Thought of the Day

December 9, 2014

People selected to pontificate at an audience on the basis of prior accomplishments in a related context are invariably less interesting than people selected because they have interesting things to say.

8 Responses to “Thought of the Day”

  1. Philapodia Says:

    You just don’t have the $30K to pay Jim Watson to come talk, do you…


  2. thorazine Says:

    You know, I was at the Berkeley seminar that first got Watson his notoriety as a bigoted old crank, and it was definitely interesting. Crazy and stupid, yes; boring, no.


  3. I remember going to a packed lecture hall about 20 years ago when Watson was giving a talk. He didn’t say anything crazy then, but it was clear he didn’t know much in terms of current scientific details (he was giving a general “Cold Spring Harbor is cool” talk and appeared to have been handed a series of slides contributed by active researchers there).


  4. Beaker Says:

    This thought also applies to nostalgic pontifications about “how I got grants” given by graybeards who funded their last NIH grant back in the days of the doubling.


  5. Philapodia Says:

    Looks like Watson will be getting his Nobel back a well as keeping the $4.8M (1). Good to know that Jim will be OK. He can still buy groceries, as well as buying that painting he’s had his eye on (2).



  6. The Other Dave Says:

    Tell me about it! I have never heard a great seminar from someone after they’ve won the Nobel prize. But the same people BEFORE they won — brilliant.

    My strategy, when in charge of seminars, is to invite new assistant professors. The invite is good for their CV, and I figure they just got a job so they must have a decent talk ready too.


  7. Crystal Voodoo Says:

    I’ve attended talks given by a crystallographer Nobel laureate both pre- and post-Nobel; both were equally meh. Alternately, I heard Roger Tsien and Ada Yonath give talks post-Nobel, and they were fabulous. The differences were (a) new and interesting data with an eye towards the future, (b) an engaging speaker who was excited about their science, and (c) in the case of Dr. Yonath, a lot of awesome dirty laundry airing. I think that bad speakers are bad no matter what their credentials, and that old data is boring unless you’ve got ‘skeleton in the closet stories’ that make it interesting.


  8. olympiasepiriot Says:

    I’d like to confess the most interesting scientific talk I’ve heard in the last year was by a senior (very!) engineer in my local municipal buildings department talking to a roomful of mostly construction engineers telling them all the ways the codes here are insufficient to really guarantee that they build completely safe underpinning of adjacent structures — if those doing the work are determined to do a bare minimum.

    I know this isn’t what most readers here would think of when it comes to a conference topic, but the applied science and life preservation aspects are huge and having someone from “inside” tell an audience of people from “outside” how much risk there really is was fab.

    Possibly, I shouldn’t have used the word “talking” in the first sentence…maybe it should be “berating”.


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