I’d like to draw your attention to a few articles that have caught my eye in recent days.
First up, an important analysis by Scientific American on how antiscience beliefs may jeopardize U.S. democracy. Author Shawn Lawrence Otto calls out the extremists on both sides — yes, lefties have their own brand of science denialism, not just the righties — but, he adds, “the Republican version is particularly dangerous because it attacks the validity of science itself.” (And as I write this blog post, I’m listening to a Frontline episode, number 3021, going behind the scenes of the climate-change skeptics who are working to publicize their message of doubt.)
On a more positive note, Nature recently published a supplement, “Physics masterclass,” which takes an expansive look at the most interesting questions in modern physics and the Nobel laureates who have addressed them. One of the laureates is Roy Glauber, from whom I once took a Harvard Extension School night course on “Waves, Particles and the Structure of Matter.”
Speaking of both PBS and Nobel laureates … On “Inside NOVA,” Seth Lloyd of MIT takes a much more informed look than I ever could on this year’s winners. I encountered Lloyd some years ago at a small high-performance computing conference in Rhode Island, both by listening to his talk and sitting at his table for a lunchtime discussion. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, GO! He has a magical ability to explain the quantum world. Even if you haven’t taken a physics class since high school, you will understand him. Trust me.
In May 2010, I heard Stanford University professor Steven Block deliver a plenary talk on his work with optical tweezers, or “the closest thing humans have made to a tractor beam.” (The night before, he was up late, playing country-bluegrass music at a special concert of scientist-musicians.) Block and one of his graduate students are now reporting the first real-time observations of RNA folding. The pair published their findings in the most recent issue of Science.