06 December 2016

UTRGV placed on probation by accrediting agency

This is not good.

University president Guy Bailey sent an email to the campus today informing us that the university had been placed on probation by SACS, the regional accrediting agency.

The reasons for this are not clear. When I went to the SACS website, there are no details about this that I could find. Bailey referred to some “timing issues” around the separation of legacy university, UT Brownsville, from Texas Southmost College. But how that split affects the sort of things accreditation is supposed to measure, like financial stability, instructor qualifications, adequate assessment, it not at all clear.

UTRGV has to stay accredited. It’s just non-negotiable for students, faculty, and administration. A non-accredited university is just a diploma mill, and has no real standing.

More details are supposedly coming next month. So this is a story to watch closely.

External links

Accrediting agency places University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on probation

05 December 2016

Polisplaining science

At the National Review, Julie Kelly says scientists should stop playing politics.

I’d be fine with that if politicians stopped playing scientist.

How many times have we seen politicians expressing opinions about the facts around scientific issues? Not policy issues around science, or funding science, or anything else that is a legitimate domain of politicians, “polisplaining” scientists. Politicians throwing snowballs to claim “global warming isn’t real” kind of stuff.

Hey politicians, you came into my house, and called my work, and the work of my colleagues, “lies straight from the pit of hell.” You routinely hold up the work of scientists for public ridicule as examples of taxpayer waste (even when it cost $48 in spare parts). Don’t antagonize scientists and expect us to say nothing.

Kelly warns that the public doesn’t trust scientists on some issues. The article kind of implies that public trust in scientists is in freefall. But in most polls in developed countries, scientists regularly come out as one of the most trusted professions.

In the United Kingdom, poll results came out today putting scientists as one of the most trusted professions. Politicians in general? Last.

In the United States, the poll phrasing isn’t quite equivalent. Even so, college teachers (which, since most scientists are professors, is reasonably close) got more than 50% of people rating them as very trustworthy, while members of Congress rated 8%.

While public trust in scientists is higher than that of politicians, I do agree that scientists should want to keep public trust. That’s important. But if the public doesn’t trust scientists on some issues, whose fault is that? There are documented cases of deliberate, politically motivated disinformation campaigns to convince people not to trust scientists. And that came from the political right.

External links

04 December 2016

Campuses as sanctuaries

My campus is about 85% Hispanic, and we are one of the closest to the US/Mexico border. So we have an unusual perspective on a lot of issues concerning immigration. I’m mostly just quoting this story because I think it’s going to be an interesting one in the next few months.

The Faculty Senate of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley unanimously passed a resolution Friday endorsing the idea of a sanctuary campus. ... The resolution was passed in response to a recent petition signed by more than 1,500 students that asks President Guy Bailey to prohibit campus police or immigration authorities from asking students about immigration status.

My prediction is that President Bailey will do nothing. Because:

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted in opposition to “sanctuary campuses” Thursday vowing to cut state funding from any state institution that assumes a sanctuary status.

As far as I’ve been able to observe, money seems to be President Bailey’s major motivator for doing anything as an adminstrator. Even the threat of losing state money will probably be enough to ensure compliance from institutions.

The Vice President of Young Republicans at UTRGV Jaime Garcia called the petition reckless.
“We could have stayed UTPA and UTB but we merged to get access to the funds that the bigger schools get here in Texas,” Garcia said.

Non sequiter. I don’t see how the merger is related to any of these issues. It’s also frustrating to see a petition – names on a piece of paper – one of the most notoriously sedate forms of political activism there is, being branded as “reckless.”

Update, 5 December 2016: Called it.

“There is no problem right now, and so, you stand a much greater chance of creating a problem if you make that declaration,” (UTRGV President Guy) Bailey said in an interview Wednesday.

Let’s not take a stand because something might happen. Gah.

Additional, 5 December 2016: In an email to faculty, the faculty senate noted of its resolution:

We do not use the term “University Sanctuary”, but do support our students, faculty and staff. ... We felt that we needed to step-up and not wait until later. We want everyone to know where we stand on this issue.

Well... they do use “Sanctuary campus” to describe what other institutions have done. Here’s the text:

WHEREAS the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has a mission to “Transform the Rio Grande Valley” through an “accessible educational environment;”

WHEREAS, UTRGV has a goal to foster sustainable community-university relationships and lists “Diversity, Access, and Inclusion” as values;

WHEREAS the Senate and our academic community and peers across the country are concerned about the recent increase in hate crimes and inflammatory language around the United States since the presidential campaign;

WHEREAS there have been repeated examples of threats against women, LGBTQIA-identified individuals, specific ethnic and religious groups, and immigrants during and after a divisive presidential election;

WHEREAS President Bailey sent out a memo on 11/16 that stated, “Please join me in ensuring that all members of the UTRGV community embrace our commitment to a diverse, inclusive, safe, and supportive learning and working environment.” He referred to this list of University policies that support this commitment:

WHEREAS the U.S. president elect has openly discussed eliminating the DACA program that supports our undocumented students and has championed the rapid increase in the deportation of undocumented immigrant community members which could negatively impact our community, our students and their families, our staff and their families, our faculty and friends;

WHEREAS UTRGV has a goal to “Cultivate a welcoming, inclusive, and nurturing climate for all faculty and staff” including a commitment to “foster a supportive family-friendly climate;”

WHEREAS the internal 2011 memo indicates that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are subject to certain restrictions upon entering college campuses should be affirmed post-election; https://www.ice.gov/doclib/ero-outreach/pdf/10029.2-policy.pdf

WHEREAS the president-elect has campaigned on banning Muslims from entering the United States and his cabinet members have in the past suggested a registry of Muslim American citizens;

WHEREAS UTRGV has a focus on Globalization with a goal to “Foster a globally-connected university culture” with an initiative to “Increase the number of global partnerships that align with university priorities;”

WHEREAS UTRGV and its students have benefitted from the 2001 decision signed by Rick Perry that allows undocumented students to establish residency and enjoy in-state tuition, and later he and the Texas legislature allowed these students some access to the Texas Grant program, decisions which increased access to educational opportunities in our community;

WHEREAS over 28 university campuses have declared their campuses Sanctuary Campuses and many more (over 100) in the process of declaring;

WHEREAS UTRGV has the highest number of Senate Bill students in Texas;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that UTRGV be designated an All-Inclusive Campus, where all Vaquer@s are welcomed and supported.

To that end, the Faculty Senate of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, call upon the university administration to take the following actions and/or make these assurances, to the extent legally possible:

  1. that the university assign a specific administrative office to assist our DACA students and other students who lack the protections of citizenship on a strictly confidential basis.
  2. that the administration send a clear, public message that UTRGV will not tolerate xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, Islamophobic, and racist comments and actions on campus, and that we as a university will not tolerate religious persecution or the trivialization of sexual assault.
  3. that the university continue its efforts towards being an allied campus and continue its trainings and inclusivity initiatives for LGBTQIA-identified students, faculty, and staff.
  4. that the university avoid compliance with a registry of Muslim citizens, and that the university carry on with its pre-election (11/8/16) processes for admitting international students.
  5. that the university make a public commitment to continue protecting student privacy and announce an assurance that it not release any records regarding the immigration status of students and their family members to institutions or authorities who would restrict a student’s opportunity for a quality education.
  6. that the university publicly advocate for the continued resident tuition designation for undocumented students and Texas Grant consideration for Dreamer students at the forthcoming state legislative sessions.
  7. that campus police will not question anyone’s immigration status or religious affiliation, nor will it enter into systematic partnerships or agreements with outside agencies, including ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, to question the legal status or religious affiliation of our students, faculty, or staff.

*We use Vaquer@s to include all gender identities.

This document was aided greatly by the Petition sent by UTRGV’s Minority Affairs Council, LUCHA (La Unión Chicanx Hijxs de Aztlán), Center for Mexican American Studies, Mexican American Studies Program, Center for Bilingual Studies, Muslim Students’ Association, WAKE-UP (Women Artistically Kollecting Experiencias-Unidas Prosperando), Voto Latino, and BESO (Bilingual Education Student Organization) to President Bailey on 11/17/16.

Credit goes to the University of Oregon FS resolution on the same issue for some of the format and language of this resolution.

External links

UTRGV faculty senate unanimously backs 'sanctuary campus' campaign
Bailey: Not a good time to declare UTRGV a sanctuary campus

02 December 2016

Post fact politics catches up to science communication

There was been much hand-wringing in political discussion the last few weeks about how we are living in a “post fact” world dominated by “fake news.”

Well, hi-di-ho, people, welcome to science education and science communication of the last few decades.

Fake news? Evolutionary biologists have been putting up with it people saying things like, “There are no transitional fossils” for-frickin’-ever. Even when you show them Archaeopteryx. We’ve been putting up with the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis who attack established science and chug along regardless of scientific facts and countless debunkings.

We’ve been through the argument that “If only people knew the facts, people would act different. The facts speak for themselves,” and seen how that has failed, and failed, and failed to budge public opinion on some of the best understood science out there. Unfortunately, even amoung scientists, this is “The facts speak for themselves” attitude is still common. People who say otherwise, like Randy Olson and Matthew C. Nisbet, have received way more ciriticism for pointing this out than they deserve.

Now the same strategies are not just confined to being deployed in a few hot button scientific topics, they’ve metastasized over the whole body politic in multiple countries.

It’s to our shame that we science educators and science communicators didn’t figure out effective ways to deal with those kinds of issues.

Additional, 5 December 2016: A new piece in the Guardian about how algorithms are delivering news on the Internet convinces me that, in some ways, what we’re seeing in qualitatively different from the misinformation that scientists have faced for the past decade. It’s deeper and more organized.

I think there are still powerful lessons from science communication, though: when trying to persuade, facts alone are not very persuasive.

I worry that policy wonks will go through the same long battles over “facts” and “evidence” that scientists have, and just believe that the facts will speak for themselves. They won’t. Facts need fierce advocates.

External links

Google, democracy and the truth about internet search

Picture from here.

29 November 2016

Tuesday Crustie: Shiny

If I’d known Moana had a giant decorator crab in it, I’d have pre-ordered tickets.

Tamatoa also gets the second best song in the movie, although even it pales in comparison to “You’re Welcome.”

28 November 2016

Are footnotes a way to game the Impact Factor?

One of Bradley Voytek’s 99 problems is strange journal demands:

Major journal said we can’t cite biorxiv papers; instead must reference them via footnotes.

I have been rankled by journals’ refusals to cite non-traditional sources before. But this journal wasn’t refusing to acknowledge to a source. It was refusing to acknowledge a source in a certain way.

This puzzled me momentarily, but I have a hypothesis. Any time a journal talks about fiddling with citations, there is a prime suspect as to why: the journal Impact Factor. I strongly suspect that footnotes aren’t counted in the calculations of journal Impact Factor like terminal references are, even though footnotes and a reference list in this case would serve the same purpose: to credit a source so that people can find it.

What a journal might have to gain by keeping pre-print servers out of citations? It doesn’t enhance the journal’s own Impact Factor. It doesn’t enhance anyone’s Impact Factor, for that matter. Denying citations to pre-print servers seems futile, since pre-print servers don’t have Impact Factors.

While pre-print servers don’t have Impact Factors, including citations to them might make it easier to collect data about their use. There seems little doubt that the majority of citation analysis is done by text mining and algorithms, rather than by hand. (Notwithstanding the contention by Brembs et al. (2013) that Impact Factors are often negotiated.)

For journals, the very act of data collection about pre-print servers might feel threatening to them. There are some researchers who want journals to die across the board and wouldn’t mind if pre-print servers (or something like them) rose up to take their place. If it becomes clear through citation analysis that more and more studies on pre-printe servers are being cited as reliable sources of information, the uncomfortable question for journals arises:

“What are journals for, exactly?”

Update, 29 November 2016: Bradley Voytek reports that the situation has changed:

The journal editors discussed and changed their policies to allow preprints with DOIs.

How interesting.


Brembs B, Button K, Munafò M. 2013. Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291

Related posts

Why can’t I cite Mythbusters?

Picture from here.

No lead is safe

I normally tell people that I hate football. But homesickness makes you do funny things, so I tuned into the last quarter of the Grey Cup last night.

I was rewarded.

At some point, when the lead was still pretty big for Ottawa, one of the commentators said a CFL motto was, “No lead is safe.” I sort of snickered when I heard that. I would not have believed Calgary could score two touchdowns is less than two minutes, with the last coming in with something like 20 seconds left on the clock to force the game into overtime. What a thriller! At that point, it didn’t matter who won, you just had a great championship game.

The Redblacks are new, formed after I moved to the US. I looked a few things up about the team while the game was in progress. When I went to Wikipedia, I wondered if I was on some sort of time delay, because the entry said, “In the 104th Grey Cup, the Redblacks brought the Grey Cup back to Ottawa for the first time in 40 years.” What...? But... but... the game was still going.

When I cam back a few minutes later to get a screen grab of the jumped gun, I saw someone already had some fun with Wikipedia (click to enlarge):

Of course, Redblacks had the last laugh on the irate wiki contributor, pulling off the overtime win.

Even this football hater can’t resist an underdog victory. Congratulations to the Redblacks on their first Grey Cup win!

External links

Redblacks pull off huge upset to win 104th Grey Cup in OT
Redblacks player lays on the field long after everyone leaves, perfectly wrapping up the Grey Cup

22 November 2016

Watch me now

A “watchlist” has one major job: to intimidate. And boy, Professor Watchlist does that in spades.

The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. 

And just like that, we’re in a new era of McCarthyism. The website is horribly vague on what confirmation or vetting goes into this list, what an “anti-American” value is, or what constitutes “leftist propaganda.”

I agree with one thing on this list: professors shouldn’t discriminate against conservative students. Because professors shouldn’t discriminate against anyone.

But hey, conservative students, your ideas have to compete in the free market of ideas and be supported with facts and evidence. That is, conservative students, you don’t get to cry “Discrimination!” if I say, “Evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for diversity of life on this planet” because you happen to be a conservative young Earth creationist.

The website says it’s a project of TurningPoint USA, but the link to it is not always predictable. A link on Twitter informed me that this is the brainchild of one Charlie Kirk.

I clicked on one entry at random, and it linked out to a site called Campus Reform, which I’m pretty sure I’d seen before. It’s part of the Leadership Institute, which describes itself as “Training conservative activists, students, and leaders since 1979.”

I agree with Dr. Becca. Universities need to talk about sites like this, publicly. I was also toying with something Trina McMahon did: flooding the site with “tips.”

And perhaps this is an apt moment to repost this:

Update, 23 November 2016: One of the creators of Professor Watchlist, Alana Mastrangelo, is super happy that people have taken to trolling the “tips” section of the website. Free publicity.

Another creator of Professor Watchlist, Crystal Clanton claims that the tip line to inform the site’s creators, “I pray for your deaths every day.”

To anyone who would consider writing something like this:

You’re not helping. Knock it off.

External links

Professor Watchlist

The 21-Year-Old Becoming a Major Player in Conservative Politics (from 2015)
David Perry discussing the Watchlist
Heather Cox Richardson on being added to the Watchlist
Exposing 'crazy radical professors': 12 of the best #trollprofwatchlist tweets
Professor Watchlist Is Seen as Threat to Academic Freedom
Teaching in a time of professor watchlists
Academic witch hunts are back: The new McCarthyism, a sign of the stupidity of the post-truth era