Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Helping people overcome their aversion to science

Resistance to science has important social implications, because a scientifically ignorant public is unprepared to evaluate polices about global warming, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and cloning.
An excerpt from
Childhood origins of adult resistance to science in Science Magazine 18 May 2007 issue.

Many Americans are resistant to learn about new technologies, evolution and natural selection, or complicated health care issues. Why? Because people have a hard-time accepting information that conflicts with their personal construct and understanding of the world.

Resistance to science, technology, and math (STM) education begins early and stays throughout life for most people. Usually because of a dissatisfying experience with STM during the formative years – middle and high school grades, many people shy away or outright reject information about our advancing knowledge in these areas.

Students and citizens are not empty vessels. No, they have a pretty broad idea of how the world works. These ideas may not be accurate but these ideas are ‘true enough’. And for many people they learn about new things from their personal expert -- someone in their social circle, someone they trust to be right or believe to be most knowledgeable.

Now, consider this: If a person is resistant to science since childhood, he/she doesn’t know any scientists, and she/her has no real idea of how science works, then how should they react to all of this new information? Why should they believe want the scientific community says about a matter? Why should they chuck out what they believe and know to be true?

One of my science education professors warns that we should not “expect students to replace one fairy-tale for another”. The students’ ideas and comprehension of the world are established, even if it is inaccurate. Just because you tell them what is correct and they provide the correct answers on the tests, doesn’t mean they will accept it as true. Especially for controversial lessons about evolution, students will take the test and then declare they believe none of the information provided by the instructor. Why? They failed to update their world-view.

So, how do we teach people about the world so that they can update their brain computers? We let them discover the phenomenon. Active learning through manipulation and experimentation is essential if people are to REALLY learn more about the world and about science. Teaching science as a laundry list of facts doesn’t help people become more scientifically literate or able to evaluate policies. However, meaningful learning experiences do give students and citizens the opportunities to figure things out for themselves.

Unlike the personal expert who can be vouched for, the scientific community has no such social capital with the general public. That’s not how science works – usually. The results speak for themselves; the proof is in the pudding. Our voucher system is the experiment or rather the experience. Science is best learned by doing it. Let people try things out, test assumptions, research perceptions. When people can figure things out for themselves that’s when people will resist science less.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

College Preparation

College Preparation
It’s never too early to start thinking about college, or too late. This posting is especially designed for those students who think that ‘maybe college isn’t for me – right now.
College is important. For one thing, this society is becoming increasingly more technologically advanced. An advanced education (beyond high school) is essential for financial and personal success. Gone are the days when one could simply ‘work hard for a living’ and support him/herself and family. Even labor jobs depend on people having critical skills and abilities. Rote and unskilled labor jobs are akin to serfdom.

No, a quality post-secondary education is imperative and I believe a university education may be one’s best bet. University education will provide one with a well-balanced foundation in the 3 Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic and shapes students intellectually and cognitively. Thinking – critical thinking, discernment, and decision making are key qualities for the 21st century citizen.

So, I recommend the following College Preparation and Research references for any student or parent/guardian/mentor of a student. But don’t think you’ve got to run out and buy these books. Oh no. I check these books out from my local public library.

1. America’s Best Colleges for B Students by Tamra B. Orr.
ISBN: 1932662065

Financial Aid is also important for college preparation, so here are some starting points. First, start researching financial aid options as early as possible. There are a million different deadlines and eligibility requirements. Second, competitive essays and academic contests are a scholarship options. Third, the student in question is primarly responsible for completing applications and filling out the necessary paperwork. So help your student along with encouragement and proof-reading & time-management support. Finally, sock the moeny away. You can start amassing money as early as 9th grade and let it wait for you. You can take that money to any institution and use to cover tuition, books, room, and board.

2. The Financial Aid Book compiled by Student Financial Services
ISBN: 1-881199-01-0

3. Directory of Financial Aids for Women by Gail A Schlachter & R David Weber
ISBN: 1-58841-131-1
Reference Service Press produces over a dozen different financial aid guides for almost any demographic

Friday, May 25, 2007

Why 'Perfect Representation' in STEM is important

Why does it matter that Life Sciences (or any STEM field) works to include under-represented minorties like African-Americans, Latinos, Native-Americans, women and people with disabilities. So What does it matter? That was a remark posted on in reference to by post about the topic: SO WHAT?

The big deal with 'perfect representation' has to do with heterogeneity. Physical/Ethnic diversity also yields intellectual diversity -- a diversity of viewpoints, interpretations, and ways to communicate with wider audiences. Students and quite frankly, some academics and administrators, need to know that women, people of color and people with disabilities are capable of contributing to ALL aspects of the human experience. It's not right that people automatically assume that being a scientist means that a person is more likely to be a white male than anything else. As a result, it creates a sad situation where members of the general public assume that 'real authorities' of a discipline come primarily from one demographic. That's not true and it's not right.

There are bigger issues to stab at. And in my opinion the big issue to address is the inconsistency of institutions' objectives to promote diversity and their failure to work toward meeting these objectives. I think it is hypocritical for institutions to talk about how important diversity and education are, but do very little to promote diversity. Or they fail take advantage of programs that could help them meet diversity goals, e.g. those that educate students from under-represented groups, recruit students from under-represented groups.

To be honest, departments and universities could do more - and not necessarily more expensive things. Examples include but are not limited to:
1. improving the overall science education of undergraduates - connnect the curriculum, teach science experientially, promote reasoning and thinking and not memorization

2. encourage undergraduates to participate in research -
provide funds to pay for the hours of research credit, offer scholarships for them to travel to remote sites to work alongside graduate student researchers or post-docs

3. invite undergraduates to attend department seminars.

In other words, I think many science departments could do a better job cultivating young scientists. If the net is cast wide enough, then we're sure to include more students from under-represented groups.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Diversity Issues - obstacles to success

Dr. James Sherley has been dealing with obstacles to his success as a scientist and academic with the department of Biological Engineering at MIT. Although his story is unfortunate, that type of frustration is routinely experienced by many African-American scientists and graduate students. Such treatment and behavior creates unnecessary barriers to success. What a pity, because such unpleasant experiences can actually deter promising African-Americans (and others) from pursuing careers in science and academia.

Not to bemoan the lack of racial diversity within the sciences, but the lack of diversity within the sciences can also be attributed to the unfair treatment of minority faculty and graduate students by its senior faculty members and administrators. I seriously hope and pray it is unconscious, but nonetheless it is hurtful and damaging. How can STEM academic positions be expected to be filled by minority candidates if they are treated poorly during critical periods of their professional development?

Speaking from personal experience, faculty and administrators can be very insensitive. As the lone African-American student in my department I have been had to deal with issues that my other fellow graduate students have not had to address.

One example includes a recent fight to keep a Teaching Assistantship (TA). I was granted a year of TA funding by the out-going department chair. The new/incoming department chair was not comfortable with the assignment promised to me (the same assignment was also made to 2 other students, white females). He notified the other two students and their assignments were modified. He didn't notify me or my advisor and he also refused to sign off on the paperwork. Simultaneously, he forwarded the information about my assignment to the graduate school dean with a note stating his disapproval of my assignment. He also successfully lobbied other members of faculty and was able to block my assignment altogether. His consolation to me was that I could have a summer time TA position. This offer was ridiculous and empty because the department doesn't teach summer school classes and has never offered summertime TA assignments. I was livid and hurt. I was struck dumb by his lack of sensitivity and unconcern for my academic success.

Eventually, a solution was reached, but mainly because the previous department chair intervened. I was able to serve a double TA assignment, prepping one course and teaching another. But even that agreement was not to his liking; he attempted to block that assignment as well. He personally talked with the supervising faculty members and demanded that I teach double loads in both classes. He was very firm about me NOT prepping. Interestingly, one of the other students (whom I mentioned earlier as having a similar assignment), was given a prep only TA assignment. I came to the conclusion that female white graduate students were able to do things that I, the African-American, could not do.

I believe the entire matter was unfairly and inappropriately handled. Situations like these make the field of science and academia seem less objective and more subjective -- even unwelcoming to people of color. And it has made me less interested in pursuing an academic career in the future. Such treatment and behavior creates unnecessary barriers to success. What a pity, because academia and science is truly a great career options and African-Americans (and others) have so much to share with the rest of the world.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Diversifying the Life Sciences

"African-Americans make up 13 percent of the United States population, but comprise only 5 percent of those employed in the life, physical, and social sciences. Or with this: less than 3 percent of Ph.D.s in biology and chemistry are held by African-Americans. Different statistics pepper various reports, but none dispute the central fact, that African-Americans do not hold life science jobs in numbers commensurate with their representation in the US population. "

An excerpt from the May 11, 2007 Issue of Science Magazine
Focus on Diversity: INCUBATING INNOVATION - Diversity Efforts Rejuvenate the Life Science Work Force

I am one of one African-Americans pursuing a Ph.D. in biology at my institution (a mid-tier research department). In the 17 years since the department initiated a doctorate program, I am only the second African-American to be admitted and pursue a doctorate degree. I was actually recruited to my department via an NSF-AGEP grant. After my 'freshman year' in the program, the university backed out of this NSF education and diversity program; they cited that participating in the program is too-expensive. Since, then there hasn't been a single African-American student invited to interview or accepted in to the doctorate program. Furthermore, I can't remember a single time my department has hosted an African-American seminar speaker or interviewed an African-American for one of its open faculty positions.

Now, the fact that the numbers of Ph.D. scientists is rather low has a lot to do with these issues. Diversity and pluralism are supposed to be so important to institutions and departments. But
what disappoints me more, is the fact that institutions and academic leaders 'talk about diversity' but no one is willing to provide the resources and/or pave the way to attract, retain, and train minority graduate students.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Teaching science via active pedagogy

Far too many students enter and leave science classes memorizing the products of scientific endeavors without knowing what science is. They fail to understand that science involves the observation of natural phenomena, formulating hypotheses, and testing hypotheses. Having served as a resource scientist at an urban high school, I realized that these kids, no matter how bright and promising, were not at all cut out for college science courses. While delivering content knowledge in life science to students, I realized that it was just as important to help them discern what science is. As a scientist and an educator, my objective is to engage students to become active learners -- to ask questions, design experiments and test hypotheses. Specifically, I think it is important for students (high school, college and adult learners) ro have authentic science experiences. Such activities (also called problem-based or inquiry based lessons) can help foster lessons related to scientific processes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Science, Education & SES: Food-justice

Education is a tool for social justice. What education aims to do is:
1. Help people learn about the world and how it works, and
2. Help people learn about themselves, how they learn, and what they care about.

Education provides the foundation necessary to help people make informed decisions and choices. What people learn should ideally help them make 'better' decisions to improve their lives and their communities. And whether one agrees or not, making an informed decision is a political act. The choices one makes over a lifetime (or at any given time) can mean a choice for life or death, to protect rights or deny rights, or for health or sickness. Informed decision making means balancing the costs and benefits of a decision over the short and long-term payouts.

In fact, education is the seed and fertilizer of Democracy. Democratic rule only truly is democratic when the citizenry is educated. That is, the people know what is right and appropriate. They know how to identify when and how something may go (or may have gone) awry. And most importantly, they know how and are prepared to take corrective actions. These are all natural outcomes of informed decision making and social justice.

Poor education (whether formal or informal and in any and all subjects) makes people vulnerable. Vulnerable to people or institutions who would take advantage of them or who would deny them opportunities or to those who would do them harm. Poor education and lack of understanding is the root cause of injustice, inequality, discrimination, alienation, and poverty AND all of the symptomatic ills of each of these societal diseases. It is in this light that I highlight an article about Bryant Terry - A food-justice activist. He promotes health and nutrition education (and the science of and related to agriculture and health) to help address poverty issues. In doing so helps disadvantaged citizens from lower socio-economic classes.

Kudos to Bryant Terry!

Monday, May 14, 2007

STATS suck!

I've been pouring over data all weekend. I keep finding missing data (very good, valid data) that I somehow overlooked. Then I forget what I should be doing. Then I get weary of doing anything.

For me, confirming data points, checking the descriptive and frequency statistics is the not-so-sexy part of science. I know other people who LOVE it. (crazy scientists). My data set is so large. I intuitively know what I want to do, what columns & rows I want to summarize/compare. but I can't figure out this dang stats package language sometimes. What hoops do you want me to jump through SPSS 15.0? Would Xcel better? or Access. ah shucks, do them all.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Is Intellectualism among African-American Young Professionals dead?

I know many smart black people. By smart I mean, educated, speak well, able to discuss current and historical events. But intellectuals seem to be fewer in number. The word intellectual calls to mind people who are able to discern information, synthesize information and news items and present topics of interests that spark people to think. Think deeply. Dialogue deeply. Focus on common denominators of societal ills. Propose solutions to these problems and evaluate impact and effectiveness of these solutions.

I am amazed by the swell of seemingly smart people who are cognitive novices. Now, let me preface this with a little background information. I've spent quite a bit of time working with and teaching high school students and college underclassmen. It's heart-breaking how many of these students are unprepared. And among students of color and those from urban school districts, lack of academic preparedness is even greater. Most have no idea 'how to think' and the importance of being logical, rationale, and thorough. They don't know where to start. What frightens me more is that I've witnessed scores of adults who are just as deficient. I'm just dismayed by the lack of understanding and interest in understanding that so many of my peers have about the world around them.

I've concluded that "Why" and "How" are very difficult questions for many people. Asking someone to define goals and objectives and outline a plan of action can be a very trying task for many as well. As a scientist, thorough planning, execution, and evaluation of projects comes very naturally for me. Furthermore, I am always being examined and critiqued by others to make sure my proposals and projects are meeting stated goals and objectives. This simple exercise (for me, at least) of planning, critique, and re-evaluation, keeps me sharp. My ability to detect errors or mis-information or inconsistencies helps me become a better scientist and citizen.

But, this level and expectation of critical thinking seems to be lacking among the majority of African-American young professionals I encounter. Take young professional associations for African-Americans for example, what are these organizations really about? To get an exact and complete description, one must study the organizations themselves, but overarching goals seem to be the same.
Mobilization? yes.
Civic Engagement? yes.
Preparation for success? yes.

But what I don't always see is an actual and deliberate plan to implement these objectives. In order words, HOW do such organizations promote or get African-Americans to mobilize, to become civically engaged, and/or prepare them for success? And frankly, how would they measure their success, i.e. will they know if they were really able to mobilize, civically engage and prepare people for success?

More often than not, I've witnessed, members of such organizations becoming engulfed in participating in the organization - e.g., going to meetings, answering calls to action/volunteer, going to fundraisers and socials.

Sometimes the faces are the same, sometimes they are different.
I wonder what is on their minds. I imagine introspective conversations for them.

  • "Is my participation in this project helping me become a better person/citizen/professional?"
  • "I'm meeting lots of great people. The connections I've made will really set me apart from my professional competititors?"
  • "What does this event/project have to do with the objectives of this organization?"
  • "Am I doing everything I can to make a difference in the community through this organization?"
  • "Are my dues worth this?"
  • "This organization is really the best place to be."
  • " Have I really made a difference in helping people become their best possible selves?"
At times, I've asked these questions of others. The answers are mixed. Nothing all bad or all good. But a common response is that some people become involved for the sake of being involved. That's not a bad thing. I only wish that more people were cognizant of what they are doing and why.

For a little more info about Black intellectualism, visit these commentaries about Black Intellectualism and Cornel West (America's most popular Black Intellectual) here and here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Most Influential Black Scientists in America

What makes one influential? Well influential means having an ability to shape the direction and appreciation of one's discipline. It also means having reach beyond one's disciplinary circles. The following scientists help shape American policy regarding regulations, science research, funding, as well as in the realms of STEM education and outreach.

Dr. Shirley Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the first woman to chair the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Dr. Shirley M. Malcom, Head of Education and Human Resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr.: Physicist and Winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2006 Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Physicist and and Frederick P. Rose Director of theHayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. (of course).

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Scientists: Most Influential People in America?

Time Magazine’s TIME 100 People Who Shape Our World features 5 categories of the most influential people in the world: Artists & Entertainers, Leaders & Revolutionaries, Heroes & Pioneers, Scientists & Thinkers, and Builders & Titans. Ebony Magazine ran a parallel article Ebony’s Power 150 Most Influential Blacks in America. The categories of most influential blacks in America included Politicians, Arts & Entertainment, Public Service, Education, New Power Generation (Hip-Hop Generation emerging leaders), and Organization leaders.

An interesting contrast exists between these lists. 1) Time magazine includes a category for scientists and the Ebony magazine doesn’t have one at all. 2) The Time list for Scientists includes 19 influential scientists (Al Gore is the other candidate. He’s a scientifically literate politician). Ebony magazine only lists 1 scientist (and no engineers). Interesting, both lists name the same person, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Physicist. He must be damn influential (and articulate). Plus, the Time list actually names 2 black scientists; the other candidate is Dr. Monty Jones of Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Does this mean that the African-American community values science and technology as a less important part of our life compared to larger society? Or are we so easily seduced by popularity? Why can’t Black Media outlets communicate the role, benefits, and importance of science, technology and engineering advances? Why can’t Black media showcase talented and influential black scientists and engineers?

Kudos to TIME Magazine for noting the importance of scientists and thinkers. Black Media companies, take a page. Science is the driving force of all modern life and Black Americans are apart of this story.

Aren’t the contributions of African-Americans as scientists and engineers important for shaping America and inspiring members of our community? Aren’t these types of professionals worthy of portraying in printed word and images? The lack of coverage of Black scientists and engineers sends a message to Black America (and all of America, frankly) that being a black scientist or an engineer is an exceptional career, atypical. It would seem that being an entertainer or athlete is more valuable among Black communities,. And that is not at all true.

I would really like to see Black Media such as Ebony/Jet Magazine, Essence magazine, BET, TV One, and local black newspapers include more science and technology related stories in their line-ups. It would also be a great treat and service to showcase Black Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians to its readers/viewers.

Perhaps such positive stories about successful African-Americans might encourage pride in achieving academic success. It might serve as a beacon that Black people “can do math and science”. It might even inspire some students to excel in math and science at such a rate that education achievement gaps close. The lack of coverage of Black scientists and engineers, in media outlets and in your magazine in particular, sends a message to Black America that being a scientist or an engineer is an unimportant job and being one means that you are less valuable to society than say -- an entertainer. And nothing can be further from the truth. Science is the driving force of all modern life and Black Americans are apart of this story. We can’t possibly hope to have more black scientists and engineers if the public is largely unaware of the existence of black scientists and engineers.

I would really like to see Ebony Magazine include more science and technology related stories in its line-up. It would also be a great treat and service to showcase Black Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians to your readers. Perhaps such positive stories about successful African-Americans might encourage more of our community to take pride in their academic success and close some of the education achievement gaps that exist.

In short, one way to increase the number of black students in the pipeline is to inform the public that black scientists and engineers do exists. And that they, too, can pursue such careers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Where do I fit in?

I was very recently critique by a good friend. She is all aware of my recent impatience and irritation with a civic organization I once belonged to (and she still maintains affiliation). She said that I can't be both super critical and non-participatory. It just isn't right and frankly doesn't my personality. I don't play the side lines well. I like to be involved, feel useful, the whole nine yards. My impatience of the the organization is based on what I interpret to be a whole lotta mis-communication, mis-interpretation, mission drift, and some serious weak infrastructure. Now, as a scientist I need structure. If it isn't provided, I will create it.

Interestingly, we both agree on many of things.
1. We both agree with and subscribe to the mission and objective of this organization. If you're curious about it, click here. It's a fantastic sounding organization. Great ideas, good people, etc.

2. Not all participants in this organization (individuals, chapters, and overseers, etc) are fully aware of the organization's purpose, history, mission, goals, etc. I would apply this strong critique to the officers of the organization as well. When asked individually, you get a broad range of answers. They're not off the mark, they usually get in the neighborhood or focus on one plank and describe the spirit/intentions of the organization, but nothing consistent.

3. The local organization has really poor professional diversity. It is professionally and intellectually homogeneous. Most everyone is in the same field (entrepreneurs/business owners/corporate commission types) They mostly think the same. They see the goal and work of the organization the same. There is very little (if any) critical evaluation of plans, goals, etc. The ability to discern which tasks the organization should pursue is non-existent. I'm amazed, because these are some well-educated people.

4. The general membership is poorly engaged and the turnover rate of members is embarrassing. It's to build, let alone maintain momentum in a volunteer organization if you can't keep people on board. Plus, old officers almost never stick around. (She's the only old officer, still on board). Plus, the average general member is anonymous and seem complacent to stay that way.

5. The overseeing organization is way off the mark. It offers absolutely no support to the organization in question. (It is a senior-junior organization relationship.) The main purpose of the senior organization is the mentor and prepare members of the junior organization to become leaders in society and in the senior organization. Furthermore it should be actively mentoring and guiding the junior organization in organizing its goals, tasks, and professional development and recruitment strategies. But it's not happening. But the senior organization has been very clear about the junior organization meeting financial benchmarks - raise money for papa bear. Crazy

So, where do I fit in? How can someone, like me, who cares about social & individual responsibility, education, diversity, self-determination, human & civic rights, eliminating poverty and discrimination find a place to serve in an organization like this? But she's right. I can't criticize from the sidelines and offer nothing to the solution. But I'm too frustrated to deal with that mess as it is now. I've got to find other organizations to share my talents (and loud mouth opinions) with.

Wish me luck. Wish them luck, too. We all need it.

Spotlight on Up and coming Black Scientists

Meet Lawrence Williams, Jr. He is an African-American male studying social psychology at Yale University. Yes, that Yale University, the Ivy League school. He is completing is Ph.D. (doctoral degree) studying the nonconscious influences on behavior, particularly those related to violent behavior. And what's more, he's a Three-Six Mafia fan. A man of my own heart.

Monday, May 7, 2007

More Science Drama

Seems there's plenty of scientific misconduct to go around. And it looks like Asia has been very, very, naughty (or at least a few of her nationals have been representing thier mother continent poorly.)

Here are some quick links to a number of recent articles publshed in Science Magazine.
Japan's Universities Take Action
Former Hwang Colleague Faked Monkey Data, U.S. Says
Online Sleuths Challenge Cell Paper
How Young Korean Researchers Helped Unearth a Scandal …

Interestingly, there may be a reason why it is happening. The pressure to perform. This doesn't justify the dishonesty. But it does help us understand why. Read SEED magazine's article about such issues: Scientists Behaving Badly

And there may be insight into why such cases of academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct can go undetected -- the process of peer-review as it currently exists. Fellow scientists check to see if the submitted research is interested and important, not necessarily factual. Fellow scientists can't possibly know if the data has been mismanaged, altered or made up. If it sounds plausible, then all is fine. Learn more here: And How the Problems Eluded Peer Reviewers and Editors
Usually, the first line of defense to dishonesty is within the researcher's own lab. If the lead researcher is repressive then this can limit honest discourse about the project and discourage subordinates from speaking up to others. After all, the lead researcher may hold the strings to the younger researcher's career or visa (if she/he is a foreign national).

Friday, May 4, 2007

Sharing science with the public. part 2

Okay, I 've been racking my brain. How to get more science out there -- out there in the real world. I've asked my respected professors. No one knows. I've asked other public outreach science people & science writers. They're thinking it over now...some sort of conference is coming soon in Boston. I can't attend. But I hope they yield some answers.

I'll work on my social contacts, perhaps I need to make some new ones. Get to know more people who interface with broad audiences, who have access to media people or at least people who can get to others.

I fear this might be a bit of an uphill battle. In the meantime, I've added some more science links on the side bar. I at least hope that this site is a dependable place to visit if you wanted a one-stop shop for science news links. (But no one's reading it. I'm still lost out here in the blogosphere. I haven't earned a readership, yet.)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Science and the Public

Science is the driving force of all modern life....
Dr. David Baltimore, AAAS president
stated in the January 26, 2007 issue of Science Magazine

I agree with Dr. Baltimore and his sentiments. Raising children who do not understand their bodies or the world around them or how we, as humans, shape the world prevents them from participating in modern life. These children and the adults they later become, are at a great disadvantage - in the workplace and in society. They are less comfortable making important decisions of all kinds - personal, public, and private. Having a society that fails to understand the role and importance of science in their lives is deterimental. Citizens who do not comprehend SCIENCE (what it is and how it proceeds) are at a great disadvantage and are less able to participate in modern life.

This disadvantage in participating in modern life is more dramatic among the disenfranchised of our society. People who have received inadequate public education or who don't take advantage of publicly provided resources such as those provided by public libraries or social service organizations are left out. Completely. What's more, this educational, economic, and social disadvantaged is heritable.

Dr. Baltimore thinks it's time for scientists to take a role in public life. He's right. It's time to take an occasional excursion from the Ivory Tower.


But how do we get started? Where do we start? My personal interests include sharing science with the most under-represented audiences, i.e. people of color and those from lower socio-economic demographics (SES). But how?
General media provides no easy inroad to for scientists to reach general audiences. Minority media sources are worse, they only seem to focus on entertainment news. Even coverage of current events takes a back seat.
What about the Internet? It's great. It's cheap, sometimes free. Only on the Internet can anyone declare him/herself a "journalist" or "commentator" and start working immediately. But, if my core audience are the under-resourced, then I'm still missing the mark.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

X-treme Life on the Web

A media blurb on research being done on extreme life forms.

Check it out here.

Science Drama: Another lesson in Scientific Processes

A group of molecular plant biologists recently retracted their research article that was published in Science Magazine 2005 (volume 309, p. 1694). Read original retraction here. There were several gross anomalies with the data that the first author mis-interpreted. The second through fifth authors issued a complete retraction of the article, the findings, and all interpretations of the data. The original first author does not co-sign the retraction.

What does all of this mean?? Drama, serious drama. It seems the first author was very liberal in his/her data generation, analysis, and/or interpretation. In other words, this smells a bit like academic dishonesty. Obviously, someone was running some new tests and realized that the new information wasn’t jiving with the previous info published 2 years ago. So, they did a double check. They pulled up all of the old data and ran it again. And I bet they ran it a few times more and perhaps asked other people to look over the data, too.

In science, integrity matters. Other scientists will read your work and study your technique for his/her own research. Policy makers and others will likely use the information to make decisions.

Therefore, it is imperative to present your data as honestly as you can. Most scientists I know are very meticulous and very obsessed with making sure everything they do and report is accurate, precise, and honest. You don’t report findings that you simply did not find. You don’t invent data. You don’t invent subjects. You don't clone data (copy and paste the exact same data that may have been legitimately collected so that your sample size looks larger than what it is). These are no no’s. Usually, co-authors, graduate students, and in-house and funding oversight committees keep their eyes and ears open for such rats.

But there is also a process called peer-review and critique. Scientists share their ideas and work with many people. Critique is the nature of how we do and learn things. We look for holes, gaps, and weak spots. We point them out to each other and often recommend or help to patch them up. After all, science is an endeavor to learn more about our natural world. This retraction is a part of that process. Science is about updating our knowledge as we discover new things.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Fill Up on Science: Spotlight on Black Scientists

News flash, George Washington Carver is NOT the only Black Scientist. In fact, there are a host of Black scientists that are alive and making great contributions in every STEM field.

Link here to the AAAS Science Update page to meet these great men and women. You can even download podcasts interviews.

Here's a lesson activity for students in middle school grades: African-Americans in Science.

Umm, now wasn't that filling?!

Attracting more minorities to science and to academia

Respectable scholars, studies, and focus groups have revealed a dedicated interest in increasing minority participation in the sciences and joining the professoriate. Diversity within the professional landscape is beneficial to the state of the academy and to the long-term productivity of our nation.
To address issues related to diversity or pluralism (the new buzz word for diversity) organizations and institutions have crafted statements, resolutions and re-worded policy to attract and retain talented minorities.

However, many potential scientists and scholars are loss to the academy prior to earning the baccalaureate. Several studies and anecdotal stories have reported that many minorities find science unattractive and too exclusive. Most professors are white males and there are few role models for students to point to. Additionally, bright interested students who may be academically unprepared usually change majors from science to the humanities. Of those who change career paths, many indicate that their instructors or the faculty were often indifferent to them as individuals and were unsupportive or minimally supportive to cultivating their interests in science and helping them overcome their academic hurdles.

As a result, funding organizations such as the Ford Foundation, and Southern Education Board and even the NSF Alliance to Graduate Education Program, have modeled programs designed to attract and prepare qualified minorities to the earn advanced degreed and pursue academic careers. Professoriate preparation programs such as these usually accept a group of students at a time into a program and/or track cohorts of students from several programs and institutions. Often, these students are tracked and mentored and encouraged to participate in special workshops or seminars to prepare them culturally for the demands of academia.