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Codgertations

There is a sort of odd melancholy portion of the literature that exists in science, a sort of paper or papers that are almost the valedictories of scientists as they stand back from conducting science. A lot of them really don’t belong in the literature per se, as some are a jumble of thoughts, hunches, recriminations and other odds and ends.  Let’s call the whole collection codgertations. Frankly, they need their own home in the literature; to see why, let’s consider what some have looked like (no, GG is not going to name names; he is grumpy, not cruel).

At the more useful end of the spectrum are thoughts on seminal problems in the field that reflect experience of years but an inability to push through to completion, perhaps because of conflicts, physical disability, time, funding, etc. These are the seeds of proposals future, proposals these authors will never write, and so these can be gifts of insight to younger researchers who may have overlooked these problems.

Somewhere in the middle are kind of incomplete papers, stuff that’s been hanging out in a drawer (or a floppy) for many years that finally is being shoved out into the world to justify the effort made in keeping it all this time. Some of these are papers that were superseded years ago by other work; some are on things fairly tangential to ongoing research.  Others just don’t quite get anywhere. None are really damaging anything; they maybe are just taking up space.

The worst flavor of codgertation is the self-celebrating review of one’s greatest hits, the very worst being stewed in a vat of recrimination for past injustices, allowing for debasing the contributions of others. These tend to assert rather than derive or infer and come across as lectures from angry old people who can’t be bothered to properly cite the relevant work or logically support an argument.  “I’ve been in this field forever,” they seem to say, “and this is how things really are!” Right Grandpa, can you go back to watching Wheel of Fortune, please? Or yelling at those kids on the lawn?

What cements all of these is that they aren’t really typical scientific papers–and it is worth noting that only a fraction of practicing scientists ever write anything like any of these. But those that do are often counting on the deference of junior colleagues to allow them their say, and truth be told, there is indeed value in some of these papers. And we might actually be losing insights from those less egotistical senior scientists who choose not to write such unusual documents because they perceive that they don’t really belong. But if you review one of these papers, you can go nuts in trying to come to grips with egregious self-citation and a faint grip on the current literature, loosely connected topics, poorly supported logic, and other flaws that would sink a typical paper. Really reaming a paper written by such a senior scientist can seem disrespectful, yet letting it go as “science” feels dirty. So GG is suggesting that perhaps some journals should allow a new form of communication which (you presumably have guessed) would be termed “codgertations.” [OK, as the comment below notes, that is rude and self-defeating; the commenter’s suggestion of Reflections or GG’s Valedictories would be more appropriate.] The beauty of this is that we could capture the good without having to hammer the bad.  We’d encourage those on their way out the door to share some wisdom even as we know we’ll have to accept some scolding. And we wouldn’t be caught between honoring our elders and defending our literature.

Really??

The Denver Post profiles a group of (apparently earnest) Flat Earthers. They say they are persecuted for their beliefs.  Note to group: “ridicule” is not “persecution” [though to be fair, no member of the group is quoted using the word “persecution”].  It doesn’t sound like thugs are showing up to break up their meetings, for instance. In an age when a group of students can launch a balloon with a cell phone high enough to record the curvature of the earth, and thousands of years after the Greeks got a decent estimate of the size of the globe, it is embarrassing (on multiple levels) to hear somebody trained in software engineering say “I can’t prove the globe anymore.”

If a few folks can believe this stuff, is it any wonder that more complex ideas face stiff opposition?

Dog’s Life, Boulder Edition

From a Sill TerHar Ford Motors television ad running in the Denver area:

“I saw a Ford Escape in the park the other day, and there was a dog owner putting her dog in the back.  She was a really big Great Dane. She jumped in and with her head over the back seat, she was wagging her tail the whole time. I thought, that’s someone who really researched what they needed in a car.” -Jack TerHar

Not only do Boulder area dog owners insist on their dogs going everywhere, they let their dogs research and purchase cars. We have the best dogs….

Interstate driving

Trivia from a long drive. Just saying….

California drivers prefer to pass on the right instead of the left.  Wonder what they do if they visit Britain?

Most places the leftmost lane is fastest.  In California, it is the number 2 lane. In Utah, it seems they all want to go the same speed.

California drivers know what the number two lane is.

Colorado drivers have their own version of the “3 second rule” (you know, the one usually applied to food hitting the floor).  A red light isn’t really red if you get to the intersection in the first three seconds after it turns red.

Colorado drivers are slow to go on a green light. This has nothing to do with legal cannabis.

Some California drivers will use any and all lanes to go 1% faster than the rest of traffic.

Massachusetts drivers will use any and all lanes AND the shoulder AND, if necessary, lanes usually reserved for opposing traffic.

Texas drivers are some of the fastest around on flat, straight roads–and some of the slowest on mountain roads.

Kansas drivers confuse merge signs with stop signs when entering freeways.

Wyoming drivers outside their state keep ending up on the shoulders because they expect to be blown back on course by the wind.

California drivers can be in traffic thicker than a Walmart parking lot on Black Friday traveling at 65 mph without batting an eyelash.

Las Vegas drivers have never seen three miles of freeway without road construction detours, barriers or lane closures.

Utah drivers pretend their freeways are roller coasters: slow on the uphill, fast on the downhill.

America First, Who is Second?

If you haven’t found them by now, the growing collection of humorous videos promoting other countries as second (since America is first) can be accessed through http://everysecondcounts.eu/index.html. If you are curious, the Dutch started this. Although some are in-country jokes (the first golden lady mentioned in the Luxembourg video won’t register far outside that country), most are not (and you can learn key facts, like that you can make the shape of Namibia with your hand) and some are surprising (yes, Iran has an entry which is blissfully missing the Trump impersonators from the other videos).

Why can’t science be more like sports?

Perhaps the single most distressing turn in politics reflects an equally disturbing change in the public at large: the disregard for facts. Inflation is booming! The climate is cooling! Crime is soaring! Jobs are vanishing! Accompanying this is a numerical illiteracy: the temperature this winter where I live was colder than normal, so global warming must be hoax. The risk of dying in a terrorist attack is greater than the odds of dying in a car crash. (in fact, you are more likely to die overseas in a car crash than by terrorist attack, and even more likely to die in a bathtub accident). Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s old saying that “you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts” now seems quite quaint.

And yet amidst all this mental fog we find a pastime, one utterly irrelevant to the world our children or grandchildren might live in, where these issues are singularly absent: sports. GG has never heard somebody claim that the Cubs really lost the World Series, that Babe Ruth didn’t hit 714 home runs.  What is more, die-hard fans are well-versed in the statistics of their games. None are more addicted than baseball fans, where OPS and WAR now clutter conversations still sprinkled with traditional statistics like batting average and earned run average. Just where are these people when we discuss climate change, environmental risks, government finance and the like? Why are we so obsessed and dedicated to something that matters so little and so cavalier about things that do?

You have to wonder if there was an much of a cult following of science as sports if things like p-hacking, shingling and plagiarism would long survive.  Would there still be a public debate about whether or not there was global warming, or would the debate focus on the amplification factor of methane loss from pipelines vs. gains from a shift away from coal? You could even imagine enthusiasts deriding the simplicity and misleading applications of the h-index in favor of some more complicated scoring for research impact.

What if there were fantasy leagues?   Read More…

Truth in Advertising, Geophysics Edition

This from a course syllabus of a geophysics class at MIT:

Formally, this course has 4 contact hours a week. If enrollment allows it, the extra one-hour session will be devoted to a discussion of a recent journal article on a topic covered in the lectures; if the class size is too large this will not be feasible and the extra time will be used for a combination of resuscitation and literature discussion.

The only question is, is it the students or the instructor needing resuscitation in large classes?