by Alex Tabarrok
on July 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm
in Education, Science |
Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman answers science questions on the street. Excellent. We should have some economists do this….with a different economist on each street corner of course.
Hat tip: Metafilter.
Hey, I’d rather have these guys for street performers than the usual buskers and beggars.
Different economists on each street corner? I disagree! They will meet in the middle, have you not read K. Arrow? See if this comment goes through without the dreaded ‘Slow Down Posting Too Fast’ warning…
Here’s how it would go:
Physicist: “There are 17 dimensions, three of which are purple.”
Passerby: “Neat! I took physics 101 and didn’t learn that, but maybe I don’t know everything about physics.”
Economist: “Increasing the minimum wage does not decrease employment.”
Passerby: “You’re wrong! I took econ 101 and the textbook said…”
You said: “Economist: “Increasing the minimum wage does not decrease employment.” ” but it should read: “Increasing the minimum wage does not _necessarily_ decrease employment.” Weasel words are very important in economics. Try explaining the effects of exchange rate fluctuations if interest rates change for example.
Passerby: Great! Let’s raise it to $100 an hour and we will all be wealthy.
Passerby: “That other economist around the corner just told me that it does!”
Relying on individual economist opinion isn’t very good idea. How about Bayesian approach:
While the suggestion about having economists on each street corner is intriguing, it is doomed to failure in terms of a comparison to physics. Physics is a hard science with data and outcomes that all agree upon. Economics is a pseudo-science at this point in time with data but outcomes that nobody can agree upon (at least in entirety). I would rather have economists from all persuasions getting together in the middle of the street or park as it would make for excellent street theater.
“…outcomes that all agree upon”
Well, let’s say disagreement among physicists is rare.
Among economists disagreement is the norm.
The job market for scientists is rougher than I realized.
Is the job market for economists any better?
Keep the economists out of my anxiety closet!
Economists? Yes, I can totally see it.
Paul Krugman in one corner and Ed Prescott in the next corner. It would make for great viewing.
Given that the economics prize is awarded by a separate organization, shouldn’t the economists set up card tables in various bank lobbies?
His explanation of what was like before the big bang was fantastic. I’d never heard anyone be so clear about that.
He is wrong about surface tension though. There is nothing you can add to water to increase its surface tension. Salts and sugars will only decrease it. The photographer needs to increase viscosity to get his effects easier. 10-20% glycerin in pure water will do the trick.
I was thinking in a similar vein. That is, he did seem to botch the surface tension question. First of all, there are things you can add to water to increase the surface tension. For example, polyols (e.g. sugar or glycerol), amino acid salts, or glycine betaine. Second of all, it was obvious that his answer was of no use to the questioner. I guess even a Nobelist in physics can’t substitute for a good physical chemist or chemical engineer when you need one. The framing of this “ask a scientist” initiative is a bit too broad. To see why, imagine an “ask a federal employee” version of the idea — would a Yellowstone park ranger really be able to tell you about the constitutional issues at play in the recent health care Supreme Court case?
First of all, there are things you can add to water to increase the surface tension. For example, polyols (e.g. sugar or glycerol), amino acid salts, or glycine betaine
No, absolutely no. None of the these things (or any other) will increase the surface tension of aqueous solutions. Water’s surface tension is very high (only lower than that of some liquid metals). The reason, in simple terms: water attracts itself stronger than it is attracted to anything else.
BTW, referring to “amino acid salts” as if they were very similar substances is crazy. There is little in common between glycine and tryptophan. You got close with betaine in that it forms good H-bonds with water and therefore does not decrease its surface tension very much (but it still does).
Some sources that back me up on the surface tension thing:
Source 1:: “Several solutes such as NaCl (Adamson, 1990), polyols (Kaushik and Bhat, 1998), and many amino acid salts (Kita et al., 1994) have been reported to increase surface tension.”
Source 2: You will want to see the second column of table 1, and note that many (most) of the numbers are positive, i.e., that surface tension increases as the relevant substance’s concentration increases in water.
BTW, before I wrote my comment, I was wondering myself if surface tension-increasing substances exist. Some googling convinced me that they do and that they are often called kosmotropes.
Right! I was totally wrong in thinking about how ions affect surface tension. Totally. Most salt and many sugars really do increase surface tension. And that means that Lederman was absolutely correct in his answer.
I didn’t find any of his explanations very clear. The big bang explanation relied on the fact (I assume it’s a fact) that clocks move more slowly in a lower gravitational field. But it is unclear to me what that means. SUppose we have two identical alarm clocks, one on earth and one on the moon. We wind them both up at the same time. The one on runs down and stops after 24 (earth) hours. Is the one on the moon still ticking? Does the answer depend on whether the clock is mechanical or battery operated? Just to be clear, I doubt very much that he is wrong (and I personally don’t have a clue); but his explanation sure didn’t help me.
Does the answer depend on whether the clock is mechanical or battery operated?
No, it’s that time itself runs at a different speed. Plenty of people have measured this by carrying atomic clocks up mountains, or even up tall buildings, and seeing that the clocks have diverged when they’re reunited. This effect (amongst others) has to be accounted for by, for example, the GPS system, which has a set of atomic clocks on board each satellite.
I think NIST’s Aluminum quantum logic clock is sufficiently precise that it can measure the change in local gravitational field if it is raised a few feet in the air.
Thinking about Alex’s proposal of putting an economist out there to do this made me imagine it actually happening. I see fights and protest signs and much less curiosity by the questioners than was displayed in these videos by the questioners.
I think people know they do not understand physics. They find it more threatening because it’s obvious to them. When you put a physicist on the corner, and you present him to the public as gracious and helpful and non-threatening, it helps the people ask all the basic questions they have about science — maybe ones they were even embarrassed they had.
But I don’t think you have the same situation with economics. People often do not know or do not believe that they do not understand economics. As a result, they find the economist as an authority figure a very offensive person.
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