June 29, 2008 | Graham

Why does the MSM do science so badly?

You’ll have to go hunting to find this story, but it is perhaps the most important event so far this year, with the greatest potential to affect our lives.
A Nature Physics article outlines how researchers have managed to manipulate the quantum state of a previously unknown molecule by varying an externally controlled electrical current.
Being able to do this is a prerequisite for building a quantum computer. If quantum computing is possible it will vastly scale-up the size of computing tasks that can be undertaken.
According to the article, quantum computers would also be able to talk instantaneously across any distance of space, putting another tool into the kit of those looking for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
This has been reported in a few newspapers, but none in Australia that I can see. Perhaps journalists aren’t interested, don’t understand the issues, or fear another cold fusion beat-up. Although, as this Wikipedia article shows, perhaps cold fusion was written-off too easily.

Posted by Graham at 1:01 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Science


  1. Graham,
    I don’t think MSM has much interest in reporting science.
    I’ve been wondering lately how to give science a makeover. Science, specifically the scientific method, seems to be so poorly understand by many people I talk to, that I constantly hear things like “science isn’t the only way”, as if there is a better (or even an equal) way to determine the facts about how the universe operates.
    So it seems that science needs a makeover. Most scientists don’t care to explain science outside of their colleagues or their grant boards.
    Most teachers are stuck in an education system which is concerned with rote answers.
    And the MSM is mostly interested with sensationalism, not with promoting an evidence-based view of the world.
    Unfortunately we don’t have many of the great science communicators around these days. Dawkins does a pretty good job, as does Brian Greene, but neither of them are a Carl Sagan.

    Comment by Cameron Reilly — June 30, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

  2. According to the article, quantum computers would also be able to talk instantaneously across any distance of space …

    This is still up for debate. Entanglement can occur in a fashion that apparently happens instantly in two locations, but whether you can transmit information this way — and thus violate relativity — is a very, very different kettle of fish.
    The basic idea of quantum entanglement is that when you observe one of the pair of entangled particles, it is clearly one but not the other. The problem is that you don’t decide in advance which is which, it’s random.
    Suppose I write down ‘A’ and ‘B’ on two pieces of paper and stuff them in envelopes. A machine then shuffles them and hands one to you and I at random. I stay on earth, you zoom off into the cosmos.
    Later on you open your envelope, it says ‘B’. At this point the probability that I have ‘A’ is certain. But you couldn’t know this in advance, it’s random. No new information is transmitted.
    And that’s the thing. If relativity holds out and there’s no quantum loopholes, you can’t transmit information faster than speed of light and entanglement buys you nothing over flipping coins and randomly assigned digits.

    Comment by Jacques Chester — July 1, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

  3. The linked article is also very wrong about how searches are conducted with current computers. Linear search is not necessary when the input is sorted, you can use a technique called binary search instead.

    Comment by Jacques Chester — July 1, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  4. Graham,
    If you want regular reporting on developments in science and technology, subscribe to the British weekly magazine, New Scientist. Alternatively, regularly check out the news briefs at http://www.newscientist.com.
    As for quantum computing, you can assume that it is worth reporting in general news media when it reaches a stage that banks start to panic. A practical quantum computer could almost instantaneously break the triple-DES encryption scheme used for financial messaging and the various descendents of the RSA public key encryption scheme used for secure transmission between web browsers and servers.
    As Jacques mentions, instant transmission of information through entangled particle pairs is still very much up in the air as to whether it will ever be practically useful.
    Star Trek warp drive it most definitely is not.

    Comment by MikeM — July 1, 2008 @ 6:38 pm

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