Saturday, April 22, 2017

College Fund Raising Via Politics

From the world of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up!" comes a rather strong request from the MIT Alumni Fund to send in money to defeat the current Administrations Plans! The person sending the request states, among other things:

From the Internet to infant formula to the touchscreen technology that allows you to access all the information in the world from a device that fits in your pocket, public funds have lent support to some of our greatest scientific advancements—but if the proposed federal budget comes to pass, that funding will be significantly cut. Institutions like MIT will be forced to rely even more on the generosity of donors like you to provide the resources necessary for true innovation and progress that benefit the world at large.  Please consider making a gift to MIT today, and together, we can keep marching both science and society forward.

But  what if I like the new Budget. I have no opinion but perhaps I could. Statistically perhaps 50% of Americans do. So what has this person done? Well she apparently told half the Alumni that they are wrong. Not a way to Fund raise. It is the old echo chamber effect. I and my friends think this way so everyone must! Ever look at a voting map?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Worth a Read

The following in PLOS and in Nature is worth a read. Really. Namely:

In the first broad look at the behaviour of thousands of scientists on Twitter, researchers have found that women are better represented on the social-media site than on scientific papers. The team also noted that scientists tended to stick with researchers in their area of expertise while on the social-media site....“This is a really interesting finding,” ...says. Male scientists tend to have their papers cited more than female scientists, and there are more male full professors than female ones at US universities, she notes. So Twitter “may have more participation from women than we would expect”.

It may be interesting to follow. But just sit in any New York Restaurant and it is obvious.

Amazon and AMZL

How to really tick off your customers. Create a delivery service that always fails despite being told it is on its way. Amazon has AMZL which seems to consistently lose, misplace, or otherwise get deliveries lost. Yet they tell you that it is on its way. UPS, USPS, FedEx, and even the local independents get to deliver, but NOT Amazon. This is a sign of a serious malignancy! It has been happening for a couple of years and we are now going to other vendors. Even if it costs more reliability is essential. One can excuse a third party but when Amazon takes on full responsibility then the problem falls on their doorstep. We are batting 3:4 lost deliveries in the last two wee4ks on AMZL. The customer complaint blog is exploding. Perhaps a shorting of the stock may be in order! Just my opinion and my experience. Too bad, Amazon was once reliable.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Have Good News and I Have Bad News

There is an old WW II joke about a German U Boat Captain who after a long under water journey to avoid the Americans announces to his now terrified crew:

"I have good news and bad news. The good news, we shall surface in ten minutes." A cheer erupts. "Now the bad news. It is either Buenos Aires or New York." The crew was silent.

Now for the latest version of that with our US Navy. Frankly my father would be ashamed of such an event. I report it from a Canadian newspaper, The National Post notes:

A spokesman for the Pacific Command linked the deployment directly to the “number one threat in the region,” North Korea, and its “reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters on April 11 that the Carl Vinson was “on her way up there.” Asked about the deployment in an interview with Fox Business Network that aired April 12, President Trump said: “We are sending an armada, very powerful.” The U.S. media went into overdrive and Fox reported on April 14 that the armada was “steaming” toward North Korea. But pictures posted by the U.S. Navy suggest that’s not quite the case – or at least not yet. A photograph released by the Navy showed the aircraft carrier sailing through the calm waters of Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java on Saturday, April 15.

Yes, our very own Navy is sailing not where the bosses said it was but in the opposite direction. And we get this from the Canadians. At least they know who is where.

What Admiral is being demoted to Seaman Third Class for this one?

Now as for the Carrier Group Commander, I suspect a Rear Admiral, perhaps some Seaman Third Class could have seen on the Internet, you know Admiral, that thing they look at all time time when not responding to your commands, and have seen they were on their way to Korea, and that the Palm trees on the islands they were passing were not native to North Korea. There is no radio silence. Or perhaps a Skype call home could have gotten so Petty Officer Second Class to see he was not where he was supposed to be. One more billet for a Rear Admiral! Shame on you folks!

A Well Done Presentation of an Important Movement

The book by Fenton, Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism and Liberal Democracy in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture, is an interesting, valuable and well done work discussing the existence of and impact of the anti-Catholicism in the United States. It is the result of a doctoral thesis and as such reads somewhat like one but is is readily accessible and to the point. The author argues that the anti-Catholicism was a major factor in shaping our democracy during this period.

She begins with a summary of the work and that section is well worth the read. Then she discusses the Canadian issue regarding French speaking Quebec and the rules that allowed them to practice Catholicism. On the one hand the "Founders" of the US had considered attracting all of Canada as well as the Colonies but the very presence of a potentially ever expanding Catholic only area was of significant concern. On p 31 the author introduces Thomas Paine and his considerations related thereto. Paine argued that the Inquisition, that Church State chimera, was a problem just because it was a fusing together of the Church and State. Thus because there was a dread among Protestants of the Inquisition, especially as exercised by Spain, then the issue was not the exercise of religion in a private sense, but the politicization of religion in any sense. His conclusion were two fold. First people should be able to practice whatever religion they wanted in private. Second, there must be no nexus between politics and religion, between the state and the church. The author's presentation is exceptionally lucid here and it exemplifies how many of the Enlightenment types were capable of excelling above their inborn prejudices.

The author then moves on to the Constitution and discussion of Madison. On p 43 is the discussion of republics, their size and their viability. Montesquieu is discussed as being the prime source. It can be argued by many, including Ullmann, that these ideas well preceded Montesquieu with 14th century writers such as Marsilius  of Padua. Again on p. 55 Paine is quoted as stating that the American priest is as good a citizen as any.

The author continues discussing the well known 19th century anti-Catholics such as Mark Twain, who seemed to be anti everything, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne's book, The Marble Faun, is a typical example of the aggressive anti-Catholicism of the New England "elite" which infested Boston and its environs.

Overall it is a well written and well argued piece and worth reading to better understand the 19th century and its connection to what the Founders managed to put in the Constitution and why. However it would have been of interest to see this stretched a bit to the 20th century. From the rejection of Al Smith to the election of Kennedy. Also it would have been interesting to examine the same strong anti Catholicism of academics such as Dewey and Hofstadter. There was a whole class of "Intellectuals" whose main focus was the expression and exercise of mass anti-Catholicism. The two aforementioned, both at Columbia, demonstrate the very institutional attitude of that University well through the 1960s. For example, while I got into MIT, I was denied admission to Columbia because I was educated at a Catholic secondary school. That was told me in a three page single spaced letter from the Dean. A far cry from what anyone would do today! Thus this work takes us far, but not all the way!

March for Science

Science funding is very akin to entrepreneurial financing. Really. It is competitive. It is driven by past results. It is assessed by impact. It has a political element. It depends on who you know. It often does not reflect the true value of what is being proposed. Remember that more than 90% of VC investments go nowhere. Oftentimes the same is true with scientific research. The latter is all too often a means to educate doctoral students. Post docs are a means to get lower cost lab help. It used to be a University had Lab techs, possibly with an MS but an employee. Now we have post docs, lower costs, no benefits, and you can fire them at will.

In reality then science funding is the same game, and the measure of success can be even more vague. There are no IPOs in science. Thus winners are far and few between. It is the process that often counts. There is no financial rate of return on pure science. A nexus with some start up may count but little study of this is done since science is done for science, not money, at least that is the mantra.

Now along comes this March for Science. Nature has been one of the promoters as has Science. Nature is the left wing Brits and Science is headed by a former Democratic Congressman with an agenda. In the Nature piece they give voice to some well chosen "science" representatives. They state:

Calls from US President Donald Trump to roll back environmental regulations and slash funding for health, environmental and research agencies have raised alarm in the scientific community. Earlier this year, a commenter on the social-media website Reddit made an off-hand remark about the need for scientists to march on Washington DC. That thread has since grown into an international movement. The March for Science now includes more than 500 events — including marches, rallies and teach-ins — planned for locations around the world.

What will this "March" result in? Some of the commenters noted  it was being co-opted by the Left with Identity Politics being front and center. That can be a serious step backwards. Already any college website appears as an Identity Politics ad and as such has an impact on students and studies. Take foreign students. Many doctoral students are foreign students. Yes they may be very good but on the other-hand we the taxpayers are funding their studies. Is that fair? Should we not be incentivizing our US students first and then selecting the best. We are funding students in such areas as nuclear science and engineering from countries that vow to destroy us. Does that make sense? Did Admiral Yamamoto study Naval Architecture at MIT?

So take the comment by an Irish lecturer:

"I am going so I can stand up for evidence-based policies and the scientific method. I also support robust funding of science and transparent reporting of scientific results. The current wave of ‘anti-science’ rhetoric goes against everything that I am trying to do as a scientist and an educator. I keep telling my students that I’m going because science is worth protecting: for them, and for all of us.”

 Now just what does US research funding have to do with this person? There is no anti science rhetoric in Ireland as best as I can tell, I am an Irish citizen so I do have some first hand knowledge. So are we going to see a bunch of white coats and pink hats waving placards?

Science is often done for the sake of science. But science funding is done on that basis of a complex set of allocation schema; public and private. It is worthwhile every once and a while to reassess that scheme.