Recommended reads #35


I was a boy haunted by questions: Why do the lilies close at night? Why does my father always say, “I can dig it”? And who really killed the dinosaurs? And why is my life so unlike everything I see on TV? That feeling—the not knowing, the longing for knowing, and the eventual answer—is love and youth to me. And I have always preferred libraries to classrooms because the wide open library is the ultimate venue for this theater. This culture was reinforced by my parents, and the politically conscious parents around me, and their politically conscious children. The culture was so strong that it could be regarded as a kind of social capital. It was so old that it could also be regarded as a legacy. This legacy is more responsible for my presence in these august pages than any other. That is because a good writer must ultimately be an autodidact and take a dim view of credentials. My culture failed to make me into a high-achieving student. It succeeded at making me into a writer.

I have never had much of an urge to brag about this. I have always known that in failing to become a scholastic achiever, I forfeited knowledge of certain things. (A mastery of Augustine comes to mind.) But what I did not understand was that I had also forfeited a culture, which is to say a tool kit, a set of pins and tumblers that might have unlocked the language which I so presently adore.

Historically, payoffs in science come from out of the blue — oddball ideas or unexpected byways. Glomski says that’s what research was like for him as he was getting his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. His lab leader there got funding to probe the frontiers. But Glomski sees that far-sighted approach disappearing today.

“That ultimately squashed my passion for what I was doing,” he says. So two years ago, at the age of 41, he quit.

Instead of helping society improve its defenses against deadly anthrax, he’s starting a liquor distillery, Vitae Spirits. He’s actually excited about that — it’s a big challenge, and it allows him to pursue an idea with passion, rather than with resignation.

  • If you think that “I Fucking Love Science” is a positive force in science education, I recommend you read this which explains the unethical foundations of this media empire. Bad behavior and irresponsible practices shouldn’t be given a pass just because it gets the word of science out there.

  • Faculty Focus gives us a couple items: “Strategies for dealing with a certified jerk” about, well, jerks. And “She Didn’t Teach. We Had to Learn it Ourselves” about teaching evaluations and active learning.

  • One bizarre thing about the medical establishment is the continued insistence that a certain set of symptoms are caused by spider bites when, in nearly all cases, they are not. Here’s a professional and excellent response to an article in a medical journal that gets it wrong, from scientists who know spiders.

  • Here is a quick 12-step instruction manual from a first-time filmmaker about how he got to hire Bill Murray for his film. I think there are some interesting lessons and parallels (or perpendiculars) for scientists.

  • On The Death of Adulthood in American Culture: “I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. The best and most authentic cultural products of our time manage to be all of those things. They imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.”

  • Here’s a whole new blog all about Promotion and Tenure Advice. It looks interesting and worthwhile, and it deals with the inconsistencies and lack of clarity that often goes along with the process.

  • Check out this kickstarter campaign to restore and preserve a piece of the history of science:  a series of developmental biology videos produced by Lynn Margulis. The footage itself is interesting and valuable, and the context even more so.

5 thoughts on “Recommended reads #35

  1. Big fan of “what if?” This semester, each of my marine biology students came up with a crazy question (e.g., if all the phytoplankton suddenly became carnivorous, how long would it take for humans to die?) and now they have to try to answer it in an essay a la Randall Munroe. We’ll see how that goes.

  2. Can’t remember where I saw it (maybe Facebook) but there’s a sign doing the rounds that says “You DON’T Fucking Love Science, you just like staring at its ass as it leaves the room” which I thought neatly summed up IFLS’s wow-golly-shock approach to science communication. Though if ultimately it does turn some kids on to becoming scientists, is that a bad thing? I’m undecided.

    • I think the approach isn’t great but that’s not my real problem – the downright unethical copyright violations by copying the work of others without paying for or crediting the creators.

  3. Related to the articles about the accessibility of college to first generation students and minority students: the New American Foundation released an updated set of statistics which measure how financially accessible colleges are to low income students. In California, CSU Dominquez Hills has just about the best combination of enrolling a large percentage of Pell grant eligible students while charging them low net tuition (Humphreys College has a higher percentage of Pell recipients, but also charges a lot more). Oxy is pretty much tied with USC right in the middle of their 2-dimensional grid measuring financial accessibility. Least accessible? Arguably Santa Clara Univ and LMU, although Cal Arts and the Art Center should get some consideration.

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