Cocktail party panel

By Phil Plait | February 18, 2009 8:16 am

I know the Pasadena panel on Cosmic Mysteries was a couple of weeks ago now, but the scientilicious Jennifer Ouelette at Cocktail Party Physics (and TAM 7 speaker!) posted her thoughts on the event. You should read it, because she is uncommonly intelligent and correct, saying that I have a "trademark sharp focus and good humor". Of course, her marrying a theoretical cosmologist may justify some doubt on her judgment, but at least he wasn’t a biologist. And he does blog for the Hive Overmind, so I’m in a forgiving mood.


Comments (20)

  1. Bummed that I couldn’t be there, seeing as how it was ye olde home town and all.

    Darn those spawn of the devil flu viruses!

  2. Daniel J. Andrews

    Cool–She has a black belt in jujitsu too. Had a quick look at her interesting post on Clairaut de Lune. That one post was enough to get me to bookmark her blog for future reading.

  3. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, Nemesis, thou portent of Doom,,,

    People seem to love being scared bootless, as long as the fright generator is far enough away to not be immediate. Then the con artists come out of the woodwork to rake in the bucks.
    Personally, I quite like the idea of a dim companion star to Sol. It raises questions of what might be orbiting THAT star??? Perhaps another life bearing planet? With Klingons???
    Ok, probably not, but it’s fun to speculate.

    Gary 7

  4. “but at least he wasn‚Äôt a biologist”

    Hey! Enough picking on Biologists already!

  5. “scientilicious” :) Great word!

  6. Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Biped: He’s just mad they got so much of the Stimulus. Not that I blame him, actually…

  7. And what is wrong with being a biologist? We have to study plenty of math, physics, chemistry and the like in order to have our degrees bestowed upon us. An astronomer or physicist or chemist can go their entire career without ever touching biology if they desire.

    Consider that the topics that get the most hits and digs on your site require biologists to do the research, e.g. vaccines, you are actually benefiting from our contributions. Don’t use Dr. Wakefield as an example of a biologist….physicians, unless they are MD/PhD, make for very poor researchers in general.

  8. My defensiveness in the previous post was not professional or very becoming.

    I do however feel deceived. I apparently misunderstood the purpose of this blog. I thought your antagonists are people who are against reasonable, logical, scientific thought and evidence and not those of us who pursue science wholeheartedly, even if it is in biology.

    Let’s say a young person reading this blog was deciding on a career, and if it was biology, then you might have just insinuated that biology was not a worthwhile pursuit. Any field of science, pursued in all ethical manner and enthusiasm is appropriate. Please reconsider the message you are sending. You now have a top 25 blog and will attract many new readers, it would be wonderful to see you be more inspirational for anyone pursuing science.

  9. Sili


    Phil has plenty of respect for all the sciences, but he and PZ Myers of Pharyngula have had a mock feud for years.

    They’re great pals, but they still make fun of eachother.

    I guess it can be confusing for new readers.

  10. “I guess it can be confusing for new readers.”

    Exactly, and that is where the chance for mis-communication lies…I even know of the feud, but still found the comment in unexpected taste, and would have thought so even if he had said chemists or any other field of science.

    PZ may be laughing like crazy, but those not in on the joke could very well be confused.

    I am concerned about a potential impact on impressionable young people, maybe even the one who might discover the root of autism that’s not vaccine related, or will be able to communicate evolution so elegantly that then opposition would have to stand slack-jawed in awe with no argument left.

    Overall, I find most of Phil’s approach funny and refreshing, but I feel he crossed a line here, even if accidentally.

    This forum and others have such an opportunity to show how scientists can work together to further the cause of science and not leave any impression otherwise via feuds, real or in jest.

    Look at it this way. How will creationists take people like Phil seriously when he says, “Because SCIENCE says so….” when he is jokingly putting down the people in the field of science who are working on evolution? How will antivaxxers take us seriously when the very people who design vaccines are not held in high esteem (jokingly or not) by the skeptic trying to convince them otherwise? It could happen.

    Mixed signals can be dangerous for the cause. No one has time to read everything ever posted and there is room for misinterpretation. I mean no harm, just asking for caution.

  11. Or, if Phil wants to joke like that, make it clear that it is a joke, or link back to a post that started it all.

    Just so it is abundantly crystal clear.

    It is difficult in this internet world to make sure these things are conveyed the way they are meant to be conveyed.

  12. Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Ah. This sort of outcry is to be expected. Me, I got over the fact there’s entire fields of people out there smarter than I am a long time ago. Bio folks have our role to play, no need to get defensive…

  13. Maybe I seem uptight, but actually I am a tad heartbroken.

    Personally, my role in this department is to train engineers, physicists, computer scientists and materials scientists who have not one iota of idea of how to work with living systems (being open and flowing and all, it is quite flumoxing to them) how to do so, and so I have plenty of opportunities to be indispensible.

    But as a mom of four and an educator of university bioengineering and medical students and a coordinator of a girl’s engineering camp geared at middle schoolers and state science olympiad coordinator, my main concern is that we show these people the BEST science has to offer: cooperation, respect, communication, clear and reasonable thought, creativity, and yes, a sense of humor. Phil’s book did such a SUPERLATIVE job at this, so much so that I was practically in awe and anticipated this attitude to be pervasive in all his work. Phil’s comment here, done in jest, missed the standard he had set for himself in the book…so I’m disappointed. Once again a reality check that no one is perfect.

  14. Gary Ansorge

    “,,,no one is perfect,,,”

    Speak for thyself, golden tressed One,,,

    As a physics nerd, my major rationale for pursuing physics was because it was so much easier to understand than that squishy, always changing and sometimes CONTAGIOUS biology stuff. Brrr!
    Anything I can describe with a simple differential equation is obviously better for me, ’cause I’m such a simple soul,,,

    As far as perfection is concerned,,,the only perfect thing I know of in this universe is a black hole,,,’cause it has no hair,,,(Hawking joke there)
    ,,,and, of course, Goddesses of any shape, size, or color,,,

    GAry 7

  15. @GAry 7 Sniff, sniff (wiping tears on my “Engineering at Illinois sweatshirt” sleeve)….what a comfort you are to me as I am recovering from the heartbreak of watching Phil come down off my imagined pedestal. From now on, I will allow him to step on and off periodically…but still won’t tolerate any behavior that makes science look less than stellar…maybe that will be a newly proclaimed right as a self named sciencegoddess. ūüėČ

    A couple of bioeng grad students asked me the other night if I knew anything about Fourier transforms. I just laughed and told them they knew better than to ask me THAT! (Joseph Fourier was French…does that count as knowing something?)

    My latest video (microscosmos and microcosm books) discusses my first experience with biologists and engineers both working a scanning electron microscope, you might find that amusing….as might Phil. Scarily ironic that I posted it a day before this debacle. Just click on my moniker, you’ll go right there.

  16. Gary Ansorge

    Dang! I’ll have to wait ’til I get home. This work PC is still in the ’90s(56kmodem).

    As a philosophically oriented friend once said, ” GAry, everything is perfect, in it’s own way, just as a cloud is always a perfect cloud, even though it is in a process of constant change,,,” so I guess, we’re all perfect, in a sense,,,

    But I expect biologists already know that.

    Check Ya latter, Goddess,,,

    GAry 7

  17. Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I get it. You’re wicked smart. Smarter than me. That’s cool.

    Then again, the irony meter still needs some minor calibrating.

    I have a few physics-type friends. They’re far more respectful of my intellect than it deserves, so I take it to be a general phenomenon. Dr. Plait was obviously joking around. Given the statements about PZ above, I’d agree the post clearly contains little more than gentle ribbing, and perhaps a bit of satire about interdepartmental rivalries. If giving folks crap for fun amounts to some kind of ethical breach, then I’m in deep trouble…

  18. Gary Ansorge

    When we get down to the level of self-replicating macro-molecules(DNA) we are in the realm of quantum mechanics and, as one famous wag indicated ” If you think you understand quantum mechanics,,,you don’t,,,”. With all its indeterminancy, it seems to be the source of biological squishyness. It amazes me that living critters are able to keep on, keeping on, since their energetic systems are dependent on averaging collapsing waveforms. One of these days, some bright math nerd will write a 4 dimensional fractal that effectively describes biological systems, from the molecular level to the macro level. Then biologists will be able to write an equation that predicts how these systems do what they do with consistent results and the merging of indeterminant physics and squishy biology will be complete,,,

    You have teenagers? Did you adopt? I note that both my daughters(One business woman. One veterinarian) look a decade younger than their chronological ages. That seems to be a consistent feature of gifted females,,,( or maybe I’m just biased).

    GAry 7

  19. It’s not an ethical breach at all….maybe just poor taste…..I suppose my work with young people demands that I have high standards for how science presents itself. I love a good joke as much as the next person, maybe more (and maybe it was just bad timing that I would read this post after my dog died, so I was hypersensitive).

    I love all areas of science. I never understood rivalries or jealousies. (they exist, of course)

    I am in AWE of people who think in math, more than anyone could know.

    I think it is charming that when you talk to an engineer, at some point they’re going to draw an x and y axis for you…and on a good day, you might even get a z.

    I love that we are all needed to help science progress. Deep down, I might assume Phil believes this, but posts like this do not make it abundantly clear, especially to an outsider, and all I’m asking for is conscientious clarity.

  20. @GAry I sort of like that I can freak people out when I give some indication of how old I am or that I have four kids. Let’s see, are they all mine?
    Yep, four labors, all mine!

    I used to joke that I had a teen pregnancy and thought it was such a good idea, I did it a few more times! Not true, of course. My oldest is nearly 18 and will be studying geography/atmospheric sciences in the fall. (He was beaten up by a tornado when he was 12 and plans to get revenge!). I have a near 15 yo daughter (looks 21), near 13yo daughter who could beat any of yooz all up (this is a dilemma) and the 9yo boy who loves baseball but probably calculates the ball’s trajectory and velocity as it is coming towards him, he is so geeky.

    I wanted to put a “grad student confusion” counter on my website to keep track of how many times I was confused for a grad student. One day someone asked if I was a post doc, and I had to pout for a while, thinking I must look old!!

    The other great story was when we had a breakfast for the parents of the first group of students to our BIOE dept and I could tell she was trying to politely ascertain if I had enough experience to be instructing these kids. At some point I said something about the ages of one of my kids and she SLAMMED her hand on the table and said “That does it!! You ARE NOT old enough to have a child that age!!”

    Chalk it up to good genes. We used to joke that my dad was like Dick Clark, completely ageless. Modeling also taught me a few tricks to keep me from aging too quickly. We have our secrets…..

    Add to that my goofy childlike wonder for all things science-y and you’ve got someone who looks young and is young at heart.

    BTW, Pre-vet students, hands-down, are my favs to teach, if I have to choose a group of students. They have to work 100x harder than the pre-med students because there are so few vet schools in the country, plus they always go for the right reasons….because they care.


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