Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Problem with Real Science: It Doesn't Always Ask the Right Questions

Imagine this, flash forward to the future and it's all bright, sky blue with no clouds for UK science.

Picture above from:

Unfortunately, this was not the picture that emerged from yesterday's disappointing debate with UK Science Minister, Lord Drayson and others. The discussion did highlight the lack of funding for UK science research, and the problem of effectively communicating the benefit of science to the masses.

Admittedly, the panel did not represent all science, nevertheless a significant part: physics. Innovations in physics contribute to UK's GDP and employs many (according to the Institute of Physics 2007 Report, prepared by Centre of Economics and Business Research Ltd.)

In contrast to science fiction, much of real science is mediocre, conducted by dull scientists incapable of inspiring others, somewhat overwhelmed by their own hubris, with poor, lazy research skills (recently aghast at a respected peer-reviewed journal in which an article cites Wikipedia as a source, not once, but twice*).

Hence, was not shocked when one of the panelists asked if "philosophy is done here?" - this in a country where Philosophical Transactions, one of the oldest, peer-reviewed and "essential reading for mathematicians, physicists, engineers and other physical scientists" is the journal of the Royal Society: "the world's oldest scientific academy in continuous existence".

The debate can be viewed again at the Times Higher Education site from 6pm GMT today.

As it was a Monday night, was really pleased when the debate was over, because it's FLASH FORWARD night. Based on Canadian author, Robert J. Sawyer's book of the same name, the TV show dramatises, in spectacular fashion, the result of a 137 seconds world-wide blackout that causes people to view their future six months ahead (25 years in the book). Now that show, even better than William Petersen's CSI, shows physics/science in all its glamorous glory. Ah, if only real science were as exciting!

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(* Authors include UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics, and Junior Research Associate - Information Ethics Group (IEG), University of Oxford; February 2009 issue of Minds and Machines)

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