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April 22, 2014

"Save Lives & Deter Criminals--Help John Lott start the CPRC"

You can support John Lott on Indiegogo now.  His center concludes that "unbiased research shows that citizens protecting themselves with firearms leads to lower crime".

April 16, 2014

"23 Global Warming & Climate Change Stories All Americans Should Read Before Earth Day"

Excellent list

April 15, 2014

"At 90, Freeman Dyson Ponders His Next Challenge"

Very interesting. Three highlights:

Why math?

I think the decisive moment was reading the book “Men of Mathematics” by Eric Temple Bell. Bell was a professor at Caltech, and he wrote this book, which is actually just a wonderful collection of biographies of mathematicians. Historians condemn it as romanticized. But what was wonderful about this book is that he showed the mathematicians as being mostly crooks and people of very mixed kinds of qualities, not at all saints, and many of them quite unscrupulous and not very clever, and still they managed to do great mathematics. So it told a kid that “if they can do it, why can’t you?”

. . . 

You became a professor at Cornell without ever having received a Ph.D. You seem almost proud of that fact.

Oh, yes. I’m very proud of not having a Ph.D. I think the Ph.D. system is an abomination. It was invented as a system for educating German professors in the 19th century, and it works well under those conditions. It’s good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors. But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it’s being a professor or other things, and it’s quite inappropriate for that. It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they’re not at all well-suited. In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they’re qualified, but it really doesn’t mean anything. The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy. So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all.

. . . 

What scientific advance do you see on the horizon that will have a big impact on society?

People are often asking me what’s going to happen next in science that’s important, and of course, the whole point is that if it’s important, it’s something we didn’t expect. All the really important things come as a big surprise. There are many examples of this, of course, dark energy being the latest example. Anything I mention will be something that, obviously, is not a surprise.

April 13, 2014

"Garbage In, Garbage Out"

"Or, How to Lie With Bad Data".

An introduction to selection bias, publication bias, recall bias, survivorship bias, and healthy user bias.

April 11, 2014

"Real-Life Technology Predicted By 'Star Trek'"

Yet another reason why Star Trek--particularly the original--was an amazing show.

April 10, 2014

MACS J0454.1-0330 is a big one

"MACS J0454.1-0300 is 180 trillion times the mass of our sun". Dammmm!

April 08, 2014

"10 Lessons of an MIT Education"

From 1997, but is relevant and useful today. I'd certainly show it to any high school students thinking about attending MIT. Sample:

Lesson One: You can and will work at a desk for seven hours straight, routinely. For several years, I have been teaching 18.30, differential equation, the largest mathematics course at MIT, with more than 300 students. The lectures have been good training in dealing with mass behavior. Every sentence must be perfectly enunciated, preferably twice. Examples on the board must be relevant, if not downright fascinating. Every 15 minutes or so, the lecturer is expected to come up with an interesting aside, joke, historical anecdote, or unusual application of the concept at hand. When a lecturer fails to conform to these inexorable requirements, the students will signify their displeasure by picking by their books and leaving the classroom.

Despite the lecturer's best efforts, however, it becomes more difficult to hold the attention of the students as the term wears on, and they start falling asleep in class under those circumstances should be a source of satisfaction for a teacher, since it confirms that they have been doing their jobs. There students have been up half the night-maybe all night-finishing problem sets and preparing for their midterm exams.

Four courses in science and engineering each term is a heavy workload for anyone; very few students fail to learn, first and foremost, the discipline of intensive and constant work.

Bonus from the same author (on teaching and on being a mathematician): "Ten Lessons I wish I had been Taught".


March 27, 2014

"7 Huge Questions About The Universe That No One Has Answered Yet"

Answering one of these questions would assure a person's fame and fortune

March 24, 2014

Update to "Free college math textbooks"

Free textbooks authored by William G. Trench (previous link) have now moved here

March 21, 2014

"A Star In a Bottle"

Looooong--but hey, the weekend is almost here--New Yorker piece about the long-running, multi-national effort to develop controlled fusion.

The scientific and engineering challenges are enormous, but the political problems sound even bigger.

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