Archive for: October, 2013

Happy Science Trails!

Oct 23 2013 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am excited to say that I have started a new, FULL TIME job as the Science Education Writer at Science News for Students! You can check out all my science education stuff over at Eureka!Lab! And don't worry, Scicurious will continue! I've got my new digs up and running over at Science News, and the science...and the WEIRD SCIENCE, will continue on!!!

I have been, and always will be, a proud Scientopian. And you might see a personal post or two here from me from time to time. 🙂 And of course I'll be here, reading and commenting  at some of my fav places.

So readers and fellow bloggers, please update your bookmarks, and make sure not to miss any Scicurious! The blog continues on!

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Building a new normal

Oct 21 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism, Uncategorized

This is the post about Bora. And the "community" that I thought was there. There's been other stuff going on as well. But this one is about Bora.

 

I warn you all that this post is very hard for me. Normally what you see here, even the longer ranting or opinion pieces on academic life, even the big reviews on opponent process theory or long posts on a paper? Those are drafted and posted on the fly. I hammer them out in a single sitting, fast as you like, and throw them onto the internet. Maybe I'll have a friend or two look over an opinion post. But usually not.

But this? This I went over, over and over, in my head. This I took notes for. I wrote an OUTLINE. It's the only way I feel I can fit all the thoughts and feelings in, and even then, I don't think that I'll hit them all.

I don't process on the internet. I don't process on twitter or write posts trying to understand my feelings. I never have, I probably never will. Partially because, when I process, I do so in far more than 140 characters. Partially because, at this point, if I say something I regret... I say it to 23,000 people. And I shudder at the idea of saying something wrong, or something hurtful to someone else, to 23,000 people. And it's partially because I just can't react that fast. It means I've been quiet on a lot of issues, even though people have told me I need to say something. I do want to say something. I just want to make sure I've processed, and that it's the thing I need to say. My silence does NOT mean I do not support the victims. Far from it.

It's taken me a lot of time to process. In the first few days, I drank more than was good for me, I admit. I ran more than was good for me, too (which is very possible). More miles vanished under my heels in two days than I'd run in the previous 10 days combined. I would think I felt better, and come back to a fresh cut. I went whole days forgetting to eat. Not sleeping, waking up in a panic thinking it couldn't be this way.

I know this seems like an over-reaction. But I felt like my world was falling down. Science blogging, BORA, who introduced me to science blogging, made me love science again. Bora, and his guidance, got me where I am. Entering into the world of science blogging showed me where my real talent lay. It gave me an entree into a new career that I am unbelievably excited about. I'm so glad to have found something that I'm good at, and that I love. For all this, I thanked Bora. I still do. Science blogging has become my world. It contains most of my friends. It's no longer a world I can step away from and back into the lab. It's my career now. My life.

But it turns out...Bora was not the man I thought he was. I trusted him implicitly. He told me to jump blogs, I would jump. He told me to apply for something, I would. Without hesitation. To me, he was a mentor. Almost paternal. He told me I was his oldest blogdaughter (from way back in '08). He was never inappropriate to me.

But he was horrible, horrible, to others. And it was chilling, and nauseating, to read. I met Bora like all of them did. In a coffee shop. Alone. Nervous. I was no different.

And now I wonder if I was just being used for my sense of loyalty. I think it's obvious to many people who know me. My college boss from the old coffee shop used to tell me I was like a big labrador retriever. I LIKE you! I like you all! I want you to like ME! I trust you implicitly and I think you're GREAT. And if you knock me down, I'll come bounding back, still thinking we're buds. I'm very, very loyal to my friends. They make mistakes, and I know that. Often, I forgive them instantly.

But when those mistakes HURT people. Hurt many, many people. Hurt their own families, possibly beyond repair. Hurt careers. Use power to take what they want. Lie to me. Lie to everyone. Hurt MY FRIENDS.

Even the friendliest dog has a line.

I feel terrible for his victims. I feel terrible that my faith in Bora, in a way, kept him able to harass others. I admire their bravery, their grace. I am with them in every way.

People have been having the uncomfortable, difficult, painful conversations. I've been having a lot of them myself. I have found out that this thing I thought was my community...was not a community to everyone. I have found out that where I tried to be inclusive...people felt excluded. This was not the "community" of everyone at all. I have found that the ScienceOnline meeting, the place where I felt the safest I have ever felt outside my own house...people did not feel safe.

Bora is not the man I thought he was. And the science communication community was not the place I thought it was.

The whole week has been full of downs. But toward the end. I started to see #ripples of hope. Not just the hashtag (though that alone is brilliant), but from other bloggers, saying, we can, in the future, be better. We want to be better. We WILL be better. People taking decisive action.

And I have been incredibly impressed with many of my colleagues. Yes, people fought, and jumped to conclusions, and etc. But there have been no death threats or rape threats, and compared to some communities I've seen...well I'm impressed. I always thought I wrote with and worked with some amazingly good people. Now, I KNOW it.

And it gives me hope. It makes me believe we can do better. It has made me think HARD about how I behave at conferences. Am I friendly? Am I too friendly? Do I exclude people by accident, without knowing? Am I ever in power over someone...even when I may not realize it?

I may have to change how I operate. All of us may. Our rose colored glasses are gone. But I am willing to change. I think many people are. They are willing to admit that what we had...wasn't as great as we thought. And willing to help build a new normal. I hope it's teaching us to listen. I hope it's teaching us to see. Even when we don't like it.

I'm working with some people to help. I would like to help make Science Online the amazing experience I have had for as many people as I can. I would like to make it safe. I've got a few ideas, and I've seen some great ones around. But does anyone else have ideas? Twitter has been a free-flowing stream, and I don't want things that I could help with to flow past. Please please put them in the comments. I'd love to keep track. I'd love to help build a new, better, more trustworthy normal.

 

ADDENDUM: ScienceOnline is very committed to making stuff better. Karyn is collected responses. So please if you have ideas, send her a summary (not a link or a storify or a tweet, a summary) to karyn@scienceonline.com. Together we can make this better.

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Guest Post 5: Accomodasians don't make waves

Oct 17 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism

Guest Post 5 is now live over at SciAm, and it's a GREAT post from Amasian V, of Scientopia! Head over to check out his fantastic post.

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Guest post 4! Don't just assume you should know

Oct 17 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism

Today I'm very proud to feature Ivonne Pena at SciAm today, telling us some important things about context. Many people just assume that others know what a syllabus is, how to get around, etc. But when you are here in academia from a foreign country, it is not so simple. Head over and check it out!

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Guest Post 3: Microaggressions

Oct 16 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism, Scicurious Guest Writers

Today I'm very pleased to show off the Microaggressions Tumblr over at SciAm. The group is doing great work and is here with me to tell you all about the harmful affects of microaggression, and how to bring them to light. Head over and check it out!

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Guest Post 2: Automatic Othering

Oct 15 2013 Published by under Activism, Scicurious Guest Writers

Over at SciAm Blogs today, we've already got the second guest post up. Hermitage is there to tell us some uncomfortable truths about diversity in academia. She's a got a great post up, make sure to head over and check it out.

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Guest post 1: In the end, let's make sure something good comes out.

Oct 15 2013 Published by under Activism, Scicurious Guest Writers

Over at SciAm today, the first of the week's guest posts is up! Please head over and read about Rim's experiences...and what she decided to do about them.

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Let's #standwithDNLee, let's get voices heard.

Oct 14 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism

I'm at SciAm Blogs today, where I'm introducing a whole week of Guest posts. I'm sure many of you have heard what happened to Danielle Lee this past weekend. I would like to take her goals, and use them to expand the conversation. From the Buzzfeed article:

Though she’s grateful for the support, Lee said she wishes the attention was geared toward one of her already existing missions in the science community, like increasing diversity.

“If that many people were going to come out in support of me, I’d rather it be in support of one of the missions that’s going to make me redundant. I am trying to make myself redundant, truth be told. It is a lonely place to constantly be the only one like you in science,” she said.

Let's use the opportunity to get voices heard. At SciAm, you'll see a whole week of guest posts. People who you should pay attention to, with voices very, very worth hearing. Check it out.

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Friday Weird Science: Oral Sex Gets Fishy

Oct 11 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

When it comes to parenting, some animals will go the extra mile. Possums, for example, have their young clinging on as they trundle around. Kangaroos give birth to immature young that they keep in a pouch until it's bursting at the seams. Humans let 30 year old offspring move back in.

And fish? Do mouth brooding.

The fish above has a mouthful of eggs. It's a cichlid. And some species of cichlid will go the extra...mouthful to protect their eggs. They are so worried about the predation of their eggs that the females lay eggs, circle around, and then immediately gobble them up, holding them in their mouths until the fry hatch, and often even longer, until they are big enough to make it on their own.

However, it turns out that the female fish are in such a rush to pick up their eggs, they sometimes don't even give them time to get fertilized! Holding a mouth of unfertilized eggs seems like kind of a waste. But the males have figured out not just how to get fertilization to happen...they got some oral sex out of the bargain.

Sort of.

Mrowka, W. "Oral Fertilization in a Mouthbrooding Cichlid Fish" Ethology, 1987.

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Of Genes and Eating Disorders

Oct 09 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are difficult psychiatric disorders. They are especially tragic because, while they may seem like just messed up eating, they are far, far more. Eating disorders have some of the highest rates of death of any psychiatric disease, as malnutrition puts the body at risk.

When we think of eating disorders, though, we tend to think of them from a cultural angle. It's because our culture is so obsessed with thin, no one can ever be thin enough, and so that must bring out eating disorders. It is true that a culture which glorifies skinny the way ours does tend to bring out more extreme dieting than one that does not. But it is also true that eating disorders are far more than the product of a culture which glorifies the size 0. Reports and descriptions of anorexia, for example, date all the way back to the Greeks, and famous case studies that fully described the disorder date from the 1860's. There is clearly a genetic component, anorexia in particular runs strongly in families. There is also a potential sex effect, eating disorders are far more common in women than in men.

Eating disorders are a combination disease, a combination of genetic risks and environmental triggers, including things like stress. Unfortunately, it's been difficult to identify specific genes that predispose people to eating disorders. Studying large populations of people with the disease and find some common genetic variants, for example, but for such a complex disorder that is not dependent on a single gene, many of those will also be present in healthy populations.

Another approach is instead to look at families which have a strong history of eating disorders, to see what common genes are passed down. While this has its own limitations (for example, you then have to look for the occurrence of those genes in the wider population, and being within a single family or two, there are bound to be environmental factors that aren't present elsewhere), it's a way to uncover genetic variants that my have previously gone undiscovered. And it means you might, as they did here, uncover two genes that, when screwed up in very precise ways, result in the same eating disorder.

Cui et al. "Eating disorder predisposition is associated with ESRRA and HDAC4 mutations" Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2013.

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