December 2009

Bragging rights

My one or two irregular readers may have noticed a lack of recent posts. I've had rather a lot of other things to keep me busy lately, some work-related, some family, some energy/climate-hobby related, some church. One of which is our new wood stove for home heating. It's good to be off oil, but I'm starting to wonder if this was really such a good idea, with all the work it's taking to gather wood now!

Open Access - my comment on the federal OSTP blog

The US Office of Science and Technology Policy has been hosting a discussion on federal open-access publishing policy on their blog. A lot of interesting commentary, although a little overly dominated by Stevan Harnad up to now (but this is exactly up his alley). I think the choices that have been largely looked at though, so far, are too narrow in scope - basically doing something like a big "arxiv.org" or PubMed project on the one hand, or fostering institutional repositories on the other, or some sort of combination. What we really want is not just opening future research, but also expanding access to the vast body of existing research articles - and not just for federally funded US research, but as far as possible, for all of it.

Useful energy can only be used once

It's understandable that with all the concern about climate change and talk of "peak oil" that the central issue in both cases, our use of energy, has received a lot of attention. It is also understandable that with that attention have come many instances of what may charitably be called "optimistic business plans", acclaimed for some time, even quite lengthy periods of time, as "the" solution, or a "core" solution to our energy problems. There are some real solutions out there; there is also a lot of hype and hucksterism. With this and one or two follow-on articles I hope to help people not so familiar with the underlying science get a better grasp of the distinction.

It's only the thought that counts

Discovering truths about the world is not a simple thing. Much of our understanding depends on context - what we already know. One of the central facets of human existence is our relationships with other people, and to the degree we accord others respect and trust, we also assign a higher likelihood of truth to the knowledge of the world that they share. This trust in people is not wrong or irrational - it's a perfectly valid way to economize on the time we need to spend trying to understand. Collectively we are far more intelligent then we would be if we tried to find everything out completely for ourselves. But too much trust in others is also what most frequently leads us astray. In the end, for scientific truths, the only thing that matters is the idea in itself, not the people who came up with it.