Thinking scientists are smarter than other people hurts us

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I’ve started contributing to the Forbes Science page again! This is my second new contribution; stay tuned for plenty more. (And if I can be shameless: Forbes pays according to traffic, so the more of you who share and visit and read my stuff, the better they pay me. Ahem.)

No, Scientists Are Not Smarter Than Non-Scientists

For Forbes:

Often when I mention I have a PhD in physics and astronomy, the response I get from people is “oh, you must be so smart” or “you’re smarter than I am”. (If it’s a medical doctor, the response is usually “I hated physics in college!”, but that’s a different story.) In general, people tend to associate science with “braininess”, often in addition to other less desirable traits. You could reasonably ask if I’m so smart, why I’m a freelance journalist who is perpetually short on money. But this isn’t about me in particular: it’s more about the way society (at least in the United States and like-minded nations) sees scientists versus non-scientists.

Science writer Kat Arney delved into this issue in detail in a recent column for the (UK) Royal Society of Chemistry. As she points out, the problems with the “brainy scientist” stereotype are manifold: that science is a meritocracy, and that non-scientists are somehow less valuable.

[Read the rest at Forbes…]

Of symmetries, the strong force and Helen Quinn

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Of symmetries, the strong force and Helen Quinn

From Symmetry:

Modern theoretical physicists spend much of their time examining the symmetries governing particles and their interactions. Researchers describe these principles mathematically and test them with sophisticated experiments, leading to profound insights about how the universe works.

For example, understanding symmetries in nature allowed physicists to predict the flow of electricity through materials and the shape of protons. Spotting imperfect symmetries led to the discovery of the Higgs boson.

One researcher who has used an understanding of symmetry in nature to make great strides in theoretical physics is Helen Quinn. Over the course of her career, she has helped shape the modern Standard Model of particles and interactions— and outlined some of its limitations. With various collaborators, she has worked to establish the deep mathematical connection between the fundamental forces of nature, pondered solutions to the mysterious asymmetry between matter and antimatter in the cosmos and helped describe properties of the particle known as the charm quark before it was discovered experimentally. [Read more at Symmetry…]

The Nobel Prizes recognize good scientific achievements, but in many ways the attention they get is disproportionate to their value, and presents a false view of how science really works.

Part of the problem instead is that the Nobel Prizes perpetuate the idea of a handful of Great Men (only two women have won the Nobel Prize in physics total since their establishment), toiling alone in their laboratories. The published papers cited in the Nobel literature belie that: many coauthors contribute to the majority of research now, and a single seminal (there’s that masculine imagery again) paper generally isn’t what establishes a research program as worthy of accolades. As a result, every Nobel Prize discussion seems to involve complaints about why some scientists were included, and some ignored. [Read more….]

A Nobel Prize curmudgeon speaks out