Was the Red Cross poster racist?


The Red Cross swimming safety poster.

People are very quick to make judgements, especially in our current society which seems to favour outrage as a response. This happens especially quickly when it comes to topics like sexism, racism and so on. These are all real problems which affect many people but we must be wary about jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence.

There is an article in Slate magazine which talks about the Red Cross and racism. The starting point of that discussion was a 2014 safety campaign poster which was pulled last year for being “super-racist.” It earned that dubious distinction because:

A “cool” blonde girl waits her turn by the diving board, for example, and a “cool” fair-skinned dad minds his small child. The vast majority of the “not cool” rule breakers, meanwhile, have brown skin: One boy runs through a puddle, another dives too close to a swimmer, and a little black girl pushes a white girl into the pool.

Continue reading

Ignorance Trumps science

One of the most frustrating things about hearing news about Donald Trump is the complete disconnect between the fantasy world in his head and the real world that we all live in. Most of the time, people like that are ridiculous but can be, more or less, ignored. With Trump it’s different because what he does has a large amount of influence.

Given what we know about climate change and the stakes, it’s extremely depressing to see Trump pulling the US out of the Paris climate change agreement, especially when all his reasons to do so seem to be nonsense. He is basically flying against all the climate science that we have and upsetting most of researchers in the process. Continue reading

Weird science

I get the contents from a number of journals emailed to me and I then browse through to see if there’s anything interesting or relevant to me. Some might wonder why I do it that way when there are services which will send you only articles that fit specific key words. Simply put, my interests are much broader than just what I am working on and, this way, I can find things that I would otherwise miss.

For example, I would’ve missed seeing this abstract for research showing that people with lower back pain are more likely to have lower back pain later than people who didn’t have previous back pain. It’s about as surprising as a prediction that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, it was nothing compared to the weirdness I found this week.

An intravaginal ring for real-time evaluation of adherence to therapy

Now that’s a weird title! Continue reading

Elsevier, you suck!

Remember when I wrote about the need for open access? I mentioned that some publishers have very high profit margins. Elsevier’s was 37%. Elsevier also has faced years of criticism for its policies, including a long term boycott, which has probably had little effect. You want to know why this happens?

A friend of mine shared a photo on Facebook from Insufferably Intolerant Science Nerd which showed this picture.


It’s an article about Sci-Hub, a site which allows anyone to bypass paywalls and access research articles for free, hidden behind a paywall. That’s irony. But it doesn’t stop there.

EDIT: This contradiction has since been fixed. I guess since the author found out about it.

I don’t necessarily trust things I see on the internet so I go looking for this paper and find that it indeed costs $35,95 IF you access it through Science Direct, Elsevier’s own research portal. However, if you access it directly from the journal’s page it is free! Not only is it free but it includes this text.

A bizarre and frustrating dissonance exists between what content is routinely made free by scientific journals and what is not. For example, News and Perspective articles such as this one are published free online by Elsevier.

Yes! Annals of Emergency Medicine is published by Elsevier and News and Perspectives are free to access through the journal’s website but access that same article through Elsevier’s own research portal will cost you $35,95. Now, if that isn’t bizarre and frustrating, I don’t know what is. Elsevier, you suck!

Working hours: A shared delusion

Scientists are supposed to be trained to examine and make conclusions based on evidence, however, this is widely ignored when it comes to themselves rather than their object of study. A 2016 poll on the Nature website showed that about 70% of academics work more than 50 hours per week. The lack of a work-life balance was chosen as the biggest challenge for early career scientists by 19% of respondents and almost two thirds have considered leaving research. This is similar to previous results in a 2011 Nature poll where 65% of post-docs said that they worked over 50 hours a week.

In contrast to this behaviour, current research does not support the idea that longer working hours are more productive. One study, based on factory workers during WWI, showed that productivity is proportional to hours worked only to a certain point. Above 48 hours worked per week, productivity per hour sharply decreases. Because of the decreased productivity per hour over longer work weeks it can be that working fewer hours will cause an increase in productivity. Continue reading

Review: Magic in the Middle Ages

Magic in the Middle Ages is a Coursera course offered by the Universitat de Barcelona. It is actually the fifth course from Coursera that I have done and the third one done purely for my own interest. I was initially quite excited because of the topic but, since completing it, I have lost a fair bit of enthusiasm. That’s not to say that it is entirely without merit but I think that, currently, it is not taking advantage of the format and could be aimed better for a Coursera audience.

The course aims to teach students about magic in the middle ages, this includes how magic was perceived, different magical practices and the treatment of magic in both Christianity and Islam. As with most of these courses, it primarily consists of a series of short video lectures followed by a multiple choice quiz each week. There are also two short essays in this course which are judged by your peers. Continue reading

The case of Diego Gomez highlights the need for open access

It was in November 2014 when I first wrote about Diego Gomez. Tomorrow will see a court, in Colombia, decide his fate. (Article in French) He is facing a fine of up to $327 000 and four to eight years in prison for the sharing a scientific article with a colleague. This is something that many scientists do and which is sometimes necessary for our work. This case highlights the need to move to a world where all scientific articles are open access, i.e. free to read. Continue reading