Last 2011 issue of The Alchemist. Watch out for more in 2012. Meanwhile: an alchemical trick if ever there was one is revealed this week by chemists in Israel who have made insoluble substances soluble while mathematics helps cut costs in tracing black gold. In the wild, The Alchemist also learns why some chilis are so hot and others less pungent and how cockroach sex pheromones might save the woodpecker. Out of this world, Hubble reveals Plutonian chemistry and explains the ruddy embarrassment of this former planet. In Germany, a major award for plastic electronics.
This year’s headlines from my monthly Research Highlights column on ChemistryViews.org
December — As benzene breathes, its aromaticity ebbs and flows according to new derivative current-density maps
November — New discovery not only hints at existence of “flexible” crystals, but also shows how such materials could be probed in greater detail
October — Two neighboring hydroxy groups on a benzene ring with an amino group just around the corner. Nothing too complicated really. Or is it?
September — Do herbal remedies like St. John’s wort live up to their claims or are they a source of additional complications?
August — As with any vice — Bieber, brews, or bars of chocolate — those who partake to excess will have a trove of excuses
July — ChemViews article and ensuing discussion has spawned a development in this field courtesy of UCLA chemistry professor E. Scerri
June — Mendeleev’s Periodic Table is, for many, the symbol of chemistry but is the current layout the best one?
May — The safety of nanoparticles is under constant examination and recent research suggests their toxicity does not depend on size
April — An acid chloride reportedly isolated from a fungus may not be a natural product after all
March — Ionic liquids can be used to cut greenhouse gas emissions in an example of green chemistry
February — Thirdhand smoke re-emitted from surfaces could pose long-term health risk while firsthand smoke does damage in minutes
January — Two bond or not two bond? That is a question of X-ray crystal structure interpretation, especially for cyclobutadiene.
For 23.5 hours each day you can sit, slouch, sleep, whatever…but whatever the whatever, make sure you walk for the remaining 0.5 hours in the day. It is the single best thing you can do for your mental and physical health. It is the “green prescription” the cash-free Rx we can all self-prescribe to improve quality of life. It does assume you can walk, of course, so one might say it’s for the 99%
It’s an interesting idea, but I am not entirely convinced that walking for half-an-hour a day is quite enough. When we got a dog, my visits to the gym dwindled from three hour-long sessions a week to zero, but I was walking briskly, with the dog for an hour every day by that time. However, I noticed over the last few months that my cardiovascular fitness was not quite up to par, so back to the gym for me, three half-hour sessions there for just over a month (in addition to 6x and hour a week walking the dog) and I feel a whole lot better and have got back that “need” to go to the gym feeling again.
Certainly, the half an hour a day walking is going to be beneficial, but the human body also needs to roughly double its normal heart rate regularly to maintain CV. I also think you have to get as much face-to-face conversation and laughter for good mental health so don’t skimp on that, and maybe cut back on the sitting at a screen. An evening’s dancing can cover a lot of the latter. If you fancy a sing-song that does your lungs a world of good too, with little effort.
Economics may flaunt statistics, mathematical methodology and make claims to predict the future scientifically, but it conspicuously lacks the kind of reality check on its theories present in real science. Writing in International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, Jeffrey Turk, of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Brussels, demonstrates this truism but concedes that the nature of the social world precludes the use of a true scientific approach to economics.
Economics has become increasingly sophisticated in its use of mathematics and computer models of the behaviour of stock markets, commodities and futures. Unfortunately, this sophistication hides a simple truth that does not afflict the world of particle physics, for instance. Put simply, economic theories simply do not live up to their grandeur because they are measuring complex, emergent behaviour at the human, societal and international level, rather than making repeatable observations about reality to support a hypotheses and testing again to build a coherent theory based on evidence. Compare the testable reality of the theory of gravity with the dubious notion of tracking a stock market. The only thing they have in common is that will both inevitably lead to a fall.
Of course, economics has its value, but it offers no valid predictions about the world other than to reveal time and again that where money is concerned it is wholly unpredictable.
Turk, whose background is in particle physics, specialises in realist research methods in the social sciences with a focus on European policy studies. Given the current state of the European economy, perhaps insight from a former CERN scientist is precisely what is now needed to untangle the Euro zone members from the financial crisis. He points out that acquiring Nobel status and borrowing scientific metaphor and the formalism of physical theory do not venerate economics as a real science. Analysis financial data and determining statistical significance is not equivalent to the ceaseless reality checks present in science.
Fundamentally, economics is an artificial construct to make us feel better about greed and to placate the poverty-stricken when the next crash comes. In the sense of realist measurement, economics, and money, do not exist, they are real only in the social sense. Important yet, but measuring things that are not real cannot claim to be science. Next week, The Emperor’s New String Theory…
Jeffrey David Turk (2011). Science is measurement: muons, money and the Nobel Prize Int. J. Pluralism and Economics Education, 2 (3), 291-305