Sunday Starlinks

December 8th, 2013

I should never assume I have any extra time the last week of classes. A million things always come up, especially in the season where students apply for jobs and grad school.

6-year-old tries to save NASA. The Obama administration does seem to have it out to make big cuts. Bill Nye is also on board.

Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system. No duh. I looked up his publications, and they seemed to vanish after 1966, with only a very few after that (Note that there are a few other P. Higgs in the list that I couldn’t automatically filter). Look, Nobel-prize-winning work is quality work, but if you hire someone to do research and they stop publishing, we call that “deadwood.” So while I do think we need to shift the scales more toward quality as opposed to quantity and the system is far from perfect, I’ve seen this article passed around like productivity is bad and that we should give smart people free rides for life if they did something great once upon a time. Imagine publishers paying Haper Lee or J. D. Salinger salaries for books they never turn in, or the Bulls continuing to pay Michael Jordan today, nearly two decades after he played for them.

This next story is a good one comparing theorists to observers. Avi Loeb, like Peter Higgs, is a creative and successful theorist, although Loeb has continued to be productive post tenure. Anyway, it’s speculation about an early stage in the history of the universe that could have been amenable to life. My first thought was that this was crazy, but then I started thinking “maybe….”

Even Congress is thinking about life in space. I hope they’re taking it seriously and not googling “Scientists are…” the way many seem to be doing.

A lot of exoplanet news recently: Phil Plait on three newly imaged exoplanet systems. Second planetary system like ours discovered by Shannon Hall. Hubble finds signs of water in other exoplanets.

Some thoughts about the price of success from Michael Swanwick. I am starting to understand this better than I wish I did.

Interesting but speculative idea about dark matter, which may have already been detected.

Applying science to communicate science. Sounds like a good idea.

Smarter people stay up later, do more drugs, and have more sex. More interesting than the article was the bio of the writer Sean Levinson: “Born with a prehensile tail in an Amish commune just west of Beijing, Sean Levinson always dreamed of being crowned lord of the dance. Unfortunately, his goals were derailed after he responded to an ad for a fluffer posted by Elite Daily. It was here where Sean discovered that all he was really after was drugs, money, and a lucrative job that would get him more money to pay for drugs. You can catch him on a biographical special on MTV next month titled: He’s the Man: The Sean Levinson story.”

My friend Stephanie Slater is the December woman physicist of the month.

The Eye of Michelle Bachmann. Science related, really!

Less science related — Katie Couric giving a platform to vaccine deniers.

Superheroes are a bunch of fascists. I don’t agree with the author’s premise. The boy scouts, on the other hand…

The Russian path to immortality funded by billionaires. Maybe I should have focused on making a fortune first, astronomy and science fiction second…

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