Archive for: May, 2006

What do scientists owe their (public) funders?

May 31 2006 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger

It's time for this week's installment of "Ask a ScienceBlogger". The question of the day is:
Since they're funded by taxpayer dollars (through the NIH, NSF, and so on), should scientists have to justify their research agendas to the public, rather than just grant-making bodies?
Although in earlier posts I've taken up the question of what the public might get out of (taxpayer funded) basic research, I haven't yet dealt with the question as it's being framed here. So let's give it a shot.

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As a way to go, I probably saw this one coming.

May 29 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

Sure, John and GrrlScientist and Orac took the quiz first, but I loves me some Edward Gorey, and who doesn't want to know how they'll meet the reaper?

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A meme until the final grades are filed.

May 28 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

Commencement: done.
Grading: not quite.
So, as seen at See Jane Compute, it's time for the guilty pleasures meme. (And for those who feel inclined to use the comments to get accusatory about my responses, I'm already acknowledging my guilt!)
Here we go:

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Regalia retrofit.

May 27 2006 Published by under Academia, Passing thoughts

I have a soft spot for commencements. And, as I get on in years, that spot gets even softer.
Part of it, undoubtedly, is because recognizing the hard work and accomplishments of the new graduates is so much more fun than the grading that immediately precedes it. But for me, part of what grabs me is the feeling that what I'm doing -- the notion of education and its larger value that I'm trying to impart -- connects me to a tradition that is hundreds of years old. One visible sign of that connection is the academic regalia that graduates and faculty alike wear to commencement ceremonies. In the medieval universities, when education was recognized as a calling (and was generally undertaken to serve the church), the students and the teachers wore clerical-looking gowns all the time. While some of us get away with wearing blue jeans and smark-alecky T-shirts in our teaching, the academic gowns we wear at graduations and convocations connect us to this tradition.
But I've had issues with the academic regalia I purchased on the occasion of the conferral of my Chemistry Ph.D. **cough** 12 years ago:

  1. The gown wouldn't stay closed.
  2. The hood wouldn't stay anywhere near where it was supposed to (translationally or rotationally).

My pet theory on this is that the makers of academic regalia for purchase hate professors and want them all to look like fools. (Rented regalia tends to come equipped with zippers and other such conveniences.) But no longer will I be using binder clips to keep my regalia in formation. In preparation for this year's commencement ceremonies, I have undertaken a regalia retrofit. Details (and photos) after the jump.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: lepidoptery.

May 26 2006 Published by under Kids and science

Dr. Free-Ride: (sidling up to the younger offspring this morning with tape-recorder in hand) Hey, can I ask you about --
Younger offspring: I don't remember them.
Dr. Free-Ride: Huh?
Younger offspring: I don't remember the words to the brontosaurus song, and David won't sing it for me anymore because we're done studying dinosaurs. You'll have to blog about something else.
Dr. Free-Ride: Have you been reading the notes on my computer?
Younger offspring: (innocently) I don't know how to read.
Dr. Free-Ride: So you keep telling me.

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Let my people (let themselves) go.

May 26 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts, Women and science

Blogging has been light because grading has been heavy. But Chad has a post that started me to thinking. (Danger! Danger!) And, since he has stated his desire to avoid a flamewar at this time, it seems only fair that I do that thinking over here so his space can be unscorched.
The question at hand, initially posed by Scott Aaronson, is whether there might be a shortage of women in science because women are more prone to be "repelled by nerd culture" than men.

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Yet another sign that doing research may be of use in writing final papers.

I'm marking another stack of papers (because it's May, and the sun is shining, and apparently I was a real bastard in some previous life).
In these papers, the students were supposed to examine an instance where the interests of scientists and the interests of non-scientists (perhaps various subgroups of non-scientists) might be at odds. The idea is to explain the source of the conflict, connect this to the various values of the different players, and to set out possible strategies for resolving the conflict. It was stressed that giving a fair presentation of each side's view is key.
Quite a number of the students elected to write about the battles over teaching evolution and/or intelligent design in public school science class. Some of these papers have been quite good, but in a few cases I'm fairly certain nothing like careful research occurred in conjunction with the writing of the papers.

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Tangled Bank #54 at Science and Politics

May 24 2006 Published by under Carnival barking

The latest edition of Tangled Bank, the carnival of the blogosphere's best science writing, is now up at Science and Politics. And, Coturnix makes an announcement that readers of Science and Politics, Circadiana, and The Magic School Bus won't want to miss.

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Science and modeling.

May 24 2006 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger

It's time for anothe installment of "Ask a ScienceBlogger". This week's question:
If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?
Here, because others have already snagged my standard answer to this question, and because I've already embraced unrealistically high expectations in the last 24 hours, I'm going to opt for something a little more challenging.
I want the public to understand something about how science uses models.

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Get-rich-quick ideas for hungry inventors (end-of-semester edition).

Dear inventors,
My personal experience (and what I have heard from the many other academics with whom I communicate) suggests a number of inventions that would sell a bazillion units at colleges and universities world-wide. For your convenience, I list the items that would have the biggest demand first. However, it's worth noting that even the items at the bottom of the list would make professorial lives significantly better, and that we would gladly dip into the funds currently allocated for recreational reading and hooch to purchase them.

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