Recommended reads #56


Some fundamental lessons from ten years of sciencing.

You know you want to look at this church shaped like a chicken.

A meth lab at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology exploded. I imagine more news will be forthcoming. I don’t know what is driving NIST employees in exurban Maryland to operate a meth lab.

A librarian is caught after having stolen more than hundred masterworks of art from his institution, and replacing them with his forgeries. His defense? Everybody else is doing it.

Workaholism isn’t a valid requirement for advancing in science.

When the end of human civilization is your day job. This is a great piece that discusses how scientists handle, think, feel, and discuss climate change, in Esquire. (Better than the testosterone-laden books-for-dudes list that came out in Esquire.) But the best thing I’ve ever read about how to feel and talk about climate change came from Hope Jahren.

The myth that academic science isn’t biased against women. This is an information-laden explanation why that PNAS paper (which claimed that the bias problem in hiring is over!) is just really off target.

There’s been a long-growing academic issue here in southern California that’s now amounted to a pretty big stink-up. USC has always been known as a place that has good athletic programs, but not so much for academic excellence, notwithstanding the fact that wealthy people who graduate from the so-called “University of Spoiled Children” often end up in powerful positions, and then go on to hire their fellow Trojans. Despite the social capital of USC, it’s alway been considered as an academic minnow compared to UCLA and pretty much every other major research institution in the region. (Not that I feel good about slighting one kind of fish over another.) But in the past decade, things have changed for USC, they’ve really stepped up their game in attempting to fix what was their miserable academic reputation. Lately, people are actually speaking highly of their academic programs. They’ve done this on a short time scale, and a big part of this strategy has been to absorb pre-existing facilities and programs. The latest poach is a research group from UCSD, that runs a huge Alzheimer’s research program. UCSD isn’t just letting USC take the whole program that easily, though. Says the provost of USC, “I don’t want San Diego to feel like the University of Southern California is being some threat.” This comes one year after USC attempted to subsume the Scripps Research Institute, in a secret deal with Scripps administration. The plan only ended at the last minute because someone leaked the news out to faculty before the deal was finalized. So, USC is basically trying to cash in its huge endowment to buy an academic reputation over a very short period of time. Which for people who care about reputations, I guess that’s fine, but the problem about doing this too quickly is that you end up screwing over people who are currently in the system.

So the career/editorial section of Science is just totally f’ed up. But Nature is noticeably less horrible. Especially this piece about how science professors need leadership training. So, so much this.

Also, this comment in Nature about improving undergraduate science education is a really great blog post. I mean, um, peer-reviewed publication in Nature. Same difference, right?

A book review of Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra. I don’t have plans to get up to the tundra anytime soon, but the review sure makes me want to pick up this book.

Why it’s not a good idea to kill venomous snakes in your yard. Just imagine the productive conversation this would lead to on Facebook.

A listicle of ten myths about teaching computer science.

This is a good post about the need to recalibrate the professional expectations of those into graduate school. Grad school is research training and a low-paid job, and also preparation for a great number of other things, if you go about it that way.

David Raup recently died at the age of 82. If you’re not familiar with his contributions to our understanding of the history of life, this obituary is a great explainer.

What do climate deniers talk about when they meet and talk about climate? It’s all pretty weird, apparently.

This transcript of the conversation that led to Sandra Bland’s arrest is infuriating and heartbreaking. This is the first chapter of an actual tragedy. But if you read it line by line as you would a screenplay, then you can feel the hate and racism oozing from the police officer. What makes this all the more horrible is that this happens every day in America. Let’s keep paying attention to this, to emphasize that black lives matter.

On a related note, renowned putz David Brooks penned a confoundingly ignorant review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book. Here’s a great piece making fun of Brooks’s review. Here’s another one that explains how, if not why, Brooks is such a dumb person. I haven’t read the book itself, I am looking forward to it.

Are you heading to China but don’t know if the government firewall will let you use a certain website? Here’s a site you can use to test things out ahead of time.

How do you measure a scientist?

What happens when you talk about salaries at Google.

Have a great weekend.