This blog has been in a coma for sometime, and I dont have any hope of writing anything new, in the near future. As I was listening to this podcast episode where Noam Chomsky was being interviewed about his work in linguistics, I was reminded about an article I had written a couple of years back for Science Reporter, a government run science magazine. It does not have a website where you can read the article online, but I have a scanned copy with me.
It is my longest article ever (and therefore the one with the maximum goof ups too, I guess), but given the drought on this blog, I thought I could inflict this upon you, just so you dont start raising your hopes of seeing the death of this blog. Not so soon, people, not so soon!
One of the first things that drew me to physics was the theory of relativity. It is so counter intuitive that it caught my imagination right away. After all relativity shows us that time travel to the future is indeed possible, provided you travel fast enough, and who can resist that. But this theory is by no means restricted to just some abstract physics. It is absolutely essential for GPS to work. This is what I touch on in my latest article for the New Indian Express.
Here is a video that explains the same.
Did you know that our brain was protected by a special cover to shield us from infections? But it is more in the news nowadays because it prevents drugs from reaching our brain. Read about that in my latest article for the New Indian Express. This is an article for which I learnt everything from scratch. I have heard about this barrier before, but had no clue about it. And there is no better way to learning something than writing about it.
The question of whether the egg came firs or the chicken is what I address in my latest article for the New Indian Express. Although I knew that the egg must have come first (see the article as to why), I did learn something new about the chicken which clearly answers the question of which came first. But the question is not a straightforward, since it also questions our understanding of what a chicken is, which in turn, leads us to the problem of a species not being a group with clear boundaries (I have talked about that earlier). So read it and see if you are convinced of the answer.
Here is my new piece for The Hindu. It is the first time I have written about a recently published paper. This is more like science journalism, as I talk about a new paper rather than about a particular concept. The challenges with this kind of writing are that in most cases a layperson cannot understand a scientific paper. The terminology they use, the mathematical tools adopted etc. So understanding a paper fully is, for me, near impossible in most cases. But there are other problems too.
When writing about new papers, you need to know the context. You need to know what research has already been done on this, whether this is a genuinely new finding or a repeat of an earlier study. This requires one to have a good idea of a specific area of Science, say evolution or genetics or particle physics. Googling too helps quite a bit to find out whether this research is indeed new and interesting. Another smaller problem is that people like me, non-scientists non-journos kind, do not have access to scientific journals (they are pretty expensive). I get around this problem by asking friends in scientific circles to get me copies of the papers. Except in cases where they themselves don’t have access, they unfailingly help me out.
This paper I wrote about is a relatively simple one to read. It is also open access. You can download the paper from here. Once I saw this paper, I consciously avoided reading other articles on this, lest they influence my own take on it. Only when the piece was finalised did I look at what others have to say on the paper.
The article I initially submitted had about 480 words. It was edited by the paper, in the process bringing down the word count to about 340. Though it is a small piece, it took me close to 3 hours to come up with. Have a look at the article and let me know what you think.
Here is my next article for the New Indian Express. It talks about the need for Randomised Controlled Trials. A very simple basic piece. I feel that an understanding of how hypotheses are evaluated is key to debunking myths like alternative medicine, ghosts, after-life etc. Of course the word limit is so narrow that the article ends before it starts, but then I have to work with what I have. BTW, I hate the title they gave so much that I don’t even want to mention it here :-(.
Here is my next article for the New Indian Express. It is about Stem Cells. I spent close to a day trying to understand them so I could write a small piece about it. Stem cells have huge potential and is important we learn about them. Did you know you could donate umbilical cord blood (at the time of birth) so that it can be useful to others? Check it out and let me know what you think.