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Why Scientists won’t use Twitter…

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Twitter doesn’t need an introduction. The microblogging service is widely popular, and most Twitter users swear by its wonderful utility. It is a “Social Commons”, as one enthusiastic web junkie put it. But a few months into using Twitter, I realized that there are very few scientists – and I mean natural scientists, on Twitter. For instance, at the time of writing this post, the Twitter account science had 2,247 followers , while some popular individuals have followers 10-fold that number.


It seemed perplexing – science today is collaborative, everything depends on communication and sharing ideas , it seems perfect for scientists to share information fast, on a one on one basis if required or tweet to the community. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tech-twitter services that discuss the latest gadgetry to hit the markets, but none that discuss the fundamental subjects – the quartet now known as STEM – Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. So I pondered on the reasons, using my own department as a small study group to try and ascertain why scientists don’t seem to use Twitter, despite the hype.

Here’s a list of reasons I came up with :

1. The Twitter Reputation : Some might say allusion to little bird sounds is cute, hip – but it also gives Twitter the image of something frivolous, not really useful , and part of the MySpace/Facebook category (collectively chided as being a narcissistic phenomenon a.k.a MyFace). Most scientists hold the impression that Twitter is a social network – a place where one wastes time, and real discussions happen only on mailing lists and forums.

2. The Social Activation Barrier : It isn’t just a stereotype. Scientists are substantially asocial – feeling more at home dwelling on the workings of their pet problem rather than interested in what other people are thinking about. Of course, scientists have a tinge of megalomania, and generally will assume that anyone who hasn’t earned credibility with brilliant ideas or research is not really worth listening to. This does not mean they are impolite to lay men, but they rarely take laymen seriously. It is not a reflection of personality , merely a result of the widespread examples of utter silliness among laymen (Intelligent design? ),  poor understanding of how the natural world works on the part of laymen and the stringent standards that scientists are used to apply to themselves and their peers (oh, is my megalomania showing here? ).

3. Email vs. Twitter : Scientists will talk of course to experts in their field , but the preferred method of communication is email. Scientific discussions tend to involve lot of fact-stating and elaboration of theories, and the 140 character limit is simply ill-suited for this purpose. Email is also private, let’s you communicate with people you know are interested and stays as a permanent record. Even if Twitter does some of those things, but it doesn’t top email when it comes to communication. So why change?

4. Privacy (read ‘Secrecy’) : The data and models a scientist generates and the insight they provide is the usually the culmination of a long arduous process. In most cases, it represents years of sacrifices, blood and sweat (of the researcher, metaphorically and his lab rats, literally). As such , the culture of Twitter , which is to openly pass out information is entirely antithetical to the culture of science. Scientists will protect their data from all eyes until it can be represented to the public through a legitimate medium. Only a peer-reviewed journal or a patent is a legitimate medium , by the way, Twitter is not. It is a vicious circle. Twitter is not a legitimate source because of Point 1-3…and Points 1-3 would be rectified if Twitter was considered a legitimate source.

5. Science Media : Speaking of legitimate publication media, the science publishing industry hasn’t quite taken to Twitter. Although some journals (Science , for example) offer podcasts and other “Web 2.0” methods of disbursing information, the core process of publishing science remains tied to the Print/Paper method. All other methods are , in the psychology of a typical scientist simply “Pop-Sci” offerings – the real technical stuff is in the ‘Paper’. Discussions and debates also proceed through a process of writing to the Corresponding Author over email or the Editor of the Journal , who then publishes it and so on. A painfully slow process , I might add, especially in this day and age.

Unfortunately, the above points are also applicable to other “Web 2.0 “ Science resources. Social Networks for scientists (see ResearchGate, Nature Networks) have received only lukewarm reception even when backed by a highly rated research journal – and the few who register are mostly graduate students. Serious scientists still don’t seem to care. I personally, the enormous potential of services like Twitter to encourage dialogue between scientists, and to act as a fast information highway. To be fair, there are isolated cases of scientists actually using these resources ( OpenWetWare ). But until the culture of science undergoes a paradigm shift, I am afraid Twitter and its brethren will remain excluded from the scientific community, to be the subject of blog posts by individuals have who taken to it, and to be ignored by the institutions.

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Written by Nash

February 15, 2009 at 1:51 am

TED Blog: His TEDTalk on the base system was better

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His TEDTalk on the base system was better


(From xkcd)

TED Blog: His TEDTalk on the base system was better

Written by Nash

February 9, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Daily Updates

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PHD Comics: Abstract Mad Libs

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One of the most accurate templates of an abstract I’ve seen.

Written by Nash

January 16, 2009 at 2:26 am

Posted in Daily Updates

Bio Majors

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Written by Nash

December 22, 2008 at 11:17 am

Observer finds proof Qasab is Pakistani

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London: Reinforcing India’s assertion that the Mumbai attacks had Pakistani links, a leading daily here said on Sunday that the lone surviving terrorist belongs to a village in Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab, an “active” recruiting ground for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman, alias Qasab, interrogated in custody after the terror attacks that killed 183 people, reportedly told Indian officials that he came from Faridkot village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. His father was named Mohammed Amir, married to a woman named Noor.

During the past week, Pakistan have cast doubt over the authenticity of the information about the terrorist.

But residents of a village in Pakistan Punjab’s Okara District have reportedly told The Observer that Amir Qasab hails from there.

According to the report in The Observer, electoral lists for Faridkot show 478 registered voters, including the name of Qasab’s father Mohammed Amir. The paper further goes on to say that a villager, who cannot be named for his own protection, said the village was an active recruiting ground for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We know that boy [caught in Mumbai] is from Faridkot,” he said. “We knew from the first night [of the attack]. They brainwash our youth about jihad, there are people who do it in this village. It is so wrong,” he added.

‘The Observer’ report said that it conducted an investigation and obtained the electoral lists for Faridkot showing 478 registered voters, including one Mohammed Amir, married to Noor Elahi. Amir’s and Noor’s national identity card numbers have also been obtained.

At the address mentioned in the list, a man identifying himself as Sultan said he was the father-in-law of Mohammed Amir.

According to other locals, Qasab has not lived in Faridkot for about four years but would return to see his family once a year and frequently talked of freeing Kashmir from Indian rule.

The truth about Qasab’s origins are key to the ongoing investigation of where the attackers came from and will have a profound impact on relations between India and Pakistan. Islamabad has repeatedly said that no proof has been provided to back Indian accusations that all the gunmen came from Pakistan.

Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved.

Written by Nash

December 8, 2008 at 7:22 pm

What They Hate About Mumbai

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November 29, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor

MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned, wouldn’t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.

Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. “I am ashamed to say this,” Amitabh Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his blog. “As the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow.”

Mumbai is a “soft target,” the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it’s impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it — to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the sinful land.

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.

The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?

So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.

Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the author of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.”

Written by Nash

November 29, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Posted in Daily Updates

The World Watches.

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Mumbai shootings: Reaction in quotes

There has been widespread international condemnation of the series of shootings across the Indian city of Mumbai in which more than 100 people have been killed and many more injured.


The attacks in Mumbai have claimed many innocent victims and remind us, yet again, of the threat we face from violent extremists.

Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and injured. Pakistan and India will continue their joint struggles to counter the actions of terrorists.


I condemn these attacks strongly.

We need to take strict measures to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the region while continuing with concerted efforts to make it a peaceful place to live.


President Bush offers his condolences to the Indian people and the families of the innocent civilians killed and injured in the attacks in Mumbai, India.

The United States condemns this terrorist attack and we will continue to stand with the people of India in this time of tragedy.

This afternoon, the White House National Security Council convened officials from counter-terrorism and intelligence agencies as well as the state and defence departments.

The US government continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens, and stands ready to assist and support the Indian government.


President-elect Obama strongly condemns today’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and his thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the people of India.

These co-ordinated attacks on innocent civilians demonstrate the grave and urgent threat of terrorism.

The United States must continue to strengthen our partnerships with India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks.

We stand with the people of India, whose democracy will prove far more resilient than the hateful ideology that led to these attacks.


These outrageous attacks in Mumbai will be met with a vigorous response.

I have sent a message to [Indian] Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh that the UK stands solidly with his government as they respond, and to offer all necessary help.

Urgent action is underway to offer every possible protection to British citizens in the region.


China always opposes terrorist attacks of any kind, and we express our condolences to the victims.


We are concerned about the loss of life and consider that acts of terrorism of this type are harmful to the whole international order and are a challenge to humanity.


The secretary general condemns the rash of shootings and blasts in Mumbai today, which killed and wounded a large number of people. Such violence is totally unacceptable.

The secretary general reiterates his conviction that no cause or grievance can justify indiscriminate attacks against civilians. He calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice swiftly.

[He] sends his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and the wounded and expresses his solidarity with the people and government of India.


The Holy Father [conveys] his heartfelt condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in these brutal attacks.

His Holiness urgently appeals for an end to all acts of terrorism, which gravely offend the human family and severely destabilise the peace and solidarity needed to build a civilization worthy of mankind’s noble vocation to love God and neighbour.


Terrorism is a tyrant enemy which threatens all of humanity and has challenged the region of South Asia.


The attacks on leading hotels, hospitals and public transport in Mumbai, the business and financial capital of India, show that the terrorists are targeting an important sector of the Indian economy, with a view to destabilizing democracy in India.


We strongly condemned what’s happened in Mumbai. These are acts of terrorism, and terrorism serves no purpose. Many innocent people have suffered, many have been killed, others injured and we send them our condolences.


Whichever group has perpetrated this attack, they are cowards, absolute cowards, and murderers.

This cowardly attack on India’s stability, peace and democracy reminds us all that international terrorism is far from defeated, and that we must all maintain our vigilance.


This kind of terrorism is unforgivable, extremely despicable and vicious. I feel strong resentment and deeply condemn it.

Japan is with the Indian people who are fighting against terrorism and we will cooperate with the Indian government.


Today’s attacks in Mumbai which have claimed many innocent victims, remind us, yet again, of the threat we face from violent extremists.

I condemn these attacks unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and injured.

The UK and India will continue their joint efforts to counter the actions of terrorists.


Canada and India share a commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Among our mutual priorities is close cooperation to promote international security and to fight terrorism.

Written by Nash

November 27, 2008 at 11:10 pm