The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information

Authors Filter?
Razib Khan
Nothing found
 TeasersGene Expression Blog
Ask a ScienceBlogger

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Thanks, LOL, or Troll with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
🔊 Listen RSS


What are the best pickup lines for scientists and science-savvy folk?…

I’ll go narrow-church: low mutational load baby, look beyond the proximate and focus on the ultimate.

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

This week:

What movie do you think does something admirable (though not necessarily accurate) regarding science? Bonus points for answering whether the chosen movie is any good generally….

Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. Cinematically it is an early masterpiece, but, it also features a protagonist who is a robot. The term itself was invented in 1920, and the massive field of robotics which exists today was still but a seed in the imaginations of pulp science fiction writers. I admire the fact that this is case a where a science fiction film did anticipate a major trend in science & technology over the coming century, it was more than just a reflection of its times.1 We still aren’t where we’d expected to be in regards to robotics today in relation to what futurists expected in the 1960s, but, I think it is clear that the field has a bright future.
1 – To see what I mean, watch Forbidden Planet and note the copious allusions to Freudian psychology.

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

What makes a good teacher? That’s what SEED is asking this week. Here’s my top 10….

10) Patience
9) Lack of ego (putting the focus on the student)
8) Enthusiasm
7) Social sensitivity (know the audience you are aiming at, whether it be the children of religious fundamentalists, 8 year olds or over-30 GED candidates)
6) Experience teaching
5) Broadness of personal experience
4) Top notch verbal skills
3) Training in the field which they are teaching (this is a serious issue in many high schools)
2) Creative, flexible lesson plans
…and the number #1 variable in making a “good” teacher
Smart and passionate students
The last factor is something we all implicitly understand, there are far fewer inspirational movies made about brilliant teachers from elite prep academies and magnet schools than those about teachers in socially dysfunctional areas. This is, fundamentally, one of my main beefs with high stakes testing, teachers are dealt different hands and told to perform as if the raw material was all the same.

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

This week they ask:

Assuming that time and money were not obstacles, what area of scientific research, outside of your own discipline, would you most like to explore? Why?

Cosmology. Transcendence.

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

Chad’s response to this week’s Ask a Science Blogger pointed to two issues which I think need some clarification.
First, that brain drain might be good for the species in that it distributes the “wealth” of human capital around. This is not a trivial or baseless argument, but, The World Bank has done a study, and it is important to note that the impact of the “brain drain” on “donor” nations differs as a function of size. In other words, nations like China and India lose a relatively small percentage of their intellectual capital, while nations like Guyana lose a lot. So the key is whether it is a bad thing that the Guyanas of the world lose their educated classes. One could assume that for the Guyanas it is plainly obvious this is a bad thing, but that assumes that staying home is economically productive, the reality is that remittances might be far greater a contribution to national wealth than would be possible otherwise. This is not to dismiss or deny possible intangibles of having a diverse society in regards to class and education, but it is to frame the issue in terms of the nuance and realities of the real world today. One could make the argument that the prosperity and stability accrued to large developed countries is more important to small war-torn or poor ones than anything else because of the importance to aid and outside intervention in these cases.

Second, Chad like many others points to the issue of foreign scientists allowing us (Americans) to be complacent about nourishing home grown talent. I don’t totally dismiss this, there are probably many doctors and lawyers out there who could be scientists if the incentives were right (Ph.D. scientists are one of the least compensated groups in relation to how much education they have). But, I would frankly rather focus on tightening labor supply on the low end of the socioeconomic ladder so that blue-collar workers could attain a high standard of living as opposed to padding the security of the middle class (yes, scientists and post-docs are underpaid, but they get benefits and work in a field that they are passionate about). In other words, I think a prudent national policy would focus on stocking up on intellectual capital and making sure that the least amongst us can achieve a modicum of comfort and security. Of course, this is all Americo-centric, but I don’t see that as a sin.

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

Is it me, or did Janet explode by the old 300 world barrier? 🙂 In any case, she brings up some good issues in her expansive post, and there is one thing I want to follow up in regards to the “brain drain.” Who is it good for? Who is being drained?
This is a definitely “US centric” question. As an American, and a mildly patriotic one (or, more properly, US-egoistic one) I do look at this question through the “but is it good for America?” lens. Some people might ask, “but is it good for the world?” (that is, brain drain to the United States). That depends, but in general, I think yes!

My father is an immigrant scientist. He came to this country to complete a Ph.D. and stayed on. I have uncles who are also immigrant scientists. This phenomenon is part of my own life. Is the United States (or England) better for their presence? I would probably say to some extent since they are taxpayers that don’t bring much negative social baggage (Islamic fundamentalism, anti-sociality, disease, etc.). Immigration has certainly helped them, and it has probably helped the nation to which they immigrated to to some extent…but what about the nation they left?
First, we need to keep this issue in perspective. Research suggests that the “brain drain” problem varies by “donor” nation as a function of size, that is, nations like India and China don’t feel a big hit because they are so populous, while African nations are literally drained. Some people would argue that this drain is a geopolitical issue since the native intellectual classes are simply being exported to the West. But, the reality is that I suspect failing states will fail no matter the presence of scientists, research facilities and grant monies simply aren’t part of the picture for someone with a doctorate in a failing state, survival is.
As an American it is to our benefit to drain other nations of their talent, but, the reality is that talent in many nations will simply go wasted if they don’t go abroad. It is true that email and what not ties together scientists from across the world, but in some regions email is simply not possible when you don’t know if your family is going to be able to have a roof over their heads. The emigration of educated classes does not help the situation of a failed state, but I would hold that it the first and foremost duty of an individual is to their family. On the other hand, nations like India and China can “spare” a little talent, so why not avail ourselves of it?

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

This weeks “Ask a Science Blogger” is:

“Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?”

A “drain” seems to imply a net outflow, and that doesn’t seem to be happening. But, as the paranthetical makes clear what meant is the reduction of the extent of the inflow. And yes, from all I can gather this is an issue in regards to student visas. My father had to pick between the US and the UK for graduate school, and he opted for the US for a variety of reasons. Today because of visa related issues he might have chosen the UK as a default option.
What are the implications? Well, I don’t know, I am inclined to think that genuine “superstars” can still get in, and they produce the first order innovation necessary for a modern economy (and it isn’t like intellectual property can’t flow between countries). That being said, work-a-day scientists are essential cogs in the system, and they are far more likley to produce the n + 1 generation native born superstars than Joe-Schmo. In other words, the biggest implication is that the USA is shorting itself in terms of intellectual capital, and I’m skeptical that is a good thing.
The solution? Where there is a will and political influence there is a way. We are discussing the inability of scientists to immigrate to this nation at the same time that millions of illegals are going enter onto the path toward citizenship. Peasants and urban protelariat can contribute to social capital, but I think the probability of this is lower. To be honest, the current immigration system is ass-backwards, driven by emotional talking points and short-term economic considerations as opposed to the long term health of the republic.
Scientists by their nature seem to follow the rules, so change the damn rules!

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

This week’s “Ask a Science Blogger” is:

Since they’re funded by taxpayer dollars (through the NIH, NSF, and so on), should scientists have to justify their research agendas to the public, rather than just grant-making bodies?

This question is loaded because how you interpret it really colors how you respond. I would say, no, the public doesn’t really understand any specific science, just as physicists and biologists (or biochemists and population geneticists) don’t really understand the particulars of other fields. Unfortunately, science is the domain of specialists, even across and within disciplines. This isn’t a good thing, but I don’t have a magic potion to cure it, so until we find a better solution peers are the only judge we have of quality of work besides reality. If the public had a direct input I’m afraid astrophysists would be submitting proposals to “know the mind of god” and biologists would start picking model organisms based on how cute they were (though they might pussyfoot around with what they’d have to do to those organisms), and god knows how many doctors would want to study the effect of prayer on mortality (seriously, if only a small % of grant applications get approved, would no one take the low road if popular vote counted?).
As it is, the public does have a voice via intermediaries. There is a reason that clinically oriented research gets so much money, and the military also funds a lot of science. In the end, science does have checks and balances, but it is just too esoteric of a practice to expect popular input to do anything besides distort it even further from the ideal of objective investigation. There is already a lot of politics in science, this would just exacerbate the situation.
Addendum: A compromise might be to have two pools of of granting agencies. And a researcher who accepted funds from one pool could only accept funds from that pool for a set amount of time before applying to the other pool. Over a decade we might be able to figure out if elite vs. non-elite funding was different in the quality of research produced (I assume a mix of popular/public participation and scientists themselves). If there was no difference then Vox Populi, Vox Dei! say I.
Postscript: I count representatives of the people in a legislature as direct popular participation.

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
🔊 Listen RSS

This weeks “Ask a Science Blogger” question is:
“If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?”
I assume others will answer this also, so I want to get this out first: my reply is that the public needs to know that the most important idea about “science” is that it is not about ideas, but it is a way of getting to those ideas through a specific way of thinking about the world and interacting with your fellow human. Science is the means, not the ends. And, that means is a synthesis of a set of heuristics mediated by a particular social context which is at the terminus of a path of cultural development. Rules like falsification are important, but they are irrelevant outside of the context of a group of peers who seek to discover the truth about the world as it is. The scientific community is important, but that community flourishes best in a roughly liberal culture (see the destruction wrought upon Russian genetics by Lysenko). Finally, the set of rules must include in appropriate dosages elements of rationalism (a priori model building and hypothesis formation), empiricism (experimentation) and skepticism (an analysis of the rigor of the models constructed and the data collected).

• Category: Science • Tags: Ask a ScienceBlogger 
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"