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Showing posts from November, 2014

Investing in Postdocs and Giving Thanks

I received an email yesterday from someone I had not spoken two in probably six months.

Back in April I gave a presentation to the postdocs at the University of Florida.  It was advice about communicating their science, sharing their science, and thoughts on job interviews.

Such things are sorely needed.  We produce way more Ph.D.s than the number of jobs to support them, so we end up with a large number of postdocs in circulation. These folks are professional scientists, as good as they get.

We just don't have enough jobs for all of them, so it is not unusual for a Ph.D. scientist to be making $35,000 a year, six years after the degree is over, with no hard promise of a job.  Interviews are ultra competitive and skilled scientists often fail at that last critical moment-- impress the committee on paper and get the interview, but fall short in person and don't land the job.

After the seminar I was approached by a 5th year postdoc.  We can call him Dr. S, since he has a very …

De-Nye-Al.

A few weeks ago I wrote a note to Bill Nye about his incorrect opinions on transgenic technology.  No response.  Sort of.

I got an email and was told I could share the content, but not the name, and no screen shots or direct quotes.  Apparently this is someone that knows about Bill Nye, his production group and his handlers.  The feeling is that it is from someone close to him, or someone on his team. It could be completely false too.  I'm about 50/50 on authenticity.

I would just post the whole thing. But, he said I could use only paraphrased information in a blog, and asked me to not use his name, so I won't.  The note says that if I play by these rules maybe I'll get more info, and that as a science fan he's hoping for the debate.  Weird.

The note said that Nye's associates seek to use him as a political wedge, and that Nye himself is right on board. It is apparently a transition of Nye from a media science communicator to a political figure to work against righ…

Deadly Aviation Pretzel Gas: Foodbabeliness in Action

Today while flying home from a scientific conference I could not help but remember the Food Babe’s warnings about commercial aviation.  Her recent post warns of recirculated filth and high amounts of nitrogen, somewhere like 50%.  Of course, that’s about 30% less than ambient air.   Her claims were widely, and appropriately criticized.
Today I took a good look at the inside of that cylinder in the sky and noticed hazards that Vani didn’t catch. She failed to account for other airborne dangers on the plane, problems that likely contribute to the deadly quality of cabin air more than anything she may ever fear.
But before I start, we all know that commercial aviation is plagued with funny odors.  While we sit in a chair in the sky the nose is treated to a parade of organic funk, wafting through the cabin.  Whether it is the chronically unshowered and unsleeved, the woman that insists on taking off her shoes and putting her feet all over everything, or the folks that secrete gaseous e…

Science Center : Opinion and Activism are the New Science?

I am not happy. 
Opinion is the new science. 
Activism is the new science.
Undocumented claims are the new science.
Arguments from ignorance are the new science. 
That is, if you are a speaker at an event held by the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium.  You can watch the video here.  I'll wait. 
Or I can save you 1:21 of your life you'll never get back. 
First of all I can say that I totally predicted this.  I predicted exactly what this would be, that it would start out with some neutral and credible (well, undeniable) science and then degenerate into a scientific abortion ending in a rallying cry for food labeling and a "right to know". 
I'm like a damn psychic. It is pretty amazing.  Not really.  These things are incredibly predictable, and while I warned them, they suggested that 'teaching all sides' is a good move.  Ugh. 

Hey dude, science is whatever you think it is, your opinion is as good as evidence!  After all, science is about hearing all…

Science Schmience. A Science Center Update

Today was interesting in that the angry emails and a few phone calls have come in to me and the hire-ups where I work.  Seems some folks are not happy that I've recommended, as a scientist, that a Science Center might best serve its reputation and credibility by endorsing events that have a basis in science-based evidence.

They still are moving forward with the Science on Tap event, where a local dietitian with apparent intentions will grace the audience with her interpretations of transgenic crop science.

To review, last week I was alerted by a South Florida farmer that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium  (SFSC) was hosting a “Science on Tap” talk, held at a local bar.  The topic was entitled, “GMO’s (sic) Exposed” and was to be delivered by Michelle Parenti Lewis, a local dietitian.  I wondered what she might be exposing.
The original story was posted on my blog, Illumination.  After I was notified of this event, a little google search revealed that the event was bein…

Protecting Bill Nye from De-nye-al

Yesterday's letter on Keith Kloor's Collide-a-Scape Blog was intended to illuminate inconsistency in Bill Nye's application of science.   While many critics hammered at his credentials and trashed him as a kid's entertainer, I defended him.  I respect Bill Nye and his ability to connect science to people.  It is something I wish I did better and something I am learning by watching experts like Nye.

This is why I challenged him.  I need him to survive.  I need the Bill Nye brand to be successful.  We need him to be the friendly and approachable stuff in the interface between the public and the science.


My letter to Nye was out of respect -- to help sharpen his impacts and protect his brand. 
Right now there are many not happy with Nye, and they come from positions in climate denial and creationism.  They need Bill Nye to fail.  They seek to erode his credibility.

What better way to harm his reputation as an objective science steward than to show that he has taken a positi…

Women in Science, Revisited

This post is here because earlier today someone asked me to think of a reason to build a scholarship. I thought of Jessie.

Jessica Justice was a dishwasher that became a scientist.  This is what I wrote about her, and it was published on April 7, 2010 on Skepchick.  Make sure you read the next post tomorrow.  If this moves you at all, tomorrow will bring tears.

The topic is important today as it was then, and your note is still priceless Jessie.


Science Needs Women Kevin M. Folta In three weeks I will put on the cap-and-gown professor outfit I bought on Ebay and witness something that probably never should have happened: the graduation of a self-described dumb blonde. Jessie came to my laboratory looking to make some extra cash as a dishwasher. Little did she know that she would be remolded, repackaged and refocused by a cadre of women that identified a change that needed to happen, then took the initiative to make it so. In my laboratory the ratio of X to Y chromosomes is traditionall…

Event Renamed, Maybe Postponed. Needs to be Cancelled.

I was blown away to see that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium was sponsoring "Science on Tap" an event at a local bar that featured a speaker on a scientific topic. However, the speaker for November 13th was a local dietitian with clear activist leanings, planning what appeared to be a baseless criticism of transgenic crop technology in her talk "GMO's (sic) Exposed". 

My analysis of the speaker and the situation here.

A few emails and notes on social media brought a first wave of responses that suggested bringing in "all views" was the job of science and that her talk was appropriate. 

My head almost exploded.  Since when is a "science center" promoting "teach the controversy"? 




Science Center endorses a local dietitian to speak on the dangers of GMO foods.  Zero illnesses or deaths in 18 years.  88,000 deaths a year from alcohol.

Finally tonight I received word from their CEO that they'd be "pushing  back the star…

You've Been Fooled, Science Center!

If you are planning to visit the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, you might not see Jesus riding a T. rex,  or a model of the earth with expanding glaciers.  These are the things that crackpot pseudo-science museums might promote.  Nothing like that could happen here... or could it?

An event next week was brought to my attention.  The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is sponsoring Science on Tap- GMOs Exposed!  
November 13th you can go hear about how GMOs are 'exposed', whatever that means... Maybe we should dig a little deeper...
The presenter is Michelle Parenti Lewis, a local RD.  So what can an apparently trained RD "expose"? 
A quick google search shows that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium has been duped.  They have scheduled what will likely not be a scientific talk, but an activist parasite posing as science.  This is the most disgusting of all scams. And they fell for it.
A little poking around shows that Ms. Lewis is an anti-…

This is No Victory.

Hearts fluttered and hearts sank.  Election returns brought some to ballrooms and others to bathrooms. Others remained too close to call.

It appears that the ballot initiatives mandating labels on foods containing ingredients derived from transgenic crops did not pass. But it is no victory.

Many will disagree.  Grocery manufacturers, seed companies and farmers will claim victory because voters will not mandate what seed they use, or force unneeded hassles of separating products depending on if they contain a single gene or not.

However, the anti-farmer, anti-scientific voters that use a ballot box to vote on if science is true will return to the drawing board for two more years.  That's a temporary victory to those that spent (wasted) millions to push them back.  It should never have gotten that far.


Once again a comma defines the sentiment. 
Worse in watching the persuasive ads for YES and NO, both camps manipulated fear and emotion to influence voters.  There was no education, no…

The Right to Know Begins with Learning

I just get sick when I hear proponents of Oregon 92 and Colorado 105 claim that they demand food labeling because they deserve a right to know.

In reality, there is no need for a right to know, at least as imparted by a clunky, expensive, and scientifically invalid law or amendment.  The right to know begins with a desire to learn.  A right to know begins with a willingness to listen to, and understand science.

As it stands, proponents of the ballot initiatives hope the right to know is a punitive tool.  It does not teach, it does not inform. It simply provides a means to distinguish food produced from certain farmers that chose specific seeds. It will be a way for them to conjure fear around perfectly safe foods, based on no real information. That's some powerful right to know.  What good is a right to know, if you know nothing, or worse, know false information?

What good is a right to know if you use it to harm farmers, consumers and the environment, let alone the needy that cou…