Blog Archives

Timid medical research

Cancer research is sometimes criticized for being timid. Drug companies run enormous trials looking for small improvements. Critics say they should run smaller trials and more of them. Which side is correct depends on what’s out there waiting to be

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Some fields produce more false results than others

John Ioannidis stirred up a healthy debate when he published Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. Unfortunately, most of the discussion has been over whether the word “most” is correct, i.e. whether the proportion of false results is more

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Techniques, discoveries, and ideas

“Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries, and new ideas, probably in that order.” — Sidney Brenner I’m not sure whether I agree with Brenner’s quote, but I find it interesting. You could argue that techniques are most

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Academic freedom

This tweet from Luis Pedro Coelho says so much in 140 characters: “Oh, the intellectual freedom of academia” he thought while filling out a time sheet which checks that he does not work on non-grant science.

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Separating art and science

From The Philosophical Breakfast Club When Coleridge, the most famous poet of the day, wrote his tract on scientific method in 1817 it was not considered an oddity; by 1833, the time of the third meeting of the British Association

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Information theory misnamed

Interesting perspective on information theory: To me, the subject of “information theory” is badly named. That discipline is devoted to finding ideal compression schemes for messages to be sent quickly and accurately across a noisy channel. It deliberately does not

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NYT Book of Physics and Astronomy

I’ve enjoyed reading The New York Times Book of Physics and Astronomy, a collection of 129 articles written between 1888 and 2012. Its been much more interesting than its mathematical predecessor. I’m not objective — I have more to learn

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Just because we can

From J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project: When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is

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The Drug Book

There’s a new book out in the series that began with The Math Book. The latest in the series is The Drug Book: From Arsenic to Xanax, 250 Milestones in the History of Drugs. Like all the books in the

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Continuous quantum

David Tong argues that quantum mechanics is ultimately continuous, not discrete. In other words, integers are not inputs of the theory, as Bohr thought. They are outputs. The integers are an example of what physicists call an emergent quantity. In

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Pure math and physics

From Paul Dirac, 1938: Pure mathematics and physics are becoming ever more closely connected, though their methods remain different. One may describe the situation by saying that the mathematician plays a game in which he himself invents the rules while

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Asteroids can have moons

This afternoon my postman delivered a review copy of The Space Book by Jim Bell. This is the latest book in a series that includes Cliff Pickover’s math, physics, and medical books. Like the other books in the series, The

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Playful and purposeful, pure and applied

From Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera: … applied science, purposeful and determined, and pure science, playful and freely curious, continuously support and stimulate each other. The great nation of the future will be the one which protects the

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Posted in Creativity, Science

How to double science research

Scientists spend 40% of their time chasing grants according to some estimates. Suppose they spend 20% of their time doing something else, such as teaching. That means they spend no more than 40% of their time doing research. If universities

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How mathematicians see physics

From the preface to Physics for Mathematicians: In addition to presenting the advanced physics, which mathematicians find so easy, I also want to explore the workings of elementary physics, and mysterious maneuvers — which physicists seem to find so natural

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