The Science of David

David has been a popular name for ages, and according to Wikipedia includes over 3% of the American population(!) So perhaps I shouldn't be terribly surprised by the amusing discovery I made last year:

If you want a postdoc position in Astronomy,  you should be named David.

This was the result of a simple "word cloud" investigation of the ever important Astronomy Rumor Mill. At the end of winter quarter last year (my records indicate it was March 10th, 2011) I simply copied the present state of the Rumor Mill text into Wordle and made the following word cloud:

I love word clouds (aka word histograms or wordle's), not because they report precise/quantifiable data, but because they (can) convey both real data and an emotional context. A word cloud captures the soul of a topic, and to me reads like beautiful free-form poetry.

Perhaps a better example of this emotional context is what I made a few years ago. I searched Google for "fraternity" and copied the text from the first 5 or 6 pages into a single Wordle:

It reads like Greek-system advertisement, or maybe a mid-life politician's therapy session, and that's exactly why they (word clouds) make great figures! You can look at it and say "this confirms all my worst fears about the maniacal delusion of Greek life", or you can see in it "this system trains the community leaders of tomorrow". I guess the result, as with all statistics and data presentation, is in the context given.

So back to David, and his apparently prolific status in our field.

Wordle gives the useful feature of returning the actual data on words and their frequency of use, but alas I lost the text file... There's not enough hours in the day to fully exploit the interesting data contained in the Rumor Mill. It is a living study in the culture, anthropology, and psychology of an entire generation of Astronomers & Astrophysicists. It contains much of our hope and fear, jealousy and joy. You would think people as smart as we would abandon such a tortuous, biased, and unreliable source for job information. Self-worth is invested almost completely in our job and status in the field, and we'd love to think it rooted in the merit of our work, that our colleagues will read our papers earnestly and judge us to be worthy of acclaim. This evidently was the case for David last year.

Good luck to my many friends on the job hunt this year. I hope to see all your names, big and bold, in the next Rumor Mill word cloud, and pray all the David's got hired last time!!!

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