Friday, May 13, 2016

Pleasantly surprised by the National Microbiome Initiative

So I got this email a few weeks ago inviting me to the White House.



Not every day that I get invited to the White House.  And I thought I was probably on their shit list after removing my name from the "Unified Microbiome Initiative" paper due to it being non open access.  So I asked a colleague if she could teach in my large introductory biology class for me on May 13 and she said yes.  So I RSVP to the meeting and told my mom I would be coming to the DC area (where I grew up).  And I told everyone, proudly "I am going to the White House".

I realized I had a tight schedule for flying in and out since I had to be back in Davis Saturday AM.  So I wrote to the White House to ask about the schedule for the event.  You see, I had no information as to what this event was going to be about.



And, they did tell me this would work although they would not tell me what the meeting was about.



I then bought my tickets and got excited to be going to the White House.  However, fate would not be so kind to me.  My daughter got sick last week (bronchitis, and multiple spin off issues) and so I started to wonder if I really should go away.  So I tried to find out what was happening at this event.  I wrote a few friends who I knew were going and one of them told me there would be a series of talks and another told me they did not know.  So - without much other information to go on, and with a strong desire to take care of my daughter as much as possible, I cancelled my trip.

Then yesterday I got an email from a NY Times reporter



And so we connected and talked for a bit.  I found out from the phone call that the White House was announcing their Microbiome Initiative (which I knew was in the works but for which I basically knew no details).  The reporter Gardiner Harris asked me how I felt about "Big Science" types of projects and, well, I did not say nice things about them.  And I stand by those critiques of Big Science.  I talked about how I disliked the Human Microbiome Project in many ways because it fed too much money to a few groups and was prone to the same problems of other Big Science projects.  And that they were generally a waste of money.  We also discussed how I thought science worked better when administrators got out of the way and let peer review have more of a role in determining what was important.  And I said that if the new White House initiative was another top down science effort, then this would likely be a bad thing.  Or something like that.  But I did also say that I had no idea what the White House was going to announce about and I hoped it was more supportive of small science.

So the article came out and I was featured in it



Definitely something I stand by.  I think top-down approaches to science do not work well.

I woke up early this AM and started posting about the evils of Big Science.  And then I finally found an announcement with actual details on the National Microbiome Initiative being announced today.  And I was pleasantly surprised.  This was not about a big, top down approach to science.  It was more about a collection of projects under one big umbrella theme of microbiome studies.



Yes there were some top down aspects to it.  But only a component. So once I saw this, I realized my quote in the NY Times was not ideal.  Yes Big Science is bad.  But this National Microbiome Initiative is not really the standard bearer of Big Science.  It is not really even Big Science.  It is more   of a "Organizing Distributed Science".

And I found one article out there about the project that captured this essence of it:  The White House Launches the National Microbiome Initiative  by Ed Yong in the Atlantic. He nails it with this section
The National Microbiome Initiative is not the Human Genome Project—a single project with a definitive goal. It consists of many organizations operating independently; to paraphrase Whitman, it contains multitudes.
So my quote in the NY Times was technically correct - Big Science is bad.  But it also not quite right in the context it is presented - since the NMI is actually not really (or at least not completely) Big Science.  I do wish the context of the quote had been presented a bit more  (well, more specifically that I did say I did not know the full details of what they were actually proposing).  Lesson learned.  Be really careful about commenting about things "generally" without knowing the details.  I definitely regret doing that here.  I did in fact say what is reported so can't complain about being misquoted.  But I should have been more careful regarding the caveats and context.

I note - it is unclear to me how much of these smaller distributed projects would have happened without the NMI.  My guess is most of them would have happened and that the NMI is a bit of a public relations effort.  Ed Yong also captured this issue in his piece:
A cynic might be forgiven for seeing this as an exercise in branding, encapsulating what microbiome scientists were already doing under a catchy umbrella.
And I also worry as always that "Microbiomania" (hype about the microbiome) will get worse with this announcement of the NMI.  And it probably will.

But in the end I am very happy that this is not a run of the mill top down Big Science project (like the Human Genome Project or the Human Microbiome Project or the Human Brain Project).  It is much more nuanced than that.  Much more distributive.  Much more likely to support small science and creative science and such.  And that is a good thing.

True Must See TV: John Oliver on Science, Hype, and Science Reporting

This is really really really worth watching. I was pointed to it by dozens of people. And they were all right about it. Thanks people.
 

Also see these stories about it

Saturday, April 30, 2016

On my evolving thoughts on the #UCDavis saga involving Chancellor Linda Katehi

Still trying to wrap my brain around the controversy at UC Davis involving our Chancellor (the head of the University) Linda Katehi (see some of these news stories if you are not aware of what is going on).  In some sense I could just watch this all from the sidelines and see what happens.  But that is not in my nature.  And, over the last month I have gotten a near endless stream of comments and suggestions (some in private, some in public) about the topic.  Some say I need to be more vocal in condemning Chancellor Katehi (e.g., a student in my lab told me the other day that they have talked to faculty who are wondering why I am being so hesitant to condemn Chancellor Katehi).  Other people (many) say any negative posts about Katehi are damaging UC Davis.  Still others say and and all actions of Katehi must be considered in the context of overwhelming sexism against female leaders.  And so on.  In total I have probably gotten dozens of private comments and even more public comments about the case with suggestions for what I should be doing here.

For those who know me or know about me, I assume you know I am not exactly shy about expressing my opinions on topics like behavior of academics or academic institutions.  For example, just after joining UC Davis I wrote a post that was shared widely, condemning a UC Davis Vice Provost over her misuse of her position in support of Closed Access publishing: Vice Provost of U. C. Davis on the wrong side of Open Access.



I give out all sorts of snarky awards on my blog to friends, colleagues, and other folds in the world for doing things I think are inappropriate (e.g., see this STAT story). Sometimes I go overboard in this, but certainly I am not hesitant at expressing thoughts when I think there has been something untoward going on.  I try as much as possible to turn my microscope on myself and UC Davis too.  For example, see this post from a few weeks ago: UC Davis Storer Lecture series - since 1963 87% of speakers are male.
Again, I know I overdo this sometimes but I am certainly not hesitant to make my feelings know.

But the case of Chancellor Katehi leaves me on the fence and with my fingers unclear what to type somewhat.  And so I thought I would try to write up what my thoughts are here, even if they are muddled.  I wonder what other people think of the situation and would love feedback (as always) on this post.

So - what is so complex here?  What am I trying to wrap my brain around?  I think my challenge here comes down to the following: I don't know whether some of the responses (including mine) to Chancellor Katehi's actions are tinged with bias, especially sexism.  Or, in other words, are the actions and inactions of Chancellor Katehi "firing offenses" or have they been overblown by biased and sexist points of view.

And honestly, I do not know exactly how to figure this out.  On the one hand, I accept that there are massive amounts of sexism in society and certainly in regard to how we judge women in power.  On the other hand, I think the actions and inactions of Chancellor Katehi and her administration have been serious (in a bad way).  I note - one thing I have done to try and better understand my own feelings and actions in this saga is to compile all my posts and communications as best I can and go through them.



This has helped me sort out my thoughts and also helped show me at least that I was certainly not going easy on the UC Davis administration over these cases.  I also re-examined my posts about the Pepper Spray incident and aftermath from 2011 which has many parallels to the current situation and also involved Chancellor Katehi. See here for those: posts about the UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident and Aftermath.



Below is a discussion based in part on going through the news stories and posts of others and posts of mine.

Maybe it is best to start with this.  A few weeks ago I was pondering the fate of Chancellor Katehi and I wrote a detailed post about this The #UCDavis Chancellor's Board Positions and the Need for a More Public, Open and Early Disclosure System.




I also included in that discussion some possible conflicts of interest of my own that might be clouding my judgment.  Those are relevant to this post too and I encourage people to read them.  Anyway, this post was written at the beginning of the latest controversy when all that had been disclosed was her acceptance of a set of outside Board positions that were controversial.  I had written many mini posts and Tweets about the situation such as those below:





And I also had started to see some calls for her to be fired and such and made a point to say I did not feel things were that far along and I also linked to some of those posts.

 








Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Spring at #Yolo Basin

As many know, I just love Yolo Basin.  Here are some of the better pics I have taken this Spring.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Letter from #UCDavis Profs to Janet Napolitano about possible sexism in responses to Chancellor Katehi's activities

The current Chair of the UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate forwarded an email to UC Davis faculty today.  This email included a letter that had been send from from Linda Bisson (past Chair of the UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate) and Rachael E. Goodhue (Chair Elect of UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate) to the President of the University of California Janet Napolitano.  The letter's overall message is concern about possible sexism in how the Chancellor of UC Davis is being treated in regard to recent events at UC Davis. 

I note - I have received many (over a dozen) private messages also expressing concern that some of the reaction to Chancellor Katehi's activities may be sexist.  Mind you - most of these people are not defending the activities of the Chancellor but are concerned about the responses to her activities.  I think it is important for these expressions to be more widely viewed and thus I asked Linda Bisson if I could post it here and she said yes. 



From: Linda Bisson
Date: Sun, Apr 24, 2016 at 6:43 AM
Subject: Letter to President Napolitano

Dear President Napolitano:

We want to express grave concern over a pattern of negativism in the press and social media regarding women Chancellors and senior administrative leaders. There are strong parallels between the singularly intensive criticism of our Chancellor Linda Katehi and that previously of Chancellors Fox (UCSD) and Denton (UCSC), and of UC Vice President Greenwood. Yet, the activities that are being criticized clearly fall within the standards of UCwide practice. This pattern is exemplified by a 2006 LA Times article that criticized compensation practices for senior UC executives: those singled out for criticism for “extravagant pay practices, perks and privilege for top executives” are all women (http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/16/local/me-cap16). The intensity of the criticism at the time ended in tragedy for Chancellor Denton. Chancellor Fox’s term was equally framed as fraught with turmoil, turmoil apparently not experienced by her male colleagues who were facing identical issues due to budget cuts and lack of diversity and inclusion. In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune written on Chancellor Fox’s decision to step down (http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2011/jul/05/fox- leaving-ucsd/?#article-copy), she is described in terms steeped in implicit gender bias such as the quote ascribed to former President Atkinson: “She handled that as well as she could have handled it” – not as well as anyone could have handled it or as well as it could have been handled.

Women in leadership positions are often the victims of intense implicit bias and, as a consequence, of the phenomenon of “single storyism” - the reduction of their actions to a simple narrative that appeals to the biases of a broad section of society, in this case implicit gender bias and women being incompetent for their position. Whatever they say or do in response is twisted to fit the “single story.” We think the LA Times article listed above illustrates perfectly the problem of the single story experienced by senior women administrators at UC. If the LA Times story were rewritten today, Chancellor Katehi’s name is likely the only one that would be added to the list.

All of UC is richer because of the participation of women and underrepresented groups at all levels. We know you and your leadership team share this belief. We are concerned that UCOP does not recognize that senior administrators who are identified with an underrepresented identity vital to our diversity are subject to vilification in the press simply because of that identity. We are also concerned, as recent press regarding our Chancellor Katehi demonstrates, that Chancellors and other senior administrators are not well-equipped to deal with single storyism, nor is there the recognition that others, such as UCOP, must step in to address the criticism as well.

The absence of factual information on UC policies and practices with respect to external compensation for all senior administrators has led to speculative and negative public debate regarding a single senior woman, when the practice of external involvement is widespread. We would like to request clear articulation from UCOP of both the formal policies and the informal practices as they pertain to executive compensation (e.g., have senior managers been encouraged to participate in activities outside UC). We note that legislators are calling for the same review. UCOP's understanding of the broader issues involved is essential to informing these external discussions. The need for UCOP to take action is urgent.

We thank you for considering this request.

Linda F. Bisson, Former Chair, Davis Division of the Academic Senate, 2006-2008 & 2011-2012
Rachael E. Goodhue, Chair Elect, Davis Division of the Academic Senate 2016-2018

Thursday, April 21, 2016

UC Davis Storer Lecture series - since 1963 87% of speakers are male

I wrote this blog post a while ago but never published it partly out of fear for upsetting some of my colleagues.  I try to be brave about such things, but I guess I just did not quite get up the poxy.  Well, today something came up that stimulated me to write the post.

I got an email announcement for a talk that seems potentially quite interesting. The problem is not the talk.  The problem is with the endowed Lectureship that this talk is connected to.  So here is the post I have worked on on and off over the last year or more.


UC Davis has an endowed lecture series- the Storer Lectureship in the Life Sciences.  It has been running since the 1960s and is a relatively big deal on campus here.  The speakers come in, usually give one or two talks (one for the public and one for researchers).  They usually have a big dinner (I have gone to a few of these) and the speakers get a decent honorarium (a few thousand dollars) and some sort of gift.

Most years I have been here, I have received a request from the organizers for suggested speakers and every once in a while I have made suggestions, some of which have even led to invitations.  Recently, I had suggested a famous colleague who is also a UC Davis alum.  Alas, she could not come.  The organizers asked if I had any other suggestions and I sent them a list of a few candidates who are both very good, well known and do something related to microbes.  The organizers really liked one of the suggestions and asked if I would be willing to invite this person.

So I started drafting a letter.  And as part of drafting a letter I wanted to give examples of past speakers to show how great a set of speakers we had for this series.  So I Googled "Storer" and
UC Davis" or something like that and got to the page:

Storer Lectureship in the Life Sciences

And that is when I got a bit heartbroken.  The speakers have been, well, very male.   I note I spent a while looking at descriptions of each speaker that I did not know to try and determine their gender, looking at their web sites if available, or how they were described (e.g., what pronouns were used).  I am pretty confident in the assignments though I realize this is an error prone approach.  Here is the full list as far as I have put together with the males labelled in yellow and females in green.
 
Oct 5-16, 1963 Ernest W. Caspari University of Rochester
Oct 17-31, 1966 Vincent G. Derhicr Univesity of Pennsylvania
May 7-20, 1967 Ernst Mayr Harvard University
Nov 3-15, 1968 Elizabeth C. Crosby Univesity of Michigan
Jan 3-15, 1969 W.D. Billings Duke University
Apr 13-23, 1969 Frank Fenner Australian National University,
Apr 5-19, 1970 A. Frey-Wyssling Eidgenossiche Tcchnische Hochschule
Nov 11-23, 1970 Carl L. Hubbs Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Feb 1-12, 1971 H.L. KornBerg University of Leicester, England
Nov 22-Dec 3, 1971 Hilary Koprowski University of Pennsylvania
Jan 17-28, 1972 George Beadle University of Chicago
Jan 17-28, 1972 Muriel Beadle University of Chicago
May 1-12, 1972 Sterling Hendricks Agriculture Research Service, U.S.D.A
Oct 16-27, 1972 George Gaylord Simpson The Simroe Foundation
Feb 23-Mar 9, 1973 Sir Alan S. Parkes The Galton Foundation
Apr 9-20, 1973 Peter R. Marler The Rockefeller University
May 7-18, 1973 George C. Cotzias, M.D. Brookhaven National Laboratory
Nov 6-13, 1973 Eugene E. Odum University of Georgia
Nov 12-16, 1973 Peter Alexander Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital
Mar 4-15, 1974 Davis A. Hamburg, MD. Stanford University School of Medicine
Apr 1-15, 1974 Kent V. Flannery University of Michigan
Nov 4-15, 1974 Garrett Hardin University of California, Santa Barbara
Mar 30-Apr 9, 1975 Kenneth J. Carpenter University of Cambridge
Apr 20-May 2, 1975 Murray S. Blum University of Georgia
Oct 20-31, 1975 Bert W. O'Malley, M.D. Baylor College of Medicine,
Apr 12-23, 1976 Sydney Brenner Division of Cell Biology of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England
May 17-28, 1976 Peter S. Carlson Michigan State University,
Nov 22-Dec 3, 1976 Roger Y. Stanier Pasteur Institute,
Jan 24-Feb 4, 1977 Peter Albersheim University of Colorado
Feb 22-Mar 4, 1977 *Jere Mead, M.D. Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Harvard University
Apr 11-12, 1977 S. J. Singer University of California, San Diego
Nov 20-30, 1977 James D. Ebert Marine Biological Laboratory
Feb 8-15, 1978 Sir Kenneth Blaxtcr Rowen Research Institute
Apr 5-12, 1978 Eric H. Davidson California Institute of Technology
Oct 9-20, 1978 Jutgen Aschoff Max-Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology
Feb 20-22, 1979 *Burt L. Vallee, Paul C. Cabot Harvard Medical School
Apr 24-26, 1979 Carl R. Woese University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
Nov 5-16, 1979 Daphne J. Osborne Oxford University
Februarv 4-15, 1980 John F. Eisenberg Smithsonian Institution.
Apr 16-18, 1980 George E. Palade, M.D. Yale Medical School
May 5-16, 1980 Jerre Levy University of Chicago
Oct 27-30, 1980 Colin Blakemore Oxford University
Jan 21-27, 1980 Pierre Dejours CNRS
Feb 26-Mar 5, 1981 Richard Alexander  University of Michigan
Oct 20-27, 1981 Alfred F. Harper  University of Wisconsin Madison
May 11-19, 1982 Glenn W. Burton USDA-SEA
Oct 11-18, 1982 Richard F. Leakey National Museums of Kenya
Jan 6-11, 1983 Eric R. Kandel, M.D. Columbia University,
Oct 12-18, 1983 Donald S. Farner University of Washington
Feb 13-15, 1984 Daniel Branton Harvard University
Apr 24-26, 1984 J. Michael Bishop University of California, San Francisco
Dec 3-6, 1984 Maurice Fried National Research Council
Apr 3-8, 1985 John Krebs Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology
May 8-14, 1985 Geoffrey M. Ole Maloiy University of Nairobi
Oct 8-10, 1985 Michael P. Hassell Imperial College, London
Apr 21-24, 1986 John Maynard Smith University of Sussex.
Dec 1-4, 1986 Aldo Carl Leopold Boyce Thompson Institute
Mar 2A, 1987 Gerald Edelman The Rockefeller University
Nov 10-12, 1987 Jean-Claude Chcrrnann Pasteur Institute, Paris France
Jan 15-20, 1988 Jean-Pierre Changeux Pasteur Institute, Paris France
Apr 11-15, 1988 John I. Harpcr University College of North Wales
Oct 17-21, 1988 Rudiger Wehner University of Zurich
Oct 23-26, 1989 John C. Torrey Harvard University
Feb 26-Mar 2, 1990 Heinz Saedler Max-Planck-Institute
Nov 5-7, 1990 Francis Crick The Salk Institute
Jan 28-31, 1991 Thomas A. McMahon Harvard University
May 28-30, 1991 Lynn Margulis University of Massachusetts
Nov 18-21, 1991 Richard C. Lewontin Harvard University
Feb 4-6, 1992 Philip Leder Harvard Medical School
Apr 13-16, 1992 Patrick Bateson University of Cambridge
Nov 16-19, 1992 Melvin I. Simon California Institute of Technology
Feb 1-5, 1993 Anne McLaren Wellcome/CRC Institute
Apr 13-16, 1993 Judah Folkman Harvard Medical School
Jan 24 -27, 1994 Philippa Marrack National Jewish Center
Feb 28-Mar 3, 1994 Stephen O'Brien National Cancer Institute
Apr 18-21, 1994 Roy M. Anderson University of Oxford
Oct 31-Nov 2, 1994 Michael J. Berridge The Babraham Institute
Feb 6-10, 1995 Hal Hatch CSIRO Division of Plant Industry
May 1-5, 1995 Elaine Fuchs The University of Chicago
Oct 16-19, 1995 Peter Ellison Harvard University
Mar 4-8, 1996 Gottfried SchatzUniversity of Basel, Switzerland
Apr 8-10, 1996 Daniel Hillel University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Feb 3-6, 1997 Peter R. Grant Princeton University
Apr 14-17, 1997 William J. Lennarz State University of New York
May 5-7, 1997 Carolyn W. Slayman Yale University School of Medicine
Apr 20-22, 1998 Floyd Bloom The Scripps Research 1nstitute
May 18-20, 1998 Ian Wilmut Roslin Institute
Jan 11-13, 1999 Leroy E. Hood University of Washington
Apr 26-28, 1999 Patricia Goldman-Rakic Yale University School of Medicine
Jan 30-31, 2001 Charles Arntzen Arizona State University


University of Oxford
Mar 4-6, 2002 Jan H. Hoeijmakcrs  Erasmus University
Apr 11-12, 2002 Fred H. Gage The Salk Institute
May 6-7, 2002 Phillip A. Sharp Center for Cancer Research, MIT
Jan 13-15, 2003 George M. Martin, M.D. University of Washington
Mar 10-11, 2003 Kim A. Nasmyth Vienna Biocenter
Apr 28-29, 2003 Tim Flannery Director of the South Australian Museum
Dec 1-2, 2003 William Greenough University of Illinois
Feb 18-19, 2004 Bruce Ames Children's Hospital, Oakland Research Institute
Nov 29-30, 2004 Hans Herren International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology
Apr 26-27, 2005 H. Robert Horvitz Massachusetts Institute of Technology
May 9-10, 2005 Steven Chu Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Jan 24-25, 2006 Cynthia Kenyon University of California, San Francisco
Mar 14-15, 2006 Thomas D. Pollard Yale University
Oct 23-24, 2006 Mimi Koehl University of California, Berkeley
Dec 4-5, 2006 Simon A. Levin Princeton University
Apr 5-6, 2007 Sir Peter Crane, FRS University of Chicago
Apr 23-24, 2007 Stephen Quake Stanford University
May 14-15, 2007 Pasko Rakic Yale University
Mar 23-24, 2009 Sean Carroll University of Wisconsin
Apr 20-21, 2009 H. Allen Orr University of Rochester
May 19-20, 2009 John Doebley University of Wisconsin
Mar 11-12, 2010 Elliot Meyerowitz California Institute of Technology
May 17-18, 2010 Robert Langer Massachusetts Institute of Technology
May 11-12, 2011 Nina Federoff Pennsylvania State University
Jan 11-12, 2012 Jane Lubchenco NOAA
Apr 24-25, 2012 Ilkka Hanski University of Helsinki
May 30-31, 2012 Loren Rieseberg University of British Columbia
Oct 2-3, 2012 Ed Delong MIT
Nov 15, 2012 Jordi Bascompte Estación Biológica de Doñana
Nov 19, 2012 Simon Boulton London Research Institute
Jan 16, 2013 Ary Hoffman University of Melbourne
Jan 31, 2013 Jonathan Losos Harvard
Mar 18, 2013 Gloria Coruzzi NYU
Apr 10-11 2013 Peter Agre Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
May 6, 2013 Richard Wrangham Harvard
May 16, 2013 Sue Carter RTI International
May 28, 2013 Larry Gold CU Boulder
June 4, 2013 Eric Schadt Mount Sinai
June 05, 2013 Nancy Moran Yale
Oct 28-29, 2013 Walter Bodmer University of Oxford
Dec 4-5, 2013 Ronald Kaback UCLA
Feb 24, 2014 Patricia Wright Stony Brook
Mar 5-6, 2014 Steve Carpenter University of Wisconsin
Apr 9-10, 2014 Jerry Coyne University of Chicago
May 20-21, 2014 May Berenbaum University of Illinois
May 28-29, 2014 Joel Cohen Rockefeller University
Oct 28-29, 2014 Charles Rice The Rockefeller University
Nov 19-20, 2014 Rolf Zinkernagel University of Zurich
Apr 15-16, 2015 Tim Clutton Block University of Cambridge
Oct 7-8, 2015 Richard Lenski Michigan State
April 22, 2016 Steve Nowicki Duke University

The total numbers come to 19 females out of 142 speakers or ~13% female and 87% male.  Ugh.

And the person I had suggested to invite was male.  So I wrote back to the organizers and I wrote:

From: Jonathan Eisen 
Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2015 11:34 AM 
To: XXXCc: XXX 
Subject: Abyssmal gender ratio of speakers in the Storer Lectureship series 
XXX and XXXX 
With sincere apologies but ... 
In preparing a letter of invitation for XXX I decided to include some examples of previous Storer Lecturers. And therein lies the problem On the web sitehttp://www.dbs.ucdavis.edu/seminars_and_events/storer_lecture_list.htmlfrom my count, there are 121 past speakers listed. Of these, 15 appear to be female (from my estimate). That comes to 12%. That is embarassaingly low. I hope my calculations here are wrong. 
Can you tell me if the Storer Lectureship has any policies regarding diversity of speakers? If yes, can you provide me with those details.

If no, I recommend you implement one as soon as possible. Either way, I refuse to have my name affiliated with this series, and will not invite anyone to talk in it, without further information and without some serious attempt to figure out how to do a better job representing the diversity of biologists who could give such talks. 
Jonathan
They wrote back with a very detailed response and were very supportive of the concept of increasing diversity of speakers.  And they explained some of the efforts they had made in this regard.  And they really seem to be trying in some ways.  But in the end, their main justification for the lack of diversity was that they were trying to invite already recognized, in essence famous, biologists.  People who had won a Nobel or were in the National Academy of Sciences or were HHMI investigators.  And this pool, that they had chosen, was skewed in gender balance.

So I wrote back to them June 18:

All
Thanks very much for the response.

I understand you have some constraints and greatly appreciate that you are committed to trying to improve the diversity of speakers.  However, the end result is truly not acceptible in my mind and therefore I believe more needs to be done, urgently, to improve the situation.

What are some possible ways to improve the situation?

Well, the number one recommendation I would make would be to not constrain the pool to honorific groups that themselves have severe skews.  No we cannot solve those skews and there are many causes for them.  But I believe it is a major mistake to use the diversity of those groups (NAS, Nobel, HHMI) as a target.  Either invite people to represent diversity well even from a constrained pool, or, open up to a broader pool (there are plenty of incredible scientists who have not gotten HHMI, NAS, or Nobels).

In addition to opening up the pool and not aiming at such a low bar, there are many things one can do to improve the diversity of speakers.  I have written about this extensively as have many others.  I can point the committee to some of these articles if interested.

In the end, whatever the reasons are, the Storer series has ended up with extremely biased gender ratio of speakers.  I think it is up to the committee to fix this with a combination of actions.  But the first thing I would recommend is to not use the diversity of a set of pools you have chosen as an excuse.  We can and should do better and if the pools are the reason, the pools from which you sample need to be changed.

Jonathan

They wrote back, saying they were really committed to achieving better gender balance in the future writing "we are totally committed to the same goals as you in terms of gender balance now and in the future." And they also wrote that they expected "the final lineup to reflect at least 30 percent or more female" as long as one additional woman (the person I had originally recommended) would come (though I had told them she said she could not).  And then they asked if I would reconsider inviting the man who I had been about to invite that had started this whole discussion.

So I wrote back again July 14:
Thanks again for the response. And though I do not want to continue beating a dead horse, I am not convinced we are doing enough in this area. For example, what explains the "at least 30 percent" and how close to 30% will that be. This is important as, for example, the National Science Foundation will not support their people attending meetings if female speakers are at < 33%. I think 30% is, to be honest, just not acceptable in biology. So beofre contributing any more to this series I need to know exactly what is meant by "we are totally committed to the same goals as you in terms of gender balance now and in the future."

For example, here are some questions I would like to know the answers to:
  • Are you committed to achieving gender balance in the speaker series or just saying you are being more even than before?
  • Are you committed to researching and using diverse options to ensure diversity of speakers beyond just focusing on who is invited?
  • Are you interested in understanding why the series has been so undiverse in the past and addressing this directly or just moving forward?
  • Are you willing to address the lack of diversity in the past publicly and also discuss efforts to improve the diversity? 
I would very much like to know more detail about how serious you are to having a diverse series and what you plan to do to achieve this. 
With apologies, but in regard to inviting XXX or XXX. I am sorry but given the past record of this series, which as I said is among the worst I have seen anywhere, I am just not willing to be involved in any way until I see a stronger and more public committment to diversity. 
I am happy to help with the series and to help improve the diversity of speakers. But this should be done openly and publicly and forcefully. And without evidence of this, I am unable and unwilling to be involved.
And, well, I have not heard from them again.  So, I am writing this.  For many reasons.  But a key one is, I think we need to be more public about such issues.  And we just need to fix things that are broken.

So today I decided to make the post live.  I wish I had done this earlier.




Some responses

American Academy of Arts and Sciences - where men choose men to be cheered

So - I saw multiple posts by colleagues on Facebook and Twitter about gender skew in the newly elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. So I decided to take a look at the list. And it is indeed really skewed. Here is my analysis of gender ratio for mathematical and physical sciences and biological sciences.



Field Male Female
Math and Physical Sciences Totals 32 10
Math 5 1
Physics 6 1
Chemistry 7 1
Astronomy 3 4
Engineering 5 1
CS 5 2
Intersection 1 0
Biology Totals 31 8
Biochemistry 4 2
Cell and Development 7 1
Neuroscience 6 2
Ecovo 7 1
Medical 5 1
Intersection 2 1


More detail below:

CLASS I — Mathematical and Physical Sciences (41)

FOREIGN HONORARY MEMBERS (4)
SECTION 1 — Mathematics (6)
Pavel Etingof
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Leslie Greengard
New York University/Simons Foundation
Janos Kollar
Princeton University
Bryna R. Kra
Northwestern University
Andrei Okounkov
Columbia University
Vladimir Rokhlin
Yale University
SECTION 2 — Physics (7)
Barbara V. Jacak
University of California, Berkeley
Christopher Jarzynski
University of Maryland
Hirosi Ooguri
California Institute of Technology
Roberto D. Peccei
University of California, Los Angeles
Robert J. Schoelkopf
Yale University
Steven R. White
University of California, Irvine
Foreign Honorary Member — Physics
Thibault Damour
Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques
SECTION 3 — Chemistry (8)
Donald Hilvert
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
Jeffery W. Kelly
Scripps Research Institute
Scott J. Miller
Yale University
Melanie S. Sanford
University of Michigan
Isiah M. Warner
Louisiana State University
Michael R. Wasielewski
Northwestern University
Foreign Honorary Members — Chemistry (2)
Hans-Joachim Freund
Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
R. Benny Gerber
Hebrew University of Jerusalem/University of California, Irvine
SECTION 4 — Astronomy and Earth Sciences (7)
Andreas J. Albrecht
University of California, Davis
Joshua A. Frieman
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory/University of Chicago
Jacqueline Hewitt
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chryssa Kouveliotou
George Washington University
Terry A. Plank
Columbia University
Lisa Tauxe
University of California, San Diego
Foreign Honorary Member — Astronomy and Earth Sciences
Thomas F. Stocker
University of Bern
SECTION 5 — Engineering Sciences and Technologies (6)
Donna Gail Blackmond
Scripps Research Institute
Gerald G. Fuller
Stanford University
Steve Granick
Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Ulsan, Republic of Korea
Donald E. Ingber
Harvard University/ Boston Children's Hospital
Robert B. Phillips
California Institute of Technology
Peter W. Voorhees
Northwestern University
SECTION 6 — Computer Sciences (6)
Jeffrey A. Dean
Google
Sanjay Ghemawat
Google Incorporated
Anna R. Karlin
University of Washington
Tom M. Mitchell
Carnegie Mellon University
Tal D. Rabin
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Scott J. Shenker
University of California, Berkeley
CLASS I INTERSECTION CANDIDATES (1)
Timothy P. Lodge
University of Minnesota

CLASS II — Biological Sciences (38)

FOREIGN HONORARY MEMBERS (6)
SECTION 1 — Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology (6)
Richard H. Ebright
Rutgers University
Lila M. Gierasch
University of Massachusetts
Robert M. Glaeser
University of California, Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Adrian R. Krainer
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Lawrence A. Loeb
University of Washington
Eva Nogales
University of California, Berkeley
SECTION 2 — Cellular & Developmental Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology (8)
Keith W.T. Burridge
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mark W. Hochstrasser
Yale University
Michael J. Lichten
National Cancer Institute
Joachim Messing
Rutgers University
Carl F. Nathan
Weill Cornell Medical College
Anne M. Villeneuve
Stanford University
Foreign Honorary Members — Cellular & Developmental Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology (2)
Carl-Henrik Heldin
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research/Uppsala University
Christof Niehrs
Institute of Molecular Biology
SECTION 3 — Neurosciences, Cognitive Sciences, and Behavioral Biology (8)
Michael S. Brainard
University of California, San Francisco
John Gabrieli
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alex L. Kolodkin
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Kelsey C. Martin
University of California, Los Angeles
Bruce R. Rosen
Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital
John L. R. Rubenstein
University of California, San Francisco
Foreign Honorary Members — Neurosciences, Cognitive Sciences, and Behavioral Biology(2)
Tamar Flash
Weizmann Institute of Science
Nancy Y. Ip
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
SECTION 4 — Evolutionary and Population Biology, and Ecology (7)
Farooq Azam
University of California, San Diego
Andrew G. Clark
Cornell University
Douglas J. Emlen
University of Montana
Joel Grant Kingsolver
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Mark Alan McPeek
Dartmouth College
Sarah P. Otto
University of British Columbia
Foreign Honorary Member — Evolutionary and Population Biology, and Ecology
Ary A. Hoffmann
University of Melbourne
SECTION 5 — Medical Sciences, Clinical Medicine, and Public Health (6)
John Michael Carethers
University of Michigan Medical School
James R. Downing
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Gary Gilliland
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Beatrice H. Hahn
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Warren J. Leonard
National Institutes of Health
Ralph Weissleder
Harvard Medical School/ Massachusetts General Hospital
CLASS II INTERSECTION CANDIDATES (3)
Steven E. Jacobsen
University of California, Los Angeles
Yang Shi
Harvard Medical School/ Boston Children's Hospital
Foreign Honorary Member — Intersection
Karen H. Vousden
Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow, U.K.

Also these cross-field areas are not doing so well (not included in chart or table above).






TOTAL: 213
FELLOWS: 176
FOREIGN HONORARY MEMBERS: 37

INTERCLASS CANDIDATES (10)

FOREIGN HONORARY MEMBERS (5)
Benjamin F. Cravatt
The Scripps Research Institute
Robert L. Goldstone
Indiana University
Larry L. Jacoby
Washington University in St. Louis
Jay D. Keasling
University of California, Berkeley/LBNL
Gordon D. Logan
Vanderbilt University
Foreign Honorary Members (5)
Edwin Cameron
Constitutional Court of South Africa
Fergus I.M. Craik
Rotman Research Institute/University of Toronto
Menachem Magidor
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky
State Hermitage Museum/St. Petersburg State University
Shimon Ullman
Weizmann Institute of Science

EMERGING FIELD CANDIDATE (1)

Robert J. Full
University of California, Berkeley