Anti-science ain’t just on the Right

Here’s a controversial topic to discuss, especially for a science blogger.

Science is overrated. This is my contention.

Last night in chat I evidently hit a nerve by (perhaps not so) casually suggesting that maybe it’s not the end of the world that fewer and fewer American students are going into the sciences.

I read that first bit, and you may be shocked to learn that I’m willing to agree. There are some really good arguments to support the position. Science is hard, and it’s true that the majority of people aren’t going to be able to grasp it. We’re oversubscribed and overextended right now, too: more students are going through the science mill than can ever acquire jobs doing science. If every PI is taking on one new graduate student and one new postdoc every year over a career spanning 30-40 years…well, that’s a situation that is rather ruthlessly Malthusian. It is definitely not a practical career, either—the excessively long training period and relatively low salaries mean that, in a purely economic sense, it would be more profitable to plunge into a blue-collar job straight out of high school. It’s also not as if science is the only rewarding career of value out there, and no other work can possibly be as satisfying or productive. My own kids are all going on into non-science careers, and I say, good for them.

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Finals are over!

For my students, at least—now I just have to buckle down and do a lot of grading over the next few days.

I made my poor Human Physiology1 students suffer through a long comprehensive exam. For a lark, my son Connlann2 took the final, and I have to publicly shame him. I don’t normally publicize exam scores, but he got a mere 12.5%3 right! And he answered most of the questions that demanded a short answer with limericks. This is disgraceful; what do they teach students in those Wisconsin schools?4

1This is an upper level biology elective, packed full of pre-meds.

2Who is a freshman English/theater major at UW Madison.

3He did take some freshman biology course out there.

4I shall have to yank him out of that terrible place, and either enroll him in our superior local university or put him to work digging ditches.

Horowitz can’t count

His book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, apparently only contains 100 professors. While some might argue that this is an indicator of his sloppiness, I prefer to think of it as his offering of hope: those of us aren’t in the book can now dream that we were supposed to be in there, and it was just an oversight that we were left out.

Repeat after me: I am the 101st Professor!


If you’ve been wondering where I am today, I’m dyin’ here, man. I’ve been grading freshman essays and quizzes all day long—my eyes are fiery red orbs and my brain is liquefying, but I’ve only gotten about halfway through the massive pile. This is going to be an agonizing week, I can tell…and it doesn’t help that I’m going to have to pack up in the middle and zoom down to Madison to bring my son home for the summer break (maybe I should make him grade some of these papers…).

It also doesn’t help that I put a trick question on the last quiz, one that was trivial to answer if the students had actually done the reading, but there was no way you’d guess it if you hadn’t, and 90% of the students missed it. Hey, gang, Aldo Leopold was writing about the compass plant—how many times did I tell you to read that chapter of A Sand County Almanac? There will be more questions like that from the readings on the final exam, I guarantee you that.

Now I’m all cranky as well as bleary eyed. I think it’s time for me to tune out until tomorrow, when I’ll hit these stacks of papers again.


I really want to go to Drinking Liberally tonight—I even said I would go.

It is, however, the end of the term, and there is a horrific pile of grading sitting on my desk. It’s the classic dilemma of having to choose between fun and beer and interesting people vs. obligations and responsibility and work.

So I took a look at the pile and carved out a harshly large chunk of it, and I have set myself a goal: if I can get that scary looking subset of it done in time, I’ll take off for Minneapolis. If I can’t, I’m going to stay here and make lots of furious little red marks instead. I think I can do it, but it isn’t going to be easy…so excuse me if I ignore this little corner of the intarwebs for a while.

If anyone knows any fairy godmothers with a little free time, send ’em my way, OK?

Hi, Daryl!

I get lots of hate mail, but it’s actually not that often that I’m cc’ed complaints sent to my acting chancellor and the university PR person. Since he’s willing to share, so am I…so here’s Mr Daryl Schulz’s defense of free speech:

I have known a few people through the years that have gone to UM Morris and thought it to be a reputable institution affiliated with the University of Minnesota. But you can’t be serious about being proud of one of your Associate Professor’s blog winning an award when it contains such hate towards religion or faith of any type ( To put it on the splash page of your university website is not helping your image to being open minded and fair to all types of students whether Christian or otherwise. His frequent mocking and ridicule of faith in anything other than science is embarrassing for him as a professor but especially so for you as a tax payer supported branch of the University of Minnesota. Does your school support and advertise blogs of Christian, Muslim, or Jewish proponents? Would your school be proud if one of your staff admitted to being hard on Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists or Atheists, despising their beliefs and making mock of their nonsensical ideas and backwards social agenda as Mr. Myers admits to below in the blog headline below regarding Christianity?

His ideas are his own whether I agree with them or not and free speech is a constitutional right. But I’m embarrassed by this endorsement by your school for several reasons and thankfully I am not an alumnus.. I will also be sure my children and others who ask will be directed to fully research your institution fully to be clear on how their beliefs are accepted and treated by representatives. I am appalled my tax dollars are being used to advertise his hatred.


Daryl Schulz

He also provides a link to this fine example of my perfidy. Just a hint to those making future attempts to screw with my employer’s heads: I don’t recommend picking a criticism of Kent Hovind as an example. Anyone with half a brain, and the people working here are actually pretty smart, aren’t going to be too dazzled by someone who is unhappy that a biologist thinks a dishonest creationist huckster is an embarrassing representative of Christianity.

My university does not endorse what I say here. I don’t think Mr Shulz quite understands the concept of free speech if he thinks it means you only acknowledge the existence of one side of an argument; thinking that universities will back away from criticism of religion because some guy feels the existence of an atheist on campus makes the place unsuitable for his children is rather silly. That’s going to narrow their field of prospective educational institutions to lots of third rate bible colleges…which is, of course, Mr Schulz’s choice.

By the way, the majority of students here are Christian. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single student complain that I discriminate against them on the basis of their religion—they’re usually more interested in complaining about the brutality of my exams.

Which reminds me that I have to finish grading one of those brutal exams today…

We all have “Life Experience”—you get it by living

OK, this Dean Dad fella substituting for Dr. B got me a little sniffy with his first post (telling little kids easy lies about heaven is a pet peeve. Dead is gone, sugarcoating it is the first step to a life of delusions), but his latest is much more interesting and sparked some cranky comments—is it just me, or are the trolls on a hair-trigger everywhere lately?

Anyway, it’s a good snarl.

It’s not unusual for downsized or early-retired professionals to show up asking for faculty positions, thinking that we’ll be tripping all over ourselves for the opportunity to bask in their reflected glory. They present themselves as willing to take one for the greater good by settling for a job I spent years in poverty to prepare for, and felt damn lucky to get. In the few occasions in which folks like that have been hired, when I’ve been around to see it, they’ve ranged from acceptably average to constant-pain-in-the-neck. They’ve never excelled, or even risen above average. They don’t want to; as far as they’re concerned, they paid their dues in ‘the real world,’ and they’re coasting across the finish line by teaching. No, thanks.

I have never been on the administrative side of academia where those kinds of decisions are made, but I’ve met a few people that match that description. They think because they had successful careers and rose to bank president or regional manager of a department store or whatever, all commendable accomplishments and good on you, etc., that they now have exactly the right stuff to inspire and train college students. Nuh-uh. Stay away. If you ask me, they are exactly the wrong people to bring in to the university.

We already have a perception problem, with the increasing commodification of college degrees and the narrow b-school mentality that says the measure of the worth of an education is in how well it profits the students after graduation…where profit is measured only in how many more pennies the person will earn. People who have found happiness in the prosperity of the upper middle class tend to be superficial and uninteresting. Give me instead beach bums and street poets and activists who’ve found something of worth in the unconventional, and that’s where you’ll find deeper inspiration for students. Unfortunately, they’re also not the kind to collar college administrators and inspire them with tales of fat donations.

Oh, and do look at the comments. I’ve also noticed that those people who are most proud of their bourgeois accomplishments can be awfully thin-skinned when others are unimpressed with the size of their money-pile and the hard work they put into acquiring it.

Treating students as people is awfully inefficient, after all

Oh, my. Inside Higher Ed has an article that has to be read to be believed: the problem with universities are their faculties, we need to get rid of tenure, hire more part-time, untenured faculty on short term contracts, cut back on those expensive bits of infrastructure like libraries and theaters, increase teaching loads across the board…in other words, turn education into a commodity with universities as the assembly lines that crank out graduates, while letting all those over-educated professors know that they too can be replaced by some yahoo with a mail-order degree. It’s a recipe for the complete demolition of higher education in this country, replacing it with some cookie cutter B-school model.

Fortunately, I don’t have to blow a gasket over it, because that guy Bérubé has already turned it into a colossal joke. It seems to be the only appropriate way to deal with these unrealistic libertarian fantasies.