Winnowing XXMMI

by reestheskin on 19/02/2021

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Thinking clearly

It is a fun trope to imagine that ability in one domain comes at the cost of another. Scientists are geeks etc. I knew the quote below, but not who had said it. Perhaps technocrats devoted to public service are what we are missing.

We are not a great power and never will be again,” wrote Tizard. “We are a great nation, but if we continue to behave like a great power we shall soon cease to be a great nation.”

A distinguished Whitehall scientist, Henry Tizard, sounding the alarm. Quoted in Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit, by Philip Stephens.

Fast and slow-moving metaphors

Graduate deans ‘must speak up for PhD students’ | Times Higher Education (THE)

“Even today, people applying to graduate school feel obliged to say: “My goal is research”, according to Robert Weisbuch, former president of Drew University in New Jersey. Yet in reality only a small proportion will go on to find a permanent academic position, and failure to acknowledge this often prevents them making the most of their knowledge and talents.

“We teach them to believe they are Lamborghinis,” suggested Leonard Cassuto, professor of English and American studies at Fordham University in New York, “when in fact they are all-terrain vehicles. If you are an all-terrain vehicle and believe you are a Lamborghini, all you are going to do is stay on the racetrack, no matter how much traffic there is on it.”

Just so you know

Why can’t the UK tax year start on January 1? | Financial Times

Our April 5 year-end originates from when people in England were required to pay rents to their landlords quarterly on what were, and still are, known as quarter days; March 25, June 24, September 29 and December 25. The first in the year, known as Lady Day, came to be regarded as the start of the financial year.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered that the old Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar should be replaced by the Gregorian calendar we use today. The old calendar, although reasonably accurate, was slightly too short and had slipped over the years. Much of Europe moved across immediately, but Britain took a little longer — 170 years in fact. By then, our calendar was out of step by 11 days and so it was that after the taxes had been paid on March 25 1752, 11 days were removed from the calendar and the new tax year started on April 5 1752. 

The Long Now: Plant the oaks now for we do not know when we might need them

Political union through science | Nature Physics

Almost 100 years later, in a Europe that had been forced apart by war, 17 nations from around the world came together in Paris on 20 May 1875 to sign what is now known as the Metre Convention. The aim of the convention — in the spirit of Talleyrand’s proposal — appears prominently on the first page, and states that the signatories desired “to assure the international unification and perfection of the metric system” and they undertook “to create and maintain, at their common expense, a scientific and permanent International Bureau of Weights and Measures with its headquarters in Paris”.

Turn of phrase

Moving mountains: the reforms that would push academia to new heights | Times Higher Education (THE)

It remains one of the great ironies of higher education that while most of us in the sector are employed to educate, any professional learning offered to improve our practice leaves us as repulsed and as lost as Jack Nicholson at a women’s studies conference.

I not in love with the gist of the article, all those dilemmas about whether opening doors for colleagues or strangers is micro-aggression or not, but a nice turn of phrase. Personally, I would have thought Nicholson would have gone down well (academically speaking, that is).

Just brilliant!

Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.

Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who contribute greatly to the global eradication of smallpox. Quoted in via Private Eye MD No 1541

I knew another scientist called Brilliant, Murray Brilliant, a melanocyte biologist. Always wondered what it was like being called Brilliant, and how Oscar Wilde might have played with it.

Retirement has its rewards

W.H. Auden imagined “The Fall of Rome” as the moment in which:

“an unimportant clerk/Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK/On a pink official form.”

Quoted here