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Comment: Well, he has a point. (Score 3, Insightful) 740

by sackvillian (#48963945) Attached to: New Jersey Gov. Christie: Parents Should Have Choice In Vaccinations

"Not every vaccine is created equal and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others... I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things"

I, for one, proudly agree with the wise governor that some vaccines shouldn't mandatory for children. Like the shingles vaccine -- expensive and marginally effective, and practically useless if you're under the age of 60. I don't know why'd I'd ask my parents to decide on this vaccine call for me when I hit the age of 60 but his point is valid.

But god, I hope he's not referring to Mumps, Measels, Rubella, and the like!

Comment: Re:methane ice underwater (Score 2) 135

by sackvillian (#45574735) Attached to: Siberia's Methane Release Larger Than Previously Thought

That begs the question, what happens to methane to limit its greenhouse lifetime?

It's not pretty. Essentially, the C-H bonds in methane are vulnerable to radical reactions. This allows for a variety of removal processes, many leading to the formation of water vapour and/or CO2 itself.

While that may not sound so bad, don't forget that water vapour is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases when it's found in the atmosphere, which is why, for example, the effective carbon emissions of intercontinental flights are so significant. So the end result is methane, an awful greenhouse gas, lives a relatively short life but ends up as either a worse or slightly less awful different greenhouse gas. In other words, methane stinks!

Comment: Re:And the anti-science spin continues (Score 3, Insightful) 366

In summary: Over Fishing entire species to near extinction: Fine. Kill one clam that turns out to be really old add to our understanding of the oceans and climate: Evil, arrogant, and self-centered! WTF?

Ever notice how much efforts police will make to safely sedate and transport a cow that's loose on the highway? Even one that was heading (and will continue to head) to a slaughterhouse?

The reality is that the vast majority of people are not comfortable with killing animals and simply can't handle the idea -- let alone the sight! -- of it. Just the information given on this clam in TFA is enough to rouse people's sympathy and make its death seem tragic. But, as is true for war, the idea of millions of something dying is incomprehensible and therefore inconsequential. Especially if the dying is out of sight and out of mind.

It's for this reason that I can understand and respect the perspectives of hunters and vegetarians alike. But it's quite sad when people can't face the reality of their own actions.

Comment: Re:Article is exactly wrong (Score 1) 279

by sackvillian (#45319533) Attached to: Why Organic Chemistry Is So Difficult For Pre-Med Students

Organic is, in fact, the only one you absolutely CAN memorize. Unlike the math-based chemistry classes where you have to learn principles, which the pre-meds struggle mightily with, the memorization-heavy organic chemistry is the one that is considered to be similar enough to medical school that it is used as a weed-out.

As a fellow chemist -- one that has done research and teaching in physical and organic realms -- I assure you this is not necessarily true. A good organic course will yield a maximum grade of maybe 70% for students who are impeccable memorizers but not problem solvers. (I'd say it'd be about 50% for a good phys chem course, because plug-and-chug formulas can certainly be crammed.)

For example, syntheses are a lot like chess. They require memorizing a variety of transformations, but the potential applications of those finite transformations are nearly limitless. There's just no way to memorize them. You need to understand the rules of the game, then be both logical and creative to succeed.

I used to share your perspective, beginning my academic carerr as a phys-chem believer. In the end, I realized that if courses in organic can be aced by memorization, that simply means that whoever delivered the course fucked up. There is a heckofa lot more too it than that.

Comment: Lot of reductionist comments missing the point (Score 1) 279

by sackvillian (#45319469) Attached to: Why Organic Chemistry Is So Difficult For Pre-Med Students

Organic chemsitry is not a fascinating subject in its ownright. And even though it falls in the purview of physics -- like, uh, everything -- it is best understood apart from physics, as a unique lense. Just as biology is not best understood as complicated chemistry, but rather as a completely different perspective.

It demonstrates the raw power of abstraction. For example, ask an experienced organic chemist to propose a synthesis of any arbitrary molecule. A good one will normally be able to come up with something plausible in minutes, and refine it to something practical in hours. A physical chemist, let alone a physicist, even with the incredible computing resources for the complex quantum mechanical calculations required wouldn't be able to tell you how to make it if you gave her months! Guarenteed.

That is the power of organic chemistry. It teaches you how a handful of simplifications, fuzzy rules, and fictional symbols can give you incredibly unique and practical skills. This is not unlike treating the human body as a group of organs, cells, cellular machines, etc., rather than subatomic particles. Of course it's all physics, but viewing systems through appropriate paradigms can yield incredible results.

If people see "orgo" as just a test of rote memorization, their professors should be ashamed -- they've missed it point.

Comment: Re:The answer is SIMPLE (Score 4, Insightful) 786

by sackvillian (#45260699) Attached to: Why Can't Big Government Launch a Website?

The other problem with lawyers is that they come from an adversarial profession. They tend to think in terms of winning and losing, rather than mutual benefit. Courts are in the business of slicing up the pie, not making the pie bigger, and certainly not planting some wheat and apple trees so more pies can be made in the future.

Exactly. Someone once said that the whole trouble with having lawyers in charge is that lawyers are paid to arbitrarily pick a position, then argue for that position come hell, highwater, or new information. They don't typically have any incentive (or even the opportunity) to pick the right position -- they go with the view they've been paid to represent.

Scientists, engineers, and practically everyone else are instead expected to come to the right answer based on the objectively best evidence available. And if that evidence changes, so should the position. The lawyer-approach wouldn't cure a patient or get an airplane off the ground, why does anyone expect it to be suited to running a government?

Comment: Re:Did the French learn nothing from 1845 (Score 1) 264

by sackvillian (#45258601) Attached to: France Moves To Protect Independent Booksellers From Amazon

Why prop up an obsolete and failed industry at the expence of taxpayers, consumers and competitors?

Because small bookstores are part of what makes Paris the most visited city in the world? (You don't think tourism is a failed industry, do you?) Because literature is a huge part of the cultural heritage of France and remains a national past-time? Because if Amazon is the only bookseller in the world in a decade or so, they will do what monopolies are known to do: screw over the authors, focus on mass-appeal crap, enforce DRM? (Just look at the music industry for examples of this, and imagine how bad it would be if it was even more centralized!)

I'm not French but one of the reasons I love France is because nearly every French citizen I've met would be able to produce these answers and talk intelligently about this bill. On Slashdot, and in North America, we seem to be collectively drunk on the free-market, short-term kool-aid.

Comment: Re:Half right (Score 2) 197

by sackvillian (#45258291) Attached to: How To Better Verify Scientific Research

If scientists want to restore integrity to their field(s) -- and I applaud their efforts to do so -- why aren't they using an experimental approach to do so? I think they should try several things and collect data to find out what actually works.

That's exactly what's happening. Different groups of scientists, journalists, university-groups and so forth are trying to implement a variety of systems.

Of course, like real science, each group tends to only focus on one approach with the hope that their results will emerge as the best amongst the competition. You're not referring to "scientists" as some kind of monolothic entity, are you?

Comment: I'm inclined to agree (Score 2, Interesting) 479

by sackvillian (#45216417) Attached to: Tesla CEO Elon Musk: Fuel Cells Are 'So Bull@%!#'

I've seen hundreds of researchers work to try to come up with a car-ready inexpensive fuel cell that's, if not safe, at least not going to level a block during a fender-bender. The conclusion I came to long ago was that the big car makers pursue fuel cells to avoid explaining why they've not pursued (or actively stalled) the development of electric vehicles. The fact is that electric cars have a much, much greater potential to replace internal combustion engines than fuel cells for the near future.

Even just the fact that infrastructure is basically in place for widespread transportation of electricity and not even on the radar for hydrogen gives electric a huge edge!

I'm not saying the technology might not prove itself within a few decades, but if half of the fuel-cell resources were placed into improving batteries, electric vehicles would be damn near ubiquitous by now. Would anyone argue that the existing automakers really wanted that?

Comment: Re:Fake Austerity (Score 1) 139

by sackvillian (#41540221) Attached to: French Science and Higher Education Programs Avoid Austerity

This is the hard discipline that the vast majority of private enterprises have to adhere to, but which no government with a European welfare state seems capable of.

Strange, isn't it. Almost as if governments and corporations are not the exact same thing.

Austerity makes zero sense when applied to governments. How many times does this need to be proven? How many gutted middle classes and depressions does it take? "Tightening the belt" on a countrywide scale is a feel good, self flagellating piece of fiction that simply does not work.

But don't let me take away your smug sense of superiority over nearly all of Europe. Romney 2012!

Comment: You Are Not Paying For An Education (Score 1) 109

by sackvillian (#41491023) Attached to: The Rage For MOOCs

College has become far more about the degree than the experience, sadly. You can meet scores of graduates that have shining transcripts and dismal educations. And this is one of the reason the cost is so obscene -- as Thomas Frank said, "An annual pass to Disneyland would also cost $54,000 if society believed that what it took to make you eligible for success was a great many hours spent absorbing the subtle lessons of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage."

Until there is prestige associated with online learning, an online education will never be as valuable or acceptable as a brick-and-mortar degree mill experience. However, to those who actually want to learn and to do, access to high quality education experiences from anywhere in the world is fantastic and will only continue to improve with better technology and pedagogy. Though it's no surprising that the breakthrough course was in a geeky subject that attracts genuine curiosity.

Comment: That problem is not unique to Stanford (Score 3, Interesting) 171

by sackvillian (#39791307) Attached to: Is Stanford Too Close To Silicon Valley?

My university's model is to attract as many international students as possible and charge them 3x the 'domestic' tuition rate, which is already high for Canada. Better yet is a privately-owned college they've licensed our 'brand' to, which allows them to do the same but with dirt-low entrance requirements and higher yet tuition!

Even my previous institute, a very small liberal arts university on the opposite coast, was showing shades of the same. What else do we expect with burgeoning human resources departments and shrinking public funding?

Comment: What I wish I had been told... (Score 4, Informative) 279

by sackvillian (#39606323) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Advice For Budding Scientist?

I'm midway through a graduate program and here are the things I wish I was told before I started:

  • -- Your supervisor choice is of prime importance. They will dictate your research projects, your lifestyle, and most importantly, your opportunities to continue on. They write your reference letter, after all, and decide your approach to publishing. Pick a good one! Visit several, talk to their students (over beer preferably) - really, you cannot investigate this question too much.
  • -- Be ambitious about learning about different school's grad-payment policies. Do they require you to TA? Do you want to? Do they have minimum funding guarantees? If you bring in an external scholarship, do they dock your pay or match the funds? Of course it's not about the money but in Canada, I know firsthand that some graduate students will make fully twice what other students make and neither are well compensated.
  • -- Pick a school for its department rather than overall reputation. The supervisor choice is first priority but the second criterion should be the department, as departmental policy and reputation will shape your life in many ways.
  • -- Wherever you go, adopt the following policy: If I feel productive, I work. If I don't feel productive, I do not try to. There will be pressure to always be in the lab or in front of your computer, but the reality is that no human can work eighteen hour days for weeks on an end. So if you can't focus or your research is at an impasse, get out there and do something fun. It won't set you back academically and in the longterm, you'll be happier and healthier!
    • With that said, don't let the naysayers get you down. There are good people in academia and always room for a few more. Good luck!

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.