An Old Argument Returns

Pamela Paul is standing up for MERIT in scientific publishing. Of course, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but her friends in the Intellectual Dark Web gave her a convenient press release to work from.

My colleagues who publish in professional journals have mostly responded to Paul, rather than to the paper and press release she is working from. The paper is inappropriate for the one journal she mentions, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, because the PNAS publishes short technical papers, and this is a long polemic.

I’ve thought that scientific journals could benefit from publishing more polemics, but polemics on chemical and other scientific issues. That’s not what this paper is about. It is about practices in journal publishing that the authors disapprove of. They frame their polemic in terms of merit versus identity.

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The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s famous poem was published in the December 1922 issue of Criterion, 100 years ago. There’s a lot in it, and people focus on different parts. The first few lines get a workout every April, when people try to make them mean that April weather is changeable, but if you read the first four lines, and even better seven, it’s clear that that’s not what they mean.

The rest of the poem is harder. It’s fragmented, and thus easy to pluck pieces out, which is what people do.

But perhaps Eliot and his famous editor, Ezra Pound, had a thought that unified the poem. Let’s look at the title: The Waste Land. We can see that theme throughout: the dry red rocks, the inability of people to connect, water and death, and finally, in line 424 of 437, we meet the Fisher King, who rules the Waste Land and who suffers a wound that will not heal.

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The Women Men Don’t See

The polling/pundit debacle that predicted a “red wave” in the election has reminded me of this brilliant title of a short story by James Tiptree, Jr. Except that’s Alice Bradley Sheldon. Back in the day, a sure way not to be seen was to have a name coded as female.

Names coded as female are more acceptable now, but, as in Shelton’s story, much that is female is still not seen. We could still be traveling down to Mexico to get a lift to other solar systems, and nobody would know. The story is told from the limited viewpoint of a man who stumbles into two women’s vacation to Mexico. He cannot understand the women in any way but as sexual targets.

A great many pollsters live in a similarly limited world. Theirs depends on their models and the limited worldview those models encapsulate – gasoline prices, inflation fears, what they sometimes call kitchen table issues. Additionally, a conventional wisdom of how elections play out and fluctuate. No space for self-determination being taken away from half the population.

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The Future Is White Dudes

Reporter: Here’s my idea. This group at the University of Chicago is working on quantum computing, and they have the coolest setup in a basement closet. So this Einstein-grade science in a humble beginning. Great photos of equipment with lots of wires. Starting from nothing. Make computers unhackable.

Editor: Wow, so great! Ties in with that Nobel Prize for quantum something. At the forefront of one of the world’s hottest technology competitions.

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The Deep History of Peoples – Women as well as Men

The 26 August Science magazine is on fire.

A definitive study shows the Wuhan market as the center of the first COVID-19 cases of the pandemic, refuting the lab leak hypothesis. That’s important, but this post is not about that, not least because I don’t want to get caught in that poisonous argument.

No, I want to talk about the cover stories.

This image inspired by Bronze Age art depicts people of diverse cultures spreading their genes between West Asia and Southeast Europe. From left to right: Mycenaean, Minoan, Hittite, Armenian, and Urartian. A total of 1317 ancient genomes spanning 10,000 years were analyzed to reveal the manifold connections between these regions that are invisible in modern DNA.

Three big Research Articles, with dozens of authors across the geographical area covered. A news story, and a Perspective. News stories and Perspectives are summaries for the general public and scientists who are not specialists in the field.

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The White Guy’s Playbook For Discounting Women

This article is a superb example of how women are excluded from, well, anything important. I’ve seen a number of similar examples lately. The actions are so similar that I’ve wondered if there’s a playbook that white guys are sharing around.

1. Start with an impossible goal. Dwight Eisenhower sent Dick Nixon on a 68-day around-the-world tour. The author recognizes that this would be impossible for any president and vice president today, but it’s too bad that Kamala Harris can’t get an education like this.

2. Minimize what she is doing. Here’s the minimization:

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a first-term senator from California before entering the White House, hasn’t been given the sort of immersive experiences or sustained, high-profile tasks that would deepen and broaden her expertise in ways Americans could see and appreciate. 

Here’s the experience, in the same paragraph, with required and evidenceless minimization. The author does this with a straight face.

But over the last 18 months, her on-the-job training in governing has largely involved intractable issues like migration and voting rights where she has not shown demonstrable growth in leadership, and hit-or-miss trips overseas like the troubled foray in Central America a year ago and the more successful delegation to meet with the United Arab Emirates’ new president, leading a team that included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

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Tom Nichols Calls Out Masculinist Identitarian Politics

Tom Nichols and I see the world differently, but he’s managed to produce an insightful Twitter thread, which I summarize below. Of course, he probably won’t agree with what I’m going to say about it.

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White Guys In Science – E. O. Wilson

And one more

I first gave E. O. Wilson some extended thought when his book Consilience came out in 1999. When I was younger, I was intrigued by grand syntheses, which is what Consilience attempts to be. I don’t think I read it, though, just the summaries. The idea was, as I recall, that at some blessed time in the future all the sciences (all forms of knowledge?) would come together in one synthesis. If that’s wrong, don’t bother to explain to me what it really said. I don’t care.

My second thought was that of course something like this could be published only by a “grand old man.” Someone who had made his name in some part of science and then had gone on to pontificate about other things. Tiresome, but not the first time.

I follow a number of biologists on Twitter, including experts on insects and ants, Wilson’s favorite. They were inspired by him and are now trying to assess his legacy. Consilience wasn’t Wilson’s only attempt at a grand synthesis; he had earlier written on sociobiology, and that was where he got into trouble.

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White Guys In Science – Eric Lander

White guy scientists are in the news again. With E. O. Wilson’s death, his legacy is being reviewed, and some of it is not nice. President Biden’s science adviser, Eric Lander, has had to to apologize to his staff for bullying and other bad behavior toward them.

None of this is a surprise.

When Eric Lander was nominated in 2021, Peter Aldhous at BuzzFeed News collected a number of incidents showing Lander to not work well with women.

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