Measured Against Reality

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why I hate science reporting

I've only been reading Digg for about a minute, and already I've seen two stupid science stories on the front page. The first is about time travel:

Could all our blunders be reversed, our failings eliminated? Perhaps so, if an Israeli scientist's research is to be believed. With the help of Prof. Amos Ori, we might just be able to go back and stop the screw-ups from happening in the first place.


No, they can't, because it doesn't work that way. Here's why (from later in the same damn article):

But don't pack your bags and get ready to go dinosaur-hunting yet. "We, however," he cautions, "could not return to previous ages because our predecessors did not create this infrastructure for us."


If time travel is ever invented it will only be able to take you back to the point where it was initially invented, and I don't think it could be used to go appreciably into the future (the accounts I've heard all require time dilation in order to move into the future. How exactly it works is irrelevant since it's impossible anyway).

The other is about the Casimir effect (if you know what it is, you're probably already groaning).

The article's headline is "Levitation breakthrough proposed". The last paragraph of the article says:

The scientists say there is no likelihood in the foreseeable future of humans being able to levitate. "At the moment, in practice it is only going to be possible for micro-objects with the current technology, since this quantum force is small and acts only at short ranges," said Prof Leonhardt. "For now, human levitation remains the subject of cartoons, fairytales and tales of the paranormal."


I hate editors. Why do they put these ridiculous titles and lead-ins that are flatly contradicted later in the article? Why can't they report science breakthroughs (or theoretical developments) for what they are, and not a pile of sci-fi garbage that they're not? It boils my blood because this is science that anyone who's taken "Intro to Modern Physics" wouldn't get wrong, you don't need a PhD to see that it's crap.

And it's not like the actual science is boring. The Casimir effect article is talking about negative refractive index materials being used to eliminate the quantum attraction between two nanomachines. Why isn't that exciting enough? Why do they need to add levitation? (I find nothing redeeming about the time travel one, since he just proposed a new technical mechanism for something that's beyond our technology but we already knew was plausible. It's not news.)

All of this reminds me about an article where someone claimed to have "solved" the "Twin Paradox" (this was months, probably a full year ago, I have no chance of finding the offending article). My head nearly exploded, because there's nothing to solve. It's only a paradox if you're not thinking about it right, and again, any intro physics class should explain why it's not a paradox (or any book that contains any real treatment of relativity).

It's just so aggravating to see science distorted into something it's not, when what it actually is is so fantastic to begin with.

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2 Comments:

  • The object of most science articles is to appeal to the casual observer who has very little knowledge or understanding of the actual scientific properties that are glanced over in these articles.

    If you want to learn all about the stuff you can get a text book and learn the math. Most people want know what it could mean for everyday life. Science is most interesting when it can make things from our imaginations a reality.

    If you love the math and the principles and deeply understanding these matters, thats great. Most people don't have the interest, patience and sometimes the capacity to learn about those things.

    Why you should like these articles is they help science gain popularity and funding and inspire more people to learn of the concepts and mathematics more deeply.

    What was it that made you want to learn about the things you discussed?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:36 AM, August 06, 2007  

  • Anonymous, I know that's the goal of the science article, and I think it's a very laudable goal, but I also think that it can be accomplished without distorting the science or making misleading claims in lead-ins and titles and correcting them at the end of the article.

    I disagree that science is most interesting when it's making our imaginations come to life. I think that science is most interesting when it does what it does: discovering the way the world works. Whether it's mundane or fantastic doesn't matter, it's still beautiful.

    That's why I learn about the things I discussed, to understand the world we live in.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:41 AM, August 06, 2007  

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