Physical Sciences

“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 When you think about the frontiers of scientific knowledge -- on the border between what's known and what's unknown -- you have the phenomena that we know exist, yet that we can't fully explain. This includes the matter-antimatter asymmetry, the inflationary origin of our Universe, dark matter and dark energy, among others. Yet two of these, inflation and dark…
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…
Homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All. There, I've started off this post the way I start off most posts about homeopathy, with a statement of just how enormous a pile of pseudoscientific (or rather prescientific) quackery that it is. You'd think that in 2015 no one would believe that diluting a substance (with vigorous shaking between each serial dilution step, of course, in order to "potentize" it) makes its effects stronger or that water has some sort of mystical "memory" that remembers the therapeutic substance but forgets all the other impurities, chemicals, and urine with which…
One of my favourite journal-club comments, from back in the days when I did science, about a previous Hansen paper that failed to find favour. I'm hoping to actually read the Hansen Noveau, and hopeful that it isn't just old wine in new bottles, but first a brief comment about comment policy. Blogs without a comment policy but with any degree of popularity tend to have a comment section full of mush. So what of the EGU open review journals? Generally, they're saved by lack of popularity, but as Tamino points out, one of the recent comments is just raving nutjobbery. Revkin, in his much-…
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small." -Neil Armstrong This past week was the 46th anniversary of the first Moon landing for humanity, and yet at Starts With A Bang there was so much going on in the Universe we glossed right over it! Here's what you might have missed: Can moons have moons? (for Ask Ethan), The best mining destination (for our Weekend Diversion), Out of the darkness (for Mostly Mute Monday), Astronomy at the…
Homeopathy is quackery. There, I've said it for the hundredth or even thousandth time, but I don't care if it's repetitive because it can't be emphasized enough times that homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, with the possible exception of reiki and other "energy therapies." I also find it useful to make it clear right where I'm coming from right off the bat. If you're a homeopath and are offended, quite frankly, I don't care. Any "medicine" whose very precepts break multiple laws of physics and chemistry, laws that wouuld have to be proven not just wrong but spectacularly wrong…
Focusing on Earth, but also a few tidbits on wind, fire, and ice, some current news and observations about global warming. Earth As humans release greenhouse gas pollutants (mainly CO2) into the atmosphere, the surface of the Earth, and the top 2000 meters of the ocean, heat up. But some of the CO2 is absorbed into plant tissues and soil, as well as in the ocean or other standing water. Historically, about 30% of the extra CO2 is absorbed into the ocean, and another 30% converted into (mainly) plant tissue. We hope that enough CO2 is absorbed that the effects of greenhouse gas pollution is…
Orac note: Congratulations on California and everyone who reads this blog who helped pass SB 277 to protect California's children. Here's hoping Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill! I had a big talk to give this morning that required a massive rewrite of my slide set last night; so there wasn't time for the usual Insolence. Some of you might have seen a different version of this post elsewhere. Some of you might not. Either way, I hope you can enjoy! Two weeks ago, I attended the Center For Inquiry Reason for Change Conference, where I participated in a panel on—what else?—alternative…
I've been really busy with year-end wrap-up stuff, but have also posted a bunch of stuff at Forbes. which I've fallen down on my obligation to promote here... So, somewhat belatedly, here's a collection of physics-y stuff that I've written recently: -- Using Atoms To Measure Tiny Forces: A post reporting on some very cool atom interferometry experiments, one working to measure the very tiny (but known to exist) force of gravity, the other searching for a possible "fifth force" sort of thing. -- Making And Shaking New Materials With Ultracold Atoms: A post reporting on a couple more DAMOP…
"Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details." -Heraclitus This past week at Starts With A Bang put on quite a show, and you -- as always -- didn't disappoint. If you missed anything, here's what went on: Learning to chill (a guest post from Paul Halpern), Does a black hole have a shape? (a fascinating Astroquizzical from Jillian Scudder), Muons, relativity & a new record? (for Ask Ethan), Keep the Universe going (introducing our Patreon, for our Weekend Diversion), Sunsets from space (for Mostly Mute Monday), Pluto's unique moons, and What would you…
Recently, a paper published in a Chinese journal of science by Monckton, Soon and Legates attracted a small amount of attention by claiming that climate science models "run hot" and therefore overrepresent the level of global warming caused by human greenhouse gas pollution. The way they approached the problem of climate change was odd. The Earth's climate system is incredibly complex, and climate models used by mainstream climate scientists address this complexity and therefore are also complex. Monckton et al chose to address this complexity by developing a model they characterize as "…
Epigenetics. As I've described before, to alternative medicine practitioners, epigenetics seems to mean something akin to what the word "quantum" means: Magic. I've covered, for example, the woo-filled stylings of Deepak Chopra invoking things like "quantum consciousness," and seemingly for quite a few years the best way to slap a patina of "sciencey"-sounding credibility on a pseudoscientific medical treatment has been to add the word "quantum" to it. Perhaps the epitome of this tendency was the infamous Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface promoted by a rather—shall we say?—flamboyant…
Once again, the yearly autism quackfest known as Autism One is fast approaching. In fact, it will begin in Chicago tomorrow: five days of "autism biomed" quackery and antivaccine pseudoscience. Ever since the Great Schism in the autism antivaccine quackery community, which severed Generation Rescue from Autism One and ended Jenny McCarthy's run of being the keynote speaker every year, it just hasn't been the same. Well, not quite. It turns out that a lot of the speakers are still the same, Generation Rescue or not, Jenny McCarthy or not. Just take a look at the speaker list, and you'll see a…
By High School Student Connor Smith, who is attending Cornell next year and studying chemistry. The two speakers I enjoyed most at the 2015 X-STEM conference were Andrew Zwicker, a physicist from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and William Pomerantz, the Vice President of Special Projects at Virgin Galactic. Dr. Zwicker talked primarily about his work on fusion reactors using high energy plasma, and the need for the development of clean energy technology. Read more 
I've discussed on many occasions over the years how antivaccine activists really, really don't want to be known as "antivaccine." Indeed, when they are called "antivaccine" (usually quite correctly, given their words and deeds), many of them will clutch their pearls in indignation, rear up in self-righteous anger, and retort that they are "not antivaccine" but rather "pro-vaccine safety," "pro-health freedom," "parental rights," or some other antivaccine dog whistle that sounds superficially reasonable. In the meantime, they continue to do their best to demonize vaccines as dangerous, "toxin…