Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Are Religious People Less Smart Than Atheists?

OK, if that isn't an incendiary title, I don't know what is! :)

I took that title loosely from this article that reviews a new study on how various groups of people think. To be fair, the paper being cited actually debunks that myth that religious people are less intelligent than non-religious people.

However (you know that was coming, didn't you?), it points out that religious people tend to rely heavily on intuition when there is an apparent conflict between intuition and logic. In other words, the more religious a person is, the more likely he/she will abandon rational thinking and rely on his/her intuition.

This is actually consistent with an earlier study that I mention on here. In that study, it was discovered that non-scientists are more likely to ignore scientific facts and evidence in favor of a view that support their values. Flat-Earth believers, anyone?

The problem in all of this is that (i) logic and rational thinking are the best methodology that we know of to come up with a valid conclusion, (ii) facts and evidence are being ignored or dismissed, and (iii) our intuition has been known to be terribly wrong and unreliable.

In science, intuition can only go so far, and we often abandon our intuition once it has been trumped by facts and evidence. This is why science evolves and improves over time. So when someone goes against that, and lean more on faulty intuition than logic and rational thinking, we then are into no-rules and no-holes-barred territory. Is this why a lot of people still believe in irrational and uncorroborated ideas and opinions?

I don't know. To me, dealing with public opinions and why such-and-such group of people or individual thinks that way is more mysterious than any of the physics research that I've done. Human beings are irrational creatures by nature, I suppose.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Weightlessness and Gravity in Space

Rhett Allain tackles the issue of gravity in space and weightlessness as he dissects the scene he saw from The 100.

This is a common problem that many of us who teach intro physics encounter. Students, and the general public, often have a severe misunderstanding of the concept of "weightlessness", and equate that to having zero gravity. Certainly the example of being in a free-falling elevator, or even the example of the zero-g simulation in airplanes (the "vomit comet") are clear examples where one can be weightless but still in an environment with g not being zero.

It is one of those topics where, as physics instructors, we are resigned to a life-sentence of educating people non-stop about this misconception.


Friday, January 26, 2018

Muon g-2 Experiment To Start Run

Everything old is new again!

The old muon g-2 experiment that was at Brookhaven was taken apart, and rebuilt at Fermilab. Now, after the logistic challenge of moving the huge magnet from there, and after the long hard work of rebuilding the facility, the muon g-2 is now about ready to start its run.

The facility is now better than ever, and physicists are hoping that there will be an anomaly in the measurement, indicating new physics beyond the Standard Model.

In 2013, the g-2 team lugged the experiment on a 5000-kilometer odyssey from Brookhaven to Fermilab, taking the ring by barge around the U.S. eastern seaboard and up the Mississippi River. Since then, they have made the magnetic field three times more uniform, and at Fermilab, they can generate far purer muon beams. "It's really a whole new experiment," says Lee Roberts, a g-2 physicist at Boston University. "Everything is better."

Over 3 years, the team aims to collect 21 times more data than during its time at Brookhaven, Roberts says. By next year, Hertzog says, the team hopes to have enough data for a first result, which could push the discrepancy above 5 σ.

Good luck, everyone!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Flat-Earth Believers Are IDIOTS!

This would be funny if it wasn't so sad, and scary because these people presumably vote!

I read about this Flat Earth International Conference (honest!), and I can't believe the idiotic stuff that was written in the article. I'm going to ignore the paranoid claims about conspiracy and stuff. I'm not here to deal with their psychotic problems. However, I can deal with the science, and in particular, when idiots try to use physics to justify their stupidity.

Many flat-Earthers believe in testing the theory.

Darryle Marble said he conducted his own in-flight experiment using a leveler to test if the plane was flying parallel to a flat Earth.

"If it were a sphere then the surface of the Earth still would have been curving underneath the airplane while it's flying level," he reasoned. "It’s so simple it'll go right over your head," he said adding that people who have flown planes allegedly told him they "haven’t seen any curvature."

First of all, they don't believe astronauts who have gone into space when they said that the earth is a sphere, but yet, they want to use human observation from airplane rides! This is an example of pick-and-choose. 

Secondly, a leveler? Seriously?

Assuming that the plane is moving at a constant speed and at a constant altitude, this means that the plane is moving parallel to the earth's surface all the time. That's the definition of constant altitude. If the plane were to fly "straight with respect to the spatial coordinates", then it would be increasing in altitude! If that were to happen, the leveler will indicate several things (i) the acceleration due to the plan having to increase its altitude and (ii) gravity will act not straight down anymore. Any of these will affect the leveler.

But really, does the fact that if one head east continuously and end up at the same position later while in the plane, means nothing to these people?

There are many evidence that the earth is a sphere, and many of these are  plain obvious. The fact that different parts of the earth having opposite seasons at a given time of the year is one clear example. A flat earth will not result in different parts of the earth having different daylight hours and different seasons.

But there is another clear test here that have been too obvious: using a Faucault pendulum. How would these idiots explain not only the change in the plane of oscillation of the Faucault pendulum over a period of 24 hrs, but also the fact that (i) the change in the plane of oscillation is in the OPPOSITE direction for those having the opposite season (i.e. northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere) and (ii) there is no change in the plane of oscillation at the equator.

Of course, to understand the significance of this observation, one actually must know the physics involved in a Faucault pendulum, and the conservation of angular momentum. But hey, maybe physics and all these conservation laws are also more conspiracies.

Again, to paraphrase Kathy Griffin: "These people are proud of their aggressive ignorance."


What Is Relativity All About?

OK, so it may be odd that I want to highlight a beginner's topic on a popular subject on a blog that has been around for years. But hey, I get new people following this thing all the time, and I often get the same questions on basic physics.

So here's a simple, basic intro video on Special Relativity. In fact, Don Lincoln will be producing a series of such videos on this topic for those of you who want to know about Special Relativity, but was too afraid to ask.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Enrico Fermi - The Pope of Physics

A fascinating presentation on Enrico Fermi.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Putting Science Back Into Popular Culture

Clifford Johnson of USC has an interesting article on ways to introduce science (or physics in particular), back into things that the public usually gravitate to. In particular, he asks the question on how we can put legitimate science into popular culture so that the public will get to see it more regularly.

Science, though, gets portrayed as opposite to art, intuition and mystery, as though knowing in detail how that flower works somehow undermines its beauty. As a practicing physicist, I disagree. Science can enhance our appreciation of the world around us. It should be part of our general culture, accessible to all. Those “special talents” required in order to engage with and even contribute to science are present in all of us.

So how do we bring about a change? I think using the tools of the general culture to integrate science with everything else in our lives can be a big part of the solution.

Read the rest of the article on how to inject science into popular entertainment, etc.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Table-Top Elementary Particle Experiment

I love reading articles like this one, where it shows that one can do quite useful research in elementary particles using experimental setup that is significantly smaller (and cheaper) than large particle colliders.

Now, he’s suddenly moving from the fringes of physics to the limelight. Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, is about to open a first-of-its-kind research institute dedicated to just his sort of small-scale particle physics, and Gabrielse will be its founding director.

The move signals a shift in the search for new physics. Researchers have dreamed of finding subatomic particles that could help them to solve some of the thorniest remaining problems in physics. But six years’ worth of LHC data have failed to produce a definitive detection of anything unexpected.

More physicists are moving in Gabrielse’s direction, with modest set-ups that can fit in standard university laboratories. Instead of brute-force methods such as smashing particles, these low-energy experimentalists use precision techniques to look for extraordinarily subtle deviations in some of nature’s most fundamental parameters. The slightest discrepancy could point the way to the field’s future. 

Again, I salute very much this type of endeavor, but I dislike the tone of the title of the article, and I'll tell you why.

In science, and especially physics, there is seldom something that has been verified, found, or discovered using just ONE experimental technique or detection method. For example, in the discovery of the Top quark, both CDF and D0 detectors at Fermilab had to agree. In the discovery of the Higgs, both ATLAS and CMS had to agree. In trying to show that something is a superconductor, you not only measure the resistivity, but also magnetic susceptibility.

In other words, you require many different types of verification, and the more the better or the more convincing it becomes.

While these table-top experiments are very ingenious, they will NOT replace the big colliders. No one in their right mind will tell CERN to "step aside", other than the author of this article. There are discoveries or parameters of elementary particles that these table-top experiments can study more efficiently than the LHC, but there are also plenty of the parameter phase space that the LHC can probe that can't be easily reached by these table-top experiments. They all are complimenting each other!

People who don't know any better, or don't know the intricacies of how experiments are done or how knowledge is gathered, will get the impression that because of these table-top experiments, facilities like the LHC will no longer be needed. I hate to think that this is the "take-home" message that many people will get.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

How Do We Know Blackholes Exist?

If you don't care to read in detail on the physics, and have the attention span of a 2-year old, this is Minute Physics's attempt at convincing you that blackholes exist.


Friday, January 05, 2018

Why Did Matter Matter?

Ethan Siegel has yet another nice article. This time, he tackles on why we have an abundant of matter in our universe, but hardly any antimatter, when all our physics seems to indicate that there should be equal amount of both, or simply a universe filled with no matter.

I have highlighted a number of CP-violation experiments on here, which is something mentioned in the article. But it is nice to have a layman-type summary of the baryo-lepton-genesis ideas that are floating out there.


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Determining The Hubble Constant

Ethan Siegel has a nice article on the pitfalls in determining one of the most important constants in our universe, the Hubble constant. The article describes why this constant is so important, and all the ramifications that come from it.

As you read this, notice all the "background knowledge" that one must have to be able to know how well certain things are known, and what are the assumptions and uncertainties in each of the methods and values that we use. All of these need to be known, and people using them must be aware of them.

Compare that to the decision we make everyday on things we accept in social policies and politics.


Monday, January 01, 2018

Gravitational and Inertial Mass

In this video, Don Lincoln tackles the concept of gravitational and inertial mass, and talks about the wider, more general implication of them being the same within Einstein's General Relativity.