Posted by: CJ | November 6, 2010

The Many or the One?

Why is Big Bang Theory so popular? I don’t understand it, and because I don’t understand it I both vaguely fear and dislike it. No good can come from making people think about science grad students.

In a related topic, yesterday I had a long discussion with a friend about the broader goals of science. He’s a true believer in the idea that science, and the scientific pursuit of knowledge, increases our understanding of the world and leads to the betterment of society and personal well-being.

I’m somewhat baffled by this friend’s career choice, though. Given how much he extolls science, he started out studying to be an actuary as an undergraduate and has only recently moved towards studying statistics. Not exactly hard physical or biological research, or at least not front-lines lab work sort of stuff. He seems okay with this state of affairs, even though I’m confused by it.

A similar opinion, but with a different take, is on Andrew Gelman’s blog. He wanted to do the “hard” sciences, but decided that achieving at a high enough level to feel like he was really advancing the discipline was more important to him. So he went into statistics, where he felt like he could make more of a difference while still working on problems important both to him and society in general.

I find the difference in emphases interesting. Gelman talks about what would be personally most satisfying to him, whereas my friend emphasizes what gives the greatest progress in science.

I’m not sure if this difference means anything. Or if I should prefer one over the other.

Of course, they both ended up in similar fields, so maybe it really isn’t all that important…


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