Sunday, August 26, 2018


So I bumped into Nelly Furtado the other day, and of course I immediately started to explain to her all about Atlantic hotspots and a couple of Canadian cities I’ve never been to and some styles of music that I don’t really know anything about, but she must have had something really important to go to because she walked away before I could tell her that she got the lyrics to her 2006 #1 UK hit all wrong:

Everybody listen to me
I walk in the door and you start fleeing
Come on everybody want to hear more?
Well actually this how it all goes.

Everybody get your pot to crack around
All you crazy people come gather 'round
I wanna tell you all one more point please
You either want to be deaf or flee me

Mansplainer: ignore work hard stupid libtard
Make you want to plug his hole
He’s a manslpainer what a blowhard catch you off guard
Stroke his ego's his one goal

He’s a mansplainer: ignore work hard stupid libtard
Make you want to plug his hole
He’s a manslpainer what a blowhard catch you off guard
Make you wish you never ever met him at all

And when he talks he talks with passion
When he stalks he stalks to interject shit
When he asks “but as you know” he means it
Even if you never understand it.

Everybody get your pot to crack around
All you crazy people come gather 'round
I wanna tell you all one more point please
You either want to be deaf or flee me

Mansplainer: ignore work hard stupid libtard
Make you want to plug his hole
He’s a man-slpainer what a blowhard catch you off guard
Stroke his ego's his one goal

He’s a mansplainer: ignore work hard stupid libtard
Make you want to plug his  hole
He’s a man-slpainer what a blowhard catch you off guard
Make you wish you never ever met him at all

No never ever met him at all
You wish you’d never ever met him at all…

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Looking back at my ASI years

It has been two and a half years since I stopped working at Australian Scientific Instruments. I haven’t written or said much about it since then. But I probably should. The best way to do that is probably to focus on the positives. Here are several benefits that I gained as a result of working at ASI for almost six and a half years:


Prior to working at ASI, I had never been to Asia, aside from airport stopovers. I managed to reach all the other inhabited continents during my PhD back in the late 90’s, but somehow I had managed to miss the big one.
And Asia is a big deal. More than half the world’s population live there. Six of the cities that I visited have populations bigger than Australia, and thus were far bigger that New York, the place I grew up thinking of as the Big City.

The reason that these cities are so big is that Asia has been having an enormous economic boom. In my lifetime, hundreds of millions of people ascended into the middle class. And they way that they did so is fundamentally different than how European and American technological societies developed. In many places, it seems like the 20th century, in which I grew up, was skipped over entirely, and 19th century societies had jumped straight into the future.

The cultural differences are of course, both confronting and educational. I have never realized what it is like to not be able to read anything until I first went to China. But even though the writing systems, history, and culture are vastly different to the western world I’ve grown up in, the humanity and the science is still the same.

I am not a city person, but the nature of the work we were doing generally had us in capitol cities or other major urban areas.  And while this was hard for me, it also means I learned a lot by virtue of being challenged.


Ever since I can remember, I have resented being a Junior, and for most of my post-pubescent life I have been trying to distance myself from my parents as much as possible. This has resulted in me settling down in Australia, which is about as far as one can get from New Jersey without blasting into space. It turns out that my dad is a scientist too, and he is quite well respected in the field of surface and semiconductor analyses. This doesn’t have a lot to do with geology- that was one of the appeals of geology- but because he built one of the first SIMS instruments with a quadrupole analyser back in the 70’s, when I started building SHRIMPs at ASI this offered me an opportunity to reconnect with my dad. We even ended up writing a paper together. If I had stayed working in Alice Springs as a Central Australian fieldwork contractor, that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened.

Technical awesomeness

The Australian Scientific Instruments teams were, quite simply, ludicrously good at their jobs. A lot of the people I knew as an undergrad went to work for NASA, my first job outta college was in Menlo Park, the heart of Silicon Valley. The ANU, where I did my PhD was at that time a world leader in building technical equipment for geologic purposes. None of them could hold a finger to ASI. I suppose it must have just been an evolutionary necessity. After 25 years of competing against a 40 billion dollar multinational, you need to be pretty good at what you do, and we were.  Some highlights included:
All kids of multicollectors. The original SHRIMP multicollector at ANU was eventually taken apart and simplified, but ASI refined the design until it could be built, setup, shipped around the world and set up all over again. When the discovery of 4 isotope sulfur fractionation meant that three head collectors were essentially obsolete, we built a cleansheet design from scratch on a shoestring, and popped two on a couple of SHRIMPs in Japan with minimal complications.
The IRMS++. This is a 5 cup, Nier-Johnson mass spectrometer with an electron cyclotron resonance source, which we built from scratch for ANSTO. The original plan was for us to assemble it off of drawings they provided, but at our first planning meeting, on of our engineers took a look at what they were proposing, pointed out how many manufacturing and assembly issues can be obviated by thoughtful design, and then just took ownership of the project. There aren’t that many groups who can simply build all-new multicollector magnetic sector mass spectrometers from an ion trajectory, and I’m fortunate to have worked for one.

It was always strange to go to Silicon Valley, or Tokyo, of Beijing, and be treated like royalty, only to disappear back into our Fyshwick garage when we got home, but I guess that’s just one of the quirks of being a world-class outfit based far off the beaten track. And honestly, that’s kind of how we wanted it. ASI was a place of quiet achievement.


One of the lesser known highlights of ASI was the workplace culture. When I first arrived there, the company was about half immigrants, and half white Australian men brought up on the land. And the culture that evolved there- part tech startup, part paddock, was amazing. There was an expectation that everyone would do their own work well, without pride or preening, but there was also a willingness to help out if you could do something better or more efficiently than someone else. There was also a knowledge of who was good at what and how things could most easily be completed. It was a culture of low key, quiet achievement, and probably didn’t help the sales & marketing folks much, but it directly lead to the technical excellence listed above. And there was never blame, or finger pointing. It wasn’t until outside management came in towards the end that the word “fault” meant anything other than a broken electrical connection. And while everyone was fairly introverted- even by my standards- that didn’t stop things from getting done, and done well, and quickly.

 In these days, with the commodification of knowledge and know-how into intellectual property, the ability to create and improve often gets overlooked. But ASI was an exemplary example of a group of people who could do things, and I’m lucky to have been a part of it for so long. But the broader issue, and one reason I’m sharing all this, is that a lot of Australian ability suffers from similar dilemmas. This country has a traditional culture of quiet, selfless achievement. And while this can be very effective, in this day and age it is not always clear how this can be utilized and advertised. The culture of quiet achievement does not always mix well with the boosterism demanded by the short attention spans of some people these days who don’t think deeply enough about what they are doing and what can be achieved.

The Possibilities

The last thing that really appealed to me was how many low-hanging developmental fruit there were in teaching the SHRIMP new techniques. Because it has a two stage secondary acceleration column, the extraction field at the sample surface is more like a quad SIMS than any of the other magnetic sector SIMS instruments. So there are all sorts of analytical setups which could be implemented with only a tiny bit of additional engineering, which would allow the instrument to do types of analyses that simply weren’t possible before. I’m a little bit disappointed that I won’t be the guy to build and develop new techniques. But hopefully the new generation instrument that they’re building now will be able to do some neat stuff.

With the acquisition of the laser ICP stuff, there was obviously an opportunity to make all sots of cool multi-platform microanalytical synergy. I’m a little less optimistic that will happen- even though we did get a SHRIMP running on Geostar (as described in the technical supplement of our Geology Paper), I don’t know that anyone is currently working on following that work up. But it was promising enough for me to push it for as long as I thought there was a chance it would work.

In the end, I left because it wasn’t clear what staying would accomplish. In October of 2015 we had a round of layoffs, which included a successful senior engineer who was the most outspoken person with regards to resisting management’s attempts to put us on contracts instead of renegotiating our Enterprise Agreement. I was next in line to take up the mantle of employment rights agitator, and my value to the company was diminished by the fact that my boss had bailed from the Silicon Valley meetings I set up for him to drum up business,  thereby ensuring that I wouldn’t be bringing any new work in any time soon. I still second guess my choice to leave- The brave thing to do would have been to stay and try to bring a union in, but I convinced myself that getting off payroll would maybe save someone else’s job.  And though I second guess myself often, it isn’t clear what I could have done better.

The first 18 months of my new job has been settling in, and for most of the last year I’ve been trying to be more involved with my family and take better care of my health. As for what next? It’s hard to tell. But suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Book Review: The Political Value of Time, by Elizabeth Cohen

I study geologic time for a living. That’s my job, and my day to day work involves making sure that the scientific instruments we use to figure out how many billions of years old various rocks are haven’t started to malfunction in ways that can generate millions of years of errors.

Apparently, though, most people don’t live their lives across the spans of eons and millions of years.  It’s good to remind myself of this every now and then, preferably before our fridge runs out of milk. One way to do this, and to gain some perspective on other ways of contemplating time, is by reading books of academic experts who study human interaction, instead of billion years old rocks. One such study is The Political Value of Time, by Professor Elizabeth Cohen (Syracuse University, USA).

Geosciences have a variety of ways to measure time. Of course, the fundamental unit of scientific time is the second- defined by atomic oscillations, from which minutes and hours are derived. But there is also astronomical time- days, months, years, and Milankovic cycles derived from the movement of rotating or orbiting moons and planets. And there are the various radioactive decay schemes, which give us 238U time 40K time, and other lesser used decay schemes, which are generally tied to one of those two systems. Comparing and cross-calibrating these various schemes is a lot of what geochronologists have been doing over the last 20 years.

The Political Value of Time combines all of these in to scientific time- e.g. the time measured by clocks and calendars. It discusses this, as opposed to other qualitative types of time used by social scientists, such as leisure time, overtime, and quiet time. Oddly, political researchers seem to have spent less time thinking about scientific time than some of these other fuzzy sorts, and this book tries to redress this situation.

The book shows that governments appropriate the time of their citizens in a way that constitutes a political economy of time. It then shows that there are several philosophical, practical, and technical reasons for this to be so. However, it points out that, because this area is understudied and the ramifications are not thought through, many of the unconscious and structural biases that burden other economies also make the economy of time less fair than it ought to be.

As it is outside my area of expertise, I don’t have the background to critically appraise the interpretations of French revolutionary philosophers and other cited works. Taking their referenced statements as given, however, yields a book with a clear, compelling, and straightforward argument. The vocabulary is specialized, and I reached for the dictionary many times in the introduction. However, the terms are used consistently and precisely through the entire book, so once the introduction is finished, the vocabulary becomes less intimidating.

As someone who used to travel extensively internationally for work, the queuing section struck all sorts of chords on the intersection of time, money, duty, efficiency, and information technology in the area of airport customs queues.

Over all, it is a good book, clearly argued. It looks like there are lots of opportunities for future research.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Where on Google Earth are the dearly departed?

Callan Bentley of the Mountain Beltway has announced, via Twitter and Facebook, that Ron Schott has passed away. Ron was a long time of internet advocacy for Geology, both through his blog, his twitter account, his gigapan advocacy, and other activities which I haven't kept up with. He was an enthusiastic, good-natured, and helpful geologist, and though I only met him once, in 2009, his passion for explaining the stories of geology at all scales and structures was memorable. And just as fantastic geologic events leave their stories imprinted in the rock record, so too can the traces of Ron's digital Earth Science outreach be found buried and the blogs and feeds of social media. However, like the paleontological records left behind by vanished creatures, these digital fossils serve mostly to remind us of the sense of loss that we have in knowing that we can no longer meet their creator. Rest in Peace, Ron. We miss you.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Nomination language note

This is a brief update to last week’s post on nominating for society prizes.  There has been some discussion on twitter about biased language in letters of recommendation, particularly for junior women. This was an issue I was vaguely aware of, but didn’t especially delve into deeply at the time.
Our basic approach was to mostly focus on the science, which of course doesn’t have a gender, and explain why the science she did was so exciting. You can see my citation in the previous post. I’m not posting anyone else’s letter on this blog, but I will put the combined word cloud here, along with a list of high frequency words:

Words used ten or more times:
53                                                                                      Jenner
33                                                                                      elements
28                                                                                      data
25                                                                                      paper
23                                                                                      magma
20                                                                                      Frances
19                                                                                      element
18                                                                                      trace
16                                                                                      analytical
16                                                                                      MORB
15                                                                                      O’Neill
15                                                                                      glasses
15                                                                                      work
15                                                                                      new
14                                                                                      analysis
14                                                                                      chalcophile
13                                                                                      quality
12                                                                                      geochemistry
12                                                                                      published
12                                                                                      volcanic
12                                                                                      Carnegie
11                                                                                      differentiation
11                                                                                      magmatic
10                                                                                      papers
10                                                                                      years
10                                                                                      young
10                                                                                      many

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Nominating for society prizes

One of the great things about being a geochronologist is that you can delve back in time to when unfinished blog posts were abandoned, and drag them screaming into the present to be finished.

Sometime around about 0.0000035 Ma*, there was a push by Dr. Ball over at Magma cum Laude bemoaning the gender disparityin society prize nominations. The argument, seen here and other places in early 2014, goes something along the lines of:
-When nominated, women are about as likely as men to win society awards.
-However, nominations skew more male than the general population of scientists
-Nominators are mostly crusty old farts, and young scientists (young meaning anyone under 50) are not stepping up and nominating people.

I forgot all about this pressing issue until June (still 2014), when the MGPV division of the Geological Society of America announced that they would be awarding a new early career scientist prize. At that point, I suddenly recalled the issue, and thought, “Might this be a testable hypothesis? What happens when some random industrial scientist barely 40 years old tries nominating?”

I’d sat through a few award ceremonies before, and seen these sorts of things handed out to a wide variety of scientists, from really cool people I’d never heard of to the banal big names who had spent a quarter of a century cruising on achievements from when I was in high school. But in most cases, the nominees were very senior, old, respected scientists. And they nominated other, slightly less old but otherwise very similar scientists. I suppose their point of view is that if they’re great, other great people ought to be pretty similar.

I am not a great scientist. I’m a disorganized industry hack whose H-index can be tallied on the fingers of Count Rugen’s hand. So the way I see it, anyone I nominate for a prize should be as unlike me as possible. So from there it was an easy step to revisit the nomination gap studies, and think, “Might there be, perhaps, any women who would be appropriate for this award?” Luckily, our nominee came to mind almost immediately.

As someone who went through college loathing political correctness, my first thought was therefore, “OK, now am I cutting any more deserving nominees out here by nominating her?” As it turns out, when I was still working at the ANU (see the first three years of this blog) we had many really good grad students. However, none of them really took ownership of their favorite field of science and made it their own the way our nominee did, so I was satisfied that I had made a good choice.

The GSA Junk Mail that announced the creation of a new award came out in June 20 of 2014, I probably read it and connected it back to the earlier exhortations to nominate about a week or two later, around the end of the month. The trouble was, the deadline for nominations was the 15th of July. And I didn’t start approaching people for supporting letters until the second.

My strategy was simple: Here in Canberra, cruise the ANU hallways to figure out who was actually in town and able to put something together on zero notice. I threw the Japanese postdoc into the too-hard basket, as I didn’t personally know any of the people she worked with there, and also language barrier, and concentrated on her colleagues at DTM. I also approached some big names in the field with whom she hadn’t collaborated, to see if they thought it was a sensible nomination and would be willing to write something supportive from more of a peer review perspective.

I was pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic most of the people I approached were. I guess the good thing about picking a good candidate, however, is that people really do get excited and are willing to get on board and turn letters around in remarkably quick timescales. I had my three supporters lines up by the seventh, and three letters in hand within hours of the deadline. In responsible, organized nominator fashion, I had my nomination letter done a whallopping three days before the deadline, and circulated it to the rest of the team for a science check and general feedback (as I had never done this before).

Around the time of the deadline, a potential referee who had been out of contact emailed me saying that he really wanted to write a fourth letter, and could the deadline be extended? So I asked the coordinator, and he said that as long as a complete submission package was in on time, we could have a week or two to get additional bonus letters in. One such letter was submitted.

Fast forward nine months:
There’s an email in my inbox from our nominee:
Hi Chuck,
Here is the letter that I woke up to today!!!! Thanks so much!!!”

And that is how Dr. Frances Elaine Jenner won the Geological Society of America’s inaugural MGPV early career award. The only sad part of the story was that I was not able to go to the GSA meeting where the award was presented, so one of the guys who wrote a letter of support gave the citation. He’s a proper academic scientist anyway, so probably had the gravitas that I lack. The citation and acceptance are on page 8-10 of thisnewsletter.

The point of all this story is this: It is possible for mid career non-academic scientists to throw together a nomination at the last minute, and get support from respected scientists, and construct a nomination package sufficient to win the prize. Don’t die wondering, folks.

Now, I should point out that I did have a few things tilted in my favor:
Firstly I attended a number of top institutions during my academic career, which put me in contact with top scientists like Dr. Jenner. Having a great candidate goes a long way towards making a case.

 Secondly, I’ve been kicking around science in one capacity or another to know her referees, several of whom were quite respected scientists. I was reasonably acquainted with three of the four supporters I got letters from, and had at least been to the fourth guy’s lab.

Thirdly, once the decision was made to go, I went all out. This isn't the sort of thing to be half-assed. I read all her papers, and tried to put together a passionate yet logical case for why they made our nominee a prizeworthy scientist.

I’m sure the greybeards who get together at annual meetings to sip nasty scotch plan out their conventional safe picks way in advance, but with a little passion, some broad thinking, and a genuine enthusiasm for science, anyone can nominate for their respective society’s awards, and win. And there’s a month and a half to go before the deadline forthe 2019 award, so don’t be shy, y’all.

* True calendar years; -0.000064 using the 1950 zero year favoured by 14C weirdos.

And in case anyone wants the really nitty gritty details, here’s the nomination I wrote in a sleep deprived haze during the first week of July 2014. Typos and all:

Nomination for Frances Jenner

Dear Division Secretary,
I would like to nominate Frances Elaine Jenner for the GSA’s MGPV division early career award for 2015.  Dr. Jenner is an outstanding young analytical geochemist who has pioneered several novel analytical techniques and applied them to igneous rocks from a wide temporal and geographical range.  Her ability to generate novel, high quality data has allowed her and her colleagues to overturn previous assumptions or hypotheses about a variety of igneous processes, giving us a better understanding of mafic volcanism over the last 3.8 billion years of Earth history.

Upon the completion of her PhD on the nature of Eoarchean rocks (Jenner et al., 2009; Jenner et al., 2013), Dr. Jenner immediately branched out into a new field of study, namely the quantification of “less commonly analyzed elements” in volcanic glasses. One such element is selenium.  In theory, selenium should be a useful proxy for sulfur in systems (such as volcanic glasses) which may have undergone partial degassing, but in practice, there was no standard analytical protocol for measuring this low abundance chalcogenide in silicate materials.  Using the electron microprobe, laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS), and the Sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP), Dr. Jenner characterized a suite of commonly used reference materials (Jenner et al., 2009). This study remains the only case where the SHRIMP has been used as a negative ion trace element quantification tool.  However, despite developing this novel SIMS technique, she and her colleagues used the SIMS data to devise an analytical protocol to routinely measure selenium using LA-ICPMS. The use of the cheaper, more versatile LA-ICPMS equipment meant that selenium contents of target glasses and minerals could be determined along with other elements of interest in a wholescale manner much more economically than the use of the SHRIMP would allow.

While an analytical specialist may have been content to run this application without too much thought to the geologic implications, Dr. Jenner and her colleagues immediately put it to use in investigating the enrichment of Cu, Ag, and Au in arc-related magmas.  Their “magnetite crisis” paper (Jenner et al., 2010) uses this selenium analytical technique to generate compelling data relating to the trends of these elements with magma evolution.  This dispels the earlier, intellectually unsatisfying notion of a fugitive fluid or vapor phase, clearly showing that magnetite crystallization triggers sulfide saturation by changing the magmatic fO2.

The use of more, higher quality data to reject a long held but data-poor assumption is a hallmark of Dr. Jenner’s research.  Although she has continued to analyze selenium for the purpose of constraining sulfide saturation and chalcogenide behavior (Jenner et al., 2012; Patten et al., 2013), her next major achievement was to roll out the same approach to the rest of the periodic table, and a wider variety of sea floor volcanic glasses.

Jenner and O’Neill (2012b) is a primer for how to analyze most of the periodic table in mafic glasses, with corrections for interfered elements and methods for how to minimize analytical difficulties.  While the analysis of volcanic glasses by LA-ICPMS is not new, this study is remarkable in its thorough examination of issues of normalization and reproducibility which have not necessarily been presented in a single unified study before.

Jenner and O’Neill (2012a) then apply these techniques to hundreds of ocean floor volcanic glasses, yielding a rich, high quality dataset that allows them to realize (O’Neill and Jenner, 2012) that the mid-ocean ridge fractional crystallization model that we were all taught as undergraduates decades ago cannot explain their new, higher quality data, and needs refinement.

Once again, Dr. Jenner and her colleagues develop new tools illuminate a previously underconstrained system, yielding a novel explanation with greater predictive power. This changes the way we think about the main type of magma generation on Earth.

There are quite a few talented young geoscientists who develop new analytical techniques.  And many of them apply them to known areas of scientific debate, to build up or tear down evidence for one or more prevailing hypotheses.  But Dr. Jenner is unusual in having both the analytical skills to devise new approaches and the intellectual agility to find entirely new geological interpretations, which were not even part of the debate before her studies were carried out.

And although Dr. Jenner is very much an analytical geochemist, it is her ability to find the natural rocks to use her procedures on which underpins her success.  While she collaborates extensively with experimental petrologists, she mostly analyses natural samples of diverse provenance.  Working from the Greenland Eoarchean to modern submarine volcanics, her areas of study span more than 95% of the terrestrial rock record in geologic time.  Her onshore field areas range from the periglacial west coast of Greenland to tropical Samoa.  While ocean drilling programs do not fit the stereotypical mold of outcrop hammering and rock licking, they are none-the-less the only way we currently have of accessing the ~70% of our planet’s surface that is under water. And it is her ability to choose the right sample or samples for her new analytical methods which allows her to discover novel petrologic processes.

Finally, it is worth noting that in a competitive field like academic geology, there is an element of luck which is often a contributor to success.  Whether it is happening on just the right rock, or simply having jobs appear in a manner that allows a stable, productive workflow, simple good fortune can often be the difference between a discovery and a confirmation. Dr. Jenner has had, by far, the worst luck of anyone I know with an advanced geology degree.

I have worked in industry and government for the past seven years, so I know many of the situations which result in a person leaking out of the academic pipeline.  Dr. Jenner has experienced a large number of these “career-terminal” events.  But unlike the rest of us, she has forced her way back into the pipeline with a combination of intellectual firepower, gritty determination, and the most dedicated work eithic of anyone I have met in any field. This has allowed her to not just stay employed, but maintain control of her career trajectory, despite her three postdocs and her faculty job being on four different continents.  And despite her hardships, she is one of the most enthusiastic, positive, energetic scientists I know.  This, as much as her academic record, makes her a role model for all young scientists. Frances Jenner would be an inspirational choice for the GSA committee as the inaugural MGPV division Early Career scientist.


Jenner, F.E., Arculus, R.J., Mavrogenes, J.A., Dyriw, N.J., Nebel, O., and Hauri, E.H., 2012, Chalcophile element systematics in volcanic glasses from the northwestern Lau Basin: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, v. 13, no. 6, p. Q06014.
Jenner, F.E., Bennett, V.C., Nutman, A.P., Friend, C.R.L., Norman, M.D., and Yaxley, G., 2009, Evidence for subduction at 3.8 Ga: Geochemistry of arc-like metabasalts from the southern edge of the Isua Supracrustal Belt: Chemical Geology, v. 261, no. 1-2, p. 83–98.
Jenner, F.E., Bennett, V.C., Yaxley, G., Friend, C.R.L., and Nebel, O., 2013, Eoarchean within-plate basalts from southwest Greenland: Geology, v. 41, no. 3, p. 327–330.
Jenner, F.E., Holden, P., Mavrogenes, J.A., O’Neill, H.S.C., and Allen, C., 2009, Determination of Selenium Concentrations in NIST SRM 610, 612, 614 and Geological Glass Reference Materials Using the Electron Probe, LA-ICP-MS and SHRIMP II: Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research, v. 33, no. 3, p. 309–317.
Jenner, F.E., and O’Neill, H.S.C., 2012a, Analysis of 60 elements in 616 ocean floor basaltic glasses: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, v. 13, no. 2, p. Q02005.
Jenner, F.E., and O’Neill, H.S.C., 2012b, Major and trace analysis of basaltic glasses by laser-ablation ICP-MS: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, v. 13, no. 3, p. Q03003.
Jenner, F.E., O’Neill, H.S.C., Arculus, R.J., and Mavrogenes, J.A., 2010, The Magnetite Crisis in the Evolution of Arc-related Magmas and the Initial Concentration of Au, Ag and Cu: Journal of Petrology, v. 51, no. 12, p. 2445–2464.
O’Neill, H.S.C., and Jenner, F.E., 2012, The global pattern of trace-element distributions in ocean floor basalts: Nature, v. 491, no. 7426, p. 698–704.
Patten, C., Barnes, S.-J., Mathez, E.A., and Jenner, F.E., 2013, Partition coefficients of chalcophile elements between sulfide and silicate melts and the early crystallization history of sulfide liquid: LA-ICP-MS analysis of MORB sulfide droplets: Chemical Geology, v. 358, p. 170–188.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Be the comet

It has been a bad month for flashbacks for victims of sexual harassment in Academia. First came the horrific stories of campus harassment from Rochester University, followed by the Antarctic harassment from Boston University, followed by the story of Harassment by a major Hollywood movie producer. At this point the producer has lost his job, and investigations continue for the two professors. And closer to home, the University of Canberra professor who was convicted of raping a student has appealed against his 4 year sentence.

As geologists, we need to figure out how to consign these dirtbags to the fossil record, preferably on a human, not geologic timescale. There are many ways to wipe out a species, but I am going to focus on what I think is an important one that is often overlooked: Habitat destruction.

It is no accident that harassment issues are constantly popping up in the academic and creative workplaces. Both sectors value their reputation, and are willing to defend the appearance of everything being fine. Both disciplines are popular career choices, with many more people willing to work in them than there are available jobs. Both sectors value intelligence to the point of considering it a virtue, or being willing to overlook other problems in the name of “Genius.” Both sectors have substantial hierarchies, with few formal checks and balances on power.

It is these problems that we should address if we want these perpetrators to go extinct. The names aren’t important- I haven’t even mentioned them above. As long as universities and studios build the perfect ecological niche for abusers to thrive in, then they will flock to the sectors. It is institutional change that is needed to actually stop the abuse.

So, specifically, what has to happen?

Firstly, reporting mechanisms need to be transparent and incorruptible. The reason that these scum can continue to wreck peoples lives for decades is that complaints, even if made, are too easy to bury. An administration that prefers ongoing, covert sexual assault on its campus over an embarrassing headline can simply use the reporting mechanism as a way of silencing victims, allowing the rapist to continue offending for decades.

Whomever victims report to, be it the police, the funding agencies, professional organizations, or some special independent body, the report receiver needs to be able to investigate allegations without being pressured from the university. In cases where potentially illegal activities have occurred and complainants are threatened, then university officials should be subject to the same treatment as organized criminals who try to intimidate witnesses.

Sexual predators are ambush predators- they need cover from which to attack, and removing administrative cover gives them fewer places to hide. There must be heavy penalties for authorities who fail to act, especially if the offender commits further offences. Administrators who cover for offenders so that they can offend again should be considered accessories.

However, these crooks are also pack animals, so a healthy culture is important towards setting an example of what is and isn’t professional behavior. This is not in itself a solution, but it makes sketchy behavior stand out more easily, and it puts the ratbags on notice that the work place is for real men, not whiney losers.

Finally, although habitat destruction is important, the offenders to have to be hunted down when spotted. This is best done by the whole work team, as uncharismatic megafauna can be dangerous in single combat. However, a habitat in which they are allowed to operate with impunity is not detrimental to them. It is by shrinking their range through a unfavorable setting that allows them to be vulnerable to catastrophic events, but those events still need to be initiated. If a change in corporate climate has weakened the terrible lizardmen, and drying their environment removes their cover and their hiding places, then it is much easier to be the comet that wipes them out.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

A charitable request

I have never been a good fund raiser or salesman.  My disjointed talents do not stretch to the power of persuasion.

Nor have I ever understood the concept of fundraising linked to an outdoor recreational activity. A few years after I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I heard of people doing it as a way to raise funds for one cause another. But why this particular recreational activity is one to be used for a cause baffles me. If you like riding a bike, ride a bike. If you like drinking beer, drink beer. Doing either to excess, like riding a hundred miles for cancer, or drinking a sixpack for dementia, never really made any sense to me.

However, this winter I signed up for the Sydney-Gong  bicycle ride, and one of the conditions of entry is to raise funds for multiple sclerosis. At first, this gave me pause. But as I considered, I reckoned, why not? If you are going to have a limit for a popular activity, why not accept, as a condition of entry, a certain amount of community assistance. And multiple sclerosis is certainly a worthy casue.

MS is an autoimmune disease. Like arthritis, or lupus, it can strike otherwise healthy people in the prime of life, and it can be debilitating, even fatal, if not treated. Like these other autoimmune diseases, treatment has improved as a result of science, but there is still a ways to go before a cure, or even a more effective system of management, can be achieved.

I do not personally know anyone in meatspace with MS; although I believe that one of our fellow geobloggers may suffer from the disease. However, I am not convinced that personal attachment should be a prerequisite for decreasing human suffering through scientific research. After all, as long time readers of this Lounge undoubtedly know, I am not a particularly empathetic person. And, as the social aspect of the internet has evolved over the past dozen or so years, I have noticed an overabundance of heartstring-tugging emotive appeals. I will not add to their din. Instead, I offer an alternative way to contribute to the betterment of society without the awkward warm and fuzzies.

So I will politely request that long time readers- those who have enjoyed this blog since the early days of Hot Chick Thermodynamics and OysterBlessings, before Hypotheses were dumped and Geosonnets began- consider a donation via my MS ride fundraising page if, at any point in the last dozen years, you have found this blog informative, entertaining, or interesting in any way.

And if, like me, you are a bit too wry to donate to an event linked to a wholesome activity like bike riding, then I have an alternative. I will crassly debase myself by putting the charity sixpack back on the proverbial table. If I can get a hundred bucks donated through the MS ride page with comments attesting that your donation is earmarked for the beer, not the ride, then I will drink six bottles at the conclusion of the ride. Because I’m the sort of guy who is willing to drink beer…. FOR SCIENCE!