Saturday, 18 September 2010

science is vital

Britannia used to rule the world but does not any longer. It doesn’t have much in terms of natural resources, the public transport is awful and more or less everything here is overpriced. Which is understandable, since this country produces very little. London may host the next Olympics but a great sports nation Britain is not. And don’t even start me on weather.

Let’s face it, the only two things Britain is any good at are science and gardening. Some people would disagree and insist that British gardening is excellent, rather than “any good”. That’s fine with me. More to the point, I am told that a lot of scientific research in the UK is world-class. I won’t argue with that either, even though I myself never was involved in world-class research. You would expect the world-class research attract at least some decent funding, and then some more funding to add more class to “just” research, right? A man can dream. But then the government tells us that there is a huge budget deficit “that we inherited” (from the previous government, of course) and science funding also must be cut, which reminds me that we are still surrounded by idiots. I can’t agree more with Robert M. May writing in New Scientist that
the current thinking is not just wrong, it’s mad.
Now I am not a big fan of joining the Facebook groups, but I am prepared to make an exception for a good cause when I see one. Science is Vital is actually doing something: organising a March for Science on Saturday 9th October in central London, and will be lobbying Parliament on Tuesday 12th October. If you are reading this, please join the group, spread the word, plan a day out in London... speak up against the madness.

Of course, there always will be gardening.

Monday, 6 September 2010

not afraid to say “we don’t know”

From The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder):
“Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail somebody else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain.”

The Housekeeper and the Professor
Among the many things that made the Professor an excellent teacher was the fact that he wasn’t afraid to say “we don’t know”. For the Professor, there was no shame in admitting you didn’t have the answer, it was a necessary step toward the truth. It was as important to teach us about the unknown or the unknowable as it was to teach us what had already been safely proven.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


“Shortlisted” (or even longlisted) “for Booker / Pulitzer / Orange Prize...” Did you ever wonder why it is OK for fiction authors to put these credentials on the book covers while listing the failed job interviews on your CV is deemed off-limits?

Once upon a time, last century, I was shortlisted for a lectureship. On the interview, I had a chance to meet with two other candidates, one of whom was eventually offered the position. That means, at some point I had a 33% chance to get that job. And yet I feel that it won’t do me much good if I put this fact (that I blew my chance, that is) in my CV. Because in this sport only the wins count.

Frankly, this is ridiculous. If I were lucky and got that or other job, I wouldn’t send my CVs around any longer, right? So it shouldn’t really harm to mention that some of the previous applications resulted in interviews. Same goes for grants. You are expected to include the successful grant proposals in your CV. Why only successful? The writing of unsuccessful grant application is as time-consuming — and as important.

Do you know what helps to get a grant? That’s right: being employed. Therefore, being employed helps being employed, and having grants helps getting grants.