Creative output, social media & the tragedy of the commons

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Ed Yong’s comment on Alexis Madrigal’s article at The Atlantic is spot-on.

Can you spot the fundamental flaw in the logic of self-justifying logic of the owners of @HistoryInPics*?

“Photographers are welcome to file a complaint with Twitter, as long as they provide proof. Twitter contacts me and I’d be happy to remove it,” he [Xavier Di Petta] said. “I’m sure the majority of photographers would be glad to have their work seen by the massives.”
-from “The 2 Teenagers Who Run the Wildly Popular Twitter Feed @HistoryInPics” by Alexis Madrigal

If you don’t tell people who took the pictures, how do the photographers benefit from having their work seen by the “massives”? Sure, having one’s work make an impact is a reward unto itself, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

When our artists can’t pay their bills, we get less art. Or as the internet would say,  “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

*In general, I avoid linking to folks that are making their bank on the backs of uncredited artists.

Ye Olde Meteoroid

Source: via minouette on Pinterest
Source: via minouette on Pinterest

In the wake of the Russian meteorite over Chelyabinsk, Russia, Minouette compiled a fascinating look at how objects from space running into our fair planet have inspired art throughout of human history.


ESP and genetics

…not what you think. Electronic Scholarly Publishing: (How nice to see that domain name devoted to real science.)

The ESP site is dedicated to the electronic publishing of scientific and other scholarly materials. Of particular interest are the history of science, genetics, computational biology, and genome research.

Check out their papers on the foundations of classical genetics, from Aristotle to Malthus, Morgan, and Muller.

(Hat tip to UC Berkeley’s Brad DeLong and his history of econ course.)

John Philip Sousa: recordings will kill music

From Ars Technica, here’s composer John Phillip Sousa coming out against the Gramophone in 1906:

“From the days when the mathematical and mechanical were paramount in music, the struggle has been bitter and incessant for the sway of the emotional and the soulful,” he wrote. “And now in this the twentieth century come these talking and playing machines and offer again to reduce the expression of music to a mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, cylinders, and all manner of revolving things which are as like real art as the marble statue of Eve is like her beautiful living breathing daughters.”

His piece concluded, “Do they not realize that if the accredited composers who have come into vogue by reason of merit and labor are refused a just reward for their efforts a condition is almost sure to arise where all incentive to further creative work is lacking and compositions will no longer flow from their pens or where they will be compelled to refrain from publishing their compositions at all and control them in manuscript? What, then, of the playing and talking machines?”

On reading The Double Helix

I recently reread The Double Helix because I am interested in understanding why people began thinking that the structure of DNA was an important problem. Watson and Crick are the most famous 20th century biologists – if you ask a random person on the street to name a 20th century biologist, the most likely response is a blank stare, but the second most likely response is Watson and Crick. Why? Why did the structure of DNA turn out to be so enlightening, and why did people think it was an important problem in the early 50’s?

I first read this book in the 90’s before I became a scientist, and so I missed much of Watson’s insight into how scientists sniff out and pursue a good problem. Watson argues that only a few key people were thinking of DNA as being the key to heredity, but things clearly weren’t going to stay that way for long – DNA’s significance would soon be recognized, and so those hoping to solve the problem had to work fast before more competitors arrived.

The key to understanding The Double Helix is to figure out when Watson is accurately describing the quirky way in which scientific personalities interact in the process of pursuing hot science, and when Watson is being an asshole. Continue reading “On reading The Double Helix”

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