Archive for February 11th, 2010

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The Benevolent Lie

February 11, 2010

For all prospective PhD applicants, this article bears reading. Lucky as I feel to have the job I have, I know many exceptionally talented and driven academics who are never so smiled upon. A taste of what it’s like:

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.

Prospective grad students, undergrads, parents, friends of the afflicted… take heed. Your misery keeps the rest of us feeling powerful.

We make our admissions decisions in the next few weeks. Best to know what awaits you. Do yourselves a favor and read the whole piece, including the very, very long set of comments.

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Weather or Not

February 11, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.
People have been spinning the climate issue for some time now, and Roger makes a point that really needs to be made over and over again: weather ain’t climate, no matter how much we might like to pretend (believe?) that any given weather event is or is not the result of shifts in the climate.

I might however offer this addendum to his post. He says, at one point, this:

Further, it is professionally irresponsible for scientists to claim that some observed weather is “consistent with” long-term predictions of climate change. Any and all weather fits this criteria. Similarly, any and all weather is also “consistent with” failing predictions of long-term climate change. The “consistent with” canard is purposely misleading.

If the suggestion (S1) that ‘some weather event (W) is “consistent with” climate projections’ is taken as (or employed in the) affirmation of the strength of the models, then Roger is correct to point out that S1 is both misleading and false.

But if the suggestion (S2) that ‘some weather event (W) is “consistent with” climate projections’ is uttered in response to claims that somehow recent weather events undermine the climate science, then S2 is not misleading and false.

What matters is not whether W can or cannot be taken as evidence for climate change, but whether the utterance (either S1 or S2) is employed in the service of defending or supporting the governing position. That is determined by the use of the utterance, and not strictly by the semantics of the statement. S1 and s2, it should be clear, are identical statements; they are not, however, identical utterances.

UPDATE: Here’s what David Roberts at Grist has to say.