Annals of Just Wrong: Animal Rights Activists Threaten Kids…(Updated w/links)

I am compelled to add my voice to the chorus of disgust about targeting the school of UCLA neurobiologist Dario Ringach children by angry animal rights activists. Dr. Free-Ride began the chorus, and was quickly followed by Pal MD, ScicuriousPZ Meyers at Pharyngula, Mark CC, Nick Anthis, and Drugmonkey, and more Drugmonkey…** updated** and Ambivalent Academic, and Orac, and more Orac…and at Speaking of Research

A rather longish excerpt from Dr. Free-Ride’s post that pretty much sums it all up…

Harassment drove UCLA neurobiologist Dario Ringach out of primate research in 2006. This was not just angry phone calls and email messages. We’re talking about people in masks banging on the windows of his house in the night, scaring his kids. Without support on this front from other scientists or from UCLA, Dario abandoned research that he believed to be important so that he could keep his family safe.

Since then, there has been more violence against researchers who work with animals. UCLA started to stand up for its researchers in the face of incendiary devices. Scientists started calling for an end to violent tactics in their journals, and in petitions, and in demonstrations.

As someone with experience being on the receiving end of such tactics, Dario stood up to decry their use against other scientists.

And, Dario participated in the dialogue at UCLA that was aimed at getting people with different views on animal research to engage with each other peacefully and productively. On a panel that included a strong defender of animal rights, Dario explained the role he thinks animal research plays in answering scientific questions that matter to us — to the public as well as scientists.

Not everyone on the panel, or in the audience, agreed with Dario’s point of view (although I daresay this was so for every one of the six panelists). But all seemed to recognize that it was a honest articulation of his view, and that it was his right to hold it and to articulate it.

For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstrations to his children’s schools, to “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living”.

Express the view that scientific research is worth doing, plan on your kids being harassed? Is that what we’ve come to? Is this really the society we want to live in?

If it’s not, we need to stand up and say so, in no uncertain terms.

I can not for the life of me understand the logic or the justification one would use to target a scientist’s CHILDREN. That, my friends, is terrorism plain and simple.


A Personal Plea: Let’s put Science Education in Public Schools on the RIGHT track

And get religious fundamentalists, who are only interested in furthering their own religious agenda,  OFF influential state boards of education.

Let’s start in Texas, where looney toon local dentist and Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy has been driving the agenda of the Texas State Board of Education. Don’t know about Don McLeroy? He was prominently featured recently in a New York Times Sunday Magazine piece entitled ‘How Christian Were the Founders?’ I’ll excerpt regarding the Texas State Board of Education and Dr. McLeroy:

Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe — who publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive education issues — is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming.

McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands. (emphasis is mine)

Rather longish excerpt- but you get the point. Mr. McLeroy, a member (and former chair) of the Texas State Board of Education is infusing what will be published in textbooks that will be used all over this country from K-12, with his own personal agenda.  I’ve written about this topic in passing before, and so has the New York Times. Yes, this began just with what science textbooks in Texas would have in them, but it seems to be spreading to every damn textbook.

This is wrong people. WRONG.

What can you do about it??? Well, in my humble opinion, we need to remove such individuals from state boards of education. This takes dedicated people, and this takes money. Citizens in McLeroy’s own district need your help to take out radio and print ads to inform people of McLeroy’s dreadful record before next Tuesday’s open primary, where his membership on the State Board will be voted on.

To this end they have set up a website to collect donations which can be found here at SMART STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION.

If you care about providing quality, factual, and non-ideologically driven public education for every child in this country I urge you to support this effort. You might think that this doesn’t affect you if you don’t live in Texas, but I promise you- no matter where you live in this country this will touch what your children learn in school.

Also, I urge similarly inclined bloggers to post something about this on their blogs as well…

Factors to consider (or not) when choosing your grad lab…

When people ask me I generally give the perspective that the things you should consider when choosing the lab you will do your graduate studies include: 1.  The advisor, and 2. The project.

The advisor- as in: What kind of an education will you get from this person? What is the advisor’s training record, do you work well with the advisor you are considering? How does the lab run? Are people who work in the lab excited about the work and about working for this person, and do their projects GO? Do people graduate from this lab in a reasonable time frame with a good body of work? Where have the people that have left this lab go on to? (With factors like $$ to fund the lab being equal and not considered in this analysis.)

The project- as in: If interest in the project is what drives you- are you going to love this project? Are you going to want to come in on Saturday morning to pull plates from the incubator to see what your Friday experiments yielded? What is your assessment of the risk of the project (this can be tricky for trainees to assess)… etc. My view of this is that some people are motivated by intellectual curiosity and they do best with problems that they are intellectually interested in.

Choosing grad labs based on advisor or project is not necessarily mutually exclusive though, there are all sorts of combinations of this.

Last night I heard a criterion for choosing a lab that I completely disagree with. Someone told me that they thought that the most important factor in choosing a lab was the methodology employed in that lab. HUH??? I had a hard time believing that I was hearing that and I even did that old trick where you try to buy yourself a little time to reply by repeating the question/statement. I guess I’m of the school that things that you want to get a great education and contribute to a field that interests you in grad school- not learn a particular methodology. I guess I’m of the school that think that you pick the problem, then you use whatever are the best tools to answer that problem. Period. That’s why I’m so against being wedded to a single or a handful of methodologies.

Lab Meeting

There is little I love more than a lab meeting packed with data. Seriously. We had a great one today, so I’m all in the mood to write about lab meetings.

Back in the day…. when I was just a lowly grad student, lab meeting was an event. We had a one-person-presents format, and you brought ALL your data, the good, the bad and the ugly. There were no highly edited, slick Powerpoint presentations. There was just the good stuff, the data, the ugly blots, the gorgeous blots- all shown on an overhead projector. And there was a lot of it- because it was a fairly large lab and so the interval between any one individual’s turns was fairly long, and we worked hard. Back in the day.

I’ve been experimenting with lab meeting formats. First, I tried the everyone-presents format- where we sit around the conference table and everyone describes what they have been doing in the past week, what progress they have made.  What I liked about this was that people were more likely to show me their failures- which, I think, are important to look at if you want to make progress. However, on the flip side- people didn’t prepare really well in the sense that they thought about their data from week to week, and could show where they were going in an organized way.

Second, I tried the one-person-presents format, followed by the round table summary of what every one else was up to. I wanted my trainees to get some more formal presentation practice, both standing up in front of an audience and putting together a good presentation. These presentations serve a triple purpose as introducing new recruits to all the different projects we are doing, presentation practice,  most importantly data presentation and review.  I realized when I was doing this that I would probably get less of the bad and ugly data this way, and that seems to be what has happened. There is more slick Powerpointing than I would like. The round table worked well, but I thought it made lab meeting too long.

So then I thought- maybe I’m trying to cram too much into lab meeting- perhaps I should just focus on getting fewer things accomplished in this meeting, and break the other tasks out into other times. So now we are doing a one-person presents format which is preceded by a brief discussion (led by me) of how everyone is doing, what lab issues we have that need to be addressed (including equipment needs/broken equipment etc), and me soliciting a list of what I need to do for each of my trainees. Then we have a hearty discussion of one person’s data. As for those that are not presenting- I see them in the lab- but each one also has a meeting with me in my office once a week on an assigned day to go over what they have done in the last week and what they are planning for the next week. So far this is working pretty well, with the possible exception that this might be more efficient (and easier on my schedule) if we did these individual meetings every two weeks.

We’ll see how this goes for a while.  I’m not averse to changing the schedule if we must.

Red pen, or track changes?

Because it is, you know, Sunday morning, and I have a nice cup of tea in front of me, and the kids are playing quietly in the back of the house, and DrMrA is watching soccer, I think I’ll blog. The New York Times sitting next to me can wait.

I know I’ve not been writing a lot here- and this is because I’ve been writing my little fingers off for my real job in the last month or so. Some of the text has been student written drafts edited by me, some has been my drafts edited by others, some has been all mine. All of this has led me to think a little about the process of editing, and about juggling a manuscript back and forth between multiple individuals.

When I was in graduate school, my thesis adviser edited everything on the printed page, and it was good (for those of you youngsters remember that the internet was hardly invented at that time). You were expected to write the first draft of your manuscript, then would get whole deal returned to you bathed in red pen. I am sure that it took him/her hours to do this- because the level of detail that he considered a manuscript in was truly exquisite. You would spend hours trying to interpret the chicken scratch handwriting in the margins and over the printed text. Now and then you would have to ask for a translation of what he had written in there because his/her handwriting was so unintelligible (not to insult the handwriting- but who knows if he/she was juggling a kid in one arm while writing with the other). In the end though, you really had to read the text extremely carefully to figure out what he/she wanted in the text, and then you had to type it in.  For me, this was an important part of the process of learning to write.

The ‘track changes’ function was totally foreign to me in grad school, for all I know it didn’t exist then, so I can only assume that it became popular while I was out of the lab. For those of you that don’t know- track changes is a function in Word where you can edit a document and your edits appear a different color in the electronic document, then the person that you hand the manuscript off to can go through each change one by one and accept or reject them in the electronic document, or you can just accept or reject all the changes in one step.

Fast forward to my postdoc. Postdoc adviser did everything with track changes, and nothing on the printed page. I confess it took me a while to get used to looking at manuscripts like this, being wedded to looking at the print copy and all, but I can’t deny the efficiency of being able to pass things back and forth electronically.

Now I’m fairly reliant on being able to write and edit like this, but I’m not a total convert. I frequently write with colleagues located in different physical locations than me, and for that it is critical to be able to pass text back and forth quickly- so electronic editing methods are a must. However, I still like to read the last versions of a manuscript on the printed copy and write notes in the margin. Why? I don’t know- I purposely go somewhere quiet and without a computer when I do this, so suppose it allows me to block out every other distraction, especially those on my computer. But I wonder, which is a better way for students to learn the process of writing, the red pen or track changes? By using track changes on manuscripts that my students write, am I doing what is easiest or most convenient for me- and not what is necessarily best for them to learn the process of writing? Do they really have to read as carefully as they would if I put it all down in pen- are they just selecting ‘accept all’ and not processing what I wrote to any significant extent?

Or does it depend on the student?

Murder on Campus

My heart goes out to the families of those faculty members killed by a colleague, another faculty member (who was reportedly denied tenure), during a faculty meeting on Friday at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.  Denial of tenure is a stressful event for everyone involved, most especially for the one denied obviously. But the loss of a job, and the change in career and the stress that comes with that could NEVER be justification for murder.

I’m so sorry for those whose lives were taken: Drs. G. K. Podila,  Maria Ragland Davis; and Adriel D. Johnson Sr., for their families, loved ones, and friends. I’m equally horrified for the children and family of the alleged perpetrator Dr. Amy Bishop.

On a personal level, I’m distressed by the loss of my image of  academia as a safe place, an environment where we ideally think that rigorous debate and disagreement can take place but that evidence and reason will ultimately prevail. Every time there is a shooting or other horrible act of violence on a college campus, I lose  another little piece of that idealistic notion.

How do you find the $$ for Child Care at Scientific Meetings

Yesterday, between book chapters (and right now you all are probably asking yourselves what the hell I’m doing BLOGGING), I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar given by a scientist whose work was highly influential in my graduate career- and that was really enjoyable. But going to seminar has other great benefits besides hearing someone you totally admire talk about their great science.  Primary among these benefits, of course, is running into colleagues who normally inhabit other parts of campus, that you really really REALLY need to talk to.

I saw one such colleague come into the seminar and was only too happy to have a lengthy conversation with him at the reception after the seminar. Said colleague is trying shamelessly to entice me into coming to a particular meeting later this year (he’s organizing)…and I get the feeling he’s trying to recruit a few other scientists who happen to be young women with children as well. Our conversation took an interesting turn when he mentioned that he would like to be able to set aside resources, and find funding sources, to be able to provide child care for this meeting. We all know that women still provide the majority of child care, and this can be a barrier keeping women with families from attending scientific meetings- right?

Although I have two children, I do not take them to meetings with me. For me this is a purely personal decision, I have difficulty focusing on meeting material when I’m multitasking kids on site, and now they are school age anyway so we can’t just pull them out of school whenever we feel the urge. I emphasize that this is just my personal preference though, for those of you that choose to take your children with you to meetings, I support your decision.  Now, with that said- leaving the kids at home with DrMrA does put a pretty strict lock on his hours while I am away…. and it would be great to get him a few hours of child care support when I am away. This restriction on the other working care giver’s schedule, in addition to just not wanting to be away from the kids too much, limits the amount of traveling that I do in a given year.

As for what I have seen available for child care at meetings, the large society meeting that I attend has a child care option built in, but I haven’t been able to figure out from the preliminary program whether there is an extra fee for this. I don’t recall that any of the smaller meetings that I have attended have offered any child care, or assistance finding child care, or financial assistance to defray the cost of child care.

So here is the question,  if you want to encourage women in science who happen to have kids to participate in scientific meetings, what can you do to address child care issues that might otherwise keep them away? Throwing money at the issue is a good way, I think- it allows women (and yes, whimple, all people with kids- but let’s agree that women are generally disproportionately affected) at least to lower the barrier on this issue. If you were organizing a meeting and providing funds to defray the cost of child care to attendees with children  is your chosen avenue to remedy- how do you come up with the $$ to fund such an effort? Secondly, if you are the organizer of a small meeting- how do you fairly distribute these funds, and how far do you go in setting up child care arrangements (i.e. do you have an organized child care on site, or do you simply provide funds to allow individuals maximum freedom to set up their own arrangements)?