Archive for the 'Education' category

The "absolute monarch" of Penn State University

Nov 09 2011 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Education, Ethics

If you want to understand the child molestation case that has rocked Penn State University in full, you need to read PhysioProf's take on the matter.

Joe Paterno–who has been the head coach for 46 years is the absolute monarch of that program, with absolute power. Regardless of whether he satisfied the bare minimum of legal requirements to report what he knew about the rape of children to his “superiors”–which as absolute monarch at Penn State, he really had none

emphasis added, but not really needed.

Go Read.

2 responses so far

Donor's Choose update

A few thoughts

First, check out the completed projects page for my challenge. The generous contributions of the readers of this blog have contributed to the funding of three projects already! thanks, and be sure to read the notes from the teachers.

Twenty one of you have thrown down over $1,500 under my challenge. This, my friends, is one of the best things of all about this community you have built around my random blathering. I am humbled. (You know, for once anyway....)

Janet, aka, she who has been the driving force behind science-blogger drives for Donor's Choose for six years now, has a post up riffing on the I am the 99% idea. Go check it out and feel free to make your own picture. Post it on your blog, Twitt it or send it to her (or to me and I'll post 'em here). Or heck, just type out your reasons in the comments.

At this writing the Scientopia readership has pulled our challenge board into a precarious second place (ahead of a Phil Plait driven Discover Blogs challengeboard) in the number of people contributing. My readers know that I just love this measure. The more of you that donate, with whatever small amount you can afford, the better I like it. This is about community engagement.

Overall, the Science Bloggers for Students 2011 drive has generated $18,617 from 287 contributors. Wow. Keep it rolling folks. We have until October 22.

4 responses so far

Science Education Awards from NIAID

Dec 23 2010 Published by under Education, NIH, NIH funding, Science Communication

A recent funding opportunity announcement from the NIH Guide caught my eye. PAR-11-086 is for "NIAID Science Education Awards (R25)", the purpose of which is described as follows:

This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) encourages applications from organizations that focus on the development of science education for K-12 students. It is expected that these education programs will provide outreach to a large audience of students at a national level, directly or through their teachers, using approaches where successes can be measured.

Emphasis added. Despite the fact that these R25 mechanism awards have been used by the NIH for a long time and did not even remotely imagine the use of currently available new media and internet technologies, there is an obvious fit. For my audience. For those of you who already use blogs or even YouTube or Facebook, to disseminate scientific information.

Upside in this particular announcement includes the use of standard receipt dates for the application (I've seen some NIH ICs that use a once-per-year, nonstandard receipt dates so check your IC's announcements that use the R25 mechanism.) You may request up to $175,000 per year in direct costs and propose up to 5 years of support.

Are you listening yet, my friends?

There is one obvious trouble spot, since measuring the "success" (aka, any impact or influence on knowledge) of scientific blogging is not an easy task. Still, it isn't as though this is a novel requirement or goal for websites and similar Internet based resources. There already exist ways to try to measure impact. And as you know, sometimes in the NIH grant writing game all that you need to do is provide nominal cover for favorably-disposed reviewers. You know those annoying polls that pop up on websites now and then? I seem to notice them at NIH websites with some frequency. Of course, I just close them but if this is the accepted way to monitor web impact, easy-peasy. Those who have prior experience doing brief post-seminar "evaluation" surveys can probably whip something up in SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy in a trice.

This particular FOA is directed at the K-12 primary and secondary school age groups. I'll point out that not all FOAs that I've seen using the R25 mechanism are limited to this particular audience. So you may find something that fits better with an audience that is of most interest to you under another FOA.

Need ideas? Start with RePORTER to see what is currently funded by the NIH under the R25 mechanism (New Grants, Existing Grants).

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A respectable scienceblogger has been seduced to the dark side

One of the more salient issues to me in the wake of Scienceblogs.org's PepsiBlog fiasco was the moderate schism it revealed between science bloggers (lower case) who self-identify as journalists and those who self-identify as scientists.

The uproar was driven in large part by the journalist types screaming about traditional journalist ethics and the supposed hard line that is drawn between the editorial and business sides of a media property.

My response to this was that as a profession and job sector this is nothing more than a convenient fiction. Recent history is rife with cases in which financial considerations clearly shaded, moved, biased or otherwise influenced content. Look, I get it. There are many cases in which the alleged Chinese wall works. Cases in which newsmedia entities published stories clearly against their own financial interest. And yes, there is a lot of print and J-school professor hot air wasted on devoted to the ethical line.

But at best, these forces for ethical hard lines are losing. Better bet is that the profession is just irretrievably conflicted and we are just going to have to muddle along.

But what really disturbed me was the eagerness of some otherwise respectable scientist-bloggers to start claiming that they (meaning "we) are quasi journalists. Claiming that they (and let's be honest, "we") actually should lean toward and adopt the supposed professional ethics of journalism.

An exchange I've been having on the Twitts today illustrates precisely why science bloggers should not only not adopt a journalist stance but should continue to disparage, correct and otherwise dissect journalistic "coverage" of a science-related story.

The news of the day is the judicial decision to block an executive order issued by President Obama to expand the number of stem cell lines which could be used in federally funded research. The NYT bit does a good job of summarizing the context.

For years, private financing has been used to create embryonic stem cell lines, mostly from discarded embryos from fertility clinics. The process destroys the embryos. President Bush agreed to finance embryonic stem cell research, but limited federally financed research to 21 cell lines already in existence by 2001.

Under the Obama administration, private money was still needed to obtain the embryonic stem cells, but federal money could be used to conduct research on hundreds more stem cell lines, as long as donors of embryos signed consent forms and complied with other rules.

See? This is by no means a complicated story. The grand hoopla over the original decision by President G. W. Bush to permit federal funding of research on a limited set of stem cell lines was a HUGE media storm. Really, even most lay people should be up to speed on the issues and rapidly appreciate the scope of the current judicial ruling.

And yet some respectable science blogger went ahead and Twitted this:

Yikes! Judge halts stem cell research http://is.gd/eAPR4

The link goes to the NYT piece, btw. Nice headline from @davemunger, right? A journalistic headline. The kind of headline that the typical author/journalist, when called on it's inaccuracy, tends to (wink, wink) blame on the editor. "Not my headline (shrug)" they will say in faux apology.

Irritated by this inaccurate sensationalism which clearly implies to the naive reader that this judicial act actually blocked all stem cell research, I responded to Dave with:

halts Obma's *expansion* of permitted use of *federal funds* RT: @davemunger: Yikes! Judge halts stem cell research http://is.gd/eAPR4

He came back with:

@drugmonkeyblog Sure, but not quite as exciting when you put it that way. The implications of the move are still drastic

Quite a tell, isn't it? Typical journalistic approach and why we need scientist-bloggers to oppose this sort of inaccurate communication. Sensationalism that draws the eye is "exciting". That is the justification. So what if the viewer/reader who just glances at headlines walks away with a totally inaccurate perception? He gave the link to the story, right? No fault of his if people don't read it and immediately grasp the nuance...

Yeah, well I object to this journalist tradition/ethic.

This is what I absolutely detest about journalism, dude. Just say no to inaccurate hypage RT: @davemunger: not quite as exciting..

What I object to is this notion that the closest approximation of the truth is optional. Inconvenient. That the business exists to get attention and readers, no matter the cost to the accurate transfer of the best possible information. It is, quite simply, offensive to my professional sensibilities. Yes, we have some movements toward hype in scientific publication but this doesn't mean I agree with it. In point of fact I draw parallels between journalism and GlamourMag science...and Dave Munger stepped right into the steaming pile of why this is so.
@davemunger:

@drugmonkeyblog What is inaccurate about my statement?

@drugmonkeyblog:

the judge did not "halt stem cell research" dude. He reversed the *expansion* of what could happen with fed funds.

@drugmonkeyblog:

.@davemunger return to the Bush scenario in which fed funds could be used for *some* stem cell res. private/state funds used despite fed

@davemunger:

@drugmonkeyblog TFA says It's actually unclear whether the ruling reverses back to Bush's compromise, or even rolls that back as well

Ahh, the typical journalist dodge-and-weave when called out on inaccurate reporting. No, this is not some discussion of he said / she said and what might possibly be the downstream implication. I might buy it if you'd started your comments with this or refined them. It is intellectually dishonest to claim you intended your initial Twitt to lead to this particular nuance. Bullshit. Sure, when backed into a corner you can find some loophole to try to weasel out of. Just like the next one...

@davemunger:

@drugmonkeyblog And he did "halt stem cell research." He may not have halted *all* stem cell research, but I didn't say that.

HAHAHAHA! Classic journalism. Use an unmodified and bold statement. When called out for the inaccuracy of what you know damn well was going to be the overwhelmingly frequent perception of the statement, retrench to Clintonian parsing of syntax. "I didn't say 'all', dude, not my fault if people inferred that from my unmodified statement. It could have easily meant 'judge halts one experiment involving stem cells in one obscure lab'! HAHA!"

Bullshit. You should be ashamed of yourself when you find yourself in this ridiculous attempt at a defense.

Unless you want to, you know, be a journalist. Then I guess it is totes okay to create whatever inaccurate impression you want via selective quoting, selective phrasing and other tricks.

Pfah. I spit on this journalist tradition. This is why it is an absolute mistake for people who identify as science bloggers to move toward being "more like journalists".

Their crappy practices are the very reason that we bother to blog about science!

How can you have forgotten this?

29 responses so far

The thesis committee is there to stop the natural tyranny of the PI

Gerty-z of Balanced Instability blog posed an age-old problem in post-graduate education.

I was talking to a graduate student the other day. It was a hallway interaction, she had not searched me out for advice. I have known this grad student for several years, and she is one of the superstars in a highly-ranked graduate program. By every metric, she should be graduating. Now. Turns out, her advisor has been suggesting that she stick around for another year or two.

ruh roh! Conflict of Interest raises its ugly head.
I bring this up because this is not the first time I've heard a similar story. In fact I've heard of what appears to be at least one entire department that is riddled with this tendency to prolong the graduate school interval as long as possible, seemingly only to extract more value out of productive trainees.

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Princeton what?

Jul 15 2010 Published by under Careerism, Education, Tribe of Science

A post from Mike the Mad Biologist takes a shot at a recent post on the Chronicle of Higher Education's site. Hackner and Dreifus pursue a thesis that Universities need to return to their roots, or "roots" I should say, and refocus on the education of undergraduate students. The part that got Mike the Mad....well, Mad, was this:

Spin off medical schools, research centers, and institutes. Postgraduate training has a place, as long as it doesn't divert faculties from working with undergraduates or preoccupy presidents, who should be focusing on education--not angling for another center on antiterrorist technologies. For people who want to do research, plenty of other places exist--the Brookings Institution, the Rand Corporation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute--all of which do excellent work without university ties. Princeton University has succeeded quite nicely without a medical school--which often becomes the most costly complex on a campus, commandeering resources, attention, and even mission. In fact, the "school" often becomes a minute part of a medical complex: Johns Hopkins has fewer than 500 medical students, but atop them sits an empire with more than 30,000 employees.

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38 responses so far

Farewell to Tenure?

Jul 06 2010 Published by under Careerism, Education

trends-in-faculty.jpgData on tenured and untenured college instructors are overviewed by a bit in the Chronicle of Higher Education. They included this old chart and indicated that the numbers for 2009 are expected to worsen.

Innocuously titled "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009," the report won't say it's about the demise of tenure. But that's what it will show.
Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The new report is expected to show that that proportion fell even further in 2009, dropping below one-third. If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors.

This lack of institutional commitment affects the side of academic employment that focuses on primary research too. In our case it is the expansion of so-called soft-money jobs. These are those in which one's professorial appointment (tenure or not) depends on the ability to hold major research grant funding. From sources outside of the local University, of course.
You can blather on all you like about academic freedom and whinge about the good old days. Spout about quality of education and instruction.
But this is about management-labor economics, pure and simple.
The situation will not improve until the Professoriat understands that they are nothing more or less than labor and responds accordingly. With unified action.

28 responses so far

Professor, PI or Doctor?

Jun 21 2010 Published by under Education, Tribe of Science

A comment at Prof-like Substance caught my eye.

You called yourself a PI? What's with all these biomedical people referring to a professor as a PI? In some fields a professor is a professor. An academic title is more dignified than an administrative acronym.

I have a simple poll. Please select the equation that best summarizes your view of the relative status of the honorifics of "Professor", "Doctor" and "PI". For this purpose assume we're using the generic Professor to refer to all professorial ranks, not the specific for "Full Professor". PI, as you are answering the poll, means whatever you think it means.

Academic Honorific Equationscustomer surveys

In the comments you might as well expand on the rationale here.

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38 responses so far

The Ball Brothers' Lament

Apr 12 2010 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Education, Gender

BallStateU-BallBros.png

Here, here, here (photo credit)

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Scholars and Teachers on Divergent Paths

Mar 18 2010 Published by under Careerism, Education, Mentoring, Tribe of Science

flipstick-sitting-position.jpg
Research (source)
via Female Science Professor. A recent news bit in the Chronicle of Higher Education details another case in which the alleged three legged stool of Professorial careerdom (teaching, research, service) is revealed to stand only on the one leg- research.

his department's tenure-and-promotion guidelines.. were revised in 2000, shortly after he had received the university's Distinguished Teaching Award and a similar prize from a statewide association of governing boards.
Under the revised criteria, faculty members are given many more points for supervising graduate students than for teaching undergraduate courses. "I can teach an undergraduate course with 44 students and get only three points," Mr. Vable says. "But a faculty member who supervises a graduate student gets 19 points and can be released from course duty. So that totally skewed the algorithm."

Well, at least they are up front about it.

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