On Grateful for the Opportunity

"Every time I got a new job, it never felt like my choice, because these jobs were the only ones presented, because I had run out of money and because I needed to continue to pay rent, and work.": This is indeed how many, probably most, people spend the prime years of their lives in this country. And it's a lousy way to live. I'm lucky, in that I'm clever enough to learn quickly and do well many kinds of work most people find difficult. Mostly, I've made money by being good at getting computers to do lots of things. I got a Ph.D. and did a couple of postdocs, which were mostly fun, but I could see being a professor isn't a great gig anymore, what with the ever-increasing demands and ever-decreasing funds, so I went back to programming. The work is mildly interesting, and the pay is pretty good, but even so, I don't think it's a great way to spend your life. There needs to be much more widespread recognition that (a) work and the economy exist, or should exist, for people, not the other way around, and (b) everybody could be well provided for with far less drudgery and precariousness under more sensible and equitable economic arrangements. Things don't have to be this way. Society, especially its most wealthy and powerful members, chooses for things to be this way, and it could choose otherwise.

Posted on February 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm 2

On What 'DuckTales' Taught Me About Inflation

"One particularly angry video interrupts the episode every thirty seconds or so with cards reading, 'Are you listening, Washington?' and 'Are you listening, Federal Reserve??'.": For about four years now, such people have been screaming that hyperinflation is just around the corner. Um, any day now. The failure of even moderate inflation to materialize, despite the Federal Reserve's sizable expansion of the money supply, appears to have made no impression whatsoever on most of these people. It apparently doesn't occur to them that their models, formal or intuitive, of how economies work are simply wrong. They JUST KNOW that expanding the money supply leads to runaway inflation, perhaps because Scrooge McDuck told them so. Better economics education in schools would be great, but good luck ever getting it in a country full of people passionately committed to economic crankery, partly through sheer stupidity and partly for political reasons. (See Noah Smith's post "Do the inflationistas really believe what they say?" for a discussion of the reasons: http://bit.ly/18iKxAi.)

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm 0

On I'm a Hack Writer Who Writes 5000 Words/Day for $20/Hour

If you're good at using language precisely, you'd probably be good at programming computers. It's easy to make much more than $38,000 a year at it, as I do. There's no need to go back to school for it, either; there are plenty of online resources, and many of them are free. If you want some kind of certification, you can get that online too. To be sure, most of the available work is far from thrilling. However, I'd say it beats writing about the ten best celebrity wedding dresses. Even if you've never thought of yourself as a "geek" or "nerd" or whatever, consider programming. Contrary to what many people suppose, it really isn't very hard, provided you have the capacity to concentrate on a task and pay attention to details.

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm 0

On The Cost of Publishing Academic Research

Since nobody's mentioned it yet, I'll mention that some excellent journals are owned by professional societies, and if you're a member of the society, you get a certain number of pages per year in the journal either free or substantially discounted. In my own field, for example, this is true of Evolution, which belongs to the Society for the Study of Evolution and is in my judgment the best journal in the world for certain kinds of research. True, you have to pay for membership in the society, but they tend to be cheap for students, plus you get discounts on the society's conferences and sometimes other benefits. I'll add that if your mentor is being coy about paying, it speaks poorly for him or her. A good mentor encourages students to publish wherever their work is likely to attract the most attention, regardless of page charges, which of course the mentor pays from a grant. (Unfortunately, this attitude helps keep scientific publishing a lucrative racket, but that's a different discussion.) And by the standards of biomedical research, page charges are chump change anyway. You could publish a lot of papers for the price of one PacBio sequencing run, for example. Oh, and if you and your mentor really, truly can't afford to pay, a good journal will waive its charges for a manuscript with strong reviews. Bring it up with the editor who handles your manuscript after you get the reviews.

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm 0