This "Skeptic's Collection" column is dedicated to the life, work, and memory of Prof. Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of theoretical physics and cosmology, Cambridge University, United Kingdom. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses”
If you have not seen the movie Interstellar, with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Mackenzie Foy, and John Lithgow, you should run – not walk – to the nearest theater or streaming service and watch it. Interstellar is a not just a science-fiction (SF) movie, it is a science-fiction movie, i.e., it does not cut any corners in terms of depicting the actual consequences of near-light travel, e.g., time dilation, black-hole physics, etc. (In that respect, Interstellar is a cinematic fraternal twin to Dan Si
I write this the morning (13 February) after Diane and I had a wonderful, long, and calorie-filled dinner with two very senior people associated with the Keck Telescopes and the other telescopes atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a memorable evening that still resonates with me. One reason that conversation sticks with me -- aside from having discussed dark energy, blue-sky (black-sky?) projects for exploring the Proxima Centauri system, gamma-ray bursts, gravity waves, black holes, etc., etc. – is that one of the subjects we touched on banged down pretty hard on one of my hot-button issues: scientific illiteracy in general in the US and the western world, and the need for informed, literate teaching of science to non-scientists. I mean science per se, not just astrono
Sometimes even smart and literate people are somewhat naïve when it comes to science. We had an example just recently when educated and sophisticated people compared prevalent conservative skepticism about climate change / global warming with almost non-existent skepticism about the causes of the recent solar eclipse. But this turns out to be a case of dueling misconceptions about differences in scientific methodology: the methodology used to substantiate climate change and the methodology used to account for solar eclipses. The differences are subtle, requiring a working knowledge of the history of science, but important in appreciating the extent to which the two cases – climate change and eclipses – are not quite comparable. Almost. But not quite.
I am riding this partic