Category Archives: Rebecca Watson

It’s Up To The Women

With apologies to Eleanor Roosevelt, whose book of that name, she hoped, would spur females to get involved in politics. They’ve done so, to a certain extent. Now, it’s time for women to elbow their way into another field.

How many of these names do you recognize? (And before you start, you don’t have ID them to any degree of precision; just what their general profession was.)

  • Mary Elliot Hill
  • Lise Meitner
  • Jewell Plummer Cobb
  • Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
  • Carolyn Porco
  • Rosalind Franklin
  • Emmanuelle Charpentier
  • Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
  • Joy Buolamwini
  • Émilie du Châtelet
  • Shubha Tole
  • Mary Calkins

I’d guess if any of these names is familiar, it would be that of Rosalind Franklin. Maybe Lise Meitner. Otherwise, I’ll wager the vast majority of Pencillistas won’t get who these people are. And, for pity’s sake, Pencillistas are the hippest, coolest, most well-read, brightest bulbs in the box, here or anywhere else for that matter. When a Pencillista doesn’t know who you are, you are, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent.

Only the people named above certainly do/did exist. Not only that, they contributed greatly to the advancement of the human species. Without them, we’d be in a bit of a pickle, grossly uniformed about the nature of the universe, sans one of humankind’s most depended-upon materials, unable to ward off the effects of one of the most virulent cancers, lacking in synthetic penicillin and, potentially, at the mercy of the worst aspects of Artificial Intelligence, among many other effects these people have either instituted, discovered, or averted.

Joy Buolamwini

They are all women and they are/were all scientists. Everybody knows who Einstein, Newton, and Darwin were. Who — besides me; and I had to look up all but a couple of the names — knows who Joy Buolamwini is. Or who Jewel Plummer Cobb was? The only distinction between them and the aforementioned scientific titans was the fact that these virtually anonymous figures possessed vaginas rather than penises.

That’s all it comes down to really. We’d love to think the smartest among us might also be the most forward-thinking, the most open to diversity within their ranks. But hell no. Take the case of Rosalind Franklin, for instance. She should have shared in the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins. Dang it, she had as much to do with identifying and describing the DNA molecule as any of those three but her genitalia made her ignorable to them. They — especially Watson — stood on their heads to deprive her of her rightful share of laurels for figuring out just exactly how the basic building block of life is structured. In fact, in Watson’s famous memoir, The Double Helix, he complained that Franklin was difficult to work with and he criticized her for not caring about her appearance enough.

Rosalind Franklin (Image: Vittorio Luzzati)

Yeah, sure. Remember how the world’s scientists didn’t take Einstein seriously because he refused to run a comb through his hair? Or how the members of the Royal Society snubbed Newton because he was essentially a pathological loner?

Here’s a truth: the smartest man in the world has about the same chance of being an insufferable jerk as the least educated.

Even in this supposedly enlightened era, when women are running countries, making movies, writing novels, heading corporations, running police departments, rapping the gavel as Speaker of the House, and doing anything males can do, fewer than than three in ten of the world’s research scientists and academicians are women.

Could that be one reason why so many of our scientific advancements of the past couple of centuries have been things like bombs that blow up entire cities, chemical compounds that foul our groundwater, motors that turn our air into unbreathable muck, and prescription drugs that turn us into addicted zombies? Perhaps a scientific community made up entirely of women the last 200 or so years might have put us in the same perilous state we find ourselves now. That’s something for college sophomores to discuss while passing around bongs and copies of The Bell Jar. What we do know is it’s been guys in white lab coats who’ve put the planet on the brink of catastrophe. Well, they and other males in a hundred and fifty other vocations, to be sure.

Perhaps in another hundred years (we should live so long) the aforementioned gender ratio in science will be reversed. Perhaps the women-dominated STEM field of the future will adopt a more caring, concerned outlook regarding its research and discoveries. It wouldn’t at all hurt us to find out.

A population of primarily-female scientists certainly couldn’t harm us and our planet any more than the traditional, guy-dominated tribe already has.

In any case, let me hip you to three women who are interpreting and explaining the world of science to the general public these days. Two are authors and one a podcast maven. Their respective takes on the world of science is both refreshing and needed. So, here they are:

Natalie Angier: She’s the author of what I consider to be my most indispensable book on science, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Notice that? She describes the fundamental tenets of science as “beautiful” — and they are. Yet, how many men have waxed so poetically about, say, chemistry or physics? A few decades back, when Carl Sagan wrote his iconic The Dragons of Eden and Broca’s Brain, critics called him science’s first poet. If so, then Angier is science poetry’s Bob Dylan. She transforms what could have been a dry recitation of facts into multi-layered, complex love song. Yep, she loves science — and she’s smart as a whip. She’s also written three other science books, including her expert take on the female gender, Woman: An Intimate Geography. Angier has been a New York Times science writer since 1990 and won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting for numerous articles on science.

♀︎

Mary Roach: If Natalie Angier is science’s poet, Roach is its standup comic. Or, more accurately, the nation’s high school science teacher whose class everybody wanted to take. She views science through an ironic, amused lens, explaining and revealing with humor and a heavy dosage of irreverence. Her most recent book is Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, in which she addresses the collisions between humans and critters, and between us and potentially toxic flora and natural substances. She begins by telling us that several centuries ago when, say, a bear mauled a hapless wandered in the woods, the bear could be tried in a court of law! Bears, of course, aren’t brought up on charges anymore but they still occasionally rip someone to shreds. Roach also has written a shelf’s worth of engaging, informative books including:

  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
  • Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

All these titles are available through her website.

♀︎

The youngest of this trio is Rebecca Watson, host of the regular podcast on her site, Skepchick. Watson founded Skepchick in 2005 in order to, in her words, “discuss science and skepticism from a woman’s perspective.” An aspiring magician throughout college, she was inspired to get into the the science and skepticism business after meeting James Randi, “The Amazing Randi,” noted illusionist and myth/magic debunker. With the rise of the internet of the last quarter century, scientific misinformation and downright quackery and fraud have spread like so many coronavirus variants among the unvaccinated. Watson is never lacking for new topics to tackle and bunkum to refute.

♀︎

Bottom line: Conventional wisdom holds that science will save us from ourselves. Perhaps a better — or at least alternative — way of looking at it is women scientists ought to be given a shot to come to humanity’s, and the Earth’s, rescue. And, just as Important, they ought to take that shot.

 

 

 

 

Hot Air

Why PMS?

Should The Loved One ever come to her senses and throw me out of our happy home, I might take consolation in the fact that I then could be available to woo the redoubtable and comely Rebecca Watson.

Watson

Rebecca Watson

She’s the biggest shot among the new generation of big shot female skeptic/scientists. Meaning, she and her cohorts stand on their heads to bring the facts about ghosts, quack medicine, alien flying saucers, anti-vaccination hysteria, fad foodism, and the like to a blithely gullible public. She started what is now the must-read Skepchick blog back in 2005 for the express purpose, as she put it, of “promoting skepticism and critical thinking among women around the world.”

She describes herself thusly: “I’m a writer, performer, feminist, atheist, skeptic. Not necessarily in that order.”

My kind of dame.

Watson’s got a YouTube channel as well as a Patreon page, on which she opines, sermonizes, teaches, and tsks approximately twice a week. Her latest vid tackles a recent news media flurry about some researcher’s suggestion that women get PMS because it’s evolutionarily advantageous. As in, when your co-worker snaps at you every 28 days for your innocent habit of cracking your gum, it’s only because Natural Selection has turned her into a monthly gargoyle just so’s she can weed out substandard potential mates.

Weird, huh?

See, acc’d’g to the researcher, an Australian named Michael Gillings, only manly men of the stoutest character would hazard a lifetime of woe with hyper-PMS-y women, whereas pantywaists and milquetoasts would shrink away in unmanly diffidence. It all sounds rather romance novelish, and in truth it prob. indeed is fiction. There’s next to no evidence that Gillings’ hypothesis is true.

Nevertheless, news outlets like the Huffington Post and a pile of papers in Australia gave Gillings’ ramblings the attention they so richly do not deserve. Natch, Rebecca Watson’s take on the affair is entitled, “PMS and the Science of Making Shit Up.”

It’s a swell primer on how to read science reports in the media with a critical eye. Check it out:

Science Goes Woo!

Speaking of science, have you caught this? Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have found evidence that two people, separated by 5000 miles, can directly influence each other’s thoughts — as long as they’re hooked up to each other though scalp electrodes, a few high tech machines, and the internet.

Wow! Or should I say Woo!

Grau, Ginhoux, Riera, Nguyen, Chauvat, et al.

Binary Code Messaging Across 5000 Miles

The whole business is called EEG-based brain-computer interaction (BCI). Researchers for years have been toying with individuals connected to computers and have successfully demonstrated that, using a similar wire-up, a person can think into a computer. That is, the test subject is given a message, s/he thinks about it, and that thought is then communicated to the computer. Sheesh! The ghosts of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Arthur C. Clark have got to be stirring.

Now, though, the Beth Israel mad scientists have replaced the computer on one end with another human. According to a recently released paper, the experiment worked. So this whole apparent science fiction story isn’t woo at all.

In this case. one guy in India was fed a message, translated into binary code. He thought about it while hooked up to the EEG/electronic translator/internet apparatus and — voila! — the message appeared in the peripheral vision of the guy hooked up to the other end of the apparatus in France.

At this point Stephen King joined the aforementioned dead scifi authors in a circle dance.

You have to read about this experiment. It’s all further proof that you don’t need to be suckered into believing in chemtrails, e-meters, homeopathy, reiki, and other voodoo pseudosciences if you want to be blown away by nature. In fact, we take the seemingly miraculous — but demonstrably true — for granted these days. Witness Louis CK’s riff on air travel:

No And No

A fellow named ________ from Movoto contacted this communications colossus to tell me about the relo website’s recent “10 Bloomington Stereotypes that Are Completely Accurate” post. I suppose he wants me to help spread the word about the post so at first I thought, Hey, baby, you want me to flack for you, pay me!

Then I remembered people went all Facebook gaga over this list a little while ago so it’s doubtful any loyal Pencillistas don’t know it exists. Ergo, this won’t be flacking.

Although, if ____ wants to cut me a check, I’d be thrilled to cash it.

Anyway, I’ll take issue with two of Movoto’s “completely accurate” assertions:

  • No. 10) “Bloomingtonians Are Crazy Proud of Being Hoosiers” — If this means we dig being citizens of the great state o’Indiana, well, no. The next person from Bloomington I meet who’s happy to call IN her or his home state will be the first. In fact, I’d guess no one on this good Earth loathes Indiana more than (as Movoto so awkwardly puts it) a Bloomingtonian. In double fact, Movoto pre-contradicts itself with item No. 3: “Don’t You Dare Group Them in with the Rest of Indiana.”

Giordano's Pizza

No Caption Necessary

  • No. 7) “Bloomingtonians Are Real Pizza Connoisseurs” — Um, no again. People here eat pizza. This town has a number of different pizza options. Pizzas places even deliver here, as they do in the rest of the civilized world. But Bloomington pizza is to real pizza as Chef Boyardee® from the can is to a homemade mostaccioli dinner. The entry lists, for example, Cafe Pizzaria which, I’m sure, is run by nice people and is an institution here but they don’t even know how to spell pizzeria, for pity’s sake. Don’t start with me; I know pizza. My mother made it. I make it. From scratch. I grew up eating all sorts of pizzeria pizzas in my beloved hometown, from Salerno’s in Little Italy to Ricobene’s on 26th Street. I am to pizza as Albert Einstein is to special relativity. Although I haven’t tried Trailhead‘s pizza yet and I’m told it’s good. We’ll see.

Personal to _____: As The Dude once said, “By the way, do you think that you could give me that $20,000 in cash? My concern is, and I have to, uh, check with my accountant, that this might bump me into a higher, uh, tax….” Aw, forget it.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” — Joseph Conrad

THE STRONG CAN BE LAID LOW

Sarah Sandberg commandeered her sister’s Facebook account last night at about 9:30pm to pass on some alarming news and to issue a warning.

I’m hoping Sarah’s prediction that Susan will be back to work soon is a lot more than wishful thinking.

Susan Sandberg is royalty among Pencillistas. Join me in hoping her doctors have a lot of tricks in their black bags.

Pencillista Queen

MY GUY ROGER

America’s best movie reviewer and an incisive cultural observer in his own right, Roger Ebert, has weighed in on the Aurora, Colorado atrocity.

Check his take in the Chicago Sun-Times. Here’s a quote from that piece:

“The hell with it. I’m tired of repeating the obvious. I know with dead certainty that I will change nobody’s mind. I will hear conspiracy theories from those who fear the government, I will hear about the need to raise a militia, and I will hear nothing about how 9,484 corpses a year has helped anything.”

Or you can read his New York Time op-ed piece. Here’s another quote, this one from that piece:

“Should this young man — whose nature was apparently so obvious to his mother that, when a ABC News reporter called, she said “You’ve got the right person” — have been able to buy guns, ammunition and explosives? The gun lobby will say yes. And the endless gun control debate will begin again, and the lobbyists of the National Rifle Association will go to work, and the op-ed thinkers will have their usual thoughts, and the right wing will issue alarms, and nothing will change. And there will be another mass murder.”

This ain’t no movie, kids. This is life. Guns are designed to take it.

TRUTH IN HUMOR

Toles Cartoon From The Washington Post Syndicate

DOWN WITH JOE

Penn State University is doing the right thing.

Workers Tear Down The Paterno Statue At 9:30 This Morning

Now, maybe the people who run the institution can refocus on something novel: the development of students’ minds.

Joe Paterno made a lot of dough at the school. He signed a three-year contract in 2008 that called for an annual salary of a half million dollars a year. He made piles more — several times that amount per year — from ancillary sources.

The late unindicted co-conspirator was responsible for nothing more than the likes of instructing running backs on which way to turn when linebackers were approaching. It seems to me that particular aspect of the education of young men can be done by any number of “teachers” who’ve studied football (read: “have sat in front of the TV on Saturday and Sunday afternoons”).

Me? I’d spend half a million bucks on five teachers of a different sort, say:

  • Lynda Barry, creative writing and cartooning — The creator of “Ernie Pook’s Comeek”, “The Good Times Are Killing Me” and other works of reality-based fiction and visual art, Barry has transformed the struggles of an outsider into brilliantly funny and therapeutic entertainment. Think of what a role model she’d be for geeky, self-deprecating teenaged girls.

  • Rebecca Watson, general science — The founder of Skepchick, she works tirelessly to upgrade the status of brainiac girls and female scientists around the world.

  • Tariq Taylor, Humanities, black studies — As a Morehouse Collage grad student, Taylor visited Thailand after having never traveled in his life before. His experiences in that country were documented in the video “The Experience,” which reveals how travel can profoundly affect young black men who’ve been cloistered in racial and economic ghettos their whole lives.

  • Amy Goodman, journalism — The boss of Democracy Now!, Goodman digs deeper than just about any reporter alive.

  • Harriet Hall, MD, philosophy — The SkepDoc, Hall strips away the masturbatory bullshit that passes for curiosity and inquiry in the New Age and alternative medicine worlds today.

Wouldn’t you think a hundred G’s a year would be good pay for each of five individuals whose words and guidance might affect literally thousands of students a year? Oh, and none of those students would have to be winners of the gene pool lottery wherein they’d have been born bigger/faster/stronger than 99.9 percent of their peers.

Call me a dreamer.

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE…

As if anybody needed more proof that Tony Robbins is a con artist:

Or that people who buy into his brand of fraud are dopes?

Here’s how I waste my time. How about you? Share your fave sites with us via the comments section. Just type in the name of the site, not the url; we’ll find them. If we like them, we’ll include them — if not, we’ll ignore them.

I Love ChartsLife as seen through charts.

XKCD — “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

“What If?” From XKCD

SkepchickWomen scientists look at the world and the universe.

IndexedAll the answers in graph form, on index cards.

Flip Flop Fly BallBaseball as seen through infographics, haikus, song lyrics, and other odd communications devices.

Mental FlossFacts.

Caps Off PleaseComics & fun.

SodaplayCreate your own models or play with other people’s models.

Eat Sleep DrawAn endless stream of artwork submitted by an endless stream of people.

Big ThinkTapping the brains of notable intellectuals for their opinions, predictions, and diagnoses.

The Daily PuppySo shoot me.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, games, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Twin Lakes Recreation CenterAmerican Softball Association Slow Pitch State Tournament; all day

◗ IU Wells-Metz Theatre“The Taming of the Shrew”; 2pm

◗ IU Willkie AuditoriumCultural fair: Silk Road Bayaram Festival; 3-6pm

The Player’s PubBenefit for Margery Sauve; 6pm

Bryan ParkSunday Concert: Steel Panache, steel drum band; 6:30pm

Bear’s PlaceRyder Film Series: “Oslo, August 31”; 7pm

Buskirk-Chumley TheaterBig Brothers Big Sisters fundraising gala; 7:30pm

◗ IU Wells-Metz TheatreMusical, “You Can’t Take It with You”; 7:30pm

◗ IU Auer HallSummer Arts Festival: Pipe organ faculty recital; 8pm

The Root Cellar at Farm Bloomington — The Size of Color, Minus World; 9pm

The BishopDaniel Ellsworth & the Great Lakes, the Shams Band; 9pm

Ongoing:

◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • John D. Shearer, “I’m Too Young For This  @#!%”; through July 30th
  • Claire Swallow, ‘Memoir”; through July 28th
  • Dale Gardner, “Time Machine”; through July 28th
  • Sarah Wain, “That Takes the Cake”; through July 28th
  • Jessica Lucas & Alex Straiker, “Life Under the Lens — The Art of Microscopy”; through July 28th

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • Qiao Xiaoguang, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts” ; through August 12th
  • “A Tribute to William Zimmerman,” wildlife artist; through September 9th
  • Willi Baumeister, “Baumeister in Print”; through September 9th
  • Annibale and Agostino Carracci, “The Bolognese School”; through September 16th
  • “Contemporary Explorations: Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists”; through October 14th
  • David Hockney, “New Acquisitions”; through October 21st
  • Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Paragons of Filial Piety”; through fall semester 2012
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan, “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers”; through December 31st
  • “French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century”; through December 31st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits:

  • Kinsey Institute Juried Art Show; through July 21st
  • Bloomington Photography Club Annual Exhibition; July 27th through August 3rd

◗ IU Kinsey Institute Gallery“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art from the Kinsey Institute Collection”; through September 21st

◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit, “Translating the Canon: Building Special Collections in the 21st Century”; through September 1st

◗ IU Mathers Museum of World Cultures — Closed for semester break

Monroe County History Center Exhibits:

  • “What Is Your Quilting Story?”; through July 31st
  • Photo exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

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