduction. It has a whole way of evolving that Ebola does not have. In fact, the differences is greater than, potentially (and rarely, but not never) the difference between evolution under sexual reproduction and evolution under simple replication. If two different Influenza strains infect the same cell, they can recombine (reassortment) to make an entirely novel never before seen Influenza. That is a very big deal and is thought to be the primary mechanism for the evolution of novel dangerous flu strains. Ebola does not do that. Ebola can’t do that.

Ebola does not do that. That thing Influenza does.

I said that twice. Now I’ll say it another way. Using Influenza evolution as a model for Ebola evolution is like using Primate Behavior as a model for Sea Slug Behavior. In other words, it does not fit.

Will Ebola go airborne? No.

ADDENDUM

I’m adding a bit more because some are still missing the point. This is an analogy that I think might be helpful

Cars fly, and airplanes drive around on the ground. Ebola can possibly be transmitted across space in a closed room from one person to another, and you can catch a flu by having someone with the flu bleed directly into your nose*.

But really, airplanes are vehicles designed to fly, they only drive around on the ground a little. They have wings, special engines, an overall shape and design that is adapted to flight. But really, cars only fly into the air now and then, and it is generally an accident.

An airborne virus replicates in high numbers in respiratory tissues, and causes the lysing (or some other process) of cells to allow itself out into mucous tissues. It is able to survive in mucous tissues, and then it is able to survive in aerosolized droplets. An aerosolized droplet is not a bit of bodily fluid cast into the air, it is not a drop of blood shed from a wound or bleeding eyeball, or a loogie. It is a bunch of liquid (mainly water) molecules coherent at a size sufficiently small that air currents are more important then gravity, so it becomes part of the atmosphere, and a virus may or may not be residing in it. Then, and airborne virus needs to have the external morphology that links up with a receptor site on respiratory cells in the individual subject to infection, and then, it reproduces mainly in that tissue.

Ebola is none of these things, except possibly one. Ebola is known to survive in mucous tissue for some time after it has left an infected individual. This is not the same as surviving in an aerosolized droplet, but it indicates the possibility. But to go back to the car-airplane analogy, that is a bit like saying that some cars fly farther when they leave the road during an accident.

The distinction is very important. Jane, commenter below, has oddly implied that I’m not taking Ebola seriously. I would like to point out that I may have been the only person to complain about and argue against the trope that Ebola is not so bad because it is not Malaria. I may also be one of the few bloggers writing about Ebola who has lived in Ebola country, doing health care work, and who has actually worked on the problem of the natural reservoir and contributed to it. I am also one of the few people writing now who has pointed out that even though most people with Ebola are in a few African countries, where this needs to be taken very seriously, that it is also true that those communities, in West Africa, are global. This is how my neighbor, Patrick, managed to die of Ebola. He was an American who also worked for the Liberian government, and was in Liberia taking care of his sister, who died of the disease. His wife and family are here, in my town. Ebola affects communities that are not separate from those who have the privilege of being able to muse about it. And here is where the distinction becomes multi-dimensional. All the talk about airborne transmission is not scientifically grounded, and it is a distraction. But saying that it will not become airborne is not saying that it is not a horrible disease that is highly infectious and has pandemic potential. This, the nuances of the epidemiology of Ebola, isn’t really that complex, but sadly, it is a bit too complex to be well managed by the press and others talking about it, in many cases.

And, the distinction is huge. Conflating the very small number of possible infections “across the room” (which are speculative but possible) in prior outbreaks (which, Jane, were not in East Africa) with an airborne mode of transmission is like working out transportation policy for the US but mixing up the part about how cars don’t fly and airplanes do. I really think Ebola is not going to become airborne. But if it was airborne, the whole ballgame would be very very different. That, however, does not mean that Ebola is not a very serious thing that needs to be addressed. Also, the utter failure to address this by the systems in place tells us that we as a society/species/collection of governments are unable to address a serious public health crisis even if we were under the impression that we were. Trading in misinformation and badly conceived ideas of what is happening or what could happen sets us back, it does not move us forward.

More on Ebola:


*Actually, this may not be true, to my knowledge no one has considered this, certainly not tried it!

Interview With Climate Scientist Michael Mann

As you know, I do the occasional science-related interview on Minnesota Atheist Talk Radio, on Radio AM 950. (See this for a list of all, or at least most, of the work I’ve done with that show.)

On Sunday October 5th at the ungodly hour of 9:00 AM Central Time, I’ll be interviewing Michael Mann, and Mike Haubrich will host. There is plenty to talk about but if you have a specific topic you’d like to see covered, or a specific question, feel free to note it below in the comments section.

It is also possible to call in or send an email to the station during the show. Listen to the show and Mike will give details at that time. If you don’t happen to live in the listening range of the radio station, there may be ways to listen. I once found the show on the Roku, and it is possible to listen on line. I’ll let Mike Haurbrich post in the comments how to do that because I’m not sure my information is current.

The show will be a podcast available here or on iTunes.

Michael Mann is probably the most famous active climate scientist. In 1988/9, he and colleagues published a paper looking at recent and historical changes in surface temperatures, presenting a graph dubbed the “Hockey Stick” because it looked like a hockey sick laying on its back with its blade representing the rising cluster of warm temperature measurements following centuries of normal, cooler, temperatures. Climate scientists have carefully examined and expanded on this work since then. As a result, the hockey stick has been refined, expanded (back father in time), and verified by numerous studies. Meanwhile, those with an anti-climate science, or anti-global warming agenda have spent considerable effort trying to debunk the hockey stick, but have failed to do so. But they still think they have a case, and the “Hockey Stick Wars” have continued apace. Mann wrote “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines” about that very conflict.

Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology in the departments of Meteorology and Geosciences at Penn State, and he is Director of Earth System Science Center. He has a B.A. in Physics and Applied Math from the University of California at Berkeley, an M.S. degree in Physics from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in Geology & Geophysics also from Yale. He was one of the lead authors on the IPCC’s Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001. He is the recipient of NOAA’s outstanding publication award (2002). He is one of the scientists who contributed to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He received the Friend of the Planet Award from our friends at the National Center for Science Education, and is a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. He has authored over 170 scientific papers. More information can be found here.

Anti-Science NRO and CEI File New Briefs, Get It Wrong Again

This is about the law suit filed by Michael Mann against the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Review, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg because of accusations they made that were actionable. Michael Halpern summarized:

Competitive Enterprise Institute’s space technology and policy analyst, Rand Simberg, recently wrote a blog post in which he compared Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann to former university football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. CEI published the post on its own blog, and the National Review decided it was appropriate to pass along. Michael Mann has rightly demanded that the National Review retract the blog post and issue a public apology.

The most offensive section of the CEI post, which has since been scrubbed:

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.”

There has been a lot of back and forth in the legal proceedings, and the latest is summarized by Aaron Huertas:

The latest round of legal briefs have been filed in climate scientist Michael Mann’s lawsuit against the National Review (NRO) and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). …

NRO makes a distinction between calling Dr. Mann’s work “fraudulent” and alleging that he had, for instance, embezzled funds or fabricated raw data.

Indeed, there are gradations of accusations one can make against a researcher. Stating that a scientist is wrong in their analysis is a far cry from saying their work is shoddy, but both are normal parts of public discourse about science. It’s another thing entirely to accuse a scientist of manipulating data or knowingly using faulty methods to reach a pre-determined conclusion. …

The worst thing one can do to a scientist professionally is to accuse him or her of fraud. More commonly, scientists refer to fraud as “scientific misconduct” or “research misconduct.” …

While the original research Dr. Mann’s and his colleagues conducted 15 years ago was certainly subject to criticisms and scrutiny, it held up to that scrutiny, and nobody ever made the case that it was fraudulent.

CEI’s legal brief rehashes investigations of scientists after a hacker (or hackers) stole emails from them in 2009. …

Dr. Mann’s lawyers cite all the investigations in their brief. That makes sense since all the investigations are related and none found that Dr. Mann—or his colleagues—were guilty of scientific misconduct or fraud.

But CEI attempts to argue that these investigations were somehow insufficient. Regarding the two investigations that did focus specifically on Dr. Mann, CEI tries to downplay how serious they were. They write that Penn State’s committee looked at whether or not Dr. Mann “falsified data” and claimed that the “inquiry committee simply reviewed some of the [stolen] emails, spoke with Mann, and then dismissed it.” They also write the National Science Foundation “did not conduct an investigation of Mann’s data practices or research because it determined that ‘no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the Subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.’”

…In reality, these investigations were far more thorough than CEI suggests. …These latest filings only reinforce my view that attacks against Dr. Mann are ideological and political in nature, not based on an actual assessment of his work.

You can read the rest, and more detail, here.

As you may know, we have been having a lengthy discussion here about the original work done by Mann and his colleagues. Feel free to join in! Regarding the research itself, this is very simple. Mann and his colleagues attempted to look simultaneously at some “paleorecords” … indications from ancient sources of temperature … and the modern “instrumental record” (i.e., from thermometers) to see if the already observed increase in temperatures thought to be linked to anthropogenic global warming really does stick out like a sore thumb among temperatures going back longer in time. The result of that study was, essentially, a graph combining ancient data and modern data that looked like a hockey stick laying on its back:

The original northern hemisphere hockey stick graph of Mann, Bradley & Hughes 1999, smoothed curve shown in blue with its uncertainty range in light blue, overlaid with green dots showing the 30-year global average of the PAGES 2k Consortium 2013 reconstruction. The red curve shows measured global mean temperature, according to HadCRUT4 data from 1850 to 2013. From Wikipedia.
The original northern hemisphere hockey stick graph of Mann, Bradley & Hughes 1999, smoothed curve shown in blue with its uncertainty range in light blue, overlaid with green dots showing the 30-year global average of the PAGES 2k Consortium 2013 reconstruction. The red curve shows measured global mean temperature, according to HadCRUT4 data from 1850 to 2013. From Wikipedia.

There are three ways in which this research could be questioned. First, it was only of the Northern Hemisphere, not global. Second, it is possible that the particular observations of modern temperature, the instrumental record, was somehow incorrect or biased. Third, it is possible that even though this graph shows the modern increase in temperatures as extreme, maybe the older data is bad, or maybe if you went back further in time (and globally) you’d find pre-industrial (prior to the release of so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) periods that are warmer than today, suggesting that the underlying assumption of how greenhouse gases might be wrong.

Even at the time, though, these objections were weak. While the Norther and Southern Hemispheres may (and do) act somewhat differently from each other, they are not as out of sync as they would have to be for the basic hockey stick graph to be wrong. The instrumental data was certainly not as perfect as one might like, but it was pretty darn good data. For the last few million years, during the course of human evolution and the evolution of our current ecology, there was no reason to believe that there were periods much warmer than today, if at all.

But subsequent research was done, of course, and several findings support, refine, and expand on the hockey stick model. Additional studies of modern temperatures showed results very similar to the data used by Mann and colleagues. At least two studies look at biases (one looked at the possibility of false warming caused by urban heat island effects, another looked at areas of the Earth that are under-sampled by direct observation). Both found that the hockey stick curve was either pretty much correct for instrumental data, or actually possibly a bit lower in temperature than reality.

Of course, the entire study was extended globally, confirming this as a global pattern.

Work on paleo information extended the range of the hockey stick graph way back in time, and showed that during the Holocene (last 10,000 years) there was not a period warmer than today. Further work seems to indicate that even during among interglacial periods (we are in an interglacial now) things are warmer now than usual. It turns out that you almost certaily have to go back in time several hundred thousand years, possibly several million years, to get a time period as warm as today.

Most importantly, per has, as time has passed since the original hockey stick curve was produced, the globe has gotten warmer. The air and sea surface are warmer, though the amount of warming has been modest compared to what we would expect for a simple model where greenhouse gasses only warm the atmosphere. But a lot of heat is being absorbed by the ocean, it turns out. The true surface temperature of the planet has to include both the atmosphere and the ocean (both surface and at depth) and we think over 95% of the extra heat from global warming goes into the deep ocean, but it is not well measured.

Meanwhile the whole “Hockey Stick” controversy continued and developed. This isn’t just a couple of people and a major conservative publication falsely accusing Michael Mann of fraudulent behavior (scientific misconduct). Anti-science forces have spent millions of dollars attempting, usually very clumsily, climate science, and one or more individuals went so far as to steal emails among climate scientist, falsifying using cherry picking what was said in those emails. It is an all out war between anti-science and anti-environment groups and individuals on one hand vs. scientists and rightfully concerned citizens on the other. A great description of how these “Hockey Stick Wars” played out can be found in this book.

How Melty Was The Arctic Sea This Year?

The Arctic Sea is covered with ice during the winter, and some of it melts off every summer. Over recent years the amount of melt has been increasing. This is the time of year we may want to look at Arctic Sea ice because by late September it has reached its annual minimum and is starting to reform.

Looking at JUST surface area, which is one indicator of how warm the Arctic has become with Global Warming, we can see (above) that this years march of melting has been extreme, hugging the two standard deviation limit for all of the data from 1979 to 2010 (almost the present).

Here you can see that 2014 is distinctly different, with much more surface area loss, than the first ten years of this data set, from here.
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And here you can see that 2014 is pretty much in the middle of the range for the “new normal” as represented by the most recent ten years:

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So, in answer to the question above, 2014 was a very melty year in the Arctic, though over very recent years there have been worse years. This year is about the sixth lowest minimum extent since 1979 or before.

Thinking Big About Clean Energy

I want to put a solar panel on my roof so that I am releasing less greenhouse gas into the environment. But then I hear that manufacturing solar panels causes the release of greenhouse gasses, so I have to subtract that from the good I think I’m doing. But then I realize that the people who are making the solar panels have to change their method so they release less greenhouse gas into the environment.

We hear this argument all the time (for example, here). You think you are doing something “green” but it really isn’t green because yadayadayada. I am suspicious of these arguments because they often (though not always) come from people who want us all to keep using fossil Carbon based fuels, for some (unsupportable) reason or another. One might think that these arguments have to be addressed in order to do a rational and well thought out analysis of the decisions you make.

But that is simply not true for three reasons.

Reason One: So what? Nobody tells me I have to make a rational decision about buying the 72 inch wide TV to replace my 64 inch wide TV, but suddenly I’m a bad person if I don’t do a detailed Carbon-based cost benefit analysis when I want to do something EVEN COOLER than having a bigger TV, like putting a freakin’ cool solar panel on my roof? Excuse me, but STFU with our rational argument yammering.

Reason Two: You can’t count. If I put a solar panel on my roof, almost no one is going to discount the value of my house because it gets some free electricity, but a significant number of people are going to pay more for it when I sell it because it is cool. See reason one.

So when I put these together, my personal cost benefit analysis leans towards doing it more than the nay sayers might say. But still, if putting up a solar panel kills more polar bears than not putting up a solar panel, because the manufacturers of solar panels use thousand of tons of coal per square inch of solar panel, I’ve got to consider not doing it. Except for reason three.

Reason Three: If we all refuse to act until everyone else acts than we will not act. I will buy whatever solar panel I want, and the people who make solar panels can compete for my business by getting the energy to make their solar panels from … solar panels! Or not. Eventually they will because we ALL have to stop using ALL of the Carbon. Driving an electric car in a region where more coal is used to make electricity, would have to be MUCH less efficient than not driving the electric car (in terms of carbon release) to make me think twice about it. I’ll drive my electric car and at the same time we’ll watch the electricity companies make more and more of their electricity from wind and solar, and they will have a bigger market to sell that in because we are locally replacing gas with electricity. Of course, I will need the electric car to get cheaper before I can get one, but if I had one, that is what I would be thinking.

I’ve had conversations about this issue with a lot of people and these conversations have made me realize that the structural argument against clean energy is wrong for the reasons stated above. It turns out that A. Siegel has had similar arguments and he has had similar thought. It is possible that he and I have even talked about this and are pretty much on the same page. Go read To solar carport or not to carport, that is the (or at least a) question … and see what you think!

The naysayers want you to think small, but they make it look like thinking big. Instead of just calculating the immediate costs, consider also the distant polar bears crushed by the wheels of industry because you want a solar panel, they advise! But no, think even bigger. Think not only along dimensions of production and supply, but also, time and socioeconomic change. In order to address the climate crisis, we have to keep the Carbon in the ground. In order to keep the Carbon in the ground, everybody has to do everything they can do all the time, and not sit on their hands waiting for some other guy to change a value in our spreadsheet. Think big.

Irven DeVore: October 7, 1934 – September 23, 2014

I heard yesterday that my friend and former advisor Irven DeVore died. He was important, amazing, charming, difficult, harsh, brilliant, fun, annoying. My relationship to him as an advisee and a friend was complex, important to me for many years, and formative. For those who don’t know he was instrumental in developing several subfields of anthropology, including behavioral biology, primate behavioral studies, hunter-gatherer research, and even ethnoarchaeology.

He was a cultural anthropologist who realized during his first field season that a) he was not cut out to be a cultural anthropologist and b) most of the other cultural anthropologists were not either. Soon after he became Washburn’s student and independently invented the field study of complex social behavior in primates (though some others were heading in that direction at the same time), producing his famous work on the baboons of Kenya’s Nairobi National Park. For many years, what students learned about primate behavior, they learned from that work.

Later he and Richard Lee, along with John Yellen, Alison Brooks, Henry Harpending, and others started up the study of Ju/’hoansi Bushmen along the Namibian/Botswana border. One of the outcomes of that work was the famous Werner Gren conference and volume called “Man the Hunter.” That volume has two roles in the history of anthropology. First, it launched modern forager studies. Second, it became one of the more maligned books in the field of Anthropology. I have yet to meet a single person who has a strong criticism of that book that is not based on having not read it.

For many years, much of what students learned about human foragers, they learned from that work.

DeVore supported the rise of Sociobiology but his version of it was nuanced and investigatory, not dogmatic and oversimplified as the subfield eventually came to be. He fought with Lewontin though they essentially agreed on salient points. He launched a number of outstanding researchers mainly in primate studies, and well understood the problem of sexism in the field. So, many of his proteges were women, and many of those are now household names (if you live in a house of anthropologists). Barbara Smutts, Nadine Peacock, and Sarah Hrdy for example. Karen Strier holds the Irv Devore Chair at Madison. Eventually he hooked up with Bob Trivers, who was busy re-inventing the newly invented Behavioral Biology. Cosmides and Tooby were his students as well and he was their champion. He also supported the work of Daly and Wilson.

For years he taught one or another version of “Sex”, the nickname for his course on human behavioral biology. Imagine a course taught for decades, a required course with 500 students a year, at a small but elite college like Harvard. How many students learned what they learned about human behavior from DeVore? Those of us who were involved in “Sex” saw this now and then: a Hollywood movie with one of Irv’s examples from the animal world worked into the script, or a novel with such a reference, etc. … yup, the writer or director was one of those students.

One of my first meetings with DeVore was at the home of David Maybury-Lewis, down the street from Irv’s house. DeVore pulled me aside and assigned me to be the head teaching fellow for that course. I was horrified. He forced me into the job. I did it poorly, since I was an archaeologist with virtually zero background in the field and most of the other TA’s (about eight of them) were advanced PhD students or post docs. Eventually I learned the ropes but I think I managed to avoid being head TA ever again (Jay Phelan, my Suaboya, was not so lucky, that became his job for many years). I later served as Irv’s understudy, when he was getting a series of brain surgeries. I waited in the wings to step onto the lecture hall floor in case he succumbed. That never happened, but I did take a couple of the lectures while he was in hospital. I gave his lectures as he would have given them, including jokes and personal stories (but with the personal stories in third person). When he returned he re-told all the jokes and personal stories in case I had messed them up. Like I said, he could be annoying. But I digress.

By the time I was on DeVore’s teaching staff, the Harvard Ituri Project, started by Bob Bailey and Peter Ellison, was well underway and I was sent off to do my PhD fieldwork there. That project was also championed by DeVore, he was in the field there for a while.

DeVore had a major impact on Harvard’s Anthropology department. He was mainly responsible for the division of that department into autonomous wings, which eventually led to the separation of the biological anthropology wing from the rest of the Department. This is important because the entire field in the US was under similar pressures. When Harvard “split” into wings, all the other departments were free to ask themselves if they should too. I remember the very famous head of a very major anthro department visiting to see what a split department looked like. Over subsequent years some split, some entrenched.

DeVore was instrumental in shaping the faculty of the whole department, but mainly the biological anthropology wing. It is fair to say that David Pilbeam, Peter Ellison, and Richard Wrangham are on that faculty in large part because of Irv.

As I say, my relationship with Irv was complicated, but it was good. I was his last PhD student, though he had a hand in the careers of other later students. I was his confidant (one among others) and he was mine. We often met up at the end of the day in his office to debrief, he’d have a drink. He kept his scotch in a fake book flask. Then we would leave together, and he’d drive me home, or I’d drive him home, or we’d go to his place to hang out.

Of all of these things that happened in his career, the research and the effects on the field of Anthropology, his wife Nancy DeVore was as much a part as he. Irv’s deployment of his advisory duties often involved Nancy. Nancy taught me a lot about writing and editing, for example. Over the last few years, his daughter, Claire, has taken on the difficult burden of caring for a difficult person having a difficult time. Claire is as unique and potent a person as her father. I love both of you, Nancy and Claire.

I’ll probably say more at another time. That’s all I’ve got now. Meanwhile, here is an obit at the NYT.


Photo from AnthroPhoto, a Nancy and Claire DeVore project.