Men get most of the research funding – it’s a serious problem for women and science


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Michael Head, University of Southampton

In UK universities there are far fewer women in senior posts than men – particularly at professor level. Putting aside teaching, to reach this status, an academic typically needs to have completed a considerable amount of research. Research takes time, and if people want to succeed in academia, they have to apply for funding. This is where one key difference lies.

Women receive less funding than men, and they also apply for smaller grants than their male counterparts. Our study investigated the amount of research funding awarded to male and female study leads across over 6,000 studies related to infectious disease research in UK institutions. Around 75-80% of the funding was awarded to male principal investigators – a huge difference. In addition to the differences in total sums of money, there are also clear differences in the size of the grants secured.

It’s a Catch-22

So what’s the barrier to women getting funding? It’s unlikely to be widespread gender bias from the funders themselves. One of the most famous papers that did highlight clear biases in this area was a 1997 article published in Nature which pulled no punches in highlighting the problem in the peer review process of the Swedish Medical Research Council.

Girls should feel that science class is a natural environment.
PA, CC BY-SA

But this analysis is now 20 years old and does seem to be an outlier in an increasing pool of evidence. Most other analyses suggest there is no observable gender bias on the part of the research funders. For example, evidence reported by the Foundation for Science and Technology suggested there is no significant difference in the proportions of successful grant applications led by male and female researchers from the major UK funders, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.

So why are women getting less by way of grant amounts? With seniority comes big bucks. The more senior the person applying, the bigger the grant they are likely to be requesting. But with fewer senior women out there to apply for something big, it’s a Catch-22.

There are initiatives within, and involving, universities that may help. The Athena Swan programme encourages institutions to consider inequalities and disadvantaged groups, and often focuses on the issues surrounding women in science. There is some evidence to suggest it is having a positive effect. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), one of the major UK funders, now insists that university departments and faculties must have at least a silver award from Athena Swan to be eligible to apply for their funding streams. Recipients of an Athena award have demonstrated through work practices and workplace philosophy their commitment to gender equality and supporting women in STEM careers.

There is also an interesting clause in the guidance of the NIHR autumn 2017 call for research professorships (a prestigious and significant award in the career of any aspiring health researcher). Institutions can put forward a maximum of two candidates, and at least one of the two candidates must be female.

Science needs to be promoted equally to girls and boys so that women are well represented in academia and business later in life.
PA, CC BY-SA

I am not aware of other major research funders yet taking a similar approach (though they may do). It would be interesting to hear their views. As universities are increasingly strapped for cash, research income is important, so no doubt many faculties would be happy to jump through hoops to be eligible for all funding streams from the big players.

Still a man’s world?

Funding applications aside, there are good reasons for female academics to be disheartened about their chances of competing on a level playing field. A 2012 US-based study revealed how identical CVs with a male name at the top were favoured over those with a female name. Then there is the evidence that female lecturers are rated lower than their male counterparts by students, without there being any obvious difference in the standard of their teaching. It takes an extra level of tenacity and determination for a woman to make it to the top in a world that is naturally skewed towards men.

There are many additional factors that come into play as to why there are clear differences between the careers of men and women in an academic environment. Digital Science’s new report, Championing The Success of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine (STEM), explores many of these issues from a range of perspectives, as well as considering other areas where inequality is a problem. It also examines potential ways forward, including the use of mentors, feedback from the academic community and cultural changes that ensure there are more women into senior roles.

But what is very evident is that higher education institutions can prioritise the promotion of equality and still be successful in keeping their heads above water during the ongoing storm of funding cuts, Brexit and general political disdain towards experts.

The ConversationThis laughable 2012 video by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to take an interest in science underscores the kind of problems that exist in the way women are perceived in terms of science. There was some furious backpedalling by its creators soon after its release, but it is shocking to think it got approved in the first place. But at least its desperately hackneyed approach lays bare some of the sexist, outdated and demeaning attitudes that women have to endure in male-dominated environments.

Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the coffee industry is about to get roasted by climate change


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Climate change could severely impact the world’s coffee-producing nations and turn a cup of decent java into a luxury in the years to come.
(Shutterstock)

Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University

Fall is always a good time to create new habits, and coffee chains know it.

These days, they are desperately trying to find any excuse to get you to drink their java.

Many chains used National or International Coffee Day, just passed, as a reason to offer their coffee at a discount, or even for free — with some conditions, of course.

For restaurant operators, there’s no better hook than coffee to get repeat business. It’s a great scheme that seems to be working for some. Given what’s looming on the horizon, however, offering free coffee may no longer be an option for businesses.

Coffee demand around the world is shifting. Europe still accounts for almost one third of the coffee consumed worldwide, but China has doubled its consumption in just the last five years.

As for Canada, numbers remain robust as more than 90 per cent of adult Canadians drink coffee. Several recent studies suggest coffee is a healthy choice, possibly one factor in the rise in coffee drinkers.

Either way, demand is strong in most Western countries, which puts more pressure on coffee-producing countries. However, as climate change looms, there’s a real threat to coffee’s global success story.

Coffee grown in more than 60 countries

Coffee is the most traded commodity in the world after oil.

Coffee beans are grown in more than 60 countries and allow 25 million families worldwide to make a living. Brazil is by far the largest producer, followed by Vietnam and Colombia.

Globally, 2017 could be a record year, as the world will likely produce well over 153 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee. Coffee futures are down as a result, but we are far from seeing a bumper crop.

Production has been modestly shifting over the past few years. With good rainfalls in Brazil and favourable weather patterns in other regions of the world, Mother Nature has so far spared coffee growers, but their luck may be running out.

Despite not being a staple in any diet, coffee is big business. At the farm gate, coffee is worth over US$100 billion. In the retail sector, the coffee industry is worth US$10 billion.

But there is growing consensus among experts that climate change will severely affect coffee crops over the next 80 years. By 2100, more than 50 per cent of the land used to grow coffee will no longer be arable.

Ethiopia could be profoundly affected

A combination of effects, resulting from higher temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns, will make the land where coffee is currently grown unsuitable for its production.

According to the National Academy of Science, in Latin America alone, more than 90 per cent of the land used for coffee production could suffer this fate. It’s estimated that Ethiopia, the sixth largest producer in the world, could lose over 60 per cent of its production by 2050. That’s only a generation from now.

As climate conditions become critical, the livelihoods of millions of farmers are at risk and production capacity is jeopardized. Other potential contributors to this predicted downfall are pests and diseases.

A Ugandan coffee farmer inspects his plants in 2015. Coffee is the lifeblood of many families in Uganda but their success is threatened by climate change.
(AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)

With climate change, pest management and disease control are serious issues for farmers who cannot afford to protect their crops. More than 80 per cent of coffee growers are peasant farmers.

Pests and diseases will migrate to regions where temperatures are adequate for survival, and most farmers won’t be ready. Many will simply choose to grow other crops less vulnerable to climate change. Others may attempt to increase their coffee production, but the quality will almost certainly be compromised.

Coffee quality will suffer

Higher temperatures will affect the quality of coffee. Higher-quality coffee is grown in specific regions of the world where the climate allows the beans to ripen at just the right time. Arabica coffee, for example, which represents 75 per cent of world coffee production, is always just a few degrees away from becoming a sub-par product.

This will undoubtedly affect coffee prices and quality for us all. Thanks to the so-called Starbucks Effect, the quality of the coffee we now enjoy is far superior to that of just a decade ago. Good beans may become more difficult to procure in the future.

Right now, coffee futures are valued at US$1.28 per pound and are being exposed to downward pressures. At this rate, the record price of US$3.39 per pound, set in 1977, could return in just a few years.

The coffee wars we are seeing are not just about gaining market shares and getting consumers hooked on java. They are also about how we connect with a crop that is under siege by climate change.

Short of fighting climate change, we could be forced to alter our relationship with coffee. As current coffee-producing countries attempt to develop eco-friendly methods and embrace sustainable practices, Canada could be the next country where coffee is actually grown, not just roasted.

Within the next decade, with climate change and new technologies, perhaps producing coffee beans will be feasible in Canada. After all, if Elon Musk thinks we can start colonizing Mars by 2022, why can’t we grow coffee in Canada?

The ConversationSo if a coffee chain is offering free coffee, take it. It won’t be long before coffee could become a luxury.

Sylvain Charlebois, Professor in Food Distribution and Policy, Dalhousie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tortilla Española

One of my favorite foods. I love potatoes. All you need is eggs, onions, oil and potatoes.

Ingredients
3⁄4 cup Spanish olive oil
6 medium russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
6 eggs

Instructions
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a 10″ saute pan. Add potatoes and onions and cook, lifting and turning, until potatoes are soft but not brown, about 20 minutes.

Beat eggs in a large bowl until pale yellow. Transfer sauteed potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon to beaten eggs. Reserve oil. Add the potato mixture while it’s hot enough to start cooking the eggs but not so hot as to souffle them.

Heat 1 tbsp. reserved oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add egg and potato mixture, spreading potatoes evenly in the pan. Cook uncovered until the bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Gently shake pan so tortilla doesn’t stick, then slide a spatula along edges and underneath tortilla. Place a large plate over pan and quickly turn plate and pan over so tortilla falls onto plate. Add 1 tsp. reserved oil to pan, slide tortilla back in (uncooked side down), carefully tuck in sides with a fork, and continue cooking over medium heat until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.

Ingredients:
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (see notes)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup onion, chopped
7 eggs
1/4 cup milk
Vegetable oil

Preparation:
Place the potatoes, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the paprika in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat the potatoes evenly with the oil and seasonings.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring 3 or 4 times to ensure even cooking. Remove the cover and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the potatoes begin to develop some golden color. Add the onion, adjust the seasoning to taste, and continue to cook until the potatoes are lightly browned and tender, 12 to 15 minutes total. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

While the potatoes cool, whisk the eggs together with the milk until slightly frothy. Stir in the cooled potatoes and combine well.

Film the bottom of a large nonstick skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the egg-potato mixture and cook for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the top of the tortilla is set (just slightly wet). Be sure to shake the pan from time to time to keep the tortilla moving freely while it cooks.

Once the egg-potato mixture appears to be set on top, place a large, flat plate upside down on top of the pan, then flip the tortilla onto the plate. Gently slide it back into the pan to finish cooking on the second side ~ about 2 minutes should do it. Transfer to a plate and cut into wedges.

Recipe Notes:
You can use just about any potato for this dish, but Yukon Gold is our preferred variety. Dice them into small cubes, about 3/8-inch, or slice them into 1/8-inch slices and be sure to season them well during the browning process.