Recommended reads #108


Wow. This opinion piece written by a scientist, who is a whistleblower working in the Department of Interior, is both important and landmine. They essentially reassigned him — and many other senior scientists — to work in the mailroom. Far away from home. We knew in advance that our new federal government was going to be anti-science, and in places like this, it's as clear as ever. If you haven't seen this yet, it's a short op-ed and a key piece of information if you're trying to stay even the slightest informed about science policy in the US kleptocracy.

This one-minute clip of a US congress member asking a NASA scientist whether it is possible that a civilization was on Mars thousands of years ago is also a must-see.

Real men might get made fun of. (Gents, I think this puts in useful perspective the risks that we take when working for gender equity. Also, it's by Lindy West, who is awesome.)

Two scientists from the Salk Institute, including a member of the National Academy, are suing their employer for gender-based discrimination. And, oh look, a third professor is suing.

Academia needs to confront sexism.

This Smithsonian Magazine article is about a new paper with a meta-analysis about the Janzen-Connell effect. But the title can't really say that if they want anybody to read it who isn't an ecologist. It doesn't answer the ultimate cause of latitudinal gradient in richness, but it's interesting nonetheless, and if biodiversity gradients aren't something you regularly think about, then this might be a fun introduction.

A guy brutally tortures and kills a boatload of endangered birds, and gets 45 days in jail.

Is it possible that Alfred Russell Wallace is not as famous and lauded as he deserves because he actively shunned such recognition while he was alive?

Holy crap, so Google is just writing academic articles (or at least outlines of articles) that are designed to excuse their sketchy business practices, and then paying professors to put their names on them.

Here's another piece on the contribution of beef to climate change — showing how small changes in the diet can have huge consequences at the personal level. (For example, my new car doesn't have the greatest mileage, but apparently that's a drop in the bucket relative to some food choices of mine. Then again, these are all outweighed by plane travel.)

A scientist has been sharing their terrifying downs and ups on the tenure rollercoaster over the last few months, here's a blog post about it. I have a lot more to say about this, and I will in the coming weeks.

In praise of scientific theory. (If you're looking for something that your friend-of-a-friend on facebook might read with a half-open mind with a hope of prying it open a little further, this might be it.)

My depressing summers in Belize. (This is a another great piece of outreach that you might want to share.)

Private lenders for college loans have made a business selling around their debt (not unlike how mortgage companies have done). It turns out that this debt has been sold so many times, banks have often lost track of the actual evidence that they own the debt — and at least $5 billion may be written off and not collected because of this paperwork situation. (Is this foreboding of a tuition bubble for private universities?)

Why do schools use grades that teach nothing?

One science blog post that seems to have lasted longer than the trendiness of zombies was by a tenured Harvard professor who explained why we all should endeavor to lead a normal live on the path to tenure, by just treating our faculty job as a 7-year postdoc. Now that she's been on the tenure track for a while, Melissa Wilson Sayres gives this a big NOPE, for important reasons. (I gave it a "nope" at the time as well, for less important reasons.)

Just in case you didn't hear of the story about three tons of hagfish that spilled on the highway, here's the story. Even better, here's the FAQ from Southern Fried Science.

Elsevier just lost its contracts with a bunch of German universities. They're the most exploitative of the commercial publishers. (Looking at the price of an Oecologia subscription to libraries, I decided more than a decade ago that I wasn't going to submit there as long as there were viable options like Oikos.)

Is the funding model for journals bad for science?

Oh, My. Imagine you're looking for a faculty position to run a foreign language program. You get to teach three classes, supervise 10 TAs, and coordinate 14 sections, and be expected to do service for campus committees and outreach. THE JOB WILL PAY YOU $28,000 and the only 2/3 of healthcare and other benefits will be funded by the position. What. The. Fuck. More about this from Rebecca Schuman. The idea that a university can even advertise for such an exploitative position says something about the state of higher education at the moment, and more specifically about the level of esteem that we must return to the humanities.

The majority of the time when a sexual harassment complaint is filed, it turns out to be about a serial harasser. According to an academic paper researching this issue.

"The "Crazy/Bitch" Narrative About Senior Academic Women" – this has been circulated a lot in the past week.

Our Secretary of Education is now working to delegitimize rape survivors.

International students have long been a cash cow for US-based universities. Apparently this is really taking off in Canada too.

The LA Times did some crack investigative reporting revealing how the Dean of the USC Medical School (who made more than $1 million per year, and was an expert poacher of faculty who brought in huge grants) resigned from his job after he was intercepted in a hotel room with an overdosed sex worker. The cops let him get away without officially even taking his name (Pasadena cops, that's my town, ugh), but USC was quietly informed by a third party, and they got him to resign but they still let him practice medicine in the midst of his drug addictions. The implications of this story are here in a recent column that cuts to the heart of the key issues, and the long-form investigative report with all of the sordid details is here.

Course catalog for David Brooks' Elite Sandwich College

Why leave a tenure-track position for an academic position job in a zoo or a museum? Because it's awesome, that's why.

If you're interested in hearing weird spins on campus free speech issues, check out this situation where some Chinese students in the US are claiming that excluding the Dalai Lama from campus is required for diversity and inclusion, because they don't like the Dalai Lama.

The financial flipside to Macron's program funding climate scientists from the United States. (If you don't read French, as I don't, the google translate version seems quite sensible.)

Our obsession with eminence warps research.

Dear Professor, [when you choose to not work in the summer when you aren't being paid to work, could you not be dismissive in an impolite way?]

So these people known as the "Genetic Literacy Project" go around stealing people's writing and posting it on their website as if they had written it for this website. Even material that's copyrighted. This isn't rare of course, but it looks like these GLP people have quite an audience among scientists, so I thought you should know how despicable their practices are.

What books have I been reading? I was on vacation last week, which oddly enough meant I didn't have as much reading time as otherwise. But I did tear through Rebecca Schuman's Schadenfreude, A Love Story, which was funny and honest and everything I'd come to expect from her other writing, and I recommend it heartily.

Thinking critically about the ways we help our students


wskqpFolks can throw around the word “mentoring” rather sloppily. Which can lead students to being told that they’re being mentored, when they’re not.

I’ve seen a bit more of this while reviewing a variety of formal “mentorship plans” (in the context of panel service). A lot of people get what mentorship is about. But a good fraction of the plans weren’t so much about mentorship as they were about supervision — they said what the “mentee” would be doing for the “mentor,” but not specific about how the “mentor” would be supporting the specific needs of the “mentee.”

So what is mentorship and what isn’t? I volunteer an example for your consideration: Continue reading

We need to stop calling professional development a “pipeline”


When we talk about increasing the representation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM, the path towards a professional career is often characterized as a “pipeline.”

The pipeline metaphor is so entrenched, it affects how people think about our deep-rooted problems. This metaphor has become counterproductive, because it fails to capture the nature of the problem that we are trying to solve. Even if we were to magically repair all of the so-called “pipeline,” we still would have what some would call “pipeline issues.”

What are the problems with the pipeline metaphor? Continue reading

How bad is the loss of NSF dissertation improvement grants?


Last week, NSF announced they have stopped awarding DDIGs – the Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants in the divisions of Environmental Biology and Integrative Organismal Systems.

How bad is this decision? In the words of Jane Lubchenco:

Continue reading

Recommended reads #104


It’s been two weeks already!? Here’s some reads for what remains of the long holiday weekend, for those of us in the US.

In mentorship, a sense of belonging may be most important

Getting past Bloom’s taxonomy in a way that focuses on the minds of the students

This online comic as struck a big chord with a a lot of women I know. It explains how many men don’t share the burden of parenting and running a household by simply thinking that doing stuff when asked is enough. The cognitive load of keeping track of domestic affairs is not a trivial matter. Continue reading

Making scientific conferences more engaging


In scientific conferences, the talks are often the least constructive part of the meeting. That’s my experience and opinion, at least. This is ironic, because at least in theory, the talks are the raison d’être of a conference.

When people fly in from great distances to be together, should we really be spending most of the day in dark rooms listening to canned talks from our colleagues? Should we be spending our time on things that we could just as easily do in a webinar? Continue reading

The deficit model of STEM recruitment


As we train the next generation of STEM professionals, we use a filter that selects against marginalized folks, on account of their ethnicity, income, gender, and other aspects of identity. This, I hope you realize, is an ethical and pragmatic problem, and constrains a national imperative to maintain competitiveness in STEM.

When we are working for equity, this usually involves working to remediate perceived deficiencies relative to the template of a well-prepared student — filling in gaps that naturally co-occur with the well-established inequalities that are not going away anytime soon. These efforts at mitigation are bound to come up short, as long as they’re based on our current Deficit Model of STEM Recruitment. Continue reading

An introduction to writing a peer review


I recently had an exchange with a colleague, who had just written a review at my request. They hadn’t written many reviews before, and asked me something like, “Was this a good review?” I said it was a great review, and explained what was great about it.  Then they suggested, “You should write a post about how to write a good review.”

So, ta da. Continue reading

I am complicit


My academic societies support the March for Science. So do I.

I’m familiar with the arguments for and against the March, from major newspapers and social media. If you’re not familiar, don’t worry, I won’t rehash them for you.

I think it’s possible for some people to have an ethical position to oppose something, and for others to have an ethical position to support the same thing. Nobody’s got a monopoly on being right. Continue reading