2007 Women in Science Award

Maggie Wittlin in Seed:

Dresselhaus_new MIT physicist Mildred Dresselhaus, the once-dubbed “Queen of Carbon,” was awarded the 2007 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science prize for “her research on solid state materials, including conceptualizing the creation of carbon nanotubes.” Dresselhaus is one of five female laureates, each from a different continent, to receive a $100,000 “no strings attached” grant in honor of her scientific achievement.

Dresselhaus said this is the first time she’s received a “women in science” award.

“In the early days, I was active in trying to level the playing field at my own institution,” Dresselhaus said, noting that she has mentored female students and postdocs throughout her career. When she was president of the American Physical Society, she worked to improve opportunities for women in physics nationwide. “Winning this award, this gave me a signal that maybe it’s time to be thinking worldwide.”

Dresselhaus herself grew up in an era when American women faced concrete obstacles along the path to becoming a scientist. When she was at all-female Hunter College as an undergraduate, Dresselhaus said, she was studying to be a schoolteacher; she had been told in high school that, as a woman, her career options were limited to teacher, secretary, or nurse. But her physics professor, Rosalyn Yalow, redirected her path. Yalow was teaching physics because she couldn’t get a better job, Dresselhaus said.

More here and here.

A Jeff Wall retrospective

At MoMA.org:

Jeff Wall (Canadian, b. 1946) is widely recognized as one of the most adventurous and inventive artists of his generation. This retrospective surveys his career from the late 1970s to the present through some forty works. The exhibition features his major lightbox photographs and trace the evolution of his principal themes and pictorial strategies. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, with an essay by Peter Galassi and an interview with Jeff Wall conducted by James Rondeau, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago. To coincide with the exhibition, MoMA is publishing a book of Jeff Wall’s collected writings and interviews.


A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993. Transparency.

More here.

guarding the genome with a tan

Theresa Herbert & Rob Levy in the Dana Farber Cancer Institute  Newsletter:

“Guardian of the genome” protein found to underlie skin tanning”

May also influence human fondness for sunshine.

A protein known as the “master watchman of the genome” for its ability to guard against cancer-causing DNA damage has been found to provide an entirely different level of cancer protection: By prompting the skin to tan in response to ultraviolet light from the sun, it deters the development of melanoma skin cancer, the fastest-increasing form of cancer in the world.

Skinandp53 In a study in the March 9 issue of the journal Cell, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report that the protein, p53, is not only linked to skin tanning, but also may play a role in people’s seemingly universal desire to be in the sun — an activity that, by promoting tanning, can reduce one’s risk of melanoma.

“The number one risk factor for melanoma is an inability to tan; people who tan easily or have dark pigmentation are far less likely to develop the disease,” says the study’s senior author, David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, director of the Melanoma Program at Dana-Farber and a professor in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston. “This study suggests that p53, one of the best-known tumor-suppressor proteins in our body, has a powerful role in protecting us against sun damage in the skin.”

In a study published last year, Fisher and his colleagues found that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes skin cells called keratinocytes to make and secrete a hormone called α-MSH, which attaches to nearby skin cells called melanocytes and spurs them to produce skin-darkening pigment called melanin. The chain of events within keratinocytes that leads to α-MSH production, however, was a mystery.

More here.

New Glass Bends Rule, but Doesn’t Break It

From Science:Glass

Glass that bends? It sounds impossible. But in today’s issue of Science, researchers report that they’ve come up with a new type of metallic glass that flexes and bows like a copper wire. The advance could potentially usher in a new family of wonder materials.

Ultrathin metallic glasses have been around for decades. They became a rage about 10 years ago, when researchers discovered a way to grow them as thick slabs. That opened the door to using these extremely hard and strong materials as everything from novel structural supports in buildings to golf club heads. Unfortunately, bulk metallic glasses also have an Achilles heel: They’re as brittle as your average windowpane.

The problem is that the same properties that give metallic glasses their strength also contribute to their propensity to fracture.

More here.

September Song

From The New York Times:Sontag_1

Writing to Hannah Arendt in December 1967, Mary McCarthy reported Susan Sontag’s arrest in an antiwar demonstration, and then abruptly asked: “And what about her? When I last watched her with you at the Lowells, it was clear that she was going to seek to conquer you. Or that she had fallen in love with you — the same thing. Anyway, did she?”

Arendt’s response is not known. But it is not hard to see why the young Sontag chose the German-Jewish philosopher as one of her “models of the serious.” As a precocious reader in Arizona and California, Sontag grew up on the high idea of European literature and thought upheld by The Partisan Review, the primary magazine of New York liberal intellectuals in the 1940s and ’50s. After moving to New York in the early 1960s, Sontag decided that the liberal imagination needed to loosen up a bit. Joining in the emerging counterculture, she called for an “erotics of art” and celebrated the “defiantly pluralistic” new sensibility “dedicated both to an excruciating seriousness and to fun and wit and nostalgia.” She argued for an understanding of the “revolutionary implications of sexuality in contemporary society.”

In later years she would come to refine and even abandon some of these views.

More here.

Jimmy Carter and Apartheid

Joseph Lelyveld in the New York Review of Books:

Screenhunter_10_mar_09_2012 …Carter is considerably more than half-right in arguing—and, yes, even crying from the rooftops—that the status quo is unsustainable and not amenable to a unilateral settlement imposed by Israel; right too when he argues that our discussion of issues centering on a “peace process” that is all process and no peace has become conspicuously one-sided. Carter blames “a submissive White House and US Congress during recent years” and “powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States.” He doesn’t resort to the term “Jewish lobby” and has recently made it clear —not in his book but in a “Letter to Jewish Citizens of America” that he wrote in December in response to the furor—that he intended to include conservative Christians in his chiding. In his own words:

The overwhelming bias for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught to honor and protect God’s chosen people from among whom came our own savior, Jesus Christ.

Whatever the cause of the one-sidedness he deplores, it’s necessary only to recall the resolutions both houses of Congress rushed to pass last summer in support of Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hezbollah in order to gauge whether he’s making a reasonable point. The offensive—which devastated Lebanon, killed hundreds of civilians, and ultimately did more to undermine the new government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert than it did to weaken Hezbollah—won the backing of the House of Representatives by a vote of 410–8. When Carter’s book was about to appear, Representative Nancy Pelosi, soon to become speaker, was quick to say he didn’t speak for Democrats on these matters; obviously, she was right.

More here.

Andrew Sullivan on Ann Coulter

Andrew Sullivan in his Atlantic Monthly blog, The Daily Dish:

Screenhunter_08_mar_09_1951I watched Ann Coulter last night in the gayest way I could. I was on a stairmaster at a gym, slack-jawed at her proud defense of calling someone a “faggot” on the same stage as presidential candidates and as an icon of today’s conservative movement. The way in which Fox News and Sean Hannity and, even more repulsively, Pat Cadell, shilled for her was a new low for Fox, I think – and for what remains of decent conservatism. “We’re all friends here,” Hannity chuckled at the end. Yes, they were. And no faggots were on the show to defend themselves. That’s fair and balanced.

I’m not going to breathe more oxygen into this story except to say a couple of things that need saying. Coulter has an actual argument in self-defense and it’s worth addressing. Her argument is that it was a joke and that since it was directed at a straight man, it wasn’t homophobic. It was, in her words, a “school-yard taunt,” directed at a straight man, meaning a “wuss” and a “sissy”. Why would gays care? She is “pro-gay,” after all. Apart from backing a party that wants to strip gay couples of all legal rights by amending the federal constitution, kick them out of the military where they are putting their lives on the line, put them into “reparative therapy” to “cure” them, keep it legal to fire them in many states, and refusing to include them in hate crime laws, Coulter is very pro-gay. As evidence of how pro-gay she is, check out all the gay men and women in America now defending her.

Her defense, however, is that she was making a joke, not speaking a slur. Her logic suggests that the two are mutually exclusive. They’re not…

More here.  [Thanks to Asad Raza.]

The misrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims in film

Tim McSorley in the political art journal Art Threat:

Reelbadarabs_1Aladdin. Back to the Future. True Lies. It isn’t everyday that you hear these three movies mentioned in the same breath, but for Dr. Jack Shaheen the link is clear. For thirty years, Shaheen, professor emeritus of mass communication at Southern Illinois University, has been studying the misrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims in film, particularly movies coming out of Hollywood. His conclusion: that Arabs and Muslims are the single most maligned and attacked group in the history of film. “If the case went before a jury, they’ll be out for 30 seconds and they will agree,” he says over the phone from his home in Illinois. Over the next few months, viewers can be will be the jury themselves as Shaheen tours North America with Reel Bad Arabs, the 2006 documentary based on his 2001 book of the same name.

While it’s a pretty sweeping judgment to make – there are plenty of racial, religious or political groups that would argue they’ve been consistently misrepresented by Hollywood – Shaheen backs up his claims with plenty of proof. Reel Bad Arabs, both film and book, are the result of nearly 20 years work, during which Shaheen viewed and analysed 950 films. Of those, only 5 percent showed Arabs of Muslims in a positive – or at least benign – light. “No one group has ever been, one, vilified in that many films, and two, vilified for more than a century,” he explains.

More here.

PZ Myers’ 50th

PZ Myers, one of the most informative science bloggers and champion against much of the nonsense proliferating in the world, turns 50 tomorrow. (Via Cosmic Variance) Richard Dawkins offers this poem.

All around the World Wide Web, the wingnuts get the crepys,

As the faith-heads take a drubbing from our era’s Samuel Pepys,

That sceptical observer of the scene about the wyers,

At Pharyngula, the singular redoubt of P Z Myers.

Sean Carroll provides PZ Myers his horoscope.

The Rodent Who Knew Too Much

From Science:Rodent

Already famous for swimming through sewers and surviving under subway rails, rats can now claim a more sophisticated talent: thinking about thinking. It’s not epistemology, but a study published today in Current Biology reports the first evidence that rats know the limits of their own knowledge–a capacity long thought to belong only to the animal kingdom’s top brains.

People experience metacognition, or gauging their own knowledge, on a daily basis; anyone who’s ever had a sinking feeling during an exam knows it well. But attempts to detect metacognition in animals have met with little success, in large part because animals can’t tell researchers what they’re thinking. Scientists must instead rely on behavioral clues: Monkeys place lower bets on their answers when given a difficult test, for example, and dolphins waver when asked to distinguish between two similar sounds. Thus far, however, smaller-brained animals, such as pigeons, have shown no signs of metacognition in the lab.

Would rats be any different? A new study suggests rats can think about thinking, making them more self-aware than scientists thought.

More here.

Rose-scented sleep improves memory

From Nature:Rose_1

It’s often said that optimistic people look at the world through rose-tinted spectacles. Now it seems that rose-tinted smells can have benefits too. Taking a whiff of rose scent while learning a task and then being exposed to the same smell during sleep helps memories to set, researchers have found. The discovery could see students frantically spraying themselves with perfume before exams — although the effect is tricky to replicate at home.

Jan Born of the University of Lübeck and his colleagues exposed people to the smell of roses one evening while they learned the locations of various picture cards laid in a square. Half of them were then given the same odour to smell as they slept, while the other half had an odour-free night. When they were tested the next day, those who’d had a rosy sleep remembered 97% of the locations — without the roses this figure was 86%.

The team’s findings, published in Science, supports theories about how memories are solidified in the brain during sleep.

More here.

Will Biology Solve the Universe?

Aaron Rowe in Wired:

For years, scientists have tried to develop a universal theory of everything. Steven Hawking predicts that such a theory will be discovered in the next 20 years. A new theory asserts that biology, not physics, will be the key to unlocking the deepest mysteries of the universe, such as quantum mechanics.

Lanza“The answer to the universe is biology — it’s as simple as that,” says Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of research and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology. He details his theory in The American Scholar‘s spring issue, published on Thursday. Lanza says scientists will establish a unified theory only if they radically rethink their understanding of space and time using a “biocentric” approach. His article is essentially a biological and philosophical response to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, in which he questions how we interpret the big bang, the existence of space and time, as well as many other theories — assertions that might ruffle the feathers of some physical scientists.

But Lanza is used to controversy. The 2005 Wired Rave Award winner has seen plenty in response to his stem cell and cloning work at Advanced Cell. And he’s ready for the scientific row his latest work is likely to engender.

“The urgent and primary questions of the universe have been undertaken by those physicists who are trying to explain the origins of everything with grand unified theories,” says Lanza in his article. “But as exciting and glamorous as these theories are, they are an evasion, if not a reversal, of the central mystery of knowledge: that the laws of the world were somehow created to produce the observer.”

More here.

Georg Joachim Rheticus

Anthony Grafton in American Scientist:

The 16th-century astronomer and mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus confronts 21st-century readers with an enigma. A humanist steeped in Latin and Greek, Rheticus proclaimed himself a lover of the classics. In 1541, when he offered a lecture course on astronomy at the University of Wittenberg, he described Ptolemy’s second-century handbook of astronomy, the Almagest, as “by far the most beautiful among works of human hands.” Rheticus had used equally flattering language to describe Ptolemy in 1540 in the book for which he is chiefly remembered—his Narratio Prima, in which he offered the European public its first detailed report on the heliocentric planetary theory of Copernicus, which he enthusiastically espoused. Even in this manifesto he praised Ptolemy—whose geocentric astronomy Copernicus rejected—as “the divine parent of astronomy.” Indeed, Rheticus noted that Copernicus had set out his own work in imitation of Ptolemy’s.

For all his love of traditional scholarly pursuits, Rheticus was a thoroughly modern, unbookish figure. He loved to travel, preferred direct observation of the skies to reading old texts about them and eagerly collaborated with the printers who were transforming the fabric of learned life. In his later years, he rejected all of Greek planetary theory, including the work of Ptolemy, in favor of what he called an “astronomy without hypotheses.” Moreover, in his second career, as a medical man, he rejected the ancient theories of Galen and accepted the radical new iatrochemistry—alchemical medicine—of Paracelsus. Which, one wonders, was the true Rheticus—the humanist who wrote eloquent Latin or the innovator who chose modern theories over ancient ones even when doing so made his personal situation risky?

In The First Copernican, Dennis Danielson brings learning, admiration and precise scholarship to the task of writing the first popular biography of this puzzling figure.

More here.

Coterie Writing

David Damrosch in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The problem isn’t that academics “can’t write,” as is often claimed, but that we are typically engaged in what scholars of the Renaissance know as coterie writing. In 16th-century England, for instance, small groups of aristocrats such as Sir Philip Sydney, his sister Mary Herbert, and their circle would compose poems for their mutual entertainment, circulating them privately from one country estate to another. Scholars today may reach a somewhat larger circle, but most academic writing is part of a continuing conversation among a coterie of fellow specialists with common interests and a shared history of debate. Even for scholars who are elegant prose stylists, it isn’t an easy matter to make the transition from writing for Milton’s “fit audience, though few” to a larger but less fit readership.

In speaking with colleagues who have written trade books, I have often found them using quite negative language to describe the task. “I had to dumb it down,” I’ve been told. Or else they may hold the line and keep on writing much as they would for a university press, but then find their manuscript being eviscerated by the editor and copy editor. “They took out all my footnotes,” one friend complained gloomily. The books I’ve heard described in such terms have usually had disappointing sales.

The current conflict in Iraq has led me to wrestle directly with these issues. Deeply disturbed on many levels by the run-up to the invasion, I was particularly concerned with the rhetoric of a “clash of civilizations” that was often used by proponents of the war and echoed uncritically in the press. It occurred to me that discussing a favorite text of mine, The Epic of Gilgamesh, could provide an effective way to show that the cultures of Islam and “the West” are not inherently, eternally opposed civilizations, but are outgrowths of a common cultural matrix.

More here.

Unnatural Selection

Matthew Hutson in Psychology Today:

Jurybox_2Jury consulting has become a big business over the past three decades. Hundreds of firms now rake in several hundred million dollars a year. Many offer “scientific jury selection” services, deploying demographics, statistics, and social psychology to cull potential jurors and engineer the perfect panel of people. But as these gurus aim to extract sure verdicts from parties of unknowns, their grasp on the chemistry of human nature appears to require a working knowledge of alchemy…. Despite all the money and research poured into predicting and shaping jury decisions, to a large degree the state of the art remains just that: art.

More here.

Frost Bite

A recently discovered poem by Robert Frost has brought fame—and controversy—to an English student.

W. Andrew Ewell in Smithsonian Magazine:

Screenhunter_07_mar_08_1953When Robert Stilling, a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Virginia, began a research project last summer on poet Robert Frost, he expected, perhaps, to squeeze out a term paper or two from his research—not to be tossed under a media spotlight brighter than most scholars see in a lifetime.

While poring over the University of Virginia’s recently acquired Robert Frost collection—a collection so new that most of it had not yet been catalogued—Stilling noticed an inscription in the front of a copy of North of Boston that Frost had sent to his friend, the publisher Frederic Melcher, in 1918. Stilling determined that the inscribed poem, “War Thoughts at Home,” had never been published.

Frostpoem_1 After some consideration, Stilling decided to publish the poem, along with a short essay, in the Virginia Quarterly Review. VQR is available at most national bookstores chains, and Stilling felt it would gain more attention there than in a more narrowly focused academic journal.

He was right, it turns out. Too right. Frost’s celebrity, combined with the political timeliness of the unearthed war poem and Stilling’s role as a grad student sleuth, created the makings of “a good story,” says Stilling. “It was sort of a perfect storm.”

More here.  [Click on photo of poem to enlarge.]

Bernard Lewis Makes His Bid for the Stupidest-Man-Alive Prize

Brad DeLong in his Semi-Daily Journal:

Pic129lewisHas Bernard Lewis always been this stupid, and did I just not notice?

Washington Wire – WSJ.com: Bernard Lewis drew a standing ovation from a packed house of conservative luminaries Wednesday night in a lecture that described Muslim migration to Europe as an Islamic attack on the West and defended the Crusades as “a late, limited and successful imitation of the jihad” that spread Islam across much of the globe. Lewis gave the nearly hour-long speech at the annual black-tie dinner of the American Enterprise Institute after receiving the group’s Irving Kristol Award. Among the attendees were Vice President Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and ex-Pentagon official Richard Perle. Notably absent was I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby….

The 90-year-old Lewis, seen by some as the intellectual godfather behind the administration’s decision to invade Iraq, warned in his lecture that the West — particularly Europe — was losing its fervor and conviction in the face of an epochal challenge from the Islamic world. The Islamic world, he said, was now attacking the West using two tactics: terrorism and migration….

More here.

Biology and Bullshit

David P. Barash at RichardDawkins.net:

BarashBooks Discussed in this Essay:

    • Religion Explained: the evolutionary origins of religious thought, by Pascal Boyer. (Basic Books, 2002)
    • The Language of God: a scientist presents evidence for belief, by Francis Collins. (The Free Press, 2006)
    • The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
      Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett. (Viking Press, 2006)
    • Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris. (Knopf, 2006)
      Evolving God: a provocative view of the origins of religion, by Barbara King. (Doubleday, 2007)
    • Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion, by L. A. Kirkpatrick. Guilford Publications, 2005.
      Evolution and Christian Faith: reflections of an evolutionary biologist, by Joan Roughgarden. (Island Press, 2006)
    • The Varieties of Scientific Experience: a personal view of the search for god, by Carl Sagan. (The Penguin Press, 2006)
    • Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society by David Sloan Wilson. (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
    • The Creation: an appeal to save life on earth, by Edward. O. Wilson. (W. W. Norton, 2006)
    • Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: the evolutionary origins of belief, by Lewis Wolpert. (W. W. Norton, 2007)

All books supporting religion are alike. All books attacking it do so in their own way (well, maybe not, but doesn’t this start us off on a nice Tolstoyan note?). In any event, religion’s interface with science – long fraught – seems especially so these days, with a bevy of books criticizing religion as well as defending it.

Why so much attention, just now? Exhibit A: creationist efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution, masquerading as “intelligent design.” Next, the takeover of the US executive branch by right-wing ayatollahs, combined with presidential assertions that his policies are undertaken in furtherance of god’s will, not to mention efforts to break down the Jeffersonian “wall of separation” between church and state. Add to this the so-called war on terror, which is largely a struggle with radical Islam in response to the latter’s faith-based initiative against the United States.

Meanwhile, American stem-cell research continues to be hobbled by the insistence that every fertilized cell has been “ensouled” and is therefore human and holy. And don’t forget the conspicuous rise of the right-wing evangelical movement in the United States – bastion of religiosity in the developed world – featuring such gems as Pat Robertson’s assertion that catastrophes, from natural hurricanes to unnatural terrorism, are brought about by god’s displeasure with the sexually or textually sinful.

In short, it is fair to say that “they” (religious zealots) started it, as they usually do. It was the Catholic Church that burned Bruno and persecuted Galileo, not the other way around. When have atheists claimed that religious devotees will burn in hell, or sought to hurry them along not with words but flaming faggots? Polls consistently show Americans more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is an anencephalic ax murderer (but religious) than the most admirable atheist. In any event, it appears that despite – or, perhaps, because of – being an oppressed minority, some atheists are finally madder than hell (and/or mad at hell) and unwilling to “take it” any more.

More here.

Palestinians and Israelis: Face 2 Face

From the Face 2 Face website:


…these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families.

A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him.

It’s obvious, but they don’t see that.

We must put them face to face. They will realize.

We want that, at last, everyone laughs and thinks when he sees the portrait of the other and his own portrait.

The Face2Face project is to make portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job and to post them face to face, in huge formats, in unavoidable places, on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.

More here.  [Including a nice video about the project.]

When Is a Building Beautiful?

Alison Lurie in the New York Review of Books:

Alaindebotton_lgToday we expect nonfiction to be either comic or somber: to make us laugh, or to inform us, warn us, or terrify us with accounts of miserable childhoods or natural and political disasters. The idea that prose might be both casual in manner and serious in intent is almost forgotten. It survives, however, in the work of Alain de Botton. In the last decade he has considered—in books whose brevity and informal tone disguise the occasional gravity of their content—travel, love, literature, philosophy, and the value of reading. His best-known work, How Proust Can Change Your Life, is accurately described on its flyleaf as both a perceptive literary biography and a self-help manual.

The simplicity of his writing is not the product of a simple mind. De Botton, who was born in Zurich in 1969, has a double first from Cambridge in history and philosophy, and is now director of the graduate philosophy program at the University of London. His aversion to deliberately difficult scholarly prose, however, has always been intense. In The Consolations of Philosophy (2000) he remarked that “there are…no legitimate reasons why books in the humanities should be difficult or boring; wisdom does not require a specialized vocabulary or syntax.” He then quoted one of his favorite authors, Montaigne, who remarked over four hundred years ago that “the search for new expressions and little-known words derives from an adolescent schoolmasterish ambition.”

De Botton was a natural essayist from the start. The three novels that began his career, On Love (1993), The Romantic Movement (1994), and Kiss and Tell (1995), though cast as contemporary love stories, are essentially frames upon which to hang observations on various subjects, much as in the days before washing machines, colorful wet clothes were spread out on drying racks. Kiss and Tell, for instance, riffs on biography and autobiography, The Romantic Movement on sentimentality, fashion, interior decoration, unrequited love, and many other topics.

More here.