Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy Birthday BBC News Website

The BBC news website is 10 years old this week. I know I and many others would not know how to live in a world where this invaluable time sink did not exist, partly I know this from the cool graph they have produced showing the growth in traffic to the site over time, you can see it reproduced below, click for big.

There are several interesting things about this graph, one of which is simply the number of page loads a month, right now there are over 1.3 Billion page loads per month and there is no sign of the increase in traffic slowing. Although I am probably responsible for about 1% of those, I still find it a huge number and wonder how they will cope in the future.

The second thing I like is the subtle implicatons about peoples behaviour you can see in the data, you may note for example that there are several dips in the traffic towards the end of a year, most obviously in recent years. My guess that this is the effect of Christmas holidays, when people are forced to go home, and no longer bother to check the news every five minutes as they do when chained to their desks. This of course also tends to imply that much of the traffic is still coming from the western world.

Then there is something I don't really understand unless it is simply a artifact of how they have graphed the data, but it appears that traffic had been increasing rapidly in the days leading up to September 11th 2001, before the attacks on World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. My guess is that they have simply plotted monthly totals which have tended to make it look like there was a rise in traffic pre September-11th, I would imagine that if you plotted daily totals you would see fairly smoothly increasing traffic until September 10th, then traffic would spike dramatically on the 11th before tailing off over the next few weeks, with a few superimposed bumps and wiggles related to events such as the opening of attacks in Afghanistan or new information regarding the attacks becoming available.

I'd love to see the daily totals for this period, I think this could really be useful in determining the most important events in modern history, especially when coupled with information on the most popular stories, though I rather fear that various celebrity scandals would dominate the events.

Everybody Is A Crank

The New York Times has a short article (free subscription required) about well regarded scientists stepping out of their own fields and becoming cranks in another. This has been spurred by James Watsons (co discoverer of the structure of DNA) cranky claims about race and intelligence last week, for Watson however such claims are not entirely unusual and not entirely unexpected given his age (79). The article includes an interesting quote from Sir Martin Rees:
“With my own advancing years, I’m mindful of the three different ways scientists can grow old,” Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom and president of the Royal Society, wrote in an e-mail message. The first two choices are either to become an administrator or to content yourself with doing science that will probably be mediocre. (“In contrast to composers,” Dr. Rees observed, “there are few scientists whose last works are their greatest.”) The third choice is to strike off half-cocked into unfamiliar territory — and quickly get in over your head. “All too many examples of this!” he lamented
I'm just struggling to come up with too many examples of this (any ideas internets?), there must be some, but there is another more interesting route to crankdom for scientists, one which allows you to remain comfortable in your own field: you are mainstream at some point but stick with a discredited theory long after it was given up as a lost cause by everyone else, Halton Arp is the obvious example from astronomy. I find this the more interesting route because it is the most dangerous, the easiest most seductive route, kind of like the dark side of science where you let your ego get the better of you.

I don't doubt that everyone is a crank in some field, I just wonder what my crank field is. I've known some friends that held what I thought were borderline cranky views on areas such as global warming or biology, but I guess its always difficult to spot where your own thoughts appear unreasonable to others. No doubt someone will enlighten me. Do you know where your inner crank resides?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Expanding Earth or Shrinking Brains?

DdH has linked to a very amusing video that he has gotten all excited about. I think the fact that Dave is so excited about it really goes to show that if you are cranky about one facet of science you are probably cranky about a lot of others. The video is by someone called Neal Adams, who thinks that the Earth (and other planets) have expanded over time. He basically is not a big fan of tectonic plates, so he as produced animations showing that if you shrink the Earth the continents appear to fit together.

Like any good crank he mixes in a lot of half truths with a lot of absolute nonsense, there are too many problems to look at now, but here are some of the best that just sprung to mind:

Throughout the video he claims subduction and movement of plates are impossible, yet somehow expansion of the entire Earth is fine. Hmm. There is also the fact that we measure the movement of plates, the obvious example being the laser measurement of the movement of the San Andreas fault.

If the Earth is doubling in size where does all of this extra mass come from? If its just normal matter from space we should have noticed the several tons per acre per day!! that should be falling on us (h/t to this video. Not sure I agree with everything he says but its quite fun.), if its due to some strange change in atoms over time then we could certainly measure that with current instruments. So where does it come from? Er that's not made clear. Then again it is very rare for cranks to think through the implications of their theories.

Another interesting problem is that he claims that the Earth has doubled in size in the last 65 million years, this is a bit of problem, as by my rough calculations it would mean that 65 million years ago if there was the same amount of water on the Earth, essentially everywhere would be underwater, oops.

After Neals "success" with geology he moves onto Physics, again proving that if you are cranky in one field of science you probably are in the rest too. Enjoy his explanation of prime matter here (sorry can't get it to show in here). Its been a long time since I've seen such a long stream of nonsense, especially without even a token attempt to provide evidence for his claims, the best one being that electrons wrap around a proton in a type of shell, which appears to leave a hole in it, brilliant. Don't give up the day job. Though I think Dave and him will get a long great, perhaps he can make the animations for the Autodynamics film?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Autodynamics News

It seems that Pharyngula has noticed my favourite bunch of science cranks, the Autodynamicists. It appears that Dave de Hilster is looking for a little help with his anti-Einstein "masterpiece": Einstein Wrong - The Miracle Year. The subtitle is now a bit of a misnomer, it was originally called that because it was meant to be following the events celebrating the centenary of Einsteins miracle year of 1905 when he did much of his most important work. I think the plan was that the Autodynamics people would prove relativity wrong during the year celebrating his work, things didn't really turn out the way they were hoping. Here is Daves advert.

Feature Length Doc "Einstein Wrong" Looking for Executive Producer

Two Oscar Winning Distributors Wanting a Rough Cut

LONG BEACH, Calif, October 16, 2007 - Bootstrap Productions is currently looking for an executive producer for it's feature-length documentary "Einstein Wrong - The Miracle Year" due out in 2008. The documentary is about a suburban house wife who takes on the icon of 20th century physics to see if in fact relativity is wrong. Shot over the past 3 years, the film has two Oscar-winning distributors interested in the project. The film is directed by David de Hilster who has invested 13 years studying scientists and their efforts to show Einstein wrong. It is co-produced and edited by Andrea Tucker, and Nick Tamburri and is due out in 2008. For more info, go to

David de Hilster
Long Beach, California

I'm looking forward to seeing the film, even though I know it will be incredibly cringe worthy, the same old canards will undoubtedly be trotted out, that scientists don't challenge relativity because they'll lose funding, that its some sort of conspiracy to hide the truth and that Autodynamics is correct. All of which of course, are false, as numerous posts here and elsewhere have shown.

I'm Back

After a very long absence I am finally back to blogging. My absence was caused by a combination of telescope applications, travel, job applications, writing a paper, moving house and a whole load of other problems which I won't go into right now. Hopefully I get can get back into the rhythm reasonably quickly.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Education Wins Again

Some interesting research into what effect marriage has on peoples feelings of happiness has just appeared. Apparently married men are much happier than single men, not exactly a shock I guess, as are married women, though not by the same amount. The discrepancy seems to have something to do with women being happier in general.

Possibly the most interesting finding however is that men with more highly educated wives are happier:

A married man's chances of achieving a high level of happiness - above a score of seven - are improved by 8 per cent for every extra year of education his wife has. But married women's happiness level is unaffected by their husband's years of schooling.

Women do not care how dumb their husbands are - but they feel happier if the men are smarter than they are, the study shows.

So the 8 years of University I have is not doing anything. Dammit. I wonder if the place of education, or the type of study of their spouse has any effect on mens feelings?

Monday, July 16, 2007

On Health Care - Why The State Wins

A couple of things in the last few days have motivated me to post these musings. The first is that last Tuesday a slight eye infection forced me to visit a GP for the first time in about 6 years, the second is that there seems to be a lot of flap in the States at present over the release of Michael Moore's new film, SiCKO, all about the health care system in the US.

First off I'll admit I'm totally biased, I don't know how any civilized industrial nation thinks they can get by without universal state sponsored health care, the fact that only one such country does so probably indicates that most of the rest of the western world agrees with me here. My perception is also coloured by the fact that whenever I, or anyone I have known has needed the NHS it has been very efficient, this clearly isn't always the case, but its good when as happened to me I walked in off the street and had seen a Doctor within 30mins, no appointment, no problem. It was also reassuring to know that the most I would have to pay would be about £6.90 for any drugs, were they to cost £10 or £10,000.

Now the NHS clearly isn't perfect, it clearly isn't even the best health care system around, but I think it is considerably better than a system which is run for profit. Whats more I would argue that if run efficiently any public health care system is clearly better than any private one. For one simple reason, economics, in a public system you remove several layers which are required to add a profit margin to everything they do. For example, in a system like in the US where health care is paid for by purchasing insurance, you have system where if you are ill, you visit the doctor, he does his job, then marks up the cost by ~20% or more to cover the profit margin of his medical group, he then calls your insurer who may or may not decide to pay for any treatment, in any case your premium includes a ~20% markup to cover their profit margin, you then get moved along to a hospital if you require surgery, they also add their own ~20% markup, so you have three layers where you end up paying more for private health care, just so a bunch of rich shareholders get to get richer.

Now people argue that a private health care system is more efficient so you don't notice these markups, because overall the service costs less than the supposedly inefficient state system. This can easily be shown to be nonsense, the US spends %15 of GDP on health care, to provide them a ranking of #37 in the world for health care, France spends %11 of GDP to be #1. Hmm how is that extra efficiency working out for you. It looks even worse when you realise everyone in France gets anything they need, whereas in the States an appreciable fraction of the population has no insurance, so get little or no treatment. So to take the stats at face value, the private health care systems costs you more to provide a worse service, good job. If your a stat fan, in the UK we currently spend around 8% of GDP, to be placed #18. Which anyway you slice it means that the NHS is both more efficient and provides a better service on average to boot. Its important to note that this is of course on average, I'm sure if you have the money in the States you get a good service, the problem is that most people either don't have the money, or are very close to losing their coverage.

There is of course one other major area that nationalised systems can outperform the private sector, in collective bargaining, it always strikes me as amazing that people that support the idea of capitilism (like me) seem happy to allow large companies, Walmart or Tesco for example, to drive down prices by buying in bulk (like me), however when in the States the idea of a similar approach to buying drugs is mooted you hear howls of disapproval (not like me). Apparently cheaper toilet paper is fine, but more affordable life saving drugs, oh no, you have to pay whatever the drug company feels like. If one buying system exists, as does here in the UK, it is much easier for them to say to the pharmaceutical companies, we are going to pay this much, and we'll take 10 million doses. When you have a series of medical groups all competing and serving (comparitively) small numbers of customers, its much more difficult to drive a hard bargain, the drug companies would rather not sell to you then have to cut the prices across the board.

Anyway musings over for the week. Back to work.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Galaxy - 2 - NGC 720

This is a real hot off the press Friday Galaxy, the data for this was only taken last night, in Chile, by those very helpful people at the Gemini-South telescope. I'm using the 12 images they took (4 each of g',r' and i', that's blue, green and red to you and me) to pick out Globular Clusters for spectroscopic follow up.

The image below shows the image produced, there are a couple of odd things about this image. The first is that the galaxy itself is very blue, for an elliptical galaxy this is odd, these are usually known as being red and dead, because they don't form stars. At first I thought I had mixed up the blue and red channels, however in the top left corner you can see a very pretty background edge on spiral and this appears to be just the right colour for a spiral, hmm.

If we assume that the colours are correct and that we are seeing a blue elliptical galaxy, then their are two possibilities: Either some fraction of the galaxy is made up of hot young blue stars, which can't have been formed more than a few Gyrs ago (not that common for ellipticals), or else the galaxy must be very old and lacking in metals. This is one of the major drawbacks of using the colours of astronomical objects like galaxies to tell you about them, there is a degeneracy between the age of stellar populations and the amount of elements heavier than Helium that they contain (their metallicity). Basically things can appear blue for one of two reasons, they are either young, or they have a low metallicity (and are old).

To solve this conundrum will require spectroscopy, which hopefully we will be getting in the next few months. One other interesting thing that appears in this image can be seen in the top left, when you look at the spiral galaxy (shown enlarged below) you can just about make out what appears to be a stream of material trailing to the bottom right. This trail, if real, could be a trail of stars produced by a minor merger event, if I get the chance and have the space when I make up the mask for the spectroscopy I may well try and get a sly spectrum of this just to see whats going on.

That just shows you one of the cool things about astronomy, serendipity means you can find all sorts of interesting things in the unlikliest of places. There are loads of interesting things in the background of deep images like this one, if anyone finds anything interesting in the large version of the image, let me know, you never know I may try and get a spectrum of anything you find that looks interesting enough.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Galaxy - 1 - NGC 524

I've decided to institute a new tradition of posting images of a favourite galaxy on a friday. For the first example I have decided to choose NGC 524, this galaxy is an S0 galaxy that I am working on at the moment.

The images I'm going to show are from archival HST images taken using WFPC2 (PI Brodie project 6554), I have produced a colour image of the galaxy, though I have cheated somewhat, as I only had access to two filters the F555W and the F814W, which I am going to treat as blue and red respectively, I'm then going to use an average of the two as the green channel. The downside is you're pretty much guaranteed to get something that looks red or blue, still this is interesting in itself, as blue galaxies tend to be young and red ones old. So here is the image.

You can see the centre of the galaxy is located towards the top left of the image, the diffuse glow around this is the halo of NGC 524, many foreground stars and background galaxies are also obvious. In this image the galaxy looks fairly boring, a very smooth looking ellipical galaxy, however I had seen some hints of something odd going on in the inner regions in some data I had from the Gemini telescopes and decided to investigate it. What I did was to average the images from the blue and red exposures, as this tends to pick out structures and dust in galaxies, this is because dust tends to absorb different amounts of the two wavebands. What I found was this:

First of all you can see that many objects disappear, this is just because they have similar amounts of flux in the blue and red, the centre of the galaxy however doesn't. You can see that some very pretty spiral structure emerges, so you can see that on closer inspection NGC 524 is being observed face-on, the Milky Way would probably look very similar if you stopped forming stars and then looked at it from above the disc after a few Billion years.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Dark Sector Revisited

Over at I have started a revised and expanded version of my dark sector series of posts first seen here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Galaxies, Lenses, Globulars, What More Do You Want?

Welcome to my first post for threesigmaresult! I've chosen to redo a post that previously appeared on my other blog, theobservershunch, I've done this because it was one of my favourites, partly because it has a very pretty pictures but mostly because it describes some research done by some of my colleagues. Enjoy.

Click for VERY Big.

The picture above which was released by the Hubble Heritage Project shows a cluster of galaxies called Abell S0740, the data used to make the picture was collected by a team of astronomers including two of my collaborators/friends at Durham, John Lucey and Russell Smith. There are two versions of the image, one without annotations and one showing zoomed regions of interest. See them both here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Blog - ThreeSigmaResult

Myself and CMB have decided to set-up a new blog, this one will be a bit more focussed dealing only with science, so no politics or random distractions. The blog can be found at The first real post will appear some time tomorrow.

My intention is that any science posts by me will get mirrored here, but if you want to see the full effect of CMB in full flow you'll have to head over to the new blog. Apart from this announcements things should continue as before over here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Blind Cat Challenge

Wow, I've been busy recently (and ill), work has been hectic what with more telescope time coming our way, conference talks, travel arrangements and writing a paper or two. Now I'm back and getting into the swing of things here is a link to a great time sink that CMB is running over at his blog (and here). The basic idea is that you have to draw a cat in MS paint or the equivalent (using a mouse), but do it with your eyes closed. Its actually pretty damn hard, my effort is below, CMB has now collected over 300 of these efforts and has set up a gallery here, you can submit your own efforts here. The quality is variable to say the least. Enjoy.

What the hell did we do during work hours before the Internet? Seriously, I don't know I'm too young to remember, someone tell me.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Fishing Cats

Not long ago I was talking with some of the members of the group about fishing cats, a type of cat found in Asia that hunts fish, it is a skillful swimmer and excellent fish catcher, partly due to the fact that its paws are webbed. I'm making this post mostly because several people claimed that this weird but wonderful creature didn't really exist and was some sort of hoax along the lines of the pacific northwest arboreal octopus. Well it does exist, its pretty cool and also very cute. With those obvious adaptions for living and hunting in water its also a nice little example of the effect of evolutionary pressures.

Check out the wikipedia article as well as this one from the smithsonian national zoological park. Head here to see them in action. Oh and because I'm nice here's another youtube video of one wandering about.

Want To Be A Crank?

I've just run across this brilliant post over at scienceblogs, setting out how to be the most successful crank you can be, it reads like the DdH/Autodynamics how-to guide to crackpottery. Go on read it, you know you want to. I especially love the suggestion that cranks try to get their papers published in scientific journals.

If you want your manuscript (it may make you sound smarter to call it your "treatise" or "monograph") to actually get published, try something like Medical Hypotheses. Journals with an impact factor of less than 1 might actually be desperate enough to publish something cranky, especially if you can jargonize it enough to make yourself sound smart, or create enough fake data to trick the editors. If it has to do with global warming consider a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. The Creation Research Quarterly is perfect for anything disproving some facet of evolution, geology, astronomy, or physics. You don't have to be a creationist for them to like your crank theory, anything that pokes holes in dastardly consensus science is a victory.
Then try journals that don't require real experiments, rigorous trial design, peer review or anything that actually indicates actual science has been done. Other cranks in your "field" may have started just such a journal - like the Journal of 9/11 studies. There are about as many places that will publish crank work as there are crank ideas, don't stop trying! If you get your ideas published in such a journal claim victory! You have mainstream acceptance and a publication record now.

Physics Essays anyone?
Or how about how to deal with dissenters:

Accusation: "You haven't published in a real peer-reviewed journal"

Response: Either say "Peer review is just an old-boys network for peon scientists to pat each other on the back", or accuse journal editors of persecuting you. Compare yourself to Galileo.

Accusation: "You don't have solid proof"
Response: Either restate what you said already, restate it slightly differently, call your accuser a name, or suggest they are part of the conspiracy to hide the truth. Compare yourself to Galileo.

This just reminds me of the autodynamics page where they have a picture of Carezani with Einstein, Newton, and Galileo fading off behind him.

I'm sure you'll all be able to spot some of your favourite cranky behaviour in the post, it certainly saved me the time an effort of going an writing a post along those lines.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Milky Way Behaving Badly

Head over to Space.comfor a story about the dark side of our well behaved galaxy's nature, its being throwing its weight around and generally being a bad neighbour. The story is all about the streams of stars that are being found trailing around the Milky Way, these trails are thought to be the shredded remains of dwarf galaxies or globular clusters that wandered too close to the MW. Below you can see some of the streams uncovered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The streams are detected by looking at the colours and positions of a huge number of stars over as large an area as possible, doing this it is possible to pick out groups of stars with the same sort of colour, implying that they probably formed at the same time from the same material.

Some of the streams have been associated with known GCs or dwarf galaxies, basically these objects lie right in the middle of the stream, in the pictorial representation at the top you can see the original dwarf with its tails of stars which spread out both in front and behind it in its orbit of the MW. Over time the streams will stretch further and further, getting progressively thinner and more tangled, until they form a diffuse halo of stars around the MW.

This kind of research is interesting because the current theories for the formation of galaxies predict that there should be many more dwarf galaxies around the MW than we see at present, one solution is that many of them have simply been torn apart by the MW and their stars spread into the halo of the galaxy. If enough of these streams are found this could help solve this so called "missing satellite problem".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More Unusual Nature

After yesterdays story about the gay flamingos acting as surrogate parents the BBC seems to be trying to outdo itself, now they have a story about a shark which has undergone (?) parthenogenesis, that's a virgin birth to the more religiously minded. The shark had become pregnant, despite being kept separate from any males for at least 3 years, genetic testing has since proven that the offspring was produced without any genetic material from a male.

It just goes to prove Jeff Goldblums (as Ian Malcolm) line from Jurassic Park, "Life will find a way", or words to that effect.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The BBC has a great story up now, about a couple of gay male Flamingos acting as surrogate parents to a chick. You can find the story here. Apparently they had been trying to steal other birds eggs to raise, and after seeing a nest abandoned the keepers decided to give them the abandoned egg to raise. In another curious part of the tale it turns out that male Flamingos can also produce milk, from their throats, so they can feed the chick until its beak develops enough for it to filter feed.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Video Round Up

In a similar vein to the previous video, here is a round up of some videos I have come across recently.

First Bill Maher lampooning fundamentalists:

Jon Stewart on the latest F*$%-Up by the US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez

A great video with a nice bit of science, the helicopter blades in this video are rotating with a frequency which is some (integer) multiple of the one that the video works at, so every time the video records an image the blades have made at least one full rotation and appear at the same place, making it seem that the helicopter is hovering without any support.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Comic Interlude

Crooksandliars had this video up as a celebration of the comics 70th birthday. Being British I have no idea who George Carlin is, but he seems pretty damn funny. If you're of the strongly religious persuasion I would probably avoid it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't Trust Your Lying Eyes

If you're interested in optical illusions head over here, where they have the finalists from the "Best Visual Illusion Of The Year Award".

The picture above shows the winner, by Frederick Kingdom, Ali Yoonessi and Elena Gheorghiu, its incredibly simple, both pictures are identical (apart from a slight offset due to some dodgy photoshopping I guess) but due to to the way the brain interprets objects receding into the distance it creates the impression that the one on the right is at a greater angle than the one on the left. For a more thorough explanation see here. My head hurts now.

Bear vs. Mear(s)

Bear Grylls has been at it again, this time paragliding around Mt Everest (the picture is from a practice in the Alps I think), the full story can be found at The Telegraph website along with pictures and a video. To the none Brits this post will probably mean very little, but Bear Grylls is what can probably best be described as an adventurer and all round rock hard guy. At the age of 32 he has already carried out some pretty incredible stunts including climbing Everest at the age of 23, as well as being in the Territorial Army SAS Regiment, just check out the wikipedia article linked on his name.

The point of this post wasn't so much to big up the guy but to relay the somewhat counter intuitive personal feeling that as impressive as his exploits have been, I tend to prefer Ray Mears when I'm looking for a bit of outdoor survivalism. This seems to be a feeling shared by many of my friends and at first glance appears to make little sense, Grylls really does some very risky boys-own type adventuring, whereas Mears is, well, a slightly chubby guy that likes to wander round outdoors learning how indigenous people live.

I really don't know what it is, Grylls seems like a genuinely nice bloke, I just think its almost like he's trying too hard, Mear's shows never seem to be trying to impress anyone, yes he knows a thousand ways to start a fire, but that really is never the point. The star of the show is never Mears, its the place he's in and the amazing things you can find lying around.

Plus, if I was stuck in a survival situation, I'd probably opt for the slightly chubby guy, he certainly never seems to have any trouble finding food when he's out in the wilds.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

See It Before The Lawyers Get Involved

For those who like a bit of schadenfreude, like for instance seeing celebrities as they actually are, check out this site. Its great, its a professional retouching company, I can't link to the actual page, so click on portfolio at the top of the page to see before and after photoshopping pictures of celebrities (just click on the thumbnails and then slide the mouse over the pictures). I'm slightly surprised to find that they put this up there, I would have thought their clients would want this kind of thing kept quiet.

My personal favourite the before and after of Eva Longoria, where they felt the need to make her ass bigger. Just more proof that its impossible for real people to look anything like celebrities appear to.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dumb Invention

The prize for the dumbest invention of the week goes to: The Mayo Clinic.

This remarkable invention is basically a treadmill strapped to a desk, its designed to allow obese people to get exercise while they work. The BBC has a story here. The whole thing is so preposterous I had to check it wasn't April 1st, there are so many things wrong with this I'm not sure where to start.

First the practicalities, how easy is it going to be to type whilst walking? I foresee a lot of motion sickness here.

Second, its designed to help people that work in sedentary jobs, the test subjects were obese people who admitted to doing no exercise, which leads to the question who exactly is going to go for one of these? Who in their right mind will choose to do exercise at work if they can't be bothered to do any outside of work? Is the idea that companies will compel their overweight staff to use them, trying to get those health care costs down perhaps. I just don't see who can seriously expect this to be used by anyone.

Third the benefits, a net loss of weight of perhaps 30kg per year is nice, but after spending £1000 each is that really good value for money? The machines run at 1mph and people are expected to use them for 2 to 3 hours per day, why not just walk to work and back at a reasonable 4mph, saves money, and you get some fresh air?

I swear next someone is going to invent a running/cycling machine for use in cars (obviously not when driving), so people who can't be bothered to walk or cycle to work can "get some exercise" on the way to work. In fact I may go an patent that right now.

Note: The BBC has now tried out working at a treadmill, concurring that it is damn near impossible.

Child Of The Eighties?

To continue the theme of stealing posts from my brother, here is another one that could (if I can be bothered) run and run. If you were born in the early '80s the following should have been an important part of your childhood:

1) That pinnochio cartoon where it goes "Pee Eye En Oh double See aich eye oh, that's Pinnochio!"

2) The Teenage Mutant Hero (as Ninja was deemed too violent for the UK's kids - haha) Turtles, Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael and Splinter probably gang banging April O'Neil off camera. Krang was that brain thing in the body of a bouncer, Shredder, Beebop and Rocksteady (can't remember which was the Rhino and which the Hogg).

3) Ghostbuster - duh duh duh duh duh duh duh - Ghostbusters!

4) Thundercats - are on the loose! Liono was blatantly banging Shitara or at least watching her getting changed using the Sword of Omens to give him sight beyond sight.. Snarf probably watched and Panthro was probably jealous so he sabotaged the Thundertank.

5) Pogs - what was the point?

6) Premiership 1993 stickers, people would go through everyone elses stickers and go "need" or "got" and sometimes in the school yard kids would throw them up in the air and shout "scramble" at which point there would be a massive scramble to get as many as possible, worth their weight in gold.

7) That shitty bodger and badger, one of them liked mashed potatoes.

8) Count Duckula and that castle that was able to teleport.

9) Supersoakers, if you had any less than a supersoaker100 you were considered to be a failure of a man, the supersoaker was to many the childhood equivalent of the penis. The supersoaker200 was the best as it combined a decent amount of power so that you could feel it when you got squirted but it wasn't so big that it slowed you down. This lad I knew had the one with the backpack for the water - just pure greed.

10) Tamagotchis - what a load of bollocks. The were the bane of the teachers lives at our middle school as kids would excuse themselves so they could go feed their snake or something, some teachers thought it meant they were going for a tug.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was forced to watch the godawful Eurovision on Saturday night, surrounded mostly by a bunch of drunk astronomers, never has so much jingoism and cultural stereotyping been seen in such a short space of time. I know the whole thing is a joke, but why is the voting so obviously flawed? Malta gets the same number of votes as Russia? What happened to democracy? Well I suppose if Russia is involved, there probably isn't going to be too much democracy really.

Not that an injection of democracy and fairness this would help the UK any, everyone in Europe with the possible exception of the Irish and the Maltese hates us, to win these days you either have to be from a former soviet satellite state, or be one of the 5-6 countries from the Balkans that used to be Yugoslavia. I can see why the former soviet states all vote the way they do, if they don't, no more oil or gas from Mother Russia. The Balkans is confusing though, you would think that they really wouldn't care for each other that much down there, after the recent, unpleasantness. Maybe I should take it as good sign for the future.

Oh and if anyone is interested, here are some sometimes funny, generally offensive, Eurovision top trumps, celebrating Saturday nights, er, spectacle. No I didn't have anything to do with making them, thanks to for pointing them out.

Watching The Watchers

DdH is back! This time over at (aka He has returned to form, ranting about his favourite topic; the neutrino. You can read the post in its full glory here. At least this latest effort is a bit more civil and coherent than his last, the magnificently mad "Relativity's Incestual Child Must be Euthanized" or who can forget the amazing scientific rigor he brought to
"Santa Uses Relativity - It's All Magic Anyways!" where he attempted to tear apart a lighthearted Christmas story aimed at encouraging children's interest in science.

This latest story is basically his objections to a UK project (original story here) to try to detect neutrinos by listening for the sound generated as an ultra-high energy neutrino reacts with the atoms in sea water. This is unsurprisingly very difficult, if he stuck to pointing out how hard it is things would probably have been ok. However his main objection is simply his belief that the neutrino doesn't exist, his reasons for this are that his pet theory of Autodynamics (which can be seen to be false here) says it doesn't. If it ended there really his post wouldn't be that interesting, however he does make several foolish statements that reveal his lack of understanding of the theory he is desperately fighting to replace, Special Relativity. For example:
In our lesson for today, let us be reminded that neutrinos exist everywhere SR is applied to decay cases and that the extra energy that appears from nowhere needs to be explained.
This is clearly not the case, the neutrino is only ever involved in decays where lepton number (a quantity that must be conserved in particle physics, in the same way that energy must) would otherwise not be conserved, one example would be the simple beta decay of a neutron to a proton + electron + anti-electron neutrino, the neutron and proton have zero lepton number and the electron has lepton number +1, so for the reaction to conserve lepton number there must be a particle of lepton number -1 to balance things out, that would be the anti-electron neutrino then. Of course because the neutrino is so damn hard to detect when you look at this reaction in an experiment it appears at first glance that all there is being emitted are a proton and electron, this is just because the neutrinos react so rarely with matter. However the energetics of the detectable decay products, the proton and electron clearly demonstrate a third particle must at work, sharing some of the energy of the decay.

This can be seen clearly in the figure below which shows the measured kinetic energy of electrons emitted by the beta decay of a neutron to a proton. Now the input energy must always be the same, because it is always a stationary neutron of fixed mass decaying into a stationary proton of fixed mass. The energy of the electron (and neutrino) comes from the difference in rest mass of the neutron (the heaviest of the two) and the proton. If only one particle was emitted by this decay then it would always have the same amount of kinetic energy, which would be equal to the difference in rest mass of the neutron and proton minus the rest mass of the new particle. The masses can be converted to energy via good old E=mc^2. The fact that we always see a range of kinetic energy for the electron implies that another particle is present and sharing some of the energy, both for its small (or zero) rest mass and its own kinetic energy.

Contrary to DdH's assertion in any reaction where lepton number is unchanged then neutrinos are not required from a theoretical perspective and happily not needed to explain the energetics, an example of such a reaction would be alpha decay, where a large unstable nucleus spits out a helium nucleus. In this case special relativity correctly explains the energetics of the decay products without the need for a neutrino, which is fortunate because all of particle physics says that there shouldn't be one present in this reaction. If you look at the kinetic energy of the emitted alpha particles you will find that they always have the same energy, proving that no other particles are being emitted to share the energy.

The problem with DdHs theory, Autodynamics, is that it predicts exactly the same behaviour for both these cases, so to explain that one type of decay produces a range of kinetic energies but another type produces a single value is impossible. You would think that would be a major problem, well not for Autodynamics, having as it does the amazing ability to totally ignore evidence that disproves it.

So in summary DdH knows nothing about particle physics, but we already knew that.

Another interesting comment, in a, "he doesn't know what he's talking about" kind of way is this:
Yes, we know they don't exist but even so, we better watch out! I always contended that neutrinos if they exist, should have some detremental effect on health given that 5.44 billion solar neutrinos bombard every square centimeter of the earth per second. Something bad has to come out of it. Now they have a neutrino that is similar to the killer asteroids!
He is confusing the solar neutrinos (produced by fusion in the core of the sun) which are incredibly common, but have very low energies, with the exceedingly rare ultra-high energy neutrinos. The solar neutrinos are so low energy they can't do any damage to anything they hit, the ultra-energy ones could conceivably do some cellular damage, but they are so rare that the chance of being hit by one is essentially nil. You'll accumulate much more damage over the year by being hit by cosmic rays than you will from neutrinos.

Another quote:
This sounds very familiar: low-number statistics. Somehow, the neutrino community has convinced the world that low-number statistics is not only viable, but necessary for "scientific" research with neutrinos.
This is another of his favourite canards, he claims that essentially all neutrino detections are false positives from other things such as cosmic rays. The problem is that experiments have been done using neutrino beams produced by particle accelerators, detections of neutrinos are only found when the particle accelerator is on and producing neutrinos, turn off the beam, the signal disappears. You may think that these detections could be other particles produced by the beam, however the detectors are usually located hundreds of miles away, through solid rock, no other possible particle produced in the accelerator could get anywhere near that far without interacting with the intervening material.

It continues to amaze me just how DdH has managed to convince himself he is correct in the face of mountains of evidence that prove he is wrong.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Astronomy In The News

The has a nice little article about the state of astronomy at the moment. Its fairly timely to me as I have just kicked off a few posts about the history and future of astronomy. Its well written and also happily pretty accurate, you can find it here (free registration may be required).

It briefly covers some of the larger discoveries of the last month or so, new exo-planets, the largest supernovae ever seen and the behaviour of Eta Carinae to name but a few. It also gives some interesting insights to the average reader about the replacement for the HST, the James Webb Space Telescope and also happily explains that astronomy is not just about the visible part of the spectrum.

The star Eta Carinae, a large mass star in the Milky Way which could go supernovae at any time.

The author of the piece, Joel Achenbach makes the point that we are in a golden age of astronomy, which it certainly seems to the average non professional astronomer, what with the almost constant announcements of amazing new discoveries. In my series of posts I will argue that we haven't quite reached the golden age, or at least we haven't reached the peak yet, the era of the 30-50m class telescopes and a working JWST would certainly open up whole new areas of research. All of which means that we can look forward to at least as many major discoveries in the next 30 years as we have had in the previous.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ashingtonese - Part 4

Continuing our investigation of the linguistic subtleties of the pitmatic dialect here is my brothers latest installment of Ashingtonese. As usual if anyone doesn't understand anything don't be embarrassed, ask away in the comments, I usually seem to spend much of coffee explaining the meanings to my colleagues most of whom have the benefit of having lived in the North East of England for several years at least.

"Doubter" is the English word for non believer, in Ashington this denotes female offspring. "Clewsie got the reverants doubter up the duff"

"Chute" is a tube that a person slides down, in Ashington it means to communicate very loudly. "Tommy seen Jimmy from the club, Jimmy waz deef so couldn't hear Tommy chute"

"Bared" means to uncover a part of the body so that it is naked, in Ashington it means "unpleasant or unwelcome". "Smegsa'z mother knew ee waz a bared lared efta the police caald"

"Berg" is an ice block that floats in the sea in English, in Ashington it is a lavatory. "After a night on the hoy Gregg left the berg in a state"

"Blair" the surname of Tony the Prime minister, in Ashington it means to cry. "Bert came yem efta a neet on the Stella and med Avril blair"

Friday, May 11, 2007

Maps Of The Universe

I've just come across a nice little site that gives an impression of the scales involved in astronomy. Its starts by showing the position of all the stars located within 12.5 light years of the Milky Way.

Progressive images increase the scale by a factor of roughly ten, until you reach the final one which shows the large scale structure of essentially the entire observable Universe. My personal favourite is the penultimate image which shows the structure located within about 1Glyr of the MW, the large superclusters of galaxies are readily apparent as are the filaments that stretch between the clusters.

There are also several nice pages which describe the Big Bang theory and General Relativity. Go check it out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The History Of Astronomy - Part 1

Science nowadays is all about the big, the biggest this, the largest that, all discovered using some humongous new instrument. Astronomy is and always has been a leader in this respect, many of the largest scientific instruments ever built have been telescopes of one sort or another, from the stone circles like Stonehenge, which probably acted as primitive astronomical observatories, through the Uraniborg, built by Tycho Brahe the last of the great naked eye astronomers, to the first truly huge telescope the 72" leviathan of Parsonstown and on up to the modern age of optical telescopes of around 10m in diameter (Keck, Gemini, the VLT etc). Of course for large astronomical equipment you only have to look at the enormous radio telescopes available today, such as the VLA or Arecibo.

The primary mirror of the Gemini North telescope, and yes that is a person in the middle.

The question is what next? The consensus in the US and Europe seems to be to continue a triple pronged approach of larger space based instruments across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum (especially those regions blocked by the atmosphere), even larger ground based optical telescopes and vastly larger arrays of radio telescopes. The question tax payers are interested in is unsurprisingly, why? These things cost a lot of money, why do we really need them?

A possible next step in optical astronomy: the European Extremely large telescope, with diameter 42m. Car and two people for scale to the bottom left.

Well lets just ignore the philosophical reasoning of whether most of us are interested in exploring the origins of the Universe, and finding our place within it, we'll assume that everyone is sufficiently interested to want to do astronomy. Why do we need to build such large telescopes? This question was raised to me by a student at a school I was giving a talk at and it got me thinking and I think provides a nice way of explaining how the science of astronomy has developed hand in hand with the advances in technology, in fact often driving many of them. In this short series of posts I hope to explain the development of optical astronomy (the bit I'm familiar with), though I should point out that this is not meant to be an exhaustive description I hope it will cover the basics as I see them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

They're Back - 10

In the latest broadside to the scientific community AK over at the autodynamics discussion board has this to say regarding the latest results from the Gravity Probe B:

Ah, why one has to prove (empirically) a theory which is deductively inconsistent is right or wrong? In either way it is a conspiracy to mislead the public and make them agree to spend huge sum of public money. GR is just an embarrassing nonsense. It was emperor's new cloth and the party is over. Sorry for spoiling the party.


Not really much to say except that I wish I, and any in fact any physicist that has ever looked at General Relativity were as smart as A.K., look as I might, I just can't see the inconsistency in a the theory. The fact that it has been experimentally confirmed every time it has been tested also causes me to scratch my head in confusion, I just must not be smart enough for this game.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Poor Physics Jokes

In order to manage a post today I'm afraid I'm going to shamelessly steal some jokes, if you have a facebook account feel free to visit the group I got them from here, its basically a list of really poor, incredibly nerdy physics jokes from the some of the undergrads on the Physics course here at Durham. I have omitted to add their names, to protect the guilty, if you're one of them and want some credit grab it in the comments.
Here's a great excuse for forgetting your physics homework:
"I'm sorry sir, I accidentally determined its momentum so precisely that, due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, it could be anywhere in the Universe."
Two photons are traveling through the universe together until one day one turns to the other and says "Look, I'm sick and tired of your interference".
z=x^2+3xy Walks into a pub, sits down on the barstool and orders a pint.
The barman looks up from the glass he's polishing and says "Sorry mate, you're gonna have to leave. We don't cater for functions".
sin (x), cos (x) and e^x all go to a party. sin (x) and cos (x) are both enjoying themselves, dancing about with all the other polynomials whilst e^x is just sat in a corner on his own.
sin (x) goes over to him and asks "why don't you try and enjoy yourself, integrate a bit more?"
"Is there any point" responds e^x, "it's not like it would make any difference!"
And a few from the internet, which may or may not also be on the group page.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends on your frame of reference
Heisenberg is out for a drive when he's stopped by a traffic cop. The cop says, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Heisenberg says, "No, but I know where I am."
Q: Why are quantum physicists so poor at sex?
A: Because when they find the position, they can't find the momentum, and when they have the momentum, they can't find the position.
The Ten Commandments of Physics
1. Thou shalt read thy problem…carefully.
2. Whatsoever thou doest to one side of thy equation, do ye also to the other.
3. Thou must use thy common sense, else thou wilt have flagpoles 9,000 feet high. Yea, even fathers younger than sons.
4. Thou shalt ignore the teachings of false prophets to do all thy work in thy head.
5. When thou knowest not, thou shalt look it up; and if thy search still elude thee, thou shalt ask thy All-Knowing Teacher.
6. Thou shalt master each step before putting thy heavy foot down on the next.
7. Thy correct answer does not prove that thou hast worked thy problem correctly. This argument convincest none, least of all thy Teacher.
8. Thou shalt first see that thou hast copied thy problem correctly, before bearing false witness that the answer book lieth.
9. Thou shalt look back even unto thy youth and remember thy arithmetic.
10. Thou shalt learn, read, write ,speak, and listen correctly in the language of mathematics, and verily A’s and B’s shall follow thee even unto graduation.

I am truly, truly sorry. I feel guilty enough that I may manage another post later.

Monday, May 07, 2007

More Electric Universe Bozos

JEG pointed out an "article" that appeared on slashdot the other day, basically claiming that everything we know about the Sun is wrong and proposing yet more ludicrous electric universe ideas. I seem to run into these types of nuts all the time, they can usually be found hanging around the APOD or badastronomy discussion boards, explaining how everything in the Universe is made and controlled by electricity, and how all of astronomy ignores this (and them).

I've reprinted the post in full below, the original slashdot page can be found here, with a great amount of put downs by people that actually know something about science. It's nice when other people do your work for you, now if only I can get someone to teach that problems class tomorrow.
Once again professional astronomers are struggling to understand observations of the sun. ScienceDaily reports that a team from Saint Andrew's University announced that the sun's magnetic fields dominate the behavior of the corona via a mechanism dubbed the 'solar skeleton.' Computer models continue to be built to mimic the observed behavior of the sun in terms of magnetic fields but apparently the ball is still being dropped; no mention in the announcement is made of the electric fields that must be the cause of the observed magnetic fields. Also conspicuously absent from the press releases is the conclusion that the sun's corona is so-dominated by electric and magnetic fields because it is a plasma. In light of past and present research revealing the electrical nature of the universe, this kind of crippling ignorance among professional astrophysicists is astonishing.
What can you say really? They don't even get the name of St Andrews right for a start, and sadly its downhill from there. I mean what are they actually claiming here? That scientists don't think that the suns corona is a plasma? Er come on it has a temperature of a million degrees and its reasonably dense, of course its a damn plasma. Even the wikipedia page manages to get this right. In case your wondering, yes it is the work of the loons over at (why do all crank sites have to go for a .info page?). I'm going to have to have a bit of a closer look at these cranks and do a more substantial post. In the meantime, slashdot hang your head in shame, how did this nonsense ever get posted?

Political Stupidity

Does anyone else get the distinct feeling of being on a sinking ship? Its like rationality after 200 years of increasingly calm seas has run up against an island of stupidity and is slowly taking on water.

I'm sure most people reading this have seen the flap around the blogosphere (I hate that term, really need a new one) that 3/10 of the Republican presidential candidates don't believe in Evolution. I've been following it in a distracted kind of way, mostly because it makes my head hurt that people this dumb think that they are suitable material to lead the richest most technologically advanced nation on Earth. Chris Cillizza has a post on the Washington Post about the debate, more interesting I think are the comments people have responded with, they are utterly depressing to anyone that believes in rational thought. Check them out here (a free subscription may be required).

Here are a selection of some of the best, or worst depending on your point of view. Usually the creationists just fall on name calling and threats of eternal damnation (anyone else feel like we're already there?), though sometimes they're not above simply lying about the evidence for evolution. They also seem to like to confuse the scientific and laypersons use of the term "theory", they don't seem to have a problem with the theory of gravity though. Strange that.
How many of y'all evolutionists were there 6,000 years ago? But we "fundamentalists" have an eyewitness account!
Hey evolutionists - get a clue scientifically. It's a THEORY. No transitionary species ever found, and no real proof. Talk about a belief system that requires faith. You folks just don't WANT to believe in the Bible or in the God of the bible.
Break your chains of inculcation; evolution - as a theory of origin - is a fully, scientifically debunked myth. Open your mind, view science as a method and not a religion, and THINK FOR YOURSELF! Evolution is a 19th century false religion that has been completely exposed as such.
Biology DOES NOT rely on EVILUTION Yes I spelled Evolution as EVILution for that is what that deception is when it moves from the Science part (Micro) of small adaptions over time into the belief part (MACRO) small changes over LONG TIME HAD TO give us all this variety.

Because it isn't all bad, here are a few of the better retorts from the reality based community.
God gave you malaria. Science cured it. God gave you polio. Science cured it. God gave you most children dying before adulthood and many women dying in childbirth. Science made both rare. God gave you 99% of mankind starving so 1% could live like kings. Science lets most eat (while that 1% still live like kings). God gave you darkness and exhaustion at night, science gave you a light bulb and a computer and the time and energy with which to rant about the greatness and goodness of God and the stupidity and evil of science.
"The Pope has sanctioned the teaching of evolution in his recent Bull"FINALLY, someone is calling these fiats issued on scientitific questions by these nonscientist tribal chieftains by their appropriate term.
Welcome to the Republican party, please set your watch back 200 years.
I'm sure if you asked the candidates what our economic or military policies should be they would have somewhat informed opinions, but when it comes to making hard decisions they would defer to the acknowledged experts, i.e. Ph.D economists and generals. Yet for some reason when it comes to science and especially biology, these guys have ill-informed opinions and can't even acknowledge that their beliefs go against what the overwhelming majority of the experts believe. Their willful ignorance in this area may never directly influence what they do as President, but it says a lot about their character and their leadership style. The last 5 years are a great example of what happens when you get a POTUS who listens only to God, and ignores the experts.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Politics, US v France

As a penance for all the faux French bashing I do to Maud here is a video she will probably appreciate, its from Bill Mahers HBO show Real Time and shows the difference between American and French politics. Sorry I can't find an equivalent Britain v France version. The clip is very funny, h/t to

Bill Maher on the difference between the French and Americans

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Frustrating World of Games

I just came across this video at, it sums up perfectly the utter frustration I felt at many games as a child, many was the time I would be reduced to a quivering, screaming, swearing ball of fury at my inability to jump onto some moving block in one of the Mario Bros games. The commentary is brilliant, and vastly more polite than I would have been. Enjoy.

Super Mario Brothers Is Frustrating pt2

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ashingtonese - Part 3

Time I think for another examination of the linguistic niceties of my home town, Ashington, I'm sure Ibadairon will appreciate this. To those who have never seen this before below are a list phonetic pronunciations of words used in Ashington with their meaning in English and a brief example of how they may be used in Ashington. The hard work has been done by my brother who enjoys this kind of thing. To those of you having difficulty understanding, I apologise, it becomes difficult to work out what any one sentence means until you have picked up a usable vocabulary. For hints on how the accent sounds think along the lines of geordie (i.e. Jimmy Nail, Gazza, Mark Knopfler etc.).

"Bought" in English is to acquire something with money, but in Ashington it was a Sesame Street character. "Bought disnt like Oarnie nay mare"

"All" - means everything whereas in Ashington it is a title similar to a duke. "The all of Lancaster is a posh prick"

"Herb" in English is something used to enhance the flavour of food, whereas in Ashington it is part of a cooker. "The cooking herbs ahaad."

"Snare" is something used to trap an animal, in Ashington it is frozen precipitation that usually falls in winter. "Ya bugger the snare's starting to torn t' slush"

"Add" means to combine two or more things to get a total, in Ashington it a term used to describe someone in their dotage "Berb started t' gan a bit funny when he got add"

"Term" is an academic time period, in Ashington it is the name of a gentleman. "Term backed fowa winnaz at Cambois dergs yistiduh"

"Torn" in English means to rip something i.e paper in Ashington it means to move or cause to move in a circular direction wholly or partially around an axis or point. "Dennis waasn't able t' torn eez wife owa in bed, she waaz owa muchuva heffa nooa days"

"Born" is the English word meaning to begin living, but in Ashington it means to damage or injure by heat or fire. "Edith had to take *his* leek pudding oot the cooka afore it started to born"

"Claire" is a girls name in English but in Ashington it is the animal equivalent of a finger nail. "That bord owa, yah bugga shiz got sharp claire's"

Monday, April 23, 2007

New Crank On The Block

While perusing the Badastronomy discussion board I can across a particularly brilliant drive by poster, claiming that the Earth is stationary at the centre of the Universe for the following "reasons":

1. Copernicus never proved otherwise.

2. You are only parrotting this view because, as children you were intimidated and ridiculed to accept that view.

3. You are now adults, you can examine this view.

4. The Earth is NOT rotating because, there is no centrifugal force! You would weigh twice as much in Vancouver, Canada, like on Equator. You could bring diamonds from Peru, and sell it for twice as much in Canada, because they would weigh twice as much.

5. The planets are moving away from the Earth in ALL directions. Proving the Earth was at the center of the start of expansion. Thus, at the center of the universe.

6. Satellites are proving, that they rotate around the Earth without any engine because, the whole space around the Earth rotates. Including the Moon.

7. The constellations are the same for thousands of years since Babylonians came up with that that idea. That's because universe is not chaotic. As watched from the Earth everything rotates in the same way for thousands of years.

8. If the Earth rotated, the resulting winds would be worse than the hurricanes. Since the Earth's density is hundreds of times higher that of the surrounding atmosphere, the atmosphere would NOT rotate with the Earth fast enough to prevent the winds. the Earth is stationary, so is its atmosphere. This can be observed from the space.

9. I'm tired of writing. I just had to speak the truth. It will defend itself over time, no matter how many idiotic, pseudo-scientific, media-supported "arguments" you will post.

10. Live with that.
Wow its difficult to know where to begin, its just all so, wrong. I especially like the claim that if the Earth is spinning (which it is), then people would weigh twice as much in Canada as on the equator, it took all of a few hours before someone posted some maths that show that in fact you weigh approximately 0.2% more in Canada than at the equator. The best bit is that this guy (Pawel Kolasa) has a website, its full of all the crazy kind of stuff you would expect. Its got to be a parody, no one could be that mad/egotistical really, I hope, regardless, enjoy.

Speaking of cranks, it appears that my favourite bunch of cranks has finally got sick of real scientists correcting their wikipedia page. Their response? To set their own wiki up,, your one stop shop for crank science, enjoy.

Honestly I don't know how DdH manages it, at my last count he was running at least 5 websites and a yahoo discussion group, no wonder they never get updated and that he never has time to see just how wrong he is.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Real Science vs Crank Science

I've now returned from NAM (the national astronomy meeting), refreshed and reinvigorated with scientific zeal. I'm planning to post about a topic or two that was discussed at NAM later, for now I'll try to keep this post brief. (Note: It didn't really work out that way, sorry)

After a few drinks this evening at the excellent Market Tavern with my fellow travellers in the world of astronomy, JEG and CMB, the conversation turned (as it is often does), to the topic of cranks. In between the complaints about how little cranks really know about the difficulties of real science and the gall they have to complain that they have it tough I think something profound was hit upon about the difference between real scientists and cranks.

I think it boils down to this: real scientists (a bracket we presumptuously include ourselves in) are never really sure about our conclusions, speaking for myself I always have the nagging fear that I have made some error somewhere. Perhaps I have missed some correction factor, or that I have applied it incorrectly, that I'm extrapolating some models beyond their applicable range, or that I am concluding something at odds with other data. Despite having excellent guidance and the safety net of peer review, perhaps somewhere I just screwed up. After speaking with others in the field it appears that this feeling is not unique, it appears that many if not most scientists are constantly worried about the accuracy of their work. This of course is a hallmark of a good scientist, ensuring that people don't just go about making baseless claims, to make a big mistake can affect your career very negatively.

It seems from my investigations of crank science that this never really afflicts the people that promote crank science, they are always right, they are always sure that they are correct. I'm not sure if this is some form of narcissism or simply because they are bald faced liars that know they are wrong but still want to make a fast buck or two, perhaps it can be either. For those that genuinely believe their theory to be correct it must be nice, to be certain that you are correct, to never fear that your mistakes will be electronically stored, printed, and forever available in the pages of a journal for everyone to see what a fool you were. Cranks can make their claims, safe in the knowledge that no amount of facts will get in the way of their stories.

Real scientists accept that they may be wrong, even accept that when they are acknowledged to be right it is but momentary glory, one day a new better theory will supplant theirs, cranks, in general never see this grand scheme, only that they are right and everyone else is wrong. So which really is the more difficult, to live in the viciously Darwinian world of real science, or the fantasy land of crank science, where to be utterly wrong is no big deal?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


As you have probably noticed, the blogging has droppped off recently, that's just because I'm at the National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Central Lancashire for the week. Normal service will be resumed next week, hopefully with a few posts about the meeting.