Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hello from Atlanta

So here I am in the US of A one more time, after a reasonably pleasant British Airways flight. I usually try to avoid British Airways since my my baggage seems to like it at Heathrow so much it sometimes stays there for several days, but this time it arrived with me. I can report that British Airways has a very well working online service, and a decent movie selection. I picked Eddie Murphy in "Imagine That," with humor suited for 3 year olds, and with too much of a moral message. On the upside, it didn't lose much by being squeezed on a 10 x 15 cm touchscreen with a square lattice and interruptions by your pilot's updates about the status of the lavatories.

US border control has new visa waiver forms that now also ask for a phone number and email address where you can be reached during your stay. Even if you have applied for a visa waiver through ESTA online, as is now required, you still have to fill out the paper form which seems very pointless to me. Meanwhile, the Americans don't only take photos of travellers and prints of both index fingers, but scan all fingers of both hands. I'm waiting for the day they will ask for a DNA sample and do a 3-d whole body scan. Or maybe I just haven't noticed they already do that. However, since I managed to not only cut my left index finger on Monday but basically tore off most of the skin, the all-finger scan probably saved me a frowned forehead hanging above a black uniform.

The hotel with the roof damage booked me into a residence for long-term stays. The room here has a completely equipped kitchen, and every evening there is a "social hour" in the community room. In my jetlagged condition, it took me half an hour to figure the reason why the internet connection didn't work was the absence of a power cable for the modem. By noon, room service had relocated the missing piece, and now a 30cm ethernet cable ties me to the wall, but yeah, as you notice, I can blog.

As previously mentioned, I am here for the Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy that starts tomorrow. It will be held at Georgia Tech. This morning, I took a walk across campus. While the buildings aren't very remarkable, it is clean and nicely arranged with lots of green areas. Below a photo from the student center (click to enlarge).

Participants of the conference actually had to apply for a talk by submitting a paper already in February. I am quite excited my paper was accepted, since it's the first time I am at a conference on this topic.

Frequent readers know well about my interest in the working of the academic system. What you didn't know so far is that supported by a mini-grant from a generous sponsor called SubMeta (kindly pointed out to me by Garrett on this very blog) I was finally able to commission the survey I had first suggested about two years ago in the comments to my post The Trouble With Physics: Aftermath. The survey was conducted by the Social Science Survey Center at UCSB in April this year. If you are a physicist working on a non-profit institution in the USA or Canada, you might have received a survey invitation. A total of 1815 people filled out the survey, despite some of the questions admittedly being very lengthy and cumbersome. This corresponds to a response rate of 14.42%, which is not bad at all.

I've been sitting on the results since 2 months already, but due to my move I haven't had much time to look at them very carefully. At some point I will tell you more details about the results, some of which are very interesting, though I find them also bothersome. I have about 48 hours left to put together my talk, which means converting 350 pages of tables into pretty plots.

Thus, back to work...


  1. Hello to Atlanta. Say hi to David Finkelstein for me if you see him there.

    It's nice to see a pic from where I spent my undergraduate days.

    Michael Good

  2. "a decent movie selection. I picked Eddie Murphy in "Imagine That" "

    Haha, it cannot get worst than another Eddie Murphy movie, so indeed very decent movie selection if you picked "Imagine That" ?! I can't imagine the rest ...

  3. You probably find it on the BA website. Angels and Demons, Star Treck, Knowing, is what I recall. I like movies only in large theaters. What's the fun with seeing a movie with great special effect on a tiny in-seat monitor with a crappy headset? As a result, I only watch movies on flights that I wouldn't normally go and see.

  4. A country whose greeting it is to take your finger prints should be avoided at all costs, whatever science they have to offer.

  5. Hi Bee,

    Your survey sounds very interesting. Looking forward to seeing what it can tell us!

  6. Hello

    I come across your website via google and a person you don't link anymore. And in a way like your posting.

    Though I would not understand much most of the concept of your phsyic, I hope I can find some delight in your casual and professional musing.


  7. Do you look good in a terahertz scan? If you liked coming in you'll love going home.

    "One nation, under surveillance. Freedom is compliance."

  8. Anonymous Snowboarder12:31 AM, October 01, 2009

    what a tease Bee! A survey with many results some of them troubling and you want us to wait!?! Maybe the survey results will make it on 538 too.

    Atlanta looks far to warm for me..I think I'm getting sunburn just looking at that picture :)

  9. Hi Uncle,

    Weird. I actually went through a whole-body scan at an airport somewhere... forgot which though. It might have been Washington. It was quite annoying, because the thing got upset about a my new debit card which has one of these metal chips on it. Best,


  10. Hi Bee,

    So you now find yourself in the land of the free and the home of the Braves . There forms to be a few connections between Toronto and Atlanta, one being Bobby Cox who was the former manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Then there is Chris Bosh who attended Georgia Tech, being the university where you will be speaking. I suspect before you leave you will also be presented an opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine, such as their grits and the black eyed peas. I suspect howver you will take a pass on the pork bellies :-)



  11. Per: Indeed. In this case however the survey I did was in North America, so that's the audience that will be interested. My suggestion is that Europe introduces a special border formality exclusively for American citizens, where they will have to fill out forms, have a photo and their fingerprints taken, and will be suspected of planning an illegal immigration. After standing in line for some hours. In addition, I would want them to be yelled at by border posts when they can't understand the accent of the officer and ask for a sentence to be repeated, as happened to me. Remarkably, the officer yelled at me to "oooh, calm down" upon my statement that I didn't understand what he said. You see, traveling is fun. Best,


  12. Hi Moses,

    Welcome. Yes, I hope you'll find some delight in my writing :-)


  13. Arun, Snowboarder,

    It's not a deliberate tease, I just don't have the results in any useful form. Thanks to Stefan however, I now have a few plots to selected questions that I will use in my talk. I could post these plots within the next days.

    I am however somewhat concerned that it will just upset people if I don't carefully explain the context. For example, the survey had a question that asked for the number of published papers within the last 5 years with the options 0, 1-5, 5-10, more than 10. Promptly some people complained in a comment that this doesn't accurately reflect their academic achievement. Which is abundantly true, just that the purpose of the question (and of the survey) wasn't to access their academic achievement. In fact, the only purpose of the question was to drop people who haven't published any paper within 5 years as a criterion to narrow the sample to "active researchers." Exactly how many papers they've published is completely irrelevant for the rest of the survey. That might not be the most accurate criterion; it might very well be there are active researchers that haven't published for 5 years, but that will be a very small group that has been mistakenly dropped this way.

    Thus, I want to avoid any misunderstanding about the purpose of the survey questions and the process which will however require a careful explanation. It has frankly not been easy for me. I'm not a social scientist, I have never made a survey before. I have done what I could to do the best, I have exported as much as possible to professionals, and ask others for feedback in advance, but I guess that everybody with more experience will point towards some weaknesses. So it won't be easy, and I have to hope that people understand the general aim. Best,


  14. My suggestion is that Europe introduces a special border formality ...

    Not a singular experience, maybe: Chicago’s Loss: Is Passport Control to Blame?, asks the NYT.


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.