[Ctrl-P] Steven Novella: “Alternative Engineering”: A Postmodern Parable

Voor deze copy-paste een oudere tekst van Steven Novella, neuroloog, voorzitter van New England Skeptical Society, medisch consulent voor quackwatch.com, fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry en JREF en opperhoofd van de podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

Novella, onthou die naam!

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Steven Novella, M.D.: Alternative Engineering”: A Postmodern Parable (2003)

A new phenomenon is sweeping the country, gaining the attention of both consumers and manufacturers alike. Increasingly disenchanted with the cold metallic world of modern technology, people are looking closely at more natural alternatives. Collectively called Alternative Engineering (“Alt Eng”), a host of new and old methods are gaining scientific and journalistic respectability.

Alec Waterstone is one such self-styled alternative engineer. He has no degree or formal training in engineering, which, he explains, is an advantage: “My thinking is not limited by mathematics, logic, or any stodgy old mechanistic paradigm. I do not have to pay homage to the likes of Newton or other Western male pedagogues. My complete lack of training frees me to consider unique and innovative solutions to engineering problems, unfettered by the annoying constraints of “reality.”

Energy-Based Bridges

Alec’s latest project is a design for a 1200-foot non-suspension bridge. He claims the bridge will be able to span this distance without pylons or overhead suspension, and will be supported only by the ancient art of Feng Shui. “This wisdom, which is thousands of years old, is the art of channeling energy through design and form. This energy can be used to support a 1200-foot bridge, or even larger structures.” City planners are intrigued by these designs, because such bridges will cost less than half as much as conventionally designed bridges.

Alec is also quick to point out that ancient Chinese documents reveal absolutely no accounts of collapsing suspension bridges. His technique’s safety record is, he argues, unparalleled. “How else would it have survived all these years if it didn’t work?

Anthony Trellis, a professor of engineering at State-of-the Art University, claims that Alec’s designs run contrary to basic principles of physics and materials science. An exasperated Trellis commented, “A bridge based upon Waterstone’s designs simply could not stand. It would be unsafe in the extreme.”

But Alec is not perturbed by such criticism. “Of course professor Trellis does not like my designs, because they challenge his precious status quo and turn his world upside-down. But the protectionism of the old guard is starting to crumble, like one of their obsolete buildings,” he retorted at a recent symposium for progressive thinkers who agreed that those who fail to jump on the bandwagon will be left behind. His talk to a standing-room-only crowd also accused the American Society of Civil Engineers, the steel industry, and other “vested interests” of trying to suppress his views.

Skeptics have suggested that before we spend millions of taxpayer dollars on such projects, and subject American motorists to the unknown risks of driving over a Waterstone bridge, Waterstone’s basic principles should at least be tested to see whether they work. This is especially true since his designs seem to run contrary to conventional wisdom. But Waterstone responds:

I”m too busy designing bridges to jump through some skeptic’s hoops. They will never be satisfied, anyway. The American motorists should be free to decide for themselves if they wish to drive over one of my bridges. I respect their intelligence and ability to make smart decisions for themselves. They don’t need to be told by some bureaucrat, or professor in an ivory tower, which bridges are safe and which are not.

Professor Trellis and other naysayers argue that individuals should not have to be scientists or engineers in order to drive safely over our bridges. Regulations are not designed to limit freedom, but to provide a basic level of safety and protection for the public. This attitude, however, is increasingly being dismissed as overly paternalistic and protective.

Lees hier verder.

Het Denkgelag, the movie

Op 17 oktober 2013 vond Het Denkgelag Royale plaats. Daniel Dennett, Massimo Pigliucci en Lawrence Krauss lieten, in toom gehouden door Maarten Boudry en een Duvel of wat, hun licht schijnen over de grenzen van de wetenschap en het nut van de filosofie daarbij.

De heren organisatoren van Het Denkgelag hebben niet alleen een fantastische avond in elkaar getimmerd die quasi vlekkeloos verliep. Ze hebben het hele evenement ook nog eens digitaal vastgelegd voor het nageslacht. Chapeau!

Chemisch versus natuurlijk

Een zeer korte, maar heldere uitleg over het pseudo-onderscheid tussen ‘chemisch’ en ‘natuurlijk’ uit 2010. Moeilijker hoeft dat niet te zijn. Moeilijker hoeft men dat niet te maken.

[Ctrl-P] Tia Ghose: “Just a Theory”: 7 Misused Science Words

se7enWetenschap en het grote publiek (waaronder ondergetekende): we zijn nog lichtjaren verwijderd van een globale kwantumsprong voorwaarts. Het is maar een theorie, natuurlijk.

Tia Ghose, schrijfster verbonden aan de website Livescience, zette 7 termen op een rijtje die vaak door niet-wetenschappers misbruikt worden, al dan niet bewust.

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Tia Ghose: “Just a Theory”: 7 Misused Science Words

Hypothesis. Theory. Law. These scientific words get bandied about regularly, yet the general public usually gets their meaning wrong.

Now, one scientist is arguing that people should do away with these misunderstood words altogether and replace them with the word “model.” But those aren’t the only science words that cause trouble, and simply replacing the words with others will just lead to new, widely misunderstood terms, several other scientists said.

“A word like ‘theory’ is a technical scientific term,” said Michael Fayer, a chemist at Stanford University. “The fact that many people understand its scientific meaning incorrectly does not mean we should stop using it. It means we need better scientific education.”

From “theory” to “significant,” here are seven scientific words that are often misused.

Lees hier verder.

 

Oh ja, de woorden zijn:

  1. Hypothese
  2. Theorie
  3. Model
  4. Skeptisch
  5. Nature versus nurture
  6. Significant
  7. Natuurlijk

24 november 2013: Dag van de Wetenschap

richting morgenVolgende maand, op zondag 24 november 2013 vindt een nieuwe editie van de Dag van de Wetenschap plaats. In heel Vlaanderen zijn er die dag publieksactiviteiten rond wetenschap en technologie.

Aan de hand van lezingen, opendeurdagen, workshops, … wil men jong en oud prikkelen, informeren en sensibiliseren voor het belang van wetenschappen.

Informatie over tal van activiteiten op de Dag van de Wetenschap vindt u op de volgende websites:

atoompjes te bouwen, Leuke website om zelf

atom26 ijzerVan waterstof (H, Hydrogenium) tot ununoctium (Uuo), op de webiste Build an Atom vindt u ze allemaal terug, het hele klasje van Mendeljev. Netjes geïllustreerd, met de nodige informatie over het aantal neutronen en protonen, de spinbeweging van de elektronen, de schil etc.

Bij wijze van voorbeeld heb ik links de afbeelding voor ijzer (Fe) geplakt. Elke overeenkomst met het Atomium is puur toevallig.

Verder bevat de webpagina nog een link naar een schaalmodel van een (vereenvoudigd) zuurstofatoom. De kern van het schaalmodel (het proton) van het schaalmodel heeft een doornsee van 1000 pixels, wat inhoudt dat het elektron in het model zo’n 50.000.000 pixels verder staat. Met andere woorden, met een 19-inch-scherm gaat u er niet geraken.

[Ctrl-P] Adam Frank: Welcome to the Age of Denial

AdamVoor deze kopie-plak heb ik gekozen voor “Welcome to the Age of Denial”. Dit opniestuk van Adam Frank verscheen op 21 augustus, in The New York Times en het leek mij de moeite om de tekst een maand later nog eens te serveren.

Frank, een natuurkundige geïnteresseerd in “the intersection of astrophysical fluid dynamics, stellar evolution and supercomputer simulations”, laat wat stoom af over het gemak waarmee wetenschappelijke feiten ondergeschikt worden gemaakt aan ideologieën en hoe sociaal aanvaardbaar, bon ton zelfs, dat in deze tijden blijkbaar is.

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Adam Frank: Welcome to the Age of Denial

In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent.

The timeline of these polls defines my career in science. In 1982 I was an undergraduate physics major. In 1989 I was a graduate student. My dream was that, in a quarter-century, I would be a professor of astrophysics, introducing a new generation of students to the powerful yet delicate craft of scientific research.

Much of that dream has come true. Yet instead of sending my students into a world that celebrates the latest science has to offer, I am delivering them into a society ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science.

This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity. In that era of the mid-20th century, politicians were expected to support science financially but otherwise leave it alone. The disaster of Lysenkoism, in which Communist ideology distorted scientific truth and all but destroyed Russian biological science, was still a fresh memory.

The triumph of Western science led most of my professors to believe that progress was inevitable. While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact.

Lees hier verder.

[Ctrl-P] David Dixon: Amateur scientists vs. cranks

pseudowetenschapDavid Dixon presenteerde een greep uit de correspondentie van pseudowetenschappers, “the crazy, the naive and the stubborn”. Hilarisch, grappig, confronterend. Een excellente inleiding tot de pathologische wetenschap.

Het volledige begeleidende artikel vindt u op boing boing. De video duurt een uurtje, geen twee zoals aangegeven, en dateert van juli 2012.

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This is video of a talk given last year by David Dixon, assistant professor of math, science and engineering at Saddleback College in California. He used to work in the Physics Department at California Polytechnic State University, which, like many physics departments around the world, received loads of correspondence from non-scientists who thought they had come up with earth-shattering, game-changing hypotheses that needed to be shared.

Now, sometimes, laypeople come up with good ideas that should be explored. But many of these letters are better classified as the work of cranks — folks who had big ideas, cared deeply about those big ideas, but who were dead wrong… and utterly impervious to the idea that they might be wrong.

Nobels 2013: Physics goes to Higgs and Englert

englert“This year’s prize is about something very small that makes all the difference,” said Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in making the announcement today that Peter Higgs and François Englert had won the physics Nobel. Normark also name-checked the ATLAS and CMS detectors at CERN in his announcement.

The award goes to Englert, of the Free University of Brussels, and Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh, “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass subatomic particles”.

The researchers behind the so-called ‘Higgs particle’ have been widely expected to gain a Nobel at some point, especially after CERN confirmed the detection of such a particle in July last year, which is required in the standard model of physics.

The prize announcement states:

The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.

Bron: Nature Blogs

Podcast: More or less

moreorlessMannen denken om de zeven seconden aan seks. 90% van de Raynair-vluchten landt op tijd. De wereldbevolking en haar productiemiddelen, inclusief de agrarische, kunnen probleemloos ondergebracht worden in een gebied zo groot als de Amerikaanse staat Texas. U hebt deze boude beweringen waarschijnlijk al eens gehoord en misschien al wel eens met veel aplomb, zo tussen de soep en de patatten, gedebiteerd.

Moest u zich afvragen of deze ‘feiten’ kloppen, dan kan u steeds bij More or less terecht, “the podcast that really counts”. Tim Harford en zijn team geven duiding bij de cijfers en de statistieken die u in het nieuws hoort. Ze geven extra informatie, corrigeren en passen aan waar nodig. Regelmatig ruimen ze “zombie statistieken” op, cijfers die pertinent fout zijn maar toch steeds opnieuw en opnieuw de ronde doen. More or less wordt uitgezonden door de BBC World Service en is als podcast te downloaden. Een aflevering duurt zo’n 30 minuten, in het weekend is er ingekorte editie van 10 minuten.

Mijn favoriete afleveringen van de laatste maanden:

  • Is a child dying of hunger every 15 seconds? (15 juni 2013)
    Ruth Alexander examines the claim that every 15 seconds a child dies of hunger. It’s a popular statistic used by celebrities and charity campaigners in support of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. It conjures up the image of millions of young children starving to death. But is this really the case?
  • Communicating Risk (6 april 2013)
    It’s the fourth anniversary of the earthquake which devastated the city of L’Aquila in Italy and which led to the conviction of six scientists and an official who failed to predict the disaster. Scientists and statisticians worldwide were alarmed at the six-year sentences for manslaughter the seven accused received. It was feared the prospect of being put on trial would put off scientists from even trying to communicate risk – a very difficult business. But the risk assessors’ pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Data and alarms about tremors are being issued regularly, triggering school closures and building evacuations. But how useful is this information? Ruth Alexander speaks to Ian Main, professor of seismology and rock physics at Edinburgh University in the UK, who puts the risks into context.
  • Indian Farmer Suicides (19 januari 2013)

    This week Ruth Alexander is looking at farmer suicides in India. But is it any more prevalent than in any other area of Indian society? Given the attention it has had in India and across the world the results are surprising showing the suicide rate amongst farming and agricultural workers is a third lower than the national average. It also shows that the over-emphasis on farmers may be drawing attention away from other groups that are in more urgent need of help. Also what is the history behind the Lakh and the Crore in South Asia? It confused one contributor on the farmer suicide story and caused him to get the figures wrong by a factor of 10.