Here at Cosmic Variance we’re not nearly as prolific as Ed (there are only seven of us, and one of him), but the idea of a year-end wrap-up is a good one. I.e., it seems to create content in the slow intra-holiday period, without actually coming up with anything new. So here are some of my own favorite posts from the last year, with a few guest posts thrown in for good measure.
- We made it four days into the year before discussing science and religion. I started off by arguing that atheists don’t need to be obnoxious to strongly defend their beliefs, in Being Polite and Being Right. On the flip side, in The Truth Still Matters, I suggested that organizations like the NCSE and NAS should stay away from offering theological advice and arguing that science and religion are compatible. But I tried not to be obnoxious while doing so.
- I took some issue with James Cameron’s Avatar in Black and White and Blue All Over. Still patting myself on the back for that title, but I think come off as too harsh in the post itself. This might be because I subsequently saw Cameron on a panel at Caltech about the science of Avatar, and he was fantastic. Anyone who is that committed to and knowledgeable about their material deserves some slack.
- Time Travel in Lost: The Metaphorics of Predestination. I loved Lost, although I was one of the many who felt let down by the finale. There’s still room out there for a time-travel/alternate-reality story that really grapples with the issues of predestination.
- It took us until late February, but finally a pure-science post that I really liked: Energy is Not Conserved. Actually even this turns out to be more about language than about physics, but there’s some good physics lurking underneath.
- In Free Energy and the Meaning of Life I strayed way outside my expertise, hopefully without screwing things up too badly. The underlying issues are fascinating but controversial even among experts.
- A behind-the-scenes look at the news show with the best science coverage out there, in Report from Colbert.
- Sam Harris and I got into a scuffle about deriving ought from is, leading to three posts: The Moral Equivalent of the Parallel Postulate, Sam Harris Responds, and You Can’t Derive Ought From Is. There are a lot of good things in Sam’s new book, and it’s a shame that he detracts from the interesting parts of his discussion by leading off with an unnecessary philosophical mistake.
- A nostalgic look at my undergraduate research, and some amazing cutting-edge new data, in My Favorite Star. (Interestingly, there is not strong evidence for a mid-eclipse brightening in the most recent data, contrary to what I would have expected. Evolution within the disk filled the central hole?)
- In case you’ve been wondering, The Universe Is Not a Black Hole.
- A foray into (fairly simple) math in Non-Normalizable Probability Measures for Fun and Profit.
- I recount a trip to the Linda Hall Library in A Shrine to Science on the Missouri River.
- We know the basic laws of physics governing how the everyday world works. An extremely impressive accomplishment, but not something that should count as a controversial claim; personally, I think it should be taught in junior-high physics classes. But it took three posts to lay it all out, not without some redundancy: The Laws Underlying the Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood; Seriously, The Laws Underlying the Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood; and One Last Stab. Some of the ramifications of this fact for our wider public discourse were discussed in Reluctance to Let Go.
- As an experiment I made a video to relate that Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All. Response seemed to be largely positive, and I still hope to do more videos (with slightly higher production values), but it does take a bit of work.
- The Fine Structure Constant is Probably Constant. Explaining some of the theoretical prejudices that make physicists more skeptical of some claims than others.
- Is Dark Matter Supernatural? No, of course not. But it’s a good example to keep in mind when discussing what questions science can address.
- Picking up the theme of taking on famous movie directors, I had a skeptical take on J.J. Abrams’ TED talk in A Mystery Box Full of Red Matter.
- In our annual Thanksgiving post, we offered gratitude for the effectiveness of effective field theory. Kind of an obvious choice, I’ll admit.
- While my intent was to stick just to my own posts, I can’t resist pointing to two guest posts: our recent one by Matt Johnson on Observing the Multiverse, and Eugene Lim’s summer entry on Calculus in Haiti. Thanks to all of our guest bloggers for adding new dimensions (as it were) to our discussions.
If I were a braver person, I’d do a corresponding list of my worst blog posts of the year. And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolley.
Happy New Year, everyone.