Friday, July 03, 2009

This and That

  • The Economist has a nice article on The Underworked American:
    "Americans like to think of themselves as martyrs to work. They delight in telling stories about their punishing hours, snatched holidays and ever-intrusive BlackBerrys. At this time of the year they marvel at the laziness of their European cousins, particularly the French. Did you know that the French take the whole of August off to recover from their 35-hour work weeks? [...]

    But when it comes to the young the situation is reversed. American children have it easier than most other children in the world, including the supposedly lazy Europeans [...]

  • Did you notice we're in the middle of a global pandemic? Here's California's reaction: Drive Through Doctors, see "The Doctor Will See You At The Next Window."

  • Nature has a special on Science Journalism, accompanying the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists from 30 June-2 July 2009 in London, and to "shine a spotlight on the profession in changing times." It contains several interesting pieces, for example Boyce Rensberger's essay "Science journalism: Too close for comfort." (Thanks to George for sending the link!) Rensberger's essay is a brief historical account "to reflect on how far the profession has come since its beginning." (Occasionally a bit too far?) He closes with saying
    "We are obviously now in the 'Digital Age', and the very definition of journalism is changing in uncertain directions. Science journalism has moved from working for the glory of the scientific establishment to taking back its independence and exercising a new responsibility to the public. Now, traditional news outlets are withering, leaving many journalists to self-publish online with total independence and a direct connection to the public. But scientists too can use the web, bypassing journalists altogether and taking their science — and their agendas — directly to the public. It is becoming increasingly difficult for readers to tell which sources are disinterested and which have an axe to grind.

    If science journalists are to regain relevance to society, not only must they master the new media, they must learn enough science to analyse and interpret the findings — including the motives of the funders. And, as if that were not enough, they must also anticipate the social impacts of potential new technologies while there is still time to make a difference."

    Also recommendable is the editorial "Filling the void" (comments in square brackets added):
    "[S]cientists are blogging in ever increasing numbers [are they?], and the most popular blogs draw hundreds of thousands of readers each month [#visitors not equal #readers]. These blogging scientists not only offer expertise for free, but have emerged as an important resource for reporters. A Nature survey of nearly 500 science journalists shows that most have used a scientist's blog in developing story ideas [sure, it's all our own fault] ...

    Sadly, these activities live on the fringe of the scientific enterprise. Blogging will not help, and could even hurt, a young researcher's chances of tenure [Who want's tenure anyway?]. Many of their elders still look down on colleagues who blog, believing that research should be communicated only through conventional channels such as peer-review and publication [petroglyphs!]. Indeed, many researchers are hesitant even to speak to the popular press, for fear of having their carefully chosen words twisted beyond recognition [once bitten, twice shy].

    But in today's overstressed media market, scientists must change these attitudes if they want to stay in the public eye. They must recognize the contributions of bloggers [YES!] and others [others??], and they should encourage any and all experiments that could help science better penetrate the news cycle. Even if they are reluctant to talk to the press themselves, they should encourage colleagues who do so responsibly [pass the buck]. Scientists are poised to reach more people than ever, but only if they can embrace the very technology that they have developed [the spirits that we called...]"

    See also our earlier post Do we need Science Journalists?

  • Paul Fendley was offended by a "the" in Lee Smolin's book "The Trouble With Physics" and thus offers us Five Problems in Physics without the Definite Article. It must totally suck to be a writer. Thanks to Matt for the link.
    You find my top 10 unsolved problems in physics here. Note absence of definite article. Now do I qualify to write a book or what?


  1. Hi Bee,

    “At this time of the year they marvel at the laziness of their European cousins, particularly the French. Did you know that the French take the whole of August off to recover from their 35-hour work weeks? [...]”

    I must admit to have not completed reading your post as of yet. However, upon reading the above I just had to comment on the differences born of experience and perspective. That is I was always under the impression that the French particularly the Parisians took August off as it being a necessity rather then a choice, as to escape the onslaught of those hard working American tourists who feel so enslaved :-)



  2. "Do we need science journalists?"

    Jay Ingram of Canada Discovery Channel's science journal Daily Planet, just received Order of Canada award. Not bad!

  3. Hi Tkk,

    I’m glad to hear the news that Jay Ingram has been acknowledged for his efforts, since he does do a find job in respect to science reporting. However I think there is some confusion here between the different roles of the professional reporter and the one best suited and perhaps reserved for the scientist. That is to consider that the first is to report while the latter is to purport which is to indicate as to how they are different in their meanings as well as their function.

    In my way of looking at the job of science reporting is to get you the facts as to present a summary of what is happening in the field in the context of news, while the role of purporting is to explain what that is so it can better understood as best that can be expected of a general audience.

    So one could say that while those like Ingram serve a useful purpose in the reporting of science, it should be left to those like the late Carl Sagan to do the purporting of it; as they are less likely to have it misunderstood and a stand better chance of relating its true significance.



  4. Science has outlived its usefulness. Science is pain, exclusivity, expense, and privation. No more science! Bring on infinite golden palanquins that only require faith for their existence.

    The State will provide abundantly and free of charge that perfect world in which there is no war, famine, oppression, or brutality - one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

    President Obama pledges a new America in which, for a modest and modestly increasing mandatory monthy charge (except for the Officially Sad), every American can receive a promise of healthcare and all but the productive can cash in.

  5. Revisiting your top ten:

    "9) Can we understand quantization?"

    What would constitute an understanding of quantization? Not clear what you have in mind (at least to my increasingly slow mind).

  6. Hi Uncle,

    “...every American can receive a promise of healthcare and all but the productive can cash in.”

    I would ask, when do you suppose the worse aspects of human nature will be understood as a disease, rather than a cure or when the thoughtless wastefulness of self inflicted Darwinism can be exceeded by the known consequence of rational decision? I find it strange when it is uncertainty that is most feared, that it is proposed by some as being its own best remedy.



  7. Arun: I don't think quantization is fundamental.

  8. Uncle Al is a simple man, Phil. Government: If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out? Same thing for string theory, SUSY, Higgs, quantized gravitations. If rigorously derived theory is empirical dog meat, solutions are perturbation methods and Yukawa potentials not rewrite from better starting postulates.

    Legislation, economics, psychology, religion, contemporary physical theory... never test against empirical observation! Better to be dull and diverse than unemployed. The Church is winning not by imposing its dogma but by inculcating its methods.

  9. nice post.

    well , maybe 'what happens to info in bh' is a (physics) problem anyway, who can say?


  10. Phil: '.. reporting & purporting ..'

    I'll take any and all media attention to science whatever the shape and size. Because it is so very difficult to report & purport on science and maintain a steady audience.

    Jay is a TV journalist and he reports on a vast field on science and technological developments. He puts any story, no matter how arcane, in a interesting 5 minute video clip. He then makes money on the show. Doing this work is hard and difficult. Takes a great deal of experience to do it right - something no science professionals can hope to achieve (Carl Segan being an exception).

    I even remember that interview he did with Lisa Randall when she visited PI talking about extra dimensions. That clip lasted a whole 10 minutes. It take guts to even try to report on extra dimensions, then have the audacity to give it a full 10 minutes air time. That's an amazing feat of reporting and purporting.

  11. "By contrast, the school week is 37 hours in Luxembourg, 44 in Belgium, 53 in Denmark and 60 in Sweden."

    The Economist likes to think of itself as a reliable source of information. As a parent of three Swedish scool children, I now realize that that is manifestly false.

  12. BTW, beware of potential misleading statistics about "average work hours." Note that if you only count the average hours of *those who work*, you don't see that the average hours per *working-age person* may have gone up.

    Simplified example:
    If in the past, say all men worked 40h/week but no women. Then "40h/wk average work week", but really the WAP average was 20h/wk. That's the "work burden" of the population as a whole.

    Then later: men are jumped up to 50h/wk., but women work 20h/wk. Then, purveyors (some unintentional like Bee would be, some deliberate) of illusory "more leisure time" can say: "Look - the average work week went down to 35h/week! See, "we" have more leisure time!" But of course, the total leisure time of the WAP is now much less, by 15h/week per capita. This actually happens.



COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG ARE PERMANENTLY CLOSED. You can join the discussion on Patreon.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.