The local fraternities and sororities hold occasional dinners/ discussions with faculty, to demonstrate that they’re engaged with the intellectual life of the college. One of my students invited me to dinner at the Change in Kinetic Energy fraternity tomorrow night, and I agreed to do a discussion of physics and politics.
That’s a vague topic, because I didn’t have anything really definite in mind for it, other than that it seems better suited to a dinner and discussion than any of my regular presentations, which tend to be PowerPoint lectures. That doesn’t really seem appropriate, so I figured I’d go with a topic that might involve a little more back and forth.
Of course, I’m not willing to make the whole thing up on the fly, so I need to give it a little thought. And I’ve got this blog, and all these smart readers who can make useful suggestions about things I ought to mention…. So, below the fold are some scattered thoughts about what I might say to spark some discussion.
— The obvious starting point (and what I had in mind when I suggested the topic) is the recent science funding debacle, with significant cuts in major programs. I can go through the basics of what was cut, and how the cuts happened, and some of the partisan bickering at the heart of the issue.
— A larger question is what level of funding is really appropriate for science, and why are we spending the money. Are we willing to commit to funding massively expensive projects like the LHC just out of curiosity, or should we be demanding more in terms of applications?
— Then there’s the question of what scientists ought to do about all this. Should the APS be devoting more resources to lobbying, to become a more coherent political force? Should physicists devote more effort to public outreach, to build a grass-roots constituency for major projects? Should we be looking for some new source of funding, other than tax dollars?
That’s probably enough to start with, but it’d be nice to have some really good, provocative things to say to get people talking. I’m not sure I really have any of those at the moment, but I’m open to suggestions. What would be a good shocking statement about physics and politics that would spark discussion with frat boys?
Diversity politics are always a provocative topic, but it’s really not my thing. I just don’t see myself leading a rousing discussion of race and gender biases in science at dinner with a fraternity.