Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Walkabout Wednesday: low carb and T3, gender bias in STEM, and VR goggles.

Eating low carb will lower your T3 levels, gender bias in STEM is still a thing, and VR goggles can save the planet.

My health

I have seen various references to the idea that dietary carbohydrates are necessary for thyroid function, so this post from the KetoThrive team made for interesting reading. Yes, eating low carb leads to lower T3 levels. No, it doesn't indicate a disease state, and in fact may represent improved physiological sensitivity to T3. I don't have a thyroid gland anymore, but still rely on my liver to convert synthetic T4 into T3, so in theory I should see a reduction in TSH when eating low carb on a fixed dose of synthroid. I don't know if my data is fine-grained enough to tell, unfortunately. 

Your Education

This was an interesting and readable, but depressing, summary of some work on patterns of bias against women in STEM fields. It's not the pipeline. I like their recommendation too:
If organizations are truly interested in retaining and advancing women, they will approach the issue of gender bias the same way they do other business issue: develop objective metrics and hold themselves to meeting them.
Yep. In academia though, we'd have to set some objective metrics for ANYTHING. And in my unit, start by hiring some women, and keeping the ones we have hired. And more in the same vein at Tenure, she wrote.

Cards Against Humanity is tackling this issue by funding scholarships for women to enter STEM fields in college (see WP blog here). Now that's cool, but IT'S NOT ABOUT THE PIPELINE (see above).

And it seems that there's some pushback against the idea that the future of the planet depends on training more men and women in STEM fields. Fareed Zakaria had an interesting piece in the Washington Post where he looked at a few different countries with lousy math scores but vibrant economies. I agree that a single minded focus on science and tech isn't a good plan. Here's a picture! A chemistry professor from Rhodes College, Loretta Jackson Hayes, also argued that a liberal arts background is essential for good scientists. However, I had to laugh a bit when I read:
Like apprentices to a painter, my students sit with me and plan experiments. We gather and review data and determine the next questions to address. After two to three years of direct mentoring, students develop the ability to interpret results on their own, describe how findings advance knowledge, generate ideas for subsequent experiments and plan these experiments themselves.
That's fantastic! But hardly a liberal arts education; just good science mentoring. I suspect she's feeling the pressure to get more bums on seats, making this kind of quality mentoring increasingly difficult.

FWIW, I didn't spread my required arts and humanities courses around; I focused on economics and philosophy to fill those requirements. I agree that exposure to arts and humanities is important, but I'm not all that sold on the idea of a little bit of this, a little bit of that, here an intro, there an intro.

AND, if you didn't catch it on the first pass, or you didn't see the comment thread, check out last weeks post on why I don't plan to supervise PhD students in the future. There were lots of good comments from past and current students that clarified things quite nicely. That post is now the 3rd most viewed post of all time on this blog!

And I'm not making up the idea of PhD overproduction either: here's a great post with actual data from Canada. She also points out that this isn't new; the training of PhDs has been disconnected from demand to fill faculty jobs for decades.

Bryan McGill summarized his experiences with student centered or active learning approaches. He's generally positive, but
... I do think there is something real and of value in the active learning movement. But its not ginormous. 
I agree. I like how my "flipped" classroom works for Biology of Wildlife Populations, but I don't think there's a huge improvement in student performance on the final exam questions compared to earlier efforts.

One thing I'd like to do as a teacher is teach an introductory class for non-majors. Really. This article by James Krupa, a professor from University of Kentucky, about teaching intro biology points out why:
I heard an interview with the renowned evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson in which he addressed why, as a senior professor—and one of the most famous biologists in the world—he continued to teach non-majors biology at Harvard. Wilson explained that non-majors biology is the most important science class that one could teach. He felt many of the future leaders of this nation would take the class, and that this was the last chance to convey to them an appreciation for biology and science.
I think my colleague John Janovy would agree!  The rest of the article is a good read about the front lines between evolution and creation in this country, as well as a brush up on the history of that debate.

Our Environment

Turns out that students modify their paper use and recycling behavior more and longer after they use VR goggles to cut down a tree. Um. Maybe we could just get more students involved in hands on land management activities? Every freshman gets to cut down one Red Cedar. Oh wait, we want to cut those down on prairies, so that might backfire.

Figuring out how to keep people and wildlife on the land is a difficult problem. Namibia's "conservancies" are an interesting model for doing this. (Larkin Powell has some thoughts about conservancies on his blog, and a link to a TED talk on them.) However, this article highlights some disturbing trends in Namibia indicating that the tradeoff between conservation and the profit incentive may be swinging too far towards profit

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