My Photo

Salut!

  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« REPOST: a pirate's life for me | Main | where to park it »

Comments

I may be confusing my history here, but wasn't it Hooke who convinced Newton to publish the Principia? Newton after all sat on his Laws for almost 20 years, afraid someone would plagiarize them.

Yeah, you're confusing your history a bit. :) It was Edmund Halley who convinced Newton to set his various laws down in writing...

For some good reading that incorporates all these players and then some I'd highly recommend Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" starting with Quicksilver.

Getting this kind of writing into _Physics Today_ would do a lot to boost APS membership. Meanwhile we have to pay to have online access to "Einstein's Little-Known Junior High Years" or whatever similar historical article PT has on its RSS feed this month.

It's disappointing to see the "applied" vs. "fundamental" mythos, so ably destroyed by Lisa Jardine in "Ingenious Pursuits", evoked here. If we were true scientists, we would call what is disparaged as "applied", rather, "evidentiary", and call what is promoted as "fundamental", rather, "synthetic".

Scientific synthesis is the activity that compresses scientific knowledge to the degree that undergraduates and generalists can apply it. It's more fun in some ways, and certainly less messy than lab work, but it's hardly fundamental. What is and must always remain truly fundamental is observation. It is a crime against Hooke and his tradition that the two have lately been inverted (through the magic of peer-reviewed grantsmanship) in what amounts to a resurgence of medievalism.

Has the popular model of cometary origin, promoted in one NASA press release after another, produced even a single prediction borne out by observation? How many decades and sly studies of birds' brains did it take before papers on regeneration of human nerve cells could be published? How many millions suffered unnecessarily from ulcers because bacteria couldn't possibly survive in the stomach?

The uncomfortable fact about "applying" science is that it so frequently reveals flaws in what you think. Nobody likes that, so it's tempting to disparage the people doing the revealing. One's attitude to such flaws is a true test of commitment to science.

I think Dr. Myers is reading an awful lot into a simple blog post. :) FWIW, I'm a huge fan of Lisa Jardine's book, which is why I linked to its page on Amazon: to encourage others to pursue their interest in Hooke and science in general further. I appreciate the distinction Dr. Myers advocates, but (a) changing a long-standing use of terminology is pretty damned difficult, and (b) getting hung up on academic issues of nomenclature, such as what constitutes "applied" ("evidentiary") versus fundamental ("synthetic"), can just muddy the waters unnecessarily. I don't think either type of research is better than the other; we need both in order for physics to successfully advance our knowledge of nature. The obsession with "proper labeling," indeed, insisting on making such distinctions in the first place, can be unnecessarily divisive, and ultimately helps no one.

However, I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Myers' final sentences: that applying the science can reveal flaws in one's theories and this can be both disappointing and uncomfortable, so "One's attitude to such flaws is a true test of commitment to science." It's easy to fall in love with one's pet theory. Any scientist worth his or her fault would bow to the prepodnerance of experimental evidence, I think...

I apologize for speaking ex cathedra, and thank Dr. Oullette for the unearned honorific.

The debate about terminology already happened, and left us with the neutral terms "theorist" and "experimentalist". Useful synthesists are much rarer than useful observers, so it's human nature, however mistaken, to attach more importance to their product. We should admire Einstein, but ruthlessly test his results. A single observed fact should overturn a century's conjectures.

Astrophysicists have, as a body, studiously ignored the high-z quasar discovered physically in front of NGC 7319 in 2004. Are they actually acting as scientists any more?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.