Jim Baggott on Mass

19 October 2016

In this short Hay Levels video, Jim Baggott talks about the relationship between matter and mass, the subject of his next book Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields, to be published by Oxford University Press in June 2017.

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Status Anxiety: All ‘Theories’ Are Not All the Same

3 May 2016

Much of the recent debate about string theory and the scientific method derives from the mis-use or mis-interpretation of the word ‘theory’. Scientific theorizing follows a logical progression from idea to hypothesis to theory, and I argue that a fully-fledged scientific theory must be grounded in empirical data. In the absence of empirical data, non-empirical arguments will suffice to choose between rival hypotheses, but they cannot ‘confirm’ theories. A lack of clarity on the status of the ‘string hypothesis’ in many popular presentations has created the misleading impression that this is regarded as a valid and accepted scientific theory, threatening to undermine public trust in science and scientists. A ‘Munich Declaration’, developed by participants at the recent conference ‘Why Trust a Theory’, is proposed as a potential way forward.


Can We Talk? Language, Society and Consciousness

3 December 2015

The story of human evolution does not end with the appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa 200,000 years ago, or with the subsequent migrations to Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. Our curiosity about our origins demands that we try to explain why it is this particular species that goes on to dominate the planet.

This is the twelfth (and last) in a series of posts on the Oxford University Press TUMBLR site.



Origins with Milt Rosenberg on WCGO Chicago

27 November 2015

Jim Baggott is an influential science writer. A scientist himself by training, he has turned toward a career in the commercial world and is also a successful author who popularizes complex scientific theories by making them, well, understandable.

His latest, Origins: The Scientific Story of Creation, is a concise history of how we got here, how life has evolved on this planet, and where life may be heading next. Baggott joins us here for an hour. We only wish that we’d had more time.



Who Made the First Stone Tools?

26 November 2015

The evolutionary path from early primates to Homo sapiens is difficult to trace with any accuracy and continues to be hotly debated. But there are a couple of important signposts in the fossil record. The transition to bipedalism – upright walking – is suggested by analysis of limb bones of the genus Australopithecus and rather spectacularly confirmed by the Laetoli footprints, determined to be 3.6 million years old.

This is the eleventh in a series of posts on the Oxford University Press TUMBLR site.


Mass Extinctions and the ‘Boys from Brazil’

19 November 2015

Last year Pope Francis declared that ‘Evolutions in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of [divine] creation’. The argument is that, once life had been created, evolution drove it with irresistible force towards us: intelligent human beings.

This is the tenth in a series of posts on the Oxford University Press TUMBLR site.



Eukaryote Cells: A Match Made in Heaven?

11 November 2015

Evidence for simple, single-celled life can be found in fossils dating back about 3.5 billion years. These are bacteria and archaea, two prokaryote life forms that differ in their genes and cell membranes. We have to wait another billion years or so before we see complex eukaryote cells, of the kind that makes up larger life forms (including us). Why?

This is the ninth in a series of posts on the Oxford University Press TUMBLR site.


Where on Earth Did Life Begin?

5 November 2015

There is no agreed theory or ‘standard model’ for the origin of life on Earth. But I personally like the idea that life began in alkaline hydrothermal vents. These are geological features that can be found close to the spreading centres of the Earth’s tectonic plates, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which runs along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Such vents are sources of molecular hydrogen, a side-product of a natural geological process called serpentinization. In one possible scenario, the hydrogen reacts with carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean, catalysed by iron-nickel-sulphur minerals. This is the first step in a sequence which potentially can produce a huge assortment of chemicals, including many of biochemical significance such as amino acids.

This is the eighth in a series of posts on the Oxford University Press TUMBLR site.


Where Did the Moon Come From?

29 October 2015

The Moon is about 40 to 140 million years younger than the Earth and its geology offers broad hints that it was formed in an impact. This is called the giant impact hypothesis.

Nobody can be sure what actually happened, but computer simulations provide some clues. In one simulation, the newly-formed Earth suffers an impact with another planet (called Theia, a little larger than Mars). Theia is torn apart, its core dragged down through Earth’s interior to merge with the Earth’s core. Much of Theia’s mantle is absorbed into Earth’s mantle, and the side of Theia furthest away from the impact is hurled into space. About half the material ejected by the collision is lost and the rest accretes to form the Moon.

This is the seventh in a series of posts on the Oxford University Press TUMBLR site.