The pacing of the radiation posts

As long-time readers may have noticed, when it comes to complicated issues, as in the case of the current series on radiation paradoxes, I tend to post about it in installments. I have had many, many ten-to-twenty-or-more part series dealing with important questions, such as the Higgs, evolution, and the Big Bang. This doling out in small portions may be irksome to some, especially those who already know quite a bit about the subject, who may be impatient at my slow pace. They may wonder why I do not write out the entire thing first and post it in one long entry so that everything is settled once and for all.

There are several reasons for this. One is purely pedagogical. I think that it is hard to digest a lot of new and difficult material in one gulp. With small doses, where each post focuses on just one or more important issue, people can think and reflect on it, ask questions, and get things clarified in their own minds as best as possible and are thus more ready to move on to the next installment.

This policy is based on my own teaching experiences. When I first started teaching physics at Case Western Reserve University three decades ago, they used to have lectures four days a week, except on Tuesdays. Some time later, they switched to three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I found that this worked much better, even though it meant less classroom time, because students always had at least one day to digest the material and do homework. I absolutely hated the compressed summer courses where classes met for two-hour sessions four times a week. It was like force-feeding students with physics and after a couple of years, I stopped teaching those courses altogether because they were so unsatisfying to me.

Another reason is purely practical. I often write about topics like this series even though I am by no means an expert because I am interested in it and writing helps me learn and sort the ideas out in my mind. I do not have it all worked out in advance. I start writing when I feel that I know enough to get on with but am learning as I go along. All I have at the beginning is an outline of the topics that need to be covered and some preliminary thoughts on how to best present them.

Another advantage of not posting it all at once is that the comments that follow each post often clarify for me what readers are finding confusing and what I need to be more clear about. That feedback results in my revising upcoming posts, often drastically, and even adding new topics that I had not initially planned to include. This is partly why I leave a window of a few days before successive posts, so that I have time to look at the feedback and make revisions. The posts actually get better (at least in my opinion) by being staggered.

My strategy of offering the material in bite-sized pieces seems to be working for at least one reader, as suggested in a comment by file thirteen who said that they liked the pacing of these posts and that it is enabling them to keep up. That is no mean feat since the material is by no means simple, even for those who have some physics background. I hope it is true for others too.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    As someone with a pretty solid foundation in both EM and gravitational theory, I do like the pacing a lot. It gives me the time to think about issues I never really thought deeply about.

    I’m certainly used to talking about EM fields as seen by different inertial observers (e.g. Einstein’s 1905 relativity papers). But, odd as it may sound, I’ve never really dealt with the idea of electromagnetic fields as seen by an accelerated observer, and what different observers mean by ‘radiation’, which is at the heart of this topic. I’m spending a fair bit of time brushing up on the basics, and thinking about the not-so-basic.

    So, yeah, your strategy is working very well for me.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    I haven’t commented yet on the radiation series because Thanksgiving through New Years is a very hectic period at my work and I didn’t have time to properly chew on this. But, I am going through it now and I like it a lot. It kinda reminds me a bit of Isaac Asimov’s science popularizations, where he would often pause his main narrative to thoroughly explain a concept or a term. I read a lot of those and it really helped in a lot of areas that my formal schooling had left pretty hazy.
    I also like that you keep your sentences short and pithy, it’s a good clear style.
    Keep ’em coming please, Mano!

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