Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Buzzword Song!

One of my favorite talks at last week's TAM2012 was the Friday keynote speech by Dr. Carol Tavris.  Among other things, she drew attention to how the word "Neuro" is being widely mis-used in the sciences these days. That got me thinking of all the other buzzwords people use (and too often mis-use) in science, media and marketing these days -- words like "quantum" and "nano" and "organic."  And that, of course, led to a song. 

As you will quickly note, this is not an original tune, but, with apologies to Uncle Walt and to Julie Andrews, I give you, "The Buzzword Song."

Monday, July 23, 2012

TAM 2012 - a Few Memorable Quotes

Last year, following my first TAM experience, I was excited to quickly write a blog post detailing the many memorable moments that I knew would stay with me for a long time. That post, my TAM Top 10 List, is far and away my greatest success as a blogger (in terms of readership)

This year, although many of the things that made 2011 memorable for me were still in place (particularly in that I got to share the experience again with my sons James and Ryan), I don’t find myself quite as fired up and full of memories.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it - I certainly did. I think it’s more that, after hearing about TAM for several years, going to that first one was something I’ll never forget. Sure, the speaker lineup this year had less star power, but it was still solid. The evenings were fun, the parties were great, we attended some podcast tapings that were unique - but I guess it’s true what they say: you never forget your first time (or is it "your first TAM"?)

So, rather than write up a list of top moments, I thought I’d just share a few of what I consider to be the top quotes from the conference. So, in no particular order, here are some of the insightful, funny and memorable quotes from TAM2012:

Ben Radford: “Some say the world will end in horrible ways, you know disembowelings, Pauly Shore movies, you know.”

Jamy Ian Swiss: “Atheism is skepticism directed at one extraordinary claim”.

Dierdre Barrett: “We are raising free range chickens to feed to couch potato people.”

Tim Farley: Stop wasting so much of your time online. Do something online that will actually make a difference.

Lawrence Krauss: “You are far more insignificant that you can possibly imagine. We are just some cosmic pollution in a universe of dark matter.”

Penn Jillette: “I have been attacked more for not being a liberal than being an atheist.”

Carrie Poppy: “Truth without compassion makes you right, but makes you lonely.”

Jennifer Michael Hecht: “The meat wrote Paradise Lost, ...the meat made the iPad.”

The Amazing Randi: “Geller’s a charming guy. A snake is charming too."

Jamy Ian Swiss: “In Israel, magicians are born with a bent spoon in their mouths.”

Barbara Drescher: “Climate change deniers will cause a ruckus at TAM15, to be held at the South Point Casino and Seaport.”

And my personal favorite:

Dr. Steven Novella: “Science works, bitches!”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Of Cathedrals and SuperColliders - Thank you Dr. Krauss!

As someone who really loves science and the scientific method, I suffer from a very serious problem. I am not, in even the slightest sense, scientifically literate. As much as I love reading about scientific advances and improvements, when I go to talk about them later, the specifics I just read will have already flown from my mind. Instead, I end up stumbling to remember words and concepts that, moments earlier, seemed to enlighten my entire worldview.

Contrast that with the fact that I can remember, at a moment's notice, the words and chords to songs I learned on the guitar or sang along with on the radio forty years ago with unerring precision, and you can see pretty much how my mind is wired. I’m a words and music kind of guy; math and science, not so much.

I often find myself wishing that each scientific breakthrough came with a set of ‘talking points’ aimed at people like me – people who want to understand the basics of what is being discussed and why it's important, but who don’t have the training or expertise to sort through the actual science.

Which is why an article as brilliantly written as this one by Lawrence Krauss on the Higgs “particle” discovery, it makes me feel very happy. Dr. Krauss is, of course, appropriately renowned for his brilliance, but here he manages to make a bafflingly complex scientific principle understandable to the common man or woman.

I mean, talk about ‘talking points': here is his summation of why the Higgs discovery is important:

·   First, it caps one of the most remarkable intellectual adventures in human history — one that anyone interested in the progress of knowledge should at least be aware of.
·   Second, it makes even more remarkable the precarious accident that allowed our existence to form from nothing — further proof that the universe of our senses is just the tip of a vast, largely hidden cosmic iceberg.
·   And finally, the effort to uncover this tiny particle represents the very best of what the process of science can offer to modern civilization. 
That’s brilliant, simple, almost poetic.  Krauss goes on to explain the physics behind the discovery in terms that are accessible to anyone with a high school degree who wants to try to grasp what he’s saying. And he likens the CERN supercollider to the great Cathedrals of Europe. Both are “works of incomparable grandeur that celebrate the beauty of being alive.”

He finishes with the following bit of inspired analogy:
 …last week’s discovery will change our view of ourselves and our place in the universe. Surely that is the hallmark of great music, great literature, great art ...and great science.
Amen to that, Brother Krauss!