24
Feb 05

The Physics Detective Part Six — Dubois Spills the Beans

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 386 views

The Physics Detective Part Six — Dubois Spills the Beans

It was looking like a nondescript installment of The Physics Detective until Dubois — out of nowhere — dropped a bombshell. From the intercepted quantum email:

I think you should be careful about your relationship with RJ. He is a liar and a cheat.

As was the case with negadex in past weeks (i.e. negative refractive index materials do exist, but glass-based negadex does not), q-mail is fiction but the science behind it is true. All that stuff Dubois said about unbreakable quantum communication schemes and detection of eavesdroppers has been proven in theory, but nobody has the technological means to build such a communicatoin system at present. Putting aside the (as yet unknown, since q-mail doesn’t exist) legal consequences of intercepting and reading someone’s private q-mail, let’s consider the content of that line I cited …

What “relationship” with Jaeger? Professional? Or personal? When Jaeger was killed, Shlomiuka held him and cried. Nobody else seemed to be shedding tears after the man’s demise. And isn’t it funny how that line was received in full by Dubois (meaning Shlomiuka never got to read it), while most of the remaining message was garbled? And what to make of Dubois’ parting comment:

“Mr. Lister, Petra Pruszczyncki and Rufus Jaeger were scientific competitors, not jealous lovers.”

They were not lovers … UNLIKE JAEGER AND HIS HOT POSTDOC!! Dubois must know more than she is telling (about a lot of things, not just the saucy stuff).

17
Feb 05

The Physics Detective Part Five — All Eyes on Pruszczyncki

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 356 views

The Physics Detective Part Five — All Eyes on Pruszczyncki

Part five already, wow, unbelievable, how time flies, what drama, what action!!! (it’s hard enough trying to sell this story to the science folk I work with, so I’m overdoing the excitement rhetoric to cover up for the possibility that truly nobody cares about this murder mystery except for me)

Until now, the writing styles of the various authors had meshed together quite well, but this week I felt as though I was reading a completely different story. The other installments were part whodunnit mystery, part satire of the scientific community. This week I felt like I was reading the script of a 70’s cop show. Very formal, all business, no joking around.

Pruszczyncki now looks like a prime suspect (even moreso than she already did). Of course that means she had nothing to do with the murder. We’ve all read enough mysteries to know that the obvious suspect can’t possibly be the killer. That said, the details surrounding the negadex heist are just plain stupid. Granted, it’s not as troublesome as missing plutonium, but we’re supposed to believe the following:

a) Pruszczyncki honestly thought that none of her scientific peers knew about negadex.
b) Pruszczyncki told absolutely no one about her discovery (it’s a lab, not a WMD factory. Why the extreme secrecy? Surely any papers or patent applications would have been submitted during the last several months).

Now if a) and b) were true, then how could their negadex have possibly been stolen? Random burglars wouldn’t steal prisms from a lab, they’d steal computers and electronics. Obviously, the word was out because whoever was behind the theft must have been a scientist who knew about the existence of negadex and knew exactly what they were looking for. And Pruszczyncki would have realized this once she discovered that some negadex had been stolen.

So, the culprit is a laser expert, is well-versed about general optics (i.e. in the loop regarding negadex and aware of its possible uses), and hated Jaeger. LUDMILLA SHLOMIUKA FITS ALL THESE CRITERIA. DON’T MESS WITH HOT BLONDE RUSSIANS.

10
Feb 05

The Physics Detective Part Four — Lorimer the Louse

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 339 views

The Physics Detective Part Four — Lorimer the Louse

“But at least he finished his referee’s report before he died” … !!!

Pretty much a transition episode this week, since nobody’s buying Lorimer as a serious suspect. In a major new twist, Feng is suddenly being portrayed as a cheat. Perhaps he fabricated data, or airbrushed over his mistakes and lied to Jaeger about them? We’ll have to wait to hear his side of the story. But how credible is he now, having joined forces with Pruszczyncki, the seemingly evil inventor of Killer Negadex?

I hope we’ll hear from Wilfred de Bruijn next. He worked closely with Jaeger, had serious issues with him, knew the experiment very well, and should know the truth behind the AFFAIR WITH THE BLONDE RUSSIAN POSTDOC THAT WAS TOO HOT FOR SCIENCE.

5
Feb 05

The Physics Detective Part Three — Baumgarden Under the Gun

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 495 views

The Physics Detective Part Three — Baumgarden Under the Gun

I believe Baumgarden’s story. He seems like the “smoke pot on weekends and sip scotch during late nights at the office” type, not the “I carry grudges against everybody and live for revenge” type. As a counterargument, one might question the way he conveniently brought up the issue of negadex (which could be construed as an attempt to shift blame away from himself), which was supposed to be a top-secret material that only a few people would have known about. However, as a top guy in his field, a specialist in laser physics, and undoubtedly a person with a lot of high-level contacts, it’s almost expected that he would have heard about this important discovery through the grapevine. It’s hard to keep those kinds of things a secret for too long.

[technical aside: “negadex” is fiction, but the discovery of negative refraction is not, for discussion and debate over this exciting subject, follow these links]

This story is developing in classic “Who Shot JR” fashion. The more we learn about Jaeger, the more deplorable a person he appears to have been. His enemies had good reason to hate him. At the end of “Part Three”, we learned how he avoided controversy over a withdrawn Nature submission by laying all the blame on his graduate student (in all likelihood, the former student is Jirong Feng, who was mentioned in “Part One”). Shame!!! So now we know that Jaeger isn’t above using the people who work for him as scapegoats, effectively destroying their careers as long as he emerges with some of his credibility intact. Any professor who would take advantage of his students and postdocs in this way would think nothing of, oh I dunno, TOYING WITH THE EMOTIONS OF HIS HOT BLONDE RUSSIAN POSTDOC WHILE PARTAKING IN A TAWDRY AND HIGHLY UNPROFESSIONAL AFFAIR WITH HER.

1
Feb 05

The Big Bang and How We Came To Know It.

Proven By Science3 comments • 296 views

The Big Bang and How We Came To Know It.

The newest book by Simon Singh, simply entitled “Big Bang”, has garnered many fantastic reviews (for example, Scientific American, Toronto Globe and Mail, Guardian). I haven’t seen it yet, but I have been a fan of Singh’s ever since receiving his book “Fermat’s Enigma” as a gift many years ago. Among all the wild (and often poorly written) hoopla surrounding the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, Singh wrote a book that a) didn’t talk down to you like you were an idiot, b) featured a enthusiastic, narrative style that read more like a slow-building detective novel than a book about math, and c) delved deeply into the personalities of the main characters, even going so far as to reconstruct email conversations between the principles in order to build the drama and excitement in their own words.

Furthermore, this article implies that Singh’s book contains some long overdue popular credit for Ralph Alpher. One could say that Alpher is to 20th century physics what Rosalind Franklin is to 20th century biology — and then some. Franklin may have taken the X-Ray photographs of DNA, but she couldn’t properly interpret her own data. Alpher not only provided theoretical justification for the Big Bang (a term coined by his Ph.D. supervisor George Gamow), but he also wrote papers about how to experimentally verify his theories. That experiment was eventually performed in 1965, with the detection of the cosmic background radiation by Penzias and Wilson. Both of them were unaware that Alpher, along with Gamow and Robert Herman, had predicted the existence of this radiation seventeen years earlier. They even received the 1978 Nobel Prize for their work. Alpher and his collaborators got nothing.

For further reading, this classic Discover article recounts Alpher’s life and work in more detail. And presumably, so does Simon Singh’s new book.

28
Jan 05

The Physics Detective Part Two — The Investigation Begins

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 356 views

The Physics Detective Part Two — The Investigation Begins

This week’s installation was about 100 times funnier than last week’s. As a result, I now have the enthusiasm and motivation to see this story through to the end — and bring this twisted tale of deceit and murder to YOU, the physics-loving Proven By Science reader! (even though I fear I am the only one reading this)

[spoilers]

What did I tell you about that Russian postdoc? I thought the technician’s comments were very revealing … she was having an affair with Jaeger, I just know it!

I want to know what kind of laser they were using. I imagined that they were using a laser with fast pulses and high peak power, but with low average power. In other words, not something that would burn through flesh (it would maybe burn through a piece of paper if focused). And the guy who wrote Part 2 is a metallurgy and material science prof, so he would surely know what types of lasers would be capable of drilling a hole in a man’s head. Either he’s suspending laser physics reality for the sake of having a conveniently placed murder weapon, or there’s a lot more to be learned about the composition of that experimental setup.

They’re setting it up to make Trotman, the technician, look guilty, but a) that’s way too obvious, and b) the guy is just a technician — he knows how to operate the lasers, but doesn’t know laser physics. For instance, if a — I don’t know, let’s say a RUSSIAN POSTDOC IN A SPURNED LOVERS RAGE — decided to switch or alter the lasers somehow, then he might not have suspected that anything unusual was afoot.

21
Jan 05

The Physics Detective

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 287 views

The Physics Detective

Whodunnit? The disgraced former Chinese doctoral student? The fiery Polish research competitor? The smooth, sly French professor? The disgruntled American technician, tired of seeing his boss steal his due credit after years of loyal service? The American laser physics expert, seeking revenge for the Nobel snub? The Dutch senior researcher, fuming from lost oppurtunities that are as yet unrevealed? The British journal editor, a respected scientist turned EVIL? Or finally, the hot Russian postdoc, who’d been having a torrid affair with the deceased for nine months, finally losing her marbles in a fit of jealous rage after hearing one too many “of course you’re the only woman for me, I’ll leave my wife, I promise, we’ll be together, just you and me” excuses? (one can only hope that this motive exists)

Jaeger’s “dead” state has been observed … but what about the cat’s? Has the cat finally gotten even with generations of physicists for rolling the dice with its mortality? Stay tuned for Parts 2 through 10!

11
Jan 05

Einstein Year — The Celebration Continues.

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 337 views

Einstein Year — The Celebration Continues.

Nature has prepared an feature on four young theorists as a tie-in to the Einstein Year hoopla (no subscription required to read the article). Each featured scientist is under 35.

All of these researchers have an eye on getting experimental tests for their ideas within the next ten years or so. This is particularly significant in the case of those involved with string theory, which has been around for twenty-five years but has yet to be confirmed experimentally. The rewards are great (unified theory of everything) but entire careers have gone by without any verification of the theory, or even the proposal of an experiment that could verify it (until now).

16
Dec 04

The new face of Creationism.

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 213 views

The new face of Creationism.

CNN ran a story yesterday on the Intelligent Design Network’s proposed revisions to the science standards set by the Kansas School Board. It should come as a surprise to no one that this is happening in Kansas, where evolution was dropped as a required part of the curriculum in 1999, resulting in widespread ridicule. However, contrary to what was implied at the time, the teaching of evolution wasn’t banned in Kansas, it was simply removed from the mandated, state-wide curriculum. On a local level, any school could continue to teach evolution if they wanted to. The intent was to open up evolution to broader scientific enquiry, which wasn’t possible if it was required learning in all schools, or some crap like that.

Which brings us to today. Evolution is still off the curriculum, and now they want to put Intelligent Design on the curriculum. First off, don’t be fooled by the jargon — Intelligent Design = creationism, just like vertically challenged = short. Second, don’t think that because they’ve got people with Ph.D.’s supporting this, then there must be something to it. Just as historians, medical doctors, and politicians can be quacks, so too can scientists.

More codes deciphered … “objective inquiry” is shorthand for saying “evolution cannot be rigourously proven, therefore, it is time to consider some alternatives”. The existence of G-d can’t be rigourously proven either, but of course you never hear them talk about that. Also, the whole “theory” = “just a guess” misnomer rears its ugly head, i.e. the usual attempt to fool people into thinking that evolution was concocted on a whim. “Theory” doesn’t mean the same thing in science as it does in colloquial conversation. My dictionary defines it as “a closely reasoned set of propositions, derived from and supported by established evidence and intended to serve as an explanation for a group of phenomena”. That’s not exactly what one means when one says “I have a theory as to who drank the last beer that was in the fridge”.

In one of their publications (browse the site), they claim that “the most important, defining characteristic of Darwinian evolution is that it is an unguided, unplanned, and purposeless process”. I couldn’t agree more. It’s the next step in their reasoning which is problematic.

Let’s boil down their arguments by considering everyone’s favourite example: flipping a coin. Suppose you flip a coin one hundred times, and record the sequence of heads and tails you get while doing so, i.e. “HHTHTTH …” (you can even think of it as a simplified DNA sequence if you wish, in fact, that would probably help). The total number of possible sequences is 2100. Therefore, the probability of getting any particular sequence is 1/2100.

If you actually do this experiment, the sequence you wind up with is achieved randomly. Nobody has any trouble believing this. However, it is also true that the probability of getting that exact sequence is 1/2100. Just because the sequence is highly unlikely doesn’t make its generation any less random. So if you did the experiment and showed me the sequence that resulted from it, then it would be proposterous to criticize you by saying “there’s a miniscule 1-in-2100 chance that you could have gotten that sequence … that couldn’t POSSIBLY have happened in a random manner, an INTELLIGENT DESIGN must have produced that sequence for you!”.

8
Dec 04

Good news for all you lefthanders out there.

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 338 views

Good news for all you lefthanders out there.

If widespread hand-to-hand combat breaks out in your society, you’re likely to flourish!

The side effects include reduced lifespan, low birthweight and increased incidence of immune and nervous disorders. But that’s a small price to pay for the satisfaction of getting to beat people up.