Well, I'm off of the ice, out of Antarctica. Back to Christchurch, definitely becoming a familiar town for me. A favorite Indian place, a favorite Thai restaurant, and I even found a Halloween costume for next year. Am waiting for a seat on an airplane flying north, to Auckland, and then on to LAX. Haven't been any seats the last couple of days, but hopefully tomorrow...
Though it's a beautiful, green place to stay, I miss people back in the states. And I have to start teaching again in a few days.
IceStock was held yesterday, though it was windy and bit colder during the day. The ANITA payload is still traveling on its merry, and rather bizarre, course. Back over some ice again, so the current data should be okay. Will bag drag tonight, get weighed and get my luggage into the aircraft packing system.
Probably back in the US by the end of the week. Will be good to see those little gals again!
The Christmas celebration is going be this evening, the 24th in McMurdo time, and the 23rd back in the States. The third payload is getting ready to launch. What else is there to report? We rotated the polarization angle of the Seavey by 20 degrees a few minutes ago...
Amended on the 25th, local time: We had a big Christmas dinner last night, lobster tails and Beef Wellington. Then a lot of wine at the coffee shop/wine bar. This morning, back to work.
I'm headed to Antarctica on less than 12 hours notice. Should be fun, but missing the holidays is pretty sad. But the holiday spirit isn't tied to a calendar date, right?
The ANITA balloon-borne experiment that I work on, is awaiting launch in Antarctica. You can watch the progress here. More soon!
new materials and physical measurements for better acoustic instruments. Had students demonstrating cheap, good, and excellent violins in class back at Penn State. You could hear, feel, and measure the differences. Beautiful stuff.
...they're interested in the increasingly-passable Northwest Passage. The UN climate talks have been looking at the cultural damage that will be inflicted by the ongoing climate change.
Yeah, I know, we're losing two wars at the moment, our rights are under constant threat, and we're dearly hoping that there will be a fair election in the United States, so we're a bit distracted. But, there are some other serious matters to consider...global climate change in particular.
The UK government report from today indicates that we have only a slight chance of avoiding dangerous levels of greenhouse gases in the near future. The economic benefit of dealing with this problem sooner rather than later are also detailed. The Brits are also looking to see why the environment isn't a big issue here at the moment. It's the wars. Let's also note the effect of global climate change on the severity of Atlantic hurricanes and the fact that the world is as hot as its been in 12 000 years.
Dubya's new ranch of 98,000 acres in Paraguay. Okay, here is where it gets weird. Is that his little hiding spot to avoid prosecution for war crimes? Of does the 2.2 mile long runway (look on google earth) mean he's moving full-time into the cocaine exporting racket? Weirder still is the connection with the Moonies and their purchase of land in the same area. Okay, and then the Jenna connection? Too strange for words.
Politics is probably a better category than physics and astronomy, alas. The new Bushie space policy was announced. It's all about Moon, Mars, beyond, and "access to space." Okay, that's maybe partly complaining about Chinese laser illumination of US satellites (look it up!) and maybe also about a nuclear rocket? What do you think, time to resurrect Project Rover/NERVA? Wait, here it is! Triton from my Dad's old employer, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft.
Additional scary bits? "The policy calls upon the Secretary of Defense to..." Yup, Rummy gets to decide that Astronauts go into space with the food they have, not the food they want. Or air.
Son of Star Wars. Hmmm...filthy lucre...
Interestingly, the yield is in considerable debate. With a quake magnitude of 4.2 (USGS), I can't derive a yield as low as the South Korean claim of 550-800 tons (TNT equivalent). Such a yield would either be a fizzle (if it has a sharp leading edge in time) or a hoax (using a LOT of chemical explosives). For magnitude 4.2, I get a yield of kilotons, though it depends a lot on geological conditions for which I don't know how to compensate or calculate.
Thumbing around the web, I find Jane's Defense Weekly agrees that it needs to be "2-12 kton" to match up with the 4.2 magnitude. The Russians 5-15 kton. Other reports come in with lower figures and possible fizzles.
Some of the same folks bankrolling the "scientific" opposition to them. What a strange world!
Who would have ever guessed? Wal-Mart is launching a plan to try to sell 100 million compact fluorescent lightbulbs to its customers. This sort of scale distribution could have a quite measurable energy-use reduction nationwide! (Horrible confession: I have a stack of CFLs that I haven't installed yet. I know, I know, but I just haven't gotten to it.)
Spring is arriving 6-8 days on average earlier than it did 30 years ago and Autumn about 3 days later. I think those are more striking figures than the 1-2 degrees of temperature change. We have a week's work of change at the beginning of the summer and 1/2 a week at the end.
Lawrence Krauss has a decent, albeit brief editorial in the New York Times after the Kansas School Board skewed back towards reality. I'm not sure in what forum his disagreement over "scientifically inappropriate attempts by some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others" appeared. Will have to take a look. Though I can see tactically why scientists might feel that, I think that it is hypocritical to argue for a reasoned, scientific approach in all matters other than other people's theology. The logical holes are there along with the incoherence of major religions, their ahistoricality, and their pernicious nature in practice (and perhaps in theory). I see little benefit in doing this, but little harm either. Deeply-held beliefs, whether sensible or not, are not likely to be changed by simple logic.
Just the other day, we see an evolving piece of the religious attack on reason and science. Due to a "clerical" (hmmm...that has two meanings...) error, evolutionary biology has disappeared from a federal list of university majors approved for federal student grants. Yup, follow the link and you can still (8/25/06) see the missing line, a blank line, for 26.1303. What a coincidence.
> Defense Labs and National Labs: the political forces are too strong for blue-sky research to happen there.
Definately take the politics out - I once worked in defence research lab, specialising in weapons technology. My pet area is killing groups of people as quickly as possible (outdoor specialist). My team came up with some breakthrough ideas, but the g-men said it was too abstract, too blue sky, too arty-farty.
It pretty much came down to "it can kill lots of people, but unless it can start production in my state next quarter and be killing brown people within the year, it's a no-go.", my favourite excuse (shot down because the office favourite's conventional design had a cool looking model): "Your laser is great, the people are out of the way, but now the oil fields on fire.".
Get politics out of war!
I laughed, I cried, and I closed the webpage.
As consumers we gave the telecoms the money to do this during the Clinton years. They pocketed the money, told the FCC to get lost, and give us DSL. The French are doing something rather different. And everyone else gets the cool cell phones too!
Though it has seemed to me to be inherently a silly topic, this article at least has fun with it. And the Superman movie? I thought it was incoherent with just a few good visuals. Though the drive-in experience is always good. Without a few beers, I suspect the movie would have been duller.
Okay, truth be told, he's had several presidential moments and we all know that's a few more than the current occupier of the oval office. Still, what to say about An Inconvenient Truth? I saw the movie over the weekend and came away with a string of opinions and a fear that someone would note that I had driven to the movie theater rather than walked...
Dealt with a healthy dose of skepticism, after all if Ed Teller supports it, it's not likely to be a good idea. Still, in good American fashion it would be the technological solution that would let the good-old boys drive their gas guzzlers.
That saves money, right? For a while, then you find yourself without new innovation and technology. But all of that was going to be improved with those tax cuts for the superwealthy, right? :)
At Patently Silly dot com. The cordless jump rope (why bother?) and the "cylindrical object" (rock) skipping on water are my current favorites. Another beautiful demonstration of (some) failures of the patent system.
,a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4974542.stm>As water absorbs microwaves relatively well.
We're doing nuclear physics in the class I'm teaching at the moment. There's been a lot of news recently in the public fights over the deathtoll (the UN vs. Greenpeace estimates for example).
It's clear now how the Iraq distraction has harmed us in the pursuit of bin Laden, with North Korea's nuclear weapons, and now with the standoff with Iran. The US is immeaurably weaker today than when Bush decided to launch a war of aggression with Iraq.
Previously the gamblers had badly underestimated the chances of scientific answers to a number of interesting, outstanding questions. Of particular note is the now 4:1 odds on the discovery of the source of the highest energy cosmic rays.
We all know the shuttle and the space station are disasters and that science and exploration (by unmanned crafts) are the way ahead. This article also argues for an Earth-centric NASA mission. Studying the planet from space. Certainly the anti-environmentalist loonies in the Bush regime don't want to see much of the Mission to Planet Earth results, but as the article notes, the science would return significantly after the end of Dubya's constitutional terms.
The Hall of Shame of scientists and journalists seduced by the money of the CO2 lobby. Hey, wait a second, instead of a living wage doing physics, could I too get money from the coal lobbies? I could mumble about solar cycles or something and try to minimize the crisis. Wait, that would be wrong.
"Intelligent observers see a cow in this picture."
Next week's New Yorker has an article from Seymour Hersh claiming the US is getting quite close to making a decision of military action in Iran. That article is being referenced around the world noting that the use of nuclear weapons is under consideration.
What a surprise! No effect if the prayer subject doesn't know about it, and a slight negative effect if they do know about it. Truly I think we could have used some simple logic to show this as well.
The Nature study which compared the Wikipedia and Britannica is criticized by the latter party. It's an interesting business, was looking at the pdf's from both organizations attacking and defending the study (follow links at the Beeb site to find this bits). No conclusions from me exactly, but there certainly looked like an intellectual divide as much as anything else. See what you think.
The City Pages here locally has an excellent article on the bird flu which is clearer than anything I had previously read about the real risks and issues with the H5N1 virus. Important reading I think.
NPR devoted an hour recently to nuclear power, though it wasted some of that time with a cold fusion bit. Got to have that "on one side" and "on the other" thing going.
I'm certainly in favor of sensible ways of cutting back greenhouse gases which would include nuclear power, but a British panel looking into this concluded that building new plants would not yield a significant carbon dioxide benefit to outweigh its risks. It's an interesting argument---the risks included not only the obvious, and vexing, long-term waste problem but also the rigid hierarchical power-distribution structure from nuclear power at a time when micro-generation seems to be increasing.
It's a pretty weird tale of an author tired of exhausting book signing tours. And a science fiction solution.
They aren't especially significant transmissions, but there still something quite cool with finally deciphering these M4 Enigma transmissions. Let me also note, that since I went through a phase a year or two ago when I did quite a bit of reading on the U-Boat operations during World War II, that the "knife-edge" of victory over the German submarines is a myth.
Even when the Germans were winning, they were barely able to sink ships faster than they were being built, and they never were intercepting more than a percent or so of the ships bound for England. Clay Blair's two volumes (Hunters (1939-1942) and are certainly the definitive works on the Battle of the Atlantic. No knife-edge. No near thing. The U-Boats were suicidal operations by 1942 and even when they were most successful, were a small effect. There never were enough submarines to have a serious effect on British transport. And with the radar and cipher advantages, and by 1942 with the US also in the war, the contest was extremely uneven.
A good piece in the NYTs on emails to professors about their class and learning. I've definitely been struggling to deal with the volume of email from a large lecture class.
Discussion of your first computer. First computer I used, TRS-80 Model I, first one I saw someone use, Altair.
Read through the BBC coverage of the new global climate change report. The Greenland ice may be more perilously balanced at low dT than previously thought.
So, I was walking home from school, we had had exams that day and I was finished for the day. When I got home my mother had heard it on the radio. I remember the next day watching the footage again and again in school and noticing when someone decided to add the explosion sound to the tape. It wasn't delayed at all. You saw the explosion and heard the bang. I remember that faking of the news video almost as much as the whole tragedy at NASA sort of thing. Columbia bothered me a lot more---probably by being closer to NASA and the space program at that later date, and also understanding it as the end of the era. (Or maybe of the error of the shuttle.)
Maybe coming to America sometime soonish... Once the last memories of GM's attempt at diesel cars in the early 1980s is completely erased.
The "dark energy is evolving" results and discussion in blog format. An interesting approach to the science.
2005 was warmest Northern Hemisphere year on record. Second hottest worldwide.
Highest CO2 levels in the past 2/3 million years. Some correlation or connection, 'ya think?
As the Gulf Stream may be a time-evolving phenomena. Remember how far north Europe is?
Finally! The study that we've all been waiting for. How effective are tinfoil hats at blocking the government's mind control and mind reading radio frequencies? Not very is the word! Back to the drawing board. Perhaps ferrite plates and absorber foam are in fact required.
Probably anyway. The Kuiper Belt appears more interesting and complicated than before.
Beautifully filmed destruction. Sort of like a Republican-friendly Survival Research Labs performance. Sort of.
The autonomously driven vehicle in the desert race (ADVITDR) has been successfully completed. Remember last year's race with no one gettting anywhere at all? Anyway, check out some of the details:
Less Arctic ice again this year. The graph speaks for itself. On the plus side, the Arctic ice is mostly floating ice so it won't affect sea levels. Bangladeshis worry about the south polar regions rather than the north.
What did you use as your Algebra text? Though he was more famous for his files and politics than for the books except within the math community.
The big news for civilian users is the second frequency for non-military use. It'll help resolve ionospheric propagation errors and improve accuracy as a result.
They've escaped from the lab with a strain of plague. Yup, the plague.
This woman rides her motorcycle through the death zone around the Chernobyl reactor. She has a radiation meter and understands what she is doing.
She claims that about 3500 people have moved back into the death zone, but that only about 400 of those folks are still alive. (A much higher death toll, right there, than my earlier mention.) Other sources say that no more than 1200 people moved in, most of those people moved back out. (By the way, there are claims that Elena Filatova's story, the motorcycle in the death zone, is at least partly fake. Or even more than partially faked.)
A total death toll of tens of thousands are claimed by the motorcyclist and by the Chernobyl.info site. The cleanup workers, the liquidators, would have been the largest group of potentially harmed people. This group numbered about 650,000 in some estimates. Far fewer in others.
Body count? The UN says 56 as of 2005, 47 workers and 9 children who died due to thyroid cancer. (See wikipedia for example, or the previous link in my blog.) Greenpeace and others contest those numbers. The truth? No idea right now.
At a z=6.29 detected by Swift and then followed up by ground-based telescopes.
The Guardian has a good article on the good, bad, and ugly of science presented in the press. They have generally been doing a good job on their webpages detailing some of the bad science they see each week.
Far fewer deaths than expected. Important notes: no increased rate of leukemia, only 9 out of 2000 thyroid cancers have been fatal, total of 50 deaths (reactor workers and firefighters), and fatalism due to overestimating the medical effects may have been a much larger medical effect. Though I'm sure this will be latched onto by the nuclear industry, it remains a strong statement that the effects were terrible (18 mile exclusion zone and all) but not as bad as predicted by the experts whose quotes were shocking enough to get themselves press coverage.
Some of my friends have been commenting negatively on this report. Is it contradiction with information available right after the disaster? Some reports at that time indicated that a much larger number of people had died already at that point. Sometime when I have a chance to look more into this...
Correction/ammendment: see 9/15/05 entry
Who would have guessed that a new report in Lancet describing the worthlessness of homeopathy would get a lot of press? Does anyone really believe in this nonsense? Oh wait, I've seen homeopathic "medicines" in my drug store.
Good coverage at the New Scientist. We're getting a better overall picture gradually on this worst natural disaster in modern times. (I think it is...hmmm...can't think of anything worse.)
The continuing story of how we define this country. Whose country? Whose ideas? Which freedoms? Which path? The BBC reporting on the growing number of scientists concerned about the anti-science being pushed by the religious leaders of the US. There's so much back material to this. What happens when I mention that I do physics for example. Comments of "I did badly in math" or the like are really the most typical connection. Add in a virulently anti-modernist agenda from the right-wing theocrats-in-waiting, and you have the current situation in the States. (Don't believe that the Intelligent Design and related attacks are a planned afront to rationalism? Read their own "Wedge Plan.")
Does it make sense to quote the "founding fathers?" Of course one could find rival quotation I suppose.
"It is owing to this long interregnum of science, and to no other cause, that we have now to look back through a vast chasm of many hundred years to the respectable characters we call the Ancients. Had the progression of knowledge gone on proportionably with the stock that before existed, that chasm would have been filled up with characters rising superior in knowledge to each other; and those Ancients we now so much admire would have appeared respectably in the background of the scene. But the christian system laid all waste; and if we take our stand about the beginning of the sixteenth century, we look back through that long chasm, to the times of the Ancients, as over a vast sandy desert, in which not a shrub appears to intercept the vision to the fertile hills beyond." - Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man. They are still so in many countries and even in some of these United States. Even in 1783, we doubted the stability of our recent measures for reducing them to the footing of other useful callings. It now appears that our means were effectual." - Thomas Jefferson, 1800
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution." - James Madison, 1785
"As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the Word of God, that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary; but I know you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible; and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the case. You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is, that all are infidels who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New." [...] "It is often said in the Bible that God spake unto Moses, but how do you know that God spake unto Moses? Because, you will say, the Bible says so. The Koran says, that God spake unto Mahomet, do you believe that too? No. Why not? Because, you will say, you do not believe it; and so because you do, and because you don't is all the reason you can give for believing or disbelieving except that you will say that Mahomet was an impostor. And how do you know Moses was not an impostor?" - Thomas Paine, 1797
The march of science is relentless. More seriously, this is a great little gadget for medical test kits and the like. Maybe even usable for survival situations? Though the power is very low for anything even vaguely transmitter-like.
Travel for lack of a better suggested category.
Bombay, Bollywood, Monsoon season. It was quite an experience seeing the city shortly after the huge, killer floods. Garbage, sewage, and water all over the streets. But not over all of the streets. And no longer waist or neck deep.
- saw about 1/2 hour of a Bollywood flick at a little shack/street vendor...ate samosas there and watched the film...looked like he was stealing electricity for the TV with a bunch of tangled wires running down from a building...I am going to get the plague I fear, but the food was good!
- speaking of food...Indian food...yup, it's one of the luxuries of the US I think...we get good food of most every type (okay, I know, we also have some really crappy food, but we have good stuff of most types available)...so the good Indian food I've had here is not too different from good Indian food in the US...Udupi in Minneapolis for example
- my hotel in Bombay (or Mumbai, we can talk about those politics some other time) also tried to do "English breakfast" with limited success...they had potatoes with "paprika" but the paprika was some truly hot pepper...tasty, but not exactly what was planned I think...and it's hard to picture some older Brit biting into a four alarm breakfast
- Garlic Naan, yay!
- Politics also...what to say? It definitely feels evil to stay in a nice hotel, drink bottled water, type on a laptop, while outside people slop around in sewage, live on the sidewalks, scrounge for a basic existence. Of course that's true whether I'm here visiting or not. Whether I'm in my first world home in the States or my substitute first world hotel home in India. But what to do about it?
- The meeting looks a bit muddled at this point. There's no posted schedule. In theory there will be transportation tomorrow AM to the meeting leaving from the hotel. No one seems to know about that.
"For the next ten years of a now 28 year business career, I hid my mathematics background. It wasn't shame or embarassment that inspired my actions, as I am quite proud of my achievements in the discipline and feel strongly that mathematics is a major contributor to all of my business accomplishments. No it was the knowledge, based on experience, that talking about mathematics with those not steeped in the discipline would steer a business conversation away from business and onto an entirely different plane.
What was the conversation? I am sure you have had it.
Person 1: Dr. Schaar, I appreciated your comment on education policy and the role that corporations can play in long-range programs. You seem to have a such a deep understanding of what educators want and need. What is your background?
Schaar: I am a mathematician and taught at the university level for several years.
Person 1: Oh, I was never any good at math. Hated the subject actually. I never could figure out how I would use it after school and didn't get along with my teacher...
I do not have to continue. But over the years I began to realise that there was somethign hidden in Person 1's remarks. There was an insinuation that Person 1's non-mastery of mathematics was a non-issue. She was a successful business person in spite of it. So there! Her lack of matery was validated by the business world, and also by her peers, who eagerly confessed their lack of mathematical savvy as if it invited entry into a secret club. These same leaders trumped their abilities in the business world, while downplaying the significance mathematics played in the equation"
From "Mathematics in Public" by Dr. Richard Schaar, AMS Notices August 2005.
Google moon is now available. It's a pretty impressive use of mapping software and a web front-end and a nice tribute to the 20th anniversary of the landing. Also check out this site which also allows you to explore the landing sites. Watch for the lunar rover trails... And don't forget Earth Google as well.
Also on a science subject...there's an attempt at a new version of the periodic table of the elements which looks cool, but isn't obviously useful for anything. Then, thinking about the elements, we also have the amazing flash animation of Tom Lehrer's The Elements and the periodic table of sexual positions.
They seem to be having some problems. Hard to imagine that here we are in the 21st century CE, with universal education, and some folks still are unable to distinguish between fairy tales and reality.
Nice to see some coverage of NSBF's good work. We'll be launching ANITA (test flight), CREST (test flight), and CREAM-2 (science flight) this year from Fort Sumner, NM, Palestine, TX, and McMurdo, Antarctica respectively. Whew!
Interesting piece on the "freeze" reflex and how it is unsuccessful in critical situations. The big examples are 9/11 WTC evacuations (much slower than predicted, many people sat around for 30 minutes or more before trying to leave) and the Tenerife air disaster (commercial airliners are supposed to be evacuatable in 90 seconds (even with some exits destroyed and debris inside the plane) but only 60-70 out of 370 escaped in one minute in that disaster).
Thinking about this further, it's probably not that much of a surprise, and on my next airline flight I promise to spend some time thinking about what an evacuation would look like. 90 seconds to get everyone off of the plane?
Science marches on. Defects in the kernel shell prevent steam from building up and prevent proper pop. Manufacturers rush to increase popcorn yield...
Another study finding it in breast milk in eighteen states. Although the rocket fuel connection is mentioned, ground water sources are also examined.
The New Scientist (sort of Time magazine, with a touch of People and TV Guide, for the science set) lists the(ir) top thirteen unexplained topics in science. I'm happy to see the cosmic rays listed there, along with the horizon problem and dark matter & energy. There's also that odd European fettish for homeopathy and cold fusion, but even they're treated well in the article.
In not as happy news, the debate over the value of String Theory has made it into the mainstream press. Well actually, the debate is happy enough. The possibility that that time and effort is wasted isn't as happy. Weren't we complaining that Strings (and M-branes, etc., etc.) were untestable ten years ago?
I've been keeping Starry Night running on my laptop to help me learn my way a bit around the southern sky. It's been a while since I've spent time being a sky-gazer down below the equator. Such great constellations...telescope and microscope... It's as if the ancient Greeks never made it down here.
Anyway, it's been a crazy busy meeting so far. No chance to make it out into the field and return the dead phototubes we wanted to nab. Oh well, maybe during a less interesting session tomorrow. Hammering out the science is a good thing. A long time coming as well...
So, the southern sky, the Magellanic Clouds and the Southern part of the Milky Way are the most spectacular, but of course the moon is interesting to see this way also.
It's been most of a year since I've down here, at the Auger Observatory campus. Town looks a bit different. Some new businesses, new house construction, and a couple of new complexes of cabins on Rte. 40 coming into town. It'll be a different sort of meeting, focusing on the science results rather than the hardware and initial calibrations. The array is a bit under half built, but we're looking to present science in August (at the every-other-year International Cosmic Ray Conference (ICRC) which should not be confused with the International Committee of the Red Cross).
Hotel el Cisne, where I'm staying and which used to be the default place for the surface detector electronics folks to stay, has been bought by the local big guy who also owns the Rio Grande hotel and restaurant and a bunch of other local businesses. We had some bad experiences renting 4x4 trucks from him back in the early days of the experiment construction. A certain truck fire comes to mind...
It was a wet drive down from Mendoza yesterday. Rain and hail most of the five hour (I took the slower route) drive. Just a short pause as I went through San Rafael. If I get my talks pulled together this afternoon, might take a drive up in the mountains or go fossil hunting (though they can't leave the country).
The horse skull I hung (4 years ago?) in the SDE office remains up there. And the shocked looks when it first went up...
My favorite Bethe story, apocryphal or not, is that after figuring out how nuclear fusion powers stars, tried to impress a date, at night, under the stars, with the "and no one but I understand how they work" line. Legend says that the date was unimpressed.
"I hate girls when I was in crotch-less panties."
"I was a hardcore fan of AL PACINO."
"Nothing filled my hollow chest ever."
"Before the suffer-more year, it was recorded as the DARK AGE in my life."
All from the same essay even!
Looks like a dark-matter only galaxy! Pretty cool.
The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb 'ought to be put under international control.' But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us namely: 'How difficult are these things to manufacture?...
Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralized police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a 'peace that is no peace.'
-- George Orwell, "You and the Atomic Bomb," October 19, 1945
Having been on the graduate admissions committee in Physics for, oh I guess it's been four year or maybe five now, I've come across a good collection of Engrish submissions and other unfortunate occurances. Fortunately, I have written some of them down, so I can share the warmth, share the love, with all. (Actually, technically some of these, including the first one, are not Engrish, but rather are bizarre turns of phrase which probably are due to lack of familarity with English, or lack of familarity with writing in English.) Obviously these are totally anonymized and no small furry animals were harmed in the making of this post.
So, the Pierre Auger Project is under construction in Malargue, Mendoza Province in Argentina. Construction started back in 2000 or so. The project management just noticed the spiders...
People working in the field are reporting a real infestation of spiders at the Surface Detectors. A popular place seems to be the area between the battery box plus cable tube and the tank. Some have also been seen inside the tank.
Black Widows spiders are the most common. These are poisonous, although not the worst in the Malargue area. We have color charts, to be carried in the vehicles, describing the different types of spiders and a description of the effect of their bites.
Please use caution when visiting tanks, especially when opening covers. Next week we will have a visit/lecture from a local veterinary and we will discuss the implementation of some safety procedures.
Eight legs? Check.
Two body parts? Check.
Yup, it's a spider.
Hmmm...Badass attitude? Check.
Coming after me? Uh, check.
Er... Toubleshooting and precautions, see "Spidey Manual Vol. 2."
(flip, flip, flip...)
Hey, guys...it sez here to run away.
SpaceRef.com -- "NASA Research Balloon Makes Record Breaking Flight Over Antarctica"
SpaceFlight Now -- "NASA Research Balloon Makes Record Flight"
Live Science -- "Huge Helium Balloon Sets High-Flying Record"
New Scientist -- "Antarctic Balloon Breaks Endurance Record"
ANANOVA LTD, United Kingdom --
"NASA Balloon's Record Breaking Flight"
Space Daily --
"NASA Balloon Makes Record Breaking Flight"
PhysOrg.com (The latest physics and technology news) --
"NASA Research Balloon Makes Record Breaking Flight"
"Balloon Makes It to the Edge of Space"
"NASA Balloon Breaks Endurance and Distance Records"
New Scientist - London
National Balloon Museum, Iowa
Oxford Scientific Films - London
An experiment of Huygens...not turned properly on... I can feel the pain.
MATH RIOTS PROVE FUN INCALCULABLE
by Eric Zorn
News Item (June 23) -- Mathematicians worldwide were excited and pleased today by the announcement that Princeton University professor Andrew Wiles had finally proved Fermat's Last Theorem, a 365-year-old problem said to be the most famous in the field.
Yes, admittedly, there was rioting and vandalism last week during the celebration. A few bookstores had windows smashed and shelves stripped, and vacant lots glowed with burning piles of old dissertations. But overall we can feel relief that it was nothing -- nothing -- compared to the outbreak of exuberant thuggery that occurred in 1984 after Louis DeBranges finally proved the Bieberbach Conjecture.
"Math hooligans are the worst," said a Chicago Police Department spokesman. "But the city learned from the Bieberbach riots. We were ready for them this time."
When word hit Wednesday that Fermat's Last Theorem had fallen, a massive show of force from law enforcement at universities all around the country headed off a repeat of the festive looting sprees that have become the traditional accompaniment to triumphant breakthroughs in higher mathematics.
Mounted police throughout Hyde Park kept crowds of delirious wizards at the University of Chicago from tipping over cars on the midway as they first did in 1976 when Wolfgang Haken and Kenneth Appel cracked the long-vexing Four-Color Problem. Incidents of textbook-throwing and citizens being pulled from their cars and humiliated with difficult story problems last week were described by the university's math department chairman Bob Zimmer as "isolated."
Zimmer said, "Most of the celebrations were orderly and peaceful. But there will always be a few -- usually graduate students -- who use any excuse to cause trouble and steal. These are not true fans of Andrew Wiles."
Wiles himself pleaded for calm even as he offered up the proof that there is no solution to the equation x^n + y^n = z^n when n is a whole number greater than two, as Pierre de Fermat first proposed in the 17th Century. "Party hard but party safe," he said, echoing the phrase he had repeated often in interviews with scholarly journals as he came closer and closer to completing his proof.
Some authorities tried to blame the disorder on the provocative taunting of Japanese mathematician Yoichi Miyaoka. Miyaoka thought he had proved Fermat's Last Theorem in 1988, but his claims did not bear up under the scrutiny of professional referees, leading some to suspect that the fix was in. And ever since, as Wiles chipped away steadily at the Fermat problem, Miyaoka scoffed that there would be no reason to board up windows near universities any time soon; that God wanted Miyaoka to prove it.
In a peculiar sidelight, Miyaoka recently took the trouble to secure a U.S. trademark on the equation "x^n + y^n = z^n " as well as the now-ubiquitous expression "Take that, Fermat!" Ironically, in defeat, he stands to make a good deal of money on cap and T-shirt sales.
This was no walk-in-the-park proof for Wiles. He was dogged, in the early going, by sniping publicity that claimed he was seen puttering late one night doing set theory in a New Jersey library when he either should have been sleeping, critics said, or focusing on arithmetic algebraic geometry for the proving work ahead.
"Set theory is my hobby, it helps me relax," was his angry explanation. The next night, he channeled his fury and came up with five critical steps in his proof. Not a record, but close.
There was talk that he thought he could do it all by himself, especially when he candidly referred to University of California mathematician Kenneth Ribet as part of his "supporting cast," when most people in the field knew that without Ribet's 1986 proof definitively linking the Taniyama Conjecture to Fermat's Last Theorem, Wiles would be just another frustrated guy in a tweed jacket teaching calculus to freshmen.
His travails made the ultimate victory that much more explosive for math buffs. When the news arrived, many were already wired from caffeine consumed at daily colloquial teas, and the took to the streets en masse shouting, "Obvious! Yessss! It was obvious!"
The law cannot hope to stop such enthusiasm, only to control it. Still, one has to wonder what the connection is between wanton pillaging and a mathematical proof, no matter how long-awaited and subtle.
The Victory Over Fermat rally, held on a cloudless day in front of a crowd of 30,000 (police estimate: 150,000) was pleasantly peaceful. Signs unfurled in the audience proclaimed Wiles the greatest mathematician of all time, though partisans of Euclid, Descartes, Newton, and C.F. Gauss and others argued the point vehemently.
A warmup act, The Supertheorists, delighted the crowd with a ragged song, "It Was Never Less Than Probable, My Friend," which included such gloating, barbed verses as --- "I had a proof all ready / But then I did a choke-a / Made liberal assumptions / Hi! I'm Yoichi Miyaoka."
In the speeches from the stage, there was talk of a dynasty, specifically that next year Wiles will crack the great unproven Riemann Hypothesis ("Rie-peat! Rie-peat!" the crowd cried), and that after the Prime-Pair Problem, the Goldbach Conjecture ("Minimum Goldbach," said one T-shirt) and so on.
They couldn't just let him enjoy his proof. Not even for one day. Math people. Go figure 'em.
"The chances of a neutrino actually hitting something as it travels through all this howling emptiness are roughly comparable to that of dropping a ball bearing at random from a cruising 747 and hitting, say, an egg sandwich." -- Douglas Adams
The government created hydrogen in 1897 and altered all history books to reflect otherwise.
Background: I work as a research scientist in a secret government lab deep under the Nevada desert. There are a few things the public needs to know about hydrogen.
FACT: Hydrogen was NOT discovered by Henry Cavendish in 1776 as the books say. Read on...
FACT: in 1892 the US government was experimenting with ways to weaponize a new substance that was discovered at an alien crash site in New Mexico. The military knew that this substance, used as fuel in the alien ship, could be weaponized which would allow the US to take over the world as part of its Pax Americana goal.
FACT: in late 1894 a spark in the secret lab caused the fuel to chain react. It destroyed several square miles of land and created a crater in Arizona. The history books were re-written to suggest that Barrington Crater in Arizona was in fact created by a meteor eons earlier. The fact is that Dr. Hymie Barrington was the person who sparked off the largest explosion until that time on the planet.
FACT: A byproduct of the fusion was a toxic product the government called "Hydrogen." So much of the hydrogen was released that it is now found virtually everywhere on Earth. Recent measurements show that common water is now two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen.
FACT: The US wanted to scare people into not using hydrogen. That is why they engineered the Hindenberg disaster in 1937. An oilman at the time, Wallace Bush (sound familiar?) knew that hydrogen could ruin his new buisiness of oil drilling. Bush, along with Herman Cheney (another oilman) rigged explosives in the Hindenberg back in Germany and activated them by remote control when all the cameras were rolling.
Doorstep Astronomy: New Comet Looking Bright
By Joe Rao
SPACE.com Night Sky Columnist
posted: 31 December, 2004
7:00 a.m. ET
As 2004 draws to a close, skywatchers have yet another opportunity to view a naked-eye comet. Comet Machholz has been brightening steadily and conditions are now prime.
So far this year, there have been four comets that have managed to attain naked-eye visibility. Last spring, comets Bradfield (C/2004 F4), NEAT (C/2001 Q4), and LINEAR (C/2002 T7) all reached third magnitude, while in July another comet discovered by the automated LINEAR project (C/2003 K4) briefly peaked at sixth magnitude.
On the astronomers' magnitude scale, smaller numbers denote brighter objects. The dimmest objects visible under perfectly dark skies are about magnitude 6.5.
Discovered on Aug. 27 by veteran comet hunter Donald E. Machholz of Colfax, California, comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) has been brightening steadily during the past several months while approaching both the Sun and Earth.
This comet currently is glowing at around magnitude 3.5 and is visible to the naked eye in dark, non-light polluted skies, though much better seen in binoculars or telescopes. This kind of brightness makes Machholz a very fine comet from the viewpoint of a serious amateur astronomer, but it doesn't appear that this comet will become the kind of spectacle that Comet Hale-Bopp was in grabbing the broader public's attention.
Yet this is an auspicious circumstance, as Machholz is now the fifth naked eye comet in 2004. Twice before, in 1911 and again in 1970, four comets managed to reach naked-eye brightness within a single calendar year.
But when Andrew Pearce of Noble Falls, Western Australia saw the comet without any optical aid on Nov. 19, it put 2004 into the books as a record year for naked-eye comets.
At this moment the comet's motion across the sky is toward the north, making it increasingly well placed for Northern Hemisphere observers. During January, according to calculations made by Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the comet will move north of the celestial equator, tracking from southern Taurus on up into the constellation Perseus.
From a brightness standpoint, the comet has also been performing excellently; in fact, running nearly twice as bright as predictions had originally suggested.
Observers who have looked for the comet during the late evening hours could readily see its bright, bluish-white head surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of dust and gas called the coma.
Happy comet campers
A couple of weeks ago, Mike Begbie, observing from Harare, Zimbabwe with 15x60 binoculars, said, "The comet is becoming spectacular. The coma is highly condensed and the dust tail is broad and prominent."
"I couldn't take my binoculars off the comet!" exclaims Brian Summers, a magazine editor from Katonah, New York. "It was an `instant pickup' – just point the binoculars and there it was!"
"Machholz's comet very much reminds me of Comet Kobayashi-Berger-Millon," said Long Island, New York amateur, Sam Storch. "I remember that comet from the summer of 1975 and like Machholz, it passed relatively near to the Earth and also displayed a very condensed nucleus and a large coma."
John E. Bortle, a well-known comet observer from Stormville, New York, describes Comet Machholz as "a strange looking beast; its tails are relatively weak, but the separation (lag-angle) between the classic ion tail and the "thing" that passes for a dust tail, is huge (more than 90 degrees!)."
Bortle believes "the comet will continue to be a very nice sight in January when we can view it high in the evening sky."
During mid-December, the comet's coma appeared ˝ degrees across (equal to the apparent size of the full Moon). That size translated into an actual diameter of 384,000 miles and with Machholz continuing to approach both the Sun and Earth in the coming days, the coma's size can only continue to grow larger.
Comet Machholz will be closest to Earth on the night of Jan. 5-6, 2005, when it will be 32,256,000 miles away.
On the evening of Jan. 7, it will conveniently pass just a couple of degrees to the west of the famous Pleiades star cluster, making for a pretty sight in binoculars [Map]. The comet will probably be cresting at its brightest right around this time, perhaps peaking at around magnitude +3.3, which would make it equal in brightness to Megrez, the star that joins the handle with the bowl of the Big Dipper.
"I have been most impressed with recent views of comet Machholz from Palm Springs, California," writes Robert Victor, an astronomer who served for many years at the Abrams Planetarium of Michigan State University. "I am looking forward to its passage near the Pleiades in early January."
From the discoverer
"It has been a pleasure for me to watch this comet grow and develop," Don Machholz told SPACE.com. "I have also had a few months to plan for the time when the comet reaches this point. As a result of having a bit of lead time, I wrote a PowerPoint talk, giving it at local astronomy (and other) clubs during the last couple of months.
"In recent weeks, while the comet has been rising during the mid-evening hours, I've been inviting friends and neighbors to my house for 'private' viewing of the comet," Machholz said. "Other local astronomers and I will be holding a series of public star parties at various locations in the foothills, showing the comet and Saturn and other stuff to the public. We've been doing public star parties for years, but I believe this is the first time we've been able to show a Comet Machholz."
January and beyond
Continuing northward, the comet will slip less 2 degrees to the east of the famous variable star, Algol in Perseus on the night of Jan. 16-17. The comet will reach perihelion at around 22 hours G.M.T./5:00 p.m. EST on Jan. 24, when it will be 112,019,920 miles from the Sun.
The position of comet Machholz at 9 p.m. local time from mid-northern latitudes on various nights as it climbed higher into the sky during December. Since the comet will be more-or-less opposite the Sun all during this "flyby," it should easily be visible in a dark sky.
Then during February, March and April, Comet Machholz will become circumpolar from mid-northern latitudes. Or in other words, during this time frame it will always remain above the horizon, appear to neither rise nor set. During the second week of March, it will pass within half-dozen degrees of Polaris, the North Star.
Our latest "guesstimates" Machholz's brightness in the coming weeks, is for it to gradually dim to about fourth magnitude by the end of January and to around fifth magnitude by the third week of February. Those blessed with very dark skies might even be able to continue following the comet with just their unaided eyes until about the middle of March. Of course, the comet could always dim much more rapidly . . . or, conversely, a sudden unexpected flare-up could also
occur as well.
But these are extreme cases. So far, the comet has performed very well and there is no reason not to believe that it will continue to delight Northern Hemisphere observers for at least several more weeks.
Once again, we should stress that the darker your observing site, the better the comet will appear. With the bright Moon pretty much out of the way during the first half of January, prospective comet observers are likely to have their greatest success.
After comet Machholz whirls around the Sun on Jan. 24, it will head far out into space. Traveling in a highly elongated orbit, taking it far beyond the known limits of our solar system, it could again return to the vicinity of the Earth and Sun about 119,000 years from now.
WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 31 Dec 04 Washington, DC
1. DARWINIAN EVOLUTION: "MONKEY TRIAL" RECONVENES IN DOVER, PA.
It's been 145 years since Darwin published Origin of Species,
perhaps the world's greatest scientific discovery. No other
idea has connected so many pieces of knowledge. It's now 80
years since the Scopes trial. If any doubts about evolution
remain, you might suppose that DNA analysis would sweep them
away. We can now measure how closely we are related to every
creature on Earth. We share half our DNA with yeast. So
genetically similar are bonobos to humans that, but for the
inability of bonobos to talk, they might demand a seat in the
UN. Yet, in Dover, PA, a town much like Dayton, TN, the school
board voted to require that intelligent design be taught
alongside evolution. The school board will lose in court, but
we must ask ourselves why science has been so spectacularly
unsuccessful in explaining such obvious truths to people.
2. THE EXPLORERS: SCIENCE MAGAZINE "BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR."
A hundred-million miles or so from Dover, PA, two geologists
are picking their way over the Martian surface. They've found
what they were looking for: unmistakable evidence that in the
distant past there were bodies of salty water on Mars that may
have been nurseries of life. Science picked the exploration of
Mars as the Breakthrough of the Year. It is now a year since
Spirit bounced onto Mars, soon to be followed by Opportunity.
Eating only sunlight, they survived the Martian winter, the
intense radiation, and they're still going. The search for
life to which we are not related is the most exciting quest in
science. Spirit and Opportunity are wonderful instruments, but
it's the scientists back on Earth who control the robots,
having become virtual astronauts, who are the explorers. The
real distance from Dover, PA can't be measured in miles.
3. DIET HARD: NASA ON THE ISS CREW, "LET THEM EAT CAKE."
While scientists are exploring Mars, the big news from the ISS
was that a robotic Russian cargo craft had safely docked with
food and water. It was a month late. To make matters worse,
the previous crew had raided the pantry, forcing the crew of
two to eat mostly desserts and candy, sort of like Christmas on
Earth. What a sad waste. Is there any use to be made the
giant space turkey? Perhaps they could make an ISS sitcom.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the
University of Maryland, but they should be.
Well, that particular example is closer to murder than to just bad science, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Check it out in the Guardian.
This is one of my experiments, you can see some near-real-time monitoring data and maps at NSBF's page. NSBF is the National Scientific Ballooning Facility, a little tiny branch of NASA which launches high altitude balloons for flights of up to 20ish days carrying up to two tons of science. CREAM is a cosmic-ray experiment aiming to look at the chemical composition of cosmic rays at the knee of the all-particle spectrum. Ask if you seriously want to know more...
A new review of the literature on climate change has been published in Science magazine. It finds that 75% of published (peer-reviewed and not-self-published at least) studies link climate change to human activity, and the remaining 25% do not make a statement on assigning responsibility to human activity. Most surprisingly of all, there are no papers which disagree with the consensus of antropogenic climate change. So much for it being a "debated subject" as the Dubya folks would like to claim.
On a more alarming note, or at least a more public-friendly note, a group of scientists writing in the Guardian, note the severe crisis facing the world due to this climate change. "We burn, each year, around a million years worth of accumulated hydrocarbons."
Undressing a woman is risky business according to a British study. Men have such a poor understanding of the mechanics of feminine undergarments that many risk injuring themselves while trying to remove a brassiere, says a new study. The British Journal of Plastic Surgery cites the case of a 27 year-old man who, "at the culmination of a convivial and alcoholic evening with an attractive female companion," twisted his left middle finger in a bra strap. So severe was the injury that the man went to the emergency room, where it was discovered that he had sustained a fractured finger and ligament damage. "This is the type of thing more commonly associated with sport, particularly rock climbing," plastic surgeon Andrew Fleming of London's St. George's Hospital reports. Suverys show that 40 percent of men in their 30s and 40s are equally uncoordinated when grappling with clasps and hooks, and risk similar injiries. Researchers recommend that men take lingerie-removing lessons to prevent accidents.
Sticking with the Brits, two women were killed in London when a bolt of lightning hit the metal underwiring in their bras. (The article didn't note whether that was the same bolt of lightning or not.) On a serious note, there is a link between bra-wearing and breast cancer. A study in 1991 showed that women who never wore a bra had half the risk of breast cancer compared to those who did.
There's a weekly column, called What's New which comes out every Friday from Bob Park at the University of Maryland and the American Physical Society. "Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be." It's an institution among physicists with the news covering the intersection of physics with politics, culture, theology, and education. Highly recommended.
From this week's as a taste...
3. PRAYER STUDY: COLUMBIA PROFESSOR REMOVES HIS NAME FROM PAPER.
We have been tracking the sordid story of the Columbia prayer study for three years http://www.aps.org/WN/WN01/wn100501.cfm . It claimed that women for whom total strangers prayed were twice as likely to become pregnant from in-vitro fertilization as others; it was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. At the time we were unaware of the background of the study, but knew it had to be wrong; the first assumption of science is that events result from natural causes. The lead author, Rugerio Lobo, who at the time was Chair of Obstetrics, now says he had no role in the study. The author who set up the study is doing five years for fraud in a separate case, and his partner hanged himself in jail. Another author left Columbia and isn't talking. The Journal has never acknowledged any responsibility, and after withdrawing the paper for "scrutiny," has put it back on the web. Nor has the Journal published letters critical of the study. Columbia has never acknowledged any responsibility. All of this has come out due to the persistence of Bruce Flamm, MD. The science community should flatly refuse all proposals or papers that invoke any supernatural explanation for physical phenomena.
100 Scientific Things To-Do Before Checking Out. The original article is in New Scientist, but I haven't found a link online, it looks to be available only, gulp, in print!
Some of these are interesting, some useful, but some are a bit bizarre or even nonsensical.
The description of the Choctaw facts in this article are misleading.
Choctaw does have two past tenses, but they are not differentiated in the way claimed. The regular past tense, written -tok (or -tuk in older orthogrophies) is used for completed events ranging back about a year. The other suffix -ttook is for events that were completed more than a year ago. Furthermore, events that happened within the past few minutes and are still relevent for the current situation are often marked as "present" (-h).
Choctaw, and a huge number of other languages in the world, also have what are called evidentials. These are suffixes that indicate how you know the statement is true. In Choctaw, there is a first-hand knowledge suffix -hlih, used when you have direct evidence of the claim (you saw it, heard it, smelled it, etc). There is also the suffix -ashah which indicates that you are guessing that it is true -- you have some indirect evidence, such as hearsay, or very circumstantial evidence.
Tense and evidentiality are definitely distinct, as you can find tense and evidentiality marked at the same time on the verb.
Checkout the papers by a Choctaw expert: Broadwell at Albany
Using a magnetic field to protect astronauts from cosmic rays. Hmmmm...I think we can work out some basic numbers for that and show how dodgy the whole business is. Maybe it'll work as justification for AMS? (You'd have to ask to get the whole story on that one.)
When the Dubya announced his "vision" of having NASA go back to the Moon (with people) and then on to Mars (people again), NASA had to quickly change to keep pace. A new plan was drafted, one in which glittering achievements like picking up a rock decades hence would win out over making actual scientific discoveries. The American Physical Society commissioned a study on how this would impact science and NASA's basic functioning. No great surprise, this plan is a disaster. News coverage of the APS study. The critics of the study are fairly predictable, the people-in-space lobby. Don't get me wrong, it'll be great to send folks to the Moon, I have some people in mind, but on fixed (small) budgets it's crazy. Robots, scientific spacecrafts, and remote exploration are the way to do the science until the money is available to send people.
Digression here: the problem of "what is worth funding" is a vexing one. Is my scientific research (think one $100M project, and a couple of $20M projects over a few years) more important than educating children in Minneapolis? Nope. Or treating folks in Zambia suffering from malaria? Again, no way. More important that the $Billions spent killing Iraqi kids? I'd have to say yes. On the other hand, there is no way that the monies that went into these science programs would ever be spent for "humanitarian purposes" or the military money spent on science. Funding entities do not work that way. The local school district can easily spend $250k on consultants to "map the future of their IT developments" at a time when $1000 isn't available to buy art supplies. (Or heck, the "media center" (formerly known as a library) can update its computers every three years while not buying books. (And use much of the library space for those computers.))
Ending rant now...
Bush: "And after Mars, we'll land on the Sun!"
Reporter: "Won't it be a bit too hot?"
Bush: "We'll land at night!"
One of the oddities of doing academic physics is the travel. At the moment one of my graduate students is in Argentina attending a meeting and working on one of my experiments, and another of my graduate students is enroute to Antarctica to launch a balloon experiment. Add in the bizarre nature of opening up a Patagonia (outdoor clothing) catalog and finding my picture (about 90% sure) in it...jumping into a waterhole in the Antarctic ice...
Slashdot discussion on Science and Journalism. The main problem to my mind is the inapplicability of the "two points of view" sort of standard. It's easy to find someone with a random opinion, but opposing viewpoints is not how (most) science is conducted. Add in the fact that the media can legally lie in the United States and you have quite a mess.
Lawrence Krauss has a nice piece in the NYT back in 1996 on the subject:
July 29, 1996
In Defense of Nonsense
By Lawrence Krauss
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Four months ago, when his Presidential campaign still seemed viable, Patrick Buchanan appeared on a national television program and argued in favor of creationism. This, by itself, is not so remarkable, given some of Mr. Buchanan's other views.
What seemed more significant, however, was that the same national media that questioned other Buchanan campaign planks like trade protectionism and limits on immigration did not produce a major article or editorial proclaiming the candidate's views on evolution to be simple nonsense.
Why is this the case? Could it be that the fallacies inherent in a strict creationist viewpoint are so self-evident that they were deemed not to deserve comment? I think not. Indeed, when a serious candidate for the highest office of the most powerful nation on earth holds such views you would think that this commentary would automatically become "newsworthy."
Rather, what seems to have taken hold is a growing hesitancy among both journalists and scholars to state openly that some viewpoints are not subject to debate: they are simply wrong. They might point out flaws, but journalists also feel great pressure to report on both sides of a "debate."
Part of the reason is that few journalists naturally feel comfortable enough on scientific matters to make pronouncements. But there is another good reason for such hesitancy. In a truly democratic society, one might argue, everything is open to debate.
Who has the authority to deem certain ideas incorrect or flawed? Indeed, appeal to authority is as much an anathema to scientists as it is to many on the academic left who worry about the authority of the "scientific establishment."
What is so wonderful about scientific truth, however, is that the authority which determines whether there can be debate or not does not reside in some fraternity of scientists; nor is it divine.
The authority rests with experiment.
It is perhaps the most immutable but most widely misunderstood property of modern science: a proposition can never be proved to be absolutely true. There can always be some experiment lurking around the corner to require alteration of any model of reality.
What is unequivocal, however, is falseness. A theory whose predictions fail the test of experiment is always wrong, period, end of story.
The earth isn't flat, because you can travel around it, period, end of story.
This misunderstanding is at the heart of much scholarly debate in recent months, including the amusing hoax that a New York University physicist, Alan Sokal, played at the expense of the editors of the journal Social Text. The postmodernist journal published a bogus article that Professor Sokal had written as a satire of some social science criticism of the nature of scientific knowledge.
It was aimed at those in the humanities who study the social context of science, but whom he argued could not discern empirically falsifiable models from meaningless nonsense.
The editors, on the other hand, argued that publication was based in part on their notion that the community of scholars depends on the goodwill of the participants -- namely they had assumed Professor Sokal had something to say.
They too have a point.
The great paranormal debunker and magician, the Amazing Randi, has shown time and again that earnest researchers can be duped by those who would have been willing to answer "yes" to the question "are you lying?" but who were never asked.
We must always be skeptical. Being skeptical, however does not get in the way of the search for objective truths.
It merely assists in the uncovering of falsehoods.
Another popular misunderstanding of the nature of truth and falsehood in modern science involves the speculative ideas which often appear at the frontiers of research.
For example, the science writer John Horgan has argued that such speculations are unrelated to the real world around us. But notions such as "superstrings" and "baby universes" are not akin to arguments about the number of angels on the head of a pin, much as they may bear a superficial resemblance.
They are merely the most recent straw men in a longstanding effort to get at the truth. They would not be taken seriously by anyone were it not for the belief that these notions, when properly understood, might in principle one day lead to either direct or indirect predictions which may be falsified by future experiments or else which may or may not explain existing data. The debate among physicists about the viability of these ideas is simply a debate among those who think the notions will be testable and those who suspect they won't.
No physicist I know has ever suggested that unprovable speculation will shine on its own merits, whether or not it can be taken literally, or that it is progress to come up with a theory which cannot be proved false.
Mr. Horgan is absolutely correct to suggest that this approach is impotent.
But his error is to confuse this process with what physicists actually do, and thereby demean the notion of scientific truth.
This whole issue might make for simply an amusing academic debate were it not for the potentially grave consequences for society at large.
If we are unwilling, unilaterally, to brand scientific nonsense as just that, regardless of whose sensibilities might be offended -- religious or otherwise -- then the whole notion of truth itself becomes blurred.
The need to present both sides of an issue is only necessary when there are two sides. When empirically verifiable falsehoods become instead subjects for debate, then nonsense associated with international conspiracy theories, holocaust denials and popular demagogues like Louis Farrakhan or Pat Robertson cannot effectively be rooted out.
When nonsense which can be empirically falsified is presented under a creationist guise as critical thinking, a controversy is created in our schools where none should exist. When the empirically falsifiable supposition that someone was not present at a murder when his DNA is found mixed with the blood of victims at the crime scene is not recognized as nonsense, murderers can go home free.
Nonsense masquerading as truth has been with us as long as records can date.
But the increasingly blatant nature of the nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling.
Our democratic society is imperiled as much by this as any other single threat, regardless of whether the origins of the nonsense are religious fanaticism, simple ignorance or personal gain.
Perhaps the greatest single legacy our scientific heritage can bestow on us is a well-defined procedure for exposing nonsense.
We would all be wise to heed the advice passed on by Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times from 1935 to 1961: "I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out."
Well, the little branch of physics in which I work had a headline on the wires today. The HESS experiment located in Namibia saw the direct evidence for the acceleration of cosmic rays in supernova reminants. Yahoo News.
A welcomed relief from the election news at least.
If you've ever been told it's impossible to fold a piece of paper (of any size) more than eight times, well, you've been misinformed. This high school student got a twelve-way fold on a piece of paper (very long roll of toilet paper).
In further paper news, there's another Physical Review Letters article on falling paper which is seen to be about twice as slow in descending as due to strictly the parachute effect. There's some mention of the sycamore seed falling mode.
Dear science colleagues,
Thank you to those of you who took an interest in this important matter and replied to our original letter regarding super collider's risk to life.
Some of you asked for evidence to support our views. We would like to ask you to consider the three notions that we brought up as tentative, yet coherent scientific hypotheses to be explored and examined further. Even ad hoc hypotheses have their place in the development of new scientific theories. The three notions we express are, 1) universe is fractal in nature and is infinite in time and space with an infinite number of fractal levels of life and existence in the infinitely large and in the infinitely small matter, 2) All life on earth is the result of an intelligent design and did not come to existence by chance, and 3) life exits at all levels of the fractal universe and thus super colliders which may be using technologies that destroy life in the infinitely small worlds should not be used (as life must be protected at every level of existence in the universe). As intelligent and capable human beings we must be the guardians of life as we are the only beings capable of doing so.
These three theories that some of you described as beliefs are as coherent and as reasonable as some of the current leading theories. Big bang and evolution are still lacking strong evidence and scientists may be biased in trying to have their results fit with their theories. By opening the door to alternative theories, new insight and understanding of basic mechanisms may be obtained. This is now what is happening for example in biology where numerous geneticists and biologists no longer consider DNA molecule as 80% junk but as a masterpiece of code and biological instruction where every element plays a role in defining life. This also helps in the recognition of intelligent design as an alternative theory of life. By introducing the fractal theory of universe (described also by Carl Sagan), we believe it could open the door to an alternative and more accurate view and vision of our world.
Some of you raised the point that fission break up of matter and high energy cosmic ray flux occur naturally and can be worse in their effect in destroying infinitely small universes than super colliders. First, we can speculate that since high energy cosmic ray is very rare, and anti-matter does not exist in our nature, the kind of collision that physicists create in super colliders do not occur in nature. Furthermore, we also beg you to consider that we human beings are not unconscious matter resigned to laws and accidents of nature. If earth quakes destroy our cities and kill populations of humanity, we surely do not wish to detonate the earth from beneath the feet of our fellow human beings using explosive technology in the hope of some discovery.
We raelian scientists do not claim to be able to explain everything. We however feel it is important to describe our views to the world scientists as the consequences of the misuse of technology can be critically significant. If the notions we espouse here will eventually help develop new theories worthy of scientist's attention, we consider our efforts in contacting you well and worthwhile.
We believe our scientific creators, the Elohim of the Hebrew Bible who are our biological and intellectual parents do not wish to see us destroy life and ourselves. We don't argue about their existence at this point, but we believe we all agree on the aim of this debate, the desire to protect life at all levels.
Thank you for taking the time to share your views with us.
The Raelian Scientists Association
Screaming obsenities, claiming to be god, and writing 911 on the board. Police have been interviewing him and he's been banned from campus. Hard to imagine something like this happening, isn't it?
In a bizarre set of connections involving Ed Witten and a shaggy dog story, I've found quite a few odd quotations from my grad school classmate and current Brandeis University professor Albion Lawrence. Quotations from physics notes...
"When your dog tells you he will bring an elephant home for dinner, he is deceiving you."
"...unfortunately he was savaged by a cow, and died." - on the relationship between Lie Groups and Lie Algebras
"I wouldn't want you to think I had to do show business for a living. Why, I could make $3,000 a year just teaching!" - Tom Lehrer
"Do not baptise a person while they are unconscious." - From jesussave.us
"Customers must be conscious upon entering the premises." - Chicago Tattoo Parlors
"What is the holy spirit? And what is it doing in my eggplant?" - Pentecoast & apologizes to my eggplant messiah
A recent article in the Guardian (UK) noted a large increase in atmospheric CO2 in the last year. This has led to some fears that a large CO2 sink (or resevoir) has filled up and is accepting more more of the greenhouse gas. There is a discussion underway on Slashdot at the moment of this. There's a surprising number of, "nope, no such thing as global warming/anthrogenic warming" posts. I think it raises the additional issue of how the media requires two points of view (no more, no less) even if there is no genuine debate or if there are more than two points of view. "Is the Earth round" would have to be balanced with a Flat Earther. And forget those who think we're on the inside surface of a sphere...
The best primer that I know of for global warming, addressing the science and the connection of people to the warming is the book "The Discovery of Global Warming" by Weart. If you want more information, or don't feel like buying the book, an expanded version of the book with all of the backing materials are found online at the Americal Institute of Physics history of climate and global warming pages. I reviewed both the book and the website in Physics and Society 33(3):16 (July 2004), the newsletter of the American Physical Society’s Forum on Physics and Society.