Built on Facts

We love the moon

The standard Saturday random observations:

Via Adventures in Ethics and Science, a quote from Revere of Effect Measure:

A wag once commented (and I have quoted here often) that to expect a scientist to understand the philosophy of science is like expecting a fish to understand hydrodynamics.

I disagree. Expecting a scientist to understand the philosophy of science is like expecting a professional quarterback to understand the hot dog vendor.

Here’s an interesting article from Inside Higher Ed on the economic contraction and college growth. Among its conclusions is that colleges may have to more overtly pick and choose which disciplines are in some sense “worth more” than others in terms of resources.

At a lot of selective institutions, there is an implicit political covenant that instructs both administration and faculty to act as if all areas of the curriculum are notionally equivalent in their right to resources, and that the reality of resource distribution should be largely ignored.

Could be. The sciences are more practical and useful than the humanities, but at the same time it’s much more expensive to run a synchrotron experiment than it is to write a book of literary criticism. The overall cost-benefit is not nearly as skewed toward the sciences as we in the sciences like to think.

Not strictly science-related, but via Swans on Tea, some lateral thinking in counterintelligence. It’s the kind of thing you don’t hear about enough – though I guess if you did it would quit working. Sort of reminds me of when I was a little kid. My younger brother was a bit of a thief, and so I came up with the idea of hiding my money in his closet. Worked like a charm.

And finally, here’s an interesting article from Scientific American about the moon – specifically, what would earth be like if the moon were half as massive? A little surprisingly, it would in fact be pretty different.

Have a great weekend everyone, see you tomorrow!


  1. #1 Uncle Al
    October 18, 2008

    Literary criticism: Hester Prynne got the Scarlet A because,

    1) It was the highest grade awarded.
    2) It told clergy where to acceptably put it.
    3) She was a minor ride at HawthorneWorld.
    4) She didn’t bring enough for everybody.
    5) Community colleges lacked Alphabetics diversity courses.

    Love Story is

    1) a Yale Jewish assistant prof being denied tenure allegory.
    2) an uncontrolled US borders admitting the White Plague allegory.
    3) An allegorical gender-reversed plagiarism of Portnoy’s Complaint.
    4) An allegorical allegory-within-allegory.
    5) Allegorically only three times as long as its pleonastic study guide.

    Moon + Apollo –> lunar laser ranging (LLR)
    LLR + Equivalence Principle (EP) –> Nordtvedt effect
    No Nordtvedt effect –> only EP parity violation remains viable

  2. #2 MPL
    October 18, 2008

    Expecting a scientist to understand the philosophy of science is like expecting a professional quarterback to understand the hot dog vendor.

    Doesn’t the philosopher of science resemble the sports analyst watching the game more than the hot dog vendor?

    Whether or not you want to take part in philosophy of science as such, the scientific revolution has its roots in philosophy—and clearly the philosophical foundations of science are not obvious, because it took an awfully long time for people to start doing organized science, and many still reject it.

  3. #3 Shawn
    October 19, 2008

    Being a scientist obviously doesn’t prevent you from having a simplistic and nearly childish view of of society and culture outside the range of your navel gaze.

    This may sound crazy, but isn’t the real question, what can can be done to prevent colleges and universities from having to do a cost/benefit analysis on every discipline?

    In a stable and thriving academic environment a cost/benefit analysis on an area of knowledge has no place. Yes, I know the blinkered, adolescent nerd in you just loves the idea of throwing out disciplines you don’t like or have no value to you, but academia (at least theoretically) is SUPPOSED TO BE a place where even disciplines that have virtually no practical or financial value, but are valuable in other ways, have a place to thrive.

  4. #4 Matt Springer
    October 19, 2008

    Be chill, dude!

    Seriously, I love the humanities. A post or two back I was quoting Epictetus, which I first read in a class on classical Greece. I also studied Latin for a semester, and regretted not having time in my schedule to take more classes in it. At various other times you’d have found me in British poetry classes, American literature classes, post-cold-war geopolitics classes, you name it. None were required on my curriculum. I’m the last person to dislike the humanities, much less want to throw them out of the university.

    But I also learned that ought is not is, however might we’d like it to be. Rough economic times might force difficult choices to be made, and in fact I am not at all convinced that science as a discipline is going to come out on top when college administrative bean counters start pinching pennies. Nor, for that matter, am I convinced it should.

  5. #5 Paul Murray
    October 22, 2008

    “The sciences are more practical and useful than the humanities”

    Let’s go Godwin on this: the sciences are what produced Zyklon-B. The humanities are what tells us that using it to gas people is wrong. And that you bear the guilt of it, even if you are not actually doing the gassing but just organising the train shedules.

    I think that the sciences need the humanities to defend them from the anti-science forces in the world (creationists, etc). Creationism needs to be kept out of science classes not simply because it is not science, but for all the reasons that we – humanity – value the sciences above unreason. Those reasons are rooted in philosophy and history.

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