Posts Tagged ‘science and scientists’

More about University of California diversity oaths

Details continue to emerge about the University of California’s use of mandatory diversity statements in faculty hiring (earlier here, etc.) In Berkeley life sciences hiring “diversity statements were used at the outset of searches to eliminate candidates.. … No matter how good your scholarship, if you didn’t pass the diversity [advocacy] cutoff (a score of 11 in the second search), you were toast.” [Jerry Coyne; John Cochrane]

“UC Berkeley has publicized its rubric for assessing peoples’ diversity and inclusion statements. You get 5 points for ‘Clear and detailed ideas for…advancing equity and inclusion…through their research, teaching, and/or service.’ Note word ‘research’.” [Agnes Callard] What if you embark on research that bears on questions of equity and inclusion but it reaches findings that do not advance the cause?

UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge, a friend of this site, recently chose to submit and publish a diversity statement emphasizing his efforts to foster a more ideologically diverse atmosphere at his UC campus — testing whether diversity as such, or only some manifestations of it, are the goal [AEI “Carpe Diem”] It caused a stir [Bainbridge blog, reactions and emails; some faculty at campuses like UC Davis have begun to push back] Given that UC is a public university, the prospects for a legal challenge appear strong, and there is interest in mounting a suit [Brian Leiter]

Meanwhile at the national and federal level, a $241 million cluster-hire grant program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “is requiring every candidate to prove that they have already promoted diversity”; among those who may lose out are “minority candidates who have been doing things other than ‘changing the culture'” [Jerry Coyne]

“Great news: someone is reining in the IRB”

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), which oversee the ethics of human subjects research, have long come under criticism for applying to social science inquiry a range of restrictive oversight practices better suited to medical experimentation [Zachary Schrag on a 2017 effort to prune back the rules] Now Omri Ben-Shahar at Regulatory Review reports on an experiment at the University of Chicago:

It is widely recognized that IRBs have exercised “mission creep,” continuously expanding the de facto scope of their oversight. Some might describe this trajectory charitably as the advance of ethical norms, but the cost of IRB expansion is undeniable: more burden on researchers, slowdown of research, fewer studies, and inevitably less progress.

Can this burden be reduced without increasing risks to subjects? The University of Chicago is about to launch a pilot reform to test this question. The reform will address the great majority of social science experiments that are classified as minimum risk—by my own count well over 95 percent of the protocols received by the social science IRBs are treated as either “exempt” or “expedited.”

The reform is propelled by a simple premise: Instead of applying for IRB approval, researchers would self-determine that their studies are low-risk and launch them without IRB review.

This reform is entirely in line with the law.

More from Adam Chilton (including headline above). Related, Australia [Paul Oslington, Quillette]

Campus climate roundup

  • In separate incidents, public universities (Rutgers and the University of New Mexico, respectively) discipline a professor and a med student over vulgar and inflammatory political postings on their personal Facebook pages. First Amendment trouble [FIRE on Rutgers case; Eugene Volokh: Rutgers, UNM cases]
  • Defend someone who’s facing Title IX charges, and you just might yourself find yourself facing Title IX charges too along with the withholding of your degree [ABA Journal on Yogesh Patil case; Drew Musto, Cornell Sun (19 Cornell law profs write to president to criticize withholding of Ph.D.); Scott Greenfield]
  • Social justice bureaucracy within University of Texas might be bigger than some whole universities [Mark Pulliam] “Ohio State employs 88 diversity-related staffers at a cost of $7.3M annually” [Derek Draplin, The College Fix]
  • “Male, pale and stale university professors are to be given ‘reverse mentors’ to teach them about unconscious bias, under a new [U.K.] Government funded scheme” [Camilla Turner, Telegraph]
  • “Wow, this is truly astounding. A *published* paper [on gender differences in trait variability] was deleted and an imposter paper of same length and page numbers substituted to appease a mob.” [Theodore P. Hill, Quillette, as summarized by Alex Tabarrok] Reception of James Damore episode on campus: “[T]hose of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject of diversity. You might imagine that a university would be more open to discussing his ideas, but my experience suggests otherwise.” [Stuart Reges, Quillette]
  • Speak not of oaths: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is latest public institution to require diversity statements of all faculty, staff applicants [Rita Loffredo, The College Fix] Harvard students “will be required to complete a Title IX training module to enroll in fall 2018 classes” [Jamie D. Halper, Harvard Crimson]

Scientist sues colleagues over renewables claims

“Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, whose research argues the U.S. power grid could run exclusively on renewable energy by 2050, is taking his critics to court. Jacobson filed a $10 million libel lawsuit in September against Chris Clack, a mathematician and chief executive of Vibrant Clean Energy, and the National Academy of Sciences, after the Academy published an article by Clack and 20 co-authors criticizing the 2015 study. The co-authors are not named in the suit.” [Lindsay Marchello/Reason, Keith Pickering/Daily Kos, Robert Bryce/NRO] Here’s Jonathan Adler:

…Some of the arguments made in the complaint are a bit bizarre. For instance, Jacobson claims the NAS violated its conflict-of-interest disclosure policies by failing to note that some of the contributors to the Clack, et al., paper are “advocates” for various policy positions. Yet Jacobson’s own paper doesn’t list his own policy advocacy as a potential conflict of interest either.

The idea that academic researchers should turn to court when their work is criticized or contradicted by other researchers is a pernicious one, challenging the sort of robust inquiry upon which scientific research and the discovery of knowledge require. It is absolutely essential that researchers are free to posit hypotheses and subject others’ hypotheses to critique. This inevitably entails not just questioning other researchers’ conclusions, but also pointing out potential errors and mistakes. Of course it’s true that strong critiques of one’s academic work may have an effect on one’s academic reputation, but that goes with the territory. The same goes for making erroneous allegations against other researchers. If the fear of such reputational harms is compounded by the threat of litigation, academic inquiry will be chilled as researchers become more reluctant to point out the problems in each others’ work….

Like Michael Mann’s long-running defamation suit, this complaint appears to be little more than an effort to use a legal club to stifle robust critique and debate. (In that regard, it should be no surprise that Jacobson’s suit was filed in the same venue.)

States’ boycotts of states, cont’d

“California state university researchers are banned from using funds to travel to Texas to study Harvey’s aftermath.” — Joshua McCabe on Twitter. The guidelines from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra do cite the legislature’s allowance of a number of narrow exceptions including travel that is “required…for the protection of public health, welfare, or safety, as determined by the affected agency.” The cited project, however, might not make it past that tough standard, given that it is possible in principle to wait and study flood aftermaths in some other place that (unlike Texas) is not under legislated California sanctions.

All of which should remind us that boycotts of states by other states 1) operate like internal trade barriers; 2) do not do much for national unity. See earlier posts from April 2015 (would Constitution provide any remedy if states closed state university systems to residents of “bad” states?); April 2016 (logic of lifting sanctions against Cuba extends to sanctions against Texas and North Carolina).

A tale of research permission

“Scott Alexander” recounts with much humor an episode in which, observing an apparent weakness in the way patients are screened for bipolar disorder, he suggested that the effectiveness of the screen be put to a study as his hospital. That meant human subjects research, which meant submitting the idea to an institutional review board, which meant a sustained encounter with the federally prescribed regulatory apparatus that empowers IRBs. [Slate Star Codex] Our earlier coverage of IRBs is here, and Philip Hamburger has a much more formal and sustained critique, with footnotes, in this 2007 Northwestern University Law Review paper (“they require the licensing of speech and the press [when directed toward] the pursuit of scientific knowledge.”) See also Zachary Schrag, “You Can’t Ask That,” Washington Monthly, 2014 and, on the recent changes in regulation, Kate Murphy/New York Times and Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett, Chronicle of Higher Education.

L.A. jury blames ovarian cancer on baby powder, awards $417 million

Does the naturally occurring mineral talc, found in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, cause ovarian cancer? According to the National Cancer Institute last month:

The weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society:

It has been suggested that talcum powder might cause cancer in the ovaries if the powder particles (applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary.

Many studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary. Findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase. Many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk. But these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier. Two prospective cohort studies, which would not have the same type of potential bias, have not found an increased risk.

For any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to very be small. Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues.

On the other hand, some experts believe the risks are higher. Our contemporary American legal way of handling this disagreement is to submit the question in a series of high-stakes trials in venues selected by plaintiff’s lawyers, in which juries will listen to a battle of hired experts. On Aug. 21 a Los Angeles jury told Johnson and Johnson to pay $417,000,000 to Eva Echeverria, a 63-year-old California woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. [ Margaret Cronin Fisk and Edvard Pettersson/Bloomberg, ABA Journal, Amanda Bronstad/NLJ, Alison Kodjak/NPR, Eric Lieberman/Daily Caller]

Eclipse risk management

Reader R.T. writes: “Don’t know if anyone has commented but my son’s middle school is keeping all students inside from 1-4. My law partner’s kid’s school is releasing them all at 11. Guarantee it is because they don’t want to get sued for scorched corneas.”

Medical roundup

  • Scott Gottlieb likely to steer FDA in right direction [Daniel Klein]
  • Study of shorter versus longer medical consent forms “finds no significant difference in comprehension, satisfaction, enrollment” [Grady et al., PLOS via Michelle Meyer]
  • C’mon, ACLU and Covington: “Lawsuit Aims to Force Catholic Hospitals Perform Transgender-Related Surgeries” [Scott Shackford]
  • So much: “What The New York Times Gets Wrong On Vaping Regulation” [Sally Satel]
  • “Should you be compensated for your medical waste, especially if it turns out to be valuable? The right answer is: no.” [Ronald Bailey, Reason on Henrietta Lacks story]
  • Kimberly-Clark: we’ve sold 70 million MicroCool hospital gowns without a single complaint of injury from alleged permeability. Calif. jury: that’ll be $454 million [Insurance Journal]