Also this week: the Nobel Prize in Physics goes to a woman (!), learning vs. understanding, 2012 Jeremy vs. clickbait, and more.
Dr. Donna Strickland is among the three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. She is the first woman in 55 years to win the prize, and only the third ever. That a woman who has done such important work in laser physics could still hold the rank of Associate Professor has raised more than a few eyebrows (including mine), though she says in an interview that it’s because she never applied for promotion to full professor. And here is the story of the last woman before Dr. Strickland to win the Physics Nobel, Maria Mayer. She did her Nobel-winning work on the nuclear shell model of atoms in an unpaid professor position! (ht @noahpinion)
This years Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to evolutionary biologists! Well, sort of. It went to three chemists–Frances Arnold, George Smith, and Gregory Winter–who pioneered directed evolution as a way to engineer enzymes and proteins to perform desired biochemical functions.
It’s not the incentives (to publish tons of papers, to p-hack, etc.), it’s you. Very good piece. I’m still mulling it over but I think I mostly (not entirely) agree. (ht Irene Hames, via Twitter)
A clever experiment on how learning by trial and error can succeed without generating any understanding of why it succeeds. Further, partial understanding failed to enhance–and in some ways actually inhibited–learning by trial and error. Trial and error learning–aka evolution by natural selection–is tough to beat!
Another copycat Sokal Hoax blew up the academic intertubes this week. I refuse to even link to this, it’s stupid clickbait. The best thing you can do is ignore it. It’s not even a good starting point for a conversation about some broader related issue. Any intelligent commentary on broader issues that’s prompted by this stupid clickbait inevitably will be misunderstood or drowned out due to the sea of crappy commentary that was also prompted by this stupid clickbait. On balance, talking about stupid clickbait makes the world a worse place. If you have no idea what I’m on about, consider yourself blessed and try to maintain that happy state of affairs. No, don’t google it! Gah, what are you doing?! Do you need more stupidity in your life?!*
You may have seen breathless news articles recently about a claimed proof of the Riemann Hypothesis–one of the most important unsolved problems in mathematics–by eminent mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah. Unfortunately, in recent years Dr. Atiyah has earned a reputation for announcing major results that don’t pan out, and this seems to be no exception. Good accessible coverage from a math blog. Includes interesting commentary on various issues to do with how the claim was reported. Further interesting discussion in the comments.
*This paragraph was written by 2012 me. Remember when I first started blogging and I used to write that way? Good times! Also bad times! Your mileage may vary.