Krauss: In Defense of the Universal Values of Science


The progress of modern science has been a truly global phenomenon, a fact worth celebrating, just as the technological fruits of science have, to varying degrees, impacted the lives of everyone on the globe.

Scientific breakthroughs have paid no heed to geographic boundaries. Modern algebra owes its origins to 10th century Arabic mathematicians. Around the same time Chinese astronomers recorded an early supernova that formed the Crab Nebula, even when no record of this remarkable object was made in Europe. In spite of the attempts by British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington to quash the impact of an otherwise unheralded young Indian physicist, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the latter’s groundbreaking work on stellar evolution altered our picture of stars so significantly that he was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his work.

Nevertheless, the postmodern notion that empirical scientific knowledge is somehow culturally derived, with little or no objective underpinning, has continued to persist in various social science and literary corners of academia far removed from the rush of scientific progress.

Until recently, it seemed inconceivable to imagine that any physical or biological scientists could become so misguided as to argue against the empirical basis of their own fields. But we are living in strange times. This week, the Divisional Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Oregon sent an email to faculty “to encourage you all to attend this exciting presentation!”, by a visiting physicist, which was described as follows:

Title: Scientists vs. Science: Race, Gender, and Anti-Intellectualism in Science

Abstract: Black thought can help us free science from the white supremacist traditions of scientists. Scientists vs. Science will use Black feminist and anti-colonialist analyses to show that white supremacy is a total epistemic system that affects even our most “objective” areas of knowledge production. The talk hinges on the development of the concept of white empiricism, which I introduced to give a name to the way that anti-intellectual white supremacy plays a role in physicists’ analysis of when empirical data is important and what counts as empirical data. This white empiricism shapes both Black women’s (and other) experiences in physics and the actual knowledge produced about physics. Until this is understood and addressed directly, systems of domination will continue to play a major role in the practice of physics.

On its own, this racist nonsense would not deserve remarking on here, even if it does lead one to wonder how its author, who apparently doesn’t understand the empirical basis of her own discipline, could gain an appointment at a physics department. But the response it produced by the administrator at Oregon is more worrisome.

The Dean at U. of O. should know better, being a professor of Anthropology, although his specialization in Folklore and Public Culture suggests he might be particularly sympathetic to arguments that knowledge is culturally or racially derived.

The Dean’s email apparently received wide circulation beyond U. of O. in the academic community. A tweet from Bruce Gilley, who is a professor of Political Science and Public Policy and on the board of the National Association of Scholars saw what the U. of O. Dean had missed, namely that the underlying pretext of the talk was itself racist. As he remarked “Neo-racism is now spreading like wildfire in the academy with the normalization of racist and anti-scientific ‘research’ that freely denigrates people based on their race. This talk below will use ‘black feminist and anti-colonial analysis’ to debunk ‘white empiricisim [sic].’”

Galileo would have discovered four moons of Jupiter with his telescope regardless of his sex or pigment, and DNA is a double helix regardless of whether it was Rosalind Franklin’s crystallography that demonstrated it, or Watson and Crick’s analysis of that empirical data. Empirical evidence is not white, or black, and the term “black theory” makes no intellectual sense.

As it turns out, the U. of O. talk was abruptly cancelled, with no reason given in the announcement. I agree with Professor Gilley’s assessment that, having been announced, a better course would have been to have proceeded with the talk, and allowing those present to then ridicule its premise via intelligent rebuttal.

I wonder however, whether that would have happened, or whether there would have been polite applause, for fear of appearing racist by asking pointed questions. I happened to attend another online talk by this individual, in this case a physics seminar. Each slide shown also included a reference to a different racist incident that had happened in the US. Speaking to other colleagues after the seminar, I wasn’t the only one who questioned the appropriateness of this political commentary from beginning to end in a seminar on dark matter, as would I would have equally squirmed had each slide quoted a different lie uttered by Donald Trump when he was President. Yet none of us spoke up at the time to raise any concerns.

We need to be willing to be more vocal up front in our critical assessment of nonsense emerging in academic science settings. In more reasonable times, this nonsense would never have passed the selection criteria applied by seminar organizers in any serious academic department in the first place. In current times, such gibberish instead helps promote a dangerously distorted view of science that can fall upon receptive ears among even senior academic administrators.

Source: In Defense of the Universal Values of Science

When You Can’t Just ‘Trust the Douthat: Science’ The vaccine debate is the latest example of how our coronavirus choices are inescapably political.

Overall, a good nuanced discussion of where the science largely ends and values and ethnics inform (or not) political choices. The one major weakness in his arguments is that while a focus on seniors primarily means a focus on whites, personal care and healthcare workers tend to be significantly non-white, and so there is less of a contradiction than he assumes:

One of many regrettable features of the Trump era is the way that the president’s lies and conspiracy theories have seemed to vindicate some of his opponents’ most fatuous slogans. I have in mind, in particular, the claim that has echoed through the liberal side of coronavirus-era debates — that the key to sound leadership in a pandemic is just to follow the science, to trust science and scientists, to do what experts suggest instead of letting mere grubby politics determine your response.

Trump made this slogan powerful by conspicuously disdaining expertise and indulging marginal experts who told him what he desired to hear — that the virus isn’t so bad, that life should just go back to normal, usually with dubious statistical analysis to back up that conclusion. And to the extent that trust the science just means that Dr. Anthony Fauci is a better guide to epidemiological trends than someone the president liked on cable news, then it’s a sound and unobjectionable idea.

But for many crucial decisions of the last year, that unobjectionable version of trust the science didn’t get you very far. And when it had more sweeping implications, what the slogan implied was often much more dubious: a deference to the science bureaucracy during a crisis when bureaucratic norms needed to give way; an attempt by para-scientific enterprises to trade on (or trade away) science’s credibility for the sake of political agendas; and an abdication by elected officials of responsibility for decisions that are fundamentally political in nature.

The progress of coronavirus vaccines offers good examples of all these issues. That the vaccines exist at all is an example of science at its purest — a challenge posed, a problem solved, with all the accumulated knowledge of the modern era harnessed to figure out how to defeat a novel pathogen.

But the further you get from the laboratory work, the more complicated and less clearly scientific the key issues become. The timeline on which vaccines have become available, for instance, reflects an attempt to balance the rules of bureaucratic science, their priority on safety and certainty of knowledge, with the urgency of trying something to halt a disease that’s killing thousands of Americans every day. Many scientific factors weigh in that balance, but so do all kinds of extra-scientific variables: moral assumptions about what kinds of vaccine testing we should pursue (one reason we didn’t get the “challenge trials” that might have delivered a vaccine much earlier); legal assumptions about who should be allowed to experiment with unproven treatments; political assumptions about how much bureaucratic hoop-jumping it takes to persuade Americans that a vaccine is safe.

And the closer you get to the finish line, the more notable the bureaucratic and political element becomes. The United States approved its first vaccine after Britain but before the European Union, not because Science says something different in D.C. versus London or Berlin but because the timing was fundamentally political — reflecting different choices by different governing entities on how much to disturb their normal processes, a different calculus about lives lost to delay versus credibility lost if anything goes wrong.

Then there’s the now-pressing question of who actually gets the vaccine first, which has been taken up at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a way that throws the limits of science-trusting into even sharper relief. Last month their Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices produced a working document that’s a masterpiece of para-scientific effort, in which questions that are legitimately medical and scientific (who will the vaccine help the most), questions that are more logistical and sociological (which pattern of distribution will be easier to put in place) and moral questions about who deserves a vaccine are all jumbled up, assessed with a form of pseudo-rigor that resembles someone bluffing the way through a McKinsey job interview and then used to justify the conclusion that we should vaccinate essential workers before seniors … because seniors are more likely to be privileged and white.

As Matthew Yglesias noted, this (provisional, it should be stressed) recommendation is a remarkable example of how a certain kind of progressive moral thinking ignores the actual needs of racial minorities. Because if you vaccinate working-age people before you vaccinate older people, you will actually end up not vaccinating the most vulnerable minority population, African-American seniors — so more minorities might die for the sake of a racial balance in overall vaccination rates.

But even if the recommendation didn’t have that kind of perverse implication, even if all things being equal you were just choosing between more minority deaths and more white deaths in two different vaccination plans, it’s still not the kind of question that the C.D.C.’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has any particular competency to address. If policy X leads to racially disparate death rates but policy Y requires overt racial discrimination, then the choice between the two is moral and political, not medical or scientific — as are other important questions like, “Who is actually an essential worker?” or “Should we focus more on slowing the spread or reducing the death rate?” (Or even, “Should we vaccinate men before women given that men are more likely to die of the disease?”)

These are the kind of questions, in other words, that our elected leaders should be willing to answer without recourse to a self-protective “just following the science” default. But that default is deeply inscribed into our political culture, and especially the culture of liberalism, where even something as obviously moral-political as the decision to let Black Lives Matter protests go forward amid a pandemic was justified by redescribing their motor, antiracism, as a push for better public health.

When we look back over the pandemic era, one of the signal failures will be the inability to acknowledge that many key decisions — from our vaccine policy to our lockdown strategy to our approach to businesses and schools — are fundamentally questions of statesmanship, involving not just the right principles or the right technical understanding of the problem but the prudential balancing of many competing goods.

On the libertarian and populist right, that failure usually involved a recourse to “freedom” as a conversation-stopper, a way to deny that even a deadly disease required any compromises with normal life at all.

But for liberals, especially blue-state politicians and officials, the failure has more often involved invoking capital-S Science to evade their own responsibilities: pretending that a certain kind of scientific knowledge, ideally backed by impeccable credentials, can substitute for prudential and moral judgments that we are all qualified to argue over, and that our elected leaders, not our scientists, have the final responsibility to make.


Krauss: Why Is Scientific Illiteracy So Acceptable?

Good question and discussion:

In the mid-1980s, when I taught a Physics for Poets class at Yale University, I was dumbstruck when I gave the students a quiz problem to estimate the total amount of water flushed in all the toilets in the US in one 24-hour period and I started to grade the quiz. In order to estimate this, you have to first estimate the population of the US. I discovered that 35 percent of my Yale students, many of whom were history or American studies majors, thought the population of the US was less than 10 million! I went around campus interrogating students I met, asking them what they thought the population of the US was. Again, about one-third of the students thought it was less than 10 million and a few even thought it was greater than a few billion.

How was such ignorance so common in a community commonly felt to contain the cream of the crop of young US college students?

Then it dawned on me. It wasn’t that these students were ignorant about US society. It was that they were rather “innumerate,” as the mathematician John Allen Paulos had labeled it in a book he wrote in the 1980s. They had no concept whatsoever of what a million actually represented. For them, a million and a billion were merely both too large to comprehend.

It remains a badge of honor for many who like to describe themselves as highly cultured or artistic to describe themselves as mathematically challenged, or to say that their brains aren’t wired for mathematics. Because many of those they hold in high esteem have made similar claims, there is no real social penalty to them for doing so.

When it comes to science rather than mathematics, it isn’t so simple. Proudly proclaiming scientific illiteracy is not de rigueur. Instead another refrain has recently become popular among politicians and public figures: “I am not a scientist, but…” Equally prominent, is the statement “I believe in science” (as if there is a choice) which is then followed by some scientific gibberish.

Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once said, “Reality is that which continues to exist even when you stop believing in it.” The line between being scientifically or empirically controversial vs being politically controversial has been blurred to the point of erasure. In Washington, and many other seats of government throughout the world, belief trumps reality.

Different aspects of the problem were on display recently during the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett. When asked by Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy about her views on climate change, she said: “You know, I’m certainly not a scientist,” and added, “I have read things about climate change—I would not say I have firm views on it.” Later, following questions from Kamala Harris about whether she acknowledged a relationship between smoking and cancer, and whether the coronavirus is infectious, both of which she answered in the affirmative, she was asked, “And do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?” Coney Barrett responded, “I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial…”

It would have been appropriate for Justice Coney Barrett to argue in both cases that the confirmation hearing was not an appropriate place to discuss her scientific expertise but rather her legal expertise. However, that is different than claiming, as she did, to have insufficient knowledge of the issue to possess any viewpoint at all.

In this, and all areas where scientific evidence is both public and sufficiently overwhelming, public figures who even feign ignorance for reasons of political expediency should be called out. In her second exchange, having established her bona fides regarding the science of smoking or the coronavirus, an appropriate response from Justice Coney Barrett to Harris’s last question might have been to answer that yes, climate change is a scientifically established fact, but that she was not going to be roped into commenting on related controversial public policy questions.

By the same token Senator Harris’s last question reflects a pseudo-religious “I believe in science but I don’t need to think about what it actually means” mantra. Climate change, which is happening, presents numerous potential threats, but not to the air we breathe, as if it were akin to industrial pollutants.

I raise this point, which may seem like mere semantics, because we have to encourage intelligent and literate discourse from both sides of the aisle. Inappropriate claims like this by politicians who want to be on the right side of science but who can’t be bothered to think about what it implies don’t help. Rather they encourage rational skeptics and irrational deniers alike to reject the actual science by dismissing the statements of those who claim to defend it. Similarly, it also helps encourage a distrust of scientists.

I wrote my new book, which presents the fundamental science behind climate change, in part to specifically respond to this sorry state of affairs. Outrageous denials, or outrageous doom and gloom predictions equally subvert the ultimate goal, which is to develop rational public policy. Gaining a perspective of the fundamental science, which I would argue is not beyond the grasp of a Supreme Court Justice, or a United States Senator soon to be Vice-President, is a precursor to proposing rational policies to address one of the most significant global challenges of the 21st century.

I should underscore that when I discuss scientific illiteracy, I am not focusing on how many scientific facts people may remember. I rather mean the process of science: empirical testing and retesting, logical analysis, and drawing conclusions derived from facts and not hopes. The impact of increased CO2 on heat absorption in the atmosphere is something that can be tested, as can the expansion coefficient of water as heat is added, one of the key factors affecting measured sea level rise. Accepting the reality of these is not something that should disqualify you from, or assure you of, a government appointment.

An equally pernicious misunderstanding of the scientific process involves confusions about uncertainty, as we are witnessing with the current pandemic. Epidemiology is a very difficult part of science because it often relies on sparse data that is very hard to accumulate. Like all aspects of science, the conclusions one draws are only as good as the data one has. Yet, politicians and the public alike have often accepted sweeping claims about the perceived lethality or transmissibility of COVID-19 well before appropriate data has been available. Donald Trump was at one extreme, but others who exploited for political reasons early predictions that millions would die usually did not qualify their remarks with either a reasonable estimate of uncertainties, or with the proviso that this dire prediction was for a world where no ameliorative actions were taken.

It is possible, and indeed I expect likely, that we will not have firm knowledge about the details of its lethality or transmissibility for years, or at least until after the current pandemic is over. And even then, uncertainties will remain. This issue has recently taken on a more personal aspect for me, as I write this while convalescing from what appears to be COVID-19. (Thanks to the vagaries of the US healthcare system, and the recent surge of cases, the results of my test will take seven days to arrive, by which time I am hoping to be well on the way to recovery.)

When it comes to public perceptions of medical or scientific prowess, I blame in part science fiction programs on television or in feature films that give the illusion that faced with a technical problem, sufficiently talented scientists and engineers can both ascertain the cause and create a solution in hours instead of years or decades. That is just not the way science often works. Most important scientific developments are not revolutionary. More often than not they are baby steps taken along a long road of discovery. The recent announcement of two new COVID vaccine efficacies has been remarkable, so that perhaps by the end of 2021 most people will be vaccinated. But while two years is lightning speed in this area, many people remain surprised that it has taken this long.

Fewer people may proudly proclaim their scientific illiteracy than their innumeracy, but our cultural role models nevertheless often openly express their lack of comfort with questions that you shouldn’t have to be a scientist to understand or appreciate. I saw it when I taught at Yale, and I saw it in the Senate confirmation room. It is considered quaint to say something like, “my mind just doesn’t work that way” when it comes to science, as an excuse to stop thinking. But we wouldn’t accept that statement so easily if the question related to Shakespeare’s contributions to literature, or the historical impact of the Holocaust.

The Enlightenment was well-named because it led to a greater understanding of ourselves, our society, and our environment, and was accompanied by the rise of the scientific method. Acting for the common good requires subjecting our own ideas to empirical scrutiny, being open to considering and empirically testing the ideas of others, and letting empirical data be the arbiter of reality. The most compelling reason that all of us, most importantly our public figures, should take science seriously, and honestly, was expressed best by Jacob Bronowski, a personal hero who exemplified the union of the two cultures of science and humanities:

Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into a game simple by taking sides.

Lawrence M. Krauss is a theoretical physicist and president of The Origins Project Foundation. He was Chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from 2007–2018. His newest book, due out in January, is The Physics of Climate Change. 

Source: Why Is Scientific Illiteracy So Acceptable?

Opinion: Diversity of thought needed in our pandemic response

Good, thoughtful commentary that applies more broadly than to the pandemic, and the risks of simplistic thinking and solutions:

Over the past nine months, we have seen an incredible change in the way we live, work and interact. The world is clearly different now. Our lives are intertwined with the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, and many look to experts from a variety of fields for guidance. Medical, public health and scientific leaders have become sources of insight and direction. Many may think there is only one “scientific truth,” and therefore every expert should be of the same opinion. But science, particularly when dealing with a novel threat, comes with many uncertainties.

As with any important issue, personal values influence how people interpret the science. We all have biases, which are influenced by our life experiences, cultures, emotions and personal beliefs, and experts are susceptible to these factors, as well.

This matters because diversity of thought, spurring civil debate, can help us collectively think through complex issues such as our pandemic response. Disagreement among experts is a normal and essential part of scientific discourse, as data continues to accumulate over time. However, one’s inherent beliefs and biases may play a significant role in the interpretation of the evidence at hand, and the messaging that follows.

Some may be motivated by their fear of infection, some by an urgent desire to return to a sense of normalcy and others by political or ideological beliefs, or even a need for notoriety. Some of the more polarizing views are what sow division among the population.

Oftentimes, the loudest voices espousing simplistic answers are not the correct ones, yet they may garnish the most attention and support in the media and online. The public — not aware of all the nuances — may lose trust in science after being bombarded with polarized, and often incorrect, views that are given as much, or more, attention than those that follow fundamental scientific principles and are transparent about their level of uncertainty. This eroding trust in the scientific community further splits populations.

Due to the emotions at play and the public-facing nature of the discussion, scientific discourse risks becoming politicized and devolving into a polarized conflict.

On the one extreme, discussion is interpreted as fear-mongering by people who think the potential harms of COVID-19 have been greatly exaggerated and that the harms of certain interventions have been underestimated. On the other extreme, the idea of personal freedoms are elevated over disease control and the focus becomes primarily on the harms of lockdown. Both of these positions have a nugget of truth in them, but the dogmatism may preclude any meaningful discussion that could lead to an evidence-based consensus.

Moderate voices that try to find a balance between the two more extreme views matter in this pandemic. It is important to listen to arguments from across the spectrum and try to interpret the data in as nuanced and unbiased a manner as possible. This is a tall order, as the moderate view often carries with it significant uncertainty, and pivots as available evidence evolves.

Recognizing the nuances and complexity of disease is crucial to forming a more complete understanding. Moderate voices may not make headlines or get clicks because the answers to simple questions are long and complex, but they are important to listen to. The moderate voice is not one single voice: opinions vary between the two extremes and the answers are often complex.

In contrast, the more extreme viewpoints have a tendency to be amplified to a great degree within their own echo chambers, which can then be prone to politicization. This drives false dichotomies, and polarized discussions — such as masks versus no masks, aerosols versus droplets, lockdowns versus personal freedoms — where in reality, the answer often lies in between.

People with extreme views often choose to compare countries to prove their point, celebrating certain jurisdictions while condemning the approach of others, but give no consideration to the complex demographic, social, political and geographic factors that lead to particular situations, as well as the changes that occur over time.

Who can be trusted given all the conflicting information? First of all, diversity of thought is crucial. And second, it is important to recognize our own biases and how they influence our perceptions and how we interpret evidence. People who are adaptable to messaging and acknowledge uncertainty as the evidence evolves are key, given that the scientific method is meant to gain more precision over time. Dogmatic stances are best avoided.

We are moving into the future with an evolving roadmap for how to deal with COVID-19 — one that’s guided by lessons learned from our collective global experience. Different perspectives offer valuable insights in this pandemic and together they can offer a clearer picture of the truth. That said, the “infodemic” will continue with the pandemic, and it is important to try to put information into context, recognize our own biases and be willing to revise our positions in the face of new evidence.

We require a diverse group of voices at the table, but must continue to make an effort to foster healthy public discourse that’s free of politicization, by appreciating and considering the input of experts from all walks of life. The general population is as diverse as their experts in their values and opinions, and public policy should try to find the middle ground. Therefore, moving forward, now more than ever, a balanced, pragmatic and evidence-driven approach to the interpretation and messaging of the COVID-19 pandemic is needed.

Zain Chagla is an infectious diseases physician and an associate professor at McMaster University. Sumon Chakrabarti is an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners Mississauga and a lecturer at the University of Toronto. Isaac Bogoch is an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital and an associate professor at U of T. Dominik Mertz is an infectious disease physician and an associate professor at McMaster.


The Second Wave: Science Meets Leadership

Good nuanced discussion of the complexities in finding a balance between public health, economic and other concerns:

When the pandemic first hit, none of us knew what to expect. Medical experts called for a lockdown and governments took their advice. This time round it’s different. Our political leaders are being called on to protect both our health and our economy. As Doug Ford noted on Tuesday, that can be an unpleasant place to be.

In his press conference, Ford commented on his decision to reinstate Stage 2 measures in three key regions of Ontario, much as François Legault has done in Quebec. It was, he says, one of the hardest decisions of his career. We get it but, frankly, he should get used to it. Governments everywhere may be called on to make lots more decisions like this in the months ahead.

Businesses are hurting badly, and many are stepping up the pressure on politicians to help them get through these tough times. This is not just about financial support. In Ottawa, for example, business groups have challenged Ford to produce the data that justifies stricter measures. There is a growing sense that politicians have the tools to open the economy without putting the public at risk, but do they?

We think this is a discussion worth having – cautiously and respectfully. We’re not disputing that public health is the No 1 priority. The hard question is whether it can be better aligned with other priorities. A recent poll from the Innovative Research Group helps us get at the issue:

The response to Question 1 caught our attention. It shows that Canadians are almost evenly split on whether they think experts have too much influence on governments. This sheds important light on the tensions Ford is dealing with, and why other premiers will likely face the same issues, as the second wave grows. Some, such as Legault, already are.

Basically, during the first wave, political leaders deferred to public health officials on how to respond to the pandemic. This served us well, but governments have come a long way over the last eight months. New knowledge and new tools like rapid testing and contact tracing now allow leaders to manage the risks in ways that were not possible before.

For example, experts now know enough about how the virus spreads to contain it within a region, so that governments don’t have to shut down a whole province. This is currently the approach in Ontario and Quebec.

However, there is a price to pay for plans like this. Generally, the more complex they get, the less likely they are to be guided by medical science. In Ontario, for example, the government’s decision to shut down bars, restaurants, and gyms while leaving schools open has raised eyebrows.

There are serious questions about how far the science on COVID-19 can help decision-makers assess the importance of getting children back to school. Striking a balance between public health risks and learning involves weighing lots of things that are outside the purview of medical science.

So, how are these tradeoffs getting made?

In a second slide, IRG reveals an important feature of our political culture. The slide uses a scale of 1 – 100 to assess how strongly Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP members feel about the role of experts in government decision-making. The poll finds a 24-point spread between Liberals and Conservatives, with the NDP in the middle. (See the line on Political Populism.)

Basically, the data show that our political leaders are predisposed to treat expert opinion differently: progressives are more inclined to accept it and conservatives to question it.

Neither predisposition is wrong, but predispositions of any kind can be a barrier to a thoughtful, informed discussion of the issues. They incline us to trust some views more than others and this can shape how we think and talk about the issues.

This is a critical consideration as the second wave advances. When health experts declare that “the evidence” calls for actions that favour health over, say, the economy, political leaders need a reliable way to weigh this advice against other concerns and priorities. And they shouldn’t look to health experts to provide it.

Health experts view the world through a health lens. Their role doesn’t train them to consider how this affects other priorities, such as the economy or learning. That is what elected officials are supposed to do – but they need a reliable way of thinking through the issues.

As things stand, the poll suggests that these decisions often come down to a leader’s predispositions – whether they are a conservative or a progressive. We don’t think that’s not good enough.

Increasingly, our governments are being called on to respond to all aspects of the pandemic, not just public health. Predisposition are not a reliable guide to this. They will not disappear, but we can be conscious of them and keep them in check.

Different priorities should be publicly discussed and balanced against public health. To be clear, we are NOT disputing that public health is the No 1 priority, but we do believe that governments need the flexibility to experiment with different options and to respond to other priorities.

That is the way forward.

Andrew Balfour is Managing Partner at Rubicon Strategy in Ottawa.

Source: The Second Wave: Science Meets Leadership

Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic

Of note, particularly important given disparities in health and healthcare:

A few days before her fifth-grade science fair, Ariangela Kozik awoke to the overwhelming scent of poultry past its due. It was exactly what the young scientist had been hoping for.

“Whew,” she recalled thinking at the time. “There is definitely something growing in here.’”

She rushed into her kitchen, where a neat stack of glass Petri dishes awaited her, each filled with a gelatinous brown disk made of beef broth and sugar. Atop many of the cow-based concoctions was a smattering of what looked like shiny, cream-colored pimples. Each was a fast-ballooning colony, teeming with millions and millions of bacteria, including several from the swab of raw chicken juice she had dabbed on three days before.

Dr. Kozik, then just 11, had set up an experiment to determine what brand of dish soap was best at killing bacteria. (The answer: Joy dishwashing liquid.) But her results yielded an even bigger reward: a lifelong love of microbes, exquisitely small organisms with an outsize impact on the world.

“It felt like I had just discovered a new form of life,” said Dr. Kozik, who is now a researcher at the University of Michigan, where she studies microbes that live in human lungs. “It was so cool.”

Two decades later, Dr. Kozik still considers her science fair project, for which she won first place, one of her first formal forays into the field of microbiology. In the months after her experiment, she devoured every book she could find on the topic, until she had worn her parents down with endless chatter about infectious disease. About 10 years later, she was on track toward a Ph.D., which she earned in 2018. And on Monday, she kicks off Black in Microbiology Week, the latest in a series of virtual events highlighting Black scientists in a variety of disciplines, as one of its two lead organizers.

Like earlier, similar events, Black in Microbiology Week will be hosted entirely through virtual platforms like Twitter and Zoom. The event will feature seven days of talks, panels and online discussions, spanning a range of topics under the microbiology umbrella, including the coronavirus, and addressing disparities in medicine, education and career advancement. Everything is free and accessible to the public, and will be live-captioned. Registration is required to attend.

“This is really a chance to welcome new voices and amplify those that have not been heard,” said Michael D. L. Johnson, a microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Arizona who will take part in Friday’s Black in Bacteriology panel.

Khan: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end

Another interesting piece by Khan to change narratives:

On Feb. 24, Katherine Johnson – the esteemed mathematician who was part of an exclusive group of scientists at NASA’s Flight Research Division, where she used her mind, a slide rule and pencil to calculate flight paths for the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969 – passed away at the age of 101. And if you know her story – as well as that of her NASA cohort of brilliant African-American female mathematicians – it may be because of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

That film was a revelation to much of the American public. It shattered many stereotypes and showcased the intellectual talents and resilience of women who wouldn’t let institutionalized racism and segregation get in the way of achieving excellence.

Those themes are universal, though. Groundbreaking accomplishments by women have always occurred. We just need to dig deep enough in history to find these gems. And Muslim women are just starting to get their similar due.

Thanks to the painstaking research of Islamic scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the dean of Cambridge Islamic College, the stories of accomplished Muslim female scholars, jurists and judges have been unearthed. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Nadwi’s research of biographical dictionaries, classical texts, madrasa chronicles and letters has led to a listing of about 10,000 Muslim women who have contributed toward various fields of Islamic knowledge over a period of 10 centuries.

Not only is the sheer number impressive, but so is the manner in which these women operated: Many were encouraged by their fathers at an early age to acquire knowledge, and many travelled to seek deeper understanding of Islamic sciences. They sat in study circles – with men – at the renowned centres of learning, debating and questioning alongside their male counterparts. And they taught their own study circles to men and women alike. Some were so revered that students came from near and far to absorb their wisdom. They approved certifications of learning and provided fatwas (non-binding religious opinions); as judges, they delivered important rulings.

A few notable examples include Aisha, the youngest wife of Prophet Mohammed, who was known for her expertise in the Koran, Arabic literature, history, general medicine and juridical matters in Islam. She was a primary source of authentic hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, which form part of the foundation of Sunni Islam. Umm al-Darda was a 7th-century scholar who taught students in the mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem, including the caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. She was considered among the best traditionalists of her time. “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around debating with other scholars.” And one of the greatest was the 8th-century scholar Fatima al-Batayahiyyah, who taught in Damascus. During the Hajj, leading male scholars flocked to her lectures. She later moved to Medina, where she taught students in the revered mosque of the Prophet. When she tired, she rested her head on the grave of Mohammed. Fatimah bint Mohammed al Samarqandi, a 12th-century jurist, advised her more famous husband, ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Kasani, on how to issue his fatwas; she was also a mentor to Salahuddin.

These are but a few of the thousand luminaries found by Mr. Nadwi, a classically trained Islamic scholar. Initially, he thought he would find 20 or 30 women; his compilation now fills 40 volumes. While a 400-page preface (Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam) has been published, the remainder sits on a hard drive, waiting for a publisher. Given the far-reaching importance of Mr. Nadwi’s work, surely a Muslim country or UNESCO can help disseminate it.

This research provides a stark contrast to contemporary practice in parts of the Muslim world. Some mosques, including ones here in Canada, forbid women. Rarely do Muslim women give lectures to their own communities. And the idea of women being intellectually on par with (or superior to) men is laughable in many quarters. Muslim women have a long way to go to reclaim their rightful place. Even his groundbreaking research will not change much, laments Mr. Nadwi, until Muslim men have respect for women – respect that starts in the home. He’s seen too much family violence in Britain, India and Pakistan. He’s highly critical of those who discourage or deny women from pursuing education, comparing it to the pre-Islamic practice of burying baby girls alive.

Muslims have just begun to discover our own “hidden figures” and there are many more yet to find. If we fail to deal with the present-day sexism that has eroded the egalitarian nature of our own historical communities, this excavation becomes all the more difficult.

Source: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end: Sheema Khan

Science in the US is built on immigrants. Will they keep coming?

Noteworthy long read in the technical publication of the American Chemical Society in terms of the expected impact of Trump administration immigration policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the attractiveness of the USA for researchers:

Almost as soon as he started college, Morteza Khaledi knew he wanted to be a professor. And he quickly decided that a doctoral degree from a US university was the best path to get there.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pahlavi University (now Shiraz University), in Iran, Khaledi applied to several US universities for graduate school. He was accepted to the University of Florida in 1978, and he has lived in the US ever since. Over those four decades, he rose from student to chemistry professor to, now, dean of science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“When I was a student, the US was really dominant in science and technology areas, and I think we still have the upper hand,” he says. “But other countries have caught up.”

He worries that increased competition, amplified by the current wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the US, will push top international students to choose schools in Canada, Europe, Singapore, and elsewhere. “There are great talents from all over the world,” Khaledi says. “If you close the door or limit them, then it will have an impact on the research that we do.”

Much of the rest of the scientific community is worried too. With constant talk of a border wall, trade fights with China, and sanctions against Russia, immigration is at the top of many scientists’ minds worldwide.

The Donald J. Trump administration has made some changes to immigration policy. The most notable is the ban against immigrants from six countries, including Iran. Other proposals include stricter examination of Chinese students and scientific visitors, changes to the H-1B visa system for temporary workers, and work restrictions on the spouses of US visa holders.

Despite those changes, though, most scientists are still able to come to the US as they could before Trump became president, albeit with the potential for longer waits. Big changes to US immigration policy—including talk of moving to an immigration system that prioritizes highly skilled workers—will require an act of Congress, something unlikely to happen given the wide political divides.

But words have power, and the negative political talk about immigration appears to be having an effect: the number of international applicants to study at US colleges and universities has declined two years in a row. And more and more scientists are starting to question whether the US is the right place for them.

“Every meeting we go to abroad, someone will express concern about US visa issues and visa policy. Every single meeting,” says Kathie Bailey, director of the Board on International Scientific Organizations at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “Perceptions are very difficult to battle.”

Scientist immigration by the numbers

  • 34.5 – Percentage of doctoral-degree chemists who were naturalized or non-US citizens in 2017a

  • 53.1 – Percentage of doctoral-degree chemical engineers who were naturalized or non-US citizens in 2017

  • 75.6 – Percentage of foreign-born recipients of US science and engineering doctoral degrees in 2015 who planned to stay in the US

  • 24 – Percentage of US patents with at least one non-US citizen inventor in 2007

  • 2008 – Year the number of immigrants from Asia to the US overtook immigration from Latin America

  • 78 – Percentage of US adults who believe the country should encourage immigration of high-skilled workers


Chemist Hye-Won Song felt limited by the research choices in her native South Korea. So after she finished a master’s degree there, she applied to graduate schools in the US. “There are more opportunities and more research topics going on,” she says.

That same wide range of research opportunities led her to want to stay in the US after getting her doctoral degree at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California San Diego. But staying wasn’t easy.

Song spent five years in her postdoc, in part waiting for her research papers and citations to stack up while she looked for a job. She was also saving money to hire a lawyer to take her through the immigration process.

In the meantime, she had to deal with the constant uncertainty of being in the US on a limited visa. Once Song had to file a duplicate renewal application—and miss a paycheck—when her original paperwork got lost in the system. And every time she got a new visa, she also had to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew her driver’s license. “It really makes our lives miserable, but most people don’t know about it,” Song says.

Eventually, Song succeeded in becoming a permanent US resident, with the green card to prove it. That status made it a lot easier for her to find a job in industry. “A lot of companies, they do not offer to support a visa,” she says. “They want you to bring your green card with you.”

Song’s story is familiar to many scientists who immigrate to the US and stay. They face constant uncertainty with each visa renewal, along with fear that a visit home might mean they can’t return to work. But they keep coming because of the science. “Research-wise it was worth getting here,” Song says.

The domestic US research community, too, thinks it is worth including foreign-born scientists and for the most part has welcomed immigrants into labs with open arms. “Immigration has been a tremendous boost to science and engineering,” says Harvard Business School’s William Kerr, who has written a book on immigration, The Gift of Global Talent.

Almost any way you look at it—percentages of patents, Nobel Prize winners, citations, entrepreneurs—immigrants match or exceed native US workers, he says. Currently, immigrants make up around 25% of all US science and technology workers and around 50% of the doctoral-level science workforce nationwide.

Kerr’s work and that of others has found that for the most part, international scientists don’t compete with domestic researchers. “You don’t have a fixed pie of jobs,” he explains. Immigrants “make the pie bigger, adding on to what natives would have accomplished.”

Immigrants to the US are more likely than native scientists to be self-employed, including as entrepreneurs, says Jennifer Hunt, an economist at Rutgers University. Immigrants are also more likely to hold patents. “More people means more ideas and probably more innovation,” Hunt explains.

Mikhail Shapiro, a California Institute of Technology chemical engineering professor, came to the US from Russia when he was 11. While he doesn’t think his immigrant background changed his career path, he does think it gave him a certain mentality. “There is a desire to seize opportunities and work hard and really make the most of the opportunities you have,” he says.

That has also been the experience of Jeremy Levin, chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics. Levin lived in South Africa and then Rhodesia before getting his degrees and working in the UK. He then moved to the US specifically because of its vibrant science and innovation culture. He commonly sees other immigrants at the head of science and technology companies, and research labs filled with immigrants.

Immigration “has been a critical component not just of driving innovation but sustaining the US economy in a way that is just remarkable,” Levin says.

Levin worries that any tightening of US immigration policy—perceived or real—will have long-term consequences for the US economy, especially in the biological sciences. In 2017, he wrote a letter in Nature Biotechnologysigned by over 150 biotech leaders and founders against Trump’s ban on select immigrants.

The political rhetoric around immigrant criminals and the need for a wall on the US-Mexico border is “raising the specter of intolerance, raising the specter of racism,” he says. “All of this is designed to raise fears around immigration.”

Terrorism is a real threat that must be addressed, Levin believes. He speaks from personal experience here, too: he was once inspecting a pharmaceutical plant in Israel as it was bombed by Hamas, a militant group. But the fight against terrorism “needs to be distinguished from the need to attract incredibly bright people who want to contribute to science,” he says.

“Many of the best scientists in Europe and Asia will choose not to come to us,” Levin says. “They perceive that the barriers to entry in the US have been raised unreasonably high.”


Regardless of whether the US is actually harder to enter, there has been a measurable decline in international students applying to come to the US. The number of applications from international graduate students to study in the US has dropped a total of 4% in the last two years across all fields. That average masks a more significant 9% decline in physical and earth sciences from 2017 to 2018, according to data from the Council of Graduate Schools.

Academic and industrial scientists worry whether that trend will continue and whether it will spread beyond students. The chaotic rollout of Trump’s travel ban in January 2017 “really spooked international students and scholars,” says Rachel Banks, director of public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “People increasingly started thinking twice.”

When people are deciding where to go to college or graduate school, they are thinking ahead to whether it’s a place they want to be long term. People who start their education in another country are less likely to migrate to the US later. “You have to think about the international student experience like a pipeline,” Banks says. As international student enrollment has dropped in the US, it has gone up in Australia, Canada, China, and elsewhere. “No doubt they have taken advantage of what is happening in the US as a marketing tool,” Banks says.

Shapiro from Caltech has seen the impact of stricter policies among his students. Currently he has a doctoral student who has been stuck in China for months because he can’t get his visa renewed. “It’s not fair to them,” he says. He hopes the current atmosphere is temporary. “I don’t care where they come from. I want them to stay here.”

Currently, China sends more students to study in the US than any other country. At the same time, the Trump administration has proposed changes, including more scrutiny on scientists working on robotics, aviation, and high-tech manufacturing, that specifically target Chinese immigrants because of fears they are appropriating those technologies. Chemistry has escaped the spotlight so far.

Any moves that significantly shut down Chinese student immigration could be devastating, Harvard’s Kerr says. Currently, about 9% of US innovation is attributed to scientists of Chinese ethnicity.

“It would send shock waves through the system,” Kerr says. “Nothing we have done up until now would compare to revoking student visas.”

That impact would be felt especially hard in chemistry. Economist Patrick Gaule from the University of Bath has studied the quality of chemistry graduate students from China.

His 2013 study of 16,000 US chemistry PhDs showed that Chinese students in chemistry publish more than average. Their quality—as measured by those publications—equals that of domestic students who receive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (Rev. Econ. Stat. 2013, DOI: 10.1162/rest_a_00283). “It’s more difficult to get into a PhD program if you are applying from China than applying from inside the US,” he says. “That’s what I think is driving the results.”

Gaule has also surveyed US chemistry graduate students on their future-employment preferences. He continues to find that students want to stay in the US. People worry that “everybody is going to Canada,” he says. “So far we don’t see it.”

That’s been the case for postdocs as well. Of approximately 80,000 postdocs in the US, two-thirds are international scholars, says Tracy Costello, chair of the board of directors at the National Postdoctoral Association and director of postdoctoral affairs at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

“We want to foster an environment where if someone comes and trains here and wants to stay, that’s possible,” Costello says. “If they want to take that knowledge and go back to their countries, that’s possible too. Science is a global enterprise.”

While the postdoc association is concerned about the immigration-related rhetoric, “We hear the sky is falling a lot and somehow there is still a sky,” she says. Fundamentally, the system hasn’t changed, and while she expects minor changes from the Trump administration, “the status quo for right now is not a bad space.”

In 2009, after finishing graduate school in China, Zuolei Liao came to the US as a postdoc, attracted both by the research and by the culture. He works in uranium chemistry and so expected to have to wait a long time for his visa, but it came through in a few weeks, and he was soon on his way to the University of Notre Dame.

Liao spent several years there and then at Oregon State University, first on a visitor visa and then on an H-1B. After several years, he decided he wanted to stay in the US. But he didn’t take a traditional path: Liao joined the military, which made him eligible for citizenship at the end of basic training.

“I probably would have still joined if I had the chance,” even without the opportunity for citizenship, he says. “I just wanted to get more experience, to make myself a better person.”

After 4½ years in the army, Liao now works at a pharmaceutical company in Wisconsin. He knows only a few other scientists who also turned to military service to stay in the country—but however it’s accomplished, he thinks the US should encourage more doctoral students and postdocs to stay. “We trained them here, so we shouldn’t send them to other countries,” he says. “If you follow the law, you should be rewarded.”


“What Trump has done more than anything is just make people scared,” says Brian Getson, an attorney at immigration specialty law firm Getson & Schatz.

While the Trump administration hasn’t eased immigration to the US, at the same time, “there is no proposal to make it more difficult for scientists,” adds Marco Pignone, who is also an attorney at Getson & Schatz and often represents chemists.

Part of the firm’s job is to reassure people that they can still get an employment visa or green card, Getson says. Visa delays have increased, however, especially for scientists from India and China, Getson says. There are more people who want green cards from those countries than the number available.

One of the main ways scientists come to the US for work or stay after graduation is through employer-sponsored visas. Currently, only 25% of US visas are driven by employment (the remaining 75% are family based).

The H-1B, a temporary visa for high-skilled workers, is sometimes the first step. Nonprofits, including universities, don’t have a limit on H-1B slots. But companies do have a limit. There are 85,000 slots available, and companies nationwide routinely submit double that many applications within days of the application system opening each year. Visa recipients are then chosen by lottery.

A lottery is “probably not the best way,” Kerr points out. Even large companies that apply for thousands of H-1Bs don’t get to choose which workers get the visa slots, which means they often aren’t getting their top choice among their applicants.

Right now, around 70% of H-1B visas go to jobs in the computer and technology industry, while just 2.6% fill positions in mathematics and physical sciences.

The Trump administration has proposed some changes to H-1Bs. One would give people with master’s degrees and higher a better chance of getting a slot.

Another would switch the H-1B application process from paper to electronic. “I imagine it would require a lot of money, but it would be money well spent,” Rutgers’s Hunt says. An electronic system would make it easier to tweak the H-1B lottery so it is not as random. And it could allow for better representation across fields rather than letting computer-science occupations crowd out other sectors.

Kerr likes the idea of giving priority to the jobs with the highest salaries, which generally indicate that a job is harder to fill. Some economists have also proposed giving greater preference to applicants with the highest degrees.

“High-skilled immigration is fundamentally an investment,” Kerr says.

But as clunky as the US immigration system is, immigrants in the US tend to have better employment outcomes than those in other countries, and that may be because in the US, more are being chosen by companies than by the government, Hunt says. “I’m actually not sure that the current system is terrible,” Hunt says.

An immigrant from Germany, Jens Breffke went through “the whole alphabet of visas” on his road to becoming a citizen.

Looking for an international adventure, Breffke came to the US on a student F-1 visa to attend graduate school, then began a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology using a three-year F-1 extension for scientists called OPT for optional practical training.

But when it came time to look for a job in industry, Breffke felt stuck. He couldn’t easily transition to an industry-sponsored H-1B because visa rules meant a gap of almost a year and a half between the time his postdoc ended and when he would have been eligible for an H-1B—and then he still would’ve been subject to the lottery.

“You have to find someone who wants to hire you so badly a year and a half in advance,” Breffke says. “Even if you are the most qualified person, you will always be second in line to someone who could just be hired this week.”

Breffke thinks he would have eventually qualified for a visa for exceptional scientists, but it takes years for the publications and citations that count toward that “exceptional” grade to accumulate. In the end, his girlfriend proposed, and he got a visa through his marriage. He now works for an electronics company in Boston and also serves as chair of the International Activities Committee for the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN.

“I did my PhD in this country and a postdoc working for Uncle Sam,” he says. “I do believe I deserved a chance to work in this country, but the system makes that pretty much impossible.”


“Immigration writ large is top of mind for a lot of people,” says Susan Butts, a consultant and former senior director at Dow Chemical who is chairing an ACS committee developing a policy statement on immigration.

This isn’t the first time the society has tried to develop a policy on the issue, Butts says. The previous effort “was unsuccessful because they could not come to a consensus,” she says. She’s hoping for a different outcome this time. The group has looked at data on immigration, as well as examined surveys of ACS members on the issue.

While there are individual ACS members who are worried about losing their jobs to immigrants, Butts says, “there are a lot of data that say immigrants are an important part of the chemistry enterprise, especially at the advanced-degree level.”

If things go smoothly, a policy statement could be out by the end of 2019, Butts says. Having the statement will enable ACS to better engage in immigration policy discussions in Washington, DC, as part of ACS’s mission to support the chemical enterprise.

Major changes to US immigration policy aren’t likely soon, given the massive divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Many advocates for immigration reform in the past have left Congress, and it’s unclear now who will push for reform.

Kerr says that the US has never had an easy immigration system, and people would adjust if any changes are made fairly for all immigrants.

But denying entry to specific groups can cause serious repercussions. The outcome of recent discourse “really has been to fundamentally shake the confidence that people all around the world have in the United States and whether the US is where they want to make their long-term investment,” Kerr says. “We are getting a black eye.”

That concerning atmosphere isn’t just for scientists abroad. Chemist Madan Bhasin immigrated to the US from India in 1959 and eventually got his PhD at Notre Dame. He got a job at Union Carbide in West Virginia in 1963 and has lived in the area ever since.

Just a handful of Indian families were in the area when Bhasin and his wife first arrived. Although he initially heard some talk about foreigners taking away jobs from US workers, anti-immigrant sentiment in the wider community hadn’t been prevalent until recently.

“I’m fortunate to have come here and to be very happy here,” Bhasin says. But he has felt a difference in the atmosphere in the last few years. To be cautious, his local Indian community center hired police to patrol a function after hearing about attacks on immigrants nationwide. His grandson warned him to be careful in the community.

Bhasin hopes that anti-immigrant rhetoric and visa challenges won’t keep scientists away, but he has heard horror stories from some of his scientist friends who visited India on vacation and then had trouble returning. Trying to immigrate “has been a nightmare for some of them,” he says. “Many people are not even considering coming.”

“I wish we could all practice tolerance toward each other,” Bhasin says.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is what prompted Khaledi from UT Arlington to finally get his green card. “The motivating factor was that after 9/11, things got serious,” he says, referring to the 2001 terrorist attack in the US.

One of his students, from Vietnam, was particularly concerned that Khaledi would go to an international conference and never be able to return. “He used to bring citizenship forms, and he would fill out what he could and sit them on my desk,” Khaledi says.

Khaledi knows that many students are considering the challenges versus benefits of staying in the US or going elsewhere. He remembers a particular Iranian student who was top notch, with perfect English and a stellar record, who ended up going to another country because she couldn’t get a US visa. “You want these people to come here,” he says.

“I don’t see what we gain by excluding people. We’re talking about scientists; we are not talking about politicians. You remove the politics from it, and we all benefit.”

Source: Science in the US is built on immigrants. Will they keep coming?

Science review panel must tackle barriers to funding, encourage diversity: researchers

Actually, I suspect the diversity of visible minorities may be stronger than Jeremy Kerr, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa, asserts, given that they are relatively over-represented in universities (about 24 percent compared to the 19 percent of the overall population):

Funding issues aside, Mr. Kerr urged the panel to tackle the lack of diversity in the scientific community, highlighting, specifically, the under representation of women in senior positions.

“For those of us in this younger cohort of researchers, we recognize that there are terrible disparities in terms of the presence of women…in senior research ranks, and this is not changing at anything like an acceptable pace,” he said.

“We need to do a much better job of bringing [in] diversity. We’re basically leaving half of our talent out of our science enterprise, and that’s frankly nuts.”

Although he didn’t have the statistics, Mr. Kerr said he assumed indigenous peoples and minorities were likely even more underrepresented than women.

He also said researchers must do a better job in communicating and engaging with the general public to help inform national and local decision-making.

Source: Science review panel must tackle barriers to funding, encourage diversity: researchers – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

How Asimina Arvanitaki will explain the universe: The case for open-ended research

Interesting interview with Arvanitaki, the recently appointed chair at the Perimeter Institute – liked her response to the last question particularly:

Q: …. the last federal government had a real focus on scientific research that had a direct industry-based application. And they structured funding based on things that they thought would bring money in…

A: Can I say something? I’m Greek and I’m allowed to say this, I think. The model of ancient Greece, right, take Socrates, all these great people, no one asked them to invent the next quantum computer. They were allowed to think about whatever they wanted to, and this is how a great civilization came about. I think leaving people to think, and that doesn’t go just for physicists. I think it applies to everything. It applies to art, literature. I think this is the part that basically makes us human, so I don’t think this is a waste no matter what the outcome. I don’t think this can be a waste.

Source: How Asimina Arvanitaki will explain the universe