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Showing posts from October, 2015

A Data-Driven Solution to the Stellar "Mass Mess"

Guest post by Dr. Luan Ghezzi. Luan was a postdoctoral researcher in the Harvard Exolab from 2013-2015, funded by CAPES under the Brazilian federal program Science Without Borders. This past summer he returned home to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to continue his research into the physical properties of stars as measured from high-resolution spectroscopy. In addition to doing research at the Harvard CfA, he was also a research advisor in the 2015 Banneker Institute. 
The detection of the first extrasolar planet around a solar-type star intrigued astronomers all around the world. The newly discovered system had a planet with almost half the mass of Jupiter orbiting its star at approximately 12% the average distance between Mercury and the Sun, a configuration that is radically different from the one we observe in our own Solar System. In the following twenty years, almost 2000 other extrasolar planets were discovered and confirmed, and nearly 4000 candidates await further confirmation/validat…

Close Friends of Hot Jupiters: The WASP-47 system

Guest post by Juliette Becker and Andrew Vanderburg
Ever since a mechanical failure caused the end of the original Kepler mission in 2013, the Kepler spacecraft has been conducting a survey of new stars, searching for planets across the ecliptic plane in its new K2 mission. The K2 dataset is a goldmine of fascinating science results. One such result is the recent discovery of two new planets in the WASP-47 system.
Until a few months ago, everyone knew that hot Jupiter planets don’t have “friends”, or nearby small planets in close orbits to the host star. These other planets had been searched for extensively, through radial velocity measurements, analysis of the transit times of the hot Jupiters, and even through transits by Kepler during its original mission. All of these searches turned up nothing.
This all changed one day last July, when Hans Martin Schwengeler, a citizen scientist who enjoys poring over Kepler and K2 data searching for new transiting planets by eye, came across the t…

Guest post: We must unseat Research as the sole god king of our field

This is a guest post submitted by Betsy Mills, a postdoc at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, NM. FYI, I welcome guest posts that promote social justice and advance the conversations we badly need in our field of science, and in our greater society. However, I will retain sole discretion over the content of this blog, so not all submissions of guest posts will be published. Have something you'd like to share here? Send me a proposal, outline or full draft! Y'all know how to reach me. 
I am supposed to be writing job applications right now. But it is difficult when I am having such a complicated relationship with the field in which I am trying to get permanent employment. It is not just a feeling of having lesser value as a woman in this field, seeing how poorly my female peers have been treated and disrespected for decades at Berkeley.  And I am not feeling conflicted wondering how much of this really happened (I sadly believe it all) or what sanction…

Open Letter RE: The Berkeley Boycott

The following was just forwarded to me via email. I can see this as nothing other than a man bravely and correctly leveraging his privilege to force much-needed and long-overdue changes in a very broken system. This is how you ally. No badges, no cookies. Just direct action. 
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Dear recent recipients of NASA's prize fellowships (Einstein/Hubble/Sagan),
I have written a letter requesting a boycott of UC Berkeley's open faculty position in response to UCB's complete refusal to remove Geoff Marcy for at least a decade of repeated (and admitted) sexual harassment and assault. You can read the full text of the letter at this address:
https://medium.com/@jamesguillochon/an-open-letter-calling-for-a-boycott-in-regards-to-uc-berkeley-s-inaction-on-geoff-marcy-c486adbcda81
Until UCB acts, I think it is in the best interest of all postdocs to refuse considering a position at their university. I believe that together we can convince them to make the right choice and to remo…

On Sexual Harassment and Our Culture of Denial

Sexual harassers, their apologists, the silence of their colleagues, and those who doubt their victims all work together to strengthen systemic/institutional sexism. These are not independent phenomena, but interworking pieces of a powerful machinery that systematically devalues women and their work, and artificially inflates the value of men and their intellectual contributions. You don't even have to think to get caught up in it. That's the nature of systemic *isms. Doing nothing enforces them. Only by consciously working against them can their effects be mitigated.
The toxic cycle of abuse, fear, denial and silence around sexual harassment in academia is described in detail by Janet Stemwedel (@DocFreeride) in her excellent (as usual) Forbes piece about the Marcy scandal. 
h/t Renée for this very illustrative cartoon:

The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…

Thoughts, Take 2: On The Struggle

This is the second part of a haphazardly organized series of responses to Ta-Nahesi Coates' book Between the World and Me. The first part can be found here

I was recently at a discussion about racism held in one of Harvard's dorms, Currier House, as part of their Currier Conversation series. As the honored guest and moderator of the discussion, I decided to have the participants break into groups of 2-4 and define some seemingly simple words before we had a proper dialog:
Race Racism Power Social Justice
After the audience discussed for 5-10 minutes, I had them speak out about their definitions, thoughts and questions while I recorded their responses on a large paper pad mounted on a tripod. The self-selected group of attendees were well versed in the notions of race as a social construct; racism as the melding of prejudice and power; power as the ability of a social group to shape the choices and outcomes of other groups; and social justice as the simple notion that every h…