Sunday, 27 June 2010

We see though dark glasses

Does wearing fake designer sunglasses make you feel good? Answer “Yes” or “No” (no cheating, please!), then check out this fascinating report in The Economist.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Men are bigger liars than women, says poll

BBC report on Science Museum survey

I guess the assumption here is that everybody told the truth about how often they lied.

Why is it that surveys, telemarketing scripts and sales pitches (which themselves may sometimes be “economical with the truth” or less than totally upfront about their purpose or intentions) so often seem to assume that the respondents’ answers will be honest and straightforward?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

“Great job on the others, but you got us all wrong!”

I once read a book in which the author set out to debunk various different popular movements and ideas by showing what was wrong with them (in some cases exposing pseudoscientific concepts or demonstrating basic misrepresentation and dishonesty, for example). Each chapter was about a different movement or idea. What struck me particularly was something he mentioned in his introduction: After the first edition of the book was published, he got a lot of comments from readers about what a good job he had done of exposing the errors of different groups. Very often, such praise was accompanied by a comment to the effect that “in the case of our group, though, you’ve got your facts wrong”...

Realistically, a popular author or journalist is not likely to be the world’s greatest authority on about twenty different movements or ideas simultaneously – and nobody would seriously expect him to be. So a few (or a lot of) factual details in the book could well have been incomplete or simply inaccurate. But what worries me more is the danger lurking hidden within the seemingly innocuous endorsement “You did a great job on the others!” – namely, the evident tendency, which I also recognise in myself, to accept uncritically statements and assertions that support or fit in with our own beliefs and ideas.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Monday, 27 July 2009

Dissident Cobblers



Ominous changes are afoot in the capital of Europe!

Here in Belgium, if you buy a car and don't already possess the pair of licence plates that will remain yours for life, the local vehicle registration office will normally issue you with your first licence plate (the rear one, as it happens) by sending it to you through the post. You then have to visit a cobbler and buy the front plate yourself. Apparently, this business represents about 15 percent of Belgian cobblers' overall turnover.

It may not have made the world news headlines, but, shockingly, it seems that the days of this time-honoured tradition may be numbered: According to a recent news report, Belgian cobblers are "in uproar about a proposed reform of the way licence plates are issued". Under the proposed reform, "new EU-style licence plates issued from July 2010 would be sent out in pairs" by the licensing authority (emphasis mine).

It just so happens that I neither own nor drive a car. But this news does prompt me to ask: What next? Will holding the number of the Beast soon become a punishable offence in the new Europe?

Now, that really would be an unexpected turn of events, wouldn't it? I don't think it's likely to happen. But, then again, I've been wrong before.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the university on 18 September 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. In his moving talk, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," Pausch discussed lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals.

I encourage you to invest 1 hour 45 minutes of your life to watch this remarkable video.



Hat tip: FutureLawyer

Monday, 15 June 2009

Wrap your mind around the LHC

What will the clever people at CERN come up with next? (Another World Wide Web?) Who knows? While we're waiting to find out, let's take a mind-expanding tour of the Large Hadron Collider:

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.


They didn't teach physics like this when I was at school!

(Hat tip: Short Sharp Science)