That deafening sound you heard over Wednesday and Thursday was the sound of millions of science-minded folks collectively banging their heads against their computer screens in frustration. The trigger: a fear-mongering Op-Ed in the New York Times Style section by Nick Bilton, who decided that the new Apple watch and similar smart watches and wearable tech -- along with cell phones -- were potentially dangerous cancer-causing devices, and he was going to use a headset and not let his infant son use cell phones "until his brain develops." (Jen-Luc Piquant would love to be in the room when that kid learns he can't use a cell phone until he's 25.)
Bilton cherry-picked a couple of studies (ignoring any caveats and fine print), and then quoted an 'expert' to support his position, who just happened to be a notorious medical quack -- or "alternative medicine practitioner," as Bilton identifies him -- who pushes holistic breast cancer treatments.
Sigh. <deep breath>
WHERE TO BEGIN WITH THE FAIL?!?
Ahem. Seriously, this is a major embarrassment for the New York Times, which prides itself (justly) on its (usually) excellent coverage of science. Clearly the Style department needs to spend more time talking to the folks at the science desk before they run these kinds of pieces. As David Gorski (a.k.a. Orac of Respectful Insolence blog), observed, "It may be 'just' the Style section, but it’s still the New York Times."
Wired was among those first out of the gate with a blistering critique by Nick Stockton, declaring, "If a writer at this country’s newspaper of record wants to write about the health dangers of technology, he has a responsibility to understand what the science actually says—and more importantly, how the science says it." Keith Kloor at Discover's Collide-a-Scape blog wrote: "Can somebody at the New York Times please give this technology reporter a refresher course on how to sniff out pseudo expert sources, how to assess the merits of a given study, and lastly, how to weigh scientific evidence? There’s already enough problematic journalism on medical and health issues. Readers deserve better from an illustrious newspaper."
Rachel Feltman at the Washington Post's Speaking of Science blog was in fine form, too: "This whole situation is like if I wrote a column on the year's best fashion trends, focusing on the fact that I think high heels might be the worst. A reasonable stance. But my main source would be some D-list celebrity who people in the fashion world only know for trying to sell lime green crocs from his website."
At Slate, Daniel Engber debunked Bilton's gross misrepresentation of the cited studies, concluding, "Science has a place in every news vertical. But I think it’s fair to say its visits should be supervised." And his Slate compatriot, Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, summed it up thusly: "Tl;dr: There is zero direct evidence that wearable tech causes cancer. The indirect evidence ain’t too good, either." The Times omsbudsperson penned a disappointingly lukewarm response; the ill-informed and irresponsible article still stands. At least it now has an editor's note at the bottom correcting the many (many!) errors in the piece.
St. Patrick's Day was this week, and to celebrate, Trinity College Created the World's Smallest Shamrock. Related: check out the Chemistry of Craft Beer: "All beers require barley, hops, yeast, and water, but the way the beer is brewed determines the taste."
There were tons more links relating to Pi Day (last Saturday) as well. The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach, says the always marvelously lucid Steven Strogatz. Related: A meandering tale: the truth about pi and the 'bendiness' of rivers: Also: How Many Digits of Pi Do You Really Need to Know? Find Out with This Bar Bet. This data art finds beauty in the randomness of pi. Related: meet the Welshman who invented π: Anglesey-born William Jones was the first person to use the Greek letter π for the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Also: The other irrational numbers we could celebrate instead of pi -- or in addition to... it needn't be either/or. For instance, Rhett Allain of Dot Physics once touted February 7 as e-day. Bonus: Pi Day fashion line makes math look good. Finally, here are three GIFs that make Pi instantly understandable.
No, You Cannot Catch An Individual Photon Acting Simultaneously As A Pure Particle And Wave. "We have a great mathematical theory which tells us what photons…actually do. And then we have the human tendency to draw analogies and say 'hmm, in this case that looks like what I expect from a water wave’ and ‘but in this case that looks like what I expect from a billiard ball.' But photons are neither water waves nor billiard balls."
Strange Stars Pulse to the Golden Mean: Nature has revealed peculiar mathematical objects that connect order and chaos.
What fractals can teach us about cancer: "A crucial difference between healthy cells and cancerous cells may be the presence of fractal patterns."
Mysterious 'snow carrots' observed at meteorite impact sites. Scientists model collision to understand how the strange funnels form.
Photographer Creates Beautifully Colorful Photos of Ice Crystals With Two Polarizing Filters. Per Laughing Squid:
"High school science teacher and photographer Tom Wagner captures remarkably vibrant colors in ice crystals through the use of an ingenious custom photography setup. The dramatic, iridescent colors are not visible with the naked eye–Wagner uses a pair of polarizing filters to bring out the colors. The filters–sourced from 3D movie glasses–are placed in front and behind a sheet of glass on which ice crystals have formed. When photographed through this polarized sandwich, the crystals display a rainbow of colors through an optical phenomenon known as birefringence."
The Mystery of Extraordinarily Accurate Medieval maps. Beautifully detailed portolan charts present historians with a puzzle: How were they made? A mathematical analysis offers some clues.
See how your brain morphs when you learn physics. "Researchers used fMRIs to examine activation patterns in brains as the subjects learned the physics behind different tools, including a weighing scale, a fire extinguisher, and a trumpet."
Quantum Information Takes the Connectedness Out of Search. "Searching with a quantum particle, we showed the opposite, giving an example where searching in a city with low connectivity yields fast search, and an example where searching in a city with high connectivity yields slow search. Thus the quantum world is much richer than our classical intuitions might lead us to believe."
Shining an X-Ray torch on quantum gravity. "Modern clocks rely on the quantum nature of atoms to measure time. And the flow of time depends on relative speed and gravitational acceleration. Hence, we can test general relativity, special relativity, and quantum mechanics all in the same experiment."
This Is Why Cats Make Terrible Astronauts. Per io9: "In the fun short film Pasteurized, an alien scientist spends his days in quiet research in his lab — that is, until he attracts the attention of a feline astronaut on its way to the moon."
Nano piano's lullaby could mean storage breakthrough. "To demonstrate its abilities to store sound and audio files, the researchers created a musical keyboard or "nano piano," using the available notes to play the short song, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."
Determining the Maximum Projectile Range With a Numerical Model.
NASA Went to Space and All Humans Got Was This Acne Treatment. How astronaut technology has found its way into drugstores and hospitals. Related: 50 Years Ago, The First Spacewalk Nearly Ended In Tragedy.
Can space expand faster than the speed of light? And if so, how does Einstein’s relativity — both special and general — cope?
Hummingbirds are Tiny Masters of Turbulent Air.
How To Murder Someone With An MRI. "Get an MRI powerful enough, and it can stimulate the heart and the diaphragm, two fairly critical systems for those of us who want to continue to live."
Scientists Solve a Puzzle: Cosmic Dust Comes From Supernovas.
Possible loophole in lithium problem: The apparent shortage of lithium in the universe might be an illusion resulting from overestimates of the amount that should exist.
Superradiant matter: A new paradigm to explore dynamic phase transitions.
Quantum Frontiers salutes Terry Pratchett. "I blame British novels for my love of physics."
A 3D View Inside the Earth's Liquid Core, Based On Earthquakes. "The Titan computer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee was used to generate this map based on how seismic waves pass through the Earth. Red indicates slower waves and blue faster ones."
Experiments combine to find mass of Higgs. The CMS and ATLAS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider joined forces to make the most precise measurement of the mass of the Higgs boson yet. Related: Inside the CERN Control Centre: Take a tour of one of the most important rooms at CERN.
Solving the riddle of neutron stars: Proposed model predicts the gravitational wave spectrum that merging binary neutron stars should emit.
When Stars Go Nova, Shocks Cook the Stellar Neighborhood.
NASA's New Horizons space probe and The Magic of the Gravity Assist, "a beautiful example of the conservation of momentum, one of the most fundamental ideas of Newtonian mechanics: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
Data geniuses have figured out what the ultimate U.S. road trip looks like. "Data tinkerer Randy Olson, who is now known across the internet for developing the optimum search path for the Where’s Waldo books, has used this same algorithm to compute the optimal American road trip." You could make it in 9-1/2 days, but probably best to take a couple of months to really savor the experience.
Biomimetics: Studying Bird Flight for Flying Robots. At David Lentink’s lab at Stanford he is combining specially trained animals with high-tech motion capture to puzzle out just what it is about bird wings that make them such fantastic flyers.
Liquid droplets that chase each other across a surface: Evaporation and humidity create dynamic dances among drops of a solution.
Q: What happens when lava meets ice or water? A: The Leidenfrost effect. "Artists and geologists are working together to explore these interactions by melting crushed basalt and pouring it onto different substrates."
Hypnotic Kinetic Sculptures by sculptor Jennifer Townley Fuse Mathematics and Art. "Repetitive patterns twist, merge, and cascade as individually sculpted elements rotate on a single axis"
How Many Different Songs Can There Be? Could you write one song that includes all possible combinations? Answer: yes.
Fast particles that 'leak' from Van Allen belts and collide with molecules can create an aurora.
Particle trapping - Light as puppeteer. a more robust method for controlling single particles with light.
Quantum mechanic frequency filter for atomic clocks. A new filtering technique reduces noise in atomic clocks a hundredfold.
Life in a Freely Falling Elevator: Einstein’s ‘happiest thought’ led to the Equivalence Principle 108 years ago.
An Explanation of the True ‘Cosmic Latte’ Color of the Universe.
Nerd Court takes on Time Travel: "MysteryGuitarMan and Leo Camacho face off in court over what's the more realistic way to do time travel. Doesn't matter how you can go back in time, Adam Sandler's movies would still suck."
Copper-wire ‘metamirror’ reflects selectively; Only one wavelength bounces back; others pass through unimpeded.
The Secret History of the Supernova at the Bottom of the Sea: How a star explosion may have shaped life on Earth.
Science’s Path From Myth to Multiverse: The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg spoke with Quanta about the past and future of physics, the role of philosophy within science, and the startling possibility that the universe we see around us is a tiny sliver of a much larger multiverse.
Since the story is making the rounds again.... a helpful post from 2014. How to fool the world with bad science. Did you hear about the EmDrive, the “impossible space engine?” Here are the red flags you should have looked for.
Crooke's tube: "Among the foxes of chemical history is William Crookes, the great and controversial Victorian polymath."
The Illustrated Story of Persian Polymath Ibn Sina and How He Shaped the Course of Medicine.
X-Rays and the Art of Seeing Things That Aren't There.
Human Bodies Glow, Proving That The World Is Weirder Than We Can Imagine.
The universal nature of three-body attraction: A study of the interaction among three objects in peculiar resonant systems uncovers an unexpected universality.
Physicist Don Page on God and cosmology.
Five things Discworld will teach you about science.
Manhattan Project Historical Park: "In 1997, when Cindy Kelly learned of the impending demolition of the V Site at Los Alamos, the cluster of wooden structures in which the plutonium bomb detonated in the first nuclear test was assembled, she acted quickly. Leaving her position at the Department of Energy in 2000, she founded the Atomic Heritage Foundation to raise awareness and gather partners to preserve the Manhattan Project sites."
Woman of Science: Particle Physicist Fabiola Gianotti, a.k.a. the woman who defied the Internet to present her PowerPoint slides on the discovery of the Higgs boson in the much-loathed comic sans typeface.
"Apparitions," Photos of Ghostly Angelic Figures. Per Laughing Squid: "[P]hotographer Jason D. Page conjures ghostly winged figures using light painting techniques. To create the figures, Page uses electroluminescent wire, as well as light painting brushes of his own design."
Adrienne Rich's "Planetarium"-poem written in honor of Caroline Herschel.
"I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind."
Researchers Find the Golden Ratio in a Butterfly's Proboscis. “Although coincidental, it is fascinating that a mathematical occurrence can be used to reveal a widespread pattern at radically different scales, from galaxies to butterfly proboscises,” said lead author Matthew S. Lehnert.
Shattering "Dumb Jock" Stereotypes, Baltimore Ravens Offensive Lineman John Urschel Publishes Paper in a Math Journal. “I am a mathematical researcher in my spare time, continuing to do research in the areas of numerical linear algebra, multigrid methods, spectral graph theory and machine learning. I’m also an avid chess player, and I have aspirations of eventually being a titled player one day.”
Beethoven, Bartleby, and Subtraction. Apparently the great composer didn't know how to subtract. "Or divide, or multiply. Or much else arithmetical."
The Math Major Who Never Reads Math: "ordinary writing has a certain redundancy to it.... Math is different. Unlike English, mathematical language is built to capture ideas perfectly. Thus, key information will be stated once and only once. Later sentences will presuppose a perfect comprehension of earlier ones, so reading math demands your full attention. If your understanding is holistic, rough, or partial, then it may not feel like any understanding at all."
Seven Reasons Space Scientists Are Tougher Than You Think.
A Pumping Piston (rather than rotating hands) Tells Time on This Engine-Inspired Watch.
Graphene + Coffee: Most glam substance, foodstuff combined in new paper.
Hidden Moon Crater Named After Amelia Earhart.
Journey Through the Wormhole with new Interstellar Text Adventure Game.
M.R. James and the Quantum Vampire: an essay by China Mieville.
What's more fun then asking a group of scientists: "What would happen if gravity stopped?" tl;dr: Nothing good. "Life as we know it wouldn't exist without it."
Why Do I Study Physics? by Xiangjun Shi: "since childhood I have been enchanted by the idea of perfection. However, while seeking a rational world, irrationality shadows every step of my journey. Is this a pursuit destined to end in a dilemma?"