Science as Collaboration

I’m sure I’ve spoken on this before, and I’m sure I’ll speak on this again. Science is an act of collaboration. While there are the lone geniuses among us out there making independent breakthroughs in mathematics and thought, these brilliant minds would be nothing if there wasn’t a community to hear their theories, run with their ideas, and evolve in response to their new visualizations of reality. In my Quantum Mechanics course, we heard stories of the letters that flew from Dirac, and in astronomy it was Chandra who maintained his sanity through correspondence as he lived his life, one nobel prize at a time. As a child enrolled in pull-out honors classrooms and sequestered in special science tracks, I grew to dread group projects....

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Let it Begin (again)

Let it Begin (again)

Monday is the first day of a new semester. I’ll be teaching just one class this semester (the rest of my time is going to IYA), second semester calculus based physics for Scientists and Engineers. This will be my first time teaching this course, although I’ve taught the algebra-based version several times. At this stage I have my syllabus written and photocopied, I have MasteringPhysics setup and the first homework posted, and all I really have left to do is configure BlackBoard, but since I forgot to request a login until today, that one is going to have to wait. I’m thinking I might also give these students a copy of the final I wrote for the first semester version of this class so they’ll know what I expect them to know. I’m in...

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Blue Collar Scientist, You’re still my Twitter Friend

I just logged into twitter through it’s actual website so I could edit who I was following. Scanning down the list of names I saw the friendly, sunglass wearing face of BlueCollarSci. My heart stopped for a moment. In real life BlueCollarSci was Jeff Medkeff, an astronomer (he called himself an amateur, I’d argue with him), a computer person, an EPO specialist, and a blogger (and more). I never met Jeff in person, but we commented to each other and followed one another’s tweets and blogs, and I’d come to respect him through these new media interactions. Last spring Jeff was diagnosed with cancer. I’d hoped to meet him before he died – we have a mutual friend who was going to bring us together. Sadly that didn’t get to...

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Anecdotal Evidence versus Statistics

One of the running jokes in physics/astronomy departments is that astronomers consider 4 instances of anything as statistically significant. In fact, the story goes, two points is enough to define a trend, and 1 is enough to form a theory. Take for instance our solar system. Up until 1995 it was the only one with a normal sun we knew of (there were some pulsar planets found earlier). Based on it, and it alone, we built an entire detailed nebular theory of solar system formation that we think is mostly true. This isn’t the only place in research where instances of “observation” lead to “understanding.” With observational astronomy we at least have the option to go out and search for new data. And sometimes we even find it. Sometimes....

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SDSS Live!

Chris Lintott is currently up in Chicago at a meeting on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Check out his live coverage on Astronomy Cast Live!

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