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Monday, 24 March 2008

Science-in search for reality or in search for publicity

Today, I want to share my sincere resentment of a trend I see more and more often. This is the desire of some people to turn science into popularity contest. I first encountered it in an argument why the colonisation of Moon shouldn't be paid with the money of theoretical sciences, because it's a technological challenge, not a scientific one. I was amazed by the incapability of that person to get that science can't be made on charity. When I told him that if they pay for the Moon with the money for theoretical physics, I can't make my study, because no private investor will be interested in numerical simulation of the central engine of a Gamma-Ray Burst, he told me "you should then try to convince the society your studies are important"! I abandoned the discussion.

Below I'm offering you some interesting articles that triggered me to talk about that again.
To those that will read them and will find me somewhat arrogant, let me explain why I am not. Science is a tool to understand the Universe. It's not only for the fun of the scientist, it gives the society knowledge and technology that open the doors of the imagination. Science is USEFUL!
But science requires devotion and insight. Sometimes-even blind faith. Not always a project can be financially justified. Not every project can be put in simple words that will translate the fire burning in the scientist. Not every project can be put in time-limit. Sometimes one project can last for years and years with ups and downs, with frustration and hope. I'm not saying scientist should apply for money and try to attract as much money and interest as they can. They should. But the society shouldn't expect to judge every project by the show it makes. There must be a socially-justified projects, but also scientifically-justified. There should be not only public judgment and interest, but also peer-approved projects and University sponsored fundamental science on risky projects. There should be independent judgment of the value of certain research. INDEPENDENT! Based on science, not on public opinion. In the last article, that is actually mine, you can read my response to a letter in which some european bureaucrat explained how scientific article should be with less terms. So that she, with her 3 years knowledge in high-school physics can understand what I write with my 5 years and going university physics. I'm not being arrogant. But behind every term stands an idea, a proof, a theory. When I meet a new term, sometimes I have to read 2-3 pages to understand completely what stands behind a word. A WORD. Single word. It's not always the case (and it's not speaking very well about my scientific knowledge :) ), but sometimes it is. For example, now I have to read 136 pages from a textbook to get what stands behind a name of ONE function. To say it simple- terms allows us, scientists, to say with one word, something that we had to study for days. Thus if we have to explain in simple words every term, an article from 10 pages will become probably 100 pages. And people that know all those terms and have had the similar education will be bored as hell. That's why terms are important. That's why in scientific journal, we use terms. In popular magazine, I don't mind explaining every single word, like when I speak to school students. But that can't be the rule. This is the exception.

Now, about the two articles. In the first one, you can wonder, what's so important about the future of the Planet after 7 billion years. What about after 1 billion? Can you imagine 100 years? Can you imagine 1000? What about 10 000? Because that's even more! Much more! Unimaginable more. And mind you-there's nothing new for the science in this article. It's a well-known fact. Then why it should be published in a respected magazine/newspaper as NY Times? Is it a NEWS? Because if it is, I'm very surprised. Why I publish it here? Because I'm shocked. I'm shocked that someone can make a sensation by a fact about something that will happen after 7 billion years. Utterly shocked! So please, science fans and scientist, don't fall for cheap sensation and popularity tricks. And check the absurd project about moving Earth from it's orbit!!! For something that will happen after 1 billion years! To move the Earth to another orbit. As much as I like sci fi, this is an absurdity for our current situation. Please, read it. It's cool!

Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years

Published: March 11, 2008

If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.

Their report, to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is the latest and gloomiest installment yet in a long-running debate about the ultimate fate of our planet. Only last year, the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the faint burned-out cinder of a star in Pegasus had suggested that Earth could survive the Sun’s death.

Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”

As for sentimental attachment to any of the geographic features we might have come to know and love, Dr. Smith said, “I should add that the Himalayas are a passing thought anyway. They didn’t even exist until India smashed into Asia less than 60 million years ago — the blink of an eye compared with the billions of years we are discussing.”

“So,” he said, “I would be surprised if anyone were able to rescue the Earth again in a future paper.”

Earth’s basic problem is that the Sun will gradually get larger and more luminous as it goes through life, according to widely held theories of stellar evolution. In its first 4.5 billion years, according to the models, the Sun has already grown about 40 percent brighter.

Over the coming eons, life on Earth will become muggier and more uncomfortable and finally impossible.

“Even if the Earth were to marginally escape being engulfed,” said Mario Livio, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, “it would still be scorched, and life on Earth would be destroyed.”

About a billion years from now, the Sun will be 10 percent brighter. Oceans on Earth will boil away. The Sun will run out of hydrogen fuel in its core about 5.5 billion years from now and start burning hydrogen in the surrounding layers. As a result, the core will shrink and the outer layers will rapidly expand as the Sun transforms itself into a red giant.

The heat from this death rattle will transform the solar system; it will briefly be springtime in the Kuiper Belt out beyond Neptune. Mercury and Venus will surely be swallowed, but the Earth’s fate has always been more uncertain.

The reason is that in the course of ballooning outward, the Sun will blow off a substantial share of its mass. Thus, the Sun’s gravitational grip on its planets will be weakened, and they will retreat to more distant orbits. The Earth will wind up about where Mars is now, “on the border line between being engulfed or escaping engulfment,” as Dr. Livio put it.

Whether or not the Earth is engulfed depends on which of two effects wins out. At the same time that the Earth is retreating to a safer position, tidal forces between it and the expanding Sun will try to drag the planet inward and downward.

According to Dr. Smith and Dr. Schroeder, that chance is nil. One key to their work is a new way of calculating how much mass the Sun loses during its cataclysmic expansion, and, thus, how big it gets and how far the Earth eventually moves outward. The more mass lost, paradoxically, the bigger the Sun swells, like a balloon whose elastic weakens when it is stretched. Using a new technique, developed by Dr. Schroeder and Manfred Cuntz of the University of Texas in Arlington, the authors calculated that the lost mass would amount to a third of the Sun’s original mass, compared with previous estimates of a quarter.

As a result, the red giant version of the Sun — at its maximum — will be 256 times as big across as the star is today and 2,730 times as luminous.

Skimming over the flame tops of this giant, the bare, burned Earth would produce a bulge in the Sun. But friction would cause the bulge to lag as it tried to follow the Earth. The gravitational tug from the bulge would slow the Earth and would cause it to spiral inward, where friction from gases in the Sun’s expanded atmosphere would slow it even more.

Then it would go down./sorry, it's sooooooo dramatic!/

After a period of burning helium and shrinking and expanding and then finally shrinking again, the Sun will wind up as tiny cinder known as a white dwarf, fading away for the rest of time.

Is there any way out of this fiery end for the robots or cockroaches or whoever will be running the Earth in a billion years?

One option is to leave for another planet or another star system.
Another option, Dr. Smith said, is to engage in some large-scale high-stakes engineering.
In the same way that space probes can get a trajectory boost by playing gravitational billiards with Venus or Jupiter to gain speed and get farther out in space, so the Earth could engineer regular encounters with a comet or asteroid, thus raising its orbit and getting farther from the Sun, according to a paper in 2001 by Don Korycansky and Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan.

Anyway, such a maneuver would prolong the viability of the Earth for only a few billion years. After that, the planet would be stranded in the cold and dim. source

Now, a short story about a priest cosmologist that gets the Million on science. For what? For asking "Does the universe need to have a cause?" Cool. Very cool. On the verge of absurd, I'd say. So, there are not any deserving scientists that made discovery that could or would change our life for ever, there was only a philosopher to give it. As much as I respect the person because I feel we have some common views, I'm mad they gave it him. Not because they could give it to me, not yet :P. But because they are so many people that really deserve it. And that need it. As a sign that society appreciates their work and devotion. Unfortunately, not the case.And mind the nationality of the guy. Hmmm, what about the Pope?

Priest-Cosmologist Wins $1.6 Million Templeton Prize

Published: March 13, 2008

The $1.6 million Templeton Prize, the richest award made to an individual by a philanthropic organization, was given Wednesday to Michael Heller, 72, a Roman Catholic priest, cosmologist and philosopher who has spent his life asking, and perhaps more impressively answering, questions like “Does the universe need to have a cause?”

Michael Heller, 72, winner of this year’s prize. He says science and religion “are prerequisites of the decent existence.”

The John Templeton Foundation, which awards grants to encourage scientific discovery on the “big questions” in science and philosophy, commended Professor Heller, who is from Poland, for his extensive writings that have “evoked new and important consideration of some of humankind’s most profound concepts.”

Much of Professor Heller’s career has been dedicated to reconciling the known scientific world with the unknowable dimensions of God.

In doing so, he has argued against a “God of the gaps” strategy for relating science and religion, a view that uses God to explain what science cannot.

Professor Heller said he believed, for example, that the religious objection to teaching evolution “is one of the greatest misunderstandings” because it “introduces a contradiction or opposition between God and chance.”

In a telephone interview, Professor Heller explained his affinity for the two fields: “I always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence.”

Professor Heller said he planned to use his prize to create a center for the study of science and theology as a joint venture between the Jagiellonian University and the Pontifical Academy of Theology, in Krakow, Poland, where he is a faculty member.

The prize will be officially awarded in London by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in a private ceremony on May 7 at Buckingham Palace. source

Technical terms 'an important part of science' - Denitsa Staicova, University of Sofia

Published: Wednesday 9 January 2008

Sir,

Regarding 'Interview: 'We need a revolution in science culture'':

In my opinion as a scientist, Marie-Claude Roland's assertion that new technologies have made research very technical and keywords-based, with researchers failing to consider the wider relevance of their subject or spend enough time formulating questions and reformulating problems is outrageous and very dangerous.

Technical terms are an important part of science. You must have a common language with like-minded people and colleagues with whom you discuss your research. Science is very complex. It requires devotion and sometimes asocialisation, but this does not undermine its worth.

Some scientists do science and others do "show". I am not critical of "show" as it gives people a taste of what we are doing, which is for our common benefit. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join science. I will not argue against simplicity, just that it should be in popular magazines and certainly not scientific magazines and journals, which serve a different purpose.

Europe is trying to apply the US style to science, which is wrong. Everybody benefits from the connection between researchers and industry, but science is not always technology-oriented.

Sometimes one must work on an issue with no immediate profit or benefit, and the stepping stones to great discoveries are paved with years of dirty and unpopular work.

Some scientific fields can be quite far-fetched and abstract, but this does not decrease their value. All research may lead to something important that was unexpected or unpredicted. The results of research in one field may be unexpectedly applied with great success in another, which is the reason why we should not follow the American model.

It is widely known that science in the USA gets more money and makes more practical discoveries than in the EU, while European scientists have better results in time-consuming theoretical fields.

We have to try to create a new model, including better connections between universities and industry as well as diverse mechanisms for funding and supporting unpopular research that has a potential impact upon science as a whole. However, we should certainly not depend on industry, because the priorities of science and industry are very different.

We need a mechanism to encourage scientists to present and discuss their research with the public, perhaps by provoking more media coverage or funding for social work.

We can have science that is both independent and understandable. We just have to find a way that does not harm anybody's interests. source

Denitsa Staicova,Physicist,University of Sofiaexternal,Bulgaria



2 comments:

Denitsa said...

More on the issue with Templeton awards:
http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/2008/03/ethics-of-mixing-science-and-religion.html?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=blogsss

Denitsa said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/15risk.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin
Here you can read another article on the LHC problem. I just want to point out that I have been on particle physics courses and I've never heard of the possibility such particles to harm the Earth. Because such energies are not so rare in the Universe and even from time to time on Earth. And we don't see black holes and strangelet explosions all around us.