Physics-Based Halloween Costumes

If you’re the type to still dress up for Halloween, Symmetry magazine (i.e. Fermilab and SLAC) has a short guide on physics-based costumes. Some of them are abstract enough where people who aren’t physicists might not get the joke. I like the idea for MiniBooNE and MicroBooNE.


Partial Solar Eclipse Tomorrow

Just in case you haven’t heard, there will be a partial solar eclipse tomorrow (October 23rd) across much of North America. NASA has the details so you can see when the eclipse will be most visible where you are. Unfortunately, it looks like it will be strongest around Nunavut. As always with solar eclipses, be very careful viewing it. You don’t want to damage your eyes. Since this is a partial eclipse, it’ll probably be hard to look directly at the sun unaided anyway.

Ebola Under Control In Several Countries

You may have seen that the recent ebola outbreak has been eliminated from Nigeria and Senegal. Here is an article with some info on how this was achieved. The good news is that it looks like major uncontained outbreaks are unlikely in countries with functional healthcare systems. Also, unlike what’s being suggested by various politicians and media figures, it’s not necessary to close the borders to keep people from getting ebola.

Article on the Anti-Vaccine Movement

The Atlantic has a new article on how people get drawn into the anti-vaccine movement. Ultimately, the reason why many parents end up opposing vaccinating their own children seems to be that people are terrible at judging risk in a rational manner. The parents end up weighing the generally rare threat of dangerous disease against the even more rare but also more immediate threat of vaccine complications and decide that the minuscule threat from the vaccine is more dangerous. A more rational result would be that while the threat of disease is low, it is generally higher than any threats from the vaccine. Additionally, the only reason why the threat of disease is low is that nearly everyone is vaccinated, preventing many dangerous illnesses from spreading throughout the population. While one child not getting vaccinated does not change this, too many children going unvaccinated could allow for diseases such as measles and whooping cough to return. This has already been happening in a number of places. With the vaccination program, society has decided to accept a very small number of serious complications in order to prevent a much worse outcome from allowing these diseases to spread.

The article highlights the fact that many people place more weight on personal anecdotes than actual evidence (i.e. blinded studies using statistical analysis). In the words of one parent “data could be flawed … but someone’s story … I trust that more.” Obviously, data could be flawed, but scientific studies have at least attempted to remove biases and will almost always be better than talking to some non-random sample of people (by construction a flawed dataset). There’s even a doctor who uncritically accepts his patients’ beliefs about what caused their children’s medical problems as evidence that vaccines are dangerous. Doctors are supposed to listen to their patients, but also need to correct patients when they make unfounded claims. Just because someone says a vaccine hurt their child doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t make it untrue either, but the number of people claiming to have encountered vaccine complications is vastly higher than what would be expected from the scientific literature.

The article does a decent job of juxtaposing the arguments of the people opposing vaccines against some of the reasons why their views are (if we take the most charitable explanation of their views) misinformed. Too often the media prefers to frame every controversy as a debate between two equal sides when in many cases there is only one side with any significant supporting evidence.

Some Thoughts on Tokyo Tourist Attractions

While in Tokyo, I was able to do a bunch of touristy things. Here are some quick thoughts on a few of these:

  • Edo-Tokyo Museum: This is a museum on the history of Tokyo. Admission is around $6 (not including special exibits). I thought this was a really nice museum. It includes artifacts from various periods of the city’s history, from the Edo period, where it was the capital of the Tokugawa shogunate to the present day, as well as reconstructions of different aspects of life in different periods. It also has performances at different times throughout the day. It’s maybe more akin to a natural history museum than an art museum but has a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t normally see, particularly in the US where you might only get some pottery and samurai equipment from Japan.
  • National Museum of Modern Art: This is another nice and fairly small museum. Admission is only about $4 so it’s incredibly cheap. This has a number of 20th century works from both Japanese and non-Japanese artists. Not as big as something like the MoMA in New York but still a really good collection with a different focus (i.e. a lot from Japan) than US modern art museums.
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck: A free(!) observation deck on the 45th floor gives great views of the city and the surrounding area. It’s also at Shinjuku station so it’s more centrally located than, for example, the Tokyo Skytree.
  • Imperial Palace East Gardens: The whole Imperial Palace area is very impressive. The gardens are accessible 6 days a week during daylight hours and are free. There are various little gardens, such as a pond with gigantic goldfish, an area with trees from each region of Japan, and fields with rare varieties of fruit. There are many varieties of flowers, so it probably looks amazing during the spring when everything blooms. At this time of year it was mostly just roses that were blooming. It’s also a very quiet space in the middle of central Tokyo.
  • Meiji Shrine: Another nice quiet area near a very busy part of town. This is a Shinto shrine – with surrounding gardens and a forest – to the Meiji emperor, who overthrew the shogunate, started modernizing the country, and restored the imperial family to power. They’ve found mosquitoes with the Dengue fever virus in the area recently so be careful here right now.

I also walked around Ueno Park but didn’t have time to go to the museums there. Those museums are also supposed to be very impressive.

In Japan

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted much in the past week or so. That’s because I’ve been in Japan. I’ll probably post a couple pictures once I’m settled in back at home later today.