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Amazing Breakthrough Day: April 1st

39 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 March 2008 05:45AM

So you're thinking, "April 1st... isn't that already supposed to be April Fool's Day?"

Yes—and that will provide the ideal cover for celebrating Amazing Breakthrough Day.

As I argued in "The Beauty of Settled Science", it is a major problem that media coverage of science focuses only on breaking news.  Breaking news, in science, occurs at the furthest fringes of the scientific frontier, which means that the new discovery is often:

  • Controversial
  • Supported by only one experiment
  • Way the heck more complicated than an ordinary mortal can handle, and requiring lots of prerequisite science to understand, which is why it wasn't solved three centuries ago
  • Later shown to be wrong

People never get to see the solid stuff, let alone the understandable stuff, because it isn't breaking news.

On Amazing Breakthrough Day, I propose, journalists who really care about science can report—under the protective cover of April 1st—such important but neglected science stories as:

Note that every one of these headlines are true—they describe events that did, in fact, happen.  They just didn't happen yesterday.

There have been many humanly understandable amazing breakthroughs in the history of science, which can be understood without a PhD or even BSc.  The operative word here is history.  Think of Archimedes's "Eureka!" when he understood the relation between the water a ship displaces, and the reason the ship floats.  This is far enough back in scientific history that you don't need to know 50 other discoveries to understand the theory; it can be explained in a couple of graphs; anyone can see how it's useful; and the confirming experiments can be duplicated in your own bathtub.

Modern science is built on discoveries built on discoveries built on discoveries and so on all the way back to Archimedes.  Reporting science only as breaking news is like wandering into a movie 3/4ths of the way through, writing a story about "Bloody-handed man kisses girl holding gun!" and wandering back out again.

And if your editor says, "Oh, but our readers won't be interested in that—"

Then point out that Reddit and Digg don't link only to breaking news.  They also link to short webpages that give good explanations of old science.  Readers vote it up, and that should tell you something.  Explain that if your newspaper doesn't change to look more like Reddit, you'll have to start selling drugs to make payroll.   Editors love to hear that sort of thing, right?

On the Internet, a good new explanation of old science is news and it spreads like news.  Why couldn't the science sections of newspapers work the same way?  Why isn't a new explanation worth reporting on?

But all this is too visionary for a first step.  For now, let's just see if any journalists out there pick up on Amazing Breakthrough Day, where you report on some understandable science breakthrough as though it had just occurred.

April 1st.  Put it on your calendar.

 

Part of the Joy in the Merely Real subsequence of Reductionism

Next post: "Is Humanism A Religion-Substitute?"

Previous post: "The Beauty of Settled Science"

Comments (13)

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Comment author: Silas 25 March 2008 03:21:09PM 10 points [-]

A mainstream publication probably wouldn't do this, but I can imagine Slashdot, Google, and various tech/sciece/health blogs doing this as an April Fool's joke. If you don't have a blog, do it to a friend: "Omg! Did you hear that scientists have figured out how to plot what the night sky would look like from any point on earth at any point at time and with any light pollution level???? This will change EVERYTHING!"

Preferably, the web sites would make the "new"s about something of practical use, so that it looks like a new breakthrough. Some ideas:

-Scientists have discovered that simple "Turing" machines can do all the computations of modern computers! -Mathematicians have discovered that prime numbers can be used to provide military-grade encryption of messages! -Engineers have discovered a way to make heavy objects support their own weight *merely from the pressure of the air flowining around them*!

Comment author: gwern 09 March 2012 04:33:11PM 9 points [-]

Wikipedia does something similar on April Fool's - posting on the main page all sorts of things which sound fake but are actually real.

Comment author: DaveInNYC 25 March 2008 03:53:18PM 10 points [-]

Not quite the same, but you may enjoy the following from The Onion, where April Fools Day is a year-round event: "Buoyant Force On Area Object Equal To Weight Of Water Displaced"

Comment author: TheStevenator 27 December 2011 04:57:11AM 3 points [-]

I love this proposal!

As long as the newspapers are at it, they should use 'Amazing Breakthrough Day' as an excuse to change the Atrology section to the 'Astronomy' section.

Comment author: Rixie 29 March 2013 05:56:30PM 2 points [-]

Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!!!

Be totally serious about this! Spread it around the internet! This is such an amazing idea! Next April Fool's day is going to be the best one ever!

Gosh, I'm so ridiculously excited no one's even going to take me seriously.

Comment author: Alex_Arendar 30 November 2015 11:28:31AM 0 points [-]

I'm not in USA but people here in my country really don't read newspapers a lot anymore. 90% of newspapers are quite low-quality, so called "yellow press". So really internet is a media of a greater quality. Most of newspapers are covering stuff like politics, economics, other stuff which seems more "clear" for the people reading them. But in fact, e.g. a seller of apples trying to argue with a postman about situation in Syria is quite much the same if they would discuss collision of black holes.

Comment author: ChristianKl 30 November 2015 12:45:36PM 0 points [-]

Which country are you from?

Comment author: Alex_Arendar 30 November 2015 03:43:45PM 0 points [-]

the country just above the Black sea on the map ;)

Comment author: Romashka 30 November 2015 01:53:52PM 0 points [-]

How do you know that?

Comment author: Alex_Arendar 30 November 2015 03:48:05PM 0 points [-]

Could you clarify your question?

Comment author: Romashka 30 November 2015 08:03:08PM 0 points [-]

How do you measure the quality of internet and newspapers? How do you compare their impacts? What do you know about the postman's knowledge of black holes?

Comment author: Alex_Arendar 30 November 2015 10:25:43PM 0 points [-]

In short I measure this the similar way as you measure which restaurant for you is good and which is bad. Probably there exist postmans whos command of knowledge about black holes is very strong, but I believe an average postman knows quite little on topics like that.