Twenty-first Century Racism in America

Tracy Adams

Photo courtesy of Wolfram Kastl/Getty Images

For decades, four simple words have been the articulation of hope for people of color who, speaking out against never-ending violence and injustice in their communities, are simply fed up…“No Justice, No Peace!” These four words have been the rallying cry of every protest, march, and assembly of people who simply just want to be heard. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Over the last several decades, countless police shootings of unarmed Black Americans have gone, and continue to go, unchallenged and unpunished by our nation’s law enforcement.

A demonstrator holds a sign at the rally for Philando Castile outside the Governor’s residence in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2016 – Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull

The Origins of Racism in America

To understand the current state of society, you would have to understand our beginnings as Black people in America. The foundational fabric of the United States of America has been rooted and grounded in slavery from the late 1500s until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, where it became unlawful to enslave, own, purchase, or trade another human being as you would commodities. Prior to the Thirteenth Amendment, property law was applied to every Black man, woman, and child—they were stripped of all dignities and human rights and viewed as property such as real estate or land. Blacks were not viewed as people but rather tangible things that could be manipulated and controlled. This mindset made it all too easy for captors, slave “owners,” and oppressors to disassociate themselves from the humanity of Black people. The elements of human nature did not apply to people of color and they were regarded as sub-human. Blacks could not own property, could not vote, and were denied education and basics of life that we sometimes take for granted. In the 2019 movie “Harriet,” the white plantation owner reprimanded the protagonist, Harriet Tubman, for requesting her freedom by “reminding her” that he allowed her to marry a free Black man even though he was denying her petition to also be free. This highlighted the inhumane circumstance that Black people were denied even basic human rights to decide who and when to marry.

In the years leading up to the drafting of the Constitution of the United States in 1789, the notion of slavery, although widely practiced, was a hotly debated topic to the point that the actual word “slavery” was not included anywhere in the official writings. Yet it was implied that slavery would be legally permitted. Legal sanctioning of slavery, in one form or another, has been a part of American culture since its origins. 

Photo courtesy of Oliver Haynes/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Changing Faces of Slavery

Often when people hear the word “slavery” they immediately imagine shackled, kidnapped, beaten Africans being brought over to the “new world” on ships by Europeans crossing the Atlantic. Although this is a true part of American history, this practice has been banned for over 200 years. Africans are no longer brought over in droves to work fields or gins from sunrise to sunset, but make no mistake, modern-day slavery is alive and well. Slavery takes on many forms in the modern-day world such as “debt bondage, child slavery, domestic servitude, forced labor,” and human trafficking. Over forty million people live in some form of slavery worldwide with 1 in 4 being children and 71% being women and girls. The many changing faces of slavery and social injustice today are far too often masked by political strategies and legislation that make it completely legal to oppress and even eradicate Black people. Some of these avenues of oppression are voter suppression, “justified police shootings,” income inequality, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing. In 2018, the poverty rate for Black people in America was 22% compared to 9% for white people and 19% Hispanic people.

Image Courtesy of Poverty USA

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 sent the Black community and people of all races into utter shock whilst enraging many to the point of action. The actions of four police officers brought feelings of frustration, anger, and fear to what is now an absolute boiling point. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is a language of the unheard.” What we are witnessing in our streets and cities is a collective body of people desiring to be heard, desiring policy changes, desiring people of all shades to be regarded as human beings equally. This desire manifests in the form of peaceful protests as well as lawless rioting and looting. For six years, after the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement has been working tirelessly to bring acute awareness to the sufferings of Black people, to be that united voice of change…real, sustainable change. Healing and transformation is needed, not just for the Black community but for the world. Oppression and segregation have long-reaching effects and hurt every individual that has blood flowing in their veins. It is these social ills that poison and cripple cultural and economic potential. 

The Global Experience

The U.S. is recognized as a world-class leader in power, innovation, entrepreneurship, commerce, immigration, and quality of life. After decades of police brutality, clashes with ill-intended civilian vigilantes, and social injustice against Black people, the question remains: by whose standards is the U.S. a leader? The words of Abraham Lincoln’s campaign speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” still ring boisterously true today. However, we as a nation have somehow forgotten their true meaning. If we say (and believe) that we are world leaders whose actions spark and motivate global reactions, then we collectively have an inherent duty to protect our citizens—each and every one—from division and separatism. By calling uncomfortable matters as they really are and finding sustainable solutions, we can garner the praise that we so relish. As Lincoln revealed, a nation cannot have two sets of differing ideals and expect to be whole. Moreover, it cannot be respected as a leading force if there is chaos within. The world has taken notice and is responding in kind. The BLM movement is sweeping the U.S. and the globe, for what has affected one is now affecting all. People of all races want change; the people want justice for all.

Image Courtesy of US News

Let us remember:

George Floyd

Sandra Bland

Freddie Gray

Breonna Taylor

Tamir Rice

Eric Garner

Philando Castile

Alton Sterling

Oscar Grant

Sean Bell

and countless others…

Talking to My White Child About White Privilege: A Work in Progress

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

I am ashamed to say, my first attempt to explain white privilege to Beckett was only a few months ago. My son is almost twelve and I have been complacent, you see. I have practiced the complacency of a liberal urban mom who is reassured by the diversity of her neighborhood and schools, who has tried to teach anti-racist lessons from day one, who is pleased that her child has a diverse group of friends, happily accompanies her to protests, and asks for birthday donations to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

I am aware of the virtue signaling in my opening paragraph. I am keenly aware of my white fragility: the defensive clinging to a belief in my fundamental goodness and fairness. I want to believe that I have taught Beckett to be good and fair. 

But the shock of the recent racist violence in this country that has come into the foreground of white people’s collective consciousness has forced many of us to realize that we cannot talk about the evils of racism without acknowledging the privileges we enjoy. These privileges are a direct result of the perverted notion of white supremacy that first justified the economic calculus of slavery and segregation, and which continues (consciously or not) to dominate the thinking behind countless political and economic decisions every day. 

So, while my son and I were taking a masked and socially distanced walk last month, Beckett brought up the horrible murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the young man from Georgia who was out for a jog and was hunted down like an animal by two white men who claimed they thought he was a burglar. “I can’t even understand it, mom,” he said. “How could anyone be that racist and evil?”

A Black Lives Matter vigil in Travers Park, Queens – Photo by Gretchen Michelfeld

My first thought was one of shock and surprise. Frankly, I did not even know he was aware of Arbery. That is some privilege right there—believing I have the luxury of shielding my young male child from the ultimate horrors of racism. My second thought was the realization that solely teaching our white children that racism is immoral and being proud that they do not understand how racist violence is possible, is not doing them or their Black and brown peers any favors. While I recognize that being white has helped me in dozens of situations where I was in a jam and needed help from a stranger, it never occurred to me before that I am actually a complicit cog in the twisted wheel of systemic racism. How many lives has my complacency helped to destroy? 

I looked him as much in the eye as I could, though our sweaty fabric masks fogged up our glasses, and I began a conversation about white privilege. 

I told him about the time he was six and he pointed a toy gun at two policemen who laughed and pretended he’d shot them. Then I told him about Tamir Rice who was killed by cops the very same year as he also played with a toy gun. I told him about the time I horrified my non-white friends when I opened a bottle of cold brew coffee and took a swig while we waited in the checkout line. “What’s the big deal?” I asked. “I’m gonna pay for it. Do you want some?” “Oh GOD no!” they answered, “We’re good.” I asked him to imagine being a young Black man these days, needing to go to the store and needing to wear a mask. “But people know we all have to wear masks,” Beckett said, “they can’t assume someone is a criminal because he is wearing a mask.” 

He had actually hit on an easy-to-explain aspect of white privilege—when you are white, people do not ascribe criminality to your everyday behavior or lethality to your resistance. 

I told him that when I’m late for work and running for a bus, I know (if anyone even notices me) that people think, “Oh that poor lady is running late.” I asked him to imagine the decision a Black person must make if they are about to miss the bus. I told him about a Black woman I know who was on her high school track team and was stopped by the cops almost every time she tried to go jogging. I told him about a neighborhood mom he knows, who will not hang out on the corner and chat with friends unless there is at least one white woman in their group. “Why do you think that is?” I asked him. I told him about a political activist we know whose Black husband does not feel comfortable accompanying her when she is knocking on doors to get petitions signed. This was before the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, but I told him about Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Stephon Clark…

“This is like the worst walk ever!” Beckett complained. He cried. He was angry with me. I apologized. I stopped talking.

I worry about overwhelming his already stressed-out-by-coronavirus brain. I worry that I will say exactly the wrong thing and he will tune out forever. I worry that I don’t understand what I’m talking about and that I will make things worse. But I must keep trying. We white people all must. 

In an online school assignment last week, Beckett’s music teacher had the class watch five music videos about racism. He didn’t want to talk about them. 

Today we are going to talk about them. Today might be too late, but it’s better than never. 

A sign seen at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC – Photo by Gretchen Michelfeld

Health: On Mindful Meditation and The Skill of Being Present

Anna Amelianchik

If you are determined to make 2020 your healthiest year yet, now might be the time to add one more item to your list of New Year’s resolutions. While better nutrition and exercise can bring you closer to your fitness goals, your physical health and emotional well-being will most likely further benefit from mindful meditation. Although the practice of meditation dates back to 5000 B.C., meditation as a secular and therapeutic activity in the past several decades brought renewed attention to the ancient practice. In the traditional context, meditation is a mental practice designed to improve concentration, increase awareness of the present moment, and allow for the spiritual exploration of one’s mind. However, a more contemporary definition of meditation refers to the practice of focused attention, mindfulness, and compassion designed, among other things, to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Meditation has also received a lot of attention in the scientific literature, where its benefits on brain function and cardiovascular health have been extensively studied. Scientific studies focusing on the neuroscience of meditation report both short- and long-term changes in brain electrical activity that occur as a result of dedicated meditation practice. These changes include the activation of the frontal cortex of the brain (associated with meta-awareness), the sensory cortex and the insula (associated with body awareness), the hippocampus (linked to cognitive function and memory), and cortical areas (linked to self- and emotion regulation). Scientific studies have also evaluated the effect of meditation on multiple cardiovascular risk factors, such as physiological response to stress, blood pressure, and smoking and tobacco use. These studies concluded that meditation possibly reduces cardiovascular risk. In fact, in 2017, the American Heart Association stated that meditation is a useful therapeutic tool for cardiovascular risk reduction when used as an adjunct to more traditional medical recommendations.

Although multiple forms of meditation exist, mindful mediation, which originated from Buddhist teachings, has been popularized in Western culture by people like Jon-Kabat Zinn, Ph.D., the creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, and Sharon Salzberg. Salzberg is a meditation teacher and a New York Times bestselling author who played a major role in bringing meditation and mindfulness to the West in the 1970s. In December 2019, Salzberg visited The Rockefeller University where she gave a public talk on compassion and guided a short meditation practice. Salzberg described meditation as a skills training which is available to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation or worldview. These skills include concentration, mindfulness, and compassion. “Most of us would describe ourselves as fairly scattered or distracted,” said Salzberg, adding that when we let our attention go to the past or the future, the feelings of regret and anxiety cost us energy. This is why the first principle of meditation is gathering—gathering the attention, learning how to settle, and learning how to center. Salzberg defined the second skill acquired through meditation—mindfulness—as a quality of awareness in which our perception is not distorted by biases, like old fears or pain. Finally, the third skill—compassion—is central to mindful meditation, as this form of meditation teaches one to accept all that arises as a consequence of the practice without judgement. Salzberg highlighted the importance of self-compassion and described it as resilience against the pain of not having fulfilled something or having made a mistake.

The foundational technique of mindful meditation taught by Salzberg and other experts involves choosing an object of awareness, resting all of one’s attention on that object, and bringing the attention back when it wanders without self-inflicted judgement. Commonly, the central object of awareness is the feeling of breath. However, many people find it difficult to continuously focus on breathing and eventually fill their mind with thoughts, which causes them to lose their object of awareness. Salzberg teaches that being able to start over is an important part of meditation: “The healing and the empowerment is in being able to come back. Having self-compassion is not the same thing as being lazy—it’s the source of tremendous strength, not a weakness. Self-compassion is the best way to have a sustained effort toward learning something or making a change.”

Whether you are new to meditation or trying to improve your existing practice, consider following these steps to learn concentration, mindfulness, and compassion:

  1. Sit as comfortably as you can.
  2. Close your eyes or keep them open—however you feel most at ease.
  3. See if you can find the place where your breath is strongest and clearest for you: in the nostrils, the chest, or the abdomen.
  4. Unlike in some yoga traditions, in meditation the breath is natural—do not try to make it deeper or different from your normal breath.
  5. When you find the place where the breath is the clearest for you, bring your attention there and rest.
  6. If you like, you can use a quiet mental notation, such as “in-out” or “rise-fall”, to help support the awareness of the breath.
  7. If images, sounds, sensations, or emotions arise, let them flow, unless they cause you to lose the feeling of the breath.
  8. If you lose the feeling of the breath, it is your chance to let go and begin again by bringing your attention back to your object of awareness.

Salzberg recommended finding a formal dedicated time period for meditation practice—ideally about ten minutes a day during which your only goal is to hone your meditation skills. Although some meditation teachers encourage their students to meditate in the morning, Salzberg believes that the best time for meditation should be determined by you. In addition to dedicated practice, the “short moments many times” type of meditation can help you be present when you are under the most pressure and during the most complex times of the day. Consider taking a few mindful breaths before making a phone call, writing an email, or attending an important meeting. However, just like weight training makes your muscles stronger and prevents you from strain-induced injury, dedicated meditation allows you to practice being present to protect your physical and emotional health from the stresses of modern life.

Last March, Ann Campbell, MSN, MPH, an occupational health nurse practitioner at The Rockefeller University and a Nalanda Institute fellow, and the late Dr. Bruce McEwen, the head of Rockefeller’s Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, formed an interdisciplinary steering committee which currently includes scientists and non-scientists who are interested in measuring the effect of mindfulness practices on health and expanding the available classes on campus.

McEwen’s research indicated that mindfulness practices might have an impact on public health. Campbell was interested in clinical translation of mindfulness practices as a clinical practitioner. Before the steering committee was formed, there were no free yoga classes on campus. Currently there are five yoga classes and two free 30-minute meditation sessions available to the members of the Rockefeller community for free. In addition to expanding mindfulness practices on campus, the committee is working to develop clinical protocols to measure the effect of mindfulness practices on various health outcomes in patient populations, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In particular, they will focus on the effect of mindfulness practices on the results of blood tests, levels of inflammatory markers, and gene expression. Additionally, they are organizing a journal club and bringing speakers to increase awareness of the benefits of mindful meditation.

It can be advantageous to do mediation in guided sessions versus on your own because when someone guides you, this helps you understand barriers and create an awareness of “inner landscape.” You can attend one of these mindfulness practice sessions on Tuesdays at 12 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. in Rockefeller Research Building 110.

Giving during the Season of Giving

Natalia Ketaren

Fall has broken, the nights are getting chillier and the holiday season is fast approaching. For many of us, this is a time for family, giving, and quality time with loved ones. The words “Joy,” “Merry,” and “Spirit” are in abundance. They are a reminder that with this cold, wintery season approaching, we shouldn’t be wintery inside. This holiday season is steeped with virtuous traditions. At the core of them all is a time of reflection, making us thankful for the positive things that have come our way. Often these moments of reflection encourage us to share our giving spirit to our unseen neighbors here in New York City, our neighbors in need.

Here are a few suggestions to give to those in need in NYC during this holiday season:

New York Cares Winter Wishes

In NYC every year, one in ten NYC students experience homelessness. The “Winter Wishes” program run by New York City Cares is a holiday gift drive aimed at providing gifts to children and teens from low-income families. Children and families write “winter wish” letters that are matched with volunteers. This is a wonderful way to spread some cheer this holiday season. Visit for more information.

Hope For New York

I’ve been volunteering with HFNY for many years now. They are a non-denominational Christian organization that is affiliated with many charitable organizations, offering support to our most vulnerable neighbors here in NYC. Their mission is for NYC to be, “…a city in which all people experience spiritual, social, and economic flourishing through the demonstration of Christ’s love.” Their website allows you to navigate through their many opportunities, which range from educational support for low-income individuals, to assisting with meal services for the needy. Visit for more information.

Coat Drives

We all know the necessity of a warm coat during this holiday season. There are many places in the city to donate a gently used coat you’ve lost need of. New York Cares has an annual coat drive with many drop off location throughout the city. Additionally, the New Museum partners with their neighbor, The Bowery Mission, to collect coats and shoes for those in need, which usually spans the end of November to the end of December. Those who donate typically get free admission to the museum. You can also drop your coat and shoes (and any other clothes you may no longer need) directly at The Bowery Mission, which is right next door. Visit and for more information.

For direct drop-offs at the Bowery Mission, visit 227 Bowery, New York, NY 10002 (open 24 hours)

God’s Love We Deliver

Many of our sick neighbors in NYC find it difficult to afford healthy meal options. “God’s Love We Deliver” cooks, prepares, and delivers nutritious, medically tailored meals for those too unwell to do so for themselves. You can donate on their site or get involved directly by volunteering with them. Visit for more information.

These are just a few ways to give this holiday season!

Final note: there can be a tendency to be overwhelmed this time of year. One thing to remember is that there is no small gift–if it comes from a place of kindness.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!


More Wine, Please

Tracy Adams

Image courtesy of Gimme Some

If you’re like me and absolutely love the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, then this is the time of year that we’ve all been waiting for. There are certain things that are synonymous with Christmas and the holiday seasons, such as city streets lined with holiday decorations of bright lights and festive garlands, storefronts exuding aromatic spices and savory aromas that permeate the normally foul smelling air, velvety smooth chocolates at every turn, and loads of wines and spirits in every size, flavor, and variety. It’s the one time of the year where conservative portions are ill-advised and more (not less) is delightfully anticipated and accepted.

Along with the holiday season comes traditions and favorites (old and new), including everything from handed down family recipes of savory goodness to century old timeless staples. Wine has been in existence since as early as 7000 B.C. from Asia to Europe to the Americas. Fermented drinks have become a symbol of transformation and have been referenced in literary works as signs of happiness, luxury, and friendship.

Mulled wine, also known as spiced wine, first made its appearance in the 2nd century A.D. by the Romans as an effort to warm the body during cold nights. By definition, “mulled” means to heat, sweeten and flavor with spices. By process, it is a red wine that has been treated, heated and sifted to harmoniously marry spices such as cinnamon, anise and cloves with hints of orange flavor (if desired). Mulled wine can be served hot or warm and can be found in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. Although it can be enjoyed anytime, it is a popular beverage made throughout Europe mostly available around Christmas. Mulling spices are not limited to wines–they can also be found in mulled cider or ale, when the spices are added during the brewing process to make spiced beer.

It has been said that one should “take a little wine for the stomach’s sake,” but it has also been noted that mulled wine might have some health benefits similar to red wine.

For year-round indulgence, try the following recipe:

How to Eat Takeout and Stay Healthy

Anna Amelianchik

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich triumphantly returned to the fast-food chain on November 3, causing nearly as much frenzy as it did when it was first released in August. What is it about the coveted sandwich that makes customers turn to violence in the face of sandwich shortage? The answer may be found in the nutrition facts. Popeyes confirmed to that at 690 kcal, each sandwich contains a whopping fourteen grams of saturated fat and 1,443 milligrams of sodium—more than half of the recommended daily sodium intake limit. Although the taste is highly rewarding, the overabundance of salt and grease is what contributes to poor health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to salt and fat, the typical American diet goes above the recommended limit for the intake of added sugars while lacking in fruit and vegetables and, as a result, dietary fiber. Interestingly, foods perceived as neutral or even healthy (such as sauces and condiments, frozen foods, and some cooking oils) may contain an excess of sodium, saturated fat, or added sugars, and tip the scale in the direction of unhealthy eating patterns. Although the best way to avoid such foods is to cook all of your meals at home, in a city like New York where takeout options are numerous and the pace of life does not leave much time for food preparation, it may not always be feasible.

To help our community make healthier choices when ordering restaurant meals, the Department of Human Resources at The Rockefeller University invited Arielle Leben, a Registered Dietician from New York University Langone Center for Cardiovascular Disease, to give a talk as part of the Wellness Lecture Series. According to Leben, building a balanced plate is key to ensuring your takeout choices promote your overall health. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends the following breakdown for a healthy balanced plate: 25% lean protein, 50% vegetables and fruits, and 25% quality carbohydrates. The focus on lean proteins (skinless chicken or turkey, fish, or eggs), fiber-rich vegetables and fruits, and whole grains will ensure your meal will keep you full without causing your blood sugar to spike. Leben also adds that the addition of healthy fats, such as olive oil or avocado, will promote good health when consumed in moderation.

The Healthy Eating Plate can be used for creating healthy, balanced takeout meals. Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,, and Harvard Health Publications,

The method of preparation of your meats and vegetables can also make a difference for your health. Ms. Leben recommends avoiding anything that is fried, crispy, crunchy, battered, buttered, or creamy and choosing steamed, boiled, poached, grilled, or roasted foods.

If you opt for vegan meat alternatives, be aware that your choices might be significantly higher in saturated fat and sodium when compared to animal sources of protein. For instance, a four-ounce Impossible Burger contains two grams more saturated fat and nearly five times more sodium than 85% lean ground beef. When choosing your vegetables, remember to pick the non-starchy kind to avoid overloading on carbohydrates. However, when it comes to carbohydrates, quality is just as important as quantity. Although carbohydrate needs may vary depending on your activity level and weight goals, choosing whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, is key to achieving a nutritional balance. In addition to balance, portion size is key whether your goal is to shed some pounds or maintain your healthy weight. Leben recommends using an appetizer plate to determine the correct portion sizes for your meals and asking for takeout containers for the food that exceeds what your body actually needs. Another tip for making your takeout meal healthier is to ask for dressing and sauces on the side. This way, although you may not have control over the sodium or the sugar content of these foods, you will be able to control how much of them you add to your diet.

Finally, the pro tip for making every restaurant dish a healthy option is to ask questions about your food and to not be afraid to make substitutions. “You will be surprised once you start asking [questions]. I was at a Mediterranean restaurant a few months ago,” says Leben, “and you would think Mediterranean food [would have] olive oil, of course. Everything was made in butter! I could not find a vegetable that was not made in butter.” When it comes to substitutions, skipping French fries and ordering half of a baked sweet potato or asking to replace buttered vegetables with steamed/lightly sautéed ones are good ways to make sure your side dish does not throw off the balance on your plate. Regardless of whether your go-to is Chipotle or sweetgreen, these simple instructions will ensure your diet works to promote your overall health:

  1. Increase your fiber intake by loading up on non-starchy vegetables (greens, fajita vegetables, and black beans have the Registered Dietitian’s stamp of approval).
  2. Pick lean proteins and skip processed meats (e.g. chorizo) and meats high in saturated fat (e.g. steak).
  3. Do not skip carbohydrates. Quality choices like whole grains (e.g. brown rice) or starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato/butternut squash) will keep your full for longer.
  4. Choose 1-2 servings of healthy fat (avocado, nuts, or cheese).
  5. Don’t be afraid to add flavor with hot sauce, salsa, or “light dressing” like a squeeze of lemon or red chili flakes.
  6. Say no to packaged sides (e.g. chips), cookies and soda, all of which will add calories without adding much nutrition

When it comes to foods that are commonly perceived as unhealthy, Leben recommends exercising portion control and carefully thinking about how the ingredients add to the nutritional composition of these foods. For example, pizza lovers will be happy to find out that you can maintain your weight and promote your health if you choose thinner crusts or opt for whole wheat or cauliflower crust substitutions, go light on cheese, and try to not overindulge. Pizza toppings are also key to ensuring your love for pizza does not compromise your health: add vegetables (e.g. spinach, mushrooms, green peppers) and avoid processed meats (e.g. pepperoni, sausage, bacon).

The last piece of advice from Leben may be obvious, but it is too often overlooked: cut out sugary beverages (containing either real sugar or artificial sweeteners) and drink a lot of water. Dehydration can have negative consequences on various aspects of your well-being, but increasing your fiber intake without also increasing water consumption will lead to gastrointestinal distress.

If at this point you still find yourself thinking about the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, we have the good news for you. “I totally think there are times to enjoy those foods!” says Leben. “This is the everyday stuff that is going to contribute to our cholesterol panel, our hemoglobin A1C and all of that!”

New Year’s Eve in NYC

Emma Filgate

Photo Courtesy of John Minchillo, Associated Press

New Year’s Eve marks the start of something new and the bittersweet goodbye to the past presented in just a one-minute long countdown. The world holds its breath as one year becomes the next. Neighbors shout, “See you next year!” to each other on December 31st as if it is their first time saying it. Cities mark the occasion across the world with fireworks and all kinds of celebration. When people think of New Year’s Eve in the United States, New York City is the first thing that comes to mind. Every New Year’s Eve Times Square is packed even tighter than normal. Eager, rosy faces ignore the chill in the air and countdown along with families snuggled up on the couch watching the festivities from their televisions. This New York tradition has been in practice since 1907 and has become a solid part of New York’s history. The crowd in Times Square feels the electric energy in the air as the ball drops inch by inch.

New Year’s celebrations actually started 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon civilizations according to the HISTORY CHANNEL. Originally the new year was celebrated in March until Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar marking January 1st as the official start of the new year. Janus the Roman God (for which January is named after) has two heads. This gives him the ability to look towards the future while also looking back on the past.

We have come a long way from the first New Year’s Eve, but one thing remains the same–it is a time for people to reflect on the past year. This includes the good moments, the bad times, and the hopeful ways we can improve upon them in the upcoming year. Just like Janus, we look in both directions of our lives. Living in New York City makes it easy to keep going and going without taking a break, but there is something special about taking a moment to celebrate the past and embrace the future.

On the other hand, there is an undeniable pressure that everyone feels when it comes to New Year’s Eve. Add in the fact that we live in the city that never sleeps–the pressure is really on to do something fun. Maybe it is how it is represented in movies, but the romanticism of New Year’s Eve is alive and well, even in 2019. While some may feel the need to go out, others are desperate to stay in away from the pushy crowds, cold winds, and tourists. One has to wonder, what makes New Year’s Eve so great? What makes it turn so terrible some years?

At the core of New Year’s Eve lies this: even the loneliest feel hope. The new year is a new start. The winter snow covers the city, providing a perfect clean slate over everything it touches. For a brief moment- the clock stops, and the world takes a collective pause. The only sound that can be heard is the last inhale of breath before the year starts once again. By the time the exhaled breath turns into steam on screaming lips, the new year is here. It is time to begin again. That is the magic of New Year’s Eve and why we try so desperately every year to capture it. When the magic of New York City and New Year’s Eve collide even for just a brief moment, all we could hope for is possible.

Resolutions? Goals? Let’s Talk New Year!

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

The author enjoys a River Campus walk with Evan Shoemake of the Kreek Lab. Photo courtesy of Evan Davis.

According to a 2015 study by U.S. News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail and most people abandon them by the second week of February. Many of us start off with the best of intentions, inspired to finally lose that weight, take up a new hobby, save more money, or drink less alcohol, only to give up on our aspirations fewer than fifty days later.

Perhaps that’s why so many folks in the Rockefeller University community have resolved to give up resolutions all together. Over half the participants declared themselves “not resolution people” in an informal campus survey. “I gave up making resolutions long ago,” said one anonymous respondent. “Each day is an opportunity to improve,” said another.

But for those of us who do wish to make a fresh start in 2020, the trend these days seems to be toward setting goals. “Instead of resolutions, I have specific things I want to do every year: a list of books I want to read, a trip I want to take, and one personal goal I want to accomplish,” said Adriana Barillas-Batarse, Senior Program Manager of Clinical Programs at the Vaccine Center. In 2019, she read (among others) five books she had set her sights on reading, took a trip to Japan, and accomplished a very special personal objective–after years of concentrating on other priorities, she started writing again.

Jennifer Groves, Program Manager for the Department of Research Support, has a similar preference for goals over resolutions. “I no longer make New Year’s resolutions,” declared Groves. “I’ve found most of my resolutions impossible to commit to. They’ve seemed like penance for the past year instead of actions to gain a positive reward. When I decided to reframe them into written ideas and goals for the coming year, I felt better about the whole ‘resolution’ thing. Now I ask myself, ‘What am I striving for this year?’ Each year I get quiet, and I write it all down.” Sometimes Groves will find that her aspirations change as the year goes on, but it’s often the case that when she checks in with herself during the year about those goals, they have already been attained.

One person on campus who has not given up on the good old-fashioned New Year’s resolution, is R.U. Fitness Manager, Timothy Blanchfield. Blanchfield has robust anecdotal evidence to support the discouraging U.S. News & World Report study. In fact, Blanchfield has observed that most folks who resolve to lose weight in the New Year start working out in January and don’t even make it to February! Tim has some stick-to-it tips for those of us who have decided to get in shape in 2020.

Blanchfield believes it’s crucial to make a resolution, set a firm start date, and hold yourself to it. “The trick is to have a plan not just some vague aspiration,” he said.

And for Blanchfield, the best way to stay with the plan is to commit to an event.

“Commit to running a 5K. Find a race, register for it, and start training,” suggested Blanchfield. “If you’re going to run a 5K race in five months, you need to start working out five days a week right now. This is a great way to keep moving–work towards something tangible and specific.”

Need more or less of a challenge? Blanchfield maintains it’s not important what event you choose as long as you pick one and stay with it. “A charity walk, an Ironman triathlon, a half-marathon… find the right event for you, the right location, and the best timing. Tell yourself that this is what I have to get ready for.”

I asked Blanchfield if he could suggest any other resolutions that might complement a New Year’s fitness resolution.

“Longevity studies consistently indicate that the key to living a long and healthy life is to stay connected to other people,” said Blanchfield. “This year, make a resolution to nurture relationships. Joining a book club or taking a class with a friend might lead to a healthier lifestyle. Maybe you’ll meet a workout buddy or you and your friend walk to class together. Plan a group walk through Central Park—interpersonal relationships create activity.”

Nurturing relationships definitely paid off for Barillas-Batarse when she resolved to start writing again. She and a pal signed up for some free creative writing workshops together. Sharing your goals or resolutions with others helps you stay accountable. And being more in touch with family and friends is also a very popular New Year’s resolution.

So is saving money. According to Inc. Newsletter, resolutions to get out of debt or save more for retirement top the lists of most Americans every year.

Wellness, relationships, personal finance—whatever your goals for 2020, making a date with a friend to do the Rockefeller River Campus walk a few times a week is a resolution that is healthy, nurturing, and free of charge. I’ll see you out there!

The Stonewall Inn 1969: Fifty Years and Beyond

Nan Pang

With 2020 fast approaching, it is the time of year for end of year reflections. This year marked the half-century anniversary of some significant events in modern American history. While Neil Armstrong was taking one giant leap for mankind on the moon in 1969, back on Earth, a hairpin drop from Greenwich Village was heard around the world. The Stonewall riots are a significant turning point in the modern LGBTQ+ movement, and its legacy of struggle and triumph continues to impact the world today.

The History

The living situation for LGBTQ+ people in the 1960s was far from ideal. At this time, employment discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people had not yet been criminalized, and some were still arrested for their same-sex relationships citing state sodomy laws. In fact, in nine states, sodomy laws were explicitly rewritten so that they only applied to gay people. Although New York City offered the LGBTQ+ community a small taste of freedom, it was still oppressive. Gays in New York formed a community around Christopher Street in Greenwich Village despite the common police raids of pro-LGBTQ+ bars in the 1960s. In June 1969, however, something changed. The patrons at the Stonewall Inn had finally had enough. Their fury from echoed across the US and became a liberation movement.


Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969.

On June 28, 1969, as the clock struck a quarter past one, eight police officers raided the Stonewall Inn. “Police! We’re taking the place!” Over 200 people were at the bar that night—chaos erupted as many started to flee the scene, but the police blocked the doors. “Things happened so fast you kind of got caught not knowing. All of a sudden there were police there and we were told to all get in lines and to have our identification ready to be led out of the bar,” says Michael Fader, who was at the Stonewall that night.

However, the raid did not go as initially planned. Normally the bystanders would just watch as the police made arrests—a typical scene at a gay bar raid back then. That night at Stonewall, something unprecedented happened. Whether it was a hairpin, or a coin, or a brick, something was thrown at police from the crowd. Then a transgender woman in handcuffs was escorted from Stonewall while she fought with four of the police. As she had been hit on the head by an officer with a baton, she looked at bystanders and shouted, “Why don’t you guys do something?” The scene exploded and quickly became a massive riot as bar patrons, bystanders, and police became more aggressive and violent. That night, one small pebble thrown at injustice caused hundreds of ripples, which eventually became larger waves in the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.

The Legacy

Since the Stonewall riots, June has become a month of celebration for the LGBTQ+ community. On June 28, 1970, which marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, over 5000 women and men marched from Christopher Street to Central Park, which marked the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history along with satellite marches in Los Angeles and Chicago. In 1971, Gay Pride marches also took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. By 1972, the participating cities expanded to Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, D.C., Miami, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco.

The Christopher Street Liberation Day March on June 28, 1970 — the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
Credit: Michael Evans/The New York Times

This is when the same-sex marriage movement began in the US with Baker v. Nelson seeking legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Although the Baker v. Nelson plea was unsuccessful, it served as a stepping-stone to further legal challenge as the Supreme Court suggested the possibility that the state’s prohibition might be unconstitutional. This decision caused a stir in public discussion, as well as increased awareness of the movement in the United States. The same-sex marriage rights movement finally came to fruition in Massachusetts in 2004. Same sex marriage was legal in two states in 2008, eight states and D.C. in 2012, and eventually in 37 states. While this movement was a victory for same-sex couples, it also provoked a reaction from opponents of same-sex marriage, which resulted in lawsuits in certain states that still denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage and finally brought marriage equality to all fifty states. While this Supreme Court decision recognized marriage equality across all states, Justice Anthony Kennedy embodied the quintessence of marriage in the final paragraph of his opinion, emphasizing why LGBTQ+ people have fought so hard for same-sex marriage:


“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Stonewall: Fifty and Beyond


In June of this year, New York City hosted WorldPride during the fifty-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The New York Post reported that “there were about 150,000, or twice the usual number of participants marching down Fifth Avenue this year, easily the most ever.” At the same time, there was an estimate of “another more than 2.5 million, or greater than the typical number, showed up along the sidelines to cheer them on.”

The LGBTQ+ rights movement in the US has made significant progress since the Stonewall riots. Today, we benefit from LGBTQ+ rights secured by our predecessors’ fierce fight for the past fifty years and before. Recent Gallup polls show that the United States has made some dramatic shifts in LGBTQ+ acceptance in 2019 since its first poll in 1977. While LGBTQ+ rights advocates can count many victories in recent decades since the Stonewall riots, there are still areas where activists seek improvements.

For instance, although society has become more accepting towards the LGBTQ+ community, as the poll indicates, LGBTQ+ youth still face rejection and discrimination. They are five times more likely to have attempted suicide as their peers. In more recent events, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans (71%) support transgender people in the military, the current administration instructed the Armed Services to begin discharging transgender service members effective April 12, 2019.

As we acknowledge and appreciate our predecessors’ tremendous struggles, efforts, and victories, we must also think about what we can leave behind for future LGBTQ+ generations. While activists and advocates address such issues tirelessly, we as a society sometimes underestimate the power of our own voices and actions. The Stonewall Inn became a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ+ movement and proudly still stands. Its neon light has been, and will be, navigating us toward the courage to speak up and will give us the tenacity to fight injustice, just like that single hairpin fifty years ago shaped the society that we know today.


Editorial Note: this article was originally published in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center LGBTQ+ Pride Employee Resource Network Newsletter and was revised by the Natural Selections Editorial Board.

And for Dessert…

Aileen Marshall

New York cheesecake, by sabotrax via Wikicommons

A plain New York-style cheesecake, by Dllu via Wikicommons

When you think of an iconic New York City dessert, most people think of cheesecake. Some form of cheesecake has been around for thousands of years, with many countries having their own style or flair. Not everyone agrees on how the New York City style originated, evolving to have a cream cheese base and a graham cracker crust, which makes it rich, smooth, and creamy.

The earliest cheesecake, known as “libum,” was created in Greece on the island of Samos. Archeologists have dated cheesecake pans from Greece to around 2000 B.C. It is said that cheesecake was fed to the first Olympians in 776 B.C. to give them strength. The first recorded recipe appears in De Agricultura around 234 B.C., written by historian and senator Marcus Porcius Cato. The recipe calls for pounding cheese until it is smooth, adding honey and wheat flour, and then baking it. When Rome conquered Greece in the second century B.C., they discovered this cheesecake and spread it throughout the rest of the Roman Empire.

Over the centuries, many countries developed their own type of cheesecake. Regional versions vary based on ingredients, textures, and setting by refrigeration or baking. Italian cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese. French cheesecake is known for its very light consistency, using Neufchâtel cheese and gelatin.  In the British Isles, crushed biscuits make up the base, and the cheesecake is topped with a variety of fruit compotes. Grecians today use Mizithra, cheese made from sheep’s milk and whey, or feta. German cheesecake has a pastry dough base and uses quark, a fresh cheese made from curdled sour milk, similar to cottage cheese. Japanese cheesecake uses cornstarch and eggs and has a more cake-like texture. Indian cheesecake is known as chhena poda and is made from cottage cheese, sugar, and nuts.

The type of cheesecakes we are familiar with in the United States are technically custards, not cakes. The New York style of cheesecake is based on cream cheese, has a crushed graham cracker base, and is served pure, without any flavorings or toppings. It is known for being very creamy but not too heavy.  In Chicago you will find a sour cream based cheesecake that is soft on the inside, with a shortbread crust. Saint Louis’s cheesecake is made from butter with a layer of cake on top. California style cheesecake has a light texture with lemon flavoring, a cookie crumb crust, and sour cream topping.

Cheesecake was brought to this country by European immigrants starting in the eighteenth century. At that point, Europeans had started adding eggs instead of yeast to their recipes, giving cheesecake the consistency we know today. In 1872, William Lawrence, a dairy farmer from Chester, New York, tried to make the French-style Neufchâtel cheese. While trying to copy this milk-based cheese, William Lawrence added cream instead of milk, and came up with a denser and creamier form, which he dubbed cream cheese. A grocery distributor sold it for Lawrence in foil wrappers. It was eventually bought by the Kraft Company and has been sold as Philadelphia Cream Cheese since 1928.

It was the invention of cream cheese that allowed the New York style cheesecake to originate. While sources say that it is based on the Eastern European style, another claim to the origin is from our old friend Arnold Reuben, of the reuben sandwich fame. He claimed that he had a cheese pie at a friend’s house one day and was so enamored with it he that took his hostess’ recipe and worked with his chef to develop what we know as the New York style cheesecake. It was sold at his Turf Restaurant on 49th Street and Broadway in the 1930s. This type of cheesecake then appeared at the famous Lindy’s Broadway restaurant in the 1940s. Tales say that Lindy got it from a chef he hired from Reuben’s.

Yet another claim to the origin of New York style cheesecake is from the famous Junior’s restaurant. The original owner, Harry Rosen, had a restaurant called Enduro Cafe at the flagship site on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn since 1929. In 1950, he changed the name to Junior’s in honor of his two sons. One son, Marvin, said that his father would ship home cheesecakes he had tasted from everywhere he went. Rosen worked with his baker, Eigel Petersen, to develop the cheesecake that is still sold in his restaurants today. In the Village Voice in 1973, journalist Ron Rosenblum declared, “There will never be a better cheesecake than the cheesecake they serve at Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue…it’s the best cheesecake in New York.” That same year it won a contest for best cheesecake run by New York Magazine.

Although numerous city establishments serve or sell New York style cheesecake, it is possible to make one at home. Here is a recipe from Molly O’Neil’s New York Cookbook:


Recipe of a Lifetime: Junior’s Cheesecake

1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons sifted cornstarch

30 ounces (3 3/4 large packages) cream cheese, softened

1 large egg

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with the graham cracker crumbs and refrigerate the pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and the cornstarch. Beat in the cream cheese. Beat in the egg. Slowly drizzle in the heavy cream, beating constantly. Add the vanilla and stir well.
  3. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the top is golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 3 hours.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Denaturing the Mind for Discovery – Remembering Kary Mullis through the Voice of Italo Calvino

Sarah Baker

Photo courtesy of the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel laureate Kary Mullis passed away on August 7, 2019 at the age of 74. Although a controversial scientific figure due to his climate change denial, rejection of the fact that HIV causes AIDS, strong belief in astrology, and open use of hallucinogenic drugs, it is impossible to deny the importance of his contribution to biology: the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. I wrote this piece for Stephen Hall’s Advanced Science Communication course a couple of years ago that asked students to imitate a famous author’s distinct writing style to narrate a well-known scientific discovery. Intrigued by the idea that Mullis thought up PCR while under the influence of LSD, I tried to inhabit Mullis’ mind during this time. The style of the Italian post-modern fiction writer Italo Calvino, with its overly elaborate and somewhat mystical style, seemed to be a perfect fit for the story of the invention of PCR. The following is a fictionalization of Mullis’ insight.

Photo Courtesy of

Well this is the story I will tell you and this is how I remember it. There I was, driving up and down the winding road, my beautiful Jennifer sleeping beside me, and I was in love with each turn as I headed towards my cabin. And by love I do not mean romantic love in the truest sense. It was the kind of love that comes from the full joy of being in the moment, hands gripped on the wheel. If I am being perfectly honest, I was not completely sober, but I am pleased to say that I felt as if I was in complete control of that vehicle. Or to represent the situation more truly, the LSD in my system could’ve been gone at that point. But, you know, in reality it was always there. You must understand that this was the type of road where everything looked the same, even if you had made the drive along the two-lane highway dozens of times before, as I had.

I remember it well how each redwood would try to pass by in a blur, but I would not let them do that to me. What I would really try to do was to shift one into focus, and then the next. I did this to try to understand their beauty, as you must admit that you have tried to do before too. Maybe I was driving too fast, but to be honest about it, I did not care. There was no point in worrying about it. I had to stay focused on each second to comprehend that road. I looked over and she was awake, asking me how much further, but I did not know. If I think about it, you know, it felt like only a few seconds since we were in Cloverdale. But then I saw the mile marker coming into view, and I realized that we passed Cloverdale 50 miles ago. The rolling hills had swallowed me, or rather I had the feeling that I was coming out of a deep abyss. But then, as sharply as the feeling of falling deeper and deeper, I had this feeling of serenity because I came out anew on the other side. When I try to describe it more accurately, it felt as if I was controlling my own body as I travelled as a roller coaster through the trees. There was this pulsing feeling as my brain was ebbing and flowing with the car, expanding and contracting with my thoughts.

Now really up until now I have been setting up the space in which I was existing in this moment. But to help you understand better, let’s go to the real beginning. Throughout the upward and downward tree-filled monotonous drive, my mind shifted to my work, as it tended to do. I made it so that DNA was passing by in my mind. And as I usually did, I boiled it in the heat of my mind, denaturing A’s and T’s and G’s and C’s. As my concentration cooled, the DNA retook its shape. I could do this over and over and it pleased me to watch this process to pass the time. This is not something I ever really wondered about, but it was just something that I did. So what I am speaking of is that my mind can see itself, as I am sure you have felt before. To be more precise about it, this is something that I had probably done thousands of times and I would play this process on repeat. First of all, I added heat to separate the helix. Then I watched closely as the strands came apart. Then I added my oligotide and the polymerase cut as it had been designed by nature to do.

But to make this point clear, up until now, it was always the same in my mind. So to follow my story, you must understand that as I was rocked by the rolling of the road, I suddenly thought of adding another oligotide. I let this oligotide slip into the slate of my mind and now there were two oligotides on the surface right in front of me, dangling right before my windshield. Then, as I had thought of countless times before, polymerase entered and polymerase copied. Now, if you are imagining it like I am, there were two DNA strands. But here is where this played again in my concentrated mind. All I had to do was denature and then cool once more, over and over again. If you see it with me, four DNA strands will be lying before you. Now you do it again. You see eight strands, and then sixteen, and on and on it goes. If you follow me now, you know that I extended this process to the limits of my mind, until my mind was full of DNA. Then there were too many DNA strands and they were leaking out. I was becoming aware that as I lost count, I had stumbled upon a significant discovery.

Coming back to the reality before me, I wondered how I had arrived at the cabin. This wonder hit me with fury as I was daunted by the realization of the redwoods towering over me again. Here I must explain that even with the awareness that I was more tired than ever before, and maybe less conscious, I had never felt more alive. The need for a pen overwhelmed me and I had to draw outside my mind to see what my mind saw. Where was that bottle of Cabernet that I brought with me? I poured out a glass and drew out the DNA as it amplified. This was undoubtedly a computer propagating numbers faster than I could think them. I was replicating, over, over, over—and it is difficult to describe in precise terms whether I was awake or asleep. I was totally lost and the wine had my consciousness in and out. But as I daydreamed and night-dreamed, what I saw clearly in my mind was a chain reaction. I was taken over by the thought that others had surely done this chain reaction? But then I knew this was not the case or I would have heard about it. It is difficult to say when I suddenly realized that Jennifer was out taking in the sun by the pond. Was it morning?

Biologists Call for Open Science, but Competition Creates Challenges

Audrey Goldfarb

Transparent and thorough communication of data has the potential to streamline major scientific advances. For Dr. Maryam Zaringhalam, open science practices like these would have transformed her Ph.D. thesis. “While I was at Rockefeller, I was scooped five times,” she said.

As a student in Nina Papavasiliou’s lab, Zaringhalam aimed to develop a method to map the RNA modification pseudouridine throughout the transcriptome. However, she was stopped cold by the simultaneous publication of several similar methods.  Had her field been more communicative and forthright about work in progress, she could have redirected her time and energy to other pursuits.

Zaringhalam pivoted her focus to a comparative analysis on these techniques and encountered another frustrating development: the methods were difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce.

Due to the problems she encountered in her field, Zaringhalam developed passions for both transparent science communication and ways to improve reproducibility. She published her Methods paper “Pseudouridylation meets next-generation sequencing” in September 2016 and graduated the following spring with an offer in hand to become an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) science policy fellowship.

Though many biologists may support the concept of open science, including open access publishing, many are also apprehensive. This contradiction is a product of our academic culture, which tends to assess the worth of data by the journal it is published in, rather than evaluating robustness on a case-by-case basis. In an increasingly competitive field, publishing in Cell, Nature, and Science has become the expectation at elite institutions. Scientists at all career stages want to change these policies and practices, but fighting the system is risky for trainees and untenured professors. Established heads of lab and scientists working in science communication and policy, however, can leverage their influence and security to promote a move towards open science.

As an AAAS Fellow, Zaringhalam specialized in open science and data science policy in biomedical research. “Policy is really exciting for me because I can keep learning, which is the reason why I, and a lot of people, wanted to become scientists,” she said. “I see how that learning applies to how research is ultimately done, in academia and beyond.”

A big part of Zaringhalam’s work focuses on reproducibility and equipping scientists with tools to generate reproducible research. Using electronic laboratory notebooks like Jupyter and version-control software like GitHub, for example, facilitates easy access to data and pipelines necessary to reproduce and repurpose data.

Zaringhalam recently led a workshop in which scientists were asked to reproduce data from several papers, which proved difficult. The group then discussed ideas such as introducing reproducibility as a criterion in the peer review process. “We had some nice discussions and ideas coming out about what needs to change within our culture to create a research environment that’s more collaborative rather than competitive,” Zaringhalam said.

Zaringhalam recently transitioned into a new role as a Data Science and Open Science Specialist at the National Library of Medicine, where she will continue to tackle the reproducibility problem. “This is the first time I’ve had a job that wasn’t a fellowship,” Zaringhalam said. “I will have a lot more opportunity to be thinking long-term about what kind of presence and impact I can have.”

Scientists tend to focus their efforts on communicating positive, exciting results because it is difficult to publish negative results in high-impact journals. Zaringhalam argues that this culture impedes progress. “The publishing space is very competitive, and people don’t necessarily want to read about the things that didn’t go right even though there’s a lot of value in that,” she said.

“We do have this responsibility to show what we’ve done, whether it’s positive, negative, or non-confirmatory,” Zaringhalam said. Cleaning up the data to make it sharable and reusable allows it to be repurposed. Moreover, if an experiment does not work, that is good for the next person to know. “There’s some work to be done to think about how we can change that culture and how we can see negative and non-confirmatory results as being useful,” Zaringhalam said.

Recent developments to ameliorate these issues include open access journals and pre-prints, which allow researchers to publish primary research manuscripts without being subjected to an extensive review process that favors high-impact results.

“You have to have these results published where researchers are already looking if you want them to encounter them,” Zaringhalam said. BioRxiv, a pre-print server, has become increasingly popular, with over 1 million papers downloaded as pre-prints every month, many to later be published in peer-reviewed journals. ASAPbio, headed by biochemist Dr. Jessica K. Polka, is another organization that encourages pre-prints in biology and calls for the publication of peer review to make the publication process more transparent and accountable.

Dr. Harold Varmus, co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on retroviral oncogenes, has been influential in shaping science policy and promoting open science. He has served as the Director of the National Institutes of Health and President and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and currently heads a lab as the Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell. Varmus co-founded  Public Library of Science (PLoS), and headed several successful efforts to make papers publicly available. “Science should be shared,” he said.

Varmus, Zaringhalam, and many others share the belief that the pressure to publish in prestigious journals undermines the accessibility of science. “In the biomedical world, we are not very open,” Varmus said. “We all work hard, but our values have been distorted.”

Still, a rigorous peer review process is important. “If you believe that peer review does something, you can’t be satisfied by only the preprint form,” Varmus said. “Work needs to be subjected to stiff statistical analysis and validation that people have been lax about.” The goal is to judge data more on its robustness and reproducibility, and less on bold and flashy claims.

Although most scientists may agree with this in principle, trainees and untenured investigators hesitate to sacrifice prestige and potential career advancement. Refraining from the opportunity to publish in elite journals might not result in an impact big enough to be worth the risk. It may be that real change needs to come from people with career and financial security. “The government and other funders have the real power here,” Varmus said.

For trainees and junior faculty, Zaringhalam recommends using electronic laboratory notebooks to record protocols; she also emphasizes the importance of designing clear presentations. These practices gear lab culture towards reproducibility and collaboration. “Even if it’s on a small scale, it still matters,” she said. “Science is something that fundamentally builds on itself.”

Fighting Fatigue

Emma Garst

Sometime in the last ten years, Jess got a tick bite. Maybe it was at our local park, where we would sometimes have picnics and watch the deer stroll by. Maybe it was that time we spent a night in Big Sur, our lopsided tent parked on a thicket of brambles. Maybe it was at Point Reyes, when she waded into a field of perfect golden grass for a picture. In the picture her hands are raised up in a classic Facebook “yay!” position, her face lit-up in a happy cackle. The grass tickles just under her armpits. It would be years before she looked on these forays into nature with any scrutiny. In the meantime, she became a scientist.

Jess knew at an early age what a scientist looks like. Her parents, first generation Jamaican and Guyanese immigrants, met at MIT, and they tried to instill a love for science in their children. “People ask me if I felt pressured into science–but I actually feel grateful to my parents for making it a very clear option.” She smiles across the kitchen table where we are whiling away a morning. “Sometimes it amazes me that anyone can get into science because it’s so intimidating. There’s this very specific idea of what it looks like to be a scientist, what it is to be a scientist.”

Making good use of our proximity to Stanford, in high school she began working in a lab that uses fly genetics to study how the brain develops. She learned how to mate flies and how to pull out their brains under a dissecting microscope. But the real impetus for her interest in neuroscience came from the community around her. “We were all super sleep-deprived, even in ninth grade. I just saw how it was affecting people.”  Our high school was known for its high achieving students, but it was also known for less happy things – anxiety, depression, suicides. “I was curious why teenagers were like this – I knew the one thing that really defined us as teenagers in Palo Alto is that we were all sleep-deprived.”

Jess continued her studies in neuroscience at Princeton. She developed tools that allowed researchers to image neural circuits, making beautiful tangles of color. She also learned how to traverse the rarified world of Ivy League science as a black woman. “In many spaces, it’s not a priori obvious you should be there,” she explains. “You have to project confidence and a sense of purpose. … I’ve sort of developed that ability to always seem like I know what I’m doing.”

Throughout, she planned to use her training to study sleep. Jess is interested in sleep on a molecular level, and how sleep and psychiatric disorders are linked. However, in her sophomore year of college she started feeling fatigued. She would be worn out, like she was recovering from a cold, and wake up every morning with a headache. When she went to the doctor, he checked her for mono. When that came back negative, he told her to sleep more. She was a college student after all.

Despite the seemingly close relationship between sleep and fatigue, these processes affect each other in complicated ways. Muddling the matter is how we use fatigue interchangeably with tiredness and sleepiness in our everyday language. These symptoms can be caused by lifestyle or sleep disorders – someone who fights strong bouts of sleepiness throughout the day might need more sleep, or they might be narcoleptic. Someone who feels persistently weak, dizzy, and listless (signs of fatigue) might need more sleep, or they might be an insomniac. Beyond sleep disorders, both sleepiness and fatigue can be caused by acute infection (think flu) and chronic immune dysfunction (think lupus). As a symptom, fatigue can be crippling. As a tool for diagnosis, it is practically useless.

During Jess’s first year as a neuroscience graduate student at Harvard, her symptoms of fatigue started to get out of hand. It began to affect her work as a scientist. “[That] was the first time I consistently had moments when I looked at people, and they were disappointed in me,” she recalled. “That experience was scary.” After a year of rotations, Jess went on medical leave. She didn’t know what was wrong with her, and her health was going downhill. “It feels like you’re on a 21 speed bike but you’re stuck in first gear,” she explains. “You can go places, but there’s no way to work up momentum.” She thought medicine just might not have a solution.

Then in 2017, one of her doctors suggested she be tested for B. miyamotoi, a tick-borne pathogen recently discovered in the United States. B. miyamotoi is closely related to the bacteria which causes Lyme disease – but unlike Lyme, an infection is unlikely to cause a tell-tail bulls-eye rash around the tick bite. The Centers for Disease Control report fewer than 60 documented cases of B. miyamotoi in the United States.

Jess had it.

After a course of horse pill sized antibiotics, there are no more bacteria circulating in Jess’s blood–yet her fatigue persists. Since the apparent root cause of her sickness has been cured, Jess is in some ways back to square one. She has that nebulous diagnosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition without a cause. Nevertheless, she is heading back to graduate school. “You know, I’m coming back from medical leave but I’m not actually better. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. No one has answers for that.”

“Right now I’m trying not to be in my scared place.”

Gender Harassment in Science: Instances of Everyday Harm

Emma Garst

*Identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.

When I met her, Laura* was the sort of postdoc who exuded professorial confidence. She was charismatic, a good writer and speaker, and an excellent experimentalist. Our professor sang her praises. Why shouldn’t he? She was talented and motivated.

Some lab members started joking that our professor was “clearly in love with her.” The joke spread; it was an easy way to release tension in a very competitive work environment.  I thought Laura was laughing along with everyone else, but when this ribbing continued for a couple of months, Laura turned to me in frustration and asked, “Can’t I just be good at my job?”

In 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a study on sexual harassment in the academic sciences entitled “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” The report reveals the shocking extent of gender-based harassment in the academic workplace.

Between 20-50% of female students in science, engineering, and medicine report experiencing sexual harassment. This number jumps to over fifty percent for women at the faculty level. The report further breaks down high-risk populations—women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience harassment than white, heterosexual women.

In total this means that, excluding the military, women in academia are harassed at higher levels than in any other sector of society.

Harassment is not just unwanted sexual attention or sexual assault; it can be a culture of belittling comments or raunchy jokes. The most prevalent but most misunderstood form of sexual harassment is gender harassment. Gender harassment is described as “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender.” When I spoke with Kate Clancy, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and co-author of the 2018 NASEM report, she had a more snappy way of putting it: “we call [gender harassment] the put-downs of sexual harassment, whereas unwanted sexual advances and sexual coercion are the come-ons.”

These put-downs are all around us—they’re insidious and difficult to articulate because they are so thoroughly normalized in our culture. The women who experience gender harassment and choose to speak up about it are labeled as “sensitive” and over-reactive. But gender harassment is sexual harassment. It is, in fact, the primary form of sexual harassment.

The NASEM report found that women are leaving science due to sexual harassment, and that jokes can be just as harmful to a woman’s career as more violent forms of harassment. The negative effects of gender harassment extend beyond the subject to witnesses, labs, and entire institutions. As the National Academies’ report states, “the net result of sexual harassment is therefore a loss of talent, which can be costly to organizations and to science.”

But why is gender harassment so damaging? “For most people [an unwanted sexual advance] is a rare event. I think for a lot of folks it’s easier to externalize it and say, wow, this guy is just…trying to date me or trying to make me feel bad,” says Clancy. “Whereas put downs are really easy to internalize because one, we don’t recognize them as harassment and two, they often end up making you feel like the problem is you.”

Gender harassment can be even more difficult to spot as a bystander. This was the case with Laura’s harassment—I absolutely laughed along with the group. Despite going to a women’s college, despite considering myself a “Good Feminist,” I didn’t even see what I was contributing to until Laura told me. I hadn’t considered the implications of the “joke” —that she hadn’t earned her praise, that she had been singled out as a favorite not because of her skill but because our principal investigator might be attracted to her.

In a way, Laura’s harassment was textbook—the harassment was coming from her peers (80% of gender harassment does). It was not a one-off joke, but instead lasted for a period of months (which, again, is common). And she didn’t feel there was a way to address the harassment, either through direct confrontation or an institutional route.

So what is it about academia that makes it so toxic for women and damaging to their careers?

One major factor is a culture of male dominance. This is easiest to understand in fields such as engineering and physics, where men vastly outnumber women. However in the biomedical sciences, where women have been earning more Ph.D.s than men for many years, the concept is more nuanced. Male domination in these fields refers to the fact that men generally hold higher positions than women, and that the field has historically been male.

Academia is also hierarchical. Institutions with a strong hierarchical power structure are more likely to foster sexual harassment. This is especially true when power is concentrated in a few individuals (for example, “superstar” professors), and those who report feel that revealing harassment will have lasting effects on their careers. The nature of our system causes students to rely heavily on the full-throated endorsement of their mentors—which leaves them little to no recourse if they wish to report inappropriate behavior.

The truth is academic science is highly competitive. People can be cruel to each other in all sorts of ways, due to professional jealousy, ambition, or just general stress. Everyone has an anecdote about being humiliated at lab meeting, or getting back an eviscerating review on a paper. Everyone has experienced some incivilities (officially defined as, “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target”).

Part of this is the broader culture of academia. “We tend to equate treating people like crap with being rigorous researchers,” Clancy points out. However, these incivilities are not evenly distributed; “There’s ample research that now shows, even though incivilities don’t seem to be gendered, they are actually quite gendered and racialized.…The folks that experience them most are typically women of color followed by white women, then men of color and white men,” Clancy says. Given that women and people of color also have their gender or race routinely used against them, it’s no wonder academia has a climate problem.

In the end, organizational climate is by far the best predictor of sexual harassment. Harassment flourishes where people who report it are perceived to take on risk, where there are no sanctions against perpetrators, and where reporters’ experiences are not taken seriously by their peers or institutions.

Sure, individuals harass. But that is a learned behavior that grows out of a culture of perceived ambivalence. Frequently an institution’s priority is “symbolic compliance,” which focuses on protecting the institution and avoiding liability, instead of ensuring the safety of its employees.

Any institution serious about the success of the women it hires must take decisive action to stamp out the toxic culture that dominates the scientific workplace. Without a concerted effort to reform the workplace, gender equality will always be a fantasy for the academic sciences.

It’s the accumulation of harassment over many years that causes lasting damage to women in science. I truly think that every one of Laura’s experimental successes was, at some point or another, reduced to “because he’s in love with you.” In a job that contains so much day-to-day failure, how horrible is it to take away the successes as well?

When Laura and I talked recently, she brought up one of the earliest, most formative experiences of her scientific career. She was a technician, straight out of college, and had gone to her professor to propose some experiments.

“Woah, watch out,” he said. “Girl scientist on the loose.”

Of course this affected the way she presents herself. Of course this caused her to think about how she is perceived by the scientific community. It was a joke. And it stuck with her.

In the end I moved on from the lab where I met Laura. She moved on too— out of science entirely.

I am a graduate student now. Recently, I received a small bit of positive feedback from someone I consider to be a mentor. Elated, I flounced into lab and showed the first person I ran into.

My labmate read it, and laughed, “he should have just asked for your number.”

Get Your Hot Dogs Here

Aileen Marshall

Classic New York Hot Dog: 100% American beef with sauerkraut and onions on a soft bun. May 31, 2014. Aneil Lutchman.

Hot dog cart on East 16th Street in New York City. October 23, 2007. Rollingrck.

“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” That was the tagline of an old commercial. Hot dogs are known for being a quintessentially American food, especially associated with sports stadiums. In New York City, hot dog carts are considered iconic.  But how American are they?

Sausages have been around since the ninth century B.C., and were even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Hot dogs are a type of sausage also known as frankfurters or wieners. This particular soft sausage, made from pork byproducts in a thin casing, was first developed in Frankfurt, Germany in the late fifteenth century, hence the name frankfurters. Legend has it that in the 1690s, a butcher in Colburg, Germany notice dthat frankfurters were similar in shape to his dachshund dog. He started calling them dachshund sausages. However, since hot dogs are also known as wieners, Austrians claim they were invented in Vienna in the late 1800s. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was a common practice to eat frankfurters in a bun. This practice was brought to America by German immigrants, not invented here, and they may have already referred to them as dogs.

There are variations of a famous story about how the first hot dogs were invented in America, but they are probably not true. The main rendition is about a man named Feuchtwanger. He was selling hot dogs on the streets in St. Louis (or some say at the World’s Fair) sometime in the late 1800s and would loan people gloves to eat them with so as not burn their hands. However most people never gave the gloves back. When he ran out of gloves, he talked to either a local baker, his wife, or brother-in-law who gave him some long buns he split down the middle. However, there is a lot of written evidence that hot dogs were already around. The writer H. L. Mencken wrote that he had been eating hot dogs since his childhood, in the 1880s, and they were not considered new then.  There are many mentions in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton magazines from the 1890s about “dog wagons” near the colleges. Apparently, they were called “dog wagons” since meat was considered low quality, but they were cheap, making them convenient food for students. So the story about the name “hot dogs” being invented in the early twentieth century by a newspaper cartoonist is probably not true either. Supposedly, Tad Dorgan was at a baseball game, polo match, or bicycle race at the Polo Grounds or Madison Square Garden, sometime between 1900 and 1906. A vendor was yelling something to the effect of, “Get your red hot dachshund sausages here!”, and it caught Dorgan’s attention. He drew a cartoon of the vendor for the New York Journal, but since he didn’t know how to spell dachshund, he just called them dogs; however, no record of this cartoon has ever been found. Ironically, wanting to serve something “truly American,” President Franklin Roosevelt included hot dogs on the menu for the visit of King George VI of England in 1939.

It seems hot dogs have been sold in New York City for well over a hundred years. There are newspaper mentions of hot dogs being sold from push carts, with sauerkraut on a milk roll in the New York City Bowery in the 1860s.  A German immigrant named Charles Feltman opened a hot dog stand in Coney Island in 1867, but it folded during the Great Depression in the 1930s. In 1915, a Polish immigrant working for Feltman slept on the floor of the restaurant to save money. A year later he had saved up $300, which he used to open his own hot dog restaurant in Coney Island. He competed with Feltman by selling his dogs for five cents, while Feltman’s cost ten cents. That enterprising young man was Nathan Handwerker, and his original restaurant is still in Coney Island to this day, with Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog restaurants located all around the country. Their celebrated hot dog eating contest started in 1972 and occurs every year on the Fourth of July.

There is a story that a friend of Feltman’s named Donovan built him a small tin-lined chest with a charcoal stove inside to boil the hot dogs, similar to the hot dog carts we know today. Another claim for the first modern hot dog cart is from 1926. A man named Frances Coffey designed a stainless steel cart with a cooking plate, steam table, and ice box, according to the website New York Tour1. Today there are regulations controlling mobile food vendors, including hot dog carts. The dogs must be pre-cooked and kept in a pan of hot water, which is why they are often referred to as “dirty water dogs.” The carts must have a cooler for storage, and sinks for washing utensils.  Most carts use propane for heating. Umbrellas are required to protect the food from the sun and dust, and there is a limit to the number of condiments carried. Vendors must be also trained in safe food handling practices and have their carts inspected by the city.

While hot dogs are much beloved in the country (we eat about seven billion per year), they are also rather unhealthy. Traditional hot dogs are pre-cooked, made from beef or pork byproducts, fat, salt, spices, and preservatives (mainly nitrates). The World Health Organization lists nitrates as Group 1 Carcinogens. There are many alternatives produced to make them healthier, such as chicken, turkey, or tofu dogs. Most hot dogs we eat are of the skinless type. They are cooked in the skin, or casing, and the skin is removed afterwards.

The customary New York City frank is a beef dog served with mustard and sauerkraut, and sometimes cooked onions in a thin tomato base, on a soft white bun. Different regions and stadiums tend to have their own signature style. In Chicago, hot dogs are buried under mustard, tomato, chopped raw onion, peppers, pickles, relish, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun. They like their hot dogs spicy in Texas; at Astros Field in Houston, dogs are sold with chili, cheese, and jalapeños. The “Fenway Frank” in Boston is boiled and then grilled, and served on a toasted New England-style (flat-sided) bun. The Atlanta Braves have their dogs topped with coleslaw. In Los Angeles, the “Dodger Dog” consists of a grilled ten-inch-long pork frank with ketchup, mustard, chopped onions, and sweet relish.

Hot dogs have always been a convenient food to eat while walking around, at picnics, or at sports stadiums. New Yorkers sometimes refer to the street carts as “sidewalk gourmet.” While not very healthy, it’s one more traditional foods to sample while in a new city, or even in your own.

When the Moon Hits Your Eye…

Aileen Marshall

Slices of New York-style pizza; Photo courtesy of Lizard10979/Wikipedia.

Pizzeria Port Alba in Naples; Photo courtesy of Alexandra Hamer/Wikipedia.

Quick, what is the most ubiquitous food you can think of? One that almost everyone around the world knows and loves, even if they have their own style? What is your go-to food to get when you want something quick and satisfying? I think pizza fits that bill. If you live here in New York City, you know that there is a pizza parlor almost every few blocks. How did pizza become such a pervasive and popular food?

Many ancient cultures had some form of flat bread, for example focaccia in Italy, naan and roti in India. The ancient Greeks made a bread called plakous, often topped with herbs, onions, garlic, and cheese. Archeologist have found evidence of baking a flat bread from 7,000 years ago in Sardinia and of pizza-making tools in Pompeii from the first century B.C. There are notations about soldiers in the sixth century B.C. Persia using their shields to bake a flat bread, and then adding cheese and dates on top.

The pizza as we know it today started in Naples, Italy. In the fifteenth century, Naples had a large working-poor population. Pizza, translated as “pie” in Italian, was a flatbread with cheese and olive oil, and sometimes vegetables. It was a popular, cheap, and quick food for these workers. In 1522, tomatoes were first imported from Peru and it was in Naples that pizza makers started adding tomato sauce to the pizza. Being a port city, many sailors and merchants spread word about pizza throughout Europe. In 1830, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, what is thought to be the first pizzeria in modern form was established in Naples and is still there today.

Raphael Esposito was a famous pizza maker in Naples in 1889. In June of that year he was commissioned to make some special pizzas for the visit of Queen Margherita of Italy. One pizza he made was covered with tomato, mozzarella, and basil, to mimic the colors of the Italian flag. Queen Margherita declared that version her favorite. Afterwards, people started calling that type of pizza “margherita style.”

Pizza first appeared in the U.S. in the 1800s, mostly among Italian immigrants. It surged in popularity after World War II, as many soldiers who had been stationed in Italy came home and raved about pizza. There is some contention as to which was the first pizzeria in the U.S. In 1897, Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store on Spring Street here in New York City that evolved into a pizzeria, receiving a city-issued commercial license to sell pizza in 1905. Brothers Gennero and Giovani Bruno opened a pizzeria on the Loop in Chicago in 1903 that some claim to be the first U.S. pizzeria. Totonno’s Pizzeria of Coney Island was started by a former Lombardi employee in 1924 where he sold slices for a nickel.

Several factors helped drive the surge in the popularity of pizza in the mid-1900s. Several chain restaurants started in the forties and fifties, such as Pizzeria Uno, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Papa John’s. The advent of frozen pizza, invented by the Celentano brothers in the 1960s, was another factor. Finally, the delivery of pizza to homes also became popular during the 1960s. The U.S. Army’s military intelligence unit reportedly used pizza deliveries to spy on politicians and reporters in that decade, according to a report issued by the City University of New York.

New York-style pizza is traditionally an eighteen-inch wide pie made in a coal oven, although many places use a gas oven today, and is known for its crispy crust and foldable slices. A “regular” slice has only tomato sauce and cheese. Some say it is the New York City tap water, used in making the glutinous dough that gives it that great, distinctive taste.

Other cities are known for their own unique style of pizza. Perhaps the most famous is Chicago, known for its deep dish pizza. The format, started by Pizzeria Uno, has high edges and uses chunky tomato sauce. In California, pizza is usually a personal sized pie that is topped with local vegetables and avocado. In St. Louis, the crust is made with a yeast-free dough and topped with processed cheese product that is a combination of cheddar, swiss, and provolone. Washington D.C., is known for its jumbo slices that can be more than a foot long and need to be served on two paper plates.

Has all this reading about the history of pizza made you hungry? The author admits to having pizza twice during the writing of this article. Luckily, in this city, there is always a neighborhood pizza parlor. In the Rockefeller area, while we have lost Sutton Pizza, there is still the popular Pizza Park on First Avenue., near 66th Street as well as Famous Ray’s on Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street. What is your favorite pizza joint in the city? Next time you are there, remember the famous quote from Yogi Berra when a pizza maker asked if he wanted his pie cut into eight slices: “Better make it four, I don’t think I could eat eight.”

Bye Dakota!


This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Dakota Blackman. We would like to thank her for her dedication and for helping Natural Selections to become what it is today.

Dakota joined Natural Selections in May of last year as a contributor and editor. She served as the Editorial Assistant and contributed a regular column titled Word of the Month, where she provided the origins of a particular word and deftly examined the timeliness of that word and relevance in today’s society. In a short time, Dakota has made an indelible impact on the Editorial Board. She leaves us this summer in pursuit of a Ph.D. at Princeton University.

We wish her all the best!

A Little Less Laughter in the Halls! Rockefeller Mainstay Isaiah Curry Says Goodbye


Aileen Marshall 


What can one say about Isaiah Curry? Almost everyone on campus knows him. Many of us know him as “that guy you always hear laughing in the hallways.” And we also know him as the person who handles much of the hazardous waste we generate in our work. He’s always there to greet us with a smile, a joke, or even some helpful advice. If you want to know a tidbit of campus information such as where a certain room or facility is located, or who to contact to find help with different issues, or the history of how the campus has evolved, you can always ask Isaiah. He knows almost everyone at Rockefeller, past and present. After forty-four years of being a campus icon, Isaiah retired on January 31, 2018. I had a conversation with Isaiah one night in the Faculty Club and this is what I learned about his history here. Of course, several people stopped by during the interview to joke with him. 

Having grown up nearby in upper Manhattan, Isaiah had heard of the Rockefeller University through his mother, who had worked here at one time. He started in 1974, originally in the custodial department. In 1976, the Radiation Safety Department was established on the 11th floor of the Weiss Building (then known as the Tower Building), with only five people. One of them invited Isaiah to join the team, where he was trained to handle the radioactive waste. Later, the department changed its name to Laboratory Safety, to encompass more aspects of that area. Then Isaiah added the processing of biological waste to his responsibilities. The department is now called Laboratory Safety and Environmental Health, and Isaiah has been managing biological waste material for the entire campus ever since.  

In the early years, despite being assigned a large grey cellular phone, which was cutting edge technology for its time, Isaiah still had to push all those carts that transported the biological waste materials manually. Later he was upgraded to a flip phone, and eventually the university provided a Power Tug and a small electric truck to help pull and push those large grey carts that transported the material. Isaiah also learned to do his job more efficiently, such as processing the waste after pickup from each building, rather than waiting until he had picked up waste from the whole campus. He often stayed late to finish his work and came in on holidays so there wasn’t a backlog when he returned. He learned early on that students and postdocs work on holidays. “It has nothing to do with overtime, it has to do with staying ahead of the labs…I don’t quit until I’m finished.” He has noticed over the years that the radioactive waste is decreasing and the biological waste is increasing, an indicator of how research techniques have changed. He has always been trustworthy and reliable, and is always glad to help anyone with questions or errors in their waste disposal. Isaiah has returned after several surgeries over the years. Even two hernia operations, a torn knee meniscus repair, and a hip replacement could not keep him away from his duties for long.  

Isaiah is known for greeting everyone he knows with a smile and a joke. Isaiah often jests that he used to be shorter before he started picking up the radioactive waste. Over the years he has gotten to know the likes of Robert Darnell, Günter Blobel, Roderick MacKinnon, Charles Rice, Ali Brivanlou, Michael Young, and Jeffery Friedman. Friedman always invites him to his lab barbeques. Darnell, head of The Laboratory of Molecular Neuro-Oncology, commented “I will forever remember the generous, humorous, and wonderful spirit Isaiah brought to the laboratory every single day, year in, year out. He helped make Rockefeller a special place for the scientists, nurturing the feeling that we were all on the same team, friends and colleagues working together to do something important.” We all know him as one who could make us laugh during the work day. Victor Cisneros, from Information Technology, relayed one humorous episode with Isaiah. They were chatting in the hallway between Greenberg and Founders when a “well-suited gentleman” approached them and asked for directions to Founders. Isaiah gave him directions. After the man left, Isaiah wondered if the man would “get his act together.” Victor said “Isaiah! That’s our new president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne. It’s his first day on the job!” Susan Powell of the Proteomics Resource Center remembers how he helped her after she was mugged in 2007 on York Avenue and 64th Street. “Isaiah constantly finds me walking the halls looking downward. For years he warned me, “Look up, Sue!” meaning, be aware of my surroundings. He also showed me ways to defend myself using keys. “Carry your keys in your hand so they protrude between the fingers, and if you need to defend yourself, aim for the eyes.” She added “They say laughter is healthy, it relieves stress, it helps the immune system, it helps to heal, it contributes toward a longer life. If all this is true, Isaiah will be around for a very long time.”     

Isaiah has always been active in campus life. Some members of campus might remember Isaiah being involved in the basketball league that began sometime in the 1980s. Isaiah remembers that Patricia Murskey, then head of the Rockefeller library, donated money in memory of someone who had died to have a basketball tournament. They would play teams from other institutions, on a small basketball court, where the Greenberg building is now. And those of you who use the gym might know that Isaiah has always taught a class there. In the early 1980s, when the gym was located in the Graduate Students Residence, where the Child and Family Center is now, mailroom attendant Jose Santos would practice karate there, piquing Isaiah’s interest. Isaiah would work out with him, trained in Santos’s dojo, and eventually became a black belt. Even after Santos left, Isaiah continued to work out and practice in the gym, and other people liked what he did and asked to join him. Thus his class evolved, over thirty years ago.  He has never charged, and faithfully shows up, no matter how much work he has to do. He often goes back to work after class.  

Isaiah’s last official day at Rockefeller University was January 31, 2018. He vows to keep working out, and is toying with the idea of moving Florida. Considering that the Rockefeller is practically Isaiah’s second home, I wouldn’t be surprised if we still see him popping up here from time to time. He has always been a thread that unites us. As many people have commented “it won’t be the same here without him”.  


Quotable Quote


“It is not only by the questions we have answered that progress may be measured, but also by those we are still asking. The passionate controversies of one era are viewed as sterile preoccupations by another, for knowledge alters what we seek as well as what we find.”


Freda Adler, b. 1934

It Could Happen Here


Miguel Crespo

The-Handmaids Tale. Key Art Hulu

In late 2016, the streaming service Hulu produced a series of ten episodes based on the novel The Handmaid’s Tale, by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The first three episodes dropped on April 26, 2017 and scored the biggest debut in Hulu history. In May this year, the show was renewed for a second season to premiere in 2018. There have been numerous adaptations since the book was published: theater, opera, ballet, film, and radio. A graphic novel release is also scheduled by the end of the year. Given the recent interest in The Handmaid’s Tale, now is the perfect time to revisit the 1985 dystopian novel.

The story takes place in Gilead, a society organized by power-hungry leaders, according to a not-so-extremist interpretation of a biblical account. The story that was originally used as a reference was that of Jacob, who had two wives and two handmaids. In an era of declining births due to chemical pollution and sexually transmitted diseases, a new order is established where certain women are used as “handmaids”. Deprived of all of their rights, handmaids are considered objects destined to serve as child bearers for affluent families. The story is narrated in the first person by a handmaid named Offred. Interspersed within flashbacks, she provides an account of her previous life. Together with her husband and daughter, she had tried to flee to Canada, only to be abducted, brought back, and re-educated in the new values. An entire indoctrination system is revealed to the reader: the Republic of Gilead. This new society is stratified such that everybody has a well-defined position and function. As a patriarchal system, power is held by older men called commanders. They are married to wives but have the privilege of owning a handmaid for reproductive purposes. In this oppressive atmosphere, strict rules on language, daily activities, and ultimately thought are reinforced by a secret service known as The Eyes of God. One night, Offred defies the system and becomes involved in illicit activities that bring an element of risk to her life.

Offred’s story falls into the tradition of dystopian novels like Brave New World or 1984. As such, the author creates a unique language in which terms for the new social classes abound. The word “sterile” is banned, and women who fail to abide by the strict social rules are considered “unwomen” and sent to shovel toxic waste in the colonies. Throughout the story, the author also plays with the mock Latin aphorism nolite te bastardes carborundorum in a recurrent and intriguing fashion; readers have a chance to team up with Offred to try to unravel its meaning. The Handmaid’s Tale remains hard to classify. Deemed a futuristic fable, political satire, or even science fiction, Atwood prefers to consider her novel speculative fiction. In her own words, “science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.” When crafting the story, Atwood purposely avoided including anything in the book that had not happened.

Like Offred and her family, Americans fleeing their own land for the neighbor to the north has become a common theme in history. During the Vietnam War, thousands of draft-age men fled to Canada. Before the Civil War, many slaves reached southern Ontario through the underground railway. Even earlier, New England Puritans left for a toilsome life in Nova Scotia. They wanted to create a theocratic utopia in America, and yearned for a city on a hill that would never be realized. The Gilead society seems remote to us, but oozes historical realism, and similarities in recent history are countless: American polygamy, slavery, baby stealing, group executions in the Argentinian dictatorship, and even book burnings, as in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In the same way in which Bolsheviks expelled Mensheviks, the Gileadian Christians persecute Catholics and Baptists, or so are we told by the news. In Gilead, government-issued news are never reliable, just as was the case in Orwell’s 1984.

The-Handmaids Tale. Key Art Hulu

Atwood wrote the novel in 1984 in West Berlin and Alabama. At this time, the USSR governed with an iron fist, severely limiting personal freedoms not only at home, but also in their eastern European satellite states. During these years, in countries such  as East Germany, Poland or Czechoslovakia, silence was imposed among the people who lived in fear of being spied on. Within the same region, under the Romanian dictatorship of President Ceausescu, who wanted to increase his country’s population, birth control and abortion were banned after 1966. Atwood had also travelled to Iran and Afghanistan, where theocratic governments were at play and women’s rights still had some room for improvement.

The Handmaid’s Tale also reveals the importance of environmental issues and their detrimental consequences for society. It is hard to read it without remembering recent nuclear plant incidents. The depiction of Gilead’s environmental situation might sound implausible, but it does not seem so far-fetched when compared with places like China, where pollution and toxic waste have reached levels that are incompatible with human health.

These striking parallels to our current society are disturbing, and have become more palpable since the last Presidential election in the U.S. The Handmaid’s Tale emphasizes how little it took for Americans to change their minds about things. It is Offred, in her inner soliloquy, who reflects on the fact that “next generations of women will not complain because they will not know better.”

In Gilead, minorities are targeted by the new regime and there is no room for dissent. In the eyes of the Gileadian society, the traumatic events that led to this new order are blamed on Islamic extremists. Nowadays, hate for certain groups seems to be on the rise, as are far-right movements with overwhelming impunity. For many, freedoms, rights and long established orders are endangered. As simplified language and prohibition of books are a constant in The Handmaid’s Tale, comparisons with emerging trends of communication via Twitter become unavoidable.

The story is rich with irony and complacency. Atwood takes this opportunity to courageously remind us that when repression replaces order, people are ready to trade their personal freedom for what they perceive of as security. Offred is a victim, a tease, and a witness. In an act of hope, she keeps a diary that she hides for future generations. Its timeliness remains unambiguous and tantalizing, as we hear her voice speaking to us. Perhaps we are at a crucial moment in our history. Perhaps we need The Handmaid’s Tale now more than ever.