Wednesday, October 13, 2010


A little while ago I put together a presentation which gathers/scatters some of my thoughts on teaching chemistry in the 21st century for a learning and teaching symposium, which my colleague Dr Erica Smith very kindly presented for me while I was on long-service leave.

If you are at all interested, you can go here for a link to the first draft.

Erica tells me it went very well, though there was an interruption from the audience when I referred to non-scientists as 'muggles'; one gentleman apparently took exception to being called a muggle. Though I still think this is a perfectly valid characterisation - scientists are (1) the people who understand what is really going on, and (2) those who have the power to influence their environment in a meaningful way - I have removed it in the second draft. Muggles cannot help being muggles, after all, whereas it is open to everyone to learn to think in a scientific way.


September 16th 2011:

I thought I would just add the slide for the Conclusion in the powerpoint presentation of this and the accompanying text I sent to Erica...

"Chris put this line of untranslated Greek in on purpose and not (just) to show off.
Until recently, this was part of the common body of knowledge expected of an educated person in our civilisation: educated people would know a little bit of Greek and recognise this as a saying of the philosopher Heraclitus.

Now, anyone who sees it, whether they are educated or not, can look it up on Wikipedia. Chris doesn’t have to tell you what it means. It is pathetically easy for you to look it up so if you have the will to know you can go and do it.

(NB: If anyone asks about the years 1900-2000, you can make derisory comments about the ‘Age of Stupid’ … that was what I was going to do.)"


Sarah said...

I, for one, have no issue with being a muggle, and would rather like to appropriate the word for my own usage re: most educators' approach to the internet.

I found your paper and subsequent comments quite fascinating. Upon looking through the review notes I immediately wanted to read it to see what the fuss was about. It really highlighted one of the major issues I have with academic publishing in general and peer review specifically, which is that they both completely ignore the question 'do people actually want to read this?'.

I read your paper all the way through and really enjoyed it, which I can't say has happened in quite a while, yet it was panned in reviews for not citing "the literature" enough, etc etc. People get so caught up in the nonsense system we have created they forget a primary goal in all this should be readability. It's the main reason I started blogging - whenever I write a paper, it kills me to have to follow due process and the whole experience is terribly unsatisfactory. Via blogging, I can write whatever the hell I want in a way that people actually want to read, without referencing anyone in APA 5th. I currently have a paper due to be published that I wrote a year ago that I doubt anyone has actually read yet nor would want to, whereas I can write a blog post and have 100 hits before the day is out. I would be more widely read than most of my colleagues, yet you'll know as well as I do that our blogs count for beans in terms of publications.

I wonder - which of us is 'doin it rong'?

Chris Fellows said...

Thanks Sarah! :)

Yes, I would love to know how many people have actually read my academic papers. In science it might be a little different - I get a lot of satisfaction in trying to crystallise something worthwhile out of a mass of data and make an articulate summative statement about it, and think the formal structure of a paper is helpful for doing this.

On the other hand, a blog post for me is never a 'finished thing' but always a formative thing - a conversational gambit that I hope someone will take up.

So maybe the summative view of academic publication is something that has outlived its usefulness. Peer review is good, but "lifetime' peer review would be so much better... so often I read a paper and wish I could leave a comment!

(...I just noticed the link to the second draft was broken and have fixed it.)