Friday, September 14, 2007

Athena and TCS

In the ancient days of radical democracy, Αθήνα was run by her people through direct involvement. The school of thought of this democracy held that the people governing themselves could not be wrong. The ἐκκλησία or Ήλιαία could not possibly judge wrongly, even when making impulsive decisions governed by mob mentality. Instead, if one of these institutions reached a decision shown later to be objectively wrong, it was because the people did not posses enough information at the time, or because they were misled.

In the scientific community (especially in theoretical branches), we are running our own experiment in radical democracy. We have essentially no outside constraints, no obligation to finish some research about some topic by some deadline. We are judging our own work, and allocating the resources among ourselves.

So if a PC rejects your paper, or NSF decides not to fund your grant proposal, you should be angry and make creative use of English adjectives over beer. But after this ritual dedicated to Πανάκεια, you should understand that your colleagues rejected your work not because they are ἰδιώτες (pun intended -- idiot originally meant people who were not involved in community decisions, preferring a private life), but because they didn't know better.

So give talks, lobby for your field over beer, write a 5-page introduction to every paper, or you know, maybe start a blog ;)

If the field really consists of narrow-minded people who permanently refuse to understand what you're talking about, you are in the wrong field.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

minor:
"ἰδιώτης" should be changed to "ιδιώτες",
which is the plural.


--Elias

MiP said...

Thanks, Elias!