Category: AAAS_Fellowship

For Some, the Tribe is More Important Than the Truth

Posted by – February 22, 2015

There are large differences between how scientists and the public perceive evolution, climate change, vaccination, and more. I have usually attributed this to scientists’ failure to communicate as much as the public’s misunderstanding, but Joel Achenbach’s recent WaPo editorial suggests the real reason is that people tend to choose positions that best align with their social group, regardless of scientific evidence. Achenbach cites a research paper by Dan Kahan, whose abstract states:

Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension. The public knows too little science, it is claimed, to understand the evidence or avoid being misled. Widespread limits on technical reasoning aggravate the problem by forcing citizens to use unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. An empirical study found no support for this position. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest. This result suggests that public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.

Or, as former USGS head and current editor of the journal Science, Marcia McNutt, put it, it’s as if:

We’ve never left high school. People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science.

This suggests that, in addition to stating the evidence, scientists might also try pointing out how fellow group members accept the conclusions of scientific research – e.g., noting that Pope Francis has no problem with evolution.


My Network, Visualized

Posted by – March 31, 2014

The experts say effective networking begins with examining your existing network, so I thought I would see what InMaps, LinkedIn’s visualization tool, could reveal about my professional network. As you can see below, InMaps shows each of my connections as dots with lines showing how they are connected, colors denoting groups, and the dot’s size increasing with the number of cross-links within my network.
My LinkedIn Network

I was struck by how many of my connections are from my AAAS Fellowship in 2010 (blue); while these are valued contacts, it does prompt me to network outside of that group to expand my reach. You might note that my network is relatively small, (< 200 contacts), and that is because I find that can't keep up with a set much larger than this (probably related to Dunbar’s number, somehow).

LinkedIn has also developed Swarm, an animated word-cloud visualization of the most actively searched job titles and company names.


P.S. Thanks to Alex for the tip!

AAAS S&T Fellowship’s 40th

Posted by – February 3, 2013

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowships program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and AAAS is marking the event with this video documentary. As a past AAAS Fellow at the State Department, I would say it provides an excellent overview of this little-known program that brings scientific expertise to Washington and opens up the careers of hundreds of scientists every year.



Posted by – February 20, 2012

Given the complexities of the problems facing world leaders, one might ask, as John Allen Paulos does in a recent NYT editorial, why do so few scientists and engineers participate in US government? Despite their analytical abilities, subject matter expertise, and the positive example scientists and engineers could bring, less than 8% of the House of Representatives have technical backgrounds. Paulos offers the following reasons:

  • an abstract, scientific approach may lead to conclusions that are at odds with religious and cultural beliefs – compounded by the tendency of scientists to be tone-deaf to their audience,
  • American pop culture leads ambitious politicians to use rhetorical tricks rather than reason,
  • Media’s need to perpetuate a controversy – and our cultural tendency toward egalitarianism – gives fringe views and anecdotal evidence equal air time,
  • Scientist’s inability or reluctance to present their findings clearly or be involved in politics, and
  • The sense that, since a determined attitude is often necessary, that it is sufficient without aptitude.
  • Others would call it simply another instance of the dumbing of America – our national tendency toward anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism.

    However unelectable we may be today, many of the Founding Fathers were scientists and engineers, including eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence (Franklin, Rush, Bartlett, Jefferson, Sherman, Thornton, Hall, Clark) and two of the first four presidents (Washington and Jefferson). And there is a growing chorus of those who would encourage scientists to engage the Body Politic.


    Roger Boisjoly

    Posted by – February 13, 2012

    If we must have heroes and wars whereinto make them, there is no war so brilliant as a war with the wrong, no hero so fit to be sung, as he who has gained the bloodless VICTORY of truth and mercy.

    Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859), civil engineer recognized as one of the Greatest Britons.

    On January 6, unremarked by any except the local press, engineer Roger Boisjoly passed away at age 73 from cancer. He was best known for objecting to the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger before it exploded shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986, when the O-rings manufactured by his company failed in the cold. After blowing the whistle on the failure of his managers to abort the launch, he found himself shunned by colleagues and eventually resigned, spending the remainder of his career lecturing on workplace ethics. In 1988, the American Association for the Advancement of Science presented him with its Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.

    In 1988, Boisjoly noted that he was sustained by a single gesture of support: Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, hugged him after his appearance at the Presidential commission investigating the disaster.


    Many Bills

    Posted by – July 24, 2011

    IBM has created Many Bills, an interactive visualization of legislators and legislation in the US Senate and House. IBM says Many Bills is:

    …a web based visualization that aims to make congressional legislation easier to digest. It presents bills from the House and Senate organized into collections and split into sections which are color coded and labelled to indicate what topic each section is about. It also provides a set of features designed to make it easier to find interesting or unusual parts of bills and communicate your findings to others.

    For example, I entered “water” into the search, and found a number of water-relevant bills, each with color-coded highlights to show what sections of the bill effect spending, infrastructure, foreign affairs, natural resources, etc. There is a library of examples, Featured Collections, including collections like American Housing Bills.

    This struck me not just as a useful tool for exploring legislation, but also as a great example of what is possible with current Web technology: highly interactive, user-customizable, and allows drilling down into each link. It also employs crowdsourcing, in that users can help assess misfits – sections of bills that seem to be a mismatch for the bill they are in. The design is cleanly done, with a minimum of chartjunk and a maximum of information for each element on the page. Oh, and it runs best in GoogleChrome (sorry IE fans…both of you).

    P.S. My thanks to my fellow Fellow, Meadow Anderson, for the tip!

    Category 5

    Posted by – July 1, 2011

    Report cover Five years ago, the National Academies prepared Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a book that cautioned: “Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position.” So where does America stand now in comparison to five years ago when the Gathering Storm book was prepared? Worse, according to the authors of Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, who further assert that addressing America’s competitiveness challenge could require decades. The book reviews actions taken to date and discusses the state of science and innovation in America.


    Sunday Funnies

    Posted by – April 24, 2011

    My Sunday routine used to include drinking coffee and reading the comics, often aloud and in goofy voices to one or more of the kids cuddled on my lap. I have loved the Sunday Funnies since I was a kid, and my kids have learned not to steal that section before Dad finds out what has happened to Prince Valiant or nods his head in agreement with Dilbert. Today, I note with regret and amusement that during my AAAS Fellowship, the Sunday Funnies have been replaced by much wonkier fare. The half-dozen or so tabs in my browser window this morning include:

  • The announcement for How Pakistan Negotiates with the U.S., the new book by Howard and Teresita Schaffer, two former diplomats that have completely flunked retirement;
  • The Amazon page for Ghost Wars, Steve Coll’s book on the conflict in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion up to 9/11/2001;
  • A pdf file from the Stimson Center entitled Troubled Waters: Climate Change, Hydropolitics, And Transboundary Resources;
  • Several articles from Foreign Policy, including What Happens When the Arab Spring Turns to Summer? (David Ignatius), The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers (tied for 1st: Gates and Buffet?!), and a hyperbolic little piece entitled SkyNet goes Operational over Libya…;
  • The Amazon page for Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance, the 2010 book by Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini, the guy who noted in 2006 that the real estate bubble was ready to burst; and
  • my Gmail account and the dashboard of my blog.
  • (NOT to be considered an endorsement; half of them I will glance at, then click closed). Plainly, I need to go out and enjoy Spring.


    P.S. Related postings are in the category AAAS Fellowship


    Posted by – April 15, 2011

    bad picture of the bowOne of the perks of being a AAAS Fellow is that one gets invitations to do some unusual and interesting things. One such invitation was to tour the USNS Comfort, the floating hospital of the Navy. This came in by way of AAAS S&T Fellow (2010-2011) Sammantha Finstad, whose cousin, Josh, is Merchant Marine and crewman on the Comfort.

    My thanks to Josh, who took us all over the ship, from the bridge to the operating rooms to the engine room. Dave Litwack (another AAAS Fellow) posted additional photos on Picasa.



    Posted by – March 22, 2011

    My alma mater, Colorado State University, invited me to come give the keynote speech for their World Water Day celebration this March 22, in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It felt a bit odd to be the headliner for the event, but I was flattered and was told afterward that I gave an inspirational talk. Regardless, I enjoyed the opportunity to sit with my Ph.D. advisor, Jim Loftis, and chat over a beer after the talk.
    Note: other entries regarding this Fellowship can be found here