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Back in another life

Written By: - Date published: 2:49 pm, December 13th, 2008 - 14 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags:

I’ve actually had time to start reading blogs again. As some people are probably aware (mostly the climate change deniers), my first degree was in science.

Now while some people seem to think that business is what makes the world work, this isn’t correct. It is the science and its derived sister, technology, are what keeps us all alive. Otherwise we’d have never gotten over the first billion of human population without starving.

However the processes of science are sometimes a bit mundane. Anyone who has plowed through samples in a lab or crawled through datasets is aware of this. In fact it is dead boring, which is why I first went into management, and when that got too boring, into programming.

However, sometimes you get a glimpse back into past lifes. For instance a post by Nerd Girl in Canada on parts of her life as a post-doctorate entitled “The astonishing lifecycle of a hypothesis”

I am a hypothesis factory.

My function in the lab is to take data from our lab members and collaborators, analyze it using Very Sophisticated and Mysterious Techniques, and return to them one or more neatly packaged hypotheses, which they may then choose to pursue experimentally. I am keenly aware that this is a job that will likely one day be performed by robots, but for the time being I am perfectly happy to fulfill the role of HypothesisGenerator3000 (“Now with sentience failsafe mode! 300 per cent less likely to revolt than previous robots!”)

This is so true. She then proceeds to detail the process of evaluating data and finding hypothesis to test, while maintaining a good spider solitaire addiction (it is like a politics junkies obsession with political blogs).

Definitely worth a read, and a reflection on what the internet and blogs bring to the world that we could never find in the main stream media. Probably why their circulations and viewers are falling.

Mind you, this could come from a programmer.

9:02:36. Rinse out four-day-old coffee residue from mug on desk; briefly pause to consider scientific explanations for attendant lack of mold. Determine that coffee must contain a potentially toxic compound with antifungal activity. Moment of fear.

9:02:38. Need for coffee supersedes anxiety over potential toxicity of said coffee. Pay visit to coffee machine.

14 comments on “Back in another life ”

  1. John BT 1

    Iprent, I think I should go and have a lie down. I actually agree with you!
    Without science where would we be? I used to be quite good at it. In fact, when my old science teacher found out I had passed School C in science (50% no less) he said , and I quote, “BT…… unfuckingbelieveable !!! “. It was a compliment, believe it or not.
    If we could only convince all those idiot women in sensible shoes who run our education system how important it is we would be a lot better off.
    Science has been relegated to second class citizen status ( a bit like us middle aged, middle class white males) which is a jolly shame.

  2. Anita 2

    Now while some people seem to think that business is what makes the world work, this isn’t correct. It is the science and its derived sister, technology, are what keeps us all alive. Otherwise we’d have never gotten over the first billion of human population without starving.

    I would argue that it’s altruism/humanity which is the underpinning factor which makes the world work, or at least hobble along. Science and technology can be used selfishly (an elite which eats and lives very well) or altruistically (the whole world eats well enough). It seems to me that, at this moment, we struggle with that balance  a lot of scientific effort goes into things which will benefit a minority at the cost of the vast majority, while some truly dedicated scientists push on with the less-individually-rewarding research that will benefit the poorest.

    Do you think science and technology are necessarily levelling? Or that they need an overlay of humanity and altruism to distribute the benefits?

  3. Quoth the Raven 3

    Since you’ve the time here’s a recommendation: A Journey Round My Skull.
    One of my favourites. Of course then you have to find even more time to read.

  4. lprent 4

    A: Yes and no. Sure a lot of the tech and even the science are misapplied.

    However in both cases they tend to be used to increase the infrastructure of knowledge.

    A truly selfish use of science would be to hold it in little enclaves, ossifying. But as NG points out in her posts, you go off and look around the archives to find what has already been tried and is available. That applies for both of the groups you’ve referred to. They have to release the knowledge because otherwise they can’t make new knowledge.

    There are a lot of social scenarios where that doesn’t happen. For instance guild structures.

  5. Mr Wong 5

    Where is China Town as I want to buy a red flag?

  6. Lew 6

    Lynn: A truly selfish use of science would be to hold it in little enclaves, ossifying.

    Like all those protected but unimplemented patents on obvious and worthy methods, which now can’t be put to any good use without fear of legal repercussions from rapacious IP trolls?


  7. Anita 7


    I wonder about the role of geography in leading to altruistic science. On the one hand maximising individual benefit would lead to scientific enclaves, on the other scientific discovery is hastened by sharing with other scientists. If all the world’s scientists were located together, so they could have both a perfect enclave and perfect sharing would they do science to benefit the rest of us outside the enclave?

    Perhaps the spread of scientists throughout the world, and the consequent requirement for sharing beyond a geographic enclave, is the reason science has (at least to the extent it has) benefited a wider range of people.

  8. lprent 8


    What a terrible idea – have you ever seen science people together…..

    The nerd-geek-dork continuum

    In last week’s post-blog dialogue, reader Shane mentioned his difficulty in pinpointing the essence of “nerd” and asked for my definition of the word. It turned out to be a much simpler exercise than I had originally thought, for in the singularly reflexive moment that followed, I realized that one could define a nerd as someone who gleefully obliges when asked to define something.

    Indeed when the intellectual gauntlet is thrown down, it’s the nerd amongst us who will rise, or, more accurately, hyperactively scramble, to the occasion. We are incapable of resisting a mental challenge, whether it’s a simple matter of seeking out a definition or solving a puzzle, or something more involved, like calculating whether or not it’s possible to have a non-overnight transpacific commercial airline flight whose entire journey takes place in daylight hours* or building a trebuchet to see how far you can fling a car.**

    Imagine if you will, an island of people like that. I’m not sure that the world would survive.

    As far as I can tell the net was primarily developed so that they could be separated least they achieve critical mass.

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    Science and technology can be used selfishly (an elite which eats and lives very well)

    And ends up on the end of a rope or their heads enmeshed in a guillotine. It’s been tried before and it always ends up in revolution.

    Like all those protected but unimplemented patents on obvious and worthy methods, which now can’t be put to any good use without fear of legal repercussions from rapacious IP trolls?


  10. Stephen 10

    I get the feeling that business has an important role in commercialising/distributing scientific discoveries in a form that makes them accessible to the wider world?! Without a profit incentive, it’s probable that many (let’s say engineering) advances simply wouldn’t be bothered with…

  11. randal 11

    it is becoming more and more apparent that we have entered an age where there are more and more facts but less and less ideas

  12. lprent 12

    Stephen: Yes, but without the underlying knowledge it is hard to engineer anything. For instance the whole area of science about quantum tunneling was required before they could engineer low nano-meter chips.

  13. Stephen 13

    I can only guess what that means!

  14. Stephen 14

    Really. I guess you’re rebutting my point somehow, however why you chose to use such an arcane example I don’t know!

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