Disastrous hype

A cloud of grey-black smoke erupts over a brown field, likely the result of an explosion of some sort.

This is one of the worst press releases accompanying a study I've seen: The headline and the body appear to have nothing to do with the study itself, which explores the creative properties of an explosion with certain attributes. However, the press office of the University of Central Florida has drafted a popular version that…

The climate and the A.I.

A few days ago, the New York Times and other major international publications sounded the alarm over a new study that claimed various coastal cities around the world would be underwater to different degrees by 2050. However, something seemed off; it couldn't have been straightforward for the authors of the study to plot how much…

The virtues of local travel

Here's something I wish I'd read before overtourism and flygskam removed the pristine gloss of desirability from the selfies, 360º panoramas and videos the second-generation elites posted every summer on the social media: It's ok to prioritize friendships, community, and your mental health over travelling. Amir Salihefendic, the head of a tech company, writes this after having…

India’s Delhi-only air pollution problem

I woke up this morning to a PTI report telling me Delhi's air quality had fallen to 'very poor' on Deepavali, the Hindu ostensible festival of lights, with many people defying the Supreme Court's direction to burst firecrackers only between 8 pm and 10 pm. This defiance is unsurprising: the Supreme Court doesn't apply to Delhi because,…

The calculus of creative discipline

Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over world-building. World-building is dull. World-building literalises the urge to invent. World-building gives an unnecessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). World-building numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it…

Scientism is not ‘nonsense’

The @realscientists rocur account on Twitter took a surprising turn earlier today when its current curator, Teresa Ambrosio, a chemist, tweeted the following: https://twitter.com/teresaambrosio_/status/1187259093909757952 If I had to give her the benefit of doubt, I'd say she was pointing this tweet at the hordes of people – especially Americans – whose conspiratorial attitude towards vaccines…

IBT’s ice-nine effect on Newsweek

In his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut describes a fictitious substance called ice-nine: a crystalline form of water that converts all the liquid water it comes into contact with into more ice-nine. This is the sort of effect the International Business Times had on Newsweek, which, as Daniel Tovrov writes in the Columbia Journalism Review, went from being one of…

Why are the Nobel Prizes still relevant?

An engraved bust of Alfred Nobel. Credit: sol_invictus/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Note: A condensed version of this post has been published in The Wire. Around this time last week, the world had nine new Nobel Prize winners in the sciences (physics, chemistry and medicine), all but one of whom were white and none were women. Before the announcements began, Göran Hansson, the Swede-in-chief of these prizes,…

Ad verecundiam

That Swedish group announced today that Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer are the winners of this year's Nobel Prize for economics. Within minutes, my Twitter feed was awash with congratulations as well as links to criticisms Duflo and Banerjee had voiced in the past against the economic policies of the Narendra Modi government.…

New Scientist violates the laws of physics (updated)

A new article in the New Scientist begins with a statement of Newton's third law that is blissfully ignorant of the irony. The article's headline is: The magazine is notorious for its use of sensationalist headlines and seems to have done it again. Jon Cartwright, the author of the article, has done a decent job of explaining the 'helical…

Trouble at the doorstep

When an alumnus of the IISc wanted to organise an astrology workshop at the institute's premises in 2017, students and various members of its teaching faculty rose in protest and wrote to the director to have the event cancelled, and it was cancelled. Their voices died down quickly after and didn't emerge when astrology workshops…

Science and the scientist

Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor won the 2019 Nobel Prize for physics for discovering a famous exoplanet (51 Pegasi b) in 1995. Their claim was first verified by a top astronomer at the time named Geoff Marcy. He was later found guilty of having harassed many of his students between 2001 and 2010. Azeen Ghorayshi…