Sunday, September 21, 2014

Popular Science: A Quick Guide

If you are a science buff or a scientist or somebody with a passion for science, you will say a resounding "yes" for that question. After all, most of what we are right now is because of science and the technology brought up by the scientific enterprise. Most of the things you use and apply in the real world is tied to a scientific principle or two.

But is Popular Science important in our everyday life? When I say "everyday life", that means from the time you wake up till the time you sleep. That is an interesting question, considering that most of the earth's inhabitants are not scientifically literate. In western nations, there is a trend in the rising "decline" of science literacy among its populace. So is the rest of the world. Maybe in terms of the number of scientists and engineers, the west is lagging behind Asia, but that is not what's important here. What is important is that we have a possible problem here and that is the problem with the world becoming too scientifically illiterate.

What is Science literacy? What is Popular science? We need to know these terminologies first before we can actually tackle the importance Popular science gives us in reshaping peoples views about science and technology and its various principles.

First we have the word "literacy:.
*The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the "ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society".

And now we have Scientific Literacy:
** According to the United States National Center for Education Statistics, "scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity". A scientifically literate person is defined as one who has the capacity to:

- understand experiment and reasoning as well as basic scientific facts and their meaning
- ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences
- describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena
- read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions
- identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed
- evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it
- pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately

You do not need to be a very smart person to be scientifically literate. In fact, most of the information that you learned in Science classes during your youth are still very valuable even a decade or two after your education. And more information is being presented and showed to us through Popular Science.

Popular Science is intended for the general audience. It is science, without the complexity and being shown to the public as simply as it can. As Wikipedia states:

Popular science is a bridge between scientific literature as a professional medium of scientific research, and the realms of popular political and cultural discourse. The goal of the genre is often to capture the methods and accuracy of science, while making the language more accessible.

I think the role of popular science in today's world is to make sure that scientific news, discoveries, and breakthroughs will be shown, explained, and appreciated by the masses. By using all the different mediums possible, we can spread awareness of scientific literacy to the general public. This is a very good tool, in which we can actually make an impact to people.

Even though there is a lukewarm reception to science themed programs on the air and on cyberspace, we, who are responsible Scientifically literate citizens, has a mission, to spread awareness and appreciation of science and technology, appreciate the beauty of this planet and of the cosmos as a whole.

Well Known English Popularizers of Science:

***In alphabetical order by last name:

John Acorn, naturalist and broadcaster known as the "Nature Nut"
Amir Aczel, author and mathematician
Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist and broadcaster
Hashem AL-ghaili, biotechnologist
Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical physicist, author and science communicator
Alan Alda, actor
Michael Allaby, writes on science, ecology and weather

Elise Andrew, British blogger, founder and maintainer of the Facebook page "I Fucking Love Science"

Natalie Angier, science journalist and writer
Isaac Asimov, biochemist, science fiction writer and author
Peter Atkins, physical chemist and author
David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster


Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, & author
Johnny Ball, broadcaster and math popularizer
John D. Barrow, mathematician, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist; author of numerous journal articles, and books for general readers
Marcia Bartusiak, science journalist and author
David Bellamy, broadcaster, author, and botanist
Bob Berman, astronomer
Adrian Berry, science author and columnist
Howard Bloom, author
David Bodanis, author
Liz Bonnin, biochemist and TV presenter
Daniel J. Boorstin, author and Librarian of Congress
Sir David Brewster, Scottish scientist
John Brockman, specializing authorship in scientific literature
Jacob Bronowski, mathematician, biologist, historian of science, author and pioneering science broadcaster
Bill Bryson, author
Rob Buckman, doctor of medicine, broadcaster, columnist, author
James Burke, broadcaster, television producer, and author; best known for the science historian BBC TV series Connections
Nigel Calder, broadcaster and journalist
Fritjof Capra, physicist and author
Sean Carroll, cosmologist, blogger, and author
Rachel Carson, marine biologist, conservationist, author
Marcus Chown, author and science journalist
Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author, inventor, and futurist
Brian Clegg, author
Jack Cohen, reproductive biologist
Heather Couper, astronomer, broadcaster and author
Brian Cox, broadcaster, musician and physicist
Francis Crick, molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist; joint discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule
Paul Davies, physicist, author and broadcaster
Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author
Michael DeBakey, world-renowned cardiac surgeon, innovator, and author
Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist and author
Alexander Dewdney, mathematician, computer scientist and philosopher
Jared Diamond, evolutionary biologist, physiologist and geographer
Robin Dunbar, anthropology; evolutionary psychology, culture and language; and specialist in primate behaviour
Marcus Du Sautoy, author, broadcaster, Professor of Mathematics
David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author
Sir Arthur Eddington, astrophysicist
Gerald Edelman, from the immune system, analogously, to brain & mind
Loren Eiseley, Professor of Anthropology and History of Science
Peter Fairley, journalist and broadcaster
Michael Faraday, scientist and lecturer
Kenneth Feder, archaeologist, skeptic, lecturer, and author
Timothy Ferris, science writer and best-selling author of twelve books
Richard Feynman, physicist and author
Brian J. Ford, biologist, lecturer and author
Morgan Freeman, actor, host of popular science series Through the Wormhole
George Gamow, physicist, cosmologist and author
Martin Gardner, mathematician, author, skeptic & polymath extraordinaire
Atul Gawande, surgeon and author
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author
James Gleick, author and journalist
Ben Goldacre, medical doctor, psychiatrist and author
Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science historian; author of numerous essays, articles, and books
Steve Grand, computer scientist and roboticist


Brian Greene, physicist
Susan Greenfield, brain physiologist, writer and broadcaster
Richard Gregory, neuropsychologist, author and editor of several books
John Gribbin, astronomer and author
Heinz Haber, physicist and author
Thomas Hager, author and science journalist
J. B. S. Haldane, biologist and author
Bas Haring, philosopher and author
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author
Lucy Hawking, journalist and daughter of Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and author
Don Herbert, a.k.a. Mr. Wizard, broadcaster
Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist and essayist
Roald Hoffmann, chemist
Douglas Hofstadter, computer scientist, cognitive scientist and author
Lancelot Hogben, experimental zoologist and medical statistician, with many popularising books on science, mathematics and language
Julian Huxley, eminent scientist, author, and first Director of UNESCO
Jamie Hyneman, special effects artist and TV personality (MythBusters)
Jay Ingram, broadcaster and author (Daily Planet)
Steve Irwin, wildlife expert and conservationist; TV personality of the worldwide-fame wildlife documentary TV series (The Crocodile Hunter)
Ray Jayawardhana, astrophysicist and author
Steven Johnson, author
Steve Jones, evolutionary biologist and author
Horace Freeland Judson, historian of molecular biology and author
Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist, broadcaster and author
Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and author
Lawrence Krauss, physicist and author
Robert Krulwich, broadcaster
Karl Kruszelnicki, a.k.a. Dr Karl, broadcaster
Richard Leakey, Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist
John Lennox, mathematician and author
Daniel Levitin, cognitive neuroscientist and author
Roger Lewin, British anthropologist
Richard Lewontin, evolutionary biologist, geneticist and author
Chris Lintott, astrophysicist
Bob McDonald, CBC journalist and host of Quirks and Quarks
Alister McGrath, molecular biologist and author
Lynn Margulis, evolutionary biologist and author
Robert Matthews, physicist, mathematician, computer scientist, and distinguished science journalist
Peter Medawar, biologist, called by Richard Dawkins "the wittiest of all scientific writers"[4] and by New Scientist "perhaps the best science writer of his generation".[5]
Fulvio Melia, physicist, astrophysicist and author
Julius Sumner Miller, physicist and broadcaster
Mark Miodownik, materials scientist, engineer, broadcaster and writer
Ashley Montagu, anthropologist and humanist, authored by over 60 books
Sir Patrick Moore, amateur astronomer and broadcaster

Desmond Morris, zoologist, ethologist and author
Philip Morrison, physicist, known for his numerous books & TV programs
Randall Munroe, writer of What if blog
PZ Myers, professor and author of the science blog Pharyngula[6]
Yoshiro Nakamatsu, Japanese inventor
Jayant Narlikar, cosmologist and author
Steven Novella, skeptic and advocate of science-based medicine
Bill Nye, broadcaster and mechanical engineer, called the Science Guy
Tor Nørretranders, author
Sten Odenwald, astronomer, author, lecturer
Robert Olby, author and historian of science
Chad Orzel, physicist and author
Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists in history and ranks among the most important scientists of the 20th century
John Allen Paulos, mathematician and author
Fred Pearce, journalist at New Scientist
Yakov I. Perelman, author
Steven Pinker, experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist and author
Phil Plait, astronomer and skeptic who runs the Bad Astronomy website
Martyn Poliakoff, British chemist, featured in the YouTube The Periodic Table of Videos series
John Polkinghorne, physicist and author
Robert Pollack, biologist and author
Carolyn Porco, leader of Cassini Imaging Team
Roy Porter, prolific work on the history of medicine
Christopher Potter, publisher, philosopher and author
Magnus Pyke, food scientist, broadcaster and author
V. S. Ramachandran, neuroscientist, cognitive scientist and author
James Randi, stage magician, skeptic and author
Lisa Randall, theoretical physicist and author
Mark Ridley, zoologist, evolutionary scientist and author
Matt Ridley, zoologist, journalist and author
Alice Roberts, anatomist, anthropologist, television presenter and author
Steven Rose, biologist, neurobiologist, broadcaster and author
Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author
Carl Sagan, astrobiologist, astronomer, broadcaster and author
Kirsten Sanford, neurophysiologist and broadcaster
Adam Savage, special effects artist and TV personality (MythBusters)
Eric Scerri, chemist, historian and philosopher of science, and author
Seth Shostak, astronomer, broadcaster and author
Neil Shubin, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist
George Gaylord Simpson, paleontologist, zoologist and author
Simon Singh, physicist, mathematician and author
Edwin Emery Slosson, chemist, journalist and editor
Iain Stewart, geologist and broadcaster
Ian Stewart, mathematician and author
David Suzuki, broadcaster, geneticist and environmental activist
Lewis Thomas, physician, poet, etymologist, and essayist
Chriet Titulaer, Dutch astronomer, author and broadcaster
Colin Tudge, biologist and author
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author
Kevin Warwick, biomedical scientist, roboticist and author
Michael White, musician and science writer
Norbert Wiener, mathematician, author; the father of cybernetics
Robert Winston, medical doctor, scientist, TV presenter and author
Richard Wiseman, psychologist and author
Stephen Wolfram, mathematics, theoretical physics, scientific computing
Lewis Wolpert, developmental biologist, author and broadcaster
Peter Wothers, chemist and author
Carl Zimmer, science writer and author of the science blog The Loom[7]
Marlene Zuk, evolutionary biologist and behaviorial ecologist

There are many different sources of Popular Science shows, articles, and websites:

Of course we have the usual channels National Geographic, Science, and Discovery Channels. If I missed something please comment below!

15 most popular science websites:

50 popular science blogs:

100 science blogs every student should subscribe to:

Partial list on Wikipedia:

Partial list from Guardian:

10 Youtube channels that will make you smarter:

100 most subscribed Science-Tech channels on Youtube

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Alchemy to Chemistry: A Brief History

It is said that the foundations in which Modern Science was built lies on ignorance. Before one can discover the truth of certain processes and principles, one needs to start from scratch in terms of finding that truth. And one of the best examples of that search lies in the foundations of Modern Chemistry - Alchemy.

It was called Alchemy back in the old days. For Western Civilization it was the search for processes that would turn any substance into Gold. For the East, it was the search for more potent medicines. Nobody knows where Alchemy was started, but it was said it all started in Greece. But the fact that it too started in China at about the same time as the ancient Greeks, with a very different purpose.

After the ancient Greeks and Chinese started their quests for gold and immortality, it was the Arabs in the 8th century CE, backed by their mightly Caliphs and Sultans, that took the next challenge. Strategically located between the east and west, their practitioners mixed the Chinese notion of medicinal benefit, while also putting emphasis in the concept of the "philosopher's stone".

Alchemy in the Arab World

Wikipedia perfectly states what a Philosopher's stone would be:

The philosophers' stone or stone of the philosophers (Latin: lapis philosophorum) is a legendary alchemical substance said to be capable of turning base metals such as lead into gold (chrysopoeia) or silver. It was also sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. For many centuries, it was the most sought-after goal in alchemy. The philosophers' stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. Efforts to discover the philosophers' stone were known as the Magnum Opus ("Great Work")

Alchemy on its own is an impossible quest. Turning substances into Gold and giving the person immortal powers that cheats death, is somewhat unlikely. But it gave its practitioners - the Alchemists, so much time to think of ways to beat the challenge. They invented different processes, created step by step procedures, organized substances, named and discovered new chemicals either by accident or by experimentation, polished and blasted different glassware and other materials for its use. Therefore, it is safe to say that Alchemy laid the foundations of Modern Chemistry. 

Different Apparatuses used in Alchemy

Partial list of Alchemists throughout history:

Zosimos of Panopolis (300 CE) - Greek alchemist and Gnostic mystic. He wrote the oldest known books on alchemy.

Elder Zhang Guo - Chinese historical figure. A Taoist fangshi (occultist-alchemist). Also a Qigong master.

Jābir ibn Hayyān - (721-815 CE) -  a prominent Muslim polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. Paved the way for later Arab alchemists and is regarded with awe.

Albertus Magnus (1193-1280 CE) - A Catholic Saint, German Dominican Friar and Bishop. Credited for the discovery of the element Arsenic. Legend suggests that he discovered the Philosopher's stone and passed it on to his pupil Thomas Aquinas. No evidence suggests that took place.

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601 CE) - Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations. His interest in alchemy started when he lost his nose and tested different metals for an exact fit.

Isaac Newton
Issac Newton (1642-1727 CE) -  English physicist and mathematician (described in his own day as a "natural philosopher") who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Also a known practitioner of Alchemy, trying to find the Philosopher's stone.

Fulcanelli (late 19th to early 1920's) - name used by a French alchemist and esoteric author, whose identity is still debated. The appeal of Fulcanelli as a cultural phenomenon is due partly to the mystery of most aspects of his life and works; one of the anecdotes pertaining to his life retells, in particular, how his most devoted pupil Eugène Canseliet performed a successful transmutation of 100 grams of lead into gold in a laboratory of the gas works of Sarcelles at the Georgi company with the use of a small quantity of the "Projection Powder" given to him by his teacher, in the presence of Julien Champagne and Gaston Sauvage.

Terence McKenna

Terence Mckenna (1946-2000) - was an American philosopher, psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, culture, technology and the theoretical origins of human consciousness.



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love, Science and the Brain

This Valentines season, I would like to talk about a topic that is very intriguing to most but nevertheless essential in our understanding of the human body. This is something that we always do in our everyday lives but rarely thought of how it actually works and why we felt that way. It is an emotion called Love.

We love because we are fond of that person, wants to care for them and are sensitive to their needs and emotions. There are different ways to express love, depending on the type of relationship you have with that person. But, whether they are your parents, siblings, friends, special friends or your special someone, your body reacts with their surroundings and creates a cocktail of chemicals that would translate to love itself. 

As of the moment, two scientific disciplines have so far attempted to explain the processes that leads to the emotion of love. The fields of Evolutionary Psychology and Neurochemistry. 

Evolutionary Phychology*

Evolutionary psychology has proposed several explanations for love. Human infants and children are for a very long time dependent on parental help. Love has therefore been seen as a mechanism to promote mutual parental support of children for an extended time period. Another is that sexually transmitted diseases may cause, among other effects, permanently reduced fertility, injury to the fetus, and increase risks during childbirth. This would favor exclusive long-term relationships reducing the risk of contracting an STD.

From the perspective of evolutionary psychology the experiences and behaviors associated with love can be investigated in terms of how they have been shaped by human evolution. For example, it has been suggested that human language has been selected during evolution as a type of "mating signal" that allows potential mates to judge reproductive fitness. Miller described evolutionary psychology as a starting place for further research: "Cognitive neuroscience could try to localize courtship adaptations in the brain. Most importantly, we need much better observations concerning real-life human courtship, including the measurable aspects of courtship that influence mate choice, the reproductive (or at least sexual) consequences of individual variation in those aspects, and the social-cognitive and emotional mechanisms of falling in love." Since Darwin's time there have been similar speculations about the evolution of human interest in music also as a potential signaling system for attracting and judging the fitness of potential mates. It has been suggested that the human capacity to experience love has been evolved as a signal to potential mates that the partner will be a good parent and be likely to help pass genes to future generations.[5] Biologist Jeremy Griffith defines love as 'unconditional selflessness', suggesting utterly cooperative instincts developed in modern humans' ancestor, Australopithecus. Studies of bonobos (a great ape previously referred to as a pygmy chimpanzee) are frequently cited in support of a cooperative past in humans.

In Neurochemistry

In the United States, Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has proposed 3 stages of love - lust, attraction and attachment. Each stage might be driven by different hormones and chemicals. 

Three Stages of Falling in Love**

Stage 1: Lust

Lust is being driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen (estrogen). Testosterone is not confined only to men. It has also been shown to play a major role in the sex drive of women. These hormones as Helen Fisher says "get you out looking for anything".

Stage 2: Attraction

This is the real love-struck phase. People think of nothing else when they fall in love. Might lose appetite or have problems sleeping. They sometimes daydream of being together with the person they love. For family relationships, that also translates to tantrums or a "mini"-depression when they don't see their parents often. 

In this stage, several groups of neuro-transmitters called 'monoamines' play an important role:

Dopamine - Also activated by cocaine and nicotine.

Norepinephrine - Otherwise known as adrenalin. Starts us sweating and gets the heart racing.

Serotonin - One of love's most important chemicals and one that may actually send us temporarily insane.
Discover which type of partner you're attracted to by taking our face perception test.

Stage 3: Attachment

If a relationship is going to last, this is the next phase. It is said that people could not possibly stay in the attraction phase forever, otherwise nothing will be ever accomplished.

Attachment is the bond that keeps couples together in a long lasting commitment when they move on to have children. There a two key hormones released by the nervous system, which is currently thought to have a major role in keeping social attachments:

Oxytocin - This is released by the hypothalamus gland during child birth and also helps the breast express milk. It helps cement the strong bond between mother and child. It is also released by both sexes during orgasm and it is thought that it promotes bonding when adults are intimate. The theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes

Vasopressin - Another important chemical in the long-term commitment stage. It is an important controller of the kidney and its role in long-term relationships was discovered when scientists looked at the prairie vole
Find out how the three stages can feel even stronger for teenagers in love, experiencing first love and first sex.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Excerpts on Gamma Radiation

Taken from the book "Defining Moments in Science". Article by Kate Oliver

Key Discovery : 1900

While studying the properties of beta radiation, the French chemist Paul Villard made an intriguing observation. He noticed that in experiments where a beam of beta rays was refracted (passed through a medium of different density), there were often traces of another, unrefracted beam in the results. 

Villard set up another instrument, using the newly discovered element radium as a source. He focused a beam of radiation from the radium through a series of glass plates and a magnetic field, to be recorded finally on photographic film. The unrefracted beam appeared again. It did not seem to respond to any external magnetic or electric fields, and would even show up on the photographic film when it was placed behind 0.2 millimeters of lead.

Villard suggested that the radiation he had found was a new type of more penetrating X-ray. He concluded that the three distinct types of radium beams - easily absorbed rays, a dividable stream of charged electrons, and his new super-penetrating X-rays - were analogous to the three types of radiation emitted by cathode ray tubes. With this observation, Villard correctly generalized radiation into the three types we now know as alpha, beta, and gamma. There was, however, very little interest in his discovery or theory, perhaps because it was outside the current scientific paradigm.

In 1903, Ernest Rutherford, having studied the penetrative power of the beams, named them gamma rays and his term soon fell into common usage. Villard, however, remains pretty much forgotten.*


Gamma Rays is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Of all forms of electromagnetic radiation, they have the shortest wavelengths and the greatest energy. 
It can be produced either as a result of a nuclear reaction or by the annihilation of matter by antimatter. Nuclear reactions that result in the emission of gamma rays include some types of radioactive decay and the fission (splitting) of a nucleus.

Gamma rays are very penetrating; even a thick sheet of a dense material such as lead will not block them entirely. When these pass through matter, they eject electrons from the atoms they strike. This process, called ionization, is harmful to living cells. A living thing exposed to intense or prolonged gamma radiation can become seriously ill and die.

Gamma rays are used in industry to inspect castings and welds. The gamma rays are passed through the object being inspected onto photographic film. The image formed on the film can reveal defects that are invisible to the eye or hidden from direct observation. In medicine, gamma rays are used to destroy certain types of cancer. Cobalt 60 is a substance that is commonly used in hospitals as a source of gamma rays for this purpose.

Artificial satellites have revealed that a variety of astronomical objects, including the sun, clouds of interstellar matter, and remnants of supernovae, are sources of gamma rays. They have also detected strong, random bursts of gamma rays from unknown distant sources.**

Source: *Defining Moments in Science: Over a Century of the Greatest Discoveries, Experiments, Inventions, People, Publications and Events that Rocked the World. Page 14.

Other sources:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Do I Need to Think Critically?

Thinking critically is a challenging and fun (sometimes) way of - well, thinking things. Many people aren't really aware they are doing it. When a student does his homework or when a family man (or woman) budgets their income for the rainy days, they are already thinking critically. Think of anything you have done in the past that does not require that you think. I can bet you can only think of only a handful, and most of it has maybe not so good consequences. But still, come think of it. You've been thinking your way through life since you've been made aware of all these choices and decision that has come along your way.

So what is critical thinking anyway? Is it just really, REALLY thinking hard? Not really. These are skills that all of us, young and old, need to learn to be able to solve problems and make better decisions. Information are gathered through observation, communication, experience, or through the use of our senses. This information is analyzed and evaluated, leading to the resulting decision or solution. 

At its core, critical thinking is about being able to listen, and respond to any information and not just simply accepting any information at face value. To question that information is the most important part of critical thinking.  "It is a part of scientific, mathematical, historical, economic and philosophical thinking, all of which are necessary for the future development of our society".*

Sounds complex eh? It's not. When you hear your neighbor rant about a thing or two gossiping another neighbor, do you instantly believe the person? I'm pretty sure it's not. In that scenario you have already exhibited basic critical thinking skills. You ask your neighbor one question after another and he or she answers it. Of course with every answer you analyse whether everything your neighbor said could be pieced together or makes sense. And it is totally up to you really whether you believe that story or not. Another example of using your critical thinking faculties is when you plan for your son's birthday party. You consider all the possible places to celebrate, the budget at hand or budget that needs to be saved for that event, inviting people, planning games and amusement, the food - who will prepare, was the dishes, cook, etc. Of course you get all the information and analyze it, coming up with all the preferable factors and put them into action. The culmination of all the planning is the party itself. There are still many things where we can practice critical thinking but I am not going to deal with that further. There's too many of them.

Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987**

A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987. 

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. 
It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.

Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one's groups’, vested interest. As such it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.

Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.

So is it really important to think critically? A resounding answer would be yes!

Also, here is a good video presentation about Critical Thinking by Qualiasoup.

I have created a facebook group about this topic. I am no expert but I will do what I can to learn more and SHARE more! Please like the page.

I would like to say thank you for the 4000 views I currently have on my website. I really appreciate everything and I will do my best to give more basic science information and share more from different media.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Maverick for Science: Nikola Tesla

I never heard of this name when I was a kid. I can barely remember when I first heard his name. Must have stumbled upon his name maybe but did not really put his name in my list of personal heroes of Science, like Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Pierre and Marie Curie, Alessandro Volta, and - I think that was it! I never imagined that during my youth I only know a handful of scientific heroes and heroines.  But I am very sure I can't remember hearing or reading his name during those times. I do wonder that sometimes, Why is that?

Of course I am familiar with this person now that I am an adult. Who wouldn't? Any Red Alert player heard his name as a defensive tower for the Soviets, shooting lightning bolts on any allied soldier desperate for a quick kill. That name stuck in my mind ever since.

His name is Nikola Tesla. A Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist. A brilliant inventor and at the same time a mysterious figure in his later years, he made significant and lasting contributions in the science of Electricity. His vision and his passion produced his greatest contributions in the field of Alternating Current electricity supply system (AC).

He lived during the time electricity was at its infancy. He went to the US as an immigrant. Worked with Thomas Edison for some time and then was able to find financiers for his projects and inventions. As Wikipedia gladly summarized for us:

Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before emigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla as a consultant to help develop a power system using alternating current. Tesla is also known for his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs which included patented devices and theoretical work used in the invention of radio communication, for his X-ray experiments, and for his ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project. 

His Tower is being financed by one of the big giants of Wall Street at that time, J.P. Morgan. The death sentence to the said project was also when Guilliermo Marconi was able to transmit a letter wirelessly from Newfoundland to England, shattering hopes whatever Tesla have on accomplishing his goal of wireless communication.  He also told Morgan that the tower can also provide wireless electricity. Ultimately after seeing that his project would not be profitable after all, he abandoned Tesla.  He Tesla died poor and unknown in January 1943.

During the last few decades of the 20th century, due to the rising demand of energy and the almost endless quest for renewable and sustainable sources of energy, researchers, scientists and people from all walks of life rekindled their curiosity about the life of this maverick for science. I am not sure whether Tesla is the reason but there is a movement called the "free energy" movement that stemmed from this quest for free and sustainable energy. The mainstream scientific community is still skeptical of the claims of these inventors from this movement.

Thanks to the internet, there are lots of resources about the person behind that extraordinary brain. You can watch a simple documentary below.

Here is a toast to everybody who supports my blog since the start. Two tesla coils singing an all-familiar tune.

Links of Interest: Note, I am showing all the links that has a pro and con approach to the Edison-Tesla rivalry at that time. Not siding who, just finding it interesting that people still have a fondness for defending long time heroes. You decide.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where's that particle?

The "reason of our existence" some scientists would call it. The particle that makes stuff for mystery stories. Hiding under the radar of science. Elusive and expensive to find. The "God" particle. 

Their quest took them 40 years to complete. Time, effort and an unimaginable amount of money and resources has been allocated for this search, which, in that long period of time, would be called worthwhile.

Peter W. Higgs, right, and François Englert at a conference in Switzerland on July 4, 2012. Source: New York Times

In 1964, Peter Higgs, Francois Englert, and their colleagues theorized that there must be something that might explain why other particles have mass, why all things hold together, why we exist.  That something is the Higgs boson. 

It is popularized by the media as the "God particle". The nickname comes from the title of a 1993 book "The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?" by Leon Lederman, a Physicist, a Nobel Prizewinner and Fermilab director. Lederman wrote this as a response to the US government decision to halt the construction and support of the Superconducting Super Collider, partly constructed competitor of the Large Hadron Collider, that he championed since its inception in 1983 until its shutdown in 1993.

Leon Lederman

Lederman on explaining why he named it the God Particle:

"Today ... we have the standard model, which reduces all of reality to a dozen or so particles and four forces. ... It's a hard-won simplicity [...and...] remarkably accurate. But it is also incomplete and, in fact, internally inconsistent... This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one..."

—Leon M. Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question p. 22

It was on July 2012 when the Higgs boson particle was discovered in the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. And it has been billed as one of the biggest scientific achivement for the last 50 years. On March 14, coinciding with Albert Einsteins' birthday, they announced that, the particle they have been looking for has characteristics that looked more like the Higgs boson particle.

Both Higgs and Englert, now in their 80's, was awarded the Nobel Price for Physics for all their efforts in the Higgs boson on October 8,2013. Their prize of $1.2 million has been awarded last December 10,2013. The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in a number of categories by Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances.* The founder of the Nobel Prize is Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of Dynamite.

One might be shouting expletives when one hear of this so called "God particle" and how it shaped our universe. This is the particle that actually gave particles mass. Without it, there wouldn't be any atoms, without atoms, no molecules, without molecules no DNA, without DNA, no living things would exist, and that includes us.As we look further into the vast void that makes up the cosmos, or look deeper into the "inner" cosmos of atoms, quarks and bosons, we help foster a new age of scientific discovery. Pushing us further advanced, further enligthened and the scientific enterprise will continue pushing forward, and there are no signs of stopping.