Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Crowd-sourcing "citizen science," new products and ideas

Citizen engagement is essential to our fast-changing civilization. Politics could certainly use more empowerment of common citizens. So could innovative commerce, and even national defense relies on a robust citizenry. But one area with especially bright prospects, is crowd-sourced -- or individual participation in -- inventiveness and science.

It's a topic I've discussed many times. As a teenager, growing up in Los Angeles, I participated in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), gathering mountains of data for professional astronomers, one of countless such groups that you might learn about via the Society of Amateur Scientists. In my new novel Existence, I portray this trend accelerating as individuals and small groups become ever more agile at sleuthing, data collection and analysis -- and forming very very smart, ad-hoc, problem-solving "smart mobs." But even in the months since that book was published, reality seems to be catching up with fiction.

For example, as funding dollars for science are increasingly under threat, a number of groups are offering opportunities for crowd-funded basic research, enabling citizens to interact directly with teams at the cutting edge of some topic. Envision a kind of KickStarter for science research. Dr. Jai Ranganathan, co-founder of the SciFund Challenge, asks "What would this world look like if every scientist touched a thousand people each year with their science message? How would science-related policy decisions be different if every citizen had a scientist that they personally knew? One thing is for sure: a world with closer connections between scientists and the public would be a better world. And crowdfunding might just help to get us there."

Backers receive periodic updates on their chosen projects and direct communication with researchers. They may also receive souvenirs, acknowledgment in journal articles, invitations to private seminars, visits to laboratories or field sites, and occasionally, naming rights to new discoveries or species. One advantage to researchers is that they can receive funding in a matter of weeks, rather than months.

Current projects on the science funding site Petridish include: saving the Samaki fish in the world’s largest desert lake, monitoring glacial lakes, and tracking sharks with satellites. Or on Microryza, you can contribute to tracking Magellenic Penguins, or exploring the stability of neural networks. iAMscientist offers opportunities as diverse as monitoring Diamondback Terrapins with new tracking technologies, and robotic hand rehabilitation for stroke victims. Recent projects on RocketHub's SciFund Challenge include projects to identify new drug candidates to treat Alzheimer's disease, developing artificial photosynthesis, or saving stressed coral reefs on Kiribati. Or you can donate to specific projects, like LiftPort, which aims to build a space elevator. 

If you're looking for more active involvement in research projects, you might try SciStarter, Scientific American's Citizen Science, or Zooniverse, which offers a compilation of projects for citizen involvement, such as studying how solar storms affect conditions on earth at Solar Stormwatch and identifying exoplanets at PlanetHunters. Volunteers can help classify galaxies at Galaxy Zoo, learn to map retinal connections at EyeWire, map the age of Lunar rocks with MoonZoo, or analyze extraterrestrial signals with SETILive. You can donate your home computer's processing power to SETI@Home to help analyze data from radio telescopes such as Arecibo.

Indeed, one worthy project that could help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence more effectively than the sadly obsolete program at the Seti Institute would be to re-ignite Project Argus, the alternative endeavor of the Seti League, that envisions setting up 5000 radio telescopes in back yards across the planet, keeping the entire sky under observation, all the time, instead of peering through a super-narrow soda straw at distant specks of space, one at a time.  A system far more likely to catch the rare blip of an alien race "pinging" us, which recent calculations show to be more plausible than the imagined tutorial "beacons."  In any event, this is where one millionaire could help thousands of eager (and tech savvy) amateurs to become key members of a worldwide smart mob, hunting ol' ET down!

Citizens have long participated in regional bird counts, as well as monitoring butterfly migrationwildlife, and local water quality. Technology has enabled high quality data collection and recording tools to be widely available to amateurs. You can even do science without leaving your home...the online game Foldit allows gamers to compete to fold protein structures to achieve the best scoring (lowest energy) configuration.

Whatever your level of involvement, you can have the satisfaction of participating in humanity's greatest endeavor. In an era when political factions and media empires are waging relentless "war on science" this trend toward active participation -- or providing some financial support -- is the surest way to help support an active, vigorous, future hungry and scientific civilization.

Well... and vote, of course.   And show your crazy uncle the melting of the arctic...

==Crowd Sourcing Ideas and Innovation! ==

Then there's tinkering and creating new products, new services, the sort of thing that Adam Smith (and anyone with sense) proclaimed as the heart and soul of productive enterprise. Sure, good things have happened to help stimulate creativity.  Patent law was (believe it or not) a huge advance over what came before.  Venture capitalists tend to have the imagination of Galapagos finches, but they, too, were somewhat of a step forward. Only, now, as we finally creep out of the dullard doldrums of the Naughty Oughts, there arrive dozens of new approaches that may do a lot of good, stimulating our creative juices.

Unused inventions get crowd-sourced sparkMarblar is the latest in a string of “open innovation” sites that attempt, in one way or another, to encourage inventiveness online.  It does this by crowdsourcing a simple request:find new uses for under-exploited patents.

Related endeavors? ArticleOne asks its community of users to find “prior art” – published documents that show an invention existed before it was patented – to quash patents that firms have been accused of infringing.  (It also helps good/original patents to thrive!)

Or take: Innocentive, where companies and NGOs present problems that they feel need solving – such as how to develop a portable rainwater storage system for the developing world. On the flipside, IBridgeNetwork and Yet2.com post university and corporate research in a bid to find people who’ll license their technology to commercialize it.

== Then build it! ==

And the Maker Trend builds momentum!  Read about new companies that will bring 3D printing to the home. Letting you take a downloaded or self-made template and order up a physical version. Even a sculpture made from your head-scan. Commercial 3-D printing works with only a few dozen types of materials, mostly metals and plastics, but more are in the works. Researchers are experimenting with exotic “inks” that range from wood pulp to sugar. (And stem cells! But that's a different story...)  Some devices can extrude liquid foods, like icing and melted chocolate. Soon we’ll be able to print everything from birthday cakes to electric circuits, potentially making complex electronics from scratch.

"When 3-D printers make an object, they use an “additive” technology, which is to say they build objects layer by layer from the bottom up. (By contrast, other computer-controlled machines, such as the CNC router and CNC mill, are “subtractive”; they use a spinning tool to cut or grind away material.)"

Yes yes.  But will you (gentle reader) forgive me if I add a perhaps mysterious parenthetical? Both methods miss the real deal.  I know how to do it -- create 3D objects -- by actual random access of individual points in space!  But I ain’t telling.

==Programming for Everyone==

While we’re on the burgeoning topic of crowd-sourcing…  Inform the world about Raspberry Pi!  Can a $35 computer persuade kids to put down their smartphones and try their hands at programming?   Or at least explore the guts that make things work? Another part of the new Maker Movemen.

Long before I keynoted a recent Maker Faire, I was trying to throw incendiaries about this matter.  For example in the Salon Magazine article “Why Johnny Can’t Code,” which complained about the lack of a common – very basic – programming language in all computers. Something simple, reliable and universal -- remember when ALL "home" computers had such a lingua franca language that all kids could fool with?  One so common that textbook publishers used to include try-it-at-home exercises in all the math and science books. Yes that language sucked.  But millions of kids got a taste of what made the pixel move -- (an algorithm!) -- and that does not happen anymore.

(Incidentally, that article brought me more hate mail than even my pieces dissing Star wars!)

Perhaps Raspberry Pi will help to change that, yet again.Tomorrow’s kids may know more about the “guts” of their technological world than the video-game generation does.  In part thanks to great efforts like this.

== And finally... some sci-miscellany ==

Physics wonks Uncertainty over the Uncertainty Principle? Canadian researchers have cleverly used "weak measurement" methods to glimpse the polarization of a light wave before it enters a strong measurement device, in order to appraise whether the effects of measurement are as predicted by the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle.  If verified, the results might indicate that Uncertainty caused by measurement may be but smaller and more complex than we thought.  Maybe.

Random science thought...Is science a one-man enterprise?  Diametrically opposite to fantasy's romantic images of wizards, the best scientists publish and share as quickly as they can.  And even when they have towering egos, they know they aren't doing it alone. The Poster Boy is a good example. Galileo is credited with a number of discoveries during the Gosh-Wow-Look! era of astronomy.  Yet very few were uniquely his.  As one of you commented recently: "Marius concluded that Jupiter had moons one day later than Galileo.  David Fabricius published a pamphlet several months before Scheiner made his meticulously documented series of observations, which in turn was a month or two ahead of Galileo.  Harriot as usual was ahead of everyone, and as usual never published.  Sure, he deserved attention as the sun around which science revolved in his era." (See my short story about Galileo at Harvard!) "But take Galileo out of the equation, and all the same discoveries are made.  We'd be talking about Scheiner's sunspots, Fabricius' lunar mountains, Marius' moons of Jupiter, or Lembo's phases of Venus!"

== Final Notes ==

Sexiest job of the 21st CenturyData Scientist, according to The Harvard Business Review.

Should our 8 hours of sleep be divided into "firste sleep" and seconde sleep"?

Is it really about to be 2025... the home time of the Jetsons?  Here's a contemplation of the Jetsons, and how they influenced our attitudes (and expectations) of the Future. Even more chilling, it will soon be 2015, the (back to the) Future of Marty McFly... and where's my Mr. Fusion?

Yes, I know... this was a long posting.  But it's about the really important stuff!  Alas, next time we'll return to the aggravating irritation known as politics.


Tim H. said...

"Random access of individual points in space"? If you're referring to flipping matter out of the vacuum, that'd knock transporter tech into a cocked hat, and how could it be done fast enough in an acceleration field (Even with preexisting matter.) to avoid distortion?

Rx247 Blog said...

Citizen science is scientific research conducted by crowdsourcing, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Formally, citizen science has been defined as "the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis". Citizen science is sometimes called "public participation in scientific research.

levitra online said...

Citizen scientists can help gather data that will be analyzed by professional researchers. The Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900, is a good example. The American Association of Variable Star Observers has gathered data on variable stars for educational and professional analysis since 1911 and promotes participation beyond its membership on its Citizen Sky website. On BugGuide.Net, an online community of naturalists who share observations of arthropods, amateurs and professional researchers contribute to the analysis.

Stefan Jones said...

Great post! Crowdfunding science and cool tech efforts is one of those unexpected good things. A "Silver Swan?"

* * *


I was less than a year old when The Jetsons first aired, but because of Saturday morning re-runs I'm certainly familiar with it. I remember being jealous of Elroy for having an automated bathtub.

But yeesh, just because everyone of a certain age saw it doesn't make The Jetsons important, other than as a source of catch phrases and cliches.

Really, look at it. It's a shtick humor show . . . a 1950s sitcom with a little bit of 1950s office humor thrown in, set in a future based on the covers of Popular Mechanix.

The science fiction authors of the '60s were at least trying.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Astronomy is one of the sciences where amateurs still have a huge impact; witness the number of asteroids and comets found by people in their neighborhood park with a CCD camera and a 8" telescope. I am in big favor of getting kids interested in science. For several years I have been loosely working with Dr. J. D. Armstrong of the Institute for Astronomy here in Hawaii, our go-to (heh) guy for astronomy. He is in charge of outreach locally, and gets high school kids into internship positions, analyzing data from PAN-STARR to look for NEOs, looking at stellar formation, and searching for extrasolar planets. Recently, some of his students had their findings published in a peer-reviewed paper, a real feather in anyone’s cap and something that will look great on a college admittance form.

Next month we will be hosting our not-quite biennial Night with the Stars, where we hook up one of the library’s computers to a digital projector, make an internet connection to the Faulkes 2 meter telescope on top of Haleakala, and let kids in the audience ‘drive’ the telescope. Dr. Armstrong sets up the Faulkes connection.

This is where the next generation of astronomers begins.

Rodayda 111: latest extrasolar planet discovered by a Russian astronomer

Alfred Differ said...

I was seven years old when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and amateur astronomy was as close as I could get to the subject. The school systems were too slow at teaching me the stuff I wanted to know, so it also became my path to self-educate. By my 12th year I had worked through the astronomy books in the local library to a level I could grasp without more math and physics. By the end of high school, I knew I had to get a physics degree. By the time I reached age 30 I had all my graduate work done and had contributed to the knowledge of humanity.

THAT is what citizen involvement in science can do. The key word is 'involvement.' Some of them will become scientists. Some of the rest them will become science literate. All will realize that we are able to tackle the unknown and reason both forward and backward until we come up with ways to comprehend it. The more minds involved in this the more creative we will be.

Rob said...

Oh noes. We're gonna have another computer language holy war on the comment thread again, aren't we?

I can't wait. :-/

Agree about Tacitus' notions. Lots of ways to impart the gift of greater intelligence without giving all critters a human-like existential crisis... until we're wise enough to make the pain really practical for them rather than it being some kind of Karrank! (sp? pronounce? heh...) thing.

Alfred Differ said...

You are saying the pain we suffer doesn't have a practical reason with a large enoug reward to justify it?! Heh. 8)

Sorry. I'm quite happy to see all the suffering liberals, progressives, and conservatives. We've been making progress over the decades and if it take pain to do that, so be it. Contentment is over rated. 8)

Hank Roberts said...

> "weak measurement"

I recall reading about this idea a decade or two ago, pointing out that measurements could 'now' be done using photons so weak and light compared to the targets that very little change could be imparted.

Did it really take til now to do this measurement? I thought this sorting out about the meaning of 'Heisenberg uncertainty' had long been understood.

Joel Greenwood said...

Why Johnny can't code - after taking a decade long hiatus from programming, I wrote in a day or two my first program on an Android phone.

I'd be going along a street and see a house for sale. Open the app and I'd could look up all details of the sale (photos, price etc) using my GPS location and Android's web browser.

I wrote it in a web browser using App Inventor (run by MIT) which involved putting puzzle pieces together to form complete code fragments. It became mind-blowingly easy to combine the phone's components(gps, browser, touchscreen, 3G data connections etc)to do something that I wanted.

I'm convinced this is how people on Star Trek must program. And I'm sure smartphones are the predecessor for tricorders. At the very least, I believe App Inventor will bring programming back to the masses.

rewinn said...

ALL of us can participate in medical science (well, those of us who are biologically humans. The AIs and the extraterrestrials logging in to see if we meet their Turing test are excused.) Just check with your friendly neighborhood university and sign up for a research study; some even have handy web pages you can check for your favored syndrome e.g. UW's Research Studies Seeking Volunteers. It can be fun being a guinea pig!


When I started to install Seti@home on this laptop (the one I'm typing on right now ... see it?) I discovered that the super-grid computing effort BOINC which includes SETI and much much more. Recommended!

A year or two ago I worked on a proposal for a MMORPG which was basically disaster planning, using real-world data & maps. The game was to develop, implement and test responses to disasters ... and do better than the other teams in surviving as an individual, community or whatever. Funding didn't follow ( I'm not sure FEMA really "got" games) but it might be fun and useful ...


If we uplift cats or whatever, how long before they decide to return the favor and uplift US? Yes, we have intelligence that will (probably) let us radically reshape their genome to give them an intelligence comparable to theirs, but what if they, equipped with that intelligence, pity us for lacking some quality that we don't at present appreciate? We are, after all, a bit clumsy and deaf.

sociotard said...

More Bile!

Why Your Phone, Cable & Internet Bills Cost So Much

Also, enjoy this bit from Alan West: "My statement to the United Nations would have been, "The future does not belong to those who attack our Embassies and Consulates and kill our Ambassadors. The Angel of Death in the form of an American Bald Eagle will visit you and wreak havoc and destruction upon your existence."
Link Evidently, he thought the President shouldn't have commented on the "Innocence of Muslims" trailer when he spoke to the UN.

johnpeterjohn said...

Agree about Tacitus' notions..! Great post anyway!!
cool math 4 kids

Dennis Jernberg said...

Participatory science the Kickstarter way -- I've thought for some time crowdsourced participatory science is an idea whose time has come, and I for one am overjoyed that it's finally become a reality.

As for that computer language: I remember learning three dialects of that original universal language: TRS-80 BASIC, Apple BASIC, and the original version on a timesharing machine. Since I wanted to write games, I supplemented my Apple BASIC with some knowledge of 6502 assembler. Since the Raspberry Pi is Linux-based, of course, there's several languages you can choose from, even FreeBASIC. However, I suspect the kids will end up choosing Python (included) because of the Pygame package. Python, interestingly enough, was originally developed out of an educational programming language called ABC designed as a replacement for BASIC.

Re Stefan Jones: The Flintstones was pitched as The Honeymooners gone prehistoric. The Jetsons was basically The Flintstones in space. The '60s were when the efforts of a few isolated SF visionaries like Philip K. Dick exploded into a full-blown "new wave" movement parallel to (and partly inspired by) the New Wave in film that lasted well into the '70s. Television didn't start getting interesting till the '80s. Sure, I grew up with The Jetsons, but it was Star Blazers, Galaxy Rangers, and Phantom 2040 that I watched religiously.

Ian Gould said...

Here's the thing about the Jetsons:

1. It's been established that the Jetsons' world exists in the Flintstone's future.

2. In the Flintstone's period, there are a wide range of nonhuman sentient species, some domesticated some wild.

3. In the Jetsons we see only one semi-intelligent nonhuman Astro. Astro appears to be less intelligent than the nonhuman sapients of the Flintstone Era and also seems desperate to ingratiate himself with the humans at every opportunity.

4. Besides Astro we see essentially zero nonhuman life - not even plants.

5. It's established in one episode that no-one visits the surface of the Earth due to high radioactive levels.

Given these facts it seems obvious that in a scenario resembling Planet of the apes, the nonhuman sentients of the Flintstone Era rebelled against their human masters and the humans responded with nuclear weapons rendering the Earth's surface sterile and exterminating most sentient life. the serving nonhuman sentients are obviously deeply traumatized and terrified of their human masters.

Next: what Goofy and Pluto tell us about the shameful abuse of the intellectually disabled in the 50
Disney universe.

Robert said...

I actually considered Pluto to just be a dog despite the fact the other characters were anthros. Nor is Goofy intellectually disabled. He's naive. Goofy is in essence the "gentle hick" trope who may not have the classical education of his peers but through hard work and effort is still able to thrive... and who often is taken advantage of by the more cynical.

No doubt this is why Goofy is depicted as a dog-anthro, while Pete is a wolf-anthro.

Rob H.

Robert said...

Just read something interesting in "The Economist" concerning the use of genetic testing to curb illegal logging - the company "Double Helix Tracking Technologies" in Singapore uses DNA testing to pinpoint where a piece of wood came from. Only problems are it currently costs $450 to test $45,000 worth of merbau, for instance, and there's only accurate global DNA maps for 20 species of trees.

The reason to use the testing? Well, it seems conservation laws are getting so fierce that even if a businessman doesn't realize the wood was logged illegally, he's still liable and could be jailed.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

“I appreciate the fact that she is on the ground, safe and sound. And I don’t think she knows just how worried some of us were,” Romney said. “When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous. And she was choking and rubbing her eyes. Fortunately, there was enough oxygen for the pilot and copilot to make a safe landing in Denver. But she’s safe and sound.”

David Brin said...

Romney using a state trooper's uniform to harrass people:

sociotard said...

I'm willing to file the uniform thing under "young men do stupid things". It ranks as less bad than his hair-cutting incident and maybe on par with Obama doing drugs.

I'd guess the airplane thing was a poor attempt at a joke. Romney does not deliver them well.

Ian Gould said...

Goofy is clearly sentient. Pluto regularly displays intelligence considerably higher than dogs as we know them.

The parsimonious explanation is not that there are two distinct highly evolved canine species but that Pluto is Gofy's retarded brother, who they keep chained up in the back yeard.

iProds: How Foxconn keeps its workers in line.

Rob said...

Cite the quote, David. The followup I've read about that comment is that it was entirely a break-the-ice tongue-in-cheek joke. Romney is known to make them.

captcha failure count -- 2

Ian Gould said...

It's paywalled but there's an article in this week's New Scientist I'd urge everyoen to read.

The article deals with the roots of confict in human society and "sacred values".

When people are asked to talk about important conecpts in their society such as "honor" or "freedom", they display a distinctly different pattern o brain activity than when asked to discuss other issues.

The emotional centres of the brain are much more active - and the reasoning centres are much less active.

Importantly, it doesn't matter what group of people you test.

We educated, liberal, rational secularists display exactly the same responses. Our cues are just different.

However, (and this is the point David keeps hammering away on) we are at least somewhat capable of recognizing this and seeking to compensate for it.

An interesting case study: a majortiy of Palestinians say they'd be willing to accept an Israel based on pre-1967 borders if Israel acknoweldged and expressed regret for Palestinian sufferign and dispossession. A majority of Jewish Israelis said they'd be willing to accept a withdrawal from most of the West Bank if HAMAS recognised Israel's right to exist.

while there are obviously real economic and security issues at stake, at the heart of the Israeli/Arab conflict is a refusal by both sides to recognize the vaidity of the "sacred values" of the other. Note too that the "values in question are not religious in nature, they relate to the validity of Zionism and to a recognition of the Naqba ("the catastrophe") of 1948.

matthew said...

"Cite the quote, David."
In four words sums up what I love most about this particular group.

David Brin said...

Without a doubt I avow that the plane window thing could have been a joke. Hence my repeating it to you guys here and not up at the formal blog level. Though such things pile up. Likewise the trooper uniform. Not as bad as the bullying. But can anybody find any good deeds as a youth - volunteer work etc - to leaven the impression of a rather unpleasant fellow?

Given that most Mormon boys make Eagle scout. Why didn't he?

The scenario that Jetsons is the sequel to Planet of the Apes II... wow!

Rob said...

It's hard for me not to point to Romney's mission service in France and yell "VOLUNTEER WORK!"

Perhaps you meant something else inside different goal posts. Very well: inside his church youth group he would have been involved in several service projects every year for six years. In most congregations for four years of his youth, a young teenage boy will go on an assigned route collecting for the poor once a month.

Most Mormon boys categorically don't make Eagle. The rate is between 1/3 and 1/2.

I guess, as well, there's the anecdotal information. I've met one nephew, the owner of the roof-dog. He swore the dog had the best time in that kennel up on that roof. (Many breeds prefer to hang a head out into the wind...)

He said Romney doesn't read the political cartoons about that. And then there's an employee from the Olympics is a cousin of mine, who because of her experience working for him will hear no ill spoken of him. It's that powerful of a loyalty. Both attest to a genuine goodguy.

This will go over best if we acknowledge the good with the bad, I think. Romney is also a marvelously awkward campaigner who tailors his message to most of the people he seeks to govern. Hence, a moderate conservative-progressive in MA, and... that other thing he is now. And, as I've put it before, his faction is, tactically at least, downright noxious.

Which leads me to this:


Pick it apart, everyone, if you please and if you want. I've found at least two correlation/causation problems and two conflations of percentages and raw numbers. And I know it comes from the Kochs but it's on the family's mind this week, so it's rhetorically more helpful if I can address it more from the points than just grimacing, "Ewww! Kochs!" I have to demonstrate why they're wrong.

David Brin said...

I have never been perturbed by the dog on the roof. I thought it was unfair coverage. But doing your missionary work.... in PARIS? That's hell all right.

Let's be plain. Anne Romney says "we give 10% of our income to charity each year." That is the precise Mormon tithe. No more or less. What, no other causes... at all????

LarryHart said...


I think. Romney is also a marvelously awkward campaigner who tailors his message to most of the people he seeks to govern.

I'd say "tailors his message to most of the people he seeks campaign donations from." He seeks to govern the 47% write-offs, but to govern them in the interests of his wealthy donors.

It's not entirely Romney's fault, but we have a disfunctional democracy when politicians must satisfy their campaign donors first and their constituents a distant second (if at all).

Note that the scare tactics about Obama in 2008--that he'd oppress white Christians in the interests of fill-in-the-blank blacks, Muslims, communists--that was the Republicans doing their usual "I know you are but what am I?" projecting their own way of governing onto their opponents.

Hey, here's a plan for the next president who really DOES want to impose his radical values on the country, such as "taking all our guns away" or "imposing Sharia law". Instead of waiting for his second term to do all that scary stuff, just do it RIGHT AWAY. So he might not get re-elected? A fair price to pay, I'd say.

rewinn said...

LBJ was a mean man, Eisenhower abandoned his WW2 girlfriend to preserve his political career, JFK made Clinton seem like a monk whereas Nixon and both Presidents Bush were almost certainly faithful to their spouses. Their service to America came from their policies, not their personalities, for the most part.

As a matter of political tactics and/or having a bit of fun, I don't mind mocking Romney for his "Windows On A Plane!" comment (soon to come to a theater near you!), while being willing to accept that it was just a weak attempt at a joke by a socially awkward rich kid. It's not as if an unfair joke has never been made against Obama!

I think we may agree that it the policies of the candidate and/or that of his backers that are so dangerously wrong ... and the same is true whichever candidate we support. But who can resist having a little fun anyway?


That said, let's not count a man who demonstrated in favor of the draft hanging out in Paris during Vietnam as doing charity work or even praiseworthy missionary work, not so long as Haiti, El Salvador, sub-Saharan Africa needed real attention. I don't blame him because he ducked (if I'd been a couple years older I'd have had to make some hard choices myself and I honestly don't know which way I'd have jumped) but I don't praise him either.

David Brin said...


Rob said...

@rewinn, David, I can't countenance it.

I served an LDS mission in Switzerland.

LDS missions in Europe are not repeat not repeat not "hanging out". I like you both, but you don't have the first idea what you're talking about.

I'd invite you to try it for just two weeks, and not call you a coward if you balked.

And for whatever it's worth, the Church does have missions in Haiti, El Salvador, Sub-Saharan Africa. One of my congregation is going to Accra, Ghana in a few weeks for his stint. Another friend is in the Dominican Republic with his wife. Two friends are in the Amazon. Still another is headed to Cabo Verde. My parents returned earlier this year from the Philippines. Each missionary or his/her family brings about $12,000 to the effort. Most likely, my son will go in about 9 years and when he does we won't get to interact with him except through a weekly e-mail for the span of two years. And it will cost me $12,000 if he wants to go.

That's what I did. Looking back I'd never want to trade the experience for just about anything.

With respect to the attention Mormons *can* pay to suffering areas, the truth is, the Church has to negotiate the amount of missionaries each of these countries is willing to let in. They all issue visas, after all. And the most troubled ones are so violent that no American would survive it.

You don't have to praise Romney for it, I don't require that of anyone, for sure. But I won't leave you thinking that any Mormon mission is akin to any kind of vacation. It's a difficult job at best and a harrowing crucible at worst, all self-funded, performed in a sub-culture that attaches significant value to it, the same kind of esteem Americans used to heap on outgoing soldiers back in the 40's.

Thus, by definition, it's volunteer work. As a veteran of the experience I think the only formative difference is that you're not dodging bullets. In most places.

Let's be plain about that, too.

David Brin said...

Rob I have Mormon neighbors who tell me about their missions to Africa. I know tha many such missions are hard work with repeated emphasis on good works for the poor.

I find it hard to view a couple of years in Paris while avoiding Vietnam the same way. But then, I am not making a big deal about this, either. Mitt has made his character clear enough that I do not have to go slumming for anecdotes to tout... though I will mention those that seem interesting from time to time, down here in the core community.


Paul451 said...

(I'll leave this here so I don't pollute the new thread.)

Re: Ian's brilliant deconstruction of The Jetsons.

I often thought that Bewitched was actually about anti-Semitism in the '50s, with magic as a metaphor for Jewish culture. Darren was an anti-Semite, he wasn't only terrified of his WASP neighbours/boss finding out he'd married a Jew, he also absolutely forbade his children from being raised with any knowledge of Jewish culture. Puts Endora's hatred of Derwood in a new light, no?

(I Dream Of Genie was, of course, about a free-love counter-culture hippy chick falling for a "straight". "Magic" was drugs. Hi-jinx ensued.)

Paul451 said...

Oops. I Dream Of Jeannie, of course.

johnpeterjohn said...

He is in charge of outreach locally, and gets high school kids into internship positions, analyzing data from PAN-STARR to look for NEOs, looking at stellar formation, and searching for extrasolar planets..
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rewinn said...

Illustrating the depth to which science is permeating the culture of our next generation (and paralleling something I read on a blog hosted by an award-winning SF author), Jeph Jacques ponders human/AI friendship.

rewinn said...

@Rob - I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't see either of us has introduced evidence sufficient to induce a change of mind as to any material issue.

Not dodging bullets in Paris strikes me as a pretty relevant factor as to degrees of harrowingness but the key point ...as I intended to imply but will now explicitly state ... if Romney had good policies I wouldn't care if he spent Vietnam smoking doobies with the Pope.

Rob said...

@rewinn -- Let's not forget that you and I are probably equally opposed to a federal Republican victory. There's no reason to apologize to me over this, it's nothing more than a correction to a misconception.

Mormon missions aren't Army service, that's true. But one shouldn't suppose that a boy born into the Church doesn't consider himself drafted into mission service. The pressure to go is significant, and during Romney's years it was inappropriately significant, as a one or the other kind of deal.

That still doesn't make it equivalent, but it's a distraction anyway.

David Brin said...

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rewinn said...

@Rob - well said, sir. It is easy for me to forget that I don't *actually* know squat about the LDS experience. Perhaps it would be easier to remember if y'all Mormons were to adopt a more exotic appearance, something equivalent to the tall pointy hats and cappa magna of we Catholics ;-)

Jumper said...

I'm glad you are here Rob.

I have no use for much theology, but the other values of the LDS are good values.

Rob said...

I appreciate the kind words.

David Brin said...


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Anonymous said...

Mr Fusion? Hey, we all know that the big seller has got to be the hoverboard...

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Anonymous said...

A very nice roundup. Another resource for citizen science projects is http://www.citizensciencecenter.com