- I occasionally teach liberal arts majors, and I try to impress on them that we all think scientifically to some extent. In particular, everyone needs to be able to evaluate risk such as when they pick what car to drive, decide whether to pay for bottled water, or whether to support various anti-terror measures.
Gizmodo links to an article about how extended warranties aren't worth their price. In other words, their price reflects a ridiculously high risk of product failure. But then many of us already knew that.
- Sticking w/ Gizmodo, they've got a wonderful piece about an elevator car painted so that it looks like there's no floor! Very convincing picture making it look like you'd step in and fall to your death.
- Just a quick note that I'm using Google's spreadsheets for my grades and it works quite well, saving me from having to transfer grades from work to home or from one OS to another.
- Gordon Rails against email (what's the origin of that expression: "rails against"?). Well, not so much email per se, but spending too much time emailing. I suppose that's fair, but I will say that I've gotten through many an obstacle by the simple act of writing someone who could help me with it....about three quarters of the way into it, after carefully describing what I'm doing it hits me "eureka" what I'm forgetting.
He also describes a busy day, lamenting "Poof! It is 11pm." Yep, being an adult can really suck. If there were a way to communicate to kids (ie. if I could only go back in time and tell myself as a kid) how nice it is to have so much free time.....
- The NYT (free sub. reqd.) has an article about the irony of NASA winning a Nobel Prize at the same time that most of its science has been cut or cut back in the budgetary shadow of the space shuttle, the ISS, and dear leader's pet project.
- Sean gives a pretty critical review of Smolin's latest. I haven't finished it so I'll hold off commenting too much. However, he makes a point that I tend to disagree with:
if string theory were suddenly to fall out of favor, it seems much more likely that jobs and money would flow to particle phenomenology, astrophysics, or other areas of theory than to alternative approaches to quantum gravity.
But then he follows with a paragraph I very much disagree with:
It seems worth emphasizing that the dominance of string theory is absolutely not self-perpetuating. When string theorists apply for grants, they are ultimately judged by program officers at the National Science Foundation or the Department of Energy, the large majority of whom are not string theorists. (I don't know of any who are, off the top of my head.) And when string theorists apply for faculty jobs, it might very well be other string theorists who decide which are the best candidates, but the job itself must be approved by the rest of the department and by the university administration. String theorists have somehow managed to convince all of these people that their field is worthy of support; I personally take the uncynical view that they have done so through obtaining interesting results.
Yes, this is "uncynical" it's also naive and just plain silly. Yes, the program officers are the ultimate "deciders," but it is regular physicists who are doing the reviews (either by mail or by panel).
And when the great preponderance of theoretical high-energy physicists are string types, then who gets the invitations to talk? Who writes review papers? Who gets called up by Scientific American? The string theorists set the entire stage of deciding what and who is important. The program officers aren't off in an ivory tower deciding what to fund. They're listening to their respective community members and when the dominant voice is strings, then guess what happens?
Now, I'm not saying string theory doesn't merit funding from "obtaining interesting results." But to suggest as Sean does, that string theory's dominance doesn't self-perpetuate is ridiculous.
Sean is almost as wrong to suggest that the hiring process is so meritorious. From what I've seen and experienced, a department will get a position to hire and then decide in which field it will be. Lot's of politicking, and some of these lines will fall to the high energy theory group. And that's about it...they're going to hire whom they want, the rest of the department be damned (to some extent). You think Susskind is going to hire an LQG guy because the rest of Stanford wants it? No way. And you think Ashtekhar is going to be hiring Lubos anytime soon?