Although what follows is mostly “About Me”, it isn’t just a description. It’s an apology in the classical sense of the word (literally, actually, or as close to literally as possible without actually writing ἀπολογία). I’m defending my reasons for creating this blog and believing I have the requisite background (experience, education, knowledge, etc.) to speak authoritatively about what I do. Most importantly, though, it is an attempt to do the above whilst conveying the component of my personality that has driven me to create this blog.
My work is in neuroscience (more particularly, mathematical biology, the physics of complex systems, statistics, and research methods). I have a problem, however. Even though there are actually multiple neurosciences, and all of these make-up one part of the incredibly interdisciplinary cognitive sciences (so I can justify studying everything from philosophy of mind & linguistics to evolutionary biology & computability theory without leaving the cognitive sciences), I still can’t justify spending the amount of my free time I use keeping up with fields which have little or no relationship to neuroscience or the cognitive sciences more generally. They say time is money, but my neurotic obsession with research and studies eat up money quite separately. I decided to justify both by calling such expenditures my “hobby”. Somehow, I feel, this makes it more understandable to spend money I don’t have on e.g., reference grammars of dead languages written in German or French, texts on M-Theory or particle detectors from series like Graduate Texts in Contemporary Physics or Cambridge Monographs on Particle Physics, Nuclear Physics and Cosmology, or monographs on Akkadian influences on Aramaic published in Assyriological Studies.
I also work as a research consultant. This too helps me justify spending time and money keeping up with fields unrelated to my own (not to mention spending my own money on redundant statistical, CAS, or scientific computing software packages when I already have free university access to MATLAB and Mathematica, R & Python are free, and with the possible exception of SAS and MAPLE all the other packages I pay for are inferior to functionally equivalent ones I get for free). Better still, it allows me to be involved with research projects I wouldn’t otherwise be a part of. I know from experience that no matter how many journal articles, conference proceedings, dissertations, monographs, or volumes one reads on a field and no many how many seminars and symposiums one attends, there are always aspects of that field that will be missed without some experience working as or with researchers in it.
Over the years, my experience working with others, teaching, tutoring, and even reading online blogs or comments has revealed a number of gaps between how the public tends to understand the nature of academia in general and the sciences more specifically. I have developed a particularly strong distaste for almost all popular sources (including most of those written by specialists for the general public) because I find present distorted versions of both the nature of the sciences (and often other fields) and the methods they use. Science education often doesn’t help, as it has reinforced the conception of a singular Science defined by a mythical singular method: The Scientific Method. At the same time, the number of freely available sources has continually increased over the years, from the electronic versions of peer-reviewed journal articles to free e-textbooks to video recordings of classes taught at places like MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, etc. There is a lot of material out there for all levels (including specialists).
However, most even of those who would read or watch this material don’t know that it is there, don’t realize the gaps in their knowledge (through no fault of their own; many gaps are created from science classes), can’t navigate through the material they can find because it isn’t ordered the way textbooks and college course catalogues are, and/or they don’t know the extent of the divide between popularizations of science (and other) research and its coverage in popular media.
So this blog is yet another way to justify the time and money I waste on topics unrelated to my work. My experience in research, teaching, and critically evaluating specialist, educational, and popular academic sources puts me in a great position to provide information on a comprehensive set of topics to stimulate interest (or fuel that already present) while correcting misconceptions and providing researchers. Whether I have the skills to make the information interesting and readable without sensationalism and with minimal simplification is another matter. Time will tell.