Thursday, March 22, 2012

Henrietta Swan Leavitt

"In 1908, an unheralded and at the time unappreciated would-be astronomer, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, was employed as a 'computer' at the Harvard College Observatory. ('Computers' were women brought in to catalogue the brightness of stars recorded on the observatory's photographic plates; women were not allowed to use the observatory telescopes at the time.) Daughter of a Congregational minister and a descendant of the Pilgrims, Leavitt made an astounding discovery, which she further illuminated in 1912: she noticed that there was a regular relationship between the brightness of Cepheid stars and the period of their varieation. Therefore, if one could determine the distance to a single Cepheid of a known period (subsequently determined in 1913), then measuring the brightness of other Cepheids of the same period would allow one to determine the distance to these other stars!...Leavitt's discovery revolutionized the field. (Hubble himself, who was snubbed for the Nobel Prize, often said Leavitt's work deserved the prize, although he was sufficiently self-serving that he might have suggested it only because he would have been a natural contender to share the prize with her for his later work.) Paperwork had actually begun in the Royal Swedish Academy to nominate Leavitt for the Nobel in 1924 when it was learned that she had died of cancer three years earlier. By dint of his force of personality, knack for self-promotion, and skill as an observer, Hubble would become a household name, while Leavitt, alas, is known only to aficiaonados of the field."
Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Corn's New Book

and Corn himself has a bit of a different view.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Plouffe Better Get It Right This Time

is all I can say. Judging from what appears to be a new Democratic feistiness, I sort of hope he is. But then, I want to believe.
Krugman reminds me not to be too sanguine.
I have to say that the various accounts of what went wrong are converging on a very depressing picture, in which White House political “experts” actually believed that trying to please the Washington Post editorial page was a winning political move.
From an earlier column on "most voters," vs. the Very Serious People:
What I learn from political scientists is that this is all fantasy — albeit a kind of fantasy beloved of political pundits, who love to imagine that complicated psychodramas are playing out in the minds of voters. Well, here’s a little secret: most voters don’t sit around reading Clive Crook columns or debating the Bowles-Simpson plan. They have a gut sense — things are getting better or they’re getting worse — and mainly vote on that basis. They’re not paying attention at all to this stuff.