Pedantry, Physics

Who among you allowed me to go without reading Pedantry on at least a quasi-regular basis? I mean, really, what else have you been holding out on?

In any case,Towards a Critical Theory of Physics is kinda tangentially related to the old post-structuralist/physics connection, except it actually has to do with, you know, physics. And contains a sage reminder to anyone interacting with a wannabe grad student:

The ugly truth is that science is full of arguments that were never resolved by falsification, consensus or rational argument. The ultimate decision maker in the hard sciences is graduate students. Arguments are resolved when old physicists die without convincing any grad students to continue to work on their theories. Graduate students in the hard sciences need to understand that their profs need them desperately, because it is only through grad students that their work has a future.

Which sounds nice, but – this grad student wannabe isn’t just after thesis problems of sexy scientific merit. She wants funding, too, in quantities not often doled out by fellow grad students. Which of course is the point: these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Funding, too, is a social decision, but it’s probably best not to gloss over the role the Old Guard’s purse-strings (not to mention the public’s purse-strings, which moves us briskly out of the purist realm of scientific argument) can play in the establishment of scientific orthodoxy, lest one disrupt the academic hierarchy entirely. Chaos! Would! Ensue!

Note to professors still in need of a new generation of crackpotty standard-bearers: evidence of financial stability will be considered on even standing with evidence of empirical or theoretical soundness, please direct all inquiries to the author.


  1. Scott Martens wrote:

    I’m afraid I got into this whole line of argument ass-backwards: physics, then linguistics, then philosophy and finally critical theory. But yes, for all that we like to pretend otherwise, cash and social factors are not minor players in the history of science. They’re not even supporting actors who play second fiddle to the scientific method. No scientific method operates outside the context of science as culture.
    My big problem is that I’m not shopping for a crackpot theory sponsored by a prof looking for a butt-monkey. I have my own research agenda, and I’m looking for a prof willing to tolerate me while I push it. This is not traditionally a tenable position for a grad student – especially in Europe – and it’s one of the reasons I’m still in industry.
    That and the money. :^)

  2. yami wrote:

    Huh. I’ve been feeling nervous about applying largely because I don’t have my own research agenda, or at least not in such a concrete form that I’m looking forward to writing a personal statement about it. Evidently I should be looking more in Europe instead (and probably would were it not for the fact that when I have looked, all the monies have seemed to be tied to citizenship; I don’t need a lot of money but I’m not keen on going into heavy debt either).

  3. Harrison wrote:

    Cool link. And, well, for what it’s worth, may much fuding rain on your head.

  4. Harrison wrote:

    Fuding? oh lord. Look, really, I need a new desk; it’s the desk’s fault that I made all these typos. Plus, it’s bedtime’s fault.

  5. yami wrote:

    Hey at least it wasn’t “feuding” or… well, you consider the possibilities, I’m going to bed

  6. des von bladet wrote:

    How paradigmically contentious are rocks anyway? Do you have outbreaks of thrusting young groovers defying their professors (”That, Sir, is no rock! It is simply a dessicated beetle!”) and stuff?

  7. yami wrote:

    Provided of course that the definition of “beetle” is expanded to include varying types of exotic mineralizing bacteria that may or may not have lived on Mars, yes. Though I’m not sure I’d want to use the phrase “thrusting young groover” to describe anyone involved…

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