Physical Sciences

"Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not yet completely sure about the universe." -Frederick S. Perls, quoting Einstein The Universe we can see and access is certainly a big place. We see that it goes on for 46 billion light years in all directions, full of stars, galaxies, matter and radiation wherever we look, consistent with an origin in a hot Big Bang. But beyond what we can see, there ought to be more Universe just like our own, originating from either the same Big Bang, or possibly, if inflation is correct, from other Big Bangs at later or earlier times…
“Weightlessness was unbelievable. It's physical euphoria: Nothing about you has any weight. You don't realize that you are weighed down all the time by yourself, and your organs, and your head. Your arms weigh down your shoulders. In space simulation, you get to fly like Superman! You're hanging in the air! It's the coolest thing.” -Mary Roach As October comes to an end, the nights grow longer (at least in the northern hemisphere) and Halloween approaches. There are wonders all around us, and the need to separate good science from bad. There's plenty in the rear-view mirror, like this month’s…
The jazz of physics, the physics of jazz, the chemistry of jazz, the jazz of chemistry, the jazz of computer science, the computer science of jazz, the math of jazz, the jazz of math, the jazz of biology, the biology of jazz, the jazz of engineering, the engineering of jazz. And why not the jazz of history and the history of jazz? The sociology of jazz and the jazz of sociology? The jazz of political science, the political science of jazz. The jazz of philosophy, the philosophy of jazz, the literature of jazz, the jazz of literature. And why not the jazz of religion, the religion of jazz,…
As hard as it is for me to believe, I’ve been writing about homeopathy for more than a decade now. Regular readers, of course, know that homeopathy is quackery, utter pseudoscience based on prescientific vitalism based on two “laws”: the Law of Similars and the Law of Infinitesimals. The former states that, to relieve a symptom, you use a substance that causes that symptom in healthy people. There is, of course, no science or logic to support this as a general principle other than sympathetic magic. The latter Law states that to make a remedy stronger, you must dilute it. That in itself is…
“What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents.” -Jay Griffiths At the earliest times, we can trace the history of our Universe back to an inflationary state, where the energy inherent to space itself caused a rapid, exponential expansion. At the latest (current) times, billions of years after inflation ended and the Big Bang occurred, dark energy has come to dominate the Universe’s expansion. These two states are very…
You've probably already heard about his paper because everyone is all a tizzy about it. There is a fundamental complaint being made about one of the paper's conclusions. I've been paying careful attention to what my colleagues are saying about that one aspect of the paper, and I get their point but I'm not sure if they are right. I'll explain that later. What everyone so far has almost entirely missed, though, is the actual point of the paper, and that is important and while I'm sure it could be improved with further work, this is good stuff and important. One of the major contributions…
“To study things from a scientific standpoint means to take an inventory of them—to find the process in which they are being produced; to connect them with other things; to see things in their causal process. ” -William Harris As is pretty much always the case, it's been a big week here at Starts With A Bang! So much of what we wrote about has inspired thoughts and conversations I never could have imagined on my own, and if you missed any of what we've covered, take a look back at: How small is an elementary particle? (for Ask Ethan), Dark matter proved real by colliding galaxy clusters (for…
“Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness. I have to bang my head against some hard door to call myself back to the body.” -Virginia Woolf If you think about the Universe, what it is today, what it contains and what makes it up, it very much is “something” by any way you’ll attempt to define it. Yet every “something” we know of has an origin, and the only ultimate origin for the first “something” is that it must have come from nothing. Visualization of a quantum field theory calculation showing…
The Cancer Moonshot. It’s a topic that I’ve been meaning to address ever since President Barack Obama announced it in his State of the Union address this year and tasked Vice President Joe Biden to head up the initiative. Biden, you’ll recall, lost his son to a brain tumor . Yet here it is, eight months later, and somehow I still haven’t gotten around to it. The goal of the initiative is to “eliminate cancer as we know it,” and to that end, with $195 million invested immediately in new cancer activities at the National Institutes of Health and $755 million proposed for FY 2017. My first…
In the early days of this blog, I came up with a concept. That concept was based on the idea that on Friday I would try hard not to be so serious. On Fridays, I would seek out the finest woo in the world and aim a bit of my not-so-Respectful Insolence. Thus was born Your Friday Dose of Woo. It was a serious that I maintained close to religiously for nearly two years, before I started to feel the strain of having to com eup with something funny or quirky on every Friday. So gradually I let the series go, until it became an occasional feature. These days, it’s so occasional now that the last…
We in the US certainly have our share of pure quackery; there’s no denying it. After all, we have to take “credit” for inflicting the likes of Joe Mercola, the ever-libeling conspiracy crank and hilariously off=base scientist wannabe Mike Adams, Gary Null, Robert O. Young, and many others on the world. Unfortunately, we sometimes export our quacks elsewhere. Such was the case with expat Lynn McTaggart, who with her husband Bryan Hubbard moved to London to inflict their woo on our friends the Brits. I first heard of her when I encountered her mystical magical belief that our thoughts can heal…
“According to well-known electrodynamic laws, an electron moving in a magnetic field is acted upon by a force which runs perpendicular to the direction of motion of the electron and to the direction of the magnetic field, and whose magnitude is easily determined.” -Pieter Zeeman We're now full-on into summer here at Starts With A Bang, but that doesn't mean that science slows down at all! Our podcasts are killer with a new one coming soon, the 4th of July has just passed giving way to a huge slew of fantastic outdoor activities, and we've spent the first half of last week focused on astronomy…
One of the most reliable indicators of a quack clinic that I know of (besides its offering homeopathy and reiki) is the inclusion of “detox foot bath” treatments on its roster of services. Detox foot baths, whatever the brand, are of a piece with other “detoxification” pseudoscience involving the feet, such as Kinoki foot pads. Basically, the idea is that you can some how remove toxins through the soles of your feet using either a nice mineral bath with a weak electrical current passed through it or a foot pad. Inevitably, nasty looking stuff is seen apparently coming out of the feet. In the…
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” -Muhammad Ali It's been a very busy week here at Starts With A Bang — as most full weeks after vacation often are — but there's a whole lot to look forward to and look back on this past week. Not only did we have a new podcast come out for The Mac Observer, but we also had an overflowing week of stories to cover, including: Is the Universe expanding faster than expected? (for Ask Ethan), No one, not even Newton or Einstein, was the Muhammad Ali of physics, Fly over NASA's greatest-ever view of Pluto (for…
There are certain myths that are frustratingly resistant to evidence, science, and reason. Some of these are basically medical conspiracy theories, where someone (industry and/or big pharma and/or physicians and/or the government) has slam-dunk evidence for harm but conspires to keep it from you, the people. For example, despite decades worth of negative studies, the belief that vaccines are harmful, causing conditions ranging from autism to sudden infant death syndrome, to all varieties of allergies and autoimmune diseases, refuses to die. Fortunately, this myth is one that, after more than…
After over 11 years at this blogging thing, I periodically start to fear that I’m becoming jaded. In particular, after following the infiltration of quackery in the form of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), now more commonly known as “integrative medicine,” because it integrates CAM with evidence-based medicine. Of course, in reality, what “integrative medicine” really does is to integrate prescientific, pseudoscientific, and antiscientific quackery with real medicine, and that’s what I mean. I thought I had seen it all in academic medical centers and medical schools: the faith…
I've had this piece by Rick Borchelt on "science literacy" and this one by Paige Brown Jarreau on "echo chambers" open in tabs for... months. I keep them around because I have thoughts on the general subject, but I keep not writing them up because I suspect that what I want to say won't be read much, and I find it frustrating to put a lot of work into a blog post only to be greeted by crickets chirping. But, now I find myself in a position where I sort of need to have a more thought-out version of the general argument. So I'm going to do a kind of slapdash blog post working this out as I type…
Noted grouchy person John Horgan has found a new way to get people mad at him on the Internet, via a speech-turned-blog-post taking organized Skeptic groups to task for mostly going after "soft targets". This has generated lots of angry blog posts in response, and a far greater number of people sighing heavily and saying "There Horgan goes again..." If you want to read only one counter to Horgan's piece to get caught up, you could do a lot worse than reading Daniel Loxton's calm and measured response. Loxton correctly notes that Horgan's comments are nothing especially unique, just a variant…
“If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” -Rabindranath Tagore Time continues marching on here at Starts With A Bang, just as it does everywhere. My Patreon supporters have stepped up their game, and we're just $21 shy of unlocking our next goal! There are two great new items this week I'd love to share with you: first, our newest Podcast on dark energy and the fate of the Universe, and second, a video whose script I helped write (with a bonus coming up) for Kurzgesagt - In a…
Disentangling greenhouse warming and aerosol cooling to reveal Earth’s climate sensitivity (T. Storelvmo, T. Leirvik, U. Lohmann, P. C. B. Phillips & M. Wild; Nature Geoscience 9, 286–289 (2016) doi:10.1038/ngeo2670) doesn't seem to have garnered much attention. I glanced at it, I think, thought "that told me what I thought I knew already", and thought no more. Life is so much simpler when you need think no more. But then a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous (and before you start guessing, no, it isn't JA, he is quite forthright) offered me some thoughts, and I thought I'd share…