Field of Science

Oh god! so funny, yet so sad, so very very sad

If you haven't seen this yet, please head over to PZs blog...

The Pharyngula Bump

I've been meaning to point this out for awhile, but have been much too busy to play around. However, I did want to point out what happens when you get a link from a blog like pharyngula, no offense to greg laden who I believe actually linked to me first.

Here are the immediate ramifications

You might fail to notice that for about 5 months, my blog was hovering around 10-30 hits/day. Then PZ goes and links to me and now the Y-axis scale is blown all to hell and back. Now if I get 50 hits it looks like 0. Its so depressing.

On another lighter note, this little tidbit reminded me of an old Garfield cartoon, the Saturday morning cartoon, not the newspaper cartoon.

The cartoon featured Garfield in an educator role pointing to a map of the US and saying the Wyoming is an Indian word meaning "No state Here." Based on my assessment, that definition seems to fit. OK, maybe this is a population issue, Wyoming is the smallest state by population...let's see if that fits the data.

Wyoming - 0 hits - 522,830 50th smallest state
Vermont - 9 hits - 621,254 49th smallest state
N. Dakota - 6 hits - 639,715 48th smallest state
Alaska - 9 hits - 683,478 47th smallest state

Based on these numbers I would predict at least 5 hits from Wyoming. Not too many that 0 is statistically significant, however this data does not allow us to rule out that hypothesis that Wyoming does not really exist. This could go a long way towards explaining Dick Cheney.

What makes a PhD?

This is more of a philosophical question, and rhetorical to boot. (I encourage hearing your opinions, but from a rhetorical standpoint this is an ask a question so I can answer it post.) At what point is a student ready? Obviously, there isn't any specific set of criteria, however there are some common guidelines and some esoteric guidelines. I also want to point out that in my worldview conferring a PhD means that the University or College is stating that this person is a trained scientist who is able to go out and independently establish their own research program whether it is in academia, industry, government, etc.

Of the common guidelines, the most obvious is the publication of, at least one, peer reviewed publication. I am not considering review articles here, although they are nice. By publishing a paper the student has demonstrated that they could generate a significant body of data related to some biological question. However, as the primary guideline this aspect ultimately fails in my opinion. First, publishing a paper with your name in the first author position does not truly demonstrate your involvement in the work. Maybe you did 50% of the experiments and the other authors contributed less so you got first and your mentor wrote the paper. This is not the same as someone who did 100% of the experiments and actually wrote the paper. Maybe a technician did most of the work and you came in and finished it up and your mentor knows, at least subconsciously, that you need the authorship more to help your career. In fact, lots of people publish rigorous papers that do not have PhDs. So, this can not be a criteria in and of itself. For the record, I am not suggesting that mentors actually think publishing a paper is sufficient, but this is an easy criteria to quantify and seems to be the standard fall-back position. My point is that a publication is necessary but it is not sufficient.

The esoteric guidelines are the ones that are difficult to quantify and will vary from mentor to mentor. This is where I ask myself if the student is a mature scientist.

"Well, how in the hell do you assess that?"

Good question *puts away magic eight ball*. There are several ways in which this can be determined. First, you can see how a student matures over time. Nothing demonstrates progress better than looking back and seeing where you started. Here, are some of my personal criteria in assessing whether a student is about ready to earn the PhD.

Ownership: when the student takes ownership of their project is a good indication they are in the final throws of earning the PhD. The student is no longer dependent on the mentor for direct guidance. This is when the student truly starts to be more of a colleague and less of a trainee.

Expertise: when the student knows more about their research project than the mentor (not so much knowing more factual information but having a deeper understanding of the research that they can more effectively use their knowledge).

Breadth: this goes hand-in-hand with expertise, but when a student can step back and relate their work to someone else's who works in a different area, well, that's just impressive.

I find these, admittedly, more subjective criteria are actually much better indicators of a PhD scientist than many others. Mastering a plethora of different techniques, even difficult techniques, is not a good indicator. Knowing lots of facts is not sufficient nor is publishing research papers. Many people can conduct difficult experiments, know a lot of things, and publish papers without the PhD and we do not spontaneously confer PhDs upon them. In most labs we call people who fit the latter three categories technicians or something similar. The difference between a technician and a PhD scientist, in my opinion, rest on the more intangible points I raised above. Now it is difficult to see how a student who has taken ownership and developed expertise and breadth would not be publishing papers and mastering a variety of techniques. You really can not do the former if you can not do the latter. In fact, I would say it is the mentor's job to train the student to learn the techniques and generate the data so that and while the student develops the more esoteric abilities.

Upcoming meeting

Our big field-specific meeting is only 2 more weeks away, and while I try to get a paper our the door, I need to put a poster together. This is a bit concerning as the poster is on a fairly new area of research for me. I end up wondering if I might be missing an important bit of information that everyone in this area knows and will look like in idiot. Doubtful, but possible. I am still a little bitter no one from my group is giving an oral presentation, but that was out of my immediate control. One good outcome is that I am giving a talk on this shortly after the meeting, so I will already have a bunch of pretty slides made.

Contact your congressperson tomorrow

H.F. No.3922....from hereon noted as HF Puffinstuff

H.F. No. 3922, as introduced - 85th Legislative Session (2007-2008) Posted on Mar 10, 2008
1.1 A bill for an act
1.2 relating to higher education; enacting the Free Speech for Faculty and Students
1.3Bill of Rights; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter

1.8 Subdivision 1. Citation. This section shall be referred to as the "Free Speech for
1.9Faculty and Students Bill of Rights."
1.10 Subd. 2. Definitions. The definitions in this subdivision apply to this section.
1.11For the purposes of this section:
1.12(1) "faculty" means a person who is a member of the faculty of the institution or is
1.13an instructor at the institution; and
1.14(2) "postsecondary institution" means a public or private postsecondary institution
1.15located in Minnesota that accepts state appropriations including state appropriations for
1.16financial aid.
1.17 Subd. 3. Policy required. Each governing board of a postsecondary institution shall
1.18adopt a policy recognizing the following rights.
1.19 (a) The institution shall provide students with a learning environment in which the
1.20students have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects
1.21of study. The fostering of a plurality of serious scholarly methodologies and perspectives
1.22shall be a significant institutional purpose. In addition, curricula and reading lists shall
1.23make students aware of the existence of dissenting scholarly sources and viewpoints.
2.1 (b) Students must be graded solely on the basis of reasoned answers and appropriate
2.2knowledge of the subjects and disciplines studied.
2.3(c) Students must not be discriminated against on the basis of political, ideological,
2.4or religious beliefs.
2.5 (d) University and college administrators, student government organizations, and
2.6institutional policies, rules, or procedures shall not infringe the freedom of speech,
2.7freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, or freedom of conscience of students and
2.8student organizations when addressing or inculcating serious scholarly view points.
2.9(e) Faculty academic freedom must not supercede the academic freedom of students.
2.10 (f) The institution shall distribute student fee funds on a fair and equitable basis and
2.11shall maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political and religious
2.12disagreements, differences, and opinions. The selection of speakers, allocation of funds
2.13for speakers' programs, and other student activities must observe the principles of
2.14academic freedom and promote the presentation of a diversity of opinions on intellectual
2.15matters. Except as provided by law, the institution shall not permit the obstruction of
2.16invited campus speakers or the destruction of student newspapers or campus literature
2.17promoting campus events.
2.18 (g) Faculty are free to pursue and discuss their findings and perspectives in
2.19presenting views, but shall make students aware of the existence of serious scholarly
2.20viewpoints other than their own through classroom discussion or dissemination of written
2.21materials, and shall encourage civil debate and the critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit
2.22of knowledge and truth.
2.23 (h) Faculty must be hired, fired, promoted, or granted tenure on the basis of
2.24competence and appropriate knowledge in their field of expertise.
2.25 (i) Faculty must not be hired, fired, promoted, granted tenure, or denied promotion
2.26or tenure on the basis of political, ideological, or religious beliefs.
2.27 (j) Faculty must not be excluded from tenure, search, and hiring committees on the
2.28basis of political, ideological, or religious beliefs.
2.29 (k) The institution and its professional societies shall maintain a posture of
2.30organizational neutrality with respect to methods, facts, and theories which have been
2.31validated by proven research.
2.32 Subd. 4. Grievance procedure. The governing board of each postsecondary
2.33institution shall adopt a grievance procedure by which a student or faculty member may
2.34seek redress for an alleged violation of any of the rights specified by the institution's
2.35policy adopted under subdivision 3.
3.1 Subd. 5. Notice of rights. The governing board of each postsecondary institution
3.2shall provide students and faculty with notice of the rights and the grievance procedure
3.3adopted under subdivisions 3 and 4 by publication in the institution's course catalog,
3.4student handbook, and Web site.

So what's the problem with this little bill? Well, first this bill has been introduced in several states including Florida and many other states. No matter how its couched, this bill is simply a way to legislate creationism. In this case, it doesn't require equal time or even the mention of creationism. No, this bill simply provides legal protection to those teachers who wish to present creationism as a viable alternative to evolution or to simply point out the "short comings" of evolutionary theory in a completely inappropriate and duplicitous manner. Ah well, lying for Jesus, it wasn't such a big part of Christianity when I was growing up, but apparently things have changed.

Here are my specific concerns as a college professor.
(a) The institution shall provide students with a learning environment in which the students have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects of study. The fostering of a plurality of serious scholarly methodologies and perspectives shall be a significant institutional purpose. In addition, curricula and reading lists shall make students aware of the existence of dissenting scholarly sources and viewpoints.
So I am legally bound to present dissenting viewpoints. OK, what warrants a dissenting viewpoint? Anyone, anyone, Bueller? What is a scholarly source? Does screed from the Discovery Institute constitute scholarly? What about Behe's horrendous work? He writes books, that seems scholarly. What about the deranged guy on the mall spouting off about every afternoon, is that scholarly?

There is no doubt in my mind that this is completely and totally about creationism and forcing religion into any little hole these pukes can get it. Think I'm wrong? Well let me ask you this, does anyone think the republican representatives Steve Drazkowski, Tom Emmer, Sondra Erickson, Bud Heidgerken, or Mark Olson (the sponors of the bill) want to ensure that during a class on the New Testament in religious studies/theology, significant time is given to the Islamic point of view that Jesus is not the Messiah and that Muhammad was the last prophet of Allah? I kind of doubt it.

b) Students must be graded solely on the basis of reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines studied.

Notice there is nothing about being correct or accurate, simply reasoned and appropriate knowledge. If I ask a question about ways in which evolutionary relationships can be determined among a group of organisms, then a student who turns in a well written (which I expect is the definition of reasoned here) argument about how the question fails because all life was created as is 6000 years ago should get credit?!?!!? Bite me.

(c) Students must not be discriminated against on the basis of political, ideological, or religious beliefs.

Good idea, because discrimination is so well tolerated at Universities and Colleges across the country. This just in from the University of Minnesota Board of Regents Policy Student Conduct Code


(a) The University seeks an environment that promotes academic achievement and integrity, that is protective of free inquiry, and that serves the educational mission of the University.

(b) The University seeks a community that is free from violence, threats, and intimidation; that is respectful of the rights, opportunities, and welfare of students, faculty, staff, and guests of the University; and that does not threaten the physical or mental health or safety of members of the University community.

(c) The University is dedicated to responsible stewardship of its resources and to protecting its property and resources from theft, damage, destruction, or misuse.

(d) The University supports and is guided by state and federal law while also setting its own standards of conduct for its academic community.

(e) The University is dedicated to the rational and orderly resolution of conflict.

I think that hits on many of the points this bill is pretending to address. Maybe this is a better way to put it....Ill turn the floor over to Dr. M. Python: