Oh Tee Yay!

Rush Holt (physicist, congressman) on reviving the Office of Technology Assessment

Op-Ed: Reversing the Congressional Science Lobotomy

Among the 535 members of Congress, there are three physicists, one chemist, six engineers, and one microbiologist. Most members of congress avoid science at all costs, and the handful of trained scientists cannot and do not try to inject the scientific thinking on the particulars of every issue.

What Congress needs is its own science advisors. We need not look far for a model: Until 1995, Congress could rely on the Office of Technology Assessment.

While members of Congress do not suffer from a lack of information, we lack time and resources to assess the validity, credibility, and usefulness of the large amount of scientific information and advice we receive as it affects actual policy decisions. The purpose of the OTA was to assist members of Congress in this task. It both provided an important long-term perspective and alerted Congress to scientific and technological components of policy that might not be obvious.


Despite its importance, new leaders in Congress successfully defunded the OTA in 1995, which as one former member put it, was like Congress giving itself a lobotomy.

I think we (in the US, and true elsewhere, too) are all better off if our political policy is based on facts rather than ideology. IOW, on how nature actually behaves rather than how we want it to behave, or think it should behave. More goes into the policy equation, for certain, but factual information is a necessary place to start.


Analyzing Dr. Seuss

Physicists can geek anything up. Analyzing the sizes of the cats in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

The Cat in the Hat comes back and gets small

Ok, so Cat A is a little different (I will assume that is close before – or close enough). Cat B, however, doesn’t fit the pattern I used before. So maybe each successive Cat is not just 0.37 times smaller than the previous. I could explore this further if only I had more data. I do! Here is the next picture from the book.

The conclusion:

Don’t trust the Cat in the Hat.

The Casimir Effect

The Casimir Effect and Nanomachines

In London’s terminology, the van der Waals/London/Casimir-Polder/Lifshitz interaction is a dispersion force, but it sounds far more exciting and mysterious when called “the Casimir effect” and described in terms of zero-point energy and quantum-mechanical vacuum fluctuations. Cranks find it fascinating and hucksters profit.

Very Telling

Magic and the Brain: Teller Reveals the Neuroscience of Illusion

“Tricks work only because magicians know, at an intuitive level, how we look at the world,” says Macknik, lead author of the paper. “Even when we know we’re going to be tricked, we still can’t see it, which suggests that magicians are fooling the mind at a very deep level.” By reverse-engineering these deceptions, Macknik hopes to illuminate the mental loopholes that make us see a woman get sawed in half or a rabbit appear out of thin air even when we know such stuff is impossible. “Magicians were taking advantage of these cognitive illusions long before any scientist identified them,” Martinez-Conde says.

There are some quotes from Teller, though these are obviously illusions, because Teller is the one who doesn’t talk.

Before long, they were performing Cups and Balls on Letterman. The trick became a centerpiece of their first off-Broadway show. “It was so liberating to be able to treat the audience like intelligent adults,” Teller says. Instead of engaging in the “usual hocus-pocus clichés,” the clear cups forced the crowd to confront the real source of the illusion: the hard-wired limitations of their own brains. Because people were literally incapable of perceiving the sleight of hand—Teller’s fingers just moved too fast—it didn’t matter that the glasses were transparent.