Nobel Prize in economics goes to climate and innovation – What?

“Despite these brilliant minds, conceptual modeling and empirical research subsequently published by thousands of economists enthused by Nordhaus’ and Romer’s legacies, the global environmental crisis has worsen. The planet’s warming, pollution of the land, air and oceans, and biodiversity loss are ubiquitous in origin. Yet, the markets or innovation technologies have failed to stop the ecocide, or even minimize it. Climate science has been called a hoax and regulations pro nature protection are being ignored or dismantled.”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

This year’s Nobel Prize in economics has been awarded to American professors William D. Nordhaus (Yale University) and Paul M. Romer (New York University Stern School of Business) for the integration of “climate change” and “technological innovations” into long-run macroeconomic analyses, respectively.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which has granted the “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences” —the official name— since 1969, highlights that Nordhaus and Romer developed the methods to understand a problem of global relevance: how the economy interacts with nature (exemplified by climate change) and with human knowledge (the ideas and innovations generated to solve problems).

It has long been known to scholars that nature imposes limitations on the economy. At the same time, innovation or “ideas” determine how societies undertake challenges. In the 1990s, Nordhaus introduced the factor “climate” into economic projections. He came up with “DICE,” a Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy (watch VIDEO) in which three subcomponents interacted: traditional economic growth theory (markets that produce goods using capital and labor, with natural resources as energy inputs), the carbon cycle (particularly carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere derived from burning fossil fuels), and climate (the damage to nature resulting from the accumulation of greenhouse gases).

Separately, and during the 1980s, Romer had observed that technological development correlated with economic prosperity. He asked simple, yet fundamental questions: Where did ideas for new technologies come from? What kind of a product was an idea? Romer proposed that ideas by inventors, engineers or scientists emerged “endogenously” in the marketplace via “rivalry and excludability.” For example, access to inventions like a computer software, a secret soft drink recipe or a coded satellite TV-broadcast could be restricted by encryption (the software or satellite signal) or patent laws (the ownership of the soda formula). For Romer, rivalry and excludability of ideas were central to growth because the latter depended on innovation.

Neither Nordhaus nor Romer offered definitive answers to the challenges of extracting resources from nature with low environmental impact or generating the right amount of knowledge —innovation technologies— to manage such resources to generate sustained and sustainable long-term affluence. In fact, the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences noted that the recognition to the researchers was for addressing difficult questions about the economy and providing the conceptual and numerical tools to studying and modeling them.

Nonetheless, based on Nordhaus’ work, corrective measures were suggested to carbon and greenhouse-gases emissions, including carbon taxes on countries. A tactic also rooted in a 1920s notion —in England— that polluters should pay for the damage they caused to society by their polluting practices. A more modern assumption derived from Nordhaus’ research has been that if carbon emissions are limited by law and a high price is set to carbon pollution (by global emissions trading systems), then, minimization of pollution is possible.

Romer’s modeling, on the other hand, later showed that different from the economic growth driven by the accumulation of physical capital (the traditional view), prosperity motivated primarily by the accumulation of ideas did not inevitably experience decreasing returns. He alerted that although unregulated markets will produce technological change, they will tend to underprovide research and development (R&D) and the very goods that R&D could create. To secure global long-run growth, Romer suggested that governments ought to intervene via regulations (patents) and subsidies and incentives to innovation (research). The laws should limit —in time and space— the monopoly rights to goods and balance them with encouragement to creativity.

Despite these brilliant minds, conceptual modeling and empirical research subsequently published by thousands of economists enthused by Nordhaus’ and Romer’s legacies (1980s onwards), the global environmental crisis has worsen (see IPCC October 7, 2018, report). The planet’s warming, pollution of the land, air and oceans, and biodiversity loss are ubiquitous in origin. Yet, the markets or innovation technologies have failed to stop the ecocide, or even minimize it. Climate science has been called a hoax and regulations pro nature protection are being ignored or dismantled in various countries (see reports on the United States A and B).

One would expect that a Nobel Prize granted to our scientists might reignite public commitment to honor academic work and support it; or realize that wealth and prosperity will vanish without competitive research. But there is a campaign out there to delegitimize science, and it is growing strong in respect to climate. — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

This op-piece appeared in The Standard Times (South Coast Today), see HERE.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @gpazymino and GPC-Facebook 

Related Articles

Nobel Prize for the economics of innovation and climate change stirs controversy – Science Magazine October 8, 2018

Economists who changed thinking on climate change win Nobel Prize – Nature Magazine October 8, 2018

Key climate panel, citing impending crisis, urges crash effort to reduce emissions – Science Magazine October 8, 2018

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5ºC: Responding to climate change is far more like a marathon than a sprint – Real Climate October 7, 2018

When it comes to weedkiller and cancer, the answer is complex

“Why did New Scientist, ‘the world’s most-read weekly popular science and technology magazine,’ as described on its website, decide to departure from covering ‘international news from a rational, analytical standpoint rooted in the scientific method’ and inject extra doubt into the glyphosate debate? I am referring to the directional ‘probably not’ when swiftly-answering its own query ‘does weedkiller cause cancer?'”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

“Does weedkiller cause cancer? Probably not.” These engagement-bite question and answer, as they are known in social media circles when postings lure followers to quick-comment about a topic, were used by New Scientist on Facebook right after a jury in San Francisco concluded that the giant agrochemical and biotech Monsanto must pay $289 million in damages to Dewayne Johnson, who has cancer of the immune system (lymphoma), a condition he and his attorneys claim was caused by exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides commercialized by Monsanto from 1974 to 2000.

The jury’s decision went viral. A 46-year-old school groundskeeper was dying, a world known corporation was being blamed for it, and the state of California offered the perfect stage for litigation. The German Pharmaceutical group Bayer, which back in June, 2018, formalized its engulfing of Monsanto for $60-plus billion, went into frantic damage control, and for a reason. About four thousand other plaintiffs await their day in court. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in potential damage awards could be in dispute, more so if Monsanto-Bayer fail in their appeal to the California decision.

But, why did New Scientist, “the world’s most-read weekly popular science and technology magazine,” as described on its website, decide to departure from covering “international news from a rational, analytical standpoint rooted in the scientific method” and inject extra doubt into the glyphosate debate? I am referring to the directional “probably not” when swiftly-answering its own query “does weedkiller cause cancer?”

As the reader might imagine, the New Scientist’s position caused turmoil among academics and science educators, whose mentors and themselves have relied, since 1956, on the London-based enterprise to get their weekly news. For researchers, New Scientist is a classic, like The New York Times or BBC are for journalists.

The concerns in many of the five hundred comments that New Scientist’s Facebook followers wrote were: why did New Scientist appear to align with Monsanto-Bayer, rather than simply apply the scientific method to communicate the facts about glyphosate to the public? Based on the available research, why did New Scientist take the path of “probably not,” rather than an objective “there are some studies suggesting an association between glyphosate and cancer, and others arriving at inconclusive results”? Moreover, why did New Scientist explicitly state in the heading to its post that “there is no evidence that the weedkiller glyphosate causes cancer”? The latter is false; it implies that the studies that have found such indication should be arbitrarily ignored. And that is not how science works.

Some commentators on the New Scientist post added links to the scientific literature and prestigious journals in which associations between glyphosate exposure and cancer had been reported in laboratory animals and limitedly in humans. Others defended Monsanto-Bayer and listed the publications by researchers affiliated with the multi-company Glyphosate Task Force. But the vast majority questioned, not Monsanto-Bayer, but New Scientist for relying on its outreach platform to seed generalized distrust on any probable link between glyphosate and cancer.

The New Scientist’s captions appeared as large texts on a micro-video with images of Mr. Johnson, containers with Round-up (one of the herbicide’s market names), crop fields being labored, activists “impersonating death” and opposing the weedkiller, small airplanes spraying glyphosate, quotes that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) “considers glyphosate probably carcinogenic” to laboratory animals when exposed in high doses (in direct contradiction to the very New Scientist headings), but that other “studies in humans have found no evidence of a link,” and that “other agencies have concluded there is no increased risk of cancer” due to contact with glyphosate. Yet, the take-home message in the clip was: glyphosate does not or “probably does not” cause cancer (see also companion article “There is no evidence that the weedkiller glyphosate causes cancer…”).

From a rational, analytical standpoint, rigorous scientists would hardly take the “probably not” path. Here is why. It is not a scientific answer. When investigators find evidence, even if limited but of statistical rigor in a controlled study, they state categorically that such evidence exists under the parameters of the research. When no evidence is found, or the numerical sustain is weak, the studies are never declared “probably not” (a “leading-the-mind” hint), but rather inconclusive; and that is Science 101.

Skepticism is what drives science and researchers. As for the question “does weedkiller cause cancer?” Well, there is increasing evidence that it does in laboratory animals and, apparently, in humans, as well as there are historical, inconclusive or unsubstantiated findings (see review articles from 2016, 2017). But then, there is the legal fight between citizens, their attorneys, and a multi-billion corporate colossal. The answer is complex, but it is not “probably not.” — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @gpazymino and GPC-Facebook 

“Complementary medicine” is not helping cancer patients

“…Belief is powerful, it disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the comprehension and acceptance of scientific evidence. Scientists call this phenomenon the ‘3Ds+S’ cognitive effects of illusory thinking. Now, the best tonic against its infectious sequels was discovered long ago; it consisted, still does, on proper healthcare education for all. And, in contrast to misleading and unwarranted ‘paramedicine,’ the side effects of widespread science education will always be cheaper, plus save, for sure, some lives…”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Cancer hides or thrives in our bodies. Someone we know, close or distant, is destined to die because of it. And although therapies continue to improve thanks to scientific advances, diverse cancers persist and it might take decades, if ever, to fully manage them.

In the United States, breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer are the most prevalent, and chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and/or hormone therapy the usual treatments. Yet, more than half of the patients with cancer opt for “complementary medicine” to improve, as they believe, their quality of life and survival.

But, do herbs and botanicals, vitamin and mineral supplements, probiotics, traditional medicines, homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, massage, prayer, reflexology, energy medicine, or special diets have an actual impact on prolonging cancer patients’ lives? The short answer seems to be no.

Physicians from the Yale School of Medicine have just published the study “Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients with Curable Cancers” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). From a data set of 1.9 million individuals, gathered between 2004 and 2013 and stored in the National Cancer Database, the researchers extracted a representative sample of cancer patients whom opted for complementary medicine (CM) versus those exposed to conventional cancer treatment (CCT).

The study was straightforward. It aimed at identifying and comparing survival rates between CM and CCT groups.

Patients exposed to complementary medicine had a greater risk of death than those under conventional cancer treatment. In fact, only 82 percent of the CM patients versus 87 percent of the CCT patients survived during a 5-year monitoring lapse since they were first diagnosed with the condition. The trend was noticeable in women suffering breast cancer, with only 85 percent of the CM patients versus 90 percent of the conventionally-treated patients surviving since diagnosis (also during a 5-year follow up).

According to Skyler Johnson, Henry Park and Cary Gross, authors of the study and fellows at the Department of Therapeutic Radiology, as well as the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center at Yale, the general risk of death associated with complementary medicine was primarily linked to the patients’ refusal to receive: surgery (7 versus 0.1 percent refusal between the CM versus CCT groups, respectively), chemotherapy (34 versus 3 percent), radiotherapy (53 versus 2 percent), and/or hormone therapy (34 versus 3 percent).

Quite interestingly, patients in the complementary medicine group were more likely to be young, women, have breast or colorectal cancer, belong to high socio-economic cohorts, have private medical insurance, high-school education, and reside in the Intermountain West or Pacific West of the United States (where alternative-medicine schools are common, protected by state legislation).

In essence, the Yale study concluded that if patients went for unconventional cures to fight cancer, rather than scientific medicine, they had higher risk to die and do it earlier. Complementary medicine did not help.

As David Gorski, member of the Department of Surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Department of Oncology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute (both in Michigan), already alerted back in 2014 when compiling a comprehensive review for the journal Nature “the vast majority of ‘integrative’ [complementary oncology] treatments [were] supported by little, if any, scientific evidence.” He pointed out, with concern and irony, “therein lies a key problem with integrative oncology. The less ‘alternative’ the intervention, the more it resembles conventional oncology; the more ‘alternative’ the intervention, the more it resembles the quackery from which integrative oncologists rightly distance themselves.”

Why do patients opt for unscientific methods to battle cancer? There are multiple reasons, and only one of them has to do with “hope,” trust on a possibility (the “alternative cure”) beyond the “conventional scientific wisdom,” one that might work and, if not, at least, it won’t hurt. There is always a friend or a relative that recommend “holistic cures” to somebody they love. But the Yale study demonstrates that such paths can indeed be harmful: remember that they were associated with higher risk of dying and doing it earlier among patients choosing “complementary practices.”

Belief is powerful, as research on people’s attitudes toward science suggests, it disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the comprehension and acceptance of scientific evidence. Scientists call this phenomenon the “3Ds+S” cognitive effects of illusory thinking. Now, the best tonic against its infectious sequels was discovered long ago; it consisted, still does, on proper healthcare education for all. And, in contrast to misleading and unwarranted “paramedicine,” the side effects of widespread science education will always be cheaper, plus save, for sure, some lives. — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

This op-piece appeared in The Standard Times (South Coast Today), see HERE.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @gpazymino and GPC-Facebook 

No, There Is Not “A” Grandeur In This View Of Life – Oh My Darwin!

“…As for the ‘a’ in the t-shirt, which echoes the pain of a tattoo gone wrong, well, there is not ‘a’ grandeur in this view of life, as per Darwin 1859 (TIES must now produce a clever errata t-shirt amending the misfortune). Neither science is ‘like magic but real,’ as also disseminated by TIES with fervor on Facebook. Nor is the theory of evolution, as presented by Sewell in his misguiding article shared by TIES ‘…a ‘necessary’ truth… not contingent on supporting evidence.’ Nor do ‘Sea Turtles Swim Against the Darwin Current,’ another nonsense from Evolution News that TIES contributed to set in motion in yet another post. — We closed our friendly alert [to TIES] with an ‘Oh My Darwin!!!'”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C & Avelina Espinosa

Typos and errors in scientific publications, or in any long text, are not rare. Even experienced copy editors of journals, magazines and books have their share of faults during volume production. That is why errata exist, to report “wrongs” and, if possible, amend them a posteriori. For example, in our two books, Measuring the Evolution Controversy: A Numerical Analysis of Acceptance of Evolution at America’s Colleges and Universities (2016, best seller 2017), as well as in the recent Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health (2018), we discovered mistakes after publication, even though the publisher and us copy edited and corrected the manuscripts numerous times. We posted the errata online (see Typos and Errors 2016 and 2018) and asked readers to help us spot additional mistakes. Future re-editions will be improved. But keep in mind that our 2016 book was a 198-page and 57,420-word manuscript; and the 2018 volume contained 139,142 words in 428 pages, including +200 figures/sub-figures and tables in each book and their captions (with statistical notation).

“I fully accept the evidence of evolution —including human evolution, but I have to question the grammar on the back of this jacket.”

Although the grammar-correction software available to publishers and authors are powerful enough to detect misspellings, incorrect use of verbs, word redundancy and syntax problems in a text, typos and errors continue to be our most unwanted companions. But errors can be small, sometimes trivial, others substantial, and a few we wish had never been made:

How about introducing error in one of Darwin’s most famous statements “there is grandeur in this view of life” (an eight-word quote from the last paragraph of On The Origin of Species… 1859) and print it on the back of a t-shirt [*] as “Evolution: There is a grandeur in this view of life” (our emphasis on the bold a)? Well, that is precisely what the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) did, a few weeks ago, in a promotional campaign to “Unlocking the Wonders of Life for Teachers and their Students,” as printed on the front of the t-shirt (in reality, a long-sleeve sweatshirt).

I fully accept the evidence of evolution —including human evolution, but I have to question the grammar on the back of this jacket” commented one of TIES followers (TP) on Facebook. His wit received likes and smiles [*]. But another (MW) was moved: “Every time I read this I think, such profound words from such a humble man. Makes me shiver every time.”

TIES mission is to “…familiarize interested middle school science teachers with the concepts of natural selection, common ancestry, and diversity in order for them to confidently cover the topics in their classrooms and fulfill their curriculum requirements.” TIES also clarifies that “a middle school science teacher will typically cover many areas of science within his/her annual curriculum, including earth science, physical science, and life science.” And remarks that “it is virtually impossible to become an expert in all of these areas, at least not initially.” Sounds reasonable, however, misquoting Darwin’s ultra famous statement “there is grandeur in this view of life” is a biggie; it denotes cluelessness at best.

“Are we making a big deal out of a silly t-shirt? The ‘a’ in Darwin’s old saying? Below we explain why the ‘a’ symbolizes a pattern of missteps, and there is nothing trivial about them.”

A Google search of Darwin’s phrase gives you 19.5 million hits in 0.28 seconds, at 10:18 AM of a Tuesday in Northeastern United States. In our search, hit number ten corresponded to a 2009 Richard Dawkinsvideo precisely titled “There is grandeur in this view of life,” an impeccable talk delivered at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Burbank, California.

Are we making a big deal out of a silly t-shirt? The “a” in Darwin’s old saying? After all, it just resembles misquoting Genesis 3 and going to press with “…Let there be light: and there was electricity.” Below we explain why the “a” symbolizes a pattern of missteps, and there is nothing trivial about them.

TIES and Dawkins are connected directly since the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science is part of the Center for Inquiry (CFI, a pro secularism organization), which, in turn, is an amalgamation partner of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS). In fact, in 2016, CFI merged with RDFRS. Both organizations originally explained in their websites the rationale (here is the link to F.A.Q. for CFI-RDFRS Merger, but see note below): “…CFI and RDFRS have similar objectives and it makes eminent good sense to combine their resources. CFI’s stated mission is to foster a secular society based on reason, science, and humanist values, and RDFRS shares that goal. And CFI shares the stated mission of RDFRS: to remove the influence of religion in science education and public policy and eliminate the stigma that surrounds atheism and non-belief…” [Note that CFI has a brand new website and this statement from 2016 no longer appears, but in the now-cyber-space-fossil-record CFI had also stated “…By combining their talents, brainpower, and resources, they (CFI-RDFRS) now become the largest freethought organization in the United States. As a result of this merger, they will have greater success in advancing their shared mission. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science will continue as a division of the Center for Inquiry…”].

“Anyone following the evolution wars must have a grasp of the historic players on both sides: evolution versus creationism and its morphs.”

Our discontent with TIES, which has been mounting up for a while (e.g. its ambivalence to openly and up front endorse secularism in science education when interacting with teachers —which is a concern to us, as researchers of the evolution controversy from the perspective of the incompatibility hypothesis and as science educators), reached lava-flow level this past Memorial-Day weekend after TIES posted on its Facebook page a link to a pseudo-science and pseudo-philosophy article by Granville SewellWhy Evolution is More Certain than Gravity,” an attractive yet impostor heading. TIES engaged its Facebook followers with the bait “check this out” and soon the post received +40 likes and 12 shares [*]. Whoever did this at TIES-Facebook had no idea, or forgot, that Evolution News & Science Today, the platform where the Sewell blurb was unleashed, was a news outlet for the Discovery Institute and its Intelligent Design disciples, the writers at Evolution News.

Anyone following the evolution wars must have a grasp of the historic players on both sides: evolution versus creationism and its morphs (design creationism or intelligent design, theistic evolution, creation science, evolutionary creation, young-earth creationism YEC, or BioLogos, all proponents of proximate or ultimate supernatural causation in evolution, or full deniers of evolution, like YEC). And the 2005 Dover-Pennsylvania trial on ID (Tammy Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al.) should be in the memory of those who profess the proper teaching of evolution in America’s classrooms: ID lost in court for violating the rules of science by “invoking and permitting supernatural causation” in matters of evolution, and for “failing to gain acceptance in the scientific community.”

We immediately alerted our Facebook community that TIES had made that mistake (although some educators had already shared the Sewell article without digesting it; we inferred they did it after trusting TIES and assuming that TIES knew what was being disseminated on social media), and copied Bertha Vázquez, TIES Director, on our post (one of us, GPC, did it). We stated that “…we hope she [Bertha] acts on this immediately and instructs her staff to stop making mistakes like this…” We also referred to the “a” in the t-shirt misquoting Darwin as another bout of inattention in TIES’ record (made public weeks earlier when promoting the slogan Unlocking the Wonders…), and added “…if the excuse is that the post [Sewell’s article] just aimed at generating discussion, well there are hundreds of topics available in the news that can be used for the purpose, rather than sharing, without much thought, a ‘check this out’ article written under the umbrella of INTELLIGENT DESIGN, DESIGN CREATIONISM.” We closed our friendly alert with an “Oh My Darwin!!!” [*]. Bertha did not respond, but the TIES’ post was later deleted. Good for TIES and its Director; amending is what science educators ought to do when erring.

“If there is anything that we remember about our first face-to-face exposure to Richard Dawkins, as graduate students back in the 1990s, is that Richard never tolerated brainlessness or sloppiness in science. — We want TIES to succeed, as much as Dawkins’ brave legacy to prevail.”

TIES states in its Facebook “purpose,” that it “…provides busy educators [our emphasis], homeschooling parents, and curious science lovers with an easily accessible online version of our professional development events and other helpful resources…” Hopefully, our observations to TIES and its Director help those in charge to improve their path of action and honor the association with the prominent RDFRS brand, and with Dawkins himself. We want TIES to succeed, as much as Dawkins’ brave legacy to prevail.

If there is anything that we remember —and we remember a lot— about our first face-to-face exposure to Richard Dawkins, as graduate students back in the 1990s, is that Richard never tolerated brainlessness or sloppiness in science. His talks then, as much as now, were a delight, challenging, inspirational and transformative to colleagues and scientists-to-be. And his sharp, unyielding approach to outreaching the public by conveying the plain scientific truth, the power of evidence and nothing else to engage-bait the skeptics of evolution or give them the impression of harmony between reality and faith, influenced our careers —and deeply— as researchers and evolution/science communicators.

TIES, a fairly new association of vibrant educators, has a unique opportunity to play a different, courageous and original role in public outreach in matters of evolution and science. Fill in the available niche to educating teachers and the public with no stoppers of thought or restrains on logic; and without, as Dawkins often puts it, “bending over backwards” in attempts to finding harmony between science and belief (i.e. paracreationism, still prevalent among science educators in the US). As progeny of the hybrid CFI-RDFRS, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science must also contribute to “remove the influence of religion in science education and public policy and eliminate the stigma that surrounds atheism and non-belief,” and do it so explicitly that teachers and the public know —from the beginning, to the middle and to the end of an interaction with TIES— that they are dealing with a pro-secularism organization committed to “question and challenge the extraordinary claims of religion, pseudoscience, and the paranormal” (goals that are central to the CFI mission, the conceptual umbrella over TIES).

All statistics suggest that the American youth is heading toward a more science-based approach to life and living (e.g. Pew Research science and religion; see also Evolution and the Upcoming Challenges of a Predictable Landscape). Thus, TIES must lead the reason and science debate that projects science educators to the future, rather than inaugurate its journey by experimenting with outreach strategies already entertained by the evolution-and-faith accommodationists of the past.

“We wonder why TIES-Facebook is captivated by the writings of the very Dawkins’ adversaries. Is TIES-Facebook aware of how anti-evolution internet memes become viral in social media via blind sharing? BTW, we take for granted that TIES-Facebook knows who coined the term meme.” 

As for the “a” in the t-shirt, which echoes the pain of a tattoo gone wrong, well, there is not “a” grandeur in this view of life, as per Darwin 1859 (TIES must now produce a clever errata t-shirt amending the misfortune). Neither science is “like magic but real” (despite its 665 million hits on Google), as also disseminated by TIES with fervor on Facebook (the fact is that science is like science and magic is an illusion). Nor is the theory of evolution, as presented by Sewell in his misguiding article shared by TIES “…a ‘necessary’ truth not contingent on supporting evidence.” Nor do “Sea Turtles Swim Against the Darwin Current,” another nonsense from Evolution News that TIES contributed to set in motion in yet another post (May 22, 2018), and about which evolutionary biologist and philosopher of science Kirk Fitzhugh commented “You do realize that EvolutionNews is a mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute and intelligent design?” Yet, TIES gave Kirk a like and kept the post; thus, validating it [*]!

But, in hindsight, that is not all. On April 19, 2018, TIES shared [*] “Cambrian Explosion Shrapnel Still Hitting Evolutionary Scenarios” (the article was from March 28, 2018), a potpourri of statements amassed by the Evolution News staff in which the Cambrian proliferation of life forms was mocked via recycling ID’s favorite smoke grenades: the late “bacterial flagellum” (which ID still believes was designed by a Designer as an “irreducibly complex” structure) and the “blind-Darwinian-evolution analogy” twisted —ID-style—  to invalidate Dawkins’ 1986 The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (a fantastic read!). We wonder why TIES-Facebook is captivated by the writings of the very Dawkins’ adversaries. Is TIES-Facebook aware of how anti-evolution internet memes become viral in social media via blind sharing? BTW, we take for granted that TIES-Facebook knows who coined the term meme.

And for the busy passionate and curious science lovers, we recommend to seriously explore The Extended Phenotype (1982), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009), as well as The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (2011). We are not ignoring The Selfish Gene (1976), which we read as undergraduates in the 1980s (and continue to cite in our academic papers A, B), since those aware of Richard Dawkins “the author” —or his contributions to evolutionary biology— often assert to have read it. — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

* For supplementary materials “[*]” to this article, go to EvoLiteracy-Supp-06-07-2018

Contact info: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com  Avelina Espinosa aespinosa@rwu.edu — Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @gpazymino  GPC-Facebook — @AvelinaEspinosa  AE-Facebook.

Related Articles

Evolution: Is There a Controversy?

Evolution and the Upcoming Challenges of a Predictable Landscape

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation

Darwin’s Skepticism about God

Evolution Wars: Debunk II

 

Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health

New BOOK 2018 — “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes” covers the advent of microbial models in the field of kin recognition; the polymorphisms of green-beard genes in social amebas, yeast and soil bacteria; the potential that unicells have to learn phenotypic cues for recognition; the role of clonality and kinship in pathogenicity (health); the social and spatial structure of microbes and their biogeography; and the relevance of unicells’ cooperation, sociality and cheating for our understanding of the origins of multicellularity.

Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes is the first volume (428-pp hardback) dedicated entirely to the genetics, evolution and behavior of cells capable of discriminating and recognizing taxa (other species), clones (other cell lines) and kin (as per gradual genetic proximity). It covers the advent of microbial models in the field of kin recognition; the polymorphisms of green-beard genes in social amebas, yeast and soil bacteria; the potential that unicells have to learn phenotypic cues for recognition; the role of clonality and kinship in pathogenicity (dysentery, malaria, sleeping sickness and Chagas); the social and spatial structure of microbes and their biogeography; and the relevance of unicells’ cooperation, sociality and cheating for our understanding of the origins of multicellularity.

Offering over 200 figures and diagrams, this work will appeal to a broad audience, including researchers in academia, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research undergraduates. Science writers and college educators will also find it informative and practical for teaching – BOOK website. ‒ Authors: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa.

Endorsements

“New theories predict phenomena we see only when we know to look. A stunning example of this is kin recognition, predicted by Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness. This book is a rich treatment of kin recognition and discrimination in the microbial world, made particularly accessible by a wonderful collection of diagrams and illustrations. Anyone interested in fascinating new stories of how microbes treat their kin should read this book.” ‒ Joan E. Strassmann, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis.

“Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa have produced a real gem! Anyone interested in the evolution of life on Earth from any perspective would find this a great read. The authors beautifully synthesize, for the first time, the historical literature (including their own considerable contributions) on taxa-, clone-, and kin-discrimination/recognition in unicellular eukaryotes (protists) and other microbes. They contribute their own observations and insights, as well as ability to place what is known about the genetics, behavioral and chemical aspects of kin recognition into a balanced evolutionary perspective. The carefully-chosen case studies, definitions of terms, and summaries provided in each chapter result in a book that is accessible to a wide range of readers; a valuable resource for experts in the field, as well as students and interested non-experts looking for a stimulating and very thought-provoking volume.” ‒ Virginia P. Edgcomb, Associate Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Book Information and Content

Authors: Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C and Avelina Espinosa. — Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom, 2018 — Format: 15 x 21 cm (6 x 8.5 inches), 428 pages (hardback), 200+ scientific figures. — Subjects: genetics, evolution, behavior, protists/protozoa, phylogenetics, biogeography, organismal biology.

The volume can be ordered directly from the publisher Cambridge ScholarsBOOK website.

For a PDF sample of the first 16 pages of the book go to View Extract. See also Read Reviews.

Acknowledgements (vii) — Preface (viii – xiii)

Chapter One – Kin Recognition: Synopsis and the Advent of Protists Models (13 pp). — The Advent of Protists Models. — Fig. 1.1 and Table 1.1. — Box 1.1 Essential kin-recognition terminology. — Box 1.2 Darwin and the puzzle of the sterile social insects. — Box 1.3 Hamilton and the concepts of fitness. — References.

Chapter Two – The Genetics of Kin Recognition: From Many Cells to Single Cells (16 pp). — Figs. 2.1 to 2.6 (figures include subfigures). — Box 2.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — Box 2.2 FLO genes and flocculation in yeast. — Box 2.3 The tgrB1 and tgrC1 genes in Dictyostelium discoideum. — References.

Chapter Three – Can Protists Learn Phenotypic Cues to Discriminate Kin? (34 pp). — Association, Phenotype Matching and Kin-detection. — Conclusion. — Figs. 3.1 to 3.9 (figures include subfigures). — Box 3.1 Jennings and The Psychology Of A Protozoan. — Box 3.2 Error-correction in simulated mate-choice trials in the heterotrich ciliate Spirostomum ambiguum. — References.

Chapter FourEntamoeba Clone-Recognition Experiments: Morphometrics, Aggregative Behavior, and Cell-Signaling Characterization (20 pp). — Morphometrics. — Aggregative behavior. — Cell-signaling Characterization. — Summary of Results and Conclusions. — Figs. 4.1 to 4.6 (figures include subfigures), and Table 4.1. — Box 4.1 Methods to culture amebas in the laboratory, measure them individually and in clusters, assess their aggregative behavior, and characterize their cell-signaling secretions. — References.

Chapter Five – The Prokaryotes’ Tale (103 pp). — Myxobacteria. — Bacillus. — Burkholderia. — Escherichia. — Kin vs. Kind. — Proteus, Pseudomonas, Vibrio, Agrobacterium and Other Prokaryotes with Discrimination Abilities. — Quorum Sensing and Kinship. — Biofilms and Kinship. — Prokaryotic Multicellular Aggregations. — Kinship, Spatial Structure and Micro-Sociogeography. — Conclusions. — Figs. 5.1 to 5.31 (figures include subfigures), and Table 5.1. — Box 5.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — Box 5.2 Kind discrimination and kind selection. — References.

Chapter Six – Protists’ Clonality, Kinship and Pathogenicity (45 pp). — Plasmodium. — Trypanosoma and Its Social Migration. — Conclusions. — Figs. 6.1 to 6.13 (figures include subfigures). — Box 6.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — References.

Chapter Seven – Micro-Biogeography: Kinship and Social/Spatial Structure (129 pp). — Coenochloris and Chlamydomonas. — Oxyrrhis. — Pseudo-nitzschia, Thalassiosira, Skeletonema and High(er)-Taxa Community Analyses. — Dictyostelium (social amebas) and Meriderma. — Tetrahymena. — Plasmodium: falciparum versus vivax. — Trypanosoma: brucei versus vivax versus cruzi. — Conclusions. — Figs. 7.1 to 7.43 (figures include subfigures), and Table 7.1. — Box 7.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — Box 7.2 The everything is everywhere (EiE) hypothesis. — Box 7.3 Scenarios of clone-clone discrimination in social ameba. — References.

Chapter Eight – Multicellular Aggregations: From Single Cells to Many Cells (35 pp). — Experimental Evolution of Multicellularity in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. — Aggregative Multicellularity in Dictyostelium. — Relatedness, Cheating, and Genetic-Conflict Resolution. — Conclusions. — Figs. 8.1 to 8.7 (figures include subfigures). — Box 8.1 Essential terminology for this chapter. — References.

Chapter Nine – Conclusions and Future Directions (21 pp). — “…This work is the first in which taxa-, clone- and kin-discrimination/recognition in unicellular eukaryotes (protists) and other microbes is organized from a historical perspective (i.e. the advent of protists and microbial models in the field of kin recognition; Chapters One and Five). We discuss(ed): the genetics of kin discrimination/recognition in unicellular organisms, including green-beard-gene polymorphisms in social amebas, yeast and bacteria (Chapters Two and Five); the potential that microbes have to learn phenotypic cues during socio-sexual encounters and use such decoded information adaptively in behavioral responses (Chapter Three); the exchange of chemical signals, often released into the environment, and used for taxa-, clone- or kin-discrimination/recognition in amebas, ciliates and soil bacteria (Chapters Three, Four and Five); the relevance of clonality and kinship for pathogenicity, particularly in Entamoeba, Plasmodium and Trypanosoma, and for biofilm formation in the bacteria Escherichia, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus and Vibrio (Chapters Four, Five and Six); the correlations between kinship, social structure, spatial distribution and micro-biogeography at local, regional and continental scales, as well as at microscopic levels (Chapters Five and Seven); the relevance of protists’ and other microbes’ cell aggregations, cooperation, sociality and cheating (or avoidance of it) for our understanding of the origins and evolution of multicellularity (Chapters Five and Eight); and the directions that the field of kin-discrimination/recognition shall take in the future now that microbes are increasingly being studied —under such perspective— in the laboratory and field (Chapter Nine)…” — Fig. 9.1. — References.

Appendix A Figures’ Notes and Sources (5 pp). — Appendix B Media Resources (6 pp). — About the Authors (1 p).

Book citation — Paz-y-Miño-C, G., and A. Espinosa. 2018. Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health (428 pp). Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom. — ISBN-13: 978-1-5275-0764-7 — ISBN-10: 1-5275-0764-5 — BOOK website. — Read Reviews.

The Rigorous PhD

“…Although it is true that the PhD degree has been criticized in recent years for remaining classical and reluctant to being seduced by a more market-oriented skill-based training system, it still is the strongest higher-education formative experience ever developed in academia. The globalization of science and technology and international exchanges of professionals have led to agreements that attempt to equate higher-university titles across disciplines (the functional equivalents to a PhD), but it has also triggered worldwide the proliferation of fake, self-granted PhD acronyms to doctoral degrees that are no match to the education provided by the rigorous PhD-granting institutions…”

by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Before listing what makes a PhD-training unique, I will share the latest data about the United States. The statistics below come from the National Science Foundation and correspond to 2016 (released early December 2017). You will have to wait until late 2018 for NSF to process the data from 2017.

In 2016, the United States graduated 54,904 PhDs and doctorates (the latter included non-PhDs but doctors in education, law, business administration, social work, international relations, health-care professions like physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and clinical psychologists, and technical posts like pharmacy) at 436 higher-education institutions. Of these graduates, 38,406 were American citizens and residents, and 16,498 were temporary visa holders of diverse nationalities (=international students). The top five PhD/doctorate-granting institutions were the University of Texas-Austin (849), University of Wisconsin-Madison (823), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (819), University of California-Berkeley (796) and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (787).

The top five PhD/doctorate-granting institutions to the international students were Purdue University-West Lafayette (372), Texas A&M University-College Station and Health Science Center (328), University of Florida (297), University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (278) and Ohio State University-Columbus (267).

23% of the graduates obtained degrees in the life sciences, 17% in engineering, 16% in psychology and social sciences, 12% in physical and earth sciences, 10% in humanities and arts, 9% in education, and 7% in mathematics and computer sciences; the rest graduated in other fields, including business, management and administration, as well as communication (adding to 6%).

54% of the graduates were men and 46% were women. The men/women gap varied across fields, as follows: in the life sciences, 55% were women and 45% were men; in engineering, 77% were men and 23% were women; in psychology and social sciences, 59% were women and 41% were men; in physical and earth sciences, 69% were men and 31% were women; in humanities and arts, 52% were women and 48% were men; in education, 70% were women and 30% were men; and in mathematics and computer sciences, 76% were men and 24% were women.

“All PhDs are doctoral degrees, but not all doctoral degrees are PhDs”

What did those who got PhDs do to be granted the degrees of “philosophiae doctoris” or “doctor of philosophy”? My listing below is summarized and applicable particularly to the life sciences:

“…if your doctoral certificate does not read ‘philosophiae doctoris’ or ‘doctor of philosophy,’ chances are you might not have a PhD…”

Number 1 – Application. All began when they sent applications to multiple PhD programs in the US, knowing that, if lucky, a couple of institutions might accept them. Crucial to their applications were five components: a statement of interest (a sort of letter of intent, but broader, explaining why they wanted to pursue research), the curriculum vitae (CV), three letters of recommendation (preferably by academics with PhDs themselves), GRE / TOEFL scores if already available (the originals were sent directly to the universities by the GRE– / TOEFL-test agencies), and the undergraduate academic records (the “transcripts”). The personal statement had to be competitive in relation to the hundreds/thousands of statements submitted by students from all over the world. It revealed, in a few pages, the genuine intellectual potential of the applicant; his/her curiosity-driven mind and interest in seeking scientific knowledge. The CV needed to summarize the evidence that the applicant was a scientist in the making (format and content had to be just right). The letters of recommendation convinced a reviewing committee (made of professors in multiple fields and student representatives to the “graduate committee”) that the applicant will endure the challenges of the PhD academic environment (survive and succeed in it). The undergraduate transcript had to simply document that the applicant was as ordinarily outstanding as the other applicants (previous research experiences were always a plus, even more important than the excellent grades). Perhaps now the reader realizes how significant were the personal statements and CVs (the latter as supplements), considering that the letters of recommendation and undergraduate records of all competitive applicants were comparable.

Number 2 – Interview. This was done in multiple ways and more than one semi-formal or formal interview(s) took place. Via Skype (the first approach) and a later visit to the graduate program during which the potential student met with the graduate committee (usually with each of its members and also with the group), interacted with diverse research teams with which the student might work in the future (if accepted into the program), participated in a journal club discussion or laboratory meeting (for which the applicant was given scientific publications to read in advance, so that his/her contribution to the discussion was meaningful), and socialized over dinner, or equivalent gathering, where members of the program (faculty, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students) got to talk, briefly, to the applicant. As the interview(s) made progress, the members of the graduate committee got feedback from those whom interacted with the applicant(s). Each potential student was ranked in respect to others and, after various meetings, the graduate committee made recommendations (to higher-instances in the institution) as to the list of students whom should be offered a “graduate student line” (i.e. the type of funding the student shall receive, either as research or teaching assistant, or both). In most cases, a database was created with quantitative scores as per all aspects relevant to the applicant(s) performance: personal statement, CV, letters of recommendation, undergraduate transcripts (this also applied to those with masters degrees in a separate column), GRE/TOEFL scores (or equivalents), research experience, publications (when applicable, as coauthor or leading author), presentations at regional, national or international scientific meetings (posters, talks), scientific competitive awards (including mini-grants), interview performance, participation in journal club/laboratory meeting discussion while visiting the program, and interaction with members of the department (e.g. scoring 1 = poor; 2 = fair; 3 = good; 4 = very good; and 5 = excellent). All applicants were ranked from highest to lowest scores, and only those voted positively by the graduate committee were contacted and offered the graduate student line. Not all the top-ranked accepted since some had several offers.

“…during two years, the PhD students were transformed by a rigorous academic environment in which ‘quality education’ was at the center of their intellectual development…”

Number 3 – The First Two Years. The entire PhD program lasted about 6 years; but years 1 and 2 probably marked the most significant transformation in the students. They were required to enroll in courses that emphasized further development of their analytical skills (i.e. strong in statistics, data processing or synthesis-writing), integration of information from the primary literature (hundreds of articles were required to be read) and weekly take-home assignments (mini-reviews of the literature and/or long papers addressing conceptual questions prepared by a professor). If the students had previous masters degrees or non-PhD-doctorates, only a fraction of the courses already taken were accepted into the PhD program. Everyone took new courses taught by world specialists in specific fields; double dipping was rarely allowed in more than 1/4 or 1/3 (exceptionally 1/2) of the total PhD curriculum. — Thus, in most cases, two in-house courses were taken per semester, combined with a discussion-based-third-course (a “graduate seminar”) based on weekly student presentations of scientific articles (about 5 articles per student, per week, in a class of 16 students and 1-2 instructors/facilitators). The latter were the foundation of the training in the “argumentative format,” which the students got to internalize. The graduate seminars were both in-depth academic discussions of the philosophical foundations (as per philosophy of science) of recent or classical literature, and intense exchanges in which the student leading the session was grilled by his/her peers and instructor(s). This format helped students to become aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses; all in the open, with peers and mentors watching. — Many PhD students worked 14 to 16 hours a day, all days; some took on and off naps while working continuously for weeks, occasionally months under that rhythm. At public institutions, most PhD students had “teaching-assistantship” lines (TAs) that paid their salaries, and they were responsible for teaching or co-teaching laboratory or reading sessions for freshman/sophomore undergraduates, grading exams and reports, and holding weekly office hours to mentor undergraduates. Each semester, their teaching performances were evaluated by the undergraduates and TAs-supervisor(s). — On top of the course work and TA responsibilities, all graduate students were required to attend weekly seminars by an internationally-known speaker invited by the program; they met with the speaker one-on-one, or in small groups, and read articles published by him/her. Weekly, sometimes twice a month, members of the PhD program (faculty or graduate students) hosted at their homes/apartments semi-formal evening-talks by local speakers (from sister institutions in the area); these discussions were enthusiastically attended by the “graduate community” (a voluntary practice built on the desire to reinforce a culture of learning). — And on top of these activities, the students participated at weekly meetings with their PhD advisor’s team in which they discussed the science being done in the laboratory or research group. At such meetings, the fresh PhD students were constantly taught by everyone else in the team (i.e. advanced research undergraduates, other PhD students, postdocs and the principal investigator) the methodological and conceptual rationale behind the research carried out by the team. — In many programs, the students participated in mandatory “rotations,” which consisted in doing practical research work at a laboratory, or with a research team other than his/her own and, after a semester, presented the results of that experience to the entire academic department in a public talk (1 to 3 rotations during the first two years of the PhD program, each up to 20 hours/week work). The purpose of each rotation was to expose the students to different fields of scientific inquiry, diverse working environments and mentors, and open the possibility for the students to change their minds and complete their PhDs in fields just discovered during the rotation experiences. — Some programs also required the students to participate in practical internships (3 to 8 weeks), during the summer of their first or second academic years (paid by the PhD program or by an external agency). As interns at known State or Federal agencies, or at NGOs, the graduate students “tasted and practiced, hands-on, the professional world” (e.g. National Institutes of Health, US-Congress, The World Bank, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Geographic, Department of Justice, Smithsonian Institution, Department of Labor; click on internship opportunities for graduate students). At their return, they submitted reports of their experiences and presented talks to their departments. — In sum, during two years, the PhD students were transformed by this rigorous academic environment in which “quality education” was at the center of their intellectual development.

“…Only if the students passed the qualifying exams satisfactorily, they were finally and officially called ‘PhD candidates,’ a placebo status of psychological value only to students…”

Number 4 – Qualifying Exams (Preliminary Exams = Prelims, or Candidate/Candidacy Exams). Before the second year was completed, PhD students took the most challenging test ever in their lives. The goals of the qualifying exams were multiple: test the analytical-thinking ability developed since the students joined the PhD program; assess the academic maturity gained during the first two years; evaluate their retention of information and capacity to integrate scientific knowledge coming from multiple sources; verify their capacity to answer “why” questions (i.e. ultimate causality) when confronted with theoretical academic scenarios that they were asked to solve; challenge them to propose the immediate and future directions an entire academic field should take to make significant transformations in science. These goals were accomplished via different exam-formats, including complex questions given to the students in advance, which they had an entire semester to think about, compile library information, scrutinize scientific papers and structure comprehensive answers to later be presented in written and/or oral examinations. Other formats consisted in developing research proposals on topics unknown to the students, although tangentially related to their areas of expertise (according to NIH, NSF, Department of Education guidelines), and that the students had to prepare as if they were world experts and later defend such proposals in front of the graduate committee. Or prepare a theoretical review of the literature, in an entire field of expertise, and present it to and answer questions from a team of professors. The qualifying exams took months to prepare (including in most cases the end-of-the-year break –no vacations!) and 1-2 entire days of in-writing and/or oral examinations by the graduate committee. — Only if the students passed these exams satisfactorily, they were finally and officially called “PhD candidates” (PhDc), a placebo status of psychological value only to students. In many programs, those who did not pass the qualifying exams were given a terminal masters degree and sent home. A few programs granted the students a second chance to retake the exams (usually in a more rigorous setting) and made final decisions by the end of the second academic year. — Some programs did not require qualifying exams, but had other formats of PhD-candidacy assessment; such programs were exceptions, rather than the norm.

Number 5 – PhD Dissertation Proposal. This document had to be approved by the students’ PhD-dissertation committees, and later defended in a public presentation (sometimes in close-door meetings with the thesis committees) at the end of the first or second semesters of year 3. The “thesis proposal” was comprehensive in its theoretical background (placing the students’ intended research in a historical context, as per the chronology of a research field), with central and auxiliary hypotheses to be tested, detailed in methodology, statistical analyses, expected results (i.e. figures and tables already built and specifying all outcomes based on hypothetical data), significance of the work in terms of generating new knowledge and advancing science, future grant-proposals to be submitted to local, regional or national agencies, as well as the forecast of conceptual publications (at least three) to be generated from the research. — The thesis committee (per individual student) likely included five members: an advisor, sometimes a co-advisor, 2-3 professors from within the PhD program, and a researcher from another PhD-granting institution. Depending on the field of expertise and program, the thesis committees occasionally included even more members (as many as the students needed for proper advice; 6-8 members were not rare). The approval of the dissertation proposal was done first by the thesis committee and later certified by the Department (remember that faculty, postdocs, graduate students and research undergraduates attended the oral presentation and thesis-proposal defense) and university. The officially approved thesis proposal turned into a “contract” that the students had to complete satisfactorily, within 3-4 years, in “partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of” philosophiae doctoris or doctor of philosophy. Note that some programs granted the PhDc status only after the thesis-proposal was approved (i.e. after the first two years of course work plus completion of the qualifying exams); thus, the students became PhDc during year 3.

“… the science was conducted in the open, shared with the institutional community, and subject to criticism and feedback all the time… Advanced or just starting in their PhD education, the students were pushed beyond their comfort zones. Seniority was rarely observed…”

Number 6 – The Research, Grant-Proposal(s) Submission(s), Participation at National and International Meetings. During years 3, 4 and 5 the students conducted the research to which they committed themselves in the PhD-thesis proposal. Those in TA lines continued to teach. — Weekly or monthly, they reported progress to their advisors and research teams (semi-formal oral presentations of results and/or difficulties delaying the project); once per semester, they met with the thesis committee for the same purpose (i.e. semi-formal presentation of data and analysis of partial results); and once a year they submitted comprehensive progress reports to the PhD Program Director (i.e. the parts of the research already completed, work in progress, poster or oral presentations at significant scientific meetings, awards, mini-grants or grants under review, as well as those that were funded) and received a letter of evaluation from the PhD Program Director; in it, the individualized expectations of the program to secure timely completion of the work were specified (note that the continuation of institutional funding to the student’s salary, including the TA line, depended on a positive evaluation). — As PhD-researchers, the students were expected to train undergraduates and provide and receive feedback to/from peers (this was part of the culture of academic reciprocity, which the program community embraced). They were also required to submit doctoral-dissertation grants to national agencies (e.g. NSF), regardless of them being funded or not. Each semester, they submitted competitive mini-grants to their own PhD-programs (from less than $1000 to up to a few thousand dollars), departments, colleges or universities, as well as to scientific societies (i.e. funds for traveling to international meetings or for materials and logistics related to the research). Each of those grants varied in narrative-length and conceptual/practical emphasis; in this way, the students became skillful at summarizing their projects in a few hundred words, or in lengthy documents with detailed budgets and justified expenses; all on a competitive basis and repetitively during years 3-5. Those researching off campus, in the field or other countries, returned each semester, or yearly, to their institutions and shared their progress via oral presentations (data oriented) and discussions with the entire program. Thus, the science was conducted in the open, shared with the institutional community, and subject to criticism and feedback all the time. — While on campus, the students continued to participate in journal clubs, seminar discussions, advising and mentoring sessions. Advanced or just starting in their PhD education, they were all pushed beyond their comfort zones. Seniority was rarely observed.

“… Every PhD dissertation aimed at becoming a unique and crucial contribution to science (work that had never been done before); many, perhaps most, accomplished it…”

Number 7 – Completion of Data Collection, Analysis and Writing of the Dissertation. By year 5 in the PhD program, the data collection ended and both the comprehensive statistical analyses and writing of the dissertation began. This was likely done in combination with a couple of papers already published, or manuscripts submitted during years 4 and 5 (or extended to year 6), but many students could not write such papers until full collection and processing of the data. It did take from six months to a year to complete the no-long-ago seemingly-eternal thesis. In the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics, the thesis was fairly short (200-300 pages, including raw data and analyses attachments), but in the humanities and arts the documents often reached +400 pages. Depending on the field of specialization, the students were expected to publish, at least, three comprehensive, conceptual (not descriptive!) papers of their own that contributed significantly to advance the scientific knowledge in their fields. As members of a productive team of researchers, they likely co-authored an equal number of additional articles (a combination of descriptive work, notes, reviews with their advisors, or joined papers with master students or undergrads). The important aspect of the PhD research was that it covered interrelated, yet separate topics (usually three, but often four or five), each comprehensively designed for testing, with specific conceptual questions, hypotheses, predictions and exhaustive approaches to examining each hypothesis and its predictions. Every PhD dissertation aimed at becoming a unique and crucial contribution to science (work that had never been done before); many, perhaps most, accomplished it.

“…After a month or so, the graduates received in the mail a modest certificate declaring them ‘philosophiae doctoris’ or ‘doctor of philosophy.’ Another document of little use considering that the certification that a PhD degree had been granted was usually extended by the university via official copies of the graduates’ transcripts –with the entire academic history…”

Percentages of doctoral degrees granted by OECD countries in 2014; left = N ca. 237,000; right = per capita (click to enlarge).

Number 8 – Thesis Defense and Graduation. The departmental seminars in which the PhD candidates presented and defended their dissertations were announced publically and attended by faculty from various universities, postdocs, graduate/undergraduate students and, occasionally, by the candidates’ family members. The students were introduced as “today’s seminar speaker” or, more frequently, in non-solemn manners since, although successful presentations and thesis-defense were expected (otherwise the students had not been allowed to get that far in their programs), prudent enthusiasm was honored. The 50-minute seminar was followed by 30-40-minutes of Q&A by the audience, and by close-door meetings between the students and their graduate committees (up to 2-3-hours). By the end of the day, social gatherings were often organized to celebrate the events. During the following weeks, sometimes months, the students made adjustments to the dissertations (from minor to substantial) and prepared final versions of the documents. These needed signatures of approval by each committee member. The properly formatted original and copies of the documents were then submitted for the universities’ final approval and filing. [Note that copies of all PhD dissertations written in the US are stored at national archives with access to the public, examples include ProQuest or DissExpress, but there are others]. Attendance to “graduation day” (i.e. the universities’ bi-annual ceremonies) was an option for all PhD students; quite a few did not participate (a common excuse was their mental fatigue and desire to just move on). After a month or so, they received in the mail a modest certificate declaring them “philosophiae doctoris” or “doctor of philosophy” (another document of little use considering that the certification that a PhD degree had been granted was usually extended by the university via official copies of the graduates’ transcripts –with the entire academic history).

To close: the National Science Foundation indicates that, in 2016, about 30% of the PhD/doctorate graduates in the life, physical and earth sciences were headed to postdoc positions (2-3-years of additional research experiences in science productivity). By contrast, only 17% of their counterparts in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering had similar plans. And about 60% of most graduates were simply moving into research and development jobs (see Science).

Although it is true that the PhD degree has been criticized in recent years (see A, B, CD) for remaining classical and reluctant to being seduced by a more market-oriented skill-based training system, it still is the strongest higher-education formative experience ever developed in academia. The globalization of science and technology and international exchanges of professionals have led to agreements that attempt to equate higher-university titles across disciplines (the functional equivalents to a PhD), but it has also triggered worldwide the proliferation of fake (see E, F), self-granted PhD acronyms to doctoral degrees that are no match to the education provided by the rigorous PhD-granting institutions. — EvoLiteracy © 2018

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Related Articles

Intolerance to Free Speech at America’s College Campuses

College Educated But Deeply In Debt For An Overpriced Degree

Imminent Collapse of Basic Science Under For-profit Model

Dehumanizing Academia by Dismantling the Humanities

Fragmentary Truths and the Intellectual Imbalance in Academia

 

Evolution: Is There A Controversy?

evolution-is-there-a-controversy-evoliteracy

“…Scientific research –not catchphrases– informs us that the evolution controversy in society is a cancerous zombie, difficult to eradicate. And outcomes of the last elections warn us that assaults on science will metastasize in the United States. Not because researchers ‘do not see’ or ‘do see’ a controversy in the science of evolution, or climate change, or the dark fate of our sun. They have no doubt these are realities. But because unrests resurface in communities whenever we have irreconcilable differences around fiction versus facts. And yes, there is a profound conflict between Faith and Science, intrinsic to their fundamental incompatibility…”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C  &  Avelina Espinosa

The new strategy among the pro-faith-in-evolution supporters (i.e. theistic evolution, creation science, evolutionary creation, BioLogos, or the Creator-Designer-and-Darwin-in -the-same-sleeping-bag) is to spread the slogan “there is no controversy about evolution” with the purpose to persuade the religious public that evolution is real, and that there is no scientific doubt about it, period. The latter is true.

It is also true that after a memorable judgment, in 2005, when Intelligent Design lost in court (Dover, Pennsylvania, Kitzmiller et al. versus Dover School District et al. 2005) for violating the rules of science by “invoking and permitting supernatural causation” in matters of evolution, and for “failing to gain acceptance in the scientific community,” the opportunistic idea to “teach the controversy” over evolution in the science class gained track.

The vested interest was to publicize that there was a “scientific disagreement” over evolution (note that this view was a fabrication, since most of today’s scientists take evolution for granted), and that students ought to be exposed to the “dispute” to secure good schooling. By “teaching the controversy,” designers aimed at injecting creationism into the mix.

“…The sinister drive was to keep the Creator-Designer in the classroom. Of course this was –still is– a controversy, political and ideological.”

Thus, the slogan “there is no controversy about evolution” emerged in response to the proposal to “teach the controversy,” which, in turn, insinuated that modern scientists questioned the authenticity of evolution. The sinister drive was to keep the Creator-Designer in the classroom. Of course this was –still is– a controversy, political and ideological (see facts about the debate).

The sensu stricto scientific controversy between evolution by means of natural selection, as per Charles Darwin, 1859, and the views of the religious-naturalists of his time (Richard Owen, Adam Sedgwick, John Stevens Henslow, among others) is a fact in history (see also the timeline of the creation-evolution controversy 1650s-2000s). By all epistemology principles, this was a confrontation between Darwin’s naturalistic explanations of how species originated and differentiated over time, versus the core conviction of the Victorian scientific establishment: God, the Creator of nature, its laws and mechanisms.

In consequence, the refurbished slogan “there is no controversy” is, for the most part, a wishful tactic to redirect the “rejection of evolution” back at the “rejectors” themselves, under the premise that –in their minds– the “notion of controversy” enhances the very dismissal of evolution. It is a circular, cosmetic reasoning, with little empirical support, but memed in the social media with enthusiasm.

Now, the contemporary academic topic “evolution controversy” (arguably traceable to the Twentieth Century, 1920s onwards) has never been about any sort of “hypothetical rejection” or “acceptance” of evolution by credible researchers (the spectacular majority of them know evolution happens, contrary to Darwin’s generation), rather, it has been –at least in the United States– about the phenomenon of societal dismissal of science/evolution on the grounds of religious beliefs and conservative political ideology. All sound conceptual studies demonstrate this (e.g. A, B, C, D).

The storm has been about, for example, the support to anti-evolution legislation by lawmakers and their constituents; the low acceptance of evolution by the misinformed general public, and by educators at all levels, who teach creationism because they fear embracing proper science (E, F); and, ultimately, the persistence of ignorance despite the extensive access to knowledge. “That” is –it has been as per chronology– “the controversy.”

“…Imagine asserting that there is no societal controversy concerning ‘alternative facts’ versus facts…” 

Here is some food for thought. Imagine asserting that there is no –societal– controversy concerning: climate-change deniers and their opposition to data-based projections of extreme weather fluctuations; or about “alternative facts” versus facts; or homeopathic and chiropractic cures versus scientific medicine; or antivaxxers versus proven herd-immunity effects; or faith healing versus surgical oncology; or anti-GMOs versus no-negative-health-effects-scientifically-attributable-to-GMOs; or pray-sex-health/abstinence versus unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted-diseases… just because –allegedly– no serious scientist gives a damn about the “beliefs in non-facts” by those who worship imagination.

bill-nye-vs-ken-ham-debate-2014In 2014, public educator Bill Nye debated creationist Ken Ham over the legitimacy of evolution. The encounter itself was controversial, it took place at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Opponents to the match argued that, by debating, Nye would grant notoriety to Ham’s Museum and the Young-Earth-Creationism agenda. The ‘Science Guy’ defeated Ham at the debate, but it is true that private donations poured in to support the exhibits after the televised event. Currently, the Museum struggles financially and faces sharp criticism by the scientific community.

“…evolution, the ‘E’ word… and E-correctness…”

Since the sticky slogan proclaims “there is no controversy,” it is worth asking: are the science education surrogates expected to put aside the “yuge” societal clash between anti-science and science, or between superstition and empirical reality, and equate them to a minor disagreement, a stone in the shoe?

Like evolution, which continues to occur despite our level of understanding or acceptance of it, the societal controversies are factual and must be addressed as such under reason and science principles, not under the hope that, if we concur to post-like-and-share the catchphrase “there is no controversy about _blank_”, we will make the problem –or part of it– go away. And that is the fallacy of slogans coined to go viral regardless of their silliness. Self deception never pays.

“…any ‘acceptor’ of evolution who believes that God was involved –somehow– in the Creation of the universe, or its laws, is a creationist in principle…”

Is the next step to call evolution the “E-word” so that we rarely use it and, therefore, avoid offending someone? To be E-correct so that our students and public love us as educators, at the same time that we smuggle pseudo-science subliminally into their souls via “teaching techniques“? Or, worse, is the companion, accommodating agenda (to the catchphrase) to force-marry Darwin with Faith to secure that believers accept His message?

Creationism and its disciples come in a range of flavors, from Young Earth Biblical Creationists to Design Creationists, and to any position in which the Creator shows up, even vaguely, in the background of causality (i.e. theistic evolution, creation science, evolutionary creation, BioLogos; links above). In other words, any “acceptor” of evolution who believes that God was involved –somehow– in the Creation of the universe, or its laws, is a creationist in principle. And all morphs of creationism are destined to fail because they merge, deceptively, desire with veracity.

“…as for the fortune of the slogan, trash it…”

Scientific research –not mottos– informs us that the evolution controversy in society is a cancerous zombie, difficult to eradicate. And outcomes of the last elections warn us that assaults on science will metastasize in the United States. Not because researchers “do not see” or “do see” a controversy in the science of evolution, or climate change, or the dark fate of our sun. They have no doubt these are realities. But because unrests resurface in communities whenever we have irreconcilable differences around fiction versus facts. And yes, there is a profound conflict between Faith and Science, intrinsic to their fundamental incompatibility.

As for the fortune of the slogan, let us close by being both historically and E-correct: trash the slogan. — EvoLiteracy © 2017.

G. Paz-y-Miño-C and A. Espinosa are authors of Measuring the Evolution Controversy (2016), Evolution Controversy: A Phenomenon Prompted by the Incompatibility between Science and Religious Beliefs (2015), The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation (2014), The Everlasting Conflict Evolution-and-Science versus Religiosity (2013), Why People Do Not Accept Evolution (2012). For access to their studies (PDFs) go to GPC and AE.

clarence-darrow-william-jennings-bryan-scopes-trial-evoliteracyPHOTOClarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes Trial (i.e. The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes 1925) in Dayton, Tennessee. At the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, teacher John T. Scopes was accused of violating the TN’s Butler Act, which considered it illegal to teach human evolution in the state’s public schools. The Scopes Trial is iconic in the history of America’s evolution controversy.

 

You can contact Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C via email at guillermo.pazyminoc@gmail.com — Follow us on Twitter @gpazymino and Facebook.

Related Articles

Evolution and the Upcoming Challenges of a Predictable Landscape

Bill Nye defeats Ken Ham at Creation Museum

Evolution Wars: Debunk II

The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution vs. Supernatural Causation