Death and the Penguin, science edition?

a.k.a. Musings about predictability in science

death-and-the-penguin-300dpiOne of my favourite books is Death and the Penguin, by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. The protagonists of the book are Viktor, a young writer who’s struggling to survive in post-Soviet Ukraine, and Misha, a king penguin, whom Viktor adopted from the local zoo after it went bankrupt and who now lives in Victor’s bath tub. To pay for bills (and frozen fish for Misha) Viktor accepts a job writing obituaries for the local newspaper. However, there’s a twist: the people he writes about aren’t dead – yet. Once he writes about their sad passing, they mysteriously die. For example, a senior politician he writes about, falls from a sixth-floor window: “was cleaning it for some reason, although apparently it wasn’t his. And at night.”, the editor of the newspaper comments.

Recently, I was reminded of this obscure plot in a somewhat surprising setting: as an avid listener to pretty much all Nature podcasts, I also follow Backchat, a monthly podcast produced by the Nature team, where they discuss some behind-the-scenes of various stories. One of the things I have found most fascinating is how (or rather when) some of the stories are written. Yes, you guessed it: they’re often written before they happen! Continue reading

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The long road home

This morning I was catching up with some old podcasts from Science, and came across a report by John Bohannon, about scientists in Turkey. The report discusses how the country is trying to “attract expat Turkish scientists back home“, and Bohannon also makes the statement that “[t]he expat Turks that I have spoken to […] have plenty of criticisms of the current political environment in Turkey, but they really clearly love their homeland.“ (from the 26 July 2013 Science podcast).

This statement touched a nerve, because that’s kind of how I feel about returning to my home country, Hungary. Honestly, I’d love to go back: I love the people and the lifestyle. I think the country is full of potential (creative people with great ideas), which could give rise to amazing research if someone would tap into this goldmine. But when I think about returning I also instantly see all the problems of the academic system, which had motivated me to leave in the first place. Continue reading