Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine.

Friday, August 10, 2007


When I was a boy, I thought that I was going to be a scientist.

What kind? Oh, don't bother me with details. I just knew that I trusted science a lot more than I trusted the strange assumptions that people make. I knew that I could get B's in math without really studying, and so if I really applied myself, I probably could be a math giant. You know, if I really wanted to.


That should have been my clue. Math whizzes love math. They study it because, well Hell, why not?

To paraphrase Lazarus Long, if you can't express it mathematically, it ain't science. Thus, all real science requires math chops.

My best friend Scott knew this from an early age, and injected himself into the subset of scientists called "engineers." He got his degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Texas A&M, and in the process discovered that he'd need some computer chops at the same time; he copped a B.S. in Computer Science, as well. He went where the jobs were, and has enjoyed a career as a computer techie (I'm sure I'm using the wrong word, but he's too hardware for "Software Engineer," and too educated to be a simple "Tech."). Scott can righteously call himself a member of the science community. Heck, so can his wife Dawn, a state-recognized higher math teacher. (When you win awards for being the best at something that involves Calculus and the teaching thereof, you get to consider yourself a member of the Scientific Community.)

When I was in college... the second time, I think, I had a small group of friends that simply referred to themselves as "The Group." We would have long discussions, drink beer, and generally waste time. When a topic of Great Import would arise, we would put it before the Scientific Community-- people we trusted and expressed respect for-- to settle the issue. Being included within the S.C. in The Group was an honor; being kicked out of the S.C. was great shame. It was all chuckles, but it referred to our appreciation of true science. We had an anthropology major, a pre-law major, a biochemistry major, me (Gawd knows what I was at that time), an English professor... I can't remember them all.

We thought that we were pretty damned smart, though. And we respected science. There was no higher calling than the establishment of Truth through Facts. This was probably a fairly pure form of amateur philosophy, which many think of as a precursor to religion, but which is actually a precursor to science.

No, really.

Now I'm 35, and getting on in years even to be the grad student of Criminal Justice that I am. I have enough scientific training to smile at the fact that my undergrad degree is called a "Baccalaureate of Science," because Criminal Justice cannot yet be expressed as a study of repeatable cause-and-effect that can properly be demonstrated in mathematical equations. The only exceptions are the very few Criminology courses of evidence collection, like the blood spatter course that I took this past spring. Nonetheless, this fall semester I'm taking a graduate class on Research Methods of Criminal Justice. This is a class that involves the science of research, and is a truly scientific class. Yes, math and logic are highly evident. Yes, it will probably kick my butt. But my vanity about being a member of the Scientific Community and thinking of myself as a Future Scientist won't die. I want very badly to be a possessor of knowledge. So I study.

This doesn't mean that I don't have and give full respect to trades outside of science. I can sit for hours watching a stone or brick mason ply his craft with utter efficiency of motion. The other day I marveled at the proficient skill of a front-end-loader driver (he was operating a Bobcat) as he moved tons of gravel off of a pitched lawn without disturbing the grass. (Side note: All dedicated Bobcat drivers are at least a little bit crazy.) Gunsmiths, machinists, carpenters, drywall construction workers... all these people work with their hands, use their eyes and only the minimum of math for their work, and impress the hell out of me with the good work that they can do but that I can't. Any necessary trade done well gets my respect.

But I remember those days as a young teenager, when Scott and I would grin while conjecturing the exploits of "two young scientists, working on X, discover..."

+ + +

My new online buds Labrat and Stingray, "The Atomic Nerds" link to a page of demonstrations of scientists representin': trade tattoos for the S.C. If you have to go mutilating yourself with ink, this is a pretty cool way to do it.

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At Friday, August 10, 2007 2:45:00 PM, Blogger Jay G said...

It ain't all glamour and fame, my friend. I've spent the last three days drawing chemical structures, and my eyes are about to roll right outta my skull...

At Friday, August 10, 2007 4:51:00 PM, Blogger farmgirl said...

Matt... Tattoos aren't so bad, so long as you remember that no matter how cool it is now, its probably going to look really nasty when you're eighty. So if you're going to permanently etch something into your body, it had better have a meaning for you, so that you're proud of it no matter how wrinkled/stretched/saggy/distorted it becomes.

I have one tatt myself, and I AM proud of it. I'm contemplating a new one, but I don't know what it will be yet.

At Friday, August 10, 2007 5:01:00 PM, Blogger knitalot3 said...

Will the poor guy with the planets have to have Pluto lasered off now?

At Friday, August 10, 2007 5:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would you say to the critical criminologists or to humanist psychologists who argue that the principles we apply to physical sciences for instance should not be used to study human beings or social life? That to do so is not only unethical, but more importantly - unscientific (this critique is kind of akin to the Quantum critique of Newtonian physics)

At Friday, August 10, 2007 11:47:00 PM, Anonymous LabRat said...

Farmgirl- I've seen some tattoos look better than their owners did at eighty. They can last very well as long as you take good care of the skin, don't use a crummy artist, don't use an artist who uses crummy inks, place them well in the first place, etcetera. You can have better control over them than you do over your genes, really.

Knitalot- That comment should have carried a drink warning.

At Sunday, August 12, 2007 5:48:00 AM, Blogger RugbyGirlMD said...

I'm almost 100% with you on this post, being somthing of a science-snob my-own-self.

However, I gotta ding you, & pass my props to the stone and brick masons.

The Masons were some of the only lay scientists throughout western history. They were the only non-monks with a grasp of geometry, physics, and higer maths....needing, as they did, to build things that didn't fall down. Now, who knows what the Mason's do, other than weld calipers to their rear fenders.

For an easy to read fictional story about masons and cathedral building, read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth - Fiction has better plots than non-fic, but Follett did his homework.

At Sunday, August 12, 2007 7:33:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

Rugbygirl, I do in fact understand a little about the historical background of the old stone masons and their craft.

But tradesmen who do put together walls with a rock hammer and a pan of mortar, or use a stack of bricks and a trowel and a mortar mixer to single-handedly put up a free-standing wall-- they don't generally these days need to do the deep and the mystical-- that's what the contractor's already taken care of by laying the footing, so that the average brick mason these days is following a stretched line.

I'm not demeaning that-- I seem to follow stretched lines with all the acuity of a blind man drinking jake. As I said, I really do appreciate a trade done well.

At Monday, August 13, 2007 8:08:00 AM, Blogger RugbyGirlMD said...

Well said.
I tried to build a wall once.
It sucked.


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