05 November, 2014

Planck, Einstein and the birth of quantum physics

(or the man who created but didn’t believe, and the man who believed but wished it wasn’t so)

One of the disappointing things about the treatment of the birth of quantum physics in most textbooks is that they present an ahistorical story in which Planck and Einstein react to detailed and precise experimental evidence about blackbody radiation and the photoelectric effect. This certainly produces a very clear storyline, but at the expense of making one of the greatest scientific feats of all time appear practically mundane. In reality the experimental evidence Planck and Einstein had to work with was meagre and their brilliance in piecing it together to develop the foundations of quantum physics was astounding.

04 November, 2014

How to deal with loonies

You know the scene.

You're at a party, funeral or similar festive occasion when you find yourself trapped in the corner by someone earnestly telling you about her sister who was cured of pancreatic cancer by taking a homeopathic essence of onion weed and comfrey. Or maybe it's the bloke who was a drug addicted hit man before he was touched by the word of Jesus and now runs a youth group.

So what's the best strategy to deal with crazy people who believe in psychics, faith healers, homeopathy, Gods, or postmodern theory?