The only

Feb. 18th, 2016 11:40 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I've spent my life being the only Jewish person in most social contexts. When I was tiny, younger than school age I think, I tried to explain the High Holy Days to my Dad's best friend from university; I remember vividly the intense embarrassment at having made a social misstep, but also the sheer surprise at discovering that someone other than family, met outside a Jewish context, could also be Jewish.

I was the only Jewish kid in my nursery school. My brother and I had to go up on stage a week or so after I started full-time school to demonstrate to the other pupils that we were normal children just like them and nobody should pick on us for being Jewish. That could have backfired, but in fact it didn't, it was only really in junior school that I got bullied for being the only Jewish kid, and that was caused by a couple of teachers who had a problem with it and egged the other children on to be horrible to me. In secondary school I wasn't the only, probably about 1% of the school body were Jewish, so that meant about one girl in each yeargroup, and I had to do lots of explaining, and had to sit out of RE class the term we "did" Judaism because the teacher was insecure about teaching in front of a student who knew more than she did. I obviously wasn't the only Jewish person at Oxford (!), but I it was a very common experience for me as a student that I would be the first Jewish person somebody had met. And when I lived in Scotland and Sweden, I was pretty much the only Jewish person in my work circles and other social groups, and often the only Jewish person in interfaith groups.

Now I'm semi-officially the Only Jewish Person at the university where I'm a lecturer. I mean, I'm not, not remotely, but nobody else is admitting to it and I'm the person the university calls on for official functions when they want some Diversity. They're in the process of doing bureaucracy to make this actually officially part of my role, with a title and terms of reference and everything. I somewhat flippantly describe it as being appointed as the institution's official token Jew, and that's only partly a joke.

So that's pretty much always been part of my experience. And now I'm the only Jewish person in my relationship, in the group of people whose lives are perhaps less intertwined than the most common meaning of the word family in a culture that has definite expectations of what a nuclear family looks like, but not a whole lot less. I mean, I was the only Jewish person in my relationship when it was just me and my husband, but being one out of two doesn't feel quite so much like being the odd one out as being the only Jewish one in a group that contains two culturally Christian atheists and four religious Catholics. Generally I'm pretty happy in this situation, but it's something that impacts on various parts of my life so I feel like talking about it a bit.

religion and relationships )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] ewt wanted to know your take on poverty in the UK and elsewhere and what, if anything, you think should be done about it (and by whom).

This is the kind of good question that gets to the heart of where I come from politically. I suppose basically I think some amount of poverty or at least economic inequality is inevitable, if people ever have the freedom to make bad decisions at all. I also think a lot of UK and global poverty right now is being deliberately orchestrated, and what I really want is for the governments of rich countries to stop doing that, which I think would improve things a lot before we get to more positive anti-poverty initiatives.

I suspect this may annoy my leftier friends and possibly some fellow right-wingers too )

Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, I am not hugely emotionally attached to these views so I'm happy for this post to trigger a debate!

[December Days masterpost]

Skills gap

Jul. 7th, 2014 01:44 pm
liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
I'm bad at really a lot of things that women are expected to be good at. Some of them don't matter very much: clothes, make-up, fashion, personal adornment in general, for example. This doesn't matter to me because I'm cis, so people rarely challenge whether I'm "really" female, and I have a weak sense of gender identity so I don't feel hurt, weird or dysphoric if people do in fact think I'm unfeminine. And it's easy to dismiss looking pretty as just superficial; certainly my professional life doesn't depend on succeeding at it.

Lots more stuff in this category consists of valuable skills, but ones that men get away with being mediocre at, so although I would like to improve I don't worry very much that I'm below average compared to women if I'm at a level that's fairly typical for men in my society. Things like cooking and baking, housekeeping, fabric arts, domestic sphere type stuff. Being able to cook, clean and sew are in fact important, and they're devalued precisely because they're seen as "feminine". But I'm pretty sure if I were male I would be praised for keeping my living space as clean and tidy as I do, for being able to cook a decent if not extensive range of nutritious and tasty meals, for being able to sew on buttons and carry out minor clothing repairs. To some extent you could say the same thing about appearance-related stuff; in our particular society, men aren't expected to know how to put on make-up or wear a range of different clothes carefully matched to the formality of various situations, so these things are considered unimportant, not because they actually are.

The third category is where I'm more concerned about my deficiencies. I guess you could broadly call it social or communication skills. Empathy, intuition, emotional communication. I want to be better at these things primarily because I'd do better in life and be less likely to inadvertently hurt people, not really because women are "supposed" to be good at them.

more noodling )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
One of the great things about the internet is that you get to meet people who are not like you. But that's also one of the problems with the internet; I live a fairly sheltered life and I am in the habit of assuming that most people I interact with generally share most of my values, to the extent of, say, holding broadly egalitarian views. Of course, this is not actually the case!

noodling )
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
Lots of internet communities I'm peripherally aware of talk about consent culture. I think the idea started from sex-positive feminism, a sort of more advanced stage of dealing with sexual consent beyond just "no means no". People should actively choose the sex they want to have, without being subjected to even subtle or indirect pressure. It's not a big leap to notice that this principle applies to interactions that aren't particularly sexual, hugs and other social touch, say, and indeed relationships and emotional connections beyond just physical touch.

So in a consent culture frame, the only reason to enter into any kind of relationship, or to continue an existing relationship, is because everybody involved actively wants that relationship. That includes capital-R officially together romantic couple relationships, of course, but also everyone involved should consent to how close they want to be as friends or acquaintances or whether they even want to have any kind of contact and interaction at all. This seems a totally logical extension of principles I hold about autonomy, and I want to live in a world where relationships are freely chosen and not coerced. I think I need to adapt my own attitudes and behaviour to promote consent culture values, though. And I definitely want to think through the detail of how this works in practice.

contains angst, passing mentions of partner abuse and domestic violence, and references to personal sexual history )

Last time I tried to talk about something like this, I think some people got the impression I was advocating forcing people to stay in abusive relationships, for largely spurious reasons like "for the children" or "because God said so". I don't want that at all, I want to be in consent culture, I'm just trying to work out how to be confident and secure enough, let alone all the practical considerations, to make sure I don't find myself coercing people to be in relationships with me that they don't want.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
So [personal profile] jack recently made a post listing taboos in our social circle. I don't think the things he's talking about are taboos (and indeed, this was the consensus after a long, wide-ranging discussion); I think they are opinions that are likely to get you shouted at, but it's perfectly possible to express those opinions and everybody can think of someone who does in fact hold any one of the listed positions. A real taboo is something you simply can't say, maybe can't even think.

pontification )

Families

Jun. 18th, 2013 07:00 pm
liv: bacterial conjugation (attached)
So a friend made a locked post about definitions of family, and it reminded me of several things that have been in my mind recently. I'm not sure this is going to be very coherent, just a bunch of stuff.

thoughts )

Like I said, somewhat rambly and not very coherent thoughts. This probably ought to've been several posts, really, but let's see what people think.
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
Please consider not doing a PhD.

You're in your final year of university. You're doing really well, you're getting stunningly good marks and lots of praise from your tutors. You've probably never been so happy in your life, you're using your incredible brain to think about really interesting, really hard problems. And you're starting to be aware of the frontiers of knowledge in your field, the stuff that isn't in textbooks yet, the stuff that people are right now actively trying to find out. Perhaps you did a summer project or a long finals project where you got a taste of actually doing some original research yourself, and it was mindblowingly awesome.

What could possibly be better than spending the rest of your life doing this kind of thing, and hopefully even getting paid for it? Probably everybody around you is encouraging you to go for a PhD, because after all that's what brilliant students do. And universities look good when their best students go on to PhDs after graduating. The academics you most look up to are telling you that you, yes, you, could be like them one day. If you're at an elite university, you're perhaps experiencing the negative side to this, whispers and gossips and subliminal messages that anything other than a PhD is, well, y'know, a bit second-rate really.

Look, I am in fact a career academic. I know exactly what's attractive about it, I've made considerable financial and personal sacrifices to get myself to a position where I can work in a university environment and spend my time doing groundbreaking research. And yet. The gateway into this life is a PhD, and the PhD system is deeply, deeply fucked up when it isn't actively abusive. This is not hyperbole or metaphor, I am talking about literal oppression and abuse )

I know some specific individuals to whom this might apply, but for several reasons I want to make this point in a more general way. First of all I don't want anyone to feel personally targeted by this; this post did in fact start off as a comment to a post about the applications process, but then I decided I didn't have the right to say this kind of thing directly to someone, and if I did it would do more harm than good. And secondly, I want to get this out there, as an account by someone who knows the system from the inside. I want to talk about this stuff in the open, to reduce the extent you have to be a member of the secret club of people with personal connections in academia to know all this.

Brilliant student: I went into my PhD with every advantage you could think of, financial and emotional support from my parents, about as mentally stable as anyone I know, very high self-confidence, healthy and able-bodied, strong support network, the works. And yes, I'm female but I have been socialized in ways that feminists regard as male: I pretty much expect to be taken seriously in all situations and I've always been encouraged in my ambitions and had plenty of role-models and have never had to use up my energy fighting sexist microaggressions, much less overt sexism or sexual harassment. And with all those advantages, my PhD was a soul-killing ordeal; I think only now, 7 years after graduating, I'm starting to get back to functioning as well as I did when I was a brilliant student ready to start a PhD. And honestly, my PhD experience was better than about 95% of my peers; I only had to deal with incompetence and never malice, for example. And my university and ultimate boss were willing to step in and help me fix things when my relationship with my immediate supervisor ran into difficulties.

I really don't want to come across as arguing that only people who are well-off, male-ish, white, English-speaking, straight, able-bodied and either single or with partners who are willing and able to be entirely supportive and never in the least bit dependent, should consider doing PhDs. Part of what's wrong with academia is that it already skews heavily towards people who have these sorts of advantages, so I most certainly don't want to contribute to that unfairness. You're brilliant, you are passionate about your field, goodness knows I want you to come and join me in furthering human knowledge! If you would like any advice from me in terms of playing the system, proofreading your applications or help picking a department where your PhD will be somewhat less miserable than it might be, I will be only too delighted to help. But I also want you to make the decision with open eyes, I want you to know that the costs of doing a PhD are higher than you can probably imagine right now.

I expect you, brilliant student, won't really be deterred by this. Likely you'll believe it will be different for you or it'll be worth it or you just plain can't imagine doing anything else. In fact, if I seriously thought this information would put you off, I probably wouldn't publish it. But when you plumb the depths of despair, when the whole system is conspiring to kill everything that makes you brilliant in the first place, I want you to remember this post and know that it's not just you, this is a very common, almost a universal, experience of what putting yourself through a PhD is like. And then just maybe you will one day be in a position to do something to make the system incrementally less awful.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
Somebody on Twitter linked to a really pointed Al Jazeera article: The freedom to criticise free speech. It concisely articulates something I've thought for a long time, but haven't quite been able to state without waffling a lot. tl;dr version: freedom of speech – Muslims have it too.

This is my big bone of contention with large swathes of the New Atheist / Skeptic / Rational movement(s): they seem to be very shouty about the right, mostly exercised by people who are (entirely coincidentally I don't think) white, middle-class men living in powerful, rich countries, to publish utterly vile, ignorant, hateful stuff about Muslims and Islam. But as soon as any Muslim raises the slightest objection to this, it's an attack on free speech and the very foundations of democracy. Yes, it's important to protect freedom of speech you don't agree with, but I don't see much knee-jerk Voltaire quoting when it's Muslims exercising that right.

Even in the most repressive regimes, powerful, influential, well-connected people can pretty much say what they like, there's nothing especially notable about that. The point of enshrining freedom of speech as a right is that it applies to people of subaltern status. Immigrants, members of minority religions or ethnic groups, these days people living formerly colonized countries. If it's important to you to have or protect the right to express prejudices, then you should care at least equally much about the right of oppressed or relatively less powerful to point out that bigotry is bigotry. They also have the right to refuse to give money or attention to people publishing bigoted stuff, that's not an attack on free speech, that's exercising their democratic, free market right to give their business to people whose views they agree with. And yes, some of them are wrong, they see things as offensive or attacking when they're actually true and harmless. So? They still have the right to hold and express their opinions, that's the whole point about freedom of speech.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] wildeabandon posted something thoughtful about giving to charity a while ago, and it made me realize just why I am uncomfortable with the idea currently fashionable among my friends of trying to maximize the efficiency of charitable giving. Unfortunately I started getting into a debate based on my new insight just a few days before I got married, so didn't really have time to follow up.

This is going to be an unpopular opinion, certainly, but I don't really agree with the principle that there's a moral imperative to use your money to save as many lives as possible. On the face of it that's a seductive idea, because saving lives is obviously a good thing, so saving more lives is obviously better, right? Also using resources efficiently is obviously better than wasting money. What kind of twisted person would disagree with that?

questioning received wisdom )

I wonder how many people I've mortally offended with this post...
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
So [livejournal.com profile] cereta made an impressive and widely linked post about the pervasiveness of rape. The reaction to it has been really bizarre, and I want to talk about that and about a related issue: the one about women taking personal safety precautions.

discussion of rape and the fear of rape; don't read if you're feeling fragile )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
So a brave and much-admired gynaecologist was murdered in America, and lots of people are upset and frightened by this attack. May Dr Tiller rest in peace, and may all of you who are grieving or in shock find the best comfort you can.

analysis of abortion rhetoric )

Note I'm not proposing that anyone should be forced to carry to term a baby she doesn't want. Please don't accuse me of taking that position! I'm saying that the people who are arguing so passionately in favour of abortion rights should select their arguments with care. Sometimes the pro-life side are accused of only caring about the life of pure innocent little unborn babies, but not actual living humans (and that accusation is certainly true in the case of the evil man who murdered Dr Tiller, and those extremists who encouraged him and are celebrating his action.) But at this stage in the debate, it's coming across as if some of the pro-choice side only care about the rights and autonomy of women who are young and healthy and able-bodied and neurotypical and preferably pretty and socially valued (and I have this sinking feeling that pretty is really a figleaf for "white, middle-class and sexually conservative").

Pretty much the only people I've seen addressing this issue are the wonderful Kay Olson and Wheelchair dancer. And that only in comments buried deep in a blog discussion. I want to add my voice to theirs, with a top level post, not that I have all that much traffic or prominence.

PS: I'm going to be pretty harsh about deleting comments that don't acknowledge people with disabilities as people. If you can't talk about people, not "tragedies" or "burdens" or "medical costs", please don't talk to me about this topic at all. And I don't particularly want to hear your personal views on the abortion debate in general either, because that's strongly missing the point of what I'm trying to say.
liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
Both our internal information people and the local press are getting very excited because some Karolinska people have made some pretty good progress towards developing a test that will predict dementia 20 years ahead. [Press release, with links to the original article] It's cool science, no doubt about it, but I can't help wondering, would you want to take a test at the age of 50 that might predict that you had a high chance of being senile by the time you were 70? I guess it's the same problem as with any predictive medical testing: in the absence of a cure or even sensible prevention, what's the point of knowing?

I think it's the timescale that bothers me, in part; I don't have the same objection to, say, cervical smears which tell me whether I might be at risk for cancer in the coming few years. That allows me to do something about it in terms of possibly readjusting my life plans. But I can't plan on the basis of some terrible thing that might happen in 20 years' time; I'd just have to live with the knowledge that this was likely to happen to me, which I don't think would be good psychologically.

It's true that almost everybody expects to be mortal (the exceptions are a few religious people and a few quasi-religious geeks who think the Singularity is going to cure death). So you always have to run your life on the basis that you have a few decades at best and possibly even less. But I'd still rather not know the probable time and manner of my demise more than a few years in advance, I think.

In non-morbid news: Stockholm is full of magicians and flamboyantly gay people with rainbow banners at the moment. I find this very cool, it's a bit like living in the Paul Gallico novel The man who was magic.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
My friends, I am having a crisis of faith. (Not the religious kind; I don't have much of that anyway, and I wouldn't bore you with noodlings about details of theology.) No, I am starting to question my faith in communication.

I have always believed that communication is really, really important. Before I was even verbal my mother used to lecture me about how you should always be careful to communicate exactly what you mean and tell those close to you how you are feeling. And I've always lived with that principle.

It's [livejournal.com profile] doseybat who started me off questioning this. (She has been causing me to question my assumptions and encouraging me to make really progress in the way I think and understand the world for over a decade now!) She pointed out (correct me if I'm misquoting you) that in fact good communication is no guarantee of a good relationship, and most relationships that go wrong go wrong for other reasons apart from communication problems. We were talking mainly about romantic relationships but it's applicable to other kinds too. For example, if one person stops loving their partner and prefers someone new, the original partner is likely to be hurt and upset, and no amount of communication about what the situation is is going to change that the situation is in fact bad.

There's also all the issues around attraction and sex and that sort of thing. It's something I spend a lot of time worrying about: what if he thinks I'm flirting with him when I'm not, what if I say something general and it's taken as a personal insult, and so on. But it's possible that this fear is exaggerated, it's a leftover from adolescence when none of us had any clue about these things, and now that we are adults we don't need to spell everything out because we have enough shared assumptions and common sense that this kind of disaster isn't likely any more.

[livejournal.com profile] sartorias made a really interesting post about marriage in fiction. She points out something that I hadn't thought of: misunderstanding is a convenient way of creating narrative tension while still maintaining sympathy for both characters involved. (Of course, it can get really annoying if it's over-done to the point where the reader is left thinking, if only they'd bothered talking to eachother on page 1, the whole novel would have been unnecessary!) But just because a lot of fictional relationships run into this particular set of problems, it doesn't mean that this is a proportionately huge danger in real life.

I still think good communication is better than bad communication, and some communication is better than none. But I am really wondering if I'm making too much of it. If one feels obliged to discuss every detail of one's feelings and thoughts, that has the potential to get boring. And several people have suggested to me that my very direct style of dealing with attraction can be unromantic or even intimidating, compared to the more expected style of flirting based on lots of hints and allusions and playfulness.

Of course, there's a huge sample bias here; since I believe communication is very important, I'm drawn to people who also care about communication. Indeed, some of the people I love best in all the world are the people I trust to tell me about anything I might want to know of their inner state, and to clarify and make effort to be sure we understand eachother always. But I do know empirically that there are people who are perfectly happy in their relationships and friendships, without basing their interaction on talking about absolutely everything or even really on conversation at all.

If communication isn't the whole story, the major factor that makes the difference between good and bad relationships, then what else might there be? I'm tentatively inclined to propose the assumption of goodwill. Perhaps if there is mutual trust that the people involved care about eachother and don't mean eachother harm, any misunderstandings that might arise will be temporary and easily dealt with, and not the big terrible tragedy that I expect them to be.

I certainly don't intend to stop trying to make sure I listen and communicate to the best of my ability. But perhaps I should be less obessive about this point. What do people think?
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
It occurred to me the other day that I don't really care about immortality. This may be a common theme to quite a few of my quirks.

introspective junk )

Unrelatedly, [livejournal.com profile] pleonastic has some inspiration for people who are bogged down by paperwork, which is a fair proportion of us.

I will resist the temptation to go through my entire journal adding location data. I will. I have far more important things to do. But ee, location data!
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Today it was so unreasonably hot that [livejournal.com profile] blackherring's (unlit) havdalah candle melted. We stayed in her room where there is air-conditioning, and studied some Gemara relevant to today's fast of Tisha b'Av.

The scene is this: some rabbis are discussing the events of around 70 CE (a generation or so after Jesus' death). Judea was under Roman occupation, and in 70, the Romans decided to take action to end the political trouble and fomenting rebellion in the province. This culminated in the destruction of the (second) Temple, the centre of Jewish worship, and the whole city of Jerusalem was also razed and the Jewish population relocated. This is one of the major tragedies that is commemorated by today's fast. R Jochanan tells the following story:

Jerusalem was destroyed because of confusing Kamtza with bar Kamtza )

So the question is, whose fault is it that Jerusalem was destroyed? Answers in comments please! Not doing a poll because I want to know your reasoning. I've heard it said you can deduce a lot about someone's character from whom they blame in this story.

(The story is my paraphrase of a chunk from Gittin 55b. And yes, some of you have played this one before. Oh, and R Jochanan says it's R Zechariah b Avkoulos' fault for being excessively pious, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's right.)
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
There's been a lot of drama in peripheral bits of my LJ circle recently. A lot of it is to do with conflicting ideas about how personal someone's LJ is, and I think this is interesting. (The drama itself isn't interesting, because drama tends not to be. And I'm not posting links to the drama that has prompted this thought, because that would just be further drama-mongering.)

The situations run like this: somebody posts something contentious. Other people take issue with the original contentious post. Whether or not they initially confront the OP, at some point the discussion gets carried over to people's own LJs. Drama ensues.

The way I see it, if I see a post I strongly disagree with, especially if it's a drive-by thing rather than someone I know personally, my most likely response would be to make a followup in my own LJ. However, I have seen several instances in the past few days of people taking serious offence at exactly this response.

Assuming one doesn't actually want to cause offence, what are the alternatives? this got kind of long... )

One heartening thing, in amongst all this depressing drama: I really love [livejournal.com profile] ozarque's response to someone who was pursuing a discussion in a way that seemed inappropriate to her. Whether or not one agrees with her assessment is not, I think, important here. I really admire the way she's handled the situation.

Given the complexity of the stuff I've rambled on about behind the cut, it's likely that at some point people are going to end up offending eachother. And what then? I've seen too many people recently slinging nasty insults at the person who offended them, whether it's for attacking them directly or for moving the discussion to their own space. Surprisingly enough, this just amplifies the drama and makes everyone look bad.

[livejournal.com profile] ozarque's approach isn't perfect; it hasn't completely defused the situation. But it has made it possible for her to continue the discussion she wants to have without getting sidetracked into a flame war. And to me, it reads as being extremely respectful of someone who is taking a different approach from hers, and that's something I find particularly admirable and would hope to imitate myself if I ever have to deal with such a situation.

Today is the 41st day, making 5 complete weeks and 6 days of the Omer.

Connections

May. 5th, 2005 03:33 pm
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
I'm seeing fragmented bits of a really interesting discussion going on on different bits of my friends list, and it's frustrating me because I think all these bits should be linked together. So:

[livejournal.com profile] rho posted a really interesting essay on using the maths from quantum physics as a metaphor for gender. This is going to make most sense to people who have a fairly advanced grasp of both maths and gender theory, so [livejournal.com profile] compilerbitch, if you're reading, you should go and have a look at it. Plus, I think you and [livejournal.com profile] rho might well get on, so I'm taking this opportunity to introduce you, in case you haven't met.

[livejournal.com profile] redbird saw it, and started some related discussion in her journal. Since [livejournal.com profile] rho commented to that discussion, I assume [livejournal.com profile] rho has seen it, but anyone else might go to [livejournal.com profile] rho's journal but not see the continuation of the discussion.

Then [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel came up with a systems programmer's take on the concept, again giving rise to some interesting discussion. [livejournal.com profile] rho, I'm not at all sure whether you've seen [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel's post and I think you might well appreciate it. New perspectives, anyway.

Times like this, you really wish LJ had trackback. Anyway, if anyone else reads this and finds this kind of thing interesting to play with, I hope you'll follow the different bits of this around. And bring it to the attention of anyone you know who might also enjoy it; I can think of a few people who might, but whom I don't know well enough to be sure. Plus, if there are any fun follow-ups in bits of LJ I don't see, please let me know so I can add them to the post.
Meanwhile, I have reviewed Gore Vidal's novelized biography of Julian. Like [livejournal.com profile] shreena I have refrained from killing my mother. I went out last night to celebrate S&S getting their PhDs. I shall miss them, SC especially. My viva is on Monday (please don't wish me luck; I don't think it's a luck issue.)

I may expand on these items when things are less fraught, since the combination of the maternal visit with the imminent viva means I don't have a lot of LJ time.

Today is the 11th day, making one week and four days of the Omer
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
[livejournal.com profile] coalescent reminded me that I've been meaning to blog this for a while but it got buried in the thesis panic: Het Grauniad ran an article fairly similar to my competition asking for single things that are essential for people to know. Incidentally, [livejournal.com profile] gnimmel, if you're reading this, you haven't claimed your prize!

So the Guardian asks What is the one thing everyone should learn about science?. Of course, being a national newspaper they asked famous scientists rather than random people on my flist, but it's very much the same kind of idea. (Though my competition started off from science I didn't restrict it quite so much.) It's interesting how people have interpreted the question; some of them are quite meta and want to tell people things about science, whereas others pick scientific facts, ie observations about how the world works as interpreted by science.

I don't like a lot of the suggestions in the article. Some of them are very much playing up to damaging stereotypes of what science is. Science in some people's statements is coming across as a sort of peevish old man who wants to keep people from believing anything that gives them comfort or joy, whether religion or spirituality or the paranormal. Very Gradgrind, really. And that very much ties into the other stereotype, that science is a list of Facts that are True because they're handed down from on high and not to be contradicted. Which basically makes science hard to distinguish from dogmatism. So I rather like Ridley's: Science is not a catalogue of facts, but a search for new mysteries, and Maynard's paraphrase of Popper: Erecting hypotheses that can be falsified, and designing experiments capable of doing so, is the hallmark of the true scientist.

Perhaps a similar exercise is [livejournal.com profile] misia asking What's your definition of "having sex"?. She gets some very interesting and provocative answers. It seems to me that in some contexts at least it's a fairly important question, and certainly it's a word that pretty much everyone needs to use conversationally some of the time, and there's really very little consensus on it.

So, anyone want to try a soundbite short definition of either science or sex? Or both, if you're feeling ambitious. It's something to ponder, anyway.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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