acanuck's picture

    I'll have what Tiger's having

    Reading material! I'm talking reading material. Jeez!

    I read today that sales have soared for British science popularizer John Gribbin's Get a Grip on Physics. The reason? Photos of Tiger Woods's crashed SUV showed a copy of that 2003 book on the floorboards. So Tiger wasn't distracted by the drugs or alcohol he'd imbibed, or wife Elin tossing golf clubs at his speeding vehicle. He was simply so engrossed in the book that he failed to successfully exit his driveway. That's some riveting reading!

    Actually, picking up Gribbin's book is probably the smartest thing Tiger did that day, or any day since. Gribbin is a prolific writer, never afraid to speculate creatively. He's been wrong -- as in suggesting planetary alignments with Jupiter might cause earthquakes on Earth. But never boring or unimaginative. And when he's been wrong, he's admitted it.

    At one point, discussing the observation that the sun was producing fewer neutrinos than theory would predict, Gribbin nonchalantly floated the idea that the sun might have "gone out."
    My kind of science writer! In my day, I've at least entertained such concepts as cold fusion, the Siljan Ring theory of oil formation, and arguments that the physical forces driving a returning ice age will ultimately overcome those of man-made global warming. (I still hold to the latter, BTW, though I think global warming is a far more immediate threat to civilization.)

    Long story short: Gribbin is an intelligent, engaging science writer. And if he gains new readers, it will probably be the first (perhaps only) good thing to come out of the Tiger Woods fiasco.



    See? There's always a silver lining.

    I was hoping to provoke Nebton with my avowed embrace of "junk" or at least "fringe" science. So far, not a nibble.

    Are you suggesting that planetary alignments causing earthquakes isn't real science‽‽‽

    Yeah, that particular theory didn't do it for me. But Gribbin's sudden notoreity reminded me what I like in him: his fearlessness about being wrong. He's admittedly a science writer, not a working scientist. But he shares Einstein's conviction that intuition and imagination are the driving forces of scientific advance. Being spectacularly wrong on occasion is just an occupational hazard.

    Or, as Linus Pauling said, "The way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas, and throw out the bad ones." (After taking them around the block for a few test drives.) Not to disparage those who work in the scientific mainstream, filling in the gaps and incrementally increasing knowledge, but we need more Paulings and Thomas Golds (Siljan Ring, steady state). People who disdain strict academic boundaries, and embarrass everyone on occasion by being right about things they know nothing about.

    Sometimes, of course, conventional wisdom is right, and the outside-the-box thinker is flat-out wrong. In fact, some turn out to be total crackpots. But error will out; scientific fact will prevail. Small price to pay for the handful of initially controversial but ultimately brilliant insights that move everything forward.


    I agree completely and even harbor one or two nonconvential theories myself (such as my theory involving how spacetime is actually warped by gravitational fields). In addition to being able to admit when you're wrong, it's important to make sure that your theories are falsifiable, and that you freely acknowledge when you're not in the mainstream. (What really irks me about some of the environemental "skeptics" isn't that they're skeptical, but that they try to pretend that the mainstream opinion isn't what it is.)

    I was afraid you'd agree with me. But gravity warping spacetime sounds perfectly defensible to me. I wouldn't call you a crackpot because of that.

    Ah, but you don't understand. It's not that spacetime is warped by gravity, it's how spacetime is warped by gravity… (it involves invisible pink unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, and orbiting teapots*)

    *OK, not really. But it does involve replacing an inverse relationship with an exponential relationship such that the solution resulting in event horizons (and hence, black holes) no longer exists.

    Now you're just trying to provoke me.

    Is it working? Laughing

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