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On Teaching and Learning

September 15, 2017

I think my first year students are a little confused. I am team-teaching the first year biology course at my institution (as I almost always do) and my co-teacher is covering the “Central Dogma” so students will understand the process of transforming the information in DNA into the structure of a protein so that they can understand the relationship between genetic information and the phenotype. She began by assigning them some homework and then built off that homework by having the students draw a concept map of the process and then discussing the details of their concept maps with their peers in learning groups we set up at the beginning of the semester. She found some of the groups reluctant to talk to one another and I had to stop them and explain that her having them do this is good pedagogy. Having students create their own knowledge aids in their learning of that knowledge in ways that delivering this knowledge to them in traditional lecture cannot. They come to us from their public school experience with the idea that our job is to teach them and their job is to receive this teaching and somehow come to knowledge and understanding. What they don’t realize is that our job is to create environements, activities and opportunities that facilitate their learning. And, if we are doing our job correctly and informed by what educational research says are effective ways of teaching, sometimes we will involve them in activities that do not look or feel like us teaching them.

Last night, we had a review session for the exam coming up on Monday (today is Friday). After we had exhausted their questions, my co-teacher asked the students to draw a fitness landscape. One volunteer drew it and switched the axes relative to the shape of the surface of the fitness landscape. A simple and easily fixed mistake which is why my co-teacher started to correct him before I jumped in and interrupted her to ask the class if everyone agreed with the fitness landscape he had drawn. No one agreed and I asked if anyone wanted to correct it. One student volunteered and, as she was beginning to get up and correct the figure on the board, the student at the board realized the mistake he had made and began to correct the figure. We then stressed to them that the best way to study was to practice recalling information and doing this in the presence of people who know enough to point out when you get something not quite right (or completely wrong). I am not sure that they believed this but there is evidence that says it is true.

And this is not just an issue with our students. When we (faculty) go up for a promotion, one requirement is that the Dean of our college come and observe our teaching to determine whether or not we know what we are doing in the classroom. It is unfortunate that we only do this once because it does not necessarily reflect our effectiveness on a daily basis. I invited the Dean to come and view my teaching on a day when I was employing a technique referred to as a jigsaw. The jigsaw I used was one I downloaded from the Case Study Teaching website at the University of Buffalo and it involves food webs in temperate forests in the northeastern United States that relates the production of acorns to mouse population growth to tick populations and gypsy moth populations and how all this is implicated in cycles of Lyme disease prevalence. It involves having students look at figures from the paper and understand them in small groups but each group has only one figure. After they understand the figure, members move from group to group, bringing their figure with them and teaching their new group the figure they are carrying and learning about figures possessed by other groups from those group members. The task is to figure out the stucture of the food web and what the paper is about that is not in any of the figures (Lyme disease). The coolest thing about it is that it really works and it helps the students learn in a way that really sticks with them. During this learning activity, I am circulating around the room and answering questions, asking questions of students designed to get the students to delve more deeply into the figures or to pick up on things they missed in the figure, and managing time. The Dean began my teaching observation report with the something along the lines of: Dr. Klawinski began class at 9:00 and proceeded to not teach for the next 65 minutes. He then went on to describe the process of running a jigsaw fairly accurately as he described what he saw in the classroom.

Why I am writing all this down? This post is mostly for our students. Sometimes we come into class and ask you to do things that don’t seem to you like we are teaching you anything. It isn’t that we are unprepared. We are simply asking you to learn in ways that you perhaps have not been asked to learn in the past. And we are doing it because the methods we are using have been shown to be effective in getting you to learn. Trust us a little because we care deeply about your learning. Be open to learning new ways of learning. Recognize that good, effective teaching might not look like what you saw in high school. And be willing to go on the journey with us.


What are our shared national values?

August 3, 2017

I don’t write about politics very often but it seems like we maybe need to have a chat as a nation about politics. If you haven’t noticed, things are a pretty big mess in the USA right now. I think it might be time to have a national conversation about our national values.

Right now, our political climate seems to be all about “winning” but when people speak that word, I am not sure what they are meaning. Who is “winning”? What are they “winning” when they do “win”? Who “loses” in this situation (the term “winning” implies that there is also a losing side)? By what metrics can we objectively measure a “win” versus a “loss”? And what do we concentrate on when we are so focused on “winning”, potentially at the expense of other things we could/should be focusing on? Is our governance system a zero-sum game?

I would like to propose that we focus on our national values. “What are those?”, you might ask. Some might look to our past behavior as a clue to what our national values are. I would not recommend this as there are many things in our national past that are not too positive (slavery, the extermination and/or displacement of Native Americans as the US pushed westward, the lack of equal rights for women, incarcerating Japanese-Americans During WWII, etc. I could go on but you could also just go and read a history book.). Some might look to the foundational documents of our nation to search for national values. That is somewhat better than looking at behavior but these sources are also fraught with historical norms that I think most of us would be uncomfortable (treating black people as property, lack of voting and property rights for women, etc.) Once again, sit down with those documents and read them carefully. They hide the notion of slavery by not referring to it as such but masking it in other terms but it is in there (how else can you “import” an “other person”?). But you can look through the amendments to our Constitution to get an inkling of what our national values are as we recognized that the original documents perhaps did not reflect our national values as well as we wanted. And our culture changed as well which required updates. If we could have a conversation about what we all think our national values are, we would see where we agree and disagree on those values. Once that is known, we can begin discussing ways to live out our national values in our governance structures and we can begin the process of negotiating why we do differ on some of these fundamentals.

What are some of these national values? Going back to some of our founding documents gives us a starting place.

All people are equal under the law. – This is a big one. It has to do with the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This is ultimately what decided the same sex marriage issue. All people should have equal protection under the law (see 5th and 14th Amendments for two versions of legal protection). ALL people. Regardless of any visible or invisible difference we might note in them. This becomes uncomfortable for some people who are offended by the lives other lead and by who a person loves. I am also uncomfortable with white supremacists but I cannot, in good conscience, elect to infringe upon their right to peaceably assemble and spew their hatred. Just as they cannot suspend my right to protest their message. Lots of things make us uncomfortable and we just need to get over some of these things. If we can freely embrace this core principle, lots of other things come into focus. Everyone should have the right to marry. Everyone should have the right to vote (if they are citizens). Everyone should receive a quality public education. Everyone should have equal opportunities to attend college, get a job, achieve the American dream. You might say that they do already, but they don’t if some public schools are not doing an adequate job of preparing students for the future (which many are not) or if there is implicit bias in admissions and hiring practices.

But we don’t have to go to our founding documents for shared values. Here are some others.

It is better for people to be employed than to be unemployed. – I would add to this that people need to be employed at wages that allow them to support themselves and their families. I think we can all agree to this. IF a candidate gets up in front of an audience and says something to the contrary, chances are that person will not get elected. But we often have candidates who say they don’t think it is better for people to be employed but they say it in different words, which when examined carefully, reveal their true meaning. When our leaders draft and pass legislation that makes it more economical for people to outsource jobs to other nations, they are expressing a value statement that runs counter to the idea that it is better to be unemployed than employed (see my earlier post on externalizing costs). We should not pass laws that actively encourage companies to relocate oversees. And as individuals, we should make individual purchasing choices that recognize that something made in America is being made by people who earn a living wage, have health insurance, work in safe working environments, and live in environments that are less negatively affected by the pollution generated by local industries. It is not just about what government does; it is about what we as individuals do. If a product is made in a country without environmental and worker protections, and we all refuse to buy that product, the company will move production to a place that has environmental and worker protections. Money speaks volumes. Where are we collectively spending our money?

It is better for people to be safe. – This includes in the workplace, in our homes and on our streets. This is about OSHA, police forces, the EPA, the FDA, etc. If we leave our safety up to corporations, we will get the least costly solution to problems which will probably be more unsafe than more costly solutions. We will get more dangerous products rather than less dangerous products and those will be produced in cheaply run production facilities that are less safe simply because that increases the profit margins of companies. See above comments about the power of money.

It is better for us to leave our children and grandchildren a world that is better than the one we inherited, from the standpoint of peace, economics and the environment. – How many of us really want to screw the next generation? Hopefully none of us do. But we often say we do in our choices. In our choices of the products we buy and how those products are produced, in terms of our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive, in terms of our choices about how we treat others not like ourselves, and in our choices of who we vote for for public offices.

We seek justice for people who have been oppressed. – I hope I don’t have to belabor this point. I am against the death penalty because there are too many cases ( > 1) of people on death row being exonerated due to new evidence, DNA, etc. I want criminals off the street as much as anyone, but not if it means killing innocent people because our system of justice is imperfect. And it is imperfect because it is run by people and people are imperfect. And this is not the only form of injustice I am referring to. See the first two bolded paragraphs above (equal protection and employment) or think about current moves to alter immigration policy.

I could go on, but you can see where I am going with this. I think there are common values that we all share. And all of these areas are difficult in the hammering out of policies that address these things. But, if we can not agree on the core principles, then there is no point of departure for debating the specifics of how we get more people employed or how we hand off a world that is better to those who come after us. But, if one candidate thinks we should leave our grandchildren a better world and another who does not, then you have nothing to discuss and you have the topic of your first campaign advertisement.

You will notice that I did not put “We think decisions should be based in reality/fact”, because I do not think that is a shared national value at the moment. But perhaps it should be.

It seems to me that both of our major political parties are struggling to find a platform that speaks to the American people. I think this is a symptom of a larger problem. I think both parties are so tied to special interests that both of them have lost sight of our shared values. I think the political party that embraces our shared values and then contrasts themselves with the party that does not will begin to win the hearts and minds of the electorate. With a Congressional approval rating of 20%, I would argue that both parties are losing the hearts and minds of Americans. Perhaps a new platform that embraces our shared values is the answer for success in elections 15 months from now.

What do you think should be added to our shared national values? Do you think this is all pie in the sky optimism and naiveté? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

I did a Nerd Nite…and it was fun.

June 1, 2017

I recently did a Nerd Nite presentation here in Kansas City. I had been meaning to attend Nerd Nite KC for a while but could never make it. It conflicts with my Wednesday night bicycling group and so I have always prioritized exercise over drinking and listening to people talk. And then the climate toward science in the United States shifted and I thought to myself that it is important, as a scientist, to work on communicating to non-scientists.

In case you are not aware of what a Nerd Nite is, Nerd Nite is an evening of science-y sorts of talks, usually at a local watering hole. The talks are oriented towards the general public and can cover a wide range of topics. The first Nerd Nite was in Boston and has now spread to over 90 communities around the world.

I chose the topic of innumeracy for my talk. I arrived about 15 minutes before the event was to start and, what I did not realize, was that Neil DeGrasse Tyson was speaking at the same time at the Midland Theater. So, the audience was pretty light and the organizer (thanks to Matthew Long-Middleton for being the organizer of this event in Kansas City) was not there yet. So, I ordered a beer and chatted with my partner, the bartender and a guy at the bar. The organizer arrived and told me that things would be starting later than planned and that there were two presenters and the other guy wanted to go first. I drank my beer (KC Bier Dunkel) and waited, chatting about this and that. By the time the first presenter began (talking about the process of kidney donation, a first person account from the perspective of the donor), I was onto my second beer. He finished and I had a sliver of beer left and a slight buzz going because I had not had dinner yet. In reality, it loosened me up and I was still capable of running the numbers that were in the presentation.

The topic was Innumeracy. So there were a lot of numbers. I began with requesting definitions of numeracy from the audience. I think asking for crowd feedback at the beginning was a good move for the presentation. I then moved to trying to convince the audience that, whenever they are confronted with a number in their everyday lives, they are probably being asked to make a value judgement about that number. I used a speed limit sign as the illustration which I think was surprising for the audience but, when you see a speed limit sign, you have to make a whole series of judgements about that number. Will I adhere to it or not? If not, how far over the speed limit am I wiling to drive and what is my decision-making process by which I decide that value?

Aluminum-Speed-Limit-Sign-K-2073I then attempted to make the point that we should care about the lack of numeracy in our current society. The point about the importance of innumeracy was driven home by  a series of examples that I found especially funny. So did the audience and I had to slow down that section to wait for people to stop laughing. The examples were things like incorrect calculated tip suggestions and terrible signs advertising “sales”, etc., in stores.

I then moved on to a more complicated example regarding how to put big numbers in perspective using a claim made by Michael Pollan in The Omnivores Dilemma about the number of cattle (30,000) housed at Poky Feeders, a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) located north of Garden City. How does one come to the conclusion as to whether that is a number of cattle I can feel good, neutral or bad, about. I walked the audience through a common scientific tool for putting that big number into context (factor label method) that then allowed them to assess how many people that would be in a house. I talked about the Mother of All Bombs graphic that appeared in USA Today drawing a false equivalency between that bomb and the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (corrected the next day).atomic bomb

I then talked about the claims that the current president made during the presidential campaign about “increasing” murder rates in the 50 largest cities. These examples drove home how numeracy can help and how innumeracy hinders us in understanding the world around us. I finished with some examples of things we can do on a daily basis to help become more numerate.

When I was finished, I got a lot of good questions, both from the organizer and from the audience. It was fun and I think I did a pretty good job and think I would probably do something like this, on a different topic, again some day. Some things that I learned in the process of doing this.

  1. If you are talking about something you are less familiar with, give yourself some lead time to work through the presentation. Numeracy is something I think about a lot but normally talk about in my science courses and not trying to explain it to non-scientists. So it took a while to wrap my head around how to approach it.
  2. Be funny. But not too funny? Hard to ascertain how humor will go over before you actually present it but humor does have the effect of slowing down the presentation if it works, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
  3. Have only one beer before the presentation. At the Nerd Nite KC event, presenters are afforded two free beers. Have one before and one after.
  4. Practice your talk just like you would for any other presentation you would make.
  5. Be open to questions from the audience; be conversational. The audience members are genuinely there to learn and enjoy themselves and you are part of the entertainment, but you are also “the expert”. Stop and think about answers before they come out of your mouth, acknowledge when you don’t know something, and be honest with people (good advice to any question/answer portion of any presentation you make).
  6. Just do it. It was fun. And, if you are an expert on something, the process of thinking about your area of expertise is useful for you as an expert and your expertise is useful to others, so it would be nice to get it out there.

If you have done something like this, share your experiences in the comments section. I would be interested in hearing about what you did and how it went over.

Some advice to students on improving research paper introductions: Framing and conceptual models.

April 28, 2017

This is the season of student lab reports, papers and senior theses. And I find myself repeating lots of things I have said to students in previous semesters and at previous times during the current semester about how they set up the research they are working on in an introduction. Over the years, many students have told me that they find the Introduction to be the hardest part of any paper to write. So, I thought I would right down some suggested hints Many of these can be found in writing guides but it does not hurt to repeat these and elaborate on them as well as share some things that are not so obvious. Among the things that, if you get right, help you navigate the writing of the Introduction of a scientific paper: Framing and ordering.

By framing, I am referring to the broader context in which your research will be placed. Choosing the correct frame at the beginning of the writing process makes lots of decisions further downstream easier. I will elaborate on this later when I work through an example. By ordering, I refer to the order in which you take the individual sub-topics within the broader frame and how you work your way down to the question, hypotheses that are the main thrust of your paper. This can be done in a way that makes logical sense to your audience or in a way that confuses them and dilutes your message. Too often, our students think that part persuading the audience of your point of view is not what you should be doing, but you want the intended reader to come along with you on the journey you are about to take them on and they will be more receptive to the information in your paper/presentation if you have made efforts to ease their entry into the information rather than organizing you presentation of the information in ways that makes that transition more difficult.


When you go to an art museum, you seldom see a painting that is not in a frame. In older paintings, the frame is often large and elaborate with little care taken as to whether the frame adds to or complements the artwork. If you have ever gotten some custom framing done at someplace like Michael’s, you have been confronted with the diversity of choices of frame colors and textures, mat colors, etc. And if you have taken the time to go through the options, it becomes apparent that some frames and mats work well with the art work you are framing and others don’t (see this blog post for a more in depth treatment of the topic). The same is true of your science. Some ways of framing a topic work better than others and enhance the information you are communicating rather than distracting from the information.

My students in Herpetology have been working a research project focused on the thermal biology and performance of nocturnal ectotherms. We raced winter-collected geckos in racetracks at different temperatures and also measured their preferred temperatures in thermal gradients. We also have field temperatures to compare to as well. As they have been preparing their final papers, each of them have come to me about how to get started and they all seem to have been approaching the paper from a different starting point. Some have begun with the thermal biology of nocturnal ectotherms but this seems too narrow for me as it provides no context as to why we would be interested in  nocturnal ectotherms in the first place and one thing an introduction should do is draw the audience in. Others have attempted to begin with thermal biology as a topic but did not have a well-defined conceptual model that they could use as the structural framework for a well-organized Introduction. Others have begun with the study organism. This is not a great place to start because it narrows the paper too much too soon and you have to find a way to move from the narrow biology of the organism to the broader aspects of its biology, the fact that it is a nocturnal ectotherm that then allows you to talk about thermal biology of ectotherms in a general sense. This seems backward for me.  So, instead, you should begin with thermal biology in general and work your way down to ectotherms and then to nocturnal ectotherms and then the specific study organism. Of course, this does not focus on the question at hand and focuses more on the species involved to answer the question. So, where should one begin in structuring an Introduction. My recommendation has been for them start at the end (question) and work their way out of that question into broader and more inclusive levels of information, each broader level being the information necessary to understand the current topic. This process is illustrated below.

What is the question/s we are addressing. First, the species we are working on is an introduced species that has been expanding its introduced range northward, exposing itself to increasingly cod winter temperatures. Our question about this systems is: Has this species evolved greater cold-tolerance as it has expanded north or is the species dealing with these novel environments via acclimation (which I realize can also be considered an evolved response) or is it a combination of both? In order to understand all this one needs to understand the relationship between environmental temperatures, field body temperatures and preferred temperatures as well as how body temperature relates to performance One of the potential challenges for this species in particular is that this species is a nocturnal gecko and that poses different challenges than if the species were diurnal because they have fewer options for behavioral thermoregulation. In order to understand this, one needs to understand how diurnal ectotherms thermoregulate so that the contrast with the nocturnal ectotherm can be made. In order to understand all this, one needs to understand the relationship between environmental temperatures, field body temperatures and preferred temperatures as well as how body temperature relates to performance. Having worked our way out to ectotherm behavioral thermoregulation, some students want to stop there, but if they are communicating to a broader audience, they might want to begin at something the audience can already relate to, such as the fact that they are homeotherms. This then serves as a jumping off point to ectotherms as a contrast that is easily relatable. But we are still left with the broader question as to why we should be interested in ectotherms at all. I was listening to NPR the other day and heard an interview with Brian Helmuth who works with mussels. He made the valid point that, in terms of global biodiversity, homeothermy is the exception rather than the rule. So, if we want to understand the relationship between temperature and the biology of organisms, we gain the most insight for the greatest number of species by concentrating on ectotherms.

Now, if you reverse the order of the previous paragraph, you have a logical structure for an Introduction and you have cast the Introduction inside a frame that reinforces the importance of ectotherms in studies of thermal biology and performance.

In addition to providing a frame and an order, this introduction also explains, in the process of covering other things, the underlying conceptual model about how we think ectotherms manage body temperature. This conceptual model is crucial if the reader is going to understand why nocturnal ectotherms are especially challenged, in a thermoregulatory sense, when compared to diurnal ectotherms and how diurnal ectotherms experience their environment in a very different way than we (homeotherms) do.

And in the end, you have a reader that is now well-informed about what will be coming next and who understands the conceptual underpinning about the research you are going to be presenting in the Methods section.


On the Imminent Demise of the EPA

February 17, 2017

Today, Scott Pruitt was confirmed as the new Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

I can only guess that this bodes ill for the future of this agency and means we will probably live in a nation that is less healthy and more polluted four years from now.

There are a number of bills that have been introduced or passed whose intent is to weaken the EPA or disband the agency altogether. They are:

H.J.Res. 38: Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule.
H.R. 806: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017
S.Res. 12: A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that clean water is a national priority, and that the June 29, 2015, Waters of the United States Rule should be withdrawn or vacated.
H.R. 694: Stop EPA Overregulation of Rural Americans Act
H.R. 861: To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.
H.R. 717: Listing Reform Act
H.R. 637: Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017
H.R. 481: REBUILD Act
S. 263: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017
H.R. 848: Farm Regulatory Certainty Act
H.R. 119: LEVEL Act
S.J.Res. 21: A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update for the 2008 Ozone NAAQ
H.J.Res. 60: Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the final rule of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service relating to the use of compensatory mitigation as recommended or required under the Endangered Species Act.

I could have cut and pasted all day long. As you read this list thought, you may be asking, what could be so bad about some of these laws?

Their titles are sometimes misleading. For example, the “[R]esolution expressing the sense of the Senate that clean water is a national priority, and that the June 29, 2015, Waters of the United States Rule should be withdrawn or vacated” sounds great. But, when you go read the bill, it attests that “the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) is one of the most important laws in the United States and has led to decades of successful environmental improvements,” just before it proceeds to vacate the rule that gave the EPA governance over setting guidelines for what constitutes water pollution and assigns that determination to the states.

If you go and read these bills, you can see that there is a systematic attempt to either remove the agency altogether or to significantly weaken the ability of the EPA to protect the environment from degradation, largely by ceding the responsibility of setting regulatory guidelines and enforcement to the states, thus gutting the ability for the EPA to provide consistent environmental standards for the nation.

I heard on NPR this morning that the EPA may be suffering from its own record of success, that many Americans don’t think that the EPA is needed any longer because we have clean air and clean water and lower lead levels in our children. But they don’t seem to register the fact that these gains in the quality of our environment are largely due to laws passed by Congress that are enforced by the EPA. And ceding these responsibilities to states will merely reduce enforcement and we, as a nation, will race to the bottom in terms of environmental quality.

I just hope we don’t come to live again in a time when rivers burn and we cannot see the skylines of our cities any longer.

HELP!! I agreed to speak in public about NUMERACY!!

February 10, 2017

I opened myself up to do a Nerd Night KC talk in May. If you are not familiar with Nerd Night, it is a sort-of global movement where people get together in a bar to listen to other people present about things the rest of society might consider nerdy. I think of it as a way to get some science-y things out there to the broader public and the topic I have chosen to present on is…


So, I am preparing now for the talk. I have some ideas of my own that I am keeping to myself but I am interested in hearing the ideas of others.

My goals for the talk are to:

  1. Explain what is generally meant by the term numeracy.
  2. Provide some examples of numeracy and especially some examples of when a lack of numeracy went terribly wrong.
  3. Share with the audience some examples of a lack of numeracy negatively affecting our ability to stave off hucksters.
  4. Share with the audience some ways of thinking about numbers that might help us get into the habit of interrogating numbers.

What do I need from you? Ideas.

What do you think the term numeracy means?
What are some examples of numeracy gone wrong from your own experience?
What are some examples of numeracy applied well that headed off disaster?
What are your strategies that you employ to make you own numeracy skills better?
How do you interrogate numbers?
Or anything else you want to share on this topic.

I am thinking of the title: Interrogating Numbers: Numeracy and Why We Need It.



Do EPA Regulations Cost Jobs? The resounding answer is NO.

February 6, 2017

Representative Matt Gaetz (R – FL) has introduced a bill entitled, “To Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency“. This seems to be one of the goals of the current administration and I have already written about the value of the EPA. If you need more information on this, I recommend the information found here. Now, this bill has no text and no summary, but I assume that those are coming, but no sense in letting this go without a comment.

Often, lawmakers want to reduce regulations by the EPA and other regulatory agencies because they make the cost of operating more expensive and, so the logic goes, it costs jobs. So, I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and downloaded their long-term unemployment data. I then went to the EPA web site and looked at the history of their major accomplishments, most of which are new regulations and some of which are things that they funded to help businesses and industries cope with new regulations. I then mapped the new regulations onto the graph of unemployment over time. I have colored the unemployment data by presidential administration (red=Republican; blue=Democrat) and plotted actions of the EPA or laws passed by Congress that involve the EPA as black diamonds at 8% unemployment(8.5% if there were two major initiatives occurring in the same month), so you can see where they occur but they don’t obscure too much of the unemployment data. Keep in mind that I plotted EPA rules as well as laws that were enacted by Congress that then fell to the EPA to enforce. Here is the graphic:


A few things you should notice is that, since the EPA’s founding in 1970, there have been more years under Republican presidents than under Democratic presidents. The other thing you will notice is that unemployment rate varies a lot, both among and within administrations. You will also notice that some administrations were more active in terms of EPA regulation than others (both Bush administrations rather inactive; Nixon, Ford, Carter and Obama more active).

What we don’t see is any evidence that periods of increasing regulatory authority lead to increases in unemployment rate. Clearly, unemployment rate is affected by lots of issues that are probably operating at much more global scales than the actions of the EPA can influence. Also, there are four presidents who enjoyed long periods (greater than half their time in office) of decreasing unemployment: Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. During these administrations, Carter and Obama had more active EPAs while Reagan and Clinton had EPAs that were more moderate in their activity. The first Bush administration had very consistent increases in unemployment despite the lack of new regulations and the second Bush administration had fluctuating unemployment rates that increased drastically at the end of his tenure, in spite of a relatively non-regulatory EPA. What is true is that there are more (cumulative) regulations on the books now and we are currently enjoying pretty low unemployment. So, regulation does not negatively affect the unemployment rate, at broad scales. I am not saying that it might not affect certain businesses specifically, but, at broad economic scales, the effect on unemployment is undetectable.

Now,some caveats, this is not a quantitative time series analysis (but the lack of pattern seems pretty obvious). Second, as I collected this timeline, I discovered that most of the actions of the EPA were called for by Congressional action. The other rules that were proposed by either the EPA or by presidential executive orders (EOs) merely call for strengthening the standards originally placed under the purview of the EPA by legislation. Of these, most of them were rules put in place by the EPA while some of them were presidential EOs. But in all cases, these rules were regarding things that legislation had already called on EPA to regulate.

So, in conclusion:

1.   The actions of the EPA do not cost jobs, at broad economic scales.

2.   The EPA does not seem to be an activist organization. It is merely following mandates issues by legislation coming from the legislative branch of government.

3.   Unemployment rate seems to be affected by other factors (which should surprise no thinking person).

So, if your reason for wanting to terminate the EPA is that the EPA does things that increase the unemployment rate, you are living in an alternative reality, one that is not supported by data.


science, education, and technology with an irreverent twist

The Insect Ecology Lab

at the University of Dayton (Dr. Chelse Prather & students)


Quantitative Genetics and more

Arthropod Ecology

Writings about arthropod ecology, arachnids & academia at McGill University

Random Walks

Mr. Chase blogs about math

Dynamic Ecology

Multa novit vulpes

Small Pond Science

Research, teaching, and mentorship in the sciences

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