Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Who buried my fossils?

In another amusing instance of showcasing its collective ignorance and dogmatic thinking, creationism seems to be making a comeback along the American Bible belt with the opening of a multi-million dollar creation museum in Kentucky recently. This, along with the gaining popularity of a book claiming that the Grand Canyon was carved by the retreating waters of the biblical Noah's flood rather than by natural erosion, are once again extending the heated debate between creationists and evolutionists.

Theres no telling how much more time it will take for mainstream consciousness to understand that whatever it is, the Theory of Intelligent Design (ID) can not be a science because its not falsifiable. Falsifiability, is a critical feature of scientific hypothesis and can be simplistically thought of as an inherent disclaimer stating that a given hypothesis or theory is only true, until proven false. An embodiment of rationality, it says: attack me with facts and I am ready to change in whatever way to accommodate those facts. Just being called a 'theory', doesn't give it instant membership to the science club. The Falsifiability card has been played against ID hugging creationists for some time now, but they seem to be coming up with more mightier yet sillier propositions as their grip gradually loosens.

Ironically, prominent voices of science from the past century have been guilty at times of decorating the frontiers of scientific advancement with some divine creationist references (i.e. Quantum Mechanics - God does not play dice, Cosmology - understanding the mind of God, etc), often viewed as aspirational and conformist by the creationists. The tables have now turned, and it seems like we've completely entered the age where the creationists boldly reference terms and methods of science in their interpretation of scripture.

I wonder, if and when science survives this, what is the real price that we'll have to pay as we watch this lengthy battle unfold, apart from the occasional insane attempts to bury back the fossils?

Thursday, 21 June 2007

What's Left is yours

Today happens to be the 30th year anniversary of one of the worlds longest running, uninterrupted socio-economic experiments:

How to run a self-contained communist administration within the framework of a democratic government, and evolve itself by a gradual selective assimilation of capitalist intent.

Confrontations and constraints have been many, yet India's eastern state of West Bengal continues this experiment by the most original methods that would probably make Comrade Lenin a touch uncomfortable. However, it can be argued that though communism is considered dead in theory, this particular Bengali flavour of it might give way to a reincarnated version that still adamantly clings on to its earlier name. Perhaps past associations pose a risk lurking here somewhere.

So if you were red and a revolutionist at heart and suddenly found yourself eyeing that man with the briefcase, what can you start to call yourself? Would the name matter?

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Old lady of Indian skies

Responding to the recent Indian Airlines (IA) strike, the civil aviation ministry said in a statement that "The strike will cause distress to a large number of passengers, apart form being detrimental to the financial condition and image of the company''

Oh, really? I hadn't thought of that.

Upon hearing of this strike by IA (now renamed 'Indian'), one can't help but immediately visualize sari-clad distressed stewardesses with brightly painted lips comfortably seated in the airport halls with tiffin-boxes by their side, and sharing tales of their grandchildren, occasionally waving a little white banner of protest. In this case, it seems cabin baggage handlers and ground support staff didn't show up for work at all.

In a way, the strike might benefit a greater number of people, and I fully support the protesters, despite the fact the Delhi High Court termed it illegal - Instead of dying the uncertain, slow, painful death that this airline seemed to be destined for, the protesters efforts will erode their already dwindling market share much more quicker, and ensure a natural, faster and final end to this winged misery. In effect, bringing relief to a lot of would-be passengers, spared from IA's renowned service-with-a-grunt and general inefficiency.

This is also a much better way of going, than by being blamed for any major air-disaster as a direct result of having budgeted more on flawed PR strategies, than on critical airline safety measures. Lets hope recent incidents such as these, aren't indicative of this trend.

Too bad that they happen to be our national airlines though.

Source: Strike a windfall for low-cost carriers, Times of India

Friday, 8 June 2007

Search for the God particle

During a 2005 Q&A session with Nobel Laureate, Leon Lederman, Fermilab scientist Peter Skands points out that "if the Higgs boson exists, and if it is the way the Standard Model predicts it to be, then it must have a mass greater than 114 GeV". More recently there have been experimental indicators that the mass of the Higgs Boson could lie in the region 155-180 GeV (Giga electron Volt). But then this increased speculative mass is often rather unfairly seen as an attempt to garner funding for larger (higher energy) particle accelerators, capable of detecting higher mass particles.

Repeated attempts have so far failed to find this much sought after and elusive particle. There is a general consensus among physicists that anyone associated with the possible finding of this particle is assured a Nobel Prize.

Dubbed 'The God particle' and 'The Holy Grail of particle physics', the Higgs boson is a hypothesised particle which, if it exists, would give the mechanism by which particles acquire mass, thereby affirming the best theory that physicist's have today to explain the origin of mass. It is safe to say, that if it does not exist, it would shake the foundations of theoretical physics to an extent that new interactions, fields and laws that bind them may need to be conjured up. So in a way, its absence may be as valuable for us as its presence.

There is a rumour going around right now, that the Higgs Boson may have been found by Tevatron physicists working on the D0 (pronounced D-Zero) experiment at Fermilab, Batavia near Chicago, USA.

There have been optimistic articles about observed 'bumps' in the data before, so we'll have to wait and watch to see if the current evidence from the Tevatron D0 data holds up, amidst the clutter of data from competing labs.