Dr. Will White is an assistant professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He uses a combination of lab experiments, field studies, and mathematical models to study fish behavior and population dynamics, in particular how fish populations respond to protection in no-take marine reserves.
My adventure with the news media began on a Friday morning in early October, when I received an unexpected email from Melanie Hunter, a senior editor at CNSNews.com. The terse email mentioned my recent grant on sex-changing fishes, and asked why this was “an effective use of taxpayer funds.” She gave me a deadline of 4 pm that day. Now, usually it’s great when reporters want to cover scientific research, but generally once someone starts asking about “taxpayer funds” it’s because they don’t think those funds are being used wisely. What ended up happening with CNS News (“Federal Govt’ Spends $728K to Study Sex-changing Fish”) bore out my suspicions.
I should back up to explain that I do have a federal grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study sex-changing fish. For anyone who has ever applied for an NSF grant, the idea that they are just handing out taxpayer dollars willy-nilly is pretty laughable: the grant selection process is notoriously grueling. For the division of NSF that funds research in marine biology, only 5-10% of proposals are funded. Proposals are reviewed by multiple anonymous peer referees, and then a panel comprised of multiple experts in the field convenes to evaluate the proposals based on the peer reviews and identify the best ones for funding. In fact this was my first successful NSF grant after about five previous proposals were declined.
The National Science Foundation has recently announced the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative largely in hopes of retaining women in the sciences past their the dissertation years. Most notably, the Initiative allows a year long pause in awarded grants to new parents. This pause matches the pause in the tenure process that most universities offer (but few faculty know about). In addition, parents can apply for supplemental funds to keep their labs running while on leave. In addition, NSF promises to advertise its new help for families, continue researching new methods of keeping women in the sciences, and continue to promote tenure pauses and spousal hires in its partner academic institutions.
Thinking about ways to make the academic environment more friendly to families is a topic that fascinates me both as a sociologist and as a person who will likely benefit from this initiative. According to the White House announcement for the program, the Initiative emphasizes the need for women in the sciences in order to maintain creativity and leadership. Language like “parental leave” instead of maternity leave also signifies that NSF is leading the way to a new kind of workplace, recognizing both men and women’s desires to balance work and family in an equitable way – not to put the burden of that balancing act on the mother. Kudos to NSF.
Happy New Year to all our readers! 2010 was a big year for Southern Fried Science. We added a new blogger, moved to our own server, and launched The Gam. Along the way we’ve won a few awards, hosted the first Ocean of Pseudoscience week, cooked a whole pig, exposed some blatant greenwashing, challenged conventional wisdom, laid out the shark ultimatum, crunched the numbers on mercury (twice!), and had some fun along the way. After 365 days, Charlie completed his epic adventure, which spanned three continents and an ocean. I’d like to thank all our readers and commenters for participating last year, and I look forward to hearing from you in 2011.
In the spirit of the pseudoscience of astrology here are our top ten predictions for 2011, based partially on informed guesswork and mostly on Yuengling.
- Largely ignored by the mainstream media, the impact of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill will continue to be felt across the Gulf Coast. BP and NOAA will continue to make it difficult for scientists to get access to sediment cores. The first developmental effects of oil and dispersant exposure to fetuses and young children will be reported.
- Science will be more frequently put on trial, as politicians attempt to supplant peer-review by suing climate scientists and challenging NSF and NIH grants. This approach will backfire as more Americans come to accept global climate change and a new generation of Monkey Trials makes a mockery of anti-science politicians. Both sides will frequently pat themselves on the back and declare victory.
- The Southern Fried Scientist will start raising chickens, Bluegrass Blue Crab will start raising goats, WhySharksMatter will raise some sort of ruckus.
- The economy will improve, just in time for everyone to start campaigning for the 2012 election. All sides will claim responsibility for the recovery and all side will blame the opposition for the collapse. Despite almost every politician claiming responsibility for a now successful economy, most Americans won’t notice any change.
- Sea Shepherd will claim their best year ever in the Southern Ocean whale campaign, despite there being no significant difference in the average number of whales killed since 2005 – 450 (+ or – 50). Theatrics will ensue.
- Several large mammal species will make a comeback, as populations begin to rebound after years of conservation initiatives.
- As the world population continues to grow, people will slowly begin to realize that Malthus was wrong, and that in cases such as India, demographic momentum will have massive positive benefits for quality of life, food availability, and environmental consciousness.
- Every piece of plastic you used last year will still exist this year.
- Sales of hybrid and electric cars will reach an all time high. I will continue to drive the same truck I’ve driven for 10 years until it won’t run, then replace it with something used.
- WhySharksMatter will finish his book – Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help. He will decide to use a shorter title.
What are your predictions for 2011?
~Southern Fried Scientist