Because we all like a good detective story

At the always excellent Skulls in the Stars blog, here is a fantastic story of a “scientific” swindler operating in the US in the 1880s. It’s a long, but fascinating read.


In the 1880s, a fascinating chain of letters appeared in the magazine Science and in other publications, including the New York Times. The scientific community was being victimized by a clever confidence man, who was working his way into members’ trust and then stealing from them. The exploits span at least 7 years and stretch over much of the United States. Most surprising about it, however, is that the con artist was so successful because he was apparently trained as one of their own.

The swindled scientists actually end up admiring the conman, as he is obviously a talented paleontologist. Here’s a quote from one of the last letters about the man:

Don’t know where he went, but he certainly is very gifted and smart, and is well posted in paleontology, and would make the best I have ever known provided he stuck to it and honesty.

Impressive history writing from a consistently good blog.


Dispatches from the ivory tower

The filmmaker Errol Morris has posted the first of a five-part series on what he calls “The Ashtray Argument”. I have no idea where this will go in the next posts, but the first piece is worth reading for its (not very positive) description of Thomas Kuhn alone:

I asked him, “If paradigms are really incommensurable, how is history of science possible? Wouldn’t we be merely interpreting the past in the light of the present? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible to us? Wouldn’t it be ‘incommensurable?’”

He started moaning. He put his head in his hands and was muttering, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me.”

And then I added, “…except for someone who imagines himself to be God.”

It was at this point that Kuhn threw the ashtray at me.

Not only is the whole thing funny, it also seems to be developing into an interesting critique of Kuhn, a thinker I never found as convincing as many others seem to do.

It’s also interesting that Morris attended Saul Kripke’s lectures that would later turn into Naming and Necessity, the only philosophy book I have read more than two times, and one of the very best. I’m usually not into analytical philosophy, but this is so much more, and the fact that the book is compiled from the notes of a student listening to the lecture, which Kripke gave without notes, is simply astounding. It is a tough but mercifully short read, which is why I’ve reread it several times, but recommended to anyone who believe that the study of language has nothing to do with real life.

Where is the energy?

I held a talk yesterday in the Center for Renewable Energy lunch seminar series. It was about barriers to investment in renewable energy, where my claim is that if we want more investment in renewables, and this is not a given, we need to change the government subsidy schemes. The reason I mention this at all is that NTNU has entered into a collaboration with the University of Oslo on dissemination of renewable energy research. A part of this is streaming videos of talks given, and I had the honour of being the first one off here. So if you want to look at me talk for half an hour, here it is.

The presentation requires Silverlight, so it comes with the usual Microsoft warning for my part. But actually, I think the dual view of slides and presentation is quite neat:

You can download the slides here.

Territorial pissings, yes please

I’m not sure about the need for mathematical modelling in sociology (although I am intrigued), but this is spot on:

2. Are you saying we saying we should become like economists? Dear Lord, no. As a group, economists have committed the scientific method fallacy. They assume that one really good tool for science accounts for all of science. They have essentially abolished field studies, history, ethnography, and other important tools. Sociology should not engage in petty debates that end up dumping our best work. Instead, we should create a social science that strives to combine important different types of research.

From OrgTheory.

Climategate, again

In a short opinion piece today, two colleagues write about the Climategate “scandal”. It’s Norwegian only, but the gist is that the media misunderstood the function of the internal debate over different ways to interpret climate data, and used it to create an impression of cheating, politically motivated scientists. When will they ever learn? (Answer: never.) If you can read Norwegian, it is hereby recommended.