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Chat on the Airplane July 18, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in physics life, travel.

I guy I work with (and know fairly well) recently dictated a column to the NYTimes Frequent Flyer Column:

I ALWAYS laugh when people say they don’t want to talk to their seatmates. I’m a friendly guy and, on occasion, I wouldn’t mind having a chat with a fellow passenger, especially if I’m not that busy with work.

It is so true. My seatmates almost always steer the conversation to another topic as soon as they find out what I do. And, as anyone that knows me knows – I like to talk (well, I write a blog, don’t I?). Part of the problem is that I fly a lot – so I end up seated in the front of the plane, near the other frequent flyers – which means no one wants to talk to anyone else. Head down, buried in a book, magazine, or work. If you start a conversation – well, you are clearly a Sunday Traveler!

That isn’t to say I’ve had some long discussions with folks about what I do on planes. I remember two of them clearly. One was on a flight to Chicago from Seattle and the guy sitting next to me owned and ran some number of tire stores. He was from Eastern Washington. He was very curious about what I did and asked lots of questions. Right before we got off the plane he asked me what had clearly been bugging him for much of the ride: “Why don’t we do faith-based science funding and research?” The other one I remember was a guy that was convinced the LHC could generate electricity and save us from our power problems. We talked about this for a long time – I’m pretty sure I was able to convince him that this wasn’t possible…

Most conversations (even these ones I just mentioned) are actually pretty good – it is often surprising to hear what people think you are doing. The will have read about it in the newspaper and the newspaper reporter will have heard about it from interviews, emails, etc. – so it is very much a bit of a telephone game, each step colored by the recipients own interests and past education and hobbies.

Actually, I think scientists need to talk to people more. After all, we work for the people, all people, the taxpayers. We should do our bit to explain where your money is going and why our work is interesting, important and what it means to you and your future.

Totally true! Thanks to Paul Grannis who posted an internal news item pointing this out.



1. Anonymous - July 18, 2009

Hopefully the (new) November startup date for the LHC isn’t an example of faith-based science. I’m not sure how much faith I have in it.

2. J.L.C. Leather and More | For Sale Harley Davidson - July 18, 2009

[…] Chat on the Airplane « Life as a Physicist […]

3. Gordon Watts - July 19, 2009

I can’t tell. On one had it doesn’t sound to me like you would want to say anything until you’ve completed the measurements that will be done in mid August. On the other hand, this DG isn’t known for saying things that aren’t relavent – so they must already be pretty sure about what they will find?

At any rate, I’m going to sit tight until they finish the splice measurements in mid August and then get “excited” about the date (or not, depending).

4. Michael Good - July 20, 2009

speaking of why our work is important….


5. Hotel Lido di Venezia - August 7, 2009

Like in every conversation, is not about the place, is about how much the other part is chatting, or sucking energy….

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