Science and Perspective.


March 2016

Science Lost in Translation

Science: Lost in translation.

Academia is rife with opinions and cultural norms. Often they come across as best practices. This is because that is the way things are done and therefore that is how those in leadership learned to do them, the way they teach their academic offspring and so it is perpetuated.

Historically, wealthy, white, English speaking men have conducted science. This remains the status quo in science leadership. Interestingly, it continues even in places where the population does not fit this demographic.

Of particular interest to me is the Insular Caribbean. Island nations surrounding the Caribbean sea and nearby waters have diverse histories of colonization, slavery, emancipation and development. Along with these dynamic histories comes language diversity not seen in many other regions. People in the Insular Caribbean speak English, French, Spanish, Esperanto, various native languages and creole or dialectic mixes of these languages. Economic diversity also continues to develop and change in these countries. Local science and leadership continues to develop.

Unfortunately, North American Academia (NAA), continues to assume the role of science leadership, especially in countries labeled as third world or developing nations. Evidence of this is seen in various ways.

1. Voice: Scientific literature regarding these countries is published primarily in English, in North American Journals. The host country and its people do not have the primary voice describing its environment, archaeology, etc.

2. Access: The local host country institutions including government agencies, schools and universities, do not have access to the publications regarding their environment as portrayed in the global arena for their students or they do not have complete, accurate translations.

3. Ownership: Visiting researchers do not involve local people in significant discussion of scientific questions or conservation goals that are of importance to the country or region. Goals are instead based on NAA targets, justifications and funding.

4. Agency: Local participants in research are relegated to logistic work or manual labor not trained in the scientific methods or skills necessary to assume leadership roles. Technical scientific work is reserved for NAA students (undergraduate volunteers or interns). The excuse is often that locals do not have the necessary education to provide the needed support or the needed personnel could not be sourced locally.

5. Accuracy: study of human systems and their impacts on the environment in the absence of cultural or language competence is inherently incomplete. Disagreements and inconsistencies continue to arise because of incomplete understandings of the human systems.

While there are many avenues through which this can be addressed, I feel language is essential.


When a non-native language speaker conducts science in a host country, all efforts should be made to disseminate that research to the local people in their language. This starts at the intent stage and continues beyond publication to application and perhaps reevaluation. When classes/researchers visit study abroad locations, native students should be involved to both provide cultural contexts within discussions, reduce exoticism of local people and help North American Students achieve higher cultural competency. Where possible, scientists and educators should make themselves competent in the language and cultural norms of their host countries.


Having scientific literature published in the host country language, including dialects means that the people and regions can transition from being the object (spoken of) to the agent (speaker), the potential for education at multiple levels increases, cooperative and mutually beneficial science becomes feasible and science becomes participatory, which may also reduce some costs for all involved and improve the overall quality and diversity of scientific research.


By involving local students, this also improves the diversity of thought. NAA has a naturally NAA point of view. A primarily individualistic, atheist, capitalist society and its goals, justifications etc. will find translation (both linguistic and cultural) necessary to achieve its goals in a socialist, religious society. Not only are the values different, but the way in which they are described via language etc. may be even more divergent. Sometimes only a native person can describe/translate these elements of the culture accurately.

Do you have other solutions?

Have you seen NAA implement science well in your country or location?

below are links to other articles on this phenomenon.


The screaming silence

I am an international student and scholar. Thus far I have visited 9 countries (11 when I count Puerto Rico and the USVI separately). Guess what? People are all the same. We are born, struggle to survive, find love within and outside ourselves, we get sick, age and die seeking freedom, peace and happiness. Everyone.

In today’s world, there are those that point fingers at one group or another, to call them lazy, untrustworthy, evil and the list goes on and on. The fact is, most of these groups have no reliably identifiable phenotype. The Donald lambastes immigrants and Muslims though he needs them to wear shirts and headdresses or carry signs to recognize them. Faculty and staff at our university regularly point out Chinese students’ (lack of) ability, but many cannot tell that some are Japanese, Korean, etc. Some are United States of American. Myself, I walk in and out of situations where I am called African American…someone on the outside creates and applies these labels to the diverse and beautiful people in our campuses and communities. No matter what you think, all stereotypes hurt people in some way or the other.

And guess what? If you don’t use the stereotype, but do not stand against it, you still support it. It’s social economics. People spend energy to express their beliefs and opinions, their revenue is the support of people like them cheering them on and laughing at their jokes. Their costs include ostracism from groups they respect or want to be a part of. If the stereotype user claims to be part of the dominant culture, using stereotypes to victimize subordinate cultures or groups then they and their words already have the social capital and revenue. The victims do not. Now, here we have to realize, because they claim to be part of the dominant culture or represent the dominant culture does not make it true. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Some person at one end of the spectrum spews hate at people at the other end. The people near the oppressor end may align themselves with the oppressor. Those near the victim may align themselves with the victim. Those in the middle say “meh” and either side may claim them based on some superficial characteristic. In the end though, the oppressor has the power and without the support of the middle, the victims will continue to be victimized.

So let us use an analog (strictly hypothetical of course). Suppose a powerful person like a presidential candidate in the USA claims to be the ideal American. Suppose then, said candidate incites his supporters to racism and violent racism. He categorizes a group of people (perhaps an entire religion) as being evil or denigrates people of a particular gender. He is the oppressor. He stereotypes all the people that fit one label (religion, skin color, national origin, etc.) as something bad (terrorist, rapist, infidel, traitor etc.) and makes them a target.

Suppose then a person like an international student fits one of the labels the oppressor uses. This can be religion as mentioned before, some style of dress or even a way of speaking. To be clear, this student is NOT a terrorist, rapist, infidel or traitor. However, this is what he hears people like himself called in American mainstream media regularly.

It’s scary to speak out against someone who wrongs you, when they lead millions of people who look like the people that surround you everyday. If the oppressor labels all those who look like him as allies and none of them deny it, what does that mean? So, finally, suppose the schools that recruit students from countries around the world, all hear the media coverage, but never issue a direct statement publicly denouncing racism, stereotypes, violence towards their students and their students’ families? Can these students feel safe? Are these schools meeting their social responsibilities to their students? How long can they wait before the aura of permissiveness crosses from hate toward non Americans, to those who look like non Americans, to poor Americans, to Black, Latino, Asian or White Americans…and so on and so forth?

Of course I’m just being hypothetical, but really, how long should American Academia, Science, Industry, non profit organizations etc wait before they say out loud and without any ambiguity, that this type of public rhetoric is wrong?

difficult important conversations

Sometimes we are in a position where someone says something inappropriate, inconvenient, inaccurate, even an outright, offensive lie from the depths of hell! Sometimes they say these things near you when you are not the intended audience, about you to someone else when you can hear them, or directly in your face. Sometimes they fully understand the standard meaning of their words and the interpretation as you would receive it. Sometimes, they can use a word or phrase with unintended power, in the wrong context among the wrong group of people. These are statements, not conversations. The conversation requires participation from both sides and the goal (in my opinion) should be to improve understanding on both sides. Today I am writing about a particularly difficult conversation I had to have with a colleague and friend. I will point out some of what I did right and wrong (in my opinion) and share the outcome.

I was in a public area with an undergraduate friend, where I saw a fellow graduate student (older, white, american male). Conversation fell to the impending birth of our super amazing son #LeonardoDavis. I mentioned in passing (or so I thought) that because he was born in the USA he would automatically have american citizenship. The statement he made was “Oh, an anchor baby”. I was taken aback.
Why? An anchor by definition, restrains an object or entity to a certain location to either 1) prevent the movement of the object that has the ability to move itself if otherwise unencumbered or 2) to prevent the drifting of an object that would otherwise be at the whim of the elements having no agency of its own. Definition 1 implies that our child would be a burden restricting our freedom and limiting the potential of our family. Definition 2 implies that our family (culture, country) is somehow weaker than America and therefore the anchor allows us to gain stability we would not otherwise have. Another element of the connotation is that the baby is a tool, deliberately conceived for this purpose.

My immediate response:
“Actually, no. American Law states that any child born here can have American citizenship, we did not make the law.”
Him- “So you do not plan to raise him here?”
Me – “Who knows what will happen? We are both educated and if we do raise him here, we will pay taxes just like everyone else. That being said, my scholarship, like many other international students, requires I return home or leave the USA for at least two years after my program, so it is not likely.”
My friend and I then left.

The result:
I was disturbed by the interaction. I simmered. I asked myself if this was how others saw our baby, people less frank and verbally unfiltered than this guy?

A few weeks later, Leo was born and as I saw the future of navigating these conversations of our multicultural family, I resolved to have these difficult discussions. I saw the same guy later on in the same space, this time alone. I told him that the phrase “anchor baby” was inappropriate, offensive, racist in some respects and should not be used to describe anyone’s child. I told him that I was caught off guard by his use of the term but did not think he knew the true meaning of the phrase and decided to tell him directly as opposed to letting it fester. To those who know me, I used my “I am upset and not raising my voice” voice. Another friend came in and I decided to change the conversation and leave the area.

The result:
I felt less burdened. I felt I had shown him the error of his ways and I felt he is the type of person that would take the new information and adjust. The problem is, I did not have a conversation with him.

About a week later, he reached out to me via email and asked to have a talk. He indicated his respect for Alma and I, as people and for my candidness in telling him how I felt. He asked if we could meet and share a coffee or something to talk about what we both heard in the words “anchor baby”. I was happy to accept.

We met and spoke for nearly an hour. In the end, we had talked about perceptions of immigrants that contribute little to the country but take tax fed benefits; the true struggles of people who are visitors the USA and contribute significantly in various ways; illegal and undocumented immigrants and workers and their burden on the economy and their contribution to the labor force; human rights; social justice; the rights of a child; reproductive rights of women; visitors to our countries; healthcare for immigrants; jus solis and jus sanguis; anchor babies, wetbacks, niggers, chinks, and other epithets that have been used toward me and my family; the rights of the white american, the native american and what it meant to be an immigrant, invader or a native; and the pervasiveness of prejudice in today’s society, but most importantly, we had a conversation.

The result:
We now share a more holistic understanding of the other’s positionality, heritage, culture and experience. I personally feel more prepared for these difficult conversations. Now I want you, my readers to go out and have these difficult conversations. when someone offends you with words, ask them what they believe those words to mean, share with them what you get from those words. Be honest, be calm, be understanding.

​With love,​

Leno Davis, AA; BSc.; MSc; Husband; Father

NB: for more of the backstory, please see Anchor baby. Identifying details have been removed to protect people involved.

Happy Birthday Nikki

El feo que sabe amar

I listen to music whenever I can. once in awhile a song catches my attention and I have to think about how my life is right then and what is going on.

Today I heard “El feo que sabe amar” on my Walkman. The title means “The ugly man who knows how to love”. Yeah, I consider myself ugly…unpolished. Growing up, I did not learn proper etiquette,  which fork to use, should I cross my legs or not, when is blowing ones nose appropriate? I also have a hard time not telling the truth when I feel it is needed, however indelicate the situation is. And, I can be loud.

I imagine, it is hard to take me out in public sometimes, but if it is any saving grace, I know how to love…sort of. I enjoy helping others, I feel everyone deserves the help you can give them because we are all struggling. I feel those you love, you should help as much as you can, but this includes teaching them to help themselves and letting them get hurt and see the truth sometimes. They deserve kind words and poetry and flowers and sweets, but not all the time.

The challenge for me is that I do not do these things as a knee jerk reaction. I have chosen to be the kindest person I can and moment to moment, I try to do the most good for as many people and animals as possible.

This also means that I appear distracted, inconsiderate, impolite and lacking manners in many situations when those I love, whom I believe to be safe and having their needs met are neglected as I go to help someone else. It must look ugly, but know this. If I have ever said “I love you”, I meant it right then. If you were lucky enough (I count less than 15 people) cherish that. My love is not free and not easy to obtain and the more recently you heard it the harder it would have come. <-See what I mean? I know I love, I know how to love, but it can be ugly.

Your right to free, unlimited, restricted and costly access

Bahamians are up in arms over the right to access certain parts of the beach on Paradise Island. This is the gist.

Bahamian law states that All land in the Bahamas up to the high water mark is for public property. It cannot be sold, this means that any Bahamian has a right to access that land. in addition this means that the owners of property adjacent to that land should provide reasonable access to the beach and it is illegal to obstruct that public access point.

Paradise island is mostly privately owned by large hotels and resorts. Bahamians that work on the island need to access the island via bridges that connect Paradise Island (PI) to Nassau. (You have to pay to cross the bridge)

Historically, once you were on PI, you could get to the beach through a path next to Atlantis’ phase one next to the Riu Hotel through the Casuarina trees. the road there came directly from the bridge. On the beaches you would find various vendors and jet ski operators, braiding hair and selling trinkets. Development by Atlantis has blocked direct road and so you have to drive around a ways to the path through the Casuarinas. an alternative access point was further east near the Paradise Island Beach club.

Occassionally, there were security officers from the Atlantis or other hotels posted there (they have a fueling station there). They would often tell you that there was no beach access. They are just following orders. When you inform them that you are a Bahamian and you have a right to access the beach and that there is a labeled beach access point there, they never challenged me on the topic.

So anyway, now they have blocked of the access points again. This happens every few years. The result? Vendors who need access to the beaches block the bridge.

Here is the problem. You have a right to a resource, but the avenue to the resource is not free. You pay to cross the bridge, most likely in a car, you face harassment etc by employees of property owners and the access points are hidden, restricted or obstacles are placed in front. This will always be an issue until it becomes a problem.

In a few days the access will be restored and then the people will calm down. but it will happen again.
I suggest installing a permanent footpath on all of the beach access routes. government pays for it and the people can see it is theirs and land owners can see that is not theirs, but guess what? Bahamians will also need to respect the laws…more on that later.

For now, check out the Bahamas Public Parks and Public Beaches Act, 2014 and


Leno Davis

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