Category Archives: Academia

Ethics in the Era of the Consultant

Howard Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, tells us that the time has come to reinvent ethics to fit our “modern” society. His conclusion: “If we can draw on wise people across the age spectrum, and enable virtual as well as face-to-face discussion,  we are most likely to arrive at an ethical landscape adequate for our time.” In short, the consultant model: a team of a few analysts, a manager, and a senior partner via both face-to-face meetings and conference calls can tell us how to lead our lives in optimal fashion. Thank you, Howard, for that insight. Do you prefer skype or polycom?

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Discovering a New Species on Ebay

“Instead of digging in the dirt, British entomologist Richard Harrington has found a new species of aphid for $37 on eBay – amber-encased, estimated 35-50 million years old.”
–    Science, Vol 321, Aug 28 2008

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Facing a severe budget crisis, Harvard University president Drew Faust announced a new initiative to control costs by encouraging research faculty to integrate E-Bay into future research projects. “E-Bay represents an untapped frontier for scientific research,” stated Faust. “If an entomologist can discover a new species from the comfort of his home for just $37, we have the ability to make more than 4 million discoveries even when we slash costs and close laboratories.” Faust noted that most departments will benefit from this approach, as ebay categories include scientific equipment, literature in all languages, technology, souvenirs (for sociology and anthropology), and even maps and astronomical observations.

Strategies in Funding Scientific Research

Scientists believe that 65.5 million years ago, an asteroid triggered the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Some scientists also refer to a second “asteroid strike” – a period in the 1990’s when NIH funding virtually disappeared, triggering the extinction of countless research projects.

Dr. Steven Wiley, an expert in systems biology, describes this second “extinction” in a recent column in The Scientist. He ascribes his personal survival to two basic strategies:

Adaptation: Once Wiley determined that the NIH was not funding any projects in his field of research, he looked for other sources of funding (e.g., NSF or DOD) and adapted his research to the sources available.

Hardiness: Despite the dearth of fundin, Wiley continued his research, using whatever resources he could muster. He volunteered at a company in exchange for access to lab equipment and supplies; and he partnered with other scientists to work on projects that had received funding.

The story he tells and the techniques he uses are no different than that of countless businesses and entrepreneurs. What is interesting is that these simple strategies apply not just to business but to the scientific community as well.

Earth Cancer and Global Warming

Weather is complicated. Many scientists (plus Al Gore) strongly believe that Global Warming is already wreaking havoc on weather patterns.

The havoc, they say, may take many forms: warm winters, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, cold summers, cold winters, and the list goes on….

Sadly, these scientists made a critical error. A marketing error. They called this havoc “Global Warming.” For the average Joe, a cold winter does not feel like global warming. A rainy summer doesn’t feel like global warming. A severe hurricane does not feel like global warming. As the theory became more intricate, the story got confusing – and the message got lost.

If only the scientists had called it Earth Cancer, or Extreme Weather Mutation, the news every night would focus on the issue. “This is the third coldest April 17th since 1991,” a weatherman would report with grave concern. “This is the second rainiest April 18th since 1989,” might be the following day’s breaking news. From a statistical standpoint, anomalies can be found everywhere – yet they would all be attributed to Earth Cancer – since the name would seem consistent with any weather anomaly.