# EppsNet Archive: Science

## Happy Birthday, Pope Urban VIII

5 Apr 2017 /

Pope Urban VIII, the most recent pope to use the pontifical name of Urban, was born on this date, April 5, 1568.

He is probably best remembered for his demon-killing exorcisms used to chase from the head of Galileo Galilei the devilish notion that the earth revolved around the sun . . .

## Quantum Teleportation Breakthrough by DARPA-Funded Physicists

20 Sep 2016 /

Two separate teams of scientists funded by the Pentagon’s research arm have revealed significant breakthroughs in the field of quantum teleportation which could have a major impact on cybersecurity and encryption.

Forget security and encryption I want to disappear one place and appear someplace else. What’s the holdup on that?!

## Stigler’s Law of Eponymy

2 Aug 2015 /

Robert K. Merton

Stigler’s law of eponymy is a process proposed by University of Chicago statistics professor Stephen Stigler in his 1980 publication “Stigler’s law of eponymy.” It states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Stigler named the sociologist Robert K. Merton as the discoverer of “Stigler’s law,” so as to avoid this law about laws disobeying its very own decree.

## Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”

## When is Diversity Not a Dilemma?

26 Feb 2015 /

I just read yet another brief — Solving the Diversity Dilemma — regarding lack of diversity in the STEM workforce.

If members of Group X are underrepresented in some professions, they must be overrepresented in others. For example, I used to work with a nursing organization . . . women far outnumber men in nursing but for the five years I worked there I never heard anyone talk about the shortage of men in nursing being a dilemma, crisis, etc., or suggesting that anything be done to change it.

I work in a STEM field. It’s a good job for me but not for everyone. My son (age 21) for example, never showed any interest in it and I don’t think he’ll be any less happy in life because he’s not working in STEM. There are pluses and minuses like any other profession.

Simple but possibly valid explanation for STEM demographics: Not everyone wants to work in STEM.

## Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

12 Dec 2014 /

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience but it is true: You know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.

It is the consistency of information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.

The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion — we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.

Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen.

Hindsight bias has pernicious effects on the evaluations of decision makers. It leads observers to assess the quality of a decision not be whether the process was sound but by whether its outcome was good or bad. . . . This outcome bias makes it almost impossible to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made.

Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too anxious to believe them.

For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold those beliefs.

Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.

We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained. . . Everything makes sense in hindsight . . . And we cannot suppress the powerful intuition that what makes sense in hindsight was predictable yesterday. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.

[Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania] interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends. . . . In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. . . . Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that thing.

The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.

Rehearse the mantra that will get you significantly closer to economic reality: you win a few, you lose a few.

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.

During the last 10 years we have learned many new facts about happiness. But we have also learned that the word happiness does not have a simple meaning and should not be used as if it does. Sometimes scientific progress leaves us more puzzled than we were before.

## It Would Be Important to Get There and There is Probably a Way

8 Jan 2014 /

Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often say, “Well, it’s just over on the other side of that canyon. So all we have to do is go.” It is always surprising to me that other people would expect me to tell them how we’re going to get there directly. That it is not enough to say, “Well, it would be important to get there and there is probably a way. Let’s go.”

## Kids Should Study Math and Science, Say Adults Who Never Studied Math or Science

17 Dec 2013 /

The New York Times has been editorializing recently on the nation’s need to enlarge our pool of science and math students, with a particular focus on girls and minorities, and to encourage them to pursue careers that will keep the country competitive.

Here’s a list of the members of the NYT editorial board, including academic major(s), which I obtained from their online bios. See if you notice anything unusual.

Andrew Rosenthal, Editor
(American History)
Terry Tang, Deputy Editorial Page Editor
(Economics, Law)
Robert B. Semple Jr., Associate Editor
(History)
David Firestone, Projects Editor, National Politics, the White House and Congress
(Journalism)
Vikas Bajaj, Business, International Economics
(Journalism)
Philip M. Boffey, Science
(History)
Francis X. Clines, National Politics, Congress, Campaign Finance
(none listed)
Lawrence Downes, Immigration, Veterans Issues
(English, Journalism)
Carol Giacomo, Foreign Affairs
(English Literature)
Mira Kamdar, International Affairs
(French Literature)
Verlyn Klinkenborg, Agriculture, Environment, Culture
(English Literature)
Juliet Lapidos, Culture
(Comparative Literature, English Literature)
Eleanor Randolph, New York State, Northeast Region, Media
(none listed)
Dorothy Samuels, Law, Civil Rights, National Affairs
(Law)
Serge Schmemann, International Affairs
(none listed)
Brent Staples, Education, Criminal Justice, Economics
(Psychology)
Masaru Tamamoto, International Affairs
(International Relations)
Teresa Tritch, Economic Issues, Tax Policy
(German, Journalism)
Jesse Wegman, The Supreme Court, Legal Affairs
(Law)

Did you notice that no one on that list, including the science editor, has a degree in anything related to math or science?

Now you might say, “Well, I’ve never heard of any of these people so why should I care what they think?” That’s a fair point.

But still, one has to give them credit for having made it in the big city, despite their lack of interest in math and science. So why encourage students to pursue educational goals that they themselves had no interest in, when this lack of interest has evidently not been a hindrance? Why is this a credible course of action?

## We’re Still Smarter Than You Are

7 Dec 2013 /

Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results released Tuesday.

Why am I not shocked by that?

Because Americans on the whole are dumb and lazy. We have lots of dumb, lazy parents raising dumb, lazy kids. The average American kid doesn’t compare well academically to the average kid in an Asian country where academics and hard work are valued, or to the average kid from a small, homogenous European country where it’s easier to get everyone pulling in the same educational direction.

The U.S. is a big, diverse country and the average academic results are pulled down by a lot of dummkopfs.

But still, the smartest people in the world are Americans. Our smartest people are smarter than the smartest people in other lands.

You don’t think so? I’m looking at the list of winners of the 2013 Nobel Prizes . . . out of 11 recipients (I’m omitting the winners of the literature and peace prizes because those aren’t academic awards), eight are from the U.S. The other three are from Belgium, the UK and France, and the Frenchman is affiliated with Harvard University.

No one in Asian countries is winning any Nobel Prizes. Q.E.D.

## Waving Bibles at Scientists

1 Dec 2013 /

James Freshwater

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a public school district was legally justified in firing science instructor James Freshwater, who waved a Bible at his students, distributed religious pamphlets and talked about creationism in evolution lessons.

Personally, I’d fire him just based on the look of smug, benevolent certainty on his face. He doesn’t look like a man who struggles with doubt, which is the essence of science.

## See You in Hell, Game of Thrones Fans

3 Jun 2013 /

Satan

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles had a telescope pointed at Saturn this week. Anyone who wanted to could stop by and have a look.

“It looks like I thought it would look,” one observer remarked.

HA! He wasn’t impressed AT ALL by the fact that better men than himself built a device that lets him see things a BILLION miles away.

This same idiot later pronounced himself “blown away” by the deaths of several make-believe characters on a TV show called Game of Thrones.

If your Facebook and Twitter feeds look anything like mine this morning, you know that unfortunately this is just one idiot out of many.

One of the reasons America is circling the drain is people’s inability to distinguish fantasy from reality until reality hits them like a pitchfork in the guts. Which it eventually does .

See you in Hell . . .

14 Apr 2013 /

## High Dropout Rates for STEM Majors is NOT a Problem

6 Mar 2013 /

The University of Colorado has a \$4.3 million grant to research the “problem” of 40 to 60 percent attrition rate among STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors.

Someone is missing an obvious point here, which is that there should be a large dropout rate for STEM majors. Incompetent technologists and engineers create disasters.

The music department, the English department, the philosophy department, etc., etc., can graduate their incompetent students without worrying that they’re going to build a collapsing bridge, blow up a space shuttle, disintegrate a Mars orbiter — you get the idea . . .

## Why is There No Progress in Exercise Science?

12 Nov 2012 /

Why can’t someone invent a workout you can do, say, once a year and still see excellent results? There is no progress in exercise science.

We can put a man on the moon, a rover on Mars, but we can’t develop a once-a-year, high intensity workout?

Very disappointing.

Richard Feynman: Cargo Cult Science — a commencement speech from 1974 in which Feynman explains in a clear, entertaining way what real science is all about.

Posted by on 21 Jul 2012

## “Keep it Simple,” Nobel Prize Winner Advises

22 Jan 2012 /

Image via Wikipedia

I soon was taught that [Linus] Pauling’s accomplishment was a product of common sense, not the result of complicated mathematical reasoning. Equations occasionally crept into his argument, but in most cases words would have sufficed. The key to Linus’ success was his reliance on the simple laws of structural chemistry. The $\alpha$-helix had not been found by only staring at X-ray pictures; the essential trick, instead, was to ask which atoms like to sit next to each other. In place of pencil and paper, the main working tools were a set of molecular models superficially resembling the toys of preschool children.

We could thus see no reason why we should not solve DNA in the same way. All we had to do was to construct a set of molecular models and begin to play — with luck, the structure would be a helix. Any other type of configuration would be much more complicated. Worrying about complications before ruling out the possibility that the answer was simple would have been damned foolishness. Pauling never got anywhere by seeking out messes.

Next Page »