The University of Louisiana at Monroe has some interesting priorities

They’re shutting down a museum collection to make room for a larger gym for the track team. Here’s a letter sent out by involved faculty.

Dear Friends,

It is my sad duty to report to you that the ULM administration has decided to divest the research collections in the Museum of Natural History. This includes the 6 million fish specimens in the Neil Douglas fish collection and the nearly 500,000 plant specimens in the R. Dale Thomas plant collection. They find no value in the collections and no value of the collections to the university. The College was given 48 hours to suggest an alternate location for the collections on campus so that Brown Stadium can be renovated for the track team. With only about 20 hours left, we have found no magic solution yet. To add insult to injury on what was a very hard day, we were told that if the collections are not donated to other institutions, the collections will be destroyed at the end of July.

While we weep that our own institution would turn its back on 50+ years of hard work and dedication, we will not abandon the collections to the dumpsters. They did not have the courage to inform us face-to-face, but we have the courage to persevere through these dark times.

Oh, in other sad news, we were informed that there will not be any expansion of the public displays in Hanna Hall.

Do they even realize that a museum collection is an irreplaceable historical resource? Once it’s gone, there’s no way to decide to restore it at a later date, when funds become available. But they have short-sightedly decided that an academic treasure ought to be cavalierly discarded to benefit university sports.

Another problem mentioned at the link is that Louisiana has cut support to the university by 50%. It seems to me, though, that if you’re starving you pare away the non-essentials first, rather than critical resources. I guess ULM thinks their natural history museum is expendable, while their track team is not.

The ongoing commodification of education


You get a degree, and you get a degree, and you get a degree! Everyone gets a degree! All you have to do is show up and, incidentally, cough up for a continuously increasing tuition.

Nathaniel Bork was recently fired from his philosophy position at Aurora community college. There are two things going on here. One is that he was an adjunct, like the majority of instructors at Aurora, so he had virtually no power or authority, and was easily firable — there are damn few protections for temporary instructors, and that’s exactly the way the administrators like it.

The other problems is that those administrators on high have fewer concerns about the quality of an education, and are more concerned with the number of tuition-paying bodies shuffled through their doors, and also listen too carefully to those tuition-payers who want the guaranteed outcome of a certificate at the end of their “education”. They created some program optimistically called “Gateway to Success”, where “success” was defined as getting a degree rather than learning something.

Just days before Bork was terminated, he says, he drafted an email to the state’s Higher Learning Commission, complaining about Aurora’s new Gateway to Success initiative. The goal of the program was to increase pass rates in these gatekeeper courses but, Bork said, in reality, he’d been asked to cut 20 percent of his introductory philosophy course content; require fewer writing assignments, with a new maximum of eight pages per semester; offer small-group activities every other class session; and make works by women and minority thinkers about 30 percent of the course.

Bork said he was told to keep teaching this way until 80 percent of all student demographic groups were passing the course, which in his view violated the spirit of Colorado law on guaranteed transfer courses to a four-year institution.

I approve of the idea of insisting on more diversity in the course material — a philosophy course would benefit from having more perspectives represented. Small group activities, also fine, since philosophy students should be able to communicate with each other and share ideas. But the rest…that’s simply dumbing down the course. Only 8 written pages total per semester? My impression of philosophers is that they can produce that much text while comatose and drunk after lunch.

I’m at a university with almost no temporary faculty, and talking to them you get a completely different set of concerns. We all want to increase the amount of learning students do — I’m actually talking to my discipline this afternoon about bumping up student math exposure and focusing a little more on quantitative biology, for example. Our goal isn’t to make it easier to graduate, but to make sure our students know the material well enough to succeed in a biology career.

So maybe it’s really one problem, the reliance on faculty the administration considers expendable and a reasonable sacrifice to enrollment goals. Problem solved by giving Nathaniel Bork and his colleagues tenure track positions, instead of firing them.

That might cause some other problems, I admit. Those might be solved by state governments investing in education to a degree they deserve.

The confusing world of nutrition

Fats? Carbohydrates? Protein? It’s hard to tell what I’m supposed to eat anymore, because the recommendations seem to change every few years. Jerome Groopman does an excellent job of reconciling the confusion…or, at least, politely explaining that none of the answers are definitive, yet.

Science is an accretion of provisional certainties. Current research includes much that is genuinely promising—several groups have identified genes that predispose some people to obesity, and are studying how targeted diets and exercise can attenuate these effects—but the more one pays attention to the latest news from the labs the harder it becomes to separate signal from noise. Amid the constant back-and-forth of various hypotheses, orthodoxies, and fads, it’s more important to pay attention to the gradual advances, such as our understanding of calories and vitamins or the consensus among studies showing that trans fats exacerbate cardiovascular disease. What this means for most of us is that common sense should prevail. Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.

I would add, though, that there won’t necessarily ever be an answer. Your physiological response to food is a product of your genetics, your fetal environment, your early childhood exposure, and your overall nutritional history, which means that everyone will have a unique set of needs and reactions. But moderation and a balanced diet sounds like a safe approach — just pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel dizzy and hyper and experience stomach distress when you eat that slice of chocolate cake, stop eating it.


A Republican, Scott Wagner. Running for governor of Pennsylvania. Has some novel explanations for climate change.

I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the earth moves closer to the sun every year–you know the rotation of the earth, Wagner said. We’re moving closer to the sun.

But…but…but the Earth is moving around the sun in an elliptical orbit — its distance from the sun varies over the course of a year (and seasons are a product not of that, but of the axial tilt). What does the rotation of the earth have to do with its orbit around the sun?

He hasn’t been in science class in a long time, and I suspect he didn’t understand it even when he was taking classes.

We have more people, he said. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.

Yes, heat is coming off, but it’s not enough to affect global temperature.

If he really believes that, is he one of those rare conservative Republicans who is going to endorse birth control and family planning to prevent climate change? That would be nice, but for some reason I’d rather this klutzamaboob did not get elected.

I guess science is going to pay for that wall

When your president is an idiot on a quixotic mission to build a pointless, stupid wall between us and one of our allies, the money has got to come from somewhere. And when the Republicans in general are elected by the ignorant to go on a crusade to destroy the government and promote even more ignorance, there’s an easy target: take the money away from science.

Look at what Trump has announced that he’s going to do to science funding.

President Donald Trump, who had just proposed slashing the National Institutes of Health’s budget for next year by 20 percent, suggested an immediate $1.2 billion cut to the agency Tuesday.

It’s hard to get an NIH grant now, and it’s going to get worse. This is also the kind of cut that does long term damage, since established researchers tend to get supported first; I wouldn’t want to be a new investigator right now. There are also other deep cuts all over the place.

  • Take $350 million from the National Science Foundation’s $6.9 billion budget
  • Cut $37 million from the Department of Energy’s $5.3 billion worth of science programs
  • Excise $48 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s research and development budget of $483 million
  • Cut in half the $101 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention program
  • Reduce Food and Drug Administration staff spending by $40 million
  • Cut domestic and global HIV/AIDS programs by $100 million plus cut the Presidential Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) $4.3 billion budget by $242 million
  • Completely delete the $72 million Global Health Security fund at the State Department and cut other global health programs by $90 million and $62 million for global family planning

More evidence that this administration wants to outright kill American science: putting Lamar Smith as head of the science committee in congress, and — this is the most ridiculously petty thing — dictating what words bureaucrats are allowed to use.

A supervisor at the Energy Department’s international climate office told staff this week not to use the phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction” or “Paris Agreement” in written memos, briefings or other written communication, sources have told POLITICO.

One subdivision of the Energy Department is the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy. Boy are they gonna get a shock when they discover that even the name of their office has become anathema. It’s also going to be magical — the climate won’t change if you’re not allowed to say “climate change”!