Talking about careers

I was lucky to be invited to give a talk at the University of Oregon. I spoke about my transition from plasma physics to software product management. I’ve given career talks to grad students before, but I decided to take this one in a different direction. It was a bit experimental for me. I was quite happy with how it turned out. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And this time I’m serial: I will restart more frequent blogging!

Weekday reading list

Hi everyone. My new job has been busier than expected, and it’s taking me longer than I thought to figure out how to juggle increased work responsibilities, more changes in my personal life, and writing. That said, I’ve made it my resolution for March to get back to writing.

Until then, enjoy a mid-week reading list:

  1. Dan Kahan on creationists and evolutionists at science museums.
  2. How Apple’s stance on iPhone privacy could backfire.
  3. How faith helped improve a county in Florida.
  4. My friend David Bruggeman on the necessity of paper maps.
  5. Some non-fiction writing advice I should probably follow.


Weekend science, religion, and etc. reading list

Hello readers. Apologies on the delay since my last post. I promise to try get back to a more regular blogging cadence. But until then, here’s the weekend reading list!

  1. How scientists at Virgnia Tech helped the residents of Flint, Michigan.
  2. Alan Jacobs has an interesting reading workflow.
  3. Tenure protects nothing.
  4. My 2nd/3rd favorite team just won the Super Bowl. Here’s a really good data-driven addition to the Brady v. Manning debate.

Have a good weekend.

Weekend science, religion, and etc. reading list

The weekend reading list kicks off with this awesome article about Stephen Curry. My HS friends and I have been talking about Curry, and I figured I should let all of you know how amazing he is.

Random question for the basketball fans: If you had to pick one player for your team, would it be Lebron James or Steph? As much as I like Steph, I still pick Lebron.

With that, here’s the rest of the reading list:

  1. I *really* want to talk more about this now ancient Adam Laats post on ignorance in education. I’ll leave you with this choice quote until I get to it:

    Any school, any educational project, must also encourage certain forms of ignorance.

    It may seem outlandish, but it’s really so obvious it can be hard to see. What would we say if a second-grade teacher showed her students a violent movie such as Saving Private Ryan? Not at all appropriate. Not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s incredibly violent.

    What would we say if a second-grade teacher traumatized her students by taking them on a field trip to a slaughterhouse? Not at all appropriate. Not because it’s not educational, but because there are some truths we want to keep from young people.

  2. Based on Rod Dreher’s recommendation, I read Wendell Pierce’s The Wind in the Reeds. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife is reading it now, and is also loving it. Check out this short article on how Dreher and Pierce worked together on the book.
  3. Alan Jacobs refutes arguments against religious education.
  4. A family in New Jersey created a geothermal/solar snow-melt system.

That’s all folks!

Random stuff


Sorry for the recent slow-down folks. My Federalist essay put the race/politics bug in me, and I was working on another (longer) piece on the same topic. I also had an unexpected job change, and some other personal stuff going on. But I hope to now restart my blistering 1.5 times / week posting rate.

You can consider this a mid-week reading list:

  1. This post by the inimitable Dan Kahan came out two months ago. I keep meaning to respond to it but haven’t had the time. So for now just reflect on his description of domain-specific vs. domain-independent reasoning ability:

    [Proponents of the domain independent conception of cognition assume] that that reasoning proficiencies–the capacity to recognize covariance, give proper effect to base rates, distinguish systematic relationships from chance co-occurrences, & perform like mental operations essential to making valid inferences–are more or less discrete, stand-alone “modules” within a person’s cognitive repertoire.

    If the modules are there, and are properly calibrated, a person will reliably summon them for any particular task that she happens to be doing that depends on that sort of mental operation…

    Another conception sees cognitive proficiency as intrinsically domain specific. On this view it’s not accurate to envision reasoning abilities of the sort I described as existing independently of the activities that people use them for (cf. Heatherington 2011).Accordingly, a person who performs miserably in a context-free assessment of, say, the kind of logical-reasoning proficiency measured by an abstract version of a the Wason Selection Task– one involving cards with vowels and numbers on either side — might in fact always (or nearly always!) perform that sort of mental operation correctly in all the real-world contexts that she is used to encountering that require it. In fact, people do very well at the Wason Selection Task when it is styled as something more familiar–like detecting a norm violator (Gigenrenzer & Hug 1992).

    I’m personally a DS kind of guy. To put it in the context of this blog: Since much cognitive ability is DS, I don’t think it’s possible to derive someone’s general reasoning ability from their beliefs about evolution. But you all know that already.

  2. On a related note, check out the ‘Math Myth’ via Freddie DeBoer’s Twitter feed. Loved this section:
    The second argument is the one I always hear around the mathematics department: mathematics helps you to think clearly. I have a very low opinion of this self-serving nonsense. In sports there is the concept of the specificity of skills: if you want to improve your racquetball game, don’t practice squash! I believe the same holds true for
    intellectual skills. In any case, the case for transference of mathematical skills is unsettled. Moreover, mathematics is of little use in most problems of ordinary life. For example, mathematics could be of help in computing the costs of having children; but is useless in computing the benefits!

One more thing. The editors at the Federalist again graciously agreed to publish my upcoming race and politics essay. I’ll link to it when it comes out, so look out for it.

Weekend science, religion, and etc. reading list

Hello friends! This weekend it’s extra long to make up for the past couple weeks that I missed:

  1. Note that I am not taking a stance on the Syrian refugee situation by linking to this essay by Megan McArdle. I highlight it entirely because I really loved this sentence: “It took me years of writing on the Internet to learn what is nearly an iron law of commentary: The better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else.”
  2. An Indian Nobel laureate insists that homeopathy and astrology are bogus and harmful. Homeopathy maybe. Astrology: nah!
  3. A short summary of a new book on graduate admissions. I can personally relate to the discussions about the Chinese graduate students and astronomical subject GRE scores.
  4. An account of the fascinating exchange between Albert Einstein and W.E. Du Bois.
  5. Ten points of necessary advice for tech writers!
  6. On liberal attacks on social science.
  7. The death of God is greatly exaggerated.
  8. How anti-evolution bills have evolved.


Drawing lines and accommodations in public schools


Happy new year folks. I wanted to follow up on my grand bargain post, where I suggest creationist students be allowed to substitute another topic for evolution. A couple commenters were aghast at that notion.

There’s one point I should have highlighted in my response: public schools already accommodate students in different ways. Some students aren’t forced to take physics II. Some get a pass on an extra year of art, or music, or European history, or whatever. It’s hardly a novel idea that students have different interests and talents, and that schools should try to cater to them in some way. Even public schools will inevitably offer a degree of pedagogical customization. Heck, we have entire schools focused on either STEM or the performing arts. To these sorts of existing policies, I argue that students who oppose evolution be accommodated by allowing them to dive deeper into some other topic. There are precedents for allowing such conscience objections.

Whatever your position, I humbly ask you to admit three things. One: pedagogical and curricular choices require touch choices. Some topics will be included and some won’t. Two: there is going to be some subjectivity involved.  And three: reasonable people can disagree.

I understand that evolution is important. I also understand that for some readers, it is too important to allow anyone a way out. Although I disagree, it’s a fair argument. But everyone has to draw a line somewhere. And your line will ultimately be no less arbitrary or capricious than the one I’ve drawn.

On teaching biology

The comments on my last post are forcing me to revisit and expand on topics I’ve neglected for a while. Let me start with this challenge from David Bruggeman:

Find me rigorous material in either microbiology or human anatomy that doesn’t involve evolution.

The question I have is: why are you teaching biology? There are many valid pedagogical goals. One could be to teach doctors anatomy for medical diagnoses. If that is your goal, then at least one medical text-book appears to think it’s okay to neglect evolution. From conversations with family and friends who are doctors, it seems you can often succeed just fine without knowing the details of evolution. I humbly submit that there are many other fields (bioengineering comes to mind) that are similar.

As I’ve argued before, in biology the key principles do not neatly stack on top of one another. Unlike in physics, many fields developed independently. This fact is neither good nor bad. But it should be considered when we’re having this discussion. Focusing on evolution is one way to teach biology. But it’s not the only one.

I have a similar critique for this comment:

The purpose of a *Public* education system is to teach children a broad-based, consensus education of the things society thinks they need to become well-informed productive citizens…

How do you define well-informed and productive? Informed for what purpose? What, exactly, do we want children to produce? How does learning evolution advance those goals? And who gets to decide what we mean by consensus? Until you answer those questions, I don’t see why evolution has to be mandatory for everyone. It could be included. But then again, it doesn’t have to be.