Archive for June 3rd, 2008
My impression of physicists is that they are the epitome of the scientist: unswayed by anything save facts and observations, and totally ignoring the human element (and thus no ad hominem responses to arguments based on data). Well, it’s not so. Sherry Towers did a sensible study of the conference presentation opportunities for women physicists vs. men physicists at Fermilabs—and the counter-arguments are anything but rational. Her report from New Scientist:
Over the past few decades, while all fields of science have increased the proportion of women at faculty level, physics has remained the most unequal, with women accounting for only around 10 per cent of faculty members. Is this because women are innately incapable of succeeding in the field (and/or innately prefer other careers), or because they are being discriminated against at more junior levels?
I was curious to know, so in 2004, while I was working as a physicist based at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, I surveyed researchers there. Conference presentations are key to the career advancement of young physicists, as they provide exposure to potential employers, so one of my questions asked how many such presentations the respondent had been allocated over the preceding five years. A particle physicist cannot give a presentation unless selected to do so by the administrators of their experiment – a decision generally taken in a closed-door meeting of senior collaborators.
For skiers and snowboarders there is no business like snow business. But in the Alps winter sports may be doing no business at all in years to come.
In the late 1980s, there was a dramatic step-like drop in the amount of snow falling in the Swiss Alps. Since then, snowfall has never recovered, and in some years the amount that fell was 60 per cent lower than was typical in the early 1980s, says Christoph Marty at the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos. He has analysed snowfall trends spanning 60 years and adds that the average number of snow days over the last 20 winters is lower than at any time since records began more than 100 years ago.
The future of winter tourism in the region is looking grim. “I don’t believe we will see the kind of snow conditions we have experienced in past decades,” he says.
Previous studies have suggested a decline in the region’s snowfall but Marty’s analysis is the first to take in 10 years of new data from 34 stations between 200 and 1800 metres above sea level. The work will appear in Geophysical Research Letters.
It’s hard say whether this marks any kind of tipping point in terms of climate change, says Marty. “But from the data it looks like a change in the large-scale weather pattern,” he adds.
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Ann Landman has an excellent post on a new business tactic: “slacktivism” It begins:
Recently while browsing the Web I came across UrbanDictionary.com, which is sort of a wiki of contemporary slang. I found some of the newer words listed there amusing, like “hobosexual” (the opposite of metrosexual; someone who cares little about their looks), “consumerican,” (“a particularly American brand of consumerism”), and “wikidemia” (“an academic work passed off as scholarly yet researched entirely on Wikipedia”).
Then I came across a word that put me into a more thoughtful zone: “slacktivism.”
“Slacktivism” (alternative spelling “slactivism”) is a fusion of the words “slacker” and “activism,” and UrbanDicationary.com defines it as “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” It refers to ersatz acts that people perform that they have somehow come to believe are full of meaning, like slapping a magnetic ribbon on your car to “support the troops,” wearing a colored rubber wristband to “fight cancer,” or refusing to buy gasoline on a certain day to protest high gas prices, instead of, say, actually changing your lifestyle to use less gas.
According to UrbanDictionary.com’s definition, slacktivism pertains only to individual behavior, but shortly after I grasped the meaning of the word, I started to see that slacktivism is really much bigger than that. I started to see that corporations perpetrate large-scale, organized slacktivism as a public relations strategy to subtly derail social movements aimed at creating beneficial change.
So what form does corporate-sponsored slacktivism take, and how can people recognize it? The best way to describe it is to give some examples. …
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is pointing out that ExxonMobil has just announced “for the second consecutive year” that it is cutting funding to groups which promote skepticism about global warming. The groups that are supposedly being cut off include the Capital Research Center, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Institute for Energy Research. However, CSPI points out, “Each group continued to receive Exxon funding in 2007 after the company’s first announcement that it would discontinue the payments. Exxon did not immediately return calls seeking comment on how serious it was in following through on its plans.”