Taking a knee against police brutality and racial inequality

I recently read Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project, a book about the friendship and work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. And ever since I have been thinking about one idea of Tversky’s as reported by Lewis:

“The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”

Now seeking just a touch of underemployment. Let me say at this point that I know, I am completely aware of the fact that I have utterly failed at this endeavor so far. Utter. And. Complete. Failure.

Just to paint a picture of my utter failure at injecting a touch of underemployment into my life, I am currently teaching twice a day, every day. Yup. Certifiable. Mornings and Monday and Wednesday afternoons, I commune with 85 students from the Pritzker Medical School. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I lecture in our newly restructured introduction to the Fundamentals of Neuroscience for 80-90 UChicago undergraduates interested in the greatest subject in the world. You would think that any normal person would head home a bit early on Friday after this week, but nooooo. Friday afternoon (yup, eye roll) is when we have a laboratory section for the undergraduates.

This past Wednesday, I was happily discussing cranial nerves with the medical students. [This is one of the problems with losing jobs. I really enjoy most of what I do. And the bits I don’t enjoy, no one wants to release me from.] When I finished, I saw that my twitter pals were tweeting with the hashtag #ScientistsTakeAKnee. Having just been blown away by Nick Wright’s righteous video – yes, it is the best way to spend 5 minutes of your time today (Thanks Robin!) – and 538’s brutal analysis that there is no logical reason for Colin Kaepernick to not have been hired by an NFL team (Yes, I am talking to you, Miami! You took Chicago’s no-good-and-retired-anti-vaccine-campaigner-discard Jay Cutler over CK? You’d rather have kids get deadly childhood diseases than recognize that too many black men are getting killed by police officers?), I thought, “I want in” on this #ScientistsTakeAKnee thing.

As should be clear by now, at this point in time, I spend more time with the medical students than I do with anyone else, including my spouse. And Pritzker students are scientists, many of them already very accomplished and others well on their way, as well as physicians-in-training. So I sent the class an email:

“My Twitter feed blew up this afternoon with pictures tagged with #ScientistsTakeAKnee from labs and schools around the country. I would like to get into the action with a picture that speaks up against police brutality and racial inequality. Anyone that wants to join me, please come to class 10 minutes early and we’ll get a picture that we can send around to show where Pritzker stands.”

Yesterday morning, we realized this idea.


#ScientistsTakeAKnee outside the Biological Sciences Learning Center at University of Chicago’s Pritzker Medical School

I am proud and pleased that we did this. We took a stand in our little way, in a way that was within our capacity. Thank you to Robin Betts-Kellogg for keeping me informed, to @excitableape @NickyPenttila @sheacshl for alerting me to the #ScientistsTakeAKnee trend, to many MS2s and several MS1s for joining in, to my friend and colleague Dr Monica Vela for all you do, and to our photographer HE.


While I have you on the line, so to speak, I want to announce and give links to two new resources:

  • Lectures on Medical Neurobiology are available for free on UChicago’s YouTube channel. This is not a course per se but you are free to use the lectures to learn as you like. As of today (9/29/17 or 29/9/17 to everyone outside of the U.S.), most are available. A few more are coming.
  • BrainBuddiesPodcast is out and available. This is a series of chats between my friend (and former MOOC student) Aaron Freeman and me. Stay tuned for a rocking new BBP logo and many more episodes as our neuro’ fancy is so moved.



  1. So who is NOT against police brutality? Who is NOT against inequality due to race? It is not very scientific but rather a naïve romantic and empty gesture to advocate these social values. Why perpetuate the meme and disinformation that there exists in this country a general plague of bad police that are perpetuating crimes against people of color? And who exactly does this gesture signal to? America itself? Is this a protest AGAINST American laws? Police? Mainstream media? The constitution? Courts? … what exactly is trying to be said that’s not obvious? I’m against death and taxes too. Should I protest America during sporting events playing songs to honor America?

    I’m kind of embarrassed Peggy that you buy into this empty emotional rhetoric in the name of science. Jeesh….. you’re better than that, right? A bit more objective? And you’re teaching young upcoming scientists this? hmmmm…. what’s the hypothesis? what’s the test? how do you justify isolated incidents into a hyper-aware political movement so easily generating a feel-good pat on the back – for taking a photo of us all taking a knee 🙂 ?

    Let’s at least to pretend to be objective on this if we are going to call ourselves scientists. We own that to ourselves and to society.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Please do not expend any energy on embarrassment for me. I am not embarrassed in the slightest. Check out 538’s data on Colin Kaepernick’s current unemployed status. Bias exists and I personally am proud to stand strong to fight it in myself and others.


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