Category Archives: General Science


A light-on-spoilers review.

[Tuesday-morning update]


Christopher Nolan’s epic new sci-fi film Interstellar has received measured acclaim from critics, who have praised its ambitious scale and effects but were less convinced about the story.

That was the problem with Gravity, too.


Bias In Academia

…is destroying scientific integrity:

OK, it’s not exactly a “Sopranos” plot. But it’s pretty shady for the world of higher education. Chen went to great lengths to make up fake email addresses and even assume the names of other scientists to write approvingly of his own research.

In a sense, though, he was just exploiting the deep flaws of the peer review system. The academy has become a kind of club where friends give friends flattering assessments of research, which essentially guarantees promotions and tenure.

Here’s how the former editor of the British Medical Journal explained peer review:

“The editor looks at the title of the paper and sends it to two friends whom the editor thinks know something about the subject. If both advise publication the editor sends it to the printers. If both advise against publication the editor rejects the paper. If the reviewers disagree the editor sends it to a third reviewer and does whatever he or she advises. This … is little better than tossing a coin.”

But it’s not just the clubbiness of academia that is to blame. There is such ideological uniformity in the ivory tower that no one ever questions the important assumptions behind anyone else’s research.

Gee, where have we seen that sort of thing before?

I’d note, though, that contra the headline, it’s not a “liberal” bias. It’s a leftist bias.

The “97%” Nonsensus

As I noted on Twitter:

Judith Curry explains:

I think we need to declare the idea of a 97% consensus among climate scientists on the issue of climate change attribution to be dead. Verheggen’s 82-90% number is more defensible, but I’ve argued that this analysis needs to be refined.

Climate science needs to be evaluated by people outside the climate community, and this is one reason why I found Kahan’s analysis to be interesting of people who scored high on the science intelligence test. And why the perspectives of scientists and engineers from other fields are important.

As I’ve argued in my paper No consensus on consensus, a manufactured consensus serves no scientific purpose and can in fact torque the science in unfortunate ways.

And José Duarte is appropriately brutal:

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The Hubble Group

So the big news today is that they’ve named the supercluster we live in:

Scientists previously placed the Milky Way in the Virgo Supercluster, but under Tully and colleagues’ definition, this region becomes just an appendage of the much larger Laniakea, which is 160 million parsecs (520 million light years) across and contains the mass of 100 million billion Suns.

Which kicked off this Twitter exchange between me and Lee Billings.

Accordingly, I propose that we rename the Local Group the Hubble Group, in honor of its namer, and making it consistent with the other names. I will henceforth call it that. If anyone asks, I’ll explain.

Infinity Aerospace

Announcing tools to utilize ISS. Ardulab, is an Arduino modified with features to work on the station. Developed with NASA and Nanoracks. Enabled an 8th-grade class to do a plant-growth experiment for different light conditions in space, ready to fly. Takes up only ten percent of allowed volume, leaving remainder for experiments. Completely open source, hardware and software. Will be opening web site right after talk today.

Scientists And Philosophers

Why they need to talk to each other:

Most of climate science is in ‘shut up and calculate’ mode. This is a very dangerous place to be given the substantial uncertainties, ignorance and areas of disagreement, not to mention the problems/failures of climate models. Climate science needs reflection on the fundamental assumptions, re-interpretations, and deeper thinking. How to reason about the complex climate system, and its uncertainties, is not at all straightforward. And then of course there are the ethical issues, including understanding how the climate debate has gone so badly wrong.


The Missing Light

It’s a mystery:

As one participating scientist points out, to miss the mark by so much means what we understand about the universe is fundamentally wrong. The universe continues to be exciting, a little scary, but mostly—a mystery.

And yet some have the hubris to tell us they can predict the temperature of the planet and level of the seas decades from now.


They’ve found one.

Well, not really. It’s a hairless raccoon. As she notes, dogs don’t eat with their hands. And the guy who thinks that coons don’t growl apparently doesn’t have much experience with them. We saw one on the island in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago, at night, with a big crowd of viewers of the holiday boat parade. It was a spooky-looking creature.


Chad Orzell has some problems with the reboot. So do I and while it’s not his main concern, he puts his finger on it:

The bit where he called out young-Earth creationism for the impoverished scale of its vision was cute, too, though I’m not sure it was all that necessary or useful (in that the people who believe that won’t be watching, and wouldn’t be convinced), but then the show has clearly established a pattern of throwing red meat to the anti-religious from time to time.

Yes, if by “from time to time” he means every episode so far. I’m not traditionally religious, but I find it gratuitous and off putting. The writers and Tyson seem to get some sort of righteous satisfaction from putting a rhetorical thumb in the eyes of believers. It does not advance science, or their own secular religious cause.