Degree in Three — don’t fall for it

Shhh. Don’t let my university administrators know about this post. It’s secret.

The University of Minnesota Morris has a new scheme for recruiting called Degree In Three. It’s promoting the idea that you can graduate in 3 years, rather than four. It’s all empty PR.

They aren’t lying. It’s true. It’s possible to complete your bachelor’s degree in three years at UMM.

What they’re not saying is that this is not a new program, students have always been able to do this. UMM allows considerable flexibility — there’s never been any kind of fixed year by year requirements where there is a necessary fourth year component to the degree. I was advising students 20 years ago about ways to finish an accelerated program. It just required either coming in with a buttload of college credits (entirely possible, Minnesota has Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) where advanced high school students could get college credits), or you could just take overloads every semester. It wasn’t fun or easy, but it was doable. I usually tried to dissuade students from going that route, but now it’s an advertising gimmick.

Where I object is that nothing has changed. We certainly haven’t reduced graduation requirements. You still have to complete 120 credits; you can do that by taking 20 credits every semester for three years, or, as they suggest, 16 credits every semester + 8 credits of summer courses every year. So, basically, our Degree in Three program is about telling students to work harder faster.

One obstacle to this plan is that we don’t have the staffing to provide every course every semester, so students will have to plot a very specific path through the available courses to complete all the requirements. For instance, we don’t offer ecology in the spring here, because normally it’s so cold and snowy as to preclude any fieldwork — if you thought you’d just take it in spring of your third year, nuh-uh, you’re going to have to take it in a fourth year anyway. It also limits flexibility. Your schedule is so tight that if you fail to get in to a necessary course one year, the cascade of failed prerequisites may screw all of your plans. No, we’re not hiring additional faculty to cope with this problem.

A course overload is serious business. I’ve often had to advise students who sign up for too many courses at once, confident that they could handle it, and then they get sick one week or a relative dies and kaboom, suddenly, no they can’t handle it. I try to recommend that my students take only two lab courses at once, because they’re already a big time-suck, but I’ve had some students try to take three…they just disappear for a semester. It’s a miserable amount of work. Our students are ambitious over-achievers, so they’ll try and some will succeed, but I’m not here to crack whips.

The whole program is antithetical to the liberal arts experience. Students are supposed to have the opportunity to explore the world of ideas, taking classes in a specific degree-granting program, but also being able (even required and expected) to take a variety of courses outside that program. Oh, you’re trying to get a degree in biochemistry, but you’ve discovered that you love poetry and literature? So sorry, you don’t have time to take those courses before we trundle you out the door at an accelerated pace.

I get a fair number of prospective students coming to visit me (maybe not so many after you leak this to the administration) and I know I’m going to meet parents and students in a hurry who will ask me about this program. I will tell them that sure, I can advise them on how to speed-run through college, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The four year plan is much more comfortable and will allow you to enjoy college and develop a breadth of interests. I also know that some of those ambitious students will be back in my office in their second year panicking because they failed an o-chem exam and now think that revising their graduation plan will cost them that $20,000 that they imagined “saving” thanks to the Degree in Three plan.

I repeat, there’s nothing dishonest about the Degree in Three plan. It’s just nothing new, costs the university absolutely nothing, and is just about telling the students they can graduate faster if they work much harder. It’s not a great selling point, if you ask me.

They didn’t ask me, of course. I’ve been at faculty meetings where we irrelevant faculty make these same points, but hey, the advertising campaign is in the works.

What does Auburn University do?

I know they have to have good people working there, and any major state university is going to be providing support to valuable programs, but…if you asked me to name something memorable about Auburn, I’m afraid my brain is going to be flooded with nothing but FOOOBAAAWWW. It’s a sports school. They seem to think that’s the whole raison d’etre for existing. They spent $30 million on football alone last year. And that’s their reputation.

In recent decades, Auburn University added hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to its budget. The additional money didn’t go to the English department, nor to the sociology department. Some science departments only got a trickle more.

Instead, much of the money went toward administrative salaries, buildings and, no surprise, sports.

Auburn piled millions more each year into paying down the debt it borrowed for campus upgrades, including an $84 million basketball arena. It hired hundreds of administrators and professional staff. Spending on the president’s office and other administrative departments often increased far faster than that on many academic subjects.

That’s from a breakdown of Auburn’s budget. They’re pouring money into everything but education, and guess how they’re paying for it? By raising tuition to cover a spending spree.

Among Auburn’s projects built between 2002 and 2016: A $20 million building that is home to information technology staff. A $20 million kinesiology building with labs focused on physical activity and human movement. A $16 million indoor sports facility project that allows student athletes to practice during bad weather.

In 2013, Auburn opened a recreation and wellness center that cost $74 million to build. It includes climbing towers, an indoor track and an outdoor pool with a diving well, basketball goals and its own wet climbing wall.

In 2009, students voted to increase fees to finance the center’s operations, and each paid $450 toward it last school year.

In addition, in 2016, the university began a multiyear $15 million renovation of the president’s house.

Though donors sometimes help with building costs, Auburn paid for many buildings in part by borrowing money, which shows up in annual budgets as debt service. In 2016, Auburn spent about $60 million paying down its debt, much of which was related to buildings. That’s roughly triple what it spent in 2002.

You know, I can’t blame them. They are merely serving the demands from donors, alumni, and potential students — the reason many people go to Auburn is foobaww. If the administration were to pare down athletics expenditures, if they were to stop promoting football, football, football and try to become the intellectual powerhouse they have the potential to be, the citizens of Alabama would rise up in fury and cut them off at the knees, and their students would flee to some other Southern state that is still pushing football. They’ve got a donor base that is rich and wants “their” team to win, and students who are there on Mommy & Daddy’s money and want their perks and privileges.

The school’s student body is unusually well-heeled for a public school. Only 11% of full-time freshmen received federal Pell Grants, reserved for low-income students, in 2021-22. That’s one of the lowest percentages of any public U.S. university and also the vast majority of private colleges.

Auburn also ranks among the most expensive public schools for poor families, who attend some state schools for almost nothing. Auburn freshmen from families earning under $30,000 annually owed an average $17,481 in total costs after scholarships in 2021-22, federal data show.

Interesting, given that Alabama is the 6th poorest state in the nation. Auburn does not serve the general population, but rather the wealthiest citizens. It is officially a public state college, but looks more like a private college with specialized appeal.

They’re also afflicted with the parasites that infest every educational institution in the country.

But Auburn has disproportionately hired administrators and staff. Between 2002 and 2016, Auburn added nearly 600 full-time employees, numbers published by the college show. The number of faculty grew by 10% while the number of administrators grew by 73%.

Though average salaries for professors climbed in the mid-2000s, over the next decade they roughly kept pace with inflation, Auburn’s figures show.

In Auburn’s academic colleges, spending on the administration—usually the dean of a college and his or her staff—often rose faster than spending on individual academic departments.

In some administrative areas outside of Auburn’s academic colleges, spending often rose even faster.

Gogue earned $846,000 in salary, bonus and benefits in calendar 2016, the last full year of his first term as president, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks pay for public college presidents.

He earned more money in other years. In 2017, for example, his total compensation topped $2.1 million because he received a payout of deferred compensation that had been previously set aside. Gogue said he doesn’t remember details from his compensation at Auburn.

I’d love to see a similar analysis of the University of Minnesota system. I often feel that we’re busily hiring administrators, while academic departments are scraping along understaffed, begging to fill faculty lines that are empty because of attrition or retirements or people looking for better positions, and we’re told there is a hiring freeze or worse, only a limited number of slots are available, so departments are expected to fight with each other to see who gets the position. When we’re down to 3 people teaching all of science, or 2 people teaching all of the humanities, I don’t think our surplus of administrators will step in to teach our classes (and we wouldn’t want them to — we’ve got standards.)

I’m also thinking that $2 million would cover the salaries and benefits of about 20 entry level faculty.

Sympathy for the state next door

Oh, Wisconsin. The Republicans want to strangle their university system.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a $305 million increase for the UW System over the next two school years.

Republican lawmakers instead cut state funding for campuses by $32 million in an effort to defund diversity offices, which they see as a waste of money.

UW-Madison will bear the brunt, losing $7 million, or 44%, of this year’s $16 million cut. The university enrolls about one-third of UW System students. UW-Madison declined to comment on the cut.

Diversity offices are a waste of money? Only if you think only wealthy and middle class white people deserve a university education…which, I will admit, is true to the Republican ethos. Don’t worry, though, they’re dangling a carrot with the promise of restoring the money. All the university has to do is focus on vocational programs and cut all the diversity and equity programs. This is

UW System has a chance to recoup the $32 million budget cut. Officials must present a plan to the Republican-controlled budget-writing committee on how campuses would spend the money on workforce development.

The Regents will receive a preview of the plan in October, said UW System chief finance officer Sean Nelson. Spending will focus on engineering, data, science and nursing programs.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the UW System won’t get its money back unless it eliminates diversity and equity programs — an idea UW officials have previously shot down.

“Let’s hope these campuses start by eliminating their unnecessary (diversity, equity and inclusion) positions,” he said in a statement responding to the latest furlough news. “It would be a first step in showing they’re serious about cutting wasteful spending, shoring up their deficits, and working with the Legislature to develop sustainable long-term funding solutions.”

Well, great. My daughter is currently on the job market, and the kinds of jobs she’s looking for are in biomedical computing — so those positions aren’t in immediate danger. But a healthy workplace in academia or industry requires a good balance, and also requires diversity, so this is a long-term threat.

Another long-term problem is that we’ve been starving the universities in Minnesota as well as Wisconsin.

Ten of the 13 universities are projecting deficits this year, too, and many are taking significant action to rein in spending. UW-Oshkosh is laying off 200 employees and mandating furloughs for all other staff. UW-Parkside and UW-Platteville are considering similar measures.

Most campuses are using money from a tuition increase to offset their deficits. The Regents voted earlier this year to increase in-state undergraduate tuition across all 13 universities by about 5%. It was the first time since 2012.

Many campuses are also tapping tuition balances, which is what campuses carry over as their main source of reserves. They’ve been spending down their reserves for more than a decade. UW-Oshkosh, for example, said it expects to deplete its balances by the end of this school year.

“This is not sustainable,” Rothman put it plainly.

Again, this is the Republican agenda. Diversity programs are just the latest crack in the system that they’re hammering on, but make no mistake: the ultimate goal is the destruction of all of higher ed.

Reality check

If you read the newspapers or watch Fox News (nobody here pays attention to Fox News, right?) you may come away with a skewed perspective of the hierarchy of power at universities. Here’s a helpful perspective, with myth on the left, reality on the right.

The only omission is the absence of coaches, but maybe that’s OK. Coaches don’t actually make any decisions or contribute to academic life, they are off to the side, grinning happily as they skim off millions of dollars, with which the trustees and donors fill their pockets.

The students return to my university today. I’ll try not to infect them with my cynicism.

You want my syllabus when?

The end is nigh. The university administration has requested that we submit our fall term syllabi on the 24th of July…that is, tomorrow. I am not prepared. I don’t want to think about this. I haven’t been thinking about this.

So that takes care of today, I guess. I’ve pulled up the academic calendar for the fall, and my previous version of the syllabus, and am going to sit down and reconcile lecture & exam dates and will get the damn things done today.

In other academic concerns, I’ve been invited to give an honors college lecture on the theme of…Michel de Montaigne, like I’d be qualified to discuss late Renaissance history. It’s OK, though, I’ve read his Essays, and since he was an exceptionally discursive writer, I figure I can get away with my own ramblings in the style of an old humanist. I did find a quote that might make for a good springboard:

Our utmost endeavors cannot arrive at so much as to imitate the nest of the least of birds, its contexture, beauty, and convenience: not so much as the web of a poor spider.

I’ll have to correct that back-handed compliment, but I also have a bunch of other ideas, not all spider-related, that I’ll assemble into a hodge-podge of a talk. The title: “Of boundaries and transgressions.” Should be fun. I have until October to pull it together, but I think I’d better have most of it in shape before September body-slams me.

Ending the legacies!

Conservatives cheered the Supreme Court decision to eliminate consideration of race in university admissions. I have to wonder if they’ll be so happy about this other change at the University of Minnesota.

Admissions officers working on the U’s Twin Cities campus, which typically enrolls about 55,000 students, say they have long used a “holistic review” process that places the greatest weight on an applicant’s academic track record. But it also allowed them to report 10 additional attributes that were sometimes used to distinguish between otherwise similar candidates.

The university announced late last week that it would stop considering an applicant’s race, ethnicity or ties to U alumni or faculty — though it would still ask “for this optional information for recruitment and communication purposes about programs and services offered.”

Undergraduate student government leaders said Tuesday that they welcomed the effort to eliminate legacy admissions, noting some other colleges had already done so. But they wanted to know more about the plan to stop considering race and ethnicity, saying they believe it’s crucial to have a diverse campus.

Oh god yes. End the legacy admissions. If you’re going to eliminate biases in admissions, the first place you should start is ending the privileges that give preferential status to children of alumni. The only reason to benefit them is the hope that alumni will give them more money.

I don’t think Republican businesspeople and professionals realized how much of an advantage they’ve had, and now it’s going to be gone (optimistically — I don’t believe someone who donates money for a building on campus is going to find their kids rejected, not matter how unqualified they are. After all, our appointed interim president brings nothing to the school except his affiliation with Hormel.)

It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

Rerouting around the damage

Our conservative Supreme Court has decided that affirmative action in university admissions must end. By that, they mean that we need to make it easier for white students to get a college education than black students. It’s a white supremacist sort of decision, although white supremacists do love to couch their position as only fair.

Elite universities have contended that without considering race as one factor in admissions, their student bodies will contain more Whites and Asian Americans, and fewer Blacks and Hispanics.

But, “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Our constitutional history is built on a document written by wealthy slaveholders, in a country that has long discriminated against people based on the color of their skin. Those Supreme Court wankers may not understand that history, but universities are full of people who do, and are going to be working hard to defy the court and continue to promote diversity. So, for instance…

Elizabeth H. Bradley, president of Vassar College in New York, said she thinks colleges like hers will figure out how to maintain an inclusive environment. “It’s just so core to who we are,” Bradley said. “We will find a legal way in which that can be accomplished.”

Everyone at my university was sent this memo yesterday from our vice president and provost saying the same thing.

Dear University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff,

As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today on two cases regarding college admissions. The decisions limit the ability of colleges and universities that receive federal funding to consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity in decision-making for admission.

We remain steadfast in our commitments to our educational mission of inclusion and access, to remove barriers to higher education for underrepresented populations, and to ensure that all members of our community have equitable access to the University and its resources.

A working group led by the Provost’s Office, in close consultation with the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), has been preparing for this decision for many months. That group will ensure that our processes in undergraduate, graduate, and professional education are compliant with the new state of the law, and that we continue to live out our values of inclusion and access.

We will continue our recruiting efforts that have yielded increased diversity in our entering classes. We remain committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice on all our campuses.

I’m afraid the Supreme Court will have to hand down an injunction blatantly stating that we can’t admit black students before it will stop the march of diversity. Remember, white people will be a minority in this country in a few years.

Meanwhile, another tool to maintain white majorities is allowed to continue: legacies. 43% of white students at Harvard are legacies, to name an example. What legacies are are admissions based on family connections — your dad was a Harvard grad? Well then, we’ll just ignore those Cs and Ds on your transcript and your low SAT scores, and whisk you right into our school.

I don’t see much of it here in the Midwest, but it was infuriatingly common in East coast schools. It was egregious at the Temple medical school. One year I had two students working in my lab at Temple, and both were applying to the med school. One was a rather lackadaisical student who was full of confidence that they would get in — they didn’t have to worry about grades (and it showed) because they had a grandparent and two parents who were Temple med grads, and they were white. The other was a passionate, hard-working young person with near perfect grades who wanted to get a degree and open a clinic in their black, North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Guess which one waltzed into med school, and which one was repeatedly denied? It drove me crazy. I was writing these glowing recommendation letters, but they didn’t help at all. The students were all fully aware of how the deck was stacked, too. The white students counted on it, the black students had to work twice as hard to overcome it.

And that’s what this court decision is all about: protecting and promoting the advantages of inherited wealth and privilege. Now we’re going to all have to work twice as hard to defy the oligarchs.

This is why administrators don’t teach

Academics get constant training — it seems like every week or two the university trots out a new “module” and duns our email with notifications that we are REQUIRED to take it, and if we defer the training to a more convenient time the notifications don’t stop. It’s a lousy system, but necessary. It’s just that the methods are so poor. For example, this article on sexual harassment in science offers up a few criticisms.

Sexual harassment includes forcing people into sexual activity, giving unwanted sexual attention to someone and making unwanted comments or threats to someone based on their gender. The negative effects of sexual harassment also apply to the people who witness it and the organizations involved. The first thing that experts say needs to be overhauled is traditional sexual harassment training.

The computer-based format of some training modules is familiar to anyone starting a new job, including us. We remember laughable scenarios that were, at best, out of touch with how real people behave, or showed only the most extreme examples of harassment. The training was unrealistic, unmemorable and something to click through as fast as we could. Such passive, simplistic training typically fails, as sociologists Frank Dobbin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University found in a Harvard Business Review analysis in 2020.

Training needs to be more in-person, according to experts. People can interact with a live instructor who has specialized knowledge of awkward topics and how to talk effectively about them. The trainers can take the backgrounds and ages of people in the group into account, answer questions in real time, and tailor their program to the organization; what people at a nonprofit might need could be different from workers at a big-box store or in an academic setting. And even in academia, training for scientists who work in the field could be different than for those who work in a lab.

This past weekend, after a week of emails telling me I am REQUIRED to take training in “Fundamentals of Disability Accommodations and Inclusive Course Design,” I did it. It was fundamentally terrible. I am 100% in agreement with the importance of the topic, and I took it very seriously and cleared my calendar and went through this self-paced online program in about an hour and a half. It consisted of a series of simple web pages emphasizing specific points, interspersed with 2-5 minute videos of faculty and students talking about how they solved certain problems. There were also short quizzes (a question or two) occasionally. It was totally trivial. I quickly realized that all I had to do was respect the students and work with them, the core lesson of the exercise, and I’d get everything right. That’s what I want to do, of course, but even if I were a student-hating psychopath, I could have easily breezed right through it all, and gotten my required email notification that I had taken the training and done well.

I’ve taken all the sexual harassment training the university offers, and many others on racial sensitivity and grant management, etc. They’re all the same, screen pages and short canned videos. Like the article says, the “training was unrealistic, unmemorable and something to click through as fast as we could.” It’s unfortunate — they can do better. The best training I had here was on implicit bias, which was not done on a computer, but in a room with other faculty and a specialist who came in and talked to us and answered questions interactively. It also helped in that faculty who were opposed to the whole idea of the training publicly exposed themselves and made for great counter-examples.

I’m just thinking that this is a university, and we have a lot of people who are very good at teaching, yet somehow we have to take these training courses that are the modern equivalent of those horrible filmstrips we had to watch in the 1960s. Imagine if I were to teach my genetics course in the style of these online training courses — I’d be hauled in front of an academic tribunal and chastised severely for my incompetence at my job. You couldn’t even run an online course in any academic subject with this degree of rote key-clicking and low information density pages.

If universities were serious about rooting out and correcting sexual harassment, they have to do a little more than the equivalent of putting a check box online that says “I am not a sexual harasser.” That would take a little more money and investment of expertise, though.

This is Lawrence Krauss’s career now

He’s fallen far now, and seems to think that thrashing about in the muck will raise him up, rather than make him dirtier. He’s got an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal 🤮, titled “A Scientist’s Sexuality Shouldn’t Matter”. I agree, it shouldn’t, but we’re dealing with facts here rather than a disgruntled conservative’s feelings, and it does matter, unfortunately.

Krauss is upset because federal grant agencies ask applicants about various bits of demographic data.

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is an annual census of new postgraduate research degrees. The National Science Foundation, a federal agency, collects data on academic discipline, sex, race, ethnicity, debt burden, disability and citizenship. The results are used by government, universities and industry to track the demographics of women and minorities in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

Well, yes, it’s a survey. That’s what surveys do. Krauss wants them to stop because — wait for it — sexism is over! According to a notorious sex pest, that is.

The sex and race data — the latter has been collected since 1975 — was initially useful in efforts to overcome barriers to women and minorities in academia. Those barriers have largely disappeared, yet quotas and preferential hiring have persisted. After such a concerted effort, demographic disparities are less likely to point to systemic biases in academia than to underlying societal factors.

That’s especially true when it comes to disparities of sex. Women earn a majority of postbaccalaureate degrees over all STEM disciplines in the U.S. Since female undergraduates outnumber male ones by about 3 to 2, this trend is likely to continue. Further, a recent large-scale study found that previous claims about sex bias in academic science were overblown. Tenure-track women and men in STEM receive comparable grant funding, journal acceptances and recommendation letters, and women have an edge in hiring.

What quotas? What preferential hiring? I’ve been in a lot of job searches over the years, and we’re told over and over by the administration that there are questions we can’t ask, and they’re all about avoiding bias. I’d agree that there are fewer biases in academia (but not no biases) because of policies Krauss doesn’t like, and that we’re dealing with larger societal factors, but academia is part of society, if you hadn’t noticed.

A good example of those societal factors: undergraduate women outnumber men, especially at liberal arts colleges like mine. Is this a good thing? Nobody thinks so. It’s not at all because we preferentially admit women — please, high school men, do apply and come to UMM, we love you all — but because when universities stopped discriminating against women, many women saw a college education as a tool for escaping traditional roles. Liberal arts colleges also actively encourage students to explore new ideas, which is appealing if you want something more than a fast-track to a job.

Of course, to a white man the barriers are invisible, so they don’t exist.

Such personal matters are irrelevant to science and essentially invisible. In my 40 years in academia, I have worked with all sorts of colleagues and students. Many were highly eccentric, but that didn’t matter if they were good scientists. As one colleague put it: “You are teaching a chemistry or physics course. Your lectures describe concepts and present equations. ‘Suppose a magnet is moving relative to a loop of wire.’ You barely know any of your students. You give tests and grade them. You have no idea, nor care about, the ‘sexual orientation’ of any of your students. . . . What career barriers are there?”

What a blinkered ass…you might as well say, “no one is trying to rape me, therefore rape and sexual harassment are not a problem anywhere.” Which is just what a self-centered serial harasser would say.

I’m also appalled at the idea that a professor just lectures and gives tests and grades them and doesn’t need to know anything about their students. What university was this at? Krauss should have mentioned it so everyone would know to avoid it. Of course we are and should be aware of our students’ lives, to a degree. We invite deeper interactions than just talking at and grading them — I listen when students are struggling and try to help them resolve conflicts and issues.

I don’t even understand this factory-style approach to impersonal teaching.

Asking respondents if they’re “transgender,” “gender non-conforming,” “nonbinary,” “gender-fluid” or “genderqueer” is patently ridiculous. These are subjective categories, unobservable by others unless the person in question makes it a point to label himself publicly. Most scientists, like ordinary people, couldn’t even define most of these terms, let alone use them as a basis for discrimination.

You don’t need to define the terms, you just need to categorize your students and colleagues as highly eccentric.

This is peak clueless offensiveness, though. Non-heterosexual identities are patently ridiculous and mere subjective categories? They matter to the people who have them, and what also matters is professors who so callously dismiss their lived identities. You know, the ones who think people who aren’t like them are not ordinary people.

Jesus. Krauss is making me aware that we do discriminate. If we were interviewing a job candidate and they spewed out that stuff about how teaching is just about giving tests and grading them, calling gay and trans students eccentric and patently ridiculous, it’s true — there’s no way we’d hire them. We try not to employ assholes.

Also, we’d rather not hire stupid people. Krauss even quotes the goals of these agencies, but doesn’t understand them.

What’s the purpose of all this? Nature magazine paraphrases a statement from the NSF’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Charles Barber: “Collecting these data will help the NSF and other agencies to analyse employers’ policies and procedures for addressing unintended barriers to employment, advancement and inclusion.” The magazine then quotes Mr. Barber: “This gives us an opportunity to create more opportunities and broaden participation to yield equitable outcomes for the LGBTQIA+ community and others.”

Yes. Collecting data to detect “unintended barriers to employment, advancement and inclusion.” How would you know if an organization discriminates, unintentionally or otherwise, if you have no information about the population of a class known to be subject to bias? How would you know if an organization has successfully knocked down all barriers to advancement if you don’t look? Krauss is advocating willful blindness to abuse and harassment and bias…unsurprisingly, for a guy with his history. If those meddling kids hadn’t noticed and reported his behavior, he’d still have a job!

Does that mean quotas?


If so, how would one even go about determining the “correct” proportion of “queer” or “genderqueer” scientists? The percentage of the population that espouses these labels is so small that any data the NSF gathers will be statistically useless.

The correct proportion is one that roughly matches the proportion in the general population, because that would indicate that there’s probably an absence of selective bias. That wasn’t so hard, Larry.

It’s kind of astonishing to see a physicist dismissing an event as insignificant because the frequency is too low. What happened to 5-sigma, Larry? Does the Higgs boson not matter because it’s so difficult to see that you have to spend billions of dollars to detect it? Most of the stars in the sky are not exploding, so why waste our time looking for novas? The frequency of stellar class A stars is only 0.63% — can we just ignore them, then? Heck, our sun falls into a group that makes up less than 8% of all stars. Must not be important, then.

You know we can detect all kinds of numbers if we just look. Here’s a result of the US census — over a million ‘eccentric’ people live in same-sex relationships.

We also know, because people looked at the data, that over 1.6 million ‘ordinary’ people are transgender, and that the proportion is rising as social barriers fall.

A study published on Friday estimates that nearly 1.64 million people over the age of 13 in the United States identify themselves as transgender, based on an analysis of newly expanded federal health surveys.

The study estimates that about 0.5% of all U.S. adults, some 1.3 million people, and about 1.4%, or 300,000, of youth between 13- and 17-years-old identify as transgender, having a different gender identity than the sex they were assigned at birth.

I really don’t understand this frequency based argument. Can we just ignore 1.3 million people, or worse, oppress and discriminate against them? They’re statistically useless, you know. It’s just that they are people.

Wow, Krauss has become a right-wing cartoon at this point.

Everyone hates Elsevier

Everyone. For years. As a grad student I knew what a parasite Elsevier was. Librarians hate Elsevier. You should hate Elsevier, if you don’t already. It’s a company with their boot on the neck of scientific information, and they’re one of the reasons you can’t easily get past the paywalls limiting access to information you already paid for.

Some editors are taking a stand and walking out on Elsevier.

More than 40 leading scientists have resigned en masse from the editorial board of a top science journal in protest at what they describe as the “greed” of publishing giant Elsevier.

The entire academic board of the journal Neuroimage, including professors from Oxford University, King’s College London and Cardiff University resigned after Elsevier refused to reduce publication charges.

In case you’re wondering why…

Elsevier, a Dutch company that claims to publish 18% of the world’s scientific papers, reported a 10% increase in its revenue to £2.9bn last year. But it’s the profit margins, nearing 40%, according to its 2019 accounts, which anger academics most. The big scientific publishers keep costs low because academics write up their research – typically funded by charities and the public purse – for free. They “peer review” each other’s work to verify it is worth publishing for free, and academic editors collate it for free or for a small stipend. Academics are then often charged thousands of pounds to have their work published in open-access journals, or universities will pay very high subscription charges.

That’s right. Somehow we all work for Elsevier. We reinforce that because we voluntarily make our volunteer work in reviewing papers for the publishing companies part of our praiseworthy work listed in our tenure and promotion reviews.

We have to laugh at our situation.