Sir David Attenborough on Creationism

This is several years old, but it deserves repeating. Sir David Attenborough is the voice of natural history on the BBC and, via the Discovery Channel's Hi Def Planet Earth series, to the world. I just ran across this quote from a 2003 interview with him:

"It is something I get frequent letters about," he says. "They always start with sweet reasonableness, you know, 'We love your programs, isn't nature marvellous', and so on. But they always go on to say, 'We do wonder why it is that you don't give credit to the almighty God who created each one of these species individually.'

"My response," he says, "is that when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that's going to make him blind. And [I ask them], 'Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child's eyeball? Because that doesn't seem to me to coincide with a God who's full of mercy'."


Awesome Pic of the Moon on Fire

Well, not really on fire, but this shot is composed so well you might think it was...

(via BBC Sports)


Bigfoot Masters

As is the case with all that is woo, the recent Bigfoot press conference revealed little about evidence for the supposed discovery of Bigfoot. On the contrary, it showed more about the art of woo than anything else: more promises in the future, fuzzy photographs, and a strange cast of characters. In the end, we can conclude that this was nothing more than pure showmanship. Again, Cryptomundo gives a great rundown on this unfolding saga. What I find interesting is the press coverage and the obvious disdain they have, as if it's suddenly ok to be a skeptic - yet they run the story anyway and give it undeserving air time. Is the news so dull today that they find this obvious farce to be worthy of attention?

This is one of those stories that spikes viewership briefly before drifting off over the horizon. But there was SO LITTLE substance to it that the media response seems, well, strange. What can motivate two nobodies from Georgia to suddenly step into the public laser beam with their peculiar tale, offbeat video, and manufactured drama? I have three theories:

1) If Sanjaya can become famous, then why couldn't they?
2) A chance to win the $1,000,000 Sasquatch Photo Challenge
3) Marketing themselves for T.V.

I'm putting my money on #3. I think they're trying to position themselves as wacky bigfoot hunters with a pickup truck, firearms, and an inbred innate backwoods tracking sense. The following video might be their audition tape:

That clip brought back memories of one of my all time favorite T.V. shows. It was local to the Bay Area of California and ran for one or two seasons in the midnight timeslot. It never caught on by I still loved the utter silliness of it. I think these so-called Bigfoot Hunters are trying to become the next Fishmasters, though they can only ever aspire to such greatness.


Thawing Bigfoot Has Pungent Odor Of Hoax

It is to laugh.

A couple of good ol' boys from Georgia have definitive proof that Bigfoot is real - they have the body. Although they announced their find on an internet radio show two weeks ago, they said they would only let Jack Biscardi see the body. During those two weeks, the "creature" defrosted, ended up soaking in its own juices for a while until the Georgia duo made an ice run to their local Piggly Wiggly. So we can tell one thing for sure right off the bat: brains are in short supply with this group.

So, who is Tom Biscardi? A biologist? An anthropologist? A zoologist? A forensic expert? Bzzzt. None of the above. How does CEO of Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. grab you? That's the kind of objectivity we need to classify this supposed find. Biscardi was (perhaps still is) a Las Vegas promoter who is now host of the Bigfoot Live interwebz radio. He's even got his own tagline: "The Real Deal Guy - and that's no typo on my part, it really does only come with the one quotation mark.

Here he is on FoxNews promoting a press conference for Friday.

Don't you just love that he poked the body? Yup, that's the science of zoology and species classification at its best. All the press conference gory details can be found at this painful website. As for other news sources...well, there are tons. Woo burns blazingly bright. Amazingly, even respected sources like the NY Times will print just about anybody's far fetched claim. What's next? The Bat Boy?
“This is ‘Eureka!’ man,” said Mr. Biscardi, whose operations include a Bigfoot Web site, a Bigfoot merchandise line and a Bigfoot Internet radio show. “I touched it.”

Both Mr. Biscardi and Mr. Dyer said they expected skeptics to discount the find, which is being kept in a freezer in an undisclosed location outside Atlanta. But they promised even more proof, including video, a DNA test and, of course, a mission to capture one of the big guys.

“I’m not asking anyone to believe us,” Mr. Dyer said. “I’m just asking them to sit and watch, because you’re going to eat your words.”
Biscardi has been down this path before. He has claimed that he had actually captured a bigfoot. Here's the pattern - first you have the claim. Let's take a stroll back to August 2005.
On Friday night's program, Biscardi claimed his group had captured one of the creatures and he would be presenting photos of it on Monday.
Next Biscardi followed up on his earlier promise to capture a Bigfoot during an appearance on Coast to Coast AM, by announcing to George Noory on Friday, August 19, 2005, that, according to Biscardi, his team (although Biscardi hadn't seen it), had in captivity for over a week, a 17 year old, male, over 400 pounds, 8 foot tall Bigfoot. Biscardi stumbled during the show and although he had earlier said the Bigfoot was 800 pounds, told George Noory had misheard him. (Noory would play back, on the August 22nd appearance, that Noory had gotten it right.) Furthermore, inquiring listeners emailing me wanted to know how can anyone, with a straight face, claim they know a Bigfoot is 17 years old?

Then there's the hype, the basking in the glory of media lights, the meteoric rise in hits to your website (where the links to your bigfoot store are prominently displayed), and the general dizziness that accompanies surges of idiocy.

And then comes the truth:
First hour guest, Tom Biscardi offered an explanation and apology related to his earlier claims (made on Friday's show) that he had a Bigfoot in captivity. He now says he was misled by an acquaintance of his colleague, Peggy Marx. The acquaintance, who lives in Stagecoach, Nevada, had told them of an injured Bigfoot that was being cared for by two veterinarians. As the details of her story began to unravel, Biscardi said he eventually concluded that her reports were false.

Finally, Biscardi will try to pin the blame on - who? Probably skeptics, because they're always the one trying to bring him down a notch.

Cryptomundo has a great analysis of the story so far. However, we'll know more after the press conference where T-shirts may be available, but the body of bigfoot won't.

But if this indeed a hoax, why go through all the trouble? Well, you wouldn't, especially when your honor and integrity is at stake. But, honor and integrity does have a price, especially for former Las Vegas promoters, and in this case, the price might just be $1 million. All it takes is a photograph.

Lastly, these Georgia boys might have a little problem. Don't they know you shouldn't be messin' with Sasquatch?


Lost In Translation

What happens when you use a program to translate your store name into English...and the program screws up?


A New Kind of Woo

What the heck is in our water supply? What the heck is in our oxygen supply? Everywhere we look, the visible spectrum is rainbows. We all know this wasn't something that happened 20 years ago, but now it's happening now.

What is oozing out of our ground?
Just outside five sigma on the bell curve of woo comes a new level of wackiness.

Insane Rainbow Conspiracy Lady - Watch more free videos

For further entertainment, more can be found here.


Woo - It's What's For Dinner

Q: What does an upside down cow say?
A: Woooooooo

I didn't plan on another post about woo in global warming headlines, but I couldn't help myself when I read this "news" item:
Cattle Don't Have Much To Do With Global Warming

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Since the release of a United Nations (U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report in 2006, we've heard more and more about the carbon footprints and the green house gases generated in livestock production. That report claims that, on a global basis, raising livestock generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent than use of fossil fuels in driving cars and trucks. This story has appeared over and over again in the media.

A second study that was release by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn't receive much media attention, but it should. The EPA report titled "U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks" crunched the numbers to determine that 80 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels and only 2.3 percent from food animal production.
All the facts are right. The U.S. EPA report (pdf warn) does show that about 2.3% of greenhouse gases are due to enteric fermentation while the bulk of emissions comes from using fossil fuels. Yet, the U.N. FAO report tells us that raising livestock contributes more to the greenhouse gas inventory than does transportation. If I end this post right here, I'm sure you could come up with a few explanations as to why there is no discrepancy here. But I won't stop just yet, because, astonishingly, the next sentence in the article reads
Although the EPA data clearly show the FAO statistics are irrelevant in the United States, mainstream media and online sources have called for Americans to reduce meat consumption to save the planet.
Irrelevant? What do they mean irrelevant? Oh wait...the authors must think you're stupid and that you believe that only the United States can affect the United States' climate! And those nice folks at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization must be stupid as well to suggest that Brazilian cow farts could ever make their way north to blanket our purple mountain majesties and our amber waves of grain. All this in the service of some grand conspiracy to reduce beef consumption and unhorse the iconic American cowboy.

So, who would sell their integrity to provide such misdirection and keep those cries of "Git along little dogie" alive and well (in the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I loves me a burger or T-bone every other night)? Would you believe me if I said a university? Try this 10 gallon hat on for size: The University of Minnesota Extension. The byline for the article reads "Lori Weddle-Schott is a beef educator with University of Minnesota Extension."

Mrs. Weddle-Schott may know beef, but apparently she knows little about the effect of global livestock on the entire planet. Or maybe she doesn't know the U.S. is actually part of this planet.


Global Warming Headline - Full of Woo

There's a particular slant that deniers like to put on the global warming controversy. The commonly held view is that as the planet warms, the atmosphere can hold more moisture which, in turn, leads to more storms as well as storms of greater intensity. The slant is that the deniers claim that those ringing the alarm bells attribute storms like Hurricane Katrina, the recent drought in Florida, and the fires in California to global warming. They would like you to think that this is what the academics believe. While Al Gore's movie (which I have not seen) may use events like these for dramatic effect, the truth is that we cannot attribute any single weather event to global warming. We can't even attribute all the weather events in a single year to global warming. You will also be hard pressed to find climate scientists saying with any confidence that multi-year weather related phenomena are definitely due to global warming. Science doesn't work that way.

There is cause and there is correlation. Science tells us that rising CO2 is causing rising global temperatures. The underlying theory isn't that difficult to understand. A simple thermodynamic model of global temperatures sans CO2 tells us that the earth should be a frozen snowball. However, the presence of balanced, naturally occurring CO2, as well as other greenhouse gases, gives us a nice 50 deg F baseline for the seasons to operate on. The simple theory tells us that as CO2 in the atmosphere increases, the global average temperature will also increase. A little knowledge about the vibrational modes of the CO2 molecule, the emission of infrared radiation from the planet's surface, and the coincidental absorption and emission of this energy at various altitudes is all you really need to generate a decent model capable of approximating warming effects to the 1st order. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has started a new Global Climate Change website. There you can find the following chart which shows the dramatic increase in CO2 since the dawn of the industrial revolution:

(click chart for better view)

Theory tells us that CO2 causes warming. Observation attempts to correlate rising temperatures with rising CO2 to validate the theory. This is where the bulk of the noise surrounding the global warming debate has come from. Again, a few years of data is insufficient to confirm or deny the effects of global warming. However, trends can be seen in a 5 year running average temperature profile and, so far, the data confirms predictions. A running average is needed to minimize the random effects of changes in the various ocean oscillations, solar cycles, volcanic activity, etc. One of the best non-partisan references on the web is Dr. Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming.

While the many variables inherent in the earth climate system make accurate modeling of the climate profoundly difficult, the theory itself is nonetheless straightforward. That's why articles like the following irk me to no end:

Global Warming Alarmists Have Their Theories Questioned from Beyond the Grave
The ship logs of Lord Nelson, Captain Cook, and other British sailors are casting more doubt on the theory that global warming is man-made.

The Telegraph newspaper reports that a group of British academics and scientists has examined more than 6,000 logs which describe an increasing number of storms over Britain in the late 17th century.
Aside from the fact that Lord Nelson's and Captain Cook's logs fall outside the time period in question, this sensationalist headline gives the impression that the theory behind global warming is so weak that a study of 17th century logs (when thermometers were rarely, if ever, carried to sea) can easily rip holes into it. The study relies on the common language referring to storms in the 17th century and is, for one, necessarily subjective. The only hard science here is the statistics employed by the researchers sifting through the logs, and not from the romantic vision of some swarthy Captain on a brigantine faithfully annotating wind speeds, ocean currents, and air temperatures. Furthermore, one can easily come away from this article thinking that the consensus believes that every storm and every drought is due in some way to global warming. Not true. No scientist worth her salt will claim that yesterday's shower is directly attributable to global warming.

The Register similarly provides a banal portrait of global warming:
Old ships' logs show temporary global warming in 1730s
A climate prof noted for data mining of archived ships' logs has produced further insights into global warming. Dr Dennis Wheeler of Sunderland Uni says his latest analysis shows sudden warming of the North Atlantic and Europe - much like that seen in recent times - during the 1730s.

This, Wheeler believes, shows that widespread rises in temperature of the kind recorded lately can be caused naturally. He thinks that human-caused carbon emissions are contributing to climate change now, but says it is unwise to link human emissions to specific events unless evidence is very strong.
Right...specific weather events can't be traced back to CO2 emissions. This does not mean that the frequency of storms and their intensity is not increasing with CO2. We need data to establish that. Fortunately, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) has developed the Climate Extremes Index (CEI) that they use to quantify these events over time. While little can be said about hurricanes, other indices used indicate that the weather over the past 10-15 years is tending to more frequent and more intense events due mainly to increased humidity, a direct correspondence to higher global temperatures.

The lesson learned here is not to believe what the headlines say, especially from partisan media websites. Don't believe what I say either. Do a little research, develop your own argument, and then look at it from the other side - I mean seriously look at it from the other point of view, and see if you can shoot holes into it. So far, the deniers are holding the swiss cheese.



If ever a picture cried out for the word "Behold!", this may be it. A beautiful photograph of sun striking the Atlantic at Madiera Island, Portugal, one might easily believe either the hand of God or a UFO is involved in its creation. Those scientists who aren't baffled, stunned, or amazed will, like most everyone else, tend towards a more rational explanation. However, tuning all of this out, we can simply enjoy the beauty and wish that we had been there to see it for ourselves before the clouds closed in.

These stunning photos can be found at the Madiera Blog, along with many other evocative pictures. Here's another favorite of mine, capturing the roiling intensity of a storm at night as it threatens Garajau.

Cornelia Dassault and the President of the Multi-Millionaire's Club

I love a good title. I like 'President of the Multi-Millionaire's Club'. I also like 'Master of All Ancestral Secret Formulas'. I'm a complete pushover for 'The Great Trigger of Wealth'. And I really like it when they each appear at the same time in a story! This one is a typical scam targeting the Irish in which a psychic has declared that someone (aka the one reading the letter aka the potential sucker) is to receive a €20,000 gift, no questions asked. The mystical forces will this to happen. That same person is also invited to continue their good fortune by purchasing a small 'good luck' charm from a Dr. Grant in the Netherlands. Dr. Grant, as all multi-millionaire's know, is president of the multi-millionaire's club. Conrelia Dassault (which I thought was a character from the Harry Potter books) is the psychic who will call upon the forces of the heavens to provide you with whatever you wish for with your good-luck charm.
Customer beware as 'psychic' gift scam targets Irish homes
The offer states that the lucky charm, entitled 'Great Trigger of Wealth,' will give people "all the important secrets to win the lottery."
People are also assured: "You will have a veritable gift for obtaining big, very big wins at games. You will meet people who have sincere feelings for you."
Letters signed by officials of the 'multi-millionaires' club' said that a wealthy American has made a donation which allows the club to send €15,000 to the addressee. The person receiving the letter are ordered to "pay attention" and reply promptly.
In the end, the respondent gets a piece of junk, is out €35 for buying the charm, and is put on the sucker's list. Don't be that sucker. Don't get on that list because there will always be an even better pitch that leaves you with nothing but an empty bank account.

(Update: see my latest post on Cornelia Dassault here - The skepTick)


H2O On Mars

This is surprising news...if you're living anytime before 1996. Since the days of the Mars Global Surveyor, it was obvious that Mars once had water. MGS returned images of gullies, topographic maps that showed erosion, and evidence of mineralogy that typically only occurs in the presence of water. So that Mars once had water is no surprise anymore. That it does have water was confirmed by both the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission and our very own Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In fact, data from these missions was used to determine where to land the Phoenix Mars Lander to increase the likelihood it would find water. And it did find water.

Finding water on Mars is not surprising news, but it is big news. Strictly speaking, the lander found ice, but ice is just one of the three phases of water. Oftentimes you'll hear NASA calling it water ice. That's like calling a Toyota an automobile Toyota or a tulip a flower tulip. The Phoenix Mars Lander did not find liquid water, which is what we usually think of when we hear 'water'. It found ice that it melted to produce water vapor whose signature it measured to confirm the presence of H2O on Mars. Yet stressing the discovery of water reminds us that Mars once had water and, by extension, that it once harbored the possibility of life. That's what makes Mars so interesting.

The Mars Phoenix Lander has fulfilled its mission and has been granted an extension in operations. However, there were unexpected problems and unexpected problems almost always lead to other interesting discoveries in science. For example, the Martian 'soil' did not readily fall into one of the several TEGA bins. Rather, it stuck to the scoop. Over time, exposure to the sun 'loosened' the sample enough that it could be deposited into a sample slot, but there was always the real possibility that any ice might sublimate away and never be explicitly discovered. That this did not happen is fortunate for us. However, problems like these lend support to the argument that robotic missions are not the panacea that some people make them out to be (Robert Park, for one). Robots are useful tools for exploring space and are much cheaper than sending humans with all their attendant life support systems into the unknown. Yet they are constrained in their ability to handle unforeseen circumstances. While some limited contingency can be built in, they will never replace the versatility of getting 'boots on the ground'.

Let me not diminish the significance of this discovery. Like I said, it is big - the biggest discovery all year, perhaps the biggest this decade. It should have its own cover on Time magazine. And it also opens up new doors in homeopathic research as well as opportunities for clean, bottled water that Fiji can't hold a candle to. Untouched by man, indeed.

Scientology and Tom Cruise Sued

Get your popcorn - this will be fun to watch! Tom Cruise is named in this lawsuit which looks like it might give us a glimpse into some of the dirty tactics used by scientologists, especially against former members. The New York Daily News writes
Tom Cruise is named in a $250 million federal lawsuit that is using the RICO statute against the Church of Scientology. Ex-Scientologist Peter Letterese, a longtime critic of the church, filed suit in Southern District Court in Florida on July 15 alleging, among other things, that members of the church harassed him after he left.

In court papers provided to The News by investigator Paul Barresi, Letterese claims a member of the church phoned his lawyer at home, and when the lawyer's wife answered, said he was her husband's homosexual lover.
Unfortunately, there's really not much here that's new and it's not likely the suit will get very far. We don't know, for instance, if restraining orders have been requested, if there's sufficient proof of harassment, or even if harassment warrants a $250 million dollar lawsuit. The news is relatively sparse here and, even though I don't doubt that the Church of Scientology can be vindictive, I'm not willing to say that they are on par with the mafia. Of course, I might change my mind if I start getting weird phone calls at 3 in the morning....