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Welcome to the middle of nowhere July 22, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, science, societal commentary.

I am continually surprised by people who think that physical location is a hinderance to intellectual stimulation.

One possible explanation is that the people who believe this are from the generation before the internet. I have seen exceptions to this, however, so it’s not strictly true. I also would have guessed that the people who believe this are largely experimental researchers, who are tied to equipment in order to do their work. Again, I have seen exceptions to this.

I have to admit, though, that the intersection of these two groups tends to produce a higher than average view of science as a “thing you do in a certain place with certain people”.

In particular, there have been certain people who hear that I am moving back to Fargo and give me that look. You know, the look that implies that one has moved away from civilization as we know it into a barren desert island, far removed from any intellectual stimulation whatsoever. Doing science in North Dakota is viewed like a place where science is done by constructing mechanical devices from seaweed, palm fronds, and coconut shells. (Being the future home of the Buffalo Commons, our tools of choice are actually buffalo hide and sinew.)

First, I am amused by the notion that some people believe that no one in the whole state of North Dakota could possibly be a scientist, or that we must be spread so far apart that 1) we would never know about each other and 2) we could never contact each other. Granted, only Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska are less densely populated than my beloved home state, but I haven’t heard the negative reactions to the idea of living there that I have heard about North Dakota. I suspect this is because they have mountains, and for some strange reason, having mountains makes up for a lack of intellectual stimulation.

Second, I am amused that people apparently don’t understand that we have internet up here, either. Or at least, that’s what it seems like. After all, if you want intellectual stimulation, it is very possible to use tools like Skype, Google Wave, wikis (for just a few examples) to keep in touch with other researchers all over the world. If it is possible for someone in California to collaborate with a person in China, why does it seem so impossible to collaborate from North Dakota with a person in Minnesota? At least they’re in the same time zone!

Really, I think that if someone wants to find intellectual stimulation, it’d be hard to make an excuse that the tools aren’t available. There are lots of other reasons why collaboration and other efforts may not be feasible, but I can’t honestly imagine using geographical separation as the primary reason…unless, just maybe, you need some lab equipment.



1. Fluxor - July 23, 2010

Lab equipment is also portable, unless your lab equipment is something like a 20km long particle accelerator.

I’m guessing you get those looks because most people associate Fargo with this: http://img111.imageshack.us/img111/5481/fargolegstuffan6.jpg


2. Mike - July 25, 2010

My lab equipment is something like this – not exactly portable. Lucky for me, it’s already in Fargo…


3. mareserinitatis - July 25, 2010

Fluxor: you’re probably right. I have had more bad associations with that movie…

Mike: damn experimentalists.


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