Monday, November 28, 2011

Vienna Design Week and Pecha Kucha Night!

Hi Brain Hats!
As some of you may know, I am currently living in Austria as part of a really cool transnational research initiative sponsored by the European Union. I've had a great time at the Alpen Adria Universit├Ąt in Klagenfurt, which is a beautiful, friendly and remarkably Mediterranean-style town.
I've been working hard and learning a lot from the great research teams at AAU and I recently had the chance to present at the Pecha Kucha event that was held on the last night of Vienna Design Week. This weekend, I am back in Vienna and have met with one of the Pecha Kucha organisers, the very cool Maximilian Kamenar. Max pointed out to me that all of the talks from that Pecha Kucha soiree are on youtube.
So, without further ado, here is a link to my talk, from which you will find links to all of the others. Most of them are in German, but I wasn't feeling quite that brave yet, myself. Oh, and those of you who were at the first Ottawa Pecha Kucha night will find some of this presentation very familiar. There are a lot of new parts, but some of it is identical. Sorry about that but, really, in both instances, I thought the best way to introduce myself to a design community would be to challenge their theories and their faith.
It seems to be a great way to make new friends!
Please let me know what you think,
John

Friday, November 04, 2011

Science news: Please discuss.

This is going to just be a quick piece to try and start a discussion. If you're reading this please take a minute and provide some feedback. Ready? Here we go:

In the last two weeks, two really big things have happened in the realm of research science. Well, okay, that's a ridiculous statement. On any given day, hundreds or thousands of really cool things happen in the realm of research science.

Look, if you think I'm exaggerating, it's because you aren't reading the right journals or magazines or blogs or tweets. But I want to talk, briefly, about two very particular things that might just have a very strong effect on our work.

One of them is really cool.

The other one is horrible.

They can both provide a great learning experience for us all.

A little over a week ago, the entire archive of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society was made freely available to the general public. If you don't know it, the Philosophical Transactions is the original name of what became the Proceedings of the Royal Society, arguably, the first, oldest, and longest running scientific journal.

Wonder why I say "arguably"? Ask a French scientist or, you know, offer me a beer and five minutes of listening.

Anyway, I now have a pdf on my desktop allowing me to read the original "A Letter of Benjamin Franklin, Esq; to Mr. Peter Collinson, F. R. S. concerning an Electrical Kite", from 1751.

Another pdf I had to look for right away is the 1671 article by Sir Isaac Newton "containing his new theory" on the relationship between light and colours.

Cool, eh?

What are you going to look up first?

The other piece of big news that I'd like to propose for discussion is the confession this week of Diederik Stapel, PhD, who admitted that he has been falsifying data for most of his 20 year career as a well-respected social psychologist. He has been heavily published, and has supervised more than a dozen PhDs. Worse than all of that, his work has influenced public, private, academic, corporate and medical opinions and actions... ...and it was all based on falsified data.

To frame a selfish question that we could all be asking right now: In this time of anti-scientific naysaying from high offices, how will Stapel's actions effect our prospects, and how should we respond?

Any thoughts?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Writing an Academic Paper in 600 Words or Less.

Hi Brain Hats!
A few years ago, a friend of mine asked if I could help his daughter, a freshman, improve her grades and her opinion of school. Bright and very capable, she just didn't understand how to write a paper for a university course. What follows is the email I sent him. Please let me know what you think. Was I way off base? It's certainly possible. I mean, it still reads well to me, but I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time today.
cheers,
John


Writing an Academic Paper (in 600 words or less)
by
John NA Brown

The idea of an academic paper is that you want to tell somebody your opinion, and you want them to see where it comes from.  You’re showing them the sources of your information and you’re showing how you put all of those ideas together in order to build the opinion you have now.

It’s like writing out your side of an argument before the other guy even opens his mouth.  He’s all set to argue and you just put out your hand and say: “Here, read this.  I don’t need to say anything.  This sheet of paper can argue better than you can.” Then you hand it to him.  If you’ve written it well, all of your ideas are backed up, and any disagreements you could imagine have already been dealt with, too.

A university professor, or the Teaching Assistant working for them, wants to see a few simple things in a paper.  If you can show them those things, they will believe that you are taking the work seriously and you will probably get a good grade.  Those things are:

a) that you have an opinion (or “thesis”) you are trying to “prove”
you show that by stating your idea right at the start of the paper

b) that you have the right kind of information to back up your opinion
you show that by listing important authors who have talked about this idea before and summarizing or even quoting what they had to say.  You can use the same quotes your prof uses in a lecture, but make sure to cite a written source for it.  Use as many good sources as you can (you can usually base this on the names mentioned in lecture) but as a rule, use books or journals, not websites.

c) that you have thought about what others might criticize
this is that imaginary argument.  What might be weak about your idea, or the ideas of the people you’re quoting?  Somebody, somewhere has criticized these ideas before.  Find out who, summarize their criticism and, if you can, show why it’s wrong.  You can probably find writers who have criticized the critics… there have been a lot of opinions in the history of the written word, and a whole lot of them can be found in Google Scholar.

d) that you have either proven or failed to prove your idea
to me, this is the coolest part.  You stated your case, you showed your reasoning (and that you have some idea about where these ideas come from) and now… well, now you can be either right or wrong.  Really!  If you prove that your original idea is right, and you show it through references and good reasoning – then you win!  And if you prove that your original idea is wrong, and you show THAT through references and good reasoning – then you STILL win!

Academics want a good argument.  Not bickering, mind you, but a good, well thought out, intricately researched, cleverly reasoned argument.  Prove your original idea is right or wrong; a real academic will judge you on the reasoning and research, not on the original idea.