Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dancing on the ceiling

Yay! The paper is in, the registration is confirmed and I'm going to GECCO! And as it's at UCL I get to go to a top conference without carbon angst - I can just go home to the hubby for a week.

Being run by those protestant-work-ethicy Americans, the conference runs for five days that include a Saturday and a Sunday. But how better to spend a sunny July weekend than in a tutorial on Evolutionary Multiobjective Optimization. And I'm about 85% serious when I say that.

The paper's only a late breaker - 8 pages on whether Evolutionary Multiobjective Optimization can help our robot intelligently plan experiments (spoiler alert: it can). But the cleverness of the paper is as nothing to the financial hoops I've jumped through to get this funded: half off for volunteering to help out (thank you local organiser and Publicity Chair Peter Bentley), got a further discount for registering to join SIGEVO, and got the rest funded as a staff development course. Amazingly it ticks all the boxes as a staff development course as there are tutorials and a careers workshop (well, job shop). So I get to save precious grant money for conferences my PI would rather I attend. As yet I've failed to ascertain what these might be, but I bet they won't be as carbon neutral as this one.

But can I let you in to a secret? Publishing the paper is a plus, the tutorials are a major draw and the job shop: what can I say, I'm a fixed term post-doc. But what is the main attraction? I get to be all groupie/stalkie over my favourite evolutionary biologist (no, not that one) Steve Jones. The gala event will be a Question Time style debate between Profs Jones, Dawkins and Lewis Wolpert. There was space on the registration form to record the question I would like to ask, but sadly I couldn't think of one[1]. Questions on religion were discouraged - possibly because of the strong similarities between the views of all three participants. Should be a fascinating evening nevertheless.

Steve Jones' talk at the Royal Society.

[1] Or at least not one I'd be prepared to utter out loud in the Natural History Museum! I am, after all, a married lady...


DavidC said...

I always wondered how to spell "ethicy" and now I know! It's a shame Prof Winston won't be there too - just to see him lynched

Auntie Em said...

DC: I think you should point out that you don't actually want to see the lovely Prof. Winston lynched[1].

To be honest I have a lot of sympathy with Winston's conclusion: that polarisation of a debate forces people to take sides.

But I have more sympathy with Dawkin's position: that when fundamentalist "bible christianity" (or fundamentalists of any stripe) are allowed to dictate terms in education, politics, science and the law, then it's time to stand up and be counted.

I think the mismatch comes about where Winston argues that the moderately religious can "bridge the gap" in the culture wars. Dawkins instead argues that the moderately religious only serve as a fig leaf and as revenue raisers for the fundamentalists in these same culture wars. Sadly, despite the best intentions of Winston and others like him, I think Dawkins is right on this one.

[1]Note to strangers - I know DC in real life.
Note to friends/acquaintances - I don't tell DC what he really means in real life - or at least not often!

davidc said...

Er - just to clarify my last comment, I was merely suggesting that it would be interesting to hear three vehemently atheist professors debate with one pro-religious professor. While sometimes Dawkins can go a bit overboard, and while Winston seems like a nice chap on the telly, I'd still like to see them take apart his arguments. The lynching I was after was purely intellectual!

Martin Sewell said...

*sneaks into debate*

A question for Richard Dawkins: You claim that we can rebel against our genes, how?

A question for Steve Jones: You're an eminent geneticist, yet you don't believe in genes when it doesn't suit your social-environmentalist agenda, how can you reconcile this with science?

*scuttles out*

Auntie Em said...

Maybe you should publish a paper Martin - then you could come...

Martin Sewell said...

I was rather relying on ticket touts, publishing seems like such a bother! :-)

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