Humans, Carbon Dioxide and Climate

Professor Richard Muller of UC Berkeley isn’t the first scientist to be converted to the idea that humans are causing a change in the climate through carbon dioxide emissions.  Nor is he, by a long shot, the most expert among them.  But he’s one of the most famous, now, because he was also a loud skeptic not long in the past. He’s described the reasons for his conversion, based on a scientific study that he organized and helped lead, in a recent op-ed post in the New York Times.  It’s a little self-serving at best, but makes for interesting reading.

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A Last Stand — But Whose?

Ever have the experience of feeling that no one is listening to you, and so, to make yourself heard, you yell really loudly? And then discover that one of the key people you were trying to reach is standing right behind you? That’s a bit how I feel after my recent post about Tuesday’s article … Read more

Why Government Investment in Scientific Research Is Worthwhile

[NOTE ADDED: Unfortunately, within two months of this post, Mr. Zakaria was suspended from his job for plagiarism.  Such a spectacular lack of integrity calls into question everything he has ever written, and so I cannot anymore recommend his article, nor will he ever be quoted on this website again.]   Today I’d like to … Read more

Einstein, History and Science

On Saturday I gave a lecture, newly minted, on how Einstein is perceived in the public eye, and on how the numerous misconceptions about Einstein affect the way many non-experts believe that science is actually carried out.  Doing the research for the lecture involved, among other things, going back to some original sources I’d never read or had only read a long time ago, looking a bit at Einstein’s notebook from the period around 1912 (online here), and re-reading large portions of a wonderful biography of Einstein that I’m afraid was written by a physicist for physicists — and consequently largely unreadable without technical background, but a must-read for anyone who has that background.  I refer here to Abram Pais’s famous biography: “Subtle is the Lord…”, whose title refers to Einstein’s famous quip: “Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.”  (You can read about the origin of this quip in Pais’s book.)

I also enjoyed tracking down some videos online of various physical effects that Einstein explained, or that he predicted in advance.  These included videos (linked below) of

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Science Down, Up, and Inside-Out

First, a couple of things you might like to read: There was a long-overdue article from the New York Times as to how, after eight years of cuts from the Bush administration during good economic times, followed by additional inevitable cuts during the Great Recession, formerly world-leading scientific research efforts in the United States are on the … Read more

Some Good Reads

I’m preparing an article on a very important type of energy that I’ve avoided writing about so far — the energy that comes from the interaction among fields.  I’ve avoided it because it’s tricky to figure out how to explain it.  But it’s important, for this form of energy is responsible for all the structure in the universe, from atoms to galaxies.  The article’s not quite ready yet, so today I’ve just got some good reading material for you, including the heavy, the weird, the amusing, and the optimistic.

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A Neutrino Success Story

Almost all the news on neutrinos in the mainstream press this past few months was about the OPERA experiment, and a possible violation of Einstein’s foundational theory of relativity. That the experiment turned out to be wrong didn’t surprise experts. But one of the concerns that scientists have about how this story turned out and was reported in the press is that perhaps many non-experts may get the impression that science is so full of mistakes that you can’t trust it at all. That would be a very unhappy conclusion — not just unhappy but in fact a very dangerous conclusion, at least for anyone who would like to keep their economy strong, their planet well-treated and their nation well-defended.

So it is important to balance the OPERA mini-fiasco with another hot-off-the-presses neutrino story that illustrates why, even though mistakes in individual scientific experiments are common, collective mistakes in science are rare. A discipline such as physics has intrinsic checks and balances that significantly reduce the probability of errors going unrecognized for long. In the story I’m about to relate, one can recognize how and why scientists start to come to consensus.  Though quite suspicious of any individual experiment, scientists generally take a different view of a group of experiments that buttress one another.

The context of this story, though much less revolutionary than a violation of Einstein’s speed limit, still represents a milestone in our understanding of neutrinos, which has been advancing very rapidly over the past fifteen years or so. When I was a starting graduate student in the late 1980s, almost all we knew about neutrinos was that there were at least three types and that they were much lighter than electrons, and perhaps massless. Today we know much, much more about neutrinos and how they behave. And in just the last few months and weeks and days, one of the missing entries in the Encyclopedia Neutrinica appears to have been filled in.

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Question to Laypersons: Your Views on the Neutrino Saga

So, many of you have probably been following, to a greater or lesser degree, the story of the OPERA experiment.  This is the one that  found that neutrinos sent from the CERN lab near Geneva, Switzerland to the Gran Sasso lab in Italy (where OPERA is located)  arrived earlier than they expected.  Of course there were, from … Read more

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