On HRC and Pandering to “Belief” in Science: Previously in this column I’ve highlighted Senator Sanders’ stance on GMO labeling and Jill Stein’s pander to anti-vaxxers as political positions that are inconsistent with scientific consensus. Sanders and Stein are hardly alone in straying from AAAS talking points in their platforms to appease their base—Trump and countless other Republican candidates have done the same and much worse besides. But what is notable about the anti-GMO and anti-vaccine sentiment in their platforms is that it comes from the end of the political spectrum that generally takes pride in its fidelity to scientific expertise, highlighting the dangers of making “loyalty” to science a partisan issue. Hillary Clinton’s chuckling insistence at the DNC last Thursday that she “believe[s] in science!” nicely encapsulates this brand of left-of-center politics, which frames fidelity to science in moral, almost religious terms. In its own way, it’s no less of a pander than demanding GMO labeling laws, or refusing to take a stance on climate change, as science is still being used in the service of tribal loyalty. Wired magazine has an astute take on why this framing is problematic: “To reinforce the idea of science as something you can believe or not believe, to force Americans into 'pro-science' and 'anti-science' camps, robs science of its power. It changes the practice of science from a method for understanding into a dangerous political weapon. And in the end, that makes science smaller”
Men are More Likely to Self-Cite: Analyzing the citations used in journal articles can be a revealing source of data on the social and political trends that shape science and academia. For example, citation analysis has helped reveal pervasive gender disparities in authorship, an imbalance that is likely a major factor in markedly different professional outcomes among genders. Now, a preprint under review at the journal Physics and Society goes a step further to offer evidence in support of one reason why these inequities in citations might persist: men are significantly more likely to cite their own previous work than women are. (You’ll be unsurprised to hear Jezebel considered this finding “unsurprising.”)
Tracking the Ivory Trade with DNA Evidence: Sam Wasser’s lab at the University of Washington uses everything from poop-sniffing dogs to genomics methods to advance the conservation of large mammals worldwide. Recently, Wasser and colleagues have been working to pinpoint the location and timing of poaching incidents with DNA and carbon isotopes isolated from confiscated ivory shipments, as featured in this documentary by Al Jazeera.
Science Event of the Week: Based on a highly rigorous survey of the number of grad students in my department with Jurassic Park t-shirts, the 1993 sci-fi classic may be the action blockbuster most beloved by scientists. And despite a string of sequels of varying quality, the series continues to captivate, especially as de-extinction becomes more feasible. Central Cinema is prefacing a screening of the movie at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 9th with a Q&A session featuring biologists Lauren Saunders and Bish Paul. They’ll talk about gene editing and more.