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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Greatest. Experiment. EVER.

Quite a while back, Clifford Johnson at Cosmic Variance had a post seeking nominations for "The Greatest Physics Paper Ever." Back after a long hiatus, he's now holding a vote among five finalists: Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, Albert Einstein's General Relativity, Emmy Noether's paper on symmetry and conservation laws, Dirac's theory of the electron, and the Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen paper on quantum non-locality.

(Newton's Principia Mathematica had a comfortable lead when I last checked, so if you're a partisan of one of the other candidates, go over there and vote...)

Of course, as some have noted, these are all theory papers. This is a natural result of the overabundance of theory types in blogdom, but it still just doesn't seem right. For most of the history of science, after all, the development of theory has been driven by experimental results, not the other way around.

So here's an attempt to restore the balance. I'm soliciting nominations in comments for the best experimental work in physics. What experiment do you think was the greatest, that is, what is the one experiment that you think did the most to change the field of physics (hopefully for the better)?

Continued at

Posted at 6:50 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In Which I Sell Out to the Man

All right, here's the big news I've been hinting at: I'm shutting this blog down.

Well, OK, I'm not really shutting down-- the site and the archives will remain exactly as they are. I just won't be doing my new blogging at any more. I'm shifting the blog over to a new location, as part of the ScienceBlogs project run by Seed Magazine. The new address will be:

Why am I doing this? Well, they offered to pay me (a fairly trivial amount of money, but more than the nothing I'm getting now) to do basically the same thing that I've been doing her for the past few years. That's kind of hard to pass up... It also means a little more exposure for the blog, and I'm just vain enough to really like that idea.

(Is it really wise, you might ask, to be doing something that will raise the profile of my weblog when I'm facing tenure review this coming fall? I did agonize about that for a while, but let's face it, this blog has been the top Google result for my name for a good long while now-- that bridge has been crossed, burned, re-built, and swept away by a flood. If I wanted to keep it completely secret, I would've gone pseudonymous from the start.)

There will be a couple of other changes, of course. The new site will have ads (they're running a business, after all), and I may start posting occasional images over there, since somebody else will be dealing with the web hosting. The RSS feed for the new site may or may not be a full-text feed, and I don't expect to be able to change that (again, they're running a business, and selling ads). If it's not full-text, I hope that's not a deal-breaker for my regular readers, but there's not much I can do.

There will still be open comment threads (with the same limited threat of moderation as here), and the content will be more or less the same as what you've been reading here. I might feel a little more guilty about posting silly fluff pieces about pop music, instead of Deep Thoughts about Science, but I'll get over that, I'm sure.

Anyway, I'll mirror posts from the new site over here for the first week or two, but I'll gradually stop posting new content here, and shift everything to (along with at least ten other pretty cool science blogs, so check it out). Update your bookmarks and blogrolls accordingly. And thanks for reading.

Posted at 7:30 AM | link | follow-ups | 7 comments

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Read More Novels Month

I'm sort of marking time for a couple of days here, for reasons that will hopefully be explained soon. There are some interesting posts in the works, but I want to wait for a few more days. Of course, I need something to fill the time, and indirectly via Drink at Work, I find that Foma* has the answer: National Just Read More Novels Month."

I hereby, unilaterally and with no other authority that which I have granted myself, declare January to be National Just Read More Novels Month or NaJuReMoNoMo, pronounced Nah-JOO-REE-Moe-NO-Moe if you really think you are going to have a chance to say it out loud and not sound like a total dweeb.

If you’re like me, your book purchasing outpaces your book reading by a good margin. The purpose of NaJuReMoNoMo is to get around to reading all the books you buy and put on the nightstand or hide on a shelf and say you’ll get around to reading. January is a great month for this since it’s the middle of the winter, there are no upcoming major holidays to prepare for, and everyone is flush with Borders gift certificates.

Now that's an awareness month I can get behind.

(Check out the rest of the blog while you're over there. It's pretty good.)

Posted at 7:41 AM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

Monday, January 09, 2006

"Insert Allusion Here: Pithy Titles in Blogdom," Coming Soon From Oxford University Press

Scott Eric Kaufman finds himself in the odd position of defending pop-culture studies:

Teaching students how to "read" the shows and films and music they fetishize should be among a teacher's first priority. When anti-intellectual critics complain about university professors teaching courses on contemporary rap I can't help but think "Isn't that the role of the intellectual? Shouldn't we concentrate on the materials our students confront daily?"

While I've taken the occasional potshot at the "Let's apply Judith Butler to Titanic, kids!" classes (as they're described in a comment), I sort of agree with this. Insert the obligatory "Shakespeare/ Dickens/ Canonical Author of Choice was writing popular entertainment!" comment here.

I was struck by this the other day when I got a mass-emailed copy of another Chronicle of Higher Education article decrying the fact that campus culture is just going to hell these days, which included among other proofs that our students are all ignorant the observation that between 1992 and 2002, "the numbers of students who listened to jazz and classical music fell from 37 percent to 22 percent." Since I don't really listen to either of those genres myself, I fail to see how this is a major crisis.

I mean, there's nothing particularly wrong with jazz or classical music, I just don't find it credible that being played by an orchestra or jazz band automatically makes a particular piece of music Art, while everything else is just trash. Yeah, fine, a lot of pop music is crap-- so is a lot of jazz. If you told me that only one in five students listened to any music other than cell phone ring tones, I might be a little concerned, but I doubt very much that's what's going on here.

(The fact that another big chunk of the evidence of student ignorance was drawn from a survey by Lynne Cheney's "American Council of Trustees and Alumni" really didn't enhance its credibility in my eyes...)

Now, granted, not all pop music is worthy of studies, and I'm as likely as anyone else to roll my eyes when I see that someone has published "Lovely Lovely Lumps: The Device of Repetition in 'My Humps,'" but there's no reason why popular subjects should automatically be disqualified from being taken seriously. A lot of fairly lightweight things get badly overanalyzed, but then again, so do some of the "classics." And you can find some interesting stuff even in the discussion of flawed and unsuccessful movies.

Posted at 7:46 AM | link | follow-ups | 9 comments

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