What movie do you think does something admirable (though not necessarily accurate) regarding science? Bonus points for answering whether the chosen movie is any good generally….
Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. Cinematically it is an early masterpiece, but, it also features a protagonist who is a robot. The term itself was invented in 1920, and the massive field of robotics which exists today was still but a seed in the imaginations of pulp science fiction writers. I admire the fact that this is case a where a science fiction film did anticipate a major trend in science & technology over the coming century, it was more than just a reflection of its times.1 We still aren’t where we’d expected to be in regards to robotics today in relation to what futurists expected in the 1960s, but, I think it is clear that the field has a bright future.
1 – To see what I mean, watch Forbidden Planet and note the copious allusions to Freudian psychology.
This week they ask:
Assuming that time and money were not obstacles, what area of scientific research, outside of your own discipline, would you most like to explore? Why?
Chad’s response to this week’s Ask a Science Blogger pointed to two issues which I think need some clarification.
First, that brain drain might be good for the species in that it distributes the “wealth” of human capital around. This is not a trivial or baseless argument, but, The World Bank has done a study, and it is important to note that the impact of the “brain drain” on “donor” nations differs as a function of size. In other words, nations like China and India lose a relatively small percentage of their intellectual capital, while nations like Guyana lose a lot. So the key is whether it is a bad thing that the Guyanas of the world lose their educated classes. One could assume that for the Guyanas it is plainly obvious this is a bad thing, but that assumes that staying home is economically productive, the reality is that remittances might be far greater a contribution to national wealth than would be possible otherwise. This is not to dismiss or deny possible intangibles of having a diverse society in regards to class and education, but it is to frame the issue in terms of the nuance and realities of the real world today. One could make the argument that the prosperity and stability accrued to large developed countries is more important to small war-torn or poor ones than anything else because of the importance to aid and outside intervention in these cases.
Is it me, or did Janet explode by the old 300 world barrier? In any case, she brings up some good issues in her expansive post, and there is one thing I want to follow up in regards to the “brain drain.” Who is it good for? Who is being drained?
This is a definitely “US centric” question. As an American, and a mildly patriotic one (or, more properly, US-egoistic one) I do look at this question through the “but is it good for America?” lens. Some people might ask, “but is it good for the world?” (that is, brain drain to the United States). That depends, but in general, I think yes!
This weeks “Ask a Science Blogger” is:
“Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?”
This week’s “Ask a Science Blogger” is:
Since they’re funded by taxpayer dollars (through the NIH, NSF, and so on), should scientists have to justify their research agendas to the public, rather than just grant-making bodies?
This weeks “Ask a Science Blogger” question is:
“If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?”
I assume others will answer this also, so I want to get this out first: my reply is that the public needs to know that the most important idea about “science” is that it is not about ideas, but it is a way of getting to those ideas through a specific way of thinking about the world and interacting with your fellow human. Science is the means, not the ends. And, that means is a synthesis of a set of heuristics mediated by a particular social context which is at the terminus of a path of cultural development. Rules like falsification are important, but they are irrelevant outside of the context of a group of peers who seek to discover the truth about the world as it is. The scientific community is important, but that community flourishes best in a roughly liberal culture (see the destruction wrought upon Russian genetics by Lysenko). Finally, the set of rules must include in appropriate dosages elements of rationalism (a priori model building and hypothesis formation), empiricism (experimentation) and skepticism (an analysis of the rigor of the models constructed and the data collected).