February Recommended Reading

At the end of each month I compile links to articles I found thought-provoking over that month, categorized with pull-quotes for your perusal and edification. Each of these is a story that made me stop and think, and hopefully one or two of them will do the same for you.


Most teachers are overlooking huge numbers of gifted black students – Candice Norwood

“It turns out black students were about half as likely as white students to be placed in gifted programs, according to a national study released last month by researchers at Vanderbilt University. This might be due to the process of identifying which students are gifted, whether it’s through testing, a subjective panel, or teacher referrals, which are where the discrepancy really sticks out. The study also found that black teachers were three times more likely to recommend black students for gifted services than nonblack teachers.

But it’s not simply a matter of black teachers being sympathetic. A 2015 paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, for example, found that when a school district screened all its students for giftedness (rather than relying on teacher referrals), there was a 180 percent increase in the number of disadvantaged students who qualified.”

Black Workers Really Do Need to Be Twice as Good – Gillian B. White

“For decades, black parents have told their children that in order to succeed despite racial discrimination, they need to be “twice as good”: twice as smart, twice as dependable, twice as talented. This advice can be found in everything from literature to television shows, to day-to-day conversation. Now, a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that when it comes to getting and keeping jobs, that notion might be more than just a platitude.

There’s data that demonstrates the unfortunate reality: Black workers receive extra scrutiny from bosses, which can lead to worse performance reviews, lower wages, and even job loss. The NBER paper, authored by Costas Cavounidis and Kevin Lang, of Boston University, attempts to demonstrate how discrimination factors into company decisions, and creates a feedback loop, resulting in racial gaps in the labor force.”


It is Time: My personal journey from harassee to guardian – Rebecca Rogers Ackermann

“Why didn’t I report any of these incidents? Or confront the deliverers? I have been thinking about this a lot these days in the wake of all of the revelations in science, and given that this question is frequently posed to me and others. I didn’t report them (or slap them) because every single time all I wanted to do was to flee. To remove myself from the situation and get somewhere safe… a different conversation, a different office, a different university, a different country. The last thing I wanted to do was report it and put myself back into an ‘unsafe’ place. So after a moment of shock I would generally laugh it off, or deliver some witty comment to diffuse the situation, then find the nearest exit (literal or figurative). I suppose everyone thinks they are going to react swiftly and confidently when faced with danger, pulling out your own ‘gun’ and blasting the bad guy. But in my experience I freeze first. Then I try to escape. Only later do I consider what I could have done to avoid, fight, retaliate.

It is only now, when I see these things happening to my students, that I have become really, truly, irrevocably angry. Angry because I know them, and I know they didn’t ask for it and don’t deserve it. Angry because something I thought would go away with the next generation has only continued. Angry because in one case the perpetrator was the same person who kissed me… 20 YEARS AGO. Angry because many of these men are still in control, and worse, are mentors to people who will perpetuate the cycle. Angry because in some cases it is now my peers who are doing the harassing. Angry because they are still blaming the women, denying that they did anything wrong, saying it was consensual. Angry because our institutions still preferentially protect them, and prioritise them and their needs and feelings over the victims. And I think back to the fossil incident and realise that encouraging students to report it is a good step, but I need to do more. I have more power now, and I need to speak out, and speak out loudly.”

In the battle of Internet mobs vs. the law, the Internet mobs have won – Caitlin Dewey

“The Massachusetts attorney general investigated one man who tweeted, among other things, that he “personally sniped” 41 insurgents in Iraq, and was going to shoot Wu next. But the AG concluded that the man, 20-year-old Jan Rankowski, was not mentally stable enough to prosecute, Wu says. And while the FBI did assign a special agent to her case, they eventually passed it on to state prosecutors and the attorney general’s office, who have not yet pursued charges. Documents show that law enforcement officials visited the homes of several of Wu’s tormentors, only to conclude that they were underage and leave them with a warning. Last May, Wu and her husband sent a desperate email to the agent assigned to her case, complaining that “we feel like we are sending emails into the void” and that “we do not have any faith that the FBI is interested in helping our family.”

In response, according to emails Wu provided to The Post, a federal prosecutor said that “cases of this nature are very challenging” and offered to refer them to victim/witness services, which never happened. “I had every advantage,” said Wu. “I spoke to people in Congress, there were hundreds of articles, there was a ‘Law & Order’ episode based on our case — I don’t know what other incentive they could have to investigate. Even if you do everything right, the police will not help you.” ”

XY Bias: How Male Biology Students See Their Female Peers – Ed Yong

“The causes of this attrition are manifold, but sexual discrimination is an indisputable part of it. Women in STEM repeatedly report experiencing sexual harassment, being mistaken for administrative staff, being forced to prove themselves to a degree that their male colleagues are not, being told to behave in more aggressive, outspoken masculine ways while simultaneously facing backlash for doing so.

And several careful experiments have shown that faculty members—both men and women—are more likely to spend their time mentoring men, to respond to emails from men, to call on men in classes, to rate (fictional) male applicants as more competent and hirable than identical female ones, and to hire a man for a job that requires math.

These biases, sometimes manifesting outrightly and sometimes insidiously, collectively create an environment where women feel like they don’t belong, like they aren’t valued, like the odds are set against them. Confidence falls, perseverance wanes, and careers die by a thousand cuts.”


The Politics of Pizza: The “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act” is Anything But – Celia Wexler

“Here’s what this bill does, or should I say, undoes. The FDA wants restaurants to tell us how many calories are contained in one standard menu item. That’s pretty straightforward. I buy a McDonald’s Big Mac; McDonald’s tells me how many calories I’m consuming. But this bill will let food outlets play games. They can decide that a “serving” is actually one-half a sandwich or a very small slice of pizza, so that if a consumer is not reading carefully, it will be easy to assume that the sandwich I’m enjoying is only 375 calories, when in truth, I’m packing in 750 calories.

Also, food outlets covered by the House bill would not have to give equal access to information to all customers. If more than half of customers ordered their food remotely and then picked it up, a retail outlet would only have to provide the calorie information online. No information would be provided to walk-ins. And the bill weakens any attempts to enforce the regulation.”

Organic Agriculture Is Key to Helping Feed the World Sustainably – John Reganold

“Conventional agriculture may produce more food, but it often comes at a cost to the environment. Biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, and severe impacts on ecosystem services have not only accompanied conventional farming systems but have often extended well beyond their field boundaries. With organic agriculture, environmental costs tend to be lower and the benefits greater.

Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality, and reduce soil erosion compared to their conventional counterparts. Organic agriculture also creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s more energy-efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic agriculture is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides, like pollination, and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.”

The surprising truth about the ‘food movement’ – Tamar Haspel

“The Rutgers study asked consumers about information on labels using both methods: first, “What would you like to see on labels?” and second, “Would you like to see X on labels?” The difference between the responses is huge, and it’s at the heart of why the food movement seems so much bigger than it actually is.

When subjects were asked what they would like labels to identify, here were some of the results: 7 percent (the highest number) said GMOs, 6 percent said where the food was grown or produced; 2 percent said chemicals; 1 percent said pesticides. A survey by the International Food Information Council in 2014 asked a similar question; 4 percent of respondents cited biotechnology and 4 percent cited source or processing information. Those are very small numbers.”


The Pragmatic Case for Bernie Sanders – Christopher Cook

“In politics, if you demand a mile, you get a foot; demand a moderate inch, and at best, you get a centimeter. On the other side of the ledger, history shows that political and social change emanate from persistent pressure—organizing and arguing for a more just world, not settling for what is deemed “realistic” before getting to the negotiating table. Remember when gay rights and gay marriage were “unrealistic”? Remember when voting rights, desegregation, and other basic justice were far from “pragmatic”? They became real through years of dedicated, principled, idealism—by insisting the unrealistic become real.”

Changing Minds:

Why I Left the Right: How Studying Religion Made Me a Liberal – Susie Meister

“What happened, however, wasn’t an abandonment of my faith, but a shift in my understanding of Scripture. While I had always read the Bible and knew large portions of it by memory, I had relied on the expertise of my religious mentors (some of whom were simply laypeople teaching Sunday School or Christian education classes) to help guide me through its interpretation. The more I read the text through unfiltered eyes and the more I learned about scholarly investigation, the less sense their point of view made. Their old Jesus looked nothing like my new Jesus.

I could no longer reconcile Jesus’s calls for non-judgment, loving your enemies, and taking up your cross with many of the Religious Right’s positions on social services, women’s rights, and the LGBT community. Even though I felt alone in my theological shift, I was not. A recent Pew Research Center poll puts the evangelical retention rate at 65%, and while we don’t know to what extent education plays in the decision of a believer to leave a tradition, I suspect the fears of many of my religious peers regarding secular education were not unfounded. It isn’t just general education that can shift beliefs; indeed a recent study by Baylor University researcher Aaron Franzen found that increased reading of the Bible correlated with greater passion for social justice—a trait typically associated with liberalism.”


LIGO Sees First Ever Gravitational Waves as Two Black Holes Eat Each Other – Phil Plait

“Gravitational waves (not to be confused with gravity waves, which are a totally different thing) are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, caused when a massive object is accelerated. By the time they get here from distant astronomical objects, the waves have incredibly low energy and are phenomenally difficult to detect, which is why it’s taken a century to discover them since they were first predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Essentially every other prediction of GR has been found to be correct, but the existence of gravitational waves has been maddeningly difficult to prove directly. Until now. …

So, to understand all this better you’ll need a wee bit of background. This is all very mind-bendy stuff, but I promise it’s worth it.

What is a gravitational wave, anyway? One of the outcomes of Einstein’s General Relativity theory is that space and time are two facets of the same thing, which we call spacetime. There are lots of analogies for it, but you can think of it as the fabric of space, a four-dimensional tapestry (three of space and one of time) in which we are all embedded. Remember, it’s not literally like this; we’re using an analogy. But it’ll help you picture it.”


And for fun… A comprehensive overview of chemical-free consumer products – Alexander F. G. Goldberg and CJ Chemjobber

One comment on “February Recommended Reading

  1. venice967 says:

    I have had a similar experience that Susie Meister shares. I didn’t work on any campaigns or brush shoulders with famous people but I have had a shifting of my faith. I am still a follower of Jesus Christ but I find it hard to identify with mainstream christians. Since going through some physical health challenges and family challenges, I’ve come to see some things in a different light. Anyone who is struggling with their faith should first examine the church they are in before throwing away their faith. Sometimes it is the church that is flawed, not the values themselves. And I don’t think there is a perfect church out there. It takes a personal relationship with the Lord to work these things through. Patience, reading Scripture, and a teachable heart are the things needed to maintain solid faith and a steady walk. I’m glad there are people out there willing to share their struggles. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.


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