Race and Gender in Supervisor Choice

Reader L wants to know whether has been any research into the role of race and gender in PhD students’ choice of supervisors. The concern stems from anecdotal observations that male PhD students in engineering seem more likely to pick white male supervisors– which could be damaging to the promotion prospects of those who are not white and male.

An unnatural disaster: addition

roseate spoonbill

You’ll know about the oil in the Gulf of Mexico.  What some may not realize is what a disaster this is for our precious wildlife. 

Ralph Portier, a professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, said “The question is what that long time frame will do to those plant species and what that will mean for habitat for seafood and migratory birds,” he said. “Picture if the [Florida] Everglades were being oiled, what a national tragedy that would be. And this area is even more fragile and productive.”

The Gulf Coast is home to vast numbers of birds, animals and fish that need to be protected, said Tom MacKenzie of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Endangered sea turtles are due to come in to shore soon and lay eggs in the coastal sand.

“A whole generation could be affected,” MacKenzie said.

Floating booms to block oil from coming in cannot protect the entire coast, he said, so crews are prioritizing sensitive wildlife areas, including nesting grounds for pelicans and butterfly migration areas.

snowy egret

“This has the potential to be truly devastating,” he said.

The damage to the crawfish, shrimp and oyster populations — and the economy that relies on them — could be severe, Portier said. Scientists can help rebuild the aquatic species, but many businesses could be ruined by then, he said.

“This whole economic fabric could be ripped, and that in turn will affect the cultural fabric” of the Delta region, he said. Still, Portier remains optimistic.

“All of us Cajuns are tragically hopeful,” he said. “My ancestors — if you can survive

black skimmers

yellow fever and all the other things that happened growing up in the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana, you’d better have a smile on your face, because that’s about all you have some days.”

Addition:  The first comment reminds us that we can try to take some action!  Thanks, Roger.  If anyone else has any information about donating or volunteering, please let us know.

“stand down if you don’t have ovaries”

Thus  Charles Blow quotes Florida state representative Janet Long.   Florida has passed a bill on abortion that  puts another obstacle  between a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy and its happening. 

And on Friday, the Florida Legislature passed a bill also requiring all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. Even if the women don’t want to see the image, the doctor must still describe it to them.

And Nebraska which has passed a law against abortions after 20 weeks, since someone got the scientifically ill-supported idea that that’s when a fetus can feel pain.  Mississippi’s legislature has passed a bill forbidding public spending on abortion, even in the case of severe birth defects.  We heard already about Oklahoma.

As Blow says, “It is a striking series of laws, enacted mostly by men, that seek legal control over women’s bodies.”

What I find so puzzling is that none of these supposed  fetus protectors seems to care about all the fetuses that are spontaneously aborted.  Whoever or whatever designed pregnancy does not seem to have the same regard for fetuses as various state legislators do.  Instead millions a year are flushed away or otherwise just discarded.   Who knows how many could be saved by some research?

Apparently support for abortion rights is losing ground in two areas especially:  men over 65 and women under 30!  What could be causing that?  And I’m not asking about the old guys.

Afghan feminists

The Guardian has an interesting article about the difficulties faced by Afghan feminists, in their bid to secure basic rights for women. It talks mainly of one feminist group – the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan – which the government sees as a dangerous group, plotting some kind of Maoist coup. In fact, RAWA are involved in delivering literacy classes to women, campaigning for more freedoms, and running orphanages for female children. You can read more here.

Women, class and sewage

JJ raised an interesting issue below about whether we should respect the privacy of frogs. (I’ll just point out now for any passing non-philosophers, that it’s interesting because it forces us to examine our notions of privacy and people’s rights to it more carefully.) Unfortunately, some joker rather lowered the tone by introducing the issue of dogs and poo, which got me thinking about people’s defecation habits. I then came across this article, which reports on India’s problems with sewage. The country does not have the infrastructure to cope with its people’s excrement, which contaminates water used for drinking, washing, and the soil used to grow food. Interesting from our perspective is the observation that women are disproportionately affected by the lack of adequate lavatories – many girls drop out of school when they reach puberty because of having to share a toilet with boys. The article does not go into further detail, but I suppose this may be because of embarrassment over menstruation, and perhaps because of threat of sexual assault – India has a bad record on this score. The article also notes Gandhi’s thinking about the issue. In 1925, he observed that many of the country’s diseases stemmed from inadequate sewage arrangements, and stated that ‘sanitation is more important than political independence’. He identified part of the problem as the caste system, which meant that the lowest of the low had to scratch a living by removing sewage from the toilet pits of higher castes. This, apparently, removed the impetus for society and the government to sort out the sewage system.

Britney and those pictures – an alternative view

Here’s an interesting, alternative take on the Britney pictures story. In brief, Britney asked for unphotoshopped versions of the photos to be released to highlight the pressures on women to look a certain way, and she’s been applauded (and criticised in direct and not-so-direct ways) by various sources for the move. The post I link to above, however, suggests that holding up celebrities, posing for photos in pink bikinis, as feminists, or as performing feminist actions, is a sad reflection on the state of feminism. Feminine appearance, she suggests, is not a particularly weighty topic, and all the hoo haa over it is getting in the way of campaigning over more serious feminist issues, such as equal pay, domestic abuse, etc. etc. I’m not sure I agree – the pressures relating to feminist appearance is, I think, a topic that’s every bit as important as equal pay, because (i) in our culture, the pressures put on women (and increasingly on men) to look a certain way are enormous and have been linked to serious things like anorexia; (ii) the issues surrounding feminine appearance are linked to other supposedly more serious issues. For example, our culture prizes youthful looking women and this affects the career trajectory of women in certain jobs in a way that it does not affect men. Notice the trend in the UK, for teaming an ageing male TV presenter with a much younger female, and notice that one never sees an older female with a significantly younger male presenter. Female newsreaders are made redundant when they become too old, whilst male newsreaders can continue to inform us of world events looking all grey and ‘distinguished’. Sandra Bartky’s work reminds us that the norms of feminine appearance don’t just include ideals of how we should look, but how we should comport our bodies also. Women’s body language is the language of subordinates – we look down on the ground, take up as little space as possible, walk with smaller steps, and so on. I think the article falls into the trap of denigrating women for their anxieties over their appearance – a nice cultural fix we find ourselves in, where we’re damned if we don’t ‘make an effort’, and damned if we let anyone know how much effort it is. But what do you think?