Introduction!

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Hello world! I have a BS in Biology, BS in chemistry, an MAT in Secondary Science Education, and recently an MS in Analytical Chemistry. In an effort to raise scientific awareness and literacy, I am starting a new live streaming podcast video show called “The Science Of_____” where you, the viewer, tell me what you want to discuss and learn. It is completely viewer driven in content. I am here to answer your questions on all of the sciencey things! You may contact me here, twitter, periscope, and on Facebook under the name “ScientistMel”. In the current atmosphere where “alternative facts”, misconceptions, and misunderstanding of science is rampant, I want to help show the joy of science, the honor of scientific truth, and spark the passionate curiosity we all were born with and some have forgotten. Let’s learn together!

Charlottesville and White Nationalism – A Perspective

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On August 11th 2017, the white nationalist protest started at the University of Virginia. (Images via article linked)

August 12th 2017 white nationalists protests continued in Charlottesville. A person of color (POC) De’Andre Harris was beaten with poles. (Image credit Zach Roberts) The protest ended in the death of a 32 year old woman peacefully protesting who was run down by a car driven by a white nationalist. Her name is Heather Heyer. Nineteen other protesters were injured by the car.zachrobertsheatherThe governor condemned the protesters and issued a state of emergency in Virginia.

I am not going to rehash what everyone already knows from the extensive amount of news coverage as well as the open dialogue being seen on social media. I want to discuss observations of recent history as well as the fundamental aspects of what we see here. I want to compare protests we have seen, the motives behind them, similarities in history, how apt art is right now, and how science can be affected by these events. (Type in BOLD signifies sources with direct links to both news articles and studies)

I recently wrote a piece on free speech from a scientific perspective. I will echo some sentiment from that piece.

White nationalism focuses on the misguided idea that white/aryan individuals are superior to any and all other races of people. A list of organizations in the US can be found HERE.

It is important to note that history regarding the treatment of LGBTQ people as well as the oppression of women (both white and people of color) by white supremacists (NAZIS) is heavily documented in the records of history. If you are not a white male who falls into their specified categories and ideals, according to history…you are a target of their hatred and violence.

The US has a volatile history involving oppression and violence towards people of color (POC). The main perpetrators being white supremacists. Stories of such torment are large in number. Some more well known stories being the Rosewood Massacre and the Detroit Race Riots. These have now been turned into films. There are countless more stories on African American history you can find on the Black Past site.

Police brutality is also receiving more media attention and raising awareness in regards to the shootings of unarmed POC. A website (Mapping Police Violence) is working to gain accurate numbers in regards to how many POC are killed each year, but do not have complete figures due to police not giving all of the information. They are basing their data largely on media reports and what the police are willing to give them as well as FBI and Justice Dept. numbers. The numbers reported nevertheless are still troubling given they may be considerably higher due to incomplete data. PBS reports the FBI warned of white supremacists within the police force over 10 years ago. Much of the bulletin has been redacted, but the evidence of concern is clear.

White nationalism is clearly ingrained within powerful places in our society.

Having established the fact that white nationalism in the US is nothing new and has never gone away, let us discuss what these protests are in comparison to other protests.

These white nationalists are protesting movements of equality for individuals who are not like them. They are protesting the existence of people who are not like them.

These white nationalists say they “will not be erased”. My question is what/who exactly are erasing them?

A brief history of white men in the US…

They could always…

  1.  Vote (except for a brief time when they had to own land in order to do so).
  2. Own land.
  3. Work in whatever field they wanted.
  4. Go to university and graduate school.
  5. Run for office.
  6. Marry who they wanted (as long as it wasn’t gay or POC for a LONG TIME)

They still…

  1. Get paid more than women.
  2. Are not likely go to prison for rape/assault
  3. Have a majority representation in STEM fields
  4. Are less likely to be killed by police as well as have less force used on them than POC. (More sources HERE, HERE, HERE)
  5. Are the number one contributors to mass shootings.

These men are already in positions of power and have fewer obstacles than others in regards to societal gains. They also contribute to the largest amount of mass shootings in the US…more so than terrorist organizations.

The privileges of white men are not going to be erased…they never have been. No one is taking anything away from them in regards to civil liberties.

Many groups who protest speak out for equal pay, equal marriage, police reform, Black Lives Matter, women’s right to their bodies, access to healthcare, LGBTQ rights, and sexism (to name a few). These groups who protest want access to things they do not have, protection for their lives, and/or have had things taken away. Additionally, these groups promote peaceful protest without attacking people counter protesting them…nor do their philosophies promote removal of civil liberties from anyone including white men.

What is it white nationalists fear is going to be erased? Historical significance of white men?

No one can erase history that is well established. We are fully aware of the Civil War, WW1, WW2, slavery, and women’s rights.

Some white nationalists feel removal of certain statues erase the white man’s history. The Charlottesville “protests” that led to violence on counter protesters were over the change of Robert E. Lee park to Emancipation Park. ..and on the issue of the Robert E. Lee Confederate statue being removed. White nationalists were protesting the name change out of anger/fear of seemingly having the heritage of white men erased…heritage linking to the Civil War and slavery.

Germany banned the use of swastikas in public…or symbols of any political affiliation that would be considered unconstitutional. The World Wars were horrific. It is uncertain to know just how many people were killed. WW2 has a current estimation of 15,000,000 battle deaths, 25,000,000 wounded, 45,000,000 civilians dead. Holocaust deaths are approximately 16,000,000. Germany is open about not being proud of that time period…nor do they need historical reminders.

Furthermore, no one has forgotten Nazi history by removal of swastikas and Nazi propaganda. I do not think it is possible we can forget as we are reminded in our own country of the existence of home grown Nazis.

In the Civil War, we lost more soldiers than we did in WW2. This war, the Civil War, was with our own people. We were not fighting an outside force, nor were we trying to take over the world. We fought our own people with ties in freeing people from slavery. People affected by this war are not people on foreign soil. They are our neighbors. They are our own people. They are descendants of those who were brought to this country illegally and bred to serve white men. Is this something we should be proud of and heritage we should flaunt?

It is my thought that such a tumultuous time with all of the information available both in historical record, books, and as I have pointed out…vast amounts of info on the internet…we do not need constant reminders of how horrible we have been in the past. We have the whole of the internet, books, and museums to remind us as well as white nationalists.

We can add to history and its motives through science and study. Science is opening the door to understanding actual issues associated with white supremacy through studies involving societal studies of white privilege, gender roles, geneticseffects of hate speech, toxic masculinity, effects of racism, effects of sexism, and sexual spectrum. There is a multitude of information available that can be associated with white nationalism and the problems it causes when one group works to oppress another.

I do not think it is necessary to go into all of the types of oppression. We have groups who actively work to raise awareness. I suggest clicking on the hyperlinks I provided to learn more about each group and what it is they wish to accomplish in regards to equality.

Let’s discuss a bit of white nationalist philosophy and consider what would happen if they continued onto gain further power.

In regards to a genetically superior race…

Many white people have African heritage found in their DNA. As many as 1 in 10 people in the Southern US have African heritage. Genetic superiority in regards to skin color is an argument based in fallacy. The MCR1 gene is 1 of 6 genes associated with skin color. Skin color is NOT a race. While there is there a connection with skin color and ancestral roots, it is not perfect. It is sensitive to various parameters within the gene pool of a population. Many people associate their race to location and not genetics.

Race is a human construct, not a genetic/biological one. The more we understand about genetics, the more we realize we are more alike than different on a biological level.

Lessons from history…

We have the Alt Right now presenting NAZI symbols and rhetoric. It is a fair conclusion to call them Nazis as they are presenting themselves as such. As mentioned before, it is no secret as to what philosophies Nazis represent…all of which oppress people who are not aryan/white men. It is important to remember what history has taught us and openly discuss what is happening. Art is an important medium in that it can give us multi-sensory insight as to potential realities of NAZIS and aid us in learning/communicating.

What is a Nazi reality? What does it look like?

Women are meant for babies and to be at home as mothers without a need to work or learn. To gain a bit of perspective to the implications if placed in an American construct of society, The Handmaid’s Tale book adaptation on HULU has already inspired protests across the US. The plot shows an America where women are stripped of rights and those who are fertile are forced into slavery to become pregnant through coerced rape or suffer penalties including torture and maiming. Women are not allowed to read. The university educated ones are immediately silenced. Women are baby makers under complete control of the men. Court is handled by men and Christian scripture is used as a justification of torture, murder, punishment, and oppression. All of these images in the TV adaptation show a modern day America with a chilling and frightening display of not only men but women oppressing other women in order to stay alive. It is a solid representation of the potential cruelty if Nazi ideals managed to win control and enslave women.

LGBTQ people are meant to be persecuted and destroyed. LGBTQ people already live in a volatile America where people attempt to legally discriminate against them as adults and as children. These individuals have been murdered, assaulted, and tortured for who they are. Bills including bathroom use as well as allowing discriminatory practices in schools are regularly discussed in Congress. Under the Nazi regime, LGBTQ people were murdered and tortured. The film Bent tells the story of a man sent to a concentration camp who denies he is gay so is treated as a Jew. These stories are not told enough. This film gives insight to an experience of a man who is gay and tortured for being so. An America with such individuals who would legally kill LGBTQ people when they have already had to fight for equality (with gay marriage just now being legal since 2015) would be an easy target as they are the newest marginalized group to receive some headway in their civil rights.

Since this is America with a volatile history of oppression and murder of POC, the KKK are involved with the Alt Right Nazis. Not only are POC and LGBTQ endangered, Jews and immigrants are now endangered as well as this group has a history attacking and/or murdering them. Insight as to what happens with white supremacy and POC can be found in the films like Rosewood, Detroit, and Malcolm X. These films are only a few examples of the horror and inequality POC have experienced in America. Having had a Civil War to eradicate slavery (where they were also soldiers) and giving civil rights at a slow crawl of progress, POC have a valid fear involving white people and those in authoritative positions. It is important to remember the Civil Rights Movement is still exceedingly young with individuals in Congress (John Lewis) who marched for equality alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. There is still rampant racism in this country as POC continue to fear for their safety in the presence of police and white individuals. The white nationalists at this protest identified themselves with KKK and Nazis. They were armed with militia and a group of them beat a man with poles while police did not rush to his aid. In an already volatile social state, POC who already experience violence for the color of their skin would be swiftly targeted as these Nazi individuals are not quiet about their hatred. A Nazi America would be a swift return to the times of lynching and legal torture as well as murder for POC.

Nazis perverted science using it as a means to torture people and make technology to keep others oppressed as well as working to have more efficient ways to commit genocide. They tortured and murdered people in order to generate technology to be more efficient in killing. Ethics were unnecessary for Nazi’s as they killed indiscriminately and experimented on people whom they deemed “lesser”. Modern science is regulated heavily by ethics and laws to ensure no one is harmed by any clinical trials. A Nazi America would see a shift in science removing not just ethics but diversity from it by eliminating women, POC, and anyone who is not aryan/white male. History has shown us that diversity in STEM is productive in that different people are good at different things. Different minds coming together can solve any problems.The Hidden Figures film tells the story of women of color who coded the NASA computers where one, Kathryn Johnson calculated trajectories to help get men on the moon. We see a small glimpse into the oppression they experienced as women of color in STEM. An America run by white supremacists would eliminate all of the diversity of minds in our STEM fields halting scientific progress and removing standards of ethics…thus allowing great minds to legally torture and murder people through perversion of science.

The white nationalist movement can not be anything other than association with hatred and oppression of people by using the most horrific ways possible.

It is not a movement to stop white men from being erased, as we can not possibly forget any history regarding them as they have dominated its record. It is a movement to gain total control over any group who is not white and compliant. They are violent pushing fear by toting guns with militia backup. They run over peaceful protesters with their cars. They beat POC with poles. They scream racial slurs in anger hoping to frighten people while peddling propaganda and using violence in order to silence people who speak out.

Let’s discuss rising sound of white nationalism, laws, and the election…

What will happen if these individuals are allowed to continue and progress to a stronger presence as they have been on the rise since 2016 ? They are getting louder in number. They are not wearing hoods. They are proud of their affiliations. They are in universities pushing their personal agendas…no longer hiding their racism and threatening to sue if they are let go.

Social media is being implemented as a tool to identify individuals who are proud white nationalists as a means to alert their places of work to let their employers know what their employees represent. These individuals are hoping to influence employers to fire the white nationalists who wish to discriminate against their customers. GoDaddy is canceling  the hosting agreement with Daily Stormer (a white supremacist site) due to violating the terms of service due to an uproar about an article it posted on Heather Heyer shaming her. Freedom of speech is not free and it has a cost especially when doing business with a public funded company.

I discuss further in my Freedom of Speech article the weight words have on your “court of public opinion” status. While it is entirely legal for white nationalists to assemble and speak their hateful rhetoric and inciting fear through imagery, they are not protected from the court of public opinion. Public opinion funds businesses. Businesses fund the government as we see heavy campaign contributions and lobbying practices.

The election and current administration…

Donald Trump has extensive ties to the Alt Right movement who now associate themselves with Nazis and KKK groups (see previous hyperlinks). The 2016 election showed an incredibly low turnout of 58% of eligible voters. Among those voter approximately 25% voted for Donald Trump. Many were white men also educated and 52% of white women who voted, cast their vote for Trump. It is important to note that if the majority of white nationalists voted (and voted for Trump as he campaigned hatred and emboldened white supremacists) these individuals represent a minority of the country. They do not hold a majority in the general population. However, it is important to pay attention to the behaviors of those in Congress in regards to their responses to these white nationalists as they are the ones who work to make bills become laws.

Thoughts on responding in regards to white nationalism…

Many people are counter protesting the marches of white nationalists. It is unfortunately becoming increasingly dangerous for them to do so as these protests have ended in violence on the parts of the Nazi supporters through vehicular manslaughter and assault. Some individuals are using the Countable app to contact their representatives as well as keep up to date on how their Congressmen vote on bills. Your representatives can easily be made aware your views and your intentions on the upcoming election. Finding out who funds their campaigns and making phone calls to those businesses could likely make a difference.

Additionally, it is important to call your local government and ask them what their plans are in regards to white supremacist demonstrations and how they are going to ensure no one is harmed at these marches. Placing responsibility on the local government to protect counter protesters will help the local authorities understand violence is not tolerated.

Another option is to take to social media and learn the identities of individuals who proudly support Nazi rhetoric and call their bosses (as mentioned earlier). Businesses respond to customers who complain.

Educate yourself on policies and laws both local and national in regards to discrimination, threats, and violence so that you have an understanding as to what is/is not legal.

Further discussion…

There have been some cases where free speech versus violent threats have gone back and forth as to where the line is drawn. With the philosophies of white nationalists, Nazis, and the KKK coupled with violence at their rallies, it may be time to discuss what the limits of free speech are in regards to groups who actively use rhetoric meant to instill fear of harm and philosophies based in race superiority with a history of genocide.

At what point do the marches/protests of the white nationalists who associate themselves with Nazis and the KKK go beyond the “free speech line” into threatening of bodily harm and death as seen with their groups recent violence in Charlottesville, VA?

The supreme court maintains that offensive rhetoric is protected, and that there is no “hate speech” according to the 1st Amendment. What happens if that speech carries to consistent violence and instilling bodily harm? It is time to have these discussions and address the violence associated with the KKK, white nationalists, and Nazis in America. If there is going to be a large show of police force at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest with no violence by the protesters, there needs to be an equivalent if not larger police and SWAT presence at white nationalist marches as they are proven to be violent. A federal judge allowed the rally in Charlottesville. However, the protest started early (the night before) without approval. It is time for federal judges to reassess public safety and individuals who mean to do others harm.

In Conclusion…

White nationalism and the Alt Right is not about preserving the heritage of white men…The violent behavior and fear inducing rhetoric as well as imagery is not about preserving history. History has been written by white men. How can we forget? There are other countries who have removed shameful reminders of their past and do not forget the time period. Our country had a Civil War fighting to free people from slavery costing hundreds of thousands of lives. We later entered WW2 (rather late) aiding to liberate people from Nazi oppression (costing soldier lives). We had 2 wars over battling the evil we see in slavery (racism) and Nazi oppression (racism). These white nationalist individuals are siding with the very people we fought against and died battling for their evils. This movement is not about preserving history. It is about maintaining/increasing privilege and removing/preventing civil rights of others.

An America where white nationalists who hold the company of Nazis and KKK is an oppressive one. They already are the largest contributors to mass shootings. In a white nationalist controlled world, we lose great minds in science, lose ethics in research, destroy lives… murder, torture, and oppress people. It would be an ignorant America full of fear, death, and hatred…if we learn anything from history.

The fine line of free speech and threat is fuzzy with white supremacist groups. It is up to the court of public opinion to use their voices to counter the hate speech as these groups are a minority. This is a capitalist country where business matters. Free speech allows the opportunity to say things without fear of jail, but that does not prevent losing business and employment. Contacting businesses and local governments as well as Congresspeople will aid in holding them accountable for the violent behaviors of people in the community. It is also time for federal courts to address public safety in regards to white supremacist marches as they pose a viable threat.

I welcome any input in productive dialogue as to better resources for my hyperlinks and means to educate others. I hope this piece is informative. It is an opinion but based in relevant facts as well as historical record.

Opinion is my own and it is my heart that wishes for a peaceful nation with equality and a level field so all can prosper and be happy.

Thank You For Reading,

Scientist Mel

Pledge Drive for Science Literacy and Cancer Research

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Hello my Science Lovers!

In order to achieve science communication goals raising scientific literacy while giving back to science research, I am doing a pledge drive to gain more $1 patrons while raising funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and running their 5K fundraiser in September. Not only do I want to boost interest and literacy in science, but a few times a year I want to raise funds to contribute towards organizations that work to help our make our world better.

$1 monthly patrons MATTER. I reinvest any funds I receive into developing a stronger base with ample sources of information for science enthusiasts, teachers, universities, as well as anyone who wants to learn about science.

Starting today through the  month of September, for every $1 patron I receive, I will donate that $1 to St. Jude…the final total being a month’s worth of patreon pledges donated to St. Jude*. These funds will be used to work towards cutting edge treatments for children with cancer.

Things to note…

  • I never charge for my content that I make.
  • Anyone is welcome to use it to help spread scientific literacy and boost appreciation of it.
  • It takes a lot of time and I do 95% of the work myself…including actively engaging with people online and in person.
  • This is my only job at the moment.
  • I am reinvesting all of the patreon contributions thus far to develop a website and podcast free to anyone which is also appropriate for 13 yrs old +.

My overall goal

  • Provide materials and be available to help educate the general public about science and boost critical thinking once again both online and in person.
  • Offer fun, approachable, informative and innovative ways to boost science literacy and appreciation both online (podcasts, video streaming, social media) and traveling.
  • Give back to the research community when I can to show my colleagues in science they matter too.

So if you can, please be a $1 patron for me so I can show you and others how much your $1 means not just to me but to scientists actively researching. While many people think $1 a month is not that much, from an abundance of people it makes a substantial difference.

Thank you to my current patrons who jumped aboard immediately and continue to support me. You matter. Your contributions are being reinvested to provide a bigger space for a voice in science. I actively update rewards for all of my patrons.

Thank you for Reading,

Scientist Mel

You can sign up here to be a monthly $1 patron on my patreon account ->  ScientistMel

You can contact me via wordpress or on Twitter

For more information -> St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

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*A word on St. Jude…they have raised the survival rate of childhood cancer from 20% to 80%. St. Jude is world renowned for their emerging treatments of cancer. They never charge families for treatments for their children. They share their knowledge with other hospitals to help eradicate childhood cancer. Doctors from all over the world train at St. Jude learning new treatments and technologies to help children diagnosed with cancer.

Freedom of Speech – Clarifications, Cautions, Public Opinion, and Why It Is Valuable to Listen to Problematic Speech

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Technology and social media have given many groups outlets to freely express their ideals and perspectives. This is a good thing in that people can engage in open discussions in order to understand the perspectives of people not like them. Freedom of speech is important so that people not only can express their thoughts openly, but also be challenged to defend their thoughts as well as potentially learn from others.

Speech and communication are powerful tools we use to relay not only our thoughts and opinions but to engage with others. Many use these tools to persuade others to see their point of view, switch sides, spread propaganda, push agendas, encourage hate, marginalize specific groups, and some negative motives.

People are entitled to speak freely without fear of prison. Why? Because people should be able to say words if for nothing else to allow others to engage and correct wrong information.

Oftentimes we see outrage on social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook, and the like when certain accounts get suspended, we read posts stating “it impedes their right to free speech”. Twitter and Facebook are not free assembly spaces the law protects.

Let’s discuss Twitter. Twitter is a free service provided by others who pay for the space so the rest of us can engage in open discussion with each other. It is a privately funded service not offered by the government.

Twitter is the world’s cafe or pub where people can go to hang out and interact. If you cause a disturbance in this privately owned cafe, you are asked to leave. It is not impeding your right to free speech. It is the owner saying you’re upsetting everyone else and you need to leave.

This example can also be seen in regards to discriminatory practices that gave rise to the Civil Rights movement. Notice, the protests were not in diners or cafes of people who did not want protests there. They were in public assembly of government regulated streets of towns and privately owned businesses. People have the right to speak out against what they feel is wrong without fear of prison in government regulated areas.

XKCD gives a short and well said comic addressing free speech and that it is not “consequence free”. Your words (as long as they are not a threat of violence or harm to others) are protected to prevent you from going to jail. Your words are still yours and do not protect you from the court of public opinion.

What does this “court of public opinion” mean exactly, let’s look at examples…

  1. People of color who protest football games by sitting down and are fired later. They also receive racist verbal taunts protected under the law. Owners of teams can fire people anytime they want as long it is not based on any type of discrimination. People can also say their racist words without fear of jail.
  2. The man who released the “Google manifesto” to 40,000 employees (later went viral  on the internet) suggesting men are superior to women in computer science was fired for his words. This man’s job is not protected by “free speech”. Google can fire him if they feel his actions cause harm to their business. People can also freely state their opinions on the matter.
  3. Phil Robertson was suspended from his TV show “Duck Dynasty” for making racist and homophobic comments. His suspension was quickly rescinded and the show continued on regardless of his words. The show has now ended. The point is that A&E could have cancelled the show and/or fired Robertson, but chose not to do so. They are within the rights allotted to their network. People were vocal about their opinions on this matter and could freely state them.

The point to all of these examples is that the court of public opinion matters in your social status and to your employers. The court of public opinion is not regulated by the government. Only discrimination (which is hard to prove due to burden of proof and lack of substantial evidence) is regulated in regards to your employers because it is against the law. Employers are within their rights to weigh how your “court of public opinion” status affects their company and if it is a substantially negative impact. After all it is the public who consume what these businesses offer. If the public (on either side of the fence in regards to your opinion) is loud enough, the business will take notice. Your words matter and there are consequences/risks that must be noted.

If an employer fires you for your words because they feel you’ve caused damage to their company, this is not impeding your right to free speech. You are not going to jail for your words.

Likewise, if you are banned from Twitter, Facebook, or any online forum; this is not impeding your right to free speech. It is the owner of the cafe telling you that you’re upsetting the customers and are not welcome anymore.

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The next point I want to bring up is why it is inherently valuable to allow people to spout off unfounded claims and problematic speech…

Let’s get back to Twitter and why this space is inherently useful in learning. I often get @’s (where someone can tag me in a public message) discussing opinions and perspectives of individuals who seek my thoughts, answers to questions, and any evidence I may have access to on a given topic. The whole purpose of my account is to direct people to reputable sources, educate, and give accurate information. If someone has better and/or more recent info on a topic, I welcome it wholeheartedly.

The problem I run into involves certain individuals who think I am required to listen to them. They think they can speak without consequence. They state their opinions with snide comments, degrading terminology, bad science studies as references, and patronizing behavior. When I disengage, mute, block, report for harassment…as discussed previously…this is not impeding their right to free speech.

I often get berated for not engaging. Sometimes I get told I am not a scientist because I am not engaging or responding to people who are emotionally charged and offended I won’t listen to them (as I’ve left the conversation due to circular arguments, rudeness, abusive language).

What do I do? I point out what they say, how they act, and what their incorrect information is as an educational opportunity…not just for me to understand why these people think the way they do, but also that others know they exist and possibly why they think this way. 

I don’t truly expect every person who behaves this way to learn why it’s problematic. However, I am yet another voice of reason who gives them a moment to say their bit and point out (as I am certain others have) the fallacy in their arguments with calm and only sticking to evidence.

Not only is it important for me (from time to time) to address such individuals as a means to show resistance to their process and thinking, but to give others an opportunity to perhaps learn something new about why individuals think this way.

This is also an important practice as it holds those individuals to be accountable for their words requiring them to produce substantial evidence.

I am a scientist and inherently curious of just about everything. It fascinates me that people ignore evidence and spout out whatever they wish thinking there is no consequence for what they say due to their misunderstanding to their “right to free speech”. As a scientist and former educator, I feel it is important that I listen/read not to respond per se…but to understand. I want to know why people think and feel the way they do…saying/quoting misguided/false info as factual.

There is a danger in sitting back silently as numbers grow in pushing false information as fact and degrading integrity in effective problem solving processes. Louder voices promoting false information can gain a strong hold on society.

One should also take note of not “giving a voice” to those who work to use your platform as a soapbox and grandstand. It requires caution and calm as well as knowing when to walk away…another reason why Twitter bans certain individuals as they can become abusive and harmful to others quickly.

We need to actively learn and continue to research the root of this problematic speech and thinking as well as how/why it causes such effects on society.

Science has worked to show us some evidence of the effects of speech on others. We can see through many societal studies focusing on just this one topic. (Google Scholar search of hate speech and societal impact starting from 2013). Yet, as it is often said, more research is necessary.

Good science and bad science can be found on these engagements we see on social media…Through identifying bad science we can see bias in many aspects of it. Science uses its speech to call out bad science ruthlessly. Open discussion on scientific methods, funding, motives, allows us to find and amplify truth…recognizing the bad science is important as it is often used as a means to promote incorrect information to push harmful agendas to sway public opinion. It is important to call out bad science when it is used.

As history has shown us, the court of public opinion does matter and louder voices can sway powerful positions including politics and business. Your words are important instruments of change as we have seen through peaceful protests in movements of marginalized groups. Your words can also be used to promote oppression of marginalized groups.

 

In Conclusion

Speaking as a scientist…we can not truly learn if we do not take in information on every aspect of a topic. Problematic speech and unfounded claims need to be understood in regards as to why it is being said. It also needs to be equally addressed with substantial evidence presented in a respectful way as the court of public opinion matters. It doesn’t need to be addressed every time, but when it is addressed…use it as a moment to learn why someone is saying the words and to teach others the correct information.

Silence is not often effective in teaching…and it is powerful when implemented. Know when to use it.

Thank you for reading.
ScientistMel

 

Depression – Responding as Non Sufferers

In light of the increasing amounts and consistent news stories of people losing their battles to mental illness, it is important to discuss factors that can contribute to depression, what the symptoms are, and how people who do not suffer can respond without causing harm.

*I want to address the fact that I do not suffer depression. I am not a therapist. I do have friends who do suffer. I have taken the input of my friends as well as others to add to this piece so that it has a solid representation of what they go through and what is/is not helpful to them. This piece is meant to help non-sufferers have insight. I welcome any addendum and comments from those who want their perspectives heard.*

Depression is a highly individualized illness. It is not an illness in the “traditional” sense. It doesn’t have clear and readable signs. There are no visible symptoms we would associate with an illness…for instance, a person with a pox, cold, wound, skin disease and the like. The people who suffer depression do not have visible sores.

Depression does not have a cough, fever, flu symptoms and is not so easily treated with a cold med to stop your runny nose. Since it is not visible to those who do not suffer it, it does not seem like it is a “real” disease. This is a harmful way of thinking. Depression is a daily battle with your brain to function and carry on with life.

The brain is the least understood organ of the body. It is the control center of everything we do, say, think, and feel. It processes our environment to help us make decisions. It let’s us know when we are in danger, hungry, hot, cold, tired, confident, sad, and happy…

What happens when your control center is not performing at its highest capability? Wired to make you feel and think you are in a constant state of peril? What happens when your control center that regulates your body temperature and functions causes you to feel exhausted and cold? Or can not formulate the words you want to say as it is not functioning today?

People who suffer depression can feel pain throughout their body. The very act of getting out of bed can induce pain. They feel cold. They may not eat due to a lack of appetite which is counterproductive to gaining energy when they already feel exhausted by late morning. They may over eat trying to compensate for the lack of sleep the previous night. Insomnia afflicts many as busy brain takes over reminding them of things they couldn’t accomplish that day. Feelings of dread and hopelessness become the thoughts of the day.

Couple all of these things with the rationality of knowing your brain and body are not being rational. It’s crippling.

What do you do when you suffer?

You question everything. You fight the irrational sense of fear and sadness that cripples you. You don’t know what/who to trust. You know your brain is being irrational but you can not switch it off. You lack the ability to form words in sentences to express your feelings and thoughts effectively. Your brain may feel like it is working in the wrong way and moving in the wrong direction

You fear you may hurt friendships by cancelling plans because you are struggling. You worry you are a burden on friends and loved ones when you reach out to talk. You think, “They must be going through their own hell, I don’t want to add to it.”

You feel sick, but you know you are not sick in the traditional sense. Your body hurts but you have to go to work. You have to pretend you are well in order to get that paycheck.

You can have a full life and have every reason to be happy, but your brain is fighting you with its chemistry telling you to be sad and distrustful because there’s harm around every corner.

Depression can affect anyone. It can have a rapid onset at anytime. Some handle it differently than others. Medications are very useful but are highly individual as brain chemistry varies with people. It can take years to find the right combination of medication and coping strategies to help people function fully in their lives. It certainly is nowhere near an exact science. Oftentimes depression can take lives when that delicate combination fails or is not determined quickly enough. Depression is often described as “the black dog” who lurks around every corner waiting to attack.

For those who do not suffer, it is important we understand what is/is not helpful when we interact with those in our lives who struggle with “the black dog”.

Things to note…

  1. There is no “getting over it quickly”, “snapping out of it”, “focusing on the positive”. with depression.
  2. It isn’t something that can be turned off/on at will.
  3. It is a full body experience. It’s exhausting and hard to cope with for many people.
  4. Communication is exceedingly difficult when someone is low.
  5. Blame is harmful. People who suffer can not control what’s happening to them. They wish they could. Blaming them will hurt your relationship and could cause further damage.

How we respond to our loved ones and friends who suffer depression can make an impact on them…positive or negative.

Here are some beneficial ways to respond when a loved one/friend is suffering and/or having a low day…as well as what to look for…

  1. Offer an ear. They don’t need platitudes or words of insincere encouragement. Sometimes they just need someone to listen without saying anything.
  2. Tell them they matter to you with honesty. Give them examples of what they do to make your life better.
  3. Visit them often assuring them that you want to be in their company even if that means sitting on the couch, not speaking, and watching netflix.
  4. They may push you away as a means to cope or be less of a burden. Remind them how important they are to you, that you are there and they matter to you.
  5. Do not be insincere. Be patient and say that you are their friend. You are here. Supporting each other is what friends do. This is not a burden.
  6. Watch for changes in behavior. If a sudden shift to “happy” happens, stay close to your loved one. They may be struggling and be wearing a mask.
  7. Spending time and understanding how to interact with your loved one can give insight to what helps them when they are low. If they know on a regular basis that you are here for them, they will reach out and talk when they need.
  8. Understand that they may have angry words to push you away as they may be low, this doesn’t mean they don’t care. Sometimes there is a comfort in quiet in not being around others. Sometimes this is a sign they need care. Communicating when they are not low helps understand what your loved one needs when they do this.
  9. Being a friend/loved one to someone who suffers depression can be challenging and frustrating at times. This is ok. Be certain to institute your own self care to ensure you have a healthy outlook in order to respond helpfully.
  10. The may have the mindset that no one cares about them. It is important to reinforce how very wrong this is. However, it is also important to understand that compassion must couple with any statements you make in regards to stating their argument is incorrect…you do care about and love them.
  11. Do not be afraid to ask if they are having thoughts of suicide or self harm. Giving your friend a free space to just talk without fear or judgment can be all a person needs. Oftentimes they do not want to hurt themselves, they need to get the words and feelings out safely. If you think the threat is serious, call a professional to help and give advice.
  12. Listen. Ask them when they are not low what you can do to help them wade through the storm at varying levels of depression. Asking what their level is that day can help you understand how to respond.

This post is a compilation of thoughts and input from various people who suffer depression and what they think as well as feel helps them get through. I welcome any input, stories, and perspectives I can add to raise awareness on how to effectively respond to those who suffer.

Depression is killing so many people. It is not a pronounced illness like a persistent cough or skin sore. It is your own mind battling you to function each day…The one thing that is in charge of everything is not working to efficient capacity and/or is working in the wrong way. It is your rational mind fighting to make it through each hour and wondering when the agony will cease. There are good days and there are bad days.

How we respond to those who suffer matters. We can do harm in our response. We can also help. People who suffer are not a burden. They are important. They are the people we love. They need to know they are not alone and that we care as well as cherish every moment with them. Understanding, compassion, and education are key in leashing the black dog and making it heel. What matters to those who suffer is that they have people who love them though they may not understand the pain…but are better for having them in their lives.

I leave you with Elizabeth Wurtzel…

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Thank you for reading,

ScientistMel

For more information on depression and to see the references I used for this article, visit the links below…

Mayo Clinic

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

American Psychiatric Association

Wonder Woman – Women as Superheroes and Why this Film Matters

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Since 1920, out of 170 super hero films made in America, 7 have been exclusively women lead. This includes the current Wonder Woman film. While there have been a larger amount of action films led by women that have been successful, it is not quite the same as the connotation a superhero film gives to the lead person.

Let’s take a moment to discuss Hollywood’s view of the lack of success in women lead superhero roles…

Hollywood has historically said that women lead superhero films bomb and therefore should not make any more. There have been 7 women lead superhero films since 1920…7 where 6 are considered to be flops. There have been 163 male lead superhero films with many considered box office failures and quite a few that went straight to home video. These losses by male lead films are not weighed so heavily by Hollywood as the 6 female lead films.

Let’s consider Green Lantern, Daredevil, Batman and Robin, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD (Made for TV movie with David Hasselhoff), The Punisher (direct to video)…Just 6 male lead films (out of many) that are considered substantial flops yet Hollywood does not blame having male leads for their failure.

*As an aside…if you want to watch something truly awful, I do suggest the Nick Fury film I mentioned. Please do compare it to any given female lead superhero film and make up your own mind on it.

From a scientific perspective, the claim that female lead superhero films are unsuccessful and therefore should not be made, would be crumpled up and thrown out into the waste bin. Only having 7 films is not a substantial sample size. To compare 7 to the 163 sample size of male lead films is irresponsible given it is  not going to present an accurate and unwavering conclusion. Scientists would not rely on the percentage of success as 7 does not equal 163. There is no evidence to support such a claim.

It is far more reasonable to consider that advertising, writing (dialogue and plot), direction, acting, editing and use/presence of effects play the largest roles in the success of a film. There’s a delicate balance between them and that formula makes for a good film…not gender of lead character. Studios have to be willing to allow time and funding to develop a successful film.

*For those interested, math associated with sample size and statistics can be found here

Let’s discuss the portrayal of women vs. men as superheroes…

The majority of action films we see (and nearly all 7 female superhero films) have hypersexualized lead women. They are scantily clad and shot from objectifying angles. Many of the female characters still rely on men to help them handle their problems and often have a romantic element. Many of these stories are from video games, books, graphic novels…primarily written and advertised to appeal to heterosexual men.

Images: Clockwise…Jean Grey, Catwoman (Halle Berry), and Poison Ivy

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I want to make it clear…I am not criticizing the fact people do work and need each other in the real world. I want to point out that many male lead superhero/action films need no one substantial to help them, can romantically reject women, are seen as strong characters, and are universally successful. There is an imbalance.

We need women lead roles that place us in a light other than romantically needing a man, focusing on our bodies, and gaining success with the help of a man. 

In 2015, a study was performed discussing the impact of female superheros on women and self image.  An overview of the study can be found on Scientific American. The authors wanted to see if women felt more empowered watching women as superheroes over being victims. A portion of the article is quoted below.

“Pennell and Behm-Morawitz posited that exposure to these stereotypic female victims, whose primary appeal is sexual, may lower women’s body esteem, heighten the value they place on body image, and result in less egalitarian gender role beliefs and expectations. However, female characters have come a long way in the superhero genre, and it’s possible that the antidote to the helpless fair maiden is the competent, commanding superheroine.  The X-Men films, for example, feature a number of empowering female characters like Storm, Jean Gray, and Dazzler, each of whom wields a unique special ability and displays impressive cognitive and physical competence.  Perhaps exposure to this new generation of female heroines will result in more egalitarian gender beliefs, higher body esteem, and greater prioritization of physical competence over appearance.”

What they found is that the hypersexualized female superheroes made women feel worse about themselves. The focus was on impossible/unattainable body types, performing fantastic feats in high heels, and clothing that enhanced a sexual perspective. Women left feeling not empowered but terrible about themselves. They can not possibly be who these women are especially when attention is not on how strong the women are but what they wear, how they look, and how they manage to do impossible things while being objectified.

A video game example with a personal anecdote *MILD SPOILERS*…

INJUSTICE came out and I was excited to be able to play a fighting game with DC superheroes. I purchased the game and played the story mode to the finish. All of the women were scantily clad as per usual in the DC universe. What upset me the most? Out of 20 levels to play, I got to play a woman superhero once…Wonder Woman on the 18th level. I had played as Batman several times, Green Lantern once, Joker, and other not as well publicized male characters…who beat up computer player female DC characters in this mode.

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Out of all of the well known female characters in the DC universe, the game developers wrote in a playable Wonder Woman once. On the 18th level, she manages to save the world with her army of women fighting the evil versions of superheroes from another dimension. During the last animation sequence, rather than appreciate the fact she saved the world, the only thing the male superheroes had to say about her is that she is prettier than the evil version. I bought this game. I was the one who paid for this.

I was livid over the treatment of women in this game…not having a playable female superhero until level 18 and then objectified nonetheless.

Finally, why does this Wonder Woman film matter?

Wonder Woman is a character all her own. She is strong, capable, and without need of anyone to accomplish her goals. She joins in on the fight to save the world because it is the right thing to do. The war cause needs her. She does not need them. She chooses to fight in a war to save humanity. She is both a symbol of femininity and equality that does not threaten her male peers. Given her portrayal in recent media (as the video game I mentioned previously) has male peers not acknowledging her accomplishments but her body.

What Wonder Woman is not…a gender flipped female version of a male character…Supergirl, Batwoman, Spider-woman…She is her own character in her own right with a solid history and well fleshed out story. She is an essential member to any team she chooses to join. The key factor being, she chooses to join and they are better for her being there.

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In a recent interview with  Screen Rant, Patty Jenkins (the director of the Wonder Woman film) discusses the importance of focusing on a person being a superhero and not the fact she is a woman…thus eliminating the arguments on either side regarding sexism.

“I think we’re in this very interesting time where these issues (sexism) have been around for a long time, but a lot of different people are saying, ‘Actually, not that much has changed for all of us.’ And so I think it’s a hotbed topic regardless. What I like and want to be a part of is the next wave, which is like where, yes, it’s going to bring up a lot of conversation about it, but the next wave is where we can just start making universal movies about other kinds of people, and not have it be an issue. Just say like, ‘Yes, this is a universal movie about a person wanting to be a hero – this one happens to be a woman.’ And that’s, I think, the real challenge, and so I went forward with that attitude.”

This film matters because it is not inherently about the gender of a character, but a character who is striving to save the world…a good story about a self sufficient character who needs no one and chooses to put their person in harm’s way to make the world better.

She is not hypersexualized. She is strong and focused. Yes, Wonder Woman is female. Yes, she is a role model for equality and little girls everywhere. We don’t feel worse about ourselves leaving a film embracing our strength.

Yes, it is a step forward to give a strong and equal voice of women represented in superhero films.

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This film matters because it starts positive discussions about representing women in the roles we have always had…contributing to the world and meaning so much more than what we wear or how our bodies look.

Films such as this empower women showing their strength. We can cheer with Wonder Woman as she chooses to do the right thing on her own without worrying about makeup, heels, perfect hair or impressing a man.

She shows our little girls that what we choose to do with our lives are more important than how we look or what we can do in makeup and heels. Women’s contributions are necessary. This film shows us this.

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Thank you for reading. You can contact me here, on twitter @ScientistMel or via email per request.

ScientistMel

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Science Communication and Overcoming Religious Obstacles

Being a former high school biology teacher in the Bible Belt, I have had my fair share of religious obstacles in science education. To start, a bit of background…

I am in the Southern US…aka The Bible Belt. I grew up out here. When I was religious, I went to church here regularly. I know what is preached in the pulpit in regards to science. Evolution is wrong. It is a conspiracy against religion. Scientists want to destroy faith. People are supreme and special. We aren’t really animals…we can’t possibly have come from animals. We reign over animals according to god’s word.

The churches allow some concession in science if they see direct benefits…medicine, technology, financial savings…Most (if not all) at the pulpit lack a basic understanding of evolution and science.

This may sound all too familiar from stories heard…newscasts seen…but there is a bit more to it. It is not so basic or cut and dry.

If Protestant, individuals here go to church every Sunday morning and evening as well as Wednesday night. Catholics go once a week usually either Saturday or Sunday. Most out here are Protestant and go to church three times a week.

It is so ingrained in the culture that some science teachers here disagree with evolution and tell their students that is it wrong. In Tennessee, teachers can teach Intelligent Design/Creationism along with evolution as science…legally.

How can you educate others in science effectively when there has been a lifetime of conditioning against this very discipline and reinforced at home as well as in some classrooms?

The first step?

Understanding that these individuals have made religion an integral part of their life and has become necessary for them to cope…

This area is primarily a farming town. There is not much to do in the way of recreation short of gangs, mischief, drugs, loitering, etc. Churches have gyms, youth programs, and socials to allow young people a safe place to interact. Many out here are impoverished. In this state, corporal punishment is still legal. Some parents hit their kids to borderline abuse. It is hard to prove. In many cases, if there is no one who can take a child, the child stays with the abusive family. Lack of healthcare as well as good food is a common issue here. Many kids get breakfast and lunch at school. This may be their only “nourishing” meals of the day as they may only have cheap/affordable junk food for dinner. Hope is found so little in many of these circumstances that religion fills a void.

A personal example…when I was religious, I went to church as a Nazarene . Every Sunday morning and evening as well as Wednesday nights you would see me in the pews singing and listening to the pastor. I had a very humble upbringing that was borderline impoverished…a single parent home and a mom who worked trying to support us. I was bullied as a kid. Church was a place I could go to be away from the problems of the world that weighed heavily on my young shoulders. At the end of each service, the pastor would do an “altar call” saying anyone who needed prayer could come to the altar and lay their problems before god. The song Just As I Am  would play…the church would sing…and I would walk to the altar…tears in my eyes..and the pastor would say that I will be ok. Others would then come and place hands on my shoulders and back…hug me. They would say how brave I am telling me they are thinking of me…that they are here for me. I would feel the weight of the world leave me and I was in bliss. I felt at peace and euphoric. The power of a community coming together and reassuring you that you are loved…by them and god is profound. This brought me joy.
What needs to be understood from this anecdote? When discussing science and rationality as a free thinker with a person of faith…they are taught that what is being said to them is wrong and their joy is trying to be taken from them. Their faith is very real to them as it brings them a peace nothing else has. They have spent every Wednesday night and Sunday experiencing a bliss brought from relinquishing their troubles to god and the community. No words said from anyone will change their perspective.

As a science educator I have intimate knowledge of what my pupils were taught and I knew this was an uphill battle. What did I do? I said things to them no one else ever did…

When they walked into my classroom they knew I would discuss evolution. They would hear which side of the fence I was on, would want to know if I was religious, what my political views are, as well as possibly fight with me tooth and nail about their faith.

I completely dismantled that wall and addressed the elephant in the room.

I said, “We are going to talk about controversial topics you may not agree with. That is ok. You all have been told what to think your whole lives. I will never tell you what to think. That is not my job. You all have fantastic brains. I want to teach you how to think and you make up your own minds. I know some of you will want to discuss religion. I am scientist. I have a whole bunch of degrees from a bunch old dudes who say I can represent the scientific community. I don’t have degrees in religion. Why would I teach something I am not an expert in? Would you bring your car to me to fix? I might have fun taking it apart, but I may not know how to put it back together! The same is for religion. Go to an expert, your pastor or religious leaders. You are all scientists in my science classroom which means you can tell me that I am wrong. However, I am going to ask for your (peer reviewed) evidence because I am going to show you mine.”

I heard no argument. These kids were never or rarely told to think on their own. They had respect from me that I understood they had their own beliefs and were allowed them, but we are scientists in my classroom. You must think for yourself.

Empower those who you want to listen to you…be non-threatening and approachable.

Next Step?

It is not enough to dole out science terms and definitions in an effort to boost scientific literacy. You have to convince people to care.

It is often heard, “When am I ever going to use this?! Why do I need to know about biology/evolution/mitosis/photosynthesis, etc?”

Understanding terminology is not the issue with science literacy. You can not teach people if they do not care to learn. 

When Pres. Obama was running for his second term, students had heavy debates over who was the best candidate for President. They would ask me my thoughts on politics. I used this as a teachable moment in showing the importance of scientific literacy. I posted quotes on my screen that certain candidates said… Todd Akin quote regarding pregnancy and rape…essentially he said a “legitimate rape” would not likely lead to a pregnancy.

I asked my students, “What is wrong with this statement?” They would tell me, “A woman can’t prevent herself from getting pregnant!” I would respond, “See? You are all smarter than people who run this country. This is  what I think of politics. This is why you need science classes so you can know when people are lying to you.” 

This translates to discussing science with those who would not listen. They are not incapable of understanding. They have to be shown why this is important and how it will affect them personally. Adults need to understand global warming will affect food supply raising prices as well as energy costs. They need to understand healthcare science so they can make informed decisions about who leads their government in affecting their healthcare coverage.

Showing people the personal relevance of what you are saying is essential in science education and communication.

The last step?

You have to make it fun and interesting…

My 1st Master’s degree project was based in linking content interest to content mastery.  It should be obvious that people who enjoy the content will be better at it. It is difficult to quantify this. I managed to do it through surveys and test scores as well as previous performance with my students. What I found out was that students who enjoyed the content did better than those who did not. Scores increased with those who were interested in what we were doing. Those who did not had no change from previous scores.

I based my model on the major personality types diversifying assignments and instructions in order to generate interest. I incorporated video games, hands on activities, and allowed students to pick their own assignments from a list of varying types of activities. I used videos and even dance to encourage positive association with my content.

I charged my students with the responsibility of their own education. I never told them what to think. I presented my evidence. They either believed it or not. However, they would know what the correct information was. One can not ask for more than that.

The bottom line? I was fun, approachable, non threatening, and made silly jokes. I made fun of myself and only took the evidence seriously. I showed respect for their beliefs and empowered them to think for themselves.

A final example…

There was one student I had who is a highly religious person. She is extremely smart. She struggled with the history of persecution of scientists in the church as well as evolution. She swore nothing would ever change her mind. She took not only my Biology 1 class, but my more difficult Biology 2 class as well. I taught her for 2 years. I could see the internal struggle she had with the obvious evidence. She struggled with the possibility she had been lied to…My heart broke for her as I feared she would not reach a point to accept evidence. I know her struggle as that was once me.

There is an internal battle rational people of faith undergo when they see obvious evidence that points to only one solution which contradicts everything they have ever known to be true…as told to them by people who they think love them. 

It is not fun. It is hurtful to them to a degree. This has to be understood if a science communicator wants to be effective in their trade. Respect, understanding, and care is essential if science education/evidence acceptance is the goal.

In summary…

Faith must be respected and addressed as it has a profound affect on the deeply religious…it is a joy they fear science is trying to take from them. Making the content relevant to the lives of those who need scientific literacy is the only way to be effective in communicating it. No one will learn what they feel is personally unnecessary. Be approachable, non-threatening, and fun. They may not remember everything you said, but they will come back to you for the correct information if they feel comfortable learning from you.

I leave you with the words of Maya Angelou…

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Thank you for reading.

Scientist Mel

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The Little Girl Who Scienced

It is a weird thing to say I have 4 degrees. I live in a world where people are revered for cheating their way to the top. I have had to fight for everything I have ever gotten. I did not have scholarships. I had no athletic inclination. I was looked over by teachers and told I could never be a nurse let alone a doctor by an English teacher in 7th grade. She laughed at me and openly made fun of me in front of my mother and others. I didn’t have a lot in the way of science toys because they were in the boy’s department. I wanted robots, chemistry sets, microscopes, and sea monkeys. I did get a few of those things as I got a bit older…because I pressed upon family that it meant something to me.

As a child I wanted to be a scientist. Society in many forms pushed really hard to tell me NO. That is not what girls do.

I enter college…a nursing program…and find I love research. I could right now, be a nurse in less than a year…lacking a handful of clinical classes. I left the program failing intentionally because I did not have the heart for nursing. Some pushed hard for me to be a nurse. I wanted them to think I couldn’t do it…so I failed, on purpose.

After that, I became many things in my life…put on many hats. Performance, DJ, film, sales, management…but science would not be silent. It is a part of me. I returned to school after several attempts of giving up on myself because I thought I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a scientist. That wasn’t real for me…

With support of family, I return to school in 2009 to university with 5 years of school under my belt with a few bad grades…from life circumstances forcing me to drop from school, having to move, having to work, not able to make ends meet…I had 4 jobs at one point in my life with 2 days off a month. I knew I had a lot of work and past failures to overcome.

I graduated in 2011 with a degree in Biology. I took the courses I needed to retake. I made the Dean’s list, made A’s in calculus, fought through chemistry (after not having it for what seemed like decades), performed cancer and genetics research. I have a few low grades left on my undergrad transcript. I could retake those classes…but I’m in graduate school now.

I had worked so hard to achieve and overcome the past. I wanted a PhD in Biology. I consulted with someone I had worked with in research for a year who told me (paraphrased), “Science is hard. You’re a girl. You should be a teacher. We need good teachers. You could get your EDD. That’s what they call it, yes?” He would only write me a letter of recommendation if I promised to be a teacher.

So…I became a High School Biology teacher. I was quite good at it. With each year, I improved my teaching methods. Most of my students were from meager means. I grew up in this area…Farmlands…small towns…I knew what they had been taught in science. I knew they would struggle with concepts that conflicted with what they were told growing up. I wouldn’t force knowledge on them. I wouldn’t make them learn. That wouldn’t work. I gave them something others hadn’t…respect. I told them that they had been told what to think their whole lives and I would never tell them what to think. That was not my job. I only wanted to teach them how to think. I told them they have amazing brains and I want them to come to their own conclusions. I would only present evidence. I wanted them to look at the evidence and make up their own minds. It was entirely up to them what they would believe. They could always tell me I am wrong, but I would ask for their evidence as we are all scientists in my science classroom. My students…I moved 30% above what their predicted scores were on state tests and many took Biology 2 from me because they wanted to know more.

While I taught high school, I completed my first Master’s degree of Arts in Teaching specialized in science education and my second undergrad in science…this time, Chemistry. My graduate school GPA ended with a 3.75 only making a single B.

While completing my second undergrad in chemistry, I was offered a lab teaching position by the Chair of the chemistry department at the time (now Assistant Dean). I continued to teach both university and high school while completing my 3rd degree. During this time, I was offered an assistantship to enter graduate school for chemistry by the new Chair of the department. I am still in this program. I complete my 4th degree in May…a Masters of Science in Chemistry…my graduate school GPA is now a 3.71. I will find out soon if I continue on to the PhD program…there are still tests to complete and papers to write, but I am hopeful. I have had things beyond my control that have tripped me up here and there, but I have to remain positive that my work is what matters and not my circumstances. My research mentor (the Assistant Dean) is an amazing teacher. I am thankful for her. I am grateful for how far I have come. If this is the end for me, what an amazing experience.

So here I am…weeks away from my 4th degree. It is weird saying that. I have 4 degrees. I actually have 4 degrees. My student loan is something I don’t want to talk about. Perhaps I have an addiction to this thing called science? Perhaps this is an investment in me? I think I am worth it. Other than people in my life, I have never loved anything more than my ability to learn and discover what makes the world go. While I feel strange in this world of science as it has been a “boy’s club”…and at times I think I am an imposter…which is silly. I deserve to be here. This is home. This is who I am. I am the little girl beaming with the chemistry set…sharing my smiles and my science with the world.

My blog, my twitter, my interactive videocasts are to share with you…my smiles…my joy…my accomplishments. So that is Scientist Mel in a nutshell.

Thank you for being here.