RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Preserve us from scienceiness and science fanbois.

This year's SJW disinvitation season got off with a bang this week, as some outfit called NECSS (Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism) removed Richard Dawkins from their speaker list for the vile heresy of reweeting a link to a video that mocked feminists (and was spot on, IMHO). In the grand scheme of things, no big deal; I expect Dawkins turns down more invitations than he accepts, and it's entirely their loss. Dawkins may well the best expositor of science we have; for example, I still consider The Selfish Gene, which I read nearly 40 years ago, to have laid out the framework of how I look at biology.

Out of curiosity, though, i decided to look up what NECSS is. And, sadly, it appears to be a fanboi conference (what's the gender neutral version of fanboi?), dispensing what I call scienceiness, which bears the same relationship to science that truthiness bears to truth. One clue is that they don't actually have many working scientists as speakers. The two headliners are now Richard Wiseman, a 'psychologist and magician', and Bill Nye, the 'Science Guy' with a bachelor's degree in engineering whose schtick got stale at least a decade ago. As regular speakers, just working alphabetically, we have

  • 'physicist' who's published one paper in 3 years, on protein crystalization of all things
  • a postdoc with an alarmingly sparse record
  • a lawyer
  • a woman with a legit. Ph.D. in physics who calls herself 'The Science Babe' (her appraisal of her own babeliness is a bit off, IMHO) but who seems to work on investment analysis and to have exactly one science paper to her credit.
  • an 'Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Administration at CSU Dominguez Hills'.
  • some guy with a podcast
  • ...
You get the picture. This is a conference not for scientists, but for posers Who Fucking Love Science; people who want to borrow science's apparently invincible cloak of 'objectivity' to pursue goals that really aren't scientific, and in most cases without the fuss and muss of having to pass second-semester calculus.

And while we're on the subject of the awful I fucking love science, they have an editorial this morning about sexism in astronomy. Now, actually, I have no idea how much sexism there is an astronomy, though there have been a couple of scandals recently, but it really annoys me when astronomy is taken as representative of science as a whole. And the editorial, which calls for 'a reboot of science', whatever that means, is written by an adjunct in sociology at a down-under dump called Swinburne University of Technology (no, I never heard of it either). The crescendo...

Similarly, science cannot reach its full potential without diversity, and diversity cannot flourish in a culture of racism, discrimination and fear. Research excellence cannot happen without rebooting science culture. The rest of us are ready for change. Are you?
That's all very high-minded, but is it actually true? Just the most obvious example: the magnificent intellectual edifice of modern physics was created by a group of almost entirely white, almost entirely male, mostly German (or teutonophone) physicists. A very undiverse bunch indeed. There really isn't much actual evidence 'diversity', by the trendy definition, has increased the rate of scientific progress. And, of course, this woman is a sociologist; she has absolutely no first-hand knowledge of 'science culture'; I bet she doesn't know how to reboot her iPhone. And as for the 'us'; who are 'us', exactly?

Most scientists don't get involved in this sort of thing, because they regard it as a waste of time. I do, because I'm argumentative and easily annoyed. But it's really time we started standing up to this sort of dreck. There are compelling reasons to give everyone equal opportunity in science, and to stamp out some of the most obnoxious behavior of (a few) scientists; but the idea we can't do science without some specified quotas of the appropriate victim groups is pure idiocy.

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