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Showing posts from July, 2014

Hiring from a cognitively diverse pool

I really like this idea of hiring code validation specialists from the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Face it, most if not all scientists (astronomers) inhabit some position along the spectrum. We are good at doing repetitive tasks for long periods of time, we love telling people arcane facts, we can manipulate numbers and search for patterns quickly and efficiently. If these are some of the skills that we value in our field of science, why not specifically target people from a population that is diagnosed along these lines? 
Well, that's exactly what one start-up company is doing for code validation. A fun quote from the Slate article: When they first started inviting me to come into the office, or to a drinks night they have every now and again, I would just kind of say, "You know, I'm kind of a little bit nervous because I’m kind of socially awkward," Leslie [one of the autism-spectrum employees] recounted. And [the boss] just kind of looked at me, …

Whoa! Congresswoman stands up for women in science

Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California's 14th district writes a remarkable letter to the Chief editor of Science and the AAAS about women in science:

Finding E.T. via their EPA non-compliance

Here's a fun idea, captured in a TIME article by Michael Lemonick:....a team of Harvard astronomers has come up with a third way [to search for intelligent alien life]: look for atmospheric gases generated not by biological processes, but by alien factories.The idea comes from my department chair, Avi Loeb, a freshman researcher Henry Lin, and SAO scientist Gonzalo Gonzalez Abad. Sound crazy? Well, Loeb is something of a master at asking nutty-sounding questions, then demonstrating that they’re not nearly as nutty as you might think. He co-authored one paper, for example, on how to look for cities on Pluto, and another on why it makes sense to look for habitable planets orbiting dead stars. This latest effort is no exception. “It’s not crazy, at least as far as I can tell,” says Heather Knutson, a Caltech astronomer who specializes in looking at exoplanetary atmospheres, and who wasn’t involved in this research. “Avi in particular is willing to speculate on some pretty far-out top…

Measuring the radius of a planet that is precisely >this< big

Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, is now known to an uncertainty of just 74 miles (119 kilometers) on either side of the planetary body (see Ballard et al. 2014). 
The findings confirm Kepler-93b as a "super-Earth" that is about one-and-a-half times the size of our planet. Although super-Earths are common in the galaxy, none exist in our solar system. Exoplanets like Kepler-93b are therefore our only laboratories to study this major class of planet. 
With good limits on the sizes and masses of super-Earths, scientists can finally start to theorize about what makes up these weird worlds. Previous measurements, by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, had put Kepler-93b's mass at about 3.8 times that of Earth. The density of Kepler-93b, derived from its mass and newly obtained radius, indicates the plane…

Big problems at academic field research sites

Since arriving at Harvard I've become close friends with Katie Hinde, who runs the Comparative Lactation Lab, where she uses evolutionary theory, lab studies and field work to study the relationship between mother's milk and child development. Katie is an active blogger and Tweets as @mammals_suck

As a field researcher, she and her collaborators became all too aware of the problem of sexual harassment and assault at distant field sites where ethical standards and reporting protocols are not often made explicit and bad behavior is often rife. To quantify just how prevalent sexual harassment/assault is at scientific field sites, they conducted a scientific survey of their field. Think of it as an anthropological field study of field anthropologists. However, their respondents weren't limited to just field anthropology, and theyended up having respondents across 31 different social, life, and physical sciences.Their refereed journal article was published in PLOS ONE today. 


Ringing stars that are this big

Last year I wrote about how some of the results of my PhD thesis were being questioned in the literature. I remarked at the time that, "No scientist enjoys having their results challenged," but since then I've realized that it's actually not that bad. In fact, it's a sign you're doing the right things scientifically. If you aren't doing important work, then no one is going to take much notice, and when people do take notice and ask good questions, it provides an opportunity to do more science! (Well, provided one takes a growth mindset.) So I decided to take the opportunity and last year I began branching out.
As I explained previously, the scientific issue at hand is really quite simple: Either my "retired A stars" really are the evolved counterparts of A-type stars like Vega and Sirius, with masses greater than 1.5 times the mass of the Sun, or they're really not much heavier than the Sun. The test is also straight forward: go out and mea…

Invisible women: At the intersection of gender, race and sexuality

Today's guest post is by Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Postdoctoral Fellowat the MIT Department of Physics & Kavli Institute for Astrophysics. She specializes in theoretical cosmology and has an interest in formal issues in field theory and relativity. She also serves as an informal academic advisor for many of the very few minority women physics majors at M.I.T. This post was originally published on the Women in Astronomy blog (here). 
In 1851, former slave Sojourner Truth asked white feminists, "Ain't I a woman?" when they refused to let her speak at a women's conference because she was Black. One might hope that in 158 years, that speech wouldn't seem so essential and relevant. But at the 2009 Women in Astronomy conference, my first foray into non-race oriented equal opportunity efforts, we were told the news was good: women had made significant gains and equality was on its way. There was no substantive mention of race bey…