Physical Sciences

I was scheduled for a deeply unpleasant medical test yesterday, which I thought was going to leave me lots of time for blogging. yesterday afternoon and this morning. The preliminary test turned out to be so unpleasant (if anybody ever offers to stick a tube through your nose into your stomach, decline politely) that I didn't go through with the test, and, in fact, was kind of wiped out all last night. Hence, yesterday's light blogging, and today's lazy blogging. One of the controversial things that China Miéville said on the Readercon panels I went to was to sort of dismiss the whole idea…
The problem with having eyes and ears everywhere is that sometimes they deliver sensory data that make you want to rip them out of your head or stuff them with cotton, respectively. An eagle-eyed reader pointed me toward some eyebrow-raising comments on another blog, which would not be of much interest except they purport to transmit information obtained from one of the fine science departments at my university. So, to uphold the honor of my university, I have to wade into this. First, a representative sampling of the comments from the poster in question. He writes: I will leave this site…
Since all of my Fantastical Fridays posts so far have been about chemistry or physics, I think it's time for a change of pace. Here's a post I wrote a couple of months ago about some more "political" science that had been in the news. (24 January 2006) Now I have an excuse for my behavior the next time I get into a bitter political debate: I can't help being defensive--it's hardwired into me!Those are the findings, at least, of a recent study led by psychologist Drew Westen, as reported by The New York Times today. Using M.R.I. scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the…
Having worked as a communications officer for more than one scientific outfit, I can sympathize with the outreach guys at the University of Leicester. But methinks they took their attention-grabbing-headline lessons a bit too seriously. A story making the rounds of the science PR wires today asks: What do Racquel Welch and quantum physics have in common? The answer is not a whole heckuva lot. The research they're trying to interest journalists in writing about involves zero-point energy, that mysterious quality of even a vaccuum to hold a measurable level of activity at the subatomic level.…
While thinking about ways to make the blog better, I wondered if I should emulate some of my colleagues, many of whom have regular features every week, often on Friday. And, since I usually get a little less serious on Fridays anyway (and, because traffic seems to fall off 50% or more anyway regardless of what I post, on the weekends, too), it seemed like a good idea. But I couldn't think of something that ties together the common themes of this blog, yet maintains a suitably Friday-blogging light-hearted feel to it. And then I came across this article: L. R. Milgrom (2006). Towards a New…
There are a number of approaches scientists take to get at the fundamental nature of life, and one of those is elucidating the chemical structures of the molecules that make life happen, particularly proteins, which are the workhorses of the cell. One of the two primary methods for determining these structures is nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and the other is x-ray crystallography. My current work is in the former, meaning I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a huge magnet and even more time staring at a computer screen trying to make sense of the data I get from the magnet. As…
Here's a dilemma: I think Ron Numbers, the philosopher and historian of science, is a smart fellow and a net asset to the opposition to creationism, and I agree with him that a diversity of approaches to the issue is a good thing. My opinion could change, though, because I am experiencing considerable exasperation with the apologists for religion on the evolution side, and this interview with Numbers isn't helping things. Here's an example of the kind of nonsense that drives me nuts. QUESTION: Are scientists in general atheistic? MR. NUMBERS: The public often gets the impression that most…
This is an early post of mine concerning the approaches to teaching science. It was first published on March 15, 2005. I have employed both of the methods described in this post since then. The jigsaw puzzle works much better as it is more fun. I have described how it actually went in the classroom here: A few days ago, PZ Myers of the Pharyngula fame (not the pharyngula stage, though - much more advanced in development) wrote a post (that links to this article about creative ways to teach scientific method: "I found that I had to teach the nature of science at both the undergraduate…
I am a science teacher. I think I am actually a pretty good science teacher. So, it came to me as a surprise as how much I was baffled by the new SEED AskTheScienceBlogger question: What makes a good science teacher?... The answer, I guess, depends on the precise definitions of the words "makes", "good", "science" and "teacher". [read the rest under the fold] Is this the question about inherent talents shared by the good science teachers, or the methods one may use to turn a lousy or mediocre teacher into a good one? Being extroverted helps. Being a natural performer helps. Loving…
For some reason I have been seeing lots of neuroeconomics articles lately. Maybe it is because people enjoy using that prefix. This article caught my eye because I have been reading off the reservation -- a history of economics by Mark Skousen -- who in spite of a rather lengthy "Keynes is a complete yo-yo" rant writes a darn good history. What I have learned from this extensive reading is that people -- at least in aggregate -- seek out the best deal. I know...utterly shocking that. Unless you are an economist. If you are an economist, you tend to write 1,400 page books and then be…
Move over Fritjof Capra. The author of The Tao of Physics captured the imaginations of naive readers a couple of decades back by exploring the similarities between quantum theory and Eastern philosophies. But as the New York Times' Dennis Overbye reported Tuesday, Chinese scientists are more interested in the words of Stephen Hawking than Lao-tzu. Which is a good thing. For the Chinese. Maybe not so much for those of us in the West. Just the other day I was listening to our own Chris Mooney taken on anti-intellectual Tom Bethell on NPR's Science Friday. Central to Bethell's case that liberals…
Tim Blair responds to Mieszkowski's conclusion that "climate scientists say that, basically, Gore got it right" with a link to an article by Tom Harris who writes: Albert Einstein once said, "Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." While the gods must consider An Inconvenient Truth the ultimate comedy, real climate scientists are crying over Al Gore's new film. This is not just because the ex-vice-president commits numerous basic science mistakes. They are also concerned that many in the media and public will fail to…
The latest Ask a Science Blogger question is: Assuming that time and money were not obstacles, what area of scientific research, outside of your own discipline, would you most like to explore? Why? I had to smile a bit when I saw this question. You see, one of the main reasons I went into mathematics was my distaste for actually doing scientific research. To me it seemed that mathematics had all the things I liked about science - the logic; the clear thinking; the steady, methodical progress; - without the things I didn't like. Specifically, the part where you slave away in a laboratory…
Weirdly, this week's Ask a ScienceBlogger question may be the hardest one to answer yet: Assuming that time and money were not obstacles, what area of scientific research, outside of your own discipline, would you most like to explore? Why? Most of the responses have taken this as an "If you had it to do over, what sort of scientist would you be?", and that's the source of the problem. It's not that the question itself is all that difficult-- I actually have a stock answer for that. The problem is that I don't really like the premise of the question (he says cryptically, promising to explain…
'Dem fools is asking us this: "Assuming that time and money were not obstacles, what area of scientific research, outside of your own discipline, would you most like to explore? Why?" I guess "novelist" isn't an acceptable answer as it's not an "area of scientific research". Well, that and I've never really wanted to write novels. But never really wanting to do work hasn't stopped me from putting in a little bit of effort to get this far. So, if I wasn't wasting my time doing what I'm doing, what would I be doing? I'm not going to stray too far from my discipline. I took classes in chemistry…
Had enough of the coke-and-mentos display? Time for a more mellow viral video fix, perhaps. This week's New York Times offers some soothing underwater footage of humpback whales. The accompaying story promises even better visuals soon, thanks to the advent of hi-def. The story follows marine biologist Jason Sturgis' quest for better resolution of his research subject, and makes much of the utility of high-definition video: "Jason's images might well serve whale research in the manner that Carl Sagan's eloquence made physics and astronomy meaningful to a lay audience," said Dan R. Salden,…
This week's (and my first) "Ask a Science Blogger" question comes from a Science Blogs reader named Jake Bryan (aka chezjake). He asks: Assuming that time and money were not obstacles, what area of scientific research, outside of your own discipline, would you most like to explore? Why? The answer is all of them. I'm an information junky, so I'd love to study just about everything. Of course, my less-than-stellar math abilities would make theoretical physics pretty difficult, but a guy can dream, right? But if I'm going to give a real answer, the choice would have to boil down to either…
Ask a Big Question, get...fewer answers. But really well-considered, provocative ones. This week, the ScienceBloggers mulled: "Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?" Read on for their relplies. Most of the bloggers pointed out the question isn't asking about a "brain drain" as it's most commonly defined -- rather, it's asking whether the influx of foreign…
Synesthesia -- the ability to experience a sensation like vision in another mode, like hearing -- is thought to be quite rare. Yet all of us have the ability to combine sensory modes, and we do it every day. The modes we combine just happen to be ones we don't think about as often: taste and smell. While vision gets the lion's share of attention in perception research, research on olfaction and taste has begun to be more prominent. However, though we know that the senses of taste and smell interact, few studies have explored the interaction between the two sensory modes. The problem is that…
Another week, another "Ask a ScienceBlogger" question. This week, the topic is the putative "brain drain" caused by recent US policies: Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it? This is really three questions, with a fourth sort of assumed on the way to the third. Answers below the fold. The first question is "Is there a 'brain drain' going on?" That one, I can…