Archive for February, 2009

“Science is largely about memorizing facts.” So wrong, so prevalent, so frustrating.

David Wittman teaches introductory astronomy at UC Davis, and he decided to see if his course affected attitudes like this. In a recent preprint he describes the results of a before and after survey covering a range of statements about how science works.

It’s not fully systematic, as he points out himself, but there are some interesting results that would be fascinating to see confirmed.


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I spent most of last week at my grandfather’s memorial service, and associated events.

He was a Yale professor and one of the leading biophysicists of his time — having discovered that proteins were not colloids as had been thought, but were actually much more complicated structures. He was also a wonderful grandfather. In a sign of how separate those worlds can be, I had no idea someone had made a wikipedia page for him until just recently. (It was also mildly stunning to find that his date of death had been entered within two days, and by someone who isn’t part of the family.)

A memorial blog (!) has been set up for him, for those who are interested. My own contribution is below the jump.


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Number 18

Not actually the Mona Lisa

What do the phrases: “Jackson Pollock painted the Mona Lisa”, “The homing pigeon luxuriated in the hot bath”, and “That man has a city for a head turkey archeologist” have in common?

As David at Shores of the Dirac Sea explains, they’re all encoded in the digits of pi:

This result states that any message that you want is written in the digits of a normal number an infinite number of times. Every single message.

Or, to put it in the words of my college probability professor:

Randomness is not the absence of order; it is the presence of every possible type of order.

This is, quite possibly, the single most important sentence to know when thinking about conspiracy theories or the hidden-message variety mysticism. Never be surprised at people’s ability to find messages, or even fragments of messges, in apparently randose3m;’%hkl;##%15kmg.

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Scientific progress

I’m going to cap off a week of light blogging with a 6 month old quote from Frankie Boyle, talking about the Large Hadron Collider:

I hope that if the experiment is successful the whole of our reality will dissolve, and a big sign will come up saying “Level 2”

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Strings and strings

Here’s something cool. Physicist Brian Foster and violinist Jack Liebeck have teamed up to produce a lecture series on physics, punctuated by recitals — either simple demonstrations of the concepts, or pieces beloved by the physicists involved. They have video clips (which wordpress apparently won’t let me embed).

They’ve been doing this since 2005, and seem to still be going strong, with a performance at Oxford this weekend. I couldn’t find a complete recording, which makes me sad.

(via ZapperZ.)

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Carl Zimmer asked his readers to recommend great short science articles for his class on the science writing. The final list is here — definitely worth checking out.

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