Comments of the Week #81: From photons and time to long-lost asteroids

"The more people rationalize cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle. Because suddenly, if everyone else is cheating, you feel a need to cheat, too." -Stephen Covey

It's been a really eventful week, with topics from the fundamental to the cosmic all under scrutiny here at Starts With A Bang, plus an extremely controversial (and response-producing) story on the topic of Geoff Marcy, harassment and his eventual resignation. In case you missed anything:

I also had a couple of new articles over at Forbes:

Lots is going on here: the first Patreon-sponsored podcast is happening, I'm getting ready for Halloween, and the world is freaking out about what almost certainly isn't aliens around a nearby star! It's always important to look at what you've said, though, so it's onto our Comments of the Week!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Lookang. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Lookang.

From eric on time for photons: "I’m not so sure this is right. The photon oscillates as it travels. Thus if one were ‘riding on’ the photon, one would be able to observe a sequence of changes (oscillations) in the internal state of the photon during the passage…and the number of oscillations would be related to distance. Red shift caused by the universe’s expansion would be another ‘internal clock’ (albeit a very slow one): a photon rider could hypothetically know how far they’ve traveled by measuring the frequency change during the traverse."

Michael Kelsey gave a great answer to this, where he highlights the fact that it was Einstein's initial thought experiment to consider, "what would someone 'riding' a photon see," and then he considered watching electric and magnetic fields appear and disappear in an in-phase, oscillatory pattern. Of course, this turns out to be completely unphysical, as the only way you can physically have such a wave is if it propagates at the speed of light. Hence, we arrived at the inevitability of special relativity.

But the whole point is that you can't ride on a photon, and even if you came super close -- say, by traveling behind it at 99.999999999% the speed of light -- you'd still see it move away from you at the speed of light itself. So while that photon might appear more energetic to you due to the relative blueshift, it will still appear as a photon, and time will still appear to pass for you.

In relativity, a photon is what we call a null vector, as are all massless particles, like gluons and gravitons as well.

Image credit: NASA and R. Kirshner (CfA), of SN1987a. Image credit: NASA and R. Kirshner (CfA), of SN1987a.

From AJKamper on the neutrinos from SN1987a: "Just because I don’t feel like doing the math (and would scarcely know where to begin anymore); how much does a neutrino age on its journey? Say, one of the neutrinos from the 1987A supernova."

This was one of the great observations that we made in 1987: we had a number of nucleon decay experiments running, and three separate experiments across Earth detected some two dozen neutrinos, separated by only a few seconds at most from one another and from the arrival of the first photons. The constraint we have from this is that these neutrinos -- at ~1-10 MeV of energy -- made the 168,000 light year journey in no more than 13 seconds in their own frame of reference.

Interestingly enough, this enabled us to figure out that the mass of neutrinos, given their energy range, was at most a few eV, and thus couldn't be 100% of the dark matter: a remarkable feat for all the way back in 1987!

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS, Mars Opportunity Rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS, Mars Opportunity Rover.

From Paul Dekous on life on Mars: "Air pressure on earth is 100 times that of Mars’, makes me wonder if life would explode over there? Some rocks, sand and crystals could hold tight but flexing organisms?"

There are three answers to this, one of which Paul himself gave in a later comment:

  1. Martian life could be at a greater sub-surface depth, where the pressure is higher and this isn't a concern.
  2. Organisms could potentially have rigid "wall-like" structures to them, like plant cells, that aren't particularly concerned with low pressures.
  3. So long as it could equilibrate with its environment -- very salty water, or salty crystals when dry -- there won't necessarily be a catastrophic pressure gradient.

These are just potential answers, of course, because we don't know whether there actually is life on Mars or not. But the possibility is real... and yes, organisms with motility in their interiors is certainly not beyond the realm of the biochemistry we know of here on Earth.

Image credit: Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com, of Geoff Marcy in 2002. Image credit: Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com, of Geoff Marcy in 2002.

From CFT on my inconsistencies: "Considering your own incredibly dismal record of keeping abusive language on your site comments under control (i.e. Wow, Wow, Wow, and more Wow) you have some interesting nerve talking down to others about their toleration of bad behavior. I often use your site to point out to people how NOT to moderate badly behaving commenters. Pull the log sized beam out of your eye and get your own damn house in order before you pontificate social justice mantras."

If I were ever held responsible for the content of internet comments, on my blog or anywhere else, I would turn them off completely. You are free to say what you want, and I will only block your comments or ban you entirely if you spam the site (posts with more than one link are automatically held for moderation), if you post your own discredited/crackpot theories, or if you threaten other commenters.

You are, otherwise, free to speak as you like, no matter how disgusting or distasteful I find it. And you are free to hate it for what it is. But this is not my workplace, and no one here is in a position of power relative to anyone else; that is a huge difference.

Image credit: UC Berkeley astronomy faculty page. Image credit: UC Berkeley astronomy faculty page.

From Carl on the topic of workplace vs. other-place behavior: "In school and work, be respectful of personal boundaries when you are in a more-powerful position. The modern social contract is for the dominant to give some relief to the subordinate for their mental health.
In other cases, it’s a free world. Make fun of Mohammed; call a religion a death cult; insult each other online without end. No sarcasm here; without the freedom to verbally express our opinions we easily slip into barbarism like the Middle East is facing."

There's also another issue here: it isn't just more-powerful vs. less-powerful positions here. It's also about representation. One time, when I was in grad school, I was dressed in a halloween costume at work. One of the (female, junior) professors came up to me and thought it would be fun to "take a peek" under my costume -- by lifting it up herself -- to see for herself what was under it.

What do you think about that? Appropriate? Inappropriate? Harassment? Assault?

Depending on the other circumstances, it could have been any of the final three, but the reality of it is that I wasn't worried it would turn into a long-term problem. (And it didn't; that was the only occurrence of that sort of behavior.) But I feel like for many young women in male-dominated fields, it does become a long-term problem, and I've heard maybe 15-20 stories by women -- about Geoff Marcy and others -- where they experienced those long-term problems just in the week since the Marcy story first ran.

My point is this: there's a special, additional unique problem that underrepresented people face, and in physics and astronomy, that's anyone who's non-white, non-straight, and non-male. My goal in raising awareness of issues like this -- and giving my perspective from my position (i.e., where people will listen to me because of who I am) -- is in the hopes that it will make it easier for those harassed or assaulted in the future to not only speak up, but to have their voices heard.

And one more, from PA (who had a spirited discussion with Wow and Ragtag Media below the comment linked here): "You are one of the good guys so please don’t pay attention to the army of clueless guys who are leaving ridiculous comments here. There are lots of decent guys at STEM who are sick and tired of people like Marcy who evade justice just because they have a big name."

The worst thing that I see -- and it's the worst because I see it most commonly -- is where "senior male professor" spends a lot of time with "junior female student" at either the graduate or undergrad level, and winds up developing feelings for her. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem in and of itself, if SMP could still behave like a decent human being with respectful boundaries towards JFS.

But SMP pretty much always:

  • declares his love,
  • expects JFS to reciprocate,
  • and makes her life miserable if/when she doesn't, with a series of passive-aggressive moves.

In the meantime, JFS just wanted a goddamned education, and didn't ask for SMP to be anything other than a professor and an academic mentor. That shouldn't be too much to expect. If you're a SMP (or an aspiring SMP) and you can't handle that role, please take yourself out of the job pool now.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI, Cassini orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI, Cassini orbiter.

From Omega Centauri on life in the solar system: "Finding and identifying life on any of these places is likely to be hard. A probe which landed almost anywhere on our planet’s solid surface wouldn’t need highly sophisticated equipment to identify life, plants and animals would be imaged by even a crude camera. Yet on these other worlds, life might well only exist deep underground, and its likely to be sparse single celled organisms which live in a low energy environment. Finding and confirming it is likely difficult. As a case in point Mars, we have a few decades of landers plus rovers, and yet we can still only speculate about whether is has or had life."

Funny how all of this could be solved very, very easily with the right sized filters, some liquid water and a microscope. Finding and identifying life is likely to be hard for a robot, but easy for a biologist. Interesting how humans are so much better suited for some tasks when it comes to exploring other worlds. But yes, with the technology we've chosen to send to other worlds, it has been hard. If we had sent a human with 1950s cutting-edge technology, we'd already know.

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA; wikimedia commons user Little Mountain 5. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA; wikimedia commons user Little Mountain 5.

And finally from Ragtag Media on Vesta: "How could we forget about the brightest asteroid.
But why is it the brightest?"

The other asteroids are in contention, of course, but there are really only three worth considering: Ceres, which is twice the size of Vesta, Pallas, which is of a comparable size, and Hygeia, which is only slightly smaller. They're all in the asteroid belt, although Vesta is on the closer side to us.

The reason Vesta is the brightest is simply due to albedo, or the reflectivity of what it's made out of. Vesta is simply made out of brighter "stuff" than the other asteroids.

Now your question is why is it the brightest, which is to say, why is it made out of brighter material than the other asteroids?

The answer, of course, is so that we can see it better. ;-)

Thanks for a great week, everyone, and see you back here for another one!

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What do you think about that? Appropriate? Inappropriate? Harassment? Assault?

Depending on the other circumstances, it could have been any of the final three, but the reality of it is that I wasn’t worried it would turn into a long-term problem.

And that's really nothing you get to say about. You don't get to decide that just because YOU feel it's OK, that it's not harassment (it's sexual assault, just as if you'd lifted her skirt to see what was underneath). Because it has to be written in law what harassment is. And it can't say "But if Ethan is fine with it, it's fine if it's happening to him", because you can arbitrarily change your opinion. Even after the event.

ALL that is happened is that you have normalised the worthlessness of the male private space. It's as toxic as normalising "Jenny Homemaker" as a stereotype. And for the same reasons.

For example. a 20 year old was looking after an 11 year old and had sex with them that the child said in court they did not want.

However, the father of the child said that it was wanted by the child, that it was the sort of thing they got a kick out of. AND THE JUDGE BOUGHT IT.

Why?

Because the assailant was female.

And the one assaulted was a boy.

Because the stereotype is that men are ALWAYS up for sex, they are sex maniacs, unable and unwilling to control their base urges without a struggle, the boy was raped and his feelings ignored. Even by his parent.

Or Richard Dawkins, after the "Dear Muslina" letter, was told that he DID NOT KNOW what it was like to be raped, because he was old, white and male.

Even when he reminded them that he was sexually abused at the boarding school he went to, he was told IT DID NOT COUNT, because he was male, therefore must have loved it.

Hell, it's even been said that men just can't be raped, because they get a stiff dick and ejaculate. However, even in violent rape, women can lubricate and cum. Because the physiological reaction is unconcerned with your mental wellbeing or your personal enjoyment.

Moreover, by letting you get assaulted like this merely normalises that sort of behaviour, EVEN TO OTHER WOMEN BY MEN. After all, you've "shown" it's absolutely fine.

And how would she have known whether you were fine or not BEFORE lifting up for a gander at your junk? She didn't ask first, did she?

I guess she didn't.

So what if you WEREN'T happy.

Same situation, you'd now be trying to get the police to believe you and not think you're some kind of homo faggot who only likes men or just kidding about it.

Reverse the sexes. And her attitude is "Sure, go have a peek! It's all just saucy but harmless fun!".

But how would "an independent witness" if it were to be taken to trial (if it's criminal, it doesn't need YOU to take the case to court) see it? Assault.

With the sexes as they are? Hell, probably wouldn't bother.

My goal in raising awareness of issues like this — and giving my perspective from my position — is in the hopes that it will make it easier for those harassed or assaulted in the future to not only speak up, but to have their voices heard.

Unless they're male. Because you've just said it was fine to do it to a man, by your position on it.

"If you’re a SMP (or an aspiring SMP) and you can’t handle that role, please take yourself out of the job pool now."

That's a bit like asking someone who likes to eat burgers never to work at McD's.

By claiming a problem as being endemic, you paint everyone with the same brush, guilt BEFORE accusation.

YES, such a person shouldn't do it.

But paedos shouldn't work in schools.

Perverts (male and female) shouldn't work the microwave body scanners in airports.

Foot fetishists should not take a job at a shoe store.

The fact that they DO means we check up on the cases (well, not the last one because it's a little silly, and not the second one, because that's HOMELAND SECURITY, *do not mess with it*, you terrist!). What we don't want to do is presume such guilt, otherwise the ones able to do the job properly with appropriate decorum and mindset will be less willing to work there (because of the pressure of unearned suspicion), whereas those who want to abuse the position want to abuse the position, so there's a "benefit" to putting up with the scrutiny.

Ever wonder why so few men go into teaching?

"Hell, it’s even been said that men just can’t be raped, because they get a stiff dick and ejaculate. "

Actually Sweden just opened the worlds first rape center for men.
I think there can be some cases where men are victimized, but I have no concern for the fags who do in each other.
Actually I think it's funny when they fag fight.
"I hate you faggy" lisp...flutter.. ‘ “I want to kill you. Die dirty faggy,” ’ lisp..lisp..
http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/10/13/report-rep-sander-le…

The best part is they were Democrats

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 17 Oct 2015 #permalink

But this is not my workplace, and no one here is in a position of power relative to anyone else ..."

Ethan, that is a strange view on things since this is your blog where you publish your work, and you have the power to withdraw comments.

If you wish you could easily act as a referee or speaker of the house to uphold a certain level of decency during the debates, but you choose to do not, fair enough.

The hypocrisy, like CFT pointed out, is that you do go on telling people how it would be best to behave, but you don't apply these rules to your own blog.

The point is that if you favor free speech "no matter how disgusting or distasteful I find it", than that is what you should consequently promote, and not pretend to be a liberal democrat defending the weak, while you are actually allowing bullying in your own back yard, that's hypocrisy.

Either respect for others starts where you have the possibility to change things or you let things rot on purpose. That's how it works in many work places and schools, authority figures like you that act like it's not their job to enforce a minimum of decency because of some lame excuses.

By Paul Dekous (not verified) on 18 Oct 2015 #permalink

"The hypocrisy, like CFT pointed out, is that you do go on telling people how it would be best to behave, but you don’t apply these rules to your own blog."

No it's not hypocrisy. What your doing is making a moral equivalent.
Someone who disagrees with you and tells you to piss off on a blog is morally different than groping a person you have some authority over.

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 18 Oct 2015 #permalink

@Wow:
Because it has to be written in law what harassment is.

I quoted for you the Berkeley policy on what sexual harassment is but please, let's pretend that sexual harassments are so hard to detect that they pass right before us unobserved like a bunch of neutrinos.

And it can’t say “But if Ethan is fine with it, it’s fine if it’s happening to him”, because you can arbitrarily change your opinion. Even after the event.

What is the problem? Let me give you some examples:
Case 1: I invite you to my house as a guest, but before you leave, you steal my watch. The next day I realize but then I decide that I am fine with it, for whatever reason, and that I'm not going to press charges and that is that.
Case 2 is when one day later, I change my mind and sue you for theft. Why do I get to change my mind about it? Because there was no consent when it came to you owning my watch; you decided that you wanted it, and you took it without my consent.

Your action was immoral in either case but in case 1 you were just lucky.

Now, I'm guessing that you are not dense when it comes to matters of theft so I doubt there is any problem with digesting the two examples. But somehow when it comes to guys sexually harassing women, you hit an emotional block and you just can't handle reason.

Let's look at same example in a situation involving sexual harassment. You are chatting with a stranger and you decide that you want to kiss them out of blue, unprovoked and without establishing consent. Your action is immoral but you might end up lucky, they might decide they are fine with it and not press charges. Or they might decide the next day that, fuck it, they will not stand it and press charges against you. You don't get to whine because you did not establish consent.

Did Marcy establish consent? From the accounts it sure sounds that hell no, he did not.

PA, what if your examples had some pretext.
For example in:
Case#1 While at your house you talk about all the things you have and that people help themselves to your stuff with out even asking and you complain a bit but bragging that OH well, your trust fund check always arrives so you just replace it.
Now are your actions seeding the moral hazard by tempting your fellow guest?
In Case #2 now you have some Mea culpa no?

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 18 Oct 2015 #permalink

Matter of fact, look at our "No Fault Insurance" laws in a dozen or states that confuse issues even more which skew responsibility of "traditional tort" liability system for auto insurance in which recovery is governed by principles of provable negligence.

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 18 Oct 2015 #permalink

"The hypocrisy, like CFT pointed out, is that you do go on telling people how it would be best to behave, but you don’t apply these rules to your own blog."

Since he does apply it to his blog (he does tell people how it would be best to behave), he just doesn't insist everyone else obey his standards.

"Someone who disagrees with you and tells you to piss off on a blog is morally different than groping a person you have some authority over."

Now, PA, have a look at that.

Raggie is by no means the most sane person on this blog. He's quite a top tip for winning the dumbest asshat award.

But isn't that comment actually moral and fair?

"I quoted for you the Berkeley policy on what sexual harassment is"

Yeah, and we all work there, right?

"but please, let’s pretend that sexual harassments are so hard to detect that they pass right before us unobserved like a bunch of neutrinos."

Wow. What a retard! Look pumpkin, read the fucking posts this time. *I POINT OUT THAT WHAT HAPPENED WAS HARASSMENT!".

If I found it so hard to spot, which claim you made up out of thin air because you're a frigging moron and want to find something to whinge about, why would I call it out here???

Hmm?

No, what you mean by "can't see harassment" is "Don't agree with me when I say it's harassment".

"What is the problem?"

Already said what the bloody problem is.

Hard of reading??

"Your action was immoral in either case but in case 1 you were just lucky."

Then that is why it can't be based on what someone says it is in one situation. Laws can't be written so as you get away with it based on "luck".

"But somehow when it comes to guys sexually harassing women"

Somehow you missed out that this was a story about a woman sexually assaulting and harassing a man.

But you don't CARE about that, do you. You only want to think of women being the victim and men being the villain.

Because you're happiest with that scenario. It fits your world view. Because you're a sexist bigot.

@Wow:

You really have trouble creating a coherent post. The focus of all this discussion is Marcy's case which makes Berkeley's rules relevant.

*I POINT OUT THAT WHAT HAPPENED WAS HARASSMENT!”.

So you agree that what Marcy has sexually harassed women for year, then what are you ranting about?

Already said what the bloody problem is.
You mean the meaningless rant about "worthlessness of male sexuality"? Because of the case involving 11 years old which by the way happened in UK? That is obviously injustice and the case should be dealt with but I am not familiar with how things happen in UK.

But apart from that, how is your rant even relevant? Is it because every time a senior male professors harasses a women we have to talk about what you *you like* to talk about?

"@Wow:

You really have trouble creating a coherent post."

Your stupidity is not my problem, PA.

Given you admit you don't understand it, why the hell should anything subsequent in that post be anything relevant to my points, or of enough information to change my view?