We’re Not Going To Take It ( #NAWD )

“Adjunct” is the word for non-tenure track faculty positions at universities. They are generally low-paying (without benefits), utterly lacking in job security and can even lead to questionable hires (further reviewed here). The reliance on and mistreatment of cheap PhDs to teach undergraduate courses may have finally reached some sort of tipping point – February 25, 2015 is National Adjunct Walkout Day. They have a group on Facebook and are using the hashtag #NAWD on twitter. Read more about the “adjunct crisis” and the walkout here or here.

And if you’re an adjunct planning on participating, a student being taught by adjunct faculty, a tenure track faculty at a university using adjuncts to teach courses or basically anyone else, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Personally, I can’t get “We’re Not Going To Take It” out of my head…

Did someone say coffee?

Boy howdy, do I need love coffee. Drinking coffee feels like it’s in my blood. Perhaps literally. A recent study has identified some pretty interesting genes linked to coffee consumption.

They also found two regions of DNA near genes called BDNF and SLC6A4 that might play a role in how caffeine affects the brain by positive reinforcement. The study participants with a certain variant, who secrete less BDNF, may feel less of the rewarding effects of drinking coffee, according to the study. But the bigger coffee drinkers were more likely to have a certain variant of the SLC6A4 gene, which encodes a protein that transports the brain chemical serotonin.

Read more about the results here.

No, wait. Scratch that. I don’t.

Some are born great…

There has been a lot of interest throughout history in what makes great people great. Like the freakishly great people. The Yo-Yo Mas and the Michael Jordans, if you will. Some research pointed to genetics. Some research pointed to practice making perfect (ever heard of the “10,000 hours” rule?). An article in Slate, “Practice Does Not Make Perfect” sums up some pretty compelling evidence that genes play a mighty big role in all sorts of aptitudes.

In a recently published analysis of the data, researchers found that there was a stronger correspondence in drawing ability for the identical twins than for the fraternal twins. In other words, if one identical twin was good at drawing, it was quite likely that his or her identical sibling was, too. Because identical twins share 100 percent of their genes, whereas fraternal twins share only 50 percent on average, this finding indicates that differences across people in basic artistic ability are in part due to genes. In a separate study based on this U.K. sample, well over half of the variation between expert and less skilled readers was found to be due to genes.

And if you’re already thinking about the implications and ramifications of snubbing practice because it all comes down to genetics, the article discusses that (in depth) too.

It is therefore crucial to differentiate between the influence of genes on differences in abilities across individuals and the influence of genes on differences across groups. The former has been established beyond any reasonable doubt by decades of research in a number of fields, including psychology, biology, and behavioral genetics. There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that genes contribute to individual differences in abilities. The latter has never been established, and any claim to the contrary is simply false.

 

How much would I have to practice before I could run as fast as Usain Bolt? My guess is infinity.

Thanks, Bush and Obama!

President Obama is expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument today from the wonderful 86,888 square miles President George W. Bush set up in 2009, to about 490,000 square miles. I gotta love anything involving ocean conservation. Thanks, Bush and Obama!

“This is a great moment,” said Greg Stone, chief scientist for Conservation International. “This is some of the last real tropical ocean wilderness left on the planet, so it’s good put some of these kind of reef systems aside. On top of that there are the protections for the open ocean and I’m assuming for the sea floor from mining,” he said.

From the Guardian article: “Tarawa atoll. Photograph: Richard Vogel/AP”

Tigers and Birds

Many, many world-class ornithologists have called or do call the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science home. This year, LSU grad students Mike Harvey (a NiB! contributor!) and Glenn Seeholzer along with LSU alum Dan Lane and Peruvian ornithologist Fernando Angulo are going to Peru this October to find the most bird species they can in a single 24 hour period and they’re hoping to break the world “Big Day” record. (Which currently stands at a whopping 331 species, set in 1982.) A “Big Day” is a mix of fun and work that takes both passion and planning – this one is no exception. Here’s the Peru Big Day Strategy:

Peru is among the top countries in the world for bird diversity, with roughly 1840 species registered. This makes it a great place to attempt to beat the world big day record. The spectacular Andes Mountain range bisects Peru, and it is so tall that it passes through dramatically different climates between its base and its towering peaks. Each climate band produces it’s own habitat, which in turn has it’s own set of bird species. To the east of the Andes, much of Peru falls within the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, which contain the highest single-site bird diversity in the world. The key to a large list during our big day will be to visit as many habitat bands on the slopes of the Andes as possible, but also to spend enough time in the Amazon lowlands to see some of the many species in that area. In order to do this, we will start at midnight high in the Andes at Abra Patricia, work our way down the eastern slopes of the mountains during the morning, and finish in the afternoon in the Mayo Valley, home to many lowland Amazon bird species.

For more information, there’s a video by local TV station WBRZ, there’s a booklet from the American Birding Association or you can go straight to the horse’s mouth bird’s bill and check out http://www.lsubigday.org. Best of luck, you guys – Geaux Tigers!

bd

(From the LSU Peru Big Day webpage)

 

Diversity in STEM: it matters

Diversity in the sciences is a recurrent topic on this blog (and – well – basically everywhere). Scientific American has an excellent overview on what “diversity” is and why it matters to the STEM fields. So whether you think about these issues a lot or a little, I highly recommend reading “Diversity in STEM: What it is and why it matters“.

When we consider scientific research as group problem-solving, instead of the unveiling of individual brilliance, diversity becomes key to excellence. In his book,The Difference, Professor Scott Page lays out a mathematical rationale and logic for diversity. He shows that, when trying to solve complex problems (i.e., the sort of thing scientists are paid to do), progress often results from diverse perspectives. That is, the ability to see the problem differently, not simply “being smart,” often is the key to a breakthrough. As a result, when groups of intelligent individuals are working to solve hard problems, the diversity of the problem solvers matters more than their individual ability. Thus, diversity is not distinct from enhancing overall quality—it is integral to achieving it.

 

“Biodiversity” is a little different from “diversity in bio” – but still a nice photo, eh?

Lookin’ Good, Ecology!

Did you know that the journal BMC Ecology has an annual photo competition? Harold et al. has recently announced the 2014 winners and the images are incredible! Check out the full, open-access article here (or you can “cheat” and view some of the images as a slideshow here). Lookin’ good, Ecology!

 

Fig. 3 from Harold et al. Their caption is: “Winner:behavioural and physiological ecology. “Camponotus morosus ant being attacked by a parasitoid phorid fly (Diptera: Phoridae). At the moment of the attack the ants were involved in a intra specific fight between two different ant nest and presumably the fly detected the ants because of the alarm pheromones released during the fight.” Attribution: Bernardo Segura.”