Accuracy or transparency ? June 13, 2008Posted by dorigo in personal, physics, science.
Time and again, knowledgeable readers of this blog point out some inaccuracy in the physics I describe in a post. Often, it is just a simplification I made to make the matter understandable; more rarely, it is a blatant mistake, or a wrong statement that exposes my ignorance. I thank those who exposed me -correcting wrong physics is a commendable action, and in some instances it has allowed me to increase my own understanding of a topic I had not completely digested. Sometimes, those readers are surprised by my naive reaction. The question, however, is whether I should worry about it.
After all, physics is my job, and I could well be concerned with my reputation at stake. Exams are never over in the life of a scientist, and this site has enough traffic to guarantee that now and then some of those who might one day be members of a committee which decides on my career advancement do read what is written here (I could name a half dozen).
The other side of the coin is that by occasionally (and accidentally) showing my own ignorance I actually make this site more appealing to many. The hidden but powerful message is that a reader who does not have a Ph.D. in high-energy physics does not need to feel an intruder if he lingers around or comments posts in this blog. This is very important since, in my opinion, when doing science outreach it is fundamental to bridge the gap with non-scientists, providing places where researchers and people with a real job can meet and interact. If scientists continue to stay in their ivory tower, they risk losing the support of society. I discussed this issue in some detail in a recent contribution to a symposium about science divulgation, Sci.bzaar.net (video here -unfortunately, in Italian only!). Another video with some further ideas, which I produced for the event, is available here.
So how would you run your own blog, if it was aimed at education in physics ? Would you fact-check every sentence, or maybe remove those you would like to keep but fear could expose your fallacy ? Would you read wikipedia first ? Hell, I do not even spell-check my texts (I recently discovered wordpress does provide an automatic tool for that -but I do not think I am not going to try it), and I am not an English native speaker!
I guess the message of this post is the following: I am not an encyclopedia. I have holes in my education, delusions, misconceptions. I believe I understand things which I actually do not. I am only human, and not one of the most knowledgeable ones. But that really is ok: I do not need to be encyclopedic to run this site. And guess what, I am learning a lot by doing it! And I do not even have to pay attention: by being natural and by speaking my mind, I achieve my goals. This is important when writing a blog in my opinion.
Now, I hope the above facts are appreciated by those who are so glad to pay me a visit now and then…