In the Media

Yohe Joins Conn. Governor to Oppose Environmental Program Cuts

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Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, joined Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy at a press conference March 22 at the Connecticut Science Center to speak out against major cuts to environmental programs proposed by President Donald Trump.

“As a scholar with more than three decades of experience studying climate change, I fear our new president is on a course to reverse this progress with extremely dangerous consequences,” Yohe said at the event, according to The Hartford Courant.

Yohe was a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize—from the early 1990s through 2014. He is past-vice chair of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee for the Obama Administration; the Assessment was released by the White House in 2014.

Yohe contrasted progress made against climate change by former President Barack Obama to the approach taken by Trump.

“By way of stark contrast, President Trump does not even have a science advisor,” Yohe said. “His administration has attacked climate science, and it has announced its intention to abandon any initiative designed to ameliorate climate risk in any way.”

Yohe also was interviewed by Fox CT, and his comments were featured in stories on WTNH and CT News Junkie.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

Yohe Talks Climate Change and Politics on ‘Where We Live’

Gary-YoheGary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, was a guest on WNPR’s “Where We Live” recently to discuss climate change and politics. President Donald Trump’s newly released budget proposal substantially cuts the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce and other agencies that conduct research and do work on climate change. (Yohe begins speaking around 2 minutes into the program).

Since the election, Yohe explains, he and others in the scientific community “have been concerned that part of the attack on science will be the eradication of scientific data scattered around all of the federal agencies. A lot of us have been spending an enormous amount of time trying to protect that data” by posting it to public websites outside the country.

Yohe says that for the next four years, most of the action against the effects of climate change is going to be at the local and state levels.

“That’s where people have the ability to tell their leaders that they want to be protected from the risks of climate change and want them to do something to reduce the sources of growth in the temperatures that they’re seeing,” he said.

Yohe also spoke about a recent visit by former Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin ’79 to his class at Wesleyan. Shumlin’s message: “You can’t just sit here and study this stuff and be convinced that it’s happening. You have to go out and do something which means, in this environment, run for office,”

Gottschalk Writes on the Sufis and Why They Threaten ISIS

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk recently authored an article, “Who are the Sufis and why does ISIS see them as threatening,” which appeared on Raw Story and The Conversation.

The Sufis, who have been the target of violent attacks in Pakistan in recent years, practice austerity “stemming from a sincere religious devotion that compelled the Sufi into a close, personal relationship with God, modeled on aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. This often involved a more inward, contemplative focus than many other forms of Islamic practice.” And, according to Gottschalk, though “many Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe celebrate Sufi saints and gather together for worship in their shrines,” these practices “do not conform to the Islamic ideologies of intolerant revivalist groups such as the Islamic State.”

Gottschalk argues that there are two reasons why the Islamic State violently opposes Sufis:

First, some Sufis – as illustrated by Rabia, the Sufi from Basra – deliberately flout the Islamic conventions of their peers, which causes many in their communities to condemn their unorthodox views and practices.

Second, many Muslims, not just militants, consider shrine devotion as superstitious and idolatrous. The popularity among Muslims and non-Muslims of tomb veneration alarms many conservative Muslims.

When a Sufi tomb grows in reputation for its miraculous powers, then an increasing number of people begin to frequent it to seek blessings. The tombs often become a gathering place for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and people from other faiths.

Special songs of praise – “qawwali” – are sung at these shrines that express Islamic values using the imagery of love and devotion.

However, Islamist groups such as the Taliban reject shrine worship as well as dancing and singing as un-Islamic (hence their assassination of the world-famous qawwali singer Amjad Sabri). In their view, prayers to Sufis are idolatrous.

Gottschalk also is professor of science in society, and director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

Tucker Comments on Victorian Pseudoscience, Romance

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

The pseudoscientific myths about love and sexuality that abounded in the Victorian era, many of which seem “cruel and oppressive” by today’s standards, could also offer women relief from the era’s “rigid gender politics,” according to Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who comments on the topic for a Broadly article.

For much of the 19th century, the Western world was fascinated with a variety of pseudosciences, or theories that lack a basis in the scientific method.

“Definitions of science were malleable and hotly contested in the 19th century,” said Tucker, who is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor of environmental studies. “Far from being on the sidelines of intellectual life, spiritualism and other unconventional forms of knowledge often provided a means for Victorians from a variety of different social backgrounds to question scientific authority and to ask what counted as a proper science, or as a ‘scientific practice.'”

“One of the great myths about the Victorian age [was] that it was sexually repressive; on the contrary, Victorian society was obsessed with sexual reform, heterosexual and homosexual love, lust, and sex (as well as of the policing of sexual desires),” added Tucker. “Love and sex were both controversial and politicized.”

Pseudoscientific theories included phrenology (which was used to explain the different propensities of men and women toward love and sexual desire); the use of love potions made of dangerous ingredients such as arsenic and belladonna; beauty face masks made of raw beef; cures for low libido such as bull testicles; and vibrators used to treat “hysteria” in sexually frustrated women.

According to the story, “Victorians were also surprisingly progressive on what would eventually evolve into more enlightened views on gender.

“Theosophists [occult philosophers] believed that life in male and female bodies taught different lessons; for some, this meant that it was necessary for the Ego to incarnate many times as both female and male,” Tucker explains. “Many theosophists believed, for example, that in their evolutionary progress men reincarnated as women, and women as men. Therefore at any given time, as one believer in this theory said in 1892: ‘We have… men in women’s bodies, and women in men’s bodies.'”

Crosby Authors Essay on Injury and Grief

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby's memoir, "A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain."

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby’s memoir, A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the author of an essay on injury and grief in a special issue of Guernica magazine on “The Future of the Body.”

Titled, “My Lost Body,” Crosby’s essay explores the grief she has experienced since a bicycle accident 13 years ago, just after her 50th birthday, left her paralyzed. The accident was the topic of her memoir, A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain (NYU Press, March 2016).

She writes, “Because of my transformation, I have worked hard to conceptualize how embodied memory works—like the muscle memory that allows you to ride a bike even if you haven’t been on one for years. Some phenomenologists use the neologism ‘bodymind’ and teach us that there is no separating body from mind. I think that’s right. What am I to make, then, of my profoundly altered state? The loss of the body that I was and the life that I had made is affectively as well as physically profound, and the sense of loss can be suddenly piercing when I see a cyclist with good form or ocean kayaks strapped to the roof of a car. For an instant, a vividly embodied memory of riding or paddling will come over me. Then the light will change, making a claim on my attention I can’t ignore, but the preemptory present cannot make me feel less alien to myself in such moments.

I recognize in that alienation the force of grief. Grief is a current running below the surface of my unremarkable days, sometimes drawing me into eddies where I spin round and round, sometimes pulling my mind insistently away from the day’s work and rushing me downward. Stiff-minded resistance is of little avail. We are counseled to surrender ourselves for a time after loss to the sheer force of grief, because only by giving yourself over to it will the pain lessen.”

Sawhney Authors Essay in Times Literary Supplement

Writing in The Times Literary SupplementAssistant Professor of English Hirsh Sawhney muses on the recent election of Donald Trump and the cultural divide in America while nursing “the second cheapest single malt Scotch” on the menu at a New Haven bar. He contemplates whiskey’s particular place in contemporary American culture, talks politics with others at the bar, draws from literature, and recalls the personal struggles of his family and friends. At the conclusion, while discussing the election with a neighbor (referred to, in jest, as “Professor Pesci”), Sawhney argues:

My point is that we teach our students to be wary of “othering” people who are different from us, the way Americans and Europeans have done to Asians or Muslims throughout the modern era. We write about the need to empathize with people who are driven to violent ideologies and actions as a consequence of their disenfranchisement. Should we not extend a similar empathy to white Americans who, we think, have committed a reckless and egregious act in voting for Trump? Professor Pesci says, “I just can’t see what end that would serve”. An end is quite clear to me as I sign my credit card receipt. If we don’t begin to understand and empathize with these people – not their mendacious leaders – their anger will grow, and they will do more irrational things that advance an agenda of hate and incompetence. And, in turn, our fear, desperation and anger will grow. Our politics will become further bifurcated, and our country will lie in ruin more quickly than is inevitable. And if this election has taught us liberals anything, it is that we care deeply for our country, despite our intellectual reservations about its ethical and historical record.

Grabel Warns of Threat to Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Op-ed

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, warns in a new op-ed that the progress of embryonic stem cell research in this country, always subject to the ups and down of politics, is currently under threat.

Co-authored with Diane Krause of Yale University, the op-ed in The Hartford Courant notes that Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is on record opposing embryonic stem cell research. They write:

As stem cell researchers, we fear that this appointment would endanger human embryonic stem cell research in the United States and reverse the substantial progress made in recent years. There are promising clinical trials underway for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury and diabetes with more possible, including for Parkinson’s disease.

The authors explain what has made this research so controversial, and argue why it is singularly valuable in its potential to treat life-threatening diseases and injuries.

Grabel also is professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Faculty Re-Create Ancient Roman “Pork Clock” at Wesleyan

A model of the "pork clock" sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

A model of the prosciutto sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

The Ancient Romans relied on a curious object to tell time: a sundial in the shape of an Italian ham.

National Geographic has featured the work of Wesleyan’s Christopher Parslow to re-create this ancient “pork clock” through 3-D printing, which is helping researchers to better understand how it was used and what information it conveyed.

“It does represent a knowledge of how the sun works, and it can be used to tell time,” said Parslow, professor and chair of Classical studies, professor of archaeology, professor of art history.

The small, portable prosciutto sundial —the “pocket watch of its day,” according to the article—was first excavated in the 1760s from the ruins of a grand country house in the Roman town of Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

Chris Chenier, digital design technologist and visiting assistant professor of art, printed the sundial on 3-D printers at Wesleyan, and Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy assisted with the research. Parslow first presented his initial findings at a presentation in Wesleyan’s Wasch Center last December.

According to the article:

After Parslow was asked about the pork clock, he was inspired to build a 3-D model. He took dozens of photos of the timepiece at its home institution, Italy’s National Archaeological Museum of Naples. A 3-D printer at his university churned out the model—in plastic rather than the original silver-coated bronze—in a matter of hours.

Like the original, Parslow’s model bears a dial, in the form of a slightly distorted grid, on one side. The vertical lines are marked for the months of the year. The horizontal lines indicate the number of hours past sunrise or before sunset.

The original clock is missing its gnomon, the part of a sundial that casts a shadow, but an 18th-century museum curator described it having one in the shape of a pig’s tail, so Parslow re-created that, too.

Parslow then experimented with the sundial outdoors. The clock is hung from a string so that the sun falls on its left side, allowing the attached pig’s tail to cast a shadow across the grid.

The user aligns the clock so that the tip of the tail’s shadow falls on the vertical line for the current month. Finally, the user counts the number of horizontal lines from the top horizontal line to the horizontal line closest to the tip of the shadow. That indicates the number of hours after sunrise or before sunset.

President Roth Defends Liberal Education in Op-Ed, Radio Interview

President Michael S. Roth

President Michael Roth

Following a visit to China Peking University–Shenzhen, which has decided to start an undergraduate liberal arts college, President Michael Roth reflects in an op-ed in The Washington Post on why commitment to a liberal education is more important today than ever. He contends, “This is a fragile time for liberal education, making commitment to it all the more urgent.”

Keeping in mind John Dewey, the pragmatist philosopher who visited China in 1919 to talk about education, Roth focuses on “two dangers and two possibilities.” He warns of the “danger of narrowing specialization” at a time when “we need more academics who can facilitate conversations between the sciences and the humanistic disciplines.” With an eye to the current political climate in the U.S., he cautions against the “danger of popular parochialism”:

It is especially urgent to advocate effectively for a broadly based pragmatic liberal education when confronted by ignorant authoritarians who reject inquiry in favor of fear mongering and prejudice. A broad education with a sense of history and cultural possibilities arms citizens against manipulation and allows them to see beyond allegiance to their own.

Undergraduate education – be it in China or the United States – should promote intellectual diversity in such ways that students are inspired to grapple with ideas that they never would have considered on their own. At Wesleyan University, creating more access for low-income students and military veterans has been an important part of this process.  Groups like these have been historically under-represented on our campus, but just having diverse groups is not enough. We must also devise programs to make these groups more likely to engage with one another, bursting protective bubbles of ideas that lead some campus radicals and free speech absolutists to have in common mostly a commitment to smug self-righteousness.

Roth concludes by discussing the “possibilities of open and reliable communication” among academic researchers in the sciences and humanities, and the importance of creating a “cosmopolitan” culture of openness and curiosity on campuses.

Also, in an interview with WBUR public radio, Roth defended the value of a broad liberal education today, at a time when many are calling for a narrower, more instrumental education.

“On our campuses, we have an academic culture that’s pretty much tilted to the left, in which people get increasingly used to talking to other people who agree with them already… In order to have a real education that’s broad and deep and challenges your own assumptions, you’ve got to talk to people who don’t agree with you. And you have to learn how to tolerate ambiguity and disagreement, and not just learn how to defend yourself and attack all people who don’t agree with you. The current climate is one in which people are very good at yelling at each other or fabricating tweets that make someone else feel really stupid, but that’s not the same as listening to someone else who has a different point of view and learning from that person.”

Roth said that Wesleyan has taken steps in the last five years to ensure diverse viewpoints exist among its student body, its faculty and visiting speakers.

Krishnan Named One of “10 Toronto Stage Artists to Watch”

(Photo by Michael Slobodian)

Hari Krishnan (Photo by Michael Slobodian)

Associate Professor of Dance Hari Krishnan has been named one of “10 Toronto Stage Artists to Watch This Winter” by NOW Toronto magazine, which highlights his upcoming spring production, “Holy Cow(s)!” exploring cultural appropriation. It will run March 23-25 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

The profile of Krishnan states: “A few years ago, Krishnan heated up the local dance scene with a sizzling, eyebrow-raising piece about queerness called SKIN. Now, just in time to melt winter’s last snow comes a white-hot mixed program sending up ideas about gender, sexuality and cultural taboos. The night of solos and ensemble pieces includes works by David Brick, Seán Curran and Jay Hirabayashi. But look for Krishnan’s signature style – which mixes contemporary with Indian Bharatanatyam – to get you to say that title out loud.”

Research by Redfield, Zachary ’17 Using Hubble, Voyager Probes Widely Reported

Astronomy student Julia Zachary '17 presented research at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society's 229th annual meeting on Jan. 6. (Photo by © CorporateEventImages/Todd Buchanan 2017)

Astronomy student Julia Zachary ’17 presented research at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society’s 229th annual meeting on Jan. 6. (Photo by © CorporateEventImages/Todd Buchanan)

Wesleyan Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and astronomy student Julia Zachary ’17 recently reported at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on their research using data from the Hubble Space Telescope combined with two Voyager spacecraft probes, both very long-lived and successful NASA missions. The findings were shared in dozens of news outlets from the U.S. to India to Afghanistan.

According to Nature.com, “The work is a rare marriage of two of the most famous space missions — and an unprecedented glimpse at the realm between the stars.”

“If the Voyager spacecraft and the Google Street View car are going around your neighborhood taking pictures on the street, then Hubble is providing the overview, the road map for the Voyagers on their trip through interstellar space,” Zachary said at a press conference held Jan. 6.

Astronomers have used instruments such as Hubble to obtain indirect measurements of the material in interstellar space. But the Voyager probes are giving them a direct taste of this mysterious environment, sending back data on the electron density of their surroundings. “As an astronomer, I’m not used to having measurements from the place I’m observing,” Redfield said.

SpaceDaily.com reports: “A preliminary analysis of the Hubble observations reveals a rich, complex interstellar ecology, containing multiple clouds of hydrogen laced with other elements. Hubble data, combined with the Voyagers, have also provided new insights into how our sun travels through interstellar space.”

“This is a great opportunity to compare data from in situ measurements of the space environment by the Voyager spacecraft and telescopic measurements by Hubble,” said study leader Seth Redfield of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

“The Voyagers are sampling tiny regions as they plow through space at roughly 38,000 miles per hour. But we have no idea if these small areas are typical or rare. The Hubble observations give us a broader view because the telescope is looking along a longer and wider path. So Hubble gives context to what each Voyager is passing through.”

Read more at Astronomy.comThe Indian ExpressEarthSky.org and International Business Times. See photos of Zachary at the press conference on the American Astronomical Society’s website. A press release can be found on HubbleSite.

Redfield also is associate professor of integrative sciences.