Sunday, 10 February 2019

Dispatch from Brexit Britain

Brexit is exciting. The UK is slithering down a political mudslide towards a major historical catastrophe -- and I get to ride along with it! Wheee!

I realise this may not be fun for everyone. For example, the Europeans in the UK who will be either hounded to leave or hounded because they stayed. I wonder which will be worse? A more interesting grouping are the poor and unskilled, regardless of where their birth certificate was printed. Is it worse to be foreign and driven to leave, or British and unable to?

Among these unfortunates are of course the unrepentantly xenophobic and stupid who voted for Brexit. I am trying to shed myself of any sympathy for them, but even someone of my limited empathy knows perfectly well that most of them were duped into voting for their own misery by wealthy scumbags who are as certain to make a tidy profit out of this as their supporters are to suffer. If they (the poor unfortunates) have not yet understood their folly, should that drive my sympathy up, or down?

As you can see, there are many fascinating questions to ponder.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Digging in the Stellar Graveyard

Or: double your black holes!

The LIGO and Virgo collaborations have published their catalog of gravitational-wave detections from the first and second observing runs (2015-17). The news: four more binary-black-hole mergers, and the "LIGO-Virgo Transient" from October 2015, LVT151012, now upgraded to a bona fide detection.

That doubles the number of binary-black-hole mergers observed so far: five had been published already, and now we have ten. Along with the binary-neutron-star observation from August 2017, that fits nicely with my rough prediction a few years ago, that we would likely observe ten black-hole mergers for every binary neutron star. Neutron-star mergers might be the furnace that creates gold in our universe, but the real gold rush of gravitational-wave detectors is a bounty of black holes.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Losing the Nobel Prize

Review: "Losing the Nobel Prize", by Brian Keating

The obvious question: did Brian Keating really write a book just to complain because he did not win the Nobel Prize?

After all, it is called, “Losing the Nobel Prize”. But that could be merely a hook to snare your salacious attention. The book is really a very personal memoir of his life in science, and a history of cosmology, and a behind-the-scenes account of the BICEP2 botched non-discovery of gravitational waves from the early universe, and a critique of the twisted culture and arcane practices associated with the Nobel Prize. Wow: four books in one! Five, if you still think it all adds up to grumbling.

Lots of people grumble about the Nobel Prize. They complain that it does not reflect how the world of science really works. The Nobel succumbs to the myth of individual heroes; it shows a great lopsided bias towards those most visible, most previously lauded, and most Western, white and male; and it operates under a set of arbitrary arcane rules.

I fail to see the problem. That sounds like an accurate reflection of science to me.