The NCI wants to fund the non-obvious

The National Cancer Institute wants researchers to start asking non-obvious questions.

I suppose that’s good, because the NIH’s very conservative funding process is one reason why so many researchers focus on the obvious questions. On the other hand, it’s not so clear that answering non-obvious questions lead to more insight than answering obvious questions. The question can be obvious or non-obvious and still generate that key to scientific progress, the unexpected answer.

REPOST: Do as You Say, Do as You Do – Fixing Science Communication

Carl Sagan with Viking lander
Before I tell you how to fix science journalism (super glue, duh), let’s get everyone on the same page. The science journalism problem is really a science communication problem. Science journalism is just a portion of the science communication problem. It just happens to be an especially visible portion because journalists already have a forum and an audience. If we can solve the science communication problem, the science journalism problem becomes irrelevant, although the science journalists might not be happy with the solution.

I’ve actually been listening to a lot of advice from people older, wiser, and more successful than I on this topic. In doing so, I have a learned that the solution to our science communication problem is very simple. All we need to do is exactly what they did. Continue reading “REPOST: Do as You Say, Do as You Do – Fixing Science Communication”

Safe and Effective Skeptical Activism – The 10:23 Campaign

At 10:23AM on 30 January 2010, the 10:23 Campaign staged a mass overdose of homeopathic “medicine” to protest the sale of homeopathy products in Boots pharmacies, especially under the Boots brand name. The event generated a considerable amount of media attention and increased public awareness of the nature of homeopathy, although it has not yet succeeded in getting Boots to disavow homeopathy.

Spending on homeopathy by the government and private individuals is medically indefensible. Furthermore, wasting money on medically ineffective water and sugar pills at a time when local NHS trusts regularly run out of funds, and education and scientific research budgets may be slashed is ridiculous. Therefore, I am a strong supporter of the 10:23 Campaign’s goals and want nothing more[1] than to see them succeed.

But[3] I have concerns about the safety and efficacy of the 10:23 Campaign’s approach, which I have helpfully categorized as Economic, Philosophic, Scientific, Pedagogic, and Safety. Continue reading “Safe and Effective Skeptical Activism – The 10:23 Campaign”

Zombie Feynman vs The Special Girl Powers

If there is one lesson from SexyGate (the kerfuffle following Sheril Kirshenbaum’s inclusion on a “sexy scientist” list[1]), it is that actions have consequences, long-range, important, and potentially ironic consequences, for which you shall be held responsible. Consequences like drawing the attention of the hedonistic proletariat to the “sexy scientist” list and giving many the excuse to consider the potentially related[2] question: “Is science sexist?”

There were a number of thought-provoking answers. Alexandra Jellicoe’s article was advertised as both unusual and interesting, but was neither. While most commentators examined sexism in the institutions we use to do science, Jellicoe spent her non-raging-lesbian-feminist thunder[3] on the fundamental process of science. Continue reading “Zombie Feynman vs The Special Girl Powers”

Statistical Importance, in Architecture

Art is a subjective experience. Just like those hippie artists to fly in the face of the millenia old of tradition[1] of putting things in order so that we might judge one another. As we know that the average human being is quite likely to go around enjoying just any old piece of art that they find appealing without requiring a full understanding of the work’s place in society, history, and artistic development, it is extremely important that we regularly convene panels of experts to tell us what is good and important. The only other option is chaos. And, as everyone knows from post-apocalyptic novels, chaos always leads to eating babies. The American Film Institute has made a cottage industry out of producing ranked list of mostly American films, providing a convenient framework to demonstrate that almost all arguments over cinematic preference stem from the other person being a cultural Philistine[2]. Vanity Fair has now weighed into the fray of artistic judgment with “Architecture’s Modern Marvels”, a ranked list of the “most important works of architecture created since 1980”.

What, if anything, do these ranked lists tell us about works of art?

Continue reading “Statistical Importance, in Architecture”