Think Like a Scientist: Media and Writing

My Efforts to Show How Scientists Think About the Problems That Life Throws At Us

Rosetta and Bali: Coincidence or conspiracy?

Posted on November 2, 2016

Dateline: November 2nd, 2016. Staying on Bali, and idly glancing at the right-hand NASA topographic map of Bali from space, the similarity to the left-hand image of comet P67 taken from the Rosetta spacecraft suddenly struck me. Yes, I know that I have reflected NASA’s original published image of the comet about the vertical plane, but could it have not been reflected in the first place just to fool us? Are the published images of P67 ...

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122. Are there ghosts?

Posted on October 25, 2016

In an earlier post ( I wrote about necessary mysteries – concepts and ideas that are beyond our direct experience, but which scientists have been forced to accept in order to make sense of that experience. Note that word “forced”, because it is key to the way that scientists think – a way that would greatly benefit politicians, economists, and indeed most of us in facing up to the ...

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The birth of something small

“Whatever happened to colloid science? Has it been totally supplanted by the young upstart known as nanoscience? Or is it still with us, lurking in the background, perhaps even preparing for a comeback?” In my Chemistry World article The Birth of Something Small ( I attempt to answer these questions through a retelling of the history of tiny objects, studied individually by ...

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102. How Robert Boyle and I became chemists.

Posted on August 14, 2015

Adapted from Chapter 5 of "Weighing the Soul" When I am introduced to strangers as a “chemist”, most of them conclude either that I dispense prescriptions or that I spend my time in a smelly laboratory mixing “chemicals” together to see what will happen. If I were an alchemist, they would be right in both cases. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word derives from the ancient Greek for an infusion of plant juices, ...

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Galileo and Elsevier

Dutch Universities have announced a plan to boycott the Dutch publisher Elsevier. The firm now publishes a wide range of scientific books and journals, in which some of my own articles have even appeared. But how many people know of the role that they played in bringing Galileo’s scientific discoveries to public attention? Most people know the story of how, after Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, he was ...

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The awesome power of multicrastination

Posted on July 2, 2015

Stanford philosopher John Perry was awarded a spoof IgNobel Prize for his theory of “structured procrastination.” It took the organizers fifteen years to get round to awarding him the prize, but finally happened in 2011. Now I am getting around to writing about. Perry’s idea is that we can use procrastination to get things done. All we need to do is to draw up a list of jobs in priority order, with the job at the top being one that ...

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90. Millikan and Ehrenhaft: a lesson in scientific thinking

Today (June 2nd) is the 102nd anniversary of Robert Millikan’s publication of his measurements of the charge of the electron. But he had a competitor – the congenial Viennese physicist Felix Ehrenhaft, a frequent host to Einstein and others. So how come Millikan got a Nobel Prize for his work, while Ehrenhaft has disappeared into scientific obscurity. It’s a lesson in scientific thinking - the real stuff, not the stuff that they feed ...

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How much wine can you get into a bra?

Posted on May 4, 2015

Some years ago I presented a radio programme for BBC Radio 4 on the design of the perfect sports bra. One of our problems in preparing the programme was to work out the appropriate cup dimensions, which I was doing surreptitiously while talking to my producer by holding my hand in the appropriate cupped shape and trying to figure the approximate size. She spotted what I was doing and exclaimed “Ah. That’s an SBH.” “A what?” “An SBH. ...

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Scientists should be required to write lay summaries of their publications

Two scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle have come up with a simple, but revolutionary idea: that all scientific articles should be accompanied by lay summaries accessible to the interested non-scientist ( I wish I’d thought of the idea, but I would take it further. Such summaries should not just be for the interested reader, and they should do more than provide simple explanations ...

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On my Mini Stories from Science

Posted on February 21, 2015

The most effective way of teaching and communicating science that I know is to take students, listeners and viewers behind the scenes to share WHY scientists ask the questions that they do and HOW they go about looking for answers. Unfortunately, many teachers and other communicators still focus primarily on WHAT scientists do or have done. This is like a football commentator baldly stating that a player kicked the ball into the net, without ...

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