Physical Sciences

The New York Times Styles Section giveth. The New York Times Styles Section taketh away. Last week, The NYT Styles Section published an excellent deconstruction of the pseudoscientific activities of Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe, by Courtney Rubin. Although skeptics might think that it was a tad too "balanced" (as did I), by and large we understand that this was the NYT Style section, and seeing a full-throated skeptical deconstruction of The Food Babe's antics in such a venue is just not in the cards. That's what I'm there for (not to mention other skeptics like Steve Novella), such as…
A few years back, I became aware of Mike Brotherton's Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and said "somebody should do this for quantum physics." At the time, I wasn't in a position to do that, but in the interim, the APS Outreach program launched the Public Outreach and Informing the Public Grant program, providing smallish grants for new public outreach efforts. So, because I apparently don't have enough on my plate as it is, I floated the idea with Steve Rolston at Maryland (my immediate supervisor when I was a grad student), who liked it, and we put together a proposal with their Director of…
If you have not been living in a cave, and had you been, I’d respect that, you know about Willie Soon Gate. Willie soon is a researcher on soft money at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Soon is well known for producing research of questionable quality that anemically attempts to buck the scientific consensus that human caused greenhouse gas pollution is rapidly raising the Earth’s temperature. Soon’s links to the fossil fuel industry have been known for some time, but recently, he has gotten into even more hot water over having published papers without properly disclosing that…
New Research on the Effects of CO2 Pollution A paper just published in Nature reports on the direct measurement of the effects of human greenhouse gas pollution on the heating of the Earth’s atmosphere. This is empirical verification of anthropogenic global warming. Since the Industrial Revolution, when humans started polluting the Earth’s atmosphere with copious amounts of long lived greenhouse gases released from entombment as fossil fuels, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has skyrocketed from close to 250 parts per million (ppm) to about 400ppm. In fact, February was the first month…
A newly published study has identified changes in precipitation patterns in the US Northeast, which are likely caused by human pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, which has resulted in global warming. According to the study, there has been an increase in extreme precipitation events, and an increase in the clumping across time of precipitation, with longer or more intense rainy periods, and longer dry periods. Generally, climate and weather watchers have noticed that arid regions are drier, wetter regions are wetter, and many feel this is a consequence of global warming.…
A sort of follow-up to last week's post about the STEM "pipeline". In discussions on Twitter sparked by the study I talked about last week, I've seen a bunch of re-shares of different versions of this graph of the percentage of women earning undergrad degrees in physics: Fraction of BA/BS degrees in physics awarded to women over time. From AIP Statistical Research. You can clearly see that after a fairly steady rise through the 80's and 90's, this trend has flattened out over the last decade. If you crop the horizontal axis to start in the early 2000's, you can actually see a decline from…
Or so says Christine Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. And yet we discover that Soon's research was (partially) funded by Southern Company Services, with whom Soon had and agreement, signed by Smithsonian’s William J. Ford, contract and grant specialist; and Bryan Baldwin, Southern’s manager of environmental assessment.: As further consideration to SCS [Southern Company Services], Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS The assertion of no…
Via Curt Rice (or, more precisely, somebody on Twitter who posted a link to that, but I didn't note who) there's a new study in Frontiers in Psychology of the STEM "pipeline", looking at the history of gender disparities in STEM degrees. You can spin this one of two ways, the optimistic one being "Women now continue on from bachelors degrees to Ph.D.'s at the same rate as men!" and the pessimistic one being, well, Rice's post. The accurate description, as is often the case in social science, "This stuff is really messy and confusing." Rather than being a set of nice straight pipes going from…
Bill Maher did it again last night, doubling down on his anti-vax nonsense claiming the real problem is we haven't done a controlled population-based trial on vaccination vs non-vaccination. Sadly, I don't have a clip, but I have to say this time at least I was gratified that his panel wasn't composed of complete morons and they actually challenged him on some of his nonsense. This is actually a classic impossible expectations denialist argument, he essentially proposes an experiment that would be wildly expensive, impossible to perform, and highly unethical. Worse, it still is internally…
Rhett Allain has a list of 5 Things Every Human Should Know About Light, to tie in with the International Year of Light, and it's a good list with lots of .gifs. Of course, there are some gaps, so let me offer some additional things that everyone ought to know about light: -- Light Is a Particle Rhett and I have a long-running argument about the use of photons in introductory physics; he's against them for reasons that make no sense to me. To my mind, it is unquestionably true that light has particle-like properties (and here's a follow-up with some math), and that's a thing that everybody…
(When I launched the Advent Calendar of Science Stories series back in December, I had a few things in mind, but wasn't sure I'd get through 24 days. In the end, I had more than enough material, and in fact didn't end up using a few of my original ideas. So I'll do a few additional posts, on an occasional basis, to use up a bit more of the leftover bits from Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist...) One of the things I was reacting against in writing Eureka is the popular idea of scientists as a sort of unworldly elite, off doing their ivory-tower idealized thing without worrying about…
The Great DeflateGate Controversy This year's Super Bowl will be, as of this writing, tomorrow, late afternoon, between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Both teams have a 14-4 record for the season, so it should be a good game. Also, the game will be held in a stadium located in an arid and warm region of the country, in a stadium with a covered roof. So, there is no chance of a cloudy with a chance of deflated-balls scenario. You have probably heard that an accusation has been made against the New England Patriots regarding their balls. It has been claimed that they…
Shamelessly stolen from ATTP's “More than half” is the same as “> 50%”!, but I think this captures brilliantly a typical argument with the "skeptics": TPP has a link to the interesting story of Alfred Russel Wallace's bet with the flat-earthers that the Earth was, in fact, not flat. Somehow, that seems relevant. While I'm copying, I may as well point you at It’s the Trend, Stupid as an antidote, if needed, to the misc denialists. Moyhu also has a nice pic, which I've inlined below, and a nice discussion of the different sorts of uncertainties. And while on misc, via Paul I find Brown…
(When I launched the Advent Calendar of Science Stories series back in December, I had a few things in mind, but wasn't sure I'd get through 24 days. In the end, I had more than enough material, and in fact didn't end up using a few of my original ideas. So I'll do a few additional posts, on an occasional basis, to use up a bit more of the leftover bits from Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist...) Every physicist with the tiniest bit of a public profile gets letters from people with a pet theory to promote. These days, email and social media make it incredibly easy to flood the inbox of…
(When I launched the Advent Calendar of Science Stories series back in December, I had a few things in mind, but wasn't sure I'd get through 24 days. In the end, I had more than enough material, and in fact didn't end up using a few of my original ideas. So I'll do a few additional posts, on an occasional basis, to use up a bit more of the leftover bits from Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist...) One of my very favorite stories about a famous physicist concerns a young man of about 19, arriving at Cambridge from the University of Edinburgh. While being introduced around the college, it…
I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track. The twelfth profile of this round (after a short hiatus for relentless book promotion) features a distinguished Union Physics alumnus, now a business analyst in New Jersey. 1) What is your non-academic job? I work at the Princeton, NJ office of ZS Associates, a company that describes…
That paper that proposed that most cancers were due to bad luck, that is, that they were a consequence of biological factors that could not be controlled, has been surprisingly controversial. I thought it was a fairly unsurprising paper that confirmed what we already suspected, but wow, the furious pushback has been something to behold. Today, though, a couple of MDs have responded to the paper and reinforce what I said. Steven Novella thinks the general logic is sound. This is an interesting study and it will be interesting to look at replications and other methods, if they are available, of…
She's baa-aack. Remember Stephanie Seneff? When last Orac discussed her, she had been caught dumpster diving into the VAERS database in order to torture the data to make it confess a "link" between aluminum adjuvants in vaccines and acetaminophen and—you guessed it!—autism. It was a bad paper in a bad journal known as Entropy that I deconstructed in detail around two years ago. As I said at the time, I hadn't seen a "review" article that long and that badly done since the even more horrible article by Helen Ratajczak entitled Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes–A review (which, not…
Ever since moving back to the Detroit area nearly seven years ago, one thing I've noticed is a propensity for our local news outlets to go full pseudoscience from time to time. I'm not sure why, other than perhaps that it attracts eyeballs to the screen, but, in reality, most of these plunges into pseudoscience and quackery are so poorly done that I find it hard to believe that even believers find them interesting. For example, back in 2008, I discussed a particularly dumb story aired by our local NBC affiliate WDIV entitled Orbs: Myth or Real?, which, not having started my new job yet, I…
Another weekend day, another story I'm going to outsource a bit. In this case, to the original scientist, who at the time of his discovery was a 13-year-old schoolboy in Tanzania: In 1963, when I was in form 3 in Magamba Secondary School, Tanzania, I used to make ice-cream. The boys at the school do this by boiling milk, mixing it with sugar and putting it into the freezing chamber in the refrigerator, after it has first cooled nearly to room temperature. A lot of boys make it and there is a rush to get space in the refrigerator. One day after buying milk from the local women, I started…