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Link roundup – BICEP2, the Big Bang, and the Inflation Theory

27 Mar

In the past two weeks, the biggest news in science was probably the detection of the comic microwave background pattern (due to gravitational waves from the early universe)  that serves as the evidence for the inflation theory. Ever since the news broke, many people and media outlets have written about this – and here is a collection of the articles if you are interested in learning more about the discovery as well as its impact.

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

Original publications on arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & C. D. Dowell (2014). BICEP2 I: Detection Of B-mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales, arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder & E. Bullock (2014). BICEP2 II: Experiment and Three-Year Data Set, arXiv:

BICEP2 results: BICEP2 2014 Results Release – including the papers, figures, video (technical and news conference), Q & A, images, etc

BBC articles:

New York Times has a pretty comprehensive story on it along with some graphic explanation: Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun

Nature News has a whole special feature dedicated to this, including Q & A and discussion of implications: Special – Waves from the Big Bang

Some shameless self-promotion / Canadian context: My department got a little bit of attention because one of our faculty members, Dr. Mark Halpern, is one of the co-authors of the BICEP2 papers (I believe there are also collaborators from the University Toronto). Here are some interviews with Mark.

Now let’s be cautious here: 

Matt Strassler, theoretical physicist and a visiting scholar at Harvard, put together some posts about the BICEP2 results in his blog post If It Holds Up, What Might BICEP2′s Discovery Mean?. He is “cautiously optimistic” at the moment, which is a good place to be for scientists 🙂  His posts have more scientific content, but you can find a lot of background information on his site (mostly hyperlinked throughout his posts. You can also just start from the March 17th post).

Neil Turok, the Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute, “urges caution on BICEP2 results” in a physicsworld.com article. Granted, he is not exactly a supporter of the inflation theory to begin with – he has a bet with Stephen Hawking on it, and Hawking is now claiming vistory. If you scroll down to the middle of the BBC article Cosmic inflation: ‘Spectacular’ discovery hailed, you can find a sound clip of Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok’s perspectives on the BICEP2 evidence (Hawking: I won! Turok: Not yet!).

This crazy Universe – or universes? Sean Carroll from Caltech wrote about the evidence for inflation and its implication for “multiverse” in New York Times Opinionator article When Nature Looks Unnatural (A shorter highlight could be found on io9). He also expanded on the topic on his personal blog, The Preposterous Universe.

Onto the lighter side of things: See how Andrei Linde, one of the main authors of the inflation theory, reacted to the news re: BICEP2 results delivered by Chao-Lin Kuo, a co-author of the BICEP2 papers.

If you have any additional resources or articles to add, please feel free to comment below. Otherwise, enjoy!

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Science vs. Politics in Canada Update: Link Roundup

14 Nov

I was originally planning to include the links here in my next general link roundup, but considering that the Canadian Science Policy Conference will be coming up in a week in Toronto, these links sorta deserve a specific post. I previously wrote about Science vs. Politics in march – I therefore consider this a follow-up post.

1. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), “the largest union in Canada representing scientists and professionals employed at the federal and some provincial and territorial levels of government”,  recently commissioned a survey of 4,000 Canadian government scientists. They found that:

  • 90% of the federal scientists do not feel like they can speak freely about their work.
  • 37% reported that they were prevented from answering questions from the public and media in the last 5 years
  • 24% were directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons
  • 50% were aware of actual cases where the health and safety of Canadians or environmental sustainability has been compromised because of political interference with their scientific work

Check out the full reports on their page: Most Federal Scientists Feel They Can’t Speak Out, Even If Public Health and Safety at Risk, Says New Survey.

This story was covered by CBC (Muzzling of federal scientists widespread, survey suggests), and Nature (7 days – Trend Watch).

2. Sarah Boon (a great science communication colleague) organized a series of blog posts on Canadian science policies. John Dupuis has organized all the posts (so far, 10 of them) on his blog Confessions of A Science Librarian. Topics in the blog series range from the muzzling of government scientists, the experimental lake area, science and politics, and open data.

3. A few UBC students put together a great podcast – Silencing the Scientists, via the Terry Project. Excellent work, by the way, especially since this came from students – hope to see more from them.

Has Harper politicized federal science? Since 2006, the Canadian government has laid off scientists while expanding its communication staff. On this episode of The Terry Project on CiTR, Gordon and Sam speak with scientists, journalists and activists about the state of science and spin in 2013.

Graphic Design by Talal Al Salem/Terry Project

Graphic Design by Talal Al Salem/Terry Project

4. This came out a while ago, but I thought that it is worth sharing here again. Tom Spears, a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, was working on a story for which he was hoping to talk to scientists from the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and NASA of the United States. Here is an infographic on what he went through: Comparing Science Communication in Canada and the USA. It has been pointed out to me in the past that this might not be a fair comparison (NRC and NASA might have different priorities when it comes to outreach), but the difference is astounding.

5. Simon Fraser University graduate student David Peddie recently wrote to Georgia Straight (a local Vancouver Community newspaper with a large circulation). In Evidence-based dissent and Canada’s war on science, he talk about the response from former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada, Philip Cross, regarding the “war on science.”

He argues that government scientists have no right to complain of muzzling… Cross looks at the situation like a good business manager—employees exist to serve their employer; should they feel the need to give an opinion (however knowledgeable) that the public relations department deems damaging to the employer’s mission, they’re welcome to post it anonymously in a blog or resign…Cross’s outlook is the root of the whole problem. Acceptable business practice is not acceptable government practice. Democracy is not the act of electing a representative corporate body to power to execute its agenda. A corporation is free to pursue its objectives as it pleases within the confines of the law but a government has a responsibility to be accountable and transparent to its electorate. The public is not a body to be manipulated and appeased by a public relations department; they are the raison d’être of the government. Open channels of honest communication should be made available to encourage an informed, engaged, and critical public.

6. CBC Radio Program The Current recently covered the story about the War on Science. Anna Maria Tremonti, the host of the program, also interviewed Tim Powers, Vice-Chair of Summa Strategies and Conservative commentator. Tim Powers’ stand that “there is no war on science” triggered a strong response from brain research scientists from the Dalhousie University: the Decreasing Funding of Scientific Research Funding in Canada.

Have you come across a few that I should have included? Let me know by commenting below.

Link Roundup: Cool physics stuff, Vancouver science events, tips for writing about science, & women in science

5 Jul

Cool Physics Stuff

  • One of the coolest demo videos ever. What happens when you add the concept of a Möbius strip to a superconductor train?

  • What happens when you drop the tip of a chain of beads from a beaker? Nice explanation, plus who doesn’t love slow motion videos? HT Jennifer Ouellette.

Vancouver Science Events

Writing about Science

Women in Science

Last but not the least…

Link Roundup: Bad headlines, social media for academics, women in science, and the 8th Conference of the Science Journalists

28 Jun

I am going to start doing link roundup on this blog – I go through many articles each week, some of which really are worth mentioning but do not quite warrant full blog posts. I will try to do this every 1-2 weeks. Enjoy!

Bad Headlines: As a science communicator, nothing irks me more than terrible headlines.

Social Media for Academics

  • Chris Buddle is an Ecology professor at the McGill University. He recently put together a wonderful presentation on Social media for academics, probably one of the best presentations that I have seen that is tailored for the academics. Chris is very active on twitter, so make sure you follow him @CMBuddle
  • The role of twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication by Darling, Shiffman, Côté, and Drew came out on ArXiv some time ago, but I finally managed to take a look last week. A very nicely written summary about twitter for academics because it is much more in-depth, and was written specifically for its target audience. I have seen way too many generic twitter summaries written for academics that are just way too light and do not present a strong case on why academics should be using twitter. HT Artem Kaznatcheev for bringing this to my attention.

Women in Science

  • I am working on a review of recent studies on gender bias in science, and came across this. Athene Donald wrote about a paper published this month regarding the under-representation of women as invited speakers at the European Society for Evolutionary Biology Congress. It is more complicated than it seems –  you can check out the paper here. Athene invited comments on her blog post through social media and the comment thread for her post is a good read.

The 8th Conference of the Science Journalists: The conference was held in Helsinki in Finland from June 24 to 28. If you look at the programme, you would notice that there are a many great discussions during the conference! Sad that you missed the conference? Here are a few ways to catch up:

Last but not the least…

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