Archive for: September, 2006

Getting along vs. fixing the problem.

There's been a marked difference of opinion between two of my fellow ScienceBloggers about what ought to be done about the "pipeline problem" in physics.
Chad suggests that there may be a substantial problem with high school level physics instruction, given that "[e]ven if high school classes are 50/50 [female to male], the first college physics class is already 25/75".
I take it that the worry about what's happening in the high school physics classroom isn't going to spark much controversy in these parts. (However, I do recall hearing, when I was still in high school, that at some colleges the probability of becoming a physics major was much higher among those who didn't take high school physics -- whether because the ripple-tank experiment was really that traumatic or because physics taught without calculus makes no bloody sense, I do not know.) Rather, here's the part of Chad's post that sparked the heated exchange:

Everybody seems to have an anecdote about a creepy physics professor, or an unpleasant graduate student, or a sexist post-doc.
This bugs me for a couple of reasons. The obvious one being that I'm a college physics professor, and I'm not that guy. I'm not fool enough to try to deny that unreconstructed sexist pigs exist in the profession, but I'm not one of them, and neither are my immediate colleagues, and sweeping statements that lump us in with the pigs of the world bother me.

To this, Zuska responded:

There are a million things that should be going on at the college level that have nothing to do with young girls themselves, but have everything to do with the behavior of college professors. And here I am talking about three kinds of behavior.

  1. The absence of harassing or discriminatory behavior - behaving like a decent human being.
  2. The awareness of how unconscious bias operates in situations where evaluation or decision-making takes place - behaving proactively to counteract it.
  3. The promotion of a positive climate for young girls and women in science - participation in outreach programs, lobbying for institutional transformation initiatives, being an advocate for women's issues in the profession at large.

If you are not doing ANY of these things, if you are just sitting back in your office, doing your research, teaching your one little intro class and congratulating yourself because you didn't drive all the women students away, then get out of my face and stop wasting your breath and internet electrons telling people they shouldn't complain about professors.

Some commenters opined that, even if Zuska had a reasonable point here, the way she expressed it may have done more to alienate Chad than to bring him around. Zuska responded to this with a post about how "keeping things civil" has turned out to be a pretty good strategy to keep things just the way they are.
So, what the hell am I doing here? Zuska and Chad are both grown-ups, perfectly capable of working through their own disagreements -- and although I have met neither in real life, I should state for the record that I am quite fond of them both (and, for that matter, of some of the commenters involved in the fracas).
But, I think their diverging viewpoints here illustrate some features of the world of academic science that the scientific community would do well to attend to sooner, rather than later. And, the war of words brought back an incident from my own experience that I had nearly forgotten, and I'm trying to work out why precisely that memory tumbled forth.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: syngnathids vs. cephalopods.

Sep 15 2006 Published by under Kids and science

No, it's not a cage-match between syngnathids and cephalopods. Rather, the Free-Ride offspring consider the relative merits of each. It's kind of like weighing whether you'd rather be able to fly or become invisible.

From Seahorses and Sea Dragons
* * * * *

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43rd Skeptics' Circle (sad puppy edition)

Sep 14 2006 Published by under Skeptics' Circle

Welcome to the meeting of the 43rd Skeptics' Circle! Good logic and critical thinking never hurt anyone, but bad logic, gullibility, and uncritical acceptance of questionable claims causes distress to small, furry animals. I'm not kidding! As proof, please consider the above picture (provided to me by Fern).
Can you bear to live in a world where this cute puppy is sad? Wouldn't you rather make the puppy happy? Me, too.
UPDATE: I'm not going to say the dog ate my homework, but this morning I found a half dozen (lightly chewed) posts that should have gone into the carnival last night. I suppose I'm in the doghouse now.

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Tick tock, tick tock.

Sep 12 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

I wanted to remind all the nerds (a term I use to encompass as well geeks, poindexters, dweebs, and those in allied fields) that you'll need to nerd things up by Sunday evening if you want to be considered for the final nerd-off rankings. The time remaining to represent is ticking down.

And that reminded me of my nerdy DARPA time piece, pictured here. You can't buy this watch in stores!
But perhaps even nerdier is the reason I always opt for analog over digital watches: analog watches remind me of the unit circle, for which I have a deep and abiding love.

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A hail of random bullets until I find time for a real post.

I actually have a longish post I'm working on (about whistleblowing), plus a bazillion submissions for the upcoming Skeptics' Circle to sort through, but between teaching and grading and coaching and making lunches, well, there are a bunch of important tidbits that will fall through the cracks unless I give you a random bullets post:

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Time to weep for the state of the bookstore.

Sep 11 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

Today, at a local outpost of a large chain bookstore, the sprogs and I endeavored to spend some gift cards. Since this is a chain which does not make book-locator terminals available to browsing customers, we were waiting at the customer service desk.
Patron ahead of us in line: I'm looking for The Prince by Machiavelli.
Bookstore employee at the customer service desk: Can you tell me what kind of book that is?
Patron ahead of us in line: What do you mean?
Bookstore employee at the customer service desk: What genre? Is it fiction? Non-fiction? Children's?
Patron ahead of us in line: Children's?!
Me: You might try philosophy or political science.
Bookstore employee at the customer service desk: There it is, under philosophy, and we have a copy in stock. (Goes off to show the patron ahead of us in line where it is, then returns.) Can I help you?
Me: We're looking for some children's titles, but I wanted to see in which subsection they'd be located. The first one on our list is The Borrowers.
Bookstore employee at the customer service desk: That was a great movie!
Me: (with some restraint) The book is even better.
Bookstore employee at the customer service desk: Well, I'll have to read it some day.

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Mens sana in corpore nerdo.

Sep 09 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

("A strong mind in a nerdy body", from the Latin, five years of which also contributes to my nerd cred.)
There's this stereotype that the really brainy kids have some difficulty moving around the physical world successfully. Sometimes it holds true, I am sad to report.
In junior high, my physical education grades (Bs, generally) routinely kept me off the highest tier of the honor roll. In high school, though, I managed to earn varsity letters:

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Why organic produce?

Sep 09 2006 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger

The latest "Ask a ScienceBlogger" question is:

What's up with organic foods? What are the main arguments for buying organic? Is it supposed to be better for me, or better for the planet, or what? Are organics, in any sense, worth the higher price?

It's true that I live in California (in the San Francisco Bay Area, no less), but even if I didn't, I would still opt for organic produce wherever possible. And, my reasons for this preference have almost nothing to do with the nutritional profile of organically grown foods compared to conventionally grown foods.
For me, the main issues have to do with the inputs (and outputs) in the production of the food, as well as impacts of various sorts on the people growing the food.

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Nerd-off status report.

Sep 09 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

Although it would seem that some suspiciously hott ScienceBloggers think they have enough data to call a winner in the nerd-off, it's not over yet.
There are more nerds poised to represent. (Not just ScienceBloggers, either. I'm curious to see whether anyone at Cosmic Variance will throw down.) As well, there will be a proper analysis and weighing of the data in evidence.
So there's still a chance to get your nerd on in the nerd-off. Anything posted (and detected via Technorati or Google Blogsearch) by next Sunday evening is eligible. The results will go up Monday, Sept. 18.

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Reminder: get your Skeptics' Circle submissions in!

Sep 09 2006 Published by under Skeptics' Circle

The next meeting of the Skeptics' Circle will be happening right here on Thursday, September 14.
You can send links to your posts about pseudo-science, quackery, tales of the paranormal, urban (or suburban, or rural) legends, and critical thinking to me. I'd appreciate getting the submissions by 3 PM (Pacific Time) on Wednesday, September 13.

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