Fox News and Science!

It seems that whenever Fox News tries to write a science article they really prove that they are a bunch of idiots. Back in January they posted this gem about volcanos. It starts like this:

The tremendous volcanic eruption thought to be responsible for Earth’s largest mass extinction — which killed more than 70 percent of plants and dinosaurs walking the planet 250 million years ago — is still taking lives today.

Read the whole thing. It’s a riot. Apparently the dinosaurs were killed off before they even existed! By a volcano! It must be a time traveling volcano. And as this newest article shows, Fox News loves time travel.

Look past the details of a wonky discovery by a group of California scientists — that a quantum state is now observable with the human eye — and consider its implications: Time travel may be feasible. 

I can’t quite tell what they are trying to say. Look past the wonky details? How? You gave us none. And how did you jump to time travel, Fox News? Please tell me, I’m dying to know.

The strange discovery by quantum physicists at the University of California Santa Barbara means that an object you can see in front of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe — a multi-state condition that has scientists theorizing that traveling through time may be much more than just the plaything of science fiction writers.  

Until, of course, the object was observed (a.k.a. interacted with its enviroment, a human doesn’t need to be there watching it) when it went from a superposition of many states and collapsed into a single state. They forgot that part.

 And it’s all because of a tiny bit of metal — a “paddle” about the width of a human hair, an item that is incredibly small but still something you can see with the naked eye. 

UC Santa Barbara’s Andrew Cleland cooled that paddle in a refrigerator, dimmed the lights and, under a special bell jar, sucked out all the air to eliminate vibrations. He then plucked it like a tuning fork and noted that it moved and stood still at the same time.

That sounds contradictory, and it’s nearly impossible to understand if your last name isn’t Einstein. But it actually happened. It’s a freaky fact that’s at the heart of quantum mechanics.

Did Fox News just call its readers idiots? I understand what’s going one here and I only took College Physics. I also read a lot about physics, but so can anyone. There are lots of books out there that are very accessable and easy to read that explain these topics.

What does it all mean? Let’s say you’re in Oklahoma visiting your aunt. But in another universe, where your atomic particles just can’t keep up, you’re actually at home watching “The Simpsons.” That may sound far-fetched, but it’s based on real science.

“When you observe something in one state, one theory is it split the universe into two parts,” Cleland told, trying to explain how there can be multiple universes and we can see only one of them. 

The multi-verse theory says the entire universe “freezes” during observation, and we see only one reality. You see a soccer ball flying through the air, but maybe in a second universe the ball has dropped already. Or you were looking the other way. Or they don’t even play soccer over there.

This is one interpretation of quantum physics. We don’t know if it is right, but it is fun to think about. These interpretations are not really theories, theories have mountains of evidence to back them up. The interpretation they are talking about is called the  “many-worlds” interpretation. This is where every quantum choice made results in a split in its world line, basically creating another parallel universe. There is also the Copenhagen Interpretation, and this deals more with wave functions and probabilities. Click on the link for a Wikipedia article about it.

Lets get back to Fox News. I’m going to jump ahead to the really stupid bit.

Consider Sergei Krikalev, the Russian astronaut who flew six space missions. Richard Gott, a physicist at Princeton University, says Krikalev aged 1/48th of a second less than the rest of us because he orbited at very high speeds. And to age less than someone means you’ve jumped into the future — you did not experience the same present. In a sense, he says, Krikalev time-traveled to the future — and back again!

Not really.

Yes, Krikalev probably did age slower when in orbit. This has to do with relativity and time dilation. One of the books I linked to does a fantastic job explaining relativity (“Why Does E=mc2?: (And Why Should We Care?” by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw). I highly recommend that you read it. Fox News is talking our of its ass when it talks about time travel here. No one really experiences the same present. We are all moving about at our own velocities, and we all experience a very small amount of time dilation, the faster we move the slower we age relative to everyone else. The effect is small. Very very small, like, you can’t really measure it small.

But lets say you are traveling really fast, say, 10 percent the speed of light, and you go to the nearest star and come back. Time will move normally for you and about 80 years will have passed. When you return to earth you will find that millions of years have passed there due to the effects of relativity, and there is no going back to the “present.” So Fox News, you really think Krikalev time traveled to the future and came back? Because you would be wrong. He just aged a little slower, that’s all.

I guess my main point is that if you are a major news outlet you should at least make sure your article is correct before mis-informing the masses about science. This is how we get really bad sci-fi movies and people thinking 2012 is real. This is now two articles for Fox News that have spewed crazy science from another reality. I”m not sure what I expect, science in the media is generally bad, and Faux News is no exception. At least they provide me with a bit of humor.

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