The not-so-obvious obvious

If your job requires you to pore through a dozen or two scientific papers every month – as mine does – you’ll start to notice a few every now and then couching a somewhat well-known fact in study-speak. I don’t mean scientific-speak, largely because there’s nothing wrong about trying to understand natural phenomena in the …

A meeting with the PSA’s office

The Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) organised a meeting with science communicators from around India on January 27, in New Delhi. Some of my notes from the meeting are displayed below, published with three caveats. First, my notes are not to be treated as the minutes of the meeting; I only jotted down …

Losing sight of the agricultural finish line

In The Guardian, Joanna Blythman pokes an important pin into the frustrating but unsurprisingly durable bubble of vegan cuisine and the low-hanging fruits of ethical eating: These days it’s fashionable to eulogise plant foods as the secret for personal health and sound stewardship of our planet. But in the process of squaring up to the …

Atoms within atoms

It’s a matter of some irony that forces that act across larger distances also give rise to lots of empty space – although the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. The force of gravity, for example, can act across millions of kilometres but this only means two massive objects can still …

Being on the NSI podcast

Narayan Prasad, the CEO of SatSearch, hosts a popular podcast called NewSpace India. Every episode, he hosts one person and they talk about something related to the Indian and international space programmes. I was the guest for the episode published January 17, available to listen here (on transistor.fm), in which NP and I discussed India’s …

Science v. tech, à la Cixin Liu

A fascinating observation by Cixin Liu in an interview in Public Books, to John Plotz and translated by Pu Wang (numbers added): … technology precedes science. (1) Way before the rise of modern science, there were so many technologies, so many technological innovations. But today technology is deeply embedded in the development of science. Basically, …

The mad world

Kate Wagner writes in The Baffler: What makes industrial landscapes unique is that they fascinate regardless of whether they’re operating. The hellish Moloch of a petrochemical refinery is as captivating as one of the many abandoned factories one passes by train, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean, though, that all industrial landscapes are created equal. …

Free speech at the outer limits

On January 12, Peter W. Wood, president of an American organisation called the National Association of Scholars (NAS), wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal against attempts by one individual to prevent NAS from organising a conference on science’s reproducibility crisis. As it turns out, the individual – Leonid Teytelman – has been fighting …

Google Docs: A New Hope

I suspect the Google Docs grammar bot is the least useful bot there is. After hundreds of suggestions, I can think of only one instance in which it was right. Is its failure rate so high because it learns from how other people use English, instead of drawing from a basic ruleset? I’m not saying …

Necessity and sufficiency

With apologies for recalling horrible people early in the day: I chanced upon this article quoting Lawrence Krauss talking about his friend Jeffrey Epstein from April 2011, and updated in July 2019. Excerpt (emphasis added): Renowned scientists whose research Epstein has generously funded through the years also stand by him. Professor Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical …

The Resistance of the Time

Let us visit the future – a suitable point of time located in one of the many tomorrows ahead of us, a tomorrow far enough to have left The Time behind. What do we see? We see, among other things, that many people spoke up. Many people did not. Many people who spoke up did …

The pocket-sized accelerator

The world’s largest machine is called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It’s in the shape of a ring with a circumference of 26 km, and cost $3.4 billion (Rs 24,262 crore) and 12 years to build. Using millions of electrical and mechanical components, it accelerates protons to extreme energies and smashes them against each other. …