Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Misc. update + possible flamewar

Posting has been and will be sparse over the next month or so as I transition to my new location (starting a postdoc at Weizmann).

What I'm working on: a tantalizing decoupling conjecture and a concentration bound for adaptive Markov processes (with Anthony Brockwell). Ask me about these.

Thoughts on leaving Pittsburgh: it's a shame I only met some of the people so late. Seems like in my last months at CMU I made a whole slew of new friends and colleagues -- anywhere from fellow mountain bikers (and I've got fresh scars to prove that) to fellow mathematicians, philosophers, and shmoozers. Where have you guys been for the past 5 years? A better question is where have I been: stuck in my office. I'm not sure there's necessarily a moral here (if I'd done more shmoozing and less work I'd probably still be stuck in that office) -- but it's always sad to see what one has been missing out on.

And now for the flamewar: Cosma and I were discussing The Bell Curve over a beer (or two... or three...). Now smearing Herrnstein and Murray's book as pseudo-scientific racist drivel is a favorite past-time of the Left (and not having read it isn't much of a deterrent). Cosma points out that conservatives can also pile on. In 2005, Murray wrote a lengthy and copiously documented rebuttal (well, more like a synopsis of the debate that their book had been generating for 11 years). Two must-read books for all equality-across-all-groups ideologues are Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate and Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn.

There is no doubt that free scientific inquiry is severely curtailed on certain topics. Just try getting a grant to do climate research if you dare question anthropogenic global warming. The Larry Summers affair illustrates that even "mild, speculative, off-the-record remarks about innate differences between men and women" can get a university president fired. Yet differences between ethnic groups and the sexes do exist as a matter of verifiable empirical fact (please take the time to read Pinker and Wade before calling me names).

Once again, I'm only too glad that the "controversy" generated by math is of the easily dismissed crackpot type, not the type that costs one his career.

3 comments:

Kevembuangga said...

Anout other kind of "flames" have you been in Cambridge an talked with Steve Laniel?
Here is some info about this topic.

Kevembuangga said...

P.S. Just curious about your opinion in case it changed a bit.

Leo said...

Kevembuangga,

the responsible, dignified academician in me wants to dismiss whole explosive issue and not return to it. However, if you insist, I'll respond to that pharyngula post. I am all in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous idiots. I am not a dangerous idiot, and therefore have had no problem owning and carrying a pistol for the past 3 years. Is pharyngula suggesting that we disarm the police, since in that story the cop turned out to be the dangerous idiot?

I love the anecdotal I'm-not-for-gun-control-but-check-this-out arguments. No, my opinion hasn't budged an iota.