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April 22, 2010


If the title offends you, you should probably stop reading now. But it will be your loss. Blaghag is, YES, a woman in science blogger who got a little irritated at the Iranian cleric who said that "Women who dress provocatively and tempt people into promiscuity are to blame for earthquakes,"

True scientist that she is Blaghag has designed an experiment. As she explained “On Monday, April 26, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. ... I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that's your preferred form of immodesty.” She is then going to check for tremors. Hey she's a double major in genetics and evolution-- she will figure it out.

For me- I'm wearing my old EFF t shirt. Sadly they currently don't have any more. It's black with great designs on the back, it's tight with a tasteful v neck and I look so good in it, watch out fault lines

PS If you think this is demeaning to women or earthquake victims, be they women or men (and obviously I don't), read her post . She seems exactly the kind of young woman we need in science.

Happy 40th Birthday Earth Day

Wow 40 years. Congratulations Earth Day! In some areas like air and water, there has been great progress. Hey even kids can now safely swim in the Hudson and Nashua Rivers. And it takes fewer shots before you can swim in the Charles between Boston and Cambridge..

Last year I did the Earth Day meme which was to come up with three things that you can do to be more environmentally friendly. The first was something that's small, and easy to do. The second was more ambitious - something you'll try to do, but might not manage to pull off. The third was something you can do to improve something you're already doing.

Last year I wrote:

Small and easy: Only buying environmentally friendly cleaning products.
More ambitious: Fly less and/or figure out some way to reduce the impact of my flying.
Improve something already doing: I did an ok job hanging clothes out on the line last summer; I'll start doing that earlier this year (like now) and will check the weather before I do laundry.

How did I do?- I give myself a B on small and easy. I tried to give up my Ivory dishwashing liquid but the others have very few suds and I like suds. I get an F on more ambitious -- we're flying more than ever but a B on Improve something. I started hanging the clothes outside on the line the first week of April (not bad for MA).

Now I have to figure out what my answers will be for this year. .

April 19, 2010

One of the best TV lines ever

NCIS character Tony "We have to go to sexual harassment training." NCIS character Kate "They train you in how to sexually harass?"

You know that could explain a lot.

April 11, 2010

A rant I wish I had written

We at FairerScience fly somewhere pretty much every week. Thank you I appreciate the messages of sympathy that you just sent to me. I have stories, oh boy do I have stories, but I don't have to tell them because Kate over at Shapely Prose has said it so much better than I can. Of course she didn't mention that for some reason Delta decided that I have a seat on tomorrow's 6:30 am flight but Tom doesn't, but I don't think I can blame her for that.

BTW she uses the f word which, while I don't use it in the blog, I've been very very tempted to use big time with the airlines.

April 09, 2010

Science, Sexuality and the NY Times

Ah yes that is a great title for a blog post. But the title of the lead story of last week's NY Times Magazine was even better "The Love that Dare Not Squawk Its Name: Inside the science of same-sex animal pairings." Sadly they changed the title to "Can Animals Be Gay?" when they put the web version up.

The article is fascinating -- while it covers a lot of ground, the underlying thesis is on how human issues with sexuality, especially homosexuality, have impacted animal research and how, with changing attitudes, has come dramatic changes in conclusions about animal behavior.

It turns out "various forms of same-sex sexual activity have been recorded in more than 450 different species of animals, from flamingos to bison to beetles to guppies to warthogs.' For more than a century, observation of homosexual sex "was usually tacked onto scientific papers as a curiosity, if it was reported at all, and not pursued as a legitimate research subject. Biologists tried to explain away what they’d seen, or dismissed it as theoretically meaningless — an isolated glitch in an otherwise elegant Darwinian universe where every facet of an animal’s behavior is geared toward reproducing." My favorite was the primatologist who speculated that "the real reason two male orangutans were fellating each other was nutritional."

The controversy that studying same sex sexual behavior in animals can generate is impressive. A short article about female-female albatross pairs in Biology Letters caused such a stir that Stephen Colbert warned that “albatresbians” were threatening American family values with their “Sappho-avian agenda.”

The "overall presumption of heterosexuality" in animal research has been so great that, in some cases, researchers didn't even sex their animal pairs. They just assumed if it was a pair, one was female and the other male. It's been interesting (and sometimes horrifying) to see the impact our ideas about race, sex and sexuality have had on our research. Let's just hope the unpeeling continues.

In the meantime you'll be pleased to know that the Times issued a disclaimer: "No assumptions should be made about the animals' sexual preferences based on their appearance in this portfolio."

Scientae is up

So hop on over to biochem-belle's and check it out.

April 04, 2010

Thanks Shirley!

Shirley Malcom and I have been friends since, well I guess forever, and she never ceases to amaze and impress me. (Well she did once but that was in a discussion of thunder thighs that may be best forgotten). Shirley, who by the way is the head of AAAS' Education and Human Resources Programs, testified on the hill last month about--- hmmm I think I will wait and see if you can guess. Yes you guessed right-- broadening participation in STEM.

The testimony was excellent and you probably should read the whole thing. However since I know our lives are a little hectic -- I've put below one section that is near and dear to the hearts of many FairerScience readers:

Women have received a significant proportion of STEM doctorates for well over a decade. Yet they are not appearing among the STEM faculty, especially among leading research institutions, at proportions that should reasonably be expected given their presence in the available pool of candidates; nor are they being retained and advanced in the ranks. Another NSF-funded program has taken on the challenge of addressing these issues. ADVANCE has focused on the institution-specific challenges of understanding and affecting the policies and processes that govern identifying, recruiting, hiring and promoting faculty as well as the system impediments that often lead to the loss of talented women faculty. These would include issues such as: parental leave and “stop the clock” policies; spousal/partner hires; transparency of the requirements for promotion and tenure and so on. Many of the obstacles relate to the desire for women (and men) to be able to integrate the personal/family and career aspects of their lives.

Recent Nobel Laureates Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider addressed these issues directly in interviews after the announcement of their award as they talked about the need for institutions to reconsider the male models upon which the job expectations of STEM faculty are based; e.g., to consider part-time (as well as part-time tenure track) and other more flexible arrangements. This is not an issue of being able or “good enough” to do the science. And separating the aspects of careers that are necessary and those that are simply “tradition” has been a critical component of department and institutional reviews and responses.

Congress needed to hear this (as do many others). Thanks Shirley!