[time-nuts] science projects

Chris Albertson albertson.chris at gmail.com
Fri Feb 10 01:55:33 UTC 2012

On Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 4:09 PM, Jim Lux <jimlux at earthlink.net> wrote:
> On 2/9/12 8:23 AM, Chris Albertson wrote:
>> I think it's odd that all these "science" projects are NOT doing any
>> science.   They sound like engineering to me.
>> So you build a neat mouse trap?  That is not science unless you have a
>> theory about mouse behavior and your trap is intended to test the
>> theory.    Around here we do have these projects but we call them
>> "engineering" and they are judged by engineers.
> It's the "international science and engineering fair", so both kinds show
> up.
> The line between applied science and engineering is pretty fuzzy.
> Is a verification of theoretical coupling between pendulums a science
> question or engineering question?  What about developing a better model to
> remove tidal effects on the pendulum? A lot of modern science is coming up
> with ever more precise and descriptive models, particularly if the model is
> not purely phenomenological, but is based on the underlying physics.

The line is still clear.  Building a better pendulum is engineering,
Understanding the effect of a gravity gradient is science.  The test
is if you get a better widget or you improves your knowledge of
nature.  The two can be very tightly coupled and it is likey you can't
understand pendulums without also building pendulums.

The way to untangle it is to see that the end-product of science is
not a new shiny widget but is the knowledge one needs to build the

The '56 nobel prize was for "researches on semiconductors and
discovery of the transistor effect".  Not for building a transistor.
But I'm sure they had to build many transistors to understand the

> But even for engineering, there has to be significant "scientific method"
> applied.  Research in the field to understand the state of the art.
>  Formulation of a design/plan, and the expected performance of the device
> (aka "the hypothesis"), quantitative tests, etc.
> Distinguish between "craftsmanship" and "engineering".. Even in the
> engineering categories, a mouse trap wouldn't necessarily do very well
> unless it there was something novel about it AND there were decent
> predictions of performance ahead of time that could be tested by the thing
> that gets built.
> Lots of "I built a robot" kinds of projects that don't do well, even if well
> constructed.  "I built a robot that climbs trees using a technique nobody
> has ever used before" would do better.  "I built a robot that climbs trees
> using a method that improves on how monkeys climb trees" might do even
> better, depending.
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Chris Albertson
Redondo Beach, California

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