December 2, 2007

Stupidity Supernova, Part I

The past week or so has had one of the densest concentrations of dumb physics stories that I can remember. This post got really big so I split it up. The first one is devoted exclusively to ESPN's resident pseudo-intellectual.

Gregg Easterbrook
A friend of mine turned me on to ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column about 3 weeks ago. I had a vague recollection of hearing that Easterbrook crammed creationist or religious talking points into his football columns, but if he was otherwise knowledgeable maybe he would be worth reading. So much for that idea.

First of all, he has totally lost it over the Patriots this year. (Being really really good through smartness, rather than luck or any sort of wild outspending scheme isn't the type of behavior I would characterize as evil, but there you go.) Footballwise he promotes some good innovations like going for it on forth down and generally more aggressive play. But everything else, and there is a lot of everything else, is either gibberish or weird posturing. Essentially, he tries to write about science to make himself seem smart to people who know even less than he does. And he does it with an air of conceited superiority too, judging recent discoveries that have been in the news, with absolutely no expertise and a complete lack of self-awareness about how dumb he sounds to the people in those fields. On issues that have a political element he makes an obvious attempt to be seen as an adjudicator by condemning with equal malice all sides. Such as in this column from two weeks ago, where he criticizes congress and others for only making token gestures in cutting carbon emissions, while far more drastic measures are in order...right before he criticizes Al Gore for not making token gestures to cut his own personal carbon emissions. Worse yet, he then takes a slap at cosmologists, saying "What might dark energy and dark matter be? No one has the slightest idea. We can't locate 96 percent of the universe. But trust us, we're experts!" That's right, doofus, they're making it up.

Of course, a thought that I have from time to time, is that important scientific discoveries might happen more quickly if there was, you know, more funding or something. And yet, according to last week's column, physicists are overpaid loafers, living in luxury off government largess. Quoth our lover of knowledge, "Promoted as quests for understanding of the universe, particle accelerators serve mostly as job programs for physicists, postdocs, and politically connected laboratories and contractors...Most experiments from the bygone golden age of physics were done at private expense, not using tax subsidies." Anyone who says things this dumb has probably never been close enough to a scientist to ask them about funding, which is obviously less stable and grandiose than he imagines it to be. And comparing modern physics to the days of wealthy nobleman-scientists? Brilliant, and perfectly appropriate, since we all know Michelson and Morley could have found the Higgs with bunsen burners and prisms if they had only known how to look. And these are only the first few sentences. Physicist Chad Orzel does a wonderful kneecapping at "The Easterbrook Idiocy Supercollider" that handles these and other ridiculous statements much more thoroughly than I have the stomach to.

Part I - Gregg Easterbrook: The Second 'g' is for 'gigantic moron'
Part II - Astronomers: Universe Killers
Part III - Surfer Physics
Part IV - Inane Physics Story Trajectories