Three posts in one day. And all of such high quality. You lucky people.
Pascal has a go at explaining the std.nutters. Some of it is the usual correct stuff, but some of it is wrong: What you need, over and above all that, is constant social interaction with other practising scientists. Oral tradition and daily exposure to other scientists’ everyday decisions are indispensable. That sounds fairly plausible, doesn’t it? Until you think of Newton. Or indeed, of Einstein.
I’m reading Anathem because Paul told me to. And because I’m enjoying it. And because its good and thick and will sustain lots of time. Read Paul’s review if you’re interested in an overview; I’m not going to do that, if only because I haven’t finished it (I’m about half way through, if you care). Some of the following gives away some details of the plot that Paul is careful not to give away, so don’t read on if you’re intending to read it.
Continue reading “Polar orbiters and the testing of sci-fi”
David J.C. MacKay has a draft book out online, http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/mackay/ , which is worth a browse. He is due to give a talk here in a bit, which should prove interesting.
The book is an attempt to look at renewable energy from a broad-brush numbers point of view (in which I suspect it does a rather better jobs than “Heat” by Monbiot). But the bit I want to look at is the “offsetting” section, p143 onwards, the Story of Joan and Thambo. Joan flies in a plane, and offsets her emissions by helping Thambo keep warm by not burning his pile of coal. This seems fair enough: she emits X CO2 but her offset money allows Thambo to not emit X. The example assumes that all is above board, as it might not be in the real world. Yet for some reason MacKay seems to view this with suspicion, because the Joan+Thambo combination is not emitting *less* CO2. But this is silly… the purpose of the offset it only to remove what you emit (though you could buy 2* offsets; or just buy the offsets without travel).
What he doesn’t really address is what happens when we run out of such easy methods to offset CO2, which I suspect is a much bigger problem.
Incidentally, p148 has a nice graph of what happens versus the costs of a carbon tax. According to his estimates, sequestration of CO2 from thin air occurs at $130 (per tonne) and impact on US car-driving only occurs at $400. Carbon offsetting, though is available from $7.50.
Or, Reading the entrails of chickens: molecular timescales of evolution and the illusion of precision. Pointed out to me by a palaentologist friend. There’s a pdf here. Nothing at all to do with climate, but an interesting tale nonetheless. Or so I assume: it seems sensible, and was recommended by someone sensible, but may have been superceeded since 2004 for all I know. But this is the first time I’ve heard this wonderful story, and as someone who occaisionally reads about molecular clocks in the papers and assumes its all kosher, this article was a surprise.
Continue reading “Reading the entrails of chickens”
Venturing onto thin ground for me, and giving the stringy folk a chance to patronise me in return. So… I’ve been reading Kuhn, the structure of scientific revolutions. An interesting book, which I shall blog about in a bit. In some ways its a bit like reading Leviathan, but in reverse.
So: the basic point is: that scientists do “normal” science for most of the time, until enough observations pile up that simply cannot be explained under the current theory, or until complications in the theory needed to explain obs piles up, and eventually someone comes up with a blindingly novel viewpoint, the “paradigm” shifts, and everyone hares off down a new track, except for the old fogeys stuck in their ways.
And the obvious examples are Newtonian gravity/mechanics; SR/GR; and QM. Fair enough.
Now, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but are we, today, with String Theory for the very first time desperately *searching* for a paradigm shift? Its as if they’ve all read the book, said “sod all this normal science, we’re off on a new track” and deliberately set off to do so, *despite* a total lack of observations that contradict relativity or QM. Although of course ST is by now normal science. But ignore that.
The catalyst for this post is “The List” by Steinn; which again supports my contention that the current attempt-at-shift is unusual in being not driven by *any* inexplicable obs (let alone lots of them piling up; OK there is a possible pioneer effect but thats pretty marginal). Of course, what it is driven by is GR and QM not being compatible as theories; however this is really a rather different thing.