Friday, May 06, 2011

Stop writing about geology

The NY Times reports:
Black children are most acutely affected: The study found that 17 percent of black children - nearly 1 in 5 - received a diagnosis of asthma in 2009, up from 11.4 percent, or about 1 in 9, in 2001.
No, 17 percent is 1 in 6, not 1 in 5. I always worry about the reliability of an article like this, when it has such a glaring arithmetic mistake. Worse, I did a google search for "one in five (17 percent)" shows 100s of articles! Apparently it is a common mistake.

I guess I should be glad that they bother to report statistical evidence at all. A famous writer for the New Yorker magazine (John McPhee) says that he gets hate mail when he writes about science:
Some lawyer in Boston sent me a letter —- this man, this adult, had gone to the trouble to write in great big letters: stop writing about geology. And it’s on the letterhead of a law firm in Boston.
I thought that New Yorker readers just read for literary style, and do not care what the articles are about. The magazine did publish a physics article recently:
Deutsch believes that if a quantum computer were built it would constitute near-irrefutable evidence of what is known as the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. A number of respected thinkers in physics besides Deutsch support the Many Worlds Interpretation, though they are a minority, and primarily educated in England, where the intense interest in quantum computing has at times been termed the Oxford flu. But the infection of Deutsch’s thinking has mutated and gone pandemic. Other scientists, although generally indifferent to the truth or falsehood of Many Worlds as a description of the universe, are now working to build these dreamed-up quantum computing machines.
This should sound fishy, even if you don't know anything about the subject. Researchers are trying to do an experiment that will prove the existence of Many Worlds, and yet they are indifferent to its truth or falsehood.

How can that be? Simple. The experiments will fail, and Many Worlds is an unscientific fantasy.

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