A small step backward for mankind 5 November 2014

Why America needs to embrace a culture of risk in order to build the next-generation space program.
How and why to be resilient in the face of failed spacecraft, and the loss of life.
[Foreign Policy]

Sayur Manis: Delicious, But Also Deadly, Greens From Borneo 14 August 2014

Eat too much of it raw, and it can cause lung failure
Also known as sabah veggie, and a multitude of other names, sayur manis tastes like spinach crossed with asparagus

Book Review: ‘The Interior Circuit’ by Francisco Goldman 9 August 2014

Ka Wong Seng looks as if it fell into a Chinatown wormhole and emerged complete with roasted duck.
Review of Goldman’s memoir of Mexico City, which I think does not succeed in its aims.
[Wall Street Journal]

Not So Offal: Why Bone Soup, A ‘Perfect Food,’ Tastes So Meaty 16 July 2014

In praise of Tulang Soup, the most delicious thing I ate in Singapore
Trying to figure out the richness of bone marrow

How Gobbledygook Ended Up in Respected Scientific Journals 27 February 2014

The IEEE and Springer published dozens of algorithmically generated articles
What a slew of nonsensical publications says about the state of science.

In the interests of fairness, I thought it made sense to note that Phil Plait published an apology of sorts this morning.

At the clearest point, Plait owns up: “I blew it, and I’ll try to be more careful in the future.”

However, he does not actually seem to realize what he did. He’s amused by the episode, throwing in a references to The Princess Bride, a movie I like as much as the next guy, but which hardly is appropriate in the context of an apology/retraction. (Plait’s so proud of his accomplishment, he marks it with an asterisk to make sure people notice.)

Plait goes on to note:

Overall, a lot of what I wrote in the article is correct prima facie. A lot of it wasn’t.

“I didn’t get everything wrong,” (which he didn’t) is a poor defense. Someone with his stature–not only was he a practicing scientist for years, but he is one of the foremost popularizers of science of our time–has a responsibility to do better.

That he doesn’t see things this way comes to the fore in his closing paragraph:

So: I made some mistakes, got other stuff right, could’ve been more clear, and learned a lot. Pretty much a typical day in anyone’s book.

Learning a lot–about different subjects–is one of the pleasures of writing about science, indeed of writing in general. But the idea is to do that learning before publishing a piece, not after. There’s plenty that’s thoughtful in Plait’s follow-up, but that doesn’t change the fact that his original post remained up as Plait composed his apology, and remains up now.

The question is whether the original post can be construed as an error made in good faith, by someone who is good at their job, doing their job well. Plait obviously thinks the answer is yes. But, in my view, his follow-up does little to expiate the damage of the original post, which continues to draw in the gullible. (As I was writing this brief note, 3 more people on Twitter chimed in to note the “astonishing” result.)

Anyhow. To reiterate–the things Plait got wrong are not details. They are basic.


This should be news to nobody, and I can’t believe I have to say it out loud, but the sum:


is not well-defined. The series diverges. It does not make sense in any mathematically rigorous way to say that it “equals” anything.
Continue reading

tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Responding to the New York Times off-base math education editorial 10 December 2013

Math doesn’t have to be boring, but it does have to be math
The New York Times editorial board doesn’t understand the first thing about mathematics, and this is a big problem.

Chang’e 3 5 December 2013

The Second Space Race
Short voiceover of a photograph of China’s lunar rover.
[The Weekly Wonk]

PR Stunts 2 December 2013

Amazon Prime Drone Delivery? It’s Hot Air
Why Amazon won’t be delivering packages with drones by 2015.

How many nuclear weapons does China have? 11 November 2013

Consensus: China Offers Limited Deterrent
Probably fewer than 300.
[Aviation Week and Space Technology--Subscription Required]

Bard of Folly 21 October 2013

Book Review: ‘Command and Control’ by Eric Schlosser
A fantastic new book about nuclear weapons, and what it says about technology more generally.
[The American Prospect]

How High the Moon? 4 October 2013

Book Review: ‘Dreams of Other Worlds’ by Chris Impey and Holly Henry
Where the Milky Way’s missing arms went and other tales of astronomical discovery.
[Wall Street Journal]

America’s Last Nuclear test 3 October 2013

A photograph of divider
And the wacky names for other nuclear tests; a short voiceover.
[The Weekly Wonk]

Jack Ryan’s Quest 3 October 2013

Hunting Red October
In praise of Tom Clancy’s early work (and in criticism of his later work) on the occasion of his death.
[The Millions]

In Praise of Joe’s Shanghai 1 September 2013

Discovering The Small Miracle Of The Soup Dumpling
An appreciation of one of the deliciousest foods.

Thanks to Jason Kottke for the kind mention of The Pioneer Detectives on his blog!

tags: | comment

A few weeks ago I got to take part in a panel discussion about The Pioneer Detectives and cosmic anomalies at New America’s space in New York City.

C-SPAN’s Book TV kindly came and filmed the event and is broadcasting it on TV and on their website.


I spoke with the New America Foundation’s Cyrus Nemati in this podcast about The Pioneer Detectives.


Read C Max Magee’s kind announcement of publication of The Pioneer Detectives over at The Millions.

It was really a pleasure to work with Max and Garth Risk Hallberg at the Millions to produce, in Max’s words:

a scientific police procedural, tracking the steps of those who sought to unravel this high-stakes enigma. His thrilling account follows the story from the Anomaly’s initial discovery, through decades of tireless investigation, to its ultimate conclusion. The Pioneer Detectives is a definitive account not just of the Pioneer Anomaly but of how scientific knowledge gets made and unmade, with scientists sometimes putting their livelihoods on the line in pursuit of cosmic truth.

I hope you’ll check out the book, either at Amazon or on iTunes.