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Monday, July 11, 2011

The Value of Blogging

While reading David H. Freedmans book, "Wrong", I knew he was preaching to the choir. But what would someone like my mother, a non-skeptic, think about the book? She needs to believe that our chosen experts are reliable. When something happens such as the Casey Anthony verdict she becomes a skeptic of the legal system. When the damned liberals take control of the white house she becomes a skeptic. More on that line of thought later. In general however, the non-skeptic does not like books like 'Wrong'.

Being accepted as an expert takes time. You have to build up credentials like college degrees, years of experience, and you have to be well spoken. The credentials quite often trump real expertise. Take for example the GETRAPL story. Using the 'drunk under the streetlight' approach the experts found GETRAPL. They are wrong. But who will take the word of a blogger who has never given any credentials and who seems to be an angry person?

My non-skeptical mother doesn't like angry people. Not many people do. She prefers the well spoken, soft spoken, expert who affirms her own beliefs. The same could be said about myself and the author of 'Wrong'. But I differ in that I don't care what the credentials of D.H. Freedman are. I like the ideas he presents. As a skeptic, I would like to think that I could tell the difference between right and wrong based on my experience, not the background of the person to whom I'm listening.

To what extent then do I, the Cargo Cult Scientist, expect to be taken seriously as a contributor to what is right and what is wrong? I don't. I want the words I write to be considered but I don't want to be an expert. I am not willing to go on camera and give away my identity. I have not spoken kindly and without anger about my chosen profession. The notoriety I could achieve would certainly focus on my anger, and weak credentials. I would be labeled a fool. As pointed out in 'Wrong':

It has long been established that when people are part of a crowd in which they're anonymous, they tend to behave less conscientiously than when they're identifiable.

Blogging about the how wrong other people are is cowardly. Yet the track record of the industry is hard to dismiss. Many people have sang the same song, Biotech is a failure. Working with the people has left me dazed and confused about what science is suppose to accomplish.

On the surface, a brave approach to the discussing the biotech business would be to start a website and actually talk to the leaders of the industry. Xconomy is such a website. Just yesterday an article was posted regarding the troubles facing Biotechs inability to attract the kind of financing it did back in its glory days. A lack of guts seems to be an issue. The author of the article, Luke Timmerman, is a well respected member of the biotech business. Luke didn't start a blog. He started an online website dedicated high tech news that is meant to make money. Telling investors they are lacking guts, takes guts. Luke also posted an article telling college students to pursue computer science instead of biotechnology. That takes guts. Luke finds himself in front of the crowd, conscientiously discussing their work. He must be smart and not come across as I do.

What then is the value in this blog? The value of the Cargo Cult Scientist has been mostly therapeutic. The daily struggle of listening to people with all the right credentials and millions of dollars is difficult. They are in the right place. But are the right? According to the ideas of Cargo Cult Science and numerous books such as 'Wrong' they are not. Being right is often the wrong thing to cling to but in science, it is the only thing that matters. I blog because I think science is a beautiful abstract concept, just like Feynman laid out for us in CCS. It makes me feel better.

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