Recently in Science Category
April 15, 2004
As President Clinton’s science and technology czar, Vice President Al Gore chose many high-level appointees to regulatory agencies, and thereby obtained the leverage to politicize the administration’s policies and decisions. ...
Never has American government been burdened with such politically motivated, anti-science, anti-technology, anti-business eco-babble. Yet those who now criticize the Bush administration were silent.
As troubling as the substance of the Clinton-Gore policies was, the mean-spirited nature of their practices was as bad. Gore brooked no dissension or challenge to his view of policy or scientific rectitude and went to extraordinary lengths to purge his “enemies” throughout the government. In order to rid the civil service of dissenting views, Gore and his staff interfered in federal personnel matters in ethically questionable ways.
June 28, 2002
Nerdy but fun site that spots physics errors in movies (example from Star Wars Episode I below.) And if you want to be an uber-nerd, read this excellent book critiquing the physics of Star Trek.
Not only are the physics in this movie not from around here, they're not even logical. For instance, we have a force field around an underwater city which keeps water out but which a human who is over 80% water can walk through. This same highly advanced force field technology is later used on the battle field by an otherwise primitive race of beings who use beasts of burden for transportation and catapults and spears for weapons. The catapults throw giant blue marbles which explode on contact. However, even though the primitive beings have the technology for explosives they can't seem to come up with gunpowder.
June 21, 2002
For anyone who thinks evolution is in doubt, read this thorough piece in Scientific American.
Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.
June 20, 2002
A brilliant computer scientist named Stephen Wolfram has just emerged from 10 years of reclusion to make the bold claim that he has discovered "A New Kind of Science" in a book by that name. I haven't read the book yet, but have read this review in The Economist. The crux of the argument seems to be that the world is best described by computational models, rather than the mathematical formulas that we grew up learning about in physics class. While there may be something in this, The Economist contends that Wolfram's weakness is his insistence that this new model explains and applies to absolutely everything. Wolfram's argument is appealing at a certain level because it would explain how the complexity of the universe can be explained through simple rules--and not unknowable intelligent design.
But I wonder why Wolfram's rule-based view of the universe is incompatible with the equation based view. Many equations (such as that for gravity) explain behavior, but not necessarily the mechanics of that behavior (we are not quote sure how gravity works, but we know how it behaves.) Is it possible both approaches are simply two ways of analyzing the same phenomena? I guess I'll have to read the book. If you've read it, please comment on it. Anyone want to champion this for the book club? if so, I'll do my best to get Wolfram out here to speak to us.
Excerpts from The Economist's review:
At its heart is the notion of modelling physical phenomena in terms of simple computer programs, rather than complicated mathematical equations. Mr Wolfram unashamedly compares the potential impact of his work to that of Sir Isaac Newton's “Principia Mathematica”, and suggests that his discoveries can answer long-standing puzzles in mathematics, physics, biology and philosophy, from the fundamental laws of nature to the question of free will....
June 11, 2002
Imagine if your brain--all your thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, and senses--could be "uploaded" into a computer. Certainly science fiction for now but we could develop this capability in your lifetime. And there have been a lot of people working on it--or at least thinking about it. Here is a fun piece in Wired on the subject.
June 5, 2002
I've written about the widespread rejection of evolution in the US, but of course it doesn't stop there. Among many, Carl Sagan in "The Demon-Haunted World," Richard Dawkins in "Unweaving the Rainbow," and Michael Shermer & Stephen Jay Gould in "Why People Believe Weired Things," have tried to explain our cultural penchant for pseudoscience, superstition, and myth--even in the face of contradictory scientific evidence.
Here are some excerpts from the latter book, found in this piece published on Skeptic.com.
First, look at this:
A 1990 Gallup poll of 1,236 adult Americans show percentages of belief in the paranormal that are alarming (pp. 137-146):
Aliens have landed on Earth: 22%
The lost continent of Atlantis: 33%
Dinosaurs and Humans Lived Simultaneously: 41%
Noah’s flood: 65%
Communication with the dead: 42%
Actually Had a Psychic Experience: 67%
June 1, 2002
Following a theme I wrote about last week on the relationship between science and religion, note this piece by Michael Shermer in Scientific American. An excerpt:
Scientism is a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science.
Scientism's voice can best be heard through a literary genre for both lay readers and professionals that includes the works of such scientists as Carl Sagan, E. O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond.
May 24, 2002
I have a passion for evolution. It is a force of almost unimaginably beautiful power and elegance—capable of creating the wondrous assortment of all life that exists through the combination of a simple mechanism and time. And it is a fact. Evolution, “defined as the genealogical connection among all earthly organisms, based on their descent from a common ancestor, and the history of any lineage as a process of descent with modification,” is true—as true as the Earth being round or the fact that if I fall out of a tree, I will fall down to the ground (not up.) Certainly there remain conflicting theories about what causes evolutionary change—the mechanism of evolution—just as there are theories about the mechanism of gravity (we don’t know how gravity works), but this does not challenge the certainty of it’s existence.
Stephen Jay Gould taught me this (and is the one quoted above). Gould, who died Monday, was tremendously influential for me as I developed my ideas about how the world works. Some of Gould’s theories were controversial and not always broadly accepted. His idea of “punctuated equilibrium” was derided as “evolution by jerks” by critics who think evolution happens more gradually as (to which Gould countered that they believed in “evolution by creeps.”)
May 20, 2002
Joe Firmage, founder of US Web and Silicon Valley's Fox Mulder, spoke at Silicon Forum today. His latest effort is Motion Sciences, dedicated to "the advancement of humanity's scientific and ethical appreciation of the physics of Nature, the discovery of new technologies enabling clean and abundant energy generation, combustion-free transportation, and sustainable material infrastructure, the wise use of resulting knowledge and tools for the egalitarian well-being of all life, and to the guidance of all such missions by an Oath for Peaceful Use of Science."
Huh? Basically, Firmage thinks he's figured out how gravity works (or at least has a beat on it) and wants to harness that knowledge to do a whole bunch of neat things.