Tag Archives: stuff Diana thinks people should know

Expectations vs. Reality: More Key Questions on Molecularization of Identity


[Above: Rendering of DNA–aka “what most people think about when they hear ‘molecular identity'”–via ynse on Flickr & Creative Commons. 

Below: What scientists actually look at when they’re trying to sort out molecular identities. By Micah Baldwin via Flickr & Creative Commons]


Two posts and two weeks later, I’ve only covered a fraction of the ideas presented at “The Molecularization of Identity” conference. Molecular identities factor into so many aspects of our lives that disentangling and summarizing them is pratically impossible. 

But maybe summary shouldn’t be the goal. 

After all, succinct summaries tend to create expectations--either for futures that promise to cure all our ills and end all suffering or for apocalyptic technology that robs us of our humanity.  However, reality is always a mixed bag. Science isn’t separate from the rest of society, and most corners of society have already been shaped by science. 

Maybe we’d be better off if we admitted that the biological, chemical, physical, geological, and cultural worlds are all entangled. 

The Blurred Boundaries of Bhopal

Three decades have passed since a pesticide-manufacturing Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India leaked 30 tons of a deadly gas called methyl isocyanate into the surrounding countryside. Over two thousand people died immediately, but the effects of the pesticide lingered and continued to kill.  Several thousands more died in the first two weeks after the leak, and many more were left disabled.

Continue reading “Expectations vs. Reality: More Key Questions on Molecularization of Identity” »

The Unfinished Recap: Why I Didn’t Post About Jason Lieb’s Science

A year and a half ago, during the height of my brown-bag lunch crashing & recapping phase, I caught a talk by a young, charismatic Princeton researcher named Jason Lieb.

His talk was awesome. He made gene regulation, a topic that very few people can discuss for an hour without lapsing into what sounds like a bastardized dialect of a long extinct language, sound like a thrilling new spectator sport.

I was thrilled. So many bits and pieces that I had picked up over the course of sitting in on genetics lectures had suddenly fallen into context when I heard his talk. I knew right away that I wanted to recap his talk for the blog. I was busy that month, so I ended up writing my draft of the recap in bits and pieces over the course of a couple of weeks.

Then I finally got to the point where I was ready to add links.

I googled Jason Lieb.

Google’s auto-fill turned up the usual terms you’d expect: “Jason Lieb Princeton”, “Jason Lieb Molecular Biology”, and then…

“Jason Lieb resignation”

“Jason Lieb sexual harrassment”

I didn’t have any trouble believing that a young, kinda bro-y, Ivy League primary investigator would be capable of sexual harassment, but Lieb was one of the best molecular biology speakers I had ever seen. (And that remains true today).

Why him? Why couldn’t it be someone whose ideas were boring? Someone whose delivery was stilted? Someone who struggled to articulate biology concepts clearly?

Why did someone with so much potential to be an excellent molecular biologist and biology teacher have to be a sexual harasser?   Continue reading “The Unfinished Recap: Why I Didn’t Post About Jason Lieb’s Science” »

Why I Dropped Out of My Science Writing Grad Program

“Should I go to science journalism grad school?”

I’ve been asking myself that question since my junior year of undergrad, and I asked myself  every day I spent MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.

In fact, I’m still asking myself that question.

Hi. My name is Diana Crow, and I’m a science writing grad school dropout.  I have the option to re-apply to finish my degree in another year, and even though I really want to do that, I’m also don’t want to risk a repeat of what happened this fall, so yeah…MIT is great!

That’s what I’ve been telling people this month. It’s true, but it leaves a lot unsaid.

Deciding on whether to go to grad school– and if so, which grad school?– is hard. I think it’s doubly hard when you’re trying to decide whether to take on a program in a field where a master’s isn’t technically a job requirement.

So back in December, when I was still on the fence about dropping out, I started writing this blog post to (hopefully) help other people who are deciding where and whether to go to grad school.

(It’s gonna be a little bit long and disjointed, so feel free to skip over parts or read them out of order, if that suits you.)

So….should I have gone to science writing grad school?

Continue reading “Why I Dropped Out of My Science Writing Grad Program” »

7 Reasons Why an Autism Advocacy Organization Would Oppose the Combating Autism Act

BREAKING NEWS: The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) just issued an official statement in opposition to the renewal of the Combating Autism Act.

If any of you are wondering, “Why would an autistic advocacy organization oppose a bill that allocates funds toward autism research?” here’s a quick breakdown of the most frequently-cited reasons (in no particular order).

#1: The name “Combating Autism” is in and of itself offensive. Think about how people would react if an appropriations bill for PTSD research was called “Combating PTSD”. It would never fly, and it’s not okay to equate “autism” to an “enemy combatant that needs to be killed/neutralized”. Ever.

#2: Many autistic people see their autism as an integral part of their identity. It’s kind of similar to the way most of us identify as being an extrovert or an introvert, but more fraught. This does NOT mean that all people who use the #StopCombatingMe hashtag are completely against medication, but they are against framing autism as something that is inherently destructive and needs to be “cured”, “combated”, and/or “eliminated”.

#3: The media, politicians, lobbyists, and many parental advocates have a bizarre fixation on trying to “save” autistic children and prevent future cases of autism, while ignoring the insanely high rates of unemployment and homelessness among autistic adults. It is as if autistic adults are invisible, but everyone wants to stop white, upper/middle-class children from “falling prey to autism” at all costs.

Continue reading “7 Reasons Why an Autism Advocacy Organization Would Oppose the Combating Autism Act” »

Neurodiversity & Disability Rights in the Autistic Civil Rights Movement- Recap of talk by Ari Ne’eman

The Talk:

“Autism, Neurodiversity, and Disability Rights: Then and Now”

In Plain English:

Disability advocates are in the middle of an ongoing struggle to ensure civil rights for autistic individuals, and hardly anyone has seemed to notice.

The Speaker:

Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

The Location:

Harvard Law School Project on Disability

What it covered:

This event was less of a lecture and more of a roundtable discussion about Disability Rights and Neurodiversity (a term so obscure that the Harvard Gazette mistakenly listed the title of the talk as “Autism, Neodiversity, and Disability Rights”). There were barely a dozen of us in the room, which made for one of the most intense academic conversations I’ve ever witnessed.

Ari Ne’eman began by giving an overview of the history of discrimination against and institutionalization of autistic individuals. Our culture has a long tradition of imprisoning people who are physically and/or mentally disabled, but “medical” institutionalization didn’t begin in earnest until the late 1800s, when the eugenics movement took hold. Ne’eman cited Alexander Graham Bell as one of the leaders of the American eugenics movement.

Bell and his eugenicist compatriots wanted a way to contain “different & defective members of the human race.” So they built massive institutions to house anyone who was considered a threat to mainstream society. Ne’eman emphasized the point that these early institutions were not specifically designed for autistic individuals* but rather anyone who was socially undesirable or difficult to manage. Continue reading “Neurodiversity & Disability Rights in the Autistic Civil Rights Movement- Recap of talk by Ari Ne’eman” »

Viruses can shut down our anti-viral proteins – Recap of talk by Dr. Ileana Cristea

The Talk:

Host Defense and Viral Immune Evasion: A Proteomics Perspective

In Plain English:

Human cells and viruses are locked in a protein-based arms race for global domination: Will the cell’s defensive proteins successfully recognize viral DNA and alert the immune system? Or will the virus counter with proteins that stop the defensive proteins in their tracks? The answer is that both of these processes are happening all the time.

The Speaker:

Ileana Cristea of Princeton University’s Molecular Biology Department

The Location:

Harvard Medical School’s Microbiology & Immunobiology department

What it covered:

Full disclosure: I got to the talk about 10 minutes late after being stopped by a security guard (who wasn’t sure how to react to a 22-year-old with a backpack who could speak proteomics-babble but couldn’t produce a student ID). So I missed the first few slides of the talk, but when I arrived, Dr. Cristea was introducing the HMS research crowd to Gamma-Interferon-Inducible Protein 16 (IFI-16) and its role in the innate immune system. Continue reading “Viruses can shut down our anti-viral proteins – Recap of talk by Dr. Ileana Cristea” »

Basic Research: How asking weird questions about science builds the economy

“Scientists, they’re isolated. They’re out of touch with real world concerns, and that’s why they can’t get funding. What can we do get them interested in relevant projects so that they can get their funding?”

This was an audience question at a Nova-sponsored Science Cafe in Cambridge, MA. The speaker was Ari Daniel, an oceanographer-turned-radio-producer, and the audience member asking the question was a middle-aged man with brown hair and glasses and a plodding, pedantic tone of voice.

The audience member went on, “I mean, there was a forest that the scientists wanted to save, and there was no money for it, so they got some hikers in there, and then they were able to raise money for it. So how can we get scientists to do more things like that? How can we convey to them that they need make their work relevant to people?”

I don’t know if he realized it, but his question was comparable to “Climate change is a scam concocted by environmentalists” in terms of being offensive to scientists. Continue reading “Basic Research: How asking weird questions about science builds the economy” »