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March 19, 2007

Things to read while the simulator runs; part 4

Having been awakened this morning at an ungodly hour by my allergies, and being incapable of coherent intellectual thought, I spent the quiet hours of the morning trawling for interesting stuff online. Here's a selection of the good bits. (Tip to 3quarksdaily for many of these.)

YouTube and Viacom are finishing their negotiation over Viacom's content's availability on YouTube in the courts. My sympathies certainly lay with YouTube's democratization of content creation and distribution. And, much as my democratic prejudices incline me to distrust monopolistic or imperial authorities, I agree that old media companies like Viacom should have a role in the future of content, since they're rather invested in the media whose creation they helped manage. Mostly, I think these old media empires are afraid that new technologies (like YouTube) will fundamentally change their (disgustingly successful) business model, by shifting the balance of power within the content business. And rightly so.

The physics of the very small still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Actually, I find the discovery of the D-meson state mixing (previously thought impossible on theoretical grounds) rather reassuring. There are clearly several things that are deeply confusing about our current understanding of the universe, and it's nice to be reminded that even boring old particle physics is a little more complicated than the ridiculously successful Standard Model gives it credit for.

(This one is a bit old, but still good, even 5 mouths out.) Last year, during the American leg of his book tour for The God Delusion, the indefatigable Richard Dawkins (whom I often write about, try here, here, here, and here) read a few excerpts to an audience at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg VA. Immediately afterward, he did an hour of Q&A with the audience, many of whom were from nearby Liberty University. Dawkins handled the frequently banal questions with both wit and aplomb.

Building on this theme, The New Atlantis has a nice article on the topic of the moral role that modern science plays in society.

On similar point, The American Scientist has a piece on the use and misuse of complex quantitative models in public policy, at least in terms of the environment. Being militantly critical of bad science in all forms, I wholeheartedly agree with the basic argument here - that good models must be predictive, accurate, interpretable, and live as close to the empirical evidence as is possible. Since models and theories are basically interchangeable formalisms, let me mangle one of Einstein's more popular quotations: Evidence without theory is lame, theory without evidence is blind.

posted March 19, 2007 08:56 AM in Things to Read | permalink