The FAMOUS (!) Cafe Scientifique

Valley Cafe Scientifique got some well-earned pub from the on-line magazine Fresno Famous. The usual suspects involved with this nefarious attempt to bring the excitement of science to the general public can be observed, up to their usual tricks. Science rocks! Read about it here!



File this under 'God has a lot to answer for.'

The shooting death at home of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor is more than a little mysterious: a world-class athlete is shot in the leg, suffers massive blood loss (and, more than likely, brain damage), clings to life for about half a day before succumbing. Pretty sad, but also hard to wrap your mind around. Really, life is fragile and even an All-Pro specimen like Taylor can be leveraged by a sufficiently unfortunate chain of events. If the bullet had not ruptured his femoral artery, he would almost certainly be alive.

Unless, of course, someone wanted him either dead or unable to play. In which case, they might well have done whatever it took to achieve that. Taylor was a major factor in his club's defense, among the better units in the NFL. You'd hate to think that Taylor's death is anything other than a burglary gone wrong, but it raises major questions.

I'm a Cowboys fan, but of course I take no pleasure in Taylor's passing. He was an outstanding opponent, and his passing hurts me, too: I'm passionate about the Boys, which means I'm passionate about their rivalry with Washington. Win or lose, I can take no satisfaction in Romo and Company scoring against the Skins secondary, because I know that they've been unfairly robbed of a force in their lineup, a teammate and a friend. Rest in peace, Mr. Taylor.



There's a nice little kerfuffle going on in the Science Blogs about a piece in the New York Times in which the cosmologist Paul Davies stubs his toe in the philosophy of science. As usual, Wilkins has an excellent analysis, which in this case demonstrates that Davies is guilty of at least two logical errors.

Interestingly enough, Davies is already something of thorn in the side of skeptics for taking the Templeton Foundation's money and endorsing a limited 'fine-tuning' argument in behalf of some vague deism. During the discussion on Pharyngula, a reader brought up an argument by another physicist:

"Victor Stenger at Talk Reason* makes the argument that a single universe runs afoul of Occam's Razor by postulating an arbitrary and unnecessary limit of 1 to the number of universes. That limit itself is the unparsimonious entity. After all, we have the existance of one universe known - more than one isn't multiplying entities, it's repeating a single entity that is known to exist in at least one case..."

To which I say, ha. By extension, the value of 6.67 E -11 for the gravitational constant is also an arbitrary limit. Just because this is among the narrow range of possible values actually observed under experimental conditions shouldn't rule out wildly different values! In other words, I don't think much of Stenger's argument.

After all, we don't posit a limit on the number of entities observed just by the act of observation, and extradordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that there is one universe known to exist is not an extraordinary claim, and is certainly supported by a very large number of claims. The existence of a multiverse is an extraordinary claim for precisely the opposite reason. It is not enough to bask in the beautiful mathematics of another untested notion, string theory, and observe that some versions demand a multiverse. At some point, we need some actual evidence...right?

Maybe the various detectors on the Large Hadron Collider, in the final stages of construction as we speak, will shed some light on the present paucity of data for both string 'theory' and multiverse scenarios. Right now, their main scientific virtue with respect to origins is not that they 'explain' anything, but that they in principle supply a naturalistic redoubt for cosmogenesis. In the meantime, we do have one universe known to exist and we do not need to posit a theological redoubt in order to ask why it has the properties that it does.
Davies goes too far in equating the axioms of science with the dogma of faith, but that says nothing about the utility of the anthropic principle or the apparent 'fine tuning' of certain parameters. Scientists should be free to propose testable hypotheses drawn from different metaphysical axioms, as long as they test them and let the chips fall where they may.

* I should point out that Stenger's article is a good read, well worth a person's time, and it has a lot more in it than just the argument I reference above. For the record, the link takes one to a PDF file, and one can find Stenger's discussion of parsimony with reference to multiverse scenarios beginning on page 17.


Best Song About A Night Lite. Evah!


There is a reason why Pharyngula is the most-read science blog in the Internet, and it is the fact that PZ Myers, the owner of said blog, is incredibly resourceful and prolific when it comes to posting material. During this last week, when many of us were off for days at a time, he managed to post 6-8 items per day.

Me? My brother and his family visited, and not only did I understandably choose to spend time with them, he and his wife bedded down in my studio where my computer is. It just wasn't the time or place. Well, sadly, vacation's over and my brother's gone back to SoCal, and so I can blog again. The latter is a silver lining, I suppose, to the grey cloud of routine revived. So, for those of you who have been regularly checking the blog for updates this last week and seeing nothing, order is about to be restored.

Let me tell you what I've been up to in my blogging absence, however:

  • A week ago I participated in Fresno Metro Ministries annual Thanksgiving concert, which is an interfaith event. There was a humdinger (sorry) of a bell choir performance from our host, Hope Lutheran. There was a jazz-inflected guitar/flute duo from Temple Beth Israel. There was, for lack of a better phrase, a sort of Hispanic Van Trapp Family Singers, doing a fully-electrified Santanaesque version of a 'praise song' in Spanish. There was a trio performing Sikh meditation music (involving a tabla player, chanting, and a pair of reed organs). There was a Muslim father and son who recited the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. And so on and so forth, a marvelous demonstration of the community's diversity. . .
  • On Monday morning, I went out to my aging father-in-law's spread in Sanger and (following his instructions) tore up an old concrete sidewalk to identify the source of a pipe lead that was flooding his backyard. This involved a 20-pound piece of steel that looked like a bobby pin from Land of the Giants. Owch. I got down on my hands and knees to remove the busted fitting with a pair of 5-pound pipe wrenches, which of necessity had to be rotated below ground level. More pain, but eventually the leak was capped and the hole filled.
  • On Monday afternoon, I made it back to town, cleaned up and had a recording session with two female background singers at Maximus. This was the latest in a series of sessions that have now run over a year for my CD project.
  • On Tuesday, frantically cleaned house not only to prepare for company but to make it suitable for prospective buyers to see (my wife is itching to find a house with a larger kitchen--rotsa ruck in this market). Also, that evening held choir rehearsal early in the week since our regularly-scheduled rehearsal time would fall on Thanksgiving.
  • On Wednesday, picked up my son from college so he could enjoy a brief visit with his uncle tonight and tomorrow before heading off to Sacramento to celebrate Thanskgiving with his girlfriend's family. Also, began hauling down Christmas decorations from the attic. Our neighbourhood, incredibly, was not only featured in the local paper as one known for its decor but the rumor is now being circulated that the block might be featured on 'Good Morning America.' Good grief, talk about keeping up with the Jones's!
  • Thanksgiving: I did my best to burn breakfast, knowing my wife was lumbered with the turkey later in the day, which was frankly tremendous. Macy's parade, my Cowboys took it to the Jets to improve to 10-1, and of course the eventual tryptophan-laced bacchanal. My brother's family loves board games, so by the time the late NFL game ran its course, we were up to our elbows in dice and discard piles. My nephews ganged up on me, when seems par for the course. My wife, who had worked much of the day, retreated early to the bedroom but I stayed up well past midnight.
  • Friday-Saturday-Sunday: Played. Procrastinated. Climbed (owch) up on the roof and set up icicles. Worked my tail off, and have the cuts, scrapes and general aches and pains that you might expect. I wish I could say my yard is ready, but if you saw my neighbours....anyway, bade farewell to my brother and his family on Saturday evening in the midst of all of this, and then (regretfully) turned to this blog....and all the other things that will have to be tackled when I return to the classroom.....