Friday, May 26, 2006

Saying it as it is...

Choice quotes from Per Bak's "How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality"

On academic attitudes, Pg. 86: I just wish there was a more open-minded attitude toward attempts to view things in a larger context. I once raised this issue among a group, not of geophysicists, but of cosmologists at a high table dinner at the Churchill College in Cambridge. "Why is it that you guys are so conservative in your views, in the face of the almost complete lack of understanding of what is going on in your field?" I asked. The answer was as simple as it was surprising. "If we don't accept some common picture of the universe, however unsupported by the facts, there would be nothing to bind us together as a scientific community. Since it is unlikely that any picture that we use will be falsified in our lifetime, one theory is as good as any other." The explanation was social, not scientific.

On academic publications, Pg. 92: To appreciate the pain and annoyance that one might feel because of [the rejection of an article by both Nature and Science], it should be pointed out that essentially anything can be published, no matter how insignificant - even in Nature. Most published material sinks like a rock and never surfaces again. It is precisely when you have something potentially new and exciting that you get in trouble. Ironically, dozens of articles applying our ideas ... have since appeared with great regularity in those same journals.

On perspective, Pg. 115: In our everyday research, we tend to view our own field as the center of the world. This view is strengthened by our peer groups, which are, because of the compartmentalization of science, working along the same line. No mechanism for changing exists, so more and more efforts go into more and more esoteric aspects of well-studied areas that oce paid off. ... Nobody has an incentive to step back and ask himself, "Why am I doing this?" In fact, many scientists are put off if you ask this question.

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