Science Metaphors (cont.): Decompensation

I suspect this isn’t really a science metaphor, but I got caught up in the word. I had a friend who’s married to a hospital doctor, and he brought home many work-related words of interest:  “mother-of-record,” for instance, meant that he wasn’t going to be the one taking cupcakes to their kid’s class in the […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Tidally Locked

I’ll go home tonight, I’ll open the front door, I’ll yell, “Hey sweetie, hi!”  Then Sweetie will yell, “Hello, young Ann.” I’ll look at the mail, then I’ll yell again, “Did you pick up the salmon?” And he’ll say, “Yep, it’s in the refrigerator.”  And then I’ll look over the mail and start to throw […]

Ignorance: The Elevator Speech

Ever since I reviewed Ignorance: How it Drives Science, a charming new book by the Columbia neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, I’ve been thinking about ignorance. And I tell you, it’s been a bit of a headache. Firestein teaches a popular science class at Columbia, also called Ignorance, in which he invites scientists from different disciplines to talk […]

An Instrument in the Shape of a Woman

There are poems about science. There are poems about scientists. But I know of only two poems about women scientists — about women doing science, that is — and both were written by the same person: the brilliant, defiant, influential poet Adrienne Rich, who died last week at the age of 82. From “Power“: Today […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Degeneracy

I was helping an astronomer write a sentence.  It was about disentangling the color a supernova has intrinsically, from the reddening in its color caused by cosmic dust.  He wrote he wanted to “break the degeneracy” between the colors.  Break the degeneracy.  I got so excited.  I’d always thought degenerates were people who didn’t, for […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Resonance

My mother was an old lady, she’d lived a good and useful life, and she died a year and ten days ago.  I hadn’t been keeping track of her death’s anniversary but I didn’t need to; I only had to figure out why I was walking around feeling, for no good reason, sad.  One of […]

The Last Word on Nothing, Junior Edition

As the parent of a three-year-old, I spend a lot of time reading kids’ books. Some are wonderful, a lot are so-so, and a few are so frigging annoying that — I confess — I hide them. I always expect to like science-themed books — this is my kind of brainwashing, I think — but […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Running Open Loop

In the continuing quest to find meaning in life, or if not meaning, at least a few good rules, I turn as usual to science.   Science offers the phrase, “running open loop.” Open loop is an engineering term meaning a system that runs without feedback, without a self-governor, without correcting itself.   A closed-loop sprinkler system […]