Sunday, December 2, 2012

Things to Read, 2nd December

Time for another collection of worthwhile links from elsewhere on the internet.

Science links:
  • Jester at Résonaances has been producing a series of very good informative posts from the frontlines of particle physics: particularly worth reading are this summary of the state of play with the "detection" of dark matter by the Fermi telescope, this explanation on what is and isn't contained in the new Higgs analyses from the LHC, including intriguing information on why some data hasn't yet been updated, and this take on the relevance of the LHCb measurements of Bs meson decay for supersymmetry (which has been the subject of a lot of hype in the popular press).
  • Speaking of the popular press, Time magazine has seen fit to nominate the Higgs boson as one of the candidates for "person of the year" (you can vote for it if you like). As if that weren't ridiculous enough, the accompanying description must surely qualify as one of the worst pieces of science journalism ever: literally every single sentence is wrong. Worth a look — even if you're not a physicist, you might be able to spot the mistakes.
  • I've recently discovered a series of super-slow-motion videos of lightning strikes knocking around on the internet. These are shot at several thousand frames per second, and really show the details of how the charge leaders meander towards the ground before the main secondary stroke follows. Even more interesting are some videos showing lightning travelling upwards, from ground to cloud. Here's a video:

    and here's a popular-level description of the phenomenon.
  • Another particularly cool video I saw some time ago was this one, showing the synchronisation of 32 metronomes placed on a flexible platform:

Other links:
  • This one is part science, part history and part politics. Have you ever wondered what the connection is between prehistoric plankton from the Cretaceous era, and the distribution of votes for Obama? Of course you haven't, but now you can find out anyway. 
  • On a more serious note: one of the striking things about the US election was how completely wrong Republicans and the right-wing were in their predictions of the outcome. Especially so since there were so many people who were able, by simple analysis of the available facts, to arrive at predictions that were much better (Nate Silver, for one). There is lots to be said about this, I suppose. One striking observation, which maybe hasn't been made enough of, is the hope that people realise that if the right-wing media can spout such rubbish (not to say lies) about the polls, perhaps the rest of what they say is rubbish too
  • And following on from that, an interesting article from someone on the right of American politics: The Revenge of the Reality-Based Community.
  • It's not just in the US that facts have a well-known anti-right-wing bias of course. And it's not just US right-wing politicians who dislike them. When economist Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research appeared before the UK parliament and explained some fairly elementary economics that happens to contradict the ideology of the Conservative Party, he received thinly veiled threats from MP Jesse Norman (watch; transcript). This drives other economists to express their equally thinly veiled contempt. Norman responds, and Wren-Lewis dismisses him again.
  • And finally, something more cheery: some time ago I posted the story about the dog who climbed a mountain with me in the Himalayas. I thought that dog was pretty awesome, but then I saw this dog, who seems to have done an even harder climb!

    (She does seem to have a protective harness though, which probably gives her an unfair advantage ...)

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