Understanding the Misconceptions of Science
Don Lincoln is a Senior Scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). He is also a Guest Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Notre Dame. He received his Ph.D. in Experimental Particle Physics from Rice University.
Dr. Lincoln's research has been divided between Fermilab's Tevatron Collider, until its close in 2011, and the CERN Large Hadron Collider, located outside Geneva, Switzerland. The author of more than 1,000 scientific publications, his most noteworthy accomplishments include serving on the teams that discovered the top quark in 1995 and confirmed the Higgs boson in 2012. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
His writing at a popular level includes many articles as well as four books: Understanding the Universe, The Quantum Frontier, The Large Hadron Collider, and Alien Universe. His enthusiasm for science education earned him the 2013 Outreach Prize from the High Energy Physics Division of the European Physical Society.
Dr. Lincoln has given hundreds of lectures on four continents to a broad range of audiences. He is a blogger for the website of the PBS television series NOVA, and he also writes a weekly column for the online periodical Fermilab Today.
01: What the World Gets Wrong about Science
Start your journey through some of the most jarring misconceptions of science with this introductory look at the nature of science itself. You’ll examine ways the scientific method deviates from the way it’s taught, the true definitions of terms like “theory” and “model,” and the relationship science shares with philosophy.
02: Franklin’s Kite and Other Electrifying Myths
It turns out the usual story of Benjamin Franklin’s discovery of electricity using just a kite and a key isn’t exactly true. Get the real story behind this and other misunderstandings about electricity and reframe the way you think about how electricity works—in nature, in batteries, and throughout your home.
03: The Ideal Gas Law (It’s Not Ideal)
Here, Professor Lincoln reveals the ways in which common teachings about gases and their properties are idealizations that ignore important considerations such as the size of atoms. Topics include the limitations of the Ideal Gas Law (PV=nRT) and the importance of the van der Waals equation.
04: From the Ground Up: How Flying Works
Get a whirlwind introduction to the scientific truths about how planes fly through the air. This lecture overturns the (often-very-wrong) way flight is taught in introductory physics classes and focuses on two relevant subjects involved in flight: air circulation and how the wing pushes air downward.
05: From the Sky Down: How Falling Works
Introductory physics classes tell you that a ball thrown on the surface of the earth follows a parabola. What happens when you take away the simplifying assumptions in this scenario? How do we factor in air resistance and the Earth’s rotation? What happens when an object falls from very great heights?
06: Myths of Orbital Motion
In this lecture, revisit some of the common misconceptions we have about how the universe works, with a focus on our solar system. Two myths you’ll bust: that the orbits of planets are all fixed ellipses and that astronauts on the International Space Station live in zero gravity.
07: What’s Inside Atoms?
Discover a very different idea about the real essence of matter as it relates to the molecules and atoms of chemistry. Learn to think about matter as entirely empty space, not tiny balls; consider the inside of a proton and neutron; and ponder the question of where, exactly, mass comes from.
08: The Truth Is in Here: The Science of Aliens
There are some popular misconceptions about alien life that science-fiction writers have said often enough that we take them to be likely or true—but are they? Professor Lincoln unpacks the possibility of silicon-based life and truths about the Drake equation, which posits the number of possible civilizations in our universe.
09: Misconceptions about Evolution
It’s often the misconceptions about evolution that lead people to not believe in it. This lecture tackles four prevalent myths about the theory of evolution: that it explains how life began, that it states humans descended from chimpanzees, that evolution has a goal, and that evolution means more complex organisms will evolve.
10: Nutrition’s All About You —and Your Gut Biome
How do misconceptions about nutrition spread? What if what you learned about digestion isn’t the entire story? In this lecture, examine the unseemly alliance between science, advertisers, and the media; and make sense of the important role that a fascinating microbe ecosystem plays in how the human gut works.
11: Humans Are Not Peas: Myths about Genetics
It might surprise you to know that most human characteristics—including eye color—aren’t governed by a single gene. Nor do dominant genes always become more common over time. As you’ll discover, we owe these and other misconceptions about genetics to the Punnett squares you first encountered in high school biology.
12: Getting Smarter about Intelligence
Focus your attention on popular myths about the human brain. There’s the myth that we only use 10 percent of our brain power, the concept that people can be right- or left-brained, and the complexities of learning styles and IQ scores to consider. Use current science to make sense of how your brain works.
13: Exposing the Truth about Radiation
Radiation is one of the most misunderstood of all scientific phenomena. Get the scientific truths about this subject by investigating the four types of ionizing radiation, including alpha radiation, beta radiation, gamma radiation, and neutron radiation. Then consider how much radiation you encounter every day—and how much of it you can ignore.
14: Does Carbon-14 Dating Work?
Clarify oversimplified ideas concerning how carbon dating works and get a stronger appreciation of just how complicated and sophisticated a scientific technique it is. While dating objects under 60,000 years old has become relatively easy, the current accuracy of modern science depends on taking subtle effects into consideration. You’ll learn why doing it precisely takes some care.
15: How Statistics Can Lie to You
The best way to read statistics correctly: Understand the various ways they can be misused to fool you. Here, Professor Lincoln discusses how averages and percentages can make certain statistics seem shocking, reveals how you should rethink the confidence threshold of 95 percent that scientists use, and more.
16: Does Thermodynamics Disprove Evolution?
Take on a few of the simpler misunderstandings revolving around heat as it relates to thermodynamics: the ways heat energy moves and changes. Is it correct to say heat always rises? Are entropy and disorder synonymous? How do we often misinterpret the second law of thermodynamics, and what does it tell us about evolution?
17: How Relativity Is Misunderstood
At its core, relativity is about something very simple: how two people in relative motion see the world differently. In the first of two lectures on misunderstandings about relativity, explore the Lorentz transforms, then journey through a seeming paradox that disappears once you use the Lorentz transforms properly.
18: E=mc2 and Other Relativity Myths
Get the truth about the most famous equation in science. Ponder the most notorious paradox in special relativity, known as the twin paradox. Discover whether or not we really can travel faster than the speed of light. Strengthen your appreciation of how, despite its mind-blowing nature, relativity is the way the world works.
19: Why Do Black Holes Get Such a Bad Rap?
Few astronomical bodies are more misunderstood—and more mysterious—than black holes. Can they actually reach out and grab matter near them? Do they have a singularity at their core? Find out in this journey that takes you from outside the Schwarzschild radius to inside the event horizon and beyond.
20: What Banged, and Was It Big?
Develop a better, more scientifically accurate mental picture of the Big Bang. What exactly happens is hard to get your head around, but the key involves understanding the links between matter, energy, space, and time. And all you need to grasp this fascinating concept is a common balloon.
21: Can You Go Faster Than Light?
In this lecture, Professor Lincoln explains the various ways in which talking about the speed of light can lead to a misunderstanding of whether or not particles can travel faster than light. Learn why it’s more accurate to say objects cannot move through space faster than light—but space itself can.
22: Untangling How Quantum Mechanics Works
Examine the peculiarities of quantum mechanics in an effort to better understand what’s going on in the quantum world. Get a whirlwind introduction that covers everything from the wave function and the behavior of electrons to the double-slit experiment and the surprising differences between classical and quantum mechanics.
23: Untangling What Quantum Mechanics Means
Dig deeper into misconceptions about quantum mechanics, with a focus on the complicated, the contradictory, and the downright sketchy. What happens to an electron when you’re not looking at it? Can a cat be both alive and dead at the same time? Should we connect quantum mechanics with Buddhism and Taoism?
24: Is There a Theory of Everything?
Searching for a theory of everything is a grand, epic saga. Start your own search with this engrossing investigation of the building blocks of the cosmos and the forces that hold them together—both of which are required to even begin to develop a fundamental theory that answers all questions.