Tell me again why grad students shouldn’t unionize?


The University of Hawaii, like universities everywhere in the US, has been facing major cuts. There seems to be zero support for higher education in this country, and every legislature sees a way to save their favorite perk for the rich by carving more dollars out of the university budget. Only now the cuts are reaching vital organs … like the faculty and students. One symptom is the abuse of graduate students.

Grad students in Hawaii are working under the very same salary they would have received over a decade ago, which is ridiculous. Pay at the university must adjust to circumstances, or you’re just building up to kill the institution.

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They had me going for a moment


This “news” article lead in with some rather positive statements, and had me wondering for a bit how life could exist on a comet.

Evidence of alien life is “unequivocal” on the comet carrying the Philae probe through space, two leading astronomers have said.

The experts say the most likely explanation for certain features of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, such as its organic-rich black crust, is the presence of living organisms beneath an icy surface.

Rosetta, the European spacecraft orbiting the comet, is also said to have picked up strange “clusters” of organic material that resemble viral particles.

Hmmm. I could imagine bacteria living deep in a organic-chemical-rich rock in space, but it would have to be metabolizing at an extraordinarily low rate — how would a probe that wasn’t designed to detect life even see it? Are there cues other than that the surface is dark? Because that’s kind of routine, and doesn’t require life.

And then that bit about viral particles…how would they know? Does Philae carry an electron microscope on board?

Despite the emphatic wording, this article is extremely suspect. But it’s Sky News, a real UK news source! Just like Fox News in the US! They would at least check with real scientists, wouldn’t they?

Nope. All is revealed.

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Milo Yiannopoulos is just the worst

He’s at it again, as Phil Plait notes in a post that says all the smart things.

And now another attack piece on St. Louis has been posted on the far-right-wing Breitbart site, saying she has become immune from criticism because she’s black.

Yes, you read that right. And that’s not all. In a sentence so tone deaf I’d swear it’s parody, the author, Milo Yiannopoulos, writes*:

St Louis is responsible for the sacking of Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize-winning biochemist who became the target of an online lynch mob after his comments about women in science were taken out of context.

Yes, again, you read that right. You might ignore the obviously incorrect statements in that one sentence (Hunt wasn’t sacked, he was asked to resign from an honorary position; and as we’ve seen his comments were not taken out of context), but it’s much harder to ignore that, in an article attacking a woman because she’s black, Yiannopoulos used the phrase “lynch mob.”

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Planned obsolescence for science, even?


The publisher at AAAS/Science wrote something truly remarkable about how he sees his job.

In an era with more access given to less qualified people (laypeople and an increasingly unqualified blogging corps presenting themselves as experts or journalists), not to mention to text-miners and others scouring the literature for connections, the obligation to better manage these materials seems to be growing. We can no longer depend on the scarcity of print or the difficulties of distance or barriers of professional expertise to narrow access down to experts with a true need.

Ah, the good old days, when hoi polloi were excluded, when journals were locked away in dusty library stacks and only the initiates in science were aware of their existence, and when we knew that only an elite few actually needed access to knowledge.

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Why do we deify or despise the unfamiliar?


I’m in the curious position of having met a great many Nobel laureates. I’ve had dinner with some, gone drinking with others, had long conversations with a few. I’ve gone to the Lindau meetings twice, where Nobelists are everywhere. Furthermore, I’ve known brilliant people who have done phenomenal work of Nobel quality who would never be awarded one because the Nobels only cover a very small, limited number of subjects.

And I realized that I’ve known more Nobel prize winners, and with greater familiarity, than I’ve known plumbers. I’ve probably known only 3 or 4 plumbers, and not well at all: they come to my house, they do a job, and they leave, and we don’t go out for drinks afterwards. So my knowledge base for plumbers is a little weak, but I can do a comparison anyway. Here’s what I’ve learned.

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Space left me feeling cold and empty


I’m a fan of the Science Museum of Minnesota, and I’m out here touring the place today, but their latest theme, Space, did not satisfy. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the space program has lost its way — if it ever had a good direction in the first place — and the exhibits just confirmed it for me.

Gadgetheads will enjoy the exhibits. It’s gosh-wow engineering all the way through. The Omni Theater movie is called Journey to Space, narrated by Patrick Stewart, and you’ll get your fill of thundering rumbly lift-offs and a dome-shaped screen filled with flame and smoke. The space shuttle is glorified, we are given many grandiose promises about the next generation, the Orion spacecraft, and we get to watch a few of the hundreds of astronauts who’ve been to the International Space Station gamboling about.

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