Friday links: the rush to declare the Anthropocene, microaggression on campus, and more

Also this week: the future is here, where’s my flying car jet pack scientific breakthrough that was predicted 10 years ago? Also also: Mark McPeek vs. grade inflation, Spidermanfish, and more!

From Meg:

The University of Illinois released the results of a survey they did on racial microaggressions. The numbers are not good. They report:

Over half of participants (51 percent) reported experiences of stereotyping in the classroom. About a third (27 percent) of the students of color reported feeling that their contributions in different learning contexts were minimized and that they were made to feel inferior because of the way they spoke. Additionally, a quarter (25 percent) of students of color reported feeling that they were not taken seriously in class because of their race.

The “Students of Color Tell Their Stories” section is really worth reading to get an idea of the microaggressions students experiences and the impacts they have. There’s a whole section on microaggressions associated with group work, which is something that many DE readers probably use in their classes. This section begins with:

Egregious racial microaggressions occurred when students were asked to form a team for a group project. Though not usually explicit, racial exclusion appears to shape group formation. African American and Latino/a students found it most problematic to be invited into a group or to find partners because of the perceived operation of negative racial stereotypes about intelligence and work ethic. Moreover, Asian students felt this occurred more often if the project involved much writing, because they were viewed as foreigners unable to speak or write well in English.

Finally, the study reports that ~8% of students have considered dropping out because of the racial microaggressions. That is entirely too many. I am really glad Illinois is having this conversation, and I’ve been involved in similar conversations at Michigan. Clearly more conversations are needed.

From Jeremy:

Here’s a very interesting piece on the push by some geologists–specifically, some stratigraphers–to officially declare the Anthropocene a new geological epoch, complete with a golden spike driven into the earth to mark its beginning. Hits on the interplay of science and politics, how the reward structure of science shapes its direction, and much more. Click through already, it’s the most thoughtful and insightful thing I’ve read in weeks. Although not being a geologist myself, I have a limited ability to evaluate it independently. If we have any geologists among our readers, I hope you’ll comment.

Former Am Nat EiC (among other claims to fame) Mark McPeek with the first in his series of meaty posts on grade inflation at US universities and what can be done about it. Go read them all if you care about this issue in the slightest. Whether you agree or disagree with him, Mark’s put a lot of thought and background research into this; he’s got an answer for every argument used to justify grade inflation. And he’s walking the walk, not just talking the talk–he’s working to get his own university (Dartmouth) to change its grading policies. (ht to commenter “slimysculpin”)

Following on from the previous one, Mark’s whole blog is varied and interesting, and he’s ramped up the posting frequency this year after a long hiatus. He posts about everything from ecology to science policy to building a really nice model of the HMS Beagle. Check it out.

Ten years ago Scientific American identified a bunch of candidates for the next big thing in applied science. Their crystal ball turned out to be rather cloudy. Which probably says more about how hard it is to predict this stuff than about them.

You’d never guess it from complaints on social media, but peer reviewers mostly are good at their jobs and mostly improve papers. Stephen Heard brings the reasonableness. And as a commenter over there notes, you know who those rare “crazy” reviewers are? Us. Related old post of mine here.

Wait, there are catfish that can CLIMB 3 METERS UP SHEER ROCK WALLS??!! WTF, evolution? Which raises the question: what superpowers would you get if a radioactive climbing catfish bit you? Catfishman, Catfishman, does whatever a catfish can…🙂 (ht my dad)

9 thoughts on “Friday links: the rush to declare the Anthropocene, microaggression on campus, and more

  1. It tickled me that you, and the article, described the Anthropocene movement as driven by geologists and stratigraphers. I’d always associated the movement with paleoanthropologists and ecologists! I suppose that was just my own bias clouding my perception of the movement.

    For what it’s worth, I can say that in the circles I run in (deeper-time paleontology and stratigraphy), the idea of the Anthropocene is, just as the article described, met with apathy or skepticism (i.e., lots of eye rolling). I’ve never heard any of my colleagues discuss it in a favorable or enthusiastic light. I think the article already covers the key reasons why we feel the way we do, so I won’t try to make an argument against it here. But I can at least confirm that the opposition is described fairly and accurately.

      • So after thinking about it some more, I can’t resist adding one more argument against making an Anthropocene Epoch that wasn’t mentioned in the article. I think it’s a situation that ecologists will be very familiar with – some problems exist across all disciplines.

        Stratigraphic nomenclature follows a hierarchy, just like taxonomic nomenclature. Eon->Era->Period->Epoch->Stage :: Phylum->Class->Order->Family->Genus-Species.

        Just like in taxonomy the line between each can be somewhat blurred. Any element of the stratigraphic hierarchy will always be longer in duration than a daughter element – e.g., the duration of a period is the sum of the duration of all its constituent epochs. However, that does not mean elements from the same level of the hierarchy will be of comparable length. For example, the entire Silurian Period is only 1 million years longer than the Eocene Epoch. Hence, the frequent arguments to demote the Silurian to an Epoch.

        Nevertheless, there is some general sense of scale associated with each level of the hierarchy, and no matter how I look at it the proposed Anthropocene, even if a valid sub-division, is being placed into the wrong level of the hierarchy.

        Or to restate the problem in a more familiar way to ecologists, even if we concede that there is enough evidence to split this population into a new taxonomic group (which is still contentious), we now have to debate whether the split should be into a new subspecies, species, genus, etc.

        If we want to define the Anthropocene based on the widespread abundance of humans, then that absolutely falls under the category of a biozone. A biozone is a level of the stratigraphic hierarchy (think subspecies) defined by the presence of a characteristic taxon, taxa, or relative abundances of taxa. Biozones are always shorter in duration than Epochs – just a few million years at the very most. They’re so small and numerous that the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) doesn’t even keep track of them as part of the formal geologic timescale. If we’re defining the Anthropocene based on the distribution and abundance of humans, then there’s no doubt it should be a biozone, not an Epoch.

        The other alternative would be to define the Anthropocene based on (Anthropogenic) extinction of other taxa. Lots of people argue that we’re currently in the 6th big mass extinction. Almost all higher levels of the hierarchy (Epochs, Periods, and Eras) are terminated by mass extinctions. The larger the extinction, generally the higher it’s placed in the hierarchy. The problem here is that if the 6th mass extinction is as large (or will be as large) as people argue, then it will probably be big enough to warrant the formation of a new Period or maybe even Era (if we nuke the planet or something). So even there an extinction-based definition doesn’t justify an Anthropocene Epoch. An even bigger (I’d argue fatal) hurdle is that terminal extinctions always mark the end, not the beginning of units. The mass extinction that delineates the Ordovician Period from the Silurian Period is called the end-Ordovician mass extinction, not the start-Silurian extinction. The Permian/Triassic extinction is called the end-Permian not the start-Triassic, etc.

        Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  2. As a geologist w/ fairly wide mega fauna rongly support the Anthropocene. But not the pants-on-fire politically motivated version discussed on the article you referenced. I agree w/ many of that articles criticisms.


    There is, IMO, already very strong stratigraphic evidence – known even to grade-schoolers in basic form – for the anthropocene.

    That evidence is the Pliocene megafauna extinction, which began 35ka ago. That event is traditionally viewed separately from industrial era extinctions. But why? 35ka is a geoblink. In the geologic record 10Ma hence, the Australian and North American megafauna extinctions would be nearly indistinguishable from one another, or from the worldwide spread of corn and potato, which is surely well represented by the pollen record.

    So – anthropocene? Yes. Absolutely. Having much to do with CO2? No. Not yet at least.

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