Lord of the Rings Day

Here’s wishing you a Happy Lord of the Rings Day! (Previous editions: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014.) On this day in the book, Frodo, Sam and Smeagol (with help from Gandalf, Aragon, Gimli, Legolas, Faramir, Eowyn, Theoden, Eomer, Treebeard and the Ents, Meriadoc, Peregrin, Galadriel, Arwen and many, many others) destroyed the One Ring in … Read more

Defending philosophy of science

From Carl Bergstrom’s Twitter thread about a new book called How Irrationality Created Modern Science, by Michael Strevens: The Iron Rule from the book is, in Bergstrom’s retelling, “no use of philosophical reasoning in the mode of Aristotle; no leveraging theological or scriptural understanding in the mode of Descartes. Formal scientific arguments must be sterilised, … Read more

On crypto-art, racism and outcome fantasies

If you want to find mistakes with something, you’ll be able to find them if you tried long enough. That doesn’t inherently make the thing worthless. The only exception I’ve encountered to this truism is the prevailing world-system – which is both fault-ridden and, by virtue of its great size and entrenchment, almost certainly unsalvageable. … Read more

COVID-19, due process and an SNR problem

At a press conference streamed live on March 18, the head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that the body – which serves as the European Union’s drug and vaccine regulator – had concluded that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was not associated with unusual blood clots that some vaccine recipients had reported in multiple countries. The … Read more

A tale of vortices, skyrmions, paths and shapes

There are many types of superconductors. Some of them can be explained by an early theory of superconductivity called Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory. In these materials, vibrations in the atomic lattice force the electrons in the material to overcome their mutual repulsion and team up in pairs, if the material’s temperature is below a particular threshold … Read more

Reimagining science, redux

This article on Founding Fuel has some great suggestions I thought, but it merits sharing with a couple caveats. First, in narratives about making science “easier to do”, commentators give science-industry linkages more play than science-society ones. This has been true in the past and continues to be. We remember and periodically celebrate the work of Shanti Swarup … Read more

Physicists produce video of time crystal in action 😱

Have you heard of time crystals? A crystal is any object whose atoms are arranged in a fixed pattern in space, with the pattern repeating itself. So what we typically know to be crystals are really space crystals. We didn’t have to bother with the prefix because space crystals were the only kind of crystals … Read more

Anti-softening science for the state

The group of ministers (GoM) report on “government communication” has recommended that the government promote “soft topics” in the media like “yoga” and “tigers”. We can only speculate what this means, and that shouldn’t be hard. The overall spirit of the document is insecurity and paranoia, manifested as fantasies of reining in the country’s independent … Read more

Some good books I read recently

Since January 2020 Read Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko Every Creature Has a Story, Janaki Lenin The Writing Life, Annie Dillard Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist, Frank Close Shoes of the Dead, Kota Neelima The Overstory, Richard Powers Wild and Wilful, Neha Sinha Difficult Women: A History of … Read more

What is academic freedom?

Note: I originally wrote two versions of this article for The Wire; one, a ‘newsier’ version, was published in June 2020. I’d intended to publish the version below, which is more of a discussion/analysis, sometime last year itself but it slipped my mind. I’m publishing it today, shortly after rediscovering it by accident. Since the … Read more