Archive for scientific mind

Le Pen election win would be disastrous for research, France and Europe [Nature editorial]

Posted in Kids, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2022 by xi'an

(…) Science is not often a big factor in France’s elections, and this one is no different. But Le Pen is appealing to scientists by pledging to repeal controversial reforms to research institutions enacted between 2007 and 2009 by centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy — which Macron has continued. Both presidents sought to align France’s universities, research and funding systems more closely with those of the United States and the United Kingdom by giving universities more autonomy; improving links between academics and businesses; and increasing financial support for research-intensive corporations.

Sarkozy changed the law so that funders and university administrations could have more independence in making decisions. His government also provided generous tax breaks to businesses that invest in research and development.

(…) Although Le Pen’s [repeal] policy on the Sarkozy reforms might be welcomed by some researchers, National Rally’s wider programme for government will be anything but. For one, the party’s policy on restricting immigration is likely to hit collaborations with scientists in other countries. And minority communities would face severe discrimination under Le Pen. For example, she has said she wants to ban the wearing of headscarves in public by extending a law that prohibits them in [public] schools.

Furthermore, a Le Pen presidency would put France on a collision course with the EU. Her party is intending to violate European laws and regulations by restricting employment or state benefits for EU citizens from outside France; withholding payments into the EU budget; and ending free movement of people between France and its EU neighbours. Universities and research funders must also confront the possibility that a Le Pen government would seek to restrict academic freedom.

(…) Researchers should consider that any short-term gains in terms of funding would be completely outweighed by the disaster of a Le Pen win. And those dissatisfied with both presidential candidates and considering not voting at all should realize that this, too, is likely to be of benefit to Le Pen. Everyone should look at Hungary for an EU case study of what happens when a far-right leader is elected.

Think-A-Lot-Tots [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2016 by xi'an

I got contacted by an author, Thomai Dion, toward writing a review of her children books, The Animal Cell, The Neuron, and a Science Lab’ Notebook. And I thus asked for the books to get a look. Which I get prior to my long flight from San Francisco to Sydney, most conveniently. [This is the second time this happens: I have been contacted once by an author of a most absurd book, a while ago.]

I started with the cell, which is a 17 pages book with a few dozen sentences, and one or more pictures per page. Pictures drawn in a sort of naïve fashion that should appeal to young children. Being decades away from being a kid and more than a decade away from raising a kid (happy 20th birthday, Rachel!), I have trouble assessing the ideal age of the readership or the relevance of introducing to them [all] 13 components of an animal cell, from the membrane to the cytoplasm. Mentioning RNA and DNA without explaining what it is. Each of these components gets added to the cell picture as it comes, with a one line description of its purpose. I wonder how much a kid can remember of this list, while (s)he may wonder where those invisible cells stand. And why they are for. (When checking on Google, I found this sequence of pages more convincing, if much more advanced. Again, I am not the best suited for assessing how kids would take it!)

The 21 pages book about the neurons is more explanatory than descriptive and I thus found it more convincing (again with not much of an idea of how a kid would perceive it!). It starts from the brain sending signals, to parts of the body and requiring a medium to do so, which happens to be made of neurons. Once again, though, I feel the book spends too much time on the description rather than on the function of the neurons, e.g., with no explanation of how the signal moves from the brain to the neuron sequence or from the last neuron to the muscle involved.

The (young) scientist notebook is the best book in the series in my opinion: it reproduces a lab book and helps a young kid to formalise what (s)he thinks is a scientific experiment. As a kid, I did play at conducting “scientific” “experiments” with whatever object I happened to find, or later playing with ready-made chemistry and biology sets, but having such a lab book would have been terrific! Setting the question of interest and the hypothesis or hypotheses behind it prior to running the experiment is a major lesson in scientific thinking that should be offered to every kid! However, since it contains no pictures but mostly blank spaces to be filled by the young reader, one could suggest to parents to print such lab report sheets themselves.

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