Sunday, October 04, 2009

Soundbites from the Atlanta Conference

As previously mentioned, I spent the last days on the Atlanta Conference for Science and Innovation Policy. To apply for a talk, one had to submit a paper already in February. At that time, it wasn't clear to me I'd be living in Sweden when the conference actually took place. Flying from Europe to America for only a few days is very exhausting, plus I have to cover expenses myself. But I am glad I went. The conference has been very interesting, I learned a lot, and got useful feedback on my talk.

It was a very interdisciplinary meeting with a diverse audience. People were here from engineering, over economics, psychology to various disciplines of the social sciences, from institutions outside academia and from funding agencies. And then there was the theoretical physicist. Participants came from all over the world, many from developing countries, since science policies in the developing world was one of the topics on the program. I spoke to a PhD student who studies science policies in Argentina and Chile, esp. their telescope programs, and talked to some people about Neil Turok's initiative AIMS. I learned about a project called ARGO, a truly international project, which maintains an array of floats to measure water temperature and salinity. I've also never been at a conference where the woman to men ration was so close to 1/2.

It is pretty much impossible to summarize the conference. You will get a good impression of topics if you look at the lists of talks and abstracts, which you find here. What I found somewhat annoying was the high number of parallel sessions, up to 7, which means no matter what you'd miss several of the talks you wanted to hear.

The organizers also tried out a new sort of session called "roundtables," that for all I can tell worked badly. They took place in one room with, guess, round tables, with about 8 seats each and a different topic for each table. While this created a nice atmosphere for discussion, the catch was that the people leading the discussion (at least at the tables I was) had applied for a talk and only learned two days earlier they were supposed to be on a round table instead. As a result, they just printed and handed out their presentation or, worse, put their laptop on the table and pointed to it. That sort of format might have some potential though if the topics for discussion are chosen differently. It very efficiently bridges the gap between the speaker and the audience.

I went to a couple of talks on collaboration- and coauthorship networks, both in the scientific community and for patents, investigating the change in these networks over time and the development of new fields or collaborations. These studies in the area of scientometrics are one of the fields at the intersection of the social, natural and computer sciences that have only become possible within the last decade, because data wasn't available or couldn't be handled before that. I find them tremendously interesting, as they tell a lot about the process of knowledge discovery with the prospect to better understand which conditions are beneficial or counterproductive. Needless to say, funding agencies have a certain interest in this research and in fact, some of these studies were commissioned by the NSF.

Also here was Bela Nagy from the Santa Fe Institute, who spoke about Comparing forecasts of technological progress. I missed the first half of his talk, but he set up an open database at pcdb.santafe.edu where you can download or play with the data he analyzed yourself. You can also upload your own data. You find an introduction to his research on YouTube.

Some instances were very amusing. For example, in a panel discussion the first day one of the speakers, Caroline Wagner from SRI International, began with saying she recently heard on the Science Channel that we live in a world with 11 dimensions. Then she compared that to the "multidimensonality" in her field of work. She asked the audience how many had heard of these 11 dimensions. From about 200 people, maybe 5 raised their hand.

Another speaker, Diana Hicks, renamed normal- and power-law distributions into "hill" and "pipe" distributions, explaining that a quarter pipe is the only real world example for a power law that she could find. Since the curve of said pipe actually falls to zero at a finite value, and certainly has no "fat tail" of any sort, it was somewhat unwillingly comic. In any case, the talk raised an interesting question. Hicks pointed out that the relation between the number of scientists and their output is not a normal distribution, but that instead a few scientists (or institutions respectively) are top and carry a load of the output, and then there are a lot who don't contribute much. The question is then whether funding should be distributed proportionally (to any measure of such scientific output), or more equally.

Besides "power law," other buzzwords of the conference were "vertical disintegration," "transdisciplinarity" and "complex systems." It is amazing how easily one can get a speaker to stumble by simply asking what they mean with "complex." I also learned that what the NSF calls "transformative research" is called "Frontier Science" in Europe. Somebody pointed out in his talk that support of innovation is almost exclusively on the supply side, by funding basic science, and argued that one should stimulate also the demand side. It's an interesting thought. Presently it seems to me the supply- and demand side for basic science is pretty much identical.

Several people spoke about their initiatives, institutes, or conferences with the purpose to get science policies across to the governments of various countries. What I find puzzling though is how completely disconnected these studies about science policies, collaboration, group dynamics, interdisciplinarity, and so on, are from the researchers who actually work in these fields. This disconnect was one of the reason for our last years' conference on Science in the 21st Century.

My own talk on "The Marketplace of Ideas" went very well, despite a cold that I seem to have caught on the plane. I will give you a summary later. Listening to my coughing and sneezing, somebody recommended a homeopathic remedy in the coffee break. She would take it before the fist symptoms set in, and it had helped her to avoid getting a cold in the first place several times. Makes one wonder.

I'm flying back to Sweden tonight, just in time for the announcement of the Nobel Prize.

55 comments:

stefan said...

Thanks for sharing your impressions and the nice first summary :-)

Cheers, Stefan

Zephir said...

The picture of contemporary overemployed science illustrates carbon footprint of situation, when people are flying across ocean to spread buzzwords, which everyone could read on Internet anyway.

Bee said...

You see what you want to see.

Zephir said...

And what we're supposed to see in such conferences? Just another example of emergent microstrategy of sectarian society?

Christine said...

Excuse me, I do not want to be rude, but this Zephir is degrading the whole Backreaction blog. He appears not to understand at all how blogs work. Sabine and Stefan (or anyone else, for that matter) have no obligation to be interested or give support to whatever subject one offers to be discussed. It's their blog. His insistence and lack of understanding is ridiculous and at the same time annoying. The reader is forced to skip various comment sections polluted with his irrelevant arguments.

In Brazil, such people are called "cara-de-pau" (in the derogatory sense), someone who does not have "desconfiƓmetro" (STFU-Meter)...

Anonymous said...

Zephir, are you paid to pollute and post to other people's blog?

A

Anonymous said...

I mean , do you do this professionally, as part of your job?

A

Giotis said...

I agree with Christine; This kind of clogging of the comments threads affects the quality of the blog.

But of course the owners know better.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Zephir, don't answer. No answer necessary. Keep on.

A.

stefan said...

Actually, the owners of the blog have decided earlier today, in a completely secretive, sectarian, non-transparent and conspiratorial way, to delete all further comments by Zephir irrespective of content and without notice for the rest of this month. There is no option to appeal.

And now, let's get back to the topic of the post.

Thanks, Stefan.

Bee said...

Ohm. Actually, that's not what we agreed on. I said if Zephir posts one more off-topic comment, that's what we should do. Maybe he's psychic because since then we haven't heard from him.

In any case, thanks Christine, Giotis, Niko, Phil for letting us know you find this as annoying as we do.

Now does anybody have a comment related to science policies...?

Best,

B.

stefan said...

Maybe the decision process was too secretive ;-). Anyway, one has to go back a long way to find a post by him that was not off-topic.

On-topic, the episode with the "11 dimensions" is quite remarkable to me. Naively, I would have expected that most participants in a conference called "Science and Innovation Policy" would have heard about these ideas. So, just one out of 40 seems a surprisingly low ratio.

If anything, this reveals unspoken expectations about what I think someone else would know. This harsh reality check shows how wrongly taking for granted some common knowledge or language could result in big misunderstandings. I mean, to see that intelligent, highly educated people can and will have a completely different intellectual mindset probably is a very important experience in itself.

Actually, I fear that the internet is not a real help to overcome these hidden barriers and pitfalls, as people usually stick to sites and blogs that closely correspond to their own interests and views.

Cheers, Stefan

Bee said...

Yes, I too was astonished it was so few people. On the other hand, if you'd go on a physics conference and ask the audience a question about, say, the features of social identity theory, what do you think how many people would raise their hand? Though I guess the science channel doesn't cover the social sciences very much. Either way, what sprang to my mind was George Johnson saying "Nobody of the public cares about string theory one way or the other..."

Zephir said...

/*..maybe he's psychic because since then we haven't heard from him..*/
It's because I'm taking a big money for blog pollution and I just finished with my daily job, being payed per hour. Now I'm visiting it again like normal, private person until morning, you know...

...and I'm impressed by your speech at Atlanta Conference, like everybody here.

Cheers, Z.

Uncle Al said...

It is the hard sciences' own fault that crap now flows where clean water was piped. Every professional value has been softened by social activism, compassion, diversity, mysticism, and submission to political oversight.

Science now theorizes, advertises, extrapolates, prognosticates, and direly warns of consequences. When does it reduce to practice in real time?

Legislate thermodynamic efficiency then broker international Carnot credits. Observe how many therms that natural gas will provide. What did Gentle Reader write upon your blank blackboard today that you cannot bear to erase?

Arun said...

For a whole variety of reasons, I feel that the US is staggering around on the verge of an abyss that leads to a dark age. The people that have had their brains turned into mush by the prevalent ideology-religion has reached near-critical mass.

As Glenn Greenwald put it:

"Reviewing the Sunday news shows and newspapers creates the most intense cognitive dissonance: a nation crippled by staggering debt, exploding unemployment, an ever-expanding rich-poor gap, and dependence on foreign government financing can't stop debating how much more resources we should devote to our various military occupations, which countries we should bomb next, which parts of the world we should bring into compliance with our dictates using threats of military force. It's like listening to an individual about to declare personal bankruptcy talking about all the new houses and jewels he plans on buying next week and all the extravagant trips he's planning, in between lamenting how important it is that he stop spending so much. That would sound insane. And that's exactly how our political discourse sounds."

Michael Moore in his newest documentary draws our attention to Citibank's notion of a plutonomy

"n. An economy that is driven by or that disproportionately benefits wealthy people, or one where the creation of wealth is the principal goal. "

Citigroup Plutonomy Report Part 1
Oct 16, 2005
- The World is dividing into two blocs - the Plutonomy and the rest. The U.S., UK, and Canada are the key Plutonomies - economies powered by the wealthy. Continental Europe (ex-Italy) and Japan are in the egalitarian bloc.

(Citibank is worried that one-person-one-vote disadvantages the rich who have only 1% of the vote, and may one day end the plutonomy.)

This may be why there are so many forces that wants yet another war - this one with Iran, to keep the populace occupied with something other than their own plight.

Dear Bee, you got away in time. Only common sense (of the Thomas Paine kind), not science policy can change this place. Maybe Europe will remain a bastion of good sense and science.

Arun said...

If I seemed gloomy above, well, that was **before** I saw Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story.

Moore makes more of an emotional than intellectual argument against the way things are. What is very evident is that things are bad.

Tkk said...

Excellent and interesting report. Appreciate.

I too have been to many a inter-disciplinary conferences the past 25 years. What you've experienced is common and never goes away.

My observation regarding said power-law (or Bell) distribution of discovery and/or innovation is: In anything where human beings are the lead creative driver, the distribution law is 20/80. 20% of the people are responsible for 80% of the useful output. This cuts across all fields and all cultures.

Re Nobel - G&M reports that it is likely two Canadian researchers, a chemist and a physicist, will get medicine prize for discovery for stem cells.

banerjee said...


Somebody pointed out in his talk that support of innovation is almost exclusively on the supply side, by funding basic science, and argued that one should stimulate also the demand side.


Not sure what you mean here. Could you clarify?

Are you suggesting that industry is not really interested in innovation and hence a lack of demand?

Tkk said...

Arun, re:

"Citigroup Plutonomy Report ... The U.S., UK, and Canada are the key Plutonomies - economies powered by the wealthy. ..."

As Canadian I take issue with Citigroup report lumping Canada into the plutonomies. Note this is Citigroup of 2005 at the height of its power and hubris.

Canada is free enterprise with sense and humanity. Canada is also democracy with a touch of social justice. American elites call this 'socialism'. Of course anything they don't like is automatically socialism.

One more thing: Canada is not imperial. Never was an empire and in fact detests it. America is empire galore and loves it. Which explains all the wars and foreign ventures, globalization and imperial finance. Not to mention an almost $1 trillion military. When it gets to this big, it has become a life form able to defend all threats to its continued growth.

Empire can be fun, and was for decades. But it has blow-backs, if you know what I mean. 9/11 is one. Iraq is one. Economic collapse due to hubris is the latest.

Nevertheless, all the best from up North. You needs it.

Bee said...

Hi Banerjee,

No, I don't know either. I wondered too, and was hoping for some thoughts from our readers. Industry is of course interested in "innovation," but left to industry alone, basic research would be insufficient and too constrained (output oriented). Therefore, basic research is governmentally supported as a long-term investment of our societies, in all developed nations. I think what the speaker meant with his remark was that this however doesn't solve the problem of bridging the gap from non-profit basic research to industry.

What crossed my mind is that the speaker (as happens very often) considered basic research as having the sole aim to eventually result in a product. I think however basic research also has the purpose of simply increasing our understanding of Nature, and addressing these basic questions "Where do we come from?" "What are we made of?" etc. That might not result in a product, but it feeds a very human need to find our place in this world. The demandside for that includes the public, and in particular also all sorts of educational institutions.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Tkk,

Yes, I didn't find that distribution surprising. The talk focused around the question though of what people consider "fair" in a distribution of resources, drawing upon several studies that had been done. The point the speaker was trying to make is, if one would distribute funding proportional to the output (by whatever measure), even if that was "efficient," it would very likely be considered unfair (and thus, I would want to add, probably not be very efficient after all). As you probably know, I think the use of any such "measure" for scientific success is a mistake (more on that in the summary of my talk at some point), thus there is a problem, but it's not where the speaker said it is. Nevertheless, it is a problem that, as the status is today, many funding agencies are facing (and different countries seem to deal with it very differently, as I learned in the talk). Thus, the question has a certain relevance. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

I saw the preview of the movie. It looked interesting, but not very compelling. Is it worth seeing? Best,

B.

Bee said...

Err, I meant "trailer." Sorry, jetlag.

Giotis said...

Basic research on drugs for the cure of certain rare diseases is an example. The pharmaceutical companies do not invest in such research since the market is not big enough to support it and thus there would be no real profit. The governments don't care and as a result many people are suffering without hope. We can evaluate the quality of a society by the way it treats such minorities. Such crucial and sensitive sectors should be nationalized. I wouldn't trust the public health in the hands of a few greedy, private companies.

Arun said...

Hi Bee,

I think this Michael Moore documentary will not be analytical enough to satisfy you. This one is makes a emotional/religious appeal. Sicko was better, I think.

Best,
-Arun

Tkk said...

"The point the speaker was trying to make is, if one would distribute funding proportional to the output (by whatever measure), even if that was "efficient," it would very likely be considered unfair"

The speaker is right. Smart funding trumps fair funding. Funding should be targeted according to 20/80 rule. The challenge is how to identify the 20% before they produce the expected 80%.

Actually there have been lots of research, which yielded pretty good set of techniques, to do the funding allocation this way. One way is to gang the high-achievers together (physically / logically) and give them a high profiled mandate. Add public pressure and accountability. (The 20/80 funding and public accountability has been missing in string theory research. The resulting vast and even distribution of funds created a culture more concerned with sustaining itself by producing quantity instead of meaningful results.)

The recent DoE huge funding of two tiny auto companies to build electric-hybrid autos is an example. These two companies are expected to make just about all the necessary breakthroughs. It is not fair, but smart.

Anonymous said...

Well Zephir,
it's disgusting to pollute people's blog for money.

A.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

That was a certainly an informative and extensive synopsis of your time at the conference. It seems that there was much research and many opinions to draw from and despite the chaos and organizational issues it served you and other participants very well.

Strangely, the thing that caught my greatest attention was your comment at the end, with you reporting having the misfortune to have caught a cold and having this as an added stressor during you trip. What I found most interesting was your sort of back handed comment regarding homeopathic remedies or what some refer to as non traditional medicine in general. In the overall view I share some scepticism regarding much of this, although there is some evidence such things may be beneficial such as Echinacea, Ginseng, or plain old chicken soup. That withstanding, many such things that are claimed as effective when tested by medical science in the regular way prove to be negative. What I find interesting about this is what must be eliminated as a factor when they do such testing. That is they strive to negate the placebo effect from fudging the data.

It has then always had me come to wonder why there is not more intense research done into the effect they attempt to negate, since it has shown to be so powerful in regards to the well being and even cure of some individuals, that can’t be dismissed as a statistical anomaly. It would seem to me to come to fully understand this effect, as to discover if it’s something universal to all or only some individuals would form to be of greater interest and importance then it currently is. In general modern medicine frowns on much of non traditional medicine, since they believe that at rightly best (probably rightly) it boils down to be mostly the benefactor of this effect as its known. What I have grown to wonder is why they have not more interest in learning what it is and how to harness its power, rather than denying its utility and potential. That’s of course another way to suggest, that there is more to hope and belief then simply wishful thinking.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I don't know much about homeopathy, but I think there are studies showing its non-effect. The reason why I mentioned this however had nothing to do with the recommended remedy being homeopathic in particular, but the explanation why it is efficient. Saying something has prevented you from getting sick if you took it before you or anybody else noticed you were sick isn't such a great evidence. Unless that is you deliberately infected yourself with a disease.

You shouldn't confuse homeopathic with herbal or extracted from plants in general. There are definitely natural remedies that are highly efficient, simply because they contain ingredients that are nowadays being artificially produced (faster, cheaper, cleaner). Aspirin for example can be extracted from willows (bark and leaves), if you really want to. I frankly don't see though in which sense "natural" is "better" than artificially produced. In contrast, the natural remedies are sometimes more problematic because the dose might vary "naturally" (that problem with determining the amount of active ingredients is also the dominant cause of death when trying mushrooms or flowers for purposes of "mind-enhancing.") The main reason why people tend towards "natural medicine" is that it's frequently been tested for thousands of years (which of course sometimes just documents its inefficiency).

I totally believe in the healing power of chicken soup though.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

The best natural cure I've seen was on a tic - involuntary muscle twitch - on his face that was bothering an elderly relative of mine. All kinds of supplements and drugs were tried. The doctors' final suggestion was to sever the nerve. Quite by chance, my relative discovered that a guava a day cured his condition. (First noticed that the problem was less severe when fruit juice with guava in it was consumed.)

". I frankly don't see though in which sense "natural" is "better" than artificially produced." - is valid IFF you know all the ingredients that you need, and second, that the chemistry of the gut transports the artificial stuff without all the supplementary material that natural stuff has into the blood stream just as efficiently.

(Basically, don't take an excessively reductionist view of the body. There are complicated cross-interactions that make the effect of an orange be different from the effect of ascorbic acid.)

Best,
-Arun

Igor Khavkine said...

Bee, any thoughts stemming from your conversation about Turok's AIMS?

Homeopathy? *yawn* Another placebo.

Arun, a reductionist view of the body is not taken, it's tested in double blinded clinical trials. It's excessiveness does not exceed the trial efficacy.

Anonymous said...

Ie., Zephir, it is disgusting to pollute other people's blogs as a part of one's profession, or job.

A.

Chip Neville said...

Hi Bee!

Are you going to have a second edition of your "Science in the 21st Century" conference anytime soon? There must be lots more to say about the effect of the web, the need for open access (no fee) to scientific papers via the internet, ways this could promote the development of scientific communities in third world countries, etc., etc.

Best,
Chip

Tkk said...

Bee, sorry to bring this up as you returned to Sweden. Watch out!

Sweden may face financial Armageddon

"... worsening financial conditions in Latvia could lead to an economic crisis and collapse similar to Iceland’s recent devaluation and potentially a major default.

The blowback would hit Sweden especially hard because its major banks have lent substantial funds to the Baltic nation. Latvian loans from Swedbank have totaled roughly 61 billion kroner, 40 billion kroner from SEB, and about 30 billion kroner from Nordea.

In addition, many Latvian businesses and individuals hold euro-denominated loans from the Swedish banks. In the event of devaluation those loans would become significantly more difficult for Latvians to pay back and could drastically increase the banks’ already high loan losses to date."

More about this on:

http://tinyurl.com/ydw6q6s

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I think you misunderstood the focus of what I was driving at, which is to recognize how little deep understanding is had about the placebo effect, as to its underlying mechanisms which could bring us to realize as to how it might be more reliably harnessed. This Scientific American article, written just this past February focuses on what I was concerned with. My emphasis was meant to express how ironic I find it that something which modern medicine strives to eliminate from their studies of the effectiveness of cure, has in itself such a demonstrated potential for affecting one.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Which is why I said I believe in the healing power of chicken soup. Placebos however aren't going to cure cancer. I have often wondered if there is something like an anti-placebo effect: If you believe the medication you've been prescribed is a placebo (or useless), chances increase it won't work indeed. In any case, it is totally fine with me if people take whatever they believe helps them or pray to their favorite god for help. It will probably have some beneficial effect, but one shouldn't expect too much of it. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Tkk: Thanks. Just what I needed...

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

You still miss the point I’m making as well as the one contained in the article I pointed to which is to find ways to eliminate the need for the belief in anything to achieve the benefit. I’m talking about a drug or treatment which uses the biological actual basis (fundamentals) that underpin the effect, which I never imagined to be belief at all. Oh, by the way they begin the article with a case where the placebo effect had a demonstrated affect on cancer and yes, there is the opposite of the placebo effect which is called Nocebo effect.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

Well, I didn't mean to say I am against natural medication in any way, just to clarify in case it came across as such. As I said, they have often been tested far longer (though the evidence might not be well documented). The problem you are pointing out however could equally well be present for the natural remedies and not for the artificial ones, though for the opposite reasons, since additional ingredients can lower the efficiency.

As to my personal experience, I've been on various occasions prescribed high doses of "plant extracts." For whatever reasons my doctors were very into that. These do indeed have proven efficiency in trials etc. However for me they had in neither case any effect whatsoever (if you exclude leaving a disgusting taste in my mouth). Moving on to the pure chemistry, these did have effects, but not the desired ones. Maybe there is something funny about me in particular, but I find very frequently that prescription as well as over-the-counter medicine doesn't do what it's supposed to do, or at least not in the doses where its supposed to work. But maybe that's the anti-placebo effect (see my comment to Phil above).

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Sorry, didn't read the article. Will do later. "Affecting" isn't quite the same as curing, which was the point I was trying to make.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Curing and affecting is what I’m referring to as it has been demonstrated capable of both.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Like in "placebo effect cures cancer"?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

That stands as being a possibility that still needs investigation. The article however deals with it far better then I’m able to express.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

That would be truly terrific news for terminal cancer patients. Not only are they about to die, it's also their own fault.

Anyway, thanks for pointing out the article. Will have a look at it when I find the time. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Chip,

While I would love to have a 2nd installation of the conference, and have plenty of ideas for that, it's unlikely to happen any time soon because I have no sponsor and no coorganizers. There have been four people who said they'd work with me on the organization of the next edition, yet all of them turned out to be useless. I wrote to dozens of potential sponsors, those who bothered to reply said (with lots of nice words) they wouldn't offer financial support, but only material support (meaning, they want to distribute their advertisement gifts), and also want to send a speaker which I'm not too excited about.

There is an NSF program

http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5324

Where I thought of applying for financial support. However, the problem is that since I'm not affiliated with an US institution (and not a citizen either), I can't apply. Actually, come to think of it, I am affiliated with an US organization (that's a long story), so this part of the problem I could solve. What's more problematic is that I need somebody at a suitable location in the USA where the conference could be held, otherwise the NSF is never going to invest a single cent.

If it was a physics themed conference I would know several places where I could submit a proposal, but with this topic it would be pointless.

Bottomline is, I would certainly be available for the organization and happily invest the time, but I'd need a $50,000 miracle which isn't bound to happen any time soon.

Best,

B.

PS: Anybody who is interested in working with me on that miracle, please contact me.

Bee said...

Oh, and I did of course ask others for advice. The great advice that I was given can be summed up in all cases to "use your connections." Which had indeed occurred to me. Just that what little connections I have weren't too thrilled hearing from me and recommended I ask somebody else.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“Bottomline is, I would certainly be available for the organization and happily invest the time, but I'd need a $50,000 miracle which isn't bound to happen any time soon.”

There has only been a few times in my life where I have regretted not to have been more interested in the accumulation of wealth; this being one of those times. There is an old saying which is that “youth is often wasted on the young”. However in this case one could also argue that prosperity is often wasted on the prosperous.

I’m thus reminded of our own Canadian Circus Mogul , who is now circling the earth aboard the international space station, with having his only qualifier to being up there is that he gave the Russian space agency 35 million dollars for passage and training. Now I’m not one of those that as acting like a green eyed monster would deny anyone fulfilling one of their life time dreams, particularly since he does do a lot of good with his money as well.

With that said, when he finally comes back to earth, (both physically and metaphorically) I would wish that he might read your comment and donate what amounts for him as being a small pittance for a more earthly endeavour, although one that stands a chance in helping develop methods and strategies to provide a more universal benefit. So Guy if your out there just to show you I’m serious I ask you to give me 100 to one. That is I will put up 500 if you offer up 50,000 so that Bee may be granted both her miracle and dream.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for your kind words. I just feel like I've failed to communicate the relevance of bringing knowledge about science to the people who actually work in science, especially now that our communities are growing so fast and their connectivity has increased rapidly. But sometimes I'm wondering maybe the time for this idea just hasn't come yet. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Igor,

Thanks for the link, this is an interesting summary.

Regarding AIMS, the conversation didn't actually tell me anything new. It is certainly a welcome initiative, in that it opens doors for young people who have grown up in less fortunate parts of the world, and gives them an opportunity to connect to today's research. I share Turok's sense that it would be dumb to exclude a huge reservoir of human resources when we have so many questions waiting for an answer.

On the other hand you can of course ask if the focus of the institute is useful for these countries aside from it offering this opportunity to some of its citizens. Needless to say, I do think so, but them I'm somewhat biased in that regard :-) Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I would argue the world is never ready for anything, yet rather has to have trust upon it. By the way, those where not simply kind words, for I’m serious about my end of the bargain. I would also offer to Guy, as to lessen his burden, that his contribution would be accepted to be lessened by the contributions of others, either it being your friends or his. I also know he’s a man that likes to wager, so this presents as mine to him.

Best,

Phil

Giotis said...

I would like to help you Bee but I'm saving for my old age.

Bee said...

Hi Tkk,

In theoretical physics giving more funds to some few scientists does eventually only mean you give them more influence on deciding who to hire. After all, what can you do in theory? You'll just hire people who you think will push your work forward. Thus, there is a risk in that which is that it focuses the selection in the hands of fewer people with the risk that it leads to a self-supporting trends: The high profile senior people hire young people into their own field. Once the young folks have experience in that field, they are likely to carry on the torch. That's exactly what has has happened with nuclear physics in Germany. This is why I say there needs to be a balance between directed and undirected research, and that making a change of field hard is going to distort the relevance of research fields because people can get stuck. Both is worsened by having too much influence in the hands of few. Best,

B.

Tkk said...

"That's exactly what has has happened with nuclear physics in Germany."

Which confirms the effectiveness of targeted (unfair) funding in producing results.

For decades German science fundings were issued to high-profiled institutions and the researchers in them who specialized in nuclear physics. The result is exactly what they wanted - dominating expertise and personnel in NP. But I suspect this is not what *you* want. Well, that's because you're a late comer, outside of their sphere of influence, outside of their interests. The funding was never targeted to your field. (But under fair funding, every specialty gets at least some money.)

The 'problem' of the outcome in Germany is not the 20/80 funding paradigm, but that the funders picked the *same* bunch of people time after time. This created the 'empire' in NP. Repeated targeting the same hole makes a black hole. :-)

If Germany science funders want a different result, simply spread the funding to other groups but maintain the 20/80 relation within those groups.

What about fair funding? Well, fair funding is used widely in social programs. Everybody gets the same benefits. If you apply this to leading edge scientific research you get nothing - no breakthrough except by sheer luck.

As I said before, in the US the NSF spreads string theory research evenly over an extended period. Like a social program. And we got thousands of papers talking technical nonsense most of the time. Social funding give you 'socialized' results.

Bee said...

Hi Tkk,

what I've been saying is that both problems are strongly correlated: the 20/80 funding (though I wouldn't want to insist on the exact numbers) and the problem that you get the same people over and over again.

The question btw isn't what "I" want. I have no particular problem with nuclear physics. I certainly think it's a research direction that is interesting and relevant - still. But I think there's too many people in there, more than the field would need, for the reasons I mentioned above (and many times in other posts). It's the same problem that you have in string theory: too many people have gotten hired into a particular research agenda, then they can't get out, and thus they continue to tell themselves and everybody else that the field needs all these people and that it's infinitely promising etc. Now that might indeed be, and my interpretation is wrong. But think about it, there are good reasons why the judgement of these researchers is severely biased. It's simply a survival tactic. That's the problem that I'm talking about: the only judgement we have to rely on in expert communities is that of the experts themselves. So your first priority should be no to skew this judgement. Best,

B.