Archive for the Science Category

Blogging the "Origin of the Species"

Posted in biology, physics, Science on January 8, 2009 by Mike Procario

I read on Pharyngula about an evolutionary biologist who was planning to read the Origin of the Species for the first time. He had managed to get a Ph.D. without doing so.  This did not surprise me.

I am a physicist, but I have never read Newton’s Principia. Of course the fact that it is written in Latin is an obstacle for me. From what I have heard of it, it would be quite hard for me to follow. Even though Newton invented calculus, he did many of the proofs geometrically. Newton got the physics right, but many people have figured out better ways of explaining it.

I find evolutionary biology interesting, especially evo-devo. So much has been learned about evolution since Darwin and I think I would want the much more complete view that is available now, than you would get from the Origin of the Species.

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ICHEP Reports

Posted in physics, Science on July 30, 2008 by Mike Procario

I am attending the International Conference on High Energy Physics in the exotic locale of Philadelphia, PA. Here are some random thoughts.

Most interesting talk title: Things decaying into top quarks, that are similar to top quarks, or that are produced with top quarks, by Jochen Cammin of the University of Rochester.

This Is Funny Only if You Know Unix

Posted in humor, physics, Science, Technology and Software on May 26, 2008 by Mike Procario

XKCD got written up in the NY Times. I discovered from the article that the author is a physics major. I knew he had to be a geek, but physics is as good as it gets.

Why Are There So Few Women in Physics?

Posted in Science, Technology and Software on May 26, 2008 by Mike Procario

I don’t know, but I am seeing many attempts to answer it. The first was a study about women who were postdocs in the D-Zero collaboration which runs the D-Zero experiment at Fermilab. This study was interesting. It used a database of internal notes, conference presentations, and where postdocs went after leaving D-Zero. The conclusion was that women received fewer opportunities to present D-Zero results at conferences than equally qualified men and this hurt their ability to get faculty positions.

I read the actual study and it struck me a serious piece of work that cannot be lightly dismissed. If I understood the paper correctly, it claims that by the metric used in the study the women in the cohort were more productive than the men but were only offered faculty positions at the same rate. There was one element that struck me as odd. It limited the study to men and women who went on to faculty positions at universities. Staff scientist positions at laboratories are very comparable to faculty positions. I know of quite a number of women who are staff scientists at Fermilab. I am curious what would have happened if lab staff scientists were also studied. Do women prefer lab positions over university ones?

The second study I saw was written up in the Boston Globe. It covered science and engineering more broadly than the first one. It argues that women self select against the hard sciences and engineering.

Now two new studies by economists and social scientists have reached a perhaps startling conclusion: An important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves. When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women – highly qualified for the work – stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else.

One study of information-technology workers found that women’s own preferences are the single most important factor in that field’s dramatic gender imbalance. Another study followed 5,000 mathematically gifted students and found that qualified women are significantly more likely to avoid physics and the other “hard” sciences in favor of work in medicine and biosciences.

The third article was in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times, an odd positioning for this topic. On the day that I read it there was large swimsuit ad next to it.

This article cites a study to be published in the Harvard Business Review and claims that scientific workplaces are pretty bad places for women to work.

“It’s almost a time warp,” said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit organization that studies women and work. “All the predatory and demeaning and discriminatory stuff that went on in workplaces 20, 30 years ago is alive and well in these professions.”

I can’t say that I recognize this as describing anyplace I have worked. If there has been discrimination going on, it has been much more subtle like that described in the first study I mentioned.

New Habits

Posted in Education, Science on May 5, 2008 by Mike Procario

There is a nice article in the New York Times about creating new habits. It discusses the advantage to the brain of stretching yourself to keep your mind sharp. I taught myself to use the vi editor a couple of years back just to prove to myself that I could. It was clear to me that my older colleagues were loath to learn a new editor as we switched to using Unix when I was a postdoc. I wanted to prove that I was still capable of picking up something new. It looks like this type of exercise is useful as are lots of other ones that are less technical.

“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will… .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”

XKCD Strikes Again

Posted in humor, physics, Science, Uncategorized on March 20, 2008 by Mike Procario

Mythbusters, Zombie Feynman and a meditation on the meaning of science. What more can you ask for?

Veronica Belmont Visits SLAC

Posted in physics, Science on March 8, 2008 by Mike Procario

Mahalo Daily is a short video podcast hosted by Veronica Belmont that covers a different topic everyday. One day it is hangover cures and another it is the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Well I checked on the recent ones today and I saw that there was a podcast about SLAC. It is not as good as a real visit, but you should check it out anyway.

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