Sunday, 7 November 2010

Dirty Tricks against Lisa Murkowski

When Lisa Murkowski narrowly lost the primary for the Republican nomination to run  for senate in Alaska to Joe Millar a Tea Party supported candidate, she decided to run a "write-in" campaign. The last time this had been successful was Strom Thurmond in 1954, and Murkowski does not have the easiest name to spell. This campaign also did not have the support of the Alaskan Republican party or the national level party who both strongly opposed the move.

Internet presence is an important part of a campaign which is going to have negative media coverage and which does not have the big money support of one of the parties or their allied groups, although her campaign still aired commercials. Accidentally I typed Linda and not Lisa Murkowski into Google trying to find her campaign, and almost all the hits pointed to the headline "Linda Murkowski: Screw you, AK Republican voters, this seat is mine". This was on five or six bulletin boards as posts mostly posted on the 19th of September, one is a disgruntled Tea Party member but more than one is a campaign. So this caught my interest and I thought I might look further.

The first place for an attack is on a candidate's wikipedia entry, as this is where many people will look for background. On the day she announced the write-in campaign her page had been vandalised by an anonymous user from This is a Washington DC address, so I hope it wasn't a sloppy congressional staffer. Murkowski's entry was then amended to include her having failed the bar examinations four times. This was inserted by InaMaka on the 4th of October along with a citation to the Tea Party who had exposed this fact. He had been active on her page since the 20th September. After repeated warnings about bias in his submissions especially in the run-up to an election InaMaka was blocked for a week.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Feynman on Magnetism

Here is a video of Richard Feynman talking about magnetism.

Now the reason this is more interesting is the debate on Sean Carroll's Blog about whether you think Feynman is being arrogant of being honest. Now his view is similar to that from Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen in their books The Collapse of Chaos and the Science of Discworld where they talk about "lies to children".

However, the question is older than this, and is really the same on that Plato was talking about with the cave allegory in The Republic. When we give explanations do we ever give complete and definitive explanations or are they all transitory - explanations for now that will be replaced by better explanations in the future. Does knowledge depend on context?

For me Feynman was forgetting that scientists always have a duty to explain and to educate and to not assume that the level of thought of the person you are answering is far below your own. This may be the case sometimes but I prefer to find that people can manage more complex explanations than you would expect. If you get to see the Horrible Science Theatre Show then there they emphasize the problem of scientists avoiding giving explanations. In this case Feynman also cheated by making it a "why" question when it did not start out as one, but his final explanation is very good.