Monthly Archives: January 2021

Ronin Public Seminar: The Value of Social Cohesion in Our Communities

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

…with the world more attuned to risk, lessons can be drawn to strengthen response and resilience. In 2020, the risk of a pandemic became reality. As governments, businesses, and societies grapple with COVID-19, societal cohesion is more important than ever.

From The Global Risks Report 2021 by World Economic Forum


PresenterAngelo Luidens, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date: Feb 26, 2021
Time: 9:00-10:00 US Eastern Time / 14:00-15:00 UTC (in your local time)
Add to your calendar
Hosted by: Keith Tse, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
In order to achieve a broadly inclusive state of wellbeing and prosperity within a community, it is essential that individuals of that community are resilient and thus contributing to their collective resiliency. A key factor of a resilient community is the level of social cohesion experienced in that community. It is one thing to know it empirically, and quite a different thing to measure and analyze it to inform policy and enable effective interventions towards a resilient community. The quality of surveys on social cohesion must also meet international standards, enabling timely and equitable comparisons to properly assess the state of social cohesion in a community. Social cohesion is complex and dynamic–it cannot be effectively grasped solely through a conventional reductionist paradigm. 

Social cohesion is a fundamental aspect for greater insights at larger scales. The assessment and approach of Social Cohesion fits within a larger context of the application of complex systems science, or socio-ecological systems science for that matter, by gaining and integrating different perspectives and thereby broader and deeper understanding of the dynamics and challenges small island states like Curaçao face. This seminar will provide a review of a framework and road-map of best practices and different approaches for devising a national social cohesion survey that correlates with international standards, yet is properly localized to suit the needs of the community where it will be implemented.

Fun fact from Angelo:
I am by nature curious, ever so inquisitive. Always wanting to dig deeper and seek greater understanding. Over time I found out I am a seeker, a knowledge seeker. I set out to find out why and how things work or fail to work based on an innate knowing of how it should be. My life experiences and the dissonance these experiences cause with my self, got me onto a journey of self discovery and to a greater extend the mastery of self where I now enjoy waking up in the morning and get right at moving the ball one more step further day by day towards that innately known epiphany. More so, as I see the pieces settling in their place step by step, day by day. I do at times contemplate, now more than before that it was the best thing I have done to dig deep into things very early on asking myself why I am the way I am and do things the way I do, even though it is a longer path, takes a lot more work and intentionality. I enjoy the new discoveries along the way. However, the one thing that can completely recharge me is, ever so often there comes along someone or some people on the journey, who because of my own choices, I can light the light in them, and it is an amazing feeling to see their light, light up and shine brighter!

Here is the recording of the seminar:


Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Ronin Public Seminar: What Really Happened to the Trees on Easter Island?

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.


Presenter: Candace Gossen, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date: Feb 12, 2021
Time: 2:00-3:00 PM US Eastern Time / 19:00-20:00 UTC (in your local time)
Add to your calendar
Hosted by: Stéphanie Cassilde, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
According to historical views by colonizing wayward voyagers, Easter Island was a barren island, devoid of trees and full of giant statues left behind from a cultural collapse. These myths have now been rejected and the truth accepted that slavery diminished Easter Island’s 4,000 people to 111 in 1862. But an important question remains: Did the islanders really cut down all of their trees? The only way to literally dig into the past to uncover what plants, ecosystems, and climate changes were occurring was to core the ancient crater lake of Rano Kao.  In this presentation, Candace will present the results of 15,000 years of discovery with an answer to: What really happened to the trees?


Fun Fact from Candace:
While doing this field research, I learned what it was like to work in a quagmire and walk on water.

Here is the recording of the seminar:



Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Artwork by Koola Adams

Ronin Institute Principle: Art of Hosting

This series of blog posts introduces some of the guiding principles that we use at the Ronin Institute to help the community be its best. Our last post was on Pay it Forward.

In our Code of Conduct, we emphasize an individual’s right to their “peaceful enjoyment” of participating in the Ronin Institute. Here’s one key thing that we all can do to enhance this for everyone: Practice the art of hosting

In a world of getting things done, facilitation is emphasized as the best way to achieve successful and productive meetings. It’s where specific and skilled individuals are tasked with helping a group work through an agenda and toward specific goals. But is that the only way to get the most out of our meetings?

At the Ronin Institute, we consider the importance of hosting, which “draws less on technical proficiency and more on simple warmth and hospitality; less on lecturing and more on listening; less on facilitation and more on curiosity and open inquiry.” Importantly, it doesn’t depend on specific people to make an event a success.

For instance, when you (pre-2020) hosted a dinner party, what did you do to make your guests feel comfortable? Likewise, when you attended such a dinner party, what did you do to be a gracious attendee? I bet you practiced some of those “hosting” skills by listening openly and encouragingly to other guests, as well as helping them feel engaged and connected.

Being a great host doesn’t require many learned skills. It takes empathy and a willingness to make people feel welcome. It may not specifically keep us on the agenda, but it can deepen the quality of our interactions and experiences. Hosting is something that we can all embody and take charge of. When attending another event at the Ronin Institute, try asking yourself: What can I do to help others feel more comfortable, included, and valued? 

[Artwork by: Koola Adams]

Not quite quit lit

By Ronin Research Scholar Jonathan Walter

I’ve decided to leave traditional academia and pursue different ways to be a scientist. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share about why, and what I’m doing next.

Let’s be real, this wasn’t my first choice. Being a professor had long been my dream, and I spent more than a decade working with purpose to make that a reality. However, family considerations made my job search geographically narrow, and that limited my opportunities. For a while, I maintained optimism that I’d find a suitable position, either at my current institution or one within reasonable driving distance. Meanwhile, my career grew in other ways, and as it did, remaining by rank a postdoc became untenable. I felt this way despite working with fantastic collaborators and mentors who are supportive of me, and working with whom I have had intellectual freedom and responsibility beyond what many postdocs experience. Nonetheless, institutional policies put too low a ceiling on what I could do while off the tenure track, and I reached a point where continuing to wait for a faculty job to materialize would diminish my happiness with my work and limit opportunities in my career and personal life.

After considering jobs in government, NGOs, and industry, I decided on something a bit different. Earlier this year, I joined the Ronin Institute, a multidisciplinary community of scholars working largely outside traditional academic institutions. I also started a statistical consulting and quantitative research business called Athenys Research (pronounced “uh-THEEN-iss”). In addition, a colleague and I are in the early stages of co-founding a nonprofit organization for environmental sciences research. I’ll share more about these initiatives in the future, but briefly I will continue pursuing grant-funded research through the Ronin Institute and eventually the nascent non-profit, and pursue consulting and contract work through Athenys Research.

I want to note that I don’t harbor much bitterness over leaving. That doesn’t mean I think all is well in the academy. For one, its hiring practices exclude a considerable number of talented scholars who are dedicated to their fields of study, students, and communities. I just don’t take it personally not to get what had been my dream job, nor do I feel entitled to it, and I am happy with my life choices that had the side effect of limiting my opportunities for tenure-track faculty jobs.

I place enormous value on the freedom to pursue my own research interests, to collaborate with whomever I choose, and to strive that research innovations support public good.

If you think being a soft-money scientist and entrepreneur—beginning coincidentally amidst a pandemic—seems risky, I agree with you, so I want to write a bit about my reasons for pursuing this path.

I love few things more than being a scientist, and I place enormous value on the freedom to pursue my own research interests, to collaborate with whomever I choose, and to strive that research innovations support public good. I want to continue centering my career on doing quantitative research that advances knowledge of the world around us and serves the public interest, and I think these initiatives will keep me engaged in this work and facilitate new opportunities. Academia can offer amazing intellectual freedoms, but as an early-career scientist off the tenure track I experienced them only in somewhat limited ways. Science jobs in other organizations rarely offer such self-determination, even if the work is stimulating and meaningful.

My new path also enables me to earn full credit and a market rate for my work. As is not uncommon for early-career academics, institutional policies and practices prevented me from accruing the full benefits of my efforts. Since finishing my PhD six years ago, I’ve been the primary or a major contributing author of several funded grant and fellowship proposals. This has, naturally, been a boon to my career: I have picked my research projects, collaborators, and where I live; these projects have produced a lot of exciting science; and they have supported excellent students and postdocs. Yet, it underscores a degree of unfairness in the system. Despite these successes, I remained a postdoc with a middle-of-the-road salary, I’ve worked countless unpaid hours to manage multiple projects, and a meaningful degree of my leadership of these projects flies under the radar because institutional policies hindering postdocs from being a PI meant I “ghost wrote” some of them.

So, while leaving behind established institutions has costs, so too would remaining, and for me the risks of this path are outweighed by the opportunity to continue work I love and believe is important, to be better compensated for it, and to build organizations that—if successful—will help others do the same.

In an odd sort of way, I feel like my career thus far has prepared me well for this.

My approach to science is largely that of a broadly analytical thinker with skills in statistics and mathematical modelling, which I bring to many problems and study systems, collaborating with a variety of groups. My new career model consciously takes advantage of this. I have a wide network of fantastic collaborators, and I’m excited to establish relationships with new people and organizations. My breadth of research, which has sometimes come across as atypical and unfocused, can be made a strength when I can benefit from multiple concurrent projects, with different groups, with diverse sources of support.

I started Athenys Research to have another means of finding interesting work, because it would be unrealistic to believe I can continuously support myself through research grants, given funding rates and award sizes in my field. I see substantial parallels between developing a funded research program and entrepreneurship, which makes me confident that—with effort and learning—I can make this model work for me. Experience tells me that working with non-profits, government agencies, and industry will be intellectually stimulating, and that there’s a lot of good, impactful work to do in these settings.

I want to be real that one of my greatest misgivings about this career path is whether I can handle supporting my salary entirely through grants and contacts over the long run. I’m extremely privileged that I can withstand some short-term failures, and if those become too great I’ll re-evaluate my path. In the near term, I’ve been fortunate to smooth the transition through part-time gigs at two universities. I’ll complete ongoing research projects with some terrific people and continue putting things in place for this new phase in my career.

So, there’s the story, in broad strokes. I titled this “not quite quit lit” because in many ways I haven’t “quit.” I continue to pursue many ideals espoused by academia (such as intellectual freedom and the production of knowledge for public good), through some conventional means (such as grants and journal publications), often in collaboration with scientists at established institutions. I’ll just be doing it on different terms.


Jonathan Walter is an ecologist and statistical consultant. Jonathan is a Research Scholar at the Ronin Institute and the founder and lead scientist of Athenys Research.

“Free” isn’t free: A Ronin Research Scholar examines the web and its problems

By Ronin Research Scholar Ralph Haygood 

Remember when the World Wide Web was new and shiny (albeit somewhat rickety)? It wasn’t very long ago. Like me, many Ronin Research Scholars no doubt can recall the widespread excitement about the new medium. I was in graduate school when the web took off and became part of everyday life.

Two decades later, it isn’t just names like AltaVista, GeoCities, and Netscape that have faded into history. Instead of excitement, there’s widespread concern that the web has become problematic, possibly doing more harm than good. These days, discussions of the web tend to emphasize fake news, hate speech, compulsive “doomscrolling”, and the unaccountable power of a few big companies like Google and Facebook. How did we get here, and what should we do about it?

That’s the subject of my new book “Free” isn’t free: The Original Sin of the web and what to do about it. The book explains that a major cause of many problems with the web is what it dubs the Original Sin of the web: collecting personal information about users and selling it to marketers. Web companies offer us “free” services, on the condition that we let them “data-mine” us and sell the data to people who, in turn, use it to try to sell us everything under the sun. However, “free” isn’t free; this business model has significant costs that we all pay.

So what’s the solution? Obviously, better laws could help, particularly by limiting what information web companies are allowed to collect about us and what they’re allowed to do with it. However, I argue that the key to a better web is for us users, rather than marketers, to become the customers. This isn’t a panacea, but it addresses multiple problems with the web at once, by reducing conflicts of interests between websites and users.

Although other books cover some of the same ground, I felt it was worth writing “Free” isn’t free in order to present the main issues concisely, highlight the central significance of the Original Sin, and address objections to making users the customers. As obvious as making users the customers may seem, most discussions of the web and its problems ignore or downplay this possibility. “Free” isn’t free examines several common objections to it, arguing that although some of them are warranted, none of them is decisive. For example, although there are reasonable concerns about deepening the “digital divide” between people who can afford to pay for the web and people who can’t, there are also practical strategies for avoiding this outcome, despite being supported by users.

Who am I to write such a book? The answer may interest even Ronin scholars who aren’t especially interested in the web and its problems. Like the founder of the Ronin Institute, Jon Wilkins, I’m an evolutionary geneticist, with a Ph.D., postdoctoral fellowships, and published research. However, before all that, I was a computer programmer and researcher. In fact, I found my way into evolutionary genetics through genetic algorithms, computation schemes inspired by evolutionary genetics. During my years as a grad student and postdoc, I remained attentive to developments in computation, and since leaving academia, I’ve made a living mostly by creating web applications. So I’ve been building, using, and pondering the web for quite awhile.

One reason why I decided not to become a professor was that I didn’t relish the prospect of devoting myself almost exclusively to a single topic for many years, in order to establish myself as the world’s leading authority on that topic. As competition for jobs and funding has become ever more intense, many academics have found that professional survival demands focus to the point of monomania. So an academic career seemed too cramped for my interests, which have always been broad (e.g., before I worked with computers, I studied physics and mathematics). Of course, a project such as writing “Free” isn’t free may require sharply focused attention and effort for weeks or months at a time. However, when it’s finished, I’m free to contemplate quite different things if I wish. Fortunately, as a software developer, I’m able to make a comfortable living from part-time work, leaving many hours for other pursuits. If more people were able to do likewise, I expect that many of their “other pursuits”—art, science, environmental conservation, social justice, and much more— would enrich us all.

I’m grateful for and enthusiastic about the Ronin Institute, which encourages and facilitates scholarly work by people like me who choose to spread our attention and effort more broadly than most academics are free to do.

I thank Keith Tse for inviting me to post here.

“Free” isn’t free is available as an e-book or paperback. For links to sellers, visit the website for the book.


Ralph Haygood is a population biologist, emphasizing evolutionary genetics and mathematical, computational, and statistical methods. He is also a software developer, emphasizing web applications. He has been a Ronin Research Scholar since 2012—before it was trendy! He currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about him and his work on his website.

Better Know a Ronin Scholar: Michelle King-Okoye

Michelle King-Okoye

This new installment of Better Know a Ronin Scholar” continues on the theme of public health. In late October I spoke to UK-based Research Scholar Michelle King-Okoye (pronoun: she/her). Michelle’s research is primarily in the areas of health inequality, and health and illness experience, including prostate cancer research and research surrounding men’s health and minority ethnic population research. She has worked as a Researcher, Lecturer and a Registered Nurse. She also has an affiliation with the Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and Education (IGDORE) and is the founder and leader of the Ethnicity and COVID-19 Research Consortium. She describes herself as a content wife and mother who prioritizes time spent with family.

Today I’m welcoming Dr. Michelle King-Okoye to Better Know a Ronin Scholar. Hi, Michelle. How has your 2020 been?

Hi, Alex, thank you so much for having me. 2020 has been challenging so far with all the events that COVID-19 has brought especially to individuals and families affected by this dreaded disease.  Nevertheless, in the midst of the pandemic I am pleased to contribute to research in this area and policy-making to support families affected by COVID-19 and address existing disparities.  I’m really looking forward to this interview to share about this.

It sounds like you’re doing a lot of interesting work at the intersection of public health and now COVID. What has been your journey to your area of scholarship?

Firstly, I’m a nurse. I’ve been in nursing for some time. I am originally from the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad and Tobago. I’ve worked as a nurse in various specialties: ICU, oncology, cancer care, open heart surgery, pediatrics, as well as working in accident and emergency, and the operating theater. I stayed in nursing for about six years or so. And then I worked as a lecturer, after completing studies at the University of the West Indies in collaboration with McMaster University in Canada. I pursued teaching in evidence-based practice, critical appraisal and oncology assessment. After that I migrated to the UK for my post grad training and a PhD in Health Sciences. So it has been quite a journey.  

My main focus then, and now, is in health inequality, including ethnicity, culture, and health and illness experiences. 

…it goes beyond the physiological elements of the disease and treatment – seeing there is a human being that we are caring for. … I don’t see someone separate from the disease or separate from the person who’s experiencing it. I see them in a holistic way: how the disease affects them, their family, their relationships, culture and their ethnicity.

Traditional academia can be limiting by encouraging people to follow a very narrow path: school, a bachelor’s degree, PhD without any breaks. In contrast, you didn’t take a direct path to research–you worked as a registered nurse for about six years.  How do you think that experience of being a nurse influenced or shaped how you approach your scholarship?

That’s a very interesting question. I wanted to be a registered nurse because I enjoy caring for people. I know that being compassionate – especially at a time when someone is unwell—is very important for them to feel as if you’re caring for them as well as having an understanding of the disease and illness experience. So being from that background has allowed me to see health and illness from a personal experience. I’ve cared for people, I’ve experienced death (while working as a nurse) and I’ve experienced firsthand people suffering from different diseases.

So it goes beyond the physiological elements of the disease and treatment – but seeing there is a human being that we are caring for.  I have worked and cared for people of all different ethnicities, all different races. And that is also critical, because you might be caring for someone who comes from a different culture, family, traditions, beliefs and practices.  For doctors, healthcare practitioners, and all those involved in healthcare, it is so important to see patients in a holistic way. That has shaped my entire view of how I see people.  I don’t see someone separate from the disease or separate from the person who’s experiencing it. I see them in a holistic way: how the disease affects them, their family, their relationships, culture and their ethnicity. 

File released under the Creative Commons license  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Logo_of_the_World_Health_Organization.jpg

If you look at the World Health Organisation definition of health, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. It takes everything into consideration. Sometimes we forget that. [As a nurse] seeing people being ill, and seeing them recover, and get well that has really shaped how I see people, how I care and how I teach. Now as a researcher – I’ve seen it from all different perspectives. That has truly been a blessing.

Continue reading Better Know a Ronin Scholar: Michelle King-Okoye

Ronin Public Seminar: Open Science, Culture Change, and You

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Bruce Caron, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date:  Jan 29, 2021
Time: 1:00-2:00 PM  US Eastern Time / 18:00-19:00 UTC (in your local time)
Add to your calendar
Hosted by: John Paulas, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
For open science to transform the academy, technology is not sufficient. Culture changes in hundreds (thousands) of academy organizations will need to be contemplated, discussed, argued, and implemented. But how do you, as a working scientist, become an open science culture change agent? Where do you start? What do you need to know? You already know that culture can work against your interests, and against the interests of scientific work (perverse incentives, etc.). How can you make culture work to nourish the new, transparent, open, generous, abundant, and kind outcomes that are the promise of open science.? Take a look at the Open Science Handbook.  It’s a reference work you can use to become an open science change agent in your department, laboratory, college, learned society, or research agency. The next step is to work together to build “play books” that capture the actual culture change experiments from organizations around the globe.  I’m looking for culture change agents who want to create collective intelligence around the work of culture change for open science!

Fun fact from Bruce: 
My database for this book has 3500 items with 24 million words.

Here is the recording of the seminar:


Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.

Ronin Institute in Numbers

At our Ronin Institute Holiday Party in December 2020, we had a trivia game asking attendees to guess the quantity of some of our accomplishments for 2020. Here are the questions and answers.

How many Kitsune Newsletters did the Ronin Institute Communication Working Group publish this year? 
5 (in 2019: 0)

How many new Research Scholars joined the Ronin Institute in 2020? 
111 (in 2019: 76)

How many Interest Groups do we have? 
19 (in 2019: a few existed but they weren’t called Interest Groups)

How many blog posts did we publish? 
15 (in 2019: 2) 

How many weekly Updates were sent to the Ronin Research Scholar community? 
37 (in 2019: 11)

How many Working Groups do we have at the Ronin Institute? 
6 (in 2019: 0)

How many peer-reviewed articles did Research Scholars publish in 2020 (according to our Kitsune Newsletter)? 
46

How many Ronin Institute seminars (both internal and public) did we have? 
8 internal & 5 public   (in 2019: 5 internal & no public seminars)

How many followers do we have on Twitter (as of Dec 14th, 2020)? 
1235