Category Archives: Follies of the Human Condition

Maud Menten, #ScienceWoman

Which science woman inspires you? That was the question that It’s Okay To Be Smart and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls are currently asking people to answer in video format.

I couldn’t really pick one, because I know way too many inspiring science women, so I went with Maud Menten: one of the scientists who laid a lot of the groundwork for the field I studied. Only, I didn’t realise she was a woman until years after I first heard about her work!

I used my Lego set again, but this time I also put myself on screen.

It’s kind of embarrassing that I just blindly assumed that all the people in my textbooks were men. Half of the students in my undergrad chemistry department were women, and later half of the PhD students in my grad school biochemistry department were women as well. But at the top level, there were only a handful of female professors. I never really needed female role models to be able to choose science, and I thought I didn’t really care or notice what gender my professors were, but I wonder if I might not have blindly assumed that everyone in textbooks was a man if I had been around more female professors.

Or would I still have assumed that all scientists of the past – the ones mentioned in our books – were men? It’s hard to say, but having more women in top science positions now will change the demographics of the people mentioned in textbooks of the future.

Indy SF Month: M.J.A. Watney’s Kybernos

KybernosLately I’ve been reading enough SF from small independent presses for a review series. And so over the next few weeks it will be Indy SF Month here at The Finch and Pea, which will include one of the recent nominees for this year’s Philip K. Dick award, a fascinating, non-horror zombie apocalypse from one of my new favorite small presses, and a collection of fascinating stories by a long-time local (St. Louis) SF author.

First in line is M.J.A. Watney’s Kybernos, a self-published work that was a quarter-finalist in 2014 Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition. Watney provided me with an ARC of this intriguing work, which, like a good fraction of the indy SF we’ll discuss in the upcoming weeks, is better described as speculative rather than science fiction.

Kybernos is part of a tradition of SF stories that play with the direction of time, not time travel so much as questions of reversibility and causality. Hard SF usually comes to mind when we think of this theme – Gregory Benford’s great classic Timescape explored the idea of trying to change the present by sending messages to the past via tachyons, faster-than-light particles that travel backwards in time. Unlike Timescape, Kybernos is not hard SF, but it explores some of the same questions about alternate time trajectories and the reversal of cause and effect. Continue reading

More than One Way to Vaccinate a Cat

No, this isn’t about cat vaccinations, but you should make sure all your pets’ shots are up to date, too. It is what we like to call, in the business, word play (technically, the term is “god-awful, hacky word play”).

With the focus placed on vaccinations by the measles screwing with Disneyland, there has been a lot of pessimistic coverage of the research showing that there is not a single, magic bullet, public service message (out of an exhaustive set of four options) that will convince everyone to vaccinate.

Over at Science News, Bethany Brookshire has an excellent post discussing the many ways to persuade people to vaccinate and why certain strategies are more likely to work for some, but not for others.

Research has begun to examine why people fear vaccines, and what can be done about it…But in all of the research, one thing is clear: There is not a single, foolproof way to convey that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the harms.

-Bethany Brookshire at Science News

In the conclusion, Bethany raises the critical point that our public health approaches to vacccination have actually been pretty effective. Vaccination rates remain high, even if they have slumped a bit recently.

We may be at the limits of what can be achieved through public service messaging and need to focus on one-on-one interactions, while keeping the public pro-vaccination message strong.

Luckily, parents who adamantly refuse to vaccinate are in the minority. Unluckily, as the Disneyland outbreak shows, that tiny minority is still needed to keep infectious diseases from rising again. “The reality is that most people do get vaccinated, “Wilson says. “Maybe it’s 90 percent, but you need 95 or 100 percent. It’s challenging to get 100 percent of the population to agree to something. It’s not that there’s a disastrous failure of messaging. It’s that the threshold for success is so high.”

-Bethany Brookshire at Science News

Having been in many men’s restrooms, I can state confidently that we are doing a better job on vaccination than we are on hand washing.

Science for the People: Alan Turing

This week, Science for the People is learning more about the groundbreaking work and too-short life of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician, codebreaker and philosopher who laid the groundwork for the modern age of computing. They spend the hour with Oxford University Senior Research Fellow Andrew Hodges, talking about his book “Alan Turing: The Enigma.”

…the bell trolls for thee

According to a purported, internal Twitter memo obtained by The Verge, Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo is taking personal responsibility for their poor record of dealing with abusive behavior on their platform – behavior that makes Twitter, as well as other online spaces, unwelcoming to non-white, non-cis-male individuals. Costolo wants this reputation to change and will, apparently, be putting serious resources behind this effort. Twitter is finally recognizing the need to combat online abuse and trolls, not that this is the right thing to do, but because it is costing them valuable users.

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd.
-Nitasha Tiku & Casey Newton quoting Twitter CEO Dick Costolo from what is, reportedly, a Twitter internal memo

For those of us interested in having online spaces be venues for debate, discussion, and promotion of equality, the prospect of robust tools built into the platform and taken seriously by Twitter is potentially a huge step forward.

HT: Alex Medina