BREAKING: Excitement spreads about Jones Institute!

TUESDAY, MAY 8, 2018

Need becomes even more clear:
International excitement about the proposed Mother Jones Institute for Serious Thought has reportedly spread in recent days, according to people who say so.

The proposed institute would have two fellows—ourselves and Kevin Drum. Proposed marketing would adopt a "Butch and Sundance" hook, though this would probably mean that the institute would have to find and sign a Katharine Ross type.

Why the desperate need for an institute of this kind? Consider yesterday's Serious Science report in the Washington Post.

Sarah Kaplan does lots of good work for the Post, but yesterday found her out over her skis. In fairness, her report started as shown below. Carefully, she reduced the science to a level so simple that even preschoolers could follow:
KAPLAN (5/7/18): Ten days before he died, Stephen Hawking sent one more written insight out into the cosmos—a paper, co-written with physicist Thomas Hertog of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, tackling the problem of a multiverse.

The paper had previously been posted on a pre-print site, where scientists share drafts of papers before they are published in peer-reviewed journals. It inspired a lot of breathless reports that he had predicted the end of the world and offered a way to detect alternate universes.

The actual study, published in the Journal of High Energy Physics, isn't quite so sensational. It deals with a paradox that the physicist himself helped raise: If the big bang created infinite universes with an inexhaustible number of variations on the laws of physics, then how can scientists hope to answer fundamental questions about why our universe looks the way it does?
So far, so good! Even the dullest newspaper reader could easily handle the alleged "paradox," in which we're asked to consider possible ramifications if the big bang created infinite universes with an inexhaustible number of variations on the laws of physics.

So far, plainly so good! Soon, though, Kaplan got over her slats, shedding Post readers with this:
KAPLAN: Scientists believe that when the universe began, some 13.8 billion years ago, it underwent a process called inflation—exponential expansion in a very short amount of time. Over the course of that rapid expansion, tiny quantum fluctuations in space were magnified to cosmic size, creating the seeds of the structures that would become galaxies and light up the universe.
"Tiny quantum fluctuations in space were magnified to cosmic size, creating the seeds of the structures that would become galaxies and light up the universe?" Research suggests that the average Post reader may not understand what that means!

How many Post readers have any idea what a "quantum fluctuation" is, let alone a "tiny cosmic fluctuation," one that's occurring in space and may magnify to cosmic size? We're always surprised when we see popular writers offering formulations like that, flying in the face of the obvious fact that nobody knows what they mean.

As proposed, The Mother Jones Institute for Serious Thought would exist to address such missteps. As Wittgenstein suggested but never quite managed to say, major amounts of Serious Thought are variations on this theme.

We've been nice enough to suggest to Drum that he can choose the role he prefers, Sundance or Butch, for the marketing campaign. The institute's motto has been selected:

"It's all Bolivian to me."

Also this: Then too, the Post encountered a minor problem in today's hard-copy editions. An overthought report on police shootings started like this:
SULLIVAN, TATE AND JENKINS (5/8/18): The number of deadly police shootings of unarmed people has generally declined since 2015 even as the tally of fatal shootings by law enforcement is on pace to hit nearly 1,000 for the fourth year in a row, according to data gathered by The Washington Post.

Fatal shootings of unarmed black men—such as the high-profile case in March of Stephon Clark in Sacramento—are among the kinds of killings that have fallen. Criminologists said the downturn in the number of cases and their analysis of the data indicate that evidence of racial bias by police who shoot and kill unarmed blacks has also declined but not disappeared.
Oof. Some editor misread those opening grafs and apparently read no further. In hard copy, this wildly erroneous pair of headlines appeared atop the report:
Police shootings of unarmed are down
But law enforcement is on pace to kill 1,000 weaponless people for fourth year in a row
Oof. So far, there have been eighteen (18) such killings this year. But you had to read to paragraph 4 to come up with that number.

The erroneous headline has been scrubbed online—or at least, until now, it had been.

26 comments:

  1. How many Post readers have any idea what a "quantum fluctuation" is, let alone a "tiny cosmic fluctuation,"

    I am not a physicist, but it is my understanding that all quantum activities are tiny. For some reason, the phrase "quantum change" has come to mean a big change. (Physicists please feel free to correct me.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well: Matter, space and time were “created” simultaneously according to the BBT. That’s why there’s no “center” of the “explosion.” All we have is cosmic background radiation. Plus the Hubble views of early galaxies, which are so far away as to beggar understanding, nevertheless contribute to confirmation of the theory.

      Do I know wtf I’m talking about? Since I’m not a physicist, much less a mathematician, the answer is clearly: No

      This guy thinks he does.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wng6c0oLkQE

      Leroy

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  2. "though this would probably mean that the institute would have to find and sign a Katharine Ross type"

    I am sick of Somerby's sexism. He seems incapable of imagining a female scientist (or wonk). Katharine Ross rode sidesaddle on a bike and had no part in the real activities of Butch and Sundance. She was mainly placed in the movie to eliminate any doubt about whether Butch and Sundance were straight, given that the film was a buddy film featuring a bromance that might otherwise give rise to subtext.

    There are any number of women who have a better grasp on science than Somerby or Drum (who is pretty good at generating graphs and much less skilled at interpreting them).

    Only a clueless throwback like Somerby could have written this phrase during these times when STEM discipline are trying to be welcoming of ALL talented individuals, not just those with nicknames like Butch and Sundance.

    ReplyDelete
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  4. The repulsive New York Times is at it again. This is what they published while Mike Pompeo was freeing American prisoners in North Korea:

    At a Key Moment, Trump’s Top Diplomat Is Again Thousands of Miles Away

    The absence of Mr. Pompeo and other top State Department officials left perplexed European diplomats privately complaining that they were having trouble getting answers from Washington, and created an uncertainty about what was next that spanned the Atlantic Ocean.

    Senior State Department officials were momentarily speechless on Tuesday when asked why Mr. Pompeo did not delay his trip by a day to be in Washington during Mr. Trump’s Iran deal announcement. Mr. Pompeo left for Pyongyang on Monday night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "...while Mike Pompeo was freeing American prisoners in North Korea"

      I didn't know Mike Pompeo was North Korean.

      Delete
  5. Sec State goes to a foreign country. Jaw dropping news.

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