Archive for the 'Science Follies' category

Humorless Feminazis Everywhere!

Regular Zuskateers know that I am a humorless, hairy-legged feminazi.  Day in, day out, my grim outlook never wavers. I devote myself to the serious pursuit of feminism, which is no joking matter.

Thus, you can imagine how my little feminazi heart beat just a little faster, how the hairs on my legs stood up all a-quiver from the tops of my thighs all the way down to my Doc Martens, when I read these two posts last weekend:  Scicurious on Are men really funnier than women? Who's asking? and Stephanie Zvan on Humor Study is Funny Peculiar.   Sci and Stephanie together were discussing Greengross & Miller's paper "Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males" Intelligence, 2011.

I absolutely refuse to admit that anything is higher in males, not even cholesterol, and fortunately Sci and Stephanie were able to shoot this paper full of holes.  Feminazism is spreading all over the internets!  I do think, however, they could have been a little bit more serious and angry in their posts, maybe shouted a few revolutionary slogans and given some press to the Wimmin's Front of Scienceblogging, which, as you know, is vastly superior to the Scienceblogging Popular Wimmin's Front.

Also:  Congrats to Stephanie on moving Almost Diamonds to Freethought Blogs!!!!!

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For My Friend With The Crazy Boss

Or should I say, series of crazy bosses.  Why, you wonder.  Why you?  What is wrong with you? You work well with plenty of other colleagues.  They seem to like you.  But the crazy bosses keep on coming.  There must be something wrong with you, because otherwise you just don't get it.

I don't think there's anything to "get". I've had my share of crazy bosses, in academia and in industry. For a long time I thought "why do I keep getting these crazy bosses? what is wrong with me?" There are just lots of wackaloon people. Many of them end up in boss positions. What you hear about on the news is some working class stiff who went shitznutz and came back to work with a gun and shot a bunch of people and everyone nods their heads and says "yeah, those poor folk and their guns. they are whack." You do not hear about the white collar, middle to upper middle class people who go shitznutz and instead of bringing a gun to work and shooting up a bunch of folks, just psychologically abuse the hell out of everyone under their control. Structurally, I think the way we work is designed to produce more of the latter than the former, but the former get airplay, and the latter are completely hidden from view, so that each person's encounter with Crazy Boss is experienced as a unique and strange experience that is felt as somehow reflecting on their personal worth, as a personal failing, not as something the system was almost guaranteed to cough up for them sooner or later.

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ScienceOnline 2011: Early Review

The conference proper hasn't actually started yet (okay, many worthy souls are busily workshopping even as I lounge about in the hotel room typing this) but it's already been totally worth the trip.  Why, you ask?  Three reasons.

1. Robert Krulwich's keynote address last night.  Interesting, useful, entertaining, inspiring, could have listened to another hour of it.  First time I can recall ever wanting to give a keynoter a standing ovation.

2. Joseph Hewitt's "2010: The Year In Science Blogging" comeek in the swag bag (which itself will make another nice grocery bag).  Josephe Hewitt is a genius.

3. Hanging out with Commenter Extraordinaire of Science Blogs Everywhere, Becca.

Item #3 has two sub-parts of wonderful to it.  3(a), last night at the Open Mike session, Becca instigated a performance of Ripple and inveigled me to sing along with her and Sandra Porter, with Kevin Zelnio backing us up on guitar.  Sandra and Becca can actually sing, and Kevin can actually play the guitar.  I screeched along as best I could.

3(b), you can always count on Becca's astute observations to generate a comment FTW.  Last night at the intro to the keynote was no exception.  Up on the screens in front of the room we were treated to a slide full of the names of supporters of this un-conference - sorted, as is so often done, into three categories.  You know how it's done.  Sometimes it's platinum, gold, and silver.  My local arboretum has oak, ash, and willow.  Whatever it is, you know the first category is Top Dawg, second category is Still Pretty Good, and third category is Well, Not Bad, Your Name Is Still Here, Someday When You Can Give More You Can Be A Top Dawg.  The categories chosen for SciO11's supporters are as follows:

Top Dawg = Charles Darwin Level

Still Pretty Good = Albert Einstein Level

WNBYNISHSWYCGMYCBATD = Marie Curie Level

Oh yes they did.

Becca's comment:  "That's an active disincentive to donate more money."

There's just something weird about associating Names of Famous Scientists with supporter levels in this manner.  When supporter levels categories are given somewhat innocuous names - like platinum, gold, silver, or oak, ash, willow - everyone understands that there is a ranking involved in the categories.  The ranking is there to distinguish and honor the supporters, and also to generate a little competition - oh, I see the Jones Company supported at the oak level, notes Smith Company.  We have got to try and keep up with the Joneses in this important arena.  Maybe next year we ought to be mighty oaks as well.  Marketers can use it as a selling point:  You know, the Jones have been mighty oaks for five years now.  We'd like to see you getting your name out there with the same level of recognition and influence, Smith Company.  Wouldn't you like to consider moving up from ash to mighty oak this year?  So you need the ranking system, both to sell to the supporters, and to recognize the supporters.  Everybody knows how the coded system works.  When you slap some Famous Scientist names on top of this system that everyone understands, it cannot help but send an implicit message along with it - Top Dawg is the scientist this particular community worships values most,   Still Pretty Good, is still pretty good, and WNBYNISHSWYCGMYCBATD is somebody we had to come up with as an afterthought, and we'd better make it a woman or the ladee science bloggers will complain, so let's pick Marie Curie because she's the most famousest woman scientist.

Blargh.  Revise and resubmit for SciO12, please.  Squid Level, Polar Bear Level, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Level.  Sea, Land, and Air levels.  Book, Blog, and Twitter levels.  Ha ha ha!  my little joke. See how that ranking thing works?

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What's So Great About Your STEMmy Lifestyle Anyway? Inquiring Minds Want To Know!

Why should any woman get any degree in a STEM discipline? Especially if she has to wade through tons of bullshit courses to get there, and part of the learning, it appears, has to do with learning how to be someone you aren't? Some other gender, some other race - or some other social class?
skeptifem challenges the female STEM universe thus:

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Work-Life Balance 1: Women, The Media Totally Support You!

Work-life balance: people have been talking about it.
Wait, that's not right. Women have been talking about it. And have been talked at about it, by some people. Doc Free-Ride has a good round-up of a most recent skirmish of opinions on the topic in the sciencey blogosphere. If you have not been following this, please do give Doc Free-Ride's post a read.
Where to begin?

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Rearranging Pipet Tips...

A friend of mine (maybe YOU are that friend?) will be soon be leaving a job at Wackaloon Scientific Enterprises where said friend is supervised by sadistic micromanaging douchebags from hell with poor reading comprehension skills.
How best to spend the remaining time my friend must clock at WSE?
I suggest devoting large chunks of it to rearranging pipet tips in their boxes while singing some version of this song.
Oh it was sad,
Oh it was sad,
It was sad when the research went down to the journal.
All the postdocs and techs.
Little grad students lost their lives.
It was sad when the research went down.

Then when your time is up, shake off the dust under your feet, and blow out of Dodge.

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Science FAIL

Jun 06 2010 Published by under Science Follies, What They're Saying

Just how dumb can scientists be when they skientifikally talk about "consuming" porn?
This dumb.
Pal MD points out that the wrong questions are being asked.
Fortunately, Skeptifem has a clarifying take on the whole stoopid science FAIL.

Uh yeah, I just want to point out that the consent of the women in pornography is questionable. Trafficked women appear in pornography. Women who are high on drugs appear in pornography. Some have notoriously abusive partners who force them into pornography with violence (Linda Lovelace was raped repeatedly this way). You have absolutely no way of knowing if you are watching someone being raped because the raped women are made to pretend to enjoy it.
Often pornography IS violence against women, so asking if porn causes that is a silly question. Normalizing that situation is horrible. Paying for a luxury item with such an immense human cost is deplorable. No porn is worth it, and I don't think people should be free to buy something that causes the rape of women. What is crazy is that the rape of a woman can become speech if someone takes a picture. People act like the rape of women in porn isn't enough, that it has to spread to other women for it to matter.

Emphasis added by me, to highlight that YOU ARE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS, D00DS!

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Oil and the "Chance Fate of the Unfortunate Individual"

The last week or so I've been reading that classic of naturalist writing, The Outermost House by Henry Beston, as the last of this year's selections for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Book Club.
The book is a delight to read for those who love language - it is essentially one long prose poem. But at the same time, it is sweetly painful, as one takes the measure of all the glory that must have been lost in the time since Beston wrote.
Nothing quite prepared me, however, for encountering the following passage about halfway through the book, in the chapter titled "Winter Visitors". Beston is described the birds that come to the Cape in winter - "a region which is to them a Florida".

A new danger...now threatens the birds at sea. An irreducible residue of crude oil, called by refiners "slop," remains in stills after oil distillation, and this is pumped into southbound tankers and emptied far offshore. This wretched pollution floats over large areas, and the birds alight in it and get it on their feathers. They inevitably die. Just how they perish is still something of a question. Some die of cold, for the gluey oil so mats and swabs the thick arctic feathering that creases open through it to the skin above the vitals; others die of hunger as well. Captain George Nickerson of Nauset tells me that he saw an oil-covered eider trying to dive for food off Monomoy, and that the bird was unable to plunge. I am glad to be able to write that the situation is better than it was. Five years ago, the shores of Monomoy peninsula were strewn with hundreds, even thousands, of dead sea fowl, for the tankers pumped out slop as they were passing the shoals - into the very waters, indeed, on which the birds have lived since time began! Today oil is more the chance fate of the unfortunate individual. But let us hope that all such pollution will presently end.

Oh, unfortunate individuals of the Gulf Coast, how I mourn for you and your "chance fate". I suppose we can take heart that we are no longer purposefully discharging "slop" into the ocean - we aren't, are we? - but it's slim comfort.
But no matter. I heard a story on NPR the other day about how the oil slicks haven't made it to the beaches of the Gulf Coast yet, so the white sands are still sparkly. And the state tourist bureaus are hard at work on ad development to reassure you that your vacation need not be ruined or delayed by any distressing sights on the beach; all is well! Out of sight, out of mind! The only oil you need to worry about is the tanning oil on the shapely young lass on the beach towel in this tourist ad! (There's nothing female flesh can't sell!) Come relax, spend your dollars, support our local tourist industry, and forget about the environment for awhile! It's all good! Till it's not.

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A Bit of Sport with the Students

May 14 2010 Published by under Burns My Shorts, Naming Experience, Science Follies

As you know, it was just over a thousand years ago this past March that I defended my dissertation. As I recall, I picked up a dozen bagels and some cream cheese on the way to the defense, and the department secretaries administrative assistants brought in an urn of coffee. It was me and my committee. My advisor made some exceedingly brief introductory remarks and then the semi-bored, semi-hostile committee allowed me to launch into the show-and-tell of What Did You Do These Last Five Years. A few hours later it was all over but the revisions and shouting. Literally. Revisions completed, signatures of committee members collected...and then, suddenly, Advisor wants to make changes. Big changes.

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Dammit, You Made Me Think About Boobquake!

Samia has a very thoughtful analysis of that whole Boobquake biz...I'd recommend you read it first before going on with this post.
I love Samia because she is witty, she always makes me think, and often helps me see when I am missing big, important issues. But I am not sure I am in agreement with all her points this time. I started out with a reaction to the idea of Boobquake that was very similar to her post...why get all het up about some Iranian cleric when we did not see as much a fuss here in the U.S. over the Christian fundies who said similar shit about 9/11 and other natural disasters being the fault of gays and feminists, etc. Why ask women to show their tits as a form of protest - what makes that so much better that some drunken dude at spring break yelling show yer tits?
And then I finally read the original post about Boobquake. Well, the semi-original - the clarification she posted after her initial joke post that got way more attention than she expected.

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Should You Comment On This Blog Post?

Feb 01 2010 Published by under Ludicrous Language, Science Follies, What They're Saying

1. First, a question. What is a blog?

Generally speaking (although there are exceptions), blogs tend to have a few things in common:

  • A main content area with articles listed chronologically, newest on top. Often, the articles are organized into categories.

  • An archive of older articles.
  • A way for people to leave comments about the articles.
  • A list of links to other related sites, sometimes called a "blogroll".
  • One or more "feeds" like RSS, Atom or RDF files.

...Want an interactive website? Wouldn't it be nice if the readers of a website could leave comments, tips or impressions about the site or a specific article? With blogs, they can! Posting comments is one of the most exciting features of blogs.

2. Second, a quote. As seen on this blog post. Context: quoted comment came just after a detailed, friendly comment explaining how increase to ease and frequency of commenting.

Thursday, 28 Jan uary 2010 - 22:49 UTC
Richard Grant said:
The logic seems to be
more comments = good
Not sure that's true.

3. Third, an observation.
WTF are you blogging/commenting for, then??? Why not just stay home and jot down notes in one's own leather-bound journal with a quill pen? Shouldn't you be feeling rather sheepish about being the trigger of that 50k huzzah-fest?
Hypothesis: If you, like Richard Grant, agree that the "logic" of "more comments = good" is "not true" you MUST restrain yourself from commenting on this post.
You may, however, feel absolutely free to sit down in your comfy chair with a cup of tea and jot down any number of witty ripostes in your leather-bound journal. Those taking particular umbrage with the contents of this post may wish to fire off a letter by snail mail.
p.s. I did not link directly to RG's comment. Cumbersome as it may be, it is actually possible to link to comments on that particular blog. However, those following the link are required to log in to the blog network to view the linked comment and this seems onerous. Just go to the blog post and scroll down to the date/timestamp to find the comment if you so desire.

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How Do You Review Avatar?

Maybe you tell us why they're blue.

First the name. Avatar--if you play computer games, you may know this very well--is a character you use inside an unreal world. The word Avatar has its origins in Indian mythology. An Avatar (ava-tara in Sanskrit) is god's visit to earth to fix something that is broken. Vishnu, one of the three gods who protects creation, by necessity visits earth often. Vishnu, the puranas declare, is dark-blue in color (the original story teller was inspired by blue oceans, blue sky?).

Thank you, Scientific Indian.
Maybe you go pretentious.

The point, though, is that every art is defined by its medium. The reason I've referenced Greenberg in the context of Avatar - and please pardon the pretentiousness of the above paragraph - is that I think Cameron has deftly realized the potential of his medium, which is film.

That's Jonah Lehrer's take.
Maybe you go anthropological.

The trope is highly derivative of Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" and "Children of God" which is probably why it all seems so anthropological. In this story, rather than have the natives possess a feature or essence that earthlings just can't understand, they possess a set of cultural traits that earthlings can totally get, if only they would put down their guns and test tubes and corporate quarterly reports long enough to whatever whatever.

That's Greg Laden.
Maybe you want to pretend you are trashing the movie, but you like it, but you are making fun of it, but you are pondering larger issues, too, but hey! those alien women are hot!

Speaking of which, one thing I was wondering about was that the aliens, and in particular the lead female character, were hot: lithely sexy, and barely clothed. It had me wondering what kind of rights the lead actress, Zoë Saldaña, has retained to the image. After all, it's clearly her, despite the distortions of the alien form, and that image is now in a great big digital bucket on some computers somewhere, and could be trundled out and reused in other films. I imagine it would be valuable information to the porn industry, which you just know is itching to get its hands on that technology. There must be some kind of legal protections for digital likenesses being hammered out somewhere, because one thing this movie is going to do is start making that potential problem acute.
I've been belittling the movie, but it really wasn't that awful.

That would be PZ Myers.
Or maybe you want to tell it like it is.

Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever.

That would be Mark Morford's review, "Please mount my hot blue alien" at SFGate. Please do go read it. It's fab.

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The Question of Who "Chooses" To Participate In Clinical Trials

Is the current economy making more people want to participate in human research studies, asks Isis?

In this new study here at MRU, we began advertising online last Wednesday. By Friday, my study coordinator had received 300 responses...I can't help but wonder if the current poor economy is driving more people to consider human research.

Probably - I wouldn't be at all surprised. It seems possible to me, though, that is just an exacerbation of the situation that obtained previously - which is that poorer people have always been attracted to participation in clinical research trials either as a means of making money, or as a means of obtaining at least some sort of health care, even though clinical studies are most definitely not about providing health care to the participants. That may be the other motivator for Isis's applicants. Many people don't really understand that clinical trials are not really places to receive health care.
When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, a few of my coworkers seemed to have fuzzy ethics around this point, too. At least one of my coworkers was explicit in his belief that it was an ancillary "benefit" for clinical trial participants to obtain the attentions of medical professionals during a clinical trial. He insisted on referring to participants as "patients" rather than "subjects" (which I think is the preferred and correct term).
If you are wealthy, or even reasonable well-off, you have access to the best already-tested and approved health care and treatments on offer. Or you can figure out how to work the system and get yourself into Phase III clinical trials if your medical situation is such that there are no good tested options available out there. What you most likely aren't doing is saying to yourself, "Hey! I could make fifty bucks if I sign up for this Phase I clinical trial, AND I'll be helping out science, AND maybe I'll finally get my blood pressure checked by a real doctor, too!"
I appreciate Dr. Isis's sense of unease over the recent recruitment phenomenon. But I think it is just foregrounding an issue that has been there all along.
Thought experiment: Sometimes I have imagined a society where everyone is eligible for, and required to, participate in clinical research, akin to jury duty, or maybe like military service in Israel. Only when you were called up, you'd be assigned to a research study that was a good "match" - if you are healthy, you go into a Phase I or II; if you have a medical problem, you go into some relevant Phase III. Spread the risks and responsibilities out across the society regardless of social glass, gender, race. Of course its unworkable, but what would be the pros and cons of such a system? What things would need to change radically to make it work? Would drug development research need to move largely out of the hands of private industry or could it stay pretty much as it is?
Note I am not advocating for such a system, just floating it as a thought experiment to examine how we do things now and how we might do them differently. I have participated in clinical trials - as a student, just to get the money; as a researcher, with the goal of bringing a new therapy for a disease to market; and as a patient, in the hopes of helping doctors come to a better understanding of my particular illness. I've helped someone else gain entry to a clinical research study because no other available therapies were helping this person and we hoped the study therapy (it was open label) would work (it did provide partial relief that has persisted over time). So I've seen them from a variety of perspectives. The best-planned study in the world can be left with misleading results if participants are overly motivated by money, or by the hope of obtaining medical treatment for illness.

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Lives of the Saints of Science: Darwin

Part of my socialization into the world of science and engineering was, of course, the worship of great and important historical figures in the professions who, naturally, just happened to all be white males. This socialization was an informal, even casual, process - passing references in the introductory matter of various textbooks; framed portraits and busts on the walls and in the halls of university buildings dedicated to science and engineering; and the ubiquitous idolatry of a few key figures, e.g.: Galileo, Newton, Mendeleev, Darwin, Einstein.
As an acolyte of science, I was more than happy to worship along with everyone else. Growing up Catholic, saints were an important feature in our culture. My parents made sure that we had access to books in our home, and one of those books was Lives of the Saints, of which I think this is a modern edition. I understood the canonization of certain figures and the retelling of their stories as exemplars for the common folk to live up to, perhaps even to invoke in times of stress.
This past year the scientific community has been engaged in a massive telling and retelling of the story of one of those key figures - Charles Darwin. All year long, I have been reminded of my first encounter with the actual writings of Mr. Darwin, as opposed to the presentation of his myth. It happened in a women's studies class.

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Can We Talk About Science? I Mean, Really?

You should never, ever criticize something a New Atheist says about science and religion. Never tell them maybe it's not the best idea in the world to just go on about science/evolution + religion in whatever way, at whatever time, in whatever manner, for whatever reasons. In fact, you cannot criticize the speech of New Atheists even if your goal is not to tell them to shut up, but to suggest that they might get their message across better and more effectively if they tried delivering it in a different manner than the one they've been using, because suggestions like that are CENSORSHIP and it is telling them to SHUT UP and that is WRONG and MEAN.
If you have no idea what I am talking about just Google any of the following in combination: Mooney, Kirshenbaum, PZ Myers, Unscientific America. Be warned, it is not for the faint of heart.
On the other hand, if you are not a New Atheist, and you want to speak about Science and Religion, you might want to choose your words pretty carefully. People might question why in the world you have been allowed to blog on ScienceBlogs. They might question your scientific credentials. They might call you a word-twisting intellectually dishonest buffoon. They will offer nuanced critiques of your writing such as: pathetically wrong and mind-numbingly boring.
I am amused at the outrage caused by one of my newest Sciblings, David Sloan Wilson, who writes the blog Evolution for Everyone. The dude's not shy - he launched himself at Scienceblogs with a post on Science as a Religion that Worships Truth as its God. What's behind all the sputtering anger? I mean, this dude is not the first person ever to posit such notions. Why are everybody's knickers in such a knot? C'mon, you can't pretend that idea isn't out there and doesn't have some serious resonance. And I'm talking about more than "high school debate team" level, as one of his commenters complained. Let's review.

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