Turnabout must be fair play

Bob Park’s column, “What’s New” (“available at aps.org”:http://www.aps.org/WN) is the way I close out every Friday. Most of the time, I read and smile (or groan). Today, though, his column raised a point which I think counts as fair turn-about.

As you may know, there is a strong anti-evolution movement growing in the United States. The basis of this movement is that evolution is a theory which fails to explain every case where it can be applied, so it must be totally wrong. Advocates of this perspective clearly demonstrate their complete misunderstanding of a theory, and what it means when it fails to explain a set of particular cases. In fact, Isaac Newton’s laws of classical mechanics are really just theories, because they fail to explain the world that atoms inhabit. However, noone doubts their use when applied to their home, a bridge, a skyscraper, or a rocket launch. In that same sense, quantum mechanics and relativity are “just” theories because they only explain our world up to a point. That doesn’t make them wrong.

Anyway, this movement has tried to get stickers placed on biology textbooks that state that evolution is just a theory (as if this is discrediting, as I’ve illustrated above with counter-examples). One thing that annoys me is that nobody seems to object to quantum mechanics or classical mechanics, but they disagree with evolution because it confronts traditional Christian creationism. The literal reading of the Bible clearly disagrees with a theory they advocates the shaping of life over long periods of time due to environmental conditions.

Well, if they get to slap stickers on science textbooks, Bob Park advocates that we should get to slap stickers on their religious texts:

“This book contains religious stories regarding the
origin of living things. The stories are theories, not
facts. They are unproven, unprovable and in some cases
totally impossible. This material should be approached
with an open mind, and a critical eye towards logic and
believability.” (Bob Park, “What’s New” 1/28/05).

Seems fair to me. Why single out a single theory of scientific pursuit? Why not single out all the other theories that are time tested but not necessarily sufficient to explain all behavior. Besides, evolution has given us so much as a theory: it explains drug resistance, it explains the emergence of unique traits in related species due to relative isolation from the main populations. I encourage everybody to go check out the recent “National Geographic”:http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0411/feature1/index.html issue discussing the details, successes, and failures of the Theory of Evolution.

A Weekend in Connecticut

Well, it’s been a truncated but highly productive week for me. The return to MIT, if only briefly, was meant to focus my efforts on developing the simulation of a background veto system for the proposed “Braidwood Reactor Neutrino Experiment”:http://braidwood.uchicago.edu. One of the primary needs of this experiment is a robust and efficient system capable of protecting our primary detector from the intrusions of muons and neutrons into our experiment.

I’ve completed a few of the development milestones I set out to achieve. The basis of the simulation is a toolkit called “GEANT4”:http://wwwasd.web.cern.ch/wwwasd/geant4/geant4.html. I have spent a lot of time learning how to use this framework (many thanks to the organizer of the SLAC GEANT4 users’ workshop in 2004!). Right now, I’ve managed to make a multi-layered, multi-sided veto detector which is made ofsome well-defined solid material and which can register hits (that is, interactions between a muon and one of the detector elements).

Having managed this, I am very much looking forward to seeing my sister and brother-in-law, as well as my old pal Eric, down in Connecticut during the weekend. It’s only once or twice a year that I get to see any of them, so this will be a real treat for me. This weekend will also be a nice dividing line between the run through this week and the run through next.

Title IX in the Sciences

During the Senate debate on the nominee for Secretary of Education, Senator Wyman of Oregon called on the Federal Government to enforce title IX (famous for its application to college sports programs) in the sciences to correct the balance of men and women represented at increasing levels of authority in science and academia.

I don’t know anything about Title IX, so I went to the Web and found a “resource that gives the full text of Title IX”:http://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/titleix.htm. I figure the only way to understand whether applying such a law actually fixes the core problem (or problems) is to understand the law.

Symmetry Magazine features BaBar Data and Event Display

Symmetry Magazine, a joint publication of Fermilab and SLAC, presented its third issue today. The “centerfold” of the issue features a BaBar event containing the Ds*(2317)+ particle, “discovered at BaBar in 2003”:http://www.arxiv.org/abs/hep-ex/0304021. Thanks to Dr. Antimo Palano, who harvested the particle candidates from BaBar’s immense data set, I was able to produce an event display image that showed the striking isolation of the decaying DsJ*(2317)+ in the detector. This image was the central feature of the article, which is a description of the detector information and the detectable particles from the decay.

“Deconstruction: Event Display”:http://www.symmetrymag.org/cms/?pid=1000057