A friend of mine (maybe YOU are that friend?) will be soon be leaving a job at Wackaloon Scientific Enterprises where said friend is supervised by sadistic micromanaging douchebags from hell with poor reading comprehension skills.
How best to spend the remaining time my friend must clock at WSE?
I suggest devoting large chunks of it to rearranging pipet tips in their boxes while singing some version of this song.
Oh it was sad,
Oh it was sad,
It was sad when the research went down to the journal.
All the postdocs and techs.
Little grad students lost their lives.
It was sad when the research went down.
Then when your time is up, shake off the dust under your feet, and blow out of Dodge.
The last week or so I’ve been reading that classic of naturalist writing, The Outermost House by Henry Beston, as the last of this year’s selections for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Book Club.
The book is a delight to read for those who love language – it is essentially one long prose poem. But at the same time, it is sweetly painful, as one takes the measure of all the glory that must have been lost in the time since Beston wrote.
Nothing quite prepared me, however, for encountering the following passage about halfway through the book, in the chapter titled “Winter Visitors”. Beston is described the birds that come to the Cape in winter – “a region which is to them a Florida”.
A new danger…now threatens the birds at sea. An irreducible residue of crude oil, called by refiners “slop,” remains in stills after oil distillation, and this is pumped into southbound tankers and emptied far offshore. This wretched pollution floats over large areas, and the birds alight in it and get it on their feathers. They inevitably die. Just how they perish is still something of a question. Some die of cold, for the gluey oil so mats and swabs the thick arctic feathering that creases open through it to the skin above the vitals; others die of hunger as well. Captain George Nickerson of Nauset tells me that he saw an oil-covered eider trying to dive for food off Monomoy, and that the bird was unable to plunge. I am glad to be able to write that the situation is better than it was. Five years ago, the shores of Monomoy peninsula were strewn with hundreds, even thousands, of dead sea fowl, for the tankers pumped out slop as they were passing the shoals – into the very waters, indeed, on which the birds have lived since time began! Today oil is more the chance fate of the unfortunate individual. But let us hope that all such pollution will presently end.
Oh, unfortunate individuals of the Gulf Coast, how I mourn for you and your “chance fate”. I suppose we can take heart that we are no longer purposefully discharging “slop” into the ocean – we aren’t, are we? – but it’s slim comfort.
But no matter. I heard a story on NPR the other day about how the oil slicks haven’t made it to the beaches of the Gulf Coast yet, so the white sands are still sparkly. And the state tourist bureaus are hard at work on ad development to reassure you that your vacation need not be ruined or delayed by any distressing sights on the beach; all is well! Out of sight, out of mind! The only oil you need to worry about is the tanning oil on the shapely young lass on the beach towel in this tourist ad! (There’s nothing female flesh can’t sell!) Come relax, spend your dollars, support our local tourist industry, and forget about the environment for awhile! It’s all good! Till it’s not.
As you know, it was just over a thousand years ago this past March that I defended my dissertation. As I recall, I picked up a dozen bagels and some cream cheese on the way to the defense, and the department
secretaries administrative assistants brought in an urn of coffee. It was me and my committee. My advisor made some exceedingly brief introductory remarks and then the semi-bored, semi-hostile committee allowed me to launch into the show-and-tell of What Did You Do These Last Five Years. A few hours later it was all over but the revisions and shouting. Literally. Revisions completed, signatures of committee members collected…and then, suddenly, Advisor wants to make changes. Big changes.
Maybe you tell us why they’re blue.
First the name. Avatar–if you play computer games, you may know this very well–is a character you use inside an unreal world. The word Avatar has its origins in Indian mythology. An Avatar (ava-tara in Sanskrit) is god’s visit to earth to fix something that is broken. Vishnu, one of the three gods who protects creation, by necessity visits earth often. Vishnu, the puranas declare, is dark-blue in color (the original story teller was inspired by blue oceans, blue sky?).
Thank you, Scientific Indian.
Maybe you go pretentious.
The point, though, is that every art is defined by its medium. The reason I’ve referenced Greenberg in the context of Avatar – and please pardon the pretentiousness of the above paragraph – is that I think Cameron has deftly realized the potential of his medium, which is film.
That’s Jonah Lehrer’s take.
Maybe you go anthropological.
The trope is highly derivative of Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow” and “Children of God” which is probably why it all seems so anthropological. In this story, rather than have the natives possess a feature or essence that earthlings just can’t understand, they possess a set of cultural traits that earthlings can totally get, if only they would put down their guns and test tubes and corporate quarterly reports long enough to whatever whatever.
That’s Greg Laden.
Maybe you want to pretend you are trashing the movie, but you like it, but you are making fun of it, but you are pondering larger issues, too, but hey! those alien women are hot!
Speaking of which, one thing I was wondering about was that the aliens, and in particular the lead female character, were hot: lithely sexy, and barely clothed. It had me wondering what kind of rights the lead actress, Zoë Saldaña, has retained to the image. After all, it’s clearly her, despite the distortions of the alien form, and that image is now in a great big digital bucket on some computers somewhere, and could be trundled out and reused in other films. I imagine it would be valuable information to the porn industry, which you just know is itching to get its hands on that technology. There must be some kind of legal protections for digital likenesses being hammered out somewhere, because one thing this movie is going to do is start making that potential problem acute.
I’ve been belittling the movie, but it really wasn’t that awful.
That would be PZ Myers.
Or maybe you want to tell it like it is.
Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever.
That would be Mark Morford’s review, “Please mount my hot blue alien” at SFGate. Please do go read it. It’s fab.
Is the current economy making more people want to participate in human research studies, asks Isis?
In this new study here at MRU, we began advertising online last Wednesday. By Friday, my study coordinator had received 300 responses…I can’t help but wonder if the current poor economy is driving more people to consider human research.
Probably – I wouldn’t be at all surprised. It seems possible to me, though, that is just an exacerbation of the situation that obtained previously – which is that poorer people have always been attracted to participation in clinical research trials either as a means of making money, or as a means of obtaining at least some sort of health care, even though clinical studies are most definitely not about providing health care to the participants. That may be the other motivator for Isis’s applicants. Many people don’t really understand that clinical trials are not really places to receive health care.
When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, a few of my coworkers seemed to have fuzzy ethics around this point, too. At least one of my coworkers was explicit in his belief that it was an ancillary “benefit” for clinical trial participants to obtain the attentions of medical professionals during a clinical trial. He insisted on referring to participants as “patients” rather than “subjects” (which I think is the preferred and correct term).
If you are wealthy, or even reasonable well-off, you have access to the best already-tested and approved health care and treatments on offer. Or you can figure out how to work the system and get yourself into Phase III clinical trials if your medical situation is such that there are no good tested options available out there. What you most likely aren’t doing is saying to yourself, “Hey! I could make fifty bucks if I sign up for this Phase I clinical trial, AND I’ll be helping out science, AND maybe I’ll finally get my blood pressure checked by a real doctor, too!”
I appreciate Dr. Isis’s sense of unease over the recent recruitment phenomenon. But I think it is just foregrounding an issue that has been there all along.
Thought experiment: Sometimes I have imagined a society where everyone is eligible for, and required to, participate in clinical research, akin to jury duty, or maybe like military service in Israel. Only when you were called up, you’d be assigned to a research study that was a good “match” – if you are healthy, you go into a Phase I or II; if you have a medical problem, you go into some relevant Phase III. Spread the risks and responsibilities out across the society regardless of social glass, gender, race. Of course its unworkable, but what would be the pros and cons of such a system? What things would need to change radically to make it work? Would drug development research need to move largely out of the hands of private industry or could it stay pretty much as it is?
Note I am not advocating for such a system, just floating it as a thought experiment to examine how we do things now and how we might do them differently. I have participated in clinical trials – as a student, just to get the money; as a researcher, with the goal of bringing a new therapy for a disease to market; and as a patient, in the hopes of helping doctors come to a better understanding of my particular illness. I’ve helped someone else gain entry to a clinical research study because no other available therapies were helping this person and we hoped the study therapy (it was open label) would work (it did provide partial relief that has persisted over time). So I’ve seen them from a variety of perspectives. The best-planned study in the world can be left with misleading results if participants are overly motivated by money, or by the hope of obtaining medical treatment for illness.