Physical Sciences

I've written several times over the years about the overblown claims of harm attributed, largely—but not exclusively—by cranks, to cell phone radiation. It's been claimed that radiation from cell phones can cause brain tumors (there's no convincing evidence that this is true), breast cancer (the evidence for these claims is so incredibly flimsy—and featured by Dr. Oz, to boot!—that this is not a credible claim), and a wide variety of other health issues. Indeed, if you believe the cranks, the mobile phone companies are the equivalent of tobacco companies denying that their products cause…
Human caused greenhouse gas pollution has locked us into a situation where the global sea level will rise, at an unknown rate, high enough to inundate most major coastal cities and vast areas of agricultural land in low lying countries, and wipe out thousands of islands. Entire countries (small, low lying ones, and pacific ocean nations) will either disappear entirely or be made very small. Even as we head towards a likely limit in global food production in relation to increasing demand, large productive agricultural areas will be destroyed. As far as I can tell, there is nothing to stop this…
"It’s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics." -Martin Rees Neutron stars are some of the most extreme objects in the Universe: a ball of neutrons a few kilometers in diameter, but with more mass than the entire Sun in them. Their magnetic…
I know I really shouldn't peruse NaturalNews.com too often. It's bad for my blood pressure, and, like many old farts on the wrong side of 50, I do have a touch of the ol' hypertension. Reading Mike Adams' blather risks raising that blood pressure either through causing me to laugh uproariously at the sheer idiocy of what he writes or by making me angry at just how despicable he can be at times. Still, I looked, and I saw something I almost wish I hadn't seen. However, that something that I saw illustrates a point about the dark side of open access journals; so I thought it was worth…
Philosophers Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle believe that it has. They make their case in this essay, posted at The New York Times. The history of Western philosophy can be presented in a number of ways. It can be told in terms of periods — ancient, medieval and modern. We can divide it into rival traditions (empiricism versus rationalism, analytic versus Continental), or into various core areas (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics). It can also, of course, be viewed through the critical lens of gender or racial exclusion, as a discipline almost entirely fashioned for and by white European…
I've been informed that I've been at war for a while. I was surprised. Apparently, Perry Marshall thinks he's been firing salvo after salvo at me…I just hadn't noticed. https://twitter.com/cfingerprints/status/685936085998829568 Oh, OK. I would just ignore him, but he's presenting some fascinatingly common misconceptions. One of his boogeymen is chance, and I've noticed that a lot of people hate the idea of chance. Uncle Fred got hit by lightning? He must have done something very bad. It can't just have been an accident. There are no accidents! Yes, Virginia, there are accidents, chance…
I've frequently noted that one of the things most detested by quacks and promoters of pseudoscience is peer review. Creationists hate peer review. HIV/AIDS denialists hate it. Anti-vaccine cranks like those at Age of Autism hate it. Indeed, as blog bud Mark Hoofnagle Mark Hoofnagle, pointed out several years ago, pseudoscientists and cranks of all stripes hate it. There's a reason for that, of course, namely that it's hard to pass peer review if you're peddling pseudoscience, although, unfortunately, with the rise of "integrative medicine," it's nowhere near as difficult as it once was. Be…
The topic of sports injuries is unavoidable these days-- the sports radio shows I listen to in the car probably spend an hour a week bemoaning the toll playing football takes on kids. Never a publication to shy away from topics that bring easy clicks, Vox weighs in with The Most Dangerous High School Sports in One Chart. You can go over there to look at their specific chart, which is drawn from a medical study of cheerleading; I don't find the general ordering of things all that surprising. There was, however, one aspect of this that I found sort of surprising, namely the difference between…
I know a lot of you are looking for ideas for science-related children's presents for Christmas or whatever holiday you like to celebrate this time of year. I have a couple of ideas, and hopefully you will add some of your ideas below. Not everything that helps encourage the skills of scientific tinkering is found in a science kit, and I'll provide a few ideas for toys that do this. Also, some of the best science experiments are found by using things that don't come in kits, but by following the advice in books. So I'll suggest a few books as well. Purely science kits or tools are of…
A few days ago a team of climate scientists (Catherine Ritz, Tamsin Edwards, Gaël Durand, Antony Payne, Vincent Peyaud, and Richard Hindmarsh) published a study of “Potential sea-level rise from Antarctic ice-sheet instability constrained by observations.” The study asked how much Antarctic ice sheets might contribute to global sea level by 2100 and 2200 AD. The results contradicted some earlier estimates which are on the high end, but conformed very closely to the current IPCC estimate, raising that number by a negligible amount. The authors note that rising seas due to global warming is a…
Another couple of weeks of physics-y posts over at Forbes: -- Why Scientists Should Study Art And Literature: My big defense of "the humanities," explaining why those subjects are worth studying even if you plan to go into a STEM field instead. I'm very happy with how this came out. -- Baseball Physics: How Batters Beat The Best Computers: In honor of the World Series. "How" here means "look, they do this"-- I don't have a detailed explanation of the mechanics that make it all work. -- Football Physics (With Bonus Rugby): The Physics Of Bouncing Balls: Mostly about a really cool try in the…
David Katz doesn't much like skeptics, particularly those of us who question the value of "integrative medicine." In fairness, I can't say that I much blame him. We have been very critical of his writings and talks over the years to my criticism of his statement advocating a "more fluid concept of evidence" more than once, to my pointing out that his arguments frequently boil down to a false dichotomy of either abandoning science or abandoning patients. Last week, my friend Jann Bellamy discussed an unfortunate special supplement of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM)…
Somebody in my social media feeds passed along a link to this interview with Berkeley professor Daniel Boyarin about "the humanities," at NPR's science-y blog. This is, of course, relevant to my interests, but sadly, but while it's a short piece, it contains a lot to hate. For one thing, after the dismissive one-two of "so-called 'scientific methods'" (Scare quotes! "So-called"! Two great tastes that taste great together!) in the process of trying to re-brand "the humanities" as "the human sciences," Boyarin offers the following on methodology: The primary method for the study of humans…
A few years back, I did a couple of posts on the physics of a sad balloon (that is, a helium balloon that can no longer lift itself up to the ceiling), the first on simple buoyancy, the second on how long it takes for the helium to leak out. These were based on only a couple of data points, though, and it's always risky to extrapolate too far from just two points. Of course, in a house with two kids, we have helium balloons show up with some regularity, and SteelyKid's birthday this year provided a bounty of them-- four shiny Mylar balloons, bearing cheerful images of Scooby-Doo, some cartoon…
Granville Sewell has a new post up at Uncommon Descent. It's short, but if you don't want to read it, then rest assured it's just the same post he always writes. Could the four fundamental forces of physics assemble iPhones or nuclear power plants? Absurd! The post is framed in the context of an imaginary discussion between him and an imaginary friend who defends evolution. He plays the role of the bemused clear thinker, while his friend is, of course, dogmatic and unreasonable. I wouldn't bother to address it, except that the title caught my eye. The post is called, “Mathematicians are…
[Note: My flight home from London was delayed until quite late; so unfortunately another "rerun" is in order. This one's from three years ago, and I actually consider it one of my "classics." It was also originally published at my not-so-super-secret other blog and represents the first time I tried to put together my concept of a "central dogma" of alternative medicine into a semi-coherent form. Ultimately, this lead to my talk The Central Dogma of Alternative Medicine, given at Skepticon last year. If you've been reading less than three years, it's new to you. If you haven't, you really…
    One day in the future, we may be treating our ailments with microbiotic combinations designed specifically to correct imbalances in our personal microbiomes. We’ll bring our prescriptions on rewritable paper and pay using shimmery optical chips embedded in our cell phone cases or maybe our jewelry. Or we’ll be waiting in our doctor’s office for a simple test of our microbiogenome to see if a light-based nanoparticle delivery treatment is working, while watching iridescent optical displays that change as we move... These future scenarios (and many more) are all imaginary, but they are…
I seem to be settling into a groove of doing about two posts a week at Forbes, which isn't quite enough to justify a weekly wrap-up, but works well bi-weekly. (I'm pretty sure that's the one that means "every two weeks" not "twice a week," but I always struggle with that one...) Over the last couple of weeks, I've hit a wide range of stuff: -- Planning To Study Science In College? Here's Some Advice Pretty much what it says on the label. I saw a bunch of "advice to new students" posts, and said "Oh, I should do one of those..." so I did. -- The Physics of Star Trek: Teleportation Versus…
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” -Jack London When you think about the Universe all the time, from the smallest scales and the most fundamental particles to the largest cosmic structures and everything in between, the hard part isn't choosing a topic to discuss; it…
Last weekend was our APS-funded outreach workshop The Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, held at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland. The workshop offered a three-day "crash course" on quantum physics to 17 science fiction writers from a variety of media-- we had novelists, short-story writers, screenwriters, and at least one poet. The goal was to provide a basic grounding in quantum physics and a look at current research in hopes of informing and inspiring new stories that will, in turn, inspire the audience for those stories to look more deeply into the…