Physical Sciences

Homeopathy is quackery. There, I’ve fulfilled my normal requirement to start out all posts that I write having to do with homeopathy with a simple, declarative, and, most of all, true statement about what homeopathy is. I also like to mention briefly homeopathy’s two major “laws.” The first is the Law of Similars, a totally pseudoscientific “law” without basis in science that proclaims that the way to treat a symptom is to use a substance that causes that symptom in healthy people. The second “law,” of course, is the Law of Infinitesimals, which further states that the more you dilute a…
"Which is more likely? That the universe was designed just for us, or that we see the universe as having been designed just for us?" -Michael Shermer After the end of another fun-filled week, it's time again to take a look at (and respond to) what you've had to say! Over on the main Starts With A Bang blog, we've tackled the following topics: How deep does the Multiverse go? (for Ask Ethan), Planetary Beers (for our Weekend Diversion), A cluster that stands out from the galaxy, M23 (for Messier Monday), The Mystery of the Missing Mini-galaxies, How the experiment that claimed to detect dark…
Also coming to my attention during the weekend blog shutdown was this Princeton Alumni Weekly piece on the rhetoric of crisis in the humanities. Like several other authors before him, Gideon Rosen points out that there's little numerical evidence of a real "crisis," and that most of the cries of alarm you hear from academics these days have near-perfect matches in prior generations. The humanities have always been in crisis. This wouldn't be worth mentioning, but Rosen goes on to offer an attempt at an explanation of why the sense of crisis is so palpable within the humanities, an explanation…
A few weeks back, a Union alumnus who works at Troy Prep contacted the college to arrange a visit for a bunch of second-graders, and asked if faculty would be willing to arrange talks and demos for the kids. I said something like "Sure, we could probably make liquid nitrogen ice cream for them," and then basically forgot about it until last week, when I said "Oh, crap, I have to make liquid nitrogen ice cream for 60 seven-year-olds on Monday!" Fortunately, our students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are awesome, and I was able to round up a handful of helpers from the summer…
The latest in a long series of articles making me glad I don't work in psychology was this piece about replication in the Guardian. This spins off some harsh criticism of replication studies and a call for an official policy requiring consultation with the original authors of a study that you're attempting to replicate. The reason given is that psychology is so complicated that there's no way to capture all the relevant details in a published methods section, so failed replications are likely to happen because some crucial detail was omitted in the follow-up study. Predictably enough, this…
With very few exceptions, antivaccinationists labor under the delusion that they are not antivaccine. The reason is simple. Deep down, at some level, even the most dedicated antivaccine advocate knows that society quite rightly views it as a bad thing to be against a preventative intervention that has arguably saved more lives than any other medical intervention. Of course, as I've documented many times in the past, there are some who are openly antivaccine and proud of it, but they seem to be the minority. Most antivaccinationists, like Jenny McCarthy, hide behind a mantra resembling, "I'm…
Convective clouds forming over the Amazon in a blanket smoke. Image: Prof. Ilan Koren Horse latitudes, doldrums, calms of Cancer and Capricorn: These are all synonymous names for the forsaken regions of the oceans that sailors of previous eras cursed because the winds that once pushed their sails die out there for weeks at a time. (One suggested explanation for the name “horse latitudes” is that some had to throw the horses overboard there when the supplies ran out.) On land, these subtropical belts – around 30-35° north and south of the equator – help form the world’s deserts. These…
I have a son who's currently a physics undergrad. As you can imagine, I occasionally pass along a link or two to him pointing to stuff on the web I think he might find particularly interesting or useful. Thinking on that fact, I surmised that perhaps other science students might find those links interesting or useful as well. Hence, this series of posts here on the blog. By necessity and circumstance, the items I've chosen will be influenced by my son's choice of major and my own interest in the usefulness of computational approaches to science and of social media for outreach and…
Well, it snuck up on me again, the way it has a tendency to do every year. Maybe it's because Memorial Day is so early this year. Maybe it's because there's just so much work to do this week given the multiple grant deadlines. Whatever the case, it just dawned on my last night that today is the first day of the yearly autism quackfest known as AutismOne (AO), which is being held at the Intercontinental O'Hare Hotel near Chicago. Of course, things are different this year. Given the schism between team Crosby and pretty much everyone else in the antivaccine movement, it's unclear what the deal…
Over the years, the criticism of "evidence-based medicine" (EBM) that I have repeated here and that I and others have repeated at my not-so-super-secret other blog is that its levels of evidence relegate basic science considerations to the lowest level evidence and elevate randomized clinical trial evidence to the highest rung, in essence fetishizing it above all, a form of thinking that I like to call methodolatry. Now, when EBM works correctly, this is not an entirely unreasonable way to look at things. After all, we just want to know what works in patients. Basically, when EBM is working…
"There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception." -Aldous Huxley From tiny, laser-light wavelengths to dark skies to dark matter on the largest scales in the Universe, it's been quite a week at the main Starts With A Bang collection over at Medium. New this week, we've talked about: Is there a limit to Lasers? (for our Ask Ethan series), Finding darkness (for our Weekend Diversion), The globular cluster Messier 4 (for Messier Monday), The Unparalleled Power of Experiment, The Death of Dark Matter's #1 Competitor, and The Whole Story on Dark…
Congratulations to the Kavli Science in Fiction Video Contest winners!! 1st Prize Winner: Zachary Katko Video:   "Superluminal Communication" Age : 17 School: Dansville High School, Dansville, Michigan What are your favorite subjects? Science and Social Studies mainly, though I also enjoy English. Can you tell us what inspired you to make this video? Firstly, my engagingly ruminative English teacher, Ms. Pauline Lee. She introduced me specifically to the Kavli Video contest. Secondly, I drew inspiration from numerous captivating science shows (eg. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, How The Universe…
Dr. David L. Katz is apparently unhappy with me. You remember Dr. Katz, don't you? If you don't, I'll remind you momentarily. If you do, you won't be surprised. Let me explain a bit first how Dr. Katz recently became aware of me again. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a short (for me) piece about something that disturbed both Steve Novella and myself, namely An herbal medicine clinic at the Cleveland Clinic: Quackademia triumphant Steve had blogged about it as well a couple of days earlier. To my surprise, Maithri Vengala over at The Healthcare Blog noticed the blog post and asked me if I…
I’ve heard that for some the experience of undergoing an MRI scan is claustrophobic, but I find it oddly comfy and cocoon-like. OK, there are those gear-grinding screeches and thumps interrupting the music in the earphones. And the cumbersome set-up for imaging breasts, along with the usual admonition to keep perfectly still, does not leave me in a position I would choose for a nap. Still, I’m on the verge of dropping off when the whole table starts shaking under me. They had warned me about this before I climbed onto the apparatus, but for a second I’m not sure whether to laugh (without…
Guest Blog By Stacy JannisScience Media Producer and the Manager of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s Kavli science video contest Can science fiction influence science? Many theoretical physicists and astronomers seem to think so, and quite a few scientists say they were inspired to go into science by reading Jules Verne, or watching TV episodes of Flash Gordon and Star Trek. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that NASA’s first space shuttle was christened the Enterprise? At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a formal partnership with science fiction writers was announced three…
Discover the STEM Power of Lockheed Martin at the USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo in April Have you ever wondered what it would be like to pilot the F-35 or a flying robot? Or how cold it is in Antarctica (a region known as the most frigid place on Earth)? In addition to what the next big thing in batteries is, and can medicine really be  personalized for every individual? At Festival Expo 2014 you'll experience the answer to these and other questions in unforgettable ways with founding and presenting sponsor of the Festival, Lockheed Martin through exciting interactive,…
Guest Blog by Adora SvitakUSA Science & Engineering Festival Youth Advisory Board Member Note: See Adora as part of the Teen Inventors Panel at the Festival on the Lockheed Martin Stage!  When I was little, I hated a lot of things. I refused to practice piano or violin. I didn't eat my leafy vegetables. But most of all I hated math. By extension, I disliked anything that stank of equations: physics, chemistry, technology, engineering. After falling in love with Corinthian columns and the University of Washington's collegiate-Gothic buildings, I wanted to be an architect... until I…
First, as I've mentioned before, there is a Reddit "As Me Anything" (AMA) going on right now with Stephan Lewandowsky, and if you are into Reddit AMA's and climate change related issues you should check it out. Lewandowsky is a co-author of the famous Frontiers Retracted paper, though the subjects being discussed at the AMA range far beyond that particular issue. Second, there is new paper out that looks very interesting. I'm still trying to absorb it and I've asked the author for some clarifications on some issues, but already the Global Warming Deialosphere is all over it, so it must have…
The 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival, the nation's largest celebration of STEM, is just one month away! This FREE and open to the public event will take place April 26 & 27 at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center. Over 250,000 attendees will experience the weekend of a lifetime with 3,000 hands on exhibits, 150 stage shows, including presentations from science celebrities Bill Nye and Michio Kaku, teacher development workshops, a Festival Book Fair and much much more! Here is just a sampling of the upcoming stage shows at the Festival Expo Finale: Learn From Mike Rowe of  TV's…
I have far too many "interesting" things queued up in feedly, so its time for a dump. Controversial paper linking conspiracy ideation to climate change skepticism formally retracted. mt is fiercer: Journal’s Mealy-Mouthed Retraction of Lewandowsky Paper. I wasn't terribly keen on the paper myself, though I avoided commenting, but I agree with SL's "the article is fine but Frontiers does not want to take the legal risk" and that this is rubbish on Frontiers' part. See-also Sou. [Update: the shows goes on: Climate of intimidation: "Frontiers" blunder on "Recursive Fury": Ugo Bardi resigns from…