AAAS Dumbs Down Science

Posted in Humor on January 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m much the same as Bill Gates in one respect. Bill had little formal training to facilitate his transformation from pimply-faced geek to gozillionaire geek. I have had little formal training in my transition from uneducated trailer-trash lout to the internationally recognized know-it-all that I am today. Yet, we both somehow get by.

I owe much of my success as a bore to my lifelong pathological obsession with reading science journals. I succumbed to this disease before the age of ten, when I began pilfering copies of Scientific American  from local newsstands. After my first introduction to law enforcement, I got a paper route and subscribed. While other illiterate preteens were looking at the pictures in comic books, I was looking at much more interesting pictures in my carefully preserved and continuously expanding library of science journals. At that point my comprehension level was approximately -97%.

Now that you have sufficient background information, I shall proceed with my tirade.

As I have previously bragged about, I am a card-carrying PROFESSIONAL  member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. How this came about, I have no idea. I suspect that the organization conducted a random search for suckers and my name popped up. I received my membership card, which I have proudly displayed to hundreds of perfect strangers and a one year subscription to Science,  the mouthpiece of the organization.

The gotcha, of course, came at subscription renewal time. I was torn between (A) forking out about Two Hundred U.S. Bucks to renew the subscription or (B) carrying around a membership card that was clearly expired, exposing me as an EX  Professional Scientist. I considered carefully modifying the expiration date on the card, but I’m far too ethical to do anything so shady . . . mmmm. Eunie, finally tiring of my whining, said, “Write the cheque and shut up!” I sighed a sigh of pure love. I like the rough stuff.

Anyway, I continued to wade through Scientific American,  for which my comprehension level was approaching 93% (more about that later) and added Science  each week, beginning at a CL (I’m getting tired of typing) of about -17%.

However, I’ve noticed lately that my CL has been rising exponentially. I attribute this not to any elevation of my brain power, since this is clearly not the case, as I’m reminded daily by my friends. I lay the blame directly on the publishers of science journals. I’m not a conspiracy geek, but I am  beginning to wonder . . .

As a case-in-point, I present the cover of Science for 27 November 2009:*

Aside from the fact that I do not believe that it’s seemly to portray living cells as if they were Simpson characters (a little compass?  come on!), the shameless use of Alfred E. Newman’s likeness on the cover is an obvious ploy to capture the Budweiser-swilling teenage crowd.

Not wishing to portray Science  as the originator of this massive dumbing-down of science, I should mention that Scientific American  was, indeed, the perpetrator, commencing with it’s infamous “Toy Boat” issue of August 1987:

To illustrate my premise I present these atrocities from that very issue.

Here we see, in this astonishingly cheesy Nikon ad, Albert Einstein equated to The Three Stooges:

This exposes the shameless money-grubbing attitude of the rag. But, wait! There’s more.

A few pages later we’re confronted by the ineptitude of Scientific American’s copy editors:

Is this a simple failure to comprehend the principles of editing? At the time, I heard an alternate theory bandied about. Some claimed, quite reasonably I believe, that this was a coded message from the notoriously leftist scientific community (all college graduates) to their Commie brethren cowardly hiding behind the Iron Curtain and lending succor to the nefarious masters of the Axis of Evil. Decoded by IBM’s Blue Canker Sore, the most powerful computer of the time, it reads (paraphrasing), “Get out now or you’ll soon be sweeping floors for a living.”

Okay, I have flogged Scientific American  enough, already.

Let’s get back to flogging Science.  Here is example of the silly pandering that’s dragging science down to the least common denominator and artificially inflating my CL:

Science’s increasing use of video game screenshots is a foolish attempt to simplify complex concepts to the level that any fool with a Nintendo can understand them. This goes against the entire history of science, which clearly discloses a philosophy that espouses the principle that nobody  who does not receive massive grants should be allowed to understand anything.

As further evidence, I present a mystifying illustration which had nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the article:

I call this the “Distraction Ploy”. It is clearly designed to distract the reader from the opaque complexity of the arguments in the text so that the author can pretend that he has actually explained something. “Hey, what do you want me to do? Draw Pictures?”, the author can claim.

Speaking of drawing pictures, here is a suitably illustrative example of what I’m talking about. Has anybody yet figured out what I’m talking about? No? Good, that’s my point exactly:

Now, instead of pondering imponderable mathematical equations which I comprehended not in the least, I’m forced, because of the fancy chart, to spend hours to achieve the same result – total bafflement. I prefer to arrive at total bafflement by the more elegant and traditional method of indecipherable equations with lots of curly lines mashed up with sharp angles and tiny little numbers.

Another area of concern is the use of famous personalities to try to convince us that science is “easy”:

Here, in this image, Mister Bean is preparing to inject a radioactive substance into the heart of a doubtlessly uninformed patient. The implied message is, “If Mister Bean can do cutting edge medical science, any boob can do it.” This goes against every cherished principle of science. Science is supposed to be hard,  that’s why they call it science. Duh! Haven’t you ever heard of Rocket Scientists? It’s all about job security. The Americans and Russians were falling all over themselves to hire the previously-evil Nazi scientists after the second humiliating surrender of Germany. Why? (one might ask) Duh! (I say again) Because science is hard!

Patience, I am nearly finished.

As a final, and I might add, convicting bit of evidence, here is a complex graphic that claims to explain the previously mysterious principles of “up”, “down”, “right” and “left”:

It also, once and for all, scientifically establishes the location of the human armpit. Hey, man. You don’t have to draw me pictures!

Give me an equation!

* There may be individuals who are so humourless that they fail to recognize the forgoing as a fun-loving jab at a prestigious organization. If you are one of those individuals and you are feeling litigious, I refer you to George Carlin’s lawyer.

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The Spider Carpet and Some Thoughts About Passion

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Opinions on November 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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Life is about passion. I can’t imagine life without a few things burning me up from the inside out. Love, art, service . . . the list goes on. I’m fascinated by the things that people do because their passion drives them to do so. Sure, there is often  money involved, sometimes big money. That’s okay. It doesn’t detract from the amazement we experience when we see remarkable results of human passion simply because someone made a living from it. That’s a given.

From the 2 October issue of Science, the a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science comes this fascinating image and story:

The Amazing Spider Carpet from Lamba Weaving in Madagascar (Image: AMNH/R.Mickens)

A million female Madagascar golden orb spiders contributed their golden silk to this one-of-a-kind textile that went on display last month at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. More than 80 people spent 4 years on the work, collecting spiders in the wild, drawing silk from immobilized (and later freed) arachnids with hand-powered machines, and twisting hundreds of spider lines to make each thread. The 3.4-by-1.2-meter tapestry is on loan from Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, who founded Lamba, a weaving enterprise in Madagascar.

I’m hoping that my journalistic license will allow me to escape the ire of the AAAS for filching their image and quoting a paragraph of text. I’ll give them a plug by mentioning that, if you’re a student or a post-doc, you can get a subscription for a limited time for just US$50 a year. That’s 51 issues of one of the finest science journals on the planet. What a deal! I paid over US$200 for my last subscription.

Let’s get the calculator out (can’t do this stuff in my head any more). Well, huh! A million spiders . . . I don’t know where to plug that in. Let’s set the spiders aside. I doubt if spider passion contributed much to this carpet (A Buddhist might disagree.)

Okay, it says that 80 people spent four years on the work. Let’s keep the numbers conservative. Let’s say that each person, on the average, worked 20 hours a week for 40 weeks a year. Hmm . . . 80 people times 20 hours times 40 weeks times 4 years . . . that’s 256,000 hours! A quarter of a million hours! A single person working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a years would take 128 years to finish the job (check my numbers).

Think about that while you contemplate this rather sombre sunrise at Coconut Point:

A Coconut Point Sunrise

Is the world any better off because of this achievement? Not a whit. Are a lot of ordinary people all excited about it? Probably not. Is it an intelligentsia thing? Of course. It appeals to rich folk, artsy types and science geeks. So, what’s it worth?

Well, (and you knew this was coming), let me tell you what I think.

Most of us face the daily grind and that’s about all that we will ever have. It’s simply too draining to exert much effort to pursue things which we may passionately desire to do, because putting food on the table and taking care of business is all we can manage. We need people who can somehow overcome these obstacles (no matter the means) and deliver to us remarkable achievements that inspire us.

Maybe they did it for money. Maybe they did it for love.

No matter. Though they didn’t know it, they also did it for me.

UPDATE: I found three very nice links with much more information about the Spider Carpet here, here and here.

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Australia On My Mind

Posted in Mixed Nuts on March 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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I got this nice shot of the Finisterre Mountains  across Astrolabe Bay  this morning on the way to work. Dirving to the office takes only about twenty minutes and is always a pleasure with this kind of scenery to distract me. It has absolutely nothing to do with Australia, but it is pretty:
A Finisterre Mountain panorama

I received my new Science magazine yesterday. It’s the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which I am a member. Long story there. I have no idea how I became a member. I never applied for membership. I somehow became a Professional Member and started receiving the bimonthly magazine about two years ago. I’ve received several notices that my membership has expired, but I can’t afford the US$200+ a year to maintain it. Nevertheless, they still keep sending me the magazine. Go figure.

Australia is on the far side of the Moon
This is a pretty cool error on their part. I pass the magazine on to several other science-oriented friends. Is it honest for me not to tell them? I’ll have to think about that sometime. Maybe after I’m dead.

Anyway, I glanced at the cover and instantly saw Australia. Okay, okay, it’s not perfect, but it’s sort of Oz shaped. The Japanese are doing a bang-up job of getting snaps of the far side of the Moon with Project SELENE. You can find some cool images here.

Did I mention that I once saw Australia up in the sky? Readers who come back time after time for fresh applications of my unique torture methods will have seen this image before:

Australia is up in the sky

Okay, that’s enough of Australia for today.

On the way past the neighbours’ house the other day I noticed that one of the girls had dressed up their very nice red dog in a red dress:

A red dog in a red dress
I’ve always been partial to red dogs. Here’s an interesting read on Dog Coat Colour Genetics. I read on another site that a red coat recessive dog (whatever that is) does not have a single black hair on its body!  Imagine that. It makes me wonder exactly how that they proved it. Did someone examine every hair on a red dog?

How can I get a job like that?

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A Long Way from Anywhere

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I found this map in the 2 January issue of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Access time by sea or land to the nearest city of 50,000LegendThe map depicts the density of sea routes, but, more interestingly, it shows the travel time by sea or land, in days from a location to the nearest city with a population of 50,000 or more. The scale starts with light yellow in hours, growing darker up to 36 and then changes to days, with dark brown being ten days.

It’s important to note that is doesn’t show air travel. The map would be pretty much all the same colour, since few places are farther than a couple of hours from a city of 50,000.

Look at the difference in colour between the island of New Guinea and Madagascar. Either Madagascar has more big cities or it has a much better road transportation system – probably both. I’m too lazy today to check it out.

I don’t seem to be brimming over with opinion this morning, so I won’t draw any harebrained conclusions from the map. I can hear the sigh of relief from readers all over the world.

If you ‘d like to see the source of the data and read some interesting stuff about the subject go here. You’ll find a larger, more detailed version of the map, downloadable software to make your own maps, and a cool poster that you can download.

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