Picks

Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution

There is supposedly a Chinese curse, "May he live in interesting times". While the origin of this phrase is apparently not really in China, it certainly applies to the life of one of the first modern chemists. Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier was a French nobleman who lived from 1743 until he was beheaded in 1794.

The Dark Side: What we re missing in the night sky

One of the most memorable experiences of my youth was when I was camping in the Mojave Desert. Having lived all of my life up to that time in Los Angeles, I had never seen a truly dark night. Lying under the stars, I found it very difficult to close my eyes because of the extraordinary beauty of the sky, full of stars and planets - the Milky Way clearly visible.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Like Malcolm Gladwell s Tipping Point , Nassim Taleb s Black Swan threatens to become a permanent part of the lexicon. In this best-selling book, he makes the argument that evolution has prepared us to over-emphasize continuous, Gaussian relationships because they occur much more frequently than do rare but momentous, unpredictable events.

Beautiful Evidence

The first of this series of books by Edward Tufte, "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" was the one that, in my opinion, would be of most practical use to the average scientist. That was six volumes and twenty four years ago. I would recommend the most recent one, "Beautiful Information", as a logical continuation.

The Unintended Consequences of Hyperhydration

The folly of spending more per liter to buy water than gasoline has been mentioned in Hal's Picks previously (July 2003). That article, by Michael Schermer, emphasized the waste of money that this boondoggle constitutes. In the New York Times magazine this week is another argument against the practice, and that is its impact on the environment.

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life On Earth

One of my picks last year was the frontal attack of an atheist scientist on religion. It was Richard Dawkins' popular "The God Delusion". This month, my choice is a respectful and conciliatory appeal by entomologist E. O. Wilson for common cause between religion and science in the preservation of what is left of Eden.

An Exact Value for Avogadro's Number

The currently accepted formal definition of a mole is the number of carbon-12 atoms in exactly 12 grams of the pure substace. This is not a good operational definition, however, because it takes too long to find, purify, and count all those atoms. The best experimental value is based on x-ray diffraction experiments on silicon crystals and puts the number within 0.0000010 of 6.0221415 x 10^23.