How medical bullshit and authority helped Larry Nassar get away with it

Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually assaulted hundreds of young girls, will spend the rest of his life in jail. USA Gymnastics circled the wagons and shredded the files, and as a result it's hard to understand details of how it faciliated and protected Nassar. But Kerry Howley's startling article in New York Magazine shows how important medical bullshit was to his strategy and how the fraternal relationship between medical and administrative authority covered for him.

17-year-old Brianne Randall filed a complaint with Meridian Township police and had a rape kit administered at the local hospital. Detective Andrew McCready called Nassar and asked him to come in for questioning, which he did. Nassar told McCready that he had indeed touched Brianne’s perineum, that it was part of a treatment called “sacrotuberous-ligament release,” and that the treatment was “published in medical journals and training tapes.” He also gave McCready his PowerPoint presentation on said ligament, in which he is pictured cupping a girl’s buttocks and pressing near a girl’s vulva. McCready then called Brianne’s mother to tell her the case would be closed and that “no crime was committed.”

And:

in 2014, cheerleader Amanda Thomashow reported an assault to one of MSU’s Title IX investigators and university police... Thomashow, concluded [investigator Kristine] Moore, failed to understand the “nuanced difference” between osteopathic manipulative medicine and sexual massage. “Dr. Nassar has presented on this nationally and internationally,”

This sort of thing was constant and typical. It's hard to see where dumb respect for the doctor stops and willful contempt for his victims begins. Read the rest

Cat lover sets out to prove dogs not special

Mysteries of the universe.

Via the NYT:

“I was getting a number of papers showing how remarkable the things were that dogs could do,” he said. When it came to other animals, though, scientific studies on intelligence barely trickled in, despite evidence to suggest that horses, chimpanzees and cats had tricks of their own. “Almost everything a dog claimed to do, other animals could do too,” Dr. Lea said. “It made me quite wary that dogs were special.”

Sure, there is Chaser, a Border collie from Spartanburg, S.C., who was trained to understand 1,022 nouns. (His owner, John Pilley, a scientist who studied canine cognition, recently died.) Before that was a Border collie named Rico who learned to recognize the names of 200 items. But beyond those examples, Dr. Lea wondered: Had dog lovers (and scientists, for that matter) imbued their pets with extraordinary capabilities they did not possess?

To be fair, Dr. Lea said he was a cat person. Still, he and Britta Osthaus, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Britain, set out to test the hypothesis.

They compared dog cognition with members of three similar groups: carnivores, social hunters and domestic animals. Among the animals they studied were wolves, cats, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons. What they found, Dr. Lea said, was that “dog cognition does not look exceptional.”

Read the rest

Young man's PhD research focuses on the historical secrets of summoning fairies

New PhD student Samuel Gillis Hogan and colleagues at the University of Exeter are launching a deep study of 15-17th century spell books to understand how people attempted to summon fairies throughout history.

"Fairies were thought of as wondrous and beautiful, but mostly dangerous. But people wanted to summon them and harness that power for their own gain," Hogan told the BBC.

Hogan, a lifelong fan of the supernatural (see photo above) and, yes, Harry Potter, received a fellowship to move to the UK after completing his master's degree at the University of Saskatchewan. His thesis topic? The history of chiromancy, aka palm reading.

From the Canadian Press:

Gillis Hogan said taking a closer look at the magic people believed in gives us an intimate window into how they understood the world.

The way we see the world now, he noted, is just one perspective among many.

“I think that should give us a bit more pause when we have a tendency to look at past cultures, or even other cultures than our own that exist right now, and look down our noses at it as being backwards or strange.”

(via Daily Grail) Read the rest

Professor rating site finally drops creepy "hotness" rating

RateMyProfessors.com is like Yelp for college students, but until recently it also had an uncool "Hot or Not" setting where students could rate the attractiveness of professors, with those who were sufficiently hot "earning" a chili pepper next to their ratings. Read the rest

Koch-funded "academic freedom" grifters run into trouble at Wellesley

Reactionaries of every stripe have latched onto "academic freedom" for self-promotion as speakers on college campuses, but Wellesley College's Koch-funded Freedom Project came under scrutiny thanks to student activists and journalists. Now the program's head is taking a year off to teach "elsewhere." Read the rest

Survey: student attitudes about diversity and inclusion vs. free speech are shifting

A new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey suggests that shifting student views are exposing deep rifts in attitudes toward diversity versus free speech among demographic groups. The survey presents this false dichotomy of inclusion vs. the First Amendment, but that's how it's often presented in these debates, ignoring academic responsibility. Read the rest

Stephen Hawking's PhD thesis now online

If you're craving some light reading, might I suggest Stephen Hawking's 1965 doctoral thesis "Properties of Expanding Universes." In celebration of "Open Access Week 2017," Cambridge University Library has made Hawking's 117-page thesis freely available online.

"By making my PhD thesis Open Access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos," Hawking says. "Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.

"Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, just as I did as a young PhD student in Cambridge, inspired by the work of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein. It's wonderful to hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis - hopefully they won't be disappointed now that they finally have access to it!"

From the thesis abstract:

Some implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe are examined. In Chapter 1 it is shown that this expansion creates grave difficulties for the Hoyle-Narlikar theory of gravitation. Chapter 2 deals with perturbations of an expanding homogeneous and isotropic universe. The conclusion is reached that galaxies cannot be formed as a result of the growth of perturbations that were initially small. The propogation and absorption of gravitational radiation is also investigated in this approximation.

Read the rest

The most influential academic book ever written is...

A panel of academic booksellers, librarians, and publishers asked the public to vote on which academic book from a list of 20 is "the most influential." Charles Darwin's "On The Origin of Species" (1859) dominated with 26% of the vote, beating out the likes of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eight-Four," Adam Smith’s "The Wealth of Nations," and Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman." The top five also included "The Communist Manifesto," "The Complete Works of Shakespeare," Plato's "The Republic," and Immanuel Kant’s "Critique of Pure Reason."

University of Glasgow humanities and English Language professor Andrew Prescott said that Darwin’s text is “the supreme demonstration of why academic books matter."

“Darwin used meticulous observation of the world around us, combined with protracted and profound reflection, to create a book which has changed the way we think about everything – not only the natural world, but religion, history and society,” Prescott said. “Every researcher, no matter whether they are writing books, creating digital products or producing artworks, aspires to produce something as significant in the history of thought as Origin of Species.”

(The Guardian) Read the rest

OccupyMLA: the true tale

Mark Marino writes, "At the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston, I revealed that I and my writing partner Rob Wittig created the fictional protest movement OccupyMLA.

What started out as a single Twitter account evolved into an elaborate fiction about a hapless trio of adjuncts, trying to fight for their place in the academy. Often fighting just as much against one another, the members of Occupy MLA struggled to reach the very bottom rungs of the academic ladder in a professional ecology that has stratified the administration, the tenured, and the adjuncts, with a chasm between each domain." Read the rest

Newly minted Nobel laureates speak out against excesses of scientific publishing

One of the perks that comes with winning a Nobel: Access to the bully pulpit. In the last week, Peter Higgs (of boson fame) spoke out against the pressure to publish — pressure that he thinks prevents younger scientists from taking the time to formulate really groundbreaking new ideas. Meanwhile, fellow 2013 winner Randy Schekman announced that he's boycotting brand-name journals like Science and Nature because of the negative impact that they have on scientific culture. Read the rest

Serbian researchers troll academia

The journal Metalurgia International recently published a paper entitled "Evaluation of Transformative Hermeneutic Heuristics for Processing Random Data". Though submitted by real researchers from the University of Belgrade, the paper was a hoax, an attempt to expose lax publishing standards. How lax, you ask? Take a look at the paper. The obvious trolling starts with the authors donning wigs and fake moustaches, continues into an abstract full of blithely meaningless jargon, and includes references to the work of revered academics such as Ron Jeremy, A.S. Hole, Borat Sagdiyev and, yes, Alan Sokal. Retraction Watch has compiled some of the highlights. Read the rest

If you see something, say something: Liveblogging from a lecture about terrorism, security, and visual narratives

When bombs explode in a crowded city street, individuals and governments naturally ask themselves, "Could we have prevented this if we had been paying better attention to people and things that were out of place?" Trouble is, that question leads to a whole cascade of other questions — covering everything from personal privacy to racism.

M. Neelika Jayawardane is associate professor of English at SUNY-Oswego. She's giving a talk this afternoon on "If you see something, say something" and other campaigns aimed at getting average people involved in public security. I happened to be here on campus for a separate speaking engagement and thought this was something that BoingBoing readers would be interested in "sitting in" on, given the recent tragedy in Boston.

I'll be liveblogging this, updating regularly with key points and ideas from Jayawardane's talk. It's worth noting that her perspective is not the only way to think about these issues. I'm posting this in hopes that it will present some interesting information and spark good conversations. If you're interested in engaging with Jayawardane afterwards, she said that you can reach her via Twitter. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing what she has to say — and what you all have to say about that. Read the rest

How to: Become a tenured professor at Harvard

You have, at some point, probably heard an academic wistfully daydream about what it would be like to have tenure, or (alternately) moan about the process that it takes to achieve that dream. Tenure is a promotion, but it's more than just a promotion. For instance, it's a lot harder to fire a tenured professor — something that is meant to make it easier for them to research and speak out on what they want without fear of administrative crackdowns. As a result, getting tenure can be a process that is nothing short of labyrinthian. This piece in the Harvard Crimson by Nicholas Fandos and Noah Pisner describes the phone-book-sized dossiers, decade-long preparations, and secret tribunals that are all a part of the standard Harvard tenure process. Read the rest

UW's Open3DP lab is open again

Last month, I wrote about the new patent policy at the University of Washington, which laid claim to patents in all work that the university's staff touched upon. This prompted Open3DP, the world-famous, best-of-breed open 3D printing lab at U Washington, to shut off its public outreach program.

Less than a month later, after many emails to the provost, the policy has been moderated, and Open3DP is once again, well, open.

The UW is supportive of your efforts in founding and leading Open3DP, an open research community around 3D printing. Herein we confirm that:

• with respect to UW policies and practices, you have an ongoing right to administer Open3DP, and

• UW faculty, staff, and students are free to contribute their work to this open research community under the Creative Commons License model you have chosen.

We also offer you guidance as the open research community grows, to manage related interactions of a more proprietary nature.

Opening Up!

(Thanks, Michael!) Read the rest

UNCW prof vows to destroy atheist student groups: "I seek power over the godless heathen dissident"

A Supreme Court decision forced a California state university Christian society to accept gays as members as a condition of receiving support from the school ("Other groups may exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks, and women -- or those who do not share their contempt for Jews, blacks, and women. A free society must tolerate such groups. It need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities.").

This ruling has upset Mike Adams, a prof at UNC Wilmington. He's vowed to disrupt atheist student societies by filling their rosters with Christian evangelical students, "to use my young fundamentalist Christian warriors to undermine the mission of every group that disagrees with me on the existence of God."

As PZ Myers points out, if the situation were reversed, Adams and his fellow travelers would doubtless be even more apoplectic: "I can just imagine what would happen if I tried to turn freethinkers on campus into militant disruptors of other organizations: their faculty advisors would descend on me in fury."

But Mike Adams isn't looking for debate. As he says, "I do not seek robust debate. I seek power over the godless heathen dissident."

Christianist Professor Calls for Religious McCarthyism

Big Tent Atheism Atheism Song -- Adam Sandler's Hannukah Song, but for nonbelievers ... Atheist bus ads roll in London today: massive success Dramatic readings of message-board posts about atheism from ... Atheist sign at nativity scene Christian Atheism at Speaker's Corner Campus atheists offer free porn in exchange for Bibles Food for The Eagle - Adam Savage's speech to Harvard Humanism ... Read the rest

Watch a dissertation defense...LIVE

Do you like prairie voles? Are you curious about the process of earning a Ph.D.? Possibly just a touch of both?

Then tune in today, starting at 10 central, for what Science magazine's Science Careers Blog is calling the first live-streamed dissertation defense (at least, that they've ever heard of).

The adventurous academic is Danielle Lee of the University of Missouri, St. Louis. The dissertation is entitled: An Investigation of Behavioral Syndromes and Individual Differences in Exploratory Behavior of Prairie Voles, Microtus ochrogaster. There was some talk of live Tweets as well. However, Lee says she won't be Tweeting, herself, during the defense (that would be just a little crazy multi-tasky, wouldn't it?), but she is up for answering your questions once everything has been successfully defended. Just Tweet them with the hashtag #LeeDefense. Good luck, Danielle!

Streaming video of Danielle Lee's dissertation defense

Pictured: The prairie vole, one of nature's most adorable research subjects. Originally found on the animal behavior Web site of Verna Case, Ph.D.

Read the rest

Prescription for consumers challenging academic textbook cartels

An overview of U.S. academic textbook marketing politics from a consumer activist point of view.