Monday, February 13, 2006

On Science: Million Pound Manuscript Found in Cupboard

This is amazing: Some historians in the UK just found A 520-page handwritten manuscript (see photo, left) written by Robert Hooke, one of the most important scientists of the 17th century. My favorite part of the story: The manuscript was sitting (for who-knows-how-long) it in the bottom of a cupboard in a house in the countryside. The couple who lived there figured it was junk. In fact, it's worth several million dollars.

Hooke was an uber-scientist, right up there with with Newton -- his arch rival. He was a physicist, a chemist, a cosmologist, a biologist, a horologist and a mechanic. He's the Hooke in Hooke's Law, which essentially says the elasticity of anything springy is directly related to how much you strech it -- thankfully, this explains why we can snap rubber bands at people. He also invented the universal joints we use in car driveshafts and created the first artificial respirator. And my favorite, given my obsession with cells: He discovered tiny compartments inside plants and animals and named them "cells."

On top of documenting Hooke's science, this "lost volume," which is now the "found volume," lets his biographers read lots of grumblings about scientists plagerizing his work (rumor has it Hooke went mad because no one appreciated his contributions to science, maybe this will shed light on that too) . I can only imagine how insanely excited his biographers must be ... I'd drop to my knees and cry if I found even a postcard from the woman I'm writing my book about. And they just found a huge tome ... I'm outrageously jealous.

Historically speaking, the whole thing is amazing. As a man named Felix Pryor with the auction house that found the document says:

“Even a non-scientist must be moved to read in Hooke's own handwriting of how he peered at bacteria through a microscope for practically the first time in history, or how he debated with Isaac Newton about the nature of gravity and the movement of the planets. Even though Hooke and Newton were to become bitter rivals, it was to Hooke that Newton addressed the famous words, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ ... this manuscript encapsulates the revolution in scientific understanding that marks the beginning of the modern world. "
Secretly, my favorite part of the press release about this was the title: "Million pound manuscript charting the birth of modern science found in a cupboard" ... that must have been a really big cupboard to hold such a heavy manuscript. (I'm sorry, couldn't help it.)

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

On Science: The Faulty Logic of Religious Meningitis

According to a new study, teenagers who French kiss multiple partners nearly quadruple their risk of getting meningitis. Fine. This makes scientific sense: You can get meningitis by kissing people, you kiss more people, you increase you risk of getting it. But they also found that attending religious ceremonies decreases the risk of getting meningitis. Come now: Religious ceremonies don't protect them. What protects them is (a) meningitis vaccines and (b) kissing fewer (or healthier) people. Saying church has anything to do with it reads like a perfectly incorrect answer on an SAT test: Bacterium is to Brain Infection as Atheism is to ... Meningitis?? I don't think so.

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