Astronomer Who Harassed Women Was Also Investigated For Faking A Female Researcher

Caltech’s Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics

Dhilung Kirat / Via Wikipedia

Astrophysics professor Christian Ott, who was investigated by the California Institute of Technology in 2015 for harassing two female graduate students in his research group, was also investigated for creating a name and email address for an imaginary female researcher.

“Ursula,” “U.C.T.,” or “Uschi” Gamma was listed as a co-author with Ott on two papers in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and was mentioned in the acknowledgements of nine other papers between 2012 to 2014. (“Finally, we thank Ursula C. T. Gamma for continued inspiration,” one said.)

The name and Yahoo email address, which was used in public correspondence with researchers at other institutions, were listed on a Caltech website until 2015, when the investigation began.

Ott was originally suspended for nine months following an internal investigation in 2015 that found he had violated the university’s harassment policies. According to documents provided to BuzzFeed News, Ott’s suspension was then extended for another year after Caltech’s provost determined that he had tweeted at one of the women named in the original complaint, Sarah Gossan, violating the terms of his suspension.

Last week, students protested Ott’s return to campus to observe one of his graduate student’s thesis presentations, ahead of his permanent return in August.

This week, the university confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it had also investigated Ott for pretending that Ursula Gamma belonged to an astrophysics research group at Caltech called TAPIR.

Caltech “found that the name was fictitious and had been used in ways such as in email correspondence, proceedings, and in the TAPIR group directory,” Farnaz Khadem, Caltech’s chief communications officer, told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement.

“Caltech is not aware of the name being used to garner funding in any capacity,” Khadem added. Making up this person violated the school’s code of conduct and resulted in Ott being reprimanded, she said.

In December 2013, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, Ott wrote to students in his research group:

“For fun(~ding) reasons, could you please add the following author to your TASC talk (but only if you list multiple authors):

U. C. T. Gamma

(or, alternatively, if your are writing out first names)

Ursula C. T. Gamma.”

Gamma is listed as an author on a paper funded by four National Science Foundation grants, totaling over $3.5 million. Another funder, the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, declined to comment to BuzzFeed News on whether Gamma was listed on any grants awarded to Ott.

Faking scientists on papers is not unheard of as a way to appeal to funders.

“Does he have some inkling that the agencies or that the funders are more likely to fund him if he shows some diversity of authors?” Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the Retraction Watch blog and editorial director of MedPage Today, told BuzzFeed News. “Anything can get gamed, so if creating a fake author makes it look like you have something you don’t, then you’re going to get ahead.”

Other experts in scientific publication noted examples where scientists had pulled such stunts before, as an inside joke or to piss off journal reviewers, but said that such pranks are rarely so elaborate.

“It just sort of seems like someone with a strange sense of humor and not all that much judgment,” Theodora Bloom, executive editor of the British Medical Journal, told BuzzFeed News. “It doesn’t seem like egregious misconduct, let’s put it that way. It’s just sort of dumb.”

LINK: He Fell In Love With His Grad Student — Then Fired Her For It

LINK: Caltech Professor Who Harassed Students Will Not Return To Campus For Another Year

LINK: A Caltech Professor Harassed Two Women. Now Students Are Protesting His Return To Campus.


Source: Astronomer Who Harassed Women Was Also Investigated For Faking A Female Researcher

NOAA Predicts More Hurricanes Than Usual This Year

Stock up on your canned beans and galoshes, folks: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook dropped this morning, and for the first time in years, the weather monitoring agency is predicting more hurricanes than average.

Read more…


Source: NOAA Predicts More Hurricanes Than Usual This Year

Republican Senators Reportedly Using a Bogus Argument to Convince Trump to Exit the Paris Agreement

Republican senators are reportedly planning to send President Trump a legally dubious letter asking him to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, a historic accord to combat climate change. Although EPA head Scott Pruitt and others have said they want the US to withdraw, Trump faces intense pressure to stay in,…

Read more…


Source: Republican Senators Reportedly Using a Bogus Argument to Convince Trump to Exit the Paris Agreement

Texas Wants You to Hunt Feral Hogs From Hot Air Balloons

People in New York love to complain about their cockroaches and rats and bedbugs, but deep in the heart of Texas, residents are faced with decidedly larger kinds of pests. Feral hogs have spread far and wide, and Texas has decided enough is enough.

Read more…


Source: Texas Wants You to Hunt Feral Hogs From Hot Air Balloons

Scientists Share Data From A Massive Mine Spill With Navajo Farmers

A team from the University of Arizona collects water samples from the San Juan River.

Karletta Chief

On August 5, 2015, a crew of EPA workers and contractors surveying the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado dislodged a plug at the site, letting 3 million gallons of trapped water — containing arsenic, mercury, lead, and more — wash into a tributary of the Animas River.

The river carried the sludge southwest, and within days the Animas and San Juan rivers turned an alarming shade of yellow. After two weeks, the EPA announced an investigation into the causes of the event and the agency’s response to it.

Downstream in New Mexico, in the Navajo community of Shiprock, farmers use river water to irrigate corn and cantaloupe, and raise sheep and goats. The spill caught farmers in the middle of their growing season.

Navajo Nation community health representative Mae-Gilene Begay mobilized a crew to warn residents to steer clear of the river water. “A lot of them were concerned because they go fishing in the river either for recreation for livestock or for farming,” she told BuzzFeed News.

The community closed the irrigation canals for eight months, until April 2016. A few months later, the Navajo Nation sued the EPA and mine owners and operators, claiming that the parties’ negligence caused an accident they should have foreseen and prevented.

Over the last year and a half, a group of scientists from the University of Arizona has been working to help the Navajo understand the impact of the spill, by presenting data about contaminant levels to the community so that they feel empowered to decide whether to start using river water again.

Led by Karletta Chief, a hydrologist, and Paloma Beamer, professor of environmental health, the team has collected about 1,000 environmental samples: water and soil from the river and irrigation canals, water from wells and conduits, and samples of blood, urine, and drinking water from 60 homes in three communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, the researchers returned to Shiprock Chapter in New Mexico to share their preliminary findings. And it’s good news, at least for now: lead and arsenic levels in the water are within the levels defined as drinkable by the EPA. In all but four of the water samples, the lead levels were also below the guidelines that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has deemed fit for aquatic life.

Some Navajo are relieved by the data, though they are slow to fully trust. “There is justified apprehension by farmers on whether to plant this year considering the questionable state of the river,” Duane Chili Yazzie, Shiprock Chapter President, said at Wednesday’s event, according to an email he sent to BuzzFeed News. “This apprehension is only partly relieved by all the studies that purportedly show the water to be safe for irrigation.”

Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP

The findings are consistent with what federal and tribal environmental agencies have shown, noted UA’s Beamer. When the project is complete, this new analysis aims to be a more comprehensive risk assessment than those done before.

“It’s really a time to present all the data that we have to date back to the community,” Beamer told BuzzFeed News.

The scientists did find one series of abnormal readings: a pattern of high manganese levels.

About a quarter of the samples collected from canals had manganese levels above the EPA’s level of 50 parts per billion. About half the samples from wells in the winter were also above this limit, along with a few river samples collected during the spring. (The EPA classifies this metal as a secondary contaminant, which means it is associated with bad taste and odors rather than health effects.)

The scientists don’t think the manganese came from the mine spill, however.

“The highest concentrations we measured were in the wells, which are not likely to be affected by the spill and are more a function of the natural geology in the area,” Beamer said.

University of Arizona researcher Karletta Chief takes a water sample.

Janene Yazzie

Later this year, the researchers are planning to report additional data from their study, related to the soil surrounding the river and irrigation canals. These analyses will show whether there are toxic metals remnant from the spill. Blood and urine samples are also still to be tested.

The team is also compiling a library of all the ways the community uses the river — from ritual drinking of river water during prayer, to picking reeds from the river for weaving baskets, in addition to drinking, bathing, and farming. In later reports, the researchers hope to describe whether and how the spill has changed those habits.

Despite the fact that the EPA reported that the water was safe for agricultural and recreational use, the message did not disseminate through most of the community, Begay said. “I think there’s only a few folks that have heard the EPA’s update.”

In April last year, the Navajo Nation EPA recommended opening the irrigation canals, based on readings taken by the tribal agency and the US EPA through the fall and then in the spring. “But a lot of people still did not irrigate last year and are still concerned this year,” Stephen Austin, senior hydrologist at the Navajo Nation EPA Water Quality Program, told BuzzFeed News.

So for many on the reservation, the evidence presented Wednesday carried more weight than federal reports.

In the weeks after the spill, as the cause became clear, Shiprock residents were immediately concerned about preventing a similar event from recurring, Janene Yazzie, co-founder of the Tó Bei Nihi Dziil (Water is our Strength) collective, a group that works on water issues, told BuzzFeed News. But those concerns were largely ignored by the agency representatives who visited in the weeks and months after the spill.

“How will you protect us from future spills? What can we do to clean up the water before it gets to our crops? [Those] was the questions that were glossed over too easily or too soon by the tribe and federal agencies,” Yazzie said.

Also, presentations from agency representatives were peppered with unfamiliar buzzwords like “background levels,” which confused and further worried many farmers.

When Chief addressed the crowd at community meetings, she often spoke in Navajo. She also decrypted the jargon. For example, Yazzie said, she explained the concept of parts per billion, the accepted metric to measure miniscule levels of metal in water, by comparing the value to a grain of sand in a bag, or in a cup.

“She gave them their power back in terms of being critical, and thinking more deeply about what was being presented to them,” Yazzie, who is collaborating with University of Arizona team, said. “She gave them that tool to understand.”

LINK: Colorado Mine Spill Dumped More Than 880,000 Pounds Of Metals Into River

LINK: EPA Error Caused Mine Spill That Contaminated A Colorado River, Report Says

LINK: Colorado Reopens River After Major Contamination Spill


Source: Scientists Share Data From A Massive Mine Spill With Navajo Farmers

Scientists Tell Navajo Farmers Their Water Is No Longer Contaminated

A team from the University of Arizona collects water samples from the San Juan River.

Karletta Chief

On August 5, 2015, a crew of EPA workers and contractors surveying the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado dislodged a plug at the site, letting 3 million gallons of trapped water — containing arsenic, mercury, lead, and more — wash into a tributary of the Animas River.

The river carried the sludge southwest, and within days the Animas and San Juan rivers turned an alarming shade of yellow. After two weeks, the EPA announced an investigation into the causes of the event and the agency’s response to it.

Downstream in New Mexico, in the Navajo community of Shiprock, farmers use river water to irrigate corn and cantaloupe, and raise sheep and goats. The spill caught farmers in the middle of their growing season.

Navajo Nation community health representative Mae-Gilene Begay mobilized a crew to warn residents to steer clear of the river water. “A lot of them were concerned because they go fishing in the river either for recreation for livestock or for farming,” she told BuzzFeed News.

The community closed the irrigation canals for eight months, until April 2016. A few months later, the Navajo Nation sued the EPA and mine owners and operators, claiming that the parties’ negligence caused an accident they should have foreseen and prevented.

Over the last year and a half, a group of scientists from the University of Arizona has been working to help the Navajo understand the impact of the spill, by presenting data about contaminant levels to the community so that they feel empowered to decide whether to start using river water again.

Led by Karletta Chief, a hydrologist, and Paloma Beamer, professor of environmental health, the team has collected about 1,000 environmental samples: water and soil from the river and irrigation canals, water from wells and conduits, and samples of blood, urine, and drinking water from 60 homes in three communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, the researchers returned to Shiprock Chapter in New Mexico to share their preliminary findings. And it’s good news, at least for now: lead and arsenic levels in the water are within the levels defined as drinkable by the EPA. In all but four of the water samples, the lead levels were also below the guidelines that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has deemed fit for aquatic life.

Some Navajo are relieved by the data, though they are slow to fully trust. “There is justified apprehension by farmers on whether to plant this year considering the questionable state of the river,” Duane Chili Yazzie, Shiprock Chapter President, said at Wednesday’s event, according to an email he sent to BuzzFeed News. “This apprehension is only partly relieved by all the studies that purportedly show the water to be safe for irrigation.”

Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP

The findings are consistent with what federal and tribal environmental agencies have shown, noted UA’s Beamer. When the project is complete, this new analysis aims to be a more comprehensive risk assessment than those done before.

“It’s really a time to present all the data that we have to date back to the community,” Beamer told BuzzFeed News.

The scientists did find one series of abnormal readings: a pattern of high manganese levels.

About a quarter of the samples collected from canals had manganese levels above the EPA’s level of 50 parts per billion. About half the samples from wells in the winter were also above this limit, along with a few river samples collected during the spring. (The EPA classifies this metal as a secondary contaminant, which means it is associated with bad taste and odors rather than health effects.)

The scientists don’t think the manganese came from the mine spill, however.

“The highest concentrations we measured were in the wells, which are not likely to be affected by the spill and are more a function of the natural geology in the area,” Beamer said.

University of Arizona researcher Karletta Chief takes a water sample.

Janene Yazzie

Later this year, the researchers are planning to report additional data from their study, related to the soil surrounding the river and irrigation canals. These analyses will show whether there are toxic metals remnant from the spill. Blood and urine samples are also still to be tested.

The team is also compiling a library of all the ways the community uses the river — from ritual drinking of river water during prayer, to picking reeds from the river for weaving baskets, in addition to drinking, bathing, and farming. In later reports, the researchers hope to describe whether and how the spill has changed those habits.

Despite the fact that the EPA reported that the water was safe for agricultural and recreational use, the message did not disseminate through most of the community, Begay said. “I think there’s only a few folks that have heard the EPA’s update.”

In April last year, the Navajo Nation EPA recommended opening the irrigation canals, based on readings taken by the tribal agency and the US EPA through the fall and then in the spring. “But a lot of people still did not irrigate last year and are still concerned this year,” Stephen Austin, senior hydrologist at the Navajo Nation EPA Water Quality Program, told BuzzFeed News.

So for many on the reservation, the evidence presented Wednesday carried more weight than federal reports.

In the weeks after the spill, as the cause became clear, Shiprock residents were immediately concerned about preventing a similar event from recurring, Janene Yazzie, co-founder of the Tó Bei Nihi Dziil (Water is our Strength) collective, a group that works on water issues, told BuzzFeed News. But those concerns were largely ignored by the agency representatives who visited in the weeks and months after the spill.

“How will you protect us from future spills? What can we do to clean up the water before it gets to our crops? [Those] was the questions that were glossed over too easily or too soon by the tribe and federal agencies,” Yazzie said.

Also, presentations from agency representatives were peppered with unfamiliar buzzwords like “background levels,” which confused and further worried many farmers.

When Chief addressed the crowd at community meetings, she often spoke in Navajo. She also decrypted the jargon. For example, Yazzie said, she explained the concept of parts per billion, the accepted metric to measure miniscule levels of metal in water, by comparing the value to a grain of sand in a bag, or in a cup.

“She gave them their power back in terms of being critical, and thinking more deeply about what was being presented to them,” Yazzie, who is collaborating with University of Arizona team, said. “She gave them that tool to understand.”

LINK: Colorado Mine Spill Dumped More Than 880,000 Pounds Of Metals Into River

LINK: EPA Error Caused Mine Spill That Contaminated A Colorado River, Report Says

LINK: Colorado Reopens River After Major Contamination Spill


Source: Scientists Tell Navajo Farmers Their Water Is No Longer Contaminated

Why Do We Want Robots to Destroy Us So Badly?

The best part about science fiction, besides the explosions, space explorations and psychotic aliens is the fact that it reveals our most human fears. While they’re not flesh and bone, robots are arguably most emblematic of our anxieties: besides being smarter, faster, and (sometimes) shinier than us, “bad robots” are…

Read more…


Source: Why Do We Want Robots to Destroy Us So Badly?