Archive for September, 2010

Photographs of nuclear explosions!

September 24, 2010

Great ones; via Doug.

Learning to do incorrect research

September 17, 2010

In the latest issue of EPW, there is a perspective piece by Donald W Attwood titled How I Learned to do Incorrect Research which might be worth your while (and, pray tell me, how do you NOT READ an essay titled thus?)

On a different note, Yes; I know. But, I am not able to figure out how to get the link for the pdf of the article at the EPW site.  Anyway, hurry before the piece disappears from the front page.

The giant’s shoulders: September 2010 edition

September 16, 2010

The main fare

The use of fevers to treat diseases: PalMD talks about giving syphilis patients malaria as a treatment.

The use of fevers to treat diseases is certainly not new.  One of the most interesting cases was that of Dr. William Coley, a surgeon who treated sarcomas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He noted that patients who acquired erysipelas, a severe infection marked by high fevers, would sometimes have improvement in their tumors.  He moved from observation to intervention, placing sarcoma patients in soiled beds recently vacated by erysipelas patients.  Eventually, he created a potion of “toxins” isolated from erysipelas bacteria, injecting it directly into patients.   While we no longer give patients crushed up bacteria to treat cancer, interleukin 2, a biologic agent used as chemotherapy for some cancers, has an outwardly similar effect, often giving patients fevers and dropping their blood pressure inducing a state similar to septic shock.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised when, in digging through some old journals, I found an article on treating advanced syphilis by giving patients malaria.

Dissection as punishment: Jai Virdi at From the Hands of Quacks (where, incidentally, the next carnival will be held)

hough the practice of dissection was not as pronounced in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as in Renaissance Italy, by the eighteenth century, it was widely accepted and practiced throughout Europe. The practice of dissection in England dates back as early as 1540,when the Barbers and Surgeons united by the Royal Charter and Henry VIII, were granted an annual right of four condemned corpses a year, marking the beginning of the merging of the medical profession with exemplary punishment. Charles II later granted two more corpses, making the total six corpses yearly, and by these “royal enactments, dissection became recognized in law as a punishment, an aggravation to execution, a fate worse than death,”[2] and a foreshadowing to the 1752 Murder Act.

The Muder-Gene misrepresentation: Proveidentia on the dangers of mass media misrepresenting genetic research

Despite the issue of whether XYY males are prone to criminal behaviour remaining unresolved, it does represent a good example of the potential dangers involved in misrepresenting behavioural genetics research in the popular media.  Lingering rumours of Richard Speck being XYY still surface at times and XYY males in prison continue to risk being stigmatized as being potentially violent, regardless of their actual offending.

Role of Lavoisier in the history of chemistry: At renaissance mathematicus

The history of chemistry is long and complex and this is not the place to give a detailed analysis but a brief outline helps to put Lavoisier’s role somewhat into perspective. That which we call chemistry has its roots in two separate but intertwined streams that go back into the proverbial mist of time, industrial chemistry and alchemy. There is a tendency to see industrial chemistry as a product of the nineteenth century but in fact it is on a practical level one of the oldest scientific activities of all. The potters who developed ceramic glazes, the tanners who developed methods of curing animal hides, the metallurgists who learnt to turn ores into metals and the dyers who produced coloured cloths were all practical industrial chemists who learnt to manipulate and transform chemical substances over thousands of years passing this information on from generation to generation and steadily increasing it. Alchemist took a slightly different approach to the material world and everybody knows about their attempts to transmute metals and discover the secret of eternal life but underlying these aims is a philosophical theory of the material substances of the world that led alchemists to develop most of the equipment and methodologies necessary to carry out chemical analysis.

The interrupted transit at Pondycherry: The Renaissance Mathematicus on probably the most unfortunate astronomer of all times

But what of Le Gentil? He had been chosen by the French Academy of Science to observe the transit from Pondicherry in India. He sailed from France in 1760 and made station on Mauritius, then known as Isle de France. As he was preparing to sail to Pondicherry he learned that it had been attacked and captured by the British so he changed his plans and shipped with a French frigate heading for Coromandel with only three months to go before the transit. However the captain of the ship hearing of the developments of the war with the British turned back to Mauritius forcing Le Gentil to observe the transit from a ship at sea making his observations scientifically worthless.

Charity, Social Causes and Entertainment: Jai Virdi at From the Hands of Quacks

While this lithography exemplifies the typical nature of a fête champétre, it also raises broader questions about the relationship between charity, social causes, and entertainment. Frank Prochaska has demonstrated that charity bazaars and “fancy fairs” were a favourite institution of the aristocratic and gentry for raising attention and funds for a particular charity.

Pauling, Communist Party and Constitutional rights: The Pauling blog on The California State Investigaring committee on education

Pauling viewed the Communist Party as a political organization, and felt that being forced to admit or disavow involvement with the organization violated his constitutional rights. Perhaps more importantly, Pauling suggested that answering such questions endangered every citizen’s rights to freely choose a political association without fear of reprisal from authority. He was consequently threatened with contempt, but still he refused to answer. The hearing was recessed, and Pauling’s fate was left in a state of limbo.

Nature and place of astronomy in 17th century England: Darin on Joseph Moxon

Moxon’s career—printer, translator, instrument maker, fellow of the Royal Society, Royal Hydrographer, popularizer—raise a number of interesting questions about the nature and the place of astronomy and astronomical knowledge in late 17th-century England. To what extent was Moxon part of a broader, popularizing movement that perhaps began in the sixteenth century with people like Robert Recorde, who was surely trying to bring mathematics to a broader audience? To what extent were his globes popular instruments? What is the relationship between Moxon the tradesman and the Royal Society, that elected him and the a short time later threw him out? Were his efforts to popularize astronomy driven merely by economics—he wanted to sell more globes? And what about that lingering Ptolemaic system of the world? Did Moxon, whose other works show a clear familiarity with both the Tychonic and Copernican system, think that those of “meanest Capacity” would only understand the Ptolemaic system? Did he explicitly or implicitly reject the other systems? Not unrelated are his efforts to teach his reader about astrology?

Science and politics: The write note on the scientist and the anarchist

While it is a truism that good science is fundamentally apolitical, all scientists live in a specific political and cultural milieu that influences how they seek to understand the natural world. Huxley and Kropotkin are no different than any of us, though they faced different concerns than we do today. That either individual should have been engaged in political pursuits shouldn’t undermine the quality of their science, except for in those instances where the political took precedence over evidence from the natural world. As we survey our world today, how much of East London have we simply exported while we maintain the same standards of inequality? How many unspoken assumptions do scientists have in the questions they seek to ask and the way in which they frame their inquiry?

NB: Also see this and this — which give the background to the post linked above!

A to-do list: From Robert Boyle

Boyle’s list of scientific projects:

The Prolongation of Life.
The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour’d as in youth.
The Art of Flying.
The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there.
The Cure of Wounds at a Distance.
The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation.
The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions.
The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only.
The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed.
The Transmutation of Metalls.
The makeing of Glass Malleable.
The Transmutation of Species in Mineralls, Animals, and Vegetables.
The Liquid Alkaest and Other dissolving Menstruums.
The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses.
The making Armor light and extremely hard.
The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.
The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches.
Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc.
A Ship to saile with All Winds, and A Ship not to be Sunk.
Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.
Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author.
Great Strength and Agility of Body exemplify’d by that of Frantick Epileptick and Hystericall persons.
A perpetuall Light.
Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.

Ichnology: At the histroy of geology

Ichnology is considered a relatively young branch of the earth sciences, although like common fossils the marks left by organisms (especially vertebrate footprints) were noted already in antiquity. So its seems that the nature of fossil tracks was recognized relatively early in human history, many old legends see in those signs impressed in the rocks the footprints of animals, even if the systematic attribution is incorrect, claiming that these tracks were produced by giant humans, monstrous birds or other mystical creatures.

It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that the first widespread scientific inquiries begun, and only in the second half of the 20th century ichnology begun to emerge as a systematic and separate discipline.

Popularizing science: Lec-dems of R W Wood

Today, ideas for classroom demonstrations are usually published in journals that specialize in pedagogical discussions, such as the American Journal of Physics.  Furthermore, with the standardizing of physics education and the advent of companies that sell pre-packaged demonstration equipment, there is not as much demand for novel lecture techniques as there once was.

Looking back, then, articles like Wood’s provide us with a nice glimpse of the teaching strategies of past decades and the ingenuity of their educators.

Observing the solstice in Ancient Greek: At

A fairly common theme in astronomical explanations of ancient sites is that they were set up with a connection to the solstices. The statistical evidence leads me to think that it’s right, but it poses a serious problem, which day is the solstice? That should be an easy question to answer, it’s the day when the sunrise or sunset reaches it’s farthest position north or south. The reality is harder. The point where the sun rises over the horizon in the morning changes over the course of a year in a similar way to the way a pendulum swings. When it’s passing through the middle the change is large, about one sun-width each morning. When it reaches the solstices though the sun slows down and appears to stop in the same place for a few days. There is change, but it’s tiny about 1/30th of the sun’s width each day. That’s where the name solstice comes from. It’s derived from the Latin sol from sun and sistere to stand still.

It’s because this effect is so difficult to view that many people argue for high-accuracy observation of astronomical events. In some ways this can make arguments a bit circular. How do we know a place is an observatory? It’s because it must have been important to get the exact day of the solstice. How do we know that the exact day of the solstice was important? Because the extremely high accuracy makes it so likely.

Telescope without a tube: JF PTak and PTak Science Books

One of the most powerful blank/missing or empty things in the history of astronomy that did come about may very well be Christiaan Huygen’s telescope1 without a telescope tube. Presented to the Royal Society in 1691, Huygens instrument (also known as an “aerial telescope”) was meant to perform the world’s most powerful optical observational instrument, having a focal length of 122′.  Monster telescopes were not practical at that time given the weight and flexure and movement of what would be a massive multi-hundred-foot-long telescope tube.  And so Huygens came up with the idea of doing away with the cumbersome part of the large telescope.

Huygens was a very smart man, and one of very few people acknowledged in Newton’s Principia (along with “Dr. Hollis” and Christopher Wren, the three referred to as “the greatest geometers of our time”)), a man who Newton found to be “the most elegant of any mathematical writer of modern time”. He was extraordinarily accomplished, almost so as much as the half-forgotten Robert Hooke…Huygens was by far Hooke’s superior in mathematics, but Hooke was probably more accomplished across a wider variety of fields, which is saying mounds because Huygens did about everything..  In any event, Newton found Huygens to be an extraordinary scientist, even though Huygens didn’t really quite ever get Newton’s universal gravitation–a high elevation, perhaps among the highest, coming from the cranky Newton.

What is scientific practice?: A S Wright at False Vacuum

Scientific practice by definition includes the social structure of science, the actions of those regulated by science, and the functioning of scientists as professionals in society. I think focusing on what understanding of ‘scientific practice’ underlies authors other methodological moves—studies of Actor-Networks, experimental systems, epistemic things, trading zones—can clear up the issues at play and allow for useful comparison across authors. Does Latour’s Pasteurization of France fail to account for scientific practice? Or is it just Latour’s stress on the regulatory and professional aspects of the phrase.

Ancient scalpels and skulls: Jo Marchant at Decoding the Heavens:

So what about the surgery? It turns out Bilgi’s team has found two scalpels, which are each about four centimetres long and double-sided (see top photo). Each is still incredibly sharp: “they would still cut you today,” says Bilgi. In a graveyard on a nearby hilltop, the researchers found 700 skulls, of which 14 appear to have been operated on. A very sharp tool (Bilgi reckons obsidian would have been the only material around at the time that was sharp enough) has been used to cut rectangular openings in the skulls. Bilgi says that the surgery appears to have been done for medical reasons such as relieving a build-up of blood during a brain haemorrhage, removing a tumour, and fixing up a head injury. The skulls show signs of healing, so the patients clearly survived, at least for a few years.

A capsule biography of Wallace: At Alfred Russel Wallace website

Influenced by the socialist Henry George, Wallace urged a policy of land nationalization and an economy in which “all shall contribute their share either of physical or mental labor, and . . . every one shall obtain the full and equal reward for their work. [Then] the future progress of the race will be rendered certain by the fuller development of its higher nature acted on by a special form of selection which will then come into play.”

What “special form of selection” might be the salvation of humanity? Wallace argued that human populations produce many more males than females, but in his day young men were dying by the millions. Alcoholism, dangerous occupations, and particularly the frequent wars left Europe with a huge proportion of unattached women. But under a just and nonmilitaristic social system, Wallace predicted, the number of males would rise dramatically, until they greatly outnumbered women: “This will lead to a greater rivalry for wives, and will give to women the power of rejecting all the lower types of character among their suitors.” The well-educated, enfranchised, responsible “women of the future [will be] the regenerators of the entire human race . . . in accordance with natural laws.”

Wallace’s special hope for the salvation of mankind, then, was none other than “sexual selection,” one of Darwin’s favorite mechanisms for explaining the evolution of man—which Wallace had always insisted did not exist! However, Wallace added a twist to Darwinian sexual selection: an explicit acknowledgment of the large evolutionary effects of a slight change in sex ratio, a surprisingly modern way of thinking about populations.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Alfred Russel Wallace become a hero among disaffected academics and independent scholars. They saw in him a brilliant scientist, working outside the establishment, scrabbling for a living, snubbed by those with wealth and position, persecuted for unpopular social views—possibly even deprived of his rightful place in history. Yet Wallace was morally triumphant as a great human being and fearless truthseeker, cheerful, optimistic, and productive into his ninetieth year.

In 1985, the British Entomological Society, of which Wallace was once president, launched a series of major expeditions to study the insects of the world’s tropical rain forests. They called it “Project Wallace.””

Did she, or did she not bath in the milk of asses?: Cleopatra is the person in question!

To be honest, I don’t know where the idea that Cleopatra bathed in asses’ milk came from. There’s no contemporary source that I know of that says it. Pliny the Elder writing around a century later said that women bathed their cheeks in it seven times a day to remove wrinkles. The key bit is “Poppaea hoc Neronis principis instituit, balnearum quoque solia sic temperans…” Natural History 28.183. Pliny says that Poppaea, wife of Nero first did this, and even filled her bath-tubs with the milk.

Nero was not fondly remembered by the Roman élite after he died, and neither was Poppaea. By saying that Poppaea introduced the practice, Pliny is not just saying it’s something that extremely vain people would do. Nero and Poppaea were considered moral dregs. The fact that Poppaea used whole baths of the stuff highlights her extravagant and wasteful nature. Even though the élites were wealthy, the pursuit and flaunting of wealth on personal effects was considered effeminate and unRoman. Instead Romans were supposed to flash their cash by putting on events for the the people, or building public works. If as part of those works, they had to have grand villas and employ the best sculptors to furnish them, then that was the way life went.

Mapping: The humans

The history of mapping the goods and ills, the past and present and the future on the human body must be about as old as writing, or older.  Ever since you could draw geometric proofs in the sand people have been mapping out the connections (or lack of) the parts of the human body, their relations to one another, the influences of the stars on them, the control of dermatological deformities on the health of the system, the lump and pits and dings on the cranium as an indicator of intelligence and prospects for the future, connecting the lines of electroshock results on facial contortions with the inner musings of the criminal brain, and on and on.  What brings my attention to this though are the overall full-body indexes, the general NYC subway map-like overlays on the entire body, and what they look like out of context.

For my purposes here, it really is just the out of context element, the found art, the pre-Absurdist, pre-Dadaist images that they maps create.  Granted the real stuff behind these images are by far more interesting, but I wanted to add these pictures to the blog’s alternative art category before their Duchampian attraction left me.

Surgery: The aural one, that is

As aural surgery became a “fashionable” trend amongst aristocratic households and several aurists increased in prosperity, conflict between aurists became characteristic of the field. Aurists fiercely competed with each other for positions, status, and patients, and accused each other of being quacks. “Quack” seemed to be less than an accusatory term than a label thrown around by irregular and regular practitioners alike as aurists constantly bickered with each other. The situation heightened to such an extent during the first half of the nineteenth century that the editors of The London Literary Gazette (1834) remarked

[w]ho should decide when aurists disagree? We shall not try, for we are so sick of the quackery practiced, almost beyond all branches, in this branch of surgical practice, that we must turn a deaf ear to them all.

Nobel and the spy: Maurice Wilkins and his M15 connections

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that Maurice Wilkins, the mousey Kings College London physicist-cum-crystallographer who didn’t find the structure of DNA, was investigated as a possible spy—exactly during the crescendo moment of the double helix saga.

Wilkins, recall, was a friend of Watson and Crick and the administrative (but not intellectual) supervisor of Rosalind Franklin, whose trenchant criticism and crystallographic images were crucial to W&C’s solution of the DNA problem.

For two years, Wilkins, who had worked on the Manhattan Project during the war, was investigated by MI5, according to security files just released by the British National Archives. Wilkins was born in New Zealand. Apparently, in 1951 the FBI informed MI5 that Wilkins or one of the other eight New Zealand or Australia natives who worked on the project had close ties to the American Communist Party. The investigation was dropped in 1953.

The temptations of the scientists: For the past 50 years and more

Samuel A. Goudsmit (1902-1978) was the first editor of PRL, but is also known scientifically as being one of two scientists (along with George E. Uhlenbeck) who conceived of the idea of electron spin in 1925.

As I alluded earlier, this editorial may well have been written today!  Top journals are constantly suffering under a flood of inadequate or inappropriate submissions, so much so that at least the two top journals (Science and Nature) have their editors pre-screen submissions before sending them out to reviewers.  (I seem to recall hearing that PRL was thinking of going the same route.)

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this editorial, other than to state again that it shows that scientists are subject to ordinary human temptation, and that human nature hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years!

Summing up: Of a course

Last semester I taught an MA course on the troubled relationship between science and esotericism in the post-Enlightenment era. I blogged about some of the classes earlier, particularly on mesmerism (here and here), spiritualism, the interactions with the ideological superstructures of naturalism and positivism (here and here), Frederic Myers, William James and psychical research, and the encounter between Jung and Pauli. It’s a diverse subject, which can go in very different directions. To show a bit of the diversity, I will briefly present some of the papers that were submitted.

Throughout the course, we emphasised the many and varied ways in which scientific and esoteric discourse have interacted since the late 18th century. We find polemical encounters, strategic appropriations of science by esoteric spokespersons, scientific investigations of esoteric claims (whether sympathetic or dismissive), as well as real influence of esoteric ideas on men of science.

What can we learn from Punch?: About the history of Anthropological society

The anthropological society broke away from the Ethnological society in 1863. The founders of this splinter group, Sir Richard Burton and James Hunt were anti-evolutionists and very racist in tone. James Hunt penned, ‘The Negros Place in Nature‘  in 1864 one year after T. H. Huxley’s ‘Mans Place in Nature’ 1863.

The attitudes to race in this period are not those of our own, neither Huxley’s nor Hunt’s positions would be acceptable by modern standards. Huxley believed in equal rights for all, but it was because he viewed it as shameful and dishonorable not to treat people as equals. He did not however believe that all people were equal. Hunt is a more straight forward garden variety racist of the worst sort and this position is clearly being threatened by the leap in knowledge made by Darwin in biology and is percieved as a threat.

By 1871 the Ethnological society and the Anthropological Society merged to form The Royal Anthropological Society. But as the Punch cartoon demonstrates in 1891 the issues that split both societies in 1860′s was still a matter of contention in wider British society in the 1890′s.

It has been rather popular of late to suggest that Darwin influenced Hitler. But this is simply an indication of historical illiteracy and poor education. The exact type of conditions that allow people who dwell on the fringes of reality to dress up their brand of crap as fact and gain popularity.

Archaeology and national identity: At Anthropology in practice

Archaeology can hold the key to national identity. Think about it: a find, even if it’s not King Tut’s funerary mask, can provide a testament to the accomplishments of a civilization. It anchors the heritage of a people. So it should come as no surprise that when archaeologists began to piece together the story of human evolution that everyone wanted to claim a place in the narrative—as evolution came to be more accepted in the late 19th-century, there was a certain pride in claiming a human ancestor within the boundaries of the nation. It provided a sense of origin for people and heightened their sense of nativism.

The Germans had Neanderthals (discovered in 1856), the French proudly laid claim to Cro Magnon (1868), and fossils had also been found in Belgium (1886, Neanderthal), Spain (1848, Neanderthal), and even Holland (1890s, Pithecanthropus erectus—Java man) had a claim to human evolutionary history with a find on an outpost of the colony. England, however, could make no such claim. In fact, the absence of fossilized evidence of human evolution within England could only mean that the English were not native to their soil (1). It was a thought that did not sit well with many Englishmen. Other nations took the opportunity to criticize the English archaeological record—calling the paleontology efforts of the English “pebble collecting” (2).
Tales that fossils tell: If they are fossils of feces
Fossilized feces are small snapshots of the lives of prehistoric organisms, often preserving bits of whatever they had been eating, and while coprolites may not get top billing in museum halls, they are among the most pungent reminders that weird and wonderful organisms really did live during the remote past. As reported by paleontologists James Farlow, Karen Chin, Anne Argast, and Sean Poppy in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, two such vestiges of ancient digestive systems have recently been found in Indiana, but what left them is something of a mystery.
Called the Pipe Creek Sinkhole, the site where the coprolites were found dates back to around five million years ago. During that time Indiana was home to a motley assemblage of mammals. As stated by the authors, remains of “insectivores, rodents, hares, peccaries, deerlike ungulates, camelids, rhinoceroses, felids, canids, skunks, and bears” have been found there, but what sort of animal left the scat behind? To find out, the scientists attempted to parse the details of the fossils through thin sections and CT scans.
The ideal physicist: is Faraday!
If you were to ask people to name the “ideal” physicist, I’m guessing most people would name Albert Einstein, who was arguably one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time.  I would argue, however, that nobody really exemplifies the spirit of physics and of science in general better than Michael Faraday (1791-1867).
Divide the blame equally: Between Newton and Flamsteed

I think the worst disservice that this fragment does to Flamsteed is contained in the closing sentence:

A quarrelsome man, he argued with Newton and Halley over their requests for access to his astronomical observations.

This is a myth put about by Newton’s supporters, as the two were still alive and pouring bile and vitriol on to each other’s heads. In fact the first biography of Flamsteed written by the 19th century astronomer Francis Baily was designed to correct this slander. That is not to say that Flamsteed did not argue bitterly with Newton and Halley, he did for many years, but the blame was equally divided and should most probably be more directed at Newton than at Flamsteed.

A very simple point: From Hardy (and how it came about)

Hardy got involved in this debate because he happened to be good friends with Punnett. They played cricket and sat on committees together as fellows in different fields at Cambridge. Punnett posed the problem and Hardy resolved it rather handily using, as he says in his 1908 letter, “a little mathematics of the multiplication-table type.”

Hardy’s letter is only a single page and makes his “very simple point”, that in a large population where there is no migration, in which mating occurs at random and in the absence of selection or mutation, the frequency of alleles will remain the same. Variation would be preserved over the generations. “In a word, there is not the slightest foundation for the idea that a dominant character should show a tendency to spread over a whole population, or that a recessive should tend to die out,” Hardy writes.

Where we live?: In this universe

And right there, less than 1 degree away from the exact spot Le Verrier predicted, was the new planet: Neptune. So while there are many who contend Adams deserves equal credit for Neptune’s discovery, I am not among them.

And that was nearly 164 years ago. But what you might not know is that, being 30 times farther away from the Sun than Earth is, Neptune takes nearly 165 years to complete a single orbit!

Which means, for the first time since its discovery, Neptune is about to return to the same position in space that it occupied the day it was discovered. And what date will that be?

July 12th or 13th, 2011.

Periodicity: Of mass extinction

nteresting fact of the day: examining the fossil record suggests that mass extinctions on Earth occur approximately once every 26 million years (Myr). One possible explanation for this is a companion dwarf star to the Sun on a 26 Myr orbit.

The first: Ovarian surgery

Aside from the fiction that the three words created and the half-word that I created/butchered, I wondered about when ovaries were first surgically removed, and then about how the ovary was seen (almost forever) as the home and birthing place of the fully-formed human delivered to it by men in the act of ya’ know.

Dots are not just dots: They represent stars

Dots aren’t necessarily just dots–even in representing the stars, dots have a rich history. The first star-dots published in the West appear in 1482, taken from the work of the first century astronomer and philosopher Hyginius1, and is a book that contains maps of the constellations composed of such beautiful light-encrusted bits.  There wouldn’t be another work like this one, strangely, for another 75  years. Alessandro Piccolomini’s2 work of 1559 (which would be the first true star atlas), and again we see the familiar representation.

Galileo’s dots were very aggressive.  By 1610 he had produced his fifth and most powerful telescope, allowing things to be seen one thousand times closer, using it to make enormous discoveries–discoveries so big in fact that their towering significance is a but hard to understand today in the context of early 17th century knowledge. It was all published in his fantastic Sidereus Nuncius on March 4, 1610—the extraordinary  very title page3 of the book proclaiming some of the great discoveries of Galileo’s adventure.

Some side dishes to dip in

Some questions on Newton’s mathematical methods: At Early Modern Experimental Philosophy

Twitter-isation of the History of Science: At the Dispersal of Darwin

Huxley-Wilberforce evolution debate: link to a piece in Guardian via The Dispersal of Darwin.

History of Madness and Psychiatry in the Western world: A syllabus

Sydenham’s smallpox treatment: At the history of vaccines blog

Louis Menand’s short version of The metaphysical club: Link to a podcast

Brief history of mathematics: At History of Science blog

Darwin’s London: Links to audio of several speeches

Bubble chamber: Launch of a blog on the history and philosophy of science

Report on a conference: Fitting for Health: The Economy of Medical Technology in Europe and its Colonies, 1600-1850

Naming issues: Why name a blog “boffins and cold warriors”?

Medical exhibitions: That are not just medicine

Movement: Of Akron archives — to a new building

Woolly mammoth: a picture of a model

Suggested reading list: history of science

Chinese natural history: Some extraordinary images from the Reeves collection (Let me add my personal recommendation: must see)

Science Map: With hyperlinks

Book review: Of The house of wisdom

Workshop announcement: Perspectives on Victorian Science and Culture

Mathematics of jewellery: Of Vikings

Musings: Of a historiographer

A reading recommendation: From PhysicsToday

Famous thinkers: Believed to be autistic

Discovery(Re): Of Darwin’s family tree

Streets: Photos of those named after optical scientists (Nice one!)

Darwin-Walace papers: A link

Origin of the word: Evolution

Conference videos: Chicago Darwin conference 2009

Let me thank all the bloggers who submitted entries to the carnival and all the bloggers whose posts have made it to this carnival.

In case I have missed out any posts, please send me a note or leave a comment. I will update the post.

The next edition of this carnival will be at From the Hands of Quacks; entries can be submitted at the Blog Carnival.

Before I say Happy Reading and sign off, let me give the final link of this carnival: a supplement in Current Science called Mathematics in India — which among other things, talks about the history of calculus in India, How the International Congress of Mathematicians came to be, Re-collections of Harish-Chandra, Mahalanobis on his friendship with Ramanujan, and pieces on Mahalanobis and Fisher.

Carnival update!

September 16, 2010

Watch this space! The Giant’s Shoulder’s September, 2010 edition will be up soon — And, it is a very heavy fare!!! 🙂

A recent read and some book buying mechanisms

September 10, 2010

Recently, while we were at Crossword, we ended up picking up Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy.

Good read; in spite of the fact that at times the resolutions are a bit too neat and sometimes the descriptions are a bit too graphic and many a times the incidents are a tad too violent for my taste, I found the books unputdownable. All the three have consistently got B+ or B at Complete Review (and many other places online and offline too); I also tend to agree with the assessment of Complete Review.

In case you have not heard before, here is a piece from NYTimes on the circumstances under which these books were written.

On a different note, I recently discovered Flipkart and their Cash-on-Delivery (CoD) service; the great thing about Flipkart is that they also have a good collection of technical books available on their site unlike regular book stores — some of which do offer Direct-to-Home, Cash-on-Delivery services. I have no hesitations in recommending Flipkart site and their CoD service, if you also happen to be a book junkie!

PS: By the way, I also figured out recently that the old style books by VPP service is still being used by some book publishers; I ordered and got Raja Rao’s Chessmaster and his moves and The great Indian way from Orient books using the VPP service. I will write about these two books as and when I finish reading them.

Giant’s Shoulders: September, 2010 edition

September 10, 2010

I am hosting the September, 2010 edition of Giant’s Shoulders. Entries can be submitted here or at blogcarnival before the 15 September, 2010.

Influence of mother tongue on habits of thought

September 9, 2010

For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike. In his shadow, others made a whole range of imaginative claims about the supposed power of language, from the assertion that Native American languages instill in their speakers an intuitive understanding of Einstein’s concept of time as a fourth dimension to the theory that the nature of the Jewish religion was determined by the tense system of ancient Hebrew.

Eventually, Whorf’s theory crash-landed on hard facts and solid common sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute. But 70 years on, it is surely time to put the trauma of Whorf behind us. And in the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.

Guy Deutscher in NYTimes Magazine; link vis A&L Daily.

Learning from Rajini

September 6, 2010

The title of Baradwaj Rangan’s Tehelka piece says it all: