Is going to the extreme a winning strategy?

I have been wondering whether taking ever more extreme stands on major issues was a winning strategy for Republicans. There is no doubt that it fires up the most passionate and Trump-supporting faction in the party and also seeks a petty goal of ‘triggering the libs’, as the kids say. But against that is the possibility that it alienates everyone else, including other Republicans. While such a strategy would likely be a plus in the primaries where more loyal party members tend to vote, it would succeed in a general election only if the electorate is so solidly Republican that there are enough people for whom just the identifier (R) after a candidate’s name is sufficient to make their voting decision.
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My article The paradoxical reasons for science’s success has been published

The publication Big Think, that is dedicated to disseminating articles that deal with important ideas, asked me to submit an essay that explored the main ideas of my book The Great Paradox of Science. It was not easy to do so because the argument I developed had to be closely reasoned, which was why I felt it required a book-length treatment.

But I gave it a shot and came up with a 2,000 word essay that I think gets the gist of the book fairly well. You can read the essay here. As a bonus, they have also created an audio version of the essay that lasts for about 14 minutes.

The ‘Havana Syndrome’ was most likely due to crickets

One of the weirdest news stories in recent years has been the so-called ‘Havana Syndrome’ when US embassy personnel in various parts of world, starting in Havana, reported hearing buzzing, having headaches and nausea, and other medical complaints. Aided by US government sources and egged on by anti-Cuban forces, the media quickly assumed that this was caused by a new kind of weapon developed by Cuba or possibly Russia or China.

While this was always far-fetched, Branko Marcetic writes that a secret government study concluded back in 2018 supported one theory that it was psychosomatic and caused by crickets. The cricket theory was postulated by some scientists two years ago but dismissed as preposterous. The new government study was classified and only released this week.
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How the maglev train works

The maglev train that can run at high speeds by ‘floating’ above the track is an engineering marvel that people in the US unfortunately have no direct experience with, thanks to the gas and automobile lobbies effectively killing the train system so that what exists here is an embarrassment when compared to what exists in other parts of the world. Eric Laithwaite, known as the father of the maglev train for his development of the magnetic levitation process, takes us step-by-step through the design of the system.

Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains are elegant and audacious works of engineering that operate by harnessing the power of magnetic repulsion and electromagnetism to move traincars that quite literally float above the track – today, often at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour. In this lecture at Imperial College London from 1975, the British engineer and professor Eric Laithwaite (1921-97) deconstructs the fascinating physics at work behind his plans for a maglev train, which he first modelled in 1940s and perfected in the 1970s. Well-regarded in his time as both a lecturer and an engineer, Laithwaite presents a series of demonstrations that build, step by step, until he finally unveils a small maglev train model. The first commercial maglev train debuted at Birmingham Airport in 1984, and today Laithwaite’s engineering breakthroughs help power many of the world’s fastest trains.

What will the future say about us?

It is a conceit of each generation to think that they live in a particularly unusual period of history, seeing the troubles they experience as somehow particularly difficult and looking back nostalgically to the past. For example, some conservatives in the US look back on the 1950s and 1960s as a wonderful period that they wish they could return to. Trump’s slogan of ‘Make America Great Again‘ was designed to appeal to them by echoing that sentiment. In reality, that period was one of deep segregation, racism, sexism, and homophobia, not to mention living with the fear of nuclear war that required taking part in drills. It was by no means an idyllic time.

The reality is that there is a mix of the good and the bad in each generation’s lives and how they view the past depends on which segment of the population they descended from, whether it was the ins or the outs.

But we can sometimes identify some unique characteristics that can be overlaid on each generation’s experiences. I have been trying to think of what, some day in the future, people are going to look back at this current time and see as its identifying characteristic. I think that it may be to wonder how it could be that so many people in the US who had access to good information could, and urged on by major political leaders, refuse to recognize the existence of a deadly virus that was causing a pandemic and affecting people all around them, refuse to take the vaccine that had significant evidence of being able to prevent death and serious illness, fight against common-sense preventative measures, and then when they do get sick, decide to put into their bodies all manner of untested treatments. I do not know if anything even remotely similar has happened in the past or in any other country.

This is a level of irrational behavior that speaks to some deep-seated problems in the national psyche.

How much land would be needed to power the world with solar energy?

Harvard University has announced that its massive endowment fund is divesting from fossil fuels. Many other universities had already done so under pressure from their students and alumni and others are likely to follow.

Academic endowments are entering a new normal after Harvard University, the richest school in the world, said it would divest from fossil fuels.

The decision wasn’t made lightly. The nearly $42 billion endowment succumbed to years of pressure from students and climate activists, a massive protest at a 2019 football game, and a string of legal efforts. President Lawrence Bacow in the past has said the endowment shouldn’t be used for political ends. Earlier this month he changed his tune.

A cascade of similar announcements has followed in Harvard’s wake, with Boston University, the University of Minnesota and the $8 billion MacArthur Foundation pulling the plug on fossil fuels. And there are more to come.

“We’re going to see this ripple out in the coming months,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director at the nonprofit “The financial arguments have never been stronger, with declining demand for oil, gas and coal. The social acceptability has now shifted as well.”

Divestment activists now have turned their focus to Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Boston College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, none of which have fully abandoned fossil fuels.

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A pixel is not a tiny square

I had thought of a ‘pixel’ as the smallest unit of digital space, like a tiny square, and that digitial images are made of up such units. This article says it is not that simple and that it is related to Fourier transforms, in which any wave form can be decomposed into the sum of sinusoidal waves of different frequencies.

Perhaps the most unexpected person in this story – at least for readers in the United States – is Vladimir Kotelnikov, the man who turned Fourier’s idea into the pixel.

Early in his career, Kotelnikov showed how to represent a picture with what we now call pixels. His beautiful and astonishing sampling theorem, published in 1933, is the foundation of the modern picture world.

A pixel exists only at a point. It’s zero-dimensional (0D), with no extent. You can’t see a pixel.

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Death and the universe

John Horgan writes that he thinks physicists are drawn to the multiverse idea (which he dislikes) because they cannot bear to think that our universe will end at some point. He postulates an explanation for why multiverse theories are so popular among physicists despite the lack of any supporting evidence for them.

Here is my guess: physicists are freaked out by the mortality of our little universe. What was born must die, and according to the big bang theory, our cosmos was born 14 billion years ago, and it will die at some unspecified time in the far future. The multiverse, like God, is eternal. It had no beginning; it will have no end.

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Which animals kill the most humans?

Human beings are easily the biggest killers on the planet, killing not only other members of their own species but also of other species. The number of homicides alone is close to 500,000 per year. But what animal is the biggest killer of humans? It turns out that it is the mosquito, causing the deaths of about twice as many people as humans do. But the mosquito is not really the killer, it just serves as a vector for diseases. If one eliminates vector-carriers such a mosquitoes, flies, bugs, snails, and worms, the top four killers are in the order: snakes, dogs, crocodiles, and hippos.
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