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Some Gems

I am away this week on a beam time run — here are some masterpieces I’ve come across while trying to remain sane:

A theory is something nobody believes, except the person who made it. An experiment is something everybody believes, except the person who made it.

– Albert Einstein

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Too Close to Home

I haven’t been blogging much recently because I just moved from Chicago to Boston. Also, I don’t currently have access to internet in my new apartment. As always, there’s an XKCD comic to capture this scenario:


Hopefully, I’ll be back and posting more often soon!

Trite but True

Correlation does not imply causation…


Field Biologists

Perhaps my sense of humor is juvenile, but this makes me want to tag along with a biologist really bad…


Approximate Humor

Approximations can be powerful, but we should be careful not to generalize too much…


A Glimpse into the Renormalization Group

Leo Kadanoff passed away recently, and his ideas have had far-reaching consequences in many areas of physics. He took the fist important step of recognizing the role of “scale transformations”, which was embodied in his idea of “block spins“, at critical points. This visionary idea soon led to Wilson’s development of the renormalization group (RG).

On a personal level, I have found that understanding the concepts behind the renormalization group to be quite challenging. Many of the treatments are from a quantum field theoretical perspective, which to an experimentalist like me, present their own difficulties. I therefore found the short introductory article by Maris and Kadanoff entitled Teaching the Renormalization Group to be extremely valuable. It conveys (in 6 pages!) the main ideas behind the RG approach to phase transitions and critical phenomena.

Of course, the article only leaves the reader wanting more, as it is brief and to the point. However, I see this as a positive! It spurs curiosity. I see myself coming back to this article repeatedly even after having surmounted more difficult texts on the topic.

Merchants of Doubt

I watched a documentary yesterday entitled Merchants of Doubt, which is based on a non-fictional book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. It centers around public relations (PR) specialists who play “experts” on TV, radio and other forms of media. These PR specialists are hired by corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil, Philip Morris, etc.) to undermine scientific consensus in the public domain in a field of study where they have no formal expertise.

For instance, Philip Morris would hire many of these specialists to appear on TV as “authorities” to convince the public that there was no scientific consensus regarding the health effects of tobacco. When pitted against actual scientific experts on TV, these “authorities” are often aggressive and argumentative, thereby seeming to subvert the scientist’s message in the eyes of the public.

One of the most startling revelations from this documentary (at least to me), was the role played by two prominent physicists, Fred Singer and Frederick Seitz. Both physicists have aided in legitimizing the claims against anthropogenic climate change. Strangely, both figures had also played a role “in helping the tobacco industry produce uncertainty concerning the health impacts of smoking”. According to Wikipedia, Singer has also publicly questioned “the link between UV-B and melanoma rates, and that between CFCs and stratospheric ozone loss”.

Clearly, for these two physicists, there is a political element to these decisions, which cannot be based on sound scientific reasoning. It is deeply disturbing for me to know that the building in which I have worked for the previous few years, the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory, while an historic research facility, is named after a man who has purposefully eroded the public’s trust in the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change (paywall).