How Stupid Are Scientists?
January 21, 2002 12:50 PM   Subscribe

How Stupid Are Scientists? As a followup to the How Stupid Are We? thread, this article from SF Gate explores scientific "head-scratchers."
posted by amanda (19 comments total)
 
I like the last paragraph. It would really bite someone in the ass if we find out that your DNA structure somehow continues to mutate over your lifetime, and we've let hundreds of criminals go free because their DNA doesn't match the evidence any more.

(Note: I know it's a ridiculous notion, but it's still fun to think about)
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:57 PM on January 21, 2002


How stupid are scientists? Not very. How complex are seemingly simple phenomenon? Incredibly so.
posted by skwm at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2002


The only people who can get by with trying to shift paradigms are those with great stature and egos. . . . However, there is now nobody in the field to fill that role.

What a telling quote. Look at how hard Einstein had to fight off die-hard Newtonians and to later find himself fighting quantum physics the same way relativity had been challenged.

The article is really about everyday phenomonen and silly assumptions like "if we can land a man on the moon..." but the gist of it is that a lot of scientific disciplines are something of an old-boys club and many revolutionary theories will gather dust until someone is willing to sacrifice their reputation by challenging the old guard. Good or bad? Who knows, but this is the mechanism at work. Let the battles of the egos commence!
posted by skallas at 1:15 PM on January 21, 2002


Forget Meteorites! This is much more strange and fascinating: The Oh-My-God particle

Quote that stands out:
"Thus, if you could accelerate yourself to the speed at which the Oh My God particle was traveling, you'd be able to travel to the edge of the visible universe in a couple of weeks. "
posted by vacapinta at 1:29 PM on January 21, 2002


Good article. Thanks amanda!
posted by glennie at 3:31 PM on January 21, 2002


Now if only these people spent their time trying to cure AIDS and cancer.

I must admit, I think that trying to find out why a flag flaps in the wind is fairly useless. If they used their knowledge in the right way, maybe we could put and end to many diseases.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 4:26 PM on January 21, 2002


I think that trying to find out why a flag flaps in the wind is fairly useless

It's not that they're just trying to figure out why a flag flaps in the wind, they're trying to understand the elastohydrodynamics (as it says in the article, it's the study of deformable bodies in air or liquid flow) which make the flag flap. Understanding the forces behind the movement could be very useful in designing more efficient airplanes, boats, underwater vehicles, etc...
posted by skwm at 4:44 PM on January 21, 2002


If they used their knowledge in the right way, maybe we could put and end to many diseases.

We don't know what we don't know. It could be - I daresay, it's probable - that the flag-flapping problem has many applications to the real world. Perhaps even medicine.

I hate to be an asshole, but if you're that concerned about AIDS and cancer - what are you doing about it?
posted by SilentSalamander at 4:44 PM on January 21, 2002


It's also possible that the reason we don't yet have answers to flag-flapping questions is that a lot of scientists do consider other (e.g., medical) issues more important.
posted by mdn at 6:01 PM on January 21, 2002


It would really bite someone in the ass if we find out that your DNA structure somehow continues to mutate over your lifetime, and we've let hundreds of criminals go free because their DNA doesn't match the evidence any more.

Your DNA is mutating all the time. When your cells divide, the replication machinery has an inherent error in it. Other things like UV light and various chemicals also mutate DNA. Cancer is the end result when you accumulate enough mutations. That said, different mutations occur in different cells, so you'll still generally have the same DNA for a fingerprint (1 cell out of 10000+) (and more to the point, even with a point mutation, the PCR primers will still generally bind).

The thing these people seem to miss in their 'fingerprints being unique isn't properly validated' argument is that science should be deductive, and that one cannot prove theories, but one can disprove others. The idea that fingerprints are unique can be easily falsified- as soon as you get two people with identical fingerprints. The FBI has a nice large data base, and they check for matches all the time.

As far as validity of the research goes, the goal of science is to create a theory that explains our world perfectly, and only our world. Flags flapping are just as much of it as viruses are. Importance of either? Debatable, and entirely dependent on your point of view.
posted by LabTroglodyte at 6:09 PM on January 21, 2002


Understanding the forces behind the movement could be very useful in designing more efficient airplanes, boats, underwater vehicles, etc...

Good point. I also realize that now, their field of study has little or nothing to do with medicine. See what happens when someone skims the article? hehehe

I hate to be an asshole, but if you're that concerned about AIDS and cancer - what are you doing about it?

I'm doing everything I can, which is pretty much nothing. I, unfortunately, am not gifted with the ability to retain much knowledge and compute complex physics calculations. If I tried to do something like this, I'd probably set back the research 20 years. I'm also fairly poor, paycheck to paycheck won't allow me to fund a grant that would allow any advancement either. So I will worry, just like any other human on this planet that has had a loved one die from such diseases, Mr. Asshole.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 7:30 PM on January 21, 2002


Jake, you would have made your point much more easy to swallow if you'd checked your anger at the door and left off the last two words.

How about being a little more Jake, and a little less EXTREME?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:10 PM on January 21, 2002


crash, if I was less EXTREME, I'd have to change my login name. *end sarcasm*

As far as the last 2 words go in that comment, I feel completely justified. Think what you will, do what you want, just understand, I was repeating only what was explained to us in SilentSalamanders' comment. He said it first.

Note: I think that was the first swear in any of my posts, lol.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 8:36 PM on January 21, 2002


Isn't there an old koan about a flapping flag, i.e. does the flag move or does the wind move? Mind moves.
posted by quercus at 8:59 PM on January 21, 2002


OK, JakeEXTREME, you may have felt justified. Now, sit back and think for a minute. Don't type out a response immediately, just look at what you typed and think about it. Does the feeling of justification you received from calling him an asshole balance out the fact that you made your point but then lost sight of the actual debate? Do you feel that by resorting to name-calling you punctuated your remarks, or cheapened them?

It is possible to disagree without resorting to personal attacks. In fact, it can help you to sway others to your point of view. By stooping to schoolyard tactics, you not only debase your argument in this thread, you also make it less likely that others will back your position in future debates, and that's disappointing. You appear to have the intelligence needed to take a position and defend it, but you seem to lack the maturity to defend it in a civilized manner. I won't throw stones here in my glass house, as I can be as obstinate as any when it comes to something that's near and dear to me, but I hope that when we eventually end up disagreeing we can do it amicably, as gentlemen.

(Note: Sorry for the derailment. I now return you to your regularly scheduled free-for-all.)
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:06 PM on January 21, 2002


does the flag move or does the wind move?

Actually both.

Cause and effect. The path of the wind reacts with the flag causing it to move.

As to why it waves instead of popping straight... Let's see if I can explain this so I can understand it...

When the flag is at a motionless point, it is usually folded/wrinkled/overlapped in some sort of way. These folds create 'pockets'. When the force of wind is applied to the cloth material it bends to the will of the wind. The 'pockets' create different 'air pressures'(not exactly air pressure, but as best a term as I can think of). The different pressures create a non-aerodynamic shape, in which the air current 'beats' on certain parts of the flag. Those parts are raised thus changing the 'pressure pockets'. As the shape of the pocket changes, the 'striking point' of the air current is now on the opposite side of the flag.

This proccess repeats itself as the wind goes, kind of ping-ponging the material around. When the speed of the wind picks up, the ping-pong effect becomes more rapid, which is why you see the flags on moving cars fluttering extremely fast, often breaking the threads on the end of the flag.

The reason it doesn't 'fly straight' so-to-speak, is because the air pressure is not the same on both sides of the flag. This is due to the starting position of the flag, and the posts do not help aerodynamics any.

In theory, if the flag was on a highly aerodynamic post, and the wind speed picked up fast enough, it could fly straight, but I do not think there is a natural occurrence of this phenomena, nor is there a wind tunnel that could provide accurate wind speeds.

Aerodynamics of the wing of an airplane apply a similar equation. The diference with a wing of a plane is that it is not as pliable, which allows for a higher likelyhood of maniplating air pressure.

Ok... so I have no clue what I'm talking about, but at least it makes some sense.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 10:07 PM on January 21, 2002


Missed the fuckn' point a wee bit, there, Jake.
Unless that too was sarcasm, in which case, bravo.

I'm rapidly losing my ability to distinguish between ignorance and humor. Damn this ironic culture.
posted by dong_resin at 12:49 AM on January 22, 2002


Much sarcasm indeed.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 1:07 AM on January 22, 2002


I'm rapidly losing my ability to distinguish between ignorance and humor

Reminds me of that Simpsons episode where one of the dirtbag kids says "Dude, that *sucks*." Nelson responds: "Are you being sarcastic?" "I just don't know anymore."
posted by skwm at 7:01 AM on January 22, 2002


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