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As leaders of a field, are you not ultimately responsible for the state of your field?

You are constantly hearing individuals within various fields complaining about the lack of funding and respect for their work. Rarely do these individuals hold their leaders responsible. I have never heard Ed Witten take responsibility for the state of theoretical physics or leaders of the LHC take responsibility for how experimental physics is viewed. They always seem to blame the public.

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    Jan 31 2013: G'day Jamahl

    This is a very good point & of course I would say yes the person in charge should be responsible for everything that happens under them but it rarely happens that way as you have stated. I think leaders these days take courses in techniques in passing the buck for sure.

  • Feb 1 2013: I do not think you are responsible for the state of your field, but if you consider yourself a practitioner in a field, you have sort of a professional responsibility to see that it moves forward, expands, adapts, integrates and attempts to answer the questions and solve the challenges related to it today. The responsibility is to the next generation of practitioners. Fields are groups of bodies of knowledge, works, discoveries, technologies, theories and collections of both material and people...acquired over all time. It is up to the current generation of practitioners to see that it remains relevant, has lessons learned recorded and archived, fosters ideas and thoughts which might improve the field, and that the next generation is mentored into carrying the torch this field. As you stand on the shoulders of your teachers, mentors, and practitioners associated with your field, so should the next generation stand on your shoulders and build from your effort.
    • Feb 1 2013: Most people are practitioners in their field, I assume that's what it means to practice. The leaders are more than just practitioners because they set the methodology by which practices are carried out. With that in mind, they have a greater accountability to future generations.

      Free market accountability is, if your good or services is not competitive or effective with respect to the public, you as a leader and the practitioners will be out of work. This is an external check on a fields.

      When there is no free market accountability on a field, it becomes divorced from reality. This tends to be the case where some fields are depending completely on public funding. The fight is to keep the funding, not produce a better product or service. Note: There is no free market without competition.
      • Feb 1 2013: I know many that have a degree in a particular field, but work in another. At the time they were learning the skills they might have been thought of as Jr. practioners, students or something. Similarly, many that promote and practice are not degreed or recognized professionals. I guess you can also practice, but not be active in the professional advancement of the field.

        Leaders might be leaders that are the best and brightest researchers, the most politically successful at gaining consensus of opinion, the best fund raisers, the best recruiters for advocacy of the field, the best writers, the best speakers, or even the most popular. There are many aspects to leadership and it is doubtful any one person will be a leader in all aspects of any major field. Beyond this, there are cultural and geographic obstacles.

        The leaders do not necessarily set the methodology by which practices are carried out. They may lead committees or be influential, but "they' is usually a majority of all.

        As for levels of accountability, each gives what they are capable of giving to the next generation. Personal accountability is sort of a individual metric relative to your satisfaction with your contribution relative to what you have available to contribute, in any area.

        Free market competition and leading your field through higher profit margins is not the only group of practitioners. Perhaps in academia, but that is only one sector. At some point, most of the folks I know are pushing ideas and opportunities forward to improve the collective good because of personal satisfaction, because there is not often sufficient funding. These rewards are also worth the effort.

        Peer review, discussion, conferences and publications can also ground work in reality. Professional discourse usually strengthens the end product.

        Competition and funding are key, but serendipity, curiosity, determination and cross-pollenization of ideas also has provided their share of contributions to most fields.
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    Feb 1 2013: One person can not be responsible for the state of a field, except that person is a 'god' in that field. But we have responsiblities in terms of individual contribution. We've got to ask ourselves whether we are contributing to the building of the field or whether we are complicating the problems that has been there before us.

    We are all leaders because we can make a difference in our sphere of influence.
    The public may not have an enlightened view or perspective of our field; but our competence should not be faulted; and excellence should be pursued.
    We have to maximize our potential and stop bothering about the power that we dont have.
    • Feb 1 2013: Ideally what you are saying is true. However, everyones ideas within a field are not implemented. It is the leaders of a field who are determining what gets implemented. This becomes serious outside the free market because public demand for that good or service is not determining what ideas are implemented.

      Maximizing ones potential includes discussions about accountability. It does not mean you stop working hard.
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    Jan 31 2013: I think I am misreading the focus of your question, Jamahl. First I thought you were asserting that individuals in a field blame the public, rather than their leadership, for not authorizing enough funding and respect.

    But it seems from your further comments in the thread that your focus may instead be on the challenges people face who do work that is not the the type that is a priority for people prominent in the field. This seems a different question/issue.

    Further, as I understand your further comments, your thinking is that those who control the flow of funding in the field are not correct in their priorities? And particularly that engineering sorts of applications may be getting too little attention and funding while basic science gets too much?

    In terms of the LHC, it was always understood, wasn't it, that the level of energy would need to be ramped up rather than being set at full power as soon as it opened. Except that there was an early problem that forced the thing to be turned off and not really used fo its purpose for a year after plan, it seems the experiments are producing very much what the initial proposals promised. They have found a Higgs-like particle, which was the missing puzzle piece in the standard model. Many prominent scientists doubted there was a Higgs boson to find, but now data lends less credibility to that hypothesis. In March, I think, the machine goes dark for two years while they make adjustments to ramp up to the higher energies where the data will be useful for going beyond the standard model, which is what I think people mean by the new physics. It wasn't expected to happen either while the machine was still under construction or in the runs at lower energies.
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    Jan 31 2013: I rarely hear individuals within any field complaining about lack of funding and respect for their work. Most people seem pretty astute about how important their work is, and understand why it gets more or less funding.
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    Jan 31 2013: The physical scientists I know well bemoan not the public, but rather the misleading information spread by the physics entertainment sector.

    In any case, it is a difficult field to understand and involves lots of lay misunderstandings. The actual scientists in the field find it difficult to explain at a level those untrained in the field would understand, as the gap to fill with people's typical science backgrounds is wide. Further the popularization of physics in particular means that non-scientists who have way more time to talk than practicing physicists are most of those spreading information (through media and informally) and whose interpretations we hear, much of which is misleading. Scientists have not made a commitment to spend the time to keep up with the science entertainment sector. Correcting misconceptions would be many, many fulltime jobs.
    I know scientists have been taking this need seriously (I have read accounts), but there are always so many more on the entertainment and pseudoscience end to jump in, it would always be hard to bat back all the junk.
    Further, taking the LHC for example, according to scholars in particle physics it is difficult to make legitimate concrete claims about where current discoveries or near future discoveries will lead in a practical sense. Funding depends to some degree on making a case about applications. The best case probably lies in the area of the tools that are developed for inquiry.
    • Jan 31 2013: Physics is best popularized when the population is using it. Einstein, Edison,Tesla, Newton, Galileo and you can go on about how they popularized science. They did it by giving us something we could use.

      People who are working on cures for cancer are popularizing their field.

      Whatever misconceptions exist relative to the LHC and String Theory has nothing to do with level of knowledge. It has more to do with level of dishonesty related to funding research paths.

      What scientist working in the private sector says. "It would be better not to find the Higgs Boson than to find it'? Nobody said that when they lobbied for public funding. It's like a physicist at Bell Labs sayings, "It would be better not to find a solid state alternative to the vacuum tube or transistor. That guy would get fired the next day. It's like a person who gets paid by the hour taking as long as he can to complete the job. As if there are not other jobs to do.

      Some people are paid to ask questions and others are paid to find answers. The first is always afraid the conclusion or answer means no more money. Not thinking failure means the same thing.

      Whenever there is a financial incentive to do wrong. By God that wrong will be done!
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    Gail .

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    Jan 31 2013: There is no real "leader" in theoretical physics. The evidence is so shocking to the senses of those not schooled in the thought and even to those who are, that many interpretations of that evidence are possible. If a leading theoretical physicist were to push a not-fully-developed view, it would limit science itself.

    There are physicists (quantum and astro) who are trying to get the word out about how much we have learned in the past decade or two. They're not crying out for more funding. They're crying out for more education. What we are learning is SO exciting that it is life changing.

    But those who do speak out about what is being learned are demeaned, belittled, mis-represented, and ignored. This doesn't stop them, but it makes it harder to be heard. This affects funding.

    It is no wonder that there is frustration in the world of theoretical physics. If people started contemplating the probabilities that exist as a result of somewhat recent discoveries, we could end almost all of our social ills today. Imagine having an answers that will end our social ills, but you are berated for it and stopped from growing that knowledge because the general public is afraid of the implications that can probably save them from much hardship.

    If theoretical physics were the name of a company, and that company had a mission, then the leader would be responsible for seeing the company toward its goal. But as theoretical physics is not a company; but rather, a field of science, where each substantiated theory is as valid as another until proven otherwise, then adding thought police to the mix would destroy it.
    • Jan 31 2013: With respect to your statements,the facts point to a different place:

      1. String Theorist are the leaders in theoretical physics because they have made themselves the public face just as the LHC has made themselves the public face. Within the field, try to get a job or publish a paper saying something outside what they promote. You will quickly find out how it goes. Only a few well established physicist can do it and still have a job.

      2. When one of the Europeans largest funding agencies stop funding to all Mathematical Sciences outside probability based ones, (String Theorist) started screaming about the damage it would do. Mathematicians who moonlight as theoretical physicist was the first up in arms. When the public questioned if we needed a bigger collider who screamed? LHC physicist. These programs are decades old and we have little to show for the effort. Life changing has to be redefined if that's what they are doing. When you say we live in a world of multiple me and multiple universes you demean, belittle and mis-represent yourself and real scientist.

      3. The signal biggest problem facing the public is related to energy resources. Whenever the world faced a major crisis in the past, great minds focused on those problems. These "modern day geniuses" are so divorced from the practical applications of engineering it is shameful.

      4. No one expects String Theorist or the LHC to discover anything practical. We leave that critical expectation to the R&D departments of companies like Bell Labs and Intel. The LHC said they would discover new physics and String Theorist said they would find a theory of everything. They both failed this point and they continue to say be patient. It is easy to be patient when someone else is footing the bill.
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        Gail .

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        Jan 31 2013: LHC is a business model. As I said, a business (a legal entity) - even if it is an international venture like the LHC - is not the same as the FIELD OF SCIENCE of which come many theoretical physicists - not all of whom are demanding funding. There is a LOT of science that is not coming from the LHC or its counterpart in Illinois. That's just a small part looking at one small part of the question.

        I agree with you about forced public funding on things that you deem wasteful or even dangerous. I would also like to be free from having to support a military - that, according to my worldview, is a threat to my own survival as well as yours. But to accuse those who run the LHC of being a spokes person for all of theoretical physics is to defeat science as a whole and to be unfair. The LHC is not the end-all/be-all. It is not the spokes-institution for science. There isn't one.
        • Jan 31 2013: Most businesses survive based on the profit to cost ratio. Where is the LHC profits? we know the cost. The LHC is best understood in the context of why CERN was developed. CERN was basically developed to bring scientist back to Europe after WWII. Most fled to the USA and made the USA the center of learning. Before the USA it was Germany. With that in mind, CERN is mostly a jobs program for physicist. The LHC is really just part of that program and to that degree it worked. Science in Europe has recovered significantly. It would be nice if people were more honest, then the public would understand that this has little to do with science and more to do with the politics of employment. We can do without CERN but we can not do without a military. And even when military budgets are cut, fighting men and women are glad to come home. And if they complain it's because they don't have the materials to protect themselves. The complaining comes from the weapons manufacturing industry.
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        Gail .

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        Jan 31 2013: CERN is a legal entity - not a for-profit. There is no cost to profit ratio for non-profits. Do you really not know this? The gifts to humanity from CERN have been profound. Are you not aware of this either?

        Am I willing to let "government" funding go? Absolutely. BUT:

        You say that we need a military so I should support it in spite of my objection. Am I to simply acquiesce because you say so? Because someone else says so? Because YOU see value in it?

        You want me to pay for things that you want (where I see - not only no value - but my own survival being threatened) but you do not want me to pay for things that you do not want (CERN and LHC because YOU see no value and it does not threaten your own survival). This is rational? This is fair? This is reasonable?????

        You can do better than that. If you make a rational proposition, I will be more inclined to take you seriously.