Where can I find the Silly Talk About Science thread? October 4, 2012 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an old Metafilter thread with discussion about Silly Talk About Science, a blog post about how laymen misunderstand science.

I'm pretty sure such a thread existed, and contained some interesting comments that I'd like to re-read, but I can't find it.
posted by martinrebas to MetaFilter-Related at 6:26 AM (11 comments total)

I dated a hairdresser once. Might've been the same girl quoted in that article.
posted by Grither at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2012


...his personal best involves being told that Newton’s laws of motion might have turned out differently if Newton was a woman...

I don't get why this is silly. I would fully expect any (true) system of kinematic motion to be transformable to any other, but I don't get why the specific laws laid down would have to be the same between any two people with different outlooks.

Look at Roman vs "Arabic" vs Mayan numeral systems, for instance. Different symbols, different bases (when they even HAVE bases), etc. Or measuring systems. I have a quart and you have a liter, We agree on the amount measured, though.
posted by DU at 6:44 AM on October 4, 2012


I can't find the thread your specifically are asking about but seraching for "Ben Goldacre" gets you a lot of stuff on the same topic. Maybe it was one of those threads?
posted by Wretch729 at 9:19 AM on October 4, 2012


DU: the beauty of Newtons laws though is that they remain the same regardless of units, bases, or anything. Take the second law, for instance: F = ma, and that (leaving relativity aside for now) is that. It's a simple proportionality and that's what is so elegant and graceful and enduring about it.

Now you can also write it a = m/F or m = a/F if you want but that's not really a diifferent law, just a trivial restatement of the same thing. People tend to prefer thinking in terms of direct proportionality rather than inverse proportionality though, so F = ma is what we usually see.

Maybe I'm just constrained by a scientific-objective perspective and am unable to break free of the patterns of thought created for me by my educators, but I'm having a hard time thinking of a better or equally-good way to state the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration, at least if one wants to be able to perform mathematical operations and make predictions about one factor based on knowledge of the other two.

It's a fundamental physical law. It's a powerful, elegant, versatile tool that enables one to see a large part of the world in a way that makes things more predictable and controllable and useful. One's cultural perspective might change one's opinion about the value of knowing it, but the law itself is pretty much just a statement about how the universe works.

What am I missing there?
posted by Scientist at 1:44 PM on October 4, 2012


For one thing, Scientist, you're missing that Newton's second law actually *isn't* presented that way, initially. It's F= (dp/dt), or Lex II: Mutationem motus proportionalem esse vi motrici impressae, et fieri secundum lineam rectam qua vis illa imprimitur.

Science is the business of building models which more (or less) accurately predict the world around us. Sure, some things are pretty basic, F=ma and all, but there's more than one way to write any model, and more than one way historically that particular train of scientific thought could have been discovered. Our path is not the unique available path. (I'd argue that the gender of the participants is not all-determining; but certainly things could be described, scientifically, in more than one way).
posted by nat at 3:02 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


After reading the comments in the linked article I don't feel quite so stupid about science.

ETA: I should give MeFi credit for that. Yay MeFi!
posted by deborah at 4:39 PM on October 4, 2012


I don't remember that fpp, but here's a couple where scientists talk silly about science.

Much Ado About Nothing

NASA Scientist suggests everything we see, touch, feel, taste, and smell could be a simulation running inside a computer.

(I'd argue that the gender of the participants is not all-determining; but certainly things could be described, scientifically, in more than one way).

But once the variable definitions are made compatible the different descriptions would be tautological or else one or both theories would be wrong.

I don't get why the specific laws laid down would have to be the same between any two people with different outlooks.

Maybe you mean in two different universes? How could the laws of motion depend on a person's outlook? I can't imagine how this could possibly work. Two people riding in the same car might read different values off of the same speedometer?
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:42 PM on October 4, 2012


How do you spot an amateur (AskMe)
posted by clearly at 9:44 PM on October 4, 2012


I'd love to read a gender-theoretical analysis of the differential vs. integral forms of Newton's laws. Is one form inherently more feminine than the other?
posted by SakuraK at 11:19 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm just constrained by a scientific-objective perspective and am unable to break free of the patterns of thought created for me by my educators, but I'm having a hard time thinking of a better or equally-good way to state the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration, at least if one wants to be able to perform mathematical operations and make predictions about one factor based on knowledge of the other two.

As an example (not mine) of an alternate presentation of Newton's second law, we could reverse the convention that we sum the forces acting on the system, and instead adopt a convention that we sum the forces the system is exerting on the rest of the universe. This introduces a minus sign into the second law, but it is a workable self-consistent description that describes everything Newton's second law does. That we have chosen N2 as we have is probably to some degree a product of the culture that it emerged from.

I'm not sure which is the feminine form.
posted by Killick at 3:35 PM on October 5, 2012


The Living Universe is an entire set of alternative theories in physics that this guy, Jim Carter, came up with that is, I guess, consistent with physical measurements. For example, rather than gravity being a force between two masses, or curvature of space time, "the universal expansion of matter is the cause of gravity." All of the matter in the universe is constantly expanding and this causes the earth to keep pushing against us. I heard a bit about this on NPR, and apparently there are a bunch of other people working out their own alternative physics. Awesome.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:16 PM on October 5, 2012


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