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Author Topic: Rant: Even scholars behave like fourth graders
Metasquares
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Icon 1 posted April 12, 2006 15:15      Profile for Metasquares   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I just came back from a research conference, where I presented a proof that multiplicative functions and completely multiplicative functions are interconvertable (and of the formula to do it with). This is a fundamental result and can be of great use in many different areas of mathematics.

This year (these are held annually), the presentations were ranked, with a prize going to the person deemed to have the best research presentation.

Mine was second (no prize for that, of course). That alone would not have irked me, because there were some other good presentations, and another (that also did not win) was even fundamental research.

What DID irk me was the first place winner: A presentation that a particular presenter keeps giving year after year on inflammation in rat testicles. Not fundamental at all, repeated over the course of several years with no new findings, and the statistical work being done was questionable (25 rats is hardly a large sample size).

When I asked why the other paper ranked so highly, I received the response "well, you have to admit, it is a more interesting subject than number theory".

The first image that popped into my mind was a fourth grade class giggling "hehe! They said testicles!"

So much for science being objective. It makes me wonder what the point of going for a Ph. D. is. My hard work will clearly never be appreciated because my subject is "not interesting" or because no one comprehends why studying math or algorithms is relevant anymore (the closest I can get an advisor in is data compression).

</rant>

Posts: 664 | From: Morganville, NJ | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged
skylar
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Icon 1 posted April 12, 2006 17:07      Profile for skylar     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm an Arts/Humanities person myself, so I'm looking at academia from an entirely different perspective, but I know exactly what you mean. I see the same sort of thing in my department all the time (I'm a Classics undergrad-soon-to-be-postgrad). Members of the department and visiting academics present research papers every week, and only the ones on so-called 'sexy' subjects get anything like a decent turnout. It's quite disheartening that no one wants to hear about things like linguistics and historiography anymore, even though such contributions to the field are just as valid and valuable as, say, research into gender and sexuality or antiquity and cinema.

Having said that, I've just recently discovered my niche as a feminist Latinist, and am very happy with it. I do wonder, though, if my research interests have only developed because of the way my department tried to 'sex up' my subject all through my undergrad career. Maybe if they hadn't been trying so hard to prove that Classics is 'cool', I wouldn't be where I am today...

But hey, at the end of the day, it's passion and enthusiasm that produces the most exciting work... if you bring that to the table, then you'll get people to listen, no matter how 'dull' your chosen field is [Smile]

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ooby
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Icon 1 posted April 12, 2006 18:01      Profile for ooby     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Ooh, linguistics.

I rarely went to guest lectures unless required. Most of the time, I didn't know enough about the lectures to be interested or I was busy in a lab.

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"haven't you ever wondered if there's more to life than being really, really, rediculously good looking?"

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Rhonwyyn

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Icon 1 posted April 12, 2006 18:06      Profile for Rhonwyyn   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I never attended lectures either, although I did manage to get a ticket to see Ben Stein speak on my birthday and I listened to John Nash read a speech about game theory (it was so crowded in that forum that we could hear, but not see, the man at the bottom of the incline).

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littlefish
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Icon 1 posted April 13, 2006 01:06      Profile for littlefish   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Never mind, just keep in mind that the prize was about the quality of the presentation, not the quality of the research. If this chap has had years of practice,it isn't too surprising that his presentation skills are hot.

Another thing is that if all this researcher has done is look at a few rats bollocks, and this is the sum of his career, then you are coming out ahead, even if you don't win a prize. And the best that bloke can hope for in the future as to being remembered through his work is "Blokey's inflammation". Much cooler to have invented "Metasquares' proof".

Posts: 2421 | From: That London | Registered: Nov 2001  |  IP: Logged
spungo
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Icon 1 posted April 13, 2006 02:59      Profile for spungo     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
...and it gets worse. The people that get the funding they want tend to be the people who inject the right number of buzz words into their grant applications (the folks who work at the funding councils are usually morons who know nada about the field whose finances they are in charge of ) - as well as those who are chummy with key employees of the grant-awarding bodies. Also, beam-time allocation (or the equivalent) is heavily biased towards pals of the committee - if they've never heard of you, you ain't got a chance - even if your proposal is genuinely worthy.

But the biggest pisser of all? Scientists are (often) selfish, childish, conniving megalomaniacs. The truth comes a poor second to self-promotion. You end up being forced to include a half-dozen bozos as co-authors on your paper because each one of them did something minor like let you use their sink, or something equally absurd. Failure to do so can damage your profile in the department. (You may find that sink permanently out-of-action the next time you need it.) ... and they love abusing their funds - i.e., blatantly disregarding the purposes to which their money was allocated. 'Look, Bob - come admire the sparkly new $5k laptop I bought with my centrifuge cash - and check out my Porsche while yer at it!' If the government ever brought in some serious auditing into the world of science, there'd be a loud rumble of rolling heads about the land.

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littlefish
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Icon 1 posted April 13, 2006 05:16      Profile for littlefish   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Also, beam-time allocation (or the equivalent) is heavily biased towards pals of the committee - if they've never heard of you, you ain't got a chance - even if your proposal is genuinely worthy.
Tee hee - I just applied for a job at the ILL in Grenoble, without realising that one of my referees will soon be taking up a 5 year sabbatical there.

Can't do anything to hurt my chances now, can it?

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Xanthine

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Icon 1 posted April 13, 2006 10:38      Profile for Xanthine     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
To quote my boss, "Scientists and small, petty, and mean. Once you understand that, you'll understand 90% of the shit that goes down."

Sometimes the meanness comes arond right, like in the case of the guy who won a Nobel PRize with stolen data and is now and outcast (no, not Watson and Crick, this was in the 80's). Usually, it doesn't.

My group got burned at a conference last year. We lived and we learned.

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And it's one, two, three / On the wrong side of the lee / What were you meant for? / What were you meant for?
- The Decemberists

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Maggs
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Icon 1 posted April 13, 2006 16:18      Profile for Maggs     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Metasquares:

So much for science being objective. It makes me wonder what the point of going for a Ph. D. is. My hard work will clearly never be appreciated because my subject is "not interesting" or because no one comprehends why studying math or algorithms is relevant anymore (the closest I can get an advisor in is data compression).

</rant>

If George Bool had that attitude do you think you would be typing this on a computer, on an internet forum. It took the man 5 years to learn Calculus, for me it will take "Infinity + 2" [Smile] but you come out with more wisdom.

If life gives you setbacks, just try a different approach. Turn a disability into a solution. Make lemonade... as they say.

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Flashfire
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Icon 1 posted April 13, 2006 19:37      Profile for Flashfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Hm, perhaps they just awarded Mr. Rat Bollox the prize to stop him giving the same presentation again next year. "Here, have the stupid trophy already. Now stop showing pictures of naughty bits and go do some real work." [Wink] Sometimes I feel that politics never progresses past the high-school level.

Still, congrats on second place -- cold comfort, I know -- but it's good to see your effort noticed, even though it wasn't to the degree you really deserve.

And as for the PhD in math? I can't think of any time it's more relevant than now. Two words: Digital. Cryptography. So if your professors really can't see the usefulness of the field, maybe it's time to switch schools?

--------------------
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Where would all the calculators go?"
--Kryten, Red Dwarf
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Posts: 368 | From: State of Denial | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged


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