Nobel Prize for Medicine

includes 2 women!

STOCKHOLM – Americans Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak won the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering a key mechanism in the genetic operations of cells, an insight that has inspired new lines of research into cancer.
It was the first time two women have been among the winners of the medicine prize.
The trio solved the mystery of how chromosomes, the rod-like structures that carry DNA, protect themselves from degrading when cells divide.
The Nobel citation said the laureates found the solution in the ends of the chromosomes — features called telomeres that are often compared to the plastic tips at the end of shoe laces that keep those laces from unraveling.

And one of the winners makes a very good point, which the British REF would do well to bear in mind:

Greider described the research as beginning with experiments aimed at understanding how cells work, not with the idea for certain implications for medicine.
“Funding for that kind of curiosity-driven science is really important,” she said, adding that disease-oriented research isn’t the only way to reach the answer, but “both together are synergistic,” she said.

On a lighter note, the article mentions the winners being awakened at 2 and 5 AM with the news. Wouldn’t you think the Nobel Committee could pause to check on time zones? Perhaps that’s just the over-considerate ex-pat in me talking. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

Network theory and equity in philosophy

A NY Times  review yesterday judges that a new book on network theory is both obvious and brilliant.  Connected, by Christakis and Fowler, provides a comprehensible look at a fairly new way of thinking about causation and social groups.**

It occurred to me in looking at the review that perhaps much of our thinking about how to improve the lot of women in philosophy is done without much attention paid to the fact that professional philosophers form networks.  There might be ways in which we could be more influential if we thought in terms  of taking action within networks.

One of the basic ideas of network theory is that actions of a person/node in a network can influence people that are not directly connected to that node.  Your friend’s friend’s gaining weight may influence your weight, for example.

One problem is that using networks effectively for change depends to some extent on knowing how things flow through the network.  And that  may be far from obvious.  For example, it looks as though heavy drinking by a woman will have much more of an impact on people connected to her than will that of a man; it spreads from her more easily. 

One thing that is possible even with little knowledge is looking at examples to get ideas.  One example suggested to me at least that in addition to putting information out there, we should try to get people act within their more local networks.  We may find we’ve been better at disseminating information than we have been at disseminating actions.  Actually, that strikes me as so true, I’m going to underline it.  Please, share any thoughts you may have.

One ominous part of the review says  what is really interesting is the phiosophical implication about minds, agency, and so on.  Groan.  Yes, we’re back to the mind of the group and so on.  We little nodes are mere cogs, and so on.

ADDED:  If you have a colleague in another department who knows about network theory, it might help us if you have a talk with them and shared the results.


It was reflecting on the easy aquisition of this book that prompted the ode to my kindle.

Ode to my kindle

According to what I can find on the web, odes are supposed to have an elevated style. That’s pretty tiring, so I’ve only done three lines:

O Kindle, slight site of dearest volumes,
Adept who dost translate desire into satiety,
Thou striveth to catch even fleeting curiosity.

I was inspired to write an ode on realizing yesterday that I had read an excited review in the NY Times that morning, and had  read much of the book several  hours later.  And books are just about always less  for the kindle, and sometimes much less.  A number of classic texts are free.

There are a couple of downsides:

1.  You don’t get page numbers, a bummer for references.

2.  Non-US residents are having trouble downloading books, though it’s ok in England, apparently, where kindle is being launched soon.  This may be a temporary glitch.

3.  While quite a bit of philosophy is available, not much  feminist philosophy is.  I haven’t tried to figure out the reason for this, so I can’t say it’s an instance of disadvantages getting compounded.

Earlier we also considered other possible problems, including not supporting independent  bookstores, here.