Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Science literacy fail

Image description: Google News headline "Study warns of  chemicals in canned foods"
Oh noes! There are chemicals in our food!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Good luck avoiding chemicals tomorrow as you feast, breathe, and digest. :-)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Signal Boost: Stand With Science

Junior PI Scientist-Mom-Wife wrote to ask me to signal boost Stand With Science, and I am more than happy to oblige. I'm actually going to repost her words here, to tell you about this effort.
Next week the Congress Joint Select 'super' Committee on Deficit Reduction will decide where to make the next big cuts. If they do not agree or find a plan to reduce spending, sweeping cuts will be put into effect that will likely affect everyone in science and academia.

A group of MIT students have started a letter urging Congress not to cut science funding and they are amassing signatures. They include an amazing video that describes the importance of science, engineering and technology to our daily lives and to American jobs. It's a positive message, and really accessible to the public.

There are now about 7000 signatories on this letter, including Nobel Prize winners and numerous well known scientists (you can view signatories Bob Horvitz #6854, Philip Sharp #6866, Bob Weinberg #6846, Susan Lindquist #6727, Doug Melton #6994, Ray MacDonald#3652, Gary Ruvkun #3712, Didier Stainier #4064, Richard Hynes, Luisa Iruela-Arispe #5087, Andrew Ewald #6899, etc...) and the number keeps growing.

The video and petition have clearly gone viral, which is great. The main message is that the future of science is at stake.

This video and letter have been covered by the NY Times, Science (AAAS) and many other news organizations and blogs. We need faculty and respected scientists to help further this worthy request to Congress.

If you have time, please view the MIT student video and consider signing the letter.
Here's the video:

Readers, please sign this letter. Bloggers, please blog about this. Make some noise. The last thing we want to do in this economy is cut STEM research funding - let's send a strong message to Congress.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Seeing Color, Seeing Smart

A reader recently sent this article to me, describing the recent firestorm surrounding CNN's new documentary "The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley" in its "Black in America" series. Although the documentary has not yet been released, a variety of soundbites from it have made their way into the limelight, which is causing the controversy.

Generally I really dislike when people take soundbites out of context. I'm sure Mike Arrington's remark that started all this ("I don’t know a single black entrepreneur.") had more context surrounding it. However, something struck me in his blog rebuttal to the world. (From NYT article):
On Oct. 28, Mr. Arrington took to his blog to accuse CNN of ambushing him. He asserted that he said he knew no black entrepreneurs because he doesn’t “categorize people as black or white or gay or straight in my head.” 
He wrote, “They’re just smart or not smart.”
The problem is, how he thin slices "smart" is almost certainly based on someone's appearance, accent, vocabulary, phrasings, and body language. And in technology, those in Silicon Valley who are not in the "White, American Male" category almost certainly have to work harder to earn a "smart" label.

I could cite compelling scientific evidence to support my claim (pick up just about any issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the Harvard race project, or even just Google Scholar for "seeing race"), but for the purpose of brevity I will (just once) argue by anecdote: I am often told, "but you don't look like a Computer Scientist!". Why? Because the image burned in our brains of a smart computer scientist is: young, white, American male. Used to be a man with dark greasy hair and glasses, now it is a blunt, sneaky, snappy Jesse Eisenburg type man. But, still man, still white, still American.

"Seeing Smart" still means seeing color, seeing gender, seeing ethnicity. It just means you might cut someone a break if they can manage to work past those initial, societal-given barriers of What a Smart Person Looks Like.

This will eventually change, but Hollywood needs to step up and quit playing to tropes. Quit casting people of color and women as tokens/BBFs while the young white men do all the science and inventing. *This* is where kids get their role models from. This is where society gets its ideas of what Smart looks like.

Huh. I think I have the start of a STEM education grant here...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If politicians had to undergo an NSF review process...

Lately I've been hearing a lot of local election ads on the radio and television, and I find it fascinating how it's often acceptable for politicians to be exceptionally vague and hand-wavy in their rhetoric.

"Our town lost a lot of jobs last year. If you elect me, I will create more jobs! Vote for Bob Smith."

(How will you create more jobs? What is your methodology? Which sector will you create jobs in? Will you do the job creation, or will it be your staff? Where's your 4-year project plan?)

I think it's only fair. Given how harsh many of these politicians are on science funding, it should be reasonable to turn the tables.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Don't Stop B-cell-ievin'

On the topic of "teaching as performance", this video making the rounds is by Richard Bungiro, Immunology lecturer at Brown. He calls this "immunolo-glee", "Don't Stop B-cell-ievin'".

Kudos to Richard -- it takes guts to sing in front of students, and I think anything to make science lectures exciting is a great idea. (You know, give them some pep -tides*)

Here's the clip:

(*) Sorry, couldn't resist.