Wednesday, December 30, 2020

End of the year, looking back and looking forward

 A few odds and ends at the close of 2020:

  • This was not a good year, for just about anyone.  Please, let's take better care of each other (e.g.) and ourselves!  
  • The decision to cancel the in-person 2020 APS March Meeting looks pretty darn smart in hindsight.
  • Please take a moment and consider how amazing it is that in less than a year, there are now multiple efficacious vaccines for SARS-Cov-2, using different strategies, when no one had ever produced a successful vaccine for any coronavirus in the past.  Logistical problems of distribution aside, this is a towering scientific achievement.  People who don't "believe" in vaccines, yet are willing to use (without thinking) all sorts of other scientific and engineering marvels, are amazing to me, and not in a good way.  For a compelling book about this kind of science, I again recommend this one, as I had done ten years ago.
  • I also recommend this book about the history of money.  Fascinating and extremely readable.  It's remarkable how we ended up where we are in terms of fiat currencies, and the fact that there are still fundamental disagreements about economics is both interesting and sobering.
  • As is my habit, I've been thinking again about the amazing yet almost completely unsung intellectual achievement that is condensed matter physics.  The history of this is filled with leaps that are incredible in hindsight - for example, the Pauli principle in 1925, the formulation of the Schroedinger equation in 1926, and Bloch's theorem for electrons in crystals in 1928 (!!).  I've also found that there is seemingly only one biography of Sommerfeld (just started it) and no book-length biography of Felix Bloch (though there are this and this).  
  • Four years ago I posted about some reasons for optimism at the end of 2016.  Globally speaking, these are still basically valid, even if it doesn't feel like it many days.  Progress is not inevitable, but there is reason for hope.
Thanks for reading, and good luck in the coming year.  

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

In my opinion it wasn't the March Meeting 2020 cancellation itself that was an issue. Cancellation was the right thing to do, and like you say, looks increasing so as time goes on. However, the timing (roughly 24hrs prior for some meeting events, with people already en-route), was avoidable and poor. Eventually making a prudent decision is only one part of leadership (necessary but not sufficient). It also requires the courage to make unpopular decisions before last-minute pressure forces your hand, then fully communicating the (potentially uncomfortable) reasons why the time and nature of the decision were made. For me, it was these latter two criteria where APS leadership failed. We should have higher standards, and more accountability.

Gautam Menon said...

A very Happy New Year to you

pcs said...

While I didn't like the late cancellation either, one has to remember that February and March was a time of rapidly changing available information, a very steep learning curve, and much uncertainty.

Reading this
https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/08/25/business/biogen-conference-likely-led-20000-covid-19-cases-boston-area-researchers-say/?outputType=amp&event=event25&__twitter_impression=true

I'm glad the decision was what it was, even if it was late. Better late and right than early and wrong.

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