Category Archives: Science

This is what we can do...

This is what we can do when we work together, on science, on the future.

http://io9.com/5932042/what-is-the-first-thing-curiosity-will-do-when-it-lands

We can land a rover, by sky hook, on a planet so far away that it takes 14 minutes for light and radio signals to get back to earth.

This is what we can do when we work together, on science, on the future.

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/vwmang/7723995586/

We can bring people together, for a shared moment of humanity.

This is what we can do when we work together, on science, on the future.

We can inspire a generation.

Maybe we should do more of that.

 

Is the Sky Blue?

It's a really interesting question, that isn't as obvious as you might think. It's wrapped up in the social construct of colors, and how color words emerge in languages.

Radio Lab covered this recently in one of their best podcasts I've ever listened to. And there is another great look at color evolution here. I especially like that we're actually watching a color split emerge in modern Japanese language.

Colbert and Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of my favorite speakers. I've gone on Tyson binges on youtube before, watching one video after another of talks that he's given. You only end up smarter for doing so. And now there is a brand new, long form, talk to add to the list.

Stephen Colbert does a long form, over an hour, interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson on stage. There are bits you've heard other places (like his Titanic story), but lots of new perspectives as well. Treat your brain, and take the time to watch this.

The Grand Conspiracy

Last night, among a generally jovial conversation around new finds in astronomy, I also was subjected to various out bursts of "electrical theory of mars" (i.e. Mars was carved by machines) and similar Grand Conspiracy ideas about how NASA had hid all this from us. It all came from one new club member, who's previous outbursts had been minor enough I hadn't yet realized he was a full time crank. The reaction from the table was mostly ignore and move on.

But it still amazes me that someone thinks it's far more plausible that tens of thousands of individuals are manipulating scientific information about Mars in a coordinated and consistent way. That they can manage to induct all new science students working on the data into their masonic clan. I guess it makes a good Dan Brown novel, but it maps really badly to reality.

And if the grand conspiracy was just at the kooky fringe, it would be something I could mostly chuckle at and move on. But grand conspiracies have become mainstream fodder. For instance, cable news generating a meme in conservative America that Climate Change is a hoax created by 10s of thousands of scientists to keep their jobs. Really? The next Dan Brown novel is going to be about grad students living 4 to an apartment, eating raman noodles, feeling so clever in their grand conspiracy?

I guess if you're primarily motivated by dollars, have a poor understanding of science in general, and never worked with science researchers before, it might make sense. First, project your basest motivations on others. Then sprinkle gracious ignorance about how science or economics work. Make sure to pass over the fact that if you had the mathematical chops to work out something as complicated as a climate model, and money was your motivator, you'd easily make 10 times as much being a Quant for the financial sector. They heavily recruit out of the physical sciences, many of my classmates from college went that route. But no, the grand conspiracy would rather believe the route to riches is applying for competitive NSF grants instead of credit default swaps and derivative trading.

So why do people believe in the Grand Conspiracy? Because it's comforting. It takes a complex world and makes it simple. Complex problems and motivations are now turned into mythical dragons that some mythical protagonist can go slay, making all right in the world.

The only problem with that: it isn't real. The moon landing wasn't faked, it took a generation of our best minds to get us there, and huge technological advances came out of it. Vacines don't cause autism, they've eliminated a vast number of debilitating diseases that you no longer have to worry about if you live in the west, and are now starting to eliminate certain kinds of cancer. Climate change is not a hoax, it's a real, hard problem, that we're going to need to figure out how to address as a society. Evolution is demonstrated science, we don't need a designer to create complex emergent behavior.

The world of facts and knowledge is one of spectacular beauty, complexity, and wonder, and doesn't need Grand Conspiracies to make it majestic and exciting.