Friday, 29 June 2012

The Role of Academic Journals

The Wellcome Trust intends to use its money to encourage open access science:
The Wellcome Trust plans to withhold a portion of grant money from scientists who do not make the results of their work freely available to the public, in a move that will embolden supporters of the growing open access movement in science. In addition, any research papers that are not freely available will not be counted as part of a scientist's track record when Wellcome assesses any future applications for research funding.
 As one of the major donors to scientific research in the UK, this is bound to have an effect.  I support this; science requires that knowledge is shared, so that advances can be checked and built upon by multiple researchers.  Repeatability is at the heart of the scientific method; while the possibility that anyone can contribute ensures both the highest level of scientific development, and protects science against cultural biases and blindspots.

The problem is the position of scientific journals as the gatekeepers of the knowledge.  Published work remains the gold standard for assessing a scientist's output.  The review process serves to catch and correct mistakes and omissions, and to check that a research paper says something genuinely original.  The journals in turn need funding to maintain themselves, so must charge a fee.  The low print runs mean that the cost of a journal is quite high, and if the work in a journal is freely available elsewhere, there is little incentive to buy them.

Good News, Everyone!

So to my surprise, the US Supreme Court ruled that Obama's health care plan was constitutional.  Apparently, the US Constitution does allow for the government to look after its citizens; who knew?

Dimensionally Challenged

Prepare yourselves, as I take you into ... The Fourth Dimension! <Twilight Zone Music>

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Why I Am an Atheist

PZ Myers over at Pharyngula has been running a regular series with the title of this post.  It's based on reader submissions, and each day he selects one at random.  With his readership he has a lot of submissions, so if I send this to him it might never get posted.  If only I had my own place to put my thoughts ...

My parents are not religious.  I'm not actually sure if they are agnostic or not, but we would only go to church for, in my father's words, "hatches, matches and dispatches": Christenings, weddings and funerals.  We didn't even hit Christmas and Easter.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

How Constrained is Constrained SUSY?

It has become standard lore in the theoretical physics community that the fact that the LHC is already on the edge of ruling out Supersymmetry (SUSY).  The reason is quite simple: the standard argument for SUSY, the hierarchy problem, would suggest that the supersymmetric partners (superpartners) of the Standard Model should have masses less than about one thousand GeV (where the proton has mass of about one GeV).  The LHC has not found those partners, and has published exclusion plots like this one:
ATLAS LHC limits on Supersymmetry; stolen from Michael Kobel's talk at Planck 2012.
The different coloured lines correspond to the limits from different types of signals that could have been seen.  The areas below the lines are ruled out.  The coloured regions were either ruled out from earlier direct searches or theoretically.  The grey dashed lines correspond to superpartner masses in GeV; horizontally for the gluon superpartner, vertically for the quark superpartners.  Note that the regions for masses less than one thousand are almost entirely within the excluded region.

Now, there are a number of caveats, and a lot of work has been done in the last year to eighteen months exploring ways to get around these restrictions.  However, a recent paper by Balazs and his collaborators went back and examined the simplest situation more rigorously, and suggested that the LHC results have not actually had that much effect on the allowed parameter space.  How did they conclude this?  Join me below the fold!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Good and Bad Side of Finding the Higgs

In a previous post, I commented
Of course, in some respects it would be more interesting if those hints are wrong and there is no Standard Model Higgs ...
I thought I'd expand on this a bit.  You see, the LHC is a multi-billion dollar, multi-national enterprise.  Finding the Higgs would justify the whole endeavour, and should ensure funding for the next round of experiments, be it a linear collider, muon accelerator or whatever.  So why would I want there to be no Higgs?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Italy 0 - 0 England

So, as I predicted before the tournament began, England fell at the last eight.  I've also explained previously why that's not a very bold bet.  In the end, the old failings doomed us; an inability to keep possession or take penalties.

As for the game itself, few of England's players performed well.  Rooney looked consistently off the pace and lacking match practice (as he is).  Young had another bad game to round out a bad tournament for him.  Gerrard has had a good tournament, but didn't do much tonight.  England's back five did manage to show up.  Johnson in particular put in another excellent performance to justify his place in the team, and had probably England's best chance of the match early in the first half.

For Italy, Pirlo was unsurprisingly the maestro, pulling all the strings.  Balotelli was unpredictable, but ultimately ineffectual.

The problem I find is that as much as I don't expect England to win games like this, I do hope that they might.  And that hope, that stake makes watching them play very tense.  Indeed, I had to pass on the shoot out, and just look up the result later!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Higgs Discovery on the Horizon?

A CERN press release confirms what I think most people in the field expected:
CERN will hold a scientific seminar at 9:00CEST on 4 July to deliver the latest update in the search for the Higgs boson. At this seminar, coming on the eve of this year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP, in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments will deliver the preliminary results of their 2012 data analysis.
 If the hints of a Higgs that were seen in last year's data are true, it is likely that this seminar will serve to announce that fact.  This would be the first discovery of a new fundamental particle since the top quark in 1995, and would essentially justify the LHC.  Exciting times!  Of course, in some respects it would be more interesting if those hints are wrong and there is no Standard Model Higgs ...

Friday, 22 June 2012

Atheism and Feminism

One of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn was that just because someone agrees with you on one thing, no matter how important that thing is, doesn't mean they can't be a complete shit in some other way.  And even knowing this doesn't stop it being disappointing when it happens.  I bring this up because I want to talk about the arguments that arose out of ElevatorGate in the skeptic/atheist community over the last eighteen months or so.

Now, after all this time I don't have too much to add to the substance of the "debate" itself.  From the links to the right, it should be easy to see that I come down on the side of Rebecca Watson and her allies in the whole affair.  Really, I want to focus more on the fact that so many self-professed atheists proved to be uninterested or even hostile to feminism from a personal perspective.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Brought to You by the Letter S

Ah, Supersymmetry.  I've been meaning to talk about Supersymmetry, or SUSY for short, for some time.  I was obviously setting things up in this post from almost a month ago, back when I was in England, but I've been planning this post for longer than that.  SUSY is the most popular theoretical framework for new particle physics, and as much as I'd like it not to be true, I need to worry about it all the same.1

England 1 - 0 Ukraine

Sadly, I wasn't able to see the last match of the group stages, because I'm at work.  So I can't offer any meaningful thoughts on the game itself.  But we see that England have qualified for the quarter-finals, as I predicted, and won the group, as I did not.

In the build up to the tournament, there was a lot of pessimism about England's chances.  In particular, many people seemed to predict that they would fail to make it out of the group.  My prediction was bold in that it went against that consensus, but conservative in that it followed history.  In the nine European Championships since the finals were expanded to eight teams, England have reached the last eight six times; only Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have a better record (and France and Portugal an equal one).  The problem with England has always been getting beyond that stage, which we only managed in 1996.  The five other teams I mentioned have all made the semi-finals at least three times, with the exception of Spain who only managed it twice (again, only counting finals since 1980).  In short, getting to the quarter-finals is the "typical" English performance.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sweden 2 - 3 England

Well, that was an unexpected game.  Weren't England under Hodgson supposed to be stogid and boringly defensive?

While this game must have been fun for the neutral, it was nerve wrecking to watch with a horse in the race.  Sweden become the second team to be eliminated from the finals, somewhat unluckily as they lead in both their matches so far.  England, meanwhile, go into their last match with their destiny in their hands.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Falkland Islands

I was not even two years old when Argentina, then under a military dictatorship, invaded the Falkland Islands.  Today has marked the 30th anniversary of the end of that brief conflict, which ended with the  islands remaining under British rule.  As such, I have no understanding of how things were at the time even in the UK, or controversies such as the sinking of the Belgrano.

The anniversary has seen tensions between Britain and Argentina rise.  It's sad to me, but also somewhat annoying.  Today, the Argentinian president has demanded that Britain enter negotiations over the island's sovereignity:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ignorant Commentators

I've been watching the Germany-Netherlands game on TSN, and the commentator has on several occasions talked about the importance of goal difference.

The first tie breaker in European competitions is head to head results.  In particular, in the relevant cases for Group B---where Germany, Portugal and Denmark end on 6 points; or the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark on 3---the scoreline in this match will only be relevant if either Denmark beat Germany 3-2, or the Netherlands beat Portugal 3-2, and the other results go appropriately.

I mean, this is only the way UEFA has done things for at least a decade, I can see why it might be hard to figure out.

Another Christian Whining About Persecution

While looking up the news article I commented on in my last post, I came across this little gem:

A Kent GP has accused medical watchdogs of persecuting Christians after denying trying to convert a patient.
He is before the GMC accused of breaching medical rules by refusing to give a patient medication at his Margate surgery, in August 2010.
I guess in honesty I should point out that the accused, Dr Richard Scott, is still being tried.  But he is definitely guilty of magical thinking:
He told the council scientific studies, mainly carried out in the United States, showed faith benefited patients.
"Spirituality and faith is now becoming a new angle with medicine," Dr Scott told the hearing.

Marriage Again

Oh look!  It's another group of Christians complaining about gay marriage!

The Church of England has warned that proposals to legalise gay marriage could undermine its status.
It says giving civil ceremonies the status of marriage would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman".

What intrinsic nature?  Marriage is a human construct.  Historically it has been about inheritance and property rights, and polygamous marriages have been common.

...the Church of England said government proposals to allow same-sex marriages by 2015 would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history".
It said marriage acknowledged "an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation".
So, obviously, any heterosexual couple who get married and don't intend to have children are wrong to do so.  For fuck's sake, do these people ever think about what they are saying in their rush to be homophobic?

England 1 France 1

I know I'm a bit late, but I thought I'd comment on England's Euro 2012 opener.  In general, I though England's performance was okay; not great, certainly room for improvement, but not bad either.  In particular, it was good to see England play like a team rather than eleven individuals.  I also thought Gerrard had one of his better performances in an England shirt for a while.  Defensively, England were pretty solid.  Despite the French dominating possession, they had few real clear chances and only scored through a moment of brilliance from Nasri.  Offensively, England did not show too much but did have probably the best chance of the match, when Milner was put through by Young.

Conference Talks

I've been in Calgary since Sunday, and most of my time has thus been spent either listening to talks or writing my own.  Sadly, this means all I've seen so far is the University, though I will have time to do some proper exploring before I return home.  The one nice thing about this conference has been the weather, especially compared to the same conference last year or even Pittsburgh in May.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Euro 2012

The European Championships start tomorrow (in my time zone).  I've been looking forward to this for some time; for one thing, international tournaments are easy for to find (legally) online.  (In contrast, my home team -- Plymouth Argyle -- aren't easy to watch regularly in Vancouver).  Also, the last European Championships four years ago was one of the best tournaments I've ever seen, only beaten by Euro 96 for personal reasons.  So, with everything about to kick off, I thought I'd offer a few predictions to embarrass myself with later.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Cubic Zirconia

This year is the Queen of England's Diamond Jubilee.  Right now, more or less, are the main celebrations.  Despite being British, I really don't care.  Indeed, I am a republican, in the sense of being opposed to monarchies.  There is simply no reason to raise some family as special simply on the grounds of their heredity.  There's no magic that makes the Royal Family intrinsically bettter than me, or anyone else.

Back in Canada

My long trip has finally ended, and I'm back in Canada.  This should mean that I have no more excuses not to get back to things I've neglected, like this blog.

I am still quite jet lagged, despite having been back for two days; there's a nine hour time difference between Warsaw and Vancouver, and I'm too old to shrug that off, it seems.

I will be off to Calgary next week, for another conference.  This one is more general physics, rather than particle physics, so I expect to have more free time (in the form of skipped sessions).  In theory, this means that I'll be able to update with some regularity then!