Adam Frank

On a Fall day more than 8 years ago, physicist Marcelo Gleiser and I sat in a coffee shop in Dartmouth and dreamed a little dream.

What if there were a place in the popular media where scientists could talk about science and culture in the broadest terms?

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education.

A long time ago, when I was working on my Ph.D. research, I learned to use supercomputers to track the complex 3-D motions of gas blown into space by dying stars.

Using big computers in this way was still new to lots of researchers in my field and I was often asked, "How do you know your models are right?"

Over the past few months, the Amazon drama-comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been the show everyone loves to talk about.

Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it's a way of behaving in the world.

But since tribalism and polarization have made "alternative facts" a reality of public life, there is something we can learn from science to help us navigate the troubled waters and find a more resilient civic life.

The lesson begins with understanding the right relationship not to knowing but to not knowing. To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own.

Science can just knock me to the floor.

Sometimes it's the revelation of some previously unseen phenomena. Other times, it's a new way to see something you thought you already understood. Then there are the times when connections pop up between things you never imagined to be connected.

And sometimes, it's all of them at once.

Editor's Note: This piece originally ran on Dec. 24, 2013.

Ebenezer Scrooge was famously visited by three ghosts in A Christmas Carol. The past, present and future all converged on poor Scrooge in an effort to save him from his own narrow vision of the world and wake him to the wonders of the life right before his eyes.

Half a billion years. That's how long the Earth existed as a barren world.

Half a billion years of hell before the planet's molten seas of liquid rock cooled to give the world a solid surface.

Only then did life appear. Only then did our world's fantastic history of microbes evolving to mollusks, evolving to dinosaurs, evolving to us, begin.

But what, exactly, was that beginning?

In an era of "fake news" and "alternative facts," we now face a massive disconnect between what science thinks it understands about the world (i.e., global warming) and what some people want to believe is true.

But how does "science" come to know anything about anything? After all, what is science but a collection of people who call themselves scientists? So isn't it as flawed as everything else people create?

Just before Thanksgiving, the Internet lit up with the remarkable video of Boston Dynamics' robot Atlas doing a backflip.

In the Spring of 2009, the H1N1/09 virus — dubbed "swine flu" — made the jump from pigs to people and began claiming its first victims.

Fearing the beginning of a global swine flu pandemic, terrified health officials began planning for the worst. Shutting down the world's major airports became the nuclear option of their arsenal — the last hope for halting the virus from reaching unstoppable thresholds of contagion.

This last week brought big news in the struggle over climate change and climate science.

A long time ago, in between undergrad and grad school, I had a job as a New York City foot messenger.

There are some authors you go to for good stories — and others you go to for good ideas.

Then there are those who do both, giving readers complex characters, richly imagined stories and, finally, ideas that reach beyond the narrative to change how you see the world.

So, the title of this post should really be "Is Deckard A Replicant?" — but that might start us off on too deep a level of fandom.

See, Rick Deckard is the name of Harrison Ford's character in Blade Runner, the uber-classic 1982 cyber-noir film that, you know, affected just about everything that followed. As for replicants, they're the artificial humans (androids) that blade runners like Deckard are tasked with hunting down and "retiring."

Every day, we are inching closer to some kind of artificial intelligence.

At this point, it isn't so important whether we're talking about truly self-conscious machines or not. Advances in big data, machine learning and robotics are all poised to give us a world in which computers are effectively intelligent in terms of how we deal with them.

Should you be scared by this proposition? Based on a lecture I just attended, my answer is: "absolutely, but not in the usual 'robot overlords' kind of way."

Here is one thing author Robert Wright and I agree on when it comes to Buddhist meditation: It's really, really boring.

At least, it's boring in the beginning. But there is another thing we agree on, too. That initial meditative boredom is actually a door. It's an opening that can lead us to something essential, and essentially true, that Buddhism has to teach us about being human.

If there is one thing science is good for, it's going to extremes.

A lot of science's history is just one story after another of people figuring out how to do something that, just a few years before, was thought to be impossible.

The impossible was heavy on my mind last Wednesday as I found out just how close we were to seeing — as in taking actual pictures — of black holes.

I get a lot of "climate" hate mail.

Whenever I write a piece on global warming, someone will email to call me a "lie-bra-tard," or something similar, and tell me I should be in jail.

Sometimes I try to engage these folks and see if they might be interested in how the science of climate change works and what it has to tell us. Mostly, they aren't. Mostly, what they really want is to score some points. What they really want is an argument.

That's what climate change and climate science has become after all these years.

Gentrification of neighborhoods can wreak havoc for those most vulnerable to change.

Sure, access to services and amenities rise in a gentrifying neighborhood. That is a good thing. But those amenities won't do you much good if you're forced to move because of skyrocketing housing costs.

That is why neighborhood and housing advocacy groups have spent decades searching for ways to protect longtime residents from the negative effects of gentrification.

The horror of recent events was a wake-up call for many Americans about the rise of American groups dedicated to the tenets of fascism.

This week, you can't reach me by email, or text, or Tweet.

This week, I'm not taking anyone's calls, either.

That's because I'm walking the Appalachian Trail — alone. And while I am, without doubt, scared of being eaten by a bear, I'll be out there looking for that most precious of possibilities: solitude.

Human civilization began about 10,000 years ago with dawn of agriculture (give or take a millennia or so). This seems like such a long time that it can be hard to reconcile with the short span of our lives.

But there is another way to look at it that puts not just civilization, but the whole of your ancestry, in a different light.

So this is not going to be an objective review of the new Marvel Studios film Spider-Man: Homecoming. When it comes to both Marvel and Spider-Man, I am not objective. I'm a fanboy, full stop.

But being a fanboy or fangirl doesn't mean uncritical acceptance. No, being a fan means you've loved the material so much for so long that you take exception — serious exception — to someone screwing up your beloved characters and their beloved stories.

Just before joining other leaders at the G-20 summit, President Donald Trump gave a speech in Poland where he asked: "Does the West have the will to survive?"

Since then, a lot of ink (and electrons) has been spilled asking about the value, and values, of Western Civilization.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps is one of the great pieces of American music. It is an exemplar of be-bop.

The growth of income disparity across the world has now become so well-documented that even some rich people see it as a danger to society.

But the scale of the problem makes it seem like there's not much ordinary, not-so-rich folks can do about it in their ordinary, not-so-rich lives.

There is a certain kind of look I get when I tell people how much I love video games.

It lies somewhere between "You're not serious" and "Oh my God, you are serious." And by "people" giving me these looks, I mean adults of a certain age and outlook. Of course, given that I'm a 54-year-old tenured professor, these "people" are pretty much everyone I know (including my now adult children).

So today, I want to speak to all of you "look-givers" and attempt to explain why you, too, should become a gamer.

Basically, it comes down to robot dinosaurs.

A lot of people think of Sarah Bergmann as the "Honeybee Lady," and that really annoys her.

It's an attribution that might make sense at first glance, given that Bergmann is the celebrated creator of what's called the Pollinator Pathway project. So, pollinators, honeybees — what's the problem?

Last week, NPR and I shared a little paean to photosynthesis, which I defined as "the molecular scale shenanigans plants use create food from sunlight."

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