Monthly Archives: August 2021

Music Mondays: Strangeness and Charm

Once more, it’s Music Monday!

Today: particle physics, from Florence and the Machine. Strangeness and Charm is a bonus track from the band’s first album, Lungs.

Strangeness and charm are also two of the six flavours of quarks in the standard model of particle physics; quarks occur tightly bound together to make up the subatomic particles that in turn make up matter in the universe. In the song, the quarks are a metaphor for attraction:

Hydrogen in our veins, it cannot hold itself, our blood is burning
And the pressure in our bodies that echoes up above, it is exploding
And our particles, they’re burning up
Because they yearn for each other
And although we stick together
It seems that we are stranging one another

There’s some artistic license here, as it’s up and down quarks that make up most everyday matter (neutrons and protons); strange and charm quarks are involved in more exotic particles like kaons and D mesons. In particular, a strange quark and a charm quark together make up a particle called a strange D meson, and that particle has a mean lifetime of about 5 x 10-13 seconds. So, those quarks can stick together – just not for very long. But Upness and Down wouldn’t have been a very good song title, I don’t want to make the mustard seed mistake, and I like the metaphor at a more general level.

And now for this week’s I-just-like-it bonus: Amy Millan, from her fabulous 2006 album Honey From the Tombs. This is Baby I:

There’s one week left of summer – or at least, I’ll define it that way, since my fall semester starts after Labour Day. So, I’ll see you next week for one last installment of Music Mondays.

© Stephen Heard  August 30, 2021

Image: Standard model of particle physics, public domain via Wikimedia.org.

Why are scientific frauds so obvious?

This post was sparked by an interesting e-mail exchange with Jeremy Fox, over at Dynamic Ecology. We’d both come across the same announcement of a (very likely) case of research fraud, and had some similar reactions to it. We both knew there was a blog post in it! We agreed to post at the same time, but not to share draft posts. My prediction: we agree on some parts, not on others; but Jeremy’s post is better.

Behavioural economics got a bit of a black eye last week with the revelation that a major study by some very prominent authors is, virtually certainly, based on fraudulent data. What’s really astonishing, if you read that post (and you should) is that the fraud was so stunningly obvious with even a rather shallow dive into the data. Just to pick one thing, a treatment effect in the paper seems to have been generated by taking one variable, and adding to it a random number pulled from a uniform distribution bounded by 0 and 50,000. (Seriously, read the post.) This is such an implausible distribution for a real experimental effect that, once it’s been noticed, it’s about the most flagrant red flag you could imagine.

It’s not just this paper, though. Continue reading

Music Mondays: Lonesome Friends of Science

Once more, it’s Music Monday!

Today: astronomy, but also wildlife biology, and a little different perspective on science from John Prine.

John Prine was an absolutely wonderful singer-songwriter. He wrote so many fantastic songs over a long career, and his last album, Tree of Forgiveness, was among his best. But I don’t quite know what to think of Lonesome Friends of Science: Continue reading

Tricks for reading and correcting proofs

Some parts of a writing project are exhilarating; some parts (at least for me) are grueling; and some are stubbornly perplexing.  One part is important but very, very tedious, and I’m deep in that part now:* checking proofs. Fortunately, there are some tricks to make dealing with proofs easier.

In case you haven’t yet had the pleasure: the “proof” is the all-but-final version of your piece of writing, typeset exactly as it will appear in the journal (or as a published book, or whatever). “Checking” proof means what it sounds like: going through the proof in search of any errors or other problems introduced during the typesetting process – or the (hopefully rare!) errors that have snuck through revision and copy-editing undetected.**

Checking proof is mind-numbingly boring, and it’s hard to do effectively. Continue reading

Music Mondays: Chemistry

Once more, it’s Music Monday!

Today: chemistry, but also neurobiology. But the song is called Chemistry – here’s Rush, from the 1982 album Signals (sorry, no cool video):

Signals transmitted
Message received
Reaction making impact
Invisibly
(…..)
Oh, but how
Do we make contact
With one another?
Electricity, biology?
Seems to me it’s chemistry

Here the lyrics are playing with a double meaning of “chemistry”, I think – the chemistry of neurotransmission (“electricity, biology”) but also the chemistry of interactions between people and between people and music. Continue reading

Remote conferences and flying less

This is a guest post from Emma Despland.  You might remember her from “Covid-19, Mystery Novels, and How Science Works“ and from “The other crisis of 2020”.

I’ve just been invited to participate in a symposium at the 2022 Meeting of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects to be held in San Diego. My first thought is, yes, I’d love to go! This is a great opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, meet researchers whose work I really respect, and do some fun science! But I’m not sure about flying there…

Because I’ve been trying to fly less.  My University has recently put in place a flying less plan, driven by a colleagues in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment in collaboration with the Climate Emergency Committee.  However, this is hard to reconcile with the current culture and established expectations in academia. Continue reading

Music Mondays: Cold Missouri Waters

Welcome to another Music Monday.

Today: climate change; but I’m going to push the “songs about science” envelope a little. There’s a link to today’s release of the new IPCC report – I’ll explain.

Here’s the Canadian folksinger James Keelaghan with Cold Missouri Waters. It tells the story of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire, in Montana, in which 13 firefighters died.

It’s heartbreakingly beautiful, but is it about science? Continue reading

Never trust anyone who doesn’t change their mind

One of the enormous ironies of the Covid-19 pandemic is that what should be an unquestioned triumph for science seem to have actually reduced trust in science for many. In less than a year science provided the tools to end a global pandemic, including an understanding of transmission, sophisticated models of epidemiology, and multiple safe and highly effective vaccines. You’d think that would bring folks for once and for all into the science-is-great-and-I’m-thankful camp – but no. Continue reading

Music Mondays: White Collar Holler

It’s Music Monday again.

Today: statistics! Yes, really.

The late folksinger Stan Rogers had a little tiny revival last year when that bizarre and brief sea-shanty fad took hold, and Barrett’s Privateers got an extra 15 minutes of fame. Continue reading