The "Science Culture"

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Solo
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The "Science Culture"

Postby Solo » Sun Feb 14, 2010 3:51 pm

This is in response to Chrismb's remarks in this thread:

http://www.talk-polywell.org/bb/viewtop ... 6&start=15


[quote='Chrismb'] It's a shame that these things are for academics only. I mean, if someone has an idea who's not an academic then they wouldn't be funded to go to such a thing even if they had had some pre-warning of it, which they wouldn't've had, and even if they had means and awareness to overcome those then they'd still not be accepted to present.

I think today's "science" culture would make the blood boil of those who laid the foundations for modern science, if they were here to see it.

Maybe Aero is actually correct in the other thread - http://www.talk-polywell.org/bb/viewtop ... 4548#34548 - folks can't make fusion devices in their basements - bu tnot because it is impossible but because they are effectively prevented from doing so. Maybe the mythbusters would find that out; they should try to come up with an idea, build it, patent it, seek academic support, then present it. They would find that they are refused purchase of things they need, get generalised unspecific dismissals from the patent examiners, academics would look the other way, and there would be no route to dissemination. Actually, now I dwell on it, Aero, you are probably right, but for all the wrong reasons.[/quote]

I think these days the presumption is that if you are not an academic, you don't have the credentials to be worth listening to. Now, that may not be true, but it sure makes it a lot easier on the people doing the real science if they can focus on legitimate stuff and not have to spend half their time debunking quacks who want to make perpetual motion machines with permanent magnets (which, of course, would happen if just anyone was invited).

If you've got a really good idea, I don't see why you couldn't write it up and mail it around to scientists in the field to get some feedback on it, or maybe even start a small non-profit and write a grant. I think if you did, you'd see why the science gets left to the establishment: because the equipment is so darn expensive these days. Middle-class average citizens don't have the disposable income to do these sort of things; I'm not ruling out Carmack or Elon Musk from trying (in fact, I believe Carmack experessed interest in a polywell attempt at some point).

Now, as a wannabe-academic, that Woodruff ICE sounds about as obnoxious as perpetual motion, or maybe slightly less so. So is that "spherical cusp" idea. So I think you ought to give the ICC folks some credit for being open-minded: after all, they are to the tokamak crowd what we are to them.

chrismb
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Re: The "Science Culture"

Postby chrismb » Sun Feb 14, 2010 4:47 pm

Solo wrote:If you've got a really good idea, I don't see why you couldn't write it up and mail it around to scientists in the field to get some feedback on it,

Done that. No feedback.

Solo wrote:...or maybe even start a small non-profit and write a grant.

In progress, but how long will it take and how can I spend anything more than my spare time on it? Mrs. and juniors #1 and #2 require sustenance, currently provided by a job that demands a heavy attention load.

Next idea....?

jmc
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Postby jmc » Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:13 pm

The reality is that todays scientists are so specialized, that they often don't understand new concepts outside their area in anycase. If you can find a specialists that shares your interest then they might reply, but normal scientist don't allocate huge ammounts of their time to analysising obscure theories supported by dodgy data.

Investors can be a bit more easily fooled/persuaded if your a very good salesman. But they still look for some kind of credentials usually or a recommendation from someone they trust since they don't understand scientific concepts very well.

Next idea?

Find the cheapest experiment you can possibly think of to demonstrate the principle of your idea get good data and maybe people will take you seriously. Experimental evidence always talks louder than theory.

MirariNefas
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Postby MirariNefas » Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:57 pm

It's a shame that these things are for academics only. I mean, if someone has an idea who's not an academic then they wouldn't be funded to go to such a thing even if they had had some pre-warning of it,


These things are often not for academics only. It depends, some are at specific rented out venues like a ski lodge and I'm sure it's harder to get in then, but a lot of these conferences at universities like that are open to the public. The university will even put up fliers to try to get students in.

Funding is a different matter. Yes, no one will fly you out there and pay for your hotel. What else could you expect? And yes, you might have trouble presenting unless you have published materials or patents or something lending credence to your having something worth presenting. Although, if you submit a convincing enough abstract, you never know.

I think today's "science" culture would make the blood boil of those who laid the foundations for modern science, if they were here to see it.


This is like saying that the founding fathers of America would be pissed off that we have racial integration these days.

I think these days the presumption is that if you are not an academic, you don't have the credentials to be worth listening to. Now, that may not be true, but it sure makes it a lot easier on the people doing the real science if they can focus on legitimate stuff and not have to spend half their time debunking quacks who want to make perpetual motion machines with permanent magnets (which, of course, would happen if just anyone was invited).


This is exactly the concern. There are a few other ways to acheive legitimacy. Like, through private industry. But one way or another you need to prove that you're doing real research and legitimately understand the field.

If you've got a really good idea, I don't see why you couldn't write it up and mail it around to scientists in the field to get some feedback on it, or maybe even start a small non-profit and write a grant.


Here's a better idea: talk to the scientists in person. I know, difficult if you don't live near a big university. But suppose you live in a big city so universities are available.

Go to the school, attend their (open to the public) seminars (they will have at least one talk weekly per science department). Get to know some people and talk to them. It's easy to ignore an email when you're a busy person, but most people will make some time for you in person. And you know, emails often do work too, as long as you know enough about what you're talking about. I've contacted several scientists (after reading through a few of their papers) and usually they're pretty flattered that anyone is interested in their work. But if I went straight to "Here's my great idea, I'm as smart as you are," I wouldn't get very far.

I think if you did, you'd see why the science gets left to the establishment: because the equipment is so darn expensive these days. Middle-class average citizens don't have the disposable income to do these sort of things;


You know, it really depends on what you want to do. I have a friend who set up a Drosophila lab in his basement. He was a grad student at the time, but his advisor wouldn't give him the go ahead to spend money on experiments without some justification on his ideas. So he made some fly food (cheap and easy), got some flasks to keep them in, knocked them out with dry ice (necessary when you're manipulating the fly in some way), got a surplus crap microscope, and ran little pilot experiments. Anybody could do it with the right background and a few friends in labs to supply odds and ends. On the other hand, he sure as hell couldn't design an experiment using high throughput DNA sequencing or an electron microscope, so his choices were limited.

I think one of the factors here is that, if you did have the background to do this stuff in your basement, you'd become an academic anyway. Why not? Because it would take some time to go to gradschool? Well, they pay you for that, and if this is what you really want to do, a few years investent is worth the payout.

chrismb
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Postby chrismb » Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:50 pm

MirariNefas wrote:Here's a better idea: talk to the scientists in person. I know, difficult if you don't live near a big university. But suppose you live in a big city so universities are available.

Go to the school, attend their (open to the public) seminars (they will have at least one talk weekly per science department). Get to know some people and talk to them. It's easy to ignore an email when you're a busy person, but most people will make some time for you in person.

Yep. Done that. I used to be a Research Fellow myself - on an equal basis to those I've tried to contact (once again). I've even had promisary indications when face-to-face they'd look at ideas, but once the moment has gone it seems the memory is lost. Sorry...try another idea.

chrismb
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Postby chrismb » Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:53 pm

jmc wrote: scientist don't allocate huge ammounts of their time to analysising obscure theories supported by dodgy data.

Regrettably, they don't spend any time analysing solid experiments supported by sound data either, if it's not specifically within the boundaries of their own grant and printed in an expensive subscription-only periodical (I resist using the disingenuous term 'published').

Try sending a fusion scientist a picture of your own well-confined toroidal plasma, rich in non-maxwellian hot ions but with frozen cold electrons, the supposed panacea for fusion, and they'll just ignore it. It's too much for them to even acknowledge what is plain in front of them, too much of a 'culture shock' I guess.

People often refuse to accept what is plainly in front of them if it is too far out of the bounds of their expectations. That's just normal human behaviour for you.
Last edited by chrismb on Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:10 am, edited 2 times in total.

MirariNefas
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Postby MirariNefas » Sun Feb 14, 2010 11:59 pm

Make a friend rather than an acquaintance, and that will change. Acquaintances will be polite but won't devote a great deal of time to you. Why should they? They are busy people, and a picture can mean anything. They spend plenty of time devoting attention to solid experiments already - the stuff sent to them for peer review. You need your stuff to be sent out for peer review for it to be taken seriously, and I don't know what particular barrier you face in that. I suspect that a collaborator with a PhD could get that done.

MirariNefas
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Postby MirariNefas » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:02 am

Yep. Done that. I used to be a Research Fellow myself - on an equal basis to those I've tried to contact (once again).


Then I think you already know what you need to do. What's the hold up?

chrismb
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Postby chrismb » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:06 am

I have been reading up on various people who struggled against 'establishments', such as Wright Bros and Whittle. There seems to be a very typical trend which strikes me as, therefore, embedded in the human psyche - solid attempts at engagement with the establishment, followed by retracting into isolation [after rejection] and releasing little info whilst developing it to fully-working, followed by 'launch', followed by general ridicule, followed by grudging acceptance, followed by it being regarded as 'self-evident'.

chrismb
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Postby chrismb » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:07 am

MirariNefas wrote:
Yep. Done that. I used to be a Research Fellow myself - on an equal basis to those I've tried to contact (once again).


Then I think you already know what you need to do. What's the hold up?

Because you have to 'publish'. And to 'publish' you have to have well supported and supervised experiments to compete at a world class level with all the other world class papers trying to push their way into 'publication'.

And to have those you have to be an academic with a grant and time enough to run your world class experiments and write up the world class results to a standard that will compete at a world class level. Quite a daunting feat to attempt if it's just stuff you're doing in your own time out of interest.

kunkmiester
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Postby kunkmiester » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:15 am

It's a shame that these things are for academics only. I mean, if someone has an idea who's not an academic then they wouldn't be funded to go to such a thing even if they had had some pre-warning of it,

I do some things much like this, but it's totally unrelated to science. Granted, writing stories and making costumes might not be quite on the same page, but organizing the event is much the same. Basically, if you're going to pay for using facilities for such a meeting(even if the university is doing it), they want to either have people pay for it, so it can be repeated, or they want to make sure that those coming and the discussions had are relevant and reasonably important. Once again we see that there's going to be bias--the hobbyist with his desktop fusion reactor that's running the lights right then will probably not get invited. SOMEONE will make that decision, and the usual suspects of guidelines will be used.

Someone mentioned on another thread a few journals and such dedicated to taking a realistic look at "alternate" science. I think such things should be quite common--someone should automatically decide to play devil's advocate, since such tension is ideal for science.
Evil is evil, no matter how small

MirariNefas
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Postby MirariNefas » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:16 am

chrismb wrote:
MirariNefas wrote:
Yep. Done that. I used to be a Research Fellow myself - on an equal basis to those I've tried to contact (once again).


Then I think you already know what you need to do. What's the hold up?

Because you have to 'publish'. And to 'publish' you have to have well supported and supervised experiments to compete at a world class level with all the other world class papers trying to push their way into 'publication'.

And to have those you have to be an academic with a grant and time enough to run your world class experiments and write up the world class results to a standard that will compete at a world class level. Quite a daunting feat to attempt if it's just stuff you're doing in your own time out of interest.


Not everything has to be world class excellent. There are lesser journals, you don't need to target Nature or Science. But yes, you do need good experimental design and solid results, and if your project needs good funding to get that, you need a grant. Usually to be a Research Fellow you need a doctorate. Do you have one? If you do, have you done a post doc? It can be hard getting grants without enough publications, but that's what post doc positions are for.

chrismb
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Postby chrismb » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:37 am

MirariNefas wrote: It can be hard getting grants without enough publications, but that's what post doc positions are for.
I have publications, but in the *wrong* subject! I would suggest there are no polymaths these days because no-one believes you can be a polymath as it's a full time job staying at the top of just one branch, let alone multiple ones. An age has gone by when you would be respected for *doing science*, now you are expected to *do* a specialism.

MirariNefas
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Postby MirariNefas » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:45 am

Ah, I understand. My sympathies then, yes, publishing outside of your specialty, or trying to move between specialties, is very difficult.

Many agree that focus within the established specialties dulls creativity and limits progress, but I haven't seen a good implementation scheme to get us out of this system. It is deeply unfortunate.


On a personal level, I want to change tracks a little, but I know it'll probably cost me. When I applied for graduate programs, schools wanted me to go into Drosophila research because that's where my undergrad publications where. As if I had control of what research I could do when I was an undergrad, or even knew what I wanted then! I took what I could get! And I'll be damned if I spend the rest of my life doing developmental genetics with fruit flies.


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