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DIVERSITY OF INFORMATION is a hallmark of Science, published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Recently, the magazine offered research on apian geometry, a book review of 1930s Iowa kids prompting a rethink of IQ, and the Dalai Lama almost getting hacked by an unfriendly world power. Here are some relevant tidbits.

Apian Hexagons and…. Erik Stokstad reports “Clever Carpentry Helps Bees Fix Wild Honeycombs,” July 30, 2021. The honey bees’ familiar hexagonal combs “maximize storage area for honey while minimizing the amount of wax needed,” Stokstad observes. In fact (new to me), beekeepers help them by inserting embossed hexagonal patterns into tended hives. 

But what about wild honey bees? A swarm may start different combs in an irregular notch of a tree trunk. How do these combs mesh?

Stakstad writes, “A new study, which used computer imaging to analyze 23 combs from hives without embossed wax, finds that bees employ a variety of strategies to merge sections that are oriented in different directions.” 

This false-color image shows a comb whose orientations deviated by 10 percent (yellow), 20 percent (green) and 50 percent (pink). Image by Michael Smith, Nils Napp, and Kirstin Petersen from Science, July 30, 2021.

 “This,” Stakstad continues, “includes building irregularly shaped cells with as few as four and as many as nine sides, and altering the orientation of the cells near the junctions between sections.” 

IQ: Nature, Nurture, or Both? Back in the 1930s, the pseudoscience of eugenics suggested that the human species could be improved by selective breeding of some, and forced sterilization or worse of others. At the core of this was the matter of nature versus nurture: Which human attributes were inborn? Which were consequences of upbringing?

Marilyn Brookwood’s book The Orphans of Davenport is reviewed in this same Science issue. The review by Meredith Wadman discusses when “New ideas about intelligence rocked the nascent field of academic psychology in the 1930s.”  

The Orphans of Davenport: Eugenics, the Great Depression, and the War over Children’s Intelligence, by Marilyn Brookwood, Liveright, 2021.

Wadman writes that the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, was “a Dickensian Civil War-era facility that was both for abandoned children and the state’s central adoption facility.” 

Author Brookwood writes that two toddlers, 13-month-old CD and 17-month-old BD, had been taken from their mothers, one a prostitute, the other in an insane asylum. CD and BD were placed at the Davenport home, where they were “scarcely touched, never held, rarely spoken to,”  as described by author Brookwood. 

When IQ tests were performed, Wadman writes, “the girls scored 46 and 35. (An individual score of 90 to 109 was considered average intelligence.)” 

Was intelligence innate, a product of environment, or both? 

The two girls were relocated to Iowa’s Woodward State Hospital for Epileptics and School for the Feebleminded. (The name itself speaks to medical thinking of the era.) There, they were cared for by two adult women. The women had mental ages of 5 to 9 years, and lavished the girls with affection.

Nine months later, CD and BD were “alert, attractive, playful, [behaving] like any normal toddlers,” according to a contemporary report. After another 18 months with the women, CD’s IQ score was 95 and BD’s was 93. 

Wadman writes, “The girls were returned to Davenport and adopted within months. When located again in their late 20’s, both were married with children in apparently stable, loving households.” 

So much for perverted eugenic beliefs. 

Humanism and Politics. In the same Science issue, a News item by Rodrigo Pérez Ortega is headlined, “Nobelists Decry Censorship.”  More than 100 Nobel laureates expressed outrage when Chinese embassy officials in Washington, D.C., intimidated and attempted to hack the Dalai Lama, 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Yuan Lee, a Taiwanese chemist and 1986 Nobel Prize winner. Both were participants in a Nobel Prize Summit in April of this year in Washington, D.C. 

The Dalai Lama, Tibetan-born Tenzin Gyatso 1935, the 14th Dalai Lama since 1940 in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, formally enthroned 1950. Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Chinese government rules Tibet and refuses to accept the independence of Taiwan. One of the laureates objecting to the harassment said, “I don’t think a government has a right to dictate or even try and influence who’s going to be speaking at a meeting outside their own country.” 

The U.S. State Department told Science, “We condemn this harassment, and have warned the Embassy against this inappropriate conduct.” 

So much for Chinese diplomacy.

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021  

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