A response to Scaruffi's Millennium Questions

This is an attempt to respond to the 10 Millennium Questions posed by Piero Scaruffi on his last blog post. Be advised, I shall not succeed. But I shall have fun trying.

I took the liberty of creating a title for each question, to better organise them visually. I apologise in advance if by doing so I simplified the concepts to the point of inaccurately depicting them. Please refer to the full text of the question, and use the title merely as a reference.

1. What medium can we use to perceive other universes?

A particle that has no mass, the photon (i.e. light), is the medium that allows us (objects with mass) to perceive the other objects with mass that populate this universe. What kind of medium can help us perceive other universes that are based on different physical laws? A thing that obeys no physical law?
λν = c
E = hν

I suppose the reason we used light, as of now, is due to the fact that:

  1. our eyes have evolved to perceive objects through this medium, which in turn made us create mental frameworks to make sense of such perceptions
  2. thanks to Einstein's work on the photoelectric effect and subsequently Niels Bohr's research on quantum mechanics, Richard Feynman's efforts on quantum electrodynamics and many others, we have a set of theories that allowed to overlook other potential candidates for perceiving objects

We know so little about other forces that seem to interact with us in strange and mysterious ways that any attempt to explain further with our current understanding would be mere speculation.

And so I shall.

Dark Matter and Dark Energy are just placeholder names for seemingly unexplained forms of matter and energy that (apparently) poorly interact with ordinary matter, but they could really be a family of energies or media, which could follow laws that we don't know yet, or laws that don't fit with our universe. It could be that "dark energy" exists in another bubble universe next to our own, and that all we see is the shadow effect of dark energy from that universe being close to us. It could be that such energy transfers through a currently unknown medium from universe to universe, and by moving from one bubble to another it changes its properties.

Or, I could be completely wrong (most likely).

Made Easy Series

A few months ago I stumbled across a rare and pleasant event.

YouTuber potholer54 created a series of videos explaining the history of our universe, the origin of life, the Earth, the scientific method and much more, all with a clarity and intelligence that is as appreciated as rare in these days. A truly remarkable piece of work that I think everybody should see.

The material is released under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY-NC-SA) and anyone is encouraged to use it under those conditions.

The original series was uploaded at a very poor video quality, so after a brief exchange of messages with Peter (AKA potholer54), he uploaded the whole series at 720p on a dedicated YouTube channel, and I offered this space to manage the subtitling process.

You are welcome to participate, we use the Free and Open Source platform Universal Subtitles. If you wish to download the episodes, use one of the many Chrome and Firefox extensions or one of the many sites that exists with that purpose.

Guidelines for transcribers

  • Try to keep the subs under ~70 characters, so the the languages that use more characters for a sentence can keep their subs in two lines in the screen.
  • Partition the subs in semantically sensible places in the sentences (i.e.: in final periods; in commas; before an 'and'
  • Try to keep subs longer than 1.5 seconds (minimum comfortable level used in TV show's subs

Have fun! :D

1 - The History of Our Universe (Part 1)


Wise words from a scientist


Whenever there's something interesting happening, Slashdot is on the piece.

A recent article stated: In the wake of the CRU "climategate" leak, reader Geoffrey.landis sends along a New York Times blog profile of Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech. "Curry — unlike many climate scientists — does not simply dismiss the arguments of 'climate skeptics,' but attempts to engage them in dialogue. She can, as well, be rather pointed in criticizing her colleagues, as in a post on the skeptic site climateaudit where she argues for greater transparency for climate data and calculations (mirrored here). In this post she makes a point that tribalism in science is the main culprit here —- that when scientists 'circle the wagons' to defend against what they perceive to be unfair (and unscientific) attacks, the result can be damaging to the actual science being defended. Is it still possible to conduct a dialogue, or is there no possible common ground?"

The discussion generated, as of December 1, 2009, 795 comments. Normally this would imply two things:

  1. People just repeat the same things over and over, with the typical comment being one or two-lines long (à la digg)
  2. Most of them are SPAM (à la... well, most of the communities out there.)

Luckily, Slashdot is unlike any other community. To prevent abusive comments, a highly sophisticated comment moderation system has been implemented whereby every comment posted (including those posted anonymously) has a starting score which can be incremented or decremented by semi-randomly chosen moderators. When moderating, the moderator chooses a given descriptor (such as "insightful", "funny", "troll") and each descriptor has a positive or negative value associated with it. As such, posts not only are scored, but characterized ("20% insightful, 80% interesting"). The book "Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software" (Esquire Magazine – Best book of the year) by Steven Berlin Johnson cites Slashdot's comment moderation system as an example of emergence and describes its operation in detail.

As a result of this, almost no useless comments are ever posted, and it's fairly easy to navigate though the most relevant ones. One of the most enlightening I found so far in the entire web is the following answer to the question posed in the article (Is it still possible to conduct a dialogue, or is there no possible common ground?):


Being a scientist but not of the climate variety, I've got to say 'No'.
In a lot of cases, if not most, dialogue on the merits of your scientific work is simply impossible with a layperson.

I work with this stuff. Every day. 40 (well more like 50-60) hours a week. It took years of study for me (and everyone else)
just to get to the level where you can properly understand what it is, exactly, that I do. That's what being an expert at something entails.
Now when I get into a dispute with someone, they typically have the same level of expertise. They know more or less everything I do. I know what they're saying, and they usually know what I'm saying.

Now you bring into that situation some layperson with their religious reasons or ideological reasons or crank personality, who wants to dispute the results of my work. So they pore over it, and they simply don't understand it. (And ignorance breeds arrogance more often than humility, as Lincoln said) But they think they do. And then they formulate their criticism. Even if that criticism makes sense (often not), it's typically wrong at the most basic level. And that will practically always be the case - because there's virtually *nothing* in the way of criticism that a beginner would be able to think of that an expert hadn't thought about already. You're just not going to find a professor of physics having made a mistake of forgetting the first law of thermodynamics.

Now I'm happy to defend my science against legitimate, good, criticism. But a scientific debate is *NOT* where anybody should be TEACHING anybody science. What kind of 'debate' is it if every answer amounts to "That's not what that word means, read a damn textbook." It's not the scientists who are being arrogant then. Hell, since when didn't scientists bend over backwards to educate the public? We write textbooks, and popular-scientific accounts. Research gets published in journals for everyone to see, etc. It's not like we're keeping it a big secret - The problem is that some people are simply unwilling to learn, yet arrogant enough to believe they should be entitled to 'debate' with me, and that I should be personally burdened with educating them in the name of 'open debate'!

(Just to pick one out of the climate bag. How often haven't you seen someone say "Yeah but climate change is cyclical!" - What? As if _climate scientists_ didn't know that?! Refuting someone's research with arguments from an introductory textbook)

The fact that these climate-skeptics were prepared to take these e-mails, pore over them for some choice quotes (which didn't even look incriminating to me out of context), blatantly misinterpret them without making any kind of good-faith effort to understand the context or the science behind it, and trumpet it all out as some kind of 'disproval' of global warming (which wouldn't have been the case even if they were right), just goes to show that they're simply not interested in either learning the science, or engaging in a real debate. And it's in itself pseudo-scientific behavior in action: Decide there's a big conspiracy of fraud behind climate change, and go look for evidence to support your theory, and ignore all other explanations.


There is only one more thing I can add: qui habet aures audiendi, audiat.

p.s. This article was crossposted on the TH!NK ABOUT IT - Climate Change blogging competition.


Open challenge to all climate sceptics: bring it on!

My latest post "When science calls: Climategate, a lesson to learn" fired up quite a discussion.

Bring it on, climate sceptics!

I hope you will forgive me: I was amused by the hilarious and highly improbable photoshopped pictures of Al Gore posted by some fellow bloggers, and I could not resist to make one cheap and kitsch image of my own.

The Climatic Research Unit e-mail hacking incident raised a few questions about the validity of the research of some of the most prominent climate scientists. While it seems absurd that a few out-of-context personal messages can suddenly invalidate the long-life work scientists such as Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit, Michael Mann, director of Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Center, and Kevin E. Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, let's assume for a moment that they cannot be trusted, nor can their research institues (I'm taking a long shot in favour of the sceptics' argument here, folks).

In the comments I posted a list of peer-review publications that support the IPCC conclusions and that are not coming from the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth System Science Center, or the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Here's a small excerpt of such publications, in alphabetical order:

  • Åkerman, H. J. & M. Johansson, (2008) Thawing permafrost and thicker active layers in sub-arctic Sweden. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 19, 279-292.
  • Alexander, L. V. & J. M. Arblaster, (2009) Assessing trends in observed and modelled climate extremes over Australia in relation to future projections. International Journal of Climatology 29, 417-435.
  • Allan, R. P. & B. J. Soden, (2008) Atmospheric warming and the amplification of precipitation extremes. Science 321, 1481-1484.
  • Allen, R. J. & S. C. Sherwood, (2008) Warming maximum in the tropical upper troposphere deduced from thermal winds. Nature Geoscience 1, 399-403.
  • Allison, I. et al., (2009) Ice sheet mass balance and sea level. Antarctic Science, 21, 413-426.
  • Andronova, N. & M. E. Schlesinger, (2001) Objective estimation of the probability distribution for climate sensitivity. Journal of Geophysical Research 106, 22605-22612.

Here's the challenge:

take every single peer review publication I posted in the comments and prove that they only used Mann's data to evaluate their results.

If you do, then I'll give you some more. And if you manage even those, I'll admit you have a point.

However, if you find any excuse not to accept the challenge, such as:

  • I don't have time for this
  • I don't know how to read scientific publications
  • I don't know how to get the papers
  • There is no space here in the comments
  • I don't have to because it's obvious they ALL got their data from Mann

or anything as irrelevant as that, then you will have proven that all your arguments are based on superficial analysis which ride on emotion, faith, conspiracy and generally speaking nothing to do with serious science.

Bring it on, I'll be waiting.

p.s. This article was crossposted on the TH!NK ABOUT IT - Climate Change blogging competition.

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