Friday, May 09, 2014


This piece in The Economist doesn't sound correct to me. It describes a study of the citations achieved by physicists who move from one institution to another to evaluate whether more prestigious institutions inherently produce better research. I have no idea how the researchers may have controlled for the reasons and timing behind a move nor am I convinced that citations are a good pathway to an evaluation of the quality of research.

In any case however, I strongly suspect that success breeds success, regardless of institution.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

He who lasts laughs, wins

Scene: airline lounge; The view out the bountiful windows showing the setting sun as planes move silently around the tarmac.
Inside: 90% men mull about in ties and jackets; a few use the cell-phone self-importantly; The occasional family barges in. Alcohol is self-serve as are little bits of sandwiches.

I don't like jackets and I hate ties. I like to consider myself a graduate student even though those days are long gone. I'm still a sucker for free food and I prefer not to be on the phone. These folks here dress better than I, but perhaps none have as expensive a laptop nor as much time with family as I. They surely make more money than I. A very good wife, healthy if not always happy kids, and I research what has fascinated me since I was a little boy. At times, I very happy, even proud, of what I have (what I have earned).

But many physicists make more money than I, get invited to more workshops, produce more interesting research and they have families as well. I see a good talk and I want to be doing that be the first to understand some cool new feature. I want people to assault me at the coffee breaks asking this or that about my research.

I don't think any of this is unhealthy, but it takes some work stabilizing these competing influences. Putting a check on any jealousy, figuring out which is more important, getting an important paper out before someone else, or seeing my child in some micro-achievement at a crowded, loud, and boring even at school...Being happy and content but yet with the drive it takes to find and answer interesting questions. They'll be calling my flight soon...anxious to return home, if only to hold my family for a few days until the next meeting.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

To enter the Ivory Tower or not

I really like the ``Talking Points Memo" blog...though it's moved way beyond blog to a full-fledged news/analysis outlet. And so I'm happy to link to a discussion of academics and to what extent they do or should influence the real world. The discussion was kicked-off by a Kristoff column in the NYT and isn't really about the sciences. Nevertheless, folks here might find it interesting in terms of established people looking back on the paths they chose and their chosen paths (not always the same). I'm not providing much in the way of links, but things shouldn't be too hard to find.

As for Svik's request for more anger, I'll keep it in mind. The anger is surely there, but it can be hard to disguise the players appropriately.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Measurement Uncertainty in the Real World (of Olympics)

The NYT covers the first tie in an Alpine Olympic event. The times are reported to the hundredths place, but the times are actually recorded with two more digits that were not identical for the two contestants. The tone of the article is almost like it's some conspiracy to cover up the last two digits...taking it on faith that a device which is ostensibly accurate to the ten-thousandths of a second will yield a measurement with that same accuracy despite all that is involved. It would have been nice to have a more informed discussion of why measurement uncertainty isn't so simple...perhaps elsewhere such a discussion occurs. I need to remind my students of this example.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Multiverse

Max Tegmark has an opinion piece in the Huffington Post arguing that the universe is not just described by mathematics, but is in fact purely mathematical. As such, it exists within some huge ensemble of other universes.

I find it rather other words, not terribly convincing but giving us so little in the way of actual argument that there's little to say. I do wonder what it would take for one to construct some new, mathematical universe...can one just have a set of numbers? Do you need an operator?

Apparently, he's got a book to sell, but this piece doesn't prod me to look at it.