Posted tagged ‘radio’

For A Good Time On The Intertubes: Maryn McKenna and Janet Stemwedel edition

December 18, 2013

It’s the third Wed. of the month again (remarkable how that comes around), and I’ll once more be doing my internet radio thing on Virtually Speaking Science (a program within the Virtually Speaking empire that recently featured our own Richard Mayhew in conversation with Jay Ackroyd).

This evening at 5 p.m. ET/ 2 p.m./PT, I’ll be talking with Maryn McKenna and Janet Stemwedel about sexual harassment, gender discrimination and science writing.  (We’ll also be live in Second Life at the Exploratorium’s joint.  Come join the live studio audience if you’ve got that kind of virtual bent.)

Titian_-_Rape_of_Europa_-_Google_Art_Project

As many of you I’m sure know, it’s been a tumultuous couple of months in the science writing world. Since October, we’ve seen Dr. Danielle N. Lee, a researcher and blogger at ScientificAmerican.com get called an “urban whore” for the sin of politely declining to write for free — and then have her equally polite explanation why that’s not OK deleted on spurious pretences by a Scientific American editorial staff who thus, effectively silenced an African American woman trying to let the world know this sh*t still goes on — every damn day.  You can listen to Lee herself on all of this as part of the invaluable Story Collider series of tales of science and life.

In the wake of Lee’s story, first one woman, then two, then three reported incidents of sexual harassment by then-Scientific American blog editor and Science Online co-founder Bora Zivkovic.  Of particular note at this stage of events was the pattern of reactions to the news about Zivkovic, who was a cornerstone of the English-language science blogging world, widely known and liked.  By me too, btw.  Devoted fans of my Virtually Speaking Science gig — yes, all 6 of you, counting my cat — will recall that Bora was on the show last January.  He was kind to my fledgling blog as he was to many others, and the reserves of good will he engendered play a role in this story.  The concept of “community” was invoked to suggest that Zivkovic’s role in fostering community as an end in itself suggested some kind of amelioration or alternate context for the one incident on the table.  As more women came forward, that line of argument largely evaporated — but it set the context for the public debate that followed.

Moving forward, there was Rapey-Einstein-Curie-Bobblehead-gate.  I kid you not.  Joe Hanson, who writes the It’s OK To Be Smart blog for PBS digital posted a Thanksgiving video showing famous historical scientists (bobbleheads) gathered around the table.  Marie Curie was the only woman on hand, and the video ended up with Einstein assaulting Curie.  Oy.

What made that particular embarrassment worse that neither Hans0n nor PBS seemed to get quite what was wrong with the piece — as Kate Clancy* writes, Hanson apologized, but said he was trying to draw attention to the insufficient representation of women in science through the video.  PBS merely lauded Hanson and itself for  opening up “up an important, though difficult, debate” — as if the conversation about rape, discrimination or abuse of power was suddenly brought to our attention by this act of intellectual courage.

One of the most striking aspects of the whole last few months was the surprise gap.  Women in science writing were unhappy to hear of each insult and act of diminishment imposed on other women — but, at least as documented in that immaculate scientific assay, Twitter, they were utterly unsurprised by the pervasiveness of the phenomenon.  Men, those with some power and those pretty much without, mostly had a different reaction. They — and this certainly goes for me — had a collective “I had no idea that this happens to all of y’all” reaction.

Cole_Thomas_Expulsion_from_the_Garden_of_Eden_1828

But it does.  Crap gender behavior is a constant, it seems; at least every woman I’ve spoken to in the science writing world reports interactions ranging from the unnecessarily and workplace-inappropriate awkwardness to outright sucker-should-be-in-jail awfulness.  The data on women’s advancement through the ranks of power in both science itself and public science communication reflect both the leaky-pipe impact of such environments and the power of old-boy networks, even in this day and age.  See this and this and this for examples, with Janet Stemwedel’s post as context.

So we’ll be talking about all of this:  what happened to bring the issue of sexual harrassment and gender discrimination to the fore in the professional world of science communication; what it means on the ground for the craft — and hence, inter alia, for the goal of engaging the public in science and the use of scientific thinking for civic participation; and what can be done to address the systemic flaws that have enabled gender discrimination to persist, for all the (often quite spectacular) self-congratulation science communicators have allowed themselves in the very recent past.

As to my guests.  Maryn McKenna is a return visitor to the program, having joined me in April to talk antibiotic resistance and why we’re all doomed.  She’s one of the country’s leading public health journalists, who has spent the last several years diving into the problem of antibiotic overuse and the evolution of increasingly resistant microbes.  She’s also someone who has thought long and deeply about gender issues in our shared profession, and you can find some of her writing on the subject on her blog (variously linked above).

Janet Stemwedel is a professor of philosophy at San Jose State University who teaches the philosophy of science and its ethics, among other concerns.  She’s known on the web as Dr. Freeride, and she blogs about a wide range of issues of ethics and public responsibilty in science.  It’s both too horrible and necessarily inaccurate to say that someone is “the conscience” of a group, but Janet is nonetheless one of those to whom many of us turn when we want to talk through a question with rigor and humanity.

Should be a rich conversation this afternoon. Hope y’all can make it, or check out the podcast when it suits your schedule.

One more thing:  it should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t, there’s nothing unique about science journalism or public outreach.  Some of us in the business (almost exclusive the male sort) thought there was, that we had enlightened ourselves as a group past the broader social issues raised by ongoing gender crap.  This program is both a result of and an attempt to further disabusement of that notion — and, I hope, whatever I’ll learn from Janet and Maryn will also serve as a guide to navigating the same issues in settings beyond science writing.

IOW — this may all look like inside baseball for science writers.  It’s not.

*BTW — as I write this the news just came off embargo that Kate’s been named one of the journal Nature’s 10 — “Ten people who mattered this year,” recognized for her work in developing data to demonstrate the reality of sexual harassment and physical or sexual assault in research settings.

Images: Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1559-1562.

Thomas Cole, The Expulsion from Eden, 1828.

 

Self Aggrandizement Alert + Some Kitchen Goodness In Aid Of A Friend

December 18, 2012

First — a head’s up to another one of my internet-radio conversations.  Tomorrow at 6 p.m EST I’ll be talking (live!) to David George Haskell.  David is a biologist teaching at the University of the South.  He blogs here, but the proximate reason for the interview is the publication of his book, The Forest Unseen.

The Forest Unseen is simply one of the best natural history cum science books I’ve read in years.  David’s concept — in less adept hands it would have been a conceit — was to take a single meter-in-diameter patch of old growth forest and visit it over the course of a year.

Paul_Cézanne_-_Interior_of_a_forest_-_Google_Art_Project

From those visits to what he called “the mandala” he drew essay after essay, pretty much all of them built on the idea of making a practice out of observation.  Most of the chapters in the book begin with a single point of entry into the life of the mandala, and then Haskell’s writing flows and leaps as he finds his veins of connection.  Along the way, quite gently, he leads his readers into an increasingly sophisticated understanding both of natural history side of things:  what’s there, what’s happening in that patch of forest (and through that one little scrap of land into the beyond, of course); and of the science involved, ideas from biology and ecology.  You learn a lot — I did — and it’s not until much later that you (I) realize just what a rich lode of fact and concept we’ve just taken on.

In all, a really worthwhile book — not a bad choice, if  I dare say it, to stick in somebody’s stocking in a few days.  (BTW — for more on the project, check out Jim Gorman’s article from October, published in the Grey Lady.)

Now to the kitchen goodness.  Fair warning:  what follows is a plug for something a good friend of mine is trying to do.  If you aren’t into knives, kitchens, or cooking, and/or don’t want to read about what is at bottom (and top, actually) an attempt at business, then please, get off the bus now.

OK?

So, back at the dawn of time, my friend Adam — Adam Simha — graduated from MIT rather at loose ends.   He found himself more interested in craft than formal science or engineering.  He bounced around some kitchens in town, and then found himself really looking at the tools chefs use, and then figuring out that he might have some skills and knowledge and sheer desire to see what he could do in that arena.

The result has been a number of years developing himself into an exceptional knife maker.  You can see what he does here — check out the custom knives he’s made for chef-clients, and see also the ready-made line for the rest of us.  After some years of nerving myself up to it, I finally bought one of the latter – the 10″ chefs’ knife with the black rubber (Pedro) handle.  It is, simply, the best knife I’ve ever owned, by far.

How better?  It starts sharper than the decent knives I’ve used for decades; it holds its edge longer; it sharpens more easily, and being made of better steel than any other knife I own (a Wursthof and a Sabatier for chef’s knives), it is thinner, harder, and is easier in my hands to manipulate than any big knife has a right to be.

And yeah, it costs a fair amount.  Not an utterly crazy number for something that, properly cared for, should outlast me  — Adam’s prices for his ready-mades fall in the middle of what a yuppie cooking store charges for its cutlery.  And hell, I’ve been promising myself a really good knife since we first elected Obama, and finally I just decided that this purchase was going to be my victory cigar for the re-election celebration.

An aside:  I’m not a great person with my hands, but I purely love the knowledge and history built into any good tool — plus the fact that better tools make the jobs they’re designed for easier to do.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Still_Life_with_Fish_Scallions_and_Large_Knife_-_Totoya_Hokkei

I learned this first when I started working with good camera-people when I was just getting going as a documentary film-maker.  One of those DPs, an older guy (Bob Elfstrom,* for those of you in the business), took me aside and made sure I understood how and why he used each of the bits and pieces he needed to make his images.  Great training!  Throughout he drummed into me the necessity, the almost religious obligation, to use the best tools to do a job one could possibly acquire.  And he was right, at least in my experience.  It’s because of him that I would hire or buy really good optics when I needed to —  leaving me fewer options on location than I would have liked, sometimes, but better, in ways I could see on screen.  And as I started to cook I found I didn’t like gadgets very much, but I truly valued a good knife.  Those of you who cook (and that’s most of us, I guess) know what it’s like when you get one that fits and balances and that takes and holds an edge without fighting you for it.  That’s the context in which I’ve come to Adam’s knives, and that’s why I am posting this to try and help him realize an ambition.

What Adam’s doing now is to take what he’s developed as he’s built knives for his custom clients to come up with versionss for a larger audience.  There are a fair number of costs that go with that ambition, mostly for a build out of his shop, and he’s launched an Indigogo campaign to try to raise the necessary.  He’s got a video up there that explains what he’s trying to do better than I can.

I’m a little diffident about putting this up.  A buddy of mine is trying to get a new business off the ground, and I’m using this community platform to spread the word.  But I guess the usual answer applies. Don’t bother with all this stuff if you aren’t interested.

But even if you have no time to cook, no money for what is indeed a luxury, or just own every last bit of kitchen gear you, your kids and their kids will ever use, still, if you’d like to get just a sense of what a wonderful obsessive does when unleashed on metal-working shop, check the stuff out; if nothing else it’s fine kitchen porn.

*Among much else, Elfstrom directed and appeared as Jesus in Johnny Cash’s rarely-seen feature film Gospel Road, and he was one of the Maysles brothers’ cameramen at Altamont.  Hell of a guy to take out on the road for one’s very first film.  I’m deeply grateful to him and to John Else (my other first-cameraman) for the generosity with which they made sure I didn’t do anything irrecoverably stupid — all the while teaching me a whole lot of stuff they don’t necessarily cover in film school.  I will say, though that even some jobs later it still came as something of a shock when Al Maysles showed up (unannounced) at the end of a day’s shooting in New York.  It had been a long day, and something of a fraught one, and it was literally the last set up on the final shoot for that particular film.  I was seriously ready for the bar.  But there he was, Mr. Maysles — who, it must be said, understood exactly the state I was in (had been there once or twice himself, I reckon). In the event, he was gentle, encouraging and blessedly brief in his hellos.

Images:  Paul Cezanne, Interior of a Forest, before 1890.

Totoya Hokkei, Still Life with Fish, Scallions and Large Knife, c. 1830

Program Notes (More Self-Aggrandizement)

February 15, 2012

For anyone interested in getting Higgsy with me, I’ll be talking with theoretical particle physicist Matt Strassler in just a couple of hours — at 5 p.m. EST.  As usual, it will be part of the Virtually Speaking Science strand of the Virtually Speaking empire — and you can listen live or as a podcast at Blog Talk Radio.*    For those of you whose virtual lives please you more than your real ones, you can take part in the fun as members of the live (ish) audience in Second Life.

Matt, as some of you may recall, is someone whose blog I’ve pointed to before; he’s only been operating Of Particular Significance for a few months, but it has rapidly become one of the handful of first places to go for really smart, high-level but intelligile news and explanation from the bleeding edge of particle physics.  Matt’s been working on the kinds of problems the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for many years now.  After a slightly rocky start, that accelerator has been performing brilliantly, with the result that we are in the midst of a very perplexing time.  We have tons of data, and tantalizing, elusive suggestions of results within that trove…

…among them, hints about what is called the Higgs particle, which is the name for the entitiy physicists believe that nature confers mass on much, though not all of what has mass in the universe.

Matt will tell you that the Higgs, often known by its wretched nickname, “the God particle,” is actually less important than something else, the Higgs field — which is a shorthand way of saying that what the elusive Higgs does is what counts — and we should not presume the search will take us to the point we think is most likely, until it does.

We’ll range over stuff like that, and some conversation about the role of instruments in driving what the instrument makers think, and even to some big questions about why people might care about such genuinely abstruse stuff — and how we might use that interest to do an end around of some more contentious debates in science as it enters the public sphere.

So come on down if you have a moment.  This should be one of those conversations that makes my head hurt, but in a good way.

*We will be getting our podcast going in iTunes shortly, BTW, and I’ll let y’all know as we do.

Image:  Vincent van Gogh, Wheat Field With Crows, 1890.

 

Saturday Random Post: Really Bad Lyrics edition.

May 10, 2008

Overheard this morning on NPR’s Cartalk.

From a song leading into one of the breaks:

300 miles to Winnemucca

I drive a van; I ain’t no trucka’

Top that if you can.

Image:  John Constable, “The Hay Wain,” 1821.  Location:  The National Gallery, London.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.


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