Newsletter

Here are current and past issues of our newsletter. If you would like to publish in our weekly newsletter, you can do so at our contact page.
Sign up for our newsletter for email alerts.

UCS Report: Trump And Zinke Making Science Inferior At the Interior

posted Dec 14, 2018, 7:02 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Dec 14, 2018, 7:07 AM ]

Reposted from ClimateDenier Roundup, Daily Kos Community at Daily Kos 

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report yesterday detailing how science is under siege at the Department of Interior. This is not going to be welcome news for Secretary Zinke. He’s already fending off calls for his resignation by Rep. Grijalva, who will chair the House committee that oversees DOI in the upcoming Congress.

New Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee: Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz

Raul Grijalva Official Portrait, 2015

Rep. Raúl Grijalva will be assuming the office in January 2019. He has stated: "The American people need an Interior Department focused on addressing climate change, enhancing public recreation, protecting endangered species, and upholding the sovereign rights of Native American communities. ... — they are enshrined in law and supported by voters. The department needs someone accountable at the helm who believes in this mission. Mr. Zinke is not that person. Federal agencies cannot function without credible leadership, and he offers none. He needs to resign." 

Image from US Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And there will be plenty to look into. On day one of the Trump administration, for example, the DOI’s Twitter feed fell silent on climate--a stark change from its regular climate content. That’s the first of dozens of examples, which range from relatively benign omissions like not saying climate on Twitter, to more dangerous ones like when Secretary Zinke and his staff canceled a study on the health impacts of coal mining after lifting a moratorium on leasing public lands for coal mining.

Replacing Climate Analysts with Fossil Fuel Lobbyists: New Report will help Congress hold DOI Leadership Accountable

Then there was the staff shuffling which forced climate expert Dr. Joel Clement to cash fossil fuel checks until he quit while at the same time brought on political appointees with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry: from a press secretary (Heather Swift) who worked for the fossil fuel PR group famed for its astroturf efforts (DCI), to a former Koch lackey Todd Wynn leading external affairs, to Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, whose career as a fossil fuel lobbyist has made him a walking conflict of interest. 

Well, the joke’s on Zinke. Now Clement is working with UCS, and wrote a post for Scientific American summarizing the UCS report.

As Clement concludes, the incoming Democratic House is going to be using reports like these as a roadmap to guide their investigations. By forcing Clement out, Zinke made an enemy of someone who can draw the map for congressional investigators to follow and find where all the climate science bodies are buried, so to speak.

Then again, rumor has it Zinke’s going to turn tail and retreat before too long. (After all, his response to Grijalva was to call him a drunk, which is usually not something you would do to someone you expect to have subpoena power over you in just a couple months.)

Zinke’s exit will be good news--except for the little fact that the man set to replace him is a former fossil fuel lobbyist who has so many conflicts of interest he literally has to carry around a list of all his former lobbying clients he can’t deal with now.

And that makes him a card-carrying member of the swamp Trump tricked voters into believing he’d drain.

Call to Action: Union of Concerned Scientists' Action Tips

The report had recommended actions for Congress, scientists, science supporters, partners of public lands and even the outdoor industry. For scientists and science supporters specifically, they recommend:
  • Bring attention DOI activities that sidelines sciences, threatened public lands or public health
  • Contact representatives in Congress 
  • Submitting opinion pieces to local newspapers


Top Climate and Clean Energy Stories at Daily Kos:

E.P.A. to Roll Back a Restriction on New Coal-Burning Plants

Trump's disbelief won't stop dangerous climate change | Republican platform is not only at odds with science but potentially US voters in 2020

On Climate, the Facts and Law Are Against Trump • A recent government report predicts dire consequences from climate change. That complicates efforts to weaken environmental laws


It’s unethical to pretend Americans won’t feel the impact of climate change

[Breaking] Video: North Carolina woman admits 'harvesting' ballots, turning them over to Republican Contractor

posted Dec 7, 2018, 6:35 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Dec 10, 2018, 6:59 AM ]


The congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th district continues to unravel as there is mounting evidence of serious felony fraud. Observers noted the unusual discrepancy in the absentee ballot return rate, particularly in two counties: Robeson and Bladen. From WFAE:

The only legal ways to submit an Absentee Ballot: In-Person, Mailpersons, Close-Relatives, or Multipartisan Assistance Teams

Stock image of mat helping elderly vote from the North Carolina Board of Elections' page on Multipartisan Assistance Teams

Stock image of Multipartisan Assistance Team member helping the elderly vote, from the North Carolina Board of Elections' page on Multipartisan Assistance Teams. This page states that "the first preference, according to the law, is for the voter to receive assistance from a near relative or guardian". It also states that "employees of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes or rest homes are prohibited by law from providing assistance with absentee voting'. 
The only legal ways to vote absentee is to submit the ballot in-person, via mail, by way of a close, trusted relative, or via an appointed mutlipartisan assistance team member.

Bladen and Robeson also stand out statewide, according to an analysis by Catawba College political science professor Michal Bitzer.
He found there were about 19,400 absentee ballots by mail statewide that were requested but not returned for the Nov. 6 election.
Robeson had 10 percent of those statewide non-returned ballots, and Bladen County had 8 percent of the non-returned ballots. That’s 3,404 ballots.

Thousands of outstanding ballots. Enough to swing the race.
Leslie McCrae Dowless, an “independent contractor” for Republican candidate Mark Harris
At the center of it all is Leslie McCrae Dowless, an “independent contractor” for Republican candidate Mark Harris. Dowless was hired for get-out-the-vote work, despite his shady history. From the Charlotte Observer:

Over the last two decades, he has been paid by at least nine candidates, all for get-out-the-vote work, according to state records.
Leslie McCrae Dowless was convicted of felony fraud in 1992 in Iredell County, according to court records. Dowless and his wife were accused of taking out an insurance policy on a dead man and collecting nearly $165,000 from his death, according to a 1991 Fayetteville Observer article. He served more than six months of a two-year prison sentence, according to court records.
Dowless, now 62, was convicted of felony perjury in 1990, according to court records.

A second woman confirms she was paid to collect absentee ballots and it isn’t the first time she’s done it.


Reporter Joe Bruno of WSOC has been tracking down McCrae Dowless and the contractors he subsequently hired to show up at people’s homes to collect their absentee ballots and/or fill them in for voters. There is serious concern that many of these ballots never made it to election officials. Bruno tracked down the people repeatedly listed as ballot witnesses on absentee ballots, eventually landing on the front porch of Ginger Eason, who readily admitted she was “harvesting” absentee ballots. Watch this extraordinary moment:

More from Joe Bruno’s report at WSOC:

No one answered at Woody Hester’s home. James Singletary wasn’t home either and Lisa Britt doesn’t live at the address she said she did on the ballots.
Bruno then visited Ginger Eason. She told him why her name appeared so many times as a witness.
“I was helping McCrae pick up ballots,” Eason said.
Eason said Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr. paid her $75 to $100 a week to go around and pick up finished absentee ballots.

Ginger Eason and seven others were repeatedly listed as ballot witnesses.

Five of the ballot witnesses listed the same home address, a one bedroom apartment.


The election in North Carolina’s 9th District is an absolute fraud. Not only should there be a serious criminal investigation, there should absolutely be a new election. And if that happens, as observers say it should, Republicans might be stuck with their fraudulent candidate.

Did other Republicans in Office Willingly Endorse McCrae Dowless' "Ballot Harvesting"?

Mark Harris isn’t the only North Carolina Republican to have hired McCrae Dowless to “get-out-the-vote.” In fact, he’s racked up quite the clientele list

According to campaign finance reports, Dowless’ first major race was in 2010, working for Harold Butch Pope’s campaign for Bladen County district attorney.
The Pope campaign paid Dowless $7,127 over the course of the year.
A majority of the payments were for "get out the vote" efforts. Pope defeated Jon David by more than 4,000 votes.
Over the next couple of years, Dowless was paid thousands of dollars for get out the vote efforts and, at times, campaign manager for eastern North Carolina candidates Wesley Meredith, Al Leonard, Ken Waddell, and William Brisson.
Dowless’ candidates have not been limited to eastern North Carolina.
He was paid $800 for “consulting fees” for Republican Charlotte City Council candidate Pete Givens. Mark Harris, a friend of Givens, did a fundraiser and campaigned for him.

Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker, also a Dowless client, deleted his Facebook page after inquiries began. Not a good look for a law enforcement officer.


How to Stand Out: Craftsmanship in the Knowledge Economy Workshop Brief and Lessons Learned

posted Nov 30, 2018, 6:51 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Nov 30, 2018, 7:14 AM ]

Recently, I got to moderate a Product Series workshop at Flatiron School in Manhattan where I 
spoke to programming students about craftsmanship in the Knowledge Economy. You can view the entire presentation here.

The Flatrion School's Product Series focuses on getting professionals in the field in and speaking with their students about industry trends. As a technical writer frequently working with programmers and writing API descriptions, I saw this as an opportunity to present challenges students might face when communicating their craft. These challenges can lead to mismanagement in many development outfits. Inspired by the recent Google walkouts as well, it was also an opportunity to talk about hindrances that the culture of individuality in the programming industry fosters. Among other issues with worker's rights, working with only your laptop and your compiler is not enough feedback to make work that is noteworthy. It takes interacting with your peers, communicating, and fostering a iterative feedback loop to make your work great. 

Ada Lovelace at the Flaitron School

Ada Lovelace portraitImage attributed to Alfred Edward Chalon [Public domain]. Ada Lovelace is a mathmatician who, in the 1840s, developed the first algorithm for an 'analytical machine', or a computer. Her notes were published about a century later in the 1950s as an early model for a computer. 

What is the Knowledge Economy

Knowledge economies differs from others such as ones based in industry or agriculture.  In more 'traditional' economies, growth is directly linked to how much can be produced. Where as, a  knowledge economy is where growth is dependent on the quantity, quality and accessibility of collective information available rather than on the means of productionThe development of more knowledge economies globally was spurred by the  induction of the Information Age (1950s – Present) as well as the spread of technology. This is not just for countries as a whole. 

The U.S has whole regions that are transitioning to the knowledge economy. For example, Austin, Texas now has a full fledged 'silicon hills' in a state that was traditionally was for agriculture. Another, Hilo, Hawaii, has had expansion of universities and space observation since the 1960s. We had the invention of WiFi from the observatories there in the 1970s. Hawaii was, and is still, traditionally an agricultural state.

Operating in the knowledge economy requires constant learning to reach your full potential – including learning new technologies, skills, and communicating with others about innovation.  Ergo, it is unwise to work alone. This is unfortunately the cultural trend in most programming outfits. While there are configurations for collaboration and inducing a lot of feedback, such as agile programming, the focus on the individual is in direct opposition to what is best for the environment. This may be on of the reasons why so many tech start-ups fail.

Goals for Presentation

In the presentation, I gave students the tools to develop a personal professional track. Each track for the individual will be wildly different as it is dependent on the goals of the individual. However, the process for coming to these goals are roughly the same. Step one involves asking the right questions. Using project management tools to understand professional critical paths allows for all the goals to be listed in one place Most importantly, it allows us to identify ways to scaffold, or build up towards our goals with smaller more obtainable milestones.

We also discussed how to build career capital by 'hacking' how you learn best. Dr. Cal Newport, another computer scientist, defines career capital as skills that are rare and valuable. For programmers, just knowing some language isn't enough. What is notable, valuable, and unique to any individual is how they approach problems. These skills range from "hard" or technical, thinking about standard routines in new ways, to "soft" skills. 
A rare and valuable soft skill is being able to present your logic to others in a digestible way, as an example. Unearthing and developing these skills are best done through finding out how you learn best. Meta-learning is the process of learning how you learn. There are many ways to do this. In the presentation, I suggested testing for multiple intelligence. Multiple intelligences classifies cognitive strengths into 8 or 9 categories. These range from interspective, also known as social intelligence, to bodily kinetic, or physical prowess. You can learn more about multiple intelligences and test for your own here.
Finally, I did an overview of developing an Exploration Plan.  This is a living document for strategically planning higher education and continued education pursuits. This is a place for not only storing resources and contacts but for, most importantly, connecting these things to how they can help you reach your goals. In the presentation, we discussed finding opportunities that satisfy the 3 criteria for career building: 
1. Do not work in places that provide little opportunity for you to be noticed
2. Do not work in places that are not aligned with your principals
3. Do not work with people whom you don’t like

Lessons learned from the Presentation

One of the items from the presentation was finding more ways to engage with the audience. Every presentation has an untapped potential: the collective brain power of the audience. Job of the presenter is to moderate a conversation and untap that potential. 

In lineu of that, another lesson that was unearthed was that we need to explore more ways of having conversations than just Q&A at the presentation itself. Some other methods considered were requesting questions from interested parties at the RSVP before the presentation to encourage deeper thought. This would require posting a version of the presentation for the audience to review before hand. This version could very well change with the questions your audience pose at the RSVP and that is okay. That is why we have files on the cloud that automatically update with new revisions. Further, another possibility is using tools like Typeform to ask candid and conversation provoking questions about the topic before the presentation and after.

An additional lesson learned was that this presentation serves as  proof of concept for better managing continued and higher education. The presentation itself advocates for treating continued and higher education experiences as an exercise in project management. An excellent follow up would be to actually create a proof of concept for a project management tool specifically for planning continued education. This would assist with creating an return of investment (ROI) for education experiences and possibly be a way to rein in careless investments in higher education. At bare minimum, it would be a great resource of topics for persuasive writing- personal statements, fellowship/scholarship essays, requests for sponsorship from employers.

Wikipedia is a Mirror of the World’s Gender Biases

posted Nov 16, 2018, 9:11 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Nov 16, 2018, 9:13 AM ]

Reposted from Katherine Maher, Executive Director at Wikimedia Foundation  

When Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize this month, she became only the third woman in history to receive the award in physics. An optical physicist at the University of Waterloo, Strickland is brilliant, accomplished and inspiring. To use Wikipedia parlance, she is very clearly notable.

Donna Strickland as a graduate student at the University of Rochester

Donna Strickland as a graduate student at the University of Rochester (cropped)Strickland aligning an optical fiber during her graduate work as a member of the Picosecond Research Group at the University of Rochester, 1985. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018, together with Gérard Mourou, for the invention of chirped pulse amplification.
University of Rochester, brochure created by Carlos Stroud. Image provided by Rhonda Stroud, with permission from Carlos Stroud. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Except that, somehow, she wasn’t. Despite her groundbreaking research on a method of generating laser beams with ultrashort pulses, Strickland did not have a Wikipedia page until shortly after her Nobel win.
Perhaps more disconcerting, a volunteer Wikipedia editor had drafted a page about Strickland in March only to have it declined in May. The reason: There wasn’t enough coverage of Strickland’s work in independent secondary sources to establish her notability. Her achievements simply weren’t documented in enough news articles that Wikipedia editors could cite.
Before Wikipedia points a finger that might rightly be pointed back at us, let me acknowledge that Wikipedia’s shortcomings are absolutely real. Our contributors are majority Western and mostly male, and these gatekeepers apply their own judgment and prejudices. As a result, Wikipedia has dozens of articles about battleships and not nearly enough on poetry. We’ve got comprehensive coverage on college football but significantly less on African marathoners.

Wikipedia serves more as a Reflection of the World’s Biases than a Cause of Them

At the same time, Wikipedia is by design a living, breathing thing—a collection of knowledge that many sources, in aggregate, say is worth knowing. It is therefore a reflection of the world’s biases more than it is a cause of them. 

We are working to correct biases in Wikipedia’s coverage. For instance, in 2014, Wikipedia editors evaluated all the biographies on English Wikipedia and found that only about 15% of them were about women. To rectify the imbalance, groups of volunteers, including the WikiProject Women Scientists and WikiProject Women in Red, have been identifying women who should have pages and creating articles about them.
Today, 17.82% of our biographies are about women. This near 3% jump may not sound like much, but it represents 86,182 new articles. That works out to 72 new articles a day, every single day, for the past three and a half years.

Bias pop up in different Ways

A 2015 study found that, on English Wikipedia, the word “divorced” appears more than four times as often in biographies of women than in biographies of men. We don’t fully know why, but it’s likely a multitude of factors, including the widespread tendency throughout history to describe the lives of women through their relationships with men.

Technology can help identify such Problems

Wikipedia articles about health get close attention from our community of medical editors, but for years, some articles on critical women’s health issues, such as breastfeeding, languished under a “low importance” categorization. An algorithm identified this mistake.
But there is only so much Wikipedia itself can do. To fix Wikipedia’s gender imbalance, we need our contributors and editors to pay more attention to the accomplishments of women. This is true across all under-represented groups: people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, indigenous communities.

Broader bases of contributors and editors, that included more women more people of color, would naturally help broaden our Content

Although we don’t believe that only women editors should write pages about other women, or writers of color about people of color, we do think that a broader base of contributors and editors—one that included more women and people of color, among others—would naturally help broaden our content. Wikipedia is founded on the concept that every individual should be able to share freely in the sum of all knowledge. We believe in “knowledge equity,” which we define as as the idea that diverse forms of knowledge should be recognized and respected. Wikipedia is not limited to what fits into a set of encyclopedias.
We also need other fields to identify and document diverse talent. If journalists, book publishers, scientific researchers, curators, academics, grant-makers and prize-awarding committees don’t recognize the work of women, Wikipedia’s editors have little foundation on which to build.
Increasingly, Wikipedia’s content and any biases therein have ramifications well beyond our own website. For instance, Wikipedia is now relied upon as a major source in the training of powerful artificial intelligence models, including models that underlie common technologies we all use.

In such training processes, computers ingest large data sets, draw inferences from patterns in the data and then generate predictions. As is well understood in the programming world, bad or incomplete data generate biased outcomes. This phenomenon is known by the acronym GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.

People may intuitively understand that Wikipedia is a perennial work in progress. Computers, on the other hand, simply process the data they’re given. 

If women account for only 17.82% of the data, we may find ourselves with software that thinks women are only 17.82% of what matters in the world. It is true that Wikipedia has a problem if Donna Strickland, an accomplished physicist, is considered worthy of a page only when she receives the highest possible recognition in her field. But this problem reflects a far more consequential and intractable problem in the real world.

Wikipedia would like to encourage other knowledge-generating institutions to join us in our efforts to balance this Inequity

We may not be able to change how society values women, but we can change how women are seen, and ensure that they are seen to begin with. That’s a start.


Katherine Maher, Executive Director
Wikimedia Foundation

Learn More: Nobel Laureate Donna Strickland


Strickland shares how a trip to the science centre with her father at the age of five helped shape her career in optics, 2018.
Learn more about Strickland and her work in physics, optics and lasers at her Wikipedia here

Freeways can give us Cleaner Air. Is that something you’d be interested In?

posted Nov 7, 2018, 1:41 PM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Nov 7, 2018, 1:43 PM ]

Posted story written and reported by contributor Bret VandenBos through Daily Kos Freelance Program

One thing that’s amazing about Las Vegas is its ability to constantly create new revenue per square foot. What used to be a pool is now a “day club,” and it costs $40. What used to be free parking now costs $15, but at least you get those little lights that tell you when a spot’s available. What used to be a free drink is suddenly doled out based on how much you spend gambling. And let’s not even get started on resort fees.

Green Walls, Living Walls, and Vertical Gardens

Green wall - Longwood Gardens - DSC01041

Green wall - Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA. A green wall is a wall partially or completely covered with greenery that includes a growing medium, such as soil or a substrate. Most green walls also feature an integrated water delivery system.  They are also known as a living wall or vertical garden. Green walls are also acknowledged for remediation of poor air quality, both to internal and external areas. Image by Daderot [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
Now, it might be a little strange to equate America’s mecca of consumption and excess with climate change, but there’s a lesson here: It’s time for America’s cities to start channeling their inner Las Vegas Strip. But instead of dollars per square foot, it’s time to start thinking about how to generate more carbon reduction per square foot of land, especially under-utilized land. In one-off ways, this is happening through different projects all over the world. Eco roofs, new energy efficiency standards, solar roads, and EV car shares are just a few examples of how cities are looking at existing square footage with a lens toward climate change and carbon reduction.

These Policies have the added benefit of being Practical, Tangible, and Physical

—As opposed to the kind of 40-year commitments and percentage targets we often hear about on the state or national level. One particularly interesting project along these lines can be found in the western hemisphere’s most polluted metropolis, Mexico City, though it’s not without potential tradeoffs. There, a project called Via Verde is bringing vertical gardens to freeway pillars.

Now at the moment, the scale of this project is somewhat limited, but the implications are compelling. Using reclaimed rainwater, the vertical gardens will filter an estimated 27,000 tons of toxic exhaust fumes annually. That equals cleaner air for 25,000 people and a greener, more vibrant cityscape. The plan is to expand these vertical gardens to more than 1,000 freeway pillars across Mexico City, and it’s currently financed entirely by the private sector.

Check out the short video below to see the process. 


In a vacuum, this sounds like an objectively good thing, right? A city that has long battled with pollution gets a creative tool to clean its air. A densely populated metropolis gets an infusion of greenery. What’s not to like? Well, like most things, it comes down to money. Specifically, the vertical gardens are really expensive (around $25K per column), and that investment does nothing to actually expand recreational green space or get people out of their cars.
Additionally, about 300 trees could be planted for the price of one column—which leads to the very natural question of where to put inherently limited dollars. Still, a lot of this criticism speaks to what the project doesn’t accomplish, as opposed to what it does.

On the Whole, Projects like Via Verde represent a Net Positive for Cities

—repurposing under-utilized square footage for a public benefit. These columns operate on land where trees would not grow, and economies of scale tell us that the more widespread this technology becomes, the less manufacturing costs will be a concern. Plus, there’s the added emotional and psychological benefit that comes from green space.

Speaking to Reuters, Via Verde project director and architect Fernando Ortiz Monasterio noted: "We live in a very grey city. Very grey, and we forget—because we have become used to that being our urban landscape. As soon as we find a park, a green landscape, we realize our mood changes."



This is the exact kind of initiative that should be taking hold in American cities, especially those with ingrained car cultures.

Call to Action: How to get Via Verde Projects in your Community!

The good news is, this is the type of project that you can help bring to your neighborhood. In Mexico City, Via Verde was citizen-led, first started by young people and community leaders, with a Change.org petition that garnered over 80,000 signatures in seven days. That enthusiasm spurred the city council to take action—and so the project was born. 

Another Avenue for Action: The Creation of local Nonprofits and Civic Organizations designed to work as Intermediaries between Government and Private Industry

 A project like Via Verde, of course, requires public land (which, depending on where you live, may be controlled by the state, city, or even county), but also private investors—if you want to scale the same model, that is. In Mexico City the investment is 100 percent private, with one of out every 10 columns dedicated to advertising. That allows for public benefits from public spaces without public investment—you just have to deal with the picture of a Lexus or a Hershey bar once in a while. Seems like a fair enough trade to bring cleaner air to 25,000 people, right?

Of course, this is just one of the interesting policies that cities are exploring, and one of the ways to reimagine our public and private land for carbon reduction. The opportunities are quite literally all around us. And, as Via Verde shows us, we don’t have to wait for a broken Congress or a climate-denying EPA to take the action we care deeply about. All we need to do is take a look toward America’s playground, think about the lessons from the Las Vegas Strip, and get to work scaling good ideas that are producing real results.

Bret VandenBos was a speechwriter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and served in the press office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

New Research Offers a Blueprint for Recruiting and Electing more Black Women to Public Office

posted Oct 31, 2018, 1:47 PM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Oct 31, 2018, 1:52 PM ]


2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the election of Shirley Chisholm—the first black woman ever to serve in Congress. Since that time, the number of black women serving in elected office at the local, state and national level has increased but is not progressing nearly fast enough. Black women vote more than any other gender or racial group. Yet, we are woefully underrepresented in government and account for less than 4 percent of elected officials serving in Congress and state legislatures.

Shirley Anita Chisholm 1924 - 2005

Shirley Chisholm.jpg
Shirley Chisholm, future member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-NY), announcing her candidacy in 1972.  Chrisholm was an American politician, educator, author and first black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. 

In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party's nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. 

Photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports. Light restoration by Adam Cuerden. United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ds.07135. Public Domain.

In the last two years, black women have run in and won historic elections around the country. This, despite the fact that their electability and viability as candidates is routinely questioned, especially outside of majority black districts. Still, there is tremendous potential for black women candidates. And in order to invest in them properly, we need to understand the power of black women’s electoral strength—particularly at this very distinct moment in American history. 
To this end, the Brookings Institute recently collaborated with the Higher Heights Leadership Fund to create a database of black women serving in government at the federal, state and municipal levels. 

Analyzing various Demographic Information about their Elections offers insight into Factors that Impact Black Women’s Electoral Success

These findings were released in a report this September in an event at Brookings in Washington, DC entitled “Claiming seats at the table: Black women’s electoral strength in an era of fractured politics.”  As Dr. Andre Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings notes, “these insights can be used to create a framework—a blueprint—that can help boost black women, and their supporters, to succeed in attaining more reflective representation in elected office at various levels of government.”
I attended the 90-minute panel, during which Dr. Perry introduced the initial findings of the analysis which will be the subject of future research. They represent both challenges and opportunities in terms of increasing the amount of black women elected to public office. Among them are:

Most Black Women (roughly 77 percent) are elected in Majority-Minority Districts

Thus, there is a correlation between the concentration of residents of color in a given district and black women’s electoral success. However, this is for data from 2016. Recent elections during this midterm cycle demonstrate that black women can be and have been successful among majority-white constituencies.

States that have Large Black Populations offer Opportunities for Electing Black Women

After Dr. Perry’s synopsis came a moderated panel of black women elected leaders and political professionals who discussed how to create more opportunities for and support black women interested in running for office. The panelists included: Errin Haines Whack (who served as the moderator), National Race and Ethnicity Writer for the Associated Press; Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) (City of Baltimore); Del. Marcia S. Price (D) (Virginia); and Tasha Cole, from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and Co-Chair of Running StartHowever, that requires black women to seek elected office. In 2016, over 500 majority-black constituencies selected a representative. But out of those races, only one-third included black women who contested those seats. 

The session’s audience was made up of predominately black women and this was reflected in the conversation as the panel spoke in-depth about how black women are uniquely positioned to help other black women to succeed in politics. But there was something for everybody and much to takeaway from the session in terms of recruiting, supporting and fundraising for black women candidates. You can watch the entire session below:


As we move toward the general election in November and head into 2020, this work is incredibly timely. Record numbers of black women are running for office at all levels across the country and they are well-positioned to lead. It simply requires a belief that they can win and the appropriate investment into training, resources and funding. This research is a necessary step in understanding the electoral strength of black women. It’s time to finally see the tremendous potential for change and transformation that comes with electing black women to office. 

Learn more and join the Conversation

You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag, #BlackWomenLead

What is in your Future?: Data Science & the Black Experience

posted Oct 26, 2018, 8:23 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Oct 26, 2018, 8:27 AM ]

Winter is coming but memories of summer still linger.
I got to go to my first music festival this year, Afropunk in Brooklyn NY. It was an amazing experience of artists at various stages of their craft, small businesses, and non-profits: all people who are passionate about what they do. It was a really invigorating experience.
One non-profit that stood out to me was Black Futures, a nonprofit that created and is distributing the "Black Census".

Conjugal Condition of American Negros According to Age Periods, by W.E.B Du Bois at Atlanta University

Hand drawn population pyramid by W.E.B Du Bois  displaying the Conjugal Condition of American Negros According to Age Periods

Infographic hand drawn by W.E.B Du Bois. Obtained from the Library of Congress
This is a contiguous, spaciously organized population pyramid. In addition to age per population, it also includes martial status. The title in French is from the 1900 Paris Exposition, specifically the "The Exhibit of American Negroes". 
Any one can take the census and no personal data beyond what you want to give to remain connected to the organization is shared. What makes this census special is that it breaks down the 'black community' into the African Diaspora: all of the places where people of African dissent have settled. The community has never been a monolith, made up of a diverse range of experiences, creeds, and peoples; ergo, this survey is very thoughtful about identity.
However, this isn't the first recorded foray into black data science.

W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963), Sociologist and Data Scientist

In the early 1900s, W.E.B Du Bois was considered part of the black intelligentsia in the American South. Based out of Atlanta University in Georgia, he was a  sociologist, historian, civil rights activist and author. He also advocated for higher education and was concerned about this new population of freed peoples. The population was facing a lot of challenges at the time: exploitative working conditions like share cropping, mass murders of individuals, separation of families due to unemployment.
Du Bois then used data representation charts at the time to depict a lot of the realities at the time, such as, depicting the migration of black families from rural communities into urban ones, employment rates, household income.

The New Black Census: Snapshot of the African Diaspora

In comparison, the new Black Census continues in this spirit by asking questions about income, employment, career prospects. However, they also include questions about sexual orientation, identity, and political leanings. They also ask questions about what people want to see in the future and a choice of topics that are important to them. For me, of course, I was concerned about black-owned industry, something that Du Bois and fellow activists Booker T. Washington had disagreed over. While Du Bois was a proponent for higher education and the sciences, Washington advocated more for practical vocational skills. Both are required for a healthy community, but I personally feel that there is a gap in skilled labor in our community compared to others.


The brightest future, to me, is an actualization of industry in the African Diaspora. Goods can be drop shipped among players  in the continent of Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the continental Americas, similar to how China drop ships goods. Grocers, for example, would address many of the food deserts in these communities.
In addition to goods, there would be more skilled labor in these communities: tailors, shoe makers, bakers. I feel this would allow more money to stay in the community, safeguarding against the negative effects of gentrification. 

What do you think the future looks like?

Regardless of what the future holds for us, asking questions about what the future looks like is the first step to solving today's problems. When Du Bois set out to create his infographics, he sought to depict the experience of a newly freed people and determine what the future should look like.
Join Black Futures as they collect data on what the hopes and dreams of the African Diaspora, of the people who are impacted by the African Diaspora, all of us.
Learn more and participate in the census here at Black Futures Lab.

Interview Part Three: The Dangers of "Pathology Risk Syndrome" and Conflicts in the Profession Psychology

posted Oct 17, 2018, 3:59 PM by Rahni Jere Sumler   [ updated Oct 24, 2018, 11:03 AM by Rahni Sumler ]

Originally published on Psychology Today from Christopher Lane, Ph.D. 

In the late-1960s, schizophrenia's profile as a disease changed dramatically. This is part 1 of an interview series where Dr. Chritopher Lane interviews Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD, author of The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. He is dedicated to illuminating issues of mental illness and gun violence, with a particular focus on gender and race.
Dr. Metzl is also Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, a Psychiatrist, and the Research Director of the Safe Tennessee Project, a non-partisan, volunteer-based organization that is concerned with gun-related injuries and fatalities in America and in Tennessee. 

I don't know if you're following DSM-5 developments closely, but there's been an enormous amount of controversy over "psychosis risk syndrome," which is being proposed for inclusion in 2013 as a way of improving the "early detection" of psychosis, especially in teens and children. Given the history you've unearthed about schizophrenia, are you confident that "psychosis risk" will function largely as the APA intends or are there likely to be unintended consequences if it's included in DSM-5?

Louis Wain's Cats

Louis wain cats

6 paintings of cats by Louis Wain between 1886 and 1939 with an increasing degree of abstractedness. This might have been attributed by some to his suffering from schizophrenia. 
By Louis Wain paintings [Public domain in the United States], from Wikimedia Commons
Yes, I'm following this very closely. On one hand, I have to say that there is something very admirable about a profession that is willing to throw its entire diagnostic system up for grabs every fifteen years or so, and to seriously consider each and every word of its diagnostic bible. I also think that psychiatry has made great strides toward understanding the causes of mental disease, so in this sense the revision of the DSM represents progress on many fronts.

Yet, history teaches us to be wary of language that might broaden Diagnostic Categories -- or, in this case, might pathologize risk in addition to Illness

Especially when that broadening is not supported by clear-cut scientific facts. Also, it goes without saying that the language that appears in the DSM has tremendous implications for the lives of a great many people, patients and doctors both. Even in an era dominated by neuroscience, diagnosis remains a projective act—one that combines scientific understanding with a complex set of ideological assumptions.

You're a psychiatrist, and one who's critical of your profession's history as is clear from both this book and your earlier one, Prozac on the Couch (Duke, 2003). How do you personally negotiate such professional tensions? Also what, in your opinion, would help to narrow and alleviate them for other psychiatrists concerned about the state of their discipline?

Let me say, first, that in no way is my work meant to suggest that mental illness is socially fabricated, or, worse, that people's suffering is somehow inauthentic. As a psychiatrist, I have seen the tragic ways in which hallucinations, delusions, social withdrawal, cognitive decline, and profound isolation rupture lives, careers, families, and dreams in profoundly material ways. I know that such symptoms afflict persons of many different social, economic, and racial backgrounds, most all of whom are deeply aware of the sense of loss that their disease represents, even if society is less attuned. I also strongly believe that persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses benefit from various forms of treatment or social support, and that our society should invest more in the care and well-being of the severely mentally ill.

I also believe that vigorous debate is good for psychiatry—both from outside the profession, and from within it. In previous eras, critics adopted a so-called antipsychiatric stance that advocated the near-overthrow of the profession. And to be sure, important critics still advocate for massive change. We know all too well from plagues past that the rhetoric of mental health and mental illness can become effective ways of policing the boundaries of civil society, and of keeping undesirable persons always outside.

Today you also see increasing numbers of scholars like myself who believe in the therapeutic and even potentially liberatory promise of the profession.  All while remaining deeply concerned about such issues as the impact of the pharmaceutical industry, the stigma surrounding diagnosis, and the expanded use of psychotropic medications, to name but a few.

I would like to think that books like mine help us understand how tensions that seem timeless or eternal—whether related to mental illness stigma, the overuse of psychotropic drugs, racial stereotypes surrounding psychiatric diagnosis, or even mistrust of psychiatry by members of minority communities—in fact result from particular decisions made at specific moments in time. 
I write in the book, "only during the civil-rights era did emerging scientific understandings of schizophrenia become enmeshed in a set of historical currents that marked particular bodies, and particular psyches, as crazy in particular ways. 
"The tensions of that era then changed the associations that many Americans made about persons with schizophrenia. Ultimately, recent American racial history altered more than the meaning of mental illness: it changed the meaning of mental health as well."





Interview- Part Two: How Current Events Affect the "Diagnosis Bible", the DSM

posted Oct 12, 2018, 8:18 AM by Rahni Jere Sumler   [ updated Oct 12, 2018, 8:20 AM ]

Originally published on Psychology Today from Christopher Lane, Ph.D. 

In the late-1960s, schizophrenia's profile as a disease changed dramatically. This is part 2 of an interview series where Dr. Chritopher Lane interviews Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD, author of The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. He is dedicated to illuminating issues of mental illness and gun violence, with a particular focus on gender and race.
Dr. Metzl is also Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, a Psychiatrist, and the Research Director of the Safe Tennessee Project, a non-partisan, volunteer-based organization that is concerned with gun-related injuries and fatalities in America and in Tennessee. 

How would you explain that shift, and would you view American psychiatry in those years as exhibiting either manifest or unconscious racism? Was it just coincidence that the DSM-II language enabled the diagnosis of schizophrenia among increasing numbers of African Americans?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) - 5

DSM-5 & DSM-IV-TR

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. As of this publication, the DSM is now in its fifth edition, the DSM-5, published on May 18, 2013

That's a very important question. I argue extensively in my book that the purpose of my analysis is not to lay blame for individual racism, because I feel that such blame-games oversimplify what was going on. Many of the doctors at Ionia genuinely wanted to help their patients. I also talk to psychiatrists who worked on the DSM-II who told me that they were trying to do the best they could to produce scientific, objective diagnostic criteria.

At the same time, my Evidence shows how even the most Scientific Diagnostic Criteria can Reflect the Social Environments in which they are Produced, a Process I Discuss through the Language of Structural or Institutional Violence

This was certainly the case for the DSM-II. As I show, the manual's emphasis on hostility and aggression reflected a much-wider set of national conversations and anxieties about civil rights. The shifting frame surrounding schizophrenia had dire consequences for African American men held at the Ionia State Hospital during the civil-rights era. More broadly, my evidence also shows that growing numbers of research articles in professional journals used this language to cast schizophrenia as a disorder of racialized aggression.

In the worst cases, psychiatric authors conflated the schizophrenic symptoms of African American patients with the perceived schizophrenia of civil rights protests, particularly those organized by Black Power, the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, or other activist groups. Ultimately, new psychiatric definitions of schizophrenic illness in the 60s impacted persons of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Some patients became schizophrenic because of changes in diagnostic criteria rather than in their clinical symptoms. Others saw their diagnoses changed to depression, anxiety, or other conditions because they did not manifest hostility or aggression.

How did the psychiatric profession characterize schizophrenia before the first and second editions of the DSM?

Insanity has a long and fascinating history. Before the advent of what we call "modern psychiatry," conventional wisdom had it that specific actions and life events caused specific types of insanity. Paupers Lunacy was thought to result from habitual intemperance, poverty, and destitution, treated by a diet of wholesome digestible bread and milk porridge, along with occasional topical bleedings. Masturbatory Insanity came from onanistic self-corruption and led to a form of idiocy manifest by sallow skin, lusterless eyes, flabby muscles, loose stools, and, of course, cold and clammy hands. And Old Maid's Insanity was, as the name implied, the insanity of old maids.

Two Key figures Helped to Change the Course of How we Think about Insanity

Emil Kraepelin was foremost among a group of European clinicians who defined insanity not according to causes or symptoms, but according to course and prognosis.
In 1899, he coined the term dementia praecox to describe the "development of a peculiar simple condition of mental weakness occurring at a youthful age." 
And in 1911, Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler argued that the underlying mechanism in praecox was a "loosening of associations," a process in which patients existed in the real world and at the same time turned away from reality ("autism") into the world of fantasy, wishes, fears, and symbols.

As an early proponent of Freudianism, Bleuler placed psychosis on a spectrum with neurosis as a developmental disorder with childhood origins. He maintained that the term dementia praecox should be replaced by a name that combined the Greek words for split (schizo) and mind (phrene). "I call dementia praecox ‘schizophrenia,' " he wrote, "because the ‘splitting' of the different psychic functions is one of its most important characteristics."


You make a powerful case for the way schizophrenia was transformed into a racialized disease at Michigan's Ionia State Hospital. To what extent can one extrapolate from that large psychiatric hospital broader trends across the country?

As a cultural historian and psychiatrist, I'm able to show how trends at Ionia reflect a series of larger cultural trends. One key literature that emerges in the 60s concerns the persistent race-based overdiagnosis of schizophrenia in African American men. 

For instance, in the 60s, National Institute of Mental Health studies found that "blacks have a 65% higher rate of schizophrenia than whites." 

In 1973, a series of studies in the Archives of General Psychiatry discovered that African-American patients were "significantly more likely" than white patients to receive diagnoses of schizophrenia, and "significantly less likely" than white patients to receive diagnoses for other mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder. 

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, a host of articles from leading psychiatric and medical journals showed that doctors diagnosed the paranoid subtype of schizophrenia in African-American men five to seven times more often than in white men, and also more frequently than in other ethnic minority groups.

I also document in the book how associations between insanity and the civil rights movement played out extensively in American popular culture, and helped to shape the emergence of a much wider set of stigmatizations of schizophrenia—that it was an unduly hostile or violent disorder. I look closely at changing twentieth-century American assumptions about the race and temperament of schizophrenia through sources including American medical journals, newspapers, popular magazines, historically Black newspapers, studies of popular opinion, music lyrics, films, and civil-rights memoirs. I also reproduce unbelievable pharmaceutical advertisements that show angry black men protesting in the streets as ways of selling antipsychotic drugs.



Part One--How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease: An Interview with Jonathan Metzl

posted Oct 5, 2018, 8:24 AM by Rahni Jere Sumler   [ updated Oct 5, 2018, 8:36 AM ]

Originally published on Psychology Today from Christopher Lane, Ph.D. 

In the late-1960s, schizophrenia's profile as a disease changed dramatically. This is part 1 of an interview series where Dr. Christopher Lane interviews Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD, author of The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. He is dedicated to illuminating issues of mental illness and gun violence, with a particular focus on gender and race.
Dr. Metzl is also Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, a Psychiatrist, and the Research Director of the Safe Tennessee Project, a non-partisan, volunteer-based organization that is concerned with gun-related injuries and fatalities in America and in Tennessee. 

First, some preliminaries about your fascinating book, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (Beacon, 2010). How did you come to unearth such a trove of important documents at Ionia State Hospital in northeastern Michigan?

Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane

File:Ioniastateasy.jpg

Postcard of the Ionia State hospital. Opened in 1883 it has undergone many names including: Michigan Asylum for Insane Criminals, Ionia Asylum, and finally Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane before it was handed over to the Department of Corrections in 1977. All civilians were removed and it began operation as a correctional facility. 
By Squad546  from the Archie Lumbert collection, via AsylumProjects.Org MediaWiki
Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane was, for much of the twentieth century, one of the nation's more notorious mental asylums, occupying an incredible 529 acres, and its annual census hovered above 2,000 patients. But, like many American asylums, Ionia suffered a rapid fall from grace in the late 1960s and early 70s, during the so-called era of deinstitutionalization. By 1974, the census was a paltry 300, and in 1975 the facility closed, then quickly reopened—as a prison.

That Rapid Transformation Fascinated me. What had Happened to the Patients? What had Changed? Why did the Hospital Become a Prison? 

I spent a long time searching for the records, and ultimately discovered that much of the hospital's institutional memory—nearly a century of patient charts, reports, photographs, ledgers, and other artifacts—had been placed randomly in storage in the State Archive of Michigan, in Lansing. I spent another year gaining clearance from various review boards since of course the archive contains highly personal and confidential information, then spent the next four years reviewing the charts of over 800 patients.

What I found troubled me greatly. As I write in the book, "the charts documented in minute detail the tragedy of what it meant to be warehoused in a state asylum at mid-century—and, in particular, in an asylum where short court sentences devolved into lifelong incarceration. A number of charts contained yearly notes from patients to their doctors voicing such sentiments as Doc, I really think I am cured or Dear Doctor, I believe I am ready to go home, or, You have no right to keep me here. These letters stacked thirty-deep in some charts, signifying years of pleading and longing and anger, together with thirty years of responses from clinicians urging, You are almost there, or: Perhaps next year. Invariably, the last note in each stack was a death certificate from the Ionia coroner."

When did you first suspect that diagnostic patterns with schizophrenia had become heavily racialized?

I found dramatic racial and gender shifts in persons diagnosed with schizophrenia at Ionia during the 1960s—so much so that schizophrenia's racial and gendered transformation became the central narrative of my book. This shift became apparent very early in my research. Before the 60s, Ionia doctors viewed schizophrenia as an illness that afflicted nonviolent, white, petty criminals, including the hospital's considerable population of women from rural Michigan. Charts emphasized the negative impact of "schizophrenogenic styles" on these women's abilities to perform their duties as mothers and wives.

To say the least, these patients were not seen as threatening. "This patient wasn't able to take care of her family as she should", read one chart.
Another, "This patient is not well adjusted and can't do her housework", and another, "She got confused and talked too loudly and embarrassed her husband."

By the mid- to late-1960s, however, Schizophrenia was a diagnosis Disproportionately Applied to the Hospital's Growing Population of African American Men from Urban Detroit

Perhaps the most shocking evidence I uncovered was that hospital charts "diagnosed" these men in part because of their symptoms, but also because of their connections to the civil rights movement. Many of the men were sent to Ionia after convictions for crimes that ranged from armed robbery to participation in civil-rights protests, to property destruction during periods of civil unrest, such as the Detroit riots of 1968. Charts stressed how hallucinations and delusions rendered these men as threats not only to other patients, but also to clinicians, ward attendants, and to society itself. 
You'd see comments like "Paranoid against his doctors and the police", or, "Would be a danger to society were he not in an institution."


Jonathan Metzl, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (Beacon Press, 2010).


1-10 of 47