#Ferguson & Chemical War Agents: Wrong

Editors note: To donate money, food, or supplies to the efforts in Ferguson, please see the following link: http://breed7910.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/campaigns-for-mikebrown-ferguson/

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

There have been protests for the last few days in Ferguson, MO, due to the unjustified shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man. I hate to say "another" but it's true -this Mother Jones article focuses on four unarmed Black men shot in the last month!  Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Ezell Ford join an ever growing list with such names as Rekia Boyd, Tarika Wilson, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo.

This is an American tragedy, and it pains me to see so many lives wasted. Protests are well justified, and police have heightened the tension by excessively deploying military grade tanks and guns acquired through the controversial 1033 program.  In addition, police are using tear gas (also known as CS gas), which is more dangerous than you may think. According to Discovery Magazine:

"Despite it’s “non-toxic” reputation, CS is prohibited for use in warfare by the Chemical Weapons Convention that was signed by many countries (including the US) in 1993. It is classified as a chemical warfare agent. However, this does not apply to domestic use of it or any tear gas, and police use of CS is legal in many countries, including the United States."

Why would it be listed as a chemical war agent? Here's a list of common CS gas effects, all of which have been mentioned on the #Ferguson twitter hashtag:

  • stinging and burning of the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin
  • excessive tearing
  • blurred vision
  • runny nose
  • salivation (drooling)
  • exposed tissue may develop a rash and a chemical burn
  • coughing and difficulty breathing, including a feeling of choking
  • disorientation and confusion, which may lead to panic

These are the effects of a chemical war agent used against unarmed peaceful protesters in an American city. Also note that these effects are much more intense and possibly deadly for someone with existing respiratory problems.

In a 2013 interview with National Geographic, Sven-Eric Jordt, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine who discovered the connection between tear gas and pain receptors, shared his view on the use of tear gas.

"Law enforcement has to weigh the risk of tear gas injury of bystanders against gaining control in a riot situation, under the assumption that rioters break the law. Governments need to put in place immediate decontamination procedures for areas, and especially residences, when tear gas is used."

Jordt emphasized that such a dangerous war asset should be used to gain control in a riot situation.  All of the footage from Ferguson indicates groups of protesters standing firm and vocalizing their frustration, even despite a few bad apple that choose to loot.  There is no sense of a loss of control. A response with tear gas is just inhumane.

So far, there has been no reporting on any decontamination procedures used by the Ferguson police department, or any assistance to the medical personnel that will be burdened with people seeking treatment.

This needs to stop. I stand in solidarity with Ferguson.

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

White House Recognizes STEM Champions of Change

This week, the White House is continuing its Champions of Change series with a focus on science.


From the press release, via The Urban Scientist:


WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the White House will honor ten local heroes who are “Champions of Change” for their innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields. These champions are creating opportunities for young people typically underrepresented in STEM industries by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure ranging from photography and film, to Hip Hop music, to coding competitions and community-based workshops.


Besides the fact that it seems weird to see "hip hop music" in an official government communication, I'm always excited to see science be rewarded.  I'm especially excited to see folks that I've previously featured on my blog be honored. In my post "Wu-Tang and Science are for the Children" (props to you if you get the reference), I talked about Christopher Emdin and the hip hop science competitions that he helped organize in New York. I'm happy to see Chris be honored!


Christopher Emdin, Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Columbia University
New York, NY
Christopher Emdin, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University. In these roles, he prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City Public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education. Dr. Emdin writes the provocative “Emdin 5” series for the Huffington Post. He is also author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation.


In my post "Hey Science? Respect Matters", I discussed how the scientific community has no room for discrimination, especially gender based. I've spoken with Danielle several times and met her in person, so I was thrilled to see her featured as well.


Danielle N. Lee, Biologist on Animal Behavior
Stilwater, OK; Ithaca, NY
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behavior. Her current research examines the natural history and individual differences of African Giant Pouched Rats. Her science outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She blogs about her research, evolutionary biology, as well as diversity and inclusion in the sciences at The Urban Scientist hosted by Scientific American Scientific American Blog Network. She is also a founder of the National Science and Technology News Service, a media advocacy group to increase interest in STEM and science news coverage within the African-American community.


Congrats to Chris, Danielle, and the rest of the folks being honored today!

Future City: I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Our kids rock! But you wouldn't know that if you listened to the doom and gloom that's often reported in the mainstream news. Disparity sells, and there are always more stories about kids doing bad in school and failing tests than there are with our kids achieving.  Positive programs never get the attention that they deserve, even national ones with a great track record like Future City. From the website:

The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February. 


Last weekend I had the pleasure to serve as a judge for the Wisconsin Regional finals at the Kern Center for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).  It's a beautiful gym and it was fun to see all of the students carrying their city models that they built out of recycled materials into the center. Here's a pic from the outside at the wonderful time of about 7:30am. The white truck in the background is from a Fox news van that was covering the event.

2014-01-18 07.35.58.jpg

The judges sat in a room and teams would come in and give a short presentation and Q&A session. The teams spoke about their ideas on how to solve transportation using the model that they built, and had moving parts and visual aids. The models themselves were quite cool as they were made of recycled parts - everything from Starbucks cans to computer speakers.

Unfortunately, as a judge i could not take photos of the individual science models, but below is a photo of the main hall.  You can see quite a few well-dressed kids next to their visual aids, ready to explain the feats that their city accomplishes.

2014-01-18 08.01.30.jpg

I left the event pumped and optimistic for the future of science in our country. We are in good hands, but we can't get lazy - we need to encourage this spirit of innovation in ALL grades.  Once kids find out that #ScienceLooksGood, they'll help move us to the next era.

Also, the title to this post refers to one of my favorite songs, the Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston. I had to learn this song while attending the YMCA as a kid.

Not to be outdone, the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America featured a hilarious rendition of Greatest Love of Y'all by Randy Waaaatttttttssssoooooonnnnn and Sexual chocolate.

Hey Science? Respect Matters #StandingWithDNLee

Update #1 10/14/13: Biology online has apologized and fired the mysterious Ofek.  And Scientific American has released an official explanation which is also B.S.

Underrepresented minorities within the scientific community, such as African Americans and/or women, often bear a burden of perceived illegtimacy within science.  My life is littered with remarks of how I could possibly be a successful scientist when I came from a inner city background. Our passion for what we do drives us to push on despite a general culture that makes us feel like we don't belong in an area that we love.

Danielle Lee of Scientific American's The Urban Scientist blog is an amazing scientist and blogger who was unfortunately the victim of terrible remarks. I'd like to share her words with you.  Please tweet her (@DNLee5) some words of encouragement with the hashtag #StandingWithDNLee.

Ofek from Biology-Online.org, you've official been called out. We won't stand for your ilk. Disrespect is unacceptable. 

DNLee's blog post is below, reprinted in its entirety with her permission.


wachemshe hao hao kwangu mtapoa

I got this wrap cloth from Tanzania. It’s a khanga. It was the first khanga I purchased while I was in Africa for my nearly 3 month stay for field research last year. Everyone giggled when they saw me wear it and then gave a nod to suggest, “Well, okay”. I later learned that it translates to “Give trouble to others, but not me”. I laughed, thinking how appropriate it was. I was never a trouble-starter as a kid and I’m no fan of drama, but I always took this 21st century ghetto proverb most seriously:

Don’t start none. Won’t be none.

For those not familiar with inner city anthropology – it is simply a variation of the Golden Rule. Be nice and respectful to me and I will do the same. Everyone doesn’t live by the Golden Rule it seems. (Click to embiggen.)


The Blog editor of Biology-Online dot org asked me if I would like to blog for them. I asked the conditions. He explained. I said no. He then called me out of my name.

My initial reaction was not civil, I can assure you. I’m far from rah-rah, but the inner South Memphis in me was spoiling for a fight after this unprovoked insult. I felt like Hollywood Cole, pulling my A-line T-shirt off over my head, walking wide leg from corner to corner yelling, “Aww hell nawl!” In my gut I felt so passionately:”Ofek, don’t let me catch you on these streets, homie!”

This is my official response:

It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand. What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation? Plus, it was obvious me that I was supposed to be honored by the request..


After all, Dr. Important Person does it for free so what’s my problem? Listen, I ain’t him and he ain’t me. Folks have reasons – finances, time, energy, aligned missions, whatever – for doing or not doing things. Seriously, all anger aside…this rationalization of working for free and you’ll get exposure is wrong-headed.This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. End of story. Even if I decide to do it pro bono (because I support your mission or I know you, whatevs) – it is still worth something. I’m simply choosing to waive that fee. But the fact is told ol’ boy No; and he got all up in his feelings. So, go sit on a soft internet cushion, Ofek, ’cause you are obviously all butt-hurt over my rejection. And take heed of the advice on my khanga.


You don’t want none of this

Thanks to everyone who helped me focus my righteous anger on these less-celebrated equines. I appreciate your support, words of encouragement, and offers to ride down on his *$$.: 


Yeah They Still Work #4: '96 Tech

This is the latest post in my Yeah They Still Work (YTSW) series, where I review my old tech that still works and brings me joy.  

In December of 1996, I was a skinny, optimistic high school junior, ready to take on the world!  I kept one of my high school papers because I wrote a front page article and I'm a packrat. Little did I know that 17 years later, it would serve as a perfect time capsule for some of the technology of the day.

Check out the video below for a journey into the ridiculous TVs, CD players, and phones of the past! 

NASA Fermi: You Won't Like Me When I'm Angry

Gamma rays helped turn Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk

The Hubble isn't the only telescope floating in orbit around earth - NASA also has the Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope. Fermi turns five this week.

Why gamma rays? The visible light that we see is a small part of a much larger electromagnetic spectrum. The Fermi telescope uses gamma rays, which travel very fast with a very high energy (i.e. they have a high frequency). Faster, high energy waves have a better chance of detecting hard-to-see objects in the universe such as black holes. Check out the following description of the spectrum from Science Company.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

The chart makes it apparent that lower energy light on the left of the visible spectrum such as radio, microwave, and infrared are what we see in our everyday lives.  Several of these waves are passing through your body as you read this, but since they are low energy no damage is done. The higher energy gamma rays on the right can only be used safely because the Fermi telescope is in space, away from human contact.

From the NASA Fermi mission site:

The Large Area Telescope (LAT), the mission's main instrument, scans the entire sky every three hours. The state-of-the-art detector has sharper vision, a wider field of view, and covers a broader energy range than any similar instrument previously flown.
Fermi's secondary instrument, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), sees all of the sky at any instant, except the portion blocked by Earth. This all-sky coverage lets Fermi detect more gamma-ray bursts, and over a broader energy range, than any other mission. These explosions, the most powerful in the universe, are thought to accompany the birth of new stellar-mass black holes.

Check out a five year retrospective of the Fermi telescope below.

All this news makes the Incredible Hulk happy, and he celebrates by beating the mess out of Loki in this scene from the Avengers movie.

An Awesome Poster on Social Media for Space

One of my space geek Facebook friends has recently taken it to the next level. Remco Timmerman put together a poster on social media and the space industry. If my tons of NASA posts haven't let you know already, social media has played a huge impact in furthering the public impact of space research.

Remco's poster,  "Social Media for Space",  was presented at the International Space University ISU alumni weekend poster session last weekend. According to the ISU Facebook page, "ISU provides an interdisciplinary education in the context of an intercultural and international environment to support the development of future leaders." They always have a great YouTube channel chock full of space stuff.

Check out the poster below. A higher res version is available for download here. 


Darius Simmons, Trayvon Martin and Barriers to STEM Diversity

Eyes of the Innocent

Why would a young child be interested in a field such as science where they will be consistently seen as "the other"? 

As an advocate for STEM, I'm always looking to get more folks involved in science. As a Black man, it feels the most rewarding to help contribute to more women and minorities involved in scientific disciplines.  The science space lacks gender and racial diversity, which can bring judgments, stereotypes, and reactions that are often not based on truth.  During my career journey, I've often had to worry about being the only Black person around. If I make a mistake, I have to worry about it being attributed to just me or to generalized perceptions of the Black community. 


Both Trayvon Martin and Darius Simmons were young, unarmed, Black teens that were murdered because of what they looked like. They were profiled as dangerous, regardless of their actual intentions, and they paid the ultimate price when confronted by someone who believed in the profile. 

It's important to realize that in the case of Trayvon, Darius, and numerous other youths, its the barrier to LIFE, not just diversity, that has proven to be impenetrable.  Just like other children who have lost their lives, we don't know what contribution to society they may have made. How many future scientists, presidents, historians, or artists are being eliminated? 

Why would a young child be interested in a field such as science where they will be consistently seen as "the other"?  Because the dream of America is to be a real melting pot, where individuals can truly succeed regardless of their background. America strives to be a place where fields such as science accurately represents the broad diversity of the population.

One thing is for sure - many activists are being created and emboldened by this horrible situation. Let's make a change. I know I won't stop reaching out to make sure that the STEM community is diverse as it can be. #ScienceLooksGood indeed.

Tech Tips: @Anjuan @BrothaTech @TatianaKing

Old technology 4

Tech evangelist BrothaTech recently appeared in a YouTube interview with technology translator Anjuan Simmons.  Both are men of color within the technology space that I highly respect and it's great to see them collaborating on a project. While I have yet to meet Anjuan in person, we've interacted on a variety of social platforms such as Google+ about highly intellectual topics such as the power of Mountain Dew. I ran into BrothaTech at last year's Blogging While Brown convention. He's also known for having some of the most adorable kids on the planet. 

Check out Anjuan and BrothaTech in the video below! In BrothaTech's words: "Just a few of our subjects included where my tech interest came from, diversity in technology, my “BrothaTech” brand, iOS 7, my family, and the XBox One versus the PS4."

Anjuan has a series of other videos on his website with other luminaries within the tech space - here is one with Tatiana King, creator of Love At 1st Byte. Tatiana is my go-to resource for coverage via twitter during live events. Check out the interview with Anjuan and Tatiana below!

Check them out and let them know that Shareef sent you!

Send Your Clones to Conferences Far and Wide

Clone troops B&W

During the weekend of June 21st, two conferences occurred - Blogging While Brown in Harlem, NY and Netroots Nation in San Jose, CA. These are both conferences that cover issues that I am interested in, and I wish I could clone myself and go to both!

 I selected Blogging While Brown, but unfortunately I had to cancel due to a business obligation.  So here I was - two conferences going on and I wasn't able to go to either.  I was pretty pissed. The only solution was to use Twitter to follow the conference and essentially clone myself so that I could be in three places at the same time.

Technology to the rescue!  I used Tweetdeck  to watch both hashtags from the conference (#BWBNYC and #NN13). I also made sure to set up a separate filter for each hashtag and the word "question". This enabled me to watch for questions that people asked (so I could ask follow up questions), as well as find when questions were being thrown out to Twitter community to answer.  

I was able to interact with conference attendees so often that some people actually thought I was at the conference! My little Shareef clones attended the conferences and people actually mistook them for me! Check out the following tweets.

Good luck with cloning yourself and attending conferences from afar!

Make Smaller Groups? Make More Scientists

Tutoring Services
I'm a strong proponent of science and math education, and one way that this can be further achieved is by tailoring classes to the needs of students by grouping students by how well they are doing with the material. This has to be balanced with teaching an entire class of students which can vary with abilities, but it can be done. I was happy to read a recent New York Times article by Vivian Yee detailing the history of grouping kids by ability within schools, how it fell out of favor in the 80s, and its current resurgence. Grouping by ability has its issues that have to be handled gracefully, but if we want more scientists, smaller groups are key.

I grew up in the "Gifted and Talented" program in my hometown of Paterson, NJ. Our teachers did the best job that they could in challenging us, but it was implemented poorly: a 35+ student class is likely to vary wildly in terms of ability. The best moments were breaking up into small groups of 4-5 students and working on sessions individually. This is something that I've carried into my larger tutoring sessions.

What happened to many of us in the Gifted and Talented traditional class structure? We got bored. We started to screw around. I saw plenty of good students completely fall off of the wagon. The curiosity and challenge that needs to be instilled in many of our future scientists was squashed when faced with an educational situation that doesn't challenge them. I was lucky enough to have a good support system at home to reinforce lessons, but not all kids do.

Smaller groups and increased focus will take additional resources. This level of effort will take money, time, supplies, training, and additional teachers. But you know what? We need to invest properly in our future, even if it means other things suffer. What other things? I don't know ... like a sports arena?  Check out the clip below from All In With Chris Hayes which discusses "how a city closing schools at least partly due to money is willing to invest $100 million in building a basketball arena for a private university."

Grouping is also something that needs to be done very carefully. Race and class need to be considered so that the groups are not entirely homogeneous. The groups should be very fluid, allowing kids to pass between in a structured manner.  The idea is not to completely separate students of differing ability from one another, but to augment the original lessons with deeper experiences for some groups and basic building for the others. The lesson planning should be structured so that the smaller groups should interact very frequently, since most of the basic content taught should be the same. The objective should always be to move students upward, not to lock them into these groups so that they can't advance no matter what they do (a failure of many of the Gifted and Talented, Honors, and even AP courses that I've seen).  

Is this impossible? Nope. Difficult? Definitely. And it's a long term process. But it's well worth the effort. 

For additional ideas about changing education for the better, check out Sam Seidel's book Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education, along with the accompanying video below.


This article also appears at TWIB

Forbidden Tech #4 - Power Wheels

I had the Big Wheel ...

I had the Big Wheel ...

Couldn't get the Power Wheels ...

Couldn't get the Power Wheels ...

Forbidden Tech is my video series where I talk about pieces of technology that I was not allowed to have as a kid, scarring me forever. Check out the earlier Forbidden Tech videos here.

I wanted Power Wheels so bad! I could traverse the terrain of my neighborhood fairly easily with my Big Wheel, but I wasn't rocking in style. Funny thing is, I don't remember seeing many kids in my neighborhood with Power Wheels at all, but that commercial (Pow-pow-power wheels) was the best branding of that time. The song is still stuck in my head.

How do Power Wheels work? A simple rechargeable 12V battery provides power to turn the wheels when a kid presses on the accelerator. Yeah, I definitely wasn't getting one of those.

Check out my video on this - if you can't see it, click here.