Category Archives: Science

15 Inaccuracies in Common Science Illustrations


Your high school teachers had the best intentions, but they likely featured educational illustrations on the walls of their classrooms that weren’t telling you the whole truth.  Our friends at Mental Floss painstakingly point out 15 gross oversimplifications found in common science illustrations …
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15 Inaccuracies in Common Science Illustrations
Big Think Editors
Sat, 01 Mar 2014 19:00:00 GMT


Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system | Science | The Guardian


Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system | Science | The Guardian

Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system | Science | The Guardian
Sat, 07 Dec 2013 14:21:32 GMT

Stratigraphic Record


All we have are these stupid tantalizing zircons and the scars on the face of the Moon.

Stratigraphic Record
Wed, 03 Apr 2013 00:00:00 GMT

Have we found life on Mars?

We can hope can’t we?  Organic material, or methane seems the most likely.  What a scientist would consider historic might seem like a yawn to many if not most non-specialists in that field.

I don’t know. We thought we might have before, and it disappointed (although some suggest we did find life before – the evidence is clearly too sketchy to get excited either way).
But in case you didn’t hear, NASA’s Curiosity had a big find that NASA is keeping secret as it tests and retests the data. They don’t seem interested in managing expectations at all, announcing that “this data is gonna be for the history books”. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? More conservative guesses are that it’s organic material in the soil. I found this passage from that article interesting:
“Whatever Curiosity has found, it is not evidence for life on Mars. It can’t be. Curiosity is not designed to look for life. Grotzinger has stated this himself. In a NASA video about the mission, he says, “Curiosity is not a life detection mission. We’re not actually looking for life; we don’t have the ability to detect life if it was there.”
What if they brushed dirt off a small fossil? What if a little bug crawled across the screen and Curiosity followed it back to a Martian ant hill? Or lichen on a rock? “Not designed to look for life”? What an unimaginative way of thinking about things. They mean, of course, that it isn’t equipped to identify microbial life in soil. But Mars is a big planet, and even if most of it is blighted and uninhabitable that doesn’t mean Curiosity couldn’t have stumbled on something previous probes missed.
Of course, it probably isn’t life. It probably found the sorts of things it was sent to find. That’s where the smart money is. But “for the history books” is an intriguing turn of phrase, and I’ll be waiting expectantly until they announce exactly what we’ve got here.
So what do you think:
1. Will we hear in a couple weeks that there is life on Mars right now?
2. How will that change the way people thinking about their place in the universe?

Have we found life on Mars?
Sun, 25 Nov 2012 13:50:00 GMT

Found In Our Neighborhood: A Planet Without A Sun


Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn What’s the Latest Development? A paper soon to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics reports the discovery of a “rogue planet” about 100 light-years from Earth. This planet, which is drifting in space without a sun to orbit around, is the nearest of …
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Found In Our Neighborhood: A Planet Without A Sun
Orion Jones
Wed, 14 Nov 2012 14:41:00 GMT

I will no longer predict anything*


Earthquake experts around the world say they are appalled by an Italian court’s decision to convict six scientists on manslaughter charges for failing to predict the deadly quake that devastated the city of L’Aquila. They warned the ruling could severely harm future scientific research.

The court in L’Aquila sentenced the scientists and a government official Monday to six years in prison, ruling that they didn’t accurately communicate the risk of the earthquake in 2009 that killed more than 300 people.

The trial centered on a meeting a week before the 6.3-magnitude quake struck. At the meeting, the experts determined that it was “unlikely” but not impossible that a major quake would take place, despite concern among the city’s residents over recent seismic activity.

Prosecutors said the defendants provided “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers” facing L’Aquila.

The court agreed, convicting the six scientists from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) and a member of the Civil Protection Agency. It also ordered the Italian authorities to pay 7.8 million euros ($10 million) in damages.


*In case you missed the point, the title is supposed to illustrate the problem with holding scientists responsible for inherent uncertainties in prediction.

I will no longer predict anything*
Tim Haab
Tue, 23 Oct 2012 11:19:43 GMT

Driverless Cars?

Are driverless cars a boon or bane?  Are they coming soon?  Here’s a comment from Tyler Cowan of George Mason:

transportation is one area where progress has been slow for decades. We’re still flying 747s, a plane designed in the 1960s. Many rail and bus networks have contracted. And traffic congestion is worse than ever. As I’ argued in a previous column, this is probably part of a broader slowdown of technological advances.

But it’s clear that in the early part of the 20th century, the original advent of the motor car was not impeded by anything like the current mélange of regulations, laws and lawsuits. Potentially major innovations need a path forward, through the current thicket of restrictions. That debate on this issue is so quiet shows the urgency of doing something now.

They may have crossed one of those regulatory hurdles. 

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a law making it legal for driverless cars to travel on public roadways, demonstrating once again that the Left Coast has a way of prodding automakers to innovate faster.

Down with particle physics, up with Big Energy Research!


via Down with particle physics, up with Big Energy Research!.

Currently, thousands of our best physicists are being shunted into careers in experimental particle physics, spending their lives working at CERN or Fermilab. These are our very best physics brains, and they are a very scarce commodity. In my opinion, we need these people to be working on solar power, biofuels, and nuclear power. Applied physics is not as intellectually thrilling or as nerd-glamorous as fundamental physics, but we can ill afford to pay our super-nerds to indulge their philosophical whimsy at a time like this.

So I am suggesting, not an abandonment of Big Particle Physics, but a pause. If and when energy stops getting more expensive and resumes its march toward abundance, our species will have the breathing room to look for answers to questions like how to combine gravity with the Standard Model.

If I took issue it might be because arguably applied physics and science are what private industry does the best job of capturing value from and has an incentive to do so. It’s pure science that does have the same attraction for private money; so pure science has the best case to be subsidized.

Space Shuttle Enterprise Lands in NYC on April 23

Live Long and prosper and Godspeed!

The shuttle prototype Enterprise never flew in space, but has a place of honor in NYC.

Space Shuttle Enterprise Lands in NYC on April 23
Fri, 02 Mar 2012 16:53:43 GMT

Powerful M Class Solar Flare Will Effect Earth and Satellites | Video


The sun erupted on March 2, 2012 producing an M3 flare. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) were on hand to observe the fireworks that may cause auroras to light up the northern skies.

Powerful M Class Solar Flare Will Effect Earth and Satellites | Video
Fri, 02 Mar 2012 22:45:31 GMT