Category Archives: Authors

Losing the Nobel Prize

When Alfred Nobel stipulated the creation of the Nobel Prize in 1895, the inventor of dynamite could hardly have guessed that the award – considered by many to be the world’s most prestigious honor – would often come at the expense of the very careers and the disciplines Nobel sought to promote. Per Nobel’s will the Prize is ostensibly awarded to those who “have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind,” but it has arguably fallen short of that commendable goal on several occasions.

In Losing the Nobel Prize, his provocative and incisive critique of the award, physicist and cosmologist Brian Keating addresses what he calls the Nobel’s “systematic biases,” noting that by its nature the Prize discourages communal efforts among scientists, and during its history has lauded such questionable pursuits as lobotomy and eugenics. Recipients have included Nazis and war criminals, but surprisingly few women. Upon reflection, perhaps not so surprising; Nobel’s will states that:

It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not. [Emphasis added]

Since its inception, only two women have been awarded the physics prize, and none in over fifty years.

Keating is uniquely equipped to offer a perspective on the Nobel Prize. He is the inventor of BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization), the most powerful cosmological telescope ever made, and co-leader of the team that conducted the BICEP2 experiments that lead to discovery of “the spark that ignited the Big Bang.” After much drama and debate that discovery was subsequently proven to be a cosmic mirage, but in the interim Keating found himself drawn into the headlong pursuit of the Nobel medal, encountering competitiveness, intrigue, and naked ambition along the way. The lessons Keating learned in losing the Nobel Prize serve as a cautionary tale about abandoning the collaborative spirit in pursuit of a near-unobtainable prize, but also as a prescription for radical, much-needed reform of the world’s most coveted award.

Following his talk Keating chats with David Brin, noted science fiction author and futurist, in a lively conversation about the nature of scientific enquiry, the merit of awarding scientific prizes, the importance of collaboration, the need for transparency, and the urgent need to improve communication between scientists, policy makers, and the general public. Above all, both men stress that those lessons learned by Keating and outlined in his book may ultimately prove to be more valuable than the prize itself.

Watch Losing the Nobel Prize with Brian Keating

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Micro-Fiction

Contributed by John Menier

32822In modern English, the word “amateur” is often used in a condescending or pejorative sense, which is unfortunate. It is a borrowed French word that derives from the Latin “amator,” meaning “lover.” Hence, the term amateur was originally applied to someone who does something purely for the love of it rather than for compensation and was not a comment on competency.

It is in the spirit of “for the love of it” that Scott Paulson, Exhibits & Events Coordinator for UC San Diego Library, solicited fantasy and science fiction pieces of no more than 250 words for a live reading. The inaugural event in an intended micro-fiction project, “Short Tales from the Mothership” was inspired by magazine editor George Hay. In the 1970s Hay challenged such well-known authors as Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov to submit stories for publication that could fit on a postcard. Following Hay’s example, Scott Paulson encouraged writers from the campus and San Diego communities to publicly showcase their short-short fiction. The stories presented that evening proved to be both diverse and diverting, encompassing a range of styles from comic and satirical to dystopian and experimental. All of the stories are evocative, and several of the works assumed the characteristics of poetry in their economy of language, their heightened descriptive imagery, and their attention to tone.

The result is a celebration of both micro-fiction as a distinct art form and the power of the spoken word – and yes, the joy of doing something for the love of it.

Watch Short Tales from the Mothership

See more programs from The Library Channel here.

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Ann Patchett

Contributed by John Menier

8232Listed by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2012, Ann Patchett is a true woman of letters: novelist, essayist, anthologist, and co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville. Patchett is also a frequent and accomplished public speaker, noted for her anecdotes about the literary life, her insights into the creative process, and her wry wit.

One of Patchett’s favorite topics is the ever-changing relationship between readers and books. As an example she cites her own evolution reading (and re-reading) the works of John Updike, Leo Tolstoy, Pearl Buck, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others, noting that “the books don’t change, but we do.” Put another way, the reader’s evaluation of a particular book is shaped as much by the reader’s life experience and circumstances as by the work’s innate qualities. As such our appreciation (or lack thereof) for a particular title may change over time, but the consistent commonality among the books we treasure is that they never fail to evoke a strong response. Patchett believes the writer’s primary task is to elicit that response by inviting the reader to become an active participant in their story.

Patchett’s approach to the reading public is refreshingly un-elitist. She stresses the importance of what she calls “gateway drugs,” books of dubious literary worth that may encourage readers to explore other authors and genres. She applauds the success of “trashy” pop novels such as “Fifty Shades of Gray” and “Twilight,” no matter their pedigree, for their role in re-vitalizing book sales and energizing the publishing community. What matters most to Patchett as both author and bookstore owner is that the reading habit is fostered and encouraged, and in that endeavor, there’s no place for snobbery.

Click here to watch An Evening with Ann Patchett

Click here for more programs from The Library Channel

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The Hacking of the American Mind

8232We first met Dr. Lusting in 2009 when UCTV presented his “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” lecture. That viral video now has over 7 million YouTube views, and more every day.

His latest program, “The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains,” coincides with the publishing of his new book of the same title.

In this half-hour interview, Lustig, a UCSF endocrinologist, explores the reward system in our brains – serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine – chemicals that drive our pleasure-seeking behaviors including overeating, drug use, and that ever-present cell phone. But he goes beyond just neural pathways and brain chemistry to impute the underlying economic machine that creates industries that profit off processed foods full of sugar.

He recommends a “four Cs” solution — connect, contribute, cope, and cook — urging a slowed-down lifestyle for the sake of our health and happiness.

In addition to the interview “The Hacking of the American Mind”, you may enjoy these short videos:

The Difference Between Happiness and Pleasure
Corporate Responsibility vs. Individual Responsibility
Are All Calories the Same?
Responsibility of the Food Industry
Processed Food and Pleasure

For a deeper dive, watch the video that started it all and other programs with Dr. Robert Lustig:
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
The Skinny on Obesity
Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0

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A Life in Medicine

8232Healthcare has never been as important to peoples’ lives as it is today. Staggering advances in technology and science stand alongside major changes — and controversies — in policy and payment. In this new series, Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UCSF’s Department of Medicine, bestselling author, and rated in 2015 by Modern Healthcare magazine as the most influential physician-executive in the U.S., interviews leading lights in medicine and healthcare.

In addition to finding out what’s happening now and where medicine is going, these individuals talk about the experiences that shaped their careers.

The first two programs are available now with more coming monthly to UCTV.

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo
From self-described army brat to a renowned physician and scientist, Dr. Bibbins-Domingo is the immediate past-chair of the US Preventive Services Task Force. Find out how she balances the various demands on her time, including being a mom.

Dr. Lloyd “Holly” Smith
Dr. Smith came to San Francisco in 1964 and transformed UCSF into a world leader. His ability to steer that change is as much about management as medicine.

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