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Thu, 21 Mar 2019 20:06:04 GMTFeedCreatorClass 1.0 dev (specificfeeds.com)Who Will Science The Scientists?
https://www.specificfeeds.com/track-rss-story-click/b0rAtUArVuP7zcJu0uyO38gylGl4x3_9CBt2QMWcC7VRPTezDdDOVn8fWu7wPiI3MGpgVxyZZatU3mkABAfKrNRQlRGophPwR9uV5xCnl9lbz19c0sXMIw
<img src="https://www.specificfeeds.com/rssubscribers/rss_show_story_count/311771157/341004" border=0 width="1" height="1" alt="Story 311771157" title="Story 311771157"> <p><i>The questions that kids ask about science aren’t always easy to answer. Sometimes, their little brains can lead to big places that adults forget to explore. That is what inspired </i><a href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/tag/science-question-from-a-toddler/"><i>our series</i></a><i> Science Question From A Toddler, which uses kids’ curiosity as a jumping-off point to investigate the scientific wonders that adults don’t even think to ask about. The answers are for adults, but they wouldn’t be possible without the wonder that only a child can bring. I want the toddlers in your life to be a part of it! </i><a href="https://goo.gl/forms/guF4TwFNcrJZFKg13"><i>Send me their science questions</i></a><i>, and they may serve as the inspiration for a column. And now, our toddler …</i></p>
<p><b>“</b><b>Do scientists die? Does that mean other scientists will dig them up someday?” — Althea, age 4.</b><a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="1" href="#fn-1" data-footnote-content="<p>To be clear about my biases, I have a personal relationship to this question asker. Reader, I gave birth to her.</p>
"><sup id="ss-1">1</sup></a></p>
<p>Scientists: They’re just like us. And not only does that mean they will, eventually, shuffle off this mortal coil, it also means that they (like dinosaurs, ancient civilizations and modern living humans) have all kinds of deeply interesting behaviors we don’t totally understand yet. Scientists have opinions that influence the experiments they design and the questions they ask. Scientists don’t all think about science the same way. Scientists have cultures and subcultures that interact and conflict.</p>
<p>Which is to say, scientists make excellent research subjects for other scientists — even before they’ve had a chance to die, get buried and fossilize into something a preschooler might dig up in a dinosaur-themed sandbox. And, unlike the thunder lizards of old, studying living scientists has big implications for modern politics. How do we know we can trust expertise? When should we question data, and when should we use it as a path to truth? When we live in a knowledge economy, it’s pretty important to know how the ol’ knowledge sausage gets made.</p>
<p>Studying living scientists is more than just a meta exercise in navel gazing. That’s because scientific evidence is a pretty important part of how we solve problems and make decisions, said Harry Collins, professor of social sciences at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Every time we choose to believe science — to decide that <a href="https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-safety/are-vaccines-safe">vaccines are safer than communicable diseases</a>, for instance, or that it matters that <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002/meta">97 percent of climate scientists</a> agree that climate change is real — we’re deciding to trust a particular group of people and a particular culture. Shouldn’t we be as interested in the culture that we trust to define truth as we are in, say, apatosaurus femurs?</p>
<p>But we weren’t always, Collins told me. For most of the 20th century, he said, the idea that science was the best way to arrive at truth was taken as a given. Historians studied how science had developed, but nobody was really trying to understand how science worked in the modern world or why we should trust it more than other institutions.</p>
<p>It was particularly ironic considering <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/history-of-science/The-rise-of-modern-science">science’s growing global importance</a> during that time, said Karin Knorr Cetina, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. The idea of sending sociologists to study the scientists who were studying the big questions of society grew out of that increased reliance on science as the purveyor of truth. For instance, some of the first research on scientists and the way they work came out of the process of setting up national health-care systems in Europe, Knorr Cetina said. With so much at stake, everyone wanted to know <i>how</i> the scientists were getting answers — not just what their answers were. “If we base political decisions on scientific evidence, it’s important to understand: What are these scientists actually doing? Are they doing what they’re supposed to do? … <a href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/we-have-ways-to-stop-rogue-scientists-they-dont-always-work/">What sort of autonomy should scientists have</a>?” Knorr Cetina said.</p>
<p>Both Collins and Knorr Cetina have been studying scientists since the 1970s. Collins <a href="http://www.iphysnet.com/wp/2017/04/12/the-sociology-of-gravitational-waves-an-interview-with-harry-collins/">focused on physicists</a> searching for <a href="https://blogs.sciencemag.org/books/2017/03/28/harry-collins-a-sociologist-embedded-in-the-ligo-project-recounts-the-discovery-of-a-lifetime/?r3f_986=https://www.google.com/">evidence of gravitational waves</a>, while Knorr Cetina’s <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Epistemic-Cultures-Sciences-Make-Knowledge/dp/0674258940">early work compared the cultures</a> of molecular biology and particle physics. She has since moved on to studying <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0011392101049004003">the use of science in economics</a>. Over the years, they’ve both interviewed scientists, attended conferences and spent hundreds of hours hanging out in laboratories — observing scientists in their natural settings like Jane Goodall taking notes on a pack of particularly well-educated chimps.</p>
<p>As a result, they’ve watched and documented behaviors that we’d otherwise have no way to see. For example, in 2014, <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0306312714536011">Collins published a paper</a> about how scientists decide what to do with edgy ideas. What makes the difference between groundbreaking research and a crank?</p>
<p>To study this, Collins focused on a scientific research paper that had been sent to him by its author. The paper claimed there were big flaws in the tools that physicists were using to search for evidence that gravitational waves were real. If it was right, that would mean billions of dollars had been wasted on a program that could never work. Collins sent the paper — along with a survey — to 12 experts in gravitational wave physics to find out whether they would dismiss the paper or investigate its claims further.</p>
<p>Of the 10 who responded to the survey, all dismissed it. But the survey also showed that the decision to ignore the paper was based on a complex series of choices and metrics — not just what the paper said, but how it said it, where it had been published and what else the author was working on. For instance, the respondents noted that the paper had come out in a journal that specialized in unorthodox research that other journals had rejected. Other respondents told Collins that they were concerned about the frequency with which the author cited himself in his own paper and that, from what they could tell, references to other people’s work were mostly papers that had been published by the same, unorthodox, journal. And one respondent said the author’s other work showed a particular interest in disproving Einstein’s theory of relativity.</p>
<p>None of that necessarily meant the author was wrong, but it was all evidence that, taken together, made wrongness more likely. (He <i>was</i> wrong, though. The tools critiqued in the paper would <a href="https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/page/what-are-gw">find evidence of gravitational waves</a> about a year later.)</p>
<p>This research that Collins did isn’t trivial — especially at a time when a proposed <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/02/trump-presidential-climate-security-committee/">presidential committee on climate science</a> is fueled by the idea that scientific gatekeepers are preventing unorthodox knowledge from getting a fair hearing. Knowing how experts decide what is and isn’t likely to be true matters.</p>
<p>It’s also important to know that the way science works is seldom as straightforward and tidy as we assume it is. Just like experts use signposts to decide that an unorthodox idea is more or less likely to be right, they’re also looking at their own ideas through the lens of probability. “It’s a mistake if the public thinks you can just go ask a scientist” and solve problems easily, Knorr Cetina said. In her research on biologists, physicists and economists, she has seen that it takes a very long time — decades — to get solid answers to simple questions. And everything comes in what she calls a “bracket of uncertainty.”</p>
<p>But, at the same time, both Knorr Cetina and Collins also said their work studying scientists has made it more clear to them that it’s worth trusting science. To Collins, it comes down to the way the profession places such a big value on finding truth. The bracket of uncertainty still exists, but after years of watching scientists argue with one another, he personally came to the conclusion that the professional value of finding truth usually wins out over other drivers like money or fame. “With scientists, you can be sure that whether they reach the truth or not, they’re trying harder than anybody else, and that’s where you should place your bets,” he said.</p>Fri, 15 Mar 2019 14:04:54 GMThttps://www.specificfeeds.com/track-rss-story-click/b0rAtUArVuP7zcJu0uyO38gylGl4x3_9CBt2QMWcC7VRPTezDdDOVn8fWu7wPiI3MGpgVxyZZatU3mkABAfKrNRQlRGophPwR9uV5xCnl9lbz19c0sXMIwEven After 31 Trillion Digits, We’re Still No Closer To The End Of Pi
https://www.specificfeeds.com/track-rss-story-click/b0rAtUArVuO5NssKDwQPjXOXmxPcy_8lCBt2QMWcC7VRPTezDdDOVn8fWu7wPiI3MGpgVxyZZatYxDQrAdbNdltyhqcQx2nXSdhS_kHChxBiQOqWNvGKb2-2WkR5-DYot649tD2-gautU2BHlCLLLn-e01ReYTJUvmiBnmiYV5c
<img src="https://www.specificfeeds.com/rssubscribers/rss_show_story_count/311580688/341004" border=0 width="1" height="1" alt="Story 311580688" title="Story 311580688"> <p><b>UPDATE (March 14, 2019, 1:18 p.m.): </b>On Thursday, Google <a href="https://www.blog.google/products/google-cloud/most-calculated-digits-pi/">announced</a> that one of its employees, Emma Haruka Iwao, had found nearly 9 trillion new digits of pi, setting a new record. Humans have now calculated the never-ending number to 31,415,926,535,897 (get it?) — about 31.4 trillion — decimal places. It’s a Pi Day miracle!</p>
<p>Previously, we published a story about humans’ pursuit of pi’s infinite string of digits. To celebrate Pi Day, and the extra 9 trillion known digits, we’ve updated that story below.</p>
<div class='ornamental-rule'><hr /><span></span></div>
<p>Depending on your philosophical views on time and calendars and so on, today is something like the 4.5 billionth Pi Day that Earth has witnessed. But that long history is nothing compared to the infinity of pi itself.</p>
<figure id="attachment_177587" class="wp-caption alignleft" style="max-width: 288px">
<img class="wp-image-177587" src="https://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/roeder-piday-diagram.png" alt="" width="288" height="299" srcset="https://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/roeder-piday-diagram.png?w=288 1x, https://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/roeder-piday-diagram.png?w=576 2x" /></figure>
<p>A refresher for those of you who have forgotten your seventh-grade math lessons<a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="1" href="#fn-1" data-footnote-content="<p>Hi, Mr. Link!</p>
"><sup id="ss-1">1</sup></a>: Pi, or the Greek letter \(\pi\), is a mathematical constant equal to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter — C/d. It lurks in every circle, and equals approximately 3.14. (Hence Pi Day, which takes place on March 14, aka 3/14.)</p>
<p>But the simplicity of its definition belies pi’s status as the most fascinating, and most studied, number in the history of the world. While treating pi as equal to 3.14 is often good enough, the number really continues on forever, a seemingly random series of digits ambling infinitely outward and obeying no discernible pattern — 3.14159265358979…. That’s because it’s an <a href="http://mathworld.wolfram.com/IrrationalNumber.html">irrational number</a>, meaning that it cannot be represented by a fraction of two whole numbers (although approximations such as <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/22/7">22/7</a> can come close).</p>
<p>But that hasn’t stopped humanity from furiously chipping away at pi’s unending mountain of digits. We’ve been at it for millennia.</p>
<figure id="attachment_203851" class="wp-caption alignnone" style="max-width: 575px">
<img class="size-full wp-image-203851" src="https://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/roeder-PI_Update-0314.png" alt="" width="575" height="519" srcset="https://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/roeder-PI_Update-0314.png?w=575 1x, https://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/roeder-PI_Update-0314.png?w=1150 2x" /></figure>
<p>People have been interested in the number for basically as long we’ve understood math. The ancient Egyptians, according to <a href="http://mathworld.wolfram.com/RhindPapyrus.html">a document</a> that also happens to be the world’s oldest collection of math puzzles, knew that pi was something like 3.1. A millennium or so later, an estimate of pi showed up in the bible: The Old Testament, in 1 Kings, <a href="https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Kings+7%3A23&version=KJV">seems to imply</a> that pi equals 3: “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about … and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.”</p>
<p>Archimedes, the <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-archimede/">greatest mathematician of antiquity</a>, got as far as 3.141 by around 250 B.C. Archimedes approached his calculation of pi geometrically, by <a href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c9/Archimedes_pi.svg/2000px-Archimedes_pi.svg.png">sandwiching</a> a circle between two straight-edged <a href="http://mathworld.wolfram.com/RegularPolygon.html">regular polygons</a>. Measuring polygons was easier than measuring circles, and Archimedes measured pi-like ratios as the number of the polygons’ sides increased, until they closely resembled circles.</p>
<p>Meaningful improvement on Archimedes’s method wouldn’t come for hundreds of years. Using the new technique of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral">integration</a>, mathematicians like Gottfried Leibniz, one of the fathers of calculus, could prove such elegant equations for pi as:</p>
<p>\begin{equation*}\frac{\pi}{4}=1-\frac{1}{3}+\frac{1}{5}-\frac{1}{7}+\frac{1}{9}-\ldots\end{equation*}</p>
<p>The right-hand side, just like pi, continues forever. If you add and subtract and add and subtract all those simple fractions, you’ll inch ever closer to pi’s true value. The problem is that you’ll inch <i>very, very slowly</i>. To get just 10 correct digits of pi, you’d have to add about 5 billion fractions together.</p>
<p>But more efficient formulas were discovered. Take this one, from Leonhard Euler, probably the greatest mathematician ever, in the 18th century:</p>
<p>\begin{equation*}\frac{\pi^2}{6}=\frac{1}{1^2}+\frac{1}{2^2}+\frac{1}{3^2}+\ldots\end{equation*}</p>
<p>And Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical genius from India, discovered the totally surprising and bizarre equation below in the early 1900s. Each additional term in this sum <a href="http://crd-legacy.lbl.gov/~dhbailey/dhbpapers/pi-quest.pdf">adds eight correct digits</a> to an estimate of pi:</p>
<p>\begin{equation*}\frac{1}{\pi}=\frac{2\sqrt{2}}{9801}\sum_{k=0}^{\infty}\frac{(4k)!(1103+26390k)}{(k!)^4 396^{4k}}\end{equation*}</p>
<p>Much like with the <a href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/we-have-a-new-prime-number-and-its-23-million-digits-long/">search for large prime numbers</a>, computers blasted this pi-digit search out of Earth orbit and into deep space starting in the mid-1900s. ENIAC, an early electronic computer and the only computer in the U.S. in 1949, calculated pi to over 2,000 places, nearly doubling the record.</p>
<p>As computers got faster and memory became more available, digits of pi began falling like dominoes, racing down the number’s infinite line, impossibly far but also never closer to the end. Building off of Ramanujan’s formula, the mathematical brothers Gregory and David Chudnovsky <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1992/03/02/the-mountains-of-pi">calculated</a> over 2 billion digits of pi in the early 1990s using a homemade supercomputer housed in a cramped and sweltering Manhattan apartment. They’d double their tally to 4 billion digits after a few years.</p>
<p>The current record now stands at about 31.4 trillion digits — thousands of times more than the Chudnovskys’ home-brewed supercomputer managed. It was <a href="http://www.numberworld.org/blogs/2019_3_14_pi_record/">calculated</a> by a Google employee over 121 days using a freely available program called <a href="http://www.numberworld.org/y-cruncher/">y-cruncher</a> and verified with another 48 hours of number-crunching sessions. The calculation took up about as much storage space as the entire digital database of the Library of Congress. Emma Haruka Iwao, the woman behind the record, has been calculating pi on computers <a href="https://www.blog.google/products/google-cloud/most-calculated-digits-pi/">since she was a child</a>.</p>
<p>Iwao’s feat of calculation increased humanity’s collective knowledge of the digits of pi by about 40 percent. The previous record stood at over 22 trillion digits, worked out after 105 days of computation on a Dell server, also using y-cruncher. That program, which uses both the Ramanujan and Chudnovsky <a href="http://www.numberworld.org/y-cruncher/internals/formulas.html">formulas</a>, has been used to find record numbers of digits of not only pi, but also of other endless, irrational numbers, including <a href="http://mathworld.wolfram.com/e.html">e</a>, \(\sqrt{2}\), \(\log{2}\) and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio">golden ratio</a>.</p>
<p>But maybe 31 trillion digits is just a bit of overkill. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory <a href="https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2016/3/16/how-many-decimals-of-pi-do-we-really-need/">uses</a> only <i>15 </i>digits of pi for its highest-accuracy calculations for interplanetary navigation. Heck, Isaac Newton knew that many digits 350 years ago. “A value of \(\pi\) to 40 digits would be more than enough to compute the circumference of the Milky Way galaxy to an error less than the size of a proton,” a group of researchers wrote in a <a href="http://crd-legacy.lbl.gov/~dhbailey/dhbpapers/pi-quest.pdf">useful history</a> of the number. So why would we ever need 31 trillion digits?</p>
<p>Sure, we’ve learned a bit of math theory while digging deep into pi: about <a href="http://mathworld.wolfram.com/FastFourierTransform.html">fast Fourier transforms</a> and that pi is probably a so-called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_number">normal number</a>. But the more satisfying answer seems to me to have nothing to do with math. Maybe it has to do with what President John F. Kennedy said about <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw">building a space program</a>. We do things like this “not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”</p>
<p>But there’s one major difference: The moon is not infinitely far away; we can actually get there. Maybe this famous quote about chess is more apt: “Life is not long enough for chess — but that is the fault of life, not of chess.”</p>
<p>Pi is too long for humankind. But that is the fault of humankind, not of pi. Happy Pi Day.</p>Thu, 14 Mar 2019 17:18:02 GMThttps://www.specificfeeds.com/track-rss-story-click/b0rAtUArVuO5NssKDwQPjXOXmxPcy_8lCBt2QMWcC7VRPTezDdDOVn8fWu7wPiI3MGpgVxyZZatYxDQrAdbNdltyhqcQx2nXSdhS_kHChxBiQOqWNvGKb2-2WkR5-DYot649tD2-gautU2BHlCLLLn-e01ReYTJUvmiBnmiYV5c