Alec Austin (alecaustin) wrote,

Farthing Party con report: I

So last weekend was (the last) Farthing Party. Farthing is always a lovely time, and as some of our dear friends couldn't make it this year, I have extricated myself from uffish slumber in order to recount some of the discussions that were had. Food will probably get discussed also, though not in any great detail, since most of the time I would be making repetitive contented noises.

Any exclamation points and/or unnecessary capitalization in panel titles are my responsibility/fault, as are parenthetical comments.

9/28 - 10 AM - A Good Read

Slept through this one, alas.

9/28 - 11 AM - Mad SCIENCE!
mrissa moderating.

This one started out with a series of jokes about an attendee's 'one velociraptor per child program' T-shirt. No velociraptor left behind! A velociraptor in every pot, and pot in every velociraptor! Alas, it was made clear in sonorous tones that no mainstream candidate was likely to endorse any variation on this platform. (Apparently velociraptors are the 4th rail of politics.)

Notable conversation threads:

* Real science has human studies boards and lots of paperwork. One of the appeals of mad science these days is saying "screw the paperwork!" (though mrissa has a story about the credibility of planet-destroying threats sans experimental data...), but if you do that these days, people go "they're mad!" Dr. Chromedome in The Tick is a good example here - "The Mad Scientist does not wear the 'Hello My Name Is' badge! Warm fuzzy nice nice! What is the point of science if no one gets hurt?"

* Modern depictions of mad science often have sexual overtones. See Girl Genius's spark collaborations, Young Frankenstein, and the like.

* Wernher Von Braun as Gary Stu/ultimate 'fictional' mad scientist, despite being real. Apparently the Tom Lehrer song made Von Braun angry because he actually *was* learning Chinese.

* Dr. Frankenstein was an undergraduate, both in age and temperament. Not only do particular forms of hubris manifest themselves most often in young people (who imagine they can overthrow all previous knowledge), but undergrads tend to make bad parents as well.

* Cyteen has lots of parallels to Frankenstein. Ariane Emory was a terrible mom.

* Dr. Frankenstein was also a mad alchemist, of the sort that had to flee from city to city and inflate their claims massively in order to get patronage and funding. Part-time alchemists mostly concluded that alchemy was crap and didn't work.

* Mad science is visually striking, which is why it showed up so often in early film and (more recently) in comics, where the special effects budget isn't as much of a limiting factor as in film.

* We may not recognize mad science because the scale is wrong. Cell phones in your pocket aren't ginormous death rays. Counterpoint: Supercolliders and the National Ignition Facility aren't small in scale. (Counter-counterpoint: But how many nations have we ignited recently?)

* Mad Science narratives don't cope well with corporate science and teamwork. Single scientist narratives don't work well these days, even though no one person at Google understands the entirety of how Google Search works in detail.

* Also, corporations doing things tend to seem more normal and "sane", even when what they're doing would be psychopathic on a personal level. See fracking tainting water supplies, and the same crew of liars from Merchants of Doubt being the ones defending both the Tobacco industry and denying Global Warming.

* Geoengineering is deeply mad science. See people seeding the Pacific ocean with iron because "we've got to do something!" Also covered in Kim Stanley Robinson's 40 Signs of Rain and Tobias Buckell's Arctic Rising.

* Stalinist science was plenty mad. See Lysenkoism, and the plans to build a dam across the Bering Straight to melt the Arctic. Which the US was cool with, apparently. (Man, the Cold War was nuts.)

Good or groan-worthy lines:

* "Crows have 5 primary flight feathers, while ravens have 4. The difference between these birds is literally a matter of a pinion."

* "I'm not a mad scientist, I'm a mildly deranged technologist."

* "Too mad scientists, not enough hunchbacks." (Apparently a saying at Tor.)

* All models are wrong, but some are useful. Computer modeling is not magic; believing the model is mad.

* "We’ve been good. We deserve to have pygmy mammoths."
Tags: cons, farthing party
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