Category Archives: Mad Scientist

Stories about real discoveries in science.

Science Delivers More Pseudo-Science Fodder

There is a cadre of slightly well-read and utterly misguided half-thinkers conferencing together and discussing some new announcements in the scientific community, conflating those concepts into miraculous distortions of rose-colored fineries.  Let’s talk about a couple of excellent new announcements and see where our vivid imaginations take us.

First we have the interesting calculation of  Moore’s Law as applied to life on Earth.  You can read a nice article here.  Where they fall short is that there is no direct indication of how the researchers measured the most important aspect in Moore’s Law, namely how they defined complexity.  For an integrated circuit the answer is quite simple: “the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years”.  Complexity is the number of transistors.

So how does that translate to genetics?

Are genes like transistors?  Perhaps, sort of.  But there aren’t really a specific number of genes which translates well from organism to organism.  It doesn’t work like that.

What about the number of base pairs in chromosomes or the number of chromosomes themselves?  Well, this also provides some similitude but also falls apart as a de facto rule since not all creatures fall neatly into a hierarchy of complexity as measured by these numbers either.  (See this subsection for more information.)

So, they made something up.  That’s fine, and this work may well lead us to make new discoveries about life and its origins.  One of those discoveries could well be that life on Earth came from elsewhere, but at present that still stands as a lower likelihood than theories which seek to formulate terrestrial explanations.

Nonetheless, be prepared to encounter the obligatory pseudo-scientists claiming that this proves life on Earth was either created by a magic sky man (or, hey, maybe it was the aliens) or that it proves Darwin had it all wrong.  It does neither.  Darwin started a body of theory which stands as one of the two best-well-supported theories in the history of science.

The other of the two best-well-supported theories in the history of science is Quantum Mechanics, and that brings us to the newly proposed time crystals.

Presumably the TARDIS uses time crystals.

But what’s a time crystal?  So, crystals have their atoms aligned along a patterned lattice.  This is famous enough.  Now suppose that in addition to that pattern running along the three of our spatial axes it also runs along our time axis.  This would imply that the atoms would prefer to remain temporally aligned as well as spatially aligned and it would do this without expending energy.  Enter the perpetual motion machine, because time crystal sounds much better than spinning magnet.

Is it possible that we have opened the door to discovering (finally!) a source of perpetual motion (and thus unlimited free energy)?  Sure.  It only violates one of the most fundamental laws (laws not theories) of physics established with hundreds of years of observation and theory supporting it.  It’s not impossible but yes it’s pretty much impossible (read: so highly improbable as to be mostly outside of consideration).

While it is true that Einstein felt that Quantum Mechanics was incomplete (because it was a statistical outlay only and lacked a mechanism by which to explain the predicted events), Einstein didn’t doubt the veracity of QM or its results—he only complained the theory didn’t explain how this all worked.  Somewhat valid but mostly ignorable because its results do work.

You can read a bit about the time crystals here.  (I couldn’t find an article at but if I do later I’ll amend it here.)  It actually sounds pretty cool and I’m very interested in seeing where they are able to take this experimentally.

But again, be prepared to discover that your old pseudo-scientist friends and family will take this to prove Einstein was wrong, to prove the Copenhagen interpretation is bunk, and to prove that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is bust.

Don’t waste your time arguing with the pseudo-scientists of the world unless it is at a town hall meeting or a PTA event where the intellectual future of this country is actually, factually at stake.  It will only give you a headache and label you as part of the conspiracy.

Go get ’em.


The Power of Misinformation

Nobody wants to kill their own children.  I mean, that may seem like a good solution at tantrum time, but all kidding aside parents for the most part really want to see their children survive them.

However, the desire to feel good about protecting your children can lead down a path where feelings outweigh reasoned arguments.  Thanks to my friend Eric for sending me this great article on one facet of the crisis in this country concerning the irrational, wish-dream advocates attack on all intellectual and rational pursuits.

This article at Wired (“An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All”) does a good job of summing up the current information about immunization and the alarming trend to ignore the body of science supporting it.  Definitely a good read.

What is interesting to me (and to a number of friends with whom I have discussed it) is this willful embrace of ignorance.  It’s not just present here in this immunization issue.  Anytime truth comes into conflict with emotion there will arise a faction who cling to untruth for the sake of the heart-strings.

While I am certainly capable of sympathy with those many positions which feeling leads us towards, an important part of growing up is recognizing that the world is rarely as we wish it.

It’s time to grow up, everybody.

Though it is likely true what this article posits in its final paragraph: “There will always be more illogic and confusion than science can fend off.”  Nonetheless, we can and should raise our rational voices against the gale of emotive blabbering.

It is no longer enough to rest assured that the truth will prevail in time.  Yes, the Catholic Church did finally pardon Galileo.  But he died blind and separated from his daughters under house arrest in Rome.

Raise up your rational voices.

Light Reading and a Seminal Seminar

I am currently reading a book by Lee Smolin called The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next.  I am nearly done with it and feel confident in recommending it to anyone with an interest in the problems presently facing theoretical physicists or anyone with a more general interest in the philosophy of science.

He raises a number of intriguing questions concerning what qualifies as a theory and about theory acceptance.  Additionally he delves into what it means to do science and specifically how certain current theoretical avenues are threatening to impinge on the claims to truth that science as traditionally held.  All of this is accomplished within a framework of a host of interrelated concepts, conjectures, and theoretical candidates now under scrutiny in physics, especially particle physics.

I found the reading material quite accessible and would guess that most readers who have come this far through my review would be able to manage the concepts under discussion.  Having a backgroud in physics (even having taken a class in college) would be useful in terms of managing the vocabulary, but again I don’t think this is required to get through and to enjoy the material presented.

On a related note, he includes a citation for a seminar which took place in Canada’s Perimiter Institute a few years back.  Happily there are audio recordings of this seminar available through their site (the audio page is here).  Again, excellent brain yum-yums for the philosophical minded.  The seminar concerns whether the physical laws are fixed or whether they might change over time (so, has the gravitational constant been constant always?).

In short, read the book; listen to the seminar recordings; think and talk like a philosopher of science (so I don’t feel so awkward at parties).

Happy hunting.

The Fungus Stinks On and Aquires an Algal Friend

You may have heard about the fungus which produces diesel.  (I wrote about it here.)  Well, I found some more interesting and related articles which I felt others might like to read about.

The discover is being praised highly by the New Scientist and they seem to endorse it as a revolutionary breakthrough.  (So rarely are revolutions seen for what they are when they are, you shouldn’t take this as proof-positive.)

On a related note, I found an article over at Portfolio which discusses an algae which can be harvested as a bio-fuel—if all goes according to plan.

No matter how you slice it, this is an exciting time for energy production.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds.  Will we really use funghi and algae to energize our houses and cars?

Maybe it’s time to rethink the American farm?

Happy hunting, you crazy rabbits.

Beach Whales for Breeding?

I came upon this interesting article which talks about the ancestry of whales being land-breeders.  This is to say that whales may have once came up onto the land as a part of their breeding cycle (such as sea turtles do, for instance).

You can read the article here.

It got me to wondering if this might go some distance towards explaining why whales sometimes beach themselves.  The usual explanation I have heard is “humans suck”.  Essentially, we humans make so much noise in the oceans (and we certainly do) that the whales get confused and run aground.  This has never really satisfied me.

So, perhaps the whales are responding to a residual instinctual call to visit the land.  I suppose this could be tested against whale beachings as they relate to cyclical events in whale breeding seasons.

The New Scientist article to which I link above does talk about whales returning to land to give birth, but I’m really just speculating so don’t throw a shoe at me.