Monday, March 19, 2007

Science à la française

Random links, courtesy of the Centre Nationale de Recherches Scientifiques, which has the most random library ever, followed by random musings:

Can you microwave a cake? Or bake it with a halogen bulb?

Can you dry peaches in the microwave, and do they still taste good?

I must say, my time in France gave me a dim opinion of French biology departments.* Of course, there is some very good French science, and the best schools- Paris VI, Strasbourg I, the ENS- may teach more analysis. But at most of the universities, not so much. Teaching labs are mix-bake-measure. The emphasis is on memorization, obedience, and Wisdom From On High. This leads to a lot of cookbook science, and detailed investigations of what we call brick-in-the-wall stuff. That is: boring, trivial publications.

I know because I have read many, many boring papers from French labs. And I have taken these boring classes. In biochemistry at the Fac de Sciences de B___, we had to memorize 116 molecular structures and 74 pathways for the final. Useless? Boring? Forgotten? Yes! Master's level? You bet!

In inorganic chemistry at my little college, we had exams that took six hours** and required us to derive formulas we didn’t even know. We had to analyze, not regurgitate. In quantum chem,*** exams were open-book because ‘It won’t help you any.’ I won’t say this always teaches people to think, but it has a better chance.

*No, these aren't from French labs. But they are funny.
**Once, ten! Not a positive feature, now that I think of it.
***Which I have since entirely forgotten. Thank Cthulu.

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