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Muhammad Saad
Attends International Islamic University Islamabad
Lives in Pakistan
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Beautifully said!
 
Looking For Narnia

Recently I wrote a post rather critical of the EmDrive, which supposedly defies the laws of physics. As a result I’ve gotten a flurry of emails criticizing me for being closed minded, or claiming that defending the status quo for financial gain. After all, Einstein overturned Newton, so perhaps I should show some humility and be open to new ideas. It’s a common accusation when I’m critical of the electric universe model and other fringe science. There is this view that scientists are like dogmatic clergyman who refuse to look into Galileo’s telescope. In reality, the reason we’re so critical of radial scientific ideas is that we’re actually looking for Narnia.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Narnia is a magical land where animals talk. It is discovered when Lucy, the youngest of four children, discovers a gateway to Narnia in a magical wardrobe. Most of us would love to find a hidden magical world, but we have a pretty good understanding of how the world works, and it doesn’t involve wardrobes to other worlds. So when Lucy returns from Narnia to tell her siblings of her discovery, they naturally are skeptical. It’s far more likely that Lucy is playing a practical joke, or that her imagination has gotten the best of her. Of course eventually the other children enter Narnia as well, and Lucy is vindicated.

Deep down most scientists want to be like Lucy. We want a great discovery that overturns some established theory. The joy of discovery is what drives us, and sometimes we explore scientific wardrobes. We really do want to find Narnia. But it’s because we want it that we’re so critical of wild claims. We don’t want to fall prey to a childish prank. So when something like the EmDrive comes along we rip it to shreds. We point out all the ways it could be an error, and all the ways the engineers could be wrong. But we’re also hoping the EmDrive can overcome all those challenges. As long as the work listens to the evidence and responds to criticism, we’ll always be rooting for it.

We’re skeptical. We demand proof. But there’s a part of us that hopes Lucy will take us to Narnia after all.

Scientists are skeptical of speculative science not because we are dogmatic, but because we're looking for Narnia.
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The Human Equation

There’s been a flurry of discussion about academic diversity recently. This time its about the lack of conservatives in universities, but it could just as easily be about gender, or ethnic and cultural backgrounds, or economic diversity. But why should we care about diversity at all? Isn’t science supposed to be a meritocracy?

On some level science is a meritocracy. If we think of science as a competition of ideas and theories, then the best and most useful theory should (and usually does) come out on top. Even the most cherished and time-tested model is discarded if new evidence and new ideas leads to a better one. Our process of peer review is designed to filter out weak models and weak evidence. This merit-based approach has been wildly successful.

But while science strives to be fair and unbiased in its testing of ideas, the process is colored by the fact that scientists are human. We all approach the world with a perspective created by our personal experiences, and those experiences are deeply shaped by our socioeconomic, gender, racial and cultural heritage. No amount of scientific training will change that fact. While we can use scientific methods to filter the good scientific ideas from the bad, the origin of those ideas is still deeply dependent on the human equation. Quite simply, the wider we cast our net, the better science and all of us will be served.

Unfortunately much of the argument about diversity (pro and con) seems to treat diversity as a game of Pokemon, where the goal is to “catch ’em all.” People who are considered “diverse” are hired for their status, then pushed into the sidelines until they are needed for a Pokebattle. Suddenly a wild committee appears! Hispanic woman I choose you! When diversity is treated as a checkbox it is worse than useless. Not only do you not cast a wider net of perspectives and ideas, you reinforce the view that diversity is worthless. “We hired three racial minorities and they failed to succeed. Typical.”

In order for diversity to succeed we have to connect to a wider diversity of people and perspectives. We need to be challenged by ideas very different from our own, and we need to listen. While increasing the diversity of scientists can allow these kinds of connections to flourish, we should be careful not to focus on satisfying checkboxes. Instead we should focus on ways to build wider connections, and provide opportunities for people with a wide range of backgrounds to flourish. The more we do that, the better science will become in the long run.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t improve overnight. But over time we can learn to listen to new perspectives, to challenge them and have them challenge us. Because the human equation of science is complex, subtle and beautiful, if only we take the time to see it.


But why should we care about diversity? Isn't science supposed to be a meritocracy?
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Just give it up already. :p
 
Seriously, we can all see through it--it's about time for managers to stop:
The “sandwich” method of feedback, where you squish criticism between compliments to smooth it over, is played out and everyone knows it. Most of us cringe when we hear someone suggest it, and even when it works, it’s obvious. Adam Grant, author and professor, says it’s time to just give it up, and we agree.
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Electricity from seawater: New method efficiently produces hydrogen peroxide for fuel cells
(Phys.org)—Scientists have used sunlight to turn seawater (H2O) into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which can then be used in fuel cells to generate electricity. It is the first photocatalytic method of H2O2 production that achieves a high enough efficiency so that the H2O2 can be used in a fuel cell.
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Worth a try. See if it works well for you.
 
Need to Remember Something? Here's a New Idea

Hey Students! You sit in class and listen to instructors. You read the book and are exposed to even more information. Amidst all this activity, your job is to both remember and to make sense of the information that is presented. Why not try a new idea? A recent scientific study found that one of the most effective means of remembering something is by taking notes visually. As the study concludes: "We discovered a significant recall advantage for words that were drawn as compared to those that were written," said Wammes. "Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words. We labeled this benefit 'the drawing effect,' which refers to this distinct advantage of drawing words relative to writing them out."

You can read more about the study here:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421133821.htm

So after your next lecture, why not take some time to convert your notes from words to a diagram or collection of pictures. Run your own experiment and see if it works for you. It just might give you "an edge up on the competition."
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Same story here.
 
The Beast Within

A new study looked at public opinion of scientists in the U.S. They found that while scientists are perceived as being honest, they are also seen as robotic and lacking emotion. From my own experience I can certainly understand why.

Of all the characters in the Marvel universe, the one I most strongly see in myself is Bruce Banner. Talented, but shy and withdrawn, and always wary of his emotions, lest they let loose the Hulk within. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only scientist who feels this way. Feelings are understandable, but science requires evidence beyond personal experience. Upon the altar of science we place the cold equations, and let the data judge. We’re wary of fallible emotions lest they lead us away from objectivity. You can see this in scientific papers, and even in my own blog writing. Stick to the facts, and don’t let emotion show.

Of course there is a deep emotional component to my work. I have stood under the Milky Way, moved to tears by its beauty. I’ve felt awe in the sublime elegance of a mathematical theory, and joy in scientific success. Some of the deepest emotional experiences I’ve had were fueled by scientific pursuits. It is those emotions that drive me to pursue science, not cold objectivity. Without an emotional impact I wouldn’t be a scientist. I’m just more comfortable when those emotions are hidden, partly due to my own personality and partly due to my scientific training. Even writing this post makes me a bit uncomfortable.

By hiding our emotional side, scientists not only promote the stereotype of being cold an amoral, they also lose a powerful tool. The power of the Hulk can create havoc, but it can also save the world. Likewise, our emotions can motivate us to do good. Rage at the social inequalities within our institutions, joy in the success of our colleagues, empathy to leave the world better than we found it. Emotions can push us beyond our comfort zone, and encourage us to improve our community. And by showing our emotional side we can better connect with the public, and make science more welcoming. We do a disservice to science when we perpetuate the robotic stereotype.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be comfortable expressing my emotions publicly, but in the future I’ll try to present more of them in my writing. Because the scientific community and society as a whole will be better off if occasionally we unleash the beast within.

Paper: Bastiaan T. Rutjens , Steven J. Heine. The Immoral Landscape? Scientists Are Associated with Violations of Morality. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0152798. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152798 (2016)

A new study looked at public opinion of scientists in the U.S. They found that while scientists are perceived as being honest, they are also seen as robotic and lacking emotion. From my own experience I can certainly understand why.
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An Artist's Eye

When a new astronomical discovery is made, the feature image is often an artist’s rendering. When we discover a new planet or black hole, the actual image we get isn’t visually impressive, so an artistic image can hook the reader and provide an imaginative vision of what’s actually out there. It’s a tradition that has been used for centuries.

Before the rise of astronomical photography, artistic renderings were the only way to convey what astronomers saw. Since the time of Galileo astronomers created sketches of what they saw. Often they focused on specific features they were studying, and astronomers didn’t view their renderings as artwork. But there were a few that combined a scientific eye with an artistic one. In astronomy, one of the more famous ones is Étienne Léopold Trouvelot. Trouvelot was a trained artist who was also an amateur scientist. He painted portraits to support his family but had an interest in entomology, which led to his unfortunate introduction of the invasive gypsy moth into North America. He later turned his scientific interest to astronomy, and began to create wondrous images of the night sky.

By combining his scientific observations with his artistic skill, Trouvelot created images that were not just a rendering of what he saw, but of what he perceived. There’s an artistic flair to his work that inspires the kind of awe and wonder we have when viewing the night sky for ourselves. His work eventually gained him a position at the Harvard College Observatory, where he was able to use their 26-inch refractor telescope. Over the course of his life astronomical photography entered the field, but Trouvelot continued to create his work from direct observation. He felt that photographs couldn’t truly capture what astronomers actually saw.

While modern photography has come a long way since Trouvelot’s day, there is something to be said for an artist’s eye. There’s a time to strive for scientific accuracy and cold data, but there’s also a place for artistic inspiration and interpretation. Trouvelot has inspired many modern astronomical artists, and their work continues to convey the beauty and wonder of what is and what might be in the vast cosmos.

More of Trouvelot’s images can be found at the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The combination of science and art can create wonders.
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O_O
 
India just set a new all-time record high temperature — 123.8 degrees - The Washington Post

'A small city in northwest India climbed to a searing 51 degrees Celsius — or 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit — on Thursday afternoon, and broke the country’s record for all-time hottest temperature. The previous record, 50.6 degrees Celsius, was set in 1886.'

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/05/19/india-just-set-a-new-all-time-record-high-temperature-123-8-degrees/
April and May tend to be the hottest months in northwest India, and this year has been exceptionally so.
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Burrrrrrn! :p
 
Parents wonder why the streams are bitter, when they themselves have poisoned the fountain.
~John Locke
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On one of my restless wanderings around the Internet, I came upon a collection of proofs of the statement that the square root of 2 is an irrational number...
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Computing a secret, unbreakable key - What once took months by some of the world's leading scientists can now be done in seconds by undergraduate students thanks to software developed at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing, paving the way for fast, secure quantum communication.
What once took months by some of the world's leading scientists can now be done in seconds by undergraduate students thanks to software developed at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing, paving the way for fast, secure quantum communication.
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Currently
Pakistan
Previously
Dera Ismail Khan - Islamabad
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خاکسار کو مولوی لینکس کہتے ہیں
Introduction
Explorer at heart.
Aspiring to be the greatest physicist ever!
Likes writing, sketching, experimenting and staring at the sky.
Education
  • International Islamic University Islamabad
    BS Physics (Nanotechnology), 2012 - present
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محمد سعد