Friday links: is scientific progress slowing down, getting past “I can’t”, and more

Also this week: sexual misconduct at Dartmouth, myths of university-centered economic development, and more. Includes a contest to name the most ridiculous depiction of science or academia in movies!

From Jeremy:

Getting past “I can’t”. Excellent piece. (ht Meghan, via Twitter).

An argument that scientific progress is slowing because it’s getting harder to make major scientific advances. (ht @noahpinion, who has some smart pushback against the details while supporting the broad claim with other lines of evidence.)

How universities do–and don’t–aid economic development in the towns and cities in which they’re located.

Seven former Dartmouth graduate students are suing Dartmouth in federal court for failing to appropriately handle years of complaints about the sexual misconduct of three now-former Dartmouth professors.

Faculty job seekers: don’t look for a job at a teaching-focused institution because you think those kinds of jobs are easier, or less stressful, or have a better work-life balance than jobs at research universities. It all depends on the individual institution, not the type of institution. Great post.

And finally, inspired by this (ht @dandrezner):

tell us in the comments: what’s the most ridiculous depiction of science or academia that you’ve ever seen in a movie? Note that it has to be intended to be at least semi-realistic, so no voting for Ghostbusters or Back To The Future. My opening bids are Indiana Jones (obviously), Dr. Christmas Jones, nuclear physicist, in The World Is Not Enough, and the fact that the space aliens in Independence Day apparently run the Mac OS, thus enabling their computers to be infected by a virus written on a Mac laptop. Honorable mention for the entire premise ofย The Day After Tomorrow, which I think qualifies for this exercise because it’s really a disaster movie rather than sci-fi. Honorable mention for everyย  scientist in Prometheus. Prometheus is sci-fi, but nothing about a sci-fi movie demands that the scientists in it be complete idiots.


22 thoughts on “Friday links: is scientific progress slowing down, getting past “I can’t”, and more

  1. Prometheus still holds the record. A geologist who gets lost in tunnels, a biologist who plays with an alien snake, an archeologist who takes off his helmet in an ancient chamber… ๐Ÿ˜‚

  2. I agree with Prometheus on the top. Honorable mentions go to Armageddon (it is a classic) and Rampage ( A primatologist (Dwayne Johnson) and some geneticist fight three “CRISPR-engineered” monsters that are going to destroy Chicago.

    It is not a movie, but an old advertisement. The lab is just awesome.

    Sorry, it is only in German and the quality is bad. Alpecin is a caffeine shampoo that should prevent hair loss and the lab boss shows us how Alpecin prolongs hair growth phases. The word on the top is “growth phases” and the x-axis shows “years you lived” (there is no one to one translations of the German word.

    • Re: CRISPR-engineered monsters, yes, that’s laughably unrealistic to a scientist. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s implausible to the typical audience member. “Plausibility” is a surprisingly rich and tricky concept in the context of movie science.

      Lab Coats In Hollywood is great on this. To pick one example from that book: the Hulk is unrealistic, just as CRISPR-engineered monsters are. But in the context of a movie about the Hulk, there absolutely are more and less plausible scientific explanations for how Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk.

      I haven’t seen Rampage, so maybe it’s implausible even given its own premise. But maybe not.

      Contrast something like Prometheus. There’s nothing about the internal logic of the world being portrayed that demands that the scientists in that world repeatedly make obviously-stupid decisions.

    • Calgary undergrads hardly ever come to see profs after class or in their offices. So the idea that I’d ever need to climb out my window to escape them seems ridiculous to me. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Also, my window is 30 feet off the ground. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Jurassic Park – not for the obvious reasons but because when was the last time that a private funder of a research project arrived in a helicopter (a f**king helicopter!) to offer anyone more money (more m*ney!) to go on holiday?

    The Martian – I’m going to push back on this one because, although I love the movie, I think it panders to scientists’ egos by suggesting that with a little ingenuity and some brains and knowledge, we can “science the shit” out of any disastrous, life-threatening situation and come through smiling. As opposed to giving up after a few days, brewing up some potato wine, and drinking yourself into a stupor. And to cap it all the guy’s a botanist. How many botanists do you know who can hack the kind of inorganic chemistry and electronic/aerospace engineering that’s needed to survive through this? How many botanists does NASA even employ?

    • I’m going to push back in return! I think John Hammond’s behavior makes sense for his character, in the context of the story of Jurassic Park. Think of him as an Elon Musk figure–an ambitious eccentric tech gazillionaire.

      And presumably all NASA astronauts get lots of technical training on how to operate and fix the equipment, etc.

    • Also, re: the idea that Matt Damon’s astronaut is ridiculous because any real astronaut would have given up in days, I have Ernest Shackleton on the line. He’d like a word with you ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Not Nazis, but I know of multiple modern vertebrate paleontologists that have been held captive by rebels or military, at least one of which was believed to have been (by the captors) a CIA spy working on information in the cocaine trade. Further back, Marsh and Cope famously paid outlaws to rob each others trains carrying fossils from the west to New Haven and Philadelphia. Roy Chapman Andrews may have inspired Indiana Jones. And Bryan Patterson (a vertebrate paleontologist at the Field Museum back in early 1900s) was the son of the Colonel Patterson who killed the man-eating-lions of Tsavo. Probably lots more tales (both tall and true) within the VP crowd.

  5. Another top contender for most ridiculous depiction of science/academia in film (and comic books): the fact that Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk) has *7 PhDs*:

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