Monday, December 30, 2019

Christina Koch on Her Record

NASA astronaut Christina Koch made history Saturday, December 28 by breaking the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman. 

Koch, a North Carolina State University graduate, has been on the International Space Station for 289 days, beating the previous 288-day record held by Peggy Whitson. She says that she hopes to see her record beaten by another woman soon.

Speaking of her time in space, Koch told CNN's Christi Paul, "It’s a wonderful thing for science... We see another aspect of how the human body is affected by microgravity for the long term, and that’s really important for our future spaceflight plan going forward to the moon and to Mars.”

According to NASA’s schedule, Koch will remain on the station until February 2020, falling just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut: 340 days, set by Scott Kelly. Astronauts normally stay on the station for six months.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Gender Parity in Biblical Archaeology?

Robert Cargill
Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review

The field of biblical archaeology, and biblical studies in general, has always had a “woman problem.” Women have long been a minority. To be sure, there have always been notable exceptions—such as Gertrude Bell, Kathleen Kenyon, Martha Joukowsky, Susan Alcock, Jodi Magness, Ann Killebrew—but for the most part the field has been dominated by men—often charismatic, loud, entertaining, obnoxious, and mostly white men.

And this is just the way it has always been.

However, over the past decades many scholars and administrators have decided to address this issue and have begun making concerted efforts to increase the number of women in field archaeology and biblical studies. Because of these efforts, we have seen an increase in the number of women enrolled in archaeology and biblical studies programs, presenting papers at professional conferences, publishing cutting-edge research, and receiving academic positions. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) even named Susan Ackerman its first female president in 2014.

Progress is being made with regard to gender parity in archaeology and the academy. Therefore, you can understand why I am continually baffled—and women all the more so—when all-male conference panels (“manels”) are assembled, all-male edited volumes (“manthologies”) are published, and all-male festschrifts (“festicles”) are printed. It is 2019, and women are still being regularly excluded!

I hear many excuses when these all-male offerings appear, one of the most frequent being: “I invited several women, but none of them accepted my invitation, so I filled those spots with men.” There are several problems with this excuse.

First, if women repeatedly turn down invitations to work with a particular man or organization en masse, it may indicate a serious problem with the individual or organization. Is there some more disquieting reason why many women don’t want to work with certain male scholars beyond the courteous excuse of being overcommitted?

Second, many women scholars are overcommitted because the few of them working in our field are asked to contribute to so many committees and volumes. Women reserve the right to decline invitations. Women are not obligated to compensate for centuries of marginalization by committing to every invitation.

Third, when women decline invitations to present or write for a project, they don’t owe an explanation. Scholars don’t have to give a reason why they do not wish to participate in a project; they can simply decline.

Finally, men should not publicly name any woman who turned down an invitation, especially to cover for the fact that they were unable to achieve gender parity in a publication, panel, or event. I am outraged when male scholars blame women by name for the lack of women contributors in their professional panels or volumes by saying, “Well I invited Scholar X, Scholar Y, and Scholar Z, but they declined …” Publicly shaming women scholars by name does nothing to assuage the fact that only men were included in a volume or conference.

Even if a dozen women decline an invitation, a male editor is still responsible for the lack of gender parity in his volume—not those women who declined. The editor or organizer must simply work harder to achieve his goal and do a better job of encouraging women to participate.

As Editor of BAR, I believe it is my responsibility to support the amplification of women’s scholarly voices through publication, not simply through invitation. Scholarship is not stunt riding, and editors are not Evel Knievel; we shouldn’t be credited simply for the attempt even if we fail. We cannot define “due diligence” as inviting an acceptable quota of women to participate. The bar must be higher than that.

My work and my organization should be judged by the number of women actually appearing in the published product, not simply the number of women originally invited.

Gender parity is still a problem in the academy. To change this, we must promote programs that cultivate women scholars from a young age, establishing gender parity as a priority from the outset of any project, be it a conference, edited volume, or magazine issue.

From here.

Related reading:  Introducing the New BAR

Friday, December 13, 2019

Assessing the Health of Bee Colonies

Honey is full of proteins, but sugars in the sticky substance make those proteins hard to study. Now, one scientist has figured out a way to pull proteins from the honey, revealing the world bees encounter.

The biochemistry researcher RocĂ­o Cornero of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., is examining proteins in honey. Cornero described her unpublished work December 9 at the annual joint meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology and the European Molecular Biology Organization.

Amateur beekeepers often don’t understand what is stressing bees in their hives, whether lack of water, starvation or infection with pathogens, says Cornero, whose father kept bees before his death earlier this year. 

Cornero says, “What we see in the honey can tell us a story about the health of that colony.”

Bees are like miniature scientists that fly and sample a wide variety of environmental conditions, says cell biologist Lance Liotta, Cornero’s mentor at George Mason. As bees digest pollen, soil and water, bits of proteins from other organisms, including fungi, bacteria and viruses also end up in the insects’ stomachs. Honey, in turn, is basically bee vomit, Liotta says, and contains a record of virtually everything the bee came in contact with, as well as proteins from the bees themselves.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Floating Stones

A large accumulation of pumice has been drifting in the Southwest Pacific towards Australia. The point of origin of this pumice raft is a submarine volcano in Tongan waters. The highly porous pumice is of such low density that it floats.

Since August, this raft of pumice has been moving closer to Australia. Researchers were eager to identify the source and an image of the ESA satellite Copernicus Sentinel-2 taken on 6 August 2019, showed clear traces of an active underwater eruption. The volcano has been named Volcano F.

The debris from the eruption is expected to reach the Great Barrier Reef in late January and early February.

Read more here and here.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Periodic Table at 150 Years

The "twin tower" periodic table.
Dmitri Mendeleev (MEN-duh-LAY-ev), a Russian scientist working in St. Petersburg, came up with an early version of the Periodic Table 150 years ago. Now the ‘table’ can take many forms, from block charts to spiral trees.

Elements are the building blocks of all matter. Their atoms knit together to form literally everything — us, the air we breathe, the organisms that share our world and every other molecule of gas or bit of mass found throughout our universe.

The rows and columns on the periodic table map the so-called periodic law. It holds that shared traits among chemical elements repeat in regular patterns as elements get larger. These patterns link elements with similar chemical behaviors and help to tell chemists how atoms react to form molecules. How the rows and columns on this table line up points to shared traits between groups of related elements. Understanding those relationships helps chemists create new compounds. It also helps them understand how life works. It even helps them predict how new materials will behave.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Danger of Weaponized Robots

Robotics is a quickly expanding field. Robots are being built and used in the classroom, in medical labs, in security innovations, and in manufacturing plants. Unfortunately, they are also used to commit crimes, launch lethal attacks, and to impede airport operations.

Rapid advances have posed ethical dilemmas. Robots that can act autonomously could potentially inflict damage never intended by their designers. They can be weaponized by terrorists and political extremists.

In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense released a video showing an autonomous drone swarm of 103 individual robots successfully flying over California. Nobody was in control of the drones; their flight paths were choreographed in real-time by an advanced algorithm. The drones “are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” a spokesman said. The drones in the video were not weaponized — but the technology to do so is rapidly evolving.