Why you should ignore the tone police

Because they punch down while those they police aren’t allowed to punch up. The people being told to ask nicely or argue sweetly are themselves subject to a barrage of hostile garbage. Read Amanda Marcotte’s trenchant analysis: “Tone policing only goes one way.”

Nine times out of 10, if someone is saying something horribly offensive, and someone else calls them out for it, everyone will turn on the person calling them out for it. You see this every time people get more up in arms because someone used the term “racist” or “sexist”, but not so much over the racist or sexist shit that caused the word to be articulated.

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Rebecca Watson

How it all began: “Sexism in the skeptic community.” This is a simple, straightforward story that has been distorted and misrepresented all over the Internet. It has also spawned proper harassment policies at many events and a new movement, Atheism plus.

Eschaton 2012 reception

The science and skepticism conference Eschaton 2012 is underway in Ottawa, Ontario. Esteemed science blogger PZ Myers will be speaking and here he is with the author of Science Notes.

A man and woman stand together, smiling

Breakthrough in cancer tests

Jack Andraka (BBC image)

 

Jack Andraka, a high school student in Maryland has invented a new test for cancer of the liver, breast, or pancreas while they are still in early stage. It’s a blood test that takes seconds. It takes 1/168 of the time, is 400 times more sensitives, and it costs 1/26,000 as much. It costs 3¢ and takes five minutes.

The test uses single-walled carbon nanotubes to detect mesothelin, a protein that is overproduced by certain cancers, including mesothelioma and ovarian and pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Jack sent 200 e-mails about his proposed experimental procedure and collected 199 rejections. He found one lab where he test his idea.

Jack credits the Internet for online journals–he was reading in biology class about nanotubes as biosensors–and search engines that let him learn enough to do this.

Research to follow: Oakley Evolution Lab

Todd Oakley at the University of California is unravelling the mysteries of convergent and parallel evolution in a variety of organisms, aided by post-doctoral students on several projects.

“My research involves comparisons of independent evolutionary transitions such as convergence, parallelism, duplication, and homoplasy. Such transitions provide an element of replicability within the singular history of life, and can yield insight into the most general evolutionary questions. For example, when and why do the same molecular or developmental changes underlie similar – though independent – evolutionary changes? What are the fates of duplicated genes, and what causes them to diversify or retain old functions? How can we even determine what is an independent evolutionary event?”

One of his students has discovered that chitons have eye lenses made of aragonite, which is the material used by trilobites.

Babies speak “dog”!

That was too cute a title to give up. At a surprisingly young age, human babies are aware of their surroundings and the emotions around them. They can even tell when a dog is being friendly or aggressive. That’s a good trait considering that we’ve lived with dogs for at least ten thousand years.

Food safety: The struggle to pasteurize milk

Pop quiz: The scientist who discovered that pasteurizing milk prevented it from transmitting diseases was told that if it were important, someone else would have discovered it already. What sex was the scientist?

Alice Catherine Evans proved that unpasteurized milk spread disease, and improved the health of any nation that was listening.

It was an exceptionally stubborn microbiologist named Alice Catherine Evans who was the first scientist in the United States to definitively show that microbes in unpasteurized milk can sicken humans as well as animals. She went on to fight for the heat-treating of milk to protect the public and stands today as the mother of pasteurization in the United States. And the male heroes embodied in De Kruif’s book were hardly supportive. She was mocked, belittled and assured that if she was right, “someone much more outstanding” would have made the discovery long before.

De Kruif included her [in Men against Death] to both acknowledge her contribution and protest her treatment. “Such,” he noted sadly, “is the silliness of scientists.”

Still, by the time his book was published, Evans had won her battle to such an extent that she had already been elected president of the Society of American Bacteriologists—a forerunner of the Society of Microbiologists—in 1928. And she had done that with significant support from male colleagues, willing to “honor one woman whose findings dramatically advanced their field of research and improved public health in this country,” wrote Maryland biologist and former National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell in a much later tribute of her own.

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