Saturday, April 13, 2013

Television static; how science works

"Front Row at the Dawn of Time," Lawrence M. Krauss's wonderfully titled editorial in the International Herald Tribune today, has two tidbits I wanted to note, both of them a little too long for a tweet. (At least for me, Twitter has become the replacement of blog posts that mostly just refer to an interesting article.)

The first has to do with cosmic background radiation, and it teaches "those of us old enough" something we might not have known:
... for those of us old enough to remember television before cable, when the TV stations went off the air and the screen filled with static, about 1 percent of the static visible on the screen was due to this radiation from the Big Bang.
So on the few occasions when I woke up in the middle of the night after falling asleep in front of the TV, mostly in the summer when time seemed to behave differently during the school vacation, and I would sometimes get into a rhythm of staying up until dawn to avoid the heat and humidity of the long days — on those few occasions, almost lost in the white noise, I was a witness to the Big Bang.


The second point is a reminder about the grain of salt necessary when reading science journalism in newspapers:

It is an unfortunate facet of science reporting that it isn’t often made clear that most anomalies in experiments tend to go away, just as most theoretical ideas turn out to be wrong.
Instead of attributing significance to potentially strange results, it is the business of science to try and prove them wrong before we blindly move forward. Skepticism is the business of the day, and it is wise to remember this next time you read an astounding discovery claimed in the press.
Science is about results, and proving things, but it approaches proof as much by disproving as it does by proving.

1 comment:

Dominic Rivron said...

Fascinating, isn't it? I could go on about radio (I have in the past) but I won't!

A similar astonishing factoid (especially if you're wearing gold) you may know is that gold is only made in supernova explosions and nowhere else. BANG!... Drift round as dust... get caught up in an accumulation of muck that becomes a planet... get mined...