Those three words often separate the scientific pros from the posers
My friend James Randi speculates — with only partial facetiousness — that when one receives a Ph.D., a chemical secreted from the diploma parchment enters the brain and prevents the recipient from ever again saying “I don’t know” and “I was wrong.” As one counterexample I hereby confess that in my column on Chinese science in the July issue I was wrong in my conversion of Chinese yuan as 80 to the dollar (it is eight).
More serious was a statement I made in the June issue about a Fox television program claiming that the moon landing was faked. I said that the lunar lander rocket showed no exhaust because there is no oxygen-rich atmosphere on the moon. I was partially wrong. The lack of an atmosphere plays a minor role; the main reason is that the lander’s engine used hypergolic propellants that burn very cleanly. In both instances, readers were kind enough to provide constructive criticism. (continue reading…)