Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Science Takes Centuries to be Accepted:

Read these two articles in the mainstream British media:

"Government Scientific Advisors: Who Needs these Nuts in White Coats"

Excerpt: "The public is no longer in awe of scientists. Like squabbling evangelical churches in the 19th century, they can form as many schismatic sects as they like, nobody is listening to them any more. Unquestioned authority derived from a white coat and a doctorate is as dead as the Druids."

and "The Unpersuadables"

Excerpt: "If they don’t want to know, nothing and no one will reach them."

The more evidence is shown to some people, the less they believe it. For science this is exacerbated by the fact that scientific information appears remote from the day-to-day reality we experience, even if its effect on that reality is solidly established. A layman exposed to 'remote information' that points to him altering his life in any significant way is unlikely to accept it and will mistrust the information provider. He won't accept the concrete link until the results of his actions are staring him in the face. And stoutly defending what he rigidly believes reinforces it in his mind.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Biology and Medical Research at the Exascale

...a glimpse into the future, but the challenges in reaching the exascale are formidable, not the least in mastering the power requirements and the consequences of regular core failures in systems of 100 million cores.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Foreigners at ORNL

A recent blog item of Frank Munger's deals with the travails of non-citizens at ORNL. While it's true ORNL overtly brands us as potentially dangerous with glaring red badges, the practical fallout of this and other measures is minimal, and things are somewhat easier than what I witnessed as an "Agent CEA" in the French National Laboratory at Saclay in the 1990s. No, the main obstacles hampering our attempts to get our work done come not from ORNL but from dealing with visas and green cards for lab members - a constant headache.

All this reminds me of my former mentor, Martin Karplus, who tried to move from Harvard to Paris in 1974. The Universite Paris VII (Jussieu) wanted to offer him a tenured professorship, but tenured professors were civil servants and thus had to be French. Enter Jacques-Emile Dubois , a lively man who I enjoyed chatting with occasionally while working with the French Chemical Society. Dubois was a chemistry professor at Jussieu, but he was also Head of Research at the French Minstry of Defence and he had connections high up in the Pompidou adminstration. Dubois got weaving and, sure enough, eventually a decree was published exempting university professors from the citizenship requirement. However, by that time I think Martin had had enough and he didn't leave Harvard (wisely maybe: even a Dubois couldn't cure the deeper sclerosis of the French academic administration), but he apparently received a number of thank-you letters afterwards.