Chemist: Stanislao Cannizzaro (1826 -1910)

12 01 2012

Recently I read a very good paper that all of those trained in chemistry should read IMO. The paper is briefly discussed in Harriman’s book, The Logical Leap

Sketch of a course of chemical philosophy (1858).
I have linked to the PDF version of the article.

Ask a recent chemistry graduate from a university this question: How did scientists prove that matter was made of atoms? How do we really know things are made of atoms?
Tell them that the scientific world basically agreed this was the case in the middle of the 19th century. ie: Long before the invention of our advanced spectroscopy instruments, X-ray diffraction, electron microscopes, nuclear magnetic resonance etc. These instruments would perhaps not have even been developed to their current day levels without atomic theory because there would have probably been less interest in the types of instruments that investigate the behaviour of atoms if people didn’t believe atoms existed.
The human eye sees wavelengths of light as small as about 390 nm. But an atom is over 1000 X smaller than that and obviously cannot be directly perceived with our eyes alone.

When I graduated 9 years ago, I couldn’t have answered this question. Seems like it should be a pretty easy thing to answer doesn’t it? But the way science is taught in Australian schools is a hodge-podge of Constructivist BS which often amounts to nothing more than indoctrination. Students unfortunately don’t learn about how scientists validated atomic theory. I have come across academic pedagogues who dispute the idea that teaching science history necessarily aids in scientific understanding. However a paper like this demonstrates the power of an investigation into the essentials of science history. Because when studying science, the scientific method itself, the method of achieving accurate knowledge of physical reality is far more important than the results themselves. Once you have the method, it can be applied to any area of science. And by investigating the type of work needed, the disagreements that occurred, the errors that were made, students can see for themselves the process of scientific method at work.
They no longer just believe that everything is made of atoms on faith – everyone knows that right? They are encouraged to stop and check this seemingly obvious assumption. They can independently validate the theory for themselves. The process of scientific discovery has been highlighted and they aren’t just required to accept theories from the Oracle of Science. They see what was required to validate atomic theory and can appreciate the brilliance of the great scientists and their intellectual determination and rigor. So without even necessarily focusing on the topic of scientific method, they are nevertheless investigating it and coming to appreciate its importance.

So thank you Cannizzaro! ūüôā

Cannizzaro’s paper answers the question. It’s very interesting and has inspired me to go look up some of the original work done by Avagadro, Dumas, Ampere, Dalton and Gerhardt.

More on the destructive environmentalist bandwagon

12 01 2012

Once again the parasite Tim Flannery has been exposed for making a completely false claim about the environment. See this article of Andrew Bolt’s blog.

Bolt also links to another good article: On IPCCs exaggerated climate sensitivity and the emperor’s new clothes

I wish the general public would take much more note of predictions made by authorities and hold them accountable when they fail massively.

There are several areas where mainstream beliefs are demonstrably wrong. Two examples are Keynesian-inspired economic theories and climate change science.

If the public are authority addicted and refuse to look at facts but prefer to suspend their judgment and worship their false political idols, then there’s not much that can be done. And eventually you get a situation like the very sad state of North Korea or Syria or Zimbabwe or any number of examples showing where an authoritarian government leads.

But I believe human beings are not as stupid as their authorities assume them to be. I believe that if more people read articles like this where they are reminded just how delusional and completely off-target many present day authorities are, then most of them are honest enough to look at the facts and realize something’s up.

After all, government action is not something to be taken lightly. This is obvious if you have any knowledge of history but unfortunately most people don’t seem to realize this. Government is the monopoly agency of force. Of course such an entity is necessary to deal with people initiating force on others (eg/ crimes like murder, fraud, theft etc) and as such any country should have a strong police force and legal system. But clearly, government is very different to a business which cannot force you to buy their product or make you do what they want (without government regulation at least, ie: an element of fascism and subsequent cronyism).
So it is quite depressing to see so many in our society who call for ever more government intrusion. And this is the real danger of environmentalism. It’s basically an excuse for socialist or fascist legislation which is always harmful to business and therefore to human life and prosperity. The world-wide trend arguably over the last 200 years has been towards ever increasing fascism and socialism (until countries implode). I am 31 years old and I think most people from my generation don’t know any different. They are confused, ignorant and are conditioned by popular culture and their substandard schools to believe that business, at least “big” business is evil. They have a hard time thinking independently and in their minds their is no alternative except to run like a crying little baby believing in the fantasy that government force can and should fix their problems. A very sad state of affairs that always ends badly.

We need a culture where people stand up for the rights of individuals. And a culture where people are quick to recognize the danger of political movements like environmentalism. Instead most people have gleefully jumped on the environmentalist bandwagon like a herd of sheep jumping on the truck headed to the slaughter house. Meanwhile, our roads get worse, hospitals are more over-crowded than ever, money is thrown down the drain by governments spending on unnecessary desalination plants and illiteracy is on the rise even with technological advances and more education expenditure. The common factor here is government.

What commodity is more important than any other? Arguably food supply. Human starvation is an appalling thing, so shouldn’t the government socialize the food industry to make sure everyone eats? No. Historically every historical instance of significant government intrusion into the food industry resulted in rationing followed by starvation. This observation highlights the principle that socialism and fascism are always economically destructive compared to freer societies. No wonder roads, healthcare and education are suffering so much, they are industries held back by high levels of government ownership and regulation, ie: government interference. No wonder the computer industry has thrived over the last 30 years – an area that has much less government intrusion. No wonder Australian cities are subjected to water restrictions (in Australia, water supply is socialized). The masses suffer unnecessarily.

Unfortunately in our dependent, authority addicted culture, the worse a problem gets due to the legislation of idiot politicians, the more secure their jobs become. The politicians benefit, and the people suffer. A maddening injustice. The useless Tim Flannery is not held accountable for his false claims. He’s been rewarded.

As an ex-research scientist, (I lost my job because I worked for an international company that shut down their Australian operations due to the global financial crises and I have now changed to a more rewarding career). I have observed many scientists with poor intellects who seem to operate on the level of an automaton and would be far better suited to a routine factory job. I’ve seen many scientist who are intellectually helpless when it comes to thinking scientifically and problem solving. Many times, I’ve been appalled by the ineptitude of PhD graduates whom I have had to help deal with very basic problems.
It really sucks that the intellectual standard is so low in current Australian science – Tim Flannery certainly proves my point. I don’t think it has to be this way.

Two Interesting Books

14 12 2010

1) I am currently reading “Body by Science” by Doug McGuff M.D. and John Little.¬† It’s quite good and well referenced.¬† The take home message of the book is that a cell’s anaerobic metabolism pathways are not separate to the aerobic metabolism pathways.¬† ie: The aerobic metabolism is not neglected in short, high intensity exercise.¬† In fact, to fully utilize and force a positive adaptation to your aerobic capacity you must engage in high intensity training with the aim of exhausting all the four types of muscle fibers within a period of 45 – 90 seconds per exercise.
I particularly like the way the authors have written an Introduction detailing their epistemological approach to their research and I’ve noticed other good books on nutrition and exercise also do this.¬† It’s great when an author lays out how they approach the research, what they consider to be a good study and a bad study and their opinions on why mistakes were made in the past.¬† In addition, it gives you the reader a way to understand how the author thinks, to judge the author by to their own professed standards and for you to compare your epistemological standards with theirs.

Body by Science has a good level of scientific discussion (the stuff I like) particularly in the first half of the book.  However some of the studies quoted would require further investigation in my opinion.  I notice that some of the studies in this book use quite small sample sizes.

Generally, it seems to me that many interesting avenues of research in the field of nutrition and fitness are under-researched.¬† I get the impression that almost all research follows the typical status quo standards and trends of the day.¬† eg/ It’s much harder to find a good study on low carbohydrate eating compared to say a study comparing the popular high fibre approach to a low fibre diet (but not low carb of course).

I’m far from a fitness nut and I often don’t exercise nearly enough.¬† But I used to be a very active sportsman as a teenager and I have an interest in the most effective and efficient ways to stay fit and healthy.¬† This book is somewhat at odds with some of the training programs I’ve been interested in over the last few years such as the Tabata Method, or CrossFit, Yoga and body-weight exercises such as push-ups, squats, chin-ups and handstands.¬† However overall, I’ve found this book very good.¬† I’m going to try out the high intensity approach myself and see if I notice a difference.


2) Hat tip to Jeffrey Smalls of the Small Thoughts blog for this second interesting book, Milton Stricker’s “Design Through Abstraction, The Wright Source to Art and Architecture“.¬† It’s available to read for free over the internet.¬† I haven’t read it yet but will put it in the pile (I have so many interesting books to read).¬† Here’s a quote I particularly liked:

“The difference between creative people and ‚Äúnormal‚ÄĚ individuals is the ability of the former to concentrate, to motivate, and to see through problems.¬† Creative persons are more concerned with the total picture, a right brain concern, and less interested in small details, a left brain concern.¬† Creative individuals are impressive people because they realize their full potential and, since they are rarely preoccupied with making an impression, they feel free to create.¬† Their decisions are determined by their own set of values rather than by the standards of others.¬† Creativity is both inborn and evolutionary, capable of continual development through dedication, motivation and independent thought.”
The above quote comes from a section of the book where Stricker is pointing out that creativity isn’t a gift from God or similar.¬† Rather, it’s a human quality that we’re all capable of and that we should all try to develop and that creativity is not dependent on high intelligence.¬† Very true.

Word of the day: Panspermia

3 09 2010


“the theory that life exists and is distributed throughout the universe in the form of germs or spores that develop in the right environment.”¬† –

A few months ago I had the misfortune of having to spend some time with a highly deluded person who believed the human race were aliens.¬† He even had a tattoo of an alien on his arm.¬† The guy believed a whole lot of conspiracy rubbish.¬† One example/¬†he believed¬†fluoride¬†is added to¬†our water¬†for the purpose of pacifying and¬†controlling the population.¬†¬†He kept saying that “they” don’t want you to know about it.¬†¬†Unfortunately¬†he wouldn’t tell me who “they” were.¬†¬†¬†He even inspired me to write a quick blog post on the madness of most conspiracy theories.¬†

Anyway, I stumbled across this article today:

Panspermia theorists say India’s red rain contains life not seen on earth

Of course it’s well known¬†that there are many organisms on earth that can survive extreme conditions, including the harsh conditions of space.¬† But it’s quite another thing¬†to¬†believe we’re all descendants of aliens like some kind of nutty Scientologist.¬† But this article was quite interesting.¬† Could simple alien cells travel light years in suspended animation and land on earth?¬† Interesting, but I’m still sceptical.

Today, after a further four years of studying the cells, joined by a leading panspermia theorist from the UK, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Professor Louis has published claims that they are unlike anything found on Earth.
He says the cells – inert at room temperature – begin to reproduce at 121C.

Further on:

The team also found an unusual pattern in the way the cells changed colour under UV light, known as “fluorescence behaviour”.

They said it was “in remarkable correspondence” with red emissions from the Red Rectangle planetary nebula some 2300 light years away, “suggesting, though not proving, an extraterrestrial origin”.

While the panspermia angle is already being rejected by the scientific community at large, there’s plenty of interest in the final finding of Prof Louis’s team – the cells contain no DNA.

Interview with Craig Venter

6 08 2010

An interview with Craig Venter, famous for the mapping of the human genome.

We have learning nothing from mapping the Genome

Here’s a¬†portion of the article’s introduction to get you interested:

The historic press conference marked the end of a bitter race between Venter’s firm Celera and the Human Genome Project, a government-sponsored consortium of around 1,000 scientists from around the world. Both groups had technically mapped the genome, but Venter’s team had done it faster and cheaper. Since then, multimillionaire Venter, 63, has established a reputation within the scientific community for being a rebel.¬†

Here’s a couple of excerpts:¬†

Venter: The human genome project was completely different, it was supposed to be the biggest thing in the history of biological sciences. Billions in government funding for a single project — we had never seen anything like that before in biology. And then a single person comes along and beats scientists who have been working on it for years. It is no wonder they didn’t like that.

Venter: Yes. There are two groups of people. People either want to know the information or they prefer to live like an ostrich with their head in the sand, not knowing anything.

SPIEGEL: Some scientist don’t rule out a belief in God. Francis Collins, for example ‚Ķ
Venter: ‚Ķ That’s his issue to reconcile, not mine. For me, it’s either faith or science – you can’t have both.

Academic hoaxes make for interesting reading and demonstrate bias

3 08 2010

I have been reading up on the Sokal affair. 

In 1996, physicist Prof. Sokal¬†submitted the hoax article “Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the postmoderist friendly journal “Social Text”.¬†

In the hoax article, Sokal wrote some gems such as this:

“since “physical reality” is, at bottom, a social and linguistic construct, a “liberatory science” and an “emancipatory mathematics”, spurning “the elite caste canon” of “high science”, must be established for a “postmodern science [that] provides[s] powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project.”

Ha ha. 

Sokal reasoned that if the presumption of editorial laziness were correct, the nonsensical content of his article would be irrelevant to whether or not the editors would publish it; what would matter would be ideologic obsequiousness, fawning references to deconstructionist writers, and sufficient quantities of feminist and socialist thought

For the original article, see Sokal’s own page:

What was truly remarkable to me, was that the “Social Text” journal editors accused Prof. Sokal of behaving unethically in deceiving them!¬† Personally, I think they should gaze into the looking glass, have a cold hard look at themselves and lift their game.¬† How about, don’t publish obviously fake articles!¬†

If nothing else, hoaxes such as these are a great example of the power and importance of our underlying ideology and in particular our epistemology.¬† We are all influenced by our¬†explicit and implicit philosophical ideas.¬†¬†Philosophy is the prime mover and this is an important point of which many people are not aware.¬† Human beings have a consciousness that operates by a process of integration to form concepts, we then integrate concepts¬†to build principles upon which to guide¬†action.¬† These principles are an unavoidable part of being human.¬† Therefore,¬†I’m not anti-principle per se, like some.¬† This would ironically be a principle anyway, (eg/ sceptic or pragmatist epistemology).¬† Like everyone, I’m against what I consider to be bad and dangerous ideology.¬† For example, I strongly dislike¬†religions and¬†nihilism.¬†

We often see allegations of bias and sloppy thinking in the media and other arenas.  eg/ conservative media personalities often lament the left leaning bias of the main stream media.  Andrew Bolt has been criticising the left leaning bias of the ABC with several recent articles including this one: New media, but same ABC bias

But I’m not surprised by the ABC’s left leaning bias.¬† The ideologies driving socialist and fascist ideas¬†dominate our society.¬† eg/ altruism, mysticism, pragmatism, determinism, populism¬†etc.¬† I don’t think those committing bias are even aware they¬†may be¬†biased, because they are operating from¬†a different¬†world view.¬† ¬†

Another example along the same lines would be¬†all those US comedians who¬†made a lot more fun of Bush than Obama, even though Bush jokes became old very quickly, like those annoying man vs women or black vs white stereotype jokes.¬† (Incidentally, there do seem to be a disproportiate number of bad US comedians and bad US comedy shows.¬† Lift your game!).¬† And the same trend occured in Australia.¬† Rudd got off easy compared to Howard.¬† (Personally I’d like¬†Bush, Obama, Rudd and Howard to be heavily ridiculed – I don’t like any of them).¬† The same thing happened in the UK during the early 80s.¬† Comedians seemed to be able to simply¬†mention Thatcher and they’d get a laugh.¬†¬†
My point is that¬†you can’t expect comedians in our society to be impartial.¬†¬†They have a certain ideology and¬†they’ll focus on certain issues and have certain emotional reactions to these issues.¬† ¬† ¬†

To finish off, the wikipedia entry on the Sokal affair had some interesting links to more academic hoaxes at the end of the article.¬† Next I’m going to do some¬†light reading¬†into hoaxes particularly in the world of modern art.¬† Although judging by¬†some of the¬†rubbish in the South Australian art gallery’s modern art section, I suspect 90% of¬†artists and critics are in a constant state of playing a nasty joke on the public.¬† ūüôā

Article recommendation: Cargo Cult Science by Richard Feynman

13 07 2010

Caltech’s 1974 commencement address.¬† It’s a shortish, easy to read transcript, highly recommended.¬†¬†Feynman manages to cover¬†a broad range of ideas on scientific method using examples.¬†

Richard Feynman notes “I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world” and he expresses his alarm at the popularity and volume of pseudo-science and ignorance of good scientific method.¬† Feynman notes that even scientists are not formally trained in scientific method:¬†

“But this long¬†history of learning how to not fool ourselves – of having utter scientific integrity – is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of.¬† We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis”¬†

I also wish scientific method was taught explicitly at university.¬† Personally, I wish scientists generally had more of an interest in epistemology.¬† I have worked in the biopharma field for some time and have thought this for quite a while now.¬† I have seen many a case of what I consider poor scientific practise and ignorance.¬† When I was at university (studying chemistry for 5 years) the topic of epistemology rarely entered my mind, I didn’t even know what the word meant and I have often lamented this fact.¬†

Feynman’s number one rule for good scientific¬†practise¬†is “scientific integrity”.¬†

“a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty – a kind of leaning over backwards”¬†

I agree.¬† Integrity and honesty are fundamental.¬† Feynman points out a good¬†scientist should never pick out good¬†data and ignore bad.¬† There are many examples of this problem in modern science often originating from scientists who have accepted a pre-conceived hypothesis or theory and refuse to “check their premises” to quote Ayn Rand.¬† Feynman also notes the importance of confirming all the implied facts upon which a theory rests.¬†

Feynman’s picks out¬†a Wesson Oil advertisement,¬†a story about the scientific community’s reaction to Millikan’s¬†determination for the charge of an electron and the research on rats performed by Young¬†as examples to¬†illustrate his¬†insightful¬†points on scientific integrity.¬†¬†¬†

If you are a young research scientist you will undoubtedly over the course of your career meet other scientists or be under the instruction of other scientists who from time to time, for various reasons do not practice good scientific method.  If you are like me this will be frustrating, upsetting and de-motivating to you especially if it originates from your superiors.  For example, managers may be desperate for good data on new company products, co-workers may operate more like autonomous robots than thinking investigators keen to understand the scientific theories upon which their work is based. 

However in the end, it is far better for you and everyone else to maintain your scientific integrity. 

Maintaining scientific integrity will give you a sense of pride and confidence in your work.  It will also make you aware of your premises and the limits (context) of your findings. 

If you think something needs more investigation, don’t be afraid to say so even when your superiors may¬†be dismissive.¬† If you’re uncertain about your results because of unexamined variables X, Y and Z then acknowledge this.¬† It’s your research afterall.¬† ¬†
The alternative to practising integrity is to put your¬†hands over your ears and yell “La la la la la la la la” so you can¬†escape to warm fuzzy delusional-land.¬† The problem with this approach is that warm-fuzzy delusional land has a habit of turning into cold lonely bite-you-in-the-ass land.¬† Your colleagues may want to¬†behave like this at times, a good scientist never does.¬† A good scientist lives by a code of integrity and honesty.¬†¬†And so should you.¬† ūüôā