Science News in Brief
Scientists have found a gene which can be activated to cure colour blindness. The scientists performed the gene therapy on colour blind monkeys and were able to bring red and green back into their vision.
Colour Blind: There are several forms of colour blindness. The most common form is inherited red/green colour blindness, caused by a mutation on the X chromosome.
The European Planck telescope has beamed back its first images of space. It is currently surveying for traces of radiation that was dispersed shortly after the Big Bang.
Oh Say Do You See: Planck always points away from the Sun and rotates once per minute. As it rotates, it gathers precise thermal readings from an area of the universe. These strips are then pieced together.
A tufted puffin was sighted at the Oare Marshes near Faversham, England. Birdwatchers are now migrating there to get a look at this rare Pacific seabird.
For the Non-Birders: I know I get many birders coming through here, so I know they can explain this better than I, but…a lifer is the first ever time that a birder sees a species of bird.
The Markhor or Capra falconeri is a goat-antelope found in the Karakoram region of the Himalaya. Himalayas. They can be found as high as 3,500 meters above sea level. Males will fight terribly on the high mountain crags by wrestling with their horns until one falls. They can weigh up to 200 lbs. Unfortunately, they are classified as being endangered in the wild.
Feature Story: Scientific Certainty…
…or lack thereof. There are some scientific facts which we hold to be absolutely immutable. In fact, they are often called scientific laws. For example: the Law of Gravity, the Heisenberg Uncertainty, the Laws of Thermodynamics, the Theory of Evolution. That’s how it is. End of story. No ifs ands or buts. It was proved using the Scientific Method, remember? You know, good ol’ observe, hypothesize, experiment, conclude, and repeat. Right?
I know, I know. We learned all of that in high school, and most of it is dead wrong.
Let’s pretend we are performing an experiment. We see emission lines of the hydrogen atom and make a hypothesis that these refer to energy levels of electrons as they move around the atom. After some experimentation, our hypothesis seems to hold up. The calculations match up with our original beliefs, so we publish a paper regarding our conclusions and everybody thinks that this is the way atoms are oriented: a positive core with negative electrons orbiting the center in fixed orbits like the solar system. This is a valid conclusion based on our data, but unfortunately, ultimately incorrect (sorry Bohr). So what went wrong?
Time for a little logic lesson. Suppose a natural phenomenon P is observed and based on this, you make hypothesis H which you will use to predict another phenomenon (Q) (H->Q). You perform experiments after this. If “not Q” is observed then your hypothesis H is disproved -(H->Q)=(-Q->-H). That is the law of contraposition in logic-speak. However, if Q is actually observed, one cannot be truly sure if H is the correct explanation. This is not a logical rule. For example, what if we missed the additional condition K which was present at both our observation and experimentation states? This is considered a limitation of applicability. Or, there could be a hypothesis Y which also explains P and Q. So, in reality, there is nothing that is scientifically proven. All of the laws and rules we learned are simply well tested hypotheses which are robust (are true under a wide variety of assumptions).
The Cosmic Perspective
Now that I just completely blew your minds, I am going to stress why this should be taught more often. We were all taught that these rules and laws in middle/high school. As a result, we only see the world through these laws. Well, most of us anyway. A few rebels saw past the visors and pioneered brilliant new research. Take Einstein, Heisenberg, Darwin, Galileo, or almost any scientist who made a quantum leap and made a ground breaking new discovery. Their ideas will have been mocked, ridiculed, and decried in their time and later found to be well-tested (I can’t use true, now can I?).
We are teaching youngsters never to question what they are told. Just imagine medieval scholars: “What’s that Jimmyus of Axelbrook? You think that certain pairs of physical properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. Well, that’s just dumb. We all know that they can be measured. I can measure how fast this ball is going and where it is whenever I want!” Perhaps that is a bit transparent for this day in age, but it is essentially still ongoing. Should kids learn these laws and theories. Most definitely. These ideas are well tested and help us understand many natural phenomena under certain conditions. That being said, we need to teach students, not indoctrinate them. Science is not a fixed field of study, and that is what makes it so fun and interesting. New advances which turn the current ideas on their heads happen almost daily on some level. We don’t need to teach them to think out of the box. There is no box!