EppsNet Archive: Science

Aside

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.

“Keep it Simple,” Nobel Prize Winner Advises

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 -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… Read more →

Theories Have Four Stages of Acceptance

Theories have four stages of acceptance: i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so. — J. B. S. Haldane Read more →

Bye-Bye, Bevatron

If you drive up the hill to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one thing you can’t help noticing is the large (approx. 125,000 sq.ft.) circular pit where the Bevatron is in its final stages of demolition. The Bevatron, as its name suggests, was used to make beverages. For example, the Bevatron could take enormous quantities of tequila, triple sec and lime juice, smash them together at the speed of light, and produce an excellent margarita. Wait, what? I’m now being informed that the Bevatron was in fact a particle accelerator put into operation in 1954 and used in the work of multiple Nobel Prize-winning physicists. Read more →

Fair or Balanced

What needs changing is the way the media deals with the conflicting claims of science and pseudoscience. You can’t be “fair and balanced.” You can only be fair or balanced. To be fair is to tell the truth; to be balanced is to tell a truth, tell a lie, and then let the public determine which is which — and this, of course, isn’t fair to anyone. People are busy! They have jobs to attend, children to raise, hobbies to pursue. They can’t go out and investigate every last crazy claim. They deserve a media unashamed of telling the best truths it can. — James Randi Read more →

Something Out of Nothing

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. — Stephen Hawking I still don’t get it. This is the one question that really gives me a headache: Why is there anything at all instead of absolutely nothing — no time, no matter, nothing? For the universe to create itself out of “nothing,” doesn’t there have to be something? Read more →

Nice Guys Finish Last

You can lead a nice life; you can be a nice guy or you can be a great scientist. But nice guys end last, is what Leo Durocher said. If you want to lead a nice happy life with a lot of recreation and everything else, you’ll lead a nice life. — Richard Hamming Read more →

The Feynman Algorithm

Write down the problem. Think real hard. Write down the solution. — Murray Gell-Mann Read more →

How to Be a Denialist

Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature.… Read more →

Useless Information About Fiddler Crabs

Scientists find fiddler crabs will exchange favours for sex — News.com.au Really, scientists?! Who’s gonna have sex with a fiddler crab? They’re crustaceans! Read more →

Music is a Universal Language

Don’t let the “science” and “pentatonic scale” stuff scare you off watching this. Think of it as “A Remarkable Demonstration of Music as a Universal Language.” Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”, from the 2009 World Science Festival, June 12, 2009. Read more →

Another Reason Why All the Great Scientists (Except Marie Curie) Are Men

Two women are talking in the lunch room. One is wearing a black pullover sweater. The other woman says, “I like your sweater.” “Thanks. It’s long, so it covers my ass.” “That’s what I like about it. Not that it covers your ass, but that it would cover my ass.” I’m speechless . . . The sweater isn’t covering her ass, her pants are covering her ass, and the sweater is covering the pants! It’s a total misread of the geometry of the situation! Read more →

James D. Watson Bobblehead, R.I.P.

The last place I worked, I kept my James D. Watson bobblehead on a cubicle divider, next to a SpongeBob bobblehead that belonged to a colleague. Everyone who saw these two guys recognized SpongeBob, but not one person ever recognized James D. Watson. I mean, they knew it was someone named James D. Watson because his name is right there on the base, but despite the fact that he’s holding a double helix structure, nobody recognized him as James D. Watson, Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule. (Ironically, one of the main reasons I got into software development was the opportunity to work with smart, educated people.) I brought Watson with me to the place I work now, but unfortunately I accidentally knocked him off a credenza one morning and his head broke off. I tried a couple of times to glue it back on… Read more →

The Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer; When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. — Walt Whitman My son has an assignment to read this poem and answer some questions about what Whitman was trying to say. The academic answer is that he was exploring the tension between romanticism and science in the late 19th century, and acknowledging sadly, based on “much applause in the lecture-room,” that the romantic worldview was dying out. But just between you and me, he was… Read more →

Art and Technology

We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly. The time for a real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue. — Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Read more →

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