My current career as a Senior Data Scientist in the private sector would not have been possible without my time at “The” Ohio State University (OSU).
Jordan Pino at PhD Commencement Ceremony
I arrived at OSU [the result of some unique circumstances], after my Ph.D. advisor accepted a job as a professor of Atmospheric Sciences in the Department of Geography in the Fall of 2016. At the time, I was a wide-eyed first semester Ph.D student at Texas A&M University with ambitious plans for my dissertation. Upon hearing the news that my advisor was accepting the position at OSU, my initial thoughts ranged from fear to excitement. Once I accepted that I would need to trade the hot, muggy summer of Texas with the occasional sub-zero temperatures in Ohio, I became very excited! A new adventure started in the Fall of 2016, and I never looked back. The Department of Geography at OSU provided me with all the tools I needed to succeed during my Ph.D. studies, even allowing me to graduate in only 3.5 years. The openness of all the professors in the department, to the support I was given after revealing that I wanted to pursue a non-academic career upon graduation, led me to not only succeed, but to excel. It can be intimidating to let your professors and colleagues know that you have passions outside the academic track, but the department provided an open door and highly supportive environment.
Jordan Pino and Professor Steven Quiring at commencement ceremony
Specifically, my advisor Dr. Steven Quiring was instrumental in providing the support needed to pursue a career outside academia. The work I was involved in, modeling power outages caused by severe weather events, fit quite nicely in the private sector. As many know, weather events cause significant power outages each year. Utility companies seek highly educated people to work on such problems. With the support from my own advisor and other professors in the department (e.g. through working on projects with local utility, American Electric Power, presenting at academic conferences, and obtaining certificates through the College of Engineering), I was able to glide into a nice position at a large utility soon after graduation. Overall, the support the Department of Geography provided during my time allowed me to fulfill my dream. Even though I was one of a few in my program who wanted to pursue such an odd career post-graduation, I got no pushback at all. Without my time in the program, I cannot say I would be as successful as I am today! My time at OSU not only allowed me to gain career success, but also lifelong friends and colleagues.
Hello everyone! I am pleased to share with you the impact that coming to OSU and joining the Atmospheric Sciences Program in the Department of Geography has had on my career and my personal life. I joined OSU as a masters student in the Atmospheric Science Program (ASP) in 1973. I had just made my first big career decision which was to relinquish a fellowship in the Department of Physics at Miami University (Oxford, OH) because I realized that I lacked the passion or what is often call “the fire in the belly” required to spend 5-years on a PhD. I then spent two years working in the IT section of a medical bookkeeping firm in Columbus and considering my options. Eventually I accepted a fellowship at OSU in ASP which, at that time, was housed in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Soon thereafter, ASP was transferred to the Department of Geography under the direction of Dr. John Rayner. This provided an excellent situation for me and was also a very formative event for ASP. The move to a department that values diverse forms of scholarship and encourages collaboration across multiple areas of inquiry provided a much broader canvas on which I was able to develop my career. Three other very important occurrences during my first year were the choice of Dr. John Rayner as my academic advisor, my new affiliation with the Institute of Polar Studies, forerunner of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), and meeting two of my closest friends and colleagues, Claire Parkinson and Keith Mountain, also ASP students, with whom Lonnie and I have maintained 45+year friendships.
My B.S. from Marshall University (Huntington WV) was in physics and math and I never had the opportunity to take a class in climatology or meteorology and I was never required to write a research paper. Fortunately, once I was ensconced in geography I had the opportunity to take a course on Geographic Thought taught by Edward (Ned) Taaffe. In addition, my advisors John Rayner and John Arnfield were excellent professors and skilled writers and from them I developed a deep interest in climate science and gained very strong writing skills. Over the years, my students have commented regarding how much “red ink” I have placed on their theses and research papers; however, they were unaware of the volume of “red ink” my advisors had placed on mine.
As a student affiliate in the Institute of Polar Studies (IPS) I was quickly immersed in the excitement of all things “polar”, and my interest in Antarctica grew. Simultaneously, I joined Lonnie Thompson, my spouse and fellow graduate student (Earth Sciences), in the development of our research program focused on ice core paleoclimatology, a relatively new area of scientific inquiry.
Job # 120504 Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson Scott Lab JUL-06-2012 Photo by Jo McCulty The Ohio State University
Again I was fortunate that Drs. Rayner and Arnfield were very supportive as I developed an “individualized’ multidisciplinary graduate program to include classes in paleoclimatology, glacial geology, geochemistry, isotope geochemistry, and scanning electron microscopy taught by Professors Goldthwait, White, and Faure (Earth Sciences). This was a busy and exciting time as Lonnie and I continued developing the ice core paleoclimate research program, writing proposals to support our research, and publishing our first papers. The most important event occurred in 1976 when we welcomed our daughter, Regina.
By 1980, we had completed our PhD studies (Lonnie in 1976 and me in 1979), obtained research positions in the IPS, and developed a growing research program attracting national and international interest. Regina was now 6 years old, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and engage in my first Antarctic field season. An opportunity arose to join a team of Swiss and American scientists and ice core drillers at South Pole Station (SPS) in 1982 to collect a 300-m long ice core for paleoclimate studies. Scientifically this experience was magnificent, but it was an eye opener when I realized how few women were engaged in Antarctic research . There were only two women at SPS that year, and the other was a construction contractor. I soon realized that most of the U.S. ice core drilling projects were being conducted at or near established bases. At that time the U.S. only had three stations located in areas of the ice sheet where cores could be drilled and this limited our opportunities to examine the “spatial” aspects of our ice core-derived climate histories. At the same time I was very engaged in the NSF’s Polar Programs’ Advisory Committee which positioned me to address two systemic issues. These were securing greater support for scientists who wanted to conduct research at remote locations where no previous ice cores had been drilled and promoting greater opportunities for women to not only participate in field programs, but to serve as team leaders at remote field camps.
Fortunately, in 1985 I was funded to lead a drilling project at Siple Station, Antarctica and thus, my second goal was achieved. The photo (left) includes two OSU alums. On the far left is Keith Mountain (PhD, ASP, Geography) and immediately left of me is John Paskievitch (B.S. Earth Sciences). The following year, 1986, my first goal was achieved when I lead a field team of six to drill two 200-meter deep cores at our ”Plateau Remote” camp, a site in East Antarctica located near the “Pole of Inaccessibility” which means the location that is furthest inland from the coast in all directions .
Fast forward 21 years during which I led multiple projects to drill ice cores at other remote sites in Antarctica and Greenland and you will see the progress that we have been able to achieve. The photo to the left is from our remote drill site at Crawford Point, Greenland (2007). Shown is my field team that includes two female OSU alums, Lijia Wei (PhD, Geography, ASP; second from the right) and Natalie Kehrwald (PhD, Earth Sciences; far right). Although there have been a number of accomplishments in my 48 years at OSU, I am so proud to have opened the door to enable more women scientists to lead remote field projects in both Polar Regions. I also served from 2009 to 2018 as the first (and still only) female Director of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC).
But this story is incomplete. During the 11 years after my graduation, John Rayner and others including Larry Brown encouraged me to teach classes in Geography on an as needed basis. This kept me engaged with the faculty and students in Geography until 1990 when I joined the department as an Associate Professor and began developing courses focused on paleoclimatology, Earth system science, climate science, and climate and environmental change. I am so indebted to my advisors, Drs. Rayner and Arnfield, and my past and present colleagues in both the Department of Geography and the BPCRC who continue to broaden and deepen my interest, understanding, and appreciation of the rich and complex relationships among Earth’s climate system, its environment, and its inhabitants, both human and otherwise. If I had not taken the risk of leaving basic physics and eventually pursuing climatology and atmospheric science, especially through the broad lens provided by geography, I certainly would not have had so many diverse experiences and worked with so many talented and interesting people both national and international and from within and outside academia. Moreover, I would not have been able to enjoy such beauty during a stroll home from work or engage in signing O-H-I-O from the “remote” Bruce Plateau drill site in the Antarctic Peninsula (see photos).
I arrived at Ohio State in September, 1970 from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater unsure about my specialization and future career goals. My uncle Stan drove me to Columbus from my family home in Kenosha. I checked into Jones Tower, the graduate dorm, dropped off my uncle at the airport, and introduced myself to Ned Taaffe, the departmental chair. I was mightily impressed with the prospect of taking classes from Larry Brown, Reginald Golledge, Kevin Cox, George Demko, Howard Gauthier, and S. Earl Brown.
I was the only woman in my Year 1 class. It was pretty much the same at Whitewater so I just did my best to fit in by golfing with the guys at the Jack Nicholas course and TGIF events at the High Street taverns. I did quite a bit of baby sitting in the early years and got an inside look at how faculty members lived and balanced (or not) work and family life.
Second year graduate students were assigned offices in an old house on West 11th Street. It was a messy, decrepit place where the living room was a basketball court, and spatial analysis occurred on the upper floors. West 11th was exclusively male.
Golda Meir Poster
When I requested a transfer to West 11th to stay with my cohort, I was told that the men did not want women there. I was assigned a desk in the old map library in Hagerty Hall with Ph.D. students Vicky Rivizzgno, and Karen Walby. That was 1971 when the woman’s movement awakened our expectations and opportunities. I found the poster of Golda Meir in one of the local shops and hung it on our office door as a note of grievance and solidarity. I carried this poster with me and displayed it in my offices for the next 40 years. It was always the first thing people noticed when they came to see me, and they always wanted to talk about it.
Over the years, George Demko and Larry Brown nominated me for various leadership positions in the Association of American Geographers. When I served as President of the AAG (American Association of Geographers) in 1997-1998, I was sandwiched between Larry Brown as my predecessor and Reg Golledge as successor. I felt part of the OSU team in a way that maybe eluded me earlier. Just as Golda Meir was able to transcend the stereotype of women’s place in politics and society, I was inspired to find my full potential in the geographic profession with the help of my OSU mentors and colleagues.
In August 2021, I celebrated the 30th anniversary of my PhD from Ohio State Geography. In 1991, I left with my PhD to become an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah; a starting gig that lasted over 20 years. In 2013, when it was time to move on, OSU Geography was recruiting for the first endowed chair in the history of the department, the Bob and Mary Reusche Chair in Geographic Information Science. I applied, was interviewed, and they (surprisingly) offered the position. I am now back where I started, and I’m very proud and happy to be a faculty member in this stellar program. Interestingly, I now occupy an office that is directly above the basement office where graduate students were crammed during the late 1980s. After three decades, I have arrived 20 feet above where I started. This is an amusing observation, but also a metaphor.
Left: Harvey Miller in 1988. Right: Harvey Miller in 2017
Geography was very different in the late 1980s: it was a conflicted discipline in search of its soul. Human and regional geographers criticized the “space cadets” in spatial analysts and the new subfield of Geographic Information Systems. In turn, the cadets had their own criticisms to lob back, while physical geographers and atmospheric scientists watched the slugfest from the sidelines. Meanwhile, Geography was reeling from decades of academic decline and departmental closures.
When I was a PhD student, I had the privilege of taking History of Geographic Thought from Edward J. “Ned” Taaffe, a former AAG President and department Chair who elevated OSU geography. When thinking about writing this blog, I went back to his 1973 AAG Presidential Address, “The Spatial View in Context.” This captures some of the soul-searching and defensiveness of the time: What is Geography? What is our value? I remember asking one day during the seminar – why do geographers apologize for their existence?
Fast forward to 2021. Geography is a more confident discipline. We have learned the value of diverse approaches to knowledge instead of skirmishing over who has the only path to the truth. Our external enemies have mostly retreated: few question the value of mapping, GIS and the holistic, integrative perspective of Geography (although higher education has its foes). Interdisciplinarity no longer feels like begging for a place at the table; rather, it is now a valued approach to understanding and addressing the complexity of the world and its problems. OSU Geography has maintained its traditional foci of human-environment, GIS/spatial analysis and atmospheric science, but we have arrived at a higher place.
We, as geographers, are still faced with the question – what is the core of Geography? What brings us together, besides a common TIU (Tenure Initiating Unit)? To me, the persistent quantitative/qualitative split in Geography is a false dichotomy, and I am pleased to see the new generation of geographers rejecting this false choice. I am also pleased to see OSU Geography adopt “justice” as a common touchstone for the program: environmental justice, social justice, climate justice and data justice. This is a crucial, cross-cutting challenge that demands the diverse perspectives encompassed by contemporary Geography.
A strong future for OSU Geography, and Geography at large, means continuing to work on what unites us. We are on higher ground, but there are still heights left to climb.
When I was invited to blog about “then and now”, I thought about historian David McCullough’s statement: “One might also say that history is not about the past. If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past… They lived in the present.” If then is made in the now as McCullough seems to suggest, now is also a piece of then. It is in this spirit that I see then, my time at OSU in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a source of inspiration to the making of a protean career, and a piece of now as an economic geographer.
The “boundaried” career is centered on the organization, the university. The tenure institution focuses academics on the needs and requirements of the university early on in an individual’s career. In the 1990s, the old social contract gave way to newer forms of social contracts arising from downsizing and the emergence of smaller and innovation-driven firms. Such instability also occurred in academia with adjunctivization. The less predictable work organization resulted in greater instability for the employee but the protean career also sneaked up on me.
When I graduated from The Ohio State University (OSU) in the 1990s, I was confronted with such instability. Fewer academic positions were available and quantitative economic geography was on the decline. Unlike other students of Emilio Casetti’s (my dissertation adviser), many of whom were assuming illustrious careers in major departments, I had graduated from OSU without a publication because I had spent my time in the Economics and Sociology departments expanding my understanding of international trade and Asia. The lure towards interdisciplinarity is a big piece of now. Graduating without a publication was not my biggest challenge. Speaking the language of the expansion method was. I decided early on to write my papers differently, focusing on the research question than the methodology. The first paper was a hit and was subsequently selected as a classic for a regional science volume. I went on to publish more expansion method pieces despite warnings of doom from colleagues. Part of such early adaptability was honed from animated arguments with Edward Taaffe, Nancy Ettlinger and Kevin Cox, and the audacity to pry apart Larry Brown’s hot off the press “Place, Migration and Development in the Third World”. But one of the biggest resources, graduate students in Derby Hall, fomented a training ground that was to last a lifetime. Some rejected objectivism and forced me to reflect on my intellectual biases. Others tempted me with the lure of emerging geospatial technology. Enlarging boundary has allowed me to cross disciplinary and epistemological aisles, publish using a wide range of methodological tools, and enjoy a protean career as an economic geographer.
Then was a time of learning to embrace methodological pluralism, and now is a piece of then as such pluralism has continued to define my scholarly work. This centennial celebration has provided an opportunity for reflections, OSU being the place where I began my journey across boundaries. Congratulations on your centennial anniversary.
I am a three time OSU Geography/ASP graduate (BS, MS, PhD). Currently I work as a Research Scientist at the Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center (GRC), which is an applied health policy research center located at OSU. I oversee the Instrumental Data section and lead projects focused on Medicaid population health and technical assistance requests from state agencies. However, my graduate research focused on hurricane climatology, specifically hybrid cyclones (MS) and concentric eyewall formation (PhD). How did a hurricane researcher end up in public health?
At a basic level, I see a connection in the core research process: being able to divide a problem into pieces, craft a suitable analytic approach for a question with appropriate data, and interpret the analysis (including limitations!) using a deep understanding of the problem’s context. That was my PhD training, and it’s a large part of my work now.
I became fascinated by hurricanes as a young child, and by sixth grade I decided I wanted a PhD in atmospheric science. Up until halfway through my PhD, I was set on an atmospheric science research career. Then I realized I faced the two-body problem: my spouse was long established in Columbus, while my career opportunities were elsewhere. I began wondering if I could use my skills outside weather and climate research.
A fellow graduate student connected me to GRC, which needed a graduate research assistant trained in data visualization. I quickly realized I am most engaged by research that serves to inform policymakers and stakeholders about critical problems. Instead of supporting efforts to improve hurricane forecasts, I support efforts to improve health outcomes in Ohio by helping the state understand population health patterns and the effects programs and policies may have on service utilization and provider access and capacity.
My graduate experience was excellent training for my earlier roles at GRC. Weather observations and health services data are both composed of patterns and code sets. I learned Fortran coding as an undergraduate, and picked up additional programming languages during my PhD. In terms of gaps, tasks like conference calls were not a significant part of my graduate education. Also, atmospheric science research methods are quite different than public health methods, so I speak a different research dialect than most of my colleagues. My current Research Scientist/Principal Investigator role is outside my PhD training. I oversee multiple project timelines and budgets, work directly with sponsors and stakeholders on detailed work plans, and supervise six researchers. Honestly, though, I have my dream job— finding robust data insights that support informed decision-making and improve people’s quality of life.
Opioid use disorder and overdose deaths is a public health crisis in the United States. In the year of 2019, over 70% of all drug overdose deaths involved an opioid, including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioid like fentanyl (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2021). Ohio is among the states hit hardest by the “opioid epidemic” with the rise in the misuse and abuse of prescription opioid pain relievers like OxyContin and Fentanyl and non-prescription opioids like heroin. Franklin County, which includes City of Columbus and the surrounding suburbs, experienced 547 drug overdose deaths in 2019 the largest number of any region in the state, and representing a 14.9% increase over the previous year (Ohio Department of Health, 2020).
There is increasing recognition that crisis’s etiology is rooted in part by social determinants such as poverty, isolation and social upheaval. This places attention on the health effects of upstream social factors such as economic, education, and demographic that shape downstream factors such as behavior, economic stability, stress levels, support networks, neighborhood and physical environment, and access to healthy food and health care. Limiting research and policy interventions is the low temporal and spatial resolution of publicly available administrative data such as census data. A lack of timely, high-resolution data hampers research into the neighborhood social determinants of opioid use disorder. We explore the use of nontraditional municipal service requests (also known as “311” requests) as high resolution spatial and temporal indicators of neighborhood social distress and opioid misuse. These are public data that are frequently updated (in many cases, daily) and have high spatial resolution (latitude and longitude).
We analyze the spatial associations between georeferenced opioid overdose event (OOE) data from emergency medical service responders and 311 service request data from the City of Columbus, OH, USA for the time period 2008–2017. We find 10 out of 21 types of 311 requests (abandoned vehicles, animal complaints, code violation, law enforcement, public health, refuse trash litter, street lighting, street maintenance, traffic signs, and water sewers drains) spatially associate with OOEs and also characterize neighborhoods with lower socio-economic status in the city, both consistently over time. We also demonstrate that the 311 indicators are capable of predicting OOE hotspots at the neighborhood-level: our results show code violation, public health, and street lighting were the top three accurate predictors with predictive accuracy as 0.92, 0.89 and 0.83, respectively.
Figure (a) shows the actual spatial distribution of OOE hot spots and cold spots in Columbus, 2017. The remaining maps show the three most accurate predictors based on predict accuracy: code violation (b), public health (c) and street lighting (d). Figure also shows the three most inaccurate predictions: traffic signs, street maintenance, and waters sewers drains in Fig. e–g, respectively. (Li et al., 2020)
The results from this study support the view that opioid crisis is rooted in social and neighborhood distress. We show such spatial characteristics can be used along with 311 data itself to predict the trends of opioid overdose hotspots when OOEs data is not available. Since 311 requests are publicly available and with high spatial and temporal resolution, they can be effective as opioid overdose surveillance indicators for basic research and applied policy. It is worth mentioning that our research is not a predictive policing tool. An appropriate use is to help think strategically about where to allocate outreach, programs and resources to at-risk individuals and how to alleviate the underlying social and environmental stressors in our city.
Li, Y., Hyder, A., Southerland, L. T., Hammond, G., Porr, A., & Miller, H. J. (2020). 311 Service Requests As Indicators of Neighborhood Distress and Opioid Use Disorder. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-76685-z
Over a year has passed since the beginning of the George Floyd Uprising with little clarity on exactly the extent of surveillance technologies employed to target protestors. Last summer, media and lawmakers were awash with outrage over the explicit overreach of federal and local law enforcement agencies use of surveillance and repression. By August 2020, a congressional committee had formed to investigate what was going on in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Yet, this outrage appears to have been only political spectacle as the new administration wasted little time rejecting the demands of a historic movement to defund and abolish the police and continuing repression. Already this year, police budgets have received more funding than ever, anti-protest legislation is receiving alarming support, and a national security apparatus expanded its political repression disguised as “combatting domestic extremism”, confabulating new categories of dissidents such as “racially motivated” and “anarchist violent extremists” .
Despite the despair many of us may have felt from the seeming failure of the movement’s main goals, we have much to gain from acknowledging the way the state engaged in repression so that we might understand what counterpower remains possible. The degree of surveillance regularly employed during protests reveals the doubling-down of the state on a coordinated strategy of political repression through datafication. This strategy of protest repression mirrors the already established strategies of surveillance capitalism in which the process of datafication opens up the possibility of predicting future social behavior and controlling it . In this case, datafication acts to predict ‘civil unrest’ and control its emergence, consequently foreclosing the political agency of protest to effect unsanctioned structural change. The enclosure of protest is accompanied by an alarming trend of carceral and policing logics bleeding into everyday social infrastructures, digital and physical, from the smart city to social media . This foreclosed agency and creeping carcerality, paired with the enthusiastic exposure of ourselves within surveillant regimes , undeniably reproduces the racialized inequalities prisons and policing are founded on. Recognizing that datafication enables this violent and racialized control of bodies throughout hybrid virtual/real spaces, then it seems obvious than an imperative of anti-racist, anti-oppression praxis is to strategize against technological systems of control. Yet, where are such resistances happening and what do they look like?
Continuing critical human geography’s commitment to emancipatory praxis, I aim to locate, amplify and mobilize resistance by “drawing from the local and lived knowledge of communities who have, and continue to exist under intensive surveillance and monitoring” . Therefore, I have grounded this research in the radical communities I had the opportunity to connect with during the uprising in Portland, Oregon. Over 2020, I was able to spend significant time among a radical intersectional counterculture of both new and old activists dedicated to combatting police violence. I also embedded myself within the social media networks of #PortlandProtest and other proximal communities in alt-media spaces, including anarcho-hacker collectives and liberation-centered technology forums. Within these spaces of resistance, I found an anarchic anchor tying together multiple modes of resistance and communities who together desired something like “becoming ungovernable”. I felt very strongly in these communities the harmonies that Marquis Bey celebrates among queer, trans, black, feminist and anarchic struggles for liberation . I find my theoretical foundation somewhere within this radically inclusive coalition of knowledges. At the same time, I felt a severe disjuncture between the practices of those on the ground or on mainstream platforms, and the security cultures and radical digital praxis of alternative online communities. This gap among my research population mirrors a gap in the relevant literatures where injustices of mutating digital regimes are acknowledged, especially in places like Critical Data Studies, but few studies attempt to locate resistances to these regimes.
So, my summer thus far has been spent attempting to dive deeper into these communities and find out what strategies of resistance to datafication might be present or missing, emerging or blocked. My first goal has been to make connections in the local Portland scene so that I might conduct a series of interviews about experiences of surveillance and practices of resistance. I’ve participated in direct actions, mutual aid projects, and community education events in Portland, Oregon as part of my fieldwork for this project over the past month. It has been difficult to make connections in the wake of a pandemic, especially within communities that are notoriously anti-social as the threat of state surveillance and infiltration haunt everyday realities. Nevertheless, through obvious expressions of solidarity in my words, actions, and even clothes, I have been able to form meaningful relationships that are materializing in enthusiastic participation. I am also attempting to conduct (an)archival research of radical zines/pamphlets related to digital security and counter-surveillance practices that are available at protest-related events and online libraries. By understanding how these packets of knowledge are created, mobilized, and preserved, further gaps can be identified that might be open to intervention and improvement. I have plans to design an open-source zine with some collaborators. The zine will address the gaps identified throughout the research project as well as offer an open-source alternative to zine libraries that allows for constant collaborative correction and update. Finally, I am currently arranging interviews with various individuals in online communities involved in alternative technological projects that might have insight into resistance strategies and interest in building critical digital literacies among activist communities that can help dethrone tendencies of a tech-savvy vanguard to form. Together, this research ultimately aims to mobilize the radical energies of those ungovernables in Portland, the unique networks of care and knowledges that support them, and the digital tools that might build infrastructures of the greatest possible autonomy. Research that successfully mobilizes digital resistance and autonomous practices from the bottom-up will have valuable applications across the world, where varying degrees of techno-repression occur that demand our solidarity in resistance.
It was just last week that the People’s History of Portland held one of their monthly community education events in a beautiful Portland park. Activists came to share their experiences successfully resisting an infamous grand jury trial in 2012. At least 3 different local zine distros tabled a selection of material for the event related to resisting surveillance and legal proceedings. The event itself has plans of being made into a zine to be hosted online and shared worldwide. Even before the speakers began, I could recognize the hum of a surveillance plane flying overhead. I wasn’t the only one to notice it as a sea of middle fingers quickly pointed to the sky. A friend next to me quickly went onto the Twitter profile of @pdx_flightwatch, a bot built by a local activist that posts the flight paths of known police-affiliated surveillance aircraft in the area. Sure thing, it was the Portland Police’s Cessna spy craft. I was astounded by the number of times it flew over our small community event in the park next to the rose garden. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the fact that someone had built @pdx_flightwatch exactly for moments like this. We joked that we could find out where radical actions were taking place around the city just by following the spy plane’s flight path. Where there is power there is resistance!
Figure 1. Screenshot of Twitter post from @pdx_skywatch showing flightpath of police place. Source: 
The microbiome—the collection of microbes in a habitat or body—is currently an object of interdisciplinary excitement. In this view of microbes as the essential building blocks of life, ideas about disease are refigured. Dysbiosis names this new notion of disease as the dysregulation of microbial ecologies. The concept is Greek for difficult living, but taken in terms of microbial ecologies, dysbiosis refers to an overall dysregulated composition. The connection to the Anthropocene is explicit: loss of microbial diversity is about an epoch of planetary loss. Starting with the paleo Anthropocene, then the industrial revolution and ultimately the mid 20th century Great Acceleration, each of these periods demarcate disruptions that not only alter the external environment but also the (internal) human environment. Shaped by delivery methods, feeding practices, and antibiotic doses—development of the human gut microbiome is linked to its assembly at birth. After birth, environmental and social conditions continue to press upon its composition.
The microbiome is presented as a “post-racial” view of life that emphasizes plasticity over fixity and ecology over genes. This is considered post racial because it is not about differences between humans as species types. Rather microbiome research centers the nonhuman and difference as internal variability, which is presented as a disruption of anthropocentrism. Secondly, difference is not about inferiority but about improvement. Microbes aren’t just disease vectors or lower orders, they are the conditions of possibility for creating all forms of complexity. Difference and diversity is linked to increased fitness.
In turn, microbiome research presents itself as long removed from both the heydays of the racial pseudoscience of natural types—and the 20th century science of genetic reductionism. But, I argue the history of scientificracism is not reducible to ideas about the fixity of natural types, differences as inferiority, and anthropocentrism. Before the gene—the germ was posed as the material embodiment and reproductive force of life as models of evolution became accepted in mainstream Western science across the 19th century. It was with ideas about the germ–posed as the seed that developed into the whole organism, the tiny animal itself, and the tissues or cells that made up the body–that life not only became a distinct object of knowledge, but one which required intervention in order to improve inevitable trajectories away from degeneration. With ideas about reproduction at the scale of the generation, the germ linked aging and disease, as decline over the individual lifespan or developmental time, to civilizational decline or collapse, as evolutionary time.
Ideas about nature’s plasticity were linked to ideas about the relation between hybrid fertility and shared ‘missing’ origins, whereby the womb, or the reproductive capacities, of enslaved African American women, became the raw material for a cross-species understanding of the pliability of body-environment relations. By extending literature on the convergence of medical and agricultural notions of the germ in 19th century Europe—epitomized by Darwin—to the threat emancipation posed to the planter-physician dyad in America, I argue that ideas about nature’s plasticity were yoked to the racist anxiety and fetish over mulatto fertility. In the US, hybrid fertility was explicitly entangled with the reproduction of captive labor, which simultaneously were the means for improvement as capital accumulation for the national economy (and Southern politics) and the means for threatening the boundary of whiteness.
I argue it is precisely where many find excitement and hope – i.e. ideas about nature’s plasticity—that contemporary microbiome science continues to traffic in this eugenic relation between ideas of improvement and degeneration. Dysbiosis presents all difference as situated along a continuous spectrum of westernization. Here certain contemporary lifestyles are not just associated with increased microbial diversity but as such are posed as ancestral, a prelapsarian ideal stuck in time, a lost missing link. Recent scholarship has demonstrated this way race re-emerges in the idea of the “noble savage”. Deemed more “natural” and thus “vanishing,” scholars have critiqued how particular microbiomes figured as universal collective heritage become subject to bioprospecting projects.
Figure 1 Source: Gupta, Vinod et al. 2017. Geography, Ethnicity or Subsistence-Specific Variations in Human Microbiome Composition and Diversity. Frontiers in Microbiology.
I extend these critiques of microbiome science by also unpacking the racialized distinction that emerges between anxiety around the “degenerating” gut and the desiring subject of “regeneration” or the “rewilded” gut. This illustrates how race is also posed as an internal threat, as microbiome science focuses on the perils of “bad,” low socioeconomic status neighborhoods. The argument is that “the very same factors related to the total lived experience of socioeconomic disadvantage” are the “risk factors for dysbiosis” (Prescott & Logan). In this view, environmental crisis becomes an urban-industrial threat, as racialized neighborhoods disrupt microbial ecologies and threaten human extinction.
I link both biocentric fetishization of indigeneity as wilderness and the biocentric anxiety around the city and urban degeneration to the project of making whiteness universal. Dysbiosis, and the ideal of eubiosis, figures whiteness as the universal condition of the post-human, which is constituted by the awareness of being microbial ecologies all the way down. Here racial anxiety about the perils of westernization and the desire to become the non-Western Other are given scientific legitimacy in the form of microbial plasticity. This recapitulates the universal subject of whiteness, not through externalization of the racially marked other but through regulating internalization as either degenerative or as improving. I argue this scientific legitimacy is a form of biocentrism, which grounds notions of civilizational advancement in nature itself.
Figure 2 Source: Dominguez-Bello, Maria, Knight, Rob, Gilbert, Jack and Martin Blaser. 2018. Preserving microbial diversity. Science.
Right now is fish fry season! For many that observe Lent or live in communities that practice Lenten traditions, the Friday fish fry is a common practice in the 40 days that precede Easter. Growing up I was largely vegetarian/pescatarian (a hard thing to do surrounded by Texas BBQ) so I rejoiced this time of year where fish was plentiful and commonplace on menus. For others in my family this was the only time of year they eat fish. This time often brought up a lot of confusion in which fish to eat, or reservations about how “fishy” it was going to taste.
Fish can be downright confusing. For instance, there exist tradeoffs in nutrition and taste. Many fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the “good” fat), but this contributes to the “fishy” ocean taste, so more palatable fish have lower levels of omega-3s. There are also a variety of fish categories: wild caught, farmed (aquaculture), and shellfish. Becky Mansfield (2004) observed the debate over organic certifications for fish, and found that many views relate to the way fish elude classification. Her research highlights the ways people draw distinction between soil and water-based agriculture, and the troubles in defining ‘livestock’ or ‘wild’ and outside of producers’ control.
“Fish are different from everything else, but just what makes them different is not clear.” Mansfield, pg. 230
Fish also provide an avenue for examining connections between food production and sustainability goals. Much of the basis for expanding aquaculture is predicated on global fishery collapse. Aquaculture now makes up over half of the relative contribution of fish for human consumption (FAO, 2020). Sustainability is touted as a driver for expanding aquaculture production, however it also remains a point of contention against the industry. Aquaculture growth will increase demand for groundwater, and farm systems present contamination risks due to their large wastewater holdings. Growing fish on land still takes large amounts of marine inputs. Fish oils and protein for feeding raised fish have increased strain on wild stocks of input fish, like sardines and anchovies. Feeding fish alternatives, like plant proteins (ie. corn and soybean) encourage the problem of monocropping in the US and have nutritional compromises in the final fish product.
From a consumer standpoint it is extremely difficult to make purchasing decisions. As Michael Pollan made famous through “Vote with your fork,” food decisions are political and our choices can transform the food system. Julie Guthman (2007) provided a thought provoking account of subjectivities at play in these discourses, specifically in relation to the “epidemic of obesity.” She writes that Pollen and others “see themselves as morally superior to fat people in the sense that they characterize fat people as being short of subjectivity.” The core issue is that these types of food writers push a politics that is to do as they do. In Pollan’s case it is eating as an affluent thin white man.
In this vein I will resist telling you which food decisions to make, as is often the relation between academic “subject” writer and “object” reader needing intervention. Instead, I think talking about food should instead spur creativity and nuance in the ways we identify problems and propose solutions. Sustainability is vague and needs to be more specifically defined in conversations. When promoting “better” outcomes we should be explicit in the people considered in those politics. I want a food system that works for everyone- across race, class, ability, and gender.
Finally, I will tell you what I have enjoyed in my own exploration into Midwest aquaculture. Fish offerings are much different here than when I grew up in Texas. Redfish isn’t on the menu but Walleye is. I was also surprised to see how many farms there were in the Midwest (see below). You can, in fact, get fresh live shrimp over 800 miles away from an ocean. I plan to continue researching Midwest fish over the next two years. If you have a fish farm- I’d love to stop by!