Archive for the 'science & society' category

Grumbling about MidSouthCon's "science" guest of "honor"

Mar 27 2009 Published by under Rant, science & society, Science Fiction

Last weekend I went to MidSouthCon, a medium-small science fiction convention in Memphis, TN.  (Well, Olive Branch, MS, but who's counting).   It was jolly.  I ran a Fudge game, I hung out with friends new and old, I got a T-shirt that mixes the standard model of particle physics with Dr. Seussian poetry.  And, I was a guest myself; I gave a talk about Second Life, and did a live demo of Second Life.  I was also on a panel about "advising the movies", even though I've never actually done that... I have given a talk about how Newton's Laws hold up in science fiction movies and TV, though, which is probably why the event planners put me on that panel.

However, there was one thing that bothered me greatly.  See, they have a number of guests of honor.  Their writer guest of honor was Mike Resnick, and their artist guest of honor was Vincent de Fate, both of whom are truly excellent choices.  But, even though I'm no longer entirely a working scientist, I have to admit to feeling a little insulted that they chose a crackpot for the scientist guest of honor rather than me.  Not that I'm of the stature to deserve an "of honor" position, but at least I'm something of a scientist. I mean, come on people.  It's fine to listen to the crackpots and have fun with them, but calling a UFO Guy the "science guest of honor?"

It's great to have an open mind.  But there is a difference between having an open mind and an open braincase-- that is, open in the way that an open circle is not a filled circle....

What's sad is that a lot of the people who come to these conventions have a lot of interest in science, but don't know a lot about it.  They may have more interest than many in the general public as a result of reading science fiction.  They may also have a tendency to want to believe some more fantastical things like UFOs.  But we can provide some really interesting real science talks that the public loves.  I've given science talks at Hypericon for the last four years, and they've generally been well received.  My talk about the modern picture of the expanding Universe was as mind-blowing as anything that the crackpots come up with, but is also supported by real actual evidence.  It's sad when an opportunity like this is blown on foo-fa and ignorance.

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Astronomical References in Shakespeare

Thanks to Brian Cooksey for the shout out last time I was a contributor to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. I've also done today's podcast, all about astronomical references in Shakespeare's tragedies... starting with Romeo & Juliet, what with it being Valentines day and all. Go and listen to the podcast!

For your viewing pleasure, I've also got a transcript of the podcast here:

Continue Reading »

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"Science at Play" — a play writing workshop in Second Life

Jan 19 2009 Published by under Science, science & society, Second Life

Starting today at 2PM PST, I and others will be leading playwriting workshops at the Kira Cafe. The genesis of this idea came from Piet Hutt, one of the directors of the Kira Institute, after I gave an informal talk about what it was like to perform live theater in Second Life. As the mission of Kira is to talk about science in context, he thought it would be neat if we were to try putting on some plays related to science. One recent example is the play "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn, although myself I am more familiar with "Hapgood" and "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard.

The discussion evolved, and we decided that perhaps it would be interesting to think about getting people together to talk about writing plays, perhaps very short plays, that explore things related to science— and that are written from the beginning understanding both the advantages and the limitations that come from performing theater in Second Life (as opposed to live on stage).

If this sounds interesting to you, feel free to drop by the Kira Cafe today, and over the next few weeks on Mondays at 2PM SLT, to join us. The Kira Cafe can be found in Second Life at BaikUn (198, 76, 99).

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The Big Bang and Evolution : when does a theory evolve so much that it deserves a new name

I am currently visiting Colgate University, giving a physics colloquium about dark energy. I'm hosted by my friend Jeff Bary (who's a first year professor there). Yesterday evening, his class gave presentations about discoveries that they'd researched. A few of the talks touched on the Big Bang. Afterwards, I was sitting around musing with Jeff and the departmental chair, Thomas Balonek. Thom was saying that it's disingenuous for us to claim that we're still talking about the Big Bang as it being the same theory that we had all those decades ago. What with the introduction of inflation, cold dark matter, dark energy, it's changed so much that really it's not entirely the same theory any more. I argued that the basic picture is the same-- the Universe expanded from a very hot, very dense state to its current form-- that it warrants having the same name.

I then asked the question: which theory has evolved more, the Big Bang or Biological Evolution? To point a finer point on it, let's go back to the (say) 1950's or early 1960's, when people were arguing about Big Bang vs. Steady State cosmology, before the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background, well before the introduction of inflation to solve the flatness and horizon problems. Take what people were talking about then as the Big Bang, and compare to what we talk about today. Has that changed more or less than the Theory of Evolution has changed from what Darwin originally envisaged when he wrote the Origin of the Species?

To be sure, the theory of Evolution is better understood and understood in better detail than the Big Bang theory. They both share the feature that they are theories describing the evolution of a system, not it's origin (although both the name of the cosmological theory, and the title of the work that started Evolution, both would seem to indicate that they do). We know a whole lot more about both today than we did then. Both have features today that people in the early days couldn't have anticipated. (I understand the cosmology better, of course, but know, for instance, that DNA and the genetics gives us an actual mechanism for Darwin's Evolution.)

So, what do you think? Which one has changed more? And is either theory similar enough to what was originally proposed that it deserves the same name, or should we have changed the name by now?

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Is the Large Hadronic Collider going to end the world by making black holes or strangelets?


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