Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Walkabout Wednesday: people vary, what should ecologists learn less of, and a Republican cries "Climate Change"!

This week I got a little pre-occupied and didn't spend alot of time following up things on the interwebs. I did meditate a lot.

My Health

It turns out that people's physiological responses to fructose vary. Unsurprising, but good that the mechanisms are getting worked out.

AND, researchers at Harvard have figured out how to get embryonic stem cells to act like pancreatic beta cells, sensing glucose levels in the environment and releasing insulin. Cures Type I diabetes in mice. Don't hold your breath waiting for the cure though. 

Your Education

Jeremy Fox ran a little poll last week asking what ecologists (graduate and undergraduate) should learn less of. The results didn't surprise me too much. Most popular "learn more" subjects are math, statistics and programming. It might surprise some to learn that I didn't say ecologists should learn more of those things. The trouble with any curriculum decision is that putting something in means you have to take something else out. At the undergraduate level I think chemistry could be reduced in programs focused on pre-medicine students. At least here at UNL they pratically get a minor in chemistry, which is fine if you're going to be a doctor, but if not they could use the space for more important things like evolution and natural history. I answered 'it depends' for what could be left out, because some graduate students will need more chemistry, some more physics, and maybe some more math, depending on the direction they want to go in. I answered 'Philosophy of Science' for what should be added. After all, its the foundation for all inference in science. No kidding. And typically ecologists take 0. Zip. Null. I recall the first day of my philosophy of science class at University of Alberta. The prof asked 'how many of you are Physics majors', and the front half of the class put up their hands. Then, 'how many of you are Philosophy majors', and the back half of the class put up their hands. Then, 'what about the rest of you'. I put up my hand. I looked around, and I was alone. 'And you're in?' Zoology ...?

Universities are increasingly run like corporations, says Noam Chomsky in some remarks transcribed from a speech to the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers. I learned some new words, (like neoliberal and precariat), and an interesting hypothesis that corporatization is a way to ensure students are appropriately indoctrinated. Load them up with student debt and limit their contact with faculty, and you've got a recipe for dependent and therefore controllable workers. I certainly see the focus on the bottom line at UNL as well as increased reliance on adjunct and non-tenured faculty. Or as I mentioned last week the dependence of the public R&D machine on graduate students and postdocs. Not sure about indoctrinating future workers part.

The news isn't all bleak, however. Apparently Michigan has increased funding for public higher ed, and Iowa State has hired 41% more full time faculty over the last 8 years while simultaneously reducing administration. Wow. How does UNL compare on that statistic?  Well, 2009 to 2013 we went from 1556 "general regular faculty" to 1644, an increase of 5.7%. However, "general regular faculty" includes Professors of Practice, lecturers and senior lecturers. Tenured faculty have actually decreased 3% while non-tenure faculty have increased 27%. Administrators and staff increased 3% over the same period. So, the question is, can we describe UNL as a cannibal rat infested ghost ship, as Rebecca Shuman characterizes public instutitions other than Michigan and Iowa State? Given that Fall semester student credit hour production only increased 2% between 2009 and 2013, I'd have to say yes.

Our Environment

Henry Paulson was secretary of the treasury in the years leading up to the 2008 crash. In this op-ed he highlights a few lessons for dealing with global climate change that he sees in the lead up to that recession.
The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide — a carbon tax.
That sounds like it would be a good idea. I wonder why I haven't heard more about this idea in the 6 months since this was published.

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