Chronicles of Athena – Fifty One Weeks

Let me tell you the story of Athena and the big storm.

You see, on Wednesday night we had a big storm. The storm went on for hours, lots of bright, flashing lightning (Theenie loves lightning she has discovered), followed intermittently by rolling, deep thunder (Theenie . . . less sure about that part). And accompanied with not very much rain, which meant that it was still hideously hot afterwards.

Athena woke me when storm started, bouncing between the windowsill and the bed and talking to the lightning in a manner that was suspiciously like “Wake up! You’re missing it! Looooook!” But her tolerance for the storm was such that after about fifteen minutes of watching the lightning she got much too overstimulated and had to come into the bed for a cuddle (of course, she needs to be right on top of me even though it’s roasting), and then once she was reassured enough to be purring loudly and painfully kneading my arm, she was brave enough to go back to the window and watch the storm again.

Rinse and repeat for two hours.

We didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night.

As AskReddit is back after Chooter-gate I’ve been entertaining myself with this thread asking: If your pet took you to the human vet, what would they be worried about?

Best entry so far…

“Doctor, he pees in the drinking bowl! IN THE DRINKING BOWL! I don’t think he’s all there, mentally. He’s like 20 and still not house broken.” –pickmetoo

Cow Safety

When the manic teaching and marking periods hit my posting schedule falls apart, and even when it goes quiet, because I haven’t built up a backlog of posts, there’s less on the blog. I’m sorry about that, and I hope to have a proper sciencey post up soon before taking a short summer break.

But in the meantime there has been in a story in the news I wanted to talk about.

The Glasgow Herald reports on the inquest into the death of a professor in a field of cows. This is a sad and all-too frequent story. Cows are often put on ‘world’s most dangerous animals‘ lists, particularly used to juxtapose sharks and animals we think we should be afraid of.

The reasons for the number and severity of cattle-related deaths are fairly self explanatory. They are big, powerful animals with high economic impact and who often come into close contact with humans because of how we keep them (Watts et al 2013). Bulls tend to trample and cows tend to kick, both of which cause huge trauma to the human body, sometimes not survivable (Norwood et al, 2000).

Generally these accidents happen when people come into close contact with beef suckler herds, these are the cows we use to raise our beef meat, the calves you see with them in the fields. In Britain at least, if you forced me to be choose which production animal to be reincarnated as, I’d take a beef suckler cow. They have a pretty relaxed and natural life, left to raise their babies, and that’s part of why they become so aggressive when they’re with their calves. They’re simply trying to protect their babies against a perceived threat, because they’re not in regular contact with humans.

By contrast, dairy breeds are more likely to be dangerous because they are so used to contact with humans, and a bolshy dairy cow with no fear is a very frightening thing indeed. I remember taking a pressure washer through a pen one day instead of around it and being chased the whole way by a very angry girl. That’s not a mistake you make twice.

When dealing with cows, even when posing with cows, I always know how I’m going to get out of the pen. I watch them carefully for any warning signs, aggressive behaviours, foot stamping, head tossing, head swinging, vocalisations, and I definitely don’t ever trust them.

If you’re taking advantage of the warm weather this summer, be careful around cows. These girls don’t take no bullshit.

Chronicles of Athena – Fifty Weeks

Last week, I was in Aberdeen for my sister’s graduation, which meant that Athena had to spend her first ever day away from me. My mum came over to stay at my flat while I was in Aberdeen, and was left with a long list of instructions about how to attend to Lady Athena in the style to which Athena has been accustomed to.

Here are some of the things Athena got up to while being looked after by her granny . . .

  • Athena stole her granny’s toothbrush, taking it into the bath to play with it. She has never stolen a toothbrush before.
  • While granny slept, Athena sat on the ottomon beside the bed and watched . . .
  • When granny was working, Athena got so annoyed she deliberately pushed all of granny’s papers off the table.
  • Then lay on her laptop
  • Athena got lots of treats.

So this week, Athena has been quite affectionate in her own way, as talkative as ever, wanting to be beside me (if not actually wanting to sit on me – my Theenie is not a lap cat, despite a promising start as a kitten), and generally looking terribly cute and behaving like a terribly spoiled princess. I have a cold which has made me lose my voice, which means she is immune to being told off, because apparently I’m not at all intimidating when croaking.

The Best of Scottish Farming

It was the Royal Highland Show last week, which is always a highlight of my calendar. It’s great to see so many lovely looking beasties, as well as chat to a few people about agriculture. Among the stars were the Valais blacknose, my colleague Alex’s favourite sheep – like cuddly toys they are!

A teddy bear pretending to be a sheep

They are just teddy bears with animatronics, honest

Interestingly, io9 had an article about local foods and whether or not eating only locally is possible. I ate a lot of local food at the show, and brought home a limited run of Edinburgh gin and some Fudge Kitchen fudge. Now much as I’m enjoying them, it’s probably not wise to live off of them. (Although Athena is weirdly keen on the fudge . . .) Buying locally is not always easy, but is such a good way to support your local farmers.

I’m a terrible cook and my version of healthy eating is only eating half a Kitchen Fudge in one session, so I have absolutely no words of wisdom here, only to highlight yet again the complexity of feeding the growing world.

On fudge. And gin.

Fluffy Friday – This is How Girl Scientists Talk

I love group messages. Me and some of the other female scientists I work with have a longrunning chat going on about general life. It’s mostly talk about Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black because women. But our conversation took a sexist turn earlier this week, and we started discussing the Tim Hunt scandal.

So this is what some women scientists thought. Prepare yourselves for tears.

FluffyScience: Love me some of that dna

BustyLabWench: How do you know, jill? We are too busy in the lab knocking shit over with our boobs…no work is ever done
FluffyScience: Sorry I’m too busy falling in love with my professor
Feminist #3: Does anyone else feel a little bit bad for that guy? Like, he’s 72. It’s like your granddad saying something racist and getting yelled at for it. I know he definitely should have known better, but I feel the backlash has been a bit ott :grinning:
FluffyScience: Nah
FluffyScience: His apology was sorry but I meant it

BustyLabWench: Yeah I agree with jill. If the apology was sincere and he just thought it was a funny comment which he retracted, then fine.
BustyLabWench: But he be like “bitches were falling to their knees when I came into da lab”
Feminist#3: But how can you sincerely apologise if you don’t grasp what you’ve done? You can’t rewire an old man’s brain overnight
BustyLabWench: My grandad is a giant racist, but he would genuinely be sorry if he were to learn that he upset someone.
FluffyScience: Then the answer your give is “I’m sorry I don’t actually understand why this is wrong so I’m going to do some training”
FluffyScience: “Find out why I’ve upset people”
FluffyScience: The guy is a fucking genius. I’m sure he can comprehend some sensitivity training

SugarTits: I feel a bit like he got bashed for more than he meant but at the same time yeah agree with Jill about dealing with it in the right way and making the effort to learn why people thought it was wrong…
Feminist#3: Yeah definitely. But I also don’t believe you should be sorry just because you’ve offended someone. If I say ‘god damn’ I could genuinely offend millions of people, and I might apologise but I won’t be sincere. I’ve basically offended (in my opinion) an imaginary friend.
FluffyScience: The difference is you saying God damn isn’t going to reinforce a section of the population being systematically degraded
FluffyScience: His comments did damage.
FluffyScience: He is a respected leader of his field who promoted the idea women were too emotional to work with
FluffyScience: That’s not just offence it’s damaging

Feminist#3: In his mind he’s massively clever and he’s just been told his way of thinking is completely wrong. In his mind that is probably preposterous. Inconceivable He has to genuinely understand why it’s so wrong before he can sincerely apologise.

FluffyScience: And that is a supremely poor position to be in as a scientist
FluffyScience: You must always be open to being wrong
FluffyScience: I have no sympathy for old white straight men who don’t know how to be challenged

Feminist#3: Most of his life people have been hideously sexist, and then to make it worse everyone has probably kissed his ass for at least 20 years. And as for being wrong, we all know scientists with a small fraction of his fame who are totally opposed to the idea 😄

SugarTits: I just can’t comprehend why he doesn’t get it! Yes relationships can complicate things but this is something that comes with every single workplace, and it’s a drop in the ocean of all the other shit that can make life at work harder than it needs to be!
FluffyScience: But he is an honoured fellow who is supposed to represent his community (UCL) and he clearly doesn’t
FluffyScience: He is in no way doing his job
FluffyScience: They sent him there to support female scientists
FluffyScience: He did not fulfill that contract

Feminist#3: I totally agree that what he said was full on crazy train. I just didn’t find it surprising or very upsetting. I just accept that old men are often sexist and racist. Yeah he’s intelligent and should know better. He should never have been sent to talk to people. It’s more worrying if people knew what he was going to say and found it fine.

FluffyScience: I don’t accept that science ambassadors are too inflexible to even comprehend when they’re wrong

Feminist#3: Dawkins comes out with this shit all the time. On one hand says Muslims are shit and on the other says western women have no right to moan compared to what ‘Muslim women’ have to put up with. Man that guy’s a prick! It’s the typical old white, Oxbridge educated idiot view. They all think that because they’re so clever they can’t be wrong.

FluffyScience: And I think he should be publicly denounced too
Feminist#3: It’s weird, some sexist shit makes me want to really hurt whoever’s saying it, but I genuinely laughed when I read what this guy said. It felt too preposterous to get angry about.

FluffyScience: I think that’s what makes me so angry
FluffyScience: The complete normalcy of it
FluffyScience: I’m not angry at him. I’m angry at the system
FluffyScience: I consider him a people eater. Just minding his own business while I drive a war rig through his perceptions of the world

BustyLabWench: …this is deeper than our usual chat

FluffyScience: TITS!!!
FluffyScience: I actually want to transcribe this and put it in a blog

Feminist#3: Haha, you can as far as I’m concerned. I can be ‘Feminist number 3′ :innocent:
Feminist#3: Saying that, I can totally get behind mocking him. #Distractinglysexy might be my new favourite hashtag (yes I have favourites) http://mashable.com/2015/06/11/female-scientists-responses-tim-hunt-distractinglysexy/?utm_cid=mash-com-fb-main-link

OMICS Goes from “Predatory Publishing” to “Predatory Meetings”

jilly:

I have two invites from these people sitting in my inbox right now – and another nagging email reminding me. Always good to spread awareness

Originally posted on Scholarly Open Access:

Stay Away From OMICS' Conferences Stay Away From OMICS’ Conferences

In earlier blog posts I’ve described and documented examples of OMICS Group’s unethical practices, including sending personal invitations to potential authors to submit manuscripts without informing them of the author fees, only to invoice them after their papers get quickly accepted. This was also reported in an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education called “‘Predatory’ Online Journals Lure Scholars Who Are Eager to Publish.”

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Your Weekly Sexist Scientist

(Edit: See below for my response to Tim Hunt’s resignation)

Okay, it’s partly because I’m in marking hell right now and don’t have the time to write a big post, but it’s partly because this shit keeps happening.

Nobel prize winner, Tim Hunt, addresses a collection of female scientists and says:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

Alleges the Guardian this morning.

And then of course, after reading this, you get the joy of reading below the line Guardian comments, including such gems as …

  • there is clearly something in what he says

  • In a world of open omnivorous sexuality, it’s all meant to shut down as you walk through the lab door. Hmm.

  • You must have a very low opinion of young women to believe that [this makes science less inclusive]

I don’t know about anyone else but I think I feel the tears happening already. It wasn’t like last week I was saying that each woman needs to decide for herself what she will or will not tolerate. It wasn’t that a few weeks before I was explaining why representation matters in all we do. It wasn’t that a few months ago we had reviewers saying a man should look over a manuscript, just assuming that the foolish women hadn’t already done so, even if it were a legitimate complaint. It’s not that even with the best of intentions, we can’t help but portray women in science as dangerous Eves, meddling just too far for mankind.

While it’s tempting to make a joke here, to leave off with a light hearted ‘see, I’m the fun kind of a feminist’ statement, something like “Who wants to come smuggle some scientists out of Hunt’s lab on a War Rig and paint their forehead black with me?” – I can’t.

I am tired of making the same argument over and over. I am tired of being told by older white men that I should be grateful for inclusion into a field I am damned good at. I am tired of having younger white men start to nod their heads. My beloved science needs to get over its representation problem.

And I bloody well hope that in forty three years time, when I’m advocating for separate human-AI labs, someone tells me to sit down and shut up. Because it won’t be my future I’m jeopardising then.

Tim Hunt has today resigned from his honourary professorship at UCL. Predictably, the radio this morning was full of old men bleating “political correctness gone mad!”.

A few misconceptions to clear up: the man’s contribution to science is not ‘lost’, nor is anyone throwing out what he’s achieved with his Nobel Prize winning innovations. This was an honourary position and so is supposed to reflect what the organisation wants to be. UCL prides themselves on being inclusive, and I think they’re absolutely right to say this resignation fits with their policies. Whether he jumped or was pushed is immaterial. Academic environments need and demand trust and faith in other scientists, you need to be able to evaluate one another on individual merits, not the makeup of your chromosomes.

And finally – no, I actually wish he hadn’t resigned. I wish he’d said “I have caused offense and I don’t understand why, so my employers are supporting me by sending me to equality and diversity training. I want to be open about this process, and we will review the situation after I have attended the requisite courses. I hope you can appreciate my openness and willingness to investigate opposing points of view”.

That, to me, would have illustrated a truly intelligent and incisive mind. And if, after, he maintained that he didn’t understand how he could have caused offence, then the UCL would be at liberty to open the door or push him out. Now he ends his career as a wounded beast, instead of one who is objectively more than clever enough to listen to what others have to say and feel.

New book: Thing Explainer

jilly:

I’m a big fan of Munroe’s science explanations, and I’ve been thinking of setting my students an Up-Goer Five formative assessment. We’ll see, eh?

Originally posted on xkcd:

A while ago, I posted the comic Up Goer Five, an annotated blueprint of the Saturn V rocket with all the parts described using only the thousand most common English words.

Today, I’m excited to announce that I’m publishing a collection of large-format (9″x13″) Up Goer Five-style blueprints. The book is full of detailed diagrams of interesting objects, along with explanations of what all the parts are and how they work.

The titles, labels, and descriptions are all written using only the thousand most common English words. Since this book explains things, I’ve called it Thing Explainer.

cover-web

The diagrams in Thing Explainer cover all kinds of neat stuff—including computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the stuff you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you’re made of (cells).

Thing Explainer will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 24th. You can preorder it now (AmazonBarnes & Noble

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Chronicles of Athena – 47 Weeks

Things Athena truly, deeply believes:

  • Jill has the power to summon fun creepy-crawleys. Sometimes, when Jill is so inclined, she will call my name and a bug will manifest at her fingertip.
  • Sometimes I eat these bugs.
  • Sometimes the bugs will escape and crawl over my lip.
  • Sometimes I need help when this happens.
  • Jill has the power of Sheba.
  • The food in the yellow packets is WAY better than the shitty stuff I used to get.
  • Somehow, Jill has barred my entrance to the Forbidden Cupboard of Mystery.
  • Jill still has not figured out where I’ve stashed my paper straws. Ergo, I can bring her straws to play with.
  • When I am sad about the world/because I can’t reach a bug on a wall/am slightly malcontent, I need only cry for Jill to pick me up and make it all better.
  • Cold mornings mean cuddles beneath the duvet.
  • Warm mornings mean sleeping in the sunbeams on the windowsill.
  • If I am bored, I can get a toy from my toybox. Jill will want to play with this toy.
  • Jill knows when I want to scratch the carpet
  • And the mattress
  • And the curtains
  • She is magic
  • Jill also controls the Hidden Cupboard of Secrets
  • And the Fridge of Wonderful Smells

Things I truly, deeply believe:

This kitten is spoiled beyond belief.

Bad Science Careers Advice

Oh, WayBack machine. You were supposed to help us find old Geocities webpages, lost in the midst of time, and now you help us see terrible articles written in Science Careers magazine. How we love you.

Picture this. You’re a postdoc, you’ve just started a new job, and your supervisor keeps staring down your top. You write to Science Careers for help, and the reply is . . .

Well read some of it yourself.

As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can. Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.

Jezebel responded by saying it sets the ‘Sexist Incidences in Science’ calendar back to zero. Science Careers quickly pulled the article. I’m not sure what editorial team let it go by to be honest. But then, I think we’ve established that I’m not really au fait with editors in the science world.

We can sit and snipe about this, making funny comments, but here’s the thing – the letter writer is still sitting in this office with someone peering at her tits. So I’m going to answer her as I would answer one of my students:

Dear Alice Fluffy,

Q: I’ve just joined a new lab for my second postdoc. It’s a good lab. I’m happy with my project. I think it could really lead to some good results. My adviser is a good scientist, and he seems like a nice guy. Here’s the problem: Whenever we meet in his office, I catch him trying to look down my shirt. Not that this matters, but he’s married.

What should I do?

—Bothered

Dear Bothered,

Let’s start with the obvious here, this behaviour is bothering you.  You have a choice. Either you adjust your expectations and expect to feel uncomfortable in your place of work, with someone you are supposed to be working collaboratively with. Alternatively, you can raise the issue and hope that both you and your advisor, who is apparently nice, can both behave in such a way that you will both feel comfortable together.

It’s really not for me to tell you which path to choose. I think every woman has to pick her battles. In my career I’ve faced sexual harassment a few times, and I haven’t always taken action against. The truth is that harassment is subjective, and it’s not always a clear cut case of “this is wrong”.

The problem, however, is when someone like you or I wants to speak up, but doesn’t because they’re afraid of the consequences to their career.

As a society, we need to learn how to hear the words “this makes me uncomfortable” and not immediately take huge umbrage. Some people will tell you to put up with this, to live in a work environment that makes you feel uncomfortable. And here’s the thing – if you would rather do that than risk the censure of openly wanting an equal work environment, no one has the right to judge you. You only take on the battles you want to in this life.

But let’s say you do want this fight (because it could well be a fight), here’s how to start.

Do you know what the first aider’s golden rule is?

1) Protect yourself.

Never put yourself in a situation where you feel vulnerable. Start documenting now. Even just a word file with times and dates of meetings, what happened, when, how did it make you feel. Nine times out of ten, no one will ever see this but you.

2) Contact your equality and diversity officer.

All universities should have an equality and diversity officer. They will be in charge of facilitating your institute’s duty of care towards you (and yes, your institute does have one toward you – why didn’t I tell you this earlier? Because it’s their responsibility, not yours. You need to make the decision to do this yourself). They will be able to point you in the direction of further advice, and they may be able to instigate some staff-wide training.

3) Be prepared to say ‘bygones’

So far, your supervisor has irritated you, but they haven’t behaved obscenely. When they learn that their behaviour has made you upset, they’re going to feel bad about it. People respond to this in different ways. People who are genuinely nice will apologise. Slightly less nice people will try to just push through it and change their behaviour. People who are more like me will probably go bitch to their friends and be cool towards you for a while (this is okay, we’re none of us the villain in our own tale). True dicks will try to make things worse for you, that’s when you bring out the documentation and start the whole process again.

The point is, once you have addressed the behaviour, you have to take it as a learning event. Some people learn their lesson, some people don’t. You have to re-evaluate the situation after you have given your input to it, which is, essentially: I am bothered.

Be bothered. You’re allowed to be bothered by this. You’re a scientist, and you should be valued for what that brings to the table.

Good luck, Bothered.