Boycott Pepsi

Do it now, before 2021, because they have plans to pollute the sky.

A Russian company called StartRocket says it’s going to launch a cluster of cubesats into space that will act as an “orbital billboard,” projecting enormous advertisements into the night sky like artificial constellations. And its first client, it says, will be PepsiCo — which will use the system to promote a “campaign against stereotypes and unjustified prejudices against gamers” on behalf of an energy drink called Adrenaline Rush.

Yet another “energy drink”, a campaign to support that <sarcasm>horribly oppressed group</sarcasm>, gamers, and they’re going to do it by putting unwanted glare in the night sky? I already hate Pepsi’s existence. Smart advertising.

I stand with Ilhan, too

Ibram X. Kendi
It goes without saying that #IStandWithIlhanOmar. And anyone who does not stands with Congresswoman Omar stands with Islamophobia, with racism, with politicians deploying lies to inflame racial and religious terror in the country. There is no middle ground in the struggle against bigotry. The sideline is behind the lines of bigots. The bigots have cast themselves as striving against bigotry, while they have cast those striving against bigotry as the bigots. The bigots have cast themselves as the victims and cast the victims as the bigots. But nothing new there: that is the history of bigotry. Congresswoman Omar is not perfect. I’m not. I’ve expressed bigotry. Confessed my mistakes. None of us are perfect. But many of us act as if we are. What are we striving against, and for? Her record makes clear she is striving against bigotry, striving for a world of equity. Finally, it is a fact that Congresswoman Omar was not talking about 9/11 in the way Trump cast her. But bigots hate the truth as much as they hate people.

I am a member of a highly privileged class

I’m a tenured college professor. It took hard work to get here (and hard work to do the job!), but sometimes I’m reminded of how many advantages I have. Look at how one of my peers in geology acted in his job!

The first complainant, Jane Willenbring, now an associate professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego, alleges that Marchant repeatedly shoved her down a steep slope, pelted her with rocks while she was urinating in the field, called her a “slut” and a “whore,” and urged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip.

The second complainant, Deborah Doe (a pseudonym), who was in Antarctica for two austral summers during this era, reports that Marchant called her a “c–t” and a “bitch” repeatedly. She alleges that he promised to block her access to research funding should she earn a Ph.D. She abandoned her career dreams and left academe.

A third woman, Hillary Tulley, a Skokie, Illinois, high school teacher, describes her experience in a supporting letter filed with BU investigators. “His taunts, degrading comments about my body, brain, and general inadequacies never ended,” she writes. She claims Marchant tried to exhaust her into leaving Antarctica. “Every day was terrifying,” she says in an interview with Science.

That’s from a year and a half ago. At that time, after years of harassing students, he was the chair of his department at Boston University and was about to be honored by the GSA for his work. It’s amazing what we professors can get away with.

That’s changing though. Marchant has been fired, finally. He denies ever harassing anyone, which is part of the problem — he probably didn’t think his behavior was harassing at all. And he’s not alone.

Student journalists have been investigating professors of ill repute on the Columbia University campus. They found all kinds of interesting problems.

English professor Michael Golston was found responsible for sexually assaulting and harassing a student, according to documents from an investigation conducted by Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

However, months later, he still retained access to campus and his Columbia-owned faculty apartment. Over a year later, the University has given no official update regarding his teaching status or access to campus to either the complainant or the chair of his department.

Business school professor Geert Bekaert was convicted in federal court for retaliating against Enrichetta Ravina, former assistant professor of finance, after she reported him to the University for sexual harassment.

Today, Bekaert continues to oversee research projects and teach classes on campus.

According to a lawsuit filed by Jane Doe, former history and classics professor William Harris repeatedly sexually harassed her, then disparaged her to their colleagues when she refused him.

Although he retired as a part of a settlement with the University nearly two years ago, Harris still frequents campus, particularly reading rooms in Butler Library where classics students perform research. He also still lives in his Columbia-owned faculty apartment.

“It makes my skin crawl, and I basically can’t even bring myself to look at him or in his direction,” said one classics student on running into Harris in the library.

After prominent neuroscientist and Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute Co-Director Thomas Jessell was found guilty of sexual misconduct by the University, Columbia announced he would be removed from all administrative posts.

But eight months later, Jessell remained on campus, continuing to work with students and use research facilities.

Columbia has never formally dismissed a tenured faculty member who has been convicted of sexual misconduct, assault, or harassment, University President Lee Bollinger told Spectator in an interview last October.

Wow. So the “punishment” for sexually harassing students is not having to do any committee work anymore? These guys are still getting paid by the university?

Note that at the same time, these universities have an army of serfs, the adjuncts.

To be a perennial adjunct professor is to hear the constant tone of higher education’s death knell. The story is well known—the long hours, the heavy workload, the insufficient pay—as academia relies on adjunct professors, non-tenured faculty members, who are often paid pennies on the dollar to do the same work required of their tenured colleagues.

That’s from a story about Thea Hunter, a black woman historian who was basically worked to death as an adjunct.

She had a number of ailments that bothered her—her asthma, her heart—and the rigors of being an adjunct added to them. Had she been tenured, she would have experienced a sort of security that tenure is designed to provide: a campus office of her own, health insurance, authority and respect with which to navigate campus bureaucracy, greater financial stability. Without tenure, she was unprotected, at the whim of her body’s failings, working long hours for little pay, teaching large survey classes outside of her area of special expertise. As Terry McGlynn, a biology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Full professors benefit from the exploitation of non-tenure-track instructors.” Adjuncts often do the work that other professors don’t want.

There really is a deep rich/poor divide in academia. We have a moral obligation to end it.

Ivanka the Vacant

I don’t like reading articles where the story is entirely buried between the lines — if you’re a journalist, plain-spoken brevity is a virtue. That’s why this article in The Atlantic about Ivanka Trump is agonizing. It’s long, and all you’re going to glean from it is that Ivanka is a cipher who takes great pains in maintaining a poised appearance, and is careful to avoid any conflict with her asshole father. The author is equally careful to avoid criticizing Ivanka, who, characteristically, refuses to go on the record anywhere in the story, and clearly got the access to write the story by a history of pandering to the Trump family. Like the first time she met Ivanka:

Ivanka was hard to miss—taller and prettier than everyone else. I was a fan, as were most girls I knew. We thought she had it all—her own company, a pretty family, a pretty apartment. When I saw an opening, I told her as much. She thanked me and told me she liked my dress. We took a photo together, which I posted on Instagram.

Wait. A “fan” of Ivanka, along with most of her friends? Until she got elevated to an unearned position of power, I and most of the people I know had no idea who this pampered rich girl was. What kind of person did you have to be to be aware of Ivanka Trump?

Then, even as the author is trying to be inoffensive, she succeeds in revealing through what she doesn’t say how empty Ivanka is.

It’s a great boring slog of an article, but I did run across one interesting comment. It’s Donald Trump once again attributing a virtue to … fucking genetics.

The president went on: “She’s got a great calmness … I’ve seen her under tremendous stress and pressure. She reacts very well—that’s usually a genetic thing, but it’s one of those things, nevertheless.” He added: “She’s got a tremendous presence when she walks into the room.”

Calmness is usually a genetic thing? Then how did Ivanka inherit it, since her father is a temperamental histrionic toad?

I’m complaining about evolutionary psychology again

It’s kind of an irresistible target.

A few things that I mention:
The evolutionary psychology FAQ at UCSB
(Warning: it’s a sad, ugly, long document, but worth perusing if you want ammunition against evolutionary psychology.)

Chapter 7 of Darwin’s Descent of Man
(Warning: it’ll be a shock if you haven’t read 19th century literature in scientific racism before. Darwin held all the biases of his time.)

The critical points:

Evolution is more than just selection, and includes mutation, recombination, and drift.

Natural selection has a cost; it puts an upper bound on the number of elements subject to selection.

Populations have a substantial amount of genetic variation.

Most of that variation is neutral, or nearly neutral.

Mutations that have a small effect are invisible to selection.

Thomas Massie isn’t a scientist, either

I almost gave Thomas Massie a little credit. I won’t make that mistake ever again.

In his grilling of John Kerry, he first asks Isn’t it true you have a science degree from Yale? Kerry explains that it’s a bachelor of arts degree in political science. Then Massie asks, How do you get a bachelor of arts in a science?

If he’d been asking that as a sincere question, I’d be sympathetic. Incoming students always ask about the difference between a BA and a BS degree, and it’s a legitimate source of confusion. Basically, there is no difference. It isn’t as if one is for Artists and the other is for Scientists, and to the surprise of many, it’s not as if a BA is easier than a BS. It usually reflects how many credits outside your major you took, and what the tradition at the university is. The University of Minnesota Morris offers a BA in biology only, because we’re a liberal arts college and we require a fairly broad education for everyone. It’s still a science degree. At Temple University, we offered both the BA or the BS — they had exactly the same core requirements, the only difference being that the BA required that you take more foreign language courses, so it was actually harder to earn a BA.

But the bottom line is that there is no substantial difference between a BA and a BS, and nothing that will affect your future employment or career choices. Unless you encounter a dope like Thomas Massie, who goes on to say that a BA degree is not really science. Kerry does clearly state that he has a BA in political science from a liberal arts college, but Massie leaps on that with this ridiculous bilge:

I think it’s somewhat appropriate that someone with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience

No. Neither a political science degree nor a bachelor of arts degree is pseudoscience. Any sympathy with his initial expression of confusion is now thoroughly dissipated. This guy is a fool.

He has since followed through with this claim:

Everybody knows that political science is a specialty that focuses on a certain body of knowledge. “Science” is not a magic word. You can’t define the validity of a discipline by picking over the etymology of the words in the label. It’s simply idiotic.

Other Republicans, like Gosar and Steube, made similarly ignorant contributions to the conversation. As Kerry pointed out, this was not a serious discussion. It can’t be, as long as Republican dimwits are involved.

By the way, Massie has a degree in engineering…not science. I guess he is disqualified from the conversation. Or would he rather push his climate-change-denying pseudoscience on everyone?

The usual predictable BS about women in science

Katie Bouman was one of the primary team leaders on the project to image a black hole. She’s gotten a flurry of media attention lately, which she always seems to handle with grace and takes care to acknowledge all of her teammates, but you can imagine what’s going on in the cesspools of the internet, Twitter and Reddit and the chans. A woman is being respected for her contributions to science? We can’t have that. So the trolls went hunting for a different member of the team, one with a penis, so they could declare that he did all the work, and she stole all the credit.

Except they picked the wrong guy, one who wasn’t full of sexist BS and who understood the roles of the various people involved in the project. Actually, one could argue that it would be hard to find a productive, functional member of a scientific team who wouldn’t appreciate the cooperative work required. But they picked Andrew Chael.

You know, the trolls (and you can find a few in that thread) are not astrophysicists with solid knowledge of the inner workings of the project. Their only qualification is that they’re contemptible assholes who are irate that their stereotypes don’t hold up to the evidence.

Who wants to live forever?

Jennifer Raff has written an informative summary of what you can actually learn about ancient ancestors from those DNA tests.

  1. Your DNA is not a good snapshot of your whole family tree more than a few generations back. You have many more genealogical ancestors than you have genetic ancestors.
  2. Any given individual in the past (including all of the ancient people referenced in the Primeval DNA test) is extremely unlikely to have passed along their DNA to anyone, including you.
  3. Any person in the distant past—be they anonymous peasant or famous monarch—who passed on their DNA into present times might be your ancestor, but he or she will also likely be the ancestor of everyone else in the world. In other words, as geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford explained in his post on the subject for The Guardian, “we are all special, which means none of us are.”

I like to turn all that around, and consider our descendants. 1) You’re going to be genetically disintegrated and your bits scattered among your descendants, if any; 2) most of us will not have our specific DNA represented in any distant descendants; and 3) if you do leave descendants, your genes will be dispersed among huge numbers of individuals. Sorry, everyone, there really isn’t any such thing as genetic immortality. I blame sex.

Enjoy your life now.

I think I could use an evening of frogs

We’re in the midst of a blizzard, the UMM campus is closed, but the show must go on. An evening of frogs and films by Katie Garrett is still taking place tonight, so if you’re nearby, do try to make it. If you’re not nearby, you’d be crazy to travel in this weather, so don’t.

Frogs would be a denial of our current weather situation, so I think I’ll be going.