born to science

Mary Jackson (1921-2005) became the first black female engineer to work for NASA in 1958. She started out as a human computer in the segregated West Area Computing division, but rose through the ranks to eventually achieve the most senior engineering title available.

She began work at NASA in 1951, and became interested in a career in engineering after starting work at the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. She managed to obtain the title after attending graduate-level night classes alongside her work, and in the process helped advance the rights of both women and people of colour in the workplace. She was played by Janelle Monáe in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

Science is and has always been political.

Building the atomic bomb? That was a political decision, implemented by scientists. Going to the moon? That too was a political decision that involved scientists at every step of the way. Where NASA goes next will also be a decision born of a mix between science and politics.

Why do you think there are such extremely skewed gender and racial balances in the physical sciences? Is it because women and people of color are somehow worse at math or physics? Of course not. It’s because of institutionalized racism and sexism, and you know what that goes back to? That’s right, you guessed it: politics.

Francine “Penny” Patterson (b. 1947) is an animal psychologist, best known for her work with Koko, the gorilla that learned to communicate through signs. She taught Koko more than 1000 signs of a modified version of American Sign Language, which she dubbed “Gorilla Sign Language”, greatly advancing research in animal behaviour and linguistics, and interspecies communication.

Dr Patterson got her PhD from Stanford University in 1972, presenting her work with Koko. She is now the President and Research Director of the Gorilla Foundation, as well as a professor of psychology at the Santa Clara University.

anonymous asked:

(rape tw) Can you explain why you don't think HIV+ people have a moral responsibility to tell potential partners their status, if that is indeed your position? I understand that if they have an undetectable viral load and they practice safer sex, the risk of transmission is very low, but it still exists, no? I'm just trying to understand. I have HPV and I feel guilty for not telling the man who raped me beforehand, and that's not even a potentially fatal illness, just an inconvenience. (1/2)

(2/2) I want to support HIV+ people and not make their lives harder, but I’m having a really hard time with this perspective from an ethical standpoint.

(anon sorry, i answered this but forgot it in my drafts)

anon, i’m not really sure where this is coming from since i haven’t posted about this in a while [since this came in before my other post got resurrected] but i’ll try to explain (and forgive me, this got so damn long but i’m quite swamped lately and have no time to edit)

i don’t think i’ve said that there’s no responsibility to disclose, and i wonder what made you think i did, but the main point i want to get across is that it doesn’t really matter what i think about the morality of nondisclosure in any given situation — what matters is whether i think it should be a serious crime. this is a separate question because the law isn’t about morality, in this case it should be about public health.

and these laws are a resounding failure from a public health perspective, especially since as written they penalize testing and usually completely fail to take into account the risk level of the activity (including condom use) or even whether transmission actually occurred (even when the charge is “criminal transmission”!). these laws were born out of stigma, not science or real ethics. but you don’t have to take my word for it; this is the accepted position among HIV/AIDS and sexual health advocacy organizations, and even the CDC is recommending that they be reviewed. i really recommend reading what these organizations have to say about it. from a quick search UNAIDS’s policy brief (pdf) seems pretty good and clear but there is much more out there.

i’m so sorry about what happened to you and i want to know that you’re not at fault at all. no rape survivor is at fault for their rape or for the consequences of the rape for the rapist. he chose to do that to you, and he accepted the risks that came with that. that is entirely on him!

i think a major problem with the debate about disclosure is that, as the UNAIDS brief says, it “places […] responsibility for HIV prevention exclusively on those already living with HIV and dilutes the public health message of shared responsibility for sexual health between sexual partners.” this applies to other STIs as well. we all have to take responsibility for our own sexual health, at least when it comes to acts we consented to.

even if it may seem to make sense on a moral level, placing the entire responsibility on people who know they’re positive for HIV or any other infection just doesn’t work. there will always be people who don’t know their status or can’t know their status for sure because they were exposed too recently. these people can’t disclose, yet if they are HIV+ they pose a much greater transmission risk than people who know they’re positive because they can’t possibly be accessing treatment, because transmission risk is highest in the acute infection stage when they’ve first contracted HIV, and because they’re less likely to be taking the additional safer sex precautions that they’d take if they knew.

there is still a profound stigma against people living with HIV and other STIs. when we’re influenced by this stigma, we’re likely to focus on finding someone to blame for transmission (or even the possibility of transmission). when we reject the stigma, we can focus on effective methods of prevention which involve helping everyone accurately judge their risk level and make informed choices to protect themselves.

you mention that safer sex with someone with an undetectable viral load is very low-risk (so low-risk, in fact, that i don’t think there’s ever been a documented case of transmission under these circumstances) but that any risk is too much. it’s fine if you feel that way; you set your own boundaries. but sex with someone who doesn’t know their status is much riskier. so is it morally permissible not to disclose to your partners that you don’t know your status? and should not disclosing that be a crime?

i don’t think most people think so, or they haven’t thought about it. to a lot of people, not knowing their status is normal, because their sexual choices are governed by assumptions: they assume that they are negative, for HIV, HSV, etc., and they assume that everyone they have sex with is negative, unless they say otherwise. they assume this partly because of lack of education, and partly because of stigma. we think of people with STIs as dirty, reckless, less than virtuous. we don’t want to think of ourselves or the people we’re intimate with that way. but of course, people with STIs are not those things — having an STI is an entirely morally neutral characteristic of a person. and these assumptions about ourselves and others aren’t sound. they are actually an obstacle to STI prevention.

so these debates trouble me because they obscure the fact that the best practice for everyone is to get tested regularly, disclose what you know about your status (including whether you know it!), and ask about your partner’s status, making it clear that it’s safe for them to be honest. and when we place all responsibility on people who know they’re positive, we validate our assumptions that everyone is negative, but we have to challenge those assumptions if we want to protect ourselves and each other. we have to acknowledge that when we decide to have sex based on the assumption that our partner must be negative, we are taking a risk. even in a world where everyone who knows they’re positive disclosed — and i believe most do — this would be a risk.

the sooner we can accept this and reject stigma, the sooner we can take steps toward more honest and open communication in our sexual lives and make healthy, fully informed choices, the sooner we can stop the spread of HIV.

Mary Leakey (1913-1996) was a paleoanthropologist who made several important discoveries related to the evolution of humanity. In 1948 she discovered the first ever fossilised Proconsul skull, an extinct ape and an early ancestor of humans.

Even though she showed a great interest in archaeology from an early age and wanted to apply to Oxford, she was discouraged to do so, and was turned away from several excavation sites until finally being allowed to work. Throughout her career she discovered fossils and stone tools belonging to different species of early hominids, some of them more than 3.75 million years old. She discovered fifteen new species and one new genus of animal.

How Misconceptions Get Started

It isn’t true that most people only use 10% of their brain. This myth dates back to around 1900, when psychologist William James wrote that he doubted that average persons reach more than 10% of their intellectual potential. James never equated intellectual potential to what portion of the brain was engaged, someone else did that for him! Lowell Thomas, an American writer and broadcaster, implied in 1936 that William James had said humans use just 10% of their brain. And a legend was born.

Vivian Wing-Wah Yam (b. 1963) is a Hong Kong chemist, and in 2001 became the youngest person to ever be elected as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She is also a Fullbright Scholar and a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World.

Her research mostly deals with light-emitting materials, and has enabled more efficient displays for devices such as laptops and mobile phones and therefore helping to reduce the planet’s power consumption. In 2011 she won the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.

muggle-born science


Thressa Stadtman (1920-2016) was a biochemist who made many important discoveries throughout her career, particularly that of the amino acid selenocysteine. She also conducted significant research in the biochemistry of microbes and amino acid metabolism.

She graduated with a PhD in Microbial Biochemisty from the University of California, Berkeley in 1949. She went on to work for the National Heart Institute, and conducted her own biochemistry lab, where she researched selenproteins and bioenergetics. She was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1981.

Sporozoites of the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum emerging from their oocyst to infect gastrointestinal epithelial cells.

Cryptosporidium, commonly known by the comic book supervillian name “Crypto,” is transmitted by ingesting water or food contaminated with Crypto oocysts. Once ingested, the oocyte ruptures, and the sporozoites contained within infect the gut of their new host, causing watery diarrhea. 

Though outbreaks occasionally occur in the developed world, few infected in those outbreaks die from Crypto. However, in the developing world, some of those infected with Crypto develop chronic disease and die, particularly small, malnourished children.

For more on Crypto and how scientists are tackling this tricky parasite, check out this article on NPR’s All Things Considered about the work being done by the Striepen lab at the University of Georgia Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

Image courtesy Boris Striepen and Muthgapatti Kandasamy, University of Georgia Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases

Photo taken at the 1927 Solvay Conference.

We tend to learn about these people isolated from each other in science classes. But if you look at this historically… These people were all from the same time. I personally always had trouble with intuition about time periods unless I learn about people at the same time. So this was very interesting to me.

Also, can I just say how badass Madame Curie looks sitting in the front row amongst all those great men in her field?


Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

Oliver, what if people apart from you could see me as something, someone, deserving of happiness? Not as a hero, mind. Just as “any other boy.”

The idea frightens me. Coward that I am. Me, born of science and ambition gone wrong. I felt that wrongness every day, until you wrote to me. Until you infected me with wondrous, hopeful nonsense.

Frau Pruwitt has given me a book about a certain blind superhero. And now I am feeling something other than despicable.

What have you done to me, Oliver Paulot?

Brigitte Kieffer (b. 1958) is a French molecular neurobiologist, working mostly with opiate receptors. She is an international expert in the field, and her research has significantly added to the understanding of how the brain processes pain and drug addiction.

She was a professor at the University of Strasbourg, and went on to do research in several institutes throughout France and the United States. Her research led to the development of a new analgesic medicine, used as a treatment for addiction. In 2013 she became a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and won several medals offered by the institution.