Recommended reads #110


This, I think, is ingenious and next-level stuff: Designing malware to hack bioinformatics software by coding it into the DNA of organisms that get sequenced! Which, in the future, maybe could be a real problem?

This is old news, but not to me. In Holland there is (was?) a place that used a misting spray of synthetic DNA that could be used to identify folks who committed robberies.

Now that it’s start-of-semester-get-your-syllabus-ready season, let me remind you of this useful course workload estimator, to make sure that your expectations are well calibrated relative to the number of units associated with a course.

Ohio University found that a professor groped his students and after a lengthy investigation and report, the Dean, the Provost, and the President all want to fire him. But it’s taking a while.

The sustainable professor

A story about how conservation science is for rich people. A lot of these points extend to field-based sciences in general, and also to lab-based sciences where you get ahead by volunteering or working for little pay.

The first formal statement of science priorities from the White House is as weak, confused, and misdirected as you probably would imagine.

Internal reactions within Google to that manifesto by their sexist ex-employee. (What manifesto, is it possible you’re asking? Here’s the background.)

Eight students of color speak out about having their qualifications questioned at elite colleges. This can provide a lot of insights about the roadblocks to equity. And what the difference is between diversity and inclusion.

No, smartphones are not destroying a generation

From the Southern Poverty Law Center: The alt-right on campus: What students need to know

Republicans, this is your president

Some faculty from Evergreen State chime in with how they see what’s going on at their campus. And it’s a listicle! You’ll never believe number 7! (Okay, I don’t even remember what 7 was, but that’s the kind of thing people say, right?)

You went to college, grad school, established yourself as an expert in your field, and got hired to leverage your expertise to be a professor, and your university wants you to… volunteer to be a porter for your students? What the hell?

Making affirmative action white again

One person’s story about an abusive PhD advisor and committee has been circulated a lot by humanities folk. There are several long blog posts here, and I haven’t read much of it at all, so I can’t vouch for what’s in it, but it’s provoked some visceral responses, and here it is in reverse chronological order.

I hope you have a nice weekend! (I’m heading out to catch the total eclipse! woo!)

3 thoughts on “Recommended reads #110

  1. Re: the piece on conservation biology as a rich person’s profession, I thought it did a good job outlining the structural reasons why lots of people are willing to do conservation work for little or no pay. But I was puzzled by the worry that, if the problem isn’t fixed, life on earth will suffer because lots of conservation biologists will leave the field. The world has so many conservation biologists that most of them are struggling to find paid work–but yet it’s also a problem if any of them leave the profession because then we won’t have enough conservation biologists?

    The reality is, it’s difficult-to-impossible to engineer a world in everyone who wants to pursue career X has good odds of obtaining a well-paying job in career X. Especially if lots of people want to pursue career X for reasons independent of the salary and benefits career X provides. More funding for conservation biologists wouldn’t solve the problem of lots of wanna-be conservation biologists chasing few conservation biology jobs, because it would just attract even more people into conservation biology. Like how the doubling of NIH’s budget back in the ’90s didn’t increase proposal success rates, it just brought a flood of new investigators into biomedicine. Conversely, if our sole concern is with having enough conservation biologists to do all the conservation work that needs doing, isn’t it a good thing that so many conservation biologists are willing to do conservation work for little or no pay?

    About the only way I know to engineer a match between the number of people wanting to go into a well-paying, desirable profession, and the number of jobs available, is to artificially cap the number of people who are allowed to go into that profession, and then weed out lots of the people who want to go into that profession at a very early stage. That’s the med school model. Lots of undergrads who’d like to be doctors get rejected from med school, or don’t even apply because they realize they’d never get in. It’s illegal to be a doctor unless you’ve been to med school and been licensed to practice medicine. And accreditation boards strictly control the number of med school places available. So here’s a question: would it be better for conservation biology to go to the med school model? I don’t think so, personally. In part because I doubt that that a med school-type filtering process would be any fairer to students who aren’t from well-off families.

  2. Our country needs doctors from all different backgrounds and perspectives, so that we can treat everybody effectively. Likewise, biological conservation needs people who have different perspectives, different value systems, and different approaches to working with communities, if their work is going to be effective.

    How much of our healthcare crisis in low-income communities is rooted in the fact that it’s so hard for low-income people to train to become doctors? Folks have argued that our research community is making less progress because we lack diversity of ideas, because of a lack of diversity of people. So, yeah, I care about how we train people, even if I’m willing to discard the issue of social equity, which I’m not.

  3. I think that’s a very defensible stance. That for the sake of equity, and for the sake of diversity of perspectives/values/approaches within the field, the most important thing is to ensure that it’s not only people from one particular sort of background who can go on in conservation biology. From the article, it sounds like that’s Auriel Fournier’s stance as well.

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