01 August, 2011

The Journal of Irreproducible Results

I didn't know that a predecessor of the famous Annals of Improbable Research (whose staff runs the Ig Nobel Prize award) was The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

It was founded almost 60 years ago and apparently became a very credible scientific magazine. At least, some people take it very seriously:

"...JIR received attention from American military intelligence when a copy of one of their articles was found among other papers in an abandoned terrorist headquarters in the Middle East. The article was a highly unrealistic and farcical explanation of how to build a nuclear weapon that some unwitting Al Qaida member had filed away. Nonetheless the discovery prompted a short-lived official investigation..." (wiki)

Take care,


31 July, 2011

Vavilov, Cherenkov, and credit for discoveries

We all know that accelerated charged particles emit light - that's how modern high-intensity light sources, synchrotrons, function. Interestingly, uniformly moving particles can emit light too.

The idea goes back to the 1904 Sommerfeld's paper, where he studied the motion of charged particles in a vacuum, and demonstrated that particles flying faster than the speed of light emit radiation even when moving uniformly [1]. Of course, the special relativity theory that appeared next year, rendered Sommerfeld's discovery just a funny mathematical result that has nothing to do with reality, since according to the special relativity no particle can move faster than light in a vacuum.

It's worth noting that the velocity restrictions imposed by the special relativity apply only to a single particle (a group velocity of a bunch of particles can be anything) moving in a vacuum (the speed of light in a medium is much smaller than in a vacuum and particles can move faster than that). However, it took more than 30 years to generalize the Sommerfeld idea to the case of charged particles propagating through a material.

Pavel Cherenkov was pursuing a PhD under Sergey Vavilov, a brother of a famous geneticist Nikolai Vavilov (who was imprisoned and eventually killed by the Soviet regime). Cherenkov was studying the luminescence of uranium salts in solutions irradiated by gamma-rays, and was quite surprised to see the "luminescence" of a pure liquid (sulfuric acid it was), with no salts added. Actually, he was convinced that his PhD work was completely ruined [2].

And it was Vavilov who suggested that this radiation was not luminescence but something completely new, and encouraged Cherenkov to continue the measurements. Indeed, very soon Igor Tamm and Ilya Frank developed a theory for the effect, showing that the radiation is emitted by electrons propagating faster than the speed of light in this particular solution. In 1958 Cherenkov, Tamm, and Frank shared a Nobel Prize for this discovery (unfortunately, without Vavilov who deceased in 1951).

Although Russians call it the "Vavilov-Cherenkov effect", it seems that the name of Vavilov is omitted in the rest of the world where people simply refer to the "Cherenkov Radiation". Why do they?

The funny thing is that immediately after the discovery Vavilov (himself) wrote a paper and submitted it to Nature, where it was rejected (!), and then to Physical Review. This paper had a single author - Cherenkov [3].

I wonder whether such an extreme academic generosity would be possible nowadays :-)

Take care,


[1] A. Sommerfeld, Göttingen Nachrichten 9, 363 (1904); 201 (1905)
[2] V. L. Ginsburg "About science and about myself" (2001)
[3] P. A. Čerenkov, Phys. Rev. 52, 378 (1937)

11 July, 2011


I have no idea whether Google+ will last more than Wave and whether it's any better than facebook, but you can add me to circles here :-)


27 April, 2011

Some stuff for 27.04.11

1) retractionwatch.wordpress.com - a very nice blog about misconduct, fraud, cheating, and other things we all love

2) A Harvard entrance exam from 1899

3) The world is producing more PhDs than ever before. Is it time to stop? (Nature)

4) Reform the PhD system or close it down (Nature)

5) "Down with Determinants!" by Sheldon Axler. The paper presents a different approach to linear algebra, the one without determinants.

Take care,


26 April, 2011

How to Publish a Scientific Comment

A nice essay by Prof. Rick Trebino from Georgia Tech (here is the comment he finally published). I heard people complaining that publishing comments is hard  - a lot of politics involved, journal editors don't want to confess in publishing wrong articles, and so on.

Perhaps, it might be a good idea to make a separate journal publishing only comments and replies to them, as guys propose here (in Russian). In such a way one may highlight all the fraud/misconduct/delusion cases via peer-reviewed comments and replies, without any troubles due to politics of a given journal.

No, really, why don't people do that.

Take care,


Fibonacci salad

Bad food in the university cantine can be described by simple math. Every day they feed us with Fibonacci Salad - it's when you mix a yesterday salad with a salad from two days ago to get the salad for today.

(via Valera Yundin)

Take care,


01 April, 2011

What's so wrong with Comic Sans?



Second, a great affair failed due to comic sans - an old 1978 flyer turned out to be fake. Look at the "land" in "England", it's comic sans. And comic sans was invented in 1994.


Take care,


20 March, 2011

For you, little angular momentum fans

- Why in the Varshalovich book active and passive rotations are defined in opposite way to the book of Edmonds?

- Because in Soviet Russia you don't rotate a coordinate system. Coordinate system rotates you.

Take care,


06 February, 2011

The new invention of integrals

Oh mein lieber Gott, make me unsee it! Integration was invented only in 1994, in case you didn't know:

Tai, "A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves.", Diabetes Care 17, 152 (1994).

Some phrases from the abstract:

...In Tai's Model, the total area under a curve is computed by dividing the area under the curve between two designated values on the X-axis (abscissas) into small segments (rectangles and triangles) whose areas can be accurately calculated from their respective geometrical formulas. The total sum of these individual areas thus represents the total area under the curve...
....The Tai model allows flexibility in experimental conditions, which means, in the case of the glucose-response curve, samples can be taken with differing time intervals and total area under the curve can still be determined with precision.

Take care,


03 February, 2011

Do you remember Super Mario?

Check it out :-)

P. S. I finally submitted the thesis.

Take care,


30 January, 2011

The swastikas

Researchers have designed the first emitter of circularly polarized light made from a stand-alone semiconductor device:

"Giving Light a Spin", Physical Review Focus

I doubt that a paper containing nazi symbols would be published in Germany nowadays :-)


24 January, 2011

Hell for scientists

First Circle: Limbo
"The uppermost circle is not a place of punishment, so much as regret. Those who have committed no scientific sins as such, but who turned a blind eye to it, and encouraged it by their awarding of grants and publications, spend eternity on top of this barren mountain, watching the carnage below and reflecting on how they are partially responsible..."

Second Circle: Overselling
"This circle is reserved for those who exaggerated the importantance of their work in order to get grants or write better papers. Sinners are trapped in a huge pit, neck-deep in horrible sludge. Each sinner is provided with the single rung of a ladder, labelled 'The Way Out - Scientists Crack Problem of Second Circle of Hell"

Third Circle: Post-Hoc Storytelling
"Sinners condemned to this circle must constantly dodge the attacks of demons armed with bows and arrows, firing more or less at random. Every time someone is hit in some part of their body, the demon proceeds to explain at enormous length how they were aiming for that exact spot all along."

Fourth Circle: P-Value Fishing
"Those who tried every statistical test in the book until they got a p value less than 0.05 find themselves here, an enormous lake of murky water. Sinners sit on boats and must fish for their food. Fortunately, they have a huge selection of different fishing rods and nets (brandnames include Bayes, Student, Spearman and many more). Unfortunately, only one in 20 fish are edible, so they are constantly hungry."

Fifth Circle: Creative Use of Outliers
"Those who 'cleaned up' their results by excluding inconvenient data-points are condemned here. Demons pluck out their hairs one by one, every time explaining that they are better off without that hair because there was something wrong with it."

Sixth Circle: Plagiarism
"This circle is entirely empty because as soon as a sinner arrives, a winged demon carries them to another circle and forces them to suffer the punishment meted out to the people there. After their 3 year "post" is up, they are carried to another circle, and so on..."

Seventh Circle: Non-Publication of Data
"Here sinners are chained to burning chairs in front of desks covered with broken typewriters. Only if they can write an article describing their predicament, will they be set free. Each desk has a file-drawer stuffed full of these, but the drawers are locked.

Eighth Circle: Partial Publication of Data
"At any one time exactly half of the sinners here are chased around by demons prodding them with spears. The demons choose who to chase at random after ensuring that the groups are matched for age, gender, height and weight. Howling desert winds blow a constant torrent of articles announcing the success of a new program to enhance participation in physical exercise - but with no mention of the side effects."

Ninth Circle: Inventing Data
"Here Satan himself lies trapped forever in a block of solid ice alongside the worst sinners of all. Frozen in front of their eyes is a paper explaining very convincingly that water cannot freeze in the environmental conditions of this part of Hell. Unfortunately, the data were made up."


Take care,


20 January, 2011

Physical Review X

American Physical Society started a new journal - Physical Review X. It's somehow analogous to the New Journal of Physics: an online-only open-access journal, covering all branches of physics. As far as I understand, there will be no page limit for articles, and you'll have to pay $1500 to publish there (you also retain copyright to your articles due to open-access).

The first call for papers opens in March 2011, so hurry up! :-)

Take care,


18 January, 2011

Conspiracy doesn't work

I had a job interview in one of the US universities. It was full of conspiracy: one day per every candidate, you're not allowed to attend other candidates' talks or even show up on the campus during that time. I find it great, probably better than the European system where all the short-listed candidates often spend the whole day together.

Flying to London on my way home I started a small talk with a girl sitting next to me. Guess what? It turned out that she was interviewed at the same place the day before. You know, these transatlantic planes are huge, like 50 rows, so the probability of such an event seems to be negligible. But it happened anyway.

Conspiracy just doesn't work.

Take care,


09 January, 2011

Chemistry Journals and Chinese Mothers

Two links for today:

1) "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" - how Chineese kids are raised

2) Chemistry Craziness - Taylor&Francis granted free access to the plethora of chemistry journals until January, 31

Take care,


08 January, 2011

What's Special About This Number?

A webpage, explaining why every single number is special. Nice.


07 January, 2011

Ladies, please cry if you don't feel like having sex

A funny article from the Science magazine:

Gelstein et al., "Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal"

The authors found that women's tears contain some molecules, which, being sniffed by men, reduce their sexual desire and the level of testosterone:

"...We found that merely sniffing negative-emotion–related odorless tears obtained from women donors, induced reductions in sexual appeal attributed by men to pictures of women’s faces. Moreover, after sniffing such tears, men experienced reduced self-rated sexual arousal, reduced physiological measures of arousal, and reduced levels of testosterone."

via Igor Ivanov's blog

Take care,


06 January, 2011

Starting your car think about Einstein

Today a funny article appeared online:

R. Ahuja et al., "Relativity and the Lead-Acid Battery", Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 018301 (2011)

Scientists from Uppsala and Helsinki calculated the voltage produced by a lead-acid battery (such as we got in cars). The theory yielded 2.13 V, which is in compelling agreement with experiment (2.11 V).

The funny part is that most of this voltage (1.7-1.8 V) arises from the relativistic effects in Pb compounds.

As the authors put it: "Finally, we note that cars start due to relativity."

Take care,