# Denyse O’Leary Provides Amusement

ERV made me aware of a new bit of silliness from Denyse O’Leary, resident “journalist” of the antiscience advocacy blog Uncommon Descent. (She’s also a proponent of non-materialist neuroscience: if being a doofus about evolution is a ticket to fame and riches earned by fleecing the gullible, then trashing other well-established sciences must also be quite a racket.) This is what O’Leary has to say on the complicated and tendentious subject of women in science and mathematics, a topic in which even intelligent people are led astray by emotive arguments and spuriously “scientific” ideas not supported by the data.

Anyone who thinks that the fact that girls are not as good as boys in math means that girls do not rule is obviously not in contact with many girls.

[spit take]

Barf out! Gag me with a spoon! Gross!

I’m still not accustomed to the creationist ability to pack so many kinds of wrong into a single sentence. First, the “fact” that girls can’t do math as well as boys is, ahem, anything but; beyond that, what trait makes the female of the species “rule,” in O’Leary’s estimation? Their ability to cook, clean, and fit within a well-molded wet T-shirt? Or a mystic synchrony with the energy of the Moon, no doubt a gender-specific modification of the miracle circuits which receive the soul’s instructions to the brain.

Blech. Uncommon Descent leaves an icky taste all over me. To get it out, I think I’ll learn about adjoint functors and their relationship to monads.

Tired of strange British comedy videos and musical numbers which just get stranger and stranger? Wishing for some serious mathematics on this Web of ours? Well, consider your wishes fulfilled:

Be forewarned — Dr. Cheng goes fast, and she mislabels one arrow in the associativity square ($$T \mu$$ instead of $$\mu T$$) before catching herself.

# Happy Birthday to Me

Actually, it’s my birthday tomorrow, but I don’t want to get busy with actual work and forget to post this video.

If you’re looking for “higher dimensions of the spirit” or “quantum healing,” you’ve come to the wrong place.

Instead, we’ve got real science, for free. All you need is time! At the SciTalks blog, Jon Shock recommends several videos on advanced topics in string theory. The Theoretical Advanced Studies Institute in Elementary Particle Physics comes highly recommended; it’s got a whole slew of videos on the AdS/CFT correspondence.

# Enemies of Reason, Part 2

The second episode of Richard Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason is now ontube at Google Video.

“Quantum Healing” makes an appearance at 12:33. Zounds!

# Oobleck and Liquid Nitrogen: It’s Science!

Jennifer Ouellette raises the subject of “oobleck,” a non-Newtonian fluid made by mixing corn starch and water. It’s messy, it gets everywhere, and it’s downright fabulous!

Of course, the way you make a good thing better is to (a) eschew moderation and (b) mix it with other good things. For example, one can — purely in the interests of science — combine oobleck with the MIT student’s other favorite substance: liquid nitrogen, or LN2.

The thing about gases is that they take up much less room when they condense into a liquid state. Conversely, a small splash of LN2 can and will boil to produce a large volume of gas. Combining LN2 with water — a heat source — inside a two-liter soda bottle — a rigid but not infinitely strong container — inside a reservoir of oobleck yields a fascinating demonstration of thermodynamics, Newtonian mechanics and materials science:

# PZ Myers: No Ghosts in Your Brain

Recently, the Web’s very own PZ Myers gave an introductory talk on the human brain, the cells which make it up and the odd behaviors its owners demonstrate. The video comes in two parts, the first covering fairly well-established science and the second giving an overview of currently reasonable speculations.

If you expected the doyen of science blogging to breathe fire and advance the slides in his presentation by slamming his laptop keyboard with a tentacle, well, you’ll be disappointed. Otherwise, enjoy.

# Dr. Shock on Extra Dimensions

Jonathan Shock has been working with the SciTalks people to make their site a repository of high-quality, informative physics material. At the SciTalks blag, Dr. Shock provides an introduction to the idea of “extra dimensions.” These aren’t woo-tastic flights of fancy like some “dimensions of the spirit,” but rather ideas we can explore with mathematical rigor in order to understand both their properties as abstract concepts and, perhaps, some features of the physical world.

We’re treated to a description of how to build a four-dimensional hypercube by shifting a cube at right angles to itself, along a fourth direction perpendicular to the cube’s three axes. That’s a hard idea to fit into a brain! However, by projecting the process down — essentially “casting shadows” of the higher-dimensional shapes — we can make a video of it.

As always, the math matters:
Continue reading Dr. Shock on Extra Dimensions

# Peace On Earth, Purity of Essence

In the “light and inconsequential” category of posts goes this remark about the Dr. Strangelove (1964) trailer:

The piano plonking accompaniment to the words flashing one at a time upon the screen is reminiscent of the opening to Eyes Wide Shut (1999), in which the words are “CRUISE,” “KIDMAN” and “KUBRICK,” while the music is GyÃ¶rgy Ligeti‘s “Musica Ricercata” (1951–53).

# Scraping the Bottom of the Garden

Last Thursday night, while a bunch of us were eating sushi, we realized that something had to be done about our excessive indulgence in nerd humor. It was consequently declared, “Every time you tell a geek joke, God kills a fairy. Thus, you must after each such joke clap your hands and proclaim, ‘I believe in fairies! I believe in fairies!'”

For example, suppose I asked, “How do Communist electrical engineers study capacitors?”

“I don’t know, Blake, how do Communist electrical engineers study capacitors. . . Sigh. . .”
Continue reading Scraping the Bottom of the Garden

# Behe on The Colbert Report

Last night, Michael Behe was Stephen Colbert’s guest on The Colbert Report. It was, shall we say, educational.

BEHE: Nobody was searching for the limits of Newton’s theory when Newton first proposed it. He thought that he had solved all of physics. But then when —

COLBERT: You mean about how — how apples fall?

BEHE: Apples fall, cannonballs go. But then —

COLBERT: Mm-hmmm.

BEHE: But then when —

COLBERT: He invented the cannonball? He invented the dive — the cannonball?

[audience laughs]

BEHE: Cannonballs fly.

Oh, yes. It’s nice to know that nobody checked to see if Newton was right, or if “universal gravitation” was really universal.

Wait. You say that it was Edmund Halley who used Newton’s laws to predict that comets travel in elliptical orbits, and that the comet seen in 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 would return in 1758? How could Halley say such a thing, after Newton had made his view clear that all comets travel in parabolic paths? It’s in the Principia, for Heaven’s sake! And you say that Halley was the one who realized that the stars are not fixed to a “celestial firmament” but instead move through space? How dare you imply that the views of one person are not the entirety of science! Sir, how dare you have the temerity to insist that people did not take Newton at his word but instead used his theories to make predictions about the world which they could then compare to observations to — I can hardly even articulate such a heretical notion — see if Newton was wrong.

What! Are you telling me it was the French, those wine-swilling, toad-munching surrender monkeys, who had the audacity to test Newton’s prediction that the Earth is an oblate spheroid? Sir, you could tell me all you want about the 1735 expeditions to Peru and Lapland under Charles-Marie de La Condamine and Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis respectively — the former of which incidentally brought back the first rubber and curare Europe had ever seen — but the mere suggestion that Newton’s word was not good enough is so repugnant I refuse to consider the matter further.

It gets better:
Continue reading Behe on The Colbert Report

I was expecting much more evil.

# Handwriting

Zeno mourns that his calculus students can’t read their own handwriting. Not only do their 2s become zeds, but their thetas become phis and their phis become rhos:

$$\theta \rightarrow \phi,\ \varphi \rightarrow \rho.$$

Personally, it was the xi which always gave me trouble. That stupid little $$\xi$$ never came out right — and I know I’m not alone here. In that introductory string theory course of sainted memory, Prof. Zwiebach astonished our whole class by writing them freehand on the blackboard.

You know, in retrospect, I wish my elementary school had skipped the cursive lessons and taught me how to write Greek letters. Oh, and “blackboard bold” characters too, the funky symbols with extra lines like $$\mathbb{R}$$ and $$\mathbb{C}$$ (these particular ones are used to stand for the real and complex number sets, respectively). I use Greek letters every day, but when was the last time I had to write in cursive?

My signature doesn’t count. That’s not writing; that’s a mad scribble. I don’t know if Mom ever wanted me to be a doctor, but I’ve lived up to that in one respect at least. My autograph starts with a smushed B, continues with a series of wiggles interrupted by a figure that’s more an ampersand than an S, followed by another brood of squiggles. The cross on the t slashes across my entire name like the mark of Zorro.

And nobody cares! The bank has never returned a rent check to me with a red stamp saying, “D minus for penmanship.”