Friday, February 22, 2013

The Truth About Big Pharma

A normal Friday serving of brilliance from XKCD

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

So Why Exactly Do We Encourage Students to Study Chemistry?

I have posted on this before but I stumbled across a Dustinland comic that pretty much captured my message ... and my hope for the students I teach.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Time for Chemistry to Get Religion

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things" Mark 6:34

Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” Acts 8: 30-31

And then there is this on the CNN Main Page today:

I have posted on this topic before from a different perspective but In the Pipeline raised the issue today by asking "If you had to build out the chemistry hallway at the museum, then, what would you fill it with? Suggestions welcome" and it has been taken up by others in the chemblogosphere (read comments). The issue seems to be that museum chemistry exhibits indicate that chemistry is seen as old and static. If I understand the nature of the comments it would appear that museums would be forced to create exhibits that a) require consumables and maintenance and b) are dangerous and generate hazardous waste that would have to be dealt with in order to create chemistry museum exhibits that are memorable and chemical. Yes, that is it exactly chemistry is all about: explosions and toxic waste, why don't we just live up to the stereotypes?

I think we all know that the very aspects of chemistry that drew us to it as a discipline are not museum friendly. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try but we need to be grounded in real world practicality.

No, we in chemistry need to get religion. The kind of religion that permeates our lives and cause people to ask why we are different. The kind of religion where it is the responsibility to all of the members to be totally convinced that spreading the good news of chemistry is crucial to our development as a society. We need to be willing to adopt the attitude in the two bible passages above. To find teachable moments everywhere and be unfailingly positive in our message that chemistry unveils a separate and vital truth.

There was a time when it was actually like this and the example to us all was Michael Faraday and his public lectures. If we really think that the subtle truths of chemistry can be communicated by static posters then you have never been to an ACS poster session (cattle in a feedlot are treated better and have more space). If you think that making spectacular science "safe" by putting a layer of safety glass between the observer and the experiment is the way to go then history has been a poor teacher. To paraphrase Jurassic Park "entropy finds a way". No not safety glass, we need to be between the observer and experiment. We all need to be shepherds and explainers.

PS for the record if we are going to create chemical museum exhibits with consumables and maintenance details then one would have to consider the Miller-Urey Experiment as the most accessible "God Chemistry" for all it's flaws.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Musing: Reductionist and Incremental is not Winning

I love the comic "Calvin and Hobbes" indeed, I was one of the collectors when the comic came out in its first run and I grieved when Watterson closed the comic down in one of the most classy ways that something as beloved as C&H could possibly be ended.

That said, the comic industry berift of new ideas continue the comic series as a zobie re-run, but Calvin and Hobbes re-runs are better than most new comics so I keep an eye on it. This was todays comic:

And this is the relevant detail:

Our science is incremental and reductionist and our symbol is the mole. That is kind of apt for the way society views us ... and dangerous. We have lost the hearts and minds of the population when chemical is synonymous with disaster. We need a cultural icon to replace Pauling, a popular science spokesman akin to Sagan and we need to have a dramatic, clearly chemical, Khunian revolution on the order of solving the Origin of Life. 

And we need them now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine

In keeping with my liberal arts and sciences tendencies I keep an eye on the "3 Quarks Daily" blog and this post today will probably consume my weekend. In the post a reference is made to a science posting by Alan Boyle of the MSNBC "Cosmic Log" who in turn passes on this great little video by Henry Reich.


What is brilliant about this is the sharing of daily science feeds that people follow. I must admit that there are some links that appear in the video and the subsequent linkage chain (check the comments all the way through the links above) that I was unaware off and will now have to obsessively plumb for interest and teaching references.

It is always an astonishing thing to suddenly realize a) that you have been swimming in the kiddy end of the science internet pool and b) life is too short to allow a person to swim the in the deep end of the science internet pool and still do productive work. It is to my great shame that I will sit down after class to eat my lunch and catch up on the internet only to look up a couple of hours later and wonder how on earth I ended up on a webpage describing the recipes for the Napoleonic Army during its retreat from Russia.

I pretty much keep a distant eye on the internet with Google Reader (I know, I know but you pretty much have to dance with the girl you brought to the party unless you have the time to meet a whole new girl and learn new dance steps and who has time for that?). That said, I have thought for a while that the small amount of the internet that I do keep an eye on was consuming too much of my time and now this. To my eyes, as I look at the blog rolls, the chemical and science internet that I follow is pretty much a sub-set of what other people follow. I wonder if I were to do the desert island thing and only be allowed ten internet links to follow what I would select. Perhaps Snowmageddon will afford me some time for reflection. I have to hurry home before they close the roads. Stay safe people.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Do You Want Fries with that BSc?

It would seem that the concerns on the job market for chemists and the migration of jobs traditionally held by the comfortable technocrats that made up the bulk of the ACS is not discipline specific.

I like Garrison Keillor and I like this response to his cutting remarks about unemployed graduates. Cognitive dissonance has always been the wayward child of delusion.

"According to one major study produced by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the median income for English majors with a bachelor’s but no additional degree is $48,000. This figure is just slightly lower than that for bachelor’s degree holders in biology ($50,000), and slightly higher than for those in molecular biology or physiology (both $45,000). It’s the same for students who received their bachelor’s in public policy or criminology (both $48,000), slightly lower than for those who received their bachelor’s in criminal justice and fire protection ($50,000) and slightly higher than for those who received it in psychology ($45,000)."

In the spirit of Ricoeur I say:

In the light of all that I know I choose to believe that my discipline is not only a benefit to society and a salve to my curiosity but also a viable career path for the generation that will follow me. They will find a way and society will need us, keep calm and chemistry on.

About Me

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.