If America Wants to Kill Science, It’s on Its Way
April 8, 2016 10:31 PM   Subscribe

Science is desperate. It needs to believe itself honorable. It's threatened by the fact that it's not safe for so many of us. Period. It's just not safe.
- A. Hope Jahren, in an interview about women in science and advancement in plant biology.
posted by divabat (16 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
That was an extremely pleasurable article to read after a frustrating day in an unrelated field, worn out from long years hitting my head against invisible barriers. She sound marvelously smart and thoughtful and I am getting her book. I hope Bill has a job!
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:43 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just got it on audible. Thanks for the fpp Divabat!
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:46 AM on April 9, 2016

For some of Hope Jahren's incredible writing, you can read some of her essays at her website #HOPEJAHRENSURECANWRITE. I rather like An Open Love Letter to Millennial Women:

I’ve learned that pausing — any time, anywhere – to LOL at a friend’s joke is a distraction rooted in love and care. I hope that I may live long enough to see “you’re” and “your” collapse into one word (“ur”) because you have convinced me that we can’t afford the friction of cosmetic contextual distinctions, we have too little time left with each other and far too much still to say.

Her website helpfully classifies her essays as Gut-busters, Tear-jerkers, Comic books, and Other stuff.
posted by congen at 7:01 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

She was on Science Friday just yesterday.

There was a discussion on language used to describe science, similar to the linked interview in the OP. Listening to that I found I do fall into the category of uptight people, who get perhaps unreasonably annoyed by an imprecise/incorrect use of the word "plant" in an example sentence. (Not that I wrote her an irate letter about it.)

re harassment in the lab: It’s a heartbreaking thing to give advice about. The one piece of advice you can’t give is, "Go do this and you’ll get justice."

This is quite sad for being so obviously true.
posted by mark k at 8:03 AM on April 9, 2016

I just read her memoir "Lab Girl". It's terriffic
posted by vicusofrecirculation at 8:14 AM on April 9, 2016

That just made me sad.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love Hope Jahren. Lab Girl is waiting on my Kindle for me. I am itching to read it, but I'm saving it as my reward for finishing dissertation revisions. (Soon... right...?)
posted by pemberkins at 8:40 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

No matter how much funding I get, I’m always thinking, "This is temporary. This is fragile. It could all end tomorrow, and how am I going to make today worth it? If this is my last day in the lab, what can I do so that I can walk out of here saying, ‘That was a good day’?" And the only reward for a good day is one more day. I really do look at it like that.

It all runs out in August. I don’t have anything on the hook right now. I have no idea what we’re going to do. We’re looking at our options. Do you have an idea? I don’t know what to say. I’ve been here before. August has never been further away than three years in my world.

This. This is what people who think academics have it easy or complain that they never see the PI in the lab need to step back and reconsider.

Meanwhile, as someone who aspires to be a Bill, this interview is also a reminder that those of us working hard in the lab aren't safe either.
posted by maryr at 8:52 AM on April 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

There's a review in Slate today which talks about Lab Girl as a memoir about friendship. And that actually raises some interesting questions for me, because I think that typically the genders are reversed, and the credentialed scientist is a man, while the less-credentialed assistant is a woman. I wonder how often other scientists share Jahren's respect, friendship, and willingness to go to bat in meaningful ways for their colleagues when the genders are reversed.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:56 AM on April 9, 2016

This is so sad. I was a "Bill", and my job was cut to save money. I had a Ph.D. and was doing the work of two people for $35,000 a year- how was this saving money? Now, years later, I can get grants to buy equipment, but the grants aren't designed to hire people, so I don't have a "Bill" and science has lost another "Bill". To talk about "killing science" is not an exaggeration.
posted by acrasis at 9:15 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is definitely a personality type that can cope with the funding cycles with equanimity and the rest can't. If you say "we can work this out" and you truly mean it in response to everything from a flat tire to the house catching on fire AND you are good with networking, scheming, sales, budgeting and saving you're probably gonna be totally fine. If you're not like that, then industry might be a good choice. Industry would make me go insane though, I like being able to self-direct.
posted by fshgrl at 10:59 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The phrase 'killing science' is unfortunate in that it suggests that this stuff is all something new. But, so far as I know from my reading, it always was this way. From the 'Bill' I knew 40+ years ago at a famous university who "took care" of the hundreds of mice and rats (I doubt his name ever appeared in a paper), to the Henrietta who realized the value of Cepheid variables, to the early years of the impoverished Michael Faraday.

A lot of science still reflects the traditions established centuries ago - one big shot (often financially independent) and a lot of underlings. (If one of those underlings made a major discovery, credit went to the big shot.) All the science has been done within this system, and it's far from transparent.

So this article does not clarify what is being 'killed'. The book sounds like a rarity, worth reading for a glimpse into the muted humanity that cranks The Machine.
posted by Twang at 2:46 PM on April 9, 2016

The problem is that it is getting harder and harder to get consistent funding to pay the 'Bills.'
The National Science Foundation is under increasing pressure to show that it is having an educational impact. Asking for money for students is very different than asking for money for people in their 40s who are in a steady job. I feel very pessimistic about it.
Research programs really benefit from having someone in it for the long term - someone in addition to the PI. Graduate students and postdocs are transient. The work of technicians is so necessary, but so undervalued.
posted by pemberkins at 3:48 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

And the more academia continues to rely on students to do the research, the more PhDs will be produced, and the more competition there will be for the same number of faculty and industry positions, and the more it will be whined about as if nothing can be done.
posted by maryr at 9:24 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Attention: Dr. Jahren's book tour began this week. She's speaking at Powell's books tonight.

book tour dates for the next couple of weeks (scroll down to "Events")
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:30 PM on April 15, 2016

update: I went to her book talk. She's a really good speaker. You should go to see her speak. Minnesotans and Bay areans, you still have a chance.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:33 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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