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Comment Re:fubding (Score 1) 387

It's really interesting that you and I agree on the problem so closely, but we disagree on the economic system that's the root of the issue. I agree even that at the root, the problem we're discussing with science comes from what are essentially subsidies for already rich people and organizations at the expense of the workers. The difference is that I think that scientific research, as a market, has been socialized rather than left too open to the pressure of capitalist competition. The government controls every detail from the total size of the market down to how much lab techs are paid. The NIH, for example, had to be ordered by Congress to raise postdoc salaries (which they kind-of did) because the bureaucratic goal of maximizing the scientific workforce and productivity was at odds with their responsibility to pay people a fair salary.

I'm with you on the idea that modern states really use a mix of capitalism and communism. I really don't care how we describe the problem: I call it overly socialized, but I'd be just as happy to call it "crony capitalism." What I'd like is to see us improve the quality of science and the way we treat our young scientists.

Comment fubding (Score 1) 387

The physics analysis is not a controversial at all. The big controversy here is over what should be funded.

Cosmologists and quantum theorists are in good company when it comes to leveraging popular fantasies for fame and fortune. I'm a condensed matter physicist, and about every five years for a very long time we have discovered a material "stronger than steel," or that "will replace silicon."

This is now the culture of science (not just physics) because we have allowed basic research to become a profit center. Universities and (to a lesser extent) companies do not pay for scientific research any more, they get paid to do scientific research. Dig in to a university budget some time. The government is the only customer that matters in this world, and that all-important customer only cares about publications (peer reviewed articles, mass media, whatever). To keep our jobs, we have to be very good at telling stories and painting a picture of the future.

This is key because the customers for basic research used to care about actionable information first, and publicity second. We've reversed that.

The result is that most basic researchers are essentially professional science bloggers. Illuminating possibilities is a lot more interesting and lucrative than proving (or disproving) things.

Comment imperfect information (Score 1) 609

I am a physicist. What makes my job interesting is not endless connect-the-dots logical connections, but the opposite: my job is to make (educated) guesses based on imperfect information.

The interesting part comes in figuring out when there's enough evidence to make a reasonable conclusion. We (the other scientists and I) debate whether a piece of data is really "true," what conclusions could be supported by collected evidence, and what "reasonable" means in "reasonable conclusion." I work with two other physicists, one of whom I trained, and one was trained by my grad school mentor. Even with such similar backgrounds, we disagree on all of these seemingly logical and mathematically calculable things daily. We work at a company, and can't afford to continue gathering data until we all agree. So, I have to make decisions based on incomplete information and logical disagreement all the time.

My dad is a lawyer/politician who has held elected office for most of my life. As an elected official, his job is to make decisions with a very controlled timeline, and somewhat controlled budget. This means he's routinely making decisions without all the information one would wish. While law lacks the rigor of the statistical calculations we use in science, the idea of gradations of certainty is there, and is used in politics.

Essentially, the argument that evidence can be gathered until a logical political conclusion can be reached is impractical and not rooted in reality. We do not even do that in science. Further, the suggestion that scientists have a monopoly on logic and evidence determination is wrong. The implication that politicians and government officials broadly do not currently desire to make logical conclusions based on evidence is counter-productive and incorrect. Certainly there are corrupt officials who do not desire this, but to imply that our government as a whole is illogical is dangerous.

Comment Re:No justice (Score 2) 801

I don't think that's what the FBI statement is saying at all, and I think you're looking at something that's not the statement...

It's very clear that the FBI found that classified information was exposed, but not "in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice." The FBI characterization of what was done is "extremely careless." This is interesting wording because that is not a legal term associated with disclosure of classified material; "grossly negligent" is the legal term associated with the threshold for felony mishandling of classified information.

The FBI statement is also very clear on the security classification of what they found, which is why I think you're reading something else.

110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification.

That's pretty darn specific. If it was just the confidential stuff, I think your implication that the government classifies everything and this isn't a big deal would be very strong. Multiple accidental Top Secret information leaks is a bit different, though. In the last 15 years, we have sent many government workers to jail for leaking information like this, or even just having it stored at their house.

Comment Re:Skipped at the shareholders' meeting? (Score 1) 232

Thanks for sharing.

One thing stands out in your recollection for me: the inspirational focus on product innovation. Setting the circuses aside, that sounds very different from board meetings I'm used to (in the USA). I can see the appeal of that. While very profitable, innovations in marketing are not so inspirational.

Comment Re:He really hates Google (Score 1) 246

In an abstract way, this is true. Practically though, no one can effectively compete with Google.

There is not much difference in the effective power Google has compared to AT&T prior to being broken up. Both AT&T (then) and Google (now) use intense vertical integration, bundling of various services at below a-la-carte market prices, and large R&D efforts to maintain dominance. While people (such as Sprint) were free to compete with AT&T prior to 1982, the (legal) fact is that there was no economic way to effectively compete with them. The same is nearly true of Yahoo and Bing in contrast with Google today.

Comment Re:Skipped at the shareholders' meeting? (Score 1) 232

Ok, I actually do have a sincere (and off-topic) question for you.

Why do you go to these meetings?

I present for my company at meetings. It seems phone calls are much preferred to face to face meetings unless there's something really critical (bad) going on. Certainly, we don't get anyone who isn't fluent in English. So... why do you go to the Japanese shareholder meetings?

Maybe they're entertaining? I've never seen any ruckii at our meetings. To have that happen almost annually would be incredible. Now, the on-topic discussion is Sony's ethical mis-steps, so maybe they've earned these disruptions.

In my view, good investor management nearly demands that shareholder meetings are boring and predictable. If there's something good happening that you can raise money on, don't sit on it! If there's something bad going on, don't surprise your investors with it. A formal meeting recaps communications that have been going on since the last formal meeting.

Comment good luck (Score 2) 85

I'm a scientist and have worked in the sensor field for a long time. I have had students I've trained attempt this (commercial breath detection of cancer) with promising initial results. It's pretty easy to do the demo these guys are doing. It's very hard to do this with real people. The gap between cool academic demo and manufactured product is huge. The gap between product and FDA cleared diagnostic is even larger.

Comment typical san diego (Score 1) 113

My favorite part of this is the tortured logic around the (lack of) funding for anything. The budget for 2017 plans on $106M being spent on street repairs. For the climate action plan, they hope that 10% of the street repairs are helpful for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. So, that's a $10.6M expenditure on the CAP plan! The vast majority of the people being "hired" on this plan are being hired into the sewer repair project. This is a long-term program that was going to hire those people anyway. Also, this is part of the reason the roads need to be repaired so badly, they're being torn up all over town, and then "repaired" when the sewer guys move on.

These are both good things to do, but we were doing them anyway, and not because we're trying to fight climate change. They money being "spent" in this plan, and the people being "hired" have nothing to do at all with the headline.

Comment commercialization is the challenge (Score 1) 154

Since 1999 the US government has paid more for basic research to universities than the combined private and public investment in early stage commercialization (government research grants vs angel investing + venture capital + SBIR). We've built our R&D system such that it costs more to commercialize a good idea than it does to do the basic research. Basic research costs are kept low by subsidies from the researchers who accept degrees, PhDs, postdoctoral fellowships, and tenure in lieu of money.

So, now we have an overabundance of basic research ideas and projects, and a shortage of commercialization opportunities and industry funding.

How does that lead to the government needing to spend more? The government is spending enough.

1) Let's go back to requiring DoD contractors spend 15% of their overhead funding on internal R&D.
2) Let's require SBIR recipients to work on their funded projects full time.
3) Let's require that "diversified investments" advertised to the general public include 0.5% of total funds invested in companies less than 5 years old.

The money is out there, and the researchers are out there. The government doesn't need to pay for everything, nor the scientific community accept the expansive view of "basic" research to include everything up to sales (and in some cases, past that). There needs to be a nudge in the right direction though.

Comment Re:Not gonna happen (Score 1) 148

The problem with this approach to patents is that when I create a patent that covers similar technology as the "non-working" version, but actually works properly, I still get my patent granted.

You *can* patent nonsense, but that doesn't prevent actual patents of existing inventions from parallel (non-infringing by addition of crucial invention) patents.

Comment Not a good path (Score 1) 908

A political scientist wants to teach statistics without algebra or logs? Instead of "math," the political scientist wants to teach the Consumer Price Index and other political tools as science. Wow.

That's dumb, but the arguments being made in the NYT article go beyond dumb and are dangerous: Not all employers need people with algebra. Ok. So we shouldn't teach algebra. Oh, ok.

A reasonable follow up question: Do employers need people who have read canonical American literature, or have any appreciation for history, art, or poetry?

Well, I am an employer, I can answer that question. I don't NEED my employees to know any of that stuff. None of that goes onto the job description. During a job interview, I will never hear "this Research Biologist job looks great, I'm super qualified for that, but I've never read Hemmingway." It's not important. I would be very concerned if someone had no interests or studies outside of their job, but each individual subject is not important.

TFA says "Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives." That line of thinking leads to full time work-study. Work ethic, punctuality, experience being managed in a job... there are some skills directly applicable to EVERY workplace, and it doesn't require ANY difficult academic subjects. Tailoring the educational system to job postings is stupid and a pathway to a very poorly educated population.

Math should be relevant to "real" people. That's not controversial. So let's judge math education based on real-world applicability for everyone, not just "employers."

People should be able to handle their personal finances, and understand what they're signing on to when they sign a loan or a job offer. Algebra *should* be enabling that, but we teach it poorly and people cannot apply it to their lives.

These are the kinds of things everyone should be able to do with math:
Assume you need to put a $1000 on a credit card for a year. Evaluate three different (real) credit card offers and determine which will require you to pay the least amount back.

Assume you get a job offer with a $40k annual salary. This offer comes with a 401k retirement plan that you will own. Your employer will pay into your 401k account the same amount you pay into it, up to 3% of your salary. How much money are you paid annually for this job if you submit 3% of your salary to the 401k?

You have two job offers for temporary work, and can only take one. The first is for 25 hours at $15 an hour and the second is at $18 an hour for between 15 and 25 hours. How many hours do you need to get at the $18/hour job to get paid the same total amount as the $15/hour job?

If people can't do these problems (and many can't), then I agree that it's pointless to try and teach polynomials and logs, and that's really a bad thing!

People in liberal arts and social science need to think about that this is math that is 400 years old. In the 1600s, people thought this was important enough to work on and use. This is math that was useful in the Renaissance, and we have built on it and increased it's utility since then (notably: basic statistics...). This is "advanced" and "modern" in the same way that novels are (a 400 year old art form). No one would suggest that reading novels is an impediment for graduation, and anyway, not important to the workplace, so we should be more modern and just read blog posts in school.

Comment Re:Put it in the budget (Score 1) 104

This brings up a really interesting issue regarding ownership of the computers. Legally, grantees do not own equipment purchased under a grant, but are by tradition (if an academic institution) given custodianship of the equipment at the end of the grant.

Sale or re-purposing of the equipment as the department is doing may technically be a violation of federal contracting laws (not that anyone will enforce it...).

Comment how to detect BS science (Score 2) 159

First, do the people talking about the science get their units right? Forget mixing imperial and metric, do the words and the measurements match up at all?

Energy density is energy per volume. Wh/gal, Wh/L, MJ/L, or something like that.

Specific energy is energy per weight. Wh/lb, Wh/kg, MJ/kg, or something like that.

They're reporting an "energy density" with units of "specific energy." Are they doing their comparisons well if they don't understan what they're looking at? Have they done the measurement properly?

Maybe this is a great invention, but this wasn't ready for publication or press release.

Comment Re:Interesting (Score 1) 440

You've got an aggressively paternalistic view of homelessness.

I've been homeless (while working). It had little to do with money, and everything to do with me not being concerned about having a traditional place to live for a little while. My understanding is that my situation was typical of homelessness (where I live, at least). I really doubt UBI would change much here.

What UBI will change is people's willingness to quit a job and try their own thing. That's what Y Combinator wants to see happen here. We're seeing a slow, steady drop in startup creation, and that's a problem for their business model.

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