• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    r u reddy on Supercitizens
    r u reddy on Supercitizens
    Sweet Sue on Supercitizens
    paper dollr doll on Supercitizens
    paper dollr doll on The White House ignored the St…
    paper dollr doll on The White House ignored the St…
    tdraicer on Supercitizens
    Philip Baum (@philip… on Supercitizens
    Sweet Sue on Supercitizens
    riverdaughter on Supercitizens
    Sweet Sue on Supercitizens
    riverdaughter on Supercitizens
    Sweet Sue on Supercitizens
    Sweet Sue on Supercitizens
    quixote on Supercitizens
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama big pharma Bill Clinton Chris Christie cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos debate Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean Joe Biden John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Keith Olbermann Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare occupy wall street OccupyWallStreet Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    August 2014
    S M T W T F S
    « Jul    
     12
    3456789
    10111213141516
    17181920212223
    24252627282930
    31  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

    • Getting ready for tonight’s game
      People hoping to get tickets for tonight's Philly v. Las Vegas game are wrapping around Lamade Stadium #llws #taney pic.twitter.com/dcSfbOS0S2 — Valerie Tysanner (@valerietysanner) August 20, 2014 Great story about the history of the Taney Little League...
  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • The End of the Rebels in the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s Future
      We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would [...]
  • Top Posts

Once upon a time…

Merck chemists go into exile

Once upon a time in New Jersey about 20 years ago, there was a company called Merck that everyone I knew wanted to work for.  The streets of Rahway were paved with gold.  We jokingly referred to our own company as a training facility for Merck and Bristol Myers.  The best of the best worked there for two years and then went to Merck.

At local conferences, the Merck people showed up in a pack, smug, condescending, and cast an otherworldly pool of light around them.  THEY wrote their own proprietary modeling software.  Even as late as two years ago, when Pharmageddon got its groove on, there was something magical about Merck people.  They were like fading elves.

Alas, all good fairy tales come to an end and so it was with Merck this week where the rumor is that medicinal chemistry, that is the research part that makes your drugs from scratch, oh best beloveds, has been decimated at Merck.  The rest of the story at Merck is unclear at this moment.  We’re still trying to piece together whether Merck is going to outsource their synthesis to poorly paid foreign PhDs or whether management, who hasn’t synthesized anything but performance standards and political fantasy baseball for years, is going to don their too tight lab coats and nitrile gloves and go back to the lab.  That should be interesting.

Once upon a time, the US had world class public research.  Then the big companies decided they didn’t want to do research anymore and they would pharm out their research to academic labs.  And they wrote policies about how this would be accomplished and the politicians said it was good because many of them didn’t know what the heck they were voting for.  And then the Republicans decided to “drown government in a bathtub” and because they are like Godzillas in Tokyo, they were pretty indiscriminate about what they were knocking down.  It turns out that the NIH keeps getting hit pretty hard and grants are harder and harder to come by with higher and higher bars to jump over and endless hours slaving over documents.  That time could be used to invent new techniques but research is very expensive and someone has to pay for it.  So the academic scientist spends much of his or her time begging to keep the reactions going and the lab rats paid.

Recently, during the government shutdown, Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, said this about the sequester and the tragedy of what is happening to this country’s life sciences infrastructure:

The sequester hitting as it did in the middle of the year meant that about 640 grants that would have been supported and highly regarded by peer review are now not going to receive funds. And those ideas are not going to happen. And breakthroughs that they might have represented will not occur. We will not know what we’ve missed because it’s gone. Imagine 640 bright, motivated scientists on the brink of doing something powerful that could have changed the way in which we diagnose, treat, and cure cancer or influenza or diabetes or some rare disease that desperately needs an answer; it’s just not going happen. I would argue with anybody who says that’s a minor consequence. It’s not; it’s a major negative outcome and a tragedy for what had been the world’s most successful search-engine in biomedicine.

Other countries, meanwhile, have read our play book and see their future in trying to do what we used to do. As we seem to be backing away, they are increasing their support. And if people care about American leadership, they should be worried.

Unless something (it’s called C-O-N-G-R-E-S-S) stops the next set of cuts in the sequester, the problem is going to get a lot worse.

I don’t see a happily ever after ending to the story right at this minute but, you know, I’m a Tolkienist so I’m not ready to give up hope yet. The situation at the present time is this. We have private industry pulling out of research because the shareholders are like opium addicts who expect bigger and bigger quarterly hits.  Long term investment doesn’t play nicely in the sandbox with an “ownership society” where everyone and their grandma is expected to put their savings into mutual funds that analysts and managers can gamble with.  And we have idiots like Rush Limbaugh who yee-haw that the sequester is the best thing since sliced bread because liberals are sucking on it.  I wouldn’t wish a Charlotte Corday situation on my worst enemy but I wouldn’t think twice about wishing a drug resistant version of Fournier’s Gangrene on Rush Limbaugh.

In the meantime, some of us still can’t quit science.  After two years in the desert, I have to pinch myself because I now have access to all the journal articles I can eat.  I’m afraid to click on the “Full Journal Article” button sometimes.  It’s almost not real, like ruby slippers.  {{Oh, wow, oh, wow!}}  But it’s almost cruel too because it’s so uncertain these days.   What is granted can so easily be taken away, like coaches that turn into pumpkins at midnight.  Sometimes, I think I might have been better off if I’d taken my academic advisor’s advice and studied law.  Then I think I’d rather eat glass than study torts.

So, science, yeah.  You can barely make a living at it anymore and yet can’t quit the habit. The best I can do at this point is try not to frighten the new, untested, warriors in training that there be dragons out there and to pass on what a wizard once told me, “Don’t let anybody steal your bliss.”

 

How to think critically

Learning how to think critically and to use the scientific method is not as easy as it sounds.  It’s even tougher to teach.  It takes practice and someone to show you how to do it.

Fortunately, there are good examples out there that demonstrate how it’s done.  One of my recent discoveries is the Time Team series from the BBC.  The basic premise of the show is this: there are archeological sites all over the British Isles dating to the neolithic to WWII.  A team of archeologists and geophysicists pick a site and in three days come up with a preliminary hypothesis on what happened there in the past.  I call it preliminary because in three days, it’s impossible to uncover everything there is to know.  The team can open only a few trenches.

What I’ve learned about Time Team is that they seem to have some of the most sophisticated geophysical and dating tools available.  When they do side by side excavations with other teams, they are able to test their hypotheses on the spot in a way that the locally employed archaeologists aren’t.  That’s another interesting thing about Britain.  The government employs a lot of archaeologists to be at the sites of major construction and at scheduled monuments.  But I get the feeling that unless the locally employed archaeologist turns up something unusual during a dig, they’re stuck with some rudimentary tools and have to send out their evidence for testing.  That’s where Time Team can do some fancy work.

So, Time Team comes to the site and throws every trick in their arsenal at the problem for three days.  They map out the site with geophysical data (magnetic resonance, radar, etc), scour the archives for any known history, employ carbon dating and pottery dating, which can give you instant results based on a kinetic signature of the rate of water absorption of ceramics after kilning, knowledge of flint knapping and early construction techniques.

What I find fascinating is that the team keeps changing its mind based on the evidence it finds during the dig.  It’s medieval. No, it’s Roman, look at this coin I found.  No, it’s bronze age.  See all the crappy flint knapping?  And there is a lot of collaboration, tossing around ideas, and changing direction when more evidence is needed.  And while it would be silly to suggest that Time Team has found out all of the answers in the three day period, you do get a better picture, complete with computer aided modeling, of what all of the evidence points to.

This is the way science is done.  Most of the time, there is no final answer but with evidence and analysis and asking the right questions, you can get a clearer picture of what is going on.  It’s hard work but it can also be fun and exciting.  Here’s an example of Time Team’s excavation of a site in County Antrim, Northern Ireland where the answers literally come out of the fog:

Now, imagine how things would work if you had to negotiate a contract with every member of that team and sign non-disclosure agreements where you couldn’t share information and that there was some purchasing department limiting the number of excavators you could have (contractors of course) and amount of money you could spend on carbon dating to three samples and some lean six sigma black belt running around the site telling you that everyone has to use the same Acme R107 spade and move dirt from left to right in piles no higher than 10 cm high.

That’s science in America these days.

Gender Bias in the Hard Sciences? No Duh

Madame Marie Curie- 2 time Nobel winner

Here’s the bad news:

Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as signifi- cantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants’ preexist- ing subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moder- ating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interven- tions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

I disagree with the premise in the first sentence after the abstract that there is a severe shortage of scientists that is going to worsen by the end of the decade.  That simply isn’t true.  What *is* true is that there will be a shortage of scientists who want to keep doing work in the sciences for minimum wage, which is where industry wants to take us.  Industry can keep whining about the lack of labor but what it really wants is cheap labor that it can lay off at will and underpay and as I  have said before, smart people tend to steer away from that kind of work.  If they make enough money, they can do science as a hobby, like D. E. Shaw.  But I digress.

Pick any woman working in the hard sciences, academic or industrial setting, and they will all of them tell you some personal horror story.  I myself know of several:

  • The female chemist who was hired to be a group manager.  I heard non-stop snippy comments from her male subordinants about how she was just a quota.  Her qualifications were nothing special.  She was taking the place of a more qualified male chemist.  No, they didn’t have anyone in mind specifically.  Just in general.  Since she was the ONLY woman at her level, I could never figure out why the guys felt they needed 100% of those positions all to themselves.  They couldn’t even fork over one position to a qualified woman?  Were we supposed to be running, some kind of affirmative action program for white male chemists because 90% representation at the managerial level was unacceptably low?  Are white male chemists some kind of protected group?  This was just after she took her position, so I could never figure out how they made the decision so quickly that she wasn’t worthy.  My interactions with her pretty good.  I liked the way she communicated.  It was low key but very focussed.  And she was pretty smart and asked the right questions.  She got to the heart of the matter without a lot of bullshit.  So, whatever those guys were seeing, I totally missed. Anyway, after a few years, she left the company and went elsewhere.   I still occasionally run into the guys who worked for her and while I consider them my friends, I think they were totally unfair to this woman.  They’re still grumbling about having had to work for her for no particular reason that I can tell.  There were a lot of male managers who they readily admit were worse in terms of expertise and managerial ability.  We laugh about a horror show they were, but for some reason, no one says they shouldn’t have had a crack at a managerial position. They feel quite differently about this female manager for no tangible reason.  It’s like, “I’d work for a woman but not that woman”.  But in actuality, they can’t think of a single woman they’d want to work for.  Go figure.
  • The female supervisor who got pushed out of the way for a male supervisor who schmoozed his way to the top and undermined her at every opportunity, in front of her direct reports and behind her back.  There were witnesses to the out in front behavior and behind closed doors behavior. She got very little credit for the mountains of work she did.  Having worked with her closely, I know she was very smart and actually knew the science.  The man who replaced her was a lot more political and connected.
  • The guys who steal projects from women, usurp their authority, have meetings with her collaborators behind her back and then accuse them of being “out of the loop” and “not up to date” afterwards.  That is extremely successful.  Those guys get promotions.  Well, it’s a cutthroat world and the number of jobs are shrinking.  It’s every man for himself.
  • When there are positions available, they go to men.  When there are promotions, they go to men.  Sometimes the same man, over and over and over again.  That is why some departments have very few women in them.  Women remain junior for much longer and do not get mentored.  When it is time to cut staff, the junior people get the ax.  Voile! No more women.
  • Women get graded on their behavior.  They are always told to not be too pushy.  But if they back off too much, they can’t get their work done.  Then, they are told to be more assertive.  So, they try that, but they’re told it’s not assertive in the “right” way.  You’re either “not a team player and too aggressive” or “ineffective”.  Your success depends on your ability to walk on eggshells.  What does this have to do with the actual science?  Nada.  But if the guys don’t want to play with you, and these days when there are fewer and fewer jobs, they have a lot of incentives to make your contributions look insignificant, it’s exceptionally easy for them to pull out the behavioral critique to put you in your place.  They wouldn’t get away with that with a man because men in science are perceived to be more competent and pushy behavior in a man is seen as a good thing.

The GOOD news is that this should be a somewhat more tractable problem to solve in the sciences because scientists have a greater respect for actual data.  If you collect enough data and take enough measurements and show correlations and present this information in a seminar with enough numbers and charts and graphs, they might start treating it like a problem that needs to be solved.  It could be another project.

There is also the possibility of using diversity and sensitivity training to work through why men have their crazy ass attitudes to women who are just trying to do their jobs.  For instance, men who have stay at home wives who do not work are probably the worst bosses for women.  That’s not to say that they are mean or slavedrivers.  It’s just that they see the world through a traditional male-female point of view.  A man who works for such a boss is going to be seen as more needful of promotions and raises because the boss with a stay at home wife identifies with a male’s traditional responsibility.  But he may not be able to identify with his female direct reports and their responsibilities.  Show that boss enough papers and studies in respectable peer reviewed journals and he may be easier to re-educate.  This might not be the case with the guy who runs the accounting department (well, not right away), but scientists should be more responsive when they see all conditions and parameters tweaked and analyzed.

Well, anyway, that’s the way they handle gender bias in Finland.  They have a department that analyses workplaces where there are allegations of gender bias and they measure EVERYTHING.  That is where the truth lies.  It is not a “he said-she said” problem.  That’s too subjective and rarely works unless someone leaves a smoking email or is caught on tape. But absolutely everything can be measured.  It’s a much fairer, more objective way of finding the truth. Your attitudes and conditioning lead you to do certain things, write certain things, order your environment a certain way.  You can count the number of times male colleagues respond to a female colleague’s emails and phone calls, what meetings she is invited to, how many time she is responded to during those meetings, who is talking while she is presenting and for how long, how many times is she interrupted, how close her workspace is to positions of importance, how much space she has in square feet.  You can search performance reviews for words that describe behavior instead of competence and outcome. Do the same for male reports, compare and contrast. If there is gender bias in the data, it will be hard to ignore.

If Obama were really the feminist icon he’s supposed to be, he’d order the EEOC to apply the statistical analysis model to ferret out the truth instead of putting all the burden on women plaintiffs. I’m not holding my breath.  But it COULD happen.  If women file a complaint against a company or managers, the burden should be on the company to prove it isn’t true.  Submit to a statistical analysis and see what turns up.  Men like statistics, right? Women could develop a new appreciation for them as well.  The goal is not to punish but to make people accountable for their behavior whether they are aware of it or not.  Of course, repeat offenders should be punished but this method is more likely to figure out what it is they’re being punished for.

Hmmmm, maybe what we really need is a very powerful woman and true feminist icon to advocate for this kind of thing once she leaves public office.  {{hint, hint}}

Anyway, the study comes as no surprise.  I haven’t read the PNAS paper all the way through yet.  (How nice that PNAS is offering this one gratis.) This study won’t be the last you’ll be hearing about this.  That’s because women are starting to realize that they can make math and numbers work for them.  They just need access to the data.

Convergence: Social distance, Nuns and happiness

The Nuns on the Bus Tour

These three items go together:

First up, Chris Hayes talked to Jay Ackroyd on Virtually Speaking about his new book Twilight of the Elites.  Chris presents the idea of social distance, the tendency of privileged groups to become physically and socially isolated from people who do not share their educational backgrounds or higher incomes.  Chris has been speaking about his book at many venues, such as The New School where he discussed the flaws in the meritocratic system.  At one point, the moderator says that the social distancing phenomenon and meritocratic/cheating behavior hasn’t hit science yet.  I would strongly disagree.  Right now, we are witnessing the transfer of those values to science in an accelerated fashion.  And sometimes, when the change is sped up, the manner by which it is implemented is more obvious than if it were gradual and happened over many decades.

The second podcast comes from Fresh Air where Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious talks about the investigation the Catholic Church conducted on her group, which represents roughly 80% of American nuns.  This is another opportunity to watch how social distancing works.  Sister Pat talks about how day to day contact with social and economic injustice has inspired compassion in many of her group’s members and has caused them to challenge whether the teachings of the church are consistent with their vocation.  The Catholic Church hierarchy, especially the bishops, do not confront these issues on a daily basis because they are more concerned with internal church affairs.

Terry Gross handled this interview with great sensitivity. She was our proxy and asked questions that many of us wonder. Like, why are the nuns still in a religion that treats them like second class citizens because they are women?  This interview is not to be missed and ranks right up there as one of Gross’s best. Like her, I was frustrated that their time was up.  There is so much more I want to know.  I found myself very sympathetic to the plight of these nuns.  Their group is about to lose its autonomy if they do not submit to church authority and conform to its teachings.  If you take a vow of obedience, to whom are you obedient?  An earthly authoritarian structure or your conscience?

The last thing is a musical mantra sung by Snatam Kaur.  This is a new addition to my musical library.  It’s not really my kind of thing.  I’m not religious and I think that nature is super enough to be amazing and wondrous without a personal diety. But it is so lovely that it’s a nice way to focus and relax.  It reminded me of the quote I recently saw from Robert Ingersoll:

“Happiness is the only good.
The place to be happy is here.
The time to be happy is now.
The way to be happy is to make others so”

This verse from Ong Namo is soothing:

Oh my beloved
Kindness of the heart
Breath of Life
I bow to you.

Tuesday: Science, politics and niche theory

Update: I totally missed this.  The FCC is proposing new rules for broadband and wireless providers.  Depending on whether you have a landline method of delivery or wireless, your internet stream will be regulated differently.  This is particularly important because the world is going wireless so it could be a coup for the masters of the universe that want more control of content and how much you will pay for it.  They’re already gouging us.  Why make it easier for them to control what you can have and how fast?  We already lag Romania in terms of internet connection speed.  Romania.

According to the report “2010 Report of Internet Speeds in All 50 States” released recently by the Communications Workers of America (CWA):

“The report shows that the rate of increase in U.S. Internet connection speed is so slow, it will take the United States 60 years to catch up with current Internet speeds in South Korea, the country with the fastest Internet connections.”

It’s inexcusable that we’re going to let wireless companies off the hook and not make them invest in their infrastructure.  Allowing them two tiered data plans gives them exactly what they want: more money without having to lift a finger to improve their equipment.

ROMANIA.

Jeez, just twenty years ago, Ceaucescu was running the country, it was dark and dreary, there was nothing to buy there and babies in orphanages were dying from HIV infected blood transfusions.  Now, they have better internet access than we do.  I have an iPhone in central NJ and I still can’t get a signal in my office at work right in the heart of AT&T country.  How can lawmakers even contemplate this kind of change without requiring wireless companies to get with the program that the rest of the world enjoys?

Unbelievable.

Moving on…

Yesterday, I was perusing Derek Lowe’s pharma chem blog, In the Pipeline, and he had a post up called Politics in the Lab about a recent article in Slate with the weird title “Most Scientists in this Country are Democrats.  That’s a problem”.  I don’t know that’s a problem and I’m not sure it’s even true, but I’ll get to that below.

The chewy center of this article seems to be that until there are more Republican scientists, the field won’t be bipartisan enough to get its point across.  Huh?  The author states:

Yet, partisan politics aside, why should it matter that there are so few Republican scientists? After all, it’s the scientific facts that matter, and facts aren’t blue or red.

Well, that’s not quite right. Consider the case of climate change, of which beliefs are astonishingly polarized according to party affiliation and ideology. A March 2010 Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of Democrats(and 74 percent of liberals) say the effects of global warming are already occurring, as opposed to 31 percent of Republicans. Does that mean that Democrats are more than twice as likely to accept and understand the scientific truth of the matter? And that Republicans are dominated by scientifically illiterate yahoos and corporate shills willing to sacrifice the planet for short-term economic and political gain?

It doesn’t seem plausible that the dearth of Republican scientists has the same causes as the under-representation of women or minorities in science. I doubt that teachers are telling young Republicans that math is too hard for them, as they sometimes do with girls; or that socioeconomic factors are making it difficult for Republican students to succeed in science, as is the case for some ethnic minority groups. The idea of mentorship programs for Republican science students, or scholarship programs to attract Republican students to scientific fields, seems laughable, if delightfully ironic.

Yet there is clearly something going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood. As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue. They will, of course, be loath to do so because it threatens their most cherished myths of a pure science insulated from dirty partisanship. In lieu of any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of science, we can expect calls for more “science literacy” as public confidence begins to wane. But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.

Ahem.  I find this article truly disturbing for several reasons.  But let’s go back to YearlyKos2 in Chicago when Pharyngula of ScienceBlogs, presided over a panel on Science and the public or some silly title.  I was shocked by how arrogant and dismissive the panel was of the average American who didn’t believe in climate change and evolution.  Yeah, I know how incredibly frustrating it is to get family members to buy into evolution.  But I’ve made peace with the fact that if I describe the theory of natural selection well enough, they will accept it without having to go back to the beginnings of time to find out where God is in the picture.  It can be done.  You have to choose your battles.

What’s frustrating to me is that there are a lot of Democrats who are just as irrational and gullible.  Their fears and misunderstandins are just different- nuclear energy, genetically modified seeds, colony collapse, thimerosol in innoculations (that absolutely do not cause autism).  I’ve argued with many of them to no avail.  They are as resistent to facts as creationists.  It has been particularly frustrating when it comes to pharmaceutical science where many people on the left, and you dear reader may be one of them, are convinced that the researchers are cold, heartless, profit driven monsters who are either making nothing but “Me too!” drugs or don’t care if they make poisons that only serve to treat some manufactured quality of life problem or they get all their ideas from government sponsored labs and don’t contribute anything.  They just take, take, take and never give back.  Admit it.  That’s what some of you think, right?  (If I were you, I’d ask myself who benefits from that perception?)  But I don’t really want to go there right now.  That’s not my point.

Here’s my point: Not everyone is cut out to be a scientist.  That’s why people don’t go into the field.  It means studying lots of math, wrapping your head around stuff like quantum theory (which isn’t necessarily impossibly hard to understand but it is very, very weird) and spending hours in a lab hunched over smelly chemicals and microscopes.  Some people take their required science courses in high school, get a passing grade and move on.  And that’s fine.  The world needs writers and mechanics and accountants and elementary ed teachers too.  It’s not that the field is too hard.  If you are diligent and motivated enough, you can learn anything.  But some people just aren’t passionate about science. If it’s not your  niche, that’s OK.

But if that’s the case, please don’t pontificate on science.  I don’t care if you’re right or left.  Just don’t.  You sound uninformed to those of us who do it for a living.  Like most Americans, Democrats find it just as hard to assess risk and can be just as gullible when it comes to evaluating the merits of a science article in the New York Times.  That kind of analytical ability comes with time and from reading a lot of papers.  There are even some bloggers who I love in most every respect except when they go off on a science jag.  Then they quickly lose their mojo and I just have to walk away shaking my head.  And I don’t think that the labs are teeming with Democrats.  There may be a slight tilt that way but there are just as many Republicans in the lab as Democrats.  Most people I know are independents.  In my humble opinion, Democrats are born that way; Republicans evolve.  And when Republican scientists evolve, they become management, which may mean that they are finding their own niches.

Now, don’t go away mad.  I’m not saying that Democratic bloggers should never discuss science.  And I’m not saying scientists are knowledgeable about every field.  We’re not.  Gawd knows I struggle every day to understand new science.  Things remain a mystery until you beat your head on the bench long enough.  What I am saying is that if it isn’t your cup of tea, proceed with caution.  If you *are* interested in a particular area of science or science issue du jour, you owe it to yourself to read up on the subject in the way that any scientist would.  Dig into it by learning all you can from people in the field before you pop off some opinion. Learn to evaluate data (BTW, the nomination of Obama during the 2008 primary season should put to rest the notion that Democrats are better at evaluating evidence. Really, there’s nothing to crow about there guys.).  

Now, where can you get information about science?  First, if you have an eReader of any kind, you can find free text books in just about any subject.  Second, our government does an outstanding job providing resources to the public through such sites as PubMed and PubChem where you can find abstracts and links to scientific literature, entire genomes, sequences, chemical structures and their properties, etc. The abstracts are free, the actual articles may not be.  You can purchase access to full articles through several services at nominal cost. There are tools like BLAST to compare nucleic acid and protein sequences, a database repository of protein structures in the RCSB, and lots of other sites of open source information in easy to use interfaces.  Some of them come with java viewers so that you can rotate molecules of interest.  If you wanted to start your own pharma, be a real entrepeneur, like the Republicans are always advocating, there’s plenty of free stuff online to use.  This is real time, up to date information, free to the public from the NIH and other government funded sources. We share our information with the world and the world with us.  That’s the way we advance science.  The sites belong to us, courtesy of us, the US taxpayer, and it’s one of the most valuable things we do.  Third, there are some popular blogs and podcasts out there where new science is covered in detail but also explained thoroughly for the non-science type.  I recommend the Naked Scientists from Cambridge University in the UK.  Their podcasts are challenging but fun and they will not talk down to you.

If there is one thing you can do for science this year, it’s advocate for the continuation of these valuable online tools.

One more thing:  Derek linked to a survey from the Pew Foundation on the public view of science.  You can test your scientific knowledge and get your score compared to the rest of the country by taking this online quiz.  I scored a 100%.  Nyah-nyah!

Tuesday Morning: Melange

There’s no consistent theme in this collection of posts.  Or maybe there is but I can’t find it yet.

To start off, let’s say for a moment that Democrats actually get their $#@% together and decide to primary Obama.  (not exactly a fantasy and not nearly as remote as it was last week at this time)  Who is the most likely person to succeed, I mean, besides the obvious?

My guess is Jim Webb, Senator from Virginia.  Now, Webb has a few liabilities and I’ll get to them in a minute.  But with Webb versus Obama, you would get the classic matchup between the Stevensonian and Jacksonian parts of the Democratic party.  The Stevensonians have their hands on power right now, or what’s left of it, since they’ve made a total mess of things.  But the Jacksonians have the votes the Democrats need to win next time.

RealClearPolitics featured a conversation with Webb yesterday about how to win back the Reagan Democrats.  I actually don’t like the term “Reagan Democrat”, which is why the media is probably going to use it every chance they get.  I’m certainly no fan of Reagan and have been a liberal all my life.  But Webb actually gets it better than most people who are sticking a label on disaffected Democrats:

We’re talking about why voters didn’t come around. Webb is weighing my report the morning after the election: Democrats won the smallest share of white voters in any congressional election since World War II.

“I’ve been warning them,” Webb says, sighing, resting his chin on his hand. “I’ve been having discussions with our leadership ever since I’ve been up here. I decided to run as a Democrat because I happen to strongly believe in Jacksonian democracy. There needs to be one party that very clearly represents the interests of working people … I’m very concerned about the transactional nature of the Democratic Party. Its evolved too strongly into interest groups rather than representing working people, including small business people.”

[...]

Webb seems less at home today. He identifies himself as a Democrat. But he has few Democratic leaders to identify with. He won’t say this. His criticism is discernibly girdled. He begins to tell a story about a conversation with a Democratic leader and pulls back. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he mutters. “I have had my discussions. I’ve kept them inside the house. I did not want to have them affect this election, quite frankly. I didn’t want to position myself in the media as a critic of the administration.”

But criticism is in order. Democrats’ suffered historical losses from Congress to the state houses last week. It’s an apt moment for Webb to step in. He is an atypical politician. Politics is not his alpha or omega. He’s authored more than half a dozen books, succeeded as a screenwriter and won an Emmy for his coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut. This success outside politics empowers him to be less political. Yet what suits Webb to criticism is not that. It’s the political sociology he embodies.

Webb represents an endangered species. It’s more than his red state Democratic stature, although that would be reason enough. The moderate House Democratic coalition lost more than half its lawmakers last week. But that Blue Dog set is still more common than Webb.

Webb’s one of the last FDR Democrats. An economic populist. A national security hawk. His Democratic politics are less concerned with social groups than social equality (of opportunity, not outcome). His values were predominant in the Democrat Party from FDR to JFK, the period in the twentieth century when Democrats were also dominant.

Before we go on, notice how the conventional wisdom saturated media, in its quest to shape a narrative (or under orders from someone else) positions Blue Dog Democrats as “moderates”.  Anyone who has been paying even a minimal amount of attention to politics knows that Blue Dog Democrats are just as conservative as their Republican colleagues.  But I digress.

In some respects, Webb is similar to Hillary Clinton.  (He could have lifted that last paragraph right out of our credo.) He’s got enough governmental experience to make Obama look completely unqualified: Combat vet, former Secretary of the Navy, Congressional liaison, novelist, journalist, Emmy winner, lawyer, Senator.  His son enlisted and served in Iraq, yet he is not an Iraq War proponent.  In 2008, there were rumors that he was up for consideration as Obama’s VP.  But he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the VP position.  Is it because he had concerns about Obama or because he wanted the top position some day?  As far as superdelegates go, I think he held out as uncommitted for a long time.  Actually, I wish all of them had waited but that’s besides the point.  Karma will take care of the ones who jumped aboard the Obama bandwagon early.

Now, for his liabilities.

Continue reading

Friday Morning News

bd_morning_paper

California Wildfires

Arson caused California blaze

A massive fire that has charred nearly 145,000 acres in Southern California and destroyed dozens of homes north of Los Angeles was caused by arson, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said Thursday.

A homicide investigation has been initiated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department into the deaths of two firefighters as a result of the Station fire, said spokeswoman Rita Wears. The firefighters died Sunday in a vehicle crash while trying to escape fast-moving flames.

Arson fire is most unacceptable crime, Sheriff says

Massachusetts Senate Contest

Martha Coakley has officially thrown her hat into the ring

“We face a crisis of confidence. We have lost our distinguished and tenacious senator, Ted Kennedy,” Coakley said Thursday at an event surrounded by supporters. “We have depended upon him in the commonwealth and in Washington, and we will miss his strength, his leadership and his sense of humor. As some have noted, no one can fill his shoes, but we must strive to follow in his footsteps.”

Coakley is the first candidate on either side to officially enter the race for the seat that for more than four decades was held by Kennedy, who died last week.

On a more bizarre note, former Red Sox pitcher, and right wing nut Curt Schilling would not rule out running for the Massachusetts Senate seat.

“I do have some interest in the possibility,” Schilling wrote Wednesday on his blog, 38 Pitches (named after his uniform number with the Red Sox). “That being said, to get there from where I am today, many, many things would have to align themselves.”

A registered Independent, Schilling campaigned for George W. Bush in 2004 and for John McCain last year, and often vents, in populist voice, against Washington insiders who have lost touch with constituents.

Ted Kennedy’s Autobiography

Chappaquidick haunted me ‘every day of my life’

In a memoir titled “True Compass,” to be published Sept. 14, Kennedy called his actions in the 1969 car crash that led to the death of his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne “inexcusable.” When his car drove off the bridge, he wrote, he was afraid, overwhelmed and “made terrible decisions.” The senator was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and given a two-month suspended sentence.

Writing at the end of his life, as he struggled against brain cancer, Kennedy concluded: “That night on Chappaquiddick Island ended in a horrible tragedy that haunts me every day of my life.” Forced to live with the guilt over his failure to report the accident for hours, he acknowledged that Kopechne’s family suffered far worse. “Atonement is a process that never ends,” he wrote.

The Ongoing Health Care Nightmare

Health Care Idea Has Public Plan Only as Backup

As President Obama faces conflicting pressures from the left and the right over his proposal for a new public health insurance program, White House officials are investigating a possible compromise under which the government would offer its own health plan only if private insurers failed to provide affordable coverage.

No, Mr. O, that just isn’t going to be good enough. Think again.

Obama Will Lay Out Specifics in Health-Care Speech, Aides Say

Uh huh….I’ll believe that when I see it. Obama has never been specific about any policy yet.

Don’t be fooled by the public option

The fight over the public option has occupied much of the media coverage, but left unsaid is the fact that weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations have weakened the public option proposal to the point that it is hardly an option at all.

Who’s Blocking Health Care Reform Now? Blue Dogs? Senate Dems? House Progressives? Or the White House Itself?

The only obstacle to passage of the president’s health care — or health insurance legislation is the White House itself. Barack Obama knows better than any of us the difference between what he promised and what is about to be delivered. The undeniable difference is dawning on much of the public too, and is reflected in sagging poll numbers for Democrats and the president. The dozens of Democrats who have declared they will vote against any health care — or health insurance — bill that does not contain what they call a “public option,” are only trying to insulate themselves and protect President Obama from the worst consequences of his own treachery in selling out the vision of universal health care to big pharma and the insurance companies. They aren’t blocking the president’s bill. They’re trying to ensure that there is something in the bill they can defend to the outraged public who elected them to pass health care reform.

Black Caucus warns Obama on speech

Man bites off another man’s finger at Obama health care rally in CA

Ventura County sheriff’s deputies were called to Lynn Road and Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks near Los Angeles, according to TV station KTLA.

There, an estimated 100 supporters of healthcare reform affiliated with MoveOn.org had gathered as part of a nationwide array of pre-Labor Day rallies to attract attention in support of Obama’s reform plans currently before Congress.

Instead, the rally attracted the attention of a group of anti-healthcare-reform protesters across the street….

A scuffle ensued. And the pro-protester had a finger bitten off. (Updated at 8:18 a.m.: Conflicting later reports indicate the biter was a healthcare proponent and the now nine-fingered man an opponent.)

Interview with man who had finger bitten off at town hall

State Department

U.S. Suspends $30M to Honduras

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Thursday that the United States would formally suspend nearly $30 million in aid to the coup-installed government in Honduras. She also suggested for the first time that the United States might not recognize the country’s elections this fall if the ousted president was not returned to power by then.

How will Hillary Clinton, State Department respond to obscene behavior at U.S. embassy?

U.S. embassy in Kabul bans alcohol at guard camp

Torture

Report Suggests Physicians Experimented on Detainees in U.S. Custody

CIA doctors face human experimentation claims

The American Medical Association, the largest body of physicians in the US, said it was in open dialogue with the Obama administration and other government agencies over the role of doctors. “The participation of physicians in torture and interrogation is a violation of core ethical values,” it said.

The most incendiary accusation of PHR’s latest report, Aiding Torture, is that doctors actively monitored the CIA’s interrogation techniques with a view to determining their effectiveness, using detainees as human subjects without their consent. The report concludes that such data gathering was “a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation”.

Human experimentation without consent has been prohibited in any setting since 1947, when the Nuremberg Code, which resulted from the prosecution of Nazi doctors, set down 10 sacrosanct principles. The code states that voluntary consent of subjects is essential and that all unnecessary physical and mental suffering should be avoided.

Has everyone completely forgotten about MK-Ultra? More on MK-ULtra:

Project MK-ULTRA, or MKULTRA, was the code name for a covert CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. The program began in the early 1950s, continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used United States citizens as its test subjects.[1][2][3] The published evidence indicates that Project MK-ULTRA involved the surreptitious use of many types of drugs, as well as other methods, to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function.

Project MK-ULTRA was first brought to wide public attention in 1975 by the U.S. Congress, through investigations by the Church Committee, and by a presidential commission known as the Rockefeller Commission. Investigative efforts were hampered by the fact that CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MK-ULTRA files destroyed in 1973; the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission investigations relied on the sworn testimony of direct participants and on the relatively small number of documents that survived Helms’ destruction order.[4]

Although the CIA insists that MK-ULTRA-type experiments have been abandoned, 14-year CIA veteran Victor Marchetti has stated in various interviews that the CIA routinely conducts disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continued. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti specifically called the CIA claim that MK-ULTRA was abandoned a “cover story.”[5][6]

Doesn’t anyone remember the Church hearings? Come on people, the seventies weren’t *that* long ago.

Afghanistan

Obama’s meaningless war

Gates open to sending more troops to Afghanistan

Afghanistan War is not slipping away

Famous last words before Gates goes the way of Rumsfeld?

Science and Nature

Are there specific genes that make us uniquely human?

New Antibodies to HIV found

Arctic warmest in 2,000 years

We’re all mutants, say scientists

Oddball News: Boston Gangsters

Famed Boston gangster Whitey Bulger turned 80 on Thursday.

Whitey Bulger needs his candles blown out

FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive

Where the heck is he, anyway?

Former mob underboss laid to rest

The Two Dons are Dead

Have a Fabulous Friday!!

Digg!!! Tweet!!! Share!!!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Furl | Newsvine

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 446 other followers