An Everything But Merger Act?

I have been riveted by yesterday’s re-argument of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission before the United States Supreme Court. I mean who hasn’t? At stake, as they say in media newspeak, is the entire state of campaign finance law (the astute reader will note the choice of words in this sentence and smile.) The Quantum Pontiff is not a lawyer, but he is the son of a lawyer, and greatly admires the ability of supreme court justices to herd the truth in directions more palatable to their preexisting exquisite judicial tastes (why is everyone staring at Justice Scalia?) So I would like to present to the court, if I may, some unintended consequences of their ruling in this case which they perhaps have not yet considered and which may sway the bench in its final, unbiased, empathetic, states-right based decision.
Continue reading “An Everything But Merger Act?”

The Great Firewall of Collaboration

A fellow quantum computing researcher of mine recently joined FriendFeed. Along with another researcher we got involved in a discussion about a paper concerning a certain recent claimed “disproof of Bell’s theorem.” (arXiv:0904.4259. What it means to “disprove a theorem” like Bell’s theorem is, however a subject for another comment section on a different blog.) But, and here is the interesting thing, this colleague then made a trip to China. And FriendFeed, apparently, is blocked by the great firewall of China, so he had to email us his comments to continue the conversation. Which got me thinking.
China is a country that has been, historically, a great power. It is, by all accounts, returning to that status with the a wave of lifting of its people out of poverty (numbers I’ve seen are from like over 60 percent below poverty a few decades ago to 10 percent recently, though it’s not clear to me that the poverty level (a few dollars per day) used is the really relevant number.) It has, even more interestingly, achieved an amazing increase in the production of people with a large amount of education. From under 10,000/year PhDs a decade ago to nearly 50,000/year recently, there has been a huge increase in PhDs in a very short span of time. In some minds, the rise of China is the dominant story of the coming decades. This is equally true in academic circles where the productivity of science in China has been rising rapidly.
But my colleague’s experience made me wonder a bit. Suppose that you take at face value the idea that online tools are going to change how we do science (through any of the numerous forms that such tools can now take.) If the Chinese government is banning tools that allow for collaboration (in our case, just a mere discussion) then, despite all they do, I wonder if this might cause a severe lack of bang for their Ph.D buck. Do we really believe that the kind of large scale data sharing or online collaborating, for example, that characterize Science 2.0 will be easy to carry out under the probing eye of the Chinese government? Of course, I’m as far from an expert in China and Science 2.0, so I can’t even begin to approach this question. But it did strike me that there are some fairly strong preconditions assumed by those pushing online tools for science that don’t seem to hold for numerous countries around the world, including China.
Or, in other words (executive summary), those of you doing Science 2.0 can now think about yourselves as modern freedom fighters. Hazzah!

New DARPA Director

DARPA, you know the people who invented the internet (“100 geniuses connected by a travel agent”), has a new director:

The Department of Defense (DoD) today announced the appointment of Regina E. Dugan as the 19th director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is the principal agency within the DoD for research, development, and demonstration of concepts, devices, and systems that provide highly advanced military capabilities for the current and future combat force. In this role of developing high-risk, high-payoff projects, DARPA compliments and balances the overall science and technology program of the DoD.

Go MechE’s from Caltech! DARPA’s last director Tony Tether ruffled a lot of feathers as it was widely perceived that the agency was shifting to short term research at the expense of the kind of groundbreaking work that had been funded in the past (See Peter Lee for details and recommendations for changes at DARPA.) Hopefully Dr. Dugan will take a different tack. That would certainly make a lot of computer science researchers a lot happier.

Who Will Study the Studiers?

NSF awards $400K in stimulus funding to study the impact of stimulus funding on science.

Researchers at the University of Virginia get $199,951 to study the impact of stimulus funding on employment in science and engineering fields, while the University of Michigan receives $199,988 to develop a database of the investments in and outcomes of social science projects funded by the ARRA.

But no one is asking the real question. Who will study the impact of funding these two groups on science? Huh?

Rep Joe Barton Thinks Oil in Alaska Disproves Global Warming

Okay, well he didn’t exactly say that, but he certainly is a smug son of a gun who asked a grade school question to a Nobel prize winner in physics, apparently expecting a “gotcha” moment (via TPM):

Dudes even so proud of himself that he (or his staff) posted this video on his YouTube page.

BEDEVERE: Exactly. So, logically…
VILLAGER #1: If… she… weighs… the same as a duck,… she’s made of wood.
BEDEVERE: And therefore?
VILLAGER #2: A witch!

Then again, what should you expect for someone who produced this:

Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.

Where To Move?

I am always greatly amused by the display of frustration in which one threatens to leave a country if things don’t change. During the end of the first term of Bush the Second, it was common in the United States to hear liberals express their anger as: “If he wins a second term, I’m going to move to Canada.” (If you go too far to the left, you end up in Canada?) The expression reached spectacular heights, in my opinion, however, when Tina Fey said of Sarah Palin that if McCain/Palin won the presidential election, Fey would “leave Earth.”
But now that the evil liberals have taken over the Washington, it seems to me that the evil right needs a good guide as to where they can move to overcome their ills. So I’ve put together a simple list to help guide you to your own private utopia.
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Another Physicist To Washington

A press release from Caltech about Steve Koonin, who was the boss of my bosses during a SURF project and was a student of my undergraduate advisor at Caltech (and also responsible for severe drops in GPAs for many of the physicist students I knew at Caltech :)):

Steven Koonin, visiting associate in physics and former provost of Caltech, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy. The position requires Senate confirmation. Koonin is currently chief scientist for BP, where he is responsible for guiding the company’s long-range technology strategy, particularly in alternative and renewable energy sources. He has served on numerous advisory bodies for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy and its various national laboratories. Koonin’s research interests have included theoretical and computational physics, as well as global environmental science. He earned his BS at Caltech in 1972 and his PhD from MIT in 1975.

Note the dates between BS and PhD!

Watch NSF Spend?

The NSF has put up a “recovery” page for the stimulus bill: Interestingly it appears that there is an link to an rss feed for “weekly reports.” These appear to be excel files of the spending done by the NSF under the stimulus act as of that week (so far nada has been spent.)
Cool, now we can set up a betting pool for spending amounts as of a given date 🙂

Earth to Republicans: Curing STDs Would Probably Be a Good Thing

On Morning Edition this morning, there was a story about the annual Conservative Political Action Conference which contained a line which made me guffaw:

Representative Paul Ryan: “[rant on spending in stimulus plan]…$400 million dollars to study sexually transmitted diseases!” [rant on about how his daughter is more responsible that President Obama]

Oh my! The horror. Actually spending money studying diseases that infect 65 million U.S. citizens. Yes Rep. Ryan, it would be a real shame if that money improved the lives of those 65 million people (and maybe it might even help, you know, those outside of the United States as well…I know, I know blasphemy.)
Now I’m all for the Republican’s ranting on the stimulus bill and spending, but really guys, why do you keep picking on the scientific studies (Jindal’s “something called volcano monitoring”, McCain’s Bear DNA)?