Shared posts

23 May 12:06

"Ivre, il oublie son digicode, casse la porte et se vide de son sang"

“Ivre, il oublie son digicode, casse la porte et se vide de son sang”

- Le Bien Public (à cause de Khaled)
23 May 04:00


Listen, in a few thousand years you'll invent a game called 'SimCity' which has a 'disaster' button, and then you'll understand.
21 May 16:20


21 May 16:30


20 May 16:55


19 May 08:47

How we caught a black hole emitting intense wind

by Phil Charles, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Southampton
Lucas Vigroux

Best title ever.

Modern science is more about patience and persistence than about great epiphanies. It is therefore extremely satisfying when you make a breakthrough, as it means a lot of hard work has finally paid off. After monitoring a fairly quiet black hole for nearly 26 years, my colleagues and I were thrilled to suddenly catch it emit a powerful wind – something we didn’t even know black holes could do.

We first discovered the black hole back in 1990, when I was based at an observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands. Orbiting space missions had just detected a mysterious and very bright new X-ray source in the star constellation Cygnus that had undergone a huge outburst. Our observations revealed that V404 Cygni was a black hole of around ten times the mass of our sun. This was the first object in our galaxy to be unequivocally identified as a black hole.

Cygnus. Till Credner/wikimedia

The black hole is part of a binary system – it has a low-mass companion star (only about half the mass of our sun) that orbits around the black hole every 6.5 days. During this process it continuously swallows material from the star. The matter falling towards the black hole forms a so-called accretion disc. Its hotter, innermost zones emit X-rays, which we cannot detect from the Earth’s surface, as they are absorbed by our atmosphere, and hence must be studied from space. The outer regions of the disc, however, emit visible light, which means we can observe this region from the ground.

What makes V404 Cygni special is that, at only 8,000 light years away, it is one of the closest known black holes to the Earth, and has a particularly large accretion disc (with a radius of about 10m kilometres), which makes its outbursts extremely bright. X-ray outbursts from black holes are rare (V404 Cygni is one of the best known), typically happening on timescales of decades. They happen when so much material is accumulated in the accretion disc that it becomes unstable and the disc suddenly starts dumping matter onto the black hole. This causes the matter to reach very high velocities and temperatures, emitting huge quantities of X-rays in the process, at which point they are spotted by orbiting X-ray satellites.

We continued to study the black hole for 25 years, but it was very quiet for most of the time. Luckily I happened to be observing it on June 14 2015, just 13 hours before its next outburst happened, and noticed the accretion disc was moving in towards the black hole. This beautifully illuminates the physics of accretion discs going into an “active” state, so I knew what was coming. Once the outburst began, an international team of astrophysicists was assembled to follow it in detail, using telescopes available to us now of vastly greater power compared to what we were using 25 years ago. This time, its X-ray brightness increased a million fold in a few days, becoming the brightest source in the sky.

Rare glimpse

The results, which have just been published in Nature, are surprising. They show a powerful wind of hydrogen and helium emanating from the black hole and travelling at a mind-boggling speed of 3,000 kilometres a second. Formed in the outer layers of the accretion disc, this wind has to move quickly to be able to escape from the immense gravitational field surrounding the black hole.

The wind is likely driven by the X-rays created in the outburst heating the disc surface to high enough temperatures to escape the disc’s gravity and flow outwards. It is thanks to the high resolution provided by the CANARIAS telescope’s huge aperture that we were able to link this wind with the X-ray flare. And while radio jets accelerated by processes around the black hole itself have been seen in these X-ray outbursts before (including V404 Cyg), this was the first time we had seen a strong wind blown off the outer accretion disc.

Artist’s impression of the black hole emitting wind.

The finding allows us to explain why the outburst was so brief, lasting only two weeks, compared to the previous outburst which lasted three months and helped us discover the object in the first place. This is linked to how and at what rate black holes accrete material, and grow in size (mass) – important parameters for understanding the evolution of black holes on all scales in the universe. If this material had not been “blown away”, it is likely that the outburst would have lasted much longer.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but we have known for many years that, in spite of the intense gravitational field close to the Event Horizon of the black hole (within which nothing can escape), the enormous pressure of radiation itself, combined with the spin and magnetic field of the black hole, can lead to large fractions of the infalling matter being spat out – often at velocities approaching the speed of light.

Once the outburst had finished, we were able to detect a nebula – a cloud of dust and gases – formed from material expelled by the wind. This phenomenon also helps us to estimate how much mass was ejected through the wind.

These observations are just a small part of the huge dataset collected worldwide during the outburst, and much more remains to be done as it is all thoroughly digested. But it demonstrates the importance of reacting quickly to these events with our most powerful telescopes in order to catch these events. We are now organising to put programmes in place for future events, as the detailed physics of how black holes suck in matter is still very poorly understood.

The Conversation

Phil Charles has received funding from the Science & Technologies Funding Council.

16 May 01:06

Society's biggest problems need more than a nudge

by Joe Arvai, Max McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, and Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, University of Michigan

So-called “nudge units” are popping up in governments all around the world.

The best-known examples include the U.K.’s Behavioural Insights Team, created in 2010, and the White House-based Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, introduced by the Obama administration in 2014. Their mission is to leverage findings from behavioral science so that people’s decisions can be nudged in the direction of their best intentions without curtailing their ability to make choices that don’t align with their priorities.

Overall, these – and other – governments have made important strides when it comes to using behavioral science to nudge their constituents into better choices.

Yet, the same governments have done little to improve their own decision-making processes. Consider big missteps like the Flint water crisis. How could officials in Michigan decide to place an essential service – safe water – and almost 100,000 people at risk in order to save US$100 per day for three months? No defensible decision-making process should have allowed this call to be made.

When it comes to many of the big decisions faced by governments – and the private sector – behavioral science has more to offer than simple nudges.

Behavioral scientists who study decision-making processes could also help policy-makers understand why things went wrong in Flint, and how to get their arms around a wide array of society’s biggest problems – from energy transitions to how to best approach the refugee crisis in Syria.

When nudges are enough

The idea of nudging people in the direction of decisions that are in their own best interest has been around for a while. But it was popularized in 2008 with the publication of the bestseller “Nudge“ by Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago and Cass Sunstein of Harvard.

A common nudge goes something like this: if we want to eat better but are having a hard time doing it, choice architects can reengineer the environment in which we make our food choices so that healthier options are intuitively easier to select, without making it unrealistically difficult to eat junk food if that’s what we’d rather do. So, for example, we can shelve healthy foods at eye level in supermarkets, with less-healthy options relegated to the shelves nearer to the floor.

Likewise, if we want to encourage more people to be organ donors, choice architects can design the form we fill out at the DMV so that the choice we make without thinking is the one that may allow us to save someone’s life in the future.

In my own research group, we lump these kinds of interventions under the umbrella of passive decision support because they don’t require a lot of effort on the part of a decision-maker. Indeed, these approaches are about exploiting - not correcting - the judgmental biases that people bring with them to all manner of decisions, large and small.

Since the publication of “Nudge,” there has been a proliferation of interest in bringing choice architecture into the policy mainstream. Even institutions like the World Bank and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development are rolling out their own nudge units. And, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the private sector has jumped on the increasingly crowded bandwagon of for-profit nudging.

We’ve successfully tested nudges for water conservation and sustainable food choice. Others have applied nudges to an even broader range of contexts. There’s no denying that choice architecture can work like gangbusters, which explains the widespread interest.

Sometimes a nudge isn’t enough

Nudges work for a wide array of choices, from ones we face every day to those that we face infrequently. Likewise, nudges are particularly well-suited to decisions that are complex with lots of different alternatives to choose from. And, they are advocated in situations where the outcomes of our decisions are delayed far enough into the future that they feel uncertain or abstract. This describes many of the big decisions policy-makers face, so it makes sense to think the solution must be more nudge units.

But herein lies the rub. For every context where a nudge seems like a realistic option, there’s at least another context where the application of passive decision support would be either be impossible – or, worse, a mistake.

Take, for example, the question of energy transitions. These transitions are often characterized by the move from infrastructure based on fossil fuels to renewables to address all manner of risks, including those from climate change. These are decisions that society makes infrequently. They are complex. And, the outcomes – which are based on our ability to meet conflicting economic, social and environmental objectives – will be delayed.

But, absent regulation that would place severe restrictions on the kinds of options we could choose from – and which, incidentally, would violate the freedom-of-choice tenet of choice architecture – there’s no way to put renewable infrastructure options at proverbial eye level for state or federal decision-makers, or their stakeholders.

Simply put, a nudge for a decision like this would be impossible. In these cases, decisions have to be made the old-fashioned way: with a heavy lift instead of a nudge.

Often, decisions are more complex

Complex policy decisions like this require what we call active decision support.

In these cases, specialists trained in the science of decision-making must work with people both to help them to overcome predictable biases and to approach decisions in a way that is different from how they might otherwise make them instinctively. To inform and structure these kinds of decisions, we – like choice architects – also look to insights from the behavioral sciences.

For example, we have a rich understanding of the decision-making shortcuts that people apply, as well as of the predictable biases that accompany them. So, we know what to be on the lookout for when we help individuals and groups make better decisions.

When evaluating problems that unfold over long periods of time, we know that people tend not to look at cumulative effects, or consider how choices made today may restrict the choices that can be made in the future.

Likewise, we see that decision-makers struggle with questions about how to put boundaries around the problem before them. For example, who really counts as a legitimate stakeholder, and who doesn’t? Likewise, are there hard deadlines or financial ceilings that must be obeyed? Or are these really soft constraints that can be challenged if the right option can be identified?

We’ve also learned that decision-makers often fail to adequately account for the broad range of objectives that ought to guide their decisions, as well as the performance measures that let them know if they’ve achieved them. And, we know that the manner in which people search for alternatives is often incremental at best. People look to obvious and easy-to-find options, the tendency that nudges exploit, at the expense of the creativity that’s required to address the really complex challenges.

Perhaps worst of all, we observe that people avoid the necessary trade-offs when a choice can’t simultaneously achieve all of the objectives that they deem to be important. It’s often the case that the objectives that push emotional hot buttons, like fear, are the ones we pay the most attention to when trade-offs are difficult or uncomfortable, even if these objectives play a relatively small role in terms of advancing our overall well-being.

Active decision support helps decision-makers to overcome all of these obstacles, as well as others.

Unlike nudging, the intent of active decision support isn’t to direct people toward a specific course of action. It is to structure the decision-making process so that resulting choices are defensible – in other words, in line with our prioritized objectives. For big policies, this includes the deliberate balancing act between social, economic and environmental well-being.

The good news for policy-makers is that a wide range of tools and approaches are available which may help them make more defensible decisions.

Active decision support approaches work by breaking complex decisions into more cognitively manageable parts. And they are desperately needed. The wicked problems faced by society can’t be nudged away. Emergencies like the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the slow violence of climate change cry out for active decision support.

Yet, as governments amass nudge units, and as the private sector adopts a behavioral mindset in their marketing and public relations offices, the need for behavioral insights that support complex decisions goes unmet. Why? Perhaps because active decision support is often seen as something smart, educated people in the pubic and private sectors should be able to do intuitively, on their own. But, the simple truth is, they can’t. And, without investing in building the internal capacity for active decision support, they won’t.

The Conversation

Joe Arvai has received funding from the National Science Foundation to study decision making and decision support. He is a member of the US EPA's Chartered Science Advisory Board, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Board on Environmental Change and Society.

17 May 16:44

Persuading Britain to spend billions on Trident is like convincing a tramp to buy a bazooka

by Frankie Boyle

The government insists we are prepared for cyber attack – but to be honest we’re rarely prepared for snow in winter

I wrote a joke the other day, along the lines of: “Our greatest fear is that we die alone – which is why I intend to take quite a few people with me.” And it would be funnier, I suppose, if it didn’t constitute Britain’s actual policy on defence. It’s hard to make a moral or strategic case for Trident, so its cheerleaders have resorted to metaphor. Trident, we’re told, symbolises Britain’s place in the world. Of course, I understand Cameron saying he thinks Britain is still a great country (talking something up is a good way to get the best price when you’re selling it), but we don’t actually have much sense of history, and don’t really travel, so it seems odd that we’re being told to spend hundreds of billions of pounds projecting a version of ourselves that we barely understand on to people we will never meet. Perhaps Trident is really a symbol of the era of late capitalism, where most things we buy are unnecessary to the point of ludicrousness. Persuading austerity Britain to spend billions on Trident is like convincing a tramp he needs a bazooka.

What is the British way of life? What do we value? Daytime drinking; freedom of speech (for anybody who isn’t joking); a big centre-forward who can hold the ball up; making drunken, sexual online threats to respected academics; hating people from a broadly similar town 30 miles away; watching strangers bake; watching someone we know fail; and whatever the opposite of reading a history book is. I’m not saying it’s all bad, I’m just saying it doesn’t justify heating up a 100 million civilians to a temperature where their shadows catch fire. Perhaps we need to face up to the fact that Britain is becoming a sort of redneck country that doesn’t give a shit about education or health, but needs to have the latest weapons; the renewal of Trident casts Scotland as the wife who has given you one last chance, listening wearily to your story about how you’ve blown the benefits money on booby-trapping the driveway and a new sniper rifle.

Continue reading...
16 May 15:54

May.8 2016 - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver - Scientific Studies on S3E11

May.8 2016 - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver - Scientific Studies on S3E11
11 May 14:00

Le Top 11 des meilleurs méchants dans Power Rangers (Mighty Morphin')

Lucas Vigroux



Terreur Bourgeonnante Un cyclope mi-orchidée mi-cerisier en fleur, dont les pétales sont empoisonnées et qui cherche un endroit chaud où planter ses graines maléfiques. À placer dans un endroit lumineux, arrosage : une fois par jour, apport en engrais : tous les 15 jours.


Goret Goulu Sa mission sur Terre : manger. Pour ce faire, il est doté d'une tête disproportionnée et, bien entendu, d'un casque de centurion.


Requin Mortelius Ce requin-marteau a certes les yeux alignés avec son ventre, ce qui constitue un handicap indéniable pour tout ce qui a trait aux activités que font les requins, MAIS il a l'avantage de pouvoir retirer son aileron dorsal et de s'en servir comme d'un nunchaku.

 Guitardo Le solo de guitare électrique hypnotique de ce cafard va vraiment vous étonner.


Oeil de Lynx Pour 18 paires achetée, la 19ème est à 1€ (monture de valeur inférieure ou égale aux 18 premières, à choisir parmi toutes les collections en magasins).


Le Voleur de Visages Look : ras du cou à piques, bracelets de force et badges à la Johnny Rotten. Équipement de série : giga-langue pour lécher et absorber le visage des gens.


Pinéoctopus Mère : pieuvre - Père : ananas - Aime : les fêtes foraines - N'aime pas : les humains - Pouvoir spécial : transformer les humains en silhouettes 2d faites de carton pâte. 

Citrouille Infernale Cette citrouille qui fait du rap va vraiment vous faire péter un câble.


Artismole Unique et digne représentante de notre nation dans cette série, Artismole est une taupe qui, quand elle ne siffle pas des ballons place du Tertre, tue sans pitié en absorbant les couleurs des gens.


L'huître Maudite 23€ la douzaine, servie avec son pain de seigle maléfique et son chablis de Satan.


Monstre Tombe Les grands accidents de la chirurgie esthétique : Serge rêvait d'avoir le visage d'Arielle Dombasle, mais le docteur a compris "une pierre tombale" parce qu'il passait dans un tunnel.


11 May 08:31

La fureur de vivre


11 May 08:11


09 May 11:22

La police française ou l'escalade de la violence


Merci la PQR.


03 May 08:55


03 May 10:50

The Sharing Economy Doesn’t Share the Wealth

Every time Ian Haines rents out his spare room in the Australian port city of Albany, Airbnb takes a 13 percent cut. Haines, who’s semi-retired, uses the extra money to supplement his income running a local farmers market. He says he’s careful to pay taxes on the Airbnb money, because the San Francisco company may report the transactions to the Australian government.

For Airbnb, things are different. Because it manages its finances via units in Ireland and tax havens like Jersey in the Channel Islands, only a small part of its share of the revenue is ever likely to be taxed by Australia or the U.S. A review of Airbnb’s overseas regulatory filings shows it has a far more extensive web of subsidiaries than it has publicly acknowledged—more than 40 in all.

This is the challenge that Airbnb, like Uber and other companies in the so-called sharing economy, poses for the world’s treasuries. In the five years since these businesses began their spiraling growth, some cities and states around the globe have fought hard to make them play by the same rules as traditional hotels or taxis and collect various local taxes—often as not, they’ve lost. As the new breed of companies moves toward profitability, transforming larger chunks of the economy, policy experts say the battle is likely to shift to the national level, where billions of dollars a year in corporate taxes could be at risk. (A source close to Airbnb says the company will turn its first profit this year.) Governments have been slow to respond.

“These companies are the future,” says Stephen Shay, a former top international tax lawyer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, now teaching at Harvard. “The nature of their business and the structure of the companies can allow them to essentially keep all of their profits out of the U.S. Unless the tax systems find a way to deal with this, the lost revenue may be enormous.”

For years, pharmaceutical and tech companies including Pfizer, Merck, Google, and Apple have slashed their U.S. federal tax bills by using offshore tax havens and shifting profits abroad. Airbnb and Uber are starting to extend this strategy across vast new fields: PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that sharing-economy businesses generated $15 billion in revenue in 2014 and will take in $335 billion in 2025, growing largely at the expense of companies that pay billions in U.S. taxes.

It’s not always a zero-sum game; the newer businesses can expand the overall market. The IRS, which has been depleted by budget cuts and lost several high-profile corporate tax cases, says it hasn’t tried to calculate the potential revenue loss. While Treasury has proposed some measures in recent years to curb tax avoidance by digital companies—on April 4, the department issued rules limiting tax shifting through mergers—partisan division in Congress makes serious changes unlikely.

Airbnb officials declined to discuss tax strategies. “We pay all of the tax that is due in all of the places that we do business,” says spokesman Nick Papas. “When we make long-term business decisions, we act in the best interest of our community.”

Once it makes a profit, Airbnb’s corporate structure will give it an array of options to legally sidestep federal taxes in the U.S. and elsewhere. Two of its subsidiaries are in Ireland, where local tax laws allow U.S. multinationals to avoid both the 35 percent top rate in the U.S. and Ireland’s 12.5 percent income tax.

Money from Airbnb transactions in 190 countries, including Haines’s rentals in Australia, goes directly to a payment center in Ireland. Airbnb collects 6 percent to 12 percent of the rental price, depending on cost, then deducts 3 percent from the host’s take before passing the money along. This lets Airbnb shield most of its profit from the country where the service was delivered. (Airbnb Ireland pays the Australian subsidiary a small fee for marketing in-country, and the subsidiary pays tax on its profits.)

Irish law makes it easy for multinationals to shift profits to tax havens by assigning valuable intellectual-property rights there. Airbnb has two subsidiaries, Airbnb International Holdings and Airbnb 2 Unlimited, on Jersey, which has no corporate tax. Tax experts say that if Airbnb assigns its software IP to a Jersey unit, the company could shift much of the profit to the haven through royalty payments from its Irish subsidiary. Pharma and tech companies have used similar strategies to cut their overall tax rates to the low single digits.

The Australian Senate called local managers to testify alongside Uber in November at a public hearing on corporate tax avoidance. Sam McDonagh, Airbnb’s country manager there, testified that taxes never motivate the company’s strategic choices. “The No. 1 reason we located ourselves in Ireland was for access to great talent,” McDonagh said. The response from one of the senators: “Come on!”

Whatever Airbnb’s motivation, the result is tax-minimizing options unavailable to traditional competitors. While Airbnb doesn’t own the properties rented on its site, it lists about 2 million rooms—as many as the Wyndham, Hilton, and Marriott chains combined. Those three hoteliers averaged a combined annual profit of $2.3 billion from 2013 to 2015, according to their Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year in U.S. federal taxes.

Uber processes payments for rides outside the U.S. through the Netherlands, a company official testified at the hearing in Australia. Last fall, Fortune reported that, according to presentations to investors, Uber had assigned its IP to the tax haven of Bermuda, leaving less than 2 percent of its net revenue taxable by the U.S.

Outside the U.S., there have been a few recent attempts to crack down on corporate tax avoidance. In January the U.K. instituted the “Google Tax,” a 25 percent levy on any profit deemed improperly diverted, and Ireland began eliminating some loopholes, including the infamous “Double Irish,” last year. Google says it’s not subject to the Google Tax, and accountants are already pitching comparable alternatives to the Double Irish in Malta and the United Arab Emirates.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is crafting more technical ways to block profit shifting. “We can debate whether most of the value of a platform is created in Silicon Valley, where it was developed, or in Ireland, where it is managed, or wherever the service is delivered,” says Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the OECD Tax Centre. “You cannot reasonably argue that value is created in the tax haven where the platform’s only presence is a shell company.”

As home to most of the big companies involved and the only major country that taxes its multinationals’ worldwide income, the U.S. likely has the most at stake. In deadlocked Washington, the Obama administration’s proposals have included a minimum tax of 19 percent on U.S. corporations’ global earnings, regardless of whether the money ends up in the U.S., as well as stricter limits on deferral of overseas income and use of corporate structures that leave some income untaxed by any country.

“At some point, something has to be done,” says Reuven Avi-Yonah, an international tax professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “We just have to hope that it happens before too much revenue is lost.”

The bottom line: Airbnb’s more than 40 subsidiaries may help the company lower its tax bill in the U.S. and other countries.

29 Apr 04:00


(1) That shopping cart is full of AirHeads, and (2) I died at 41 from what the AirHeads company spokesperson called 'probably natural causes.'
29 Apr 06:35



28 Apr 09:38

Random couscous snaps into beautiful patterns

Lucas Vigroux

We've all seen some variation of this but this one has nice explanations. Also the best title. Saved for (much) later so my hypothetical children will think I'm God.

Visit my blog here: Follow me on twitter here: Buy nerdy maths things here:
27 Apr 14:09

Une pompe à savon qui ravira petits et grands

27 Apr 13:17

La B.O. d'Aliens, le retour en sang de xenomorph

Lucas Vigroux



Vous kiffez terriblement la B.O. d'Aliens, le retour composée par James Horner et avez toujours caressé le rêve secret qu'un jour, dans le futur, quelqu'un parviendrait à presser ce vinyle avec du sang de xenomorph ? Ne rêvez plus, le futur est arrivé : Curtis Godino vient de réaliser votre vieux fantasme. Manque de bol pour vous, les 75 exemplaires de cette merveille ont été sold-out au bout de deux secondes de mise en vente ; à vous de surveiller frénétiquement eBay pour espérer mettre la main dessus.





26 Apr 10:44

Why the Renaissance man – and woman – is making a comeback

by Lee Scott, Subject Leader in Creative Computing

As anyone who has visited the London Science Museum’s current exhibition will know, Leonardo da Vinci is famed as an artist, mathematician, inventor, writer … the list goes on. He was a figure who did not see disciplines as a chequerboard of independent black and white tiles, but a vibrant palette of colour ready to be combined harmoniously and gracefully. Today, the polymath may seem like a relic of the past. But with an emerging drive towards interdisciplinarity in research and across the tech and creative sectors, the Renaissance man – and woman – is making a comeback.

Not just an artist: Leonardo’s studies of the foetus in the womb.

Often cited as the archetypal “Renaissance man”, Leonardo came from an era in which the well-rounded individual, prolific and curious of mind, was highly valued. A comprehensive education was the marker of a gentleman. Universities were seats of broad learning, tasked with preparing future apprentices by encouraging them to interrogate and question many aspects of science, philosophy, theology and the arts.

The typical contemporary university is rather different. Targeted learning dominates today, particularly in the UK. Students are forced to specialise earlier and earlier – to be a doctor before you’re 30, you’ll need to know that you want to practice medicine by the time you’re 16. Undergraduate students are trying desperately to align themselves with what seems like a universal drive towards hyper-specialism. A 2015 report by Universities UK, revealed a boom in higher education entrants pursuing specialised subject areas such as business and administration studies, engineering and the biological sciences. In the same year, combined award degree enrolment saw a sharp decline of 54%.

This is perhaps to be expected. Incoming students are simply responding to a professional world that is extremely competitive, and so see hyperspecialism as a way of distinguishing themselves from the crowd. But monomath ubiquity has its pitfalls.

Within the sciences, experts quickly get out of touch with content beyond their immediate area and become siloed. Within the arts, those who gravitate towards a single practice such as creative writing, acting or photography often sidestep the benefits that multidisciplinarity lends to creativity. Super focused, one-track graduates run the risk of slipping off the career ladder should they wish or need to transition between fields in years to come.

The contemporary polymath

Individuals who set out to be proficient at many things are rare. Practitioners who cross the arts/sciences chasm seem few and far between. But this is unlikely to be true for much longer when we consider that some of the fastest growing and most influential fields of research – such as global sustainability or bioinformatics – straddle, distort and even disregard traditional discipline boundaries. Take “serious games”, a category of game design that attempts to solve real world problems. With applications in education, psychology, the military, archiving and healthcare, it is easy to appreciate the value of a serious games developer who can operate fluidly across multiple subject areas.

For new economies to emerge, and breakthroughs to be made, we need multi-specialised lateral thinkers who can connect the dots in unexpected ways. We need contemporary Leonardos. We need 21st century polymaths.

Tech companies such as Google understand this, and look for ways to expose their employees to methods of thinking that fall outside their immediate experience. Talks at Google was launched precisely for this reason. The programme invites fantasy writers, top chefs, fringe comedians, and popular musicians into Google HQ to talk about their art.

Last year saw Micheal Moore critiquing US international strategy in “Where to Invade Next”, cast members of the West End’s The Illusionist revealing insights into the world of magic, and Magnus Nilsson sharing the nuances of Nordic food culture. Talks at Google serves as a forum for internal enrichment, with an expectation that encountering the myriad ways in which the minds of its presenters are wired will jolt its employees into thinking outside of the box.

This sort of cross-pollination isn’t limited to the tech giants either. It’s a big deal in research. Major UK and EU funding bodies such as Horizon 2020 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council prioritise interdisciplinary collaboration, looking favourably on bids that cut across fields of study. Some of this year’s “hot themes” that bring together scientists, designers, artists and technologists collide virtual reality with heritage, smart device app development with healthcare, and big data with climatology. The success of such research relies on open minded, inquisitive people who know enough about one another’s disciplines to find meaningful points of synergy.

Our universities should strive to nurture this type of individual. One that rejects the frankly artificial confines that currently exist. One that has the ability to identify novel resonances between disciplines that others just don’t see.

Polymathism in the 21st century is no longer about “mastering” multiple fields of study, nor is it about being a generalist. It’s about acquiring a set of critical attributes that allow one to excel across subject areas as opportunities occur, and to negotiate interdisciplinary collaboration with a critical eye, and an informed outlook.

The Conversation

Lee Scott does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

25 Apr 12:17

"Nantes: Mécontent de la quiche aux épinards, il tente de faire la peau à sa belle-fille"

“Nantes: Mécontent de la quiche aux épinards, il tente de faire la peau à sa belle-fille”

- 20Minutes (à cause de Patrick)
25 Apr 11:22


Lucas Vigroux

Belle qualité de masque

gnMm9TlUn trio aperçu à Monsterpalooza

25 Apr 08:28

A chacun ses fantasmes mon bon monsieur


21 Apr 14:24


Lucas Vigroux

oh oui! Qualité NRF


Un montage prestige posté par la discothèque O'Klub pour promouvoir sa soirée spéciale sextoys. Ne manquez pas ce rendez-vous.

(Merci à Florentin pour la suggestion)

19 Apr 07:50

Faites des gosses


18 Apr 09:24

Comédien, ce métier méconnu

Lucas Vigroux


14 Apr 14:56

Mimi Cracra l'eau elle aime ça


#mackenzievswater 🙋💦 updated compilation

Une vidéo publiée par Mackenzie Stith (@mackenziestith) le

13 Apr 17:00

Ding dong


10 Apr 18:55

Et bonne nuit à tous

Lucas Vigroux

Gloire au tenebreux Cthulhu!