Moving science communication into the public sphere–how?

Mike and David Dobbs both have great posts up discussing “whither rewards for scientists who communicate to the public?” This ended up being one of the themes of my recent SciencePub talk in Columbus–what are the incentives–and disincentives–to scientists for bringing their work to the public at large, rather than simply publishing in journals?
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Additional thoughts on Bible-flu and the retraction

PZ has some additional thoughts on the Bibleflugate retraction up at Pharyngula. Choice quote:

This is a serious concern, to my mind. Scientists are expected to be open and communicative about their work, explaining all the details about how we achieve our results. Yet then we hand that work over to a publisher (usually a for-profit organization), where it is subjected to an arcane process cloaked in mystery that they call peer review. And every once in a while, some strange fluke exposes the inherently arbitrary and chaotic nature of that process, everyone asks “how the hell did that get published?”, and some guy in a business suit steps out to unconvincingly tell us “oops” and reassure us that all is well in the machineries of their journal.

I don’t think it’s enough. If a publisher wants to manage this profitable business of publishing science journals, there ought to be an expectation of transparency — a fuller explanation of how submissions are handled, and when mistakes are made, a more thorough explanation of exactly how it happened. Without an open explanation of how such mistakes occur, I can’t have any confidence that efforts will be made to correct the process that led to them.

He also notes the lead author responded to a request for comments, basically saying he was surprised at the response and was only meant to be “thought-provoking.”

The science boys’ club strikes again

Recently, a bit of a kerfuffle has sprung up around the choice of entries included in The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins. The book contains 83 examples of the “finest writing by scientists.” However, DrHGG noted:

Of 83 texts Professor D has selected 3 written by women. That’s about 3.6%. How hard could it be to find a handful more? Like 10%? It would still be a wiener fest.

She also notes that of those 3, one is even left out of the “Featured Writers” section, as it was co-written with her husband (who received all the credit).

Sheril brought this up on her blog, and Dawkins replied, noting that “it is a regrettable fact that the great majority of distinguished scientists of the past 100 years, as measured by Nobel Prizes, Fellowships of the Royal Society, numbers of science publications, etc, have been male. That imbalance, and not an imbalance in my preference or my choice, is what is reflected in the anthology.”

I call shenanigans. First, Dawkins also claims that he is “…not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists.” Therefore, he must know that it’s other factors that have led to larger numbers of men than women in the top ranks of the scientific enterprise–one of these factors being a nasty feedback loop. Women lack role models in the upper echelons of science, leading more of us to think that perhaps this isn’t the place for us, which is reinforced by examples such as this anthology. While Dawkins may not support such an attitude, his incredibly male-dominated collection, and his “too bad, so sad, that’s just the way it is” response to this criticism reinforces this conclusion.

Other comments in the thread are also depressing. Dave24 notes:

The author of the material doesn’t matter. The substance does. Dawkins created a collection of works that he personally found relevant and important. Taking into account the sex of each author is completely pointless. Find something else to complain about.

This is exactly the wrong attitude for anyone who’s concerned about the future of U.S. science to have. Yes Dave, I’m sure we’re all well aware these are Dawkins’ personal preferences. The question is *why* are those choices so “weiner-centric,” as DrHGG notes? Really, only 2 solely female authored essays? Even granting that science has been exceedingly male-dominated in the past 100 years, surely something could have been included by some of the female “big names,” such as scientist, Nobelist, and writer Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard to give one recent example?

This isn’t just “pointless.” It’s yet one more example of women being overlooked and dismissed. This was a subjective collection–surely, if Dawkins had put some thought into it and realized how unbalanced it was, he could have included some additional essays by scientists who also happen to be women. You can argue that maybe he just didn’t know of any (which I find quite unlikely), but even if this is the case, why not throw out a net, asking friends and colleagues for some suggestions of great essays by female scientists in order to be more inclusive and take one small step toward breaking that nasty feedback loop?

PZ recently put up a post asking about the invisibility of female atheists, and noted:

The problem isn’t dismissal. It’s casual disregard. It’s being just enough pro-feminist that we lose sight of the real problems that women and people of color face.

Bingo. And even when called on it, Dawkins remained dismissive. *This* is why women still feel like outsiders in the atheist community, and in many parts of the scientific community, and Dawkins’ collection reinforces that it’s a boys’ club that we’re unlikely to crack, despite the call for change. Find something else to complain about, indeed.

[Edited to add: Mike Dunford also weighs in]

Academic blogging: addressing criticisms

Thanks again to those who blogged, commented or emailed regarding our PLoS Biology manuscript. Nick already has his own response here, highlighting posts such as Larry’s, Blake’s, Drug Monkey’s, Thomas’, and Carlo’s. Several criticisms ran along the same lines: that, as Nick notes, “that further institutionalizing blogs risks compromising their inherent spontaneous and independent ‘blogginess'”. I agree with much of what he says in response:
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PLoS Biology: blogging and academia

Along with Shelley Batts and Nick Anthis, I have a new paper out today in PLoS Biology on academic blogging: a short commentary on potential ways to integrate blogs into academia. Nick already has a bit of the history and goals of the manuscript over at The Scientific Activist so I won’t repeat those here; long story short, we started out with the goal of simply reviewing academic blogs, and the paper ended up morphing into a road map describing potential ways to integrate blogs into academia.

Many, many readers and writers in the blogosphere donated their time to send us messages about what blogging meant to them, how they had benefited, what risks they had taken, and how they saw (or would like to see) blogging evolve, and while only a few stories made it into the final manuscript, their time and input is greatly appreciated. (Nick has collected many of them here, with a hearty thanks to all who helped out).

Of course, publication is only the start of the process, and I’m happy to see one post already up about the paper. I think DrugMonkey has some great points, and I’ll discuss them and hopefully some other forthcoming responses I see popping up to the paper in a later post. And of course, comments from y’all are appreciated as well.

Damn those women, out there ruining science and being lazy and depressed

Via Ed, if you puked on VoxDay’s shoes after his column earlier this week in WorldNetDaily:

But this is not to say there is not a genuine threat to all three aspects of science today. Unsurprisingly, it comes from the same force that is the primary threat to the survival of Western civilization: female equalitarianism. Flush with their success in decimating the collegiate sports programs of America, the equalitarians have now set their sights on applying the infamous Title IX quotas to science education, despite the fact that women already earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 59 percent of master’s degrees and a majority of doctorates. If successful in this effort, and initial signs indicate that they probably will be, in 30 years, academic science in America will be no more intellectually respectable or relevant than womyn’s studies are today.

or today’s column about women and depression by Dennis Prager:

As a rule, women derive most of their happiness from relationships, not from work. Men need both to be happy far more than women do. Men’s very identity is predicated on their answer to the question, “What do you do?” Whether fair or not – to either sex – virtually no woman’s identity is dependent on what she does for a living. That is why, while both sexes suffer financially from the loss of a job, when men lose their jobs, they often also lose their self-worth as a man. The greater importance of work to men is also manifested in their willingness to work many more hours than women.

you should head to Current Biology and read this article by Nobelist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard regarding her views and experience as a woman in science. Granted, it’s not an antidote to the stupidity oozing from WND and its columnists, but at least Nüsslein-Volhard has some experience with what she’s writing about–although some of the anecdotes she describes may still be hurl-inducing.


…my grad students.

My spring semester course is on infectious causes of chronic disease, looking at the role various infections play in cancer, autoimmune disease, mental illness, and other chronic conditions. Since I’ve often discussed the importance of having scientists communicate with the public, I decided to assign each of them to write 2 blog posts for the course, discussing anything of relevance to the course. Their first round of assignments was due last week, and I’ll be posting them beginning on Monday. Constructive comments on their posts are appreciated, but keep in mind that they’re students doing this as an assignment and still learning. Finally, these posts are the students’ own; I’m formatting them for publication here, but beyond that their words (and opinions!) are their own.

Progeria researchers, anyone?

I received a very nice email from a high school student looking for a mentor for a research project on progeria:

Currently, I’m in a science research program at school where we choose a topic of interest and study it for a period of three years, as well as design an experiment and carry it out based on this topic. Eventually, students are able to present their work for competition purposes or just to share their knowledge in symposia or other forums, such as the Intel Science Competition, or the Siemens Competition.

I am studying Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome for my project and have been researching it intensively for the past five months. During the next couple months or so, I need to gather as much information as I can regarding the disorder to give myself insight into potential experimental designs. At this point, I also need to locate a mentor in this field of study. Hopefully, with the guidance of my mentor, I can carry out an experiment and eventually present my results at a variety of symposia.

So, she’s looking for a mentor. If anyone out there works on progeria, or knows a colleague who does (and would be willing to help out a HS student), it would be appreciated if you’d drop me an email so I can pass along that information.