Against all my better judgement…

By Risa Wechsler | July 18, 2005 1:03 am

My colleagues have already provided very nice introductions to this space, but here’s one more. I’ve been a regular web geek basically since physicists first started
the internets. I’ve also been a political news junkie for as long as I can remember, and have been a blog reader since the early days. It remains to be seen whether I’ll have something interesting to contribute here, but these times seem to require comment and engagement.

Like many scientists, I am extremely concerned about the increasing politicization of science. And, more generally, about what seems like not only an attack on science (from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me this morning:
“I’m a teacher of high-school science” “Is that still allowed these days?”), but on rationality and critical thinking in general. Perhaps, it was ever thus. But, I have been continuously amazed in the past few years both by the increasing power of voices that seem to want to take America to its mythical pre-Enlightenment days, and by how facts themselves seem ever more distorted by political and clerical spin.

So, while I certainly agree with Sean’s visceral distaste of the idea of some monolithic “natural scientist’s perspective” on the world, and with Clifford’s hesitation about the proclivities of physicists to say something about everything, I do think science as a framework has a lot to contribute in combating the belief-based fact-making of these times. And apparently, though, even though 44 percent of Americans think the world was
created in six days
, they still have a lot of respect for scientists,
especially astronomers and physicists
. So perhaps at least a few people will actually care about what this motley crew of us has to say about the world (well, at least after they read all the blogs by database administrators).

My primary hesitation about starting a blog of my own was the time issue, since I’m already way too overcommitted and one really has to post on a pretty regular basis to develop any kind of audience. Plus, as

I was warned
this week in particular, this whole blogging thing is clearly

a very bad idea
for someone on the job market. But luckily for you, dear reader, I just can’t help myself (you can ask me in 8 or 10 months how lucky it was for me). The group blog thing (and Sean’s sweet talking, of course) brought me over the edge: hopefully it will be all the fun and only 1/5 of the work and accountability!

Like Clifford, I think there is value in having people know that physicists aren’t all like
these guys, both to science itself and because hopefully
that makes science more accessible (as both a career choice and as a method of thinking). I love what I do for the science itself, but this feeling is one reason that makes me feel like what I do is actually important. Hopefully this blog will make at least a small contribution in that regard.

But don’t worry, this won’t all be science and politics all the time. I don’t have anything insightful to say about Brad and Angelina at the moment, but I will likely subject you to my ramblings on burritos and cheese and sushi, mountains and cities and oceans, gadget lust and music and mac advice, and other assorted uselessness. Anyways, I’m delighted to be doing so with such a charming and renowned group of folks. Welcome, and thanks for reading.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cosmic Variance, Internet
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/?page_id=9 Sean

    I don’t know. I can see the resemblance.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    There are two problems with this new blog sites:
    1.It does not do automatic word wrapping.
    2.The publish button below are invisible. Fortunately I can figure out where it is, to be able to click it.

    Quantoken

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    No, the physicists at CERN did not create the internet.
    Al Gore invented the internet. Well he slipped his
    tongue but actually he said the truth. He chairmaned
    a Senate committee which overseed the creation of
    the DARPA NET, which eventually evolved into today’s
    internet. What they created at CERN, is the HTTP protocol,
    i.e., the web protocol, which is but a part of today’s
    internet.

    Now about science and politics. I wonder why that sounds
    like news to you. Money and politics are twin sisters
    and they never separate. If there is no money, there is
    no politics; if there is small money, there’s small
    politics. If there’s big money, there’s big politics.
    Politics is all about how to split the money and other
    interests and benefits, and nothing else. Don’t you
    realize that?

    Now, science costs money, that’s where politics comes to
    play. Big science involves big money, and that means big
    politics involvement. It has alway been that way, ever
    since modern science became a full fleged modern industry
    employing millions of people. So no, don’t tell me it’s
    news that politics get involved in science. It has always
    been that way.

    The point is: when politics goes the same way the
    scientists want, they never complain about politics
    gets involved in science. Only when the direction of
    politics turned, and they no longer find politics fitting
    their tastes, will those scientists start to complain
    about politics. Has there been any complaint when physics
    was developed in how to make the most destructive nuclear
    weapons that would one day wipe out the human race? Has
    there been any complaint when chemists developed
    pesticides that pollutes the whole planet? Huge politics
    was also involved but scientists never complained then.

    Quantoken

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/risa/ Risa

    Q: There is a difference between money being involved in what science gets
    done, which is perhaps disturbing but certainly inevitable, and politicians explicitly
    misusing, distorting and suppressing science for political purposes, which should be disturbing no matter ones political perspective.

  • Chaz

    Quantoken: “The point is: when politics goes the same way the
    scientists want, they never complain about politics
    gets involved in science. … Has there been any complaint when physics was developed in how to make the most destructive nuclear
    weapons that would one day wipe out the human race? … Huge politics was also involved but scientists never complained then.”

    I don’t think you’re being reasonable if you’re implying that scientists thought politics was “going their way” when they were assigned to work on The Bomb. Also, whenever a new technological threat appears, I think the scientists often try to abate it.

  • n. carden grey

    Came here by the way of 3quarksdaily. As to hesitation over “the proclivities of physicists to say something about everything,” I do hope this doesn’t stop you. I’d much rather hear from the hesitant these days than from the aggressive, even if we all are trying to find our feet in the whirling pools of opinion. I’m excited about this site. And need to go back to work!

  • Linnaeus

    I am also disturbed by the political shenanigans arising around science in the present day. I will say, however, that “politicization” of science really isn’t all that new. Science is an intellectual activity, but it’s also a social activity. As I see it, that means politics and science are always linked in some way.

    It might be more precise to say that you’ve noted an increase in the politicization of science of a particular, and insidious, kind.

  • Daniel Conover

    There are no unrelated topics, and this blog looks like a welcome addition to the conversation. Consider your feed bookmarked.

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  • http://citysquare.typepad.com Mal Watlington

    Glad to see you guys up and running. Preposterous Universe was one of the most thought-provoking reads in the b-sphere, so I have high hopes for your new venture.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    Risa said:
    “There is a difference between money being involved in what science gets done, which is perhaps disturbing but certainly inevitable, and politicians explicitly
    misusing, distorting and suppressing science for political purposes, which should be disturbing no matter ones political perspective.”

    Risa you are being wrong in suggesting that only the guys with a hat labeled “politician” would play politics, and that the guys with a hat called “scientist” on their head would strictly play in scientific ways.

    Nothing could be more wrong than judging people based on the type of hats they wear, as I told Mark many times. Scientists are pretty good at playing politics and politicians are quite capable of playing science. There plenty of cases of scientists turned politicians, and physicists are the most likely ones to do so. Do you think stuffs like Global Warming Theory are really science, not crackpot, just because it is main stream? A super tzumani happened and some experts jumped out and cry “global warming”. It’s only because the idea was too obviously silly that it did not spread. However those were ideas suggested by people wearing a hat called “experts” in the field.

    Now, money and politics are never separable. If you are trying to tell me that big science can try to use the money, without really having politics involved. It is like saying I can wash my hands without getting my hands wet.

    Politics are ALWAYS involved in big money big science. But the influence may not always be negative. By chance some times it pushes it further away from scientific truth and some times it does push closer to scientific truth. In the case of global warmings theory, I think the recent congressional inquiry may actually force scientists to be a little bit more honest, which is good. BTW I am definitely no fan of any Republican of any type.

    Quantoken

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    And as I told you Quantoken, I do not pay an inappropriate amount of attention to the hats people wear, but I do notice if the hat is made of tin foil.

  • Luisf

    Personally, I don’t wear hats. They give me aweful “hat-head”.
    Most unfortunate.

  • Meredith

    I’m rather excited about this new group venture by some ‘cool’physicists into blogging. (I’m an undergrad w/McKay who laments having read what I did last week about blogging and the workplace. Eeep!).

    Anywhoo, just wanted to say hi and welcome to the world of blog. :)

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