Friday, September 10, 2010

Scientists are real people

If you are accustomed to the media representation of scientists, my subject line is something of a shock.  What, do I mean scientists aren't all junior Dr. Spock's off Star Trek?!  Contrary to everything you've ever seen on TV and films?!  Well, yes.  We're human, no less than anyone else on the planet, and unlike fictional Vulcans.

That's relevant to the post, not so much for content, but at the reason that comments and posts have somewhat gotten away from me.  There were many good comments in the What is a good experiment? thread, and I haven't commented there myself.  (I'll encourage you to go have a look.).  And there have been good comments to later notes that I, again, haven't commented on (see the list of most recent comments that's, currently, buried way to the bottom of the page).  Not that my comments are required, or any such thing.  But, since I like conversation, it pains me to not be engaging the way I'd like to be.  (Don't worry, even if I'm not commenting, I am definitely reading.  I read far faster than I compose.)

For the subject at hand, the answers are entirely mundane -- 'real person' -- sorts of reasons.  I've been doing other things.  I'm a parent with 3 kids.  And they've been doing things over the last month.  Good things for them, and me (at least to spectate).  But they do tend to mean that I'm focusing some of my time, energy, and attention in places other than the blog.  Some (many) scientists are parents (and grandparents).  Many of us are very concerned about parenting well.  Or least are seriously interested in our kids.  Even with my youngest being 20, I still think there's room, and need, for a parent.  And they're great kids, so who wouldn't want to be involved?!  Or at least sitting in the back of the audience cheering.

I'm also a spouse.  My spouse and I have been doing things together in evenings and weekends which are very good and which we enjoy together -- visiting friends, having friends over, going places, and so forth.  Good, 'real person', things, but while I'm doing those, I'm not blogging.

And I have a day job different from the sorts of things that I write on the blog.  There's a small degree of transference.  I can point out to you that my May predictions of September's ice extent are looking to have bracketed the likely result pretty well.  The high (model-based) figure was 5.13 and the low (statistically-based) figure was 4.78.  We passed below 5 in the last few days.  Probably won't be as low for the monthly average as 4.78.  But the spread between the two forecasts was fairly small, and succeeding in bracketing reality with that narrow range is ... not bad.  I'll have more to say once we get to the end of the month and see what really happens.  The day job has been showing up interesting things, which turns around to mean more time at the office, and less time taken from my lunch hour to write on the blog.

The end of the month provides a chance for me to meet up with folks who are local.  I'll be speaking at the Annapolis Science Cafe, on Thursday, the 30th of September.  More about that to come.  It'll be about ice (you're shocked, I know).

Last night I earned 'Beastmaster' status.  My wife has two dogs.  (Her dogs -- she's had them longer than she's known me.  We've only been married a little over 4 years; newlyweds.)  Both are small dogs, of, as Dave Barry said, of the 'pillow' family.  The older one, Tater, is pushing 12 and has his hair growing over his eyes -- to the point that he often can't see what is around him, like walls.  One reason that hair grows so long is that he has traditionally (I'm told) reacted violently whenever anyone approached with scissors to trim off the overhang.  Last night I sat him down, solo, and trimmed his bangs.  No sedation or armies to hold him down.  He's doing better now.  Here's a picture of him during 'snowmageddon' last February (the snow is about 30 cm, 1 foot, next to him; double that farther away from the door).  He'd just had his hair trimmed (after sedation, at the veterinarian's).  He had far less vision last night before I started trimming.

In between all that, I've been nudging an idea towards being able to submit it for serious publication.  It's difficult doing that from home.  I'm used to publishable ideas being things I work on at work.  This one, however, is not related to what I do at work beyond the fact that it involves the earth.  Not really close enough to persuade the folks who sign my paycheck that I should be devoting work time to it.  Once I've sent it off for a round of preliminary review by friends who have some good general science knowledge (to see if I've made a generally well-formed argument), I'll be thinking more bloggy things.  Not least being various things to talk about here regarding doing science and some offshoots of interest.  The climate cycles 1 post is one such already.  There are more to come.  Not least, while that first climate cycles post talked about seasonal variations, we also should take a look at daily variations.  Same as we (middle and high-latitude residents) expect summer to be warmer than winter, we (all) expect daytime to be warmer than night time.  That expectation makes it climate.  Figuring out by just how much becomes science.

And there are the usual 'real life' sorts of things -- paying bills, getting my car fixed, trying to take care of an injured shoulder, blah, blah, and very blah.  Scientists are real people, with all the same issues as anybody else.  Irritates me that so many seem to think we're Vulcans.  Plus, of course, that we stand in closets in between times of saying something or other annoying and irrelevant to the human issues at hand.  We all have the usual problems, responsibilities and joys of being 'real people'.  Some of that affects the blog.  All of it is just the usual, for scientists, same as for anybody else.  I'll be getting back to more regular writing here in the near future, as this part of my regular life becomes more active.


jg said...

Well, if scientists are real people, then they probably benefit from real praise. The first comment I made on this blog was to the effect that I don't see how you can teach, research, live, and maintain your blog. It is fortunate that you do take breaks, as that allows me time to get caught up on the projects and exercises you offer. My recent talk on exoplanets started with your brightness temperature and ice "choir" posts. I've now given this talk to about 400 people, and so I'm really grateful for the quality push you gave me in this direction.

LM said...

It would be doing science -- and obviously yourself -- a disservice not to balance doing that thing you love (and sometimes get paid for) with living a life. If nothing else, science programs, some of them quite good, have done much to dispel any remmants of the scientists-as-Spock or Dexter notion (and there are plenty people who found Spock ... intriguing). The sad commentary about "doing" science is that not enough people engage in the process, either as hobbyists or as paid professionals. The great thing about doing a blog like yours is that you invite people to discover the process for themselves. FYI, your letter and picture were featured on a developmental class's science word wall under "B" for Dr. Bob. One never knows the extent of their reach. Take it from one who's seen it, anyone who reaches out to get other people excited about science will do far more than just let kids know that scientists are real people.

P. Lewis said...

Dr Spock never appeared in Star Trek to my recollection. That would have been plain ol' Mr Spock. :-)

GM said...

I had an interesting discussion with Gavin Schmidt - he says some climate change skeptics view climate scientists as "doppelgängers". Not real people, with spouses, children, family, friends, but just as targets for their anger.

A valid perspective, I say.

Penguindreams said...

jg: We do appreciate good words, same as anyone else. Thank you. I'm glad that you've found material here helpful in your public talks. Please do remember to pass along your results as to what parts of explanations don't work as well. I find it much easier to tell when things aren't working if I'm in the room with people.

LM: Thank you. There certainly are some good programs out there now. I'm fond of 'Big Bang Theory', myself.

The 'scientists are not real people' image is one that I've seen as an issue for people who would otherwise take interest in science. Comments like "I'd like to study lizards, but also want to get married, have kids, and a pet or two." People who study lizards often do all those things, so join the club!

P.Lewis: D'Oh! You're right, of course. (Though if I were to research, I'm pretty sure that in an episode or two of the TV, and at least 1 movie, he was indeed referred to as 'Dr.')

GM: Nothing unique to scientists, or to 'skeptics' in that. It's a common, human, thing. When we get excessively upset with some group, humans tend towards de-humanizing the other group. At that point, some Vulcan dispassion would be a plus.

Not that I always succeed (see subject line :-) but I try to avoid labels like 'skeptic' 'denier' 'believer' 'warmist' and so forth. Partly because they're so vague as to be meaningless, and partly because using the labels makes it easier to dehumanize the people involved.