Sixty-three years ago today, the Trinity Test changed the face of the world. Wired have a cool little anniversary feature filling you in on some of the background and interesting parts of history:
With gallows humor, the Los Alamos physicists got up a betting pool on the possible yield of the bomb. Estimates ranged from zero to as high as 45,000 tons of TNT. Enrico Fermi, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938 for his work on nuclear fission, offered side odds on the bomb destroying all life on the planet.
J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, was under no illusions about what he and his fellow physicists had wrought. The effects of the blast, the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT, moved the intellectual Oppenheimer to quote from the Bhagavad Gita: "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds."
More prosaically, Dr. Kenneth Bainbridge, site director of the Trinity test, said: "Now we are all sons-of-bitches."
Also at Wired is a small gallery of related images.
For more in-depth historical background, check out the Atomic Archive pages on the Manhattan Project and Trinity Test, as well as Los Alamos National Laboratory's Trinity page, which features historical documents related to the test (in PDF format). You can also find footage of the Trinity shot (along with subsequent tests) on this page.
I've also seen plenty of good comments about Richard Rhodes' comprehensive book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Amazon US). A fascinating and awful (in the proper definition of the word) period of history, well worth digging in to.
Following in the footsteps of the Dawkins-Myer 'gatecrash' of the anti-evolution movie Expelled, Scientific American has now posted a multi-part feature debunking the controversial film. Except this time, it was anything but a gatecrash, with the movie's producer actually approaching Sci-Am:
You wouldn't expect Scientific American to take a particularly positive view of a movie that espouses intelligent design over evolutionary biology. Then again, you wouldn’t expect the producers of said film — in this case, Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — to offer the editors of said magazine a private screening.
Associate producer Mark Mathis showed up at our offices with a preview of Expelled in hand. That's right, the unexpected screening happened. The unexpected positive reviews did not.
Reviewers included the ubiquitous Michael Shermer (so much so, he's even in this film), Sci-Am editor in chief John Rennie (who attacks the movie's attempts to link the theory of evolution to the Holocaust), and Steve Mirsky who sums everything up with "Six Things in Expelled that Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know".
So all in all, another good day of publicity for the makers of Expelled...
There's been some interesting developments going on in the atheist/skeptic/rationalist community over the past year, with it all coming to a bit of a head last week. Science blogger Matt Nisbet posted a controversial story noting his concern over the high-profile involvement of mega-popular science blogger (Pharyngula) P.Z. Myers, and the iconic Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), in the debate over the upcoming Intelligent-Design/Creationist movie Expelled:
The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science. Nor does it stand up to mounds of empirical evidence about the complex relationship between science literacy and public perceptions.
...As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education.
Nisbet's article sent the Scienceblogs community into overdrive, and provoked this response from Myers:
I'm not exactly feeling pleasantly conducive to continuing the latest sanctimonious whine-fests from some of the people who share a server with me. I have been avoiding the various framing flare-ups around here, despite the fact that everyone of them seems to drag my name into the mix.
We appreciate your concern, it is noted and stupid.
Reading the comments beneath Myers entry, from his fan base, things get even more prickly. I do find it odd though, that we have this reaction now, when other more high-profile atheist/skeptics have been saying similar things over the past year. Most notably, Michael Shermer, who wrote a Scientific American column late last year titled "Rational Atheism: An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens".
I can't speak for everyone else, but I do have to say that I think Shermer is right on this one. I can't see Myers approach having any effect except to alienate people outside his fan base, and Dawkins - though he has some great ideas, and can explain them in great prose - similarly polarises the audience when he descends into intellectual snobbery and scientific bigotry.
The Bookseller is reporting that publisher Free Press has bought the U.S. rights to Richard Dawkins’ next book, "for a reported $3.5m" and UK rights have gone to Transworld for a "substantial sum" (I think I'm converting to atheism before writing my next book...). The new book from Dawkins is said to explore creationism and the evidence for evolution:
The as-yet-untitled volume will be published in 2009, a year that will feature a double anniversary for Charles Darwin—the 200th anniversary of his birth in February, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species in November.
Gaminara said: "He is arguably the science writer most closely associated with Darwin and in my view it would be strange not to have a book by Richard Dawkins in this anniversary year.
"He feels that never in his lifetime has there been such a belief in creationism, in the US and also creeping into the school curriculum in this country, and as the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, he feels it is his duty to write a book that sets the record straight on the evidence for evolution."
Should be another good read from Mr Dawkins, who certainly isn't shy of expressing his opinion...
Settle down Rick, I'm not talking about the enormously gifted guitarist for that Irish band. Once again, The Edge Foundation has released its annual 'World Question', posed to some of the brightest and/or freshest thinkers around:
The Edge Annual Question — 2008
When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that's faith.
When facts change your mind, that's science.
WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?
Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?
163 contributors gave their answer, including Richard Dawkins, Freeman Dyson, Rupert Sheldrake, Michael Shermer. Sheldrake's comments are bound to cause some controversy, although he does have a central point worth making. And Susan Blackmore's commentary was 'interesting', considering the passages I've just read in Chris Carter's Parapsychology and the Skeptics. Perhaps more on that later. Plenty of excellent reading all round though, so get over there and take a look.
An interesting "science" face-off yesterday, with a vote for the "Best Science Blog" on the web rapidly devolving into a partisan battle over Global Warming. Popular science blogger P.Z. Myers urged his readers to all vote for a particular blog (BadAstronomy.com), which was the highest-placed challenger to an anti-anthropogenic Global Warming blog leading the poll. From Cognitive Daily:
...Several influential political blogs are advocating voting for a denialist website ("Climate Audit") to win the award. Climate Audit is a pseudoscience blog that promotes political ideas as "science." Bad Astronomy has a slim lead, but Climate Audit is gaining. Even if you're not a fan of astronomy, you should still vote for this blog (a great blog, by the way). It's the best chance for a genuine science blog to win the award.
The voting has now finished, and somehow a dead-heat was announced (I think due to shenanigans from both sides). It's rather surreal, to see science blogs urging readers to manipulate the vote because they want to outdo an allegedly non-scientific blog. As one commenter wrote, "You are skewing the results of the poll in order to protect good science, which is supremely ironic."
A quick note that the team at Scientific American are offering their July issue free of charge as a PDF file, but only until this Saturday (30th June). Definitely worth getting over there and downloading a copy - sure, it's no Sub Rosa - but I'm sure you'll find plenty of great content in there just the same...
Scientific American has presented a dialogue between Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins, on the question 'Should Science Speak to Faith'. As always with intellects of the calibre of these two gentlemen, the conversation is stimulating and enriching, so I highly recommend it. I have to admit finding it ironic that much of the discussion is about the probabilities required to believe in something, when the question suggests some inherent gap between science and faith.
It is a shame that these discussions continue to focus on 'easy marks' such as young-Earth creationism, instead of the body of evidence for survival of death or a mind independent of brain - wouldn't it be wonderful to see Krauss and Dawkins joined by Michael Grosso, or some other person well-versed in these subjects (see Irreducible Mind). This evidence speaks far more to a 'rational' belief in something beyond the physical - by numerous intellectuals - than the straw man that Richard Dawkins continues to knock down.
Hell hath no fury like a Hawass scorned. A cultural stoush is developing between Egypt and Germany in the wake of an announcement by Germany's Egypt Museum that they would not be loaning the famous bust of Nefertiti back to Egypt, as requested by Dr Zahi Hawass (claiming it is too fragile to travel). As can be imagined, Dr Hawass took it well...
Hawass said today that he would send a letter to Germany tomorrow formally requesting a loan of the bust for the opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum. The museum is scheduled to open in 2012 near the site of the Great Pyramids at Giza, just outside Cairo.
"I will begin a negotiation," Hawass said. If it fails, Hawass said, he will organize a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums.
"We will make the lives of these museums miserable," he said. "It will be a scientific war."
Beyond the usual hyperbole and ego-stroking that goes with any Hawass performance, there are some core questions within this argument which are difficult to answer, most notably: should antiquities be returned to their place of origin (and do you define that geographically or culturally)?
The LiveScience website currently has a feature on the Top Ten Unexplained Phenomena. Despite leaving a few of the items open, with a little mystery retained, the piece is impressive for its ability to link to articles by writers from Skeptical Inquirer (including Joe Nickell, Benjamin Radford, and Massimo Polidoro). Incredibly, the link from the words 'ESP' goes to this piece about James Randi and his deceptions. It perhaps may have made more sense for someone like Dean Radin, who is actually a credentialled scientist who has devoted much time to researching ESP, to be consulted or at least linked to? He would certainly have some thoughts on this statement:
Researchers have tested people who claim to have psychic powers, though the results under controlled scientific conditions have so far been negative or ambiguous.
Throw in the fact that the #1 mystery is the "Taos Hum" (when the mystery of Near Death Experiences gets shunted to #7), and the lack of other seriously interesting topics such as reincarnation research, and you have a pretty amateurish compilation...with the overtones of a CSICOPian media influence.