Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I do not find this persuasive 
Barbara Ellen reports 

How quaint that the Conservative party is planning to punish naughty children by taking away their mobiles. Labour is proving much more hardline: taking away the educational futures of tens of thousands of British teenagers, who will be denied university places this autumn.

This shortage of places, between 60,000 and 80,000, has been caused not only by cutbacks, and higher numbers of young applicants, but also by older applicants, "mature students", who have lost their jobs and want to "sit out the recession" at college. Well, fine, so long as the younger applicants get priority.

Admittedly, I am biased. I am one of Britain's beleaguered Pots (parents of teenagers) and this is a headache too far. Don't our young already have it tougher than recent generations? And, while I have nothing against mature students, surely they should be given places purely because they want to study. Otherwise, all we are doing is enabling the government to hide appalling unemployment figures.

It is almost reverse ageism - the young being bumped out of their rightful places so that universities can be employed as higher education catacombs for the fiscally dispossessed. Suspicion deepens when one hears of Brown's response to the crisis - the creation of a measly 10,000 places, with priority given to "maths, science and engineering".

Brilliant, except it would be surprising if there was a shortage of places in such technical subjects, though, if they had the relevant qualifications, these may be the sort of degrees mature, probably male, students would go for. What a coincidence.

I suspect there may be other reasons why the government may wish to give priority to "maths, science[,] and engineering" than to directly conspire to deprive Ellen's offspring of places reading sappier subjects. I'm not going to engage in fashionably smug sneering at "humanities graduates"[1], but stuff like this makes you wonder...

[1] Why is so much opprobrium directed at "media studies", BTW? Why is this subject derided in a way that related subjects like "political science", "history", and "english" aren't?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Attention, legal beagles!
Could this happen in the UK?

I am an assistant professor (about 3 years into starting my lab) at a research university. On Monday of this week, I received an email from a freedom of information act specialist saying that a secretary at another research university had requested a copy of my recently funded R01 and that I had 5 days to comply. I called the secretary (who was requesting for an anonymous physician) and explained to her that there was a ton of unpublished data and a research plan for the lab that I thought when writing was confidential. I then offered to send her the grant in its entirety without government involvement if she would have the physician send me an email promising to keep it confidential. I should point out that I am very good about sharing reagents and have given out my grants (funded R01, R21, R03 and foundation grants) to others with the agreement that they stay confidential. Two days after my phone call (and subsequent email), this secretary sent a very curt email saying that they "preferred to go through the freedom of information act."

The same bloke adds in comments:
"Also, it actually makes you wonder if the lab notebooks filled with data generated with NIH money are also subject to the FOIA."

Over here, the EPSRC publish a synopsis - usually a 1-3 paragraph lay summary of the research that you contribute with your proposal  - on each successful application. Do the other RCs do the same?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Everyone's a critic!
A 19th century "higher" critic 

Via Phil, I learn that German biblical criticism has been challenging the bastions of other "historical" events:
  1. If you watch programs about the moon landings, some show certain film clips near the start of the program and some show the same clips near the end. This shows that the producers of the programs are not interested in preserving truth, but just in getting across the message that suits their preconceived aims. They are therefore not to be trusted.
  2. The release of Led Zepplin 1, the Beatles’ last performance, Yasser Arafat’s election, the Boeing 747’s maiden flight and Robin Knox-Johnston’s solo nonstop circumnavigation are not mentioned anywhere by any of the astronauts. These were major world events that happened in the months before the mission, so their non-inclusion shows that the astronauts’ lines are clearly fakes, read from a script.
  3. Neil Armstrong’s accent sounds different sometimes,, which leads scholars to believe in the presence of a deutero-Armstrong who recorded the scenes while on the moon, and possibly a tritio-Armstrong for the scenes on the way back. That Neil Armstrong could actually sound a bit different at different times, is considered too improbable to countenance.
  4. Man has always dreamed of walking on the moon. By making up this moon landing story, NASA were merely channelling stories they’d cherished for years, and passing on the truths they’d learned around the campfire. They felt the need to create a ‘moon-community’ who could pass down this myth they’d created, as it contained the truths by which they now lived their lives. This must be true, as any other explanation would require NASA to actually innovate and do something nobody had done before, ie land on the moon. Innovation involves doing things that haven’t been done before, and as we judge things by the standards of the past, we can never judge an historical event was the result of innovation. - [read the rest here]

[I suspect that 9, which reads differently to the others, was an interpolation by a redactor, which we will need to transcend to access the real proto-Greg text]

Ignore the wailing of "fundamentalists" (by which I mean people who disagree with me) who insist on the literal truth of the moon landings, a mere counjouring trick with stones:  what really matters is that Armstrong walked on the moon in our hearts

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This post should not be construed as supportive of Brian Haw
Will they be any better?

"Mr Cameron today told Sky News' Sunday Live a future Tory government would take steps to have it removed.

He said: "I am all in favour of free speech and the right to demonstrate and the right to protest.

"But I think there are moments when our Parliament Square does look like a pretty poor place, with shanty town tents and the rest of it.

"I am all for demonstrations, but my argument is `Enough is enough'."" - [source]

That isn't an argument, it's a tautology. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How utterly vile
But leftists are TOO caring!

I think the best way to deal with unpleasant rubbish like this is just to file it away, and wheel it out when some halfwit tries to tell you how uncaring and "nasty" Tories are.

[via Ben]

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Should we teach maths like music?
"High School Geometry: the instrument of the devil"

Via Scott Aaronson, I read this glorious rant by mathemetician Paul Lockart about maths teaching in schools. 
Now, I don't agree with most of it, and hope to discuss why in a future post, but it is such a pleasure to read a critique that isn't by a laudator temporis acti who took his O-levels in the 1970s and has been sulking about it ever since. This bit, in particular, is splendid:
"“The area of a triangle is equal to one-half its base times its height.”  Students are asked to 

memorize this formula and then “apply” it over and over in the “exercises.”  Gone is the thrill, 

the joy, even the pain and frustration of the creative act.  There is not even a problem anymore.  

The question has been asked and answered at the same time— there is nothing left for the 

student to do. 

Much as Stephen Fry is the stupid person's idea of what a clever person looks like, an exam that require the rote memorization of  endless formulae before plugging in a series of random numbers is what some non-physicists  think a physics paper should looks like.