Guess who’s speaking at the NSTA National Conference


The featured speaker at this year’s National Science Teacher Association conference in Boston is…Mayim Bialik.

The lucky ones among you are saying right now, “who?”. Others may know her from her television work, but maybe don’t know the full story behind her ‘science’ activism.

She’s an actor who plays Sheldon’s girlfriend on Big Bang Theory. Right there, as far as I’m concerned, we have a major strike against her: I detest that show. It’s the equivalent of a minstrel show for scientists, where scientists are portrayed as gross caricatures of the real thing — socially inept, egotistical jerks who think rattling off an equation is a sign of intelligence. I think it’s literally an anti-science communication show. Who in their right mind would want to be anything like Sheldon, the narcissistic nerd? Who would want to work with people like that? The message it’s sending instead is that if you are a superficial asshole, you should become a scientist, where you will be loved for personality traits that would get you shunned in civilized company. (We also see the same phenomenon in atheism, where so many people think it’s a great excuse to be the insensitive Vulcan.)

But OK, that’s a matter of taste, I will admit, and maybe not enough of a reason to be appalled to think she is going to be speaking to science teachers (although it’s enough for me). And she does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, you have to respect that.


Mayim Bialik does not vaccinate her kids. She’s the spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network. I know what you’re thinking: “holistic” doesn’t sound so bad. But take it away, Orac!

Just one look at its advisory board should tell you all you need to know. For instance, there’s Dr. Lauren Feder, who bills herself as specializing in “primary care medicine, pediatrics and homeopathy” and has been a frequent contributor to that bastion of quackery and antivaccine looniness, Mothering Magazine, where she recommended homeopathic remedies to treat whooping cough. It doesn’t get much quackier than that. But Feder is just the beginning. Also on the Holistic Moms advisory board is the grand dame of the antivaccine movement herself, the woman who arguably more than anyone else is responsible for starting the most recent iteration of the antivaccine movement in the U.S. Yes, I’m talking about Barbara Loe Fisher, the founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a bastion of antivaccine propaganda since the 1980s. She’s not the only antivaccine activist on the advisory board, though. There’s also Peggy O’Mara, publisher of Mothering Magazine and Sherri Tenpenny, who is described right on the Holistic Moms website as, “one of America’s most knowledgeable and outspoken physicians, warning against the negative impact of vaccines on health.” Then there’s Dr. Lawrence Rosen, “integrative” pediatrician who appeared at the NVIC “vaccine safety conference” back in 2009 with Barbara Loe Fisher and Andrew Wakefield. In fact, Barbara Loe Fisher, Sherri Tenpenny, and Lauren Feder are featured very prominently on the Holistic Moms Network page on vaccination.

But that’s not all. If there’s one more thing that should tell you all you need to know about the Holistic Moms Network approach to science-based medicine, then take a look at its sponsors: Boiron (manufacturer of the homeopathic remedy for flu known as Oscillococcinum), the Center for Homeopathic Education (and I bet it is homeopathic too), the National Center for Homeopathy, and a whole bunch of other purveyors of woo and quackery.

And he has a lot more to say, as usual.

So why is this woo-peddling, vaccination-denying sitcom star being featured as a speaker at NSTA? I don’t know. Because she has a Ph.D. and pretends to be socially inept on TV? That doesn’t seem to be a good reason. Will Jenny McCarthy be invited to deliver a keynote next year? How about Ken Ham — he’s very into ‘science’ education, you know. Gosh, if we’re going to open the door to quacks, the pool of potential speakers just expanded immensely! Joseph Mercola? Andrew Weil? Deepak Chopra!

Tsk, NSTA. Do you vet your speakers at all?


Somehow, I follow a lot of science fiction people and UK residents on twitter, and my feed erupted with convergent outrage this morning. Some guy named @wossy (Jonathan Ross) has been announced as the host for a British SF convention, Loncon 3, where he’ll be handing out the Hugo Awards. Who? Had to look him up.

He seems to have a bit of a reputation as a sexist boor who, as a “comedian”, likes to punch down, especially at women, and substitutes profanity for humor. I know the type; I’m sure he’ll have the lads all sniggering.

One person has already resigned from the Loncon 3 committee, with a quite clear declaration that this was an entirely inapproporiate choice for an organization with a membership a bit larger than the boys down at the pub. It sends a message that your harassment policies are just for show when you take someone who has made a career out of violating boundaries with women and rewarding them with the prestige of being the host for an international award.

The World Science Fiction Convention looks like one to skip this year.

I don’t mean to be neglecting the blog today

But I’m neglecting the blog today. I’m finally at #scio14, and it’s busy busy busy. So far today I’ve been in sessions on reaching diverse audiences and on doing better at serving differently abled communities, because I’d like to do both, and this afternoon there’s stuff on media and networks and who knows what that will keep me engaged.

It’s actually refreshing to be here–it really is a diverse group, and there are lots of younger people (I feel like the crotchety old fogie…oh, wait, I always feel like that). My goal this weekend is to dispel a little bit of my disillusionment with online communities and get inspired again, and this is a good place to do that. So I’m just making little notes on ideas that can give me fresh eyes and change up what I do…and I hope, do it better.

You’ll forgive a little mild distractedness for that, right?

I’m on my way to #scio14

That’s not good news. The good news will be “I’m at #scio14“, because I’ve got a lot of traveling ahead of me. And it’s been one of those days that I always dread: the day I have to return tests in genetics. I write hard tests…well, not really that hard conceptually, but I avoid questions of a form that allows them to be answered with rote execution of a formula, which means that students who are struggling to understand often end up taking weird detours in their answers, and do poorly. And then there’s the usual bimodal grade distribution of a class that emphasizes logic and methodology; some find it trivial, others just freak out. Everyone is miserable, and it makes lecturing no fun at all.

But I can’t do otherwise. I’ll throw more practice problems at them, and drill them through the process over and over again, and usually, most of them will make it through to the end.

Anyway, now I’m off to the airport. Long drive, long night, get into Raleigh-Durham sometime tomorrow. Then I have to be the student for a few days and learn.

I hope there isn’t an exam at the end.

American Atheists…expelled!

Just today I mentioned that American Atheists were going to have a booth at CPAC, which prompted many of you to say that you’d rather atheists didn’t attempt to recruit from that mob of sanctimonious assholes. You didn’t have to worry. CPAC had their own idea.

On Tuesday, American Atheists President David Silverman received a phone call from American Conservative Union Executive Director Dan Schneider informing him that the ACU board is breaking its agreement to permit American Atheists to host an information booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), March 6-8.

They’ve been kicked out, even before the convention started.

The conservatives cited Silverman’s “tone” as a problem, to which Dave makes the perfect reply:

Silverman repudiated Schneider’s assertion: “This is exactly the problem. The ACU, which has invited CPAC speakers such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin, is afraid of my tone? My ‘tone’ was clearly an excuse to back out after our press release angered religious conservatives.”

This is actually the best possible result. We aren’t at risk of tainting atheism with any more of those jerks, and American Atheists has effectively highlighted their intolerance. Win win!

They will return with stories, I’m sure

David Silverman, Amanda Knief, and Dave Muscato are going to be at an American Atheists booth at CPAC, that radical Conservative Political Action Committee meeting all the wingnuts attend.

It’s a cunning trick. If they survive, they know we’re all going to have another reason to attend the convention in Salt Lake City — so that we can take them to a bar and ply them with beverages and get them to tell us all the stories.

Et tu, Chemistry?

Quick, everyone! Get out your Bingo cards!

The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry is going to be held next year, and they announced their preliminary speaker list: it was entirely made up of men. This is not surprising. It’s held by the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences, which is almost entirely made up of men, too.

Notably, there are only four female scientists among the 110 living members of IAQMS, which elects new candidates by internal vote. Ten out of 102 talks during the previous three conference were given by women, and only two female chemists have been awarded medals over the past decade, according to the instigators of the boycott.

I’ve highlighted the bit about how this kind of sexism is perpetuated. It takes a real effort by existing members of the organization to break up bad habits…and it doesn’t sound as if some members are interested, despite the fact that there is an online list of women in quantum chemistry that would make it easy to find interesting women to invite.

Cue the excuses:

Zhigang Shuai, a professor at Tsinghua University in China and chair of this year’s ICQC, wrote a letter to explain that one woman had been among the original invitees, but had not responded

There might be women in our second choices!

many of the people on the original list were obligatory selections

There aren’t any women of obligatory importance in the field.

And then, of course, the Asshat Backlash. Here’s Professor James Kress, complaining about all those people complaining about discrimination on a chemistry listserv.

If you INSIST on discussing this on CCL, the please place an identifying header on all your emails so that those of us who care about SCIENCE, as opposed to trendy whining about supposed “gender inequality” and other fashionable modes of Political Correctness can at least have a hope of filtering out all of the nonsensical content and peruse the SCIENTIFIC content.

Oh, Dr Kress cannot shut up:

Inequality is a fundamental characteristic of any collection of more than one human being, he said, and suggested that if people don’t like the current conferences they should start their own. You’re not entitled to excel. You have to earn it. I guess that’s kind of an old fashioned perspective but it’s certainly mine.

Kress doubled down in a followup email. Given that everyone has unique DNA, it is scientifically certain that no two people will be identical in terms of capabilities, he wrote. ALL SORTS of differences in capabilities exist in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Math, etc. Those who work harder, overcome their capability deficient and make themselves equal to or better than their colleagues. Hard work is the way to address the capability issue and thus achieve equality.

He’s got his, and by god, he deserved it, and if you aren’t getting invited to speak at conferences, it’s entirely because you are a lazy slacker with female DNA.

So, what conferences have a problem with rampant manly privilege so far? Atheist, skeptic, science fiction, literature, philosophy, technology, and now chemistry? Did I miss any? Yeah, probably. It seems to be all of them.

Surprise! #scio14 is next week!

I don’t know whether to be impressed with my foresight or be dismayed at my memory, but I had a shock this morning: I actually checked my calendar and it said I’m supposed to be in Raleigh, North Carolina next week for the ScienceOnline Together conference. Panic city! And then I checked and discovered that I’d arranged my hotel room and flight ages ago. I must be getting old, but at least I’m compensating by planning ahead. Also, I suppose I could have checked my calendar next week and been totally surprised.

Anyway, it should be fun. Maybe I’ll even post a few things from the event, like every single other attendee. Or not. This is one meeting that does not suffer from a shortage of web attention.