public misconceptions

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Knightshire
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Knightshire » Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:41 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:THIS. I can't stand when people argue against science because "we used to think X, but now we say Y." As if changing your mind in the face of better evidence is somehow a flaw.

I've heard people say this to me. Then I point out that it's just not true, at least in my field (physics). We haven't changed our minds much in all those centuries of discoveries in physics. Each time we add new theories not remove old ones. Newton's laws are still pretty much valid. The only real big mistakes could be the aether(which was never proven anyway), the switching of +/- for electric charge or the theory that the muon carries the strong force.

What a lot of people say to me:
"Physics? What? You want to be a high school teacher?
Also this is simply not true: Only a very small part of my fellow students are trying to become a teacher. Studying physics opens up a lot of job opportunities, not just teaching. This especially funny if a history or sociology major tells me this.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby mr-mitch » Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:50 pm UTC

Aodhan wrote:In Australia at least, 'Pharmacy' is known by the masses as 'Chemistry' e.g. One goes down to the 'chemist' to buy some painkillers.
So whenever I tell someone that I am studying Chemistry, I need to spend a couple of minutes explaining to them that I do not plan on selling medicines for a living, but plan on conducting research that is most likely beyond their comprehension.


I've never heard of Chemistry being used synonymously, or understood to be synonymous with Pharmacy.. must be a crazy Brisbane thing :P I'm a WA man.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Cleverbeans » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:56 pm UTC

Evolution, obviously...

Oh, and Math = Science - when will people realize the distinction??
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby massivefoot » Thu Jan 28, 2010 5:16 pm UTC

Aodhan wrote:I think that this may come from being forced to study science in school, where all that students do is learn the basic principles. This could convince those that aren't interested in science that science is just the endless drudgery of formula after formula. At the school level, they haven't gotten into the discovery aspect of science, which is the really interesting bit.
Actually I'm inclined to say that this is a bigger problem than simply finding science boring.

Most members of the public don't view science as a process, it's just a series of statements made by authority figures. When they care enough to actually dislike what they're being told, they attack the integrity of the person making that statement, not the evidence on which the statement is based (for a particularly recent example, the very large proportion of attacks on climate science being made on the basis of the contents of the CRU hacked e-mails.) What we need to get across in schools is the ability to be understand a claim, and then devise a way of testing it. Or to examine the evidence of which a claim is based and assess whether or not it provides support for the claim.

You've probably noticed that when someone wants to state a piece of scientific knowledge they'll often start the sentence with "They say that...". I actively try to avoid this, and start with something like "we know that XYZ is true because we can do experiment ABC and it gives result DEF".

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Velifer » Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:03 pm UTC

ikrase wrote:People who cannot stop freaking about bioethics

That's good, though. We should freak about bioethics. Let's not go about giving people syphilis just to see what happens.

/IRBs still suck.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Username4242 » Thu Jan 28, 2010 7:36 pm UTC

Oh, also that experimental sciences are the only sciences. :evil:

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Cleverbeans » Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:05 pm UTC

[cite][/cite]
Username4242 wrote:Oh, also that experimental sciences are the only sciences. :evil:


What about the pseudosciences?
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Charlie! » Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:44 am UTC

Username4242 wrote:Oh, also that experimental sciences are the only sciences. :evil:

As opposed to "observational sciences," you mean?
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Krikkit_Robot » Fri Jan 29, 2010 1:10 am UTC

Or theoretical
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Ingolifs » Fri Jan 29, 2010 6:06 am UTC

Once when I mentioned that I was planning on doing a PhD and becoming an academic, the person I was talking to said 'So you want to become a stuffy old professor then?'
I belong to the tautologist's school of thought, that science is by definition, science.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Username4242 » Fri Jan 29, 2010 6:59 am UTC

Charlie! wrote:
Username4242 wrote:Oh, also that experimental sciences are the only sciences. :evil:

As opposed to "observational sciences," you mean?


Basically.

I had a chemistry (and astronomy if you'll believe it) professor who was a creationist. He apparently justified most of his insanities by saying that 'if we didn't see it, we have to rely on faith.' As a scientist in a field that has no way of rerunning the events of the past, and has to study the field through exploration and observation, that kind of attitude really frustrates me.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby andyisagod » Fri Jan 29, 2010 8:14 am UTC

The most annoying one for me is people conjusing dark matter with anti-matter. I don't really expect the general public to know about dark matter but this confusion keeps coming up whenever someone asks what I do, It gets doubly annoying when they also don't know what antimatter is or think that it hasn't been discovered. I guess expecting everyone to know about physics is a bit much though.

Another misconception that drives me nuts is this idea floating around that string theory is somehow holding up the advancement of theoritical physics or that physics has stagnated and that we haven't had any real advancements since the 50's or something.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby wizardy42 » Fri Jan 29, 2010 8:33 am UTC

.
Last edited by wizardy42 on Wed Mar 18, 2015 3:22 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Cobramaster » Fri Jan 29, 2010 8:58 am UTC

Yeah its hard to get people to realize its more of shooting a piece of fruit with a gun in that you make big chunks and little chunks no uniformness about them.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Fri Jan 29, 2010 7:11 pm UTC

ikrase wrote:People who cannot stop freaking about bioethics


Elaboration: clones of Hitler will mean another World War.

I can't tell you how often I've heard this retarded argument. It's not like anyone thinks of this concept with twins, and yet it's the same damn concept.

But really, my big beef is usually with Creationists, if only because they're the people I'd deal with most online in debates on science. Few people argue with something like Newton's laws, because it's self-evident and has no direct effect on human thinking and morality. But bring in evolution, and you've just stuck a finger up at religion for one thing, and many millennia old customs and thinking patterns. You've effectively changed the world forever. Few people who like the old ways will lie down and accept this, as we can see with the Dover trials etc.

Other misconceptions that bug me: CSI. If you do forensics, you've got a guaranteed success on your hands. Ignoring the "I'll perform PCR/tox screen/database profiling in under five minutes" bullshit, we get the impression that it's impossible to commit crime anymore. Except, it's not. My mum even says this, and then flips over to Crimewatch and wonders why so many crooks are still out there. Also, forensic people not in boilet suits, polyfeet and goggles/masks walking around a crime scene? No. They're also not Judges from Judge Dredd i.e. being lab staff, action cops and interrogator detectives.

Username4242 wrote:
Basically.

I had a chemistry (and astronomy if you'll believe it) professor who was a creationist. He apparently justified most of his insanities by saying that 'if we didn't see it, we have to rely on faith.' As a scientist in a field that has no way of rerunning the events of the past, and has to study the field through exploration and observation, that kind of attitude really frustrates me.


Behe is another famous example of this thinking. The guy has written amazing work on biochem, yet was the same genius to come up with irreducible complexity and that godawful mouse trap analogy. For someone so smart, he's an idiot. Evolution is one of those "Wow, why didn't we think of this before?" ideas that is also a "Wow, this is actually damn hard to grasp" ones too, be it through wilful ignorance or general apathy/lack of understanding thanks to bullshit Hollywood science tropes.

Incidentally, I also get the "You must be very smart" thing too. It bugs me, and I confess that I said the same thing to others I saw as having better capabilities than me on the matter e.g. my ex who studies physics at uni because I love the subject, suck at the maths. I didn't really register that she found my bio textbooks to be just as alien. I guess this segues more into my qualms with what intelligence actually is (which then takes me on to the whole host of problems I have with I.Q, tests and the idea that trivia knowledge in gameshows shows incredible smarts rather than photographic memory from rote learning).

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Omegaton » Fri Jan 29, 2010 7:50 pm UTC

massivefoot wrote:
Aodhan wrote:I think that this may come from being forced to study science in school, where all that students do is learn the basic principles. This could convince those that aren't interested in science that science is just the endless drudgery of formula after formula. At the school level, they haven't gotten into the discovery aspect of science, which is the really interesting bit.
Actually I'm inclined to say that this is a bigger problem than simply finding science boring.

Most members of the public don't view science as a process, it's just a series of statements made by authority figures. When they care enough to actually dislike what they're being told, they attack the integrity of the person making that statement, not the evidence on which the statement is based (for a particularly recent example, the very large proportion of attacks on climate science being made on the basis of the contents of the CRU hacked e-mails.) What we need to get across in schools is the ability to be understand a claim, and then devise a way of testing it. Or to examine the evidence of which a claim is based and assess whether or not it provides support for the claim.

You've probably noticed that when someone wants to state a piece of scientific knowledge they'll often start the sentence with "They say that...". I actively try to avoid this, and start with something like "we know that XYZ is true because we can do experiment ABC and it gives result DEF".

I agree with this wholeheartedly. I experienced this revelation of science as a process in undergrad and realized it was completely different from what I thought it was in elementary school or even through my initial years in undergrad.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Swordfish » Sat Jan 30, 2010 1:11 am UTC

My (least) favorite misconception is how people think about the Coriolis Force. It does not determine what direction the water in your sink or toilet spins when they empty. In order for something to be significantly influenced by Coriolis, it needs to be traveling a very large distance or last for a very long time i.e. frontal boundaries or hurricanes.

Your toilet flushes in the same direction every time because the water jets are pointed in one direction, and your sink empties in the same direction a lot of the time because of small imperfections in the sink's surface which create a preferred spin of the water.

I probably spent more time in college learning the Coriolis Force than any other single thing, yet no one ever seems to believe me.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Shadowfish » Sat Jan 30, 2010 3:57 am UTC

Another one that annoys me a little:

"Why is it that you can build nuclear weapons, but you can't cure the common cold?"
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Sat Jan 30, 2010 4:44 am UTC

Swordfish wrote:My (least) favorite misconception is how people think about the Coriolis Force. It does not determine what direction the water in your sink or toilet spins when they empty. In order for something to be significantly influenced by Coriolis, it needs to be traveling a very large distance or last for a very long time i.e. frontal boundaries or hurricanes.

Your toilet flushes in the same direction every time because the water jets are pointed in one direction, and your sink empties in the same direction a lot of the time because of small imperfections in the sink's surface which create a preferred spin of the water.

I probably spent more time in college learning the Coriolis Force than any other single thing, yet no one ever seems to believe me.


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Shadowfish wrote:Another one that annoys me a little:

"Why is it that you can build nuclear weapons, but you can't cure the common cold?"


Or go to the Moon but not make socks smell nice. Compared to the virological nightmare that is the common rhinovirus, nukes are a piece of piss.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Cobramaster » Sat Jan 30, 2010 11:49 am UTC

Yeah stopping a Rhinovirus is a very complex task that takes a team of researchers years to cure just one variant, a nuke takes one team years to learn how and then you just read the notes and repeat. So Curing the common cold is like developing dozens of flavors of bombs each taking years of research a piece. And then everything changes just a little bit and you have to start over.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Technical Ben » Sat Jan 30, 2010 12:53 pm UTC

Omegaton wrote:
Spoiler:
massivefoot wrote:
Aodhan wrote:I think that this may come from being forced to study science in school, where all that students do is learn the basic principles. This could convince those that aren't interested in science that science is just the endless drudgery of formula after formula. At the school level, they haven't gotten into the discovery aspect of science, which is the really interesting bit.
Actually I'm inclined to say that this is a bigger problem than simply finding science boring.

Most members of the public don't view science as a process, it's just a series of statements made by authority figures. When they care enough to actually dislike what they're being told, they attack the integrity of the person making that statement, not the evidence on which the statement is based (for a particularly recent example, the very large proportion of attacks on climate science being made on the basis of the contents of the CRU hacked e-mails.) What we need to get across in schools is the ability to be understand a claim, and then devise a way of testing it. Or to examine the evidence of which a claim is based and assess whether or not it provides support for the claim.

You've probably noticed that when someone wants to state a piece of scientific knowledge they'll often start the sentence with "They say that...". I actively try to avoid this, and start with something like "we know that XYZ is true because we can do experiment ABC and it gives result DEF".

I agree with this wholeheartedly. I experienced this revelation of science as a process in undergrad and realized it was completely different from what I thought it was in elementary school or even through my initial years in undergrad.


Or in fake science and pretend scientist that get on TV. "Science proves that E=MC2 so... that proves there are little green men on Mars and Cheese on the Moon." Although I blame TV news and reporting for asking the lowest denominator for an interview.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Admiral Valdemar » Sat Jan 30, 2010 2:51 pm UTC

Got another: alternative medicine becomes medicine, with all the pseudoscience ripped out.

Dara O'Briain's rant on all alternative medicine becoming just medicine when it is empirically shown to work is always good.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Whelan » Sat Jan 30, 2010 5:14 pm UTC

Is that the one where he says something like "If it performs worse than the placebo effect then it's actually harming you"?
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Balesk Baj, Timeburner » Sun Jan 31, 2010 12:37 pm UTC

Some other misconceptions that common people in my country believe:

- The sun is either the largest or smallest star in the galaxy/universe

- Eclipses happen only at daytime

- The sun will go supernova, instead of producing a planetary nebula and turning into a white dwarf
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby kernelpanic » Sun Jan 31, 2010 3:05 pm UTC

Balesk Baj, Timeburner wrote:- The sun is either the largest or smallest star in the galaxy/universe

And its a yellow ball of fire. Seriously, how can people think the sun is yellow? Look at it. Disclaimer: Don't.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby massivefoot » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:17 pm UTC

Swordfish wrote:I probably spent more time in college learning the Coriolis Force than any other single thing, yet no one ever seems to believe me.


You want a way to convince them? Play dumb, listen to them "explain" how the Coriolis force causes your sink to clockwise in the Northern hemisphere. Then say you're sure it should be anti-clockwise, and make a bet with them about it. The fill a sink from the left-hand tap, and empty it. I generally find that, for well spaced taps, this is a good way to set which way the sink will empty. Ideally the plug should be on a pull chain so you don't transfer angular momentum to the water when you stick your hand in.

After making it empty in whichever direction you desire several times, you should be able to convince them to stop being so daft.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby feedme » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:20 pm UTC

One that's half true but still annoying is that all engineering majors are pretenious, condescending people. My major alone has a few, but everyone recognizes them as such.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Krikkit_Robot » Sun Jan 31, 2010 5:36 pm UTC

massivefoot wrote: The fill a sink from the left-hand tap ... plug should be on a pull chain



Left and right hand taps?

Plugs on chains?

What is this, the 19th century?
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Snowflake » Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:38 pm UTC

That science is something "out there" or in the laboratory, instead of right here, right now in every moment, even as I'm typing this and you're reading this.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Talith » Mon Feb 01, 2010 4:13 pm UTC

Balesk Baj, Timeburner wrote:- Eclipses happen only at daytime

Well, any solar eclipse that you see has to happen in the day time, it's kind of the definition of daytime that the sun is in the observable portion of the sky. If you're trying to say that people believe that when a solar eclipse happens everyone on earth can see it, I've not heard of that as a great misconception. If you're trying to say that people don't know lunar eclipses can happen then I suppose I'd agree with you, but I don't think I'd judge someone too heavily for not knowing that the earth can shadow the moon from reflecting sunlight to people on the dark side of the earth.

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Mr_Rose » Mon Feb 01, 2010 7:00 pm UTC

Oh, here's a good one I heard once:
You can never see the Moon during the day.

I have no idea how widespread it is, but it struck me as symptomatic of something else; people just don't look up.
Really.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Alexius » Mon Feb 01, 2010 7:07 pm UTC

Krikkit_Robot wrote:
massivefoot wrote: The fill a sink from the left-hand tap ... plug should be on a pull chain



Left and right hand taps?

Plugs on chains?

What is this, the 19th century?

Or Cambridge. The sink in my room has left and right hand taps and a plug on a chain...

"Chemicals = Bad" is my personal favourite- there are extremely simple, natural compounds of biological origin that will kill you deader than a doornail in fairly small doses, and things with long and complicated names that are completely harmless or outright beneficial. Still better is the "chemical-free" idea...
I do sometimes call something a "nasty chemical", but that means that it is either extremely poisonous or liable to react with whatever it goes near, including the person using it!

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Mr. Mack » Mon Feb 01, 2010 7:44 pm UTC

Alexius wrote:"Chemicals = Bad" is my personal favourite- there are extremely simple, natural compounds of biological origin that will kill you deader than a doornail in fairly small doses, and things with long and complicated names that are completely harmless or outright beneficial. Still better is the "chemical-free" idea...

Ninja'd on this one. I could write pages on all the ways that organic food is a terrible idea. And I have in the past. I had to remove about half of the information in order to get it all under the page limit. Now I just say, "You know how scientists tell the difference between organic and non-organic? They check the price tag."

Velifer wrote:Scientists are smart.

I usually just say that chemistry requires a different kind of thinking. Not better or harder, nor worse or easier, just different. If they ask me to elaborate, I tell them I can't because psychology isn't my field. Then I ask them if they want to know something really cool about ester (they do not).
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby feedme » Mon Feb 01, 2010 8:11 pm UTC

Mr. Mack wrote:Then I ask them if they want to know something really cool about ester (they do not).


You should enlighten them so they won't have any misconceptions about ester :lol:

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Re: public misconceptions

Postby TescoPeeledPlums » Mon Feb 01, 2010 9:27 pm UTC

feedme wrote:
Mr. Mack wrote:Then I ask them if they want to know something really cool about ester (they do not).


You should enlighten them so they won't have any misconceptions about ester :lol:


Tell them that a mixture of Ethyl Ethanoate and Ethyl Methanoate is what makes their wine smell nice?
Or am I just wanting to show off the fact that I learned about them today and prepared exactly those two chemicals today? (And got slightly high off the alcohol fumes :lol:)
Or... Am I making a stupid confusion between some unbeknownst subtle difference between ester and esters?
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Charlie! » Mon Feb 01, 2010 9:38 pm UTC

Mr. Mack wrote:
Alexius wrote:"Chemicals = Bad" is my personal favourite- there are extremely simple, natural compounds of biological origin that will kill you deader than a doornail in fairly small doses, and things with long and complicated names that are completely harmless or outright beneficial. Still better is the "chemical-free" idea...

Ninja'd on this one. I could write pages on all the ways that organic food is a terrible idea. And I have in the past. I had to remove about half of the information in order to get it all under the page limit. Now I just say, "You know how scientists tell the difference between organic and non-organic? They check the price tag."

Darn. I was going to say UV-vis spectroscopy.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby JayDee » Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:09 pm UTC

wizardy42 wrote:Another one is that Rutherford didn't technically "split the atom" as in slice an atom in half.
That is apparently what both my parents think happened...
It kind of makes sense.

One day I want to stage re-enactments of as many period atomic theory experiments as I can, using actual plum puddings. That way we'll be able to eat the atom after we split it down the middle.
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby Alexius » Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:51 pm UTC

Mr. Mack wrote:
Alexius wrote:"Chemicals = Bad" is my personal favourite- there are extremely simple, natural compounds of biological origin that will kill you deader than a doornail in fairly small doses, and things with long and complicated names that are completely harmless or outright beneficial. Still better is the "chemical-free" idea...

Ninja'd on this one. I could write pages on all the ways that organic food is a terrible idea. And I have in the past. I had to remove about half of the information in order to get it all under the page limit. Now I just say, "You know how scientists tell the difference between organic and non-organic? They check the price tag."

There are cases where I prefer to buy organic food for reasons entirely unrelated to the lack of pesticides- for instance organic meat, at least in the UK, has higher animal-welfare standards. Also, in some cases the organic fruit seems to taste better. Often, though, it's either because you're buying a higher-end product that happens to be organic or because the organic food has to be fresher because it doesn't last as long. The best apples I've ever tasted weren't organic, they were just an unusual variety grown by someone who really knows what he's doing and were eaten right off the tree.

JayDee wrote:One day I want to stage re-enactments of as many period atomic theory experiments as I can, using actual plum puddings. That way we'll be able to eat the atom after we split it down the middle.

Bonus for a fifteen-inch shell and a piece of tissue paper, especially if you can get it to bounce off...

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Cobramaster
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Location: Georgia Southern University Department of Chemistry, and Department of Biology.

Re: public misconceptions

Postby Cobramaster » Mon Feb 01, 2010 11:32 pm UTC

The only thing I eat that is organic is honey but it is also my honey that I harvest so its damn near free.
SlyReaper wrote:Did you never notice the etymological link between "tyrannosaur" and "tyrant"? 1% of the dinosaurs had 99% of the prey. Occupy Pangaea.

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feedme
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Re: public misconceptions

Postby feedme » Mon Feb 01, 2010 11:41 pm UTC

wizardy42 wrote:Another one is that Rutherford didn't technically "split the atom" as in slice an atom in half.
That is apparently what both my parents think happened...


I remember watching this awful movie at my grandma's house one time about a young Einstein. He split a "beer atom" with a chisel out in a shed, invented rock and roll music with a violin, and got into all sorts of other crazy shenanigans.

I think the actor's name was Yahoo something....which is too ironic.


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