MIT Media Lab Course on Magic and Interface Design

From the course description for the MIT Media Lab class “Indistinguishable From… Magic as Interface, Technology, and Tradition”:

Topics will include:

-Stage Illusion as Information Display
-The Neuroscience of Misdirection
-Magical Warfare: Camouflage and Deception
-Magic Items and the Internet of Things
-Computational Demonology
-Ritual Magick as User Experience Design

Full Description: Dan Novy’s site

(via Cat Vincent)

Academia vs. the Private Sector for Science Jobs

I write often about the need for more STEM education in order to match graduates with actual jobs, but the reality is that the “S” part of the acronym doesn’t necessarily have a lot of openings. At least not in academia. Julianne Dalcanton writes:

Recent reports and articles have generated a lot of buzz about the difficulty of finding employment in the sciences. These articles mirror the anxieties of the young astronomy community with whom I am most familiar. Scientists are not stupid and are pretty good with data, so they can look at the number of graduate students, the number of postdoctoral positions, and the number of faculty ads, and correctly assess that the odds of winding up with a long-term academic position are not good.

However, difficulty finding a “long term academic position” is not the same thing as difficulty finding a job. Buried in those same articles is the fact that the unemployment rate for physicists (which likely mirrors that of astronomers) is between 1-2%. In contrast, the lab-based biologists and chemists (which are the focus of the articles) are not finding employment at all, or if they do, it’s frequently in a position that makes no use of their technical skills.

Cosmic Variance: Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists

In other words, science graduates are facing many of the same problems that Phds in the humanities face. Dalcanton goes on to note that many physics and astronomy majors are finding lucartive careers in the private sector, paritcularly in the technology industry. Ashlee Vance wrote about this phenomena for Business Week last year. I agree that it’s sad that so many smart people are ending up devoting their careers to figuring out how to get people to click ads, but as I wrote last year there’s an interesting upside: lots and lots of open source big data tools.

Earlier this year David Graeber wrote about why science and technology seemed stalled compared to our science fictional imaginations and quotes astrophysicist Jonathan Katz:

You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems… It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.

In other words, you might be better off in the private sector wrangling click stream data than you would be grinding out proposals to do essentially nothing in academia. Le sigh.

Academic Publishers Are Out of Control

George Monbiot has a must-read article in The Guardian on academic publishers. Monbiot points out that academic publishers receive their content for essentially free (the papers are funded by universities, often with public money, and editing is often done on a volunteer basis) and then sold back to the public at exorbitant prices. Individual articles cost at least $30, and subscriptions cost university libraries thousands of dollars per journal per year. The publishers operate at margins of up to 40%. Monbiot writes:

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

Monbiot’s solution:

In the short term, governments should refer the academic publishers to their competition watchdogs, and insist that all papers arising from publicly funded research are placed in a free public database. In the longer term, they should work with researchers to cut out the middleman altogether, creating – along the lines proposed by Björn Brembs of Berlin’s Freie Universität – a single global archive of academic literature and data. Peer-review would be overseen by an independent body. It could be funded by the library budgets which are currently being diverted into the hands of privateers.

The Guardian: Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist

(via Brainsturbator)

Update: Matthew Ingram has a post that expands on the reasons why this system remains in place even as other media industries are being disrupted:

Academics who have tried to open up their research or bypass the journal industry say they often run into resistance from a number of sources. Among other things, appearing in a specific journal or publication is a key criteria for advancement at most universities, which means publishing in open-access formats could be a career-limiting move for an academic. Many publish their papers on their own websites, but most also go through the usual journal process as well, which reinforces the existing system. And since universities pay large sums to subscribe to those journals, they often feel compelled to justify those costs by requiring that all research be published through them.

Ingram also cites this post by sociologist and Microsoft researcher danah boyd, who calls for academics to boycott locked down publishers.

Economists Debate: Are Conflicts of Interest, You Know, Bad?

One portion of the devastating documentary about the global financial collapse, Inside Job (which won an Oscar, so you have to see it), dealt with academic economists—specifically, the ways that they became financially tied to banks and other players in finance, and how that may have compromised the entire practice of economics. It even showed the heads of the economic departments at Harvard (pictured) and Columbia blithely asserting that there was no need to disclose their financial conflicts of interest in academic papers. It was sickening.

We’re pleased to announce that a documentary has actually affected something in the real world! Well, kind of. The economics profession has formed a committee! A prestigious committee. A committee that will talk about whether there needs to be, get this, ethical standards, in economics. Can you imagine?

But here’s the thing: the committee isn’t even proposing an end to conflicts of interest. It’s only pushing for disclosure.

Gawker: Economists Debate: Are Conflicts of Interest, You Know, Bad?

(via Alex Pang, who was earlier asking for different reasons whether it was time to emigrate to Singapore)

Save the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH, or Ritman Library) in Amsterdam has been a very important institution for research into hermetic philosophy and related currents, particularly early modern Rosicrucianism and alchemy, for decades. In a dramatic and very unsettling turn of events, the library’s existence as we know it is now being threatened. It is all very unclear what will happen, but there is no doubt that spreading the word and creating attention around the developments is the least we can do to try and influence things in the best possible direction – to save the library, the staff, and its national heritage collection of manuscripts and printed books.

For more information or to sign the petition click here

There’s also a blog dedicated to saving the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

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