Nature Asks Charlottesville to Hold Its Beer and Other Reasons Why You’re Afraid of the Mirror

jeff sessions

Subtext from this photo of just a poorly timed snap? (Slate)

These past 30 days have been a real trial of American patriotism and a real litmus test for doing what’s right. Yesterday’s DACA announcement by Jeff Sessions caused my university and our local school system to make statements that they value students, and that they will not penalize their students for their immigration status. I could see that some of these entities were clearly making some moves today to figure out how to deal with the possible end of DACA. Protecting children shouldn’t be a debate. It should be the core value of a society. Children don’t have the capacity to dictate their own futures and we shouldn’t punish them for the actions of their parents.


All of this on the heels of the violence in Charlottesville where white supremacists protested the removal of confederate statues. Advocates for the preservation of history ignore the fraught history of these monuments. The majority were erected as intimidation tactics around the Jim Crow and school integration eras. They’re not monuments to history. They are a sign to brown people, placed in front of courthouses and education buildings (which are sources of power to members of a society),  to remember their place in society. It’s not history. It’s terrorism.

So many of us looked to our president to clearly and loudly denounce the white supremacists, Nazis, and Klan members who stood in defense of these symbols and, when he didn’t, it wounded our country.  It reinforced the divides that keep underrepresented citizens at a disadvantage. Denouncing Nazis doesn’t seem like it should be hard, but our president said there were some “good people” among the crowd. Good people among a crowd of white supremacists! If there’s anyone you should be able to unequivocally call evil, it’s the Nazis. That should be easy.

Just when I thought we were at our peek ridiculousness with what should be a simple rejection of hate politics, the science publication Nature said, “Hey Trump

hold my beer

In their September editorial “Removing statues of historical figures risks whitewashing history”, the editorial staff writes in defense of the statue of J. Marion Sims:

The word ‘racist’ was spray-painted alongside his list of achievements, which include life-saving techniques he developed to help women recover from traumatic births. Yet many protest about the lionization of this ‘father of modern gynaecology’ because he performed his experiments on female slaves.

And as to how to deal with these problematic statues…

Instead of removing painful reminders, perhaps these should be supplemented. Such notes are also standard in biomedical literature. The American Medical Association recommends that if unethically acquired data are essential to science, any use or citation of these data should describe the unethical behaviour and pay respect to the victims of the experimentation.

Institutions and cities could do something similar by installing a plaque noting the controversy, or an equally sized monument commemorating the victims. Such a historical marker stands for Carrie Buck, a young woman who was the first person to be sterilized under a 1924 eugenics programme in the United States, which was designed to eliminate ‘genetically inferior’ people with mental and physical disabilities. It stands in Charlottesville just a few blocks — but a million miles away — from the disputed statue of General Lee.

For the record, I had to engage in some serious Google-Fu to find the memorial to Carrie Buck. It’s not a statue. It’s a roadside marker that you could drive by and never notice. This is what they equivocate to the grandiose statues of Robert Lee:

Carrie Buck

Problem is, like DACA and Nazis, this shouldn’t be hard. The two scientists the Nature editors hold as their examples of the possible whitewashing of history are J. Marion Sims and Thomas Parran, the Unites States surgeon general who oversaw the Tuskegee Experiment and the infection of Guatemalans with syphilis without their consent. These men advanced science by treating others as non-human. We don’t celebrate Josef Mengele for finding out how long it took people to freeze or describing the physiological effects of hypoxia. That would be absurd! So, why are we concerned with condemning the actions of scientists who experimented on other peoples considered non-human?

Statues and namings are not ways to remember our history. They are ways to remember our heroes, and people who hurt other groups of people are not heroes. We can remember their contributions in museums and history books. Refusing to commemorate their hurt in stone does not erase history.  It communicates that we understand the pain they inflicted.

So, why are people so concerned with the whitewashing of history? Because at their cores, many of us are afraid of falling on the wrong side of history. We worry that, like Parron and Sims, our ambition will drive us to make discoveries at the expense of robbing others of their humanity. We’re worried that in a hundred years, our statue will be the one with “racist” scrawled across it.

Maybe the greatest protection of that is a willingness to listen to why others were hurt by a historical figure. A commitment to not force others to accept the celebration of a problematic figure for his “scientific genius”. How many of us were given pause when we learned the origin of the HeLa cell? Data lives independently from its generator.

I’m not worried about my legacy because, before my own career and my own accomplishments, I am most driven by the belief that every person has an inherent human dignity, making us each deserving of respect and honor. I’m not worried about my statue. I’m worried about getting to that place.





But, I Miss You Isis!

I was so touched to see my post on my paper writing process receive such a warm reception. It has really benefited me to write in this way and I am so glad when I see others benefit from it. As I mentioned in the post, it was a re-post from my old blog. On Twitter, someone dug up the original post from a web archive. Had I kept the old blog? Nope. They remarked that they had found it funny and missed me. I said I wasn’t dead yet, and they said that I had taught them to be a bad ass woman in science. I really was touched.

Tonight I tweeted that I was glad that people had benefited from the post and a dear friend of the blog said that they had missed my writing.

I’m not dead!!!

Wonder woman walls.gifWhen I wrote as the pseudonymous Isis, I was unstoppable. I put on my costume, wiggled a little, and defeated my enemies. My shoes were cool and I had cardigans. My keyboard was my sword and, in so many ways, I felt invincible.  I started my blog ten years ago as a new, sassy postdoc who was ready to take over the world. I had everything figured out and I was going to take no grief from nobody.

None of that prepared me to get divorced, though. None of that prepared me to have to face how lonely I was and none of that prepared me to have my heart completely broken. I wasn’t ready to have to deal with the reality of a single income and being a single mom, all while building a new lab.  I felt like such a sham. Like I had fooled you all. Like I had shown you something that wasn’t real and, at the first sign of a real challenge, had gone completely fetal. I ate a lot of cereal, got chubby, and just tried to survive and love my children.  I wasn’t perfect and fearless. I was so, so afraid.

But, I did survive. I look back at the last couple of years and my kids are beautiful, funny little people. Little I and TD are really amazing. Science is exciting, and I’m not so chubby any more. I rode my bike more than 400 miles. I went through a spell where I felt beaten down, but I’m still here. Maybe I am invincible, after all. It has taken a while to realize that, but stop mourning me. Isis is more real than she ever was.

So, here are some shoes.

Katy Perry

Katy Perry’s The Bonnie. $179 at Zappos. I’m not buying these shoes, but I might glue some random buttons on an existing pair. Where’s Hathor when you need her?


How to Write a Scientific Paper – A Revisit of a Classic

Rd0EgO2As a mentor, the one thing I struggle the most with is communicating a good method for writing a scientific paper. It’s not that I don’t have one. It’s just that it’s completely contrary to the way we teach high school and college students to write. Many students write linearly – beginning at the beginning and ending at the end. Problem is, if you write a scientific paper that way, by the time you get to the end your story may have changed along the way. That’s very hard for a reader to follow.

So, a couple of years ago a senior colleague taught me how they story board their papers. They start in the middle of the papers at the results and write from the middle out. I’m working on a paper today and it made me a little wistful for my interactions with him. A loyal reader of the old blog was kind enough to send the post I wrote about his writing methods for re-posting here.

I still use the exactly same method, although I find that many people are reluctant to post their figures to the wall or a board and stare at them. Last night, Strange I stood in my office staring at a figure for about an hour. It made me realize that if someone needs an hour to understand what I’m getting at, it’s not a good figure. It doesn’t matter if I think it’s clear. It’s not if it takes someone that long to figure it out. Back to the drawing board.

So, without further adieu, here is a slightly edited version of the original post on the I-method of scientific paper writing…


  1. I try to remember the original question(s) (ie, hypotheses) that I started with and write them on my board.
  2. I make the figures or tables with the data that answer those questions. I take the figures and tables to the board under the question/hypothesis.
  3. I ask myself what follow-up questions I had, write those on the board, make the appropriate figures and tape them to the board.
  4. I tape the outcomes of my statistical analyses to the figures.
  5. I make people come and look at my board. When I get them there, I let them look at my figures a while and then I try to tell them the story of what I’ve done, using my figures and tables. I reorder the figures and tables based on their feedback and how I find myself telling the story. I write the questions they as on the figures and revise. I make people keep coming back to my board [now it’s a wall in my office] until they say, “Huh. That’s a pretty good story.” That’s the most crucial step of the process – getting your story in the right order so that it makes sense when you tell it.
  6. I write the results.
  7. I write the methods so that it parallels the order of the results.
  8. I ask myself if we have anything unexpected, how we’ve changed what we know, or what limitations we have. I write those on the figures and use that the write the discussion.
  9. I go back and write the introduction based on the story that came out of the results. I am a big believer in using the phrase “We hypothesized that..” so that there is no question about what we were trying to address or whether the experiments were appropriate. This hypothesis might be different than the one that drove the initial experiments because science is not always a linear process. Don’t be a slave to the original hypothesis if you learned things after the fact that made you change gears. That creates a tortuous paper that no one should subject a reviewer to. Also, include a general statement about the approach and if its more than 1.5 pages long, it’s too damned long.
  10. Add all the other stuff
  11. This is the second most critical step. I give that paper to anyone that will read it and provide feedback. I will give it to my neighbor’s dog to see if he craps on it. It is better to get criticism from the people you know than the people you don’t. Anyone who can be convinced to read it gets a copy. I also pay it forward. I will read anything anyone gives me.
  12. I submit it.


After reading this wisdom for the ages you might be thinking to yourself, “How is this any different than what we do at lab meeting? We show figures there all the time. Trust me, it is. At lab meeting you flip through figures that everyone squints at. You’re trying to listen and interpret the figure at the same time and you have someone’s voice to guide you.  There is something different about looking at a figure on paper, with time to look at it and meditate over it, without someone gabbing at you about what it is supposed to mean. You see things about formatting and presentation that you don’t see on a slide.

The Meal to End All Meals — Keto Gnocchi

The last 24 hours have been full of discussions about the ketogenic diet. I became interested in this way of eating when two things happened – I got divorced and gained about 30 pounds living as a single mother, eating scraps of macaroni and cheese from my kids’ plates and I battled shingles encephalitis and ended up with post-herpetic neuralgia in my face. Some days it felt like I was being branded with a hot poker along my left trigeminal dermatome.

A friend of ours is a big proponent of the ketogenic and we decided to give it a try in January.  I have had so much success, I am basically an evangelist. I lost 27 of the pounds I had gained and my neuralgia became manageable. I was generally able to stop the gabapentin I was taking for pain control. There is now a strong correlation between the times I have needed it since starting a ketogenic diet (keto) and the times I have eaten too many carbohydrates. As secondary effects, I don’t feel hungry during the day, feel extremely stable in my blood sugar, and have started doing more intermittent fasting. This is a great way of life for me.

I hear a lot of misconceptions about this diet. People who say they can’t do it because they can’t eat “no carbs” or can’t not have beer. I eat plenty of carbs (20-50g/day) and I drink beer. The amount of carbs and beer I consume is largely driven by how active I am, but I don’t feel deprived. The other thing I hear is people who have a hard time because they lust for their favorite food. I’m learning that, at least for me, there are certain components of my favorite foods that I love that will largely satisfy me. The texture of something or the spices. That’s what I long for. So, I have worked to try to recreate those experiences for myself and I end up largely satisfied.

Take gnocchi, for example. The things that are awesome about gnocchi are the lightness and chewiness. I have been looking for a gnocchi recipe that would deliver those components, sans the carbs. I found one that really delivered here.  The author states that the recipe is 4g of carbs per cup, but I would have died if I had eaten a cup.


The basic recipe is one package of shredded, low moisture mozzarella and three egg yolks. You put the mozzarella in a bowl and microwave for a minute until it begins to melt, and then slowly incorporate the egg yolks. The original poster is right that it takes some work, but it can be done with a kitchen spoon. Just requires patience until the egg yolks are fully worked into the cheese. Instead of garlic powder I added a small amount of salt and some onion flakes, but the next step is where seriously I deviated from the recipe.
I fouIMG_2904.JPGnd the dough very sticky to work with and, even after I greased my hands, it was still very sticky. I found some coconut flour in my pantry and sprinkled some over the dough in the bowl. That made it super easy to play with. I took it out in sections and rolled it into snakes. I then cut the snakes into pieces with scissors and shaped them into gnocchi shapes.  The white speckles in the pictures are bits of coconut flour. They didn’t give the gnocchi any coconut flavor. They just made the dough easy to handle.

I boiled some water and dropped them in, one at a time. I was shocked at how puffy they became.  Each piece nearly doubled in size and they seemed as though they would stick together in a gummy mess (photos here on teh Twitterz). I drained them and then quickly divided them on to some parchment. As they drained, they became nicely discrete gnocchi, committed to holding their structural integrity.

I did not sautee them in oil or butter, per the recipe. Instead, I made a quick sauce of 3 tablespoons of butter, a pound of langostino tails, five sliced cherry peppers from a jar, 3/4 of a bag of baby spinach, and a splash of cream and half tablespoon or cornstarch. After everything cooked down, I added the gnocchi and topped with parmigiana reggiano . Total, my entire meall came in at about 6g of carbohydrates and we ate it with a lovely salad and delicious pinot.IMG_2906

The keto gnocchi were amazing. Now, if you’re expecting them to taste exactly like potato gnocchi, you’ll be disappointed, but they have a delicious flavor in their own right and meet the requirements for gnocchi attributes – they are light and have a nice chew. They were also an awesome addition to the langostino sauce.

I think people fail or shy away from this way of eating because they are trying to maintain the ability to have food taste exactly as they expect it will taste. Instead, I have really enjoyed experiencing my favorite parts of food in a new context. We have played with spices and vegetables that we might never have eaten before. All in the name of #ketolife.



Reflections on The Four People That Help You Succeed

I had a meeting with a leadership coach I’ve been working with at my place of business this afternoon.  I’ve been really trying to build my own non-scientific, professional skills this year and in between meetings I was processing data and listening to some podcasts. One of the bits I listened to was from Chris Hogan. He usually speaks about retirement, but I think he really shines when he offers insights into leadership. The bit that caught my ear was him talking about the four people you need in your life in order to succeed.

Chris said that the four people everyone needs in their lives are the mentor, the coach, the cheerleader, and the friend. The mentor is the person living the life or career that you want. This person can give you personal-level insights, help you identify the tools you need to succeed, and support you with networking, etc. They are the person that that you want to emulate in order to reach your goals. The coach is the person who can help you learn the tools that you need to succeed. Maybe you need to become a better public speaker and you identify someone (even outside of your field) that is an awesome public speaker. They transfer skill-based wisdom. The cheerleader is your supporter and advocate, even when you’re down,  and the friend is the person that is your confidante.


Before this leadership meeting, I had taken a DISC assessment to determine my leadership style. The leadership coach asked me how I was going to use my results to be a better leader. I immediately thought of these four people and how I have frequently told people that they need a team of mentors. But, maybe it’s more than that. They don’t need a team of mentors – they need coaches, mentors, cheerleaders and friends. And they need to identify those people in order to be successful.

Maybe the best thing that we can do is to help the people that we lead learn to find those people.



Riding with the Brakes On…


When we went on RAGBRAI, I fully intended to update the blog daily.  I was also taking tons of pictures for all the social mediaz, but on Day 2, we lost our cell service. Spotty coverage coupled with the throngs of humanity overwhelming the towers meant that it was nearly impossible to even send a text message. Not only did I not update the blog, but I also didn’t get to talk to the I-tots, Little I and TD.  That was hard. But, the kids are home and I still have 5 days of bike riding excitement to share, smattered in the next few posts.***

Days 1-3 were pretty cool. On Day 2 we added the optional Karras Loop to our route in order to make our ride more than a century (100 miles).  It was hard and finishing it made me emotional, but I’m grateful we took on the challenge. On Day 3, I was pretty sore from hauling in order to complete the previous day’s loop in a reasonable amount of time, and it was very windy, but we still finished at a decent pace and with energy to spare.

Then, on Day 4 I felt like my legs were just out of power. It was hardtricepser to turn the pedals and I had to lower my gear. It also stormed. On Day 5 we rode with friends, including a friend who rides a heavy hybrid bike like I do. I felt like I was working really hard to keep up with everyone.  Day 6 started to get hilly and I felt like I struggled to turn my pedals on the hills, even in a low gear. Day 7 was exceptionally hilly and hard and, while I finished each day, I took note that I seemed to be working so much harder than everyone around me. The breaks between the rides were hilarious and the food was awesome, but the rides became more challenging each day. Others passed me, easily having conversations, but I felt like I was putting all of my focus on moving forward.

I told Strange that I felt like I was working so much harder and going so much slower, and thought maybe it was because my bike was so much heavier than the road bikes others were riding. He remarked that my bike was “crappy” and when I got indignant, he said that my rear wheel wobbles. When we go home, he turned my rear wheel and the brakes rubbed the wheel with every turn. I probably felt like I was working so much harder because I was working so much harder. It’s totally possible that I rode Days 4-7 with my brakes partially engaged.

I grew up in the suburbs of East Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire and there was not a lot of fitness bike riding in the ole “IE.” Many of the bikes looked more like this…

lowrider bike

And a lot less like this:

tour de france

I tooled around on a banana-seated beauty as a kid, but I only learned to ride a bike for sport a few years ago. I’m not bad, and I’ve now accumulated much of the requisite gear to look like the folks that I ride with, but the mechanics and culture still feel very foreign to me.  I try hard to fit,  but I still learn so much every time I ride with someone else. As each day passed and the rides got harder, I figured that it must be because I’m a novice, or because I wasn’t as strong as the other riders. It never occurred to me that there might be something wrong with my bike that was slowing me down.

I had a great time on the ride and the real highlight was meeting fellow Iowans as we rode across the state. People were so welcoming, opening their homes to us, and always made us feel like they were happy that 10,000+ people were descending on their town. I had so much fun talking to people and learning about the different towns. But, I am still kicking myself for not having more confidence in my own abilities and not realizing that the issue wasn’t my fitness, but the situation around me (aka, my back wheel).

***I’m not going to say that this post is a metaphor, but maybe it’s a metaphor. Maybe about feminism or diversity or something? Maybe that’s too deep for a Tuesday morning.


Updates from RAGBRAI, Day 1

Before I begin, I think the cell service here might be good enough to post a picture, so wanted to follow up on the hazing we received from our team last night…

It's been quite the conversation starter and all along the route people came and introduced themselves. This is definitely a social affair.

Starting from our first host family's home, I was warned by a team member about the sea of humanity we'd encounter. After the first mile I thought, "This isn't too horrible." Then we joined the actual ride and I found myself surrounded by more people than I've ever seen in my life. We quickly learned all the lingo. We knew the basics, "On your left, etc." but soon learned "Bike on, bike off, rumbles," and all the other ways you communicate in a sea of 10,000+ people.

We rode past Alton and another town whose name escapes me. After 20 miles we stopped for breakfast smoothies in Paulina. We biked another 14 miles or so and made it to Primghar, which may be one of the most hilarious places I've ever seen. The town is named by combining the first letters of the names of the founders. They all had mustaches, so we rode up to find them hosting the "Mustache Bash." We ate some pretty epic pie and I stood in line for a porta-potty.

A mile or so past Primghar, we found a rode side stand with coffee, cold watermelon and shade. We stopped there and learned that it was on the site of one of Iowa's largest inpatient mental health facilities. The Pride Group has 35 beds and suffers from lack of funding because of poor reimbursement. We also met a lady who lives in Northwestern Wisconsin. She works part time in an independent bookstore in Spooner and also rents out a yurt on her property in Hayward. She's done this ride 11 times.

Next, we stopped in Hartley where I had the best tasting dill pickle I've had in my entire life. It may have been the salt deficit, but it was outstanding. We also found ice cream sandwiches and laid in the park for a while. We were next to a fellow who professed to us that he was hurting from the ride when we asked if he was ok. I was glad that Strange and I had really trained because today wasn't as hard as some of our training rides.

We also ran in to the US Airfore team, who are beastly rider. They also have been stopping and helping every disabled rider on the side of the road. Every time I saw a disabled rider, there was a man or woman from the team already there helping. They're awesome.

The last 19 miles from Hartley to Spencer were the most challenging because we encountered a small headwind. I kept seeing signs that we were 10 miles away. Then after 20 min, I'd see another sign saying we were 20 miles away. Admittedly, I internally lost my chill a spell, but externally I tried to keep it together and finish strong.

Then Strange and I had a lemonade and passed out in the shade for a nap.

Probably the best part was sitting around in a circle with our team mates and chatting. I've met so many interesting people, and gotten to know others better. It's also been awesome to spend time with Strange, who rode the entire day at my right, or just behind me when it got tight. It's fun to do this together, and I'm grateful that we share these things instead of doing them apart.

Update from RAGBRAI, Day -1

Last night was my first night sleeping in a tent and I am going to call it 99% successful. I can neither confirm nor deny that I took an Ambien to help me sleep because the fire house was having a party and our neighbors were loud. I can confirm, however, that at about 1am I needed to pee and was sleepier than usual. I wobbled sleepily off into the woods to take care of business and then realized I didn't know which tent was mine. After some sleepy investigation, I found home.

Then at 5:30am, we got up, packed our gear and got breakfast from a local vendor. It's tricky to eat a low carb, ketogenic diet in this thing. Luckily, we found breakfast burritos and I ate the ham and eggs from the middle. This would be the first of three pork- based meals. Ham and eggs for breakfast, a leftover porkchop for a snack and pork ribs for lunch. For dinner, I went with a vegetarian option and got sweet corn ice cream. I'll blow through those carbs in the first 20 miles tomorrow.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus and began the trek from east to west. I really am awestruck by how beautiful the state is. Dare I call it bucolic. We met a guy who has done this ride 12 times and gave us the low down on all the best food. The bus company showed us the RAGBRAI documentary A Million Spokes. For the life of me, I can't figure out why they'd show us a movie about all the people who crash on RAGBRAI. Strange insists that it was about more than that, but that's all I remember.

We made it to the start town and it's incredible. It's really, truly lovely. Cell service isn't great to share pictures, but I will. People everywhere, a huge party and so much to eat and drink (although Strange and I are largely abstaining because I have a hard time drinking and riding). We saw our first passed out drunk guy. I hurt for him.

We also met up with our team and met the people we didn't know. They are solid, hilarious people and I'm looking forward to riding with them. They've taken to mentoring us and have already taught us the rites of initiation for people new to the tour..

It should look real good with a skirt when I go back to work. Pictures to follow when the service improves.

Update from RAGBRAI, Day -2

On Sunday my husband Strange and I will start the 400+ mile ride across Iowa. The first challenge was how to get to the start. We're fairly new to IA and don't think anyone loves us enough drive us all over the state. We found a charter through Brancel Tours that would take our bikes on a semi from the finish to the start, and us on a bus along with them. We loaded up this morning and started the trek to Lansing.

The plan is to camp in Lansing tonight and then ride the bus to Orange City in the morning, where the ride starts. The one hitch is that, growing up in the eastern greater Los Angeles area, I never camped. There's not great camping in Colton. I've never put up a tent and don't have all the wisdoms. Luckily, Strange has some glamping experience, so he's at least watched others put up his tent (I kid, I kid).

On the way here, we made an impromptu stop at a national park that we saw a sign for. It was a monument to local Indian effigy mounds. We stopped, visited the museum at the ranger station and learned a ton about our state.

We got here, got our bikes loaded on the semi, and found our spot among the tent city.

Our tent is up, we had an outstanding keto-friendly meal at a local bar and grill, and the mosquitos have found us. I feel like I'm having the full camping experience and totally loving it.

Lansing is a gorgeous town of about a thousand, seated in a picturesque location on the Mississippi River. We learned that it's called the "driftless area" because the glaciers didn't come through and flatten it. It's a hilly area and we'll be riding it next Saturday.

The fire station is hosting quite the party up the road and people are already making friends. On our way back from dinner in town, Strange and I walked past the police station and city hall. A car of people stopped at a group of police officers on the side of the road to ask for directions. As we walked around, they pulled away and nearly ran me over. One of the policemen laughed and said, "Well, whaddaya expect? They're from Vermont."

Well, wait until you hear where I'm from, buddy. But, I'm very quickly becoming an Iowan.

I'll try to update this humble blog each date, but more frequent pictures of this fair state and bike riding tomfoolery are available via Snapchat (@drisis, for the LOLZ).