Saturday Open Thread

I'm running errands today and won't have time to follow the news. Here's an open thread for those of you online, all topics welcome.

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    Listening to Ellsberg on Bob Edwards' show (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by shoephone on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:45:08 PM EST
    Excerpts from the new documentary on the Pentagon Papers, The Most Dangerous Man in America. For those of us who grew up and became politicized in that period, this is fascinating. It really brings back how brave those first protestors were, especially if they had been insiders in government or the military. We often forget that protesting against government and against American war was very much a minority position. And it's discouraging to hear Ellsburg say that, because of FISA, we don't have as many civil liberties protections as we did then, in the Nixon/Mitchell/Kissinger/Hoover era.

    He's hoping the film will encourage more whistle-blowing, and more truth-telling from journalists. "Courage is contagious," he says.

    This is one documentary I'll make sure to see.

    Best Singer/Songwriter you've never heard of (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:14:57 PM EST
    I love Anchorage (none / 0) (#3)
    by jondee on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:29:37 PM EST
    great pick, D-man.

    She was "shocked" to find out Democrats get greased the same way their reptilian brethren do; if I remember the explanation correctly.


    Come a long way (none / 0) (#5)
    by ruffian on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 02:16:06 PM EST
    Is one of my 'desert island' songs. I listen to it over and over.

    Thanks for the link . Can't watch now but I will later!


    Short Sharp Shocked (none / 0) (#11)
    by shoephone on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 04:35:51 PM EST
    What a great album that was! And "Anchorage" is such a great song -- I remember when I first heard it, I was impressed and envious at the same time, having wished I'd written it.

    More tunes, because we need it (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:18:01 PM EST
    killer her brother (none / 0) (#6)
    by markw on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 02:51:08 PM EST
    Looks like Amy Bishop, who shot up a room of biology professors in Alabama after being denied tenure, also killed her brother when she was 20 years old in what was ruled at the time an accident.

    Do these things happen in (none / 0) (#7)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 03:11:56 PM EST
    other countries?
    I suppose they do, but I don't recall reading of such a case.
    My adviser knew Karel DeLeeuw, the Standford professor who was killed by Theodore Streletski in the 70's. Streletski turned down early release with the condition that he stay away from Stanford, instead serving 19 years. The day he was released, he went back to  the Stanford Math Library.
    Another professor of mine had a troubled grad student in a class who came onto campus with a gun one day. Amazingly, the parking lot attendant noticed this and stopped  him.

    I had a friend back in the 90s who had a tenure track job at MIT which didn't pan out. As far as I know, right now he is doing private tutoring to make a living---a terrible waste.

    If I have a point, it's just that people outside academia probably have no idea how intense things are inside. There certainly are professors who  manage to spend little time on teaching or research, but there are a huge number who put more of themselves into their work---happily---than people in normal careers can imagine.
    Seeing the end to that future can be devastating.


    Yes (none / 0) (#9)
    by squeaky on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 04:02:07 PM EST
    Do these things happen in other countries?

    Of course they do. Why wouldn't they?

    In 1976 Bernd Becher joined the faculty of the Art Academy in Dusseldorf to start teaching photography.... [snip] When Becher retired in 1996, Jeff Wall was chosen to succeed him, but when Wall came to meet the class for the first time, he was confronted by a former Becher student holding a loaded gun.



    Well, you'll never have a professor (none / 0) (#10)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 04:17:04 PM EST
    in Japan bring  a gun to a faculty meeting.
    For comparison, here is a supposed list of worldwide school shootings in the last few years.
    The vast majority occurred in the US.

    Yesterday I saw a man (5.00 / 0) (#24)
    by oculus on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:16:01 PM EST
    get off the Kyoto subway carrying what appeared to be a fifle case. D not know what was inside. Other people raised their eyebrows and looked around.

    Inside academia (none / 0) (#13)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:04:58 PM EST
    people can get tunnel vision, because the environment supports it. There is something to the "ivory tower" sentiment. They are so disconnected from the world that they build up a horrible fear of being cast out into that world with no skills other than academic skills -- on which the world obviously places zero value.

    Higher education is changing rapidly and the pace will accelerate. Many in the lower ranks don't know it yet, but the traditional career path in academics is about over except for a very, very elite few. Those are the ones who government and corporate sources will fund their research in a very big and generous way.

    There will still be teaching, but it will be primarily online and will not come with the traditional academic career path of dissertation, post doc, tenure track, research funded, tenure granted, retirement sequence. Instead, many of these newer people will be working on semester or academic year contracts, and they will have no security at all.

    I am a failed academic. I never landed a tenure track job. In my field that is becoming more common. I have only lately begun to understand  it wasn't the end of the world.  The good side is that I haven't developed that awful fear of being thrown out, because I am subject to being thrown out every semester at whim just like any other typical American employee.

    It isn't good to put all your eggs in one basket. I can understand how they get so upset and frightened, but this incident shows how pathological the system is. It is midieval.


    I disagree on two points: (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:36:43 PM EST
    First, I don't see the Ph.D disappearing in importance.
    Second, the "ivory tower" mindset you decry is partially a function of devotion, and isn't to be disdained completely.
    Have you ever head that ballet dancers are pretty dumb, generally?
    That's a common saying. But if you know how much they put into their dancing, you understand that they can't have a normal life, interests or education. They give up  one thing to get something else.
    Similarly, a researcher in the sciences may spend  70 or more hours per week on work.
    Not only that, depending on his subject, he may be studying something which almost no one else understands---including people in his own department.
    I don't know much about the humanities, but science is compartmentalized into incredibly narrow specialties. This is unavoidable given the increase in knowledge and the limits of the human mind.
    100 years ago, there were people who knew pretty much all important math and physics.
    Today, mathematics has about 100 main subclassifications, and in each of those, no one is an expert on more than a fraction of the work.
    Physics is even worse, I think. The ivory tower arises at least partly from the normal human desire to be surrounded by like-minded people.

    If you value intellectual output, then I feel you should appreciate the "ivory tower" environment which enables it.
    It's almost impossible to pursue a research career without the security of tenure.
    The growth of online teaching is something else, which I don't know much about. But if tenure goes, don't expect the US to remain best in the world in scientific research.


    Sorry... (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:50:57 PM EST
    The self-indulgent lifestyle afforded the tenured faculty member -- not to mention endowed chairs -- is not a prerequisite to good research.

    It's almost impossible to pursue a research career without the security of tenure.

    Wrong. I do it. And have received a lot of praise for my work from very high quarters.

    A lot of "tenured research" is mediocre. Once you have a job for life, you can keep collecting the paycheck long after the passion dies.

    ...he may be studying something which almost no one else understands---including people in his own department.

    You are right. Almost no one understands the people in his department.


    It depends on the field. (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:00:23 PM EST
    Someone in medicine, statistics---especially biostatistics, biomathematics, can get grants and move around.

    Your statement that a lot of tenured research is mediocre is cliched, and just plain ignorant.
    MOST people I know who have the passon to stay with a field long enough to get tenure keep on producing as long as they can.

    Your last remark sounds like typical American anti-intellectualism.



    Thanks, but no thanks. (none / 0) (#22)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:08:08 PM EST
    I work at a university.

    And my academic work is top-notch.


    I'm glad you're having success, (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:27:25 PM EST
    but your judgments don't agree with my observations.
    The vast majority of prominent mathematicians have tenure somewhere, as I'm sure is the case for many of the sciences, possibly with the exception of those rich in grant money.
    Possessing tenure gives them the freedom to pursue research, to have thesis students, to travel. I'm not sure what alternative you imagine:people who have have a full load teaching cannot devote enough time to research.
    The desire for tenure is no different from the desire for a secure job that Americans used to have a hope of fulfilling. Both of those dreams may be going down the tubes, but I hardly think that's a good thing.

    There are... (none / 0) (#29)
    by BigElephant on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:33:28 PM EST
    research scientist positions which are often not tenure track. They often have no grads, typically teach no classes.  Their job is purely to do research.  Of course, they must fully fund their jobs and salaries, but that's not extremely difficult.

    My husband, daughter, (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by Zorba on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:50:57 PM EST
    son-in-law, a number of close friends, and two of my siblings are all in university positions (as was my mother-in-law, before she passed away), mainly in the biological sciences (several different areas in biology).  I wish I had your certitude that fully funding their jobs and salaries was "not extremely difficult," BigElephant, but that's not what I'm hearing from them.  Research grants are harder and harder to come by.  My husband and some of the others serve from time to time on grant-reviewing committees, and what I've heard is that there is less and less money available, and the choices of who gets funded are getting much harder because of this.  Maybe you're in a different field than they are, in which case I say, more power to you, but that's not the case in all fields.

    Sure, but isn't it a good thing (none / 0) (#33)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:39:30 PM EST
    if a researcher is also doing teaching courses, and mentoring grad students?

    Not necessarily... (5.00 / 1) (#39)
    by BigElephant on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 07:17:28 PM EST
    I personally think that the way we're intertwined teaching and research is a bad thing.  Being a great researcher says nothing about how you'd do as a teacher.  

    Regarding mentorship, they do occassionally take on students.  And often have RA's.  So they do pass on their research chops.


    That's very true, observed (none / 0) (#37)
    by Zorba on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:55:42 PM EST
    Research is absolutely necessary, but teaching the young people is also critical.  Researchers can impart "real time" and hands-on experience and knowledge to the students.  And, if they're not mentoring under-grads, graduate students, and/or post-doctoral fellows, their own "how-to" and experience will be lost.  Not to diminish the research- not at all- but it must be passed on to the new generation, and not just in texts and journals.  

    Another point: what on earth is (none / 0) (#42)
    by observed on Sun Feb 14, 2010 at 02:06:11 PM EST
    wrong with recognizing people who have achieved great success with comfortable positions?

    And it's a top-ranked university, too (none / 0) (#23)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:08:27 PM EST
    ...or needs to... (none / 0) (#17)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:51:22 PM EST
    I wish big or small science (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by jondee on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:59:47 PM EST
    could teach us something about the heart that might lessen the chance of people in this country being gunned down by someone whose ambitions have been thwarted.

    I don't see the (none / 0) (#20)
    by Zorba on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:02:38 PM EST
    Ph.D. disappearing in importance either, observed.  And a research career is difficult, if not impossible, to pursue unless you're in a tenure-track position (although grants for such research are becoming harder and harder to come by).  Having said that, I have noticed that, in more and more universities and colleges, there seem to be fewer and fewer tenure-track positions and more part-time and adjunct positions.  This may be okay for a certain amount of classroom teaching (I know many fine part-time and adjunct teachers at the college level), but what happens to research?  Do we really want the majority of our scientific, mathematics, and engineering research all done at for-profit companies?  Certainly, they have their place, and much stellar work is done in them, but it is not "open" research, published for all to see- they're selling a product (or trying to) and much of their research is proprietary.  This is not the way to further knowledge, and I wish I knew the answer to all this.

    Right, I was thinking about the (5.00 / 0) (#21)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:08:05 PM EST
    open knowledge issue as well.
    Back in the 80's, a mathematician name Karmarkar at IBM (IIRC) came up with a modification of the simplex method in linear programming which was vastly more efficient. Not my field at all, but linear programming problems are ubiquitous in applications. What he did was basic mathematics, but it was secret.
    There are a lot of secret papers by government employed mathematicians at the Institutes for Defense Analysis, as well. That kind of secrecy is bad for science, but very normal for business.

    I didn't (none / 0) (#25)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:19:59 PM EST
    say it wasn't valuable in some way. I just think it can create dangerously obsessed people, as this incident shows.

    I am also not so sure it is "devotion" that drives success in the process. Like many other human endeavors, it is dependent on talent and ability, and a heavy dose of random chance. The politics involved in tenure committees and university departments can not be expected to result in good and consistent selection of the best people. As you said, most researchers are surrounded by and judged by committees who know nothing about their work. Other incentive systems besides the current tenure system could be designed to provide adequate incentives for good research, and better design might even build a stronger scientific community.

    Naturally, we will disagree. I am at peace with my status, but I will never accept that my career turned out the way it did because lack of devotion or ability. And I don't think the current system is the only way to get the job done well.


    Unfortunately... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by BigElephant on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:26:24 PM EST
    your perspective seems a little unhealthy.  Every aspect of life has politics.  Not everyone gets the job they want.  It happens. No grand conspiracy.  No devil hiding in the corner.  It's just life.

    I didn't say (none / 0) (#31)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:36:28 PM EST
    there was a conspiracy of which I am a victim. I just said there is room for improvement in the way things are done. There always is. If nobody ever said so, nothing would ever change. Funny...I feel perfectly healthy...today!

    Fair enough... (none / 0) (#32)
    by BigElephant on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:37:51 PM EST
    that I agree with.

    You sound happy enough (none / 0) (#30)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:34:42 PM EST
    I didn't mean to suggest you were lacking in some quality.  There are schools which have  a tenure-like system for lecturers, so that people who  teach a certain number of years are guaranteed a permanent position. It's not tenure, but that's a positive step, IMO.

    What I"m getting at is that obsession is necessary for success in research----obsession to a degree which outside people might find hard to fathom. It's the same in music and many other artistic and competitive pursuits.
    Definitely, people should be encouraged to have well rounded lives.
    Arturo Benedetti Michelangli, a great 20th century pianist, ran a music conservatory for many years. He was extremely demanding as a teacher, but he also insisted that students learn how to cook, dress well, etc.
    I thought that was interesting.


    I know, (5.00 / 1) (#34)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:39:53 PM EST
    my job is to teach graduate students about the obsession necessary to comprehend the material they have to comprehend to get where they want to be. It is particularly hard when so many think they are already there!

    I know Yasser Seirawan, (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by observed on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:48:26 PM EST
    the Seattle chess player who went on to international success and was several times US champion. Well, I have't seen him in years, but we are about the same age and I used to see him frequently.
    He learned to play chess at a certain coffeehouse, the Last Exit on Brooklyn, where many strong players hung out. He also was exposed to the game of go when he was about 13.
    He showed immediate talent, but had the self-possession and maturity---at 13!!---to say that he'd rather concentrate only on chess and succeed there. I wish I'd been like that at 25 or 30!
    Another friend of mine studied violin  with Galamian at Juilliard in the pre-college program, decades ago. He said that when he showed obvious displeasure one day at being told he had to continue with a piece he was tired of, Galamian said something like "If you can play the Mendelssohn concerto better than anyone else, you will have a career. If you play several concerti almost as well as the best people, you won't".

    Slightly tangential stories, but the message is the same: success comes from finding the properly narrow focus for your interest (or properly broad, but I think the former is more often an issue for talented people) which lets you really shine.


    Chicken/egg issue here? (none / 0) (#40)
    by BackFromOhio on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 09:52:40 PM EST
    We don't know whether the academics who injure others are influenced by academia, are self-selected individuals prone to whatever or some combo of the two.

    Surely, (none / 0) (#41)
    by JamesTX on Sun Feb 14, 2010 at 10:02:10 AM EST
    but it's fun to speculate! We don't know Ann Bishop's shooting of her brother has anything to do with this, either, or that it predicted it in any way. It could be pure chance. That idea, which will be driven into the ground by the media, is based on the assumption that past behavior predicts future behavior near perfectly, and it doesn't -- no matter how much the legal system is based on that assumption. The choice of the academic track in life often comes from people who are unusual in some way to begin with. Then there is a specific context, a specific set of stressors, and a specific person with unique problems and history. It may have nothing to do with academia at all. But it is safe to say the specific stressor involved here was probably denial of tenure by a committee of people she disagreed with, and that is a major stressor in many academics, often coming at about the same time as other issues, such as the transition from young adulthood to midlife. On the other hand, similar stressors in another line of work could have done it, also.

    I also disagree... (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by BigElephant on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:24:49 PM EST
    I'm also an ex-academic and still have plenty of friends in academia.  I think I can fairly say that none of them are disconnected.  And on average they are FAR more connected than the average person I meet in some of my work.

    I've never met anyone in academia who shared this fear that you had.  In fact when I do go back to my dept for recruiting I typically see about half of the graduates WANT a position in industry.  And frankly, job security is near 100% in my industry.  

    With that said, I'm in a science/engineering field.  Things are drastically different in the liberal arts.  


    Who Allegedly Shot Up etc. (none / 0) (#8)
    by daring grace on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 03:35:56 PM EST
    And the newest bizarre wrinkle on this newest wrinkle on the brother's death is the police chief in Braintree, MA holding a news conference to suggest the earlier shooting may not have an accident as was ruled.

    Frazier said he was basing his statements on the memories of one of his officers who was on the department at the time and had arrested Bishop. He said the records from the case have been missing since at least 1988.

    and... (none / 0) (#12)
    by markw on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 04:40:11 PM EST
    You left out some of the juicy quotes from that article, e.g.,

    But Frazier said the media had been fed an incorrect story. He said that there was an argument at the home on Hollis Avenue and Amy Bishop had fired three shots, including the fatal one, then fled the house and pointed the shotgun at a motorist in an attempted carjack. She was then arrested at gunpoint by officers.

    Shot her brother in an argument?  Then tried to highjack a car? Arrested at gunpoint?? Wow!