Saturday, April 04, 2009

This and That

  • Physicsworld has an interesting article "In search of the black swans" by Mark Buchanan who ponders the question whether the current research environment for scientists is optimal for knowledge discovery. It quotes Geoffrey West (currently president of the Santa Fe Institute) in praise of interdisciplinarity, Eric Weinstein (who attended our last year's conference on Science in the 21st Century, talk at PIRSA: 08090036) suggesting that scientists should put their money where their mouth is, and Lee Smolin who explains tirelessly that science needs more valley crossers and more risk-taking.  

    As I have argued many times - on this blog (eg here, here and here) and elsewhere - all of these suggestions are almost certain to fail. They sound nice and are meant well, but though today we might call for more interdisciplinarity or more risk-taking, tomorrow we'll have to much of it. Who is going to decide how much is enough? The only way to solve the problem is to allow the system to dynamically reach a balance. I am thus quite sympathetic to Eric's idea which wouldn't fix any percentages but allow some sort of self-organization, just that I don't think monetary incentives are a cure for every problem, and in particular in academia are more likely to cause additional problems.

  • PI's former director Howard Burton published his book on The Crazy Business of Doing Serious Science. I haven't read it, so don't ask.

  • is re-launching the quantum diaries. The original quantum diaries were launched in celebration of the 2005 year of physics and are basically a group blog documenting the lives of physicists. I find the design of the website very well done, and to my eyes' relief it's entirely ad-free.

  • PBS will be airing "400 years of the Telescope" on April 10 to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. More information on the program here, and photos here.


  1. What observation drastically alters physics without contradicting 420+ years of observation? Eucid and Newton are incomplete given falsified founding postulates. Zero or infinite lines parallel to a given line are OK. Lightspeed is not infinite nor is Planck's constant zero.

    Isotropic vacuum locks conservation of angular momentum (quantum mechanics) and gravitation (Equivalence Principle, BRST invariance). Deep radio through x-ray, the vacuum is not refractive, dispersive, or circularly dichroic to photons over billion lightyear paths (quasar imaging overall and for linear polarization).

    Here is your interdiscplinary black swan. If chemically and macroscopically identical, opposite geometric parity atomic mass distributions (left and right shoes) violate the EP in a parity Eötvös experiment, the vacuum is not isotropic in the massed sector - it is a left foot. Parity calorimetry validates the observation. No prior observation is contradicted yet the whole of physics must change (e.g, teleparallelism with torsion in Weitzenböck spacetime not metric gravitation with curvature in pseudo-Riemannian spacetime).

    Commercial materials - enantiomorphic single crystals of quartz, berlinite and analogues, cinnabar, tellurium, selenium, benzil.... Existing apparatus. Unchanged experimental protocols including validated null outputs. Incremental costs over ongoing experiments are piffle. Somebody should look.

  2. Bee, REM also this is the 40th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon, and Neil Armstrong making his famous remark "That's one small step for [a?] man, one giant leap for mankind." (The "Neil" association help makes up for a Hitchcock-related one regarding my full name. BTW, I don't care whether you can hear "a" or not, that phrase makes sense.)

    BTW' I went with my GF to a fabulous "Yuri's Night" at our local Virginia Air & Space Center. We both had fun and there were plenty of weird retro/futuristic costumes, dancing, light-cubed drinks, etc.

  3. Thanks! The black swan paper is just great.


Comment moderation on this blog is turned on.
Submitted comments will only appear after manual approval, which can take up to 24 hours.