Friday, July 19, 2013

"The Story Of Energy" - Physics Reporting At Its Worst!

Again, if this was another obscure, backwoods article, I wouldn't give a hoot. But this comes in with Scientific American tags! I do not know in what capacity this is part of Scientific American, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves to be associated with this type of garbage.

This article was written by a "Clarissa Ai Ling Lee". A search turns info that this is a Ph.D candidate at Duke University, majoring in Literature, and specializing in "..... in science and technology studies and comparative media studies."

There are so many convoluted, metaphysically-injected theme, or outright mistakes, that one just doesn't know where to start. For example:

In our three-dimensional world (even it we count time, that merely allows the curvature or space to be accounted for, and not much else),

Holy cow! Is she that ignorant, and is actually proud to share it with the world? I suppose those time-reversal symmetry (or lack of it) events are of no use. After all, we didn't use time in there just merely to allow for the curvature of space! Unbelievable!

But it gets better...

Cosmic rays, as high-energy charged particles, are sets of naturally occurring particles found through the process of atmospheric nuclei decay.

Now this is utterly wrong. High energy cosmic rays especially, a non-terrestrial. It originates elsewhere in the universe. So it definitely is not a produced of "atmospheric nuclei decay". Even a quick search on Wikipedia can correct that! How lazy can one get?

And if you can stomach it, here a winner when she attempts to describe beta decay:

According to the law of conservation, the disintegration of neutron should produce equal part electrons and equal part protons, but this was found not to be the case. Therefore, Enrico Fermi named it for a particle which is supposed to exhibit zero mass and zero charge (a sort of 'virtual' particle at that time) so as to counteract the 'shortfall' that would have resulted from the proton and electron not being consistently emitted as a 'neutrino.' 
 Did you have to rub your eyes and read that twice?

A beta decay produces EQUAL amount of proton and electron. There was never a problem with charge conservation. It was a problem of spin/momentum conservation!

And oh, she has picked an area we should study:

They want to know how understanding a specific property of strong interaction at the subatomic level can help explain why so much of our universe is constituted of dark matter. 

Bet you didn't know that, did you, that the strong interaction, at the subatomic level, no less, can help explain our dark matter. Yes sir!

The rest of the article, if you have the patience to read it, is a mumbo-jumbo of words with a generous dose of meta-physical flavor (a very popular trick) and enough word salad that it makes it difficult to be falsified and comprehended.

And aren't we glad that this is just Part 1! Can't wait on what other bastardization that is in store next!



Heumpje said...

Oh wow! Judging from the typos you must have had steam coming out of your ears...

Tam B said...

I looked at it. The writing style, before anything else, is sloppy.

There are two main things going on here, and neither is good.

First, I think she is applying semiotic theory to physics. This is a new-ish postmodern fashion. The language and signs of science are just another 'power hierarchy' which can be deconstructed. Physics and physicists are being anthropologized.

It is a really unfortunate part of the humanities that has exploded since the 50s and especially 60s. This girl learned this from her profs. They would argue that you don't really have to know the science all that precisely. You just have to analyze the language and concepts as constructs that convey social ideas and especially social power.

Second (and by sticking this thing on Yahoo, this girl is part of this trend as well), the danger of popularizing science is that it enters woo woo territory. Deepak Chopra has lately glommed onto quantum physics and is attaching religious concepts to it.

One thing I have noticed while blogging about popular science is that this has been going on a lot - mainly with physics and genetics. The real scientific concepts are too complex for people to understand. But they have the internet to discuss it, and they're just educated enough to grasp bits of it. That leads them to extrapolate into metaphor.

I think you'll see more and more hybrid pop mythologies, made up of barely-understood science mixed with equally barely-understood philosophy.

Peter said...

Looks like she made some edits specifically the cosmic ray bit.