The problem with rooting for science

The idea that trusting in science involves a lot of faith, instead of reason, is lost on most people. More often than not, as a science journalist, I encounter faith through extreme examples – such as the Bloch sphere (used to represent the state of a qubit) or wave functions (‘mathematical objects’ used to understand … Read more

Boron nitride, tougher than it looks

During World War I, a British aeronautical engineer named A.A. Griffith noticed something odd about glass. He found that the atomic bonds in glass needed 10,000 megapascals of stress to break apart – but a macroscopic mass of glass could be broken apart by a stress of 100 megapascals. Something about glass changed between the … Read more

On tabletop accelerators

Tabletop accelerators are an exciting new field of research in which physicists use devices the size of a shoe box, or something just a bit bigger, to accelerate electrons to high energies. The ‘conventional way’ to do this has been to use machines that are as big as small buildings, but are often bigger as … Read more

NCBS fracas: In defence of celebrating retractions

Continuing from here… Irrespective of Arati Ramesh’s words and actions, I find every retraction worth celebrating because how hard-won retractions in general have been, in India and abroad. I don’t know how often papers coauthored by Indian scientists are retracted and how high or low that rate is compared to the international average. But I … Read more

NCBS retraction – addenda

My take on the NCBS paper being retracted, and the polarised conversation that has erupted around the incident, is here. The following are some points I’d like to add. a. Why didn’t the editorial and peer-review teams at Nature Chemical Biology catch the mistakes before the paper was published? As the work of famous research-fraud … Read more

Pseudoscientific materials and thermoeconomics

The Shycocan Corp. took out a full-page jacket ad in the Times of India on June 22 – the same day The Telegraph (UK) had a story about GBP 2,900 handbags by Gucci that exist only online, in some videogame. The Shycocan product’s science is questionable, at best, though its manufacturers have disagreed vehemently with this assessment. (Anusha Krishnan wrote a … Read more

Scicommers as knowledge producers

Reading the latest edition of Raghavendra Gadagkar’s column in The Wire Science, ‘More Fun Than Fun’, about how scientists should become communicators and communicators should be treated as knowledge-producers, I began wondering if the knowledge produced by the latter is in fact not the same knowledge but something entirely new. The idea that communicators simply … Read more