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Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 – Quasi Crystals Michael Edmonds Oct 13

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The story behind Dan Shechtman’s 2011 Nobel prize in Chemistry is absolutely fascinating. It highlights many of the great things about science, as well as highlighting some of the less than complimentary behaviours of some scientists.

Professor Shechtman’s discovery of quasicrystals challenged the existing understanding of crystal periodicity. This resulted in hostility from some prominent scientists including Linus Pauling who is quoted as saying “there is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.” A symptom of the Nobel disease perhaps?

Fortunately, Professor Schechtman persevered and his discovery was demonstrated through replication in other laboratories.

Professor Schechtman’s work demonstrates the importance of curiosity driven research. Out of the most unexpected results can grow a fascinating new field with various applications (quasi crystals – have many applications, for example in forming strong and durable steels). This is one of the reasons that many scientists, including myself, become concerned when the government talks about applied research. Under a purely applied research environment, unusual results are more readily discarded instead of being examined to see why they are unusual.

Professor Schechtman demonstrates the traits of a good scientist – a respect for evidence (even when it contradicts theory), hardworking, stubborn in the face of adversity and curious. An excellent choice for this year’s Nobel prize in Chemistry.

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Woo Sites Award Australian the Nobel Prize Michael Edmonds Jun 19

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In January of this year, an article in the New Scientist (1) described the storm of controversy around claims from Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier that DNA can send electromagnetic imprints of itself into distant cells and fluids, effectively describing the “quantum teleportation” of DNA.

While many scientists were rightly skeptical about such extraordinary claims, suggesting that DNA contamination was a more likely explanation, University of Sydney theoretical chemist Jeff Reimers was more generous,  suggesting that “IF (my emphasis) the results are correct, these would be the most significant experiments in the past 90 years, demanding re-evaluation of the whole conceptual framework of modern chemistry.”

It now appears for his generosity in making these remarks, Professor Reimers has not only been afforded the “honour” of having carried out these experiments himself, but also a share in Montagnier’s Nobel prize by several woo oriented sites:

At OV: One Vibration  (http://mountzion144.ning.com/group/dnaactivation/forum/topics/dna-can-teleport-says-nobel?xg_source=activity) it is reported that:

“Nobel Prize winner Professor Jeff Reimers, of the University Of Sydney in Australia, has concluded from experiments that DNA can mysteriously be teleported.”

Ummm, while you are dishing out Nobel prizes, could I have one too? Professor Reimer is not a Nobel laureate.

From Culture Clash Daily (http://www.cultureclashdaily.com/page1111370.php)

“From the work Reimers has completed, Nobel Prize winner, Dr Luc Montagnier believes that there is evidence that DNA can transport electromagnetic imprints of itself to cells within the body which it has absolutely no contact with, according to the New Scientist which released the results yesterday.”

“In testing the theory Reimers’ team set up an experiment in which he placed two test tubes next to each other, within a copper coil.”

Wrong – Reimers’ commented on work carried out by Montagnier’s team, not the other way around.

Mainstream science and skepticism sites have been skeptical, and in many cases scornful, of Montagnier’s announcements, but at least most of them get the details right. An excellent analysis of the story is provided at Respectful Insolence.

The one skeptical commentator who has slipped up in getting the details right regarding this story is James Randi, who failed to adequately check his facts regarding Professor Reimers. Mr Randi is a strong advocate of skeptical thinking, and his skills as a magician have been invaluable in revealing the chicanery of many woo peddlers and flim flam artists, however, he may have to reassess his fact checking processes around science based stories in the future. This is unfortunate, but this whole saga is a reminder to those of us who blog – that thorough fact checking of our articles is always a good thing.

It is also a good reminder to those of us who are scientists, that even the most thoughtful of our statements can be taken out of context.

(1)  Scorn over Claims of Teleported DNA. New Scientist; 1/15/2011, Vol. 209 Issue 2795, p8-9, 2p


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