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Progress, George Frederic Watts (1817–1904), oil on canvas. Trampled by allegorical Progress on his horse, three enemies, from left to right, are a myopic scholar reading by candlelight, a rich man scrounging for money, and a slothful man lounging.

Duke University, the school from which I received my Ph.D. in biochemistry, recently agreed to pay $112 million to settle a whistle-blower lawsuit for research misconduct. I found the settlement both unsurprising and underwhelming, a slap on the wrist for a private institution boasting an endowment of ~$8.5 billion. Falsification of publications and grant applications from the laboratory of Duke Medical School Professor William Michael Foster and his technician Erin Potts-Kant was alleged as early as 2013, but resulted in an internal investigation for which Duke buried the results (a common outcome, as I shall relate). Only a lawsuit by former Duke biologist and whistleblower Joseph Thomas, subsequently picked up by the U.S. Department of Justice, shed light on the truth. …

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Yan Liu and Louis Metzger

“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

Few would disagree that our political system is dysfunctional, and that this has caused great suffering and unprecedented crises, ranging from systemic social-economic injustice to global climate breakdown. It is up to us to reinvent politics and to create a better future.

1. Real change is based on shifting the Overton window.

“[Optimism is] not naive and it’s not innocent. [It’s] a moral and political position. It’s a choice made to insist that things could be better if we worked at it.” …

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This superb article by The Atlantic, and the studies underlying it, are long overdue. Pursuing a Ph.D. is terrible for students’ mental and physical health. So long as advanced education in the sciences is run as a pyramid scheme, wherein a large underclass of graduate students and postdocs performs the tenured professors’ research, and supports a proliferation of superfluous academic administrators from the “grant overhead” that these trainees’ work earns, this problem will continue. Doctoral programs have become less about education, and more about the big business of universities harvesting grant money. Not only does this lead to a perversion of universities’ educational purpose, it incentivizes research misconduct and mistreatment of students by faculty. We can and must do better; the present system of doctoral training must be radically changed. Universities should be incentivized to prioritize efficient, student-centric education, not to maximize income/overhead/profit. Of course, any attempts at reform are stymied by regulatory capture: funding agencies and university governing bodies are controlled and/or influenced by the beneficiaries of the status quo. I suspect that only outrage and public awareness will enable change, and that both the impetus and the methods for reform will come from outside of the academy. It’s time for an academic trainee uprising. That’s not hyperbole, it’s a serious proposition. …


Louis E. Metzger IV

Trying to apply systems thinking to change the culture of science/edu. Power in solidarity. #DeepTech #politics #OurTime

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