Call for posts for the Giant's Shoulders

Stochastic Scribbles will be hosting the April edition of The Giant's Shoulders, a blog carnival which is described as:

“The Giant’s Shoulders” is a monthly science blogging event, in which authors are invited to submit posts on “classic” scientific papers. Submissions are due on the fifteenth of each month, and entries will be aggregated and linked to on the host blog of the month.

Email any submissions with a link and a short description to, which is an email address that will continue to exist until April 15.

The difference between science and pseudoscience

The post at Skulls in the Stars about how Michael Faraday attempted to experimentally find out if electricity and gravity were related is fascinating in its own right. But it's also an example of how a good scientist bows down to the evidence rather than trying to fit the evidence to his own beliefs. In fact, Faraday found flaws in his own experiments that had otherwise supported his ideas. Contrast this to most pseudoscientists, who latch on to the flimsiest of evidence as if it were incontrovertible proof for their beliefs, often even ignoring strong evidence that their beliefs are simply wrong.

Simply having a kooky belief does not make a kook (although in Faraday's case, believing electromagnetism and gravity are somehow a unified force wasn't a kooky belief, just an unsupported one). Loudly proclaiming the kooky belief must be absolutely true despite lack of evidence or even contradictory evidence is what makes someone a kook.

Kepler launched

Cables being attached to Kepler

Kepler has been successfully launched, and over the next three and a half years it will look at a single patch of sky in search of planets. The spacecraft is sensitive enough to detect the existence of planets even as small as our own puny planet, Earth. It does it by detecting the very slight dimming of starlight as a planet moves in front of its parent star. It also looks at many stars at once so that it astronomers would not have to pick a star at random, just hoping that the planet's orbital plane is at the right inclination and that the planet just passes in front of the star when Kepler is looking at it. With orbital periods of a year or more like our own Earth, keeping watch of many stars at once would have to be the way to go.

A cosmologically redshifting puzzle in a box

In the comments for another blog post about cosmological distances, I suggested a thought experiment that would highlight how the redshift from distant galaxies is not due to a Doppler shift, that is, light from very distant galaxies is not redshifted because of the movement of the galaxies, but rather because the intervening space itself is expanding:

If someone managed to trap light when the universe first became transparent, about 300,000 years after the Big Bang, inside a perfectly reflecting mirrored box such that the light is contained in perpetuity, what would have happened to the wavelength of the trapped light by now?

Continue reading "A cosmologically redshifting puzzle in a box"