Curious Cat

I am lame. We established that a while ago [TAOMPH243]. Every now and then, I punch my name, or my domain name, into Google and Yahoo to see what turns up. Most recently, I’ve been curious to see if the changeover from cooleysekula.net to cooleysekula.net had taken in the search engines. In Yahoo!, this is definitely the case. In “the” Google, I appear to be competing with Texas politician Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. Yikes.

This site came to my attention in my search:

“http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/”:http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/

Where an author picked up on the SLAC public lectures as a great resource for learning about science. With another public lecture tomorrow night, it’s good to see that we’re still getting press on the net.

“http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2006/09/30/more-great-science-webcasts/”:http://engineering.curiouscatblog.net/2006/09/30/more-great-science-webcasts/


.. [TAOMPH243] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/?p=655

A SEA of Science and Policy

I’ve had the privelege of participating in lobbying Congress about science for almost half a decade, and in that time I have seen scientists take more steps to raise their public profile. We have been graced by a number of opportunities to engage the public, and the government, about our fields. In physics, the world year of physics in 2005, Brian Greene’s very popular string theory books, and astrophysical discoveries have all provided gateways to talking broadly about modern research. Political controversies have also bought science to the forefront: intelligent design (which seems to have died a proper death, at least as science), climate change, and stem cells have all forced an engagement with tge public about the fact and fiction in the discussion of these topics.

Scientists have been taking more public stands than usual, too. Long-standing organizations, such as the AAAS and Union of Concerned Scientists, have all had their say in science policy issues. I’ve tried to push more grass roots efforts, with sites like “scienceaction.org”:http://www.scienceaction.org, which didn’t do so well, probably because I didn’t have time to sell it. Now there is SEA – Scientists and Engineers for America, with their website at “http://www.sefora.org/”:http://www.sefora.org/. This attempts to further connect all sciences to act on policy issues. They’re even running a YouTube-based campaign for advertisements (I’m fond of this one: “http://youtube.com/watch?v=xMSPBn0LL7I”:http://youtube.com/watch?v=xMSPBn0LL7I

One thing that we as scientists have to be careful about is the same thing the general public has to be careful about: there is a danger in condensing complicated realities into a series of brief slogans or talking points. Politicians often attack each other by saying things like, “Senator Fisk voted against our giving our troops meal rations five times” or “Congresswoman Blameworthy says she supports tax relief for the poor, but she actually voted for tax increases 9 times.” In reality, bills are big beasts with tiny little clauses hidden in them. You can be voting on the war budget, and inadvertantly support some other Congressman’s pork barrel project or a law banning perfectly legal behavior. So when organizations like SEA promote advertising that makes statements like “200 Legislators voted against stem cells,” who knows what they were *really* voting against? I have no doubt that most members of Congress are pig ignorant when it comes to the basic science of stem cells, by choice or by accident, and that many probably do vote based on a complete misunderstanding. However, when you throw out a short soundbite like that, it makes you wonder how accurate it really is.

All I am saying is that you should think, speak, and take action. Vote, if that’s the way you want to express your support or opposition to a candidate’s views on science. But learn about the issues relevant for your specific candidates, before you blindly accept a catchy slogan and misuse your political power.

Everything else is stamp collecting…

My dad is a chemistry teacher, and a chemist by training. Naturally, a son who wound up as a physicist (and a daughter who married a physicist) must be a great disappointment to such a proud man. I’m kidding, of course, except the part about my sister marrying a physicist. That’s just creepy.


Dad and I constantly rib each other about our respective choices of scientific inquiry. I am fond of reducing all of chemistry to a single equation in a dusty physics textbook by reminding my father that everything he teaches his kids is nothing special, just quantum mechanics. He likes to remind me that there is chemistry, and then there is wild speculation. While in the Soudan Mine in August, I was exposed to a huge poster bearing Ernest Rutherford’s stern countenance. Beneath his photo was a famous quote, attributed to Rutherford: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” In that spirit, I sent my father one of the stamps missing from his collection!

Baryogenesis, in prime time

I like “Numb3rs”. Not just the kind that let you do math, but also the TV show that attempts to popularize the life and minds of scientists. Centering on the stories of Charlie, a math prodigy and the youngest full faculty member at “CalPoly” (clearly modeled on CalTech), and his FBI agent brother, Don, the show explores crime and life through physics and math. Sure, it cuts corners, but it’s punchy and fun. It’s characatures of the math genius and the physics theorist/experimentalist are fun, and try to deviate from the stereotypes.

The best part is that you get to hear the word “baryogenesis” in Friday night TV. Last night, Charlie’s friend and mentor, Professor Larry Fleinhardt, refers to this term for the matter/antimatter asymmetry formed in the early universe, as he describes how chaotic and unpredictable his current relationship is. People always complain that it’s impossible to sell the science that my experiment, BaBar, does. I say that if you can marry relationships and the word “baryogenesis” in the same sentence, and give a one sentence expalanation of the latter, youre more than halfway there.

Thanks, Numb3rs.