Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bela Liptak and Me at ISA Automation Week Conference 2011 in Mobile, Alabama

I am speaking today at the ISA Automation Week Conference 2011 in Mobile, Alabama.  My topic is, "Why Lord Kelvin Would Love MTConnect - The Open and Royalty Free Protocol For Manufacturing".   My paper was accepted by the wireless track because that is the one that deals with sensors.  As I sit in the back, waiting to speak and looking around, I realized the rest of the audience are the speakers either before or after me.  Well, at least it is nice weather outside today in Mobile.

My talk went well and I did have a nice discussion afterwards with an individual who was very interested in MTConnect for his plant.

I sat in on a very interesting ISA keynote by Bela Liptak this morning.  His talk was fascinating and one of the areas of great interest was his Reversible Fuel Cell (RFC) design.   He appears to be an expert in many categories with nuclear power plant instrumentation and control being one of those areas.  When they asked if anyone had questions, I spoke up.  I always speak up.  That is in my DNA, blame my parents :-)  It is a feature and not a bug as far as I am concerned.  I am not afraid of asking questions.  You don't know unless you ask.  It was interesting in that Bela Liptak was absolutely adamant in his statement on global climate change quoting the Academies of Sciences.   I decided to ask him about an a SCIENCE FRIDAY episode on NPR I heard last week with Ira Flatow interviewing Shawn Otto who is author of "Fool Me Twice".   Below is the opening transcript of Science Friday that will give you the taste of the interview:

IRA FLATOW, host: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. Up next: science under attack. In his new book, "Fool Me Twice," writer Shawn Otto says science is under assault in America, and especially so in Washington, D.C. While science informs almost every aspect of our lives - think about climate change, energy, agriculture, medical research - Otto says anti-science views are so mainstream and science so marginalized that it's becoming a threat to our democracy.

Science didn't always take a backseat in politics. The Founding Fathers Jefferson and Franklin were themselves citizen-scientists, advocating for an informed citizenry. So what happened? And is there a way to bring science back into our social discussions, even into the presidential debates?
Shawn Otto is here to talk more about it. He is co-founder and CEO of Science Debate 2008. His new book is called "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America."

Here is the section of Science Friday that caused me to ask the question of Bela:

FLATOW: Do you think that scientists themselves sat on their hands too long and let things - let anti-science attack take place?
OTTO: Absolutely. And that's one of the things that I've talked about in the book. There are a lot of factors in play, but, you know, science used to be thought of as an exploration of nature, and much of it still is. But there's also a part of science that, in World War II, came to be used as a weapon, an intellectual weapon to win the war.
And that's a valid use of knowledge. Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon said. So why not use it as power? But after World War II, Vannevar Bush made a terrific pitch called, "Science the Endless Frontier," about how the government should continue to fund science moving forward.
And he sold Truman on the tremendous advantages that that could bring to the nation, and indeed, it has. It's possible that he made part of that pitch too well, in that scientists really, after that point, didn't have to engage in the same level of public outreach that they did before.
And in fact, university tenure programs grew up that did not reward public outreach, and often it was a disincentive. There is even something that happened called the Sagan effect, after Carl Sagan was denied admission to the National Academy of Sciences.  And that idea is that your popularity with the public is inversely proportional to your contributions as a scientist. In Sagan's case, that wasn't true. He published some 500 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, probably about one a month over his 39-year career. And indeed, recent research has shown that scientists that engage in public outreach actually generally perform better academically, too.
FLATOW: And so now scientists are more fearful, then, that if they speak up, the same thing would happen to them? They're afraid of being ostracized?
OTTO: Exactly, and not only that, but that science - or that politics came to be viewed as something that was dirty or that was beneath scientists, and that it could taint your objectivity. So why engage? Why take a risk in something like that?
FLATOW: And has - when has science become so political, and why is it so political? Or (unintelligible) be that way?
OTTO: Yeah. There's - okay. So there's two questions there that are both actually pretty interesting. First of all, why is it political? You know, again, Francis Bacon said knowledge is power, and science is about creating knowledge, and politics is the exercise of power.
So science is always inherently political. Any time we extend the bounds of our knowledge, that is going to have moral and ethical consequences that are going to be political questions. Also, it's also going to disrupt vested interests.
Climate change is a great example of that. Scientists aren't out pursuing a political agenda. They're pursuing the truth, and the truth is pointing them in a particular direction. And we've seen this kind of thing happen over and over again, when science has disrupted vested interests, be they monetary, financial or be they religious interests.

Back to my question.  I asked Bela, "I was listening to NPR and they had the author of "Fool Me Twice" on Science Friday with Ira Flatow.  The premise of the author's book is that Americans are getting stupider about science.  This is inline with what you just presented.  The author stated that scientists are fearful about being vocal about science because of "news" outlets like Fox News that would attack them.  My question for you is, what do you feel are the responsibilities of scientist to speak up?  Obviously you are speaking up, but what are the responsibilities of scientists to speak up?"

His answer was, "that is a tough question.  I only report to one person - my wife - so I have no fears.  It is true that when Al Gore spoke up that they attack the messenger and not the message.  It is very disappointing watching the recent debates.   Science should be separate from politics, but it is not because individuals have something to be gained by having a certain opinion."  He then discussed why he is hopeful in the long run for the planet.  I went up and spoke to him afterwards and he was very nice.   I had not heard of him, but listening to the folks speaking to him before I did, he certainly sounds like a legend in the industry. 

Below is a picture of me and Bela Liptek:

I had one of the best seafood dinners ever at Wintzell's Oyster House Restaurant.  I had stuffed flounder with crab, seafood gumbo soup, fried okra and southern fried cheese grits with nice local beers.  For dessert I had peach cobbler and bean vanilla ice cream.   Miss Pinky was my server and could not have been more professional or any nicer to this northern boy from VA :-)

Below is a short video of the Mobile River with the docks and the Austal which is the world leaders in aluminum commercial and defense ships.