science

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In keeping with this week’s unofficial theme of wibbling about academia, there’s an article at The Nation about the evils of graduate school that’s prompted some discussion. Sean says more or less what I would, though maybe a little more nicely than I would. I wouldn’t bother to comment further, except this spurred Sean to…

Physics is a notoriously difficult and unpopular subject, which is probably why there is a large and active Physics Education Research community within physics departments in the US. This normally generates a lot of material in the Physical Review Special Topics journal, but last week, a PER paper appeared in Science, which is unusual enough…

The Real Point of Zero Point

While Kenneth Ford’s 101 Quantum Questions was generally good, there was one really regrettable bit, in Question 23: What is a “state of motion?” When giving examples of states, Ford defines the ground state as the lowest-energy state of a nucleus, then notes that its energy is not zero. He then writes: An object brought…

Why So Many Theorists?

When I was looking over the Great Discoveries series titles for writing yesterday’s Quantum Man review, I was struck again by how the Rutherford biography by Richard Reeves is an oddity. Not only is Rutherford a relatively happy fellow– the book is really lacking in the salacious gossip that is usually a staple of biography,…

Quantum Man by Lawrence Krauss

While I’ve got a few more review copies backlogged around here, the next book review post is one that I actually paid for myself, Lawrence Krauss’s Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, part of Norton’s Great Discoveries series of scientific biographies. I’m a fan of the series– past entries reviewed here include Richard Reeves’s…

A little while back, Jonah Lehrer did a nice blog post about reasoning that used the famous study by Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, The Hot Hand in Basketball (PDF link) as an example of a case where people don’t want to believe scientific results. The researchers found absolutely no statistical evidence of “hot” shooting– a…

Several people blogged about a new measurement of gravitational states of neutrons done by physicists using ultracold neutrons from the Institut Laue-Langevin in France. I had to resort to Twitter to get access to the paper (we don’t get Nature Physics here, and it’s way faster than Inter-Library Loan), but this is a nice topic…

A few more comments on the scientific thinking thing, because it’s generated a bunch of comments. As usual, some of them are good points, and some of them have completely misunderstood what I was trying to say. so let’s take another crack at it. While the post was worded somewhat strongly, I’m not really trying…

Sean Carroll and Brad DeLong have each recently asserted that relativity is easier to understand than quantum mechanics. Both quote Feynman saying that nobody understands quantum mechanics, but Sean gives more detail: “Hardness” is not a property that inheres in a theory itself; it’s a statement about the relationship between the theory and the human…

Heavy Heavy Water

I make an effort to say nice things about pop-science books that I read, whether for book research or blog reviews. Every now and then, though, I hit a book that has enough problems that I have a hard time taking anything positive from it. I got David Bodanis’s E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s…