Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Talk to a Chemist" would not nearly work so well

"Prove your theory that hydroxide is a great leaving group?
For the right price, we're on it. It's gonna take a while, though."
Credit: vigilantcitizen
A very fun and educational (and potentially remunerative?) article by theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder: 
I have kids, and rent to pay, so I tried to think of creative ways to capitalise on 15 years of research experience. [snip] ...And I put up a note on my blog offering physics consultation, including help with theory development: ‘Talk to a physicist. Call me on Skype. $50 per 20 minutes.’ 
A week passed with nothing but jokes from colleagues, most of whom thought my post was a satire. No, no, I assured them, I’m totally serious; send me your crackpots, they’re welcome. In the second week I got two enquiries and, a little nervous, I took on my first customer. Then came a second. A third. And they kept coming. 
My callers fall into two very different categories. Some of them cherish the opportunity to talk to a physicist because one-to-one conversation is simply more efficient than Google... [snip] 
...The majority of my callers are the ones who seek advice for an idea they’ve tried to formalise, unsuccessfully, often for a long time. Many of them are retired or near retirement, typically with a background in engineering or a related industry. All of them are men. [snip] 
...The variety of their ideas is bewildering, but these callers have two things in common: they spend an extraordinary amount of time on their theories, and they are frustrated that nobody is interested.
I am immediately reminded that physics is kind of weird, in that it seems to attract all sorts of impassioned autodidacts*; many fewer, it seems, than chemistry ever does.

This is also surprising, in that I'm surprised that there isn't a physics version of a contract research organization. As many a CRO vet can tell you, you can quite often run into someone who has more money than sense, and who is willing to throw down a few kilobucks to get a real-live chemist to nod politely at their grand chemical plans and run a few experiments for them. Sadly, there aren't enough to keep a CRO's doors open, but enough to pay for at least an entree or three at the company party.

*They can be tragically impassioned, as the Bayard Peakes case instructs us. I don't think there's a chemistry equivalent. 


  1. There are CRO-like entities that do physics-y engineering work, though maybe not "physics" per se. The high cost of instrumentation (which tends to be more "custom" than in chemistry) may be a reason why.

  2. I wonder if she's talked to Sorin Cosofret of elkadot...that guy is pretty out there

  3. Somehow, Cosofret manages to get through my university spam filter despite adding him specifically to my spam list. Maybe there is something magical about his theories...

    1. well clearly, the quantum idea is a fake!

  4. Bayard Peakes would have enjoyed the post from Vigilant Citizen that the picture of Lady Gaga came from. Do the Illuminati believe in electrons?

  5. her colleagues thought it was satire? well, i guess it is true that theoretical physicists are not generally known for making the forbes' yearly "most powerful entrepreneurs" list. good for her.

  6. Maybe she is just attempting to catch a bounce from the "Big Bang Theory" that often seems to portray Physics applications as more generally easy and useful than they can be in practical sense.

    1. Well, it's not like Chemistry applications aren't portrayed as more simple and useful than they actually are whenever they get picked up by the mainstream. Remember that synthesis machine that's going to 3D-print personalized medicines?


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