Harassment in the sciences

Most women working in the sciences face sexual assault and harassment while conducting field work, according to a study released Wednesday that is the first to investigate the subject, MotherJones reports:

“The report surveyed 516 women (and 142 men) working in various scientific fields, including archeology, anthropology, and biology. Sixty-four percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed while workingimgres
at field sites, and one out of five said they had been victims of sexual assault. The study found that the harassers and assailants were usually supervisors. Ninety percent of the women who were harassed were young undergraduates, post-graduates, or post-doctoral students.

“Our main findings…suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive,” Kate Clancy, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.”

“Many university science programs require students to complete fieldwork. Those who do work in the field are more likely to receive research grants. Consequently, women scientists “are put in a vulnerable position, afraid that reporting harassment or abuse will risk their research and a professional relationship often critical to their academic funding or career,” the Washington Post noted.

“The study comes as Congress investigates the response of US colleges to campus sexual harassment and assault. Two out of five colleges and universities have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, according to arecent survey by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“Men vastly outnumber women in the sciences. According to Census data, women make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”

Who makes political scientists

A handful of  top universities crank out most of the nations’ political science faculty … Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Michigan, to be precise.

Last year, a study in Georgetown Public Policy Review exposed the extent to which a relatively small number of graduate programs in political science dominate placement in Ph.D.-granting departments., reports InsideHigher Ed. imgres

“The study looked at the 116 universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report for political science graduate programs, and examined where all of the tenure-track or tenured faculty members earned their doctorates. The top four institutions in the magazine’s rankings of departments — Harvard, Princeton and Stanford Universities and the University of Michigan — were the Ph.D. alma maters of 616 of the political scientists at the 116 universities (roughly 20 percent of the total). The top 11 institutions were collectively responsible for the doctoral education of about half of those in tenured or tenure-track positions at the 116 universities.

“On Saturday, the author of that study — Robert L. Oprisko of Butler University — presented expanded findings here at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. The paper argues not only that some departments may have more historical dominance but that others may be on the rise right now (judging from the number of assistant professors they have placed). While Oprisko is critical of a system that seems to place so much emphasis on Ph.D. pedigree, he also argues that this information needs wider circulation to help would-be graduate students make informed choices. (Oprisko earned his Ph.D. at Purdue University, not one of the dominant institutions). The paper — also by Kirstie L. Dobbs of Loyola University Chicago and Joseph DiGrazia of Indiana University — may be found at the website of the Social Science Research Network. Continue reading “Who makes political scientists”

The science of Breaking Bad

images-3Breaking Bad is into its final few episodes, with fans already speculating how the story of a teacher-turned-drug-producing-criminal-mastermind will reach its denouement. Now a BBC story asks, “How many of the frequent science scenes reflect reality, asks chemist and physicist Dr Jonathan Hare.

 Walt is a brilliant research chemist who has to leave his work and take up a career teaching high school chemistry. After discovering he has terminal cancer, he turns his skills to methamphetamine production in collaboration with former pupil Jesse Pinkman.

“With his background as a chemistry teacher, there are times when Walt instructs Jesse as if he is still back in the classroom. Jesse was a very poor science student at school, but while “cooking” meth with Walt, he starts to pick up and respect the chemistry that’s so essential for a good product. Continue reading “The science of Breaking Bad”

Early indicators of creativity

A gift for spatial reasoning — the kind that may inspire an imaginative child to dismantle a clock or the family refrigerator — may be a greater predictor of future creativity or innovation than math or verbal skills, particularly in math, science and related fields, according to a study published Monday in the journal Psychological Science.images-2

As discussed in today’s New York Times, “the study looked at the professional success of people who, as 13-year-olds, had taken both the SAT, because they had been flagged as particularly gifted, as well as the Differential Aptitude Test. That exam measures spatial relations skills, the ability to visualize and manipulate two-and three-dimensional objects. While math and verbal scores proved to be an accurate predictor of the students’ later accomplishments, adding spatial ability scores significantly increased the accuracy.

“The researchers, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said their findings make a strong case for rewriting standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to focus more on spatial ability, to help identify children who excel in this area and foster their talents.

“Evidence has been mounting over several decades that spatial ability gives us something that we don’t capture with traditional measures used in educational selection,” said David Lubinski, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at Vanderbilt. “We could be losing some modern-day Edisons and Fords.” Continue reading “Early indicators of creativity”

Brain scans that predict criminality?

Brain scans of convicted felons can predict which ones are most likely to get arrested after they get out of prison, scientists have found in a study of 96 male offenders, reports Wired Science today

“It’s the first time brain scans have been used to predict recidivism,” said neuroscientist Kent Kiehl of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who led the new study. Even so, Kiehl and others caution that the method is nowhere near ready to be used in real-life decisions about sentencing or parole.imgres-3

“Generally speaking, brain scans or other neuromarkers could be useful in the criminal justice system if the benefits in terms of better accuracy outweigh the likely higher costs of the technology compared to conventional pencil-and-paper risk assessments, says Stephen Morse, a legal scholar specializing in criminal law and neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. The key questions to ask, Morse says, are: “How much predictive accuracy does the marker add beyond usually less expensive behavioral measures? How subject is it to counter-measures if a subject wishes to ‘defeat’ a scan?” Continue reading “Brain scans that predict criminality?”

Media non-violence trumps violence

Young children who are encouraged to watch TV programs that depict kindness, respect, and cooperation are more likely to express those traits than kids who watch everyday TV fare that includes fictional violence.

Setting the media violence debate upside  down, researchers have found that low-income boys, who tend to watch the most television, benefited the most in displaying empathy after watching nonviolent shows, reports the Christian Science Monitor.imgres-2

“And many of the parents who were guided on what kind of pro-social content to watch and how to avoid violent shows asked that such advice continue even after the study. Continue reading “Media non-violence trumps violence”

A valentine from the cat

For most of the 20th century, animals weren’t allowed to have emotions.imgres-4 Your dog didn’t actually love you—it (and it was an “it” back then) was just a stimulus–response machine conditioned to act a specific way in a specific situation, says today’s Valentine edition of Wired Science.  “Scientists who said otherwise—that animals actually had minds capable of thoughts and emotions—were accused of ‘anthropomorphizing’ and ridiculed by their peers. Even researchers as famous as chimp specialist Jane Goodall spent years sitting on evidence that animals could do more than just salivate at the sound of a bell.

‘But over time, that bias waned. Just consider the first sentence (and the title) of Virginia Morell’s new book, Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures: ‘Animals have minds.’ Continue reading “A valentine from the cat”

The science of forgetting

As the baby boom generation ages towards retirement, attention grows over how people can remain mentally sharp. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia make  boomers start to worry when they lose their car keys or stumble over a name. At the same time, Internet search engines
and home data storage have made the actual need to remember less important. Add to this the rapid pace of media and the public’s seemingly relentless focus on immediacy over history, and it seems like a wholesale assault on memory is sweeping the culture. So a story like “The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories” recently appearing in Wired magazine would seem to support the current culture of amnesia. Continue reading “The science of forgetting”