Harvey Brooks in a Flow-Chart

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Harvey Brooks’s classic “The Resolution of Technically Intensive Public Policy Disputes” suggested a way we can separate experts’ technical judgments from their values:

“Differences among experts resulting from disagreements over the burden of proof might be “smoked out” by requiring each side in a controversy to specify in advance what type of experiment or evidence or analysis would convince them to alter their policy position on a controversial issue…force each side to understand more clearly the bases of its technical judgments and the extent to which those judgments depend…on prior desired policy outcomes, value premises, or [their] biases or implicit value preferences …By shifting the focus of the debate to the real issue, this approach could make the discussion more accessible to the general public. And even if the issue were highly polarized…and the parties were unwilling to stipulate what evidence would sway them, clarification of that fact would help illuminate the debate and isolate the more polarized positions from broader public support-possibly the first step toward an ultimate resolution of the issue “

We can all benefit from this approach. Here is my synthesis of the above in flow-chart form:


Categories: Misc

Help me rename my blog!

September 12, 2012 5 comments

Hello world. I am in fact still alive. So much so that I’m kinda, sorta planning on blogging more regularly again. Meaning I want to start blogging at my normal blistering rate of one post a week.

So along those lines…I would like to rename my blog to something more informative. Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions? Keep in my mind that ultimately I want to reach out to scientists (specifically PhD grad students in engineering/science) and expose them to concepts from science studies, history, philosophy, etc. So methinks something with either “PhD” or “scientist” or “grad student” in the name would be good. But I’m not set on it.

Here are some initial ideas to spark your thoughts (all of these would presumably be the URL with a ‘.com’ or ‘.org’ at the end):

  1. VersatileScientist: not quite what I’m going for…and it’s also totally plagiarzed from VersatilePhD.com (which already exists).
  2. ReflectiveScientist/ReflectivePhd: Conceptually, this is what I’m going for. But frankly, I think the name is a tad lame.
  3. SelfAwareScientist: Also what I’m going for conceptually, but (if this is even possible) it’s probably even more lame than number 2.
I can also go with something more general. Some of the suggestions I’ve heard:
  1. ScienceInSociety.org
  2. PoliticsOfScience.org
  3. PrajUsedToBeAScientist.org
  4. WellRoundedScientist.org
Number 3 is in jest, although my former advisor may disagree…I suspect he would insist that at no point was I ever a scientist.

At any rate, I don’t like the second batch as much. But I’m willing to be swayed, and also to consider something out of left field that’s really creative and clever. You know, like a jump to conclusions mat:

Anyway…any thoughts/suggestions really appreciated.

Do we need more scientists?

June 18, 2012 1 comment

Though I’m not convinced, most of the folks at Slate.com disagree. Here’s Derek Lowe backing up his even-handed argument with data:

I very much doubt it. As evidence, let me turn first to my own field, drug research, because other high-tech fields share some of its problems. I’m a medicinal chemist—I spend my days in an actual white lab coat, thinking up potential new drug structures and new ways to find them, and then trying to make those ideas work for real out on the lab bench. I moved to my present job, though, because my last employer closed down the entire research site where I used to work. That’s been a depressingly common experience over the last few years. Since 2000, more than 300,000 people in the drug business have been laid off. Not all of them have been scientists, of course, but plenty of chemists and biologists have been hearing the swish of the ax as the industry looks to cut costs everywhere it can. These people, many of whom have been scrambling to find any work they can, are not a good audience for stories about America’s critical shortage of scientists.

Categories: Academia

Evolution is not that important

June 17, 2012 2 comments

As I slowly make my way back into blogging after an extended break, it’s nice (and a bit annoying!) to see more prominent bloggers echo arguments I’ve been making for a long time now. Here is Kevin Drum making what should be a commonplace, mundane observation (emphasis added):

The fact is that belief in evolution has virtually no real-life impact on anything. That’s why 46% of the country can safely choose not to believe it: their lack of belief has precisely zero effect on their lives. Sure, it’s a handy way of saying that they’re God-fearing Christians — a “cultural signifier,” as Andrew puts it — but our lives are jam-packed with cultural signifiers. This is just one of thousands, one whose importance probably barely cracks America’s top 100 list.

And the reason it doesn’t is that even creationists don’t take their own views seriously. How do I know this? Well, creationists like to fight over whether we should teach evolution in high school, but they never go much beyond that. Nobody wants to remove it from university biology departments. Nobody wants to shut down actual medical research that depends on the workings of evolution. In short, almost nobody wants to fight evolution except at the purely symbolic level of high school curricula, the one place where it barely matters in the first place. The dirty truth is that a 10th grade knowledge of evolution adds only slightly to a 10th grade understanding of biology.

Categories: Intelligent Design

A very obvious answer

May 14, 2012 Leave a comment

While asking presidential candidates to engage in a meaningful science policy debate, G. Pascal Zachary wonders:

Is there a way to discuss efficiency and outcomes in S&T without setting off a firestorm among researchers?

There’s a very easy answer to this question: Nope, not a chance!

I’ve been scolded in the past for noting that scientists are another special interest group who will always ask for more money. Though I admit I sometimes overdo this line of thinking, it is a useful framework that the S&T policy community need to embrace more strongly.

That said, Zachary’s essay is excellent and I largely (entirely?) agree with it.

Categories: Academia, Special Interest

Rise in scientific misconduct

April 17, 2012 1 comment

The Times attributes the sharp rise in journal-paper retractions to a hyper-competitive environment:

Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it.

Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.

Categories: Academia

A lesson in irony

April 14, 2012 1 comment

i⋅ro⋅ny: Making broad, vague generalizations about Republicans and science in the same essay where you tout your nuance and complexity:

The point is that science and liberalism alike are rooted in a style of thinking that is nuanced, complex, tolerant of uncertainty. — Chris Mooney

Categories: Misc