Monday, November 26, 2007

Fact or Fiction?

Ham Radio Operator finds Cure for Cancer! - Surfer Dude finds Theory of Everything! -Teenager builds Nuclear Reactor in the Back Yard! - You are made of a Braid! - Our world is a brane in a throat! - Hints for a Breakdown of Relativity Theory! - Physicist Explains how the Present can Affect the Past! - The Future Influences Construction of Particle Colliders! - Physicists Discover Imprint of Another Universe!


Science Fiction

When I was a kid I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy stories. Both create a world in which the impossible becomes possible. Still, the fictional logic should be without contradictions. The biggest annoyances are mistakes of the author, a plot that doesn’t make sense, a scenario that is inconsistent. Why didn’t they just use the transmitter? Time travel stories were always the worst.

For a good story the imaginary world is based on only a few modifications: Our memory can be stored on a chip and transferred to another person. We can breed dinosaurs. We can travel to a parallel world; shield gravity; slow time. Big brother is watching us. We have a worldwide communications network. We can travel faster than the speed of light. IMAGINE!

In many cases, science fiction writers have predicted technological advances that later became true. Science and fiction have always been closely linked. In contrast to science which is about the possible, the imagination is unconstrained, and free to make a 'could' into 'will', thereby creating a new world.

Virtual ‘reality’ has promoted fictional worlds to a new level. Video games can break the laws of nature, photo editing and three dimensional pictures tamper with our perception of reality, computer animated movies make the impossible possible. Today, everybody can publish his or her interpretation of the world. Einstein was wrong! Hijacked by an alien! A new quantum mechanics! Consciousness is the tenth dimension! A giant Mandala explains the elementary particles! The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise, and it's turtles all the way down.


Does it matter whether it is fact or fantasy as long as it is entertaining? Does it matter whether it is science or fiction as long as visitors click on the advertisement banners? Does it matter whether it is virtual or reality? If your first one is too boring, why don't you just get a SecondLife?

"Around 1900, most inventions concerned physical reality: cars, airplanes, zeppelins, electric lights, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, bras, zippers. In 2005, most inventions concern virtual entertainment — the top 10 patent-recipients are usually IBM, Matsushita, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology, Samsung, Intel, Hitachi, Toshiba, and Sony — not Boeing, Toyota, or Wonderbra. We have already shifted from a reality economy to a virtual economy, from physics to psychology as the value-driver and resource-allocator."




Popular Science

Science is done for the society we live in. Communicating our research, within and outside the community, is an essential part of our job. I am very happy to see that physics - even the theoretical side! - recently receives an increasing amount of attention in the broader public. I am all in favor of popular science books (even though these simplifications sometimes make me grind my teeth), and I think PI is doing an absolutely great job with its public outreach program. I am not sure how much influence blogs have in this regard, but I hope they contribute their share to making the ivory tower a little less detached.

The result of this trend is twofold.

First, scientists have to live with simplified and generalized statements, and with a lack of details. I hope on the long run people will become more familiar with some basic concepts and the standard can be raised. I guess that many people don’t understand the details of the stock market or tax systems, but that doesn’t scare them from reading about it in the newspapers. Likewise, everybody who writes about theoretical physics should learn how to use an equation editor. The myth that every equation lowers the accessibility for the reader is a result of cowardice and unfamiliarity. Scientific journalism could provide significantly more content than today. But still, scientists will have to learn how to live with unqualified commentaries, much like writers have to live with reviews by people who have no clue about literature.

Second, it seems that science, much as art, becomes a hobby. Some hobby artists believe they are actually the new Pollock, and their paintings belong in the Museum of Modern Arts. Some hobby scientists believe they are actually the new Einstein, and their theory belongs in PRD. Yes, it might be that occasionally there is a true talent to find there, but mostly it’s just splashing color on a canvas. Scientists have yet to learn how to deal with the attention of the interested layman. However, this problem is greatly amplified by the first point. Oversimplification in the media leaves people with the impression a PhD is a hoax, and our education unnecessary. Hey, the surfer dude can do it. Theoretical physics seems to be a specifically easy and appealing target.


Science

Natural sciences are about describing nature. As a theoretical physicist I see my task as contributing to the understanding of the world that we live in. However, I - as many of my colleagues - have fun with wild speculations. Call it a brain exercise. What would the world look like if the parameters in the standard model were different? If there were additional dimensions? If the elementary particles were composite? If particles could jump non-locally in no time? Eventually however, we have to constrain ourselves to the reality we live in.

Theoretical physics explores the unknown, and goes beyond the limits of our current knowledge. We play around with ideas and examine their consequences in the hope of finding out how nature works. This might sound like there is an awful lot of freedom in such doing, but this is not the case. It is science, not fiction, because we have to make sure these ideas are not in conflict with the reality we observe. We have to make sure theories are internally consistent, and in agreement with what we already know. If you think this is easy, you have no idea what you are talking about. It’s like saying Miro just smeared color on a canvas, can’t be that hard to do.

Unfortunately, I have the impression that the tendency in theoretical physics is to make wilder and wilder speculations, to throw several of them together, to work out details of still unconfirmed ideas. Stories that are interesting in some regard, but increasingly detached from reality.
    The first point in my referee reports is insisting the author changes ‘will’ into ‘may’ and ‘does’ into ‘could’. You call that nitpicking? I call that the difference between science and fiction.

In many cases, the assumptions underlying such speculations are clear for those working in the field, but often not very well documented in publications. The combination of this tendency with the media can be disastrous. In popular science articles, the speculative character of theories is often poorly laid out. For one, because it might not be apparent to the journalist, but also because caution seems to be interpreted as just adding boring details.

The result is a blurring of the boundary between science and fiction.


Uncertainty

“We are faced with all kinds of questions to which we would like unequivocal answers […] There is a huge pressure on scientists to provide concrete answers […] But the temptation to frame these debates in terms of certainty is fraught with danger. Certainty is an unforgiving taskmaker. […] If we are honest and say the scientists conclusions aren’t certain, we may find this being used as justification for doing nothing, or even to allow wiggle room for the supernatural to creep back in again. If we pretend we’re certain when we are not, we risk being unmasked as liars.”



If you want to witness science in the making, you will have to face there are no easy answers. There are pros and cons, and differing opinions. If they care about it at all, journalists seem happy if two persons provide the extremes; candidates that are naïve or stupid enough to either call things fabulous or nonsense, instead of making matters complicated. It seems to be enormously difficult to understand that even scientists change their mind, or feel torn into different directions as long as a situation is not entirely clarified. Indeed, it seems to be so difficult to grasp that a simple mind might insist a scientist who can allow for different alternatives is not one person, but two.

It doesn't sound easy to write a good and balanced article, does it? Well, that's why journalists have an eduction. It's their job to figure out the facts and present them in an accessible way, and luckily there are a number of very good science journalists out there. Unfortunately, often an inital article gets copied and watered down a hundred times with decreasing content and increasing headlines. I can understand it must be difficult to write about science without working in the field, but I am not willing to excuse arbitrarily cheap echoing and copying, deliberate omittances and polarizations of facts for the sake of catchy titles. Reporting on science in the making comes necessarily with uncertainties. If you can't cope with that stick to last century's headlines.

“Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”
~ Bertram Russell



Backlashes

The hype of science in the media just reflects a general trend caused by information overflow. In today's world you have to scream really loud to be heard at all, and headlines are the better the fatter. I generally dislike this, as it leads to inaccurate reporting, unnecessary confusion, and bubbles of nothing. All of which obscures sensible discussions and is a huge waste of time.

However, despite this general trend, what worries me specifically about popular science reporting is how much our community seems to pay attention to it. This is a very unhealthy development. The opinion making process in science should not be affected by popular opinions. It should not be relevant whether somebody makes for a good story in the media, or whether he or she neglects advertising himself. What concerns me is not so much the media re-re-repeating fabulous sentences, but how many physicists get upset about it. This clearly indicates that they think this public discussion is relevant, and this should not be the case.

Concerns about the public opinion arise from the fear it might affect the funding of some research areas. But it's not the media who creates fashions and hypes who is to blame. Neither is it the scientists who are not careful enough when talking to journalists who are to blame. To blame is everybody who tolerates that the funding in science is subject to irrelevant factors.

It seems to me that scientists, as well as funding agencies, urgently need to learn how to deal with such popularizations. I have written previously about the dangers on the "Marketplace of Ideas": The more attention scientists (have to) pay to advertising themselves because they believe it might help their career, the more the objectivity of scientific discussions suffers. The more time scientists (have to) spend with irrelevant distractions for the sake of their career, the less time they have for research. That's the reality we do our research in ? - !

My concerns about science journalism are similar. I believe that freedom of the press is one of the most important ingredients for a well functioning democracy. Free not only to write without censorship, but free to write without being influenced by lobbyism and financial pressure. The necessity to write what sells promotes cheap and large headlines, premature reporting, extreme polarization, and goes on the expenses of content and quality. It causes people to uncritically echo and copy stories because it’s fast and easy whereas research requires time and effort. The harder it becomes to sell print versions, the worse the situation becomes because online the clocks tick even faster.

    Is the the goal of good writing that visitors click on the advertisement banner?
I hope that we find a good way to deal with different levels of scientific reporting without letting the public opinion affect our research, and without blurring the line between science and fiction.


Summary

Information is precious. It is one of the most important goods in our modern society. Each time one of us spreads inaccurate information we contribute to confusion and hinder progress. Whether a scientist, a journalist, an editor, or a blogger: what we say, write, and promote publicly, is in our responsibility.

We are all human. Bloggers get overenthusiastic, write before they think, and make mistakes. Scientists say stupid things, speak before they think, and make mistakes. Journalists misunderstand, publish before anybody else thinks, and make mistakes. Deliberate repetition turns mistakes into lies.

The triangle of Science, Society and Information Technology noticeably affects our daily lifes. In the absence of any sensible way to cope with side-effects, the very least we can do is to be aware of the developments and find out how to deal with them.

95 comments:

AGeek said...

When a scientific subject has no reasonable chance of ever giving rise to practical applications, like say cosmology or quantum gravity, is there any reason why it should not be considered a hobby?

Anonymous said...

I like Ezra Pound's advice to ignore the criticism of those who have not themselves produced any important work in the field. As an interested layman, I pay attention to what the Susskinds, Weinbergs, Hawkings, Wittens, etc, have to say. The opinions of diletante bloggers, failed physicists, and journalists who seem to be mainly interested in sniping at the work of the most brilliant people in the field is just noise.

AGeek said...

Hey anonymous, what important work did Ezra Pound produce in physics? ;)

Bee said...

Hi Ageek:

I don't mind at all if somebody has physics as a hobby, as long as he or she is aware it's a hobby, and doesn't pretend otherwise. Practical applications are certainly not the only reason why we pursue research, and it is very sad that it has become increasingly necessary to justify theoretical physics with the potential outcome of something that can be sold. Understanding the world we life in changes our view of our own existence. Questions like where we come from, or what we are made of have been asked by people for thousands of decades, and if I visit PI's public lecture then I see that these are still questions people ask and want answers to.


Anonymous:

The opinions of diletante bloggers, failed physicists, and journalists who seem to be mainly interested in sniping at the work of the most brilliant people in the field is just noise.

And then there are all the anonymous comments that contribute to the noise...

Best,

B.

AGeek said...

Dear Bee, I can agree that understanding the world we live in may (underscore MAY, in line with one of your pet peeves) change our view of our own existence.

I do not see in what way this contradicts the pursuit of such understanding being a hobby.

Much if not all of the animosity you can see daily in the physics blogosphere originates in the extraordinary delusion that some people pursuing this particular hobby have a right to make others pay for it.

Bee said...

Hi Ageek,

I do not see in what way this contradicts the pursuit of such understanding being a hobby.

As I said above, I don't mind at all if somebody want's to pursue physics as a hobby.

Much if not all of the animosity you can see daily in the physics blogosphere originates in the extraordinary delusion that some people pursuing this particular hobby have a right to make others pay for it.

Our society has an interest in increasing our understanding of the world. It is either the tax payer or private institutions that hire people for that task. They usually try to find the best scientists, who are most promising and have the best chances to be successful. That's why some are paid and others not. Having an education in the field helps. I am very happy that I happen to have a job I like, and I am very grateful I have a decent salary. I do not have the impression that most of the people who send me their 'Theory of Everything' or 'New Quantum Mechanics' do so because they think they have a right to get paid for it.

Best,

B.

George said...

A very thoughtful and interesting essay. One point of information: As one of the authors of the articles you list at the outset as your foil (about the MAGIC results), I should clarify the headline actually has a question mark at the end of it, that the text mentioned the very uncertainties you deem important, and that I wrote it as a blog precisely because I didn't think it rose to the level required for a printed article.
George

Bee said...

Hi George,

Yes I know. The link isn't there as a criticism on your writing, I've said before what I wanted to say about the MAGIC stuff. Neither is my intention to criticise any of the other articles in the first paragraph. I have just collected some examples for the question 'fact or fiction', notwithstanding whether the reader would consider it the one or the other. Best,

B.

AGeek said...

Hi again Bee,

I too don't mind at all if somebody wants to pursue physics as a hobby. I do mind when grownups get it into their heads that others are obliged to pay for their hobbies. Things like subsidized theatre and movie productions or subsidized sports like soccer, to mention some common popular examples.

The tax payers do not hire anyone in the capacity of tax payers. The tax payers pay the taxes they are told to pay, which are then allocated in ways which for all practical purposes are beyond their control.

You may very well think that "society has an interest in increasing our understanding of the world". You may know of a way to define "society" which makes it meaningful to attribute interests to it, as if it were a person and not an abstract concept. You may even be able to come up with a definition of "understanding of the world" which conveniently includes your hobby but excludes others, like studies of divinity.

But you can rest assured that I will be able to find any number of people with different definitions, tailored to get the poor tax payers to pony up for their own hobbies, be it ID or Marxist "economics", instead of yours.

Hence the endless food fight.

I find it interesting that in your writing about hiring practices, you seem oblivious to the fact that the selection process works both ways. Institutions have many things on their agenda, research ability being one of them, and they get to choose among those willing to participate in the foodfight.

I submit to you that a cursory examination of multidecade enrollment trends in disciplines like physics is all you need to realize that this is the most powerful cut of all.

Bee said...

Hi Ageek:

I do not know where you live but the country I've grown up in, and also the country where I currently live is a democracy. The idea with the taxes is that the cost of things that the society has agreed on are worth being supported by the public and should not be privatized are shared among the citizens. You seem to have read my earlier posts so you know that I am not happy with the way the funding is distributed.

multidecade enrollment trends in disciplines like physics is all you need to realize that this is the most powerful cut of all.

It's not sufficient to dislike a system, you will have to come up with something better.
Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

BTW I wasn't referring to you, you are an actual physicist. I was thinking more of Woit and the losers over at his blog, and others like it.

i also dont see the difference between being "anonymous" and being "ageek" or "elmerfudd" or whatever. either you use your real name, or you dont.

Anonymous said...

tell us bee, is renormalisation a legit procedure? no, it's rubbish, everyone knows it, but Feynmann won a nobel for it. as others. there are million holes in your little precious standard model, but you try to hide it ,don't you?
best,
A.

Uncle Al said...

Democracy requires an educated laity or at least civic virtue and honest experts. Beginning with President Johnson's 1965 Great Society America ground its future into pablum. It force fed all value to its least intelligent, least capable, most perverse, most vile, most corrupt, most hopeless residents, stealing it all from the productive, while shouting "advocacy!" Those gorged children are now morbidly obese adults with unquenchable appetites. The productive are shriven and dying.

Science is dirtied. Mouths are purchased by publicity, minds are herded by grant funding. No thoughtcrime! A free man can be imprisoned, tortured, and killed but he cannot be remade in the State's image. Individual thought is the ultimate sin, dating back to the Garden of Eden and its worm. The empirical universe casts the only vote that matters.

Sin a little - it's good for you and yours. Sin a lot. Sin to save the world from irretrievably diving into its own bellybutton.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bee, democracy is merely a more efficient version of fisticuffs. Instead of actually beating each other up, we count fists and decide who would win if we actually went through the motions, based on relative strength by numbers.

I happen to believe that might is not necessarily right, so claiming that something was "democratically decided" will elicit little more than a "so what?" from me.

The idea with taxes as currently implemented in any state, whether formally democratic or not, is that organized special interest groups get to pick money out of citizen's pockets, whether those agree or not. To argue otherwise, you would have to show me one election, anywhere, anytime, where funding to (say) quantum gravity research played a significant role.

As a first step toward something better, I suggest you stop the dismissal by default of anyone who has chosen to fund his or her hobby out of his or her own pocket rather than participate in this food fight. Is he or she engaging in a hobby? Yes. So are you. The difference being that you let others pay for it.

Regarding the remark by "anonymous", I go by the moniker AGeek in other fora too, and have not seen it used by others (yet) so it's reasonably well defined. I avoid using the name stamped in my passport because I have no idea how such information might be aggregated and used 10, 20 or 50 years from now by, just to mention an example, the entity which owns, among many other things, blogger.com...

AGeek said...

...and now I'm really irritated at blogger.com, which evidently loses the moniker when you click "submit" from preview mode. :(

Bee said...

Hi Anonymous:

Sure, hiding the flaws of renormalization is the purpose of my being.

Hi AGeek:

I happen to believe that might is not necessarily right, so claiming that something was "democratically decided" will elicit little more than a "so what?" from me. [...] The idea with taxes as currently implemented in any state, whether formally democratic or not, is that organized special interest groups get to pick money out of citizen's pockets, whether those agree or not.

I agree that the tax system as it presently works is a disaster, in almost every state that I know. I also think that it does not actually very well reflect the democratically made decisions. But if you don't like the political system you live in, go complain elsewhere.

I suggest you stop the dismissal by default of anyone who has chosen to fund his or her hobby out of his or her own pocket rather than participate in this food fight.

I suggest you stop being upset about things I didn't say. Take the time to read this dialogue and you will notice that you come off as being completely convinced I am an arrogant and ignorant asshole without listening to what I say. If somebody self-funds his research, why on Earth would I have a problem with that? I don't even know why you would think I would 'dismiss' somebody who does that?

Best,

B.

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

This subject has been on my mind for a while.

One book I enjoyed tremendously was Feynman's "QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter". In my opinion, that's the physics popularization standard against which all others can be judged, and I regret somewhat that it was one of the last of its particular genre I got around to reading. Perhaps I overestimate the level of comprehension "QED" was able to convey, but I did get the impression that, for the first time, I actually understood the subject beyond the level of pure analogy. At the very least, Feynman gave me the impression that I was actually calculating something, albeit using crude methods. That said, Feynman also did (at least, I think he did) a very good job of explaining what he wasn't teaching us, and just how he was simplifying things. I came away feeling like I truly knew something more, but not unrealistically so.

It's precisely the sort of book I dream about having when I attempt to gain a deeper appreciation of subjects like GR, or just what it is that's so beautiful about the symmetries of gauge theory (or quite what they are, even). It might be that QED lends itself well enough to such approximations, while tensors and groups do not, and that's why no one seems to have tried. This is not to say I don't appreciate other works, or the time, effort, and enthusiasm that goes into them. I also understand that "old news" doesn't sell much copy, and it's a terrible lot to expect of someone to expend the resources required for what is likely to be little or no pecuniary or professional reward. It's a difficult problem for a difficult subject.

Bee said...

Hi Low Math,

Feynman's book was the first book I read on QFT. It did a very good job in convincing me that I need to know more details :-) I think there are a couple of books on GR on the same level, but unfortunately the only ones that come into my mind are in German (at the age I read them my English wasn't sufficiently well). The best book on Gauge theories I know is Baez' Gauge Fields, Knots and Gravity, it starts very basic but I guess if one doesn't know something about the maths already it gets pretty difficult at some point.

A lot of physics above school-level that I got came from Scientific American (resp. the German version 'Spektrum der Wissenschaft') and 'Bild der Wissenschaft', which is a very similar German magazine. Both usually provided at least a couple of equations, and some references. For somebody who works in the field this might be superfluous, but it offers at least a glimpse into the underlying concepts. (Still today I often read Sci Am, it's usually worth it). Best,

B.

Low math, meekly interacting said...

I occasionally almost convince myself I should just bite the bullet and pick up Penrose's "The Road to Reality", but that thing looks like a full-time job!

Bee said...

Oohm yeah. It looks pretty scary. I have the book, but I moved with it twice without having read more than 5 pages, somewhere in the middle. Have fun :-)
PS: In addition the book got wet at some point and increased to roughly twice its initial size which doesn't make it look less scary.

Plato said...

Octonians:) Quantum theory....hmmmm

Tegmark lectures or writes about the nature of our universe. It's a mathematical basis.

Bee writes about the basis of that truth?

So Bee uses the Information triangle?

We cannot help but progress the views when we ponder the positions others think about.

Garret Lisi is talked too, under the basis of his theory By Jacques Distler. Garrett Lisi finds his chance to progress his position?

All else is a diversion and people talk "about circles" and it raises his eyre. Foolish people, wasting his time. Does Jacques think Garrett is wasting his time? :)

Garrett Lisi sees in abstract spaces, and the layman wants to know "what road he took" to his progression?

So layman searches, and believes he has found where he thought Garrett might of thought himself a Witten and left M theory behind? :)LOL

Just thoughts.

What use the "Magic Square" if you can't see what Garrett is doing?

What Bee writes?

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in the midst of other woe
Then ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.



-John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

So all the while you had been writing about the basis of mathematics of this universe, there was a greater truth that you might of missed from the "layman point of view," yet it was not from "his alone that he saw this point," but the point of others with which he had progressed.

Where's Quasar, that I may rebuke him too.:)

Bee said...

Hi Plato,

There are without doubt a lot of greater truths that I am missing, but I am not usually aiming that high. I would be fine contributing my own small share to our understanding of this universe, finding the maths that might describe part of what surrounds us. No why, just how. Best,

B.

Plato said...

Until then, PI is enamoured with Garrett Lisi?

Why, because of what John Baez or Greg Egan see?

I do not think that even though one can sit in isolation and pop their head up in the information stream, that "information(E8) cannot affect triggers" to other probabilities.

Sure, there is a history there.

There is always a "sifting" that needs to take place. A "distillation."

Bee said...

I do not represent the opinion of PI. Neither does Lee.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

thank you for the many interesting thoughts expressed in this posting! Here is just one of them

The hype of science in the media just reflects a general trend caused by information overflow.

which made me wonder...

I am actually not sure if all these Internet-mediated hypes such as the one about Garretts preprint are really that important, or whether we just completely overstimate the role of blogs, slashdot etc? I have no real numbers, but it may well be the case that there are not that many people involved after all - at least, if one compares with the print run of, say, the New Scientist? And, as someone has mentioned somewhere else in the comments, there have been magazine hyping speculative theories long before the times of the internet, and they've reached lots of readers as well. And there is good and bad reporting in newspapers all the time...

The difference may be that with blogs etc, we can actually watch "the drama unfold", see the preprint, see this news item, see this blog weight in and than that, wait for the reaction of that guy, etc... all this makes the experience just much more intense. Probably one just should step back from time to time and switch off the notebook ;-)

Best, Stefan

Andrew said...

Hi Low Math,

A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime (Scientific American Library) by John Archibald Wheeler. In this book Wheeler has done for GR what Feynman did in "QED" for QED.

Bee said...

Dear Stefan,

Yes, I agree with you that those of us who are around in the blogosphere probably tend to take it more important than it is when it comes to discussion etc. Online news, blogs, sites like digg and reddit etc however seem to play an increasingly important role when it comes to people looking for information or the next cool thing. And this doesn't stay entirely an online phenomenon. Garrett mentioned he received several invitations to appear on TV on on radio. I too was asked to give interviews. I know I've said repeatedly that I think the role of the blogosphere is negligible in that regard, but lately I've come to rethink this. It seems to me that more and more people in the community are reading or writing blogs, have facebook accounts, are LinkedIn etc. Especially the younger ones. I am not sure what to think of that. If you read my summary of the post, you'll notice that I realize the more people read this blog, the more responsibility I have, and I am neither a very skilled nor a very patient writer. Yes, the information triangle is becoming more and more important, and we will have to think about what this means for science. To close with a remark I must have repeated a hundred times: not all developments are necessarily good when left without attention. The very least I want to do is to raise awareness for the issue. Best,

B.

stefan said...

ageek,

I do not see any relation between a topic having a reasonable chance of ever giving rise to practical applications and its suitability to be considered a hobby in the first place.

Unless, of course, you want to imply that such topics can only be considered as a hobby and should never be paid for by anyone else than the amateur who does it for its own private pleasure.

In that case, I will appreciate if you have the guts to tell this openly to your host instead of playing silly games.

Should I have misunderstood you - at least, you seem to deplore the animosity you can see daily in the physics blogosphere - please note that your comments have quite an agressive tone - it's the usual problem: we readers may miss some context of your writing, and from a short sentence, it's hard to say what point you actually want to make, and how it is related to the topic at hand.



anonymous,

(in case you feel addressed, you are the right one...) thanks a lot for your thoughtful comments and deep insight in the quality of other physics blogs. Thousands of blogs need to be enlightend by you - just go out and do it there.



Best, Stefan

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

Thanks andrew, didn't know about that one!

I think another whole shelf in the popular science library could be cleared out if we insisted that science really is done by people. As in, people people, the sorts of creatures who regularly display the cognitive dissonance required to both appreciate and advance the loftiest ideals of the scientific method collectively, while individually failing to live up to them so spectacularly on occasion. There's way to much personality cultism in the pop-sci section. I'm certainly not saying Einstein wasn't an extraordinary human being, but come on.

Anyway, flaws are interesting in themselves, and help demystify. Sadly, the biographies tend too often to favor the mythic narratives that have been crafted over the years, probably because they're far more convenient than the messy truth.

James Watson may have been the first really big name to air the dirty laundry publicly, but through his peculiar lens, almost everyone looks like an asshole, him clearly the biggest one of all. I'm not sure if we need to go to that extreme, but while we're advocating some restraint in the speculative realm, I'd also like to vote for some discipline in the biographical one, which seems to take up a fair percentage of any pop-sci tome.

QUASAR9 said...

Hi Plato, Quasar has been reading turtles all - or - much of the way down and the link to the Edge discussion

After reading much hot air that surmises the (observable) Universe is as is because it is, and no attempt to even explain why it IS, nor how these laws we 'observe' came to BE

I was pleasently surprised to find that Lee Smolin credits himself with having drafted the possibility of the landscape 15 years ago - and concluding by imploring that scientist should at least consider that the laws of 'physics' are not inmutable.

After all we may be able to track storms and predict tsunamis, (with more or less, and often with less accuracy) once we have some 'inkling' that they are about to occur - but no one seems to be able to predict when or where they may next take place (other than perhaps based on some historical frequency).

Of course 'spontaneity' soon gets swept aside (like by a tsunami?) once we start looking at or following the event itself. I guess someone may have been able to mathematically predict world war ii hundreds of years before it happened (did Nostradamus and such like, do mathematical calculations or have some future insights and 'prophecy' in a conveniently opaque or sufficiently obscure manner that remains open to interpretation by other minds in the future).

When did mathematics predict the internet? - itself something based wholly on maths.

Sorry Bee, hope not to have gone too far off topic:
"In many cases, science fiction writers have predicted technological advances that later became true. Science and fiction have always been closely linked. In contrast to science which is about the possible, the imagination is unconstrained, and free to make a 'could' into 'will', thereby creating a new world."

And of course imagination and fantasy are part and parcel of the observable universe - hollywood & bollywood are physical and real, and computer games attempt to be 'realistic' and 3D films try to suck us into the screen, as much as they try to project out of the screen.

PPS - "Consciousness is the tenth dimension! A giant Mandela explains the elementary particles!"
Bee, I know Mandela is considered by some a giant among men, but I presume you meant Mandala.

Not nitpicking about your spelling, but attempting to add mathematically challenged frivolous humour ...

"The first point in my referee reports is insisting the author changes ‘will’ into ‘may’ and ‘does’ into ‘could’. You call that nitpicking? I call that the difference between science and fiction."
I Agree (again)

Other said...

While Mandela is indeed a giant, I don't think he tries to explain elementary particles. I guess you mean

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala

Still, the idea of a giant Mandela explaining the universe is an appealing one, thanks for that!
:-):-)

Other said...

What I find disturbing is the existence of blogs [not this one] which are allegedly about physics but where opinions are almost never backed up by any kind of technical analysis. I mean, I certainly don't like J. Distler's sneering, but when he wrote about G Lisi's ideas there was an in-depth technical analysis to back up what he said. Most "physics" blogs, by contrast, are concerned with re-iterating the owner's view that this or that idea is obviously ridiculous. The Landscape is a favourite target: it's "obviously not science". Why? Do we get a technical analysis of this "obvious" truth, you know, with equations or even technical terminology? No, it's just "obvious". In this way one can propagate the idea that certain fields of research just aren't respectable somehow; and this can be done by people who don't follow the literature and don't really grasp the issues at all. I find this far more deplorable than the occasional ASTOUNDING DISCOVERY reported in New Scientist.

My own rule is this: when I see a blog entry that *criticises the technical work of someone else*, I look for equations or at least technical jargon. If I don't see any, I assume that the criticism is total bullshit. I think you will find that this works very well.

Bee said...

Hi Quasar, Hi Other:

Thanks, I've fixed that! It's definitely one of the more entertaining typos I've made :-) Other examples that I particularly like are 'comic rays' instead of 'cosmic rays' and 'exiting' instead of 'exciting'. Also not bad was a paper I read today where the author (repeatedly!) talked about the 'second low of thermodynamics'. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Other,

What I find disturbing is the existence of blogs [not this one] which are allegedly about physics but where opinions are almost never backed up by any kind of technical analysis. [...] when I see a blog entry that *criticises the technical work of someone else*, I look for equations or at least technical jargon. If I don't see any, I assume that the criticism is total bullshit. I think you will find that this works very well.

There is certainly truth in that. Though criticism can come in many shades. One can criticise somebody's work without trying to prove it mathematically wrong (i.e. an assumptions might just not apply in a given case, or the topic has previously been considered but was dropped for well documented reasons, etc). Either way, (as I have said previously) I actually don't think blogs are a good forum for such discussions. If I wanted to write a technical comment about somebody's paper, I'd write to the author, and/or put it on the arxiv, not on my blog. You might think differently, but for me it's just not the right medium for such a discussion. It just comes along with too many drawbacks. There is all the background noise in the comment sections no matter what, plus there is the fact that blog posts can be modified later so you have to rely on the writer's integrity. I had a previous post on what I think blogging can do, and what not. I also suggested there that discussions about papers might better be lead if the arxiv would allow for comments on papers (in contrast to submitting a new paper 'comment to...').

Best,

B.

Other said...

I think that the Giant Mandela is just the man to put an end to the apartheid of gravity and the other interactions.....sorry Bee, this one is not going to go away... :-)
Anyway it's a lot better than the case of the poor student who gave a presentation with a large banner title,
RESOLVING THE PIG BANG SINGULARITY.

Regarding the usefulness of blogs: well, I didn't enjoy reading Distler's blog post, but I did learn a lot, and it certainly made the most important contribution to the discussion I think. The main thing is to make *comments* and not *attacks*. It is not right for someone to wake up one fine day and find him/herself being held up to ridicule by a total stranger, as happens regularly on the blogs of LM and PW; it just confirms the idea that physics blogs are total rubbish. Surely it is possible to have a polite post saying, "I saw the interesting preprint by Prof X about the Coleman-Mandela :-):-) theorem, and I don't understand the following points, can anyone explain?" That could be very useful and pleasant. Instead of "Prof X is at it again, writing about obviously pseudo-science rubbish again, when are these people going to admit that it's all hype blah blah blah....."

Peter Woit said...

Other,

You're anonymously writing for public consumption accusing me of various things. Do you really think that is acceptable adult behavior?

Like anyone who feels unfairly attacked, I'm tempted to respond to these attacks. But, it's getting late, and I've got a lot of other things I should be doing. In addition, the way you hide yourself means that I have no idea who you are and whether you know anything at all about what you are talking about, so I don't know whether it's worth taking the time to seriously address your criticisms of me. I guess I'll just assume it isn't.

Javier said...

Hum, I am just curious. I live teaching universitary physics and math but in universitary studies centers (and sometimes at a particular level),not in a university. Ocasionally I also teach programing languages if I need some extra money. And I get a reasonable amount of money working very few hours in a week so I have time to sutdy whatever I want (mainly quantum gravity). With this situation, am I a professional physicst or just a hoobist? xD.

About the PhD, I beguined a PhD (in geometric quantization) but I had to leave it because of reaosons note haveing anything to do with knowledge/ability merits. In order to get a new doctorate with funds (I had an offer to do one withouth funds but I decided to demise it becuase of that) I am ending maths, with a much brillian expedient that physics. But to be honest the only reason I am interested in doing a PhD is to get a more stable work, I don´t see any need for it for learnign purpposes. In fact I have the oportunity to assist to courses and talks at doctorate level (because of having good friends actually in academic positions) and I don´t go to almost any of them, because I don´t see that I learn anything specially better there that what I can find in the net.

So, please, why do you think that other than monetary reasons,to have a PhD is so important nowadays?

Dr Who said...

Bee is concerned that people pay too much attention to popular science articles, and "Other" is concerned that people pay too much attention to blogs [which in many cases are sort of the same thing, plus vitriol]. But is she sure that this is actually true? Do [important] people really pay any attention to New Scientist or to blogs devoted to ridiculing the work of serious scientists? I suspect that most people regard the blogosphere as junk. They might visit certain sites to see the latest gossip, but they would not dream of allowing their judgements as to the "respectability" of the Landscape to be influenced by that stuff. Similarly for New Scientist.
[Naturally, *this* blog isn't junk!]

Bee said...

Hi Other, Hi other 'anonymouses',

I've just deleted some particularly disgusting comments. Let me repeat once again that I don't tolerate anonymously made insults. I am more tolerant if you sign with your name or a blogger ID, but that doesn't mean you can shoot freely either.

If you want to know my opinion about anonymous comments, read this. I don't aim at maximizing the number of readers or comments on this blog, and if you don't like my attitude feel free to play elsewhere.

This is not a complaint section if you're unhappy with other people's blogs. To remind you, topic of this thread is how scientific journalism blurs the boundary between science and fiction, and how scientists have to learn how to deal responsibly with the increasing public attention.

Thanks,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Other,

it just confirms the idea that physics blogs are total rubbish

As I said above, one has to ask what one can possibly expect from physics blogs. It seems to me you expect them to replace peer review. If you read the post to which I've referred above you'll find that I think blogs are a nice way to make science more accessible, and to let people who are interested know how our daily work actually looks like, or point towards interesting news, talks, books, papers etc. I occasionally discuss and criticise papers, but this isn't the main reason why I am writing. Peter, as far as I can see, is writing with a completely different purpose. If Lubos is writing for any reason besides making a fool out of himself I haven't yet found out which. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Javier:

With this situation, am I a professional physicst or just a hoobist? xD.

I guess as in all other areas the spectrum between hobby and profession is continuous. Upon re-reading the above comments because I was trying to figure out what AGeek got so upset about it seems to me he and maybe also you interpret the difference between hobby and profession is whether you get paid for it or not. This is actually not the way I see or meant it.

Let me put it like this: the German word for 'profession' is 'Berufung' which means something like 'calling', i.e. your profession is where your place is in that world. Unfortunately, it seems that in reality for many people this it is not the case, but at least I am happy that I have a job I actually like to do. Thus, roughly speaking, whether it's a hobby or not is a matter of how seriously you pursue it, whether you learn the techniques, the basics, what's going on in the field, bring yourself up to date, communicate with others etc. Whether you do that full time or are paid for it isn't the point. My remark about the 'hobby scientist' refers to those who read scientific journals or blogs, popular science books, and are just genuinely interested in the developments etc. That's great, that's fine with me, I didn't mean 'hobby' in a dismissive way. I call myself a 'hobby painter' and I like it to be a hobby.

I was just trying to say then they shouldn't suddenly insists they can do everything better and have solved all problems (the reason is often that they don't understand the problem in the first place). Sadly, these people exist, in abundance it seems. That's why I was wondering whether this might partly be a result of the way science is reported, which seems to leave people with the impression what we do is just all trivial, and everybody could do it, the education is essentially unnecessary, and it's just the arrogance of those inside the 'ivory tower' that keeps them off from getting their ingenious ideas published.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Dr Who:

Do [important] people really pay any attention to New Scientist or to blogs devoted to ridiculing the work of serious scientists? I suspect that most people regard the blogosphere as junk. They might visit certain sites to see the latest gossip, but they would not dream of allowing their judgements as to the "respectability" of the Landscape to be influenced by that stuff. Similarly for New Scientist.
[Naturally, *this* blog isn't junk!]


Well, that's actually two questions. The one question is whether they take note of it. The other question is whether they let themselves being influenced by it.

As I said in my above reply to Stefan, I have the impression that blogs are increasingly widely read, also inside the community (at least on this side of the Ocean), and I don't know whether I like that at all. I used to think the same what you say, but recently I had to notice that it happens more and more often that colleagues mention things like 'I read on soandso's blog' or 'This even made it in the blogosphere', 'PW writes about', 'Distler mentioned', 'Baez wrote about ' in several cases seminar speakers made referrals to blogs in their talks, if just to express their opinion that (as you say) the blogosphere is junk.

Now to the other question whether they get influenced by it. There is the objective influence like, do they take the discussions seriously etc. That depends very strongly I'd think on the actual case at hand. But one way or the other, influence goes many ways. E.g. people are often not aware how much just repeatedly reading about a subject changes their perception of whether it is interesting. The way the mind works, if you talk and read about something often, you'll spend time trying to understand it. An then there is the pressure to react to accusations because after all they were made publicly, and show up on Google etc. It think this does influence (increasingly) the opinion making processes in our community, I don't think this is necessarily good, and I think we should be aware of that.

Regarding scientific journalism, here the question is more one of advertising. People pay attention to it not because of the scientific content, but because they are aware the public opinion matters. Besides this, there are several magazines that I really enjoy reading, occasionally, because they just present very nicely an accessible overview on recent developments. Discover Magazine e.g. or Sci Am. Physics Today is okay, though I find most of the topics rather boring. New Scientist is tricky. I have to give it to them that they have the courage to often report on theoretical physics, even if fairly new. This must be hard for the journalists, but I kind of appreciate they aren't scared away from theory. I just don't think it is really appropriate to write about a new idea before a paper is peer reviewed, or at least people had some months time to think about it.

Best,

B.

AGeek said...

Returning today, I find two interesting examples of dishonest argumentation:

1) Bee says: if you don't like the political system you live in, go complain elsewhere.

That's interesting Bee, since you are the one who brought up democracy, not I. All I did was tell you why your argument that something is democratically decided is irrelevant. At which point you suddenly decide to declare talk of politics as off topic "complaints". OK...

2) Bee says: If somebody self-funds his research, why on Earth would I have a problem with that? I don't even know why you would think I would 'dismiss' somebody who does that?

Gee, I don't know, might it be because your post says the following: Second, it seems that science, much as art, becomes a hobby. Some hobby artists believe they are actually the new Pollock, and their paintings belong in the Museum of Modern Arts. Some hobby scientists believe they are actually the new Einstein, and their theory belongs in PRD. Yes, it might be that occasionally there is a true talent to find there, but mostly it’s just splashing color on a canvas.

Dear Bee, don't you even remember what you write in your own posts?

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

If any New Scientist editors are reading (since others brought it up), it's been painfully obvious for quite some time that if NS ever had any credibility as a source of sound science journalism, it lost it years ago, and that the problem is especially egregious in the area of physics. I think it was an article about a "relativity drive" that brought the cries of dismay to sound in unison worldwide. Lately, an piece about conscious observation hastening the demise of the universe has left many qualified readers perplexed, because they can't tell whether or not it's satire.

NS needs some kind of major editorial filter transplant, and quick.

I tend to think that blogs, being the sole domain of their writers, needn't be held to the same standard, though it's not a bad idea for readers to be mindful of the fact that blog communications are not subject to peer review or other means of vetting and verifying ideas. I think it's reasonable to accept what the average PhD blogger has to share about the well-established concepts confidence, and I think it's easy enough to discern when they're communicating ideas that haven't achieved that level of validation. Those who won't put in the effort to at least try to read critically should take some responsibility for their misconceptions.

arivero said...

Lucretius. When speaking about social goals of Science, De Rerum Natura is the first book that comes to my mind. Perhaps then Sagan, and perhaps, later, some people as Engels or Verne or even Kropotkine.
A question is if Science has some social goal already built-in, from the point that it is about logos, about reasoned discussion. If so, then how many science do you expose to laymen (or how many layman are left, after exposure) is a politically sensible decision, as in any case when you need to work with a group with a hidden agenda.

Bee said...

Hi AGeek:

Stop being ridiculous. You're not fooling anybody into believing you are even trying to understand what I am writing. You are just pissed off because I seem to have hit a nerve with you.

1) You are the one who said "tax payers pay the taxes they are told to pay" - which is as naive as stupid - and I pointed out if you're living in a democracy what you are 'told' is the majority opinion. If you don't like it, or you don't like democracy because the majority opinion happens not to be identical to yours, I am not the one to complain to. The way you argue though, you are not going to convince anybody of your opinion.

2) I know what I have written, and I have explained repeatedly what I mean with it. Read my above comments, also the reply to Javier. If you have no other comments than accusing me of being 'dishonest' because you feel personally insulted, then I suggest you just stop reading my blog.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Javier:

So, please, why do you think that other than monetary reasons,to have a PhD is so important nowadays?

I don't know what this has to do with money? The PhD is a certificate of qualification that confirms you have taken and passed exams in the required classes, have successfully worked on a research topic, presented your work, collaborated with other scientists, and have acquired all the skills that you need to become a physicist. That doesn't mean if you don't have a PhD you don't have these qualifications, it's just - as in almost all other professions - a certificate that documents your education. If you don't have a PhD you will first have to make an effort to convince people that you nevertheless have the required knowledge. It is really puzzling to me why people get so upset about that. I mean, if you meet somebody on the street and he says, hey I'm a dentist, would you let him drill holes into your teeth? At least I'd rather choose someone who I know has an education, and if not, that person would have to invest quite some time convincing me of his talent.
Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Low Math:

There's way to much personality cultism in the pop-sci section [...] but while we're advocating some restraint in the speculative realm, I'd also like to vote for some discipline in the biographical one, which seems to take up a fair percentage of any pop-sci tome.


I guess many scientists who write pop-sci books put in some personal stories, or stories about friends and colleagues not for personality cultism but to make the book interesting for a broader audience. See, I wouldn't buy a pop sci book to read the 100th introduction into GR or the standard model. Instead I'd like to know the story behind a paper, or the difficulties the people were facing in his or her research, historical circumstances, political constraints etc. The stuff that you don't find in the scientific publications.

Best,

B.

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

Oh, I agree totally! What I'm referring to might be better be described as oversimplified hagiography, and it does show up fairly often. The semi-fictionalized accounts of Einstein the Sage's almost single-handed quest to rewrite physics are the most typical. Completely unnuanced and uncritical accounts of Galileo as the unimpeachable martyr-saint for science run a very close second. The real stories are ten times more interesting, and do nothing, so far as I can tell, to detract from the accomplishments of these great men. They don't need mythologizing, so why are biographers so keen on it? My guess is it's mostly space constraints and the need to breeze through the historical parts to get to the scientific exposition before the reader loses track of the subject. I sympathize to some degree, but maybe, if facts matter, it might be better to just skip the bios altogether if there's not enough space to do them justice. Just my opinion.

arivero said...

Yep, oversimplified hagiography is to history as divulgated science is to physics. Incidentally, it has the same problems: you can read the entire collection of letters of Galileo (free in the network), or the collection of Pauli correspondence, and then become the historian equivalent of an amateur physicist, with the same risks of crackpottery etc. And an argument parallel to the one here: it is not history, it is history-fiction.

About taking science as an "hobby" instead of a "profession-Berufung"... today -thanks blogosphere- I feel more benevolent, but I have always hated when after a length discussion I heard "Well, it was 'only to speak for the sake of speaking', 'only to fill the time'. It is a pity that the semantic meanings for 'hobby' range from "enthusiast" until "time filling"

Peter Morgan said...

Until a scientist can explain to a person in the street, to the satisfaction of both, why they are working on project X or Y, and what it is, what its benefits and costs are, including some idea of the ethical and social benefits and costs, my presumption is that the scientist doesn't understand all that well what they are doing and why.
A blog is a new place for that interface, with newly emerging rules, with enough possibility for benefit for both sides for us to keep at it. Thanks Bee for one interesting venue.

A note to Javier: One route to not having a PhD but being taken seriously is to write for serious Physics journals. Your first efforts will be returned without being sent to referees, but persistence, humility, and an inventive approach to understanding why the editors don't like your papers enough to send them to referees may eventually get your papers rejected by referees instead of being rejected by editors. You have to be able to learn from rejections, lots of them. When you don't have feedback from colleagues who will read your work for you, this process is more painful than it is for regular academics. My most recent paper took only three submissions to journals to get it published, the one before took 6 submissions to find a place in a good journal. The next may take more or less, perhaps the tricks can be learned.
Note that I did research independently for a dozen years before writing anything that deserved to be published, but there are people who have been doing research for 30 years who will likely never get their work published. Sad though it is for those people, time served is no guarantee of usefulness. Equally, published papers are no guarantee of citations -- my papers qv -- no-one can force Physicists to take either academics or outsiders seriously, we can only offer our research and see whether anyone responds.

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

I should have hastened to add that I've never found Dr. Scherer to be guilty of the facile biographical style I'm complaining about!

Guido said...

Hi Peter Morgan,

[i]Until a scientist can explain to a person in the street, to the satisfaction of both, why they are working on project X or Y, and what it is, what its benefits and costs are, including some idea of the ethical and social benefits and costs, my presumption is that the scientist doesn't understand all that well what they are doing and why.[/i]

I've heard this argument before, and I most respectfully disagree. At least I think I do. Maybe I don't understand what is meant by costs and benefits.

For all intents and purposes, theoretical physics costs nothing. By which I mean it's very very cheap compared to most other things you can do. Its benefits are intrinsically unknown. That's the reason we do science, at least in my opinion: to explore the unknown It's a good enough reason for me. However, I doubt it's a good enough reason for the man in the street. "Who cares about stimulated emission?", he'll ask. "I just want my DVD player to work."

Guido said...

Darn that should have been < i > in stead of [i].

Best, Guido

deSitter said...

Why does everyone miss the point??

The reason people resort to science fiction is because they have such a poor understanding of science fact. To make a dramatic example - Cooperstock and Tieu have shown that relativists have failed to understand the simplest aspect of Einstein's equations, namely, that once out of the "test particle" regime (a small body in a strong field), you cannot use GR without taking into account the non-linearity of the equations! A galaxy, or a globular cluster, is NOT a mutual admiration society of test particles! It is a full-blown matter distribution, and one cannot expect Newtonian behavior! When the non-linearity is taken into account, the rotation curves are beautifully explained.

So what happens? The army of academics FAILS COMPLETELY even to understand the nature of the problem, and then ignore what is actual, real science, done the traditional way.

What is the lesson? People resort to science fiction when they are too lazy or too incompetent to understand facts.

-drl

stefan said...

So, there is another highly competent commentator... thanks God!

Cooperstock and Tieu have shown ...

"Have shown" - How flawless. Mathematically precise. No room left for doubt. End of discussion. Stupid relativists. That's the deep and balanced insight I really want to read on this blog.

You should know best that it's just another blatant piece of desinformation that you are propagating - please, do it elsewehere.

tyler said...

first, Bee, let me say that I am more and more drawn to this particular blog for a few reasons:
1) the very high ratio of "real science" content to meta-commentary;
2) the meta-commentary there is, such as this post, is well-considered and (contrary to your own statement) well written; and
3) your ability to fearlessly state your opinion, defend it against criticism, yet avoid adopting the shrill and insulting tone that's so deplorable.
So thank you for that.

As for the role or value of blogging, perhaps I am not the norm, but I can only report my own experience. I am a very interested and tax-paying layperson, but I am NOT one who has my own pet theory of anything. I am trying to absorb as much as I can. As I do this, over time I am able to make value judgments about which authors are more or less likely to be reliable. So I read a lot of blogs, but most of them I only read once or twice. I am settling into a nice little state space orbit around an attractor defined by a small number of science blogs whose content I trust, relatively speaking.

Not trust *to be true*; that's going too far. Trust to wear their biases and/or beliefs on their sleeves. That's as much as one can ask.

The main thing I look for are writers that clearly understand that in science there are only three kinds of theory or idea:
1) that which has been repeatedly experimentally tested to a very high degree of accuracy, and never contradicted, and may therefore be accepted as provisionally true;
2) that which has been disproven by experiment; and
3) that which is not yet within the range of experiment.

Anything, without exception, that is in category 3 is not to be taken as true or untrue, but perhaps more or less likely - and that is just a subjective judgment call. Now, one can say that this is obvious, but within the blogosphere and journalism there's not nearly enough emphasis put on it. People use "is" or "will" when they should say "may" or "might" and I find it to be quite transparently manipulative and indeed propagandistic. Anyone who does *not* do that - who uses the appropriate qualifiers when discussing their own work - gain credibility in my eyes for doing so.

For example, I have no opinion whatsoever about the eventual outcome of the QG debate. I personally find Lee Smolin's writing to be interesting, likable, and sometimes persuasive, partially because he reliably frames his ideas as unproven; while I find (for example) a certain eastern european person who claims to represent the opposing view to be very unlikeable in his internet presence, not only due to vitriol, but also due to his complete avoidance of such qualifiers. But does this mean I "like" LQG and think, or hope, the string approach is wrong? Absolutely not, and not just because of the "likeable" (which they are) string theorists over at CV et. al.

Not only do I think *I* am unqualified to hold such an opinion, I think *any* such opinion in the absence of experimental evidence is questionable at best. The exception to this being people who work in the field, who are entitled to like their own work and believe it to be correct while unproven ;o) - but still, I consider it to be a giant red flag when someone claims an idea which is unconfirmed by experiment to be "true" or (worse) "obviously true." I take it as a sign of (possibly unconscious) intellectual dishonesty.

As for science journalism, I view it only as a source for interesting links. I also read Sci Am and a few other mags - not NS - but I never take very seriously anything written by a science journalist. I only hold to be of value the opinions of those who have proven themselves by working in the relevant field. This is my main pruning rule and it serves me fairly well. The exact definition of "proven" eludes me, but functionally I can usually tell with a little digging whether someone knows what they're talking about.

I hope this long post is relevant to your point. I cannot state what is good or bad in science journalism or blogging, just what I look for.

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

There are some great non-scientist (I refer to them as such in only the most pedantic sense) science journalists and historians out there, though, so I think it's unfair to dismiss all such sources. Jennifer Ouellette and Dennis Overbye spring immediately to mind, as well as Dava Sobel, who I enjoy immensely.

That said, SciAm does feature some pretty heady stuff straight from the "horse's mouth", as it were. One article that stands out in my mind was Maldacena writing on the Maldacena conjecture (though he seemed to scrupulously avoid that or other terms like "AdS/CFT"). In terms of sheer citations, maybe the biggest thing to come along in quite a while. Hard to beat that in a magazine.

(I would be remiss if I did not also mention Dr. Hossenfelder's excellent contribution on that subject!)

There's something to be said, though, for people who are professional writers doing the writing. Also, a "non-scientist", with sufficient grasp of subject might even do a better job of explaining it to laypersons than an individual who has forgotten what it was like before they could calculate a Hamiltonian, or something along those lines.

stefan said...

Hi Alejandro, LMMI,


thanks for bringing up history, and history of science in particular! Besides the danger of hagiography, there are the pitfalls of Whiggism, and popular science books - and even more so science textbooks, I would say - have a high risk to succumb to them.

And I am quite aware that my amateur writing about the history of science is not free of both (using an Einstein quote as a pretence to mention Spinozas birthday borders on hagiography...), although I try my best to avoid it. On the other hand, there is a certain trade-off when writing not for specialists... in the end, it should be not totally boring for non-historians.

And there is an obvious connection to the hobby issue - history of science is definitely a hobby for me, and I have no professional training in it whatsoever. I just have a very strong interest in how the things we know today came to be known, and I have realised that it helps me quite a bit to understand better what is known today, and why, and read quite a lot about it. So, I am an amateur in the history of science.

However, I try to understand what are the issues and standards of the professionals, and I try to take into account these things in my blog posts as good as I can. Yes, in this respect I have quite high demands of myself. After all, in the improbable case that one of the professionals should read my texts, I'd like him or her not to be completely annoyed by what I write ;-)

I think this is the point Sabine has made concerning the hobby issue, and I wonder how it can be so mistaken as it seems to have happened in the comments:

If subject X is your hobby, that's a fine thing, and if you like X so much that you want to share your excitement and results with the professionals, do so! You should just acknowledge that the professionals may have some well-established standards of their trade, and that you better stick to these standards - or demonstrate that you're well aware of them and can give reasons why to disregard them - if you want to be taken serious by the professionals. This may sound a bit like Sean's Alternative Science Respectability Checklist, and there is the obvious danger of elitism. But I really think that essentially the same criteria for being taken seriously as an amateur by professionals exist for all kinds of activities - science, art, plumbing...


Best, Stefan

tyler said...

"low math," I understand your point. I am simply concerned with reducing translation errors as much as possible. Every added step in the signal path an idea takes from its creator's mind to mind introduces noise. As I also have, despite considerable effort, limited mathematical abilities, this is unavoidable. At some point any author will be forced to rely upon metaphor or analogy or what have you to communicate this idea to me.

Adding a journalist into the signal path introduces unacceptable distortion, since the journalist is typically reliant on these same inaccurate methods to gain their own understanding, then again to communicate them.

My own analogy for this involves making compressed copies of a digital music file. Transmission of an idea from one (well trained and intelligent) scientist to another may be done largely in the form of mathematics, which I liken to "lossless" forms of compression in which the resulting information, when uncompressed, is digitally identical to the original. [insert joke about scientific misunderstanding here, but this is what one hopes for with math, yes?] Translating such an idea into nonmathematical form is, in this analogy, like adding a "lossy" compression generation, such as MP3 encoding, or recording to an analog medium.

At least one such lossy generation is needed in transmission of the idea to my mind, since I lack the mathematical "codec" for lossless decoding. However - and this is the key point, and the reason the analogy is, I think, a strong one - very terrible things happen to the information content of a file which suffers lossy compression twice. Minor noise introduced in the first compression becomes destructive interference in the second.

I don't *ignore* science journalism. I just never assume that it is accurate at all. If I find it interesting, I immediately move to find something closer to primary sources.

stefan said...

Hi Tyler,


I hope my wife and you don't mind if I pitch in, but thanks a lot for your comment! I could not have said it better, and it cheers me up to read it! I mean, you describe the attidude of the enlightened, critical citizen (and blog reader ;-) that one can best hope for to find...

As for your classification of theories, I generally agree, although things are probably more complicated - among the not yet proven theories, there are for sure some which are more likely to be true than others.

And even with well-established theories, there may be aspects which have been overseen. Otherwise, Cooperstock and Tieu, say, would not have made their proposal in the first place, although I have the impression that most of their colleagues think they have made an error in a complicated calculation - such things can happen.

If I find it interesting, I immediately move to find something closer to primary sources.

That's what I usually also do. And one good thing about the internet, and that should be stated once, is that this is much more easily possible now for everyone than ever before.


Best, Stefan

tyler said...

Thanks for your kind words, Stefan.

I do understand that there are gradations of likelihood within the "#3" as-yet-untestable theories. This is why I consider it so important to evaluate individuals' reliability over time as they post on the various subjects of interest to me. I certainly do consider some theories to be more or less likely than others, at this time, but I try to remain aware at all times that these are contingent, partially informed judgments on my part.

It'd be much more important to me to make firm judgments in the absence of definitive evidence if I were basing the future of my professional career on choosing the right research path. As it is, I can more or less sit back and watch things unfold with no personal stake. My viewpoint is therefore more "academic," in the colloquial sense, than someone who is actually academically involved in the field ;o)

(I apologize if a double post appears, I am getting some attitude from the catcha widget)

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

Whiggism!

Learn something new every day...

Low Math, Meekly Interacting said...

Hah! And I see there was a discussion about the 1998 Observation of Doom over at NEW, with comments from Dr. Krauss himself. What a sad mess!

Anonymous said...

Here is a story Bertrand Russell told.

A lady who was a solipsist wrote to him complaining, ‘Why are there not more solipsists?’

Anonymous said...

So what happens? The army of academics FAILS COMPLETELY even to understand the nature of the problem, and then ignore what is actual, real science, done the traditional way.

see this is just what i was talking about. this person is convinced they know better than all the "real" scientists out there, although i doubt they have published even one article. In fact Im surprised this person does not have a blog (perhaps they do) where they proclaim their superior understanding ad nauseum, and how all formally trained scientists are stupid and dont have a clue. Im afraid even some of the best known physics blogs are exactly like this.

Anonymous said...

so, what is it that motivates a person with only amateur or hobby level knowledge of a subject to imagine that he knows better than trained professionals with years or decades of experience in the field?

Other said...

I'm kind of losing track here, but just a few observations:
[a] Bee doesnt think that blogs are the right place for a detailed technical discussion. But consider the Lisi/Distler discussion over at JD's blog. That could not have been carried out on the arxiv, and it was rather useful. It could have been a lot more useful if JD had not made up his mind in advance [and were not such an asshole] but, in principle, that kind of discussion on blogs could be very useful. My point: criticisms backed up by technicalities are really the only kind worth while.

[b] Dr Who: Distler boasts somewhere on his blog "You’d be surprised at some of the people who, apparently, read this blog."

And I agree with Bee that people might be influenced without realising it. Personally, it took me quite a while to understand why C. Johnson was justified in being so harsh with Woit.

[c] How would you feel about having your work held up to ridicule on PW's or LM's blog, knowing that a google search might lead a prospective employer straight there? I, certainly, would fear that *any* appearance of my name on either of those blogs might look very bad indeed; guilt by association. Discerning employers might see such an attack as a plus point, but others might just think you are a publicity-hound.

Bee said...

Hi Anonymous:

There are probably many motives, but here is one that I have encountered in some cases. It's the genuine believe to have understood everything - as I said above, lacking knowledge about the problems can help in this regard. And isn't that what we all want? Understanding the world? It's a state of mind that is worth protecting by ignoring any evidence against it. It gives your life a purpose, a meaning, the pleasant feeling to have achieved something nobody else has, and everybody else has to be told about it. You know, in a certain sense I admire everybody who is able to convince himself he (or she) has reached such a level of understanding of the universe, since I am usually stuck in confusion.

Hi Other:

Bee doesnt think that blogs are the right place for a detailed technical discussion. But consider the Lisi/Distler discussion over at JD's blog. That could not have been carried out on the arxiv, and it was rather useful.

I don't think blogs are generally the right way to do it. That doesn't mean it can't work in some cases. Yes, this could not have been carried out on the arxiv, that is why I'd like to see this possibility on the arxiv! The reasons why I would prefer that over blogs are as mentioned: blog posts can be edited later which can potentially obscure discussions, blogs are usually run by one person who can delete and/or modify comments (depending on the software used), blogs are often subject to a lot of uninformed background noise.

Best,

B.

D R Lunsford said...

For Stefan and Anonymous,

Cooperstock is a "trained relativist" (what a f-u'ed bloated term!) and so am I. The vast majority of "trained relativists" 1) fail to understand GR as it stands 2) fail to understand special relativity in any deep way 3) fail to understand the historical development of the subject 4) fail to understand GR's essential structure and its real shortcomings. On some level, they realize they don't get it, and resort to bullsh*t to quell their anxiety.

The Internet is simply a vast ideal gas of assholes. I am done with all this.

-drl

QUASAR9 said...

"so, what is it that motivates a person with only amateur or hobby level knowledge of a subject to imagine that he knows better than trained professionals with years or decades of experience in the field?"

Technically speaking Einstein was an amateur bobbyist to start with. His day job was the patents office?

But he read material, and clearly had some 'valid' insights into the structure of things.

Too much knowledge of a specialised subject has always had the risk of blinding or blinkering people to a 'higher truth' - after all even in transplant surgery or brain surgery - sometimes it takes a 'wild card' or 'young punk/turk' to come up and suggest doing things in a different way, and the old masters or older surgeons with decades more experience are sometimes slow to respond, or to accept changes.

Even Newton (a scholar and some time hobbyist) had difficulties with The Royal Society. By grinding his own mirrors, using Newton's rings to judge the quality of the optics for his telescopes, he was able to produce a superior instrument to the refracting telescope, due primarily to the wider diameter of the mirror. In 1671 the Royal Society asked for a demonstration of his reflecting telescope. Their interest encouraged him to publish his notes On Colour, which he later expanded into his Opticks.

When Robert Hooke criticised some of Newton's ideas, Newton was so offended that he withdrew from public debate. The two men remained enemies until Hooke's death.

Newton argued that light is composed of particles or corpuscles and were refracted by accelerating toward the denser medium, but he had to associate them with waves to explain the diffraction of light (Opticks Bk. II, Props. XII-L). Later physicists instead favoured a purely wavelike explanation of light to account for diffraction.

And as we know, today's quantum mechanics, photons and the idea of wave-particle duality bear only a minor resemblance to Newton's understanding of light.

However to answer your question, a good Master would see the merits of any new insights from wherever (whether from a post grad, post doc, an amateur or a hobbyist) - without letting personal 'ego' affect the meeting as in the case of Newton & Hooke.

Most people who have been in a field for decades will have read or thought of most of the arguments a 'new comer' or 'amateur' can or may make. And supposing they don't have an axe to grind or a theory they favour above another, should be able to see any 'argument' in its own light

Peter Morgan said...

Bee wrote: “The reasons why I would prefer [a commenting system on ArXiv] over blogs are as mentioned: blog posts can be edited later which can potentially obscure discussions, blogs are usually run by one person who can delete and/or modify comments (depending on the software used), blogs are often subject to a lot of uninformed background noise.”

A commenting system on ArXiv would be no different from the same commenting system on a blog. It’s the commenting that’s the problem, not the blog. ArXiv would choose whatever commenting system they liked best, and implement it on ArXiv. Otherwise, they might design their own commenting system, which blogs might find it useful to adopt -- if ArXiv does it well. Whatever they do, the ArXiv staff has to control the commenting systems at some level, and, given the large number of papers and the small number of staff, the system had better be highly automatic. Really Simple Comment Management might even be the next Killer App. It seems that complaints about comment management on this or some other blog are common across the blogosphere.

Bee said...

Hi Peter:

The point is to ask who should control the commenting system? I don't think it should be a) one single person and b) neither the person who raises the initial criticism, nor the person writing the paper. Also, it would only be persons registered at the arxiv who could comment, and they would do so with their real name, something that hardly happens in the blogosphere and is (esp if you're not running your own software) hard to achieve. Yes, maybe if the arxiv had such a software bloggers could use it. Occasionally, I would like to have a second comment section 'experts only' to get rid of the background noise. It's not that I don't want non-experts comments at all (in fact, I find them often as interesting as entertaining), but it's very confusing to follow arguments in such a mixed up comment section. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Quasar:

You too, please read my above reply to Javier clarifying what I mean with hobby. Had I known that the word would broadly be interpreted to have a different meaning than the one I attach to it, I would have used a different formulation. So, I am sorry about that confusion. Best,

B.

tyler said...

bee, the most advanced moderation system in place I know if is slashdot's - though they sadly still allow anonymous cowards - and though the moderation system is relatively sophisticated its success is questionable. I do find it useful, as I set my threshold for comment viewing at about "+2"...but then you have to trust the wisdom of the crowds. In the case of arxiv, you'd have to trust the moderators to never down-mod a post or author with whom they disagree on "politics of science" issues or the like.

Plus, moderating forums is a ridiculous amount of work. I should know, I was one of the first people ever to be professionally paid for such a job. It was a terrible, terrible job; though it was lucrative, and good experience.

I think /. has proven that no automated or crowd-based system can really work. So it's up to moderators, and they have to be trusted, and probably paid, and those two things may lead to conflicts of interest.

You are now up against the "hard problem" of web 2.0, which is really just a restatement of Sturgeon's Law as it relates to the wisdom of crowds: when you let them loose online, 90% of people are idiots.

Occasionally, I would like to have a second comment section 'experts only' to get rid of the background noise.

As an official part of the background noise, I think this is a good idea - and it could be done in a sophisticated commenting system via tagging. You, the moderator, could tag a given post (or user) as expert; such posts would be highlighted, and there could be a toggle to collapse all non-expert posts, leaving behind a "condensed" expert-only version of the thread.

QUASAR9 said...

Hi Bee, I have.
And I know what you meant by hobby

I was simply adding to your reply to anonymous seven steps back, who asked nine steps back: "so, what is it that motivates a person with only amateur or hobby level knowledge of a subject to imagine that he knows better than trained professionals with years or decades of experience in the field?"

stefan said...

D R,


in contrast to another anonymous expert, I am well aware that Cooperstock is a respected astrophysicist with training in GR. I was not aware that the comment was by you (though I could have noted your signature), nor that you are a relativist by training. I understand that you have encountered, say, strong opposition to your work from your fellow scientist, which puts your comment in perspective.

However, it's still completely wrong in my opinion to claim that C&T have "shown" anything (in the sense of mathematical proof, that is), and that all other relativists are incompetent and in error, in particular. Explaining rotational curves by some curious effect of GR would be a great thing, I think, but strong claims require strong arguments. And from a glimpse at the archive, it should be obvious to everyone who is interested that there is a controversy at least, and that there is the possibility that C&T may have made some error.

I don't mind at all if you are convinced that they are right and the criticisms unjustified - but stating as a fact what is not one, and, moreover, blaming the incompetence of all other scientists for the current situation, is just plain silly, in my opinion, and doesn't help your cause either.

I agree that I have not reacted equally harsh to all comments that have pissed me off lately because of their irresponsible tone or general uselessness, so it hit you, but this is just not a style of debate I would like to encourage in the comments.

Best, Stefan

rillian said...

tyler: I would disagree that /. has proved no automated moderation system could work. Some of the trust metrics would be easy to apply to an arxiv forum, which already has a database of identities and citations. While they've not been tested on a large scale (unless you count Google's search ranking) smaller scale trials have been fairly successful and determining qualification to participate in a discussion. There's still middle ground to be explored between distributed and professional human moderation.

Bee: If you appreciate usage corrections, "temper with" should be "tamper with".

Bee said...

hi rillian: thanks. I do appreciate corrections :-) - B.

Peter Morgan said...

I went over to http://help.blogger.com/?page=wishlist, and wrote that it would be nice to have a "collapse comment to a stub" option for moderately unpleasant, not so nasty that they should be deleted, comments, so that a reader can choose to expand the message if they want to, but the bloggers displeasure is apparent without being as apparently vindictive as outright deletion. Unsurprising that someone, slashdot, has already done something similar, and probably better than my quick fix idea. Still, it's important in principle to have as many gradations of response to questionable behavior as possible.

ArXiv already has some of the fiercest administration on the planet. If you don't have an academic or otherwise acceptable e-mail address, they require you to be vouched for by someone who's already in the system, and once you're in they threaten retribution if you so much as sneeze. I imagine that if someone were to be unpleasant in a comment, ArXiv would remove privileges, permanently, close to instantly. Keeping out anyone who's not in, check. I think you're right, an arXiv commenting system would be a much more academic sort of place.

Anonymous said...

bee said:
Sure, hiding the flaws of renormalization is the purpose of my being.

hehe, touche.
A.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

Somehow I think this following is connected to this commentary on the state of journalism - to make the connection, simply ask the question, why should science journalism be immune from this diagnosis?

http://www.nypress.com/17/26/news&columns/MattTaibbi.cfm

Best,
-Arun

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

Thanks, that is a very insightful piece of writing, though I think he overuses pictorial speech. Yes, if one extrapolates the general trend in our society ('feeding the monkey' 'for toothpaste and sneaker ads to ride on straight into the brains of the stupefied public', as he puts it), then it is very unsurprising this development reflects in science.

Why should science be immune to it? Because the scientific community is the last resort when it comes to reason contra publicity, and truth contra marketing prospects. If we are not able to realize how dangerous these developments are, and if we don't have the courage to request accurate reporting, possibly on the expenses of food for the monkey, then who is left?

Best,

B.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

My question really is - how could science journalism hope to be immune from "feeding the monkey"?

IMO, high quality reporting and writing has not enough of an appreciative audience to meet the demands for revenue growth at the big media conglomerates. It is a speciality market and a precarious niche at that. But there may be enough of a market for it to be quite rewarding.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

To me this is just another example that illuminates how insufficient it is to trust in monetarism. It is in the interest of the public to obtain truthful and informative reporting. I think we both agree that the present way of funding it is a disaster for reasons that are completely obvious, and that are very well documented in the article you link to. This is a case where privatisation does not work for the benefits of the society because the outcome is not simply optimized by maximizing profit. It's as easy as this. There are various ways how to deal with that through politics. Since you are following this blog you probably know that I see democratically made decisions as a necessary balancing weight to pure monetarism. One way would be e.g. what I suggested earlier: a right for information, which would simply speaking state that avoidable confusion is unlawful because it acts against the society's interests. A better way though would be to governmentally support science journalism. There is a reason why research on universities is not funded by how well their researchers sell themselves. People that are 'in public service' are there because they are supposed to provide exactly that: a service for the public, independently from lobbies, financial pressure, and without being afraid to get fired because they don't 'feed the monkey'. Yes, that might not contribute to maximal entertainment, but then we should ask ourselves what do we want the our society to aim at? Fat monkeys?

Best,

B.

arivero said...

Perhaps we should become militant about upgrading from monkeys to humans. No more vulgarization, but team working instead.

Bee said...

Hi arivero:

I am very much in favour of this. Best,

B.

graydba said...

"One way would be e.g. what I suggested earlier: a right for information, which would simply speaking state that avoidable confusion is unlawful because it acts against the society's interests. A better way though would be to governmentally support science journalism."

Perhaps democracy in Canada is far more enlightened that it is in the US, but I shudder to think of how difficult it would be to craft legislation in the US that could possibly guarantee that the spirit, the intent of the "right" written into such legislation. The current administration's handcuffing of NOAA scientists who attempt to report critically on things like climate change or others at CDC who have been silenced on health issues that contradict the certainty held by the administration is a warning that legislative intent can all too easily be perverted.

In the realms of truth and information, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", seems to be eternally relevant. Oh well, as long as the republic hold up, we can always work for a regime change...

Arun said...

Dear Bee:

This is how bad things have gotten in the US regarding political/government news:

Joe Klein, political columnist for the Time Magazine, the news magazine with the widest circulation in the US, wrote a column with some false and politically provocative statements about legislation that is in front of Congress that would put some curbs on the illegal wiretapping this Administration has been doing in the past six years.

A Senator who is member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the Chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, all vitally involved in the legislation, have written letters refuting the column but Time has refused to publish them.

Here.

Best,
-Arun

Arun said...

One way would be e.g. what I suggested earlier: a right for information, which would simply speaking state that avoidable confusion is unlawful because it acts against the society's interests.

Dear Bee,

In the US, the Florida Appeals Court has already ruled that a news organization has no obligation to provide the truth.

(The case basically was that Murdoch's Fox News fired two TV persons when they refused to air a story they knew to be false. The reporters sued and court ruled in favor of Fox, that Fox had no obligation to be truthful. "Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so.")

---

Regarding science information see the post "Toxic Texas" on my blog.

Maybe Europe and Canada have some chance. Not the US of A.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:
Thanks for these interesting details... Maybe you are right that the USA are already too detached from reality. On the other hand it is often the case that things have to go really wrong before they can get better. So in this regard it might be that it won't be Canada and Europe who first see the need to act. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Dear Arun:

While we're at it, there is something else that I find funny because it goes into the same direction as my concerns I mentioned above. Look at the advertisements CV or Lubos or other science blogs have in their side bar. I mean, let me just copy the first I came across there today

www.UniversalBelief.com

www.thesecretmotivatorlive.tv

www.whatiknowforsure.org

www.cosmicfingerprints.com

The latter advertises to have proven intelligent design.

I can understand that one wants to have the bills for the website paid somehow. And writing the blog is an effort, so getting some money in with it is nice. But I find this careless advertising very inappropriate on a science blog. Best,

B.

Arun said...

But I find this careless advertising very inappropriate on a science blog.

Dear Bee, me too. I wonder if they have control of the class of advertisements that appear on the blog or not. Anyway the world seems to have far too many ways to whittle away at one's integrity.

Anonymous said...

HAHA,bee, what's the matter, you don't see ?

I was hoping you could explain your paper to me... you know- like you would your grandmother...
ah well, best, as allways,
A.

Bee said...

which paper? Look, this thread is about scientific journalism. I usually make an effort to explain in my papers exactly which assumptions go into my models, so I found your comment rather inappropriate. I don't see why I should bother with anonymously made insults or criticism on my work without any content.

B.