Monday, February 7, 2011

Introducing Chemistry for Cowards

While the purpose of this blog has always been to trace my own progress in learning about chemistry, I find myself more and more interested in field of chemical education. I become more interested in why it is more people don't understand chemistry every time I hear someone make an egregious error, like identifying "negative ions" as some kind of insidious miasma that must be purged from the air. Other times people will fail to understand something as basic as the idea that water is water, no matter where it comes from, one molecule of water is that same as any other molecule of water. So I've spent a lot of time considering what would be necessary in a primer for chemistry. Not another general chemistry textbook, just something that will give people enough basic knowledge that they could open up such a textbook and follow along pretty much anywhere.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt Link Roundup

Cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff

Please submit links and pictures to

You may also tweet me @superacid.

You will be credited for your submission. Only one person has sent me anything so far. Disappointing since I know people are reading this based on the stats. I'm trying to act as a meatspace-based news aggregator to cut through noise and repetition in the news coming out of Egypt and it just works better if people collaborate. Thanks.

Monday, January 31, 2011

What The Hell Is a Scientific Law Anyway?

In the great evolution wars, I've noticed something get trampled on, misinterpreted, dragged around unceremoniously, and fall to the wayside: The concept of a scientific law. It's almost as if it falls into a nebulous gray area of whatever we want it to be to prove our point. People, generally the more ignorant side of the anti-evolution crowd, will say over and over again, "It's just a theory and not a law." Seemingly unaware that a theory is recognized among scientists to be a very good and evidence-based explanation of a set of phenomena. They use the word theory the way most people do in conversation, to mean "guess". This is something the more educated (but still wrong) anti-evolution people recognize and the honest among them do not perpetuate the argument. Still, they and even the people in the pro-evolution crowd seem to not consistently use the word law to mean what it actually means.

There are two issues at the heart of this. The first is the way common language differs from the way scientists will talk. I told a friend about a simple solution I came up with to a problem I was having, I said I had a hypothesis which I confirmed. He turned to me and sarcastically asked, "Oh really, you had a hypothesis about [trivial problem I can't remember]?"  He said this as if I did some grandiose experimentation and analysis. He seemed to argue by implication that a hypothesis is a big thing. Whereas if I had used the word "theory" he wouldn't have objected, that's just how people talk. The word law is subjected to this same abuse, since it seems to imply a definite certainty. In fact, while more informed people know what a hypothesis and a theory is, use of the word "law" isn't really considered carefully.

No On HR 3: My Letter

I've written my congressman, John Lewis, asking him to uphold his commitment to being pro-choice, which I'm glad he is. For those of you who do not know, House bill 3: No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, is a completely fucked up assault on the victims of rape. I can't say better how and why than Sady can, and what follows after the jump is my first draft of the letter I'm sending my congressman, in case you want ideas for how to communicate with your already pro-choice congressperson if you have one. There will be a link to both Sady's post in the sidebar and a resource to find your district representative for as long as it is necessary. I urge you to follow Tiger Beatdown for details as they emerge. In your own letters, please follow the three Ps: Polite, Professional, Persuasive.

Egypt Update- BREAKING: Cell phone and Internet Shut Down Completely

I'm getting reports from Ramy Raoof and others that the last Internet connection in Egypt has gone down. Cell phone networks will also be completely closed down.

More details at this post as they come in.

Egypt Link Roundup

More links on the Egypt situation to come. Submit your own links to

Tumult in Egypt

Demonstration at Imbaba in Cairo. Creative Commons photo by Ramy Raoof
The Nile Rises

I've been following the events unfolding in Egypt for a while now. As I write this, there are probably already new developments, and for reasons I'm about to articulate, by the time you read this, (since most of my readership is American and probably tucked in for the night) there may have been massive bloodshed. It's also entirely possible that there will have been no major developments. Such is the uncertainty of the situation. My heart goes out to the people in Egypt, the people on the streets clamoring, shouting at the tops of the lungs for change. I'm with any people trying to overthrow an oppressive dictatorship. Egypt is not only no exception, but it is the Arab dictatorships in particular I hold a special contempt for.

I lived in the Middle East, in and of itself that information does not entitle me to special knowledge or interest. Many a time I've chafed at the pampered expatriate military brat or oil company spawn that claims expertise by simple virtue of the fact that they grew older there. Especially since my experience with such "experts of circumstance" has been that they are heavily sheltered from the realities most of the people living in these countries face. My general rule is that if someone cannot carry a conversation in the language of the country they are discussing, they fall short of the minimum standard for expertise, hands down.

No, I don't claim academic expertise, what I claim is that I deeply give a damn about the outcome. That while not being Egyptian, I desperately want the Egyptian people to succeed in getting a credible democracy because while Tunisia was the spark that ignited this, Egypt will be the key to unlocking a new future for the whole region. People called January 25th, 2011 a day of anger, but if you knew what it was like in Egypt, the poverty, the lack of sanitation, the way basic services were more about lining the pockets of corrupt politicians than fulfilling their roles as a public good you'd know better. You'd know that every day was a day of anger, of frustration, of knowing your lot could be better if it weren't for the meddlesome and capricious nature of living under the dictate of one person and his cronies, and the cronies' cronies.