Thursday, November 21, 2013

Answer: When do you search for more information?

Yesterday I asked an intentionally provocative question motivated by this remarkable image of a fruit fly that seems to have two insects tattooed onto its wings.  

Our SearchResearch questions were: 
1.  Do you believe that these are images of insects on the wings of this fly?  (Yes or no.)   
2.  WHY do you believe whatever-it-is-you-believe about this?  Can you give evidence for your belief about this?  

Here's the story from my perspective... 
You know what it's like... you're reading along, and then something grabs your attention.  In this case, the fly with images of other insects on its wings.  My first reaction was that this is pretty amazing.  But then my "critical response" kicked in.  And this is probably the big lesson here: 

Whenever something strikes you as especially remarkable, you probably ought to check out the story. 

This is really the basis of all research.  As Isaac Asimov purportedly said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That's funny...”   
And that's the case here.  If something stands out from the background, it's because you've seen something that violates your expectations.  It's "funny." Perhaps it's a stroke of color in an oil painting that you didn't expect, perhaps it's the strange appearance of an insect on the wing.  
So when I saw this, my Spidey-sense started tingling, and I (being a curious sort of fellow), did a little digging. 
Like most of you, I read the article on the Why Evolution is True blog carefully.  I noted the scientific name of the fly (Goniurellia tridens), the photographer (Peter Roosenschoon), where (Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve), etc.  I followed the links back to the NYTimes Dot Earth column and read that.  
Interestingly, since I first read the NYTimes article, an update has been made.  At the very top, the article has a few new lines that link to another blog, Biodiversity in Focus, by an entomology graduate student, Morgan Jackson.  Jackson's article, Ants, Spiders, or Wishful Thinking? is excellent, and gives a learned background story that's well worth reading.  
My answers? 

1.  Are images of insects on the wings of this fly? 

Answer:  They certainly look insect-like, but as Jackson points out, its probably just an accident of wing coloration patterns that look like insects to humans.  It's really a Rorschach inkblot test that is projecting images of bugs onto the wings.  So, I'd say no.  (But keep reading.)  

2.  WHY do you believe whatever-it-is-you-believe about this?

Answer:  I'm certainly struck by the depth and careful analysis of Jackson's commentary on this.  But, being skeptical myself, I went and looked up some original source material.  I did a search on the family name: Tephritidae and found a few entomology books.  Here's one I found that was pretty interesting... 
Fruit fly genera south of the United States (Diptera: Tephritidae) Author: Richard Herbert  Foote, United States Science and Education Administration, (1980)
Yes, it's from the New World, but the genus is the same, and so I poked around a bit in this book (using the "search in this book" function) and found the wings from closely related fruit flies.  
Side-by-side Tephritidae fly wings of different species, including tridens. Pg. 72. 
And, just for grins, I extracted the wing image from the picture above and put it side-by-side with the wing of the fly in the top picture.  I converted it to gray scale, and erased a bunch of the peripheral clutter.  

Side-by-side comparison
As you see, these look pretty similar.  I'm not sure how variable these wing patterns are, but this definitely seems like it's within the normal range of variation.  
It IS remarkable, but perhaps more in the same way that a cloth can be said to have an image of Christ on it.  (I'm not making this up: this happens often enough that there's a word for it, a veronica.)  
In any case, in a dispute among experts--here, the entomologist is going to win.  His argument is well-reasoned, and he gives a good bit of background information about mimicry in other animals, and when there's functional mimicry, as opposed to accidental imitation that we humans perceive as being a mimic.  
But there's more...  The fact that the NYTimes posts updates to their science columns with information that amplifies and somewhat contradicts their original posting AND that they didn't modify the original article to make it seem like they knew what they were doing all along... That suggests to me that the NYTimes science writers are being truthful, honest, and open in their disclosures about what they knew, and when they learned it.
Part of understanding what it means to find a credible resource relies on knowing something about that source. 
In my mind, the NYTimes Science section just went up another couple of notches in credibility.  (And they were already pretty far up there.)  
Search lessons:   First, when something odd, peculiar or funny strikes you (and of course, especially when it's material to something you're trying to understand), it's worth doing just one-more-query to see if the odd/surprising thing holds up to a little scrutiny.  For SearchResearchers I advocate making this part of your daily inquiry practice--check out one "fact" a day. You'll be surprised at what holds up, and what doesn't.   
Second, as you research various topics, be sure to take note of how reliable, consistent and credible your sources are.  Sites that use inflammatory language usually have a position they're advocating--you don't need to ignore them, but you DO need to understand what their slant is going to be.  And when you find high quality credible sites, remember them.  You'll come back to them in the future. 

Search on! 


  1. Replies
    1. Ah.. yes. That's MUCH better. (I'd forgotten about that Doodle!)

  2. well done Fred… Dan even looks a tad like Herr Rorschach…

    "For SearchResearchers I advocate making this part of your daily inquiry practice--check out one "fact" a day. You'll be surprised at what holds up, and what doesn't."

    day 1, fact ✔
    biodiversity, veronica style… oddly funny, slant indeterminate… the Tao of Search

    one liner
    olé, Morante de la Puebla*

    * Scottish Power Theatre

    1. Hello Dr. Russell, Fred, Remmij.

      Thanks for your link, Fred!

      I agree with Dr. Russell phrase that you posted Remmij. I try to do that and it is very interesting what I learn with every search. For example, I was watching Disney's Pocahontas and what I found is very interesting and found connections that are amazing.

      Thanks Remmij for the correction yesterday about "wrt" -when I read it, I understood the meaning even with the extra letter- Finally, your avatar is very cool!

      Have a wonderful day.

    2. Ah yes... "veronica" does have other definitions. (As does the word "definition" itself.)

  3. Dr. Russell one question. Rorschach inkblot for what I know everybody see a different form in the ink but in this case everyone sees an insect (ant). Therefore, maybe it is not exactly Rorschach?

    Yes. I agree it is because of the pattern of the wings that they look like insects

    Thank you!

    1. Ramon -- I meant the "Rorschach" comment metaphorically, not literally. But even if WE all see an insect there, the real test of the mimicry would be if predators ALSO perceive these markings as insects. That's a harder situation to test, but in genuine mimicry (e.g., the Viceroy butterfly mimicking the Monarch butterfly), it's clear that the markings deter predation, and therefore qualify as real mimics. In this situation, someone would have to run that test. (Which I, alas, can't do.)

    2. Good Morning, Dr. Russell. Yes, I understood that "Rorschach" was metaphorically. I asked, just to be sure, because I don´t know much about that subject or maybe I understood it wrong. Thanks for your answer, Dr. Russell.

  4. Even before I got to "For SearchResearchers I advocate making this part of your daily inquiry practice--check out one "fact" a day", my spideysense was tingling from this answer post. It started with ...Isaac Asimov purportedly said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That's funny...”

    Wait, is there no proof that he said it? Why is it purportedly?

    [ "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That's funny...” ] most of the links were just quotation sites attributing this to Asimov. Almost the same SERP for [ who said "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That's funny...” ]

    [trace a quote to original ] to Quote Investigator blog but no Asimov quotations (interesting site though.) I also went to How can I find the author and original source of a quotation? at the University of Minnesota. I tried a their links and then headed over to my public library site to see what databases they had available on line.

    Tried Bartelbys and couple of other databases. Can't remember where, but I did find that the quote came from Becoming a Behavioral Science Researcher : A Guide to Producing Research That Matters by Rex B. Kline. Hmmm, is it a coincidence that a post from SRS took me on a quest that resulted in the book title? [ Becoming a Behavioral Science Researcher : A Guide to Producing Research That Matters ] In the book the author says the quote is "attributed" to Asimov.

    Somewhere else I find mention of [ Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor ] that search didn't pan out. I'm in books anyway so [ inauthor:"Isaac Asimov" ] and [ inauthor:"Isaac Asimov" eureka ] and [ inauthor:"Isaac Asimov" "that's funny" ]

    I start again this morning but my search history isn't complete. Somehow I got that the quote is originally from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1971. Tried searching for an archived edition to search inside but can't find it.

    So here I am, can any of my SRS friends put their skills to the test and either confirm or deny that Isaac Asimov wrote that quote or a
    variation of it in that magazine?

  5. Hello Dr. Russell, Fred and SRS!

    [Isaac Asimov intext:"that's funny" intext:"Eureka" first appearance]


    Soluntions Magazine And

    Asmiov wrote "The Eureka Phenomenon," an essay apparently published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and reprinted in his collection of essays The Left Hand of the Electron, but those who've already taken a look at that work haven't been able to find this observation there.

    Quote is:The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "that's funny...

    ["The Eureka Phenomenon"]

    [soluntions magazine intext:"Isaac Asimov"]

    Found that lead to:

    Found that on June 1971 he published [The Eureka Phenomenon]

    [The Eureka Phenomenon]

    Also tried Dr. Russell guidance:

    For what I searched, he wrote about Eureka but not that phrase. Maybe someone else can find more information with this information.

  6. Thanks Fred! It is not me. I just did what Dr. Russell says, practice, practice, practice. Also, I'm getting better thanks to Dr. Russell, Google Search Moocs and all my peers here in SearchResearch

    I'm searching for more information about the topic. Meanwhile, I just read and hear about Viola Organista dreamed by Leonardo Da Vinci

  7. Fred - you and Ramón are wringing the Google sponge pretty hard… interesting bit of "Fact checking" on both your parts… both virtual search bloodhounds!

    It is possible the quote was conceived in the mind of the mind conceived here… but the plaque is missing
    and so the attribution may have to remain in the realm of the 1/2 a piece of chalk…
    somehow I find it reassuring that some things remain outside the Google net…

    from humble fields great visions can rise

    going Through Ramón's Snopes lead, found a mention of Fleming that I followed…
    "One sometimes finds what one is not looking for."
    Fleming quotes - from Snopes comments


    ''Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." I.A.

    'The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny....'
    — Isaac Asimov
    In Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans and Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote (2003), 467

    might try here:

    Ramón - something to peruse:
    Geigenwerk III

    Manténganse alerta (stay frosty)

    1. the quote seems unsourced according to this:
      but may have been distilled from this essay?
      The Eureka Phenomena
      found in the Asimov bibliography here:
      Internet Speculative Fiction Database

    2. Thanks remmij. Following what you found referencing And I Quote, I went to Google Books to see if I could find the quote in there. I found And I Quote Revised as well as And I Quote: The Definitive. I tried to search for each of the following inside the books:
      [ asimov ]
      [ eureka ]
      [ "that's funny" ]
      [ heralds ]
      [ 467 ]
      and could not find any reference to the quote. Why?

  8. Another thing about the Today in Science site remmij. You found my equivalent for fingernails on a chalkboard.


    1. Fred - i perceive your discomfort — as MicroSoft Bob/Rover (or Melinda Gates or Deep Purple…) might say; "! don't have a funt (font) in this hunt, but…" (& now Bill!)
      cosmic sands
      ban comic sands
      btw, was that one-half a chalk board? ;)
      as to the missing 'And I Quote', p.467 - I know not why… or menoknow.

    2. looked a bit further at the Biodiversity in Focus blog and found a search related post that was kinda interesting (a bit of humor in science can be a good thing.):
      sharks v flies
      the latest post also has a tie to this sRs question via Amnon Freidberg
      Dr. A. Freidberg

  9. thanks for the heads up Fred…
    well before I stumbled across sRs - that one would have driven me buggy…
    I just went to the answer - don't use the filter much and it appears to have been changed up in the latest serp page re-design? true Dan?

    need Ramón or Rosemary to explain the difference between [Niño de la Tierra]
    and [hijo de la tierra]
    Genus Ammopelmatus - not brown enough?

    too bad Dan's contact didn't include the audio element in their description - maybe it wasn't mating season…
    J cricket drumming
    on the move
    wó see ts’inii
    very melodic - ;)
    Jerusalem cricket in England

    Dark Jerusalem Cricket - (Stenopelmatus fuscus) drumming here
    in the bullseye (apparently bite)

    1. Hello Remmij

      I understand the difference between "hijo de la Tierra" and "niño de la Tierra", in the spanish meaning only; this way. The first one means that the Earth is his mother. In the second case, he "just" lives in the Earth. Therefore, the difference is in what you want to express. I'll ask to grammar expert what is the exact difference.

      In addition to Rosemary and myself, Dr. Russell is very good in Spanish too. Maybe they can explain better in english terms my words.

      In the case of your search, the insect has the name "earth child" as your post shows.

      See you tomorrow!

    2. thanks Ramón, interesting nuances - seems to me 'hijo' would be the choice over 'niño' in this context, but apparently not… (now also wondering about 'crio', 'peque' & 'chico' usage…) in the course of using Google translate to try and sort this out, ran across another new word for me - Scottish origin, this time: 'bairn'.
      funny that a big bug is giving me a multi-lingual vocabulary lesson — spanish, scottish, navajo… and rhythmic drumming… good reminder that there are "teachers" everywhere.

      fwiw, this might be something that both you and Rosemary may be interested in if you haven't already seen it, random visual history vignettes:
      NG tumblr
      followup example:
      NG Proof

      this is kinda (la)interesting -
      goo trans:
      nos vemos en el horizonte de búsqueda
      bing trans:
      Nos vemos en el horizonte de la búsqueda
      was shooting for: see you on the search horizon
      thanks again

    3. You're welcome, Remmij!

      Yes, Spanish has lots of words that mean the same and with one word like in English, changes everything.

      I'll read your link. See you on the search horizon!