Finding Particles, Firing Misogynists, and Following Climate Change Research Developments | Vol. 4 / No. 42

This week we’ve got stories on finding proof of an elusive particle, Google firing at least one misogynist (for a change) and a climate change report that we all get to see before the White House tries to ignore and/or bury it. It’s the news roundup for August 12, 2017!


Ettore Majorana | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Angel” Particles

It’s fairly well known at this point in time that every particle of matter also has an antimatter version of itself, and that when the two meet, they annihilate (and give off energy in doing so). But for that past eighty years, particle physicists have been trying to find evidence of something stranger: a particle that is its own antiparticle. First theorized by physicist Ettore Majorana in the first half of the 20th century, evidence for these self-opposing particles—Majorana fermions—has just been found by a team of researchers at Stanford. Honestly, I can’t even pretend to understand exactly what they did, and unless you’re well-versed in particle physics, you might have trouble, too. But like all the best particle physics, they created a model, predicted an outcome, and found that the outcome robustly met the predictions. The press release from Stanford does a good job of explaining their processes, so I’m going to suggest you go check it out instead of having me to try to summarize it here. But the neat thing is that it does seem to show that particles can be their own antiparticles, and if we could harness those in a quantum computer, we could make really robust qubits (where right now the energy equivalent of a mouse sneezing in Denmark could probably upset our systems). The scientist behind the discovery has offered the term “Angel Particles” for the specific type they’ve found (called chiral Majorana fermions), but that may or may not stick. And if you’re feeling incredibly ambitious, here’s the paper published last month in the journal Science. Let me know in the comments if you can explain this better than I can.


Photo: Flickr user Robert Scoble, CC BY 2.0

Google Fired A Misogynist

In news that came as a surprise to basically no one, Google fired the author of a 10-page memo that used pseudoscience to claim that the reason for the male-female disparity in tech jobs is biology. The claims arise in a field of psychology so contested that the crticisms of it get their own whole Wikipedia page, and of course also fail to take note of history (e.g. Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program) or sociology (e.g. literally hundreds of studies showing the social reasons for the gender imbalance). Coming to the support of the now-unemployed writer were many people with frogs and flags and the word “cuck” in their Twitter handles, surprising, again, literally nobody. The writer has filed a lawsuit about the firing, claiming that it was in retaliation against him for going to the labour board, but given that the company had not yet been made aware that he had gone to the labour board, and that he had seriously damaged Google’s brand in an at-will employment state, nobody really thinks it’ll stick. Honestly, the whole thing is so mind-boggling that it’s hard to believe it happened, but “but mah free speechez” has become such a rallying cry for the sad voices of the now slightly-less-hegemonic in America that I suppose it’s theoretically possible he didn’t think he’d be fired? Maybe? I don’t know. Anyway, here: read this ladysplaining as a palate cleanser.


Smokestacks, detail of “Coal Power Plant”; Photo: Flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia, CC BY 2.0

US Climate Report

This week the New York Times published a copy of a section of the 2018 National Climate Assessment, ahead of the August 18 deadline for thirteen US agencies to approve it. Those agencies include the EPA, headed by a climate change denier, and the White House, headed by a petulant liar who once claimed global warming was a Chinese hoax. So before anyone gets a chance to hide it under a rug and talk about climate change as “weather extremes,” here’s the rundown:

  • Climate change is indisputably real.
  • “There are no alternative explanations” for it other than human activity.
  • The projected global temperature rise is up two degrees by the end of the century.
  • We can attribute a lot of extreme weather to climate change.

That last one’s important, and is the result of advances in something called “attribution science,” which is able to more and more reliably link dangerous weather events like droughts, floods, heat waves, and so on to the rise in global temperatures. So now we’ll all sit back and watch what happens to this draft as it hits various climate change deniers along the way. You can read more about it at the NYT, and Gizmodo.


Best of the Rest

And as usual there’s so much to get to that I didn’t have the time for, so here it is, your weekly linkspam:

Anyway, that’s all for today. Have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.