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.