How do you pronounce Asymptotia?

“As-simp-toe-sha” is a good shot at it.

Who writes on Asymptotia?

cvjI’m Clifford V. Johnson, a professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, at the University of Southern California. My home page is at this link. I used to blog at Cosmic Variance, and you can find several older posts of interest there. I also blogged for the online component of the PBS television show WIRED Science. That group blog was called Correlations, and there are posts of interest to be found there too, even though that blog, and the show, are now on ice. (Nothing I say here or said on those blogs represents an official position or opinion of my employer.)

You may also run into my writings in other places, as I sometimes write for other media, usually about science. For reasons that can be deduced from the babble below, I contribute to science and science related programming on Radio, TV, etc, from time to time, and I also get involved behind the scenes in the presentation of science to a wider audience (consulting, scripts, show ideas, etc). Sometimes I’ll tell you about that sort of thing on the blog.

Who can make comments in the comment section?

Anyone can, and everyone is welcome, with some exceptions. Not tolerated will be people whose only motive is to sell things, spammers (automatic or otherwise), or people whose writing is offensive, deliberately disruptive, or in any way destructive to the atmosphere that the majority of readers come to the blog to engage in. I’ll decide where the line is drawn on any of the above. I reserve the right to delete any comment I wish to. Very rarely will a comment be modified, and in such cases I’ll leave a note that I have done so, often with an explanation. This is usually the case when there is a formatting issue, or an issue of length or something similar. If you wish to make very long comments, I’d prefer it if you made a shorter comment and placed a link to the more extensive remarks elsewhere. Long comments have a way of sucking the air out of a discussion in a comment thread.

What is Asymptotia about?

blog on a bike It is about anything, really, running the whole spectrum of things that take my fancy. I will not attempt to make a list here. Flavouring the whole thing will be what I spend most of my time doing and thinking about, of course. That would be Science.

Still reading? Ok, good. So I am a scientist, but this is not necessarily a science blog. It is a blog written by a scientist. The two things are not the same. Further, I’m a scientist working in a university environment, and so I’ll be mentioning and describing aspects of my academic pursuits and activities too.

But, yes, there’ll be lots of things. Three chief topics among those will be Science, Arts, Academia…. and Gardening. Oh, that’s four. Science, Arts, Academia, Gardening…. and Environment. Ok, five. Science, Arts, Academia, Gardening, Environment…. Music. Oh dear….Science, Arts, Academia, Gardening, Environment, Music, Society, Food, Drink, Life, Friends, Fun, Travelling….

Luckily, I’ll be sorting them by category to make it easy for you to filter, and to search. The archives will reflect that categorisation.

Why the name Asymptotia?

(Warning: Unstructured babble follows. Another one can be found at this link.)

Well, there are several impressions or images that it is meant to invoke, and so I’ll leave it up to you. One of the main ideas that is intended to resonate is the idea of steadily approaching something. A goal, or state of being perhaps. One of the things I have in mind is the progress that we can make toward a better society. I believe that such a concept has meaning, that progress can be made, and further, that it is possible for ordinary individuals such as you and I to help make such progress come about. One major ingredient in all of this is participation in science. Not just for scientists, but for all members of society. We live in a world where science has a huge impact on our lives, and yet, as a society, we largely leave key decisions about science to a small number of people. The poor standard of science awareness and education which produces this delegation of responsibility is one of the most serious threats to the lives we are trying to make for ourselves and our descendants. Given that most people don’t even consider a lack of understanding or appreciation of basic science as a real problem, we’ve a huge battle to fight to make significant progress in this area. The battle is to be fought on many fronts, including our schools, but not limited to that arena.

So we proceed on all fronts. A seemingly small but vital component to the whole story is the breaking down of the barrier of fear and suspicion of the scientist. It sounds rather melodramatic, but it is not. You only need look at the images of scientists in the media, news, entertainment, or simply talk to a random person, to see that we’ve got a serious problem of perception. If the scientist is perceived as a somewhat abnormal member of society who is a keeper of some secret knowledge, or some arcane art, it certainly does not encourage the person on the street to think that they have any business learning those things themselves. The scientist or scientifically-inclined person gets painted as a geek or nerd, and is therefore an outsider.

One of the other purposes of this blog (and several things I’ve written elsewhere and will continue to write about here) is to break down some of the stereotypes associated with the scientist. Obviously, I am not expecting to do this single-handedly. There is a community of blogs out there (see the blogroll) and lots of writing in other media that have begun to try to do this, to varying degrees, and I’m just continuing to add my own voice to the (hopefully growing) chorus.

It is helpful to learn what scientists actually do in their jobs from day to day, and so I’ll be telling you, as others do, a bit about what I do as a scientist. I hope that frequenting this or other blogs written by scientists you’ll have several images with which to replace the usual cliches.

Another reason to blog, as a scientist, is to take part in the effort to tell you directly what is going on in some areas of science research. We spend an awful lot of time complaining that the journalists and editors in the mainstream media make a mess of science coverage alarmingly often (I’ll be posting about that from time to time) and so blogs of this sort can help to be a point of direct access to science and scientists for members of the public (and also editors and journalists). That said, don’t look to this blog to be a breaking news service. That’s not the point.

And what do scientists do when we step away from the work day? The same sorts of things non-scientists do, actually. This is one major reason why you’ll see a lot of the “other stuff” here, and not just the science and academia. Scientists have a range of interests, and do a lot more than just science in their day to day lives. So Asymptotia is also about just having some distractions from the regular grind, to discuss all sorts of things and just have some plain fun. Several people (scientists and non-scientists) will come to read in that spirit, and also share things with everyone else. Also, for those readers who have never met a scientist, or do not know what sort of things we care about, and what sorts of things we get up to in our spare time, you might learn something about that here from not just reading about the general things that I write about, but by also following up on some of the other scientists I will point to from time to time, and who might visit the blog and join in the discussion. What you’ll (I hope) learn about this aspect is that there is no specific answer to the question about what we do, or what interests us. We’re just like everybody else, and that’s the point. We are not special people, but just ordinary people engaged in a special thing. Yes, Science is special, and I hope to share some of the feeling for why this is so, and why we do it, and what it is like to do it.

I’m rather going on at length about this… much more than I intended, so I shall stop and recommend that you have a look at some of the writing I’ve done on these issues by looking in the blogs’ archives.


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