Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Lest you think Absinthe and I are shrill, hysterical harpies, may I direct you to this Physics Today article from 2004 titled "Ethics and the Welfare of the Physics Profession". An APS task force undertook a survey on ethics. Here's the good stuff:
- The 1987 APS statement on integrity in physics reads, in part, "The physics community has traditionally enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for maintenance of high ethical standards and integrity in its scientific activities. Indeed, the American Physical Society is one of the few professional societies which has not felt the need for a formal code of ethics." Hee!
- The task force reported that "By far the highest response rate and the most extensive and heart-felt answers to the open-ended survey questions came from the junior members of APS-that is, physicists within the first three years after getting the PhD." Nearly half of them responded, a lot of them within hours via the web.
- "In contrast to the high response rate among junior members, only a quarter of physics department chairs responded to the survey they were sent. "
- "Particularly shocking to the task force was how often the words 'abuse' and 'exploitation' were used to describe the treatment of graduate students. A number of junior members suggested that ethics training should first be made mandatory for professors, so that they could 'learn how to treat their students and postdocs in a humane way.' Several wrote of the 'powerlessness' of graduate students and postdocs, who depend on their supervisor for letters of recommendation and therefore cannot afford to blow the whistle on instances of mistreatment."
Dear readers, please note that the vast majority of physicists are white males. Therefore we can assume that the vast majority of the junior members describing abuse and exploitation are white males. And that's what it's like to be one of the privileged ones in physics.
Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, another article published in 2004 in the Chronicle of Higher Education asked the question "Is Graduate School a Cult?" (no subscription needed). Author Thomas Benton was talking about the humanities, and was half tongue-in-cheek, half serious, but I think his remarks are chillingly relevant for women - hell, for any decent human - in science and engineering.
For all its claims to the contrary, graduate education does not seem to enhance the mental freedom of many students, some of whom are psychologically damaged by the experience...[graduate school seems] to have a lot in common with mind-control cults. It's not difficult for a casual researcher to gain entry into the bizarre world of cults and anti-cult activists. A quick Internet search will inevitably lead one to...Freedom of Mind Center. [Steven Alan] Hassan was a member of the Unification Church...[he is] "America's leading expert on cults." For anyone who has been in graduate school, numerous portions of Hassan's outline of the mind-control practices of cults will seem weirdly familiar...[and] mildly disturbing. Hassan calls his outline the "BITE Model," which stands for behavior, information, thought, and emotional control. Let's review a few of the traits of each category and see if any of them sound familiar.
Behavior control: "major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals"; "need to ask permission for major decisions"; "need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors."
- Information control: "access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged (keep members so busy they don't have time to think)" and "extensive use of cult-generated information (newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.)."
- Thought control: "need to internalize the group's doctrine as 'Truth' (black and white thinking; good vs. evi;; us vs. them, inside vs. outside)" and "no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate."
- Emotional control: "excessive use of guilt (identity guilt: not living up to your potential; social guilt; historical guilt)"; "phobia indoctrination (irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader's authority; cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group; shunning of leave takers; never a legitimate reason to leave"; and "from the group's perspective, people who leave are 'weak,' 'undisciplined. ' "
Are you experiencing some shock of recognition? I was particularly startled when I learned that recent college graduates are one of the groups most frequently targeted by cult recruiters.
Women scientists, say goodbye to your identity guilt. Visualize positive, fulfilling futures for yourselves, devoid of pinhead control freaks who desperately cling to power by sucking the life force of younger, more talented individuals. Do not shun those who have left academia as if they are diseased and proximity might infect you with their plague. Vacation on Planet Zorn as needed. Slap on your anger tiara and read Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography. Photocopy and blow up good parts and leave them lying around the physics lounge, just for grins. Hey, if they're still putting up the girlie calendars in the labs and pornographic screen savers on their computers and riding lactating mothers out of national labs on a rail, then I think we can offer up some top-notch science-writing about the exquisitely designed clitoris and its 8,000 nerve endings, which need no man to make a woman happy.
Like the drink itself, Absinthe's blog is a strong distilled spirit, the effect of which is to heighten your sense of the truly screwed-up world that is U.S. academic and national lab physics. Also like the spirit, Absinthe-the-blogger has been treated as if she were a source of insanity and banned - booted out of the world of physics. And finally, like the spirit, you may find Absinthe's blog to be somewhat bitter. Yet I think that is part of its virtue. Absinthe has certainly discovered the planet Zorn, and is wearing her tiara there quite comfortably.
If you are a woman scientist or engineer considering suing your present or former employer, then Absinthe's blog is most definitely for you!
I must modestly confess (ahem) that I seem to have inspired Absinthe to release her Inner Pissed-Off Woman and share her with the world. I am so proud!
Yesterday I said a little thanks to Ben Barres for remembering the ladies. To the sorry-ass portion of the science and engineering establishment: If particular care and attention is not paid from now on to us Pissed-Off Women, we are determined, along with all our allies including people like Debra Rolison and Ron Wyden and Barbara Boxer, to foment a rebellion. We will not offer ourselves up to any laboratories, university or national, in which we would have to call your sorry asses "boss". We will not give you the fruits of our labor and let you call it "your" RO1 grant proposal, or "your" Science or Nature paper, or "your" newly discovered particle, or "your" computer program. We will not work for free and let you pretend you are doing us a big giant favor out of the goodness of your heart because you feel so sorry for us because we are not good enough to get a real job. (Hmm, I think I am going to have to work this up into a pledge for woman who decide to boycott toxic labs...now all we need, as Debra Rolison suggested at WEPAN 2006, is a guerilla website that lists and tracks the toxic labs. I think I know someone who might be interested in doing that...)
It's a crappy world for women in engineering, but geez, I'm starting to think those physicists are putting the engineers to shame. I want to make sure you get the details of that Fermilab propaganda piece straight.
Elizabeth Freeland earned a PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins, foolishly took five years off to have a family while unfortunately married to a physicist whose career blossomed while hers languished (he didn't take any time off to have a family; they didn't share child-rearing duties while both scaling back career aspirations; they didn't both work slavish hours while farming out their children). Clearly he must be more serious about his career and/or a better physicist, no? Anyway, poor benighted Elizabeth tried to ressurect her career. The article says
A full-time job demanded research experience [uh, like she didn't already have any from those Johns Hopkins years? Zuska carpingly interjects. Do newly minted PhDs arrive somehow differently qualified?], so after sending out numerous letters looking to help labs on "small projects," she came to Fermilab hoping to collaborate on summer research. Although Freeland said the lab's staff was encouraging, she needed a grant to support her research. And the grants required her to have a full-time affiliation with less than a five-year break after graduate school. [Zuska is sure these requirements are not meant to be discriminatory. Sure.]
She claims the lab's staff was "encouraging". Say, can anybody there at Fermilab tell me how physicists define the word "encouraging"? I'm thinking hindering, unfavorable, untimely, and negative might be part of their definition.
So, to summarize:
- She wanted a job, but they said she needed a grant.
- She needed data to get a grant.
- She needed daycare to have time to get data.
- She needed money to pay for daycare.
This system of equations cannot be solved - 4 equations, 5 variables. Or wait, it can! Freeland worked part-time as a physics teacher at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. That allowed her to pay for daycare to have time to get the data to apply for a grant. And she got one!
Now, here is the interesting part.
- When Freeland was covering her expenses with Art Institute money, she was working for Fermilab "for free".
- Once she had a grant - she was working "for Fermilab".
The grant source? An American Association of University Women American Fellowship that "did not require full-time affiliation with an institution, and did not exclude those out of graduate school for longer than five years".
See, that fits MY definition of encouraging. However, it does NOT fit my definition of working "for Fermilab". Because those pinheads were not actually paying her, were they? No more than they were when she was working "for free".
I think Fermilab owes the School of Art Institute of Chicago a big, fat thank you. If she's working "for Fermilab" when the AAUW pays her, then I say she's working "for Fermilab" when the Art Institute pays her. What's the difference, really? Well, you and I and Fermilab know what the difference is, don't we. Some penised pompous ass in a white coat says there's a difference and so there just is.
"The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities - a natural defectiveness." Good old Aristotle - he's just timeless, isn't he? The female working for free is working for free by virtue of lack of a certain kind of money. The male working right next to her, whether he's as smart or as good as her or not, is working for Fermilab by virtue of his GRANT. Which, no doubt, is quite large.
Now, go back and look at that Fermilab propaganda with all its happy happy pictures of mom with kids. Fermilab just has no shame, do they? Trotting out their exploited women to make it look like they are all supportive of women scientists; we're supposed to get the warm fuzzies from Freeland and her kids. Makes. Me. Want. To. Puke. On. Fermilab's Shoes.
My horrible headcold won't let me sleep, so here I am. One advantage to headcolds: I don't seem to get migraines when I have them. A tradeoff of head miseries.
A few new additions to Zuska's blogroll:
Absinthe and Dr. Shellie. Of Absinthe, more in another post coming soon. I had mentioned Dr. Shellie previously, and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to add her to the pantheon of goddesses. Read this fabulous post about the woman who told MIT "no thanks, I'd rather not sign up for 5 years of soul-crushing ruthless career-ruining discriminatory sabotage in the guise of 'healthy' competition followed by denial of tenure that you call a job offer". Well, maybe not in those exact words. As an alumna of MIT, I must say, I am quite happy they are not getting the chance to suck the marrow out of this brilliant woman scientist and then spit out her bones.
Alla Karpova, the fabulous woman scientist, is going to an HHMI research lab instead - Janelia Farm in Virginia. Email your congratulations to email@example.com. The Nobel Prize winner who stands accused of not wanting to mentor, interact, or collaborate with Karpova, and of saying the members of his research group would not work with her, is Susumu Tonegawa. I am not suggesting that you look up his email address on the MIT website and send him an email, but if you did, you might say something like:
As a women scientist/supporter of women in science/parent of a girl who might someday go into science, I am very upset about the news article MIT Star Accused By 11 Colleagues. I noticed on the NIH website that over the past 4 years, you have been the PI on 12 funded grants. (For the time being, I'm willing to overlook the piddling sum I saw on NSF's site.) As you know, the NIH is the "primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research". That means taxpayer dollars pay for your research. As a taxpayer, I am concerned as to whether or not federal funds are being used in an educational setting that discriminates against women - which, of course, is illegal (see Title IX). In 2001, RO1s were averaging about $300,000 to $330,000 per year, so that adds up to roughly $1 million, which I admit is petty cash in Scienceland. (Though I'm sure you were an above-average RO1-er, no doubt.) The real goodies are the center grants. There are five 5P50 and four 2P50 specialized center core or project grants on your list for the past four years; some run for five or ten years. Five years here, ten years there; pretty soon you are talking serious cash. Centers for neuroscience research like your Picower Institute are limited to $1.5 million per year and I am sure someone of your stature was able to obtain the full amount. So that's looking like $45 million from four of your grants. And I think that's enough money for the public to start wanting some accountability. Of course, this doesn't even take into account the individual project grants supporting various research projects in your center. Here's something else I noticed in the guidelines for Silvio O. Conte Centers for Neuroscience Research:
[Centers] should provide opportunities for young investigators who have the potential for independent research careers to become skilled in the experimental strategies, approaches, and techniques of modern neuroscience research. In addition, there should be close coordination between the Center and relevant predoctoral and/or postdoctoral research training programs of the participating institutions. Special attention should also be given to the recruitment and training of minority students.
As a taxpayer, I am paying you not only to do research, but to mentor and train young scientists. Graduate students and postdoctoral students in other laboratories who could benefit from the resources and work in your center should and must have access to those resources. To deny them access is to violate the terms of the federal funding you accepted. To deny them because they are women or minorities is to violate Federal law. I hope this is not the case in your center. I am thinking of asking my senator to look into this.
A concerned U. S. taxpayer and/or a concerned scientist and/or a concerned parent
Interestingly, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Mark Smeltzer offered NIAID an annotated version of one of his funded RO1 grants for use on their web sites as a learning/mentoring tool for young investigators. That was sort of stupid of him to just give that information away to his competitors, but then, he hasn't won a Nobel Prize, has he? Well, at least they were honest on the web site about how difficult it is to get this kind of help. Clearly the senior scientists aren't providing it.
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Suzanne E. Franks.
8/1/2006; 9:58:44 PM.