TV review: 3 Body Problem (2024)

My recent two posts on UFOs and the possible existence of life emerging on other planets in the universe generated quite a bit of interest. Those interested in this topic may enjoy the new series just released on Netflix that deals with this. I recently finished watching all eight episodes (each roughly an hour long) of this show.

It deals with a group of five friends who were together at Oxford University and were all the proteges of a physicist Vera Ye who herself was the daughter of an accomplished Chinese physicist Ye Wenjie, whose father, also a physics professor, was murdered by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution for teaching Einstein’s theories. While remaining good friends, the careers of the five have diverged. Two of them (Jin Cheng and Saul Durand) are hotshot physicists, one (Auggie Salazar) is the chief scientific officer of a nanotechnology company. One (Jack Rooney) dropped out to start a snack company that has made him very wealthy, while the fifth (Will Downing) became a physics teacher, feeling that he did not have what it takes to be top-rank research scientist.
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Woman charged with murder over abortion sues prosecutors

In Texas a woman who was charged with murder for self-managing an abortion, and spent two nights in jail before the charge was dropped, is now suing the prosecutors for $1 million.

The lawsuit filed by Lizelle Gonzalez in federal court Thursday comes a month after the state bar of Texas fined and disciplined the district attorney in rural Starr county over the case in 2022, when Gonzalez was charged with murder in “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion”.

Under the abortion restrictions in Texas and other states, women who seek abortions are exempt from criminal charges.

The lawsuit argues Gonzalez suffered harm from the arrest and subsequent media coverage. She is seeking $1m in damages.

According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez was 19 weeks pregnant when she used misoprostol, one of two drugs used in medication abortions. Misoprostol is also used to treat stomach ulcers.

After taking the pills, Gonzalez received an obstetrical examination at a hospital emergency room and was discharged with abdominal pain. She returned with bleeding the next day and an exam found no fetal heartbeat. Doctors performed a caesarian section to deliver a stillborn baby.

The lawsuit argues that the hospital violated the patient’s privacy rights when they reported the abortion to the district attorney’s office, which then carried out its own investigation and produced a murder charge against Gonzalez.

Cecilia Garza, an attorney for Gonzalez, said prosecutors pursued an indictment despite knowing that a woman receiving an abortion is exempted from a murder charge by state law.

Prosecutors would had to have known that even in Texas, women could not be charged for receiving an abortion but they decided on charging her with murder anyway, in what seems like a purely vindictive effort to frighten other women who may seek to terminate their pregnancies using legal medications.

Surprising results in probability

Following an interesting discussion on my post on UFO cults about the likelihood of life having emerged somewhere in the universe, I thought that I would explore some non-intuitive results in that case and others involving probability.

I have mentioned before that it is hard to get an intuitive idea about probabilities and that it is easy to get led astray. The Gambler’s Fallacy is one example. In that case, when the outcome depends on the roll of the dice or where a ball on a roulette wheel lands, people tend to think that, in the case of the latter, several blacks turning up in a row makes the next outcome more likely to be red. This is not true because each event is independent of the others. It does not matter how many blacks turn up in a row, that does not change the probability of the next one. Many a gambler has been ruined by thinking otherwise.
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Rooting out scientific fraud with cash rewards

The reward structure in American universities, especially in the sciences, puts a great deal of pressure on scientists. In order to get research grants, which are an important measure used in promotions and getting tenure, scientists need to publish a lot of papers and show that they are major findings. This has resulted in some of them rushing to print without performing due diligence to make sure that their results are robust and repeatable. In some cases, this is just sloppiness or allowing their prejudices to unduly guide the interpretation of results, though that is still dishonorable. In the more serious cases, fraud is involved, either by deliberately massaging data to get the required result or by actually manufacturing the data.

Science has long been based on trust because it takes a lot of effort to reproduce the works of others and the custom has been to build on the work of others, not check them. It is only when some anomaly turns up that people comb through the work to see what might have gone wrong. Because of the prevalence of recent scandals, there are now efforts underway to put in place mechanisms to root out problems, and one of them involves giving cash rewards to those who investigate and reveal such cases.
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The UFO cult

I do not believe that we have been visited by extra-terrestrials. However, I do think it is quite possible, even likely, that intelligent life has emerged in many places in the universe. The universe is an immensely large place with an estimated 1022 stars within the visible part and since we know that the probability of intelligent life, let alone any kind of life, emerging is not zero (since it has happened here), it is not hard to imagine that it also emerged elsewhere.

What I do not believe is that they visited here, simply because of the vast distances that they would have had to travel, even if they originated on a planet of the nearest star to the Sun. To be able to traverse such distances would require some spectacularly new science and technology that is unlike anything that we know, that is also able to circumvent the limits of the speed of light and the lifetimes of organisms that seem to be so firmly based.

Furthermore, the idea that they have arrived and are playing coy by giving us just hints of their visits, and that the government is covering up those visits, adds another layer of implausibility. Why go to all the trouble of interstellar travel just to take a peek and go away? To arrive here would require incredibly sophisticated technology. To think that they were able to do that only to have their craft crash in the desert in the US, not just once but several times, just compounds the unbelievability.
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The Havana syndrome is still a mystery

The strange symptoms reported by US diplomatic personnel at various locations around the globe got the name ‘Havana Syndrome’ because it first surfaced in Havana in 2016. They complained of headaches, dizziness, nausea, hearing sounds, and difficulties with thinking and sleep;.

But repeated efforts to try and identify any kind of systematic pattern that might lead to a diagnosis of the cause have come up short, with various alternative theories being postulated ranging from the benign (that the sounds were caused by crickets) to sinister (that the diplomats were being targeted as part of some kind of technological warfare). But none of the theories covered all the cases.
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17 unanswered scientific questions

This article lists what it calls 17 ‘outstanding’ scientific mysteries that have currently eluded researchers’ ability to solve. Any such list is always subject to criticism about its choices and one could quibble with what is included and what has been left out. But it is useful as a discussion starter. I question the use of the word ‘mysteries’ for most of them because that implies questions that we have little or no idea how to address. These questions are what I would call ‘puzzles’, in that we do know how to tackle them even if we have not achieved success as yet.
But the questions are undoubtedly interesting and of those, two in particular caught my attention because I wrote about them in my book The Great Paradox of Science. They are: What is the universe made of? Was there an advanced civilization on Earth before humans?

What is the universe made out of?

This one is about how the search for dark matter is proving to be so elusive. In chapter 17 of my book I suggested that we may be in the midst of a crisis that precedes a paradigm shift (using the model proposed by Thomas Kuhn), similar to what happened with the ether back at the dawn of the twentieth century. At that time, the existence of the ether was strongly believed even though it had not been directly detected. Various explanations were given to explain away the negative results but they became increasingly strained and it would be fair to call the situation a crisis. The time was ripe for a change and when Einstein proposes his special theory of relativity, although it did not disprove the existence of ether (something I argue cannot be done), it did make it redundant. Since it was no longer needed as an explanatory concept, and special relativity proved to be a fruitful source of new research it was possible to deem the ether to be non-existent and embrace relativity, which is what happened.

Something similar is happening with dark matter. In my book, I wrote:
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This royal photoshopping thing is getting ridiculous

After all the hyperventilating over the photoshopped photograph of Kate Middleton and her three children, the media have unearthed another photograph that she had purportedly taken earlier of the late Queen and her great grandchildren that apparently was also altered in 19 different places.

What I do not get is that, as far as I know, it is not being alleged that entire people were inserted into the photo or removed, so that the photograph is no longer a reasonably accurate historical record of an event. The changes are so tiny that I cannot see them even after they have been pointed out. Why would anyone bother to make such minute changes? Even though the changes are infinitesimally small, it would seem to me that it would take a lot of skill and effort to make them. I know that I would not have the ability to do it. So what would be the point of doing this?

It is possible , I suppose, that entire people were inserted into the photograph and these almost invisible discrepancies are evidence of that. But the discrepancies are all over the photo. So was the entire photograph a photoshopped construction? Again, why bother? It is only a family photograph, after all, not a photograph of a political gathering that analysts pore over to see who who is in or out as an indicator of their political fortunes.

Even for those like me who tend to give news about the British royal family a miss, this particular puzzle intrigues me. not so much because of who it is about (though that is undoubtedly why is has created such a media frenzy), but because of the sheer pointlessness of it. I just cannot fathom any plausible motive for the alterations.

Vitamin D and calcium supplements don’t help much

Over-the-counter dietary supplements are a huge business in the US, aggressively marketed. Many people take them even if they have not been diagnosed with any particular deficiency but because they have the vague belief that if something is good for you, then more must be better.

But the benefit of taking such supplements in the absence of a specific need is doubtful. The results of a new study adds to the list of dietary supplements that do not seem to provide any benefit, in this case vitamin D and calcium.
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