Thursday, November 29, 2007

Krauss Explains His Remarks

There are two lessons here:

1. Don't read New Scientist (I don't)
2. Physicists should pay attention to what they say before saying it.

I highlighted the terrific article by Helen Quinn in Physics Today several months ago. In it, she plea for us to pay attention to the words and phrases we use, because such things can be easily misconstrued by the media and the general public. I think Lawrence Krauss should have paid attention to this relevant essay before he sat down for the interview with any New Scientist reporter.

This, of course, came about because Krauss gave an interview that caused even experts in cosmology to scratch their heads. He made headlines when the said to the effect that we somehow are hastening the demise of the universe simply by observing dark energy, and equating it to an aspect of quantum mechanics in how an observer affects a system simply by observing it. When this came out, of course all the news media picked it up.

You'll notice that I did not report it here at all, till now. Oh, I definitely read it the day it came out, but way in the beginning, I noticed that it came out of New Scientist (that has the propensity to reach for sensationalism more than accuracy), and that the statement itself is nonsense. I half-heartedly was hoping that Krauss was pulling an Alan Sokal with New Scientist. Alas, I won't be getting such pleasures.

Krauss has now clarified what he wanted to say, and what he meant. It certainly isn't what was written in New Scientist, I can tell you that.

"I was too glib," the scientist said in a phone interview. "I had just completed this paper about a subject that I found so fascinating, and I was excited to talk to another scientist about it. But I was running off to Nashville from California. And I didn't spend enough time explaining myself."
But Krauss admitted that he had gotten caught up in his excitement about quantum mechanics and should have chosen his words more carefully. What he meant, he said, is that by observing dark energy, scientists might have pinpointed more accurately where the universe is in its evolution - and that it might be less stable than we thought.

Let this be a lesson to every scientist. I myself have learned such a lesson a while back, although on a significantly lesser scale than what Krauss is going through. The public that you're talking to does not understand science, and certainly cannot put into context the words that you are using. They will take it at face value, and you'd better have an extra pair of ears listening to what you are saying before you let it through.


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