However, a colleague sent me this quote from CNN.com this morning (note that the more grievous errors have since been corrected):
"Somehow they have managed to get thousands of gigantic magnets, get them arranged so that they're within a few microns of where they're supposed to be, and then cool it down to a couple degrees below absolute zero," Lykken said.
The article, of course, is talking about the Large Hadron Collider, that mystical beast of a project that ended up malfunctioning before it could destroy the earth (it probably won't actually destroy the planet, by the way, in case anyone was concerned). The Lykken to whom they refer is Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, who most likely knows that absolute zero is called absolute zero for a reason. It is, in limbo terms, as low as you can go.
I know it seems like a small thing, but this single misprint takes a relatively interesting update on the status of the LHC and blows away any credibility the author might have had. This is why we ZDNet bloggers tend to stick to our area of expertise so we don't say anything stupid about, say, rain forest frogs, if we don't know anything about frogs of the rain forest.
This isn't a rant about specialization, though. It's a rant about a mistake that points to something much more significant than a typo. How many people saw this copy before it hit the web? How many people who should have taken middle school science and at least conceptually understand the Kelvin scale (even if they don't know just how many degrees Celsius below zero absolute zero actually is)?
Why am I getting so fussed about absolute zero? Because the idea of absolute zero (and related concepts) is pretty fundamental to our understanding of how the universe works. Because we need to demand solid understanding of math and science for all of our students and exceptional understanding for any who might reach for it. Our students should be able to carry on a general conversation with the Joseph Lykkens of the world; not specific, technical conversations necessarily, but they should be able to read a quote like the one above and realize that something is out of whack.
I have a feeling that most Russian, Ukranian, and Chinese students would have gotten a good chuckle out of that quote. How many of our students would have understood why they were laughing?