Category Archives: academia

Inmates take over asylum at small Oregon college

There is a course called Humanities 101 at Reed College, a small liberal arts institution in Portland. It is described in a Nov. 2 article in The Atlantic this way:

A required year-long course for freshmen, Hum 110 consists of lectures that everyone attends and small break-out classes “where students learn how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.” It’s the heart of the academic experience at Reed, which ranks second for future Ph.D.s in the humanities and fourth in all subjects. (Reed famously shuns the U.S. News & World Report, as explained in a 2005 Atlantic article by a former Reed president.) As Professor Peter Steinberger details in a 2011 piece for Reed magazine, “What Hum 110 Is All About,” the course is intended to train students whose “primary goal” is “to engage in original, open-ended, critical inquiry.”

All well and good, right? This is what college is supposed to be about. Challenging assumptions and forcing students to learn critical reasoning skills so that they can not only defend that which they think they know, but learn also what they do not know, and how to debate these issues in a civil society — and to further and defend their future academic research, if any.

Except that is not how it is working out at Reed, as writer Chris Bodenner notes in that Atlantic article:

[In Humanties 101], a 39-year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. In the classic Steve Martin skit, he performs a goofy song, “King Tut,” meant to satirize a Tutankhamun exhibit touring the U.S. and to criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers–many of whom are African American–“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

Such outrage has been increasingly common in the course, Humanities 110, over the past 13 months. On September 26, 2016, the newly formed RAR organized a boycott of all classes in response to a Facebook post from the actor Isaiah Washington, who urged “every single African American in the United States that was really fed up with being angry, sad and disgusted” over police shootings to stay home on Monday. Of the 25 demands issued by RAR that day, the largest section was devoted to reforming Humanities 110.

The article goes on to say:

Beginning on boycott day, RAR protested every single Hum lecture that school year. In-class protests are very rare on college campuses. During the nationwide upsurge of student activism tracing back to 2015, protesters have occupied administrative buildings, stormed into libraries, shut down visiting speakers in auditoriums, and walked out of classrooms–but they hardly ever disrupt the classroom itself. RAR has done so more than 60 times.

A Hum protest is visually striking: Up to several dozen RAR supporters position themselves alongside the professor and quietly hold signs reading “We demand space for students of color,” “We cannot be erased,” “Fuck Hum 110,” “Stop silencing black and brown voices; the rest of society is already standing on their necks,” and so on. The signs are often accompanied by photos of black Americans killed by police.

“Facebook conversations at Reed bring out the extreme aspects of political discourse on campus.”

One of the first Hum professors to request that RAR not occupy the classroom was Lucía Martínez Valdivia, who said her preexisting PTSD would make it difficult to face protesters. In an open letter, RAR offered sympathy to Martínez Valdivia but then accused her of being anti-black, discriminating against those with disabilities, and engaging in gaslighting–without specifying those charges. When someone asked for specifics, a RAR leader replied, “Asking for people to display their trauma so that you feel sufficiently satisfied is a form of violence.”

But another RAR member did offer a specific via Facebook: “The​ ​appropriation​ ​of​ ​AAVE [African American Vernacular English]​ ​on​ ​her​ ​shirt​ ​during​ ​lecture:​ ​‘Poetry​ ​is​ ​lit’ ​is​ ​a​ ​form​ ​of​ ​anti-blackness.”

Oh, brother. 

Liberals like to observe, with good reason, that education has failed American students, from public schools on through college. Any one of us knows people with a college degree who nearly lack the critical reasoning skills necessary to find their way to a cogent position in political arguments.

But it’s not just students at right-wing, religious universities who are asking to be shielded from the real world. Liberal students are asking the same at many institutions. 

Civic-mindedness and the public spirit in which we all share some common values are both dying slow deaths in American culture, not to mention the strangling of nuance. 

No wonder our body politic cannot agree enough to pursue even the most anodyne of common goals now being threatened by a takeover of the poltitical system by American oligarchs.

Put another way: if Steve Martin singing King Tut is enough to send today’s students in search of safe spaces, and create efforts to shut down an entire required freshman class, then even comedy and comedic satire are both on the same intolerant, know-nothing chopping block. 

These numbers matter

Not just for equality’s sake, which is reason enough. But women can be competent professionally AND take into account relevant issues that don’t come first to most men’s minds.

Male student letter: Women in science, we are not equals

Eastern Washington University engineers engineering sexism
An Eastern Washington University engineering student named Jared Mauldin writes a spot-on letter to the editor about women in science.



USC professor does a takedown of Ben Carson

Ben Carson Beat Operation
, USC Annenberg professor and Norman Lear Center director, takes an academic’s look at Ben Carson and is shocked at what he has seen:
When Wolf Blitzer asked Carson if he wanted to amend or take back his comparison of Obama’s America to Nazi Germany, he replied, “Absolutely not.”

Am I comparing Carson to Nazis? Absolutely not. I’m comparing the compatibility of a scientific education and intellectual ignorance with the compatibility of a humanistic education and moral ignorance.

The simple yet appalling fact is that we have at least some solid evidence that a top scientific education and a distinguished career in medicine does not make a man any less capable of believing untruths to be true and truths to be false.

I don’t know how I’d react if a shooter opened fire in my classroom. Maybe I’d risk my safety to protect others. Maybe I’d be too petrified do anything. But I do know the feeling that would devastate me if someone I loved became “a body with bullet holes”; it would not be the feeling that the Second Amendment is in jeopardy. It is at least conceivable that the clinical detachment required by a doctor to deal with the deaths in this room makes the deaths in the next room less urgent, less real.

I know plenty of physicians of whom that is not true. But when Ben Carson blames a mass murderer’s victims for failing to foil him, I know of at least one man of science whose capacity for moral response has been absorbed by fictions.

A good piece. And a total slapdown by one respected academic of a candidate who 1) has chosen to turn his back on his education for political purposes or 2) is so blinded by ideology he has lost all reason.

Source: Ben Carson, the Nutty Neurosurgeon | Marty Kaplan

The war on science from those who know

IFL Science shared the video above detailing the war on science. It’s worth a look.

Carl Sagan once said, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

Despite science being appreciated and understood more widely now than in any other period of human history, the past decades have seen politicians, investors and society turn their back on science.

This short film by AsapSCIENCE examines the “War on Science”  – which has seen massive cuts to science funding and the decline of science’s influence in politics.

Source: The War On Science | IFLScience

War On Science Union Of Concerned Scientists
Graphic: Union of Concerned Scientists

Paxil and teenagers: when science makes mistakes


The New York Times has this article up on its web site:

Fourteen years ago, a leading drug maker published a study showing that the antidepressant Paxil was safe and effective for teenagers.

On Wednesday, a major medical journal posted a new analysis of the same data concluding that the opposite is true.

That study — featured prominently by the journal BMJ — is a clear break from scientific custom and reflects a new era in scientific publishing, some experts said, opening the way for journals to post multiple interpretations of the same experiment.

It comes at a time of self­-examination across science — retractions are at an all-­time high; recent cases of fraud have shaken fields as diverse as anesthesia and political science; and earlier this month researchers reported that less than half of a sample of psychology papers held up.

“This paper is alarming, but its existence is a good thing,” said Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who was not involved in either the original study or the reanalysis. “It signals that the community is waking up, checking its work and doing what science is supposed to do — self-­correct.”

Of course, scientologists (who generally oppose all psychiatry and psychiatric medications) will have a field day. So will all the voices out there — from climate deniers to vaccine opponents — who will say, “A-ha! This proves it! Scientists don’t know what they are doing with Paxil so how can we trust them on global climate change and childhood vaccinations?”

These kinds of scientific about-faces are confusing for many members of the general public.

First: butter is good for you. Then it was bad for you. Now it’s not bad for you again except if you eat too much of it. To many non-scientists it seems as of scientists have no idea what they are doing and you just can’t trust any of it.

I always tell people who are put off by all this switching and changing that the first thing they can do to put themselves on the road to being a scientifically aware person is this: All of this is perfectly normal. Science makes mistakes. Other scientists correct those mistakes.

Think of when you were first learning how to do something relatively simple — say, drive a car. You were likely not perfect the first time you got behind the wheel. You drove too slow or too fast. You ran over a curb. You could not parallel park. You mowed over your mother’s prized rose bushes.

But you got better at it the more you did it. This is called trial and error and it’s the best way many people learn. Just do it yourself, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. Nobody said, “Well, you made too many mistakes. This is proof you are an unreliable driver and we cannot ever trust you to do any better.”

Broadly speaking, science is no different. Think of how simple driving a car is now for you. Yet you made mistakes in the beginning anyway. Now think about a mathematically and logistically complex scientific experiments can be, involving highly technical measurements and calculations taken over years with thousands of variables. Then that mountain of data has to be analyzed by (one hopes) very smart people with years of education and training. But they are still, after all is said and done, just humans. 

Does anyone really expect that there will never be any errors in work like this? It’s naive to think so. 

But then someone else comes along — other scientists — and they take a new look at old data (as with Paxil) or they design a new study which uses better, more modern methods than an older study. 

This trial and error, the catching of old mistakes, is a sign that all is working as it should in the world of science. And some science is easier to quantify, which probably partially accounts for much of the high error rates in the psychology papers mentioned above.

The hard sciences — chemistry, much of physics, etc. — are relatively easy when it comes to getting more exact measurements.  You have known constants and specific end points which you can measure. In the simplest terms, say you wanted to test a substance to see if it turns water blue. You gets the substance, some water and you put the substance into the water. Does it turn blue? That is the end point.  Simple.

But the social sciences, psychology and psychiatry included, can be difficult to quantify because you are relying on self-reported behaviors and feelings. Does this drug make you feel less nervous? Well, that would depend on the person and how they define “less nervous.” Some people are nervous all the time. Some people tell researchers what they think that researcher wants to hear.

Many people — a very great number of people — are susceptible to the placebo effect. You give someone a pill that is nothing but sugar and tell them it’s to increase their energy. Viola! Many people will say they have more energy because they believed the pill is an energy pill. Just believing something is enough to make some people feel as if it is true. Some of those people might even show physical symptoms which suggest they are less sluggish despite the fact that they were only given a sugar pill. The mind’s effect on the body can be incredibly powerful.

Also, it can be difficult to design experiments with humans when it comes to psychiatric issues because you are playing science with people’s mental health, broadly speaking. Suicidal people, for example, deserve the best treatment available. They cannot be dropped into some study where some suicidal people are given something scientists think might help them not kill themselves, and others are given nothing, just to compare the suicide rates of the two groups.

However, advances in brain imaging are moving at an incredible pace. The day is coming when brain scans can be used on a regular, relatively low-cost basis to actually measure whether a person is happy or depressed or telling a lie. They are already being used to measure what effects advertisements have on the brains of the people who see them and judge which types of ads are better at causing the positive feelings that businesses hope will cause you to take that extra step to actually purchase their product.

The point of all this is that if you feel confused about issues where science says one thing one year, and a totally different thing five years later, relax.  This is how it is supposed to work. Eventually the system — coming to an initial conclusion and then having other scientists all from all over eventually test your methods, data and results — is supposed to correct itself. 

Just as science did with Paxil.

And a few mistakes don’t call into question all of science, as many conservatives are trying to convince people in order to cast doubt on global climate change and other issues.

Paxil scientific-research
Much of scientific research is built around trial and error and mistakes are bound to happen. The important part is that they are caught eventually




University of Chicago gets massive grant to study global conflict

This as a very big deal for the University and a nice thing for some very rich people to do to help make the world a better place. I’m impressed and hopeful about the impact this could have in some areas of study and implementation.

From the University of Chicago web site:

Pearson Family Foundation donates $100 million to University of Chicago, creating institute to confront new era of global conflicts

Landmark gift creates The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and The Pearson Global Forum at Chicago

At a time of heightened global violence, as war and political persecution drive the largest displacement of refugees and migrants since World War II, the University of Chicago has received a $100 million gift to establish the first research institute and annual global forum of their kind devoted solely to the study and resolution of global conflicts.

The landmark gift from The Thomas L. Pearson and The Pearson Family Members Foundation (“The Pearson Family Foundation”) is equal in size to the second-largest gift in the University’s history.

The gift was announced by President Robert J. Zimmer before an enthusiastic audience of more than 1,100 faculty, students, alumni, trustees and dignitaries at the University’s Mandel Hall this morning.  Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on U.S. foreign policy, who has been recognized for his efforts to promote international peace and conflict resolution, followed Zimmer with comments on the importance of better understanding conflicts between and within states and what has been shown to reduce their frequency, intensity and duration.

The $100 million gift was made to the University at the direction of Thomas L. Pearson and Timothy R. Pearson, chairman and president & CEO, respectively, of The Pearson Family Foundation. The Pearsons are business entrepreneurs, investors and philanthropists with a long-standing interest in the resolution of global disputes and conflicts.

We need more rich people like this in the world. You can read more at the link below and by watching the video above.

Source: Pearson Family Foundation donates $100 million to University of Chicago, creating institute to confront new era of global conflicts | UChicago News

University of Chicago skyline campus
A portion of the Chicago skyline as seen from the University of Chicago Campus.


Robert Wright and the evolution of compassion

Altruism, compassion, empathy, love, conscience, the sense of justice—all of these things, the things that hold society together, the things that allow our species to think so highly of itself, can now confidently be said to have a firm genetic basis.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, although these things are in some ways blessings for humanity as a whole, they didn’t evolve for the “good of the species” and aren’t reliably employed to that end.

Quite the contrary: it is now clearer than ever how (and precisely why) the moral sentiments are used with brutal flexibility, switched on and off in keeping with self-interest; and how naturally oblivious we often are to this switching.

In the new view, human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse. The title of this book is not wholly without irony.”

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

The quote from above is from the researcher who is also in the TEDTalks video in this post.

I think the topic is both interesting and relevant to the times we are in, where politicians openly gain support by expressing rank bigotry and so many of the rest of us seem more concerned about whether the poor and the downtrodden are somehow gaming the system rather than ways to make their lives better.

Robert Wright is not the first to observe that The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is fine in theory but much harder to observe in practice in a society where survival of the fittest is the driving ethos in our corporatized culture and we are so enamored of the politics of resentment.

This is one of those interesting TEDTalks that is a mixture of serious academic research and commentary about how that research can be viewed through the prism of pop culture. 

Of course, that is the basic recipe for most TedTalks — research + pop culture = TEDTalks. But this one contains a bit more of the serious research. If you can get into that sort of the thing, it’s worth it.

Robert Wright

Lincoln University professor Kaukab Siddique is no scholar

There is a professor on the faculty of Lincoln University whose name is Kaukab Siddique, at a taxpayer-funded institution that in 1854 was the United States’ first degree-granting historically black college. He’s a real piece of work.

Among the things he said in an interview with The Daily Beast:

Siddique’s language is equally sloppy when discussing the scandal surrounding reality show star Josh Duggar. “The homo lobby is taking revenge for the Duggars’ criticism of transgender and homo activity,” he wrote last month.

The professor says the comments are not born of homophobia — “in fact, some of the best students in my class have been gay” — but he thinks that a growing consensus in support of LGBT rights is “creating a new persecuted minority” of those who oppose gay marriage.Kaukab Siddique

He says he’s equally displeased by stories of Christian bakers forced to provide wedding cakes for same-sex marriages. “They are on the war path,” Siddique said of the LGBT community. “These are people who are more or less in power in this country, and the man who is president in this country [and his inner circle] are supporting them.”Growing acceptance of homosexuality “doesn’t mean you can take away their civil rights,” he said, referring to those who are morally opposed to homosexuality.

The Beast also discovered this:

Siddique also edits the weekly newsletter affiliated with the organization — New Trend Magazine — with the disclaimer that views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views of the newsletter’s editors. Siddique is the only editor listed on the publication’s website.

One newsletter from this month includes an article by Boston-based activist Karin Friedemann which states that “sodomy is very bad because mixing poopoo germs into the mouth or the vagina is very disgusting and leads to diseases, which could even involve death of a fetus.”

Another issue of New Trend, released after a day of triple terror attacks in France, Kuwait, and Tunisia, called the European attack “bizarre” and decries the terror in Kuwait as “unforgivable.” An unbylined article explains the reasoning:

“No one has asked the Tunisian people if the half naked tourists should be cavorting on the beaches of a Muslim country. Such behavior in [sic] forbidden in Islam. Looks like the assailant was following Osama bin Laden’s teaching that economic basis of regimes hostile to Islam should be attacked.

“To avoid violence, the government, if it is a legitimate regime, should ask the people if they want western tourists and if so how should their behavior be regulated.”

Poopoo germs? A professor of English edits this newsletter? Professor Siddique is intellectually messy and disingenuous, and that is just in this one interview and one newsletter. It is a disservice to students to have someone like this teaching important freshman-level courses.

Lincoln University’s standards for handing out full professorships and hiring faculty must be less than rigorous.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, poet Langston Hughes, and activist Gil Scott-Heron all attended Lincoln. With a history such as that, you’d think they’d honor the legacy by being more selective.

Does Siddique deserve to be fired? That’s for a faculty committee somewhere at Lincoln to decide. But if I were on such a committee I would wonder how his comments square with the University’s mission of academic excellence and the institution’s values as stated in diversity directives.

There is a difference between being in mere disagreement with tactical questions around LGBT civil rights and gender equality, to name just two, and promoting hate and bigotry. Put another way: I’m fine with, say, extremely conservative (or wacky left) professors, even doctrinaire ones, as long as they do not veer off into advocating outright bigotry that has no basis in academic research. 

It is impossible to say his assertion that “many women are sluts” has any basis in academic inquiry. He’s not saying it to illustrate a larger issue. He’s saying it because he believes it to be true. It is possible, even likely, that his private views intimidate or make the academic environment uncomfortable for some of the faculty and students he hates. He might get along with the women and LGBT people who take his courses, but those are the ones who agree with him or they are not so marginalized by his views that they take his courses knowing he’s a bigot.

Source: Public University Professor Blasts ‘Dirty Jewish Zionist Thugs,’ ‘Homo Lobby,’ and ‘Sluts’ – The Daily Beast

Kaukab Siddique
A Facebook post by Professor Kaukab Siddique

President Obama moves to stop for-profit college scams

The rules took effect yesterday, so adjust tenses accordingly, but if all of this survives further court challenges that are surely to come it could change the higher education game for untold numbers of lower-income Americans — many of them combat veterans — fleeced and left jobless or underemployed by a financially rapacious industry more interested in Wall Street profits than in preparing students to compete in today’s job

On Wednesday, the Obama administration will begin choking off the financial lifeline of for-profit colleges whose graduates can’t find well-paying jobs — and the move is likely to accelerate a wave of shutdowns for an industry taking assaults from all sides.

Reining in the multibillion-dollar industry has been the administration’s goal for most of President Barack Obama’s term in office, fueled by complaints that for-profit colleges lure students with misleading promises, then saddle them with debts they can’t pay back despite their newly granted degrees.

Its latest tool is the Education Department’s long-debated “gainful employment” rule, which requires colleges to track their graduates’ performance in the workforce and eventually will cut off funding for career training programs that fall short.

The rule — upheld by a court ruling last week and set to take effect Wednesday — will trigger the closure of 1,400 programs that together enroll 840,000 students, the department has estimated. Ninety-nine percent of those students attend for-profits.

The regulation is part of a broader series of crackdowns on the industry by agencies including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with investigations, lawsuits and fines from states and blistering criticism from Democrats like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin. Some major college operators have begun closing or selling campuses under the onslaught.

I have a friend, a very savvy guy, who says that when some friends find out about his degree from the University of Phoenix, they ask snarkily, “What’s wrong? Couldn’t get into Devry?”

That is beyond cruel and focuses the blame on the scam victims: students promised better lives by these schools’ flashy marketing campaigns who instead got worthless degrees.

These schools have advertisements all over the country on TV, radio, the internet and public transportation, and they are slick offers of the kinds of fulfilled dreams and financial payoffs these degrees almost never provide. Chances are, if you were a dishwasher before your for-profit college degree, you will be one after you get it. The job placement offices of these schools, if they have one at all, are jokes.

Campaign cash

This industry has had the support (and the campaign wallets) of a few unscrupulous Democrats, but mostly it has been Republicans on Capitol Hill who have blocked any legislative efforts to stop an industry that gives heavily to GOP candidates and essentially steals money from U.S. taxpayers (through defaulted student loans) just as it does from its hapless students .

Once again it has been the President, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and our own Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) leading the charge, along with Warren’s brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency that Republicans will gut if they ever again control both houses of Congress and/or the White House.

One suspects the for-profit education industry and its GOP supporters will now stage without a hint of shame a public relations effort focusing on the millions of “poor students” left adrift with only a partial education as these for-profit schools close. Don’t believe them. Those students are better off, and your tax dollars are better spent, on not-for-profit community colleges.

Vote accordingly in the next election.

(And, yes, the Politico reporter who wrote the referenced story has the entirely appropriate name of Allie Grasgreen.)

Source: Barack Obama pushes for-profit colleges to the brink – Allie Grasgreen – POLITICO