Weekly Meanderings, 18 March 2017

9781587433948Thank you, Hilda! Ryan Miller:

Vivienne Malone-Mayes. Jane Hinton. Jessie Price.

You may have never heard of these black female scientists, but one woman is looking to bring their images back to life.

With the help of Twitter, Hilda Bastian (@MissingSciFaces) has worked for the past two months to uncover pictures and stories of prominent, but under-represented scientists.

With the tales of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson made famous by the recent book and movie Hidden Figures, Bastian hopes to spread the untold stories of many others.

So far, Bastian and the network she’s created have uncovered more than 20 pictures. She’s currently working on a larger list of scientists — of all minority backgrounds — whose photos and stories remain largely unknown.

Bastian’s inspiration came after editing various scientists’ Wikipedia pages. She began to notice there were few to no pictures of black female scientists, and if images did exist, they would be of the same few figures whose stories were already known.

Bastian decided to dedicate Black History Month in February to finding one image of a black female scientist per day. “But after a couple of days I realized that it was going to be impossible to find 28 quickly,” she said.

So Bastian’s work continued, with late nights scanning a variety of online databases, articles and obituaries. At the end of the month, she published a blog post of her progress, and watched as interest grew. After writing a guide on finding images and avoiding copyright infringements, Bastian began to crowdsource help for her project.

Fitbit News:

POTTSVILLE, PA—Local believer Raymond Avila surpassed his audacious Fitbit goal of 20,000 steps per day just twenty minutes into Sunday’s service at Floods of Life Pentecostal Church, sources confirmed.

According to those present, Avila’s energetic involvement in the first few songs of the service was a major factor in the achievement, as the man’s wild gyrations, vigorous running man variants, and emphatic hand raising were converted into tens of thousands of steps by the small fitness device strapped around his wrist.

Avila’s excited off-beat clapping, skillful ribbon dancing down the aisles, and flurry of seemingly random, spastic shaking of his favorite tambourine also contributed to the accomplishment.

“I knew the anointing was strong, but I had no idea what the Holy Ghost and I were accomplishing,” an emotional Avila reportedly said in a spontaneous speech on the spot as his Fitbit indicated he had well surpassed his goal, interrupting the regularly scheduled chaos of the church service. “I claim this fitness victory in the name of Jesus!”

Yes, this is from Babylon Bee.

Conor Friedersdorf:

Alas, liberalism is threatened from other directions, too. On college campuses, where members of successive generations are acculturated, old liberal truths are as vital as ever. But they have never been unanimously embraced, and today’s most potent challenges include a faction that seeks to limit debate on subjects as varied as race, gender, sexual assault, war, same sex marriage, divestment from Israel, and whether administrators or students ought to shape norms surrounding Halloween costumes. At times, these conflicts go beyond mere peaceful protests of speakers alleged to be racist, sexist, imperialist, or otherwise wrongheaded or insensitive, and involve disinviting, shouting down,  or even or violently attacking speakers.
In response, there is a new effort, undertaken largely by people who are alarmed by illiberalism on the political right, to turn some of their attention to illiberalism on campus, as if heeding Hayek’s advice to revitalize old truths for a new generation.An incident at Middlebury College appears to have been particularly galvanizing.Days after protesters shouted down social scientist Charles Murray, insisting that the man who wrote The Bell Curve, a book that posited a genetic explanation for measured gaps in IQ differences between racial groups, should not be permitted to speak on campus––then mobbed him as he tried to leave Middlebury, injuring a professor walking alongside him––two of America’s most prominent public intellectuals, leftist philosopher Cornel West and conservative legal scholar Robert P. George, are allying to tout the value of an unencumbered public discourse.Best to begin with their most important sentence.“All of us should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments,” the men declared in a public statement.That standard neatly sidesteps the tricky troll problem.

Beyond trolls, the men give little wiggle room, insisting that neither matters of great import nor the fraught subject of identity is exempt.  “The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage,” they insist, “especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held—even our most cherished and identity-forming—beliefs.”

Go Aquin!

FREEPORT — Aquin Catholic High School junior Sedona Smith came to school today with butterflies in her stomach about the annual Prom Draw, a school tradition for more than 90 years.

Smith and her junior and senior high school classmates voted to keep the tradition alive. The boys draw girls’ names at random and come up with creative ways to ask the girls, who are tradition-bound to accept.

“It’s a cool thing what we do by choosing to keep with tradition each year,” Smith said. “I’m excited to have something to tell my own kids someday, and for those of us as juniors and seniors, we are already like family and something like this just brings us closer together.”

Laura Diemer, the school’s director of communications, said the school’s tradition began in the late 1920s, with the nuns who ran the orphanage that used to be located across from the school. In order to give all students the opportunity to go to prom, the nuns came up with the idea to have a prom draw.

Decades later, the tradition has been embellished with skits and the girls often cover their heads with decorated brown bags to hide their identity from the boys.

David Brooks and Rod Dreher:

My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism. By retreating to neat homogeneous monocultures, most separatists will end up doing what all self-segregationists do, fostering narrowness, prejudice and moral arrogance. They will close off the dynamic creativity of a living faith.

There is a beautiful cohesion to the monastic vocation. But most people are dragged willy-nilly into life — with all its contradictions and complexities. Many who experience faith experience it most vividly within the web of their rival loves — different communities, jobs, dilemmas. They have faith in their faith. It gives them a way of being within the realities of a messy and impure world.

The right response to the moment is not the Benedict Option, it is Orthodox Pluralism. It is to surrender to some orthodoxy that will overthrow the superficial obsessions of the self and put one’s life in contact with a transcendent ideal. But it is also to reject the notion that that ideal can be easily translated into a pure, homogenized path. It is, on the contrary, to throw oneself more deeply into friendship with complexity, with different believers and atheists, liberals and conservatives, the dissimilar and unalike.

Nate Silver:

So did journalists in Washington and London make the apocryphal Pauline Kael mistake, refusing to believe that Trump or Brexit could win because nobody they knew was voting for them? That’s not quite what Trende was arguing. Instead, it’s that political experts4 aren’t a very diverse group and tend to place a lot of faith in the opinions of other experts and other members of the political establishment. Once a consensus view is established, it tends to reinforce itself until and unless there’s very compelling evidence for the contrary position. Social media, especially Twitter, can amplify the groupthink further. It can be an echo chamber.

I recently reread James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds” which, despite its name, spends as much time contemplating the shortcomings of such wisdom as it does celebrating its successes. Surowiecki argues5 that crowds usually make good predictions when they satisfy these four conditions:

  1. Diversity of opinion. “Each person should have private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.”
  2. Independence. “People’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them.”
  3. Decentralization. “People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.”
  4. Aggregation. “Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.”

Political journalism scores highly on the fourth condition, aggregation. While Surowiecki usually has something like a financial or betting market in mind when he refers to “aggregation,” the broader idea is that there’s some way for individuals to exchange their opinions instead of keeping them to themselves. And my gosh, do political journalists have a lot of ways to share their opinions with one another, whether through their columns, at major events such as the political conventions or, especially, through Twitter.

But those other three conditions? Political journalism fails miserably along those dimensions.

She says, let them eat dirt:

Yes, it’s important to wash your hands. It’s critical during cold and flu season and especially if you visit someone at the hospital.

The problem is — in the West at least — parents have taken the business of keeping clean way too far.

New science shows that blasting away tiny organisms called microbes with our hand sanitizers, antibacterial soaps and liberal doses of antibiotics is having a profoundly negative impact on our kids’ immune systems, says microbiologist Marie-Claire Arrieta, co-author of a new book called Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World.

The assistant professor at the University of Calgary, along with her co-author, esteemed microbiologist Brett Finlay, make the case that we’re raising our kids in a cleaner, more hyper-hygienic environment than ever before. They say that overdoing it the way we are is contributing to a host of chronic conditions ranging from allergies to obesity. I chatted with Arrieta recently to find out more.

Communal living as an option in mega-expensive cities? ByBy Gabrielle Lurie and Melissa Fares | SAN FRANCISCO:

Zander Dejah, 25, pays $1,900 a month rent to live in a downtown San Francisco house with at least 40 other people, many of whom sleep in bunk beds.

Dejah is a resident of The Negev, a communal living space that styles itself as a home for millennial tech workers to brainstorm ideas, write code and create apps, even if they have to share toilets and bathrooms with dozens of others. (Related photo essay: here)

Houses like The Negev, located in a neighborhood known as “SoMa” or South of Market, have cropped up around San Francisco as an influx of young professionals, many of whom are tech workers, have faced the city’s notoriously high rents and apartment shortages. It has three floors and roughly 50 rooms, filled with bunk beds, beer bottles and laptops, according to residents.

Dejah, born and raised in New York, graduated last year with a degree in computer science and math from McGill University. Unemployed, he moved to California six months ago and found his room at The Negev on Craigslist.

“I thought New York was expensive,” said Dejah, who quickly landed a job as a virtual reality engineer at consulting firm moBack. “It’s basically an extension of college. We sort of live in a frat house.”

The home is certainly filled with parties on weekends, but the residents make sure to sit down every Sunday for a communal dinner, akin to a traditional family gathering.

While some say communal housing provides a solution for many first-time workers fresh out of college, such housing also has created its share of controversy. Housing advocates have complained that this new dorm-like style of living has pushed up rents and forced longtime residents to move out.

What happens if you avoid using those toilet seat covers on public toilets?

There’s a certain comfort in the toilet seat cover, the tissue-thin layer of grace between your bare behind and a piece of cold, dirty plastic. But what happens if you forgo the cover, boldly plopping down on a surface crawling with who knows what?

Probably nothing, according to public health experts. Seat covers do not stop germs, they said, and you’re not likely to catch an infection from a toilet, anyway.

Toilet seat covers are absorbent and bacteria and viruses are tiny, able to pass through the relatively large holes in the cover’s paper, said Kelly Reynolds, a public health researcher at the University of Arizona. That means they don’t stop the spread of germs, she said, but the risk of germ transmission from your skin touching a toilet seat is unlikely in the first place.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.