Posts Tagged ‘Theory’

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.

Cool Creature

A markhor with a huge set of horns

A markhor with a huge set of horns

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?

Not quite.

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

Certainly not typical.

Certainly not typical.


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!


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Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=mc^2, is probably his most famous scientific work.  The formula, published in 1905, relates energy of a particle to its mass.  Namely, the formula states that a particle’s energy is equal to its mass times the speed of light (3×10^8 m/s) squared.   Thus, energy can be converted into mass and mass into energy. 

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

According to the messed-up world of particle physics, protons and neutrons comprise smaller particles known as quarks, which in turn are bound by gluons.  These are all different subatomic particles.  But something strange came up when scientists were calculating the masses of these particles.  The mass of gluons is zero and the mass of quarks is 171,200 MeV/c2. This is infinitesimally small.  So where is the rest of the mass, as the mass of protons and neutrons is approximately 1 atomic mass unit (amu), or 1.660538782(83)×10−27 kg.  Where is the rest of the mass?

As Einstein predicted, the rest of this missing mass is balanced out by the energy of the movements and interactions between quarks and gluons. 

This formula may be used to produce atomic weapons (releasing large amounts of energy from a small particle), but it has also given us new insights into the world of physics and our very being. 

Tomorrow, I will post about the Clarksville Cave trip.

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So you are walking down the street, and in an electronics store front window what do you see, but Sarah Palin saying that she does not believe in evolution.  Why are people not sold on this yet?  Well among other things, many people say that “It is just a theory.”  Here is how to rebut that using plain old science-speak.

Many things are “just theories.”  For example: the Theory of relativity, or even more basic, the Theory of gravity, or the heliocentric Theory of the solar system.  When you look in a dictionary, you see two main definitions for theory: “–noun, plural -ries: guess or conjecture” and “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena”  Most people see the first and skip over the second.  Thus, the confusion about what a Theory is in science.  Most people who use this argument against Evolution will only know the first. 

So what is a Theory, really?  Theories come from using the scientific method.  The scientific method is the process which lies at the heart of scientific inquiry.  Scientists will make qualitative and quantitative observations to form hypothesis: a possible explanation for something.  They then make predictions and test them through experiments.  If after many, many tries, the prediction holds true, a Theory is born.  A theory is a set of hypothesis that agree with observations.  Theories are a tested set of hypothesis that give an overall explanation to natural phenomenon.  It is also known as a model. 

Evolution of Different Finch Species

Evolution of Different Finch Species



At this point, most people will ask why evolution, if so perfect, is not a law.  Well, a law is just a summary of observed behaviors.  A Theory is an explanation of why those behaviors take place.  So, evolution (t=Theory) is why birds that eat different foods have different types of beaks (law).

So there you have it folks.  In the battle of Theory vs theory, well there is no winner, but you get the point.

Anyway, does anybody know for sure what plant this is and if it is edible?

What is this???

What is this???


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