Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guest post: Please don't play the socioeconomic trump card!

Today's guest blogger is Caitlin Casey, a McCue Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Irvine who studies galaxy formation and evolution, including discovering and characterizing diverse types of starburst galaxies and how they relate to more "normal" spiral galaxies in the early Universe. Caitlin recently cowrote, along with Kartik Sheth, a NatureJobs article entitled The Ethical Gray Zone, based on an extensive community poll on ethics and diversity. She is also involved in STEM outreach and mentoring within her department and throughout astronomy.  

This post was originally published at Women in Astronomy

I recently found myself in a heated internet debate on the concept of white, male privilege and whether or not affirmative action was necessary. The person I was arguing with -- who happen to be a white male, let's call him "Joe" -- was explaining to me that he hates the term "privilege" since everyone has privileges of different types and it's next to impossible to correct for those privileges fairly in job hires. Joe then gave me an example: "Obama's daughters have every privilege in the world next to my white, male cousins who will probably never live above the poverty line, but guess who'd lose when affirmative action comes into play?"

He had a point, but it wasn't one I was completely comfortable with. Joe was right that socioeconomic class can have a huge impact on our educational goals and career successes. Anyone living below the poverty line suffers from enormous lack of opportunity. If you have ever, for a moment, thought that poor people have a lack of motivation or intelligence, I strongly recommend you go out and read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It's a baffling and poignant account of what it takes to get by in America on next to nothing.

But socioeconomic class isn't the only great segregator of society, and those of us who fight daily for equity in the workplace on gender, or racial grounds can sometimes be at a loss for words when someone tries to play the "class segregation" trump card. This is what happened in my rapid-fire internet exchange with Joe. He was arguing that class inequity was a perfect counterexample for affirmative action. Joe actually laid out his argument pretty clearly: "Because there's so much poverty out there, why do we bother fussing over gender and minority ratios in the Ivory Tower? Everyone who's there is smart and deserves their spot. Let's not muddy the water with unfair comparisons and labeling some as privileged and others disadvantaged when they're all in the top 5%."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fish Car!

Have you ever wanted your fish to be able to move around your house without filling your house with water? Who hasn't?! Well, finally there's a solution:

It looks like there's some hysteresis built in, since the fish occasionally turns around but the car doesn't immediately respond. I can imagine the fish setting up accidental resonances that cause the water to slosh around and spill. Silly fish!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

All up on the Twitters

I was featured this week in Symmetry Magazine's #FollowFriday: Physicists to follow on Twitter. A quick excerpt from a quick feature:

Tell us about yourself in 140 characters or less.
Finder of exoplanets, typist of things, one who professes professionally, figurer of things out, player of basketball, abuser of language.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ef Double-you Eye Double-you

Have you noticed that people sometimes write FWIW? I didn't know what this meant for a long time, but thanks to the Urban Dictionary, I know it's an abbreviation for "for what it's worth." BTW, that's pretty useful, IMHO. At least for writing. However, people also now say the abbreviation, which is, IMHO, really dumb because it requires more syllables than the original statement.

For what it's worth = 4 syllables
Ef Double-you Eye Double-you = 8 syllables

Saying the acronym takes twice as much time as just saying the words. Doesn't this defeat the purpose of an abbreviation [1]?

People, just say the words!

[1] While I'm at it, why is "abbreviation" such a long, hard-to-spell word? I'm going to just start writing Abv.