Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Speed of Light

An interesting book about the genesis of the theory that light might have traveled much faster when the universe was young: Joao Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation.

Magueijo has some humorous bits, as well as some scathing observations on the scientific establishment:
Footnote *, page 70:

I first came across the concept of ether during my precocious reading of The Evolution of Physics. When I questioned my physics teacher about it, he told me not to be stupid, stating that "if everything were pervaded by ether we would all be anaesthetized."

From page 137:

Galaxy catalogues still remain controversial. In fact, an Italian team has been analyzing these maps to claim that for all we know the universe is not homogeneous at all, but is a fractal. If this is true, burn this book, forget about Big Bang cosmology, and start crying convulsively.
He also quotes from an essay he wrote titled "Electronic Archives and the Death of Journals." Here's a quote from that essay itself:
Peer review is an unpaid, and usually anonymous activity. Perhaps for this reason the average referee is sloppy and sleazy. Reports usually reveal that the referee has not read the paper. Acceptance or rejection often reflects the personal relationships between author and referee. Publishers have always been reluctant to open their files to historians of science and sociologists. Clearly they are embarrassed to reveal how little science, and how much sociology, there is in their files. The addition of moronic editors does not help this situation. I and quite a few of my colleagues have been collecting responses from one of the editors of a top scientific journal. We hope to publish a critical edition of these responses in due time. We understand that editors are not required to be scientific experts, but we do intend questioning the value of a low IQ.

Against this background it is no wonder that scientists regard the publication process cynically. You still have to publish in journals because that is imposed by the status quo, but it has become a non-scientific chore, not dissimilar to flushing the toilet.


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