Mini Stories from Science

125. The Chinese tea ceremony

The Chinese New Year, which began this year on January 28th, is a big deal in Sydney, which has a large and vibrant Chinese community, some of whose families go back to the gold rush days of the 1850s. As part of the celebrations, the Art Gallery of New South Wales...

124. Trump, Russia and Lysenko: A cautionary tale

Submitted to Washington Post just before Christmas 2016. Nearly made it, but eventually missed out, The message for science is sadly stark. The U.S. should learn from Russian history “Are you now, or have you ever been, a climate scientist?” Donald Trump’s recent...

123. What’s that smell?

What’s that smell? A school playground joke from my childhood concerns a new deodorant called “vanish”. It makes you invisible, so that no one can see where the smell is coming from. But how can we seriously get rid of bad smells? One way, which makes the...

122. Are there ghosts?

In an earlier post (http://lenfisherscience.com/98-necessary-mysteries/) I wrote about necessary mysteries – concepts and ideas that are beyond our direct experience, but which scientists have been forced to accept in order to make sense of that experience. Note that...

121. Popular mechanics and popular maths

I must have been just nine or ten years old when I discovered the American magazine “Popular Mechanics” in our local library. It was the stuff of dreams. My real world, where my parents could not afford to buy me a bicycle, let alone own a car themselves, was replaced...

119. Science in the real world: predicting society

If you think that science, and scientific thinking, have little to do with the rough-and-tumble of the real world, think again – and take a look at this wonderful paper by a group of psychologists and mathematicians from the Cornell-Princeton-Yale triangle...

118. Gassing on about neon

A recent article provides an exciting glimpse into one way that scientists think, although you might not think it is so exciting at first glimpse. Let the scientists speak for themselves: Neon is an abundant element in the atmosphere, but it is much scarcer on Earth...

On the Fat-Headedness of Crowds

July 25th, 2016 The result of the recent UK referendum on whether to stay in or to leave Europe has come as a shock to many of us. More than one correspondent has asked me “I thought there was this thing called group intelligence which said that, the larger the group,...

117. Global Governance of Slowly Developing Catastrophic Risks

Early in 2015 I was invited, together with co-authors from the International Risk Governance Council, to write a review on the above topic for a special issue of the journal Ecological Economics. The referees liked the writing, but wanted us to add more economics...

116. Einstein’s sock (continued)

My latest 15 min radio broadcast in the Ockham's Razor series begins with the story of why Einstein decided not to wear socks (see Mini Story #7), but goes on to encompass how we can make the best decisions in our complex world and how Governments and big business are...

115. A New Theory of Vacuum Cleaning

It is said that Pierre Curie could never enter his own laboratory while an experiment was in progress, because his body had become so radioactive that his mere presence discharged the sensitive electrometers. It was while pondering this story that I came up with my...

114. Mastering complexity – I’m going to give it a try

In story fourteen I argued that science, like sex, thrives on diversity. I quoted from Peter Medawar, and the quote is worth repeating: There is no such thing as a Scientific Mind. Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very...

112. If you want to survive a lightning strike, be a redhead

A picture has been circulating (http://gizmodo.com/this-bison-was-struck-by-lightning-and-emerged-ugly-but-1751814626) of a bison that survived a lighting strike. The thing that struck me particularly was that the bison had red hair. “So what?” you might ask. The...

111. Let’s dance – nano style

How can we better integrate science and the arts? Drama seems a fairly obvious medium for integration, and Michael Frayn used it effectively with his play “Copenhagen,” which dramatized the 1941 meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Dance is a lot less...

110. My granddaughter’s first experiment

We bought my 11 year-old granddaughter a chemistry set for Christmas. It was her idea, not ours, maybe stimulated by the fact that both of her parents are scientists. We chose one where she could do plenty of colour change reactions; in fact, the first experiment in...

109. What a coincidence! What, a coincidence?

I was just about to write something on the subject of coincidence when, coincidentally, I came across a post by Steve Strogatz (@Stevenstrogatz) on the subject of coincidence. It’s a very important part of scientific thinking, because distinguishing coincidence from...

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