Monthly Archives: May 2009

Stephen Chu’s White Roof Proposal and Rush Limbaugh’s Response

White roofing on urban row homes in Philadelphia

White roofing on urban row homes in Philadelphia

It does not surprise me that Rush Limbaugh would think that Energy Secretary Stephen Chu’s proposal to paint flat roofs white is idiotic, but I found it rather amusing that he couldn’t even figure out how reflection works on his radio talk show this morning. This is a very simple idea, light colors are brighter or lighter than dark colors because they reflect more light. The key is to understand that light is energy and light that impinges upon dark surfaces is far more likely to be absorbed and converted to kinetic energy, a.k.a. heat. Although I’m not sure, I bet the reason for only painting flat roofs white is because slanted roofs will reflect the light such that it will travel through far more of the earth’s atmosphere and therefore almost certainly be absorbed by the air, whereas a flat roof will reflect the light nearly vertically and thus the photons will be far more likely to escape our atmosphere back out to space. The solution is simple and cheap, yet elegant in its simplicity.

I feel that anybody who has completed a high school education in this country should be able to come up with the explanation that I just gave above, but the sad fact is that probably the majority of American’s could not give such an explanation, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans have completed high school. Science has been the hallmark of the advancement of all civilizations, why is “illiteracy” in science (and innumeracy) so acceptable in our society? Although left wing extremists will jump at the opportunity to make Rush look stupid, the general public won’t care. Although it is possible that Rush was being disingenuous and really did understand the simple ideas behind the proposal, but feigned ignorance for political reasons, I am more inclined to believe that he was being honest when he said he didn’t understand how it works.

We really need to look at how we teach in this country, and start experimenting with radical new approaches because this perfectly illustrates how inadequate current methods are. I realize changes in how science is taught have been made since Mr. Limbaugh attended school, but I am quite certain that most recent graduates would respond similarly.

Books: “Euler’s Gem The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology” by David S. Richeson

Euler's Gem book cover
This book is a beautifully illustrated gem! It examines Euler’s famous formula: V-E+F=2 which holds for all polyhedra or surfaces which are topologically equivalent to the sphere. The formula is an example of a topological invariant, something which can be computed for any surface, and thus allows one to categorize surfaces. The book also covers the famous classification theorem which categorizes all surfaces as either homeomorphic (topologically equivalent) to a sphere, n-handled torus, or sphere with n cross-caps (projective plane). Next it dives into knot theory and Seifert surfaces, before moving on to the interplay between topology and geometry, and ends by mentioning homology and how topology is done in higher dimensions.