Also this week: a wild scandal in papyrology, another expression of concern for Jonathan Pruitt, and more.
FiveThirtyEight has an informative and moving piece on why COVID-19 deaths are undercounted. It focuses on Meghan’s father Bob Duffy, who passed away in March, almost certainly from COVID-19 although he was never tested. Meghan’s own remembrance of her father is here.
Another expression of concern for a paper co-authored by Jonathan Pruitt, this one in PNAS.
Nature reports on data indicating that the pandemic is reducing the productivity of women scientists relative to that of men. Disappointing but predictable.
You’ve probably already seen stories about this, but in case not, here’s an Atlantic piece on the wild story of Oxford papyrologist and MacArthur “genius” grant winner Dirk Obbink. There’s strong evidence that Obbink stole papyrus fragments from a collection at Oxford, lied about their age to inflate their worth, and sold them to a rich evangelical for millions of dollars. And Obbink’s not the only apparently-dishonest papyrologist involved in this saga. Obbink denies wrongdoing.
UPDATE: just saw this and decided to add it to this week’s linkfest rather than waiting for next one: Princeton University sociology dept is not accepting applications from any prospective graduate students this year, so as to focus on supporting their current graduate students during the pandemic.
After all of the above links, you could probably use an uplifting one. I know I could. So here’s the story of then-graduate student Lisa Piccirillo, who started working on an open problem in pure mathematics as a side project, without realizing just how old or important the problem was, and solved it in a week.
As a bookend to the first link, here’s a melancholy, but characteristically lovely, piece by Kieran Healy on the kitchen counter observatory. It’s for anyone who crunches numbers, especially but not exclusively those who are doing so while staying home with their children. I’ll quote a couple of bits to encourage you to click through:
People sometimes think (or complain) that working with quantitative data like this inures you to the reality of the human lives that lie behind the numbers. Numbers and measures are crude; they pick up the wrong things; they strip out the meaning of what’s happening to real people; they make it easy to ignore what can’t be counted. There’s something to those complaints. But it’s mostly a lazy critique. In practice, I find that far from distancing you from questions of meaning, quantitative data forces you to confront them. The numbers draw you in. Working with data like this is an unending exercise in humility, a constant compulsion to think through what you can and cannot see, and a standing invitation to understand what the measures really capture—what they mean, and for whom…
I sit at my kitchen-counter observatory and look at the numbers. Before my coffee is ready, I can quickly pull down a few million rows of data courtesy of a national computer network originally designed by the government to be disaggregated and robust, because they were convinced that was what it would take for communication to survive a nuclear war. I can process it using software originally written by academics in their spare time, because they were convinced that sophisticated tools should be available to everyone for free. Through this observatory I can look out without even looking up, surveying the scale and scope of the country’s ongoing, huge, avoidable failure. Everything about this is absurd.