09 October 2014

Nobel Prize Disappointments

Okay, so the guy who invented dynamite left behind a pile of money to fund annual prizes in all sorts of stuff, including Physics and Chemistry, and lots of other stuff too.  But as we all know “Deciders” are fallible--after all, the Nobel Deciders gave Peace prizes to Al Gore and Yasser Arafat. (Seriously.)

This year they gave a prize so some guys whose expertise was in “super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”

Apparently there is nobody on the Nobel Committee who lives in the real world, where a pressing scientific issue remains unresolved. Indeed, as far as I know, it is unstudied.

Let me give you an example of the problem:  I like to fish.  I like being on the water, looking at sky, the birds, the sun reflecting on the sea. The visuals, along with the fresh air, the distinctive marine smell, all combine to flood the brain with chemicals and/or electrical charges that induce a sense of well-being.  This phenomenon is not unique to me--my scientific analysis (don’t ask) reveals millions who feel the same way.

Why? I dunno.

While the sights and smells of the sea make me happy, catching fish makes me even happier.  Indeed, sometimes the failure to accomplish the latter trumps the positives of the former.  So catching fish is important. As important as super-resolved fluorescence microscopy?   I can't tell, but I do know it is important.

So here is the scene: I, along with other supporters of the multi-million dollar recreational and commercial fishery, am out there drifting at a recognized “spot.”  There are lots of “fish spots” off Montauk Point, and while I am pledged to maintain their precise lat/lon locations as a Snowden-proof secret from civilians, their names are reportable.  You can just taste the salt at the mention of “The Slot”, “The Elbow” , “The Pollack Rip”, and holy of holies, “The Ledge.”

So, you ask, “If you know where the fish are, what’s the problem?  Why don’t you just go to a ‘spot’ and catch em?”  

Because, ya see, when I get there, “The bite isn’t on.”  When does “the bite” come on? No one knows. A great mystery.  I am an amateur. There are guys out there who support their families doing this, who have learned to fish from their fathers and their father’s fathers, and they don’t know either. So you go to “the spot”, where sometimes you can actually see the critters on the sonar screen, you offer the most delectable baits, jigs, parachutes, tubes, umbrellas, whatever, and nothing happens. The bite is not “on.”  The tide is right, water temperature is dead on, the moon is full, the fishermen are doing everything short of dropping one of Mr. Nobel’s dynamite sticks in the water, and nada. Fuhgeddaboudit. You might as well be dropping your line in your bathtub.

But sometimes, while you are thinking about boogieing back to the marina because another part of your brain starts to hear the clink of ice cubes in a glass, without warning, things change, the fish “stack up” in a spot, and attack everything in sight. A feeding frenzy. You can see bent rods, hear the exciting whoops and hollers, the word is out and boats from miles away come roaring the "spot", and for half-hour or an hour or so, hundreds of fish cross the gunnels.  Then calm. “The bite” is over. Off. Done. Finished. Back to bathtub fishing.

So why? What makes torpid fish suddenly decide to attack every lure and piece of bait in the neighborhood?  Is there some sort of electrical charge that zaps through the salt water? Or perhaps some chemical release from a bed of seaweed or a school of bait fish? A minute surge or dip in gravitational pull?  Perhaps an invisible (to us, anyway) “fluorescence”?  And importantly, how can one predict the event?

I propose a boycott of Nobel prizes until the Committee announces that it will give a prize (could be Peace, Chemistry, or Physics, any will do) to the team that comes up with the answers.  

Mind you, I do not want the successful scientists to announce it to the world. Just tell me. I will tell the Nobel Committee they have succeeded. Trust me.

A bientot.