Friday, October 06, 2006

The culture of corruption

Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel published a quite interesting study. They wanted to study the cultural influence on corruption and devised a way to do it: they measured the parking violations of diplomats in NYC.

Because of diplomatic inmunity there is almost zero enforcement of the law, so the cultural effects should be evident. The results are quite interesting:

As you can see in the figure the countries with the most negligent diplomats are also countries with high indexes of corruption and poverty. Of course we can argue if corruption causes poverty or poverty causes corruption. Which are the countries with no parking tickets? Unsurprsingly enough: Canada, Israel, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. This are highly devoloped countries, showing again the correlation between poverty (or lack thereof) and corruption.

My opinion: the only reason for diplomats for parking where they pleased is the culture of corruption, they knew they could do it and get away with it, so why not doing it? This is the kind of mentality that keeps countries in the thirld world.

Nobel prize for the COBE team

As you might already know, the Nobel was awarded to John Mather and George Smoot, the leaders of the COBE project that measured the CMB determining it's blackbody form and detected anisotropies on it (this anisotropies are the seeds of the structure in the universe), this was a turning point in the history of cosmology allowing for first time a detailed comparison of cosmological models with CMB (which is esentially a "picture" of the universe when it cooled enough to allow the presence of neutral atoms). According to the Nobel Prize committee, "the COBE-project can also be regarded as the starting point for cosmology as a precision science.

The most detailed study of the CMB has been carried by the WMAP satellite and it is consistent with the predictions of inflation which makes us believe we are on the right track. ESA expects to launch the Planck Surveyor probe in 2008 which will complement the studies of WMAP and might even be capable of detecting the polarization in CMB due to gravitational radiation.

Congratulations to Mather and Smoot!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nobel Hype 2006

The winners of the Nobel Prize in physics will be announced next tuesday. I don't have any firm prediction but I am willing to hear the ones from you!

In the field of astrophysics this prize was never awarded to its greatest figures: E. Hubble, the greatest observational astronomer of the last century who opened the whole fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology and Y. Zel'dovich who was the greatest astrophysicist of all times, is simply almost impossible to work in a field to which Zel'dovich didn't made a contribution: the theory of nuclear chain reactions, the physics of plasmas, black holes (he was one of the first to develop evidence of the "no hair" black holes, he also proposed them as the mechanism behind quasars), the evaporation of black holes, the production of monopoles in the early universe and many other contributions in other fields including chemistry and optics.

Of course there are many fields of physics with probable candidates (David Deutsch, Peter Shor or Anton Zeilinger,or the Sudbury neutrino experiment for example), I will only speculate on astrophysics. Ignoring the fact that the Nobel has eluded some of the best in the field I think that the inflationary trio (A. Guth, A. Linde and P. Steinhardt) has a very good chance of getting the prize. The more we study the CMB, the more consistent it seems with the inflationary scenario, despite that we lack a 100% confidence in it, although the vast majority of cosmologists consider the inflation as the correct answer, and that is also my own opinion.

In the observational field there is an obvious Nobel candidate: The two teams that discover the aceleration of the expansion of the universe (hands down the most important discovery of the last decade in all physics) and the COBE team for discovering anisotropies in the CMB. Dark matter also deserves a Nobel Prize but there are too many names associated with, altough V. Rubin is the most common and there is no doubt of the existence of dark matter, so she another solid candidate.

Play the game! I'd like to hear your suggestions.