University of Texas Freshman Research Initiative

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A social network to link students or curious individuals with experienced scientists

I recently watched a talk by Brian Cox in which he repeatedly made claims that innovation and curiosity - led science have resulted in amazing strides for humanity. Although the point of the talk was meant to influence policy makers by expanding the global budget for research, I was more struck by the simple poetry of human innovation that his talk highlighted.

Near the end of his talk, he read a quote about this tiny blue spec that was planet Earth. He was so blown away by this one idea that such a tiny blue spec suspended in what appeared to be a ray of light could be our home, the base of everything we will ever know. And, the entire time he was talking about this tiny spec -so small you have to know it is there to see it- that held incredible life and importance, I could not help but think of him as the big hearted elephant, Horton, from the beloved children's book that teaches us the value of curiosity and the bravery found in preserving it, no matter how lunatic a conquest. It is rough, and it has probably been tried, but what if there was a system. A system through which every time a curious little elephant hears a "who" (an idea that they are not capable of proving or exploring) could simply use as an outlet for their curiosity. And please, don't point me to yahoo answers.

I am talking about a social network that would specifically link curious students or underfunded organizations to accredited, active scientists in order to bridge the unnecessary gap that exists between science and society. I am talking about something more than a space for comments on youtube.

There are way too many avenues and ideas out there for the science community alone to keep track of, and I would hate to see that beautiful poetry of human innovation be lost in the white noise between scientists and the rest of the world.

In short, I believe that there is value and potential in those tiny crazy ideas that pop into peoples heads before they have the ability to explore them.

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    Nov 6 2012: Good idea! But as Fritzie has wisely observed: "The scientists I know don't spend a lot of time on socal networks, because they are engrossed in science and in their students"
    So, before an experienced scientist can spare a few minutes or hours on someone, the scientist has to be sure that it is really worth it. There are so many people online with different agenda.
    A terrorist who hopes to get some insight on assembling his weapon of mass destruction, or a pretty lady hoping to get a date, or a fraudster trying to do his/her thing; these are the distractions that would negatively impact the work of busy/experienced scientist if every tom, dick and harry is allowed to have access to them.

    As I said, these are just to be considered; it doesn't mean that the idea can not work.
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      Nov 6 2012: It is not just varied agendae at issue. Rather specialists in a field have to make decisions about how they can make the greatest impact with their time. Often they can have greater impact with efforts that benefit many simultaneously or in pursuing projects in which they have a distinct relative advantage.

      It is useful in thinking about how we or others might best spend our time to step back and consider what has the greatest benefit on a social scale. Sometimes that is at odds with what we might enjoy or benefit from privately.

      It is a great thing, in my opinion, that outreach has become such a significant requirement for science funding, for example, from the National Science Foundation. My understanding is that outreach proposals are evaluated on the basis of potential community impact. It's not just how much time you spend but how significant the benefit is to the community at large.
  • Mats K

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    Nov 6 2012: I couldn't agree more. This is without doubt the single most important move education-wise. Kids needs and often _wants_ to understand how the world works and therefore this should be the number one priority from day one. In schools, at home, in life. Humans are naturally curious and this must be amplified, not tranquilized. We must begin to think differently about how we conduct ourselves on this planet and it starts with using a language that isn't subject to interpretation, namely science.
    • Nov 6 2012: Exactly! And, I don't know if you read the comment directly above yours, but recently, big portions of the science community have tried to break down this language barrier. However, someone could have the simplest, most brilliant idea in the world and be able to shout it out in their loudest voice, but since ideas are such an intensely personal thing, they may not feel like they are in the environment to do so or that it is even within their power to try.
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    Nov 13 2012: Boy, I would really go for that !!!!!
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    Nov 9 2012: I had this same idea. TED already has a large community built up, it would be nice to see some of the more prominent speakers engaging with us. Big Think is another one, they should have a forum where we can discuss ideas with the hundreds of experts that are already interacting with the site everyday. If either of these were to happen then interest in the site would explode.
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      Lejan .

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      Nov 6 2012: Whenever you meet a 'cryptic scientist' you either meet with ignorance or arrogance and only the ignorant are worth trying, as they may learn to communicate or to explain in an understandable manner.

      Any scientific concept, axiom, research, equation and result can be made understandable to any 'average mind' - whatever that may be - if there is a 'will' of sharing and receiving on both sides. The given hurdles are intentional and root back to the 'secret' knowledge of the forerunner of modern scientists - the alchemists. 'Knowledge is power' and even in science it is widely seen this way even today.

      If you ever come across a scientist who's passion for science was not substituted by his/hers career, who's mind did not cross the border of insanity (mostly in movies) and who's curiosity is kept since childhood, you will probably have an interesting conversation and this at eye level.

      Real science is nothing but professionalized infantile curiosity. And I have never seen a child who did not eagerly share its new finding. The butterly, the frog, dustparticles dancing in the air... on the contrary, they love to share it!

      I always look at doctors and scientist in pity in their struggle to get back into the normal world of communication and many of them just lost their ability to share what they love with most of us.

      In science, to learn a 'language for special purposes' is necessary. But with it comes no necessity to loose the regular language and the ability to bridge across them. :o)

      As your mind is vivid it would not surprise me, if many so called scientist fear to reveal to you their limitation in knowledge within their filed of specialisation, as it often is easy to reach their limit of knowledge while questioning.

      I once asked a scientist (entomologist) why a ladybug was having those 'dots' and what their benefits were.He then turned silent for a while, thinking, to finally answer in a laugh: I don't now!

      Well, to me, that's a good scientist! :o)
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    Nov 6 2012: There are quite a few "ask a scientist" sites if you look for them.

    These are not social networks in the sense that scientists are giving time to chat with "friends," but do give you a chance to get questions answered.

    Beyond this, if you loosen up your criteria for what constitutes an active scientist, you can, through sites like physics forum, interact with and learn from people who either have or have had a lot of experience working in science.

    Another great site for learning but that lacks the interactive component is Science Daily. It's science news, presented for a lay audience, delivered to your inbox daily.
    • Nov 6 2012: Those sound like great site and places to go, and I am surprised that none of my professors have pointed me in that direction, but idea I have goes beyond the Q and A. It is more of an idea sharing concept than the one way flow of information that reading journals or using search engines provides. Those sites could be a fantastic place to start, but I feel that since ideas or potentially the most personal thing for someone - especially a scientist - to share, why shouldn't idea sharing between the science and lay communities be made more personal than a search engine?
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        Nov 6 2012: I understand what you seek, but for such arrangements to work, they have to work from both sides. Scientists like your professor are interacting with students in their classrooms and in their labs and through their labs these days also do outreach in the community where the university is located. Their big grants typically demand such outreach to the lay community even if they were not inclined to spend such time themselves.

        Many give talks and answer questions for popular audiences as well.

        I just think we have to remember that they also have work to do as active scientists and that there is a best balance of time spent socially and time spent engaged in scientific work.

        It is important to take the needs of science into account as well as the interests of lay communities to engage socially with scientists. The scientists I know don't spend a lot of time on socal networks, because they are engrossed in science and in their students.