Cargo Cult Sciences

I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

This is a post I feel I almost need to repeat every month or more, just so people start paying attention.

The opening comment there comes from a speech given by Richard Feynman (the eccentric physicist and Nobel Laureate) in 1974 to the students of Caltech.  He attacked what he called “Caro Cult Sciences,” those things that seems scientific but lack the pillars of the scientific methods.

Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by this pseudoscience.

So give the article a read, and you’ll be pleasantly delighted, you can also find this story in Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman.  He’s definitely an icon of the last century.

Irreducible Simplicity

The “theory” of irreducible complexity is that there exists biological features, systems, or organisms in nature that are too complex to be traced back through biological evolution. The claim is that anything that is irreducibly complex will shatter the theory of evolution. This fact is true, and was originally admitted by Charles Darwin:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.

And fast-forwarding to the present, we still do not see any such examples in nature.

Creationists like to point to the eye (which can be found in simpler and more complex forms in nature then humans), the dragonfly wing (which again can be seen in simpler and more complex forms), the bacterial flagellum (of which they’ve identified many individual sub-components that could still exist without the entire structure), and likely many more in the future. The point is that every example brought up has been refuted thus far.

Micheal Behe who developed the idea of IC in the bacterial flagellum said in the Pennsylvania 2005 court case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that he hadn’t read most of the fifty-eight peer-reviewed articles, nine books, and several textbook chapters that demonstrated that evolution could explain the complexity of the human immune system. If there were ever the ability to revoke a person’s PhD, I think it is warranted in Dr. Behe’s case. His glaring ignorance of the scientific method is appalling for someone who calls himself a scientist.

This all leads me to my idea of a new “theory”: Irreducible Simplicity. I’ll phrase it as follows:

Any idea, theory, or concept that is irreducibly simple and leaves no room for further investigation, thought, or a general advancement of human knowledge is utter rubbish.

I can further illustrate this through a few examples.

  1. In the late 1800s physicists were under the idea that they understood nearly everything. Had they held this belief more firmly all modern physics (quantum mechanics, photonics, relativity, etc.) would not have been developed.
  2. The theory of ID suggests that all of creation came about through an intelligent designer. Unfortunately it fails to explain anything about the designer, but merely that he/she/it was always there.

Any IS theory cannot be classified as science. Following any IS theory is dangerous as it leads the individual to easy and supposedly definite and final answers and truths. Science doesn’t provide any of these, but merely gives our best guess thus far. Surely this seems more reasonable than the easy solution of “oh because God said so.”

If I wanted to be really critical (and I see no reason not to be) I would suggest that all religions fall into the IS category. It’s just too easy to claim one (or multiple yet contradictory) holy book(s) hold all the answers to life, the universe, and everything. As Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) said:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

This post is my first that has been brought about through the God Delusion, and seeing as I’m only mid-way through chapter four, there will likely be more.

Heat Wave

It’s been over 30C here for the last few days, and looks to stay that way for another 5 or more (does this demonstrate global warming at all?). My apartment doesn’t really get below the mid 20s at night, which makes it really uncomfortable to try to sleep. I’d say the plus is I get more time to read The God Delusion, but I’m so hot and tired that I can barely concentrate on the book.

Air-conditioning in my new condo will be nice (although conscience wise I’ll only use it in times like this when I need it to sleep), but I have no clue when that will be ready.

As for now I’ll try a cold shower and laying myself down for a few hours until morning.

Global warming is still real

Hey remember that film Al Gore made a year ago? Well I actually never saw it, but I have looked into actual studies and the science (of which there isn’t as much discord as some may have you believe). The key point to remember is that global warming is happening, and its most likely our own damn fault.

So what should we do? Not driving Hummers (or any large vehicle for that matter), or just driving less in general is a good start. Turning lights, computers, and electronic devices off when not in use helps too. Also start promoting these ideas to family, coworkers, and friends.

No one is really expected to make mad dramatic shifts in their lifestyle (like giving up all forms of non-recyclable products), but many minor shifts made by many people can quickly add up.

The environment does matter, so lets do something about it.

The Scientific Method

There’s the question that’s been put out there in the past:

If there was one thing that you could pass onto a new civilization that knew nothing about the world, universe or anything, what would you (with all of 21st century knowledge at your disposal) pass along?

One famous scientist (who I can’t remember at the moment for the life of me) answered the idea of the atom, that all matter is made up of tiny particles (and so on and so forth).

My answer would be the idea of conducting the scientific method.  Basically that you can discover things most effectively by testing, creating a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis to see if it holds for all situations, and passing knowledge onto all peers to be reviewed and critically examined.

I see modern day society and think that so many people lack these basic critical thinking skills that if that could have been developed and imparted in the first steps of society a lot of modern grief could have been avoided.

But I won’t get off on a tirade.  How would you answer the question?

What is THz?

Terahertz radiation is electromagnetic radiation of frequencies between 10 GHz and 30 Thz (in the lab). THz = 1012 Hz This puts it in the far-infrared part of the spectrum with wavelengths (in case you can’t do the math) on the order of 100 microns.

This part of the spectrum is interesting because it lies in what’s known as the “THz gap” between traditional photonics and microwave technologies. Traditional electronics cannot switch fast enough to generate these pulses, and commercial lasers cannot generate that low of frequency of waves.

So how do we generate these waves? This is where ultrafast optics comes in. Using a technique called “modelocking” a standing wave is setup in a laser cavity and waves constructively interfere to create pulses with lengths on the order of femtoseconds (10-15 s). These pulses can then be amplified in a multi-pass system and set into a specific repetition rate (1080 Hz in my lab). Each ~100 fs pulse contains approximately 1/2 mJ. These pulses are then of high enough intensity to cause nonlinear effects in most materials. We now enter nonlinear optics land. When this light is incident on specific nonlinear crystals (in our case Zinc Telluride), a second order nonlinear effect called optical rectification occurs. This effect essentially creates a DC bias inside the crystal and current essentially flows through the crystal itself. This accelerating currents creates electromagnetic radiation in the THz regime.

THz pulses are interesting to study due to their absorption properties. Water is the primary absorber of these wavelengths, while plastics, papers, and fabrics have much lower absorption amounts. This allows for the application of techniques for THz imaging. For instance a THz wave can scan through clothes but gets absorbed by water or reflected by metal. This allows for the potential use of security scanning where police can essentially ‘see’ through a person’s clothes and determine if there are any weapons on them. The resolution is better than 1 mm, which is good enough to see most weapons. The following image shows a THz imaging scan:

THz imaging

There are several other ways to generate THz radiation (which I am presently working on a few), as well as many more applications (inlcuding THz-TDS). It is an exciting field that I am enjoying as I learn more about it.