Tag Archives: science gal

In Which I Respond To Things Other People Said On The Internet

I am not really one to take part in the back and forth when someone writes something that is popular or mildly controversial and then we all have to have our say about it. But WTH, it’s a holiday weekend. Let’s go crazy.

To The I Won’t Get Divorced Guy

Look, I get what you’re saying. Marriage totally suffers when you have small children. Parenting small children turns some of us into our worst selves and it can feel hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

BUT. “I don’t think couples with small children should be allowed to divorce.” This is a ridiculous thing to say. 

If you have more than one kid, the time you spend with small children can be well over 5 years, maybe 10. That is an awfully long time to ask a couple to deal with being miserable. It can be such a long time that it may create a void that can no longer be filled. 

I think a better thing to say would be, “Small children are not always small. Things get better.” Or maybe, “I feel you, it’s hard.”

You’re adding to the stigma of divorce, this thing I constantly hear people say that, “People just get divorced like it’s nothing. They don’t even try.” I hate this. Because you have no idea from the outside what is happening inside a relationship or how long it’s been bad. You have no idea how hard it is and what a large burden you take on when you make that decision. People who are not divorced have many opinions on people who are, and it’s kind of like people without kids having opinions on childrearing. 

So dude, I know you weren’t trying to be harsh. But what works for you works for you, and doesn’t mean you are now able to tell everyone else how it should be. We can only ever be experts on ourselves and our own families.

To The You Are Not A Single Mom Lady

Thank you for saying something I haven’t been gutsy enough to say publicly. But I think about this a lot. I don’t just think of single moms, I also think of parents who have a partner who’s rarely home due to a job with crazy hours, or one who travels for months at a time, or one who has military service. Parenting alone is rough. I admit I feel a little guilty that I get every other weekend off, that I have an end in sight, albeit a brief one that will be spent mostly recovering. 

I know we all have stuff that’s difficult for us, that everyone has their own thing. I had to learn that as a special needs parent and I’m re-learning it as a single parent. But I would never be able to say this. So thank you for taking one for the team. 

To The Idiots Who Write Headlines At The Washington Post

Thanks for your scaremongering. That was really awesome of you. Even though your article goes on to talk about how we shouldn’t draw sweeping conclusions, that research shows the vast majority of autistic people are law-abiding (many of them ridiculously so), and all sorts of other reasonable statements, your headline is just bad. And the first 6 paragraphs that throw in Sandy Hook and all that are not much better. Please stop doing this. 

Oh, and media in general, stop reporting on preliminary studies. It is not useful information. Maybe read this and give it some thought.

 

Updated: I found another one!

To The Never Too Busy To Exercise person

So no one is too busy to exercise, eh? It’s just about priorities and habits, eh?  My day consists of getting my children ready for the day, taking to their places for the day, going to work, working, leaving work, picking up all the children, getting the children fed, getting the children in bed, and then collapsing into my own bed. I could probably squeeze some exercising somewhere, though on a day when I have the kids the gym or a run is not an option unless I want to feed my kids well past dinner time and then have a ridiculous evening trying to get them to sleep well past bedtime. If I didn’t have kids or if I had a spouse, maybe I’d be sitting here nodding my head and thinking, “Oh, right, I have no excuse.” But yeah, not all of us have that. (I suspected the expert in this piece has no children, and I was correct. I looked it up.)

I like your small steps forward philosophy. But seriously, do not tell me how busy I am. Do not tell me what I have time for. 

 

Okay, that all felt pretty good, I have to say. I think I get why people enjoy arguing about things on the internet.

Jess Talks Science: GMO’s

The internet is a powerful place. It’s full of information. And while we know a lot of it is crap, we don’t exercise a lot of skepticism.

I’m going to start by singling out someone I like very much, Mark Bittman, the author of one of my favorite cookbooks who’s well-known as The Minimalist at the New York Times. Lately, Bittman’s writing has been less about food and more about food issues. And eventually when you write about food issues you’re going to run into science. And this is where I start to get skeptical. You don’t have to have a PhD to write about science. (I don’t, I freely acknowledge my measly bachelor’s in Biochemistry is not adequate science training.) But if you don’t, you have to make sure you cover your bases, do your research, and have science on your side.

In Bittman’s recent article about the GMO-labeling controversy he exhibited the kind of shockingly lazy writing that would bother me whether or not it involved science. Like this opening salvo:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone wants to see the labeling of genetically engineered materials contained in their food products.

Really? It’s not an exaggeration? Says who? Later in the article he cites a poll that shows 91% approve. Who ran the poll? An organization advocating pro-labeling. They mention it in one of their articles, but give no information on their methodology.

Whether or not to label GMO’s is partly a political issue, regardless of where you stand on GMO’s themselves. But since there’s definite science in this issue as well, it would sure be nice to see more of it. I haven’t seen much of any. Which takes us back to Bittman. He says, “by most estimates the evidence [for GMO's] is far more damning than it is supportive.” Oh, interesting. He has some evidence. Let’s just click that link, shall we?

It goes to a pro-organic website. This concerns me. I have nothing against organic (though it’s got its own share of science problems) but the pro-organic folks are overwhelmingly anti-GMO so I’m going in expecting bias. As for their article, entitled 8 Reasons GMOs are bad for you, there are no citations. Oh, excuse me, at the bottom of the article they give 4 websites as “sources.” One link doesn’t work, two are to other healthy/organic lifestyle sites, and one is to an article from 2004 which itself offers no citations. (That last work is by a science writer, to be fair, with undergraduate work in Zoology.)

Here’s the thing: when you want to know the actual science, you have to turn to science. There are outliers in the scientific community, and only the rest of that community can tell you that. Otherwise you can easily find yourself refusing vaccines because the internet told you to.

What should you look for when researching science online?

The Source: Magazines, health & lifestyle websites, issue blogs, even newspapers: none of these are sources you should automatically trust. The “science” writing there is built around consumerism instead of science. My favorites are sites that aren’t issue-specific but that cover science generally. And science magazines are an exception to that earlier rule. Discover and Scientific American have excellent science writing and science blogs. There are always exceptions when it comes to sources (I really enjoyed this NYTimes article on GMO’s that I found during my research, which is littered with sources and straight talk) so also consider the other factors.

The Sources: Good science writing has sources. Lots of them. There should be lots of links (and not to sub-ideal sources like those I just mentioned). If it’s a blog, the person should have their own bio available. They should also be forthright about their own opinions or agenda. A science background is preferable.

The Single-Study Story: Whenever a new study comes out that has a sensational finding, it tends to get a lot of writing. The thing is, the study’s findings may not be very concrete. Often these single-study stories are just starting a whole new branch of research. Try and find out where the study came from (if the story doesn’t include this information, find one that does) and see if you can find the actual paper somewhere. Even if it’s just the abstract, it should give you a better idea. And then do some googling and see what reputable science writers are saying on the subject.

And one last thing: As a lawyer I learned that you should always understand the other side. An article that doesn’t acknowledge that there could be any merit to an opposing view has a problem. There is almost always a complex variety of issues that can lead to reasonable differences of opinion. If someone doesn’t admit that, they’re not looking at the issue clearly.

So I did some googling on GMO’s. It really is that simple. I came away feeling rather duped by Mr. Bittman.

One of the best articles I found was from Scientific American. Written by a professor at UC Davis who has a PhD and a celebrated bio. All good things. She starts with a brief explanation of what genetic engineering is and how its different from genetic modification techniques we’ve used for centuries. She also shows which bodies have found that there’s enough evidence of safety for these products to be on the market.

It’s worth noting that the hubbub around GMO’s doesn’t seem to relate to those crops modified through traditional techniques. And yet both have the same potential to create something new with unexpected changes. They go through testing before they’re released to the public. She also notes that the only problems found thus far have been in crops created through traditional methods.

So why are GMO’s created? What are they supposed to do? One example is corn that requires less insecticide. GOOD, yes? These crops have some naturally occurring Bt toxins. Why “toxin?” Because it kills particular caterpillars and beetles. Before the naturally-occurring Bt toxins, we sprayed it on crops. It’s been consumed by people for decades. There’s a lot of information on it. They’re used by organic farmers. You’re getting this stuff in your food, whether or not it has a GMO label. But with the GMO? No spraying, none of the negative environmental effects of spraying (for example, non-pest insects and worms and such were found in much larger numbers), saved cost to farmers, AND even the non-GMO crops planted nearby benefited by having less pests.

What do I love the MOST about this article? At the end there are many, many, many cites. But she also leaves citations throughout the article so I know exactly where her information is coming from and I can check it out.

If you want to really get down to the science, you can find articles in peer-reviewed journals. This year a review was written in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology that examined 24 long-term studies of GMO diets and found no ill effects. You probably didn’t hear about it. Reviews are papers that put together a whole bunch of studies to help figure out the state of scientific knowledge in a particular area. They’re not flashy. They rarely make news.

But you’ll hear about single studies that show crazy outcomes, like causing tumors. Just make sure you stay tuned. Because you may find out that the study author has a book coming out this week. Or has other scientists questioning their methods or results.

Unfortunately, when it comes to science, you can’t read an article confirming something and then stop. You have to continue to read and research and look.

I’m not saying I’m an authority on the safety of GMO’s. But from my research, it seems that right now the science shows them to be safe and that the regulations in place are sufficient.

But that could change. New varieties could be introduced, new studies could be released. You can’t just rest on your laurels.

As for GMO labeling, I don’t have a strong opinion. But I do think we should be more concerned about the science than we are about the label. After all, you may know that the “organic” label doesn’t mean something is pesticide-free. And that a “low fat” label doesn’t mean it isn’t high in sugar. Are you anti-HFCS? It’s not any worse for you than the same amount of sugar. (Personally I oppose HFCS not for health reasons but its effects on the farming industry.)

In our fast-information culture, it isn’t easy to get the best information. But it’s worth it.

Last time Jess talked science, she talked about Autism research. Who knows what she’ll talk about next time as this whole series is kind of spur-of-the-moment.

The Whole Truth About Autism

I am putting my foot down.

As the parent of an autistic child I hear a lot about vaccines and about half a million other things that people think cause autism.

I’m hyperaware of the attention autism gets in the media. So I know about the CDC’s new stats on autism rates. I know about the debate on whether the increase in autism is due to more awareness and diagnosis or more actual occurrences. (Personally, I find the former to be a serious factor, though who’s to say how much.) And I see all the articles that come out week after week about the millions of things that are linked to autism.

There’s a recurring problem here. Valuable research is done. Research is disseminated. Information is reported. Articles are read. Findings are spread. What starts in a lab ends up in a Facebook status. What starts as truth ends up as mistruth in something like a child’s game of telephone. Along the way, piece by piece, truth fades away in favor of headlines and pageviews and gossip.

It’s getting just plain stupid. I’m starting to suspect these articles have nothing to do with serious research but with a search for traffic and hype, an attempt to ride the wave of a trendy topic as concerned parents read every horror story they can find.

A particularly egregious one came up recently. This one doesn’t just cite some random correlation. This one is just plain making things up. The problems here just pile one on top of the other. So let’s consider it piece by piece, a case study in how real research becomes misinformation.

Part One: Research

It starts with scientists. It starts with research. They write up their findings and publish them in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In this case there are several papers published over a few years about chemicals and their link to brain development. They cover a wide variety of issues and present a wide variety of conclusions. All of them suggest further study.

Maybe they have bad methodology or use statistics incorrectly. Only a few people would ever know the difference. That’s not my concern today. Bad science is one thing, but bad information on good science is another. So let’s assume we have good, solid science in this research.

Part Two: The Conference

Scientists and researchers with similar interests get together and discuss their findings. It’s not that difference from any other conference. There are panels and presentations.

Part Three: The Op-Ed

Next, a group that works on environmental hazards for children publishes a paper. Not a research study but an op-ed in a peer-reviewed journal. In this op-ed they review the conference from Part Two and encourage the study of environmental factors and their relationship to neurodevelopment disorders. Autism is one of many neuro-ish disorders and is mentioned by name in the piece and its title. It’s unclear to me why they zero in on autism. They have a couple vague pieces of evidence that are autism-specific, but the vast majority of what they’re looking at has never been demonstrated to have any kind of relationship to autism, not even a correlation.

Problem #1 is the unnecessary autism name-checking. Problem #2 is much worse, it’s the list of 10 chemicals they suggest for future study. The list itself isn’t a bad idea, I guess. They’re suggesting places for potential research, which certainly needs to be done. But it does reek a little bit of the kind of thing magazines do, you know what I mean, 10 Ways To Get Your Guy All Fired Up! and such. Still, it’s their prerogative.

So let’s examine their evidence for these suggestions. They cite at least one paper for each of these chemicals. I checked them all. The vast majority of them have never shown any connection to Autism (or even ADHD, another diagnosis they name-check). In fact, many of them show that with exposure to these chemicals, the outcome differentials between exposure and non-exposure is 5 IQ points.

FIVE IQ POINTS. Statistically significant? Perhaps. Practically important for a parent? No.

IQ itself is a strange and vague thing. And 5 points isn’t going to move your super-genius down to the level of a normal person. They’d still be a super-genius. And adding 5 points to someone with severe mental defects isn’t going to make them normal, either. It’s hard to imagine what difference you’d see between two people whose IQ’s are 5 points apart.

Such statistical differences may well be a sign to warrant further study. And they may be a sign that these chemicals affect neurological development. But it’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves to say they are suspected of being tied to autism. Many of these papers are in areas of research that are just beginning. Many of them involve homogeneous groups (for example, all the participants are Mexican-American migrant workers) which makes issues of genetics and heredity very difficult to account for. Many involve parents self-reporting by filling out surveys rather than having the children examined by professionals.

Let’s be fair. These are the very beginnings of research. You’ll need to do all sorts of rigorous testing and consideration to make real connections. Of course more research is needed. And it’s important that we keep that in mind as we move forward.

(Though, of course, no one else will.)

Part Four: The Press Release

The op-ed is about publicity so it’s the beginning of the problem. But it gets worse. A press release comes out with the list of ten chemicals and already the twisting starts. These are chemicals suggested for further research, but suddenly they’re a “List of the Top Ten Toxic Chemicals Suspected to Cause Autism and Learning Disabilities.” This, unsurprisingly, is the headline you’ll see all over the internet when news organizations report on the press release. Already it’s turned from suggestions for research into a watchlist.

It gets worse. The press release has this second headline:

The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism.

No, actually that’s not at all accurate.

Let’s start with the first paper, which examines the possibility of a connection between maternal smoking and autism. What’s their conclusion?

The primary analyses indicated a slightly inverse association with all ASDs[.]

What does that mean? Among the autistic kids vs. regular kids, there was actually LESS maternal smoking in the autism group. The paper does point out that when it comes to “subgroups,” for instance high-functioning ASD or Asperger’s, there may be a possibly positive relationship. But there are so many caveats I can’t even get to them all. Let’s just take this one:

The ASD subgroup variables were imperfect, relying on the child’s access to evaluation services and the documentation by a myriad of community providers, rather than direct clinical observation.

This means that when they’re saying some groups of ASD kids may have this relationship, they didn’t actually classify these kids. They never saw these kids. They’re relying on data collected by other people. Not even by a consistent set of people. It comes from 11 different states and who knows how many providers. Who’s to say how accurate any of it is. And who’s to say whether these kids are correctly classified at their particular place on the spectrum.

So take all that with a whole jar full of salt and you’re still looking at, overall, no connection with smoking. If anything, the data would indicate smoking has LESS autism rather than more.

After this there are 2 papers on the same chemical. One of them does not contain the word “autism” anywhere. (One of its references has it, but nowhere does it appear in the text of their paper.) The second paper is better. It focuses on the chemical’s effects in particular processes which have been linked to autism. This is very micro-scale science, there are no people involved, just cells and chemicals. It’s important research, but there’s a long stretch between cellular interactions and a person’s diagnosis. It didn’t involve any analysis with autistic individuals. This is certainly the most useful paper of the bunch by a long shot, but it still just sets the stage for further research.

The fourth paper is a review. That means it asserts no new information but summarizes the research on a particular issue, specifically pesticides and autism. Technically I suppose it does assert a link, but none of this is new information.

So I think we’ve pretty much destroyed the headline in that press release. There were not 4 articles suggesting a connection between chemicals and autism.

Is it likely that the writers who take this press release and write articles on it are going to read the papers it cites? Are they going to realize that what they’re saying isn’t actually true? They should. Of course they should. But they don’t.

This list has chemicals suspected of being tied to neurological development. And we should just leave it at that. It’s not that they shouldn’t be studied. They should. But we shouldn’t be throwing out buzzwords like ADHD and Autism when the research doesn’t show any firm data.

Part Five: News Articles

This is a process, though. First research, then op-ed, then press release and finally news articles. So what’s the headline of our news article? “Top 10 Chemicals Most Likely to Cause Autism and Learning Disabilities.” Guilty of serious fearmongering, no? A more accurate title may be: Researchers propose list of chemicals potentially tied to neurological development for further study. But I doubt anyone’s going to write that.

The article itself, to be fair, is full of caveats. The reasons for the increase in autism are “controversial.” There is a “gap in the science.”  But then you get a sentence like this:

But clearly, there is more to the story than simply genetics, as the increases are far too rapid to be of purely genetic origin.

Clearly? Clearly says who? What source says it’s too rapid? The author certainly isn’t a reliable source. She is Robyn O’Brien, a writer for Prevention who posted this article. Her scientific credentials are nonexistent. She is a former financial analyst who now writes about the food industry. She has an MBA, and her undergraduate was in French and Spanish.

Full disclosure: I have a B.S. in Biochemistry, but I feel I’m unqualified to write this article. I’d much rather it be written by someone with a PhD. I’m married to a PhD, which has given me a lot more exposure to science since leaving school, but I fully acknowledge that I shouldn’t be the one doing this. I know how to read a scientific article and examine its conclusions, but I certainly am not someone who can tell you if their methods and analysis are correct.

But I’m talking because there aren’t enough people talking about it. Because the PhD’s aren’t generally science writers. They are scientists. They write about their research in journals, not in the newspaper. And certainly not on a blog for a healthy living magazine.

The author goes on to restate the inaccurate subheadline of the press release verbatim.

In the end she suggests things like buying organic produce, opening your windows and buying BPA-free products.

This is part 5 of our process, but it’s where many of us start. Many of us will only read this article and not the press release or the op-ed or the research papers. Most of us aren’t qualified to do so, all we have is this article. Well, we have that and what other people tell us. Which leads us to our next step.

Part Six: Readers

The article is frustrating, but I can only get so mad. She is saying what the scientists told her to say. She has even included some cautionary language. The problem is that when writing for laymen, you have to be careful.

And with AUTISM? You have to be really careful. Just for you I’m going to venture into the comments to this article to show you how people have responded.

–How about we quit injecting our kids with aluminum, formaldehyde and the rest of the toxic stew that they call vaccines — we bypass every natural defense our bodies have (skin, saliva, stomach acid) to put these things directly in the blood stream.

–Thank you Robyn for always providing sound information to continue guiding our decisions.

–What about heavy metals like Arsenic that are trapped in soils that our “organic” brown rice is growing in to be made into brown rice syrup to sweeten organic foods and baby formula? Not to mention the reports coming in regarding the radiation and contamination from Fukushimi that has reached the west coast an is spreading across this country in the produce and even the pollen…

–Unvaccinated children are some of the healthiest little people on the planet. As far as the Autism link, who really knows but why risk it.

–Thank you for this information. It confirms to me that we should keep doing what we are doing. It also helps me to enforce our no shoes policy in our home. Some people are so disrespectful and just don’t take them off and I hate to sound like a nag and ask even though they already know its what we prefer.

Thankfully there are some people in there who take the writer to task, but how is a reader to trust any one commenter over another? You have no way of knowing from a comment what someone’s experiences or qualifications are.

There’s a reason we need responsible scientific reporting. I’m all for the open dissemination of information, but I’m also aware of what happens when people read something they don’t understand.

autism FB The Whole Truth About Autism

I encountered this FB conversation the other day. Usually I overlook such things but I could not help myself. I jumped in. I tried hard to be polite and present facts. When all that was over, no one was convinced. The response?

autism FB 2 The Whole Truth About Autism

Enough articles on vaccines and people are scared even without evidence. Enough headlines and people don’t bother reading articles. It doesn’t matter how much is retracted or debunked, the damage is done.

We need responsible science reporting. We need responsible reporting, period. I’ve seen plenty of lazy articles on Supreme Court opinions that lead me to read the opinion myself only to realize that they’ve stated the conclusions all wrong.

I don’t want to go on all day, but I do feel like it’s important for us to put our foot down and demand better.

We aren’t all scientists. But we can ask for science writers with the appropriate qualifications. We can ask for links and citations in their articles. (I spent quite some time tracking everything down for this post, and luckily I’m relatively familiar with looking up scientific articles online.) We can ask for articles that show failed connections. It doesn’t all have to be “Autism linked to X” there’s plenty of “Autism not linked to Y” that happens in these studies but you never see that, do you?

As for us laymen, we have to find our own trusted experts. Ask your pediatrician. And if your pediatrician’s not qualified (most of them are MD’s but not PhD’s) ask them if they have a trusted source. Track down specialists in Autism with PhD’s and ask them what they think of the research. Find reliable books and articles and spread them to your friends. We can’t necessarily do a lot, but we can do our part to stop the spread of misinformation and demand better.

For another article on how to approach science writing, check out this post at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.

Why This Science Major Didn’t Change Her Mind

Perhaps you’ve read this article from Friday’s New York Times on the significant number of college students who don’t stick with their science/tech/engineering/math majors. It brings out a lot of good points (though it seems to focus a lot more on Engineering than the many other areas) but, of course, it doesn’t quite address the whole story. It’s impossible, of course. There are too many different students with too many different situations.

I didn’t see a lot of what I dealt with as a science major in the article so I thought I’d throw up a brief response for the weekend.

I majored in Biochemistry. I’m still glad I did it and still proud of it, even if it was much harder than law school. I was not a natural fit, and I’m not a natural scientist, but I did have a few qualities that helped me stick it out.

1.  I don’t base my ego on my grades. I never really did. Starting with the time I got an F (or the Elementary School equivalent) in 5th grade in Handwriting–because I never turned in a single homework assignment–for the rest of my education it wasn’t a big deal for me.

My parents were frustrated. I remember they tried to bribe me around 7th or 8th grade with a trip to Space Camp if I got straight A’s. I REALLY wanted to go to Space Camp. But I just found so much of what I was required to do for school to be silly and I took much more joy in what I learned in my own personal reading. I could never quite stick to it.

I’m not saying I didn’t have an ego. I knew I was smart. My teachers knew I was smart. But I didn’t feel much of a need to prove it to anyone. And it didn’t have any effect on whether I got into advanced classes or not. And I knew I would get good enough grades to get into college. So that was that.

In college I felt a lot of what the article describes. It was hard. I was out of my depth. I got very frustrated. My grades were lower than they’d ever been. Fortunately, I didn’t see it as the end of the world. I was okay with going through college with the occasional C on my transcript. I didn’t see the point in adding on a year so I could cushion my schedule with less difficult classes.

I realized very quickly in my Chem classes that everyone there was used to being smart. Not just plain smart, but smarter than everyone else. And I noticed that a lot of them struggled with the idea that they were no longer at the top, but now they were part of a pack. I didn’t have a problem with this transition. A lot of them did.

2. I had other interests. Many of the Smarty McSmartersons who go into the sciences are focused on it to the exclusion of other things. I avoided many of the pitfalls and the ego bashes because I still had areas where I felt able to excel.

I was involved in Music all through college. Sure, it involved some more blows to my ego, but I learned to find joy there as well. And being a part of a chorus means your individual voice isn’t as important as working with others. There’s much to be learned from that. (Of course, the occasional solo doesn’t hurt.)

I was a little more indulgent of my ego in my minor: English. I took the lit classes I want and I was a total jerk. I was the curve-setting know-it-all. My fellow students weren’t ever fans of mine, especially because I wasn’t part of their “crowd,” the lit kids who were so apathetic and cool. But having an area where I excelled that also happened to be something I enjoyed was a real lifesaver for me.

3. I did my research. I don’t mean actual research (though I did that), I mean I spent a lot of time before I started college researching the different majors. I initially planned to do Molecular Biology, but the more I found out the less I felt good about it. It was an easier course load. I wouldn’t have to take Physics or Physical Chemistry, some of the hardest parts of the Chem majors. But Molecular Bio and Biochem differ the same way Biochem differs from Zoology and Biology. It’s all about scale.

It turns out that I like Biochem the most because it gets down to the absolute smallest elements involved. You don’t just learn your Krebs cycle, you know exactly which reactions are involved and how they work and why. Bio is on such a macroscopic scale that you are given information without explanation. You can only ask “Why” so many times before you have to get down to a cellular level, and then finally down to a chemical level. (And on the very basic chemical level, there’s a lot of physics involved, too.) A discipline that let me find out why without saying “Because” was important for me. Molecular Bio just didn’t quite fit the bill. It felt too much like Chem Lite.

Picking a discipline that satisfied my own curiosities went a long way. Sticking with Biochem seemed a better fit than straight Chem, since I found health sciences potentially interesting for a career.

4. I had a really great Freshman Chem professor. He was enthusiastic. He taught in a way that made a lot of sense. And because of him I was able to get through the next year of Organic where I was bored to tears. I knew on the other end of the tunnel I’d get into Physical Chemistry (which I’m not good at, but which I find utterly fascinating) and then Biochemistry and it would all get better. Chem is nice in the way things are clearly divided up like that. Another plus in that category.

In the end, I didn’t become a scientist, but I became a person who cares about science. I don’t know my Krebs cycle anymore (or Glycolysis). But science is a lot like law in that way, it’s more about the confidence and understanding and thought process than it is about remembering exactly what happens in what reaction. That’s the boring stuff you learn so that you can get better.

I’m lucky enough to keep science as a big part of my life because I married a scientist. Worse, I married a scientist who was one of those super-go-getters that so annoyed me in those classes. And he was still at the top of the class even then. What a jerk, eh? I appreciate what he does in a way I couldn’t otherwise. And I feel ready to help my own kids with whatever they decide to study, whether it’s science or the arts.

I wasn’t a typical science student and that may have been what made all the difference. I love a challenge more than I love to know I’m good at something. I pushed through those 4 years knowing that when they were over I could do pretty much anything I wanted with my degree. I’m glad I was smart enough to get that.

Of course, my story is just one of many. I know my husband’s is vastly different from mine. And I do take heart with the number of women I’ve been able to see at work who are comfortable in the sciences. I’m proud of us for sticking with it.