Laugh or Cry? Relative Size of 2016 Enacted Budgets

Ever wonder just how much money the United States Government allocated toward the endeavors of its different agencies during 2016, and how they compare?  Here’s the answer!

The comic below represents the 2016 Enacted Budgets of fifteen different U.S. government agencies, each with a very different mission.

jahren2016enactedbudget

[Note that Requested and Enacted Budgets are not necessarily the same figure.]

Highlights for 2016: 

Defense spending amounts to one-and-a-half times more money than that spent on all other agencies combined.

The entire NIH is valued at just 80% of the Department of Homeland Security, in terms of funding.

The Department of Defense budget was more than eight times larger than all the money allocated towards the Department of Education.

Defense spending amounts to more than five times more money than the total spent on NASA, the NSF, the NIH, the CDC, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA all put together.

The budget for the National Science Foundation is equivalent to only 1.2 % of the defense budget — but — it is still fifty times larger than the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts.

But wait! There’s more! Despite the fluctuating tone of the blah-blah-blahbitty-blah that has issued forth from the different Administrations over the years … government spending on research has not meaningfully changed since 1982!  Check it out — it’s been flat-lined for the last 35 years. (Here’s even finer-scale data from the AAAS).

Do your students know this stuff? Do your elected representatives? Feel free to use everything here as a #scicomm tool.  Oh and did you like this comic?  Yeah? … then why not take a look at the others?

How I Learned to Trust The Needle

Recently, a millennial came to my office and asked me if she should get vaccinated, even though her mom had never wanted her to.  I didn’t tell her what to do.  Instead, I told her why I vaccinate my own son.  Here’s what I said.

 

How I Learned to Trust The Needle

When my son was a couple of months old, I took him to the third of his many well-baby appointments. On that day, our pediatrician approached me tentatively. “This is the appropriate time for his vaccinations,” she informed me in a cautious, even tone.

“Load him up!” I screamed, “Give him a double!” My baby son looked up at us and blinked, unperturbed by the hysterics to which he had become accustomed in utero. I signed some papers, and the doctor vaccinated him against an assortment of maladies. More than a decade has passed since then, and today I have a healthy kid whose only fault is that he mostly takes after me. I am thoroughly grateful, despite the fact that I am not quite sure whom to thank. He is ten years old.

My dad is ninety-one years old, and is equally healthy if not more so. He has concrete plans for becoming 92, and then eventually 102, and Heaven help any medical professional at the Mayo Clinic who isn’t working hard enough to make this happen. As per usual, my good fortune exceeds what I deserve, even to the fact that my father’s exquisite sense of humor has persisted fully intact. His jokes are simultaneously dry yet cheerful, derisive yet kind, ridiculous yet sensible — it is from the juxtaposition that I draw so much delight — and from the fact that I’m never really sure whether he’s putting me on.

My father, born in 1923, tells me stories. They start out fantastically, like the one about the two monkeys living in a concrete cell that served as the town’s “zoo” during the 30s (I never got a straight answer about where they went during the winter). It is uncanny, though, how every story ends on familiar ground: adults harangued children for listening to too much radio, warning that it would rot their minds; political slogans justifying the Second World War were mothballed and then employed verbatim for the Korean War and then trotted out again for the Viet Nam War. When my father tells stories about the past it seems that my life is always the ending, the purpose or the moral. He truly believes my generation to be on equal footing with his, and that our shared present represents a constellation of mistakes and problems that have been solved before and will be solved again.

My dad tells a story about when he was seven and his friend’s father (who had been in World War One) decided that it was high time for both boys to learn how to shoot a gun and specifically took them down to the elementary schoolyard to practice because it was the only place where you could be certain that you wouldn’t hit anybody’s horse. My father also tells about his first day of school in 1929, when only half of his class from the previous year showed up. The other half was being kept at home either by polio itself or by their mother’s terror of it. He keenly remembers being a frightened child helpless against a monstrous fear that had subjugated even the all-powerful grown-ups that seemed all to be speaking in hushed tones about 1916. My father goes on to tell about how happy he was in 1955 to learn that a polio vaccine would be available for his own children. And so in 1975, I stood in line and claimed my magic sugar cube while US astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts shared orbit; the Space Race was finally over and we had all won. From my father’s perspective, vaccinating me was an act of love and care, of freely giving me something that he never got. And this is the core practice of parenting, or so I am learning. I often tell my son about my miserable month-long bout with chickenpox when I was twelve, and about how glad and grateful I am that he will not have to go through the same. For he is, of course, precious to me – just as precious as unvaccinated children are to their unconvinced mothers.

I am a laboratory chemist (more or less) whose original techniques have found a serendipitous utility within medical research. When I first began to apply for funding from the National Institutes of Health, my then-institution required me to take an extensive online course in human subjects research ethics. Eager to do anything that might lead to funding, I launched into many hours designed to impress upon me the significance and necessity of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki, which is the international standard document of ethical principles for medical research. Within that course I learned about the horrible, almost inconceivable, abuses in medical research that have taken place in America, from Tuskegee to Davenport, from Holmesburg Prison to the Stanford Prison. And not as any Wikipedia summary, either, I had to learn the details — the design of these experiments and the sad goals under pursuit – how rationale had been misguided and then transfigured by madness time and again. “Holy Hell,” I remember thinking to myself, “You’d have to be out of your tree to agree to participate in medical research in this country.” During the next several years, however, my alarm was tempered by real-life interactions with medical researchers at three different institutions, all of whom have won my unqualified trust, respect and admiration, and some of whom suffer me to call them at any hour of the day or night while we strive quixotic to address what feels like an insurmountable problem: America’s sugar addiction.

Lately I’ve been dismayed to see that in response to the recent measles outbreaks, Science communicators have launched an energetic campaign attempting to shame and/or guilt parents (particularly mothers) into vaccinating their children, to ostracize unvaccinated children from public and private institutions and to generally slander the intellect of anyone who dares to publicly mistrust the science of vaccination. Now, I don’t claim to be some sort of sci-comm expert or anything, but I do know that this approach will not work. How do I know that? Because people are constantly going around telling me what to do, and I respond by go around never doing any of it. When I actually do do things, there’s a pattern. I do what has been consistently modeled for me by the people whom I trust. I’ve internalized this trust as learning and concrete benefits have come to me by way of its application. In contrast, I see no benefit in further alienating the people in whom Science has made no such effort to foster trust, particularly while the stakes are so very high.

Science’s self-righteous disdain towards what we deem to be ignorance is an expression of our fear. It is posturing meant to protect us from what we dare not face: that the public’s mistrust is something that we have earned. In no arena has mistrust been more fully earned than within medical research, with egregious examples occurring even in our present century. The true pity is that although desperate malignity within scientific research is extremely rare, Science routinely reinforces the public’s mistrust with our everyday foibles — by talking down to people, by excluding people, by sending mixed signals while seeking attention, by not insisting upon subtlety and complexity from the journalists who interview us. To actually address why parents opt out of vaccinations, Science must ask itself difficult and uncomfortable questions about why such a large and fundamental trust-gap exists, and what we plan to do about it.

I trust Science because I am consistently exposed to its best side. As a research scientist, I interact daily with women and men who are working very hard for very little, in decades-long pursuit of dreams that, with luck, might come true once in a century. For my part, I know only the basics of how vaccines work, but my direct life experiences make me confident that the testing of these vaccines and the scrutiny of their results are conducted with the same care and integrity that was hammered into me during my scientific training. I willingly and eagerly vaccinate my child because I trust that the needle delivers 0.25 cc of the best of what our generation is capable, though my eyes are also open to the damage that medical science has wrought. The world that my father grew up in was plagued by many ills – war, hunger, injustice — and most of them are still with us. Polio is not. The polio vaccine, the smallpox vaccine, the measles vaccine, the whooping cough vaccine, the chickenpox vaccine, and the rest, are more than medicine: they are the precious few concrete examples of how we can rise as a people, and how Science is most noble when it labors in the tradition of that rising. Every year, I honor that tradition first by vaccinating my son, and then by returning to my lab to work yet another long day.

 

Do you wish to obtain vaccinations? This site can help you figure out where to go, and how much it will cost (if anything). 

In Defense of The Trigger Warning

Note: this post is triggering. Are you sure that you want to read it right now? 

 

In Defense of The Trigger Warning

Getting triggered is no fun. The first place that I feel it is in the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet as the initial shock wears off and an inflammation feedback cycle begins. The extremities of my hands and feet begin to burn and itch and flush bright red. I’ve come to recognize this odd sensation as a harbinger of further symptoms, which never fail to materialize. My reaction progresses into a sickening onslaught of anxiety, as if my nervous system had been torn out of my body and relocated naked to the surface of my skin. I feel as if I were seconds away from taking a prolonged oral exam in a subject that I have never studied in front of a panel of Supreme Court judges whose verdict will decide my fate as to the guillotine that restrains me, even while my mind is lucidly aware that this is hardly the case. Left unabated, my panic can cascade until it becomes “unmanageable,” to parrot a canonical clinical understatement. In order to disrupt the cascade, I take a low-dose of prescription alpha-blocker that incites sleep, which somehow serves to reboot my neural hard drive. This is good because I’ll eventually wake up more or less ready to face a new day on my own terms.

I know right? It sucks. It interferes with deadlines, teaching, driving, getting to little league on time – you-name-it. The arguably biggest part of the reason that it sucks so bad centers around my inability to accurately predict when and where I might be dealing with the experience described above. Rationally, I understand that because I was in abject terror once a long time ago, my body over-anticipates danger in the naive hope of ensuring my future safety absolutely. Unfortunately for me, this rational understanding of the process cannot, in itself, make it stop – and so I must merely try to manage my reaction until it passes. It happens less and less as the years go by, so that’s good anyway. Every survivor is a unique individual and the triggering process is equally specific. I can’t speak to anybody else’s symptoms or experience, no matter how similar our trauma, but I sure as hell can speak about mine. If you happen to know of a sure-fire better way to manage the above, then I’m all ears. My own method is the result of more than a decade of deliberate trial and error governed by trustworthy medical input.

I am similar to a lot of survivors in that descriptions of sexual violence and its aftermath – even rather clinical ones – are reasonably likely candidates for triggering. But then again, not always. Here’s something that you may find puzzling: there’s this short story that I read about once a year (“Diary of an Interesting Year” by Helen Simpson). I’m not necessarily suggesting that you read it; I just provided the link as reference. Trust me when I tell you that it can hold its own against snuff pornography in terms of its Trigger Index. It includes first-person descriptions of starvation, homelessness, sexual violence and involuntary abortion. It is also the most novel, daring and skilled writing that I’ve ever read concerning climate change. It’s a narrative of apocalyptic environmental deterioration that explores the potential for disastrous social consequences specific to women’s lives. Maybe I keep reading it because I am a perverse and obsessive masochist. Maybe I read it because it is an exceptional piece of literature that also triggers an explosion of imagination that made me view Global Change in a whole new light. Maybe both. I will not stop reading it because what I gain from it out-balances the price that its reading exacts. I do not include it on the syllabus for my course on Global Change, and I feel somewhat conflicted about this. I can’t quite figure out how to write an appropriate trigger warning and until I do, I’ll teach a different text.

Some apparently believe that trigger warnings encourage survivors to indulge themselves in trauma-avoidance. In fact, I’ve read more than one article that comes dangerously close to suggesting that getting triggered is actually therapeutic for survivors. To this I respond, “LOL if only it were that easy!” The truth is that trigger warnings empower me. They give me a precious modicum of control over when and where I may anticipate the symptoms that I described within the first paragraph of this post. This is of great value to me. My placement of this value does not reflect a belief that it is the world’s responsibility never to trigger me. Indeed, I believe that trigger warnings are a courtesy. I also believe that you probably have no idea of the true depth of my gratitude when this courtesy is extended to me. Have you ever felt bad about sexual violence and wondered what you could do about it? Idea: you can put a goddam trigger warning on the sensitive materials that you request others to read. It won’t hurt the people who don’t need it, and it might slightly smooth the rocky ground that some of us must traverse indefinitely. It is a gift that, for whatever crazy messed-up reason, you have the power to give. Will you give it? I fear that I’ll sound like a postmodern cliché when I tell you that writing a post about triggering is in itself sort of triggering, but it will serve to explain why you won’t find me yukking it up on Twitter for a bit. If you’re reading this, I weighed the pros and cons, and then decided to go ahead and post. Because that’s what my life is when it comes to the topic of sexual violence. Because constantly evaluating the trade-off between bodily risk and uncertain gain is what women’s lives are.

 

Heaven knows that the internet hasn’t been stingy in its supply of discussion as to the legitimacy of the trigger warning.  Everybody and his brother have an opinion about it, ranging from the New Republic to the NYT to the AAUP, each of whom have graced us with their cyber-statements.  I wrote this because no where within this raging verbstorm can I find a convincing description of triggering, which (for me) is a physiological phenomenon.  And I think it matters.

What I Say When My Colleagues Ask Me If They Should Be On Twitter

Quite frequently nowadays, other professors ask me if they should be on Twitter.  “This is kind of sad,” I think to myself, “How did we get to the point where I’m giving computer advice?”  I’ve decided to generously make my opinions available.  Here they are right in front of your very eyeballs. 

What I Say When My Colleagues Ask Me If They Should Be On Twitter

Twitter is like a river.  It’s a river of information flowing by.  Some of the information is important.  Some of it isn’t.  Twitter can be a clear and pure mountain stream and it can also be a rank and fetid conduit of human sewage.  It can be all of these things at the same time.  Every day I go down to the river and toss a few rocks in.  They mostly disappear under the surface without ceremony.  Once in a great while I make a small splash.  Every day I get a little wet down at the river, which can be kind of refreshing.

“Join the Conversation!” commands Twitter, and we obligingly comply.  “Where does all this Conversation go?” you might ask me.  Well, it flows down the Mighty River of Sh*t into the Great Ocean of Oblivion.  The whole process takes about eight seconds (at most).  Supposedly you can go dredge the ocean years later and relocate any drop of water you care to, no matter how random it was.  This means that Victoria Beckham might one day contact me and ask to see my Baby Spice Dance, which I never had the chance to make public before I got on Twitter.  It also means that I may someday be taken to task for the disparaging generalizations I’ve made about #heterotrophs, who can be disappointingly sore losers in a metabolism-based #smackdown.  Like a lot of other things in life, Twitter can be as much or as little as you want it to be.  No, Twitter probably won’t help you organize your desk drawers or lower your cholesterol but it is particularly good for a few things.

Twitter is useful for five things:

1.  Meeting people.  You will inevitably meet people on Twitter because there’s always somebody down at the river — day or night, rain or snow, Christmas Eve or Thermonuclear Doomsday.  People meet their soulmates on Twitter.  They meet their deranged stalkers as well, and every imaginable scenario in between.  Twitter is great for combatting isolation.  Here in Hawaii we spend long hours in the lab while the mainland is sleeping or shoveling snow or being on CSPAN or whatever the hell it is you guys do over there.  Twitter allows us to share the small victories of lab-life with the handful of other people in the world who “get” what it’s like to piss yourself with delight over the growth of a new leaf.  This is invaluable to us and has improved our sorry lot immeasurably just within the last year.

2.  Saying something.  If Twitter is like a river, it’s also like graduate school in that you shouldn’t just get in and float around aimlessly for a few years.  What do you want to say?  What do you need to say?  Whatever it is, go say it, even if it is controversial.  Especially if it is controversial.  And you will inevitably step on someone’s toes, it’s unavoidable.  Credibility is an interesting thing both IRL and on Twitter.  A lot of Twitter-cred is simply a function of how much time you’re willing to spend on the riverbank.  You probably won’t have any luck arguing with someone who lives 24/7 at the river’s edge.  So set your own limits according to what else you’ve got going.  Remember that you can come and go from the river as you please, Good Glory it don’t need you to keep it flowing.  And do remember that tweeting about an issue is not the same as doing something about it.

3.  Expressing rage.  Some users really go in big for this option.  If you need evidence that Homo sapiens is a rageful species, Twitter is a convenient and supremely fecund source.  Some of the anger is straightforward to understand, since injustice inevitably inspires legitimate rage.  I suppose all rage is a legitimate response to something, just only rarely toward whomever it’s being tweeted.  Combine this with the fact that on Twitter one is not excessively accountable for one’s rage and you get The Perfect Interpersonal Storm.  Listen, you can scream insults in ALL CAPS for hours on Twitter, and you will not be held accountable in the same way that your neighbors will hold you accountable if you go out your front door and scream profanity at the top of your lungs all night long.  This has value because IRL accountability is often based on norms founded upon unjust power structures that are rendered deliciously ineffective by the internet.  Yes indeed, this has value, but it also carries a cost – and this cost is exacted not only from the person being screamed at, but also from the screamer’s overall effectiveness.  Incongruously enough, anger ultimately rings rather impotently through the halls of Twitter, while unexpected kindness can echo long.

4.  Setting an example.  One thing that makes Twitter so interesting is that there are almost no rules.  No one can control what hashtag you post to or what words you type, although I’ve seen people expend an impressive amount of energy trying to do just that.  I strongly recommend that you choose your own rules before setting sail down the River Twitter.  First take the time to explore your values.  What kind of person do you believe you are?  What kind of person do you want to be?  Decide the circumstances under which you would block a user who is attempting to communicate with you.  It may not seem likely at the start, but these will be criteria to which you’ll eventually appeal.  It’s constructive to consult the concept of reciprocity, and the long history of the internet can be useful here.  You can learn a lot about a user by examining a few days of recent feed.  Has the person demanding that you listen to them ever demonstrated a willingness to listen to anyone?  Has the person demanding that you change ever evidenced a change in themselves?  Deliniate your personal threshhold for reciprocity, set your limits, and then act accordingly.  Oh, and by the way, if you do this right then your students are watching you, as are a bunch of young people you don’t even know.  What example will you set for them in terms of how to handle internet conflict?  What will you teach them about how scientists should treat each other?

5.  Experimenting with your identity.  You can claim any identity you want on Twitter.  Start from the assumption, however, that most people want to know the real you.  Unless you make it relentlessly explicit that you are a parody account, people will assume that whatever you tweet is basically your real opinion.  What do you really think?  What do you really care about?  It is an interesting experience to tweet your opinions outloud.  You’ll also hear interesting opinions, sometimes held by unlikely identities.  There’s this rabbit that runs a lab and recently an urchin got on Twitter and by gosh I lay awake at night wondering what they’ll say next.  Many smart journalists have twitter feeds where they pull what is actually interesting out of the vast septic intertank as some kind of penance for something, I imagine.  Always remember that every tweet you read is out-of-context because there is no context that fits into 123.7 characters or whatever the hell the number is.  A healthy first reaction to every and any tweet is “Golly, I wonder what the hell the context for that could possibly be!”

So there’s five reasons for ya.  Since when have you had five good reasons to do anything?  Were there five good reasons to go to this week’s Faculty Meeting?  Exactly.  So go ahead and set up a Twitter account!  Hell, set up two or three or six.  Paint your nails and tweet a picture, you never know what might happen.  Come on down to the river and make your choice – because in the end, every time you tweet you are making a choice — whether you realize it or not.  Like every other arena of your life, you are choosing to what and whom you will give your time and emotional energy.   On Twitter, you will never be able to choose what people say to you.  But you are the one who chooses what you say back.

Do you like being told what to do by people who think they know everything?  If so you’re in the right place!  Here’s my advice on how to Get A Faculty Job, How to Save Time Your Faculty Job once you get it, and what to do After You Get Tenure.

What I Say When People Tell Me That They Feel Hopeless About Climate Change

Scientists like me study carbon emissions, deforestation, ocean acidification, desertification, sea-level rise, glacial melting, landscape degradation, groundwater salination, invasive species, global warming and more.  There is very little good news to share.  Today’s environmental problems are easily big enough to eclipse our inadequate solutions.  When people tell me that climate change makes them feel hopeless, I breathe deep, and then I respond.  I don’t answer them because I have a good response, but because we all deserve at least a bad response.  Here is what I say.

What I Say When People Tell Me That They Feel Hopeless About Climate Change

First of all, I remind them that we are strong and lucky.  That our planet is also home to one billion people who live wretchedly on less than one thousand calories a day.  The fact that we are of the group with food, shelter and clean water obligates us not to give up on the world that we have compromised.  Knowledge is responsibility.

I remind them that every Age is conscripted to struggle with its own impending Armageddon.  That during centuries past, men and women railed helpless against overwhelming natural forces that poisoned the wells, spoiled the crops and robbed them of their babies.  We may discount their science as superstition but it was based on state-of-the-art observations.  Genetically we are no smarter than they were, and we may be laboring in similar darkness.  I note that the succeeding centuries did bring unfathomable solutions to even the most intransigent of these ancient plagues.  And though these solutions came far too late for many, they were not too late for all.

I stress that it matters what we teach the next generation.  That we should mourn the marring of our childhood sleep with nightmares about the threat of nuclear war.  We risk our own paralysis via the message that we have hated the Earth and so the Earth hates us.  As far as we know, this is still our species’ eternal home, and we must not alienate our children from it.

If these are my colleagues, I tell them that complaining about something is not the same as doing something about it, and that scaring people is not the same as informing them.  Then I remind myself to take my own advice.

I reassure them that my address book is full of people who care about these issues.  That the smartest people I know are dedicating their lives to gathering the data that will tell us more.  That on this very day, scores of people got to the lab early and will stay late, trying to quantify the exact magnitude of the problem.  That we are walking the fields and counting what is there and what is not.  That the ecologists who first noticed these problems could not have imagined the computers or instruments that we now use every day.  That scientists are watching and working and not just worrying.  That Science is really just as it has always been — overworked and underfunded and absolutely unwavering in its refusal to ever stop trying to figure it all out.

When people tell me that they feel hopeless about climate change, I look them in the eye, steady my voice and state that I believe all will be okay, even though we both know damn well that it may not.  Then I put my head down and I go back to work.

Next month my student graduates with a thesis project focused on crops, carbon dioxide and global hunger, which is what got me thinking.  It’s my first big foray out of rather esoteric plant biochemistry and into socially-relevant climate change research.  I also love science, and believe that it embodies all of our best hopes for tomorrow.

Group Post: Real-Life Identity and The Internet

We got together and started writing this post after Slate published this article about a University of Kansas tenured professor who got in trouble with the Kansas Board of Regents for tweeting his views about the NRA.  Since that time the issue of anonymity, pseudonymity and real-life identity on both Twitter and the blogosphere has really blown up.  Below are essays by five academic scientists discussing the pros and cons of being real-life identified on the internet.  
 

Group Post: Real-Life Identity and The Internet

Hope writes: “People have good reasons for wanting to be anonymous on the internet.  People have good reasons for wanting to be pseudonymous on the internet.  I have good reasons for wanting to be real-life identified, but they are not noble reasons …” read more here …

DNLee writes: “I share my personal experiences with students, educators, academic policy makers, and the general public as my fully identified self to shine a light on how the meritocracy doesn’t quite work the way it should. Right now, my real name carries no weight, but my use of it is about conspicuousness  …” read more here …

Jeremy writes: “Even if I toyed with the idea of restarting under an assumed name, I can’t think of much that I’d do differently. I suspect that my profile—youngish gay biologist with a thing for species interactions, a distaste for sloppy evolutionary storytelling, and a stylistic crush on David Foster Wallace—would out me …” read more here …

Karen writes: “It is a combination of luck and privilege that has permitted me the choice to be Karen James online, not strength of character, commitment to transparency, courage, or any other sort of superior crap certain foes of pseudonymity might suggest …” read more here …

Terry writes: “A visit to a blog can be like arriving at an intimate party where you don’t know anybody. In contrast, I want my blog to be approachable to everybody. I want to be the guy who walks over to the front door, says ‘Hi, I’m Terry. Come on in.’ “ … read more here …

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Note: You can find us individually on Twitter! We are: Hope Jahren (@HopeJahren), DNLee (@DNLee5), Jeremy Yoder (@JBYoder), Karen James (@kejames), and Terry McGlynn (@horminga).  You can also get to our individual blogs via our Twitter profiles.

Why I Turned Down a Q-and-A in Nature Magazine

Today is not the first day that I’ve woken up to realize that my name will not appear in Nature magazine.  I send them my scientific breakthroughs quite regularly.  One of them even broke through recently, and If you love me, you’ll go download it and cite it a few times.  My experience with Nature’s publishing process is that first, a severely overworked Editor desperately tries to find a reason to reject your stuff, and then if he can’t, he sends it out to a few more guys who close ranks and tell you it’s shit.  Then you write a long measured response explaining patiently that they’re all wrong, and finally the Editor has to come down on one side or another, usually not yours.  I don’t have any evidence that this process doesn’t work exactly the same way for every poor bastard that submits a scientific report to Nature, regardless of creed or calling.

So today I learned that the publishing process at Nature is actually very different from the above.  I am now convinced that there’s a rat that runs across the keyboards late at night, accidentally hitting “command-P” here and there and producing content.  I’ve concluded this because apparently no one is responsible for what’s in the correspondence section of Volume 505, which looks like this (click it):

NatureCorres

Above I see two things that I don’t want to read about, one of them being Genital Itching.  I also see the Nature masthead, and a Nature volume number and doi assigned to a letter arguing that journalistic adherence to scientific quality will logically and inevitably result in my invisibility.  Well, that’s my summary, but I encourage you to read it and formulate your own.  This whole thing is a big old steaming déjà vu of Womanspace from a few years ago, which I also wrote about.  Anyway, it hurts to read that crap and so I’m all pissed off.  On Twitter, journalists have splained and splained to me that Nature-Jobs, Nature-Comments, Nature-Letters, Nature-TooManyIDK are totally f*cking separate and each is populated by Editors that positively abhor the values of the others.  It seems that Nature is always really concerned that I fully appreciate this after they publish something offensive.  At other times they’re more comfortable with the lines being blurry.  Like when I’m paying my subscription bill, for example.

I try hard to avoid having principles because they inevitably lead me to hypocrisy, and aside from that, very little else is accomplished.  Today was particularly illustrative: I used to have this policy that I never, ever declined to talk to a reporter.  Because I hold my practice of self-promotion sacred, it was an easy policy to follow.  Well, today I violated my own policy.  I told a very professional, smart and sincerely motivated freelance journalist that I wasn’t going to do the Q&A we’d planned for Nature Jobs.  I felt like shit for declining.  I told her again and again that I don’t want to make her job harder.  Just like Nature doesn’t want to make my job harder.  But it does.  At least I can take comfort in the fact that if readers wonder why my name is not in their issue of Nature, they can just flip over to the section with a letter that explains why you shouldn’t expect to see names like mine in Nature.  This will be handy for everyone, and yet I still feel the need to formally revise my principles in light of today’s events.  Below is my new working model:

THINGS HOPE JAHREN IS NOT WILLING TO DO (a complete list):

I will not serve as the poster child du jour for Nature’s version of GirlsRule!  I don’t want to be Nature‘s counterpoint.  I am my own point.

I will not wear pantyhose ever, for any reason.

THINGS HOPE JAHREN IS WILLING TO DO (an incomplete list):

I will do the exact same Q&A interview — with the same or a different reporter — for any other publication under the sun.  This includes Science, PNAS, Guideposts, Playboy, Hustler and Dog Fancy.

I will fly to Sherman, Texas and do a Q&A interview with Lukas that Nature can print in place of mine.  This will salve my guilt for leaving the Editors in a lurch.  Also, something tells me that Lukas has yet more to say, and I have some questions of my own for him.  It just makes sense!  [Same-Day Update: I’m no longer willing to do this.  Lukas likes to tweet about guns.  See?  Hypocrisy already.  Damn.]

I will allow Nature to officially link to this blog post.  They could call it, “Here’s What Hope Jahren Thinks!”  After all, their wish to interview me proves that they want their readers to know what I have to say, so this will make it easy.  Watch for the link, everyone!

I will hold Nature responsible for choosing to print anything that it prints.

Oh, shucks, who am I kidding here?  Criticizing Nature is like throwing a rock at a tank.  C’mon, it’s Nature for Chrissakes.  Nobody there gives a shit about my hurt little feelings and they can find hoards of men far more interesting than me to interview.  It’s also not my place to tell Nature what to do about what just might be pernicious editorial problems somewhere within their chain-of-command.  And furthermore, I’m sorry for what I wrote about rats.  I feel bad for rats.  It’s not their fault that they spread disease and just generally gross everyone out.  And they clearly don’t understand the damage that they do.

Important point: The Itching-Genital information is not part of any Nature publication, it’s just a web ad.  If my genitals itch, it is not Nature’s responsibility.  Sort of like it’s not their responsibility if one of their editorial choices disempowers the shit out of me.

Got a comment? hahaLOL, send it to Nature! Or you can tweet me.

Still wondering what this is all about?  You can read the whole story of Lukas’s original dumbass letter on @rocza ‘s blog.
 
I also wrote a very measured and professional letter directly to Editor-in-Chief at Nature, mostly because I like to hear myself talk.  They published  a 300-word excerpt of it within their Correspondence section.