Month: August 2013

Stretching Newton’s Third Law to apply to Banking?

In an article in the ABA Banking Journal, Patrick Ward invokes Newton’s third law of motion to help ALCOs think about risk in their investments: Sir Isaac Newton, Laws of Motion, and Banking Capital. According to Ward:

Conceptually, Sir Isaac’s third law applies to the current Federal Reserve policies, interest rates, and banks’ investment portfolios–specifically, the unrealized gains or losses within an institution’s Available for Sale (AFS) portfolio.

Clearly invoking the scientific authority of “Sir Isaac” does some work for Ward and the ABA. Unfortunately, the example Ward (or perhaps an editor at the ABA Banking Journal) uses to illustrate Newton’s third law is a poor choice (a better illustration of Newton’s third law might be this sled video).

A kitschy financial version of a Newton’s Cradle is used to illustrate Newton’s third law of motion.
A kitschy financial illustration of a Newton’s Cradle.

Although many readers of the ABA Banking Journal probably have a Newton’s Cradle somewhere in their office, that quintessential executive toy does not really demonstrate Newton’s third law by showing that “for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.” Instead, a Newton’s Cradle comes closer to showing the conservation of momentum.

It is unclear how Newton’s third law, variously described as a theory and an analogy, or the conservation of momentum apply to banking investments. It probably doesn’t really matter, “Sir Isaac” confers social and cultural cachet.

Outreach for Science Journalism?

In a conversation with Ann Finkbeiner Dan Vergano offers some interesting and provocative thoughts on the science ghetto. One of his points seems to be that science journalism has not made a case for its relevance to broader news stories. Unfortunately, he suggests, by concentrating on “gee-whiz stuff” science writers have contributed the marginalization of science journalism and the exclusion of science from broader societal debates. He is calling for science journalists to justify their work by making it relevant to non-science journalists. While the comments challenge various claims, too few engage with this issue. Simply repeating that science is important and affects all of us is clearly not sufficient. Nor is labeling other people too ignorant about science to appreciate its importance particularly useful—both these approaches have failed miserably for faculty in the humanities, as the most recent epidemic of handwringing demonstrates. What would genuine outreach look like for science journalism and science writing?