Being #DistractinglySexy

So here is the summary that you have probably have already heard, Tim Hunt, a Nobel laureate scientist made some very sexist remarks to of all people, a group of female scientists and engineers. He stated men and women shouldn’t work together in the same lab because when they do, you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and they cry when you criticize them. I think the man thinks a bit too highly of himself that any women he works with would fall in love with him.

The reaction mocking him, especially on Twitter, has kept my faith in humanity. Women have been tweeting photos of themselves working in the field and lab. Showing how distractingly sexy they are. I tweeted two photos of myself from HAZWOPER training, once in Level A PPE and one in Level B PPE.

Those tweets have proved quite popular with the Level A photo thus far getting over 1100 retweets, and the Level B getting over 360 retweets. The tweets have been featured in articles in Buzzfeed, Washington Post, Salon, and Huffington Post UK. The whole thing has been rather surreal honestly. I have been contacted my media outlets to comment. I haven’t, partially because of timing and such.

I don’t even have any photos of me really working in the lab or field that would demonstrate how real work is the complete opposite of distractingly sexy. Well, I guess everyone find different things sexy, but get real. In the first part of my career I worked as a consultant. Typical field work included environmental site assessments where I was directing drillers to get soil and groundwater samples. Gloves, steel-toed boots, jeans, and a t-shirt that was likely going to get dirt on it were my “sexy” look. Then there was the time I was helping to sample a malfunctioning aeration chamber at a wastewater treatment plant in 95°F heat. [The aeration chamber is generally the start of secondary treatment, and thus there should be little to no smell. As this was malfunctioning, try to imagine the smell of raw sewage cooking in the heat.] If you find that situation sexy, well, I don’t think I want to meet you. Then there was the time I was checking on a pilot water treatment plant. Mainly it was a whole lot of sitting around, taking notes, checking valves, and taking some samples by myself. Normally field work involves a lot of sweating really. However, there was one time I was working in the field, again getting soil samples, in New Jersey in the dead of winter. There was no sweating or falling in love. There was just me freezing my butt off and making sure the security guards were in sight. That was a fun job; it was the only time I’ve ever been in a location where safety from crime was an actual issue. Normally the safety issues are the more mundane moving parts, heat, sun, fire ants, and then the one rattlesnake. God bless Texas.

When I was a Ph.D. student, we did our field work at auto body shops measuring the exposure the painters received to a chemical in the clear coat. Basically the shops were loud and smelly with really fun chemicals, and we sat around all day collecting personal air samples, tape strips from their skin after painting, all the urine we could get, and blood at the end of the day. In the hot months, there was sweating. In the cold months, there was shivering. At what point would we be distracting each other with our sexiness? Would the latex gloves and respirators, be the cause? No doubt the painters were falling in love with me because I kept trying to get them to drink more water and begging them for more urine. After the field work was done, I spent the better part of two years or possibly more in the lab analyzing all the urine samples. I analyzed over 400 urine samples, and the analysis was a three day procedure. The first part of the analysis involved adding concentrated sulfuric acid to the urine and then heating it for four hours to 100°C. Yes, nothing says distractingly sexy like urine cooked with acid. Luckily, the lab has hoods and other ventilation methods. Oh, and I shouldn’t leave out the part of asking my lab mates for their urine at times because I used that as unexposed urine from which to make my standards. How I did not fall in love with them while they handed me cups of their own urine, is anyone’s guess.

Now, I mainly work in an office. I get into the field every once in a great while. The photos I tweeted are from training, and I have never actually worn that level of PPE for real work. However a couple of weeks ago, I got into the field, and got to help sample fish, then watch a biologist sample them. I did not in fact fall in love with the biologist when he was filleting the fish.

Twitter, Scientists, and Arbitrary Lists

Fairly often some website produces a list of people you should follow on Twitter. Yesterday it was Science with their The top 50 science stars of Twitter. This list, like so many before, is arbitrary, lacks diversity, and is based on, in my opinion, stupid metrics. Many people on Twitter have noted that this list is overwhelmingly white and male. They based the star status on follower count and a completely ridiculous metric called the Kardashian Index,” or K-index, which is about as ridiculous as the people for which it is named. The list also lacks diversity from a field of study standpoint. Also, some people have noted that other “star” Twitter scientists were left off, which according to the article’s author was because they restricted the list to Ph.D.s. I think that is a stupid restriction, and I am a Ph.D. Furthermore, someone noted that one of the accounts on the list is a bot, and another one are simply tweets by the person’s PR person. 

I follow a few people on the list, so obviously I think some of them worth following. However, if you are trying to be more active on Twitter and interact with people, most (but not all) of these people are not the people to follow. The more followers you have, the more difficult it is to interact with them, assuming you are even trying. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people on this and other lists do tweet great information. However, if your goal on Twitter is to network, make friends, learn things, and sometimes get help or advice, then “stars” are not to the people to follow. I have made friends on Twitter, including friends I have later met in person. I have also networked and gotten great advice on work and personal projects. I see tweets on an almost daily basis of scientists helping each other out via tweets. Someone will tweet out asking for advice on some lab protocol or best manner to collect a certain type of sample, and others will reply with advice. Many people, including myself, tweet out a photo of something we are trying to identify. If I know people who know things in that field, I’ll tag them, and via crowdsourcing, we can normally identify the life form or object. That sort of fun learning experience is through interactions with us non Twitter stars.

If you want to use Twitter for things like that, you need to seek out people in your field or fields you are interested in, or just people who tweet out interesting things. Ignore the number of followers they have, and look at what they tweet. The less followers they have, the more likely they will follow you and interact with you. There are wonderful people with tons of followers that are worth following on Twitter, and some of them do a good job of interacting, and there are some worth following even if they don’t interact. I just mean that you can get a lot more out of Twitter if you interact with people. That leads to the obvious question, how do you find these people? Look for Twitter lists such Women Tweet Science Too which was created to in reaction to the lack of women on the above mentioned Nature list. Many people have already created tons of great public lists like this for people in various fields. Follow people on these, and then once you find people you really like on Twitter, see who they follow and with whom they interact.

Furthermore, if you want my personal opinion on how to get people to follow you, which you can take or leave, then see below.

1. Tweet. That may seem obvious, but it you don’t tweet, people are not going to follow you. Tweet links to articles you find interesting. Tweet things you find funny. Tweet about what you are working on, even if you think it is uninteresting or no one will understand what you are doing. Your fellow nerds and geeks will understand and be interested. Even if no one if following you, you have to get started somehow.

2. Have a avatar photo. Having one that represents something about you, even if it is not a photo of you. I rarely follow Twitter eggs.

3. Have a Twitter bio. When someone follows me, I look at their bio. Do they work in a field interesting to me? Do they say something funny? Do they have interests similar to me?

4. Interact with people. Even if a person doesn’t follow you, if they ask a question you can help with, reply to them. Give your input.

Science Education with a Corpse Flower

During my two weeks of daily visits to the US Botanical Garden (USBG) to see the corpse flower, I talked to many people about the corpse flower at the USBG, on Twitter, on Facebook, and face to face in many other places. My website got record traffic. The news media ran stories about the corpse flower. On July 22, the day it was in peak bloom, there was a mass of people waiting, including me, to get into USBG before it opened at 10 am. My post for that day is titled Corpse Flower: July 22 am because I intended to get a second set of photos that afternoon. However, when I went back that afternoon at 5 pm, there was a line three blocks long of people waiting to get in to see it. I decided I didn’t have time to wait in that line. People were clearly interested in this plant. It was a big thing. I and thousands of other people were watching this plant every day on a live cam. To be clear, while this plant did grow amazingly fast, it was not so fast that you could see it growing if you just stared at it. We were watching a plant sit there, and many of us were obsessed.

Even better than this obsession watching it, was people’s interest in knowing more about it. Everyone wanted to know when it would bloom and why does it smell. Many people also wanted to know where it was from, was it really the largest flower in the world, where is its leaves, and how does it reproduce. Many of the people I talked to were perfect strangers who did not have a science background or would normally be interested in science type topics, but they found this plant interesting. It was a perfect opportunity to educate people about science, nature, and conservation. While I was happy to see how some employees and volunteers at USBG responded to all the interest, I have to admit I was really disappointed at some very squandered opportunities of which USBG on the whole did not take advantage.

Part of my disappointment with USBG is that I am comparing it to what happened when a corpse flower named Lois bloomed at Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) in 2010. HMNS set up a live cam also and also set up a Twitter feed to run on the same webpage as the live cam where any tweets with a designated hashtag would show up, so people could discuss the corpse flower. Like many corpse flowers, Lois was unpredictable and seemed to be taking too long to bloom. So while everyone was waiting for Lois to finally bloom, someone not associated with HMNS, set up a parody Twitter account called @CorpzFlowrLois, and the first tweet was “Maybe I’ll bloom, maybe I won’t.” This pretty much summed up the plant. The tweets from @CorpzFlowrLois kept getting funnier and funnier as Lois was given a diva personality complete with a personal assistant who was constantly late bringing her her cappuccino, an ex-boyfriend back in Sumatra who wanted her back, and the real life HMNS horticulturist whom she thought touched her too often. HMNS had no idea who was behind @CorpzFlowrLois, but they just went with it and linked to the account on their website with a disclaimer because as @CorpzFlowrLois got more and more followers, HMNS got more and more admission-paying visitors to the museum as well as website visitors. HMNS hosted webinars and educated everyone about the corpse flower and the related science.

Thus, it is probably slightly unfair for me to compare USBG to HMNS because partially thanks to @CorpzFlowrLois, Houston and the internet went absolutely nuts over Lois. I saw two different parody Twitter accounts set up for USBG’s corpse flower, but neither of them were as prolific or as funny as @CorpzFlowrLois. Also, for whatever reason, USBG did not embrace social media at all. Even though they knew they were going to get more visitors and interest because of the corpse flower, they didn’t seem to know what to do with it. The fact that they don’t charge admission may have something to do with their response. However, they also didn’t do what I think would be incredibly easy things to help educate people and satisfy their curiosity. They had two small posters set on either side of the corpse flower with some information about and photos of corpse flowers. They passed out pamphlets with some information and also had some information and photos on their website. However the information was somewhat basic and did not answer many of the questions I constantly heard people ask them. They also did not have many photos, and to be blunt, I think my photos were much better. When I talked to people at USBG, I always referred them to my website to see more photos, especially if they wanted to be able to see the progression of it growing as you couldn’t do that on USBG’s website.

People, including myself, were asking them everyday if the corpse flower was still growing or how tall it was. The staff measured the height and width of the corpse flower daily if not more often, so generally the staff member who was near the corpse flower would know the latest information and could answer those questions. While I suppose I should have suggested it, I don’t know why they didn’t just set up a white board or post on the website the growth information so people wouldn’t have to find a staff member to ask. People wanted to know more about the reason for the smell and how the plant reproduced, but the information that USBG had was minimal.

However, my greatest annoyance with USBG was with a few of the staff members. To be clear, most of the ones to which I either talked or listened, were knowledgable and great, if somewhat exhausted from the nonstop questions. However I heard two different staff members not only not take advantage to educate but also just plain use wrong terminology. On one of my daily corpse flower visits, I heard a man tell some people it was the largest flower in the world. I turned around, smiled, and said it is actually the largest unbranched inflorescence. He said well yes, of course, that is actually a spathe, but he finds it best to avoid technical terms around non-technical people. I later realized he was actually a staff member, but he didn’t have his ID badge displayed prominently. He said he was plant educator and if you use technical terms, which evidently includes spathe and spadix, then people get disinterested and confused. I said I found the opposite to be true, if the subject is explained well, then people can not only understand technical terms but want to know more. For example, if you explain that what they are looking at is not actually a flower, then people want to know where the flowers are and why. Further, if you give a person the wrong information like calling the copse flower the largest flower in the world, then how exactly did you educate them?

This is not just my opinion though of people wanting to know the technical terms and full explanation, it is my experience. As I stated, I talked to complete strangers while at USBG. Many times our conversation would start off because someone would state to their friend or just out loud to whomever “I wonder when it is going to bloom” or “why does it smell.” When I could do so without seeming to be a know-it-all or intruding in their conversation, I would engage them in conversation and educate them when I could. If the question was about when it was going to bloom, I would often show them some of my photos on my iPhone and describe the changes. I would always state I am no expert, but here is how it has changed. I would also state what I heard from staff and what I could observe, such as there was one last sheath (green petal like structure) that needed to fall or the staff member said it grew another six inches yesterday, and it needs to stop growing before it will bloom. I had wonderful, sometimes long conversations with people, and I always used proper botanical words when I knew them, showing the people how the structure we were waiting to open was actually a spathe that was protecting the real flowers inside it. Never once did a person get disinterested or tell me they didn’t understand me. They just asked me more and more questions that I tried to answer if I could. Many times while talking with one or two people, I would essentially draw an audience, and 15 minutes later I was surrounded by people all wanting to know more about the plant. I would always be forced to give everyone a disclaimer that I am not a botanist, I am just obsessed with the corpse flower and spend too much time on the internet.

When talking about the copse flower, if you just call it a flower, then you can’t really explain why it smells or other topics people were so interested in knowing. Sometimes when talking to people I would use the word blossom initially instead of spathe. I did that so that I did not incorrectly call it a flower, but once I talked more about it, I could explain how it was really an inflorescence. When talking about the corpse flower to people, I think back to high school chemistry where students are originally taught the Bohr model of the atom. The teachers explain, this model is not correct. but it was a good way to initially describe the atom, and later students will be confused with the quantum model of the atom because no one really understands the quantum model of the atom. As the statistician George E.P. Box stated “essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” Thus calling the corpse flower a flower is a wrong model, and it can be useful, if and only if, the true structure of it is later described.

I did not write this blog post to bash USBG. I really appreciate how they set up the live cam, had extended hours (although I wish they had extended their hours on the night it actually bloomed), and made their staff available to educate people who came to see this magnificent plant. I just wish they had taken more advantage of the amazing opportunity to educate people who would normally not come to a botanical garden about nature and science. It can be difficult to interest people in nature and science, and when something comes along that grabs people’s interest, you have to take advantage to educate. I took advantage of it to talk to and educate friends and complete strangers about the science of this fascinating plant and how amazing nature is, and it was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.

Speaking to High School Students

I was asked to speak at The Washington Youth Summit on the Environment (WYSE) to a small group of the delegates about my career as environmental engineer/health scientist. The delegates are high school students. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve spoken to a group of high school students about anything. I was told to talk about my career and talk about specific projects on which I’ve worked. I prepared a few slides on the basics of risk assessment as that is the general field in which I work now and then quite a few slides on my dissertation and a few slides on the project I am currently working at work. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they be interested in this at all? Would my slides be interesting or too far over their heads? I took out what I thought were the more advanced and complicated slides and just focused on graphs and photos. I wanted to focus on the big picture.

Part of my problem with giving this presentation was, the more educated you become, the more you take for granted what other people know. At least, I have that problem. I have had so much math education including three semesters of calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, probability, statistics, and biostatistics, that I’m flabbergasted when I meet people who can’t do or understand basic algebra or understand what a square root is. Certainly, you can make an argument that this is a sign of the failure of the US education system, but people’s education level is what it is. If you want to explain something to someone, than you have to be able to explain it to them on their level. These are high school students, and I can’t expect them to know information that is not taught until college or after. Thus, I have a group of high school students that I need to talk to about the work that I do and the work I did to earn my Ph.D. I am not entirely sure how to do this. I don’t quite frankly remember what I knew in high school. I have no idea what these students know. I don’t want to bore and confuse them by talking at so high a level that they can’t understand me, but I don’t want to insult them by explaining things they already know.

I am really not sure how I did. The one thing I am fairly sure about is that I babbled and rambled a few times. I am really not the best speaker. I am not a bad speaker, but I do much better if I have a set text that I am reading or very specific things with high points written on slides. I didn’t do that for this talk because I wanted to be able to change what I was saying once I got there and started getting questions. They did ask me questions. They asked me great questions in fact. However those questions made me realize just how much I know and forget that other people don’t know. That is in no way meant to be an insult to these students. I was really impressed with them. Like I said, they asked great questions. Also, they were very polite and politely listened even when I am sure I started to ramble. I really appreciated their attentiveness, and I loved their questions.

For example, one of the first questions I got was on one of my first slides, which had the word epidemiology on it. I was asked “what is epidemiology?” This is probably where it hit me that I had no idea what they knew. It didn’t really dawn on me that some (or all) would not know what that word meant and what that science field is. Again, that is not an insult to them. If anything, I was annoyed with myself for not considering when I learned that word. I am glad I was asked the question. It gave me a chance to tell them about John Snow and the London cholera epidemic. I am fairly sure all epidemiology courses are legally required to start with a discussion on John Snow and the London cholera epidemic, so I had fun telling them about it.

I can’t remember all the questions I got, but I got quite a few. I loved this because that meant the person asking the question was listening and engaged. When I describing issues related to soil and groundwater contamination, I got a very simple question as to how these chemicals get into the soil and groundwater. I LOVED this question. I can’t describe all the reasons why I loved this question, but one is because I am an engineer, and I get frustrated when people think we build things and then no maintenance is ever needed. Bridges in the US keep falling down, and the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our infrastructure a D+ grade. One of the reasons is lack of maintenance. I got to explain to the students about maintenance and inspections and things simply not being designed or built to last forever. I also explained how decades ago, people used to just dump chemicals in the ground or water and never think of the consequences.

I also got some questions of how to find out more information on different topics and things I discussed. They wanted to know more. As I always want to know more, how could I not like these students? I hope some of them already have or are now on the internet reading more about the topics I only lightly discussed. Maybe one day I will meet them again professionally.

Empathy for Technophobes

I was in a discussion recently about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) otherwise known as mad cow disease. The important background of it and why I am mentioning it, is that dairy cows need protein supplements because of how much milk they produce. In North America, the protein supplements were mainly in the form of soy, but in the United Kingdom, the supplements came mainly from rendered animal parts. These animal parts included other cows. I can remember when BSE first became a huge news item, and the practice of feeding cattle rendered animal parts came to light, I was disgusted like I imagine many people were. Part of my disgust was my questioning why would you take a herbivore, and not only turn it into a carnivore, but also a cannibal? Leaving aside the point that BSE showed that this practice had serious risks, there is a more basic question I have to ask myself, which is protein is protein, so does it matter where it came from? In this case, of course, the answer is yes. On a molecular level, amino acids like lysine and tryptophan, are the same no matter where they come from. However, the proteins and other compounds in soy differ quite a bit from the proteins and other compounds in rendered animal parts. Also, in the case of BSE, it is the shape of the proteins in animal parts that was really important. Thus in this case, it really does matter where the protein is coming from.

The turning a cow into a cannibal is still a bit of a different issue. The idea in general just seems wrong and repulsive to me. It is not natural. I think that reaction I have is somewhat common, and it has implications for how people react to certain technology. Humans are naturally repulsed and scared of certain things, and this has for the most part served us well through history. Humans in general, are repulsed by human excrement. We all urinate and defecate, but once we do, we all want the urine and feces to go away, never to be seen again. This is not a bad reaction in that, feces can have multitudes of infectious agents in it, so having it go away is a good thing. I am speaking personally to a only certain extent though. I have worked in wastewater treatment design, I have sampled at a wastewater treatment plant, and I spent several years collecting and analyzing other people’s urine for my dissertation research. I am kind of fascinated by human excrement and the information it can provide about the health of an individual. That being said, I would never touch it with my bare hands.

Humans’ natural repulsion to their own excrement causes an interesting reaction to its treatment. In urban and suburban areas, wastewater is collected, treated, and then normally discharged to some body of water such as a river, lake, or the sea. What many people don’t seem to realize, is that if the wastewater is discharged to a river or lake, then there is a very good chance, it will flow some distance and then be collected and pumped to a water treatment plant where it will then be treated and become the water supply for some other municipality. Due to the scarcity of water in many areas, some municipalities are starting to take some of their wastewater effluent and reuse it for purposes where potable water (drinking water quality) is not needed, like watering golf courses. There are normally some differences in the treatment of water to be reused than water to be discharged, but not a great deal. Once water is discharged to a river or lake, the only real, further treatment that occurs to it is dilution. Depending on the water to which it is discharged, it can be diluted by a factor as low as three (and possibly lower in a drought) or as high as 1000. A certain amount of biodegradation and other treatment may occur after discharge, but sometimes the water source into which it is discharged, can be polluted in its own way. However, the wastewater once put into a water source, does not become magically clean. Also, the amount the wastewater is treated before being discharged is based on regulations and also money and design. Regulations require it to be cleaned to a certain level. The technology exists to clean wastewater enough to turn it back into drinking water. It is not that difficult. It just requires the plant to be designed to do that, and extra costs, both in capital costs and operating costs. Years ago, a colleague once told me of a wastewater treatment plant that was designed to do just that. The wastewater was cleaned enough to meet drinking water standards. It was designed for a municipality with constant water shortages and thus needed to recycle water. However, the municipality required the water to discharge into a lake before it was then used as drinking water. By requiring this, the water actually became dirtier and picked up contaminants while in this lake. The municipality required this purely for the ick factor. They did not think the public would drink water that came straight from a wastewater treatment plant. The municipality was worried people would have the reaction of being disgusted to drink treated wastewater. This is a somewhat normal and understandable reaction, but it is completely ignorant of the treatment process nonetheless. It should be noted that even highly educated people suffer from the ick factor. Mary Roach in her wonderful book “Packing for Mars” describe how astronauts are not completely enthusiastic about recycling urine to drink.

There is a good chance that even if you educate people about the treatment process, some people would still not be able to get over the ick factor. I, at least, can’t really blame them. It really is natural to be repulsed. I’ve seen discussions among scientists that I am afraid sometimes almost borders on contempt for the ignorance of people who are scared of certain technologies. If people were educated about certain technologies, many would accept the technologies, but many still wouldn’t. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are an example of this. I fully admit I have a problem with some GMOs but not all. I have a serious issue with plants that have been modified to produce Bt toxin, but my issue with this is not about the plants ability to produce the toxin, but the effect it might have on organic plants, which many times are treated with Bt toxin to kill insects. I like organic foods for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go into here, but I don’t think there has been enough research or even concern about how GM plants that produce Bt toxin might have on organic plants. I also have an issue with GM plants that have been modified to be resistant to herbicides, but again I don’t actually have an issue with the actual genetic modification. I have a problem with the fact that this allows greater use of herbicides, and the effect this can have on the ecosystem and also the effect this can have on the workers who work with the herbicide. Conversely, I don’t like certain GM animals such as GloFish, and I would put this into the category of just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Perhaps it is ignorance and the ick factor. I’m not scared of them. I just think sometimes humans do things that perhaps we shouldn’t. Sometimes, it really isn’t nice to play with Mother Nature.

I have discussed my issues with GMOs to a certain extent with a person I know who works on GMOs. She is constantly fighting ignorance and fear about GM foods. We have discussed a little the issue of labeling GM foods. I support the labeling of GM foods, and she has stated it is not that simple. I don’t have all the facts, but I think part of this has to do as to where “traditional” plant hybridization and breeding end and where does genetic modification start. The problem is that when GM foods are not labeled, it gives people who don’t like GM foods more ammunition to fight GM foods because they can say the public is being lied to and information withheld. I have heard the argument that if foods that include GMOs are labeled as such, then people won’t buy them out of ignorance. I don’t think this is a valid argument. That is a consumer’s right. Some people who oppose GMOs when educated about what GMOs are and are not, will probably start to accept them, and other will never accept them. However people must be free to make their own choices even if out of ignorance and fear. [I am leaving aside the issue of ignorance and fear leading to people making decisions that not only affect themselves but others, which is a whole other issue.] Further, taking the attitude that people don’t need to know certain things because they wouldn’t understand, is arrogant, and educated people must stop themselves from becoming arrogant. Educated people need to fight harder to educate others.

Nuclear power is another example of technology of which many people are scared. A large problem with nuclear power of course, is that it is a relatively safe technology, but if something goes wrong, it can really go wrong. Nuclear accidents are thankfully relatively rare, but they have the potential to affect a huge number of people as seen with the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. Considering how long nuclear power has been around, I think it is unlikely that some people will ever accept nuclear power even if fully educated about it. Nuclear power may also be one of the technologies where people think we are doing something we should not be, as in it it not natural. I am not sure, but I also think nuclear power suffers from an engineering problem. From my limited knowledge of both Chernobyl and Fukushima, both had design flaws, in that possible, known “what ifs” were not properly addressed in the design and construction. I learned recently of new nuclear power designs that would not have the risks associated with current nuclear power plants, like meltdowns. I am very excited to see if these designs will discussed and used in the coming years, but I worry that bad memories of old technologies will prevent people from accepting these new technologies.

People have a very long memory when new technology goes wrong. Scientists and engineers are really good about learning from when things go wrong. However, if when things go wrong, people, the environment, property, or something else is harmed, then not only do scientists and engineers have to learn how to improve the technology, but we also have to regain people’s trust. That can be an even more difficult process. Some people fear technology that they don’t understand. Also, when the previous technology had problems, and people don’t understand what has changed between technologies, it is going to very difficult for them to accept the newer technology. Then again, some people fear technology that they do understand. Perhaps the fear is due to the ick factor or the your-playing-God factor. I am empathize with this fear. Education can help to alleviate fear but not always. Sometimes fearing, distrusting, or not accepting a technology is not just an education issue. Sometimes it is a deep-seated, human instinct. Perhaps this is both good and bad. I think those of us who work with and on technology would be best served to remember that.