Thursday, August 13, 2015

What is a scientist? And, is the Internet rotting kids’ brains?

There's a recent article Don’t panic, the internet won’t rot children’s brains in The Conversation that’s very much worth reading in its own right.

However, in this case I’m pointing out that it has an excellent, to-the-point passage about the nature of science:

There’s no admission ceremony to become a scientist, no Hippocratic-like oath, no hand placed on a holy book while pledging to uphold this or that. There’s no need for any of this, because without following the fundamentals of science, you are, quite simply, not a scientist.

At the very core of science is the judgement of theories in light of available evidence. Scientists are humans. We have our own beliefs and prejudices, and at times it is near-on impossible to divorce ourselves from these.

That’s why the only kingmaker in science is evidence: objective, irrefutable observations. For every scientific theory proven through observations, there are dozens that lie shattered on the floor. And that’s how it should be.

And I’ll leave it at that, for you to ponder.

Not to be judgmental, but the above quotation has the spelling “judgement” and there’s an interesting discussion of this spelling over at The Grammarist

Monday, April 20, 2015

Presenting a stronger scientific case for global warming, via the rattlesnake’s tail analogy

Scientists and other concerned about global warming have, in my opinion, not done a good job people trying to get the message across.

In particular, they often present arguments about warming that has occurred during the last century or so, showing alarmingly steep graphs of global temperature rises. In very few cases will you be shown what preceded the recent temperature changes, over a much longer period of centuries or millennia.

I have tried to point this out here in this blog -- see The rattlesnake;s rattle (part 2)— and included a few illustrations that I was able to patch together back then (in 2010).

Well, I recently came across 2500 Years of European Climate Variability and Human Susceptibility (PDF) in which some European scientists  present tree ring–based reconstructions of central European summer precipitation and temperature variability over the past 2500 years.

To expound on my point, let’s look at the following chart from the above paper:


I’d consider any trends that emerge from studying natural phenomena over several millennia are more likely to be meaningful than supposed trends obtained from results of measurements made only in the last century or so.

I have added a green ellipse around the part that is often used when discussing global warming, and I’d say that the accusation can be made, with quite some justification, that basing global warming arguments over such a restricted period (the art that’s circled, a handful of decades) is not very convincing science.

But if you consider the entire scope of this chart, it becomes much “safer” to argue that there indeed has been a sudden and significant rise in temperature during the last half century.

That’s what I was trying to get at in earlier bog posts, via my not-so-good analogy of the rattlesnake with its tail steeply raised giving us a warning that we cannot afford to ignore:

Imagine that the snake represents climate changes
going way back in time, and we’re positioned
at the very tip of the rattle

By the way, you’ll probably be fascinated by The Season of the Witch: Climate-Change and Witch-Hunt Through the Ages

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On the matter of asking useful questions

This blog is all about asking Basic Questions.

Hopefully they will be “the right questions” rather than just any old questions.

Josh Kaufman has written a pertinent blog post:

How to Ask Useful Questions

Saturday, December 27, 2014

At last I believe in the Theorem of Pythagoras

Pythagoras was right! Here’s the definitive, rigorous mathematical proof:

See boring proofs at Wikipedia (or elsewhere).

View a collection of other interesting dynamic GIFs here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

All I want for Christmas is a laminal voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative

I’ve always been interested in spoken languages, as a dabbler and non-specialist, since learning some Latin and French at high school and picking ups some basics of various European and Asian tongues while travelling around in my days at IBM.

Today, for no particular reason and while dabbling, I came across this Wikipedia article about the “thorn” letter which takes on the “th” sound in words such as “this” and “thing.”

File:Latin alphabet Þþ.svg

I was struck by the following statement in the second paragraph:

However, in modern Icelandic it's pronounced as a
laminal voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative

So there! Perhaps something to mull over and help one to doze off after a hefty Christmas meal … or perhaps not.

Anyway, may I take the opportunity to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Possibly getting eaten by a shark, versus winning the Lotto?

I keep telling members of my family that buying Lotto tickets is a “mug’s game” and that they would better spend their hard-earned money on something else.

They even think that buying a Lotto ticket each week increases their chance of a win. I’ve given up on trying to persuade them, it’s like talking to the proverbial brick wall.

Earlier today I was reading Response to the latest shark bite is fuelled by myth and retribution and reading the various interesting opinions of commenters.

One of them pointed to a web document that turns out to be a real gem, and I encourage you all to read right through its six pages:

Shark attacks and the Poisson approximation by Byron Schmuland


As well as gaining valuable insights about your chances of being gobbled by a “Noah’s Ark” you will also learn about the theory of coincidences: winning the Lotto, having the same birthday as someone else in a group, and the true nature of Edmonton Oiler Wayne Gretsky’s amazing batting average.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What you think is right may actually be wrong – Inferring versus rationalising

Over at The Conversation there’s a thought-provoking new article (16 January 2014) about the process of thinking:

What you think is right may actually be wrong – here’s why

We like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analysing arguments. But this is not how humans usually operate, particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly.

The matters broached in this article are very relevant to this blog about Basic Questions, wouldn’t you agree?