6.30.2008

Ahmadinejad's X-Ray Woo

According to AFP, the IRNA News Agency is reporting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the target of an X-ray plot on his recent trip to Rome. The Iranian Ambassador to Italy said:
"One day before Ahmadinejad's trip, I checked and found out that the (security) X-ray machine set up in the place where he was staying gave off excessive radiation," Zohrehvand said.

He said that the regular radiation level of such equipment in Italy was "300" but on this machine it had reached "800".
So, 300 is normal while 800 is an assassination attempt. OK...but 800 what? Millirem, as the article goes on to suggest? Certainly not.

X-Ray equipment is used to look inside luggage, not inside people (excluding obvious medical uses - and I don't get the impression Mahmoud was traveling to Rome for Dental work). Most security systems employ metal detectors which do NOT emit X-rays. Rather, they create a steady magnetic field which is disturbed by the presence of metal, as from guns. Stud-finders and beach metal detectors work on the same principle. You are NOT shooting radiation into your walls when you use one of these devices.

There have been advances in X-ray imaging technology such as the Backscatter X-ray imagers. Remember them? They are the ones that caused so much controversy because they can actually see through your clothing. But the typical dose from one of these devices is 10 microRem. To put that in perspective, you get 10 microRem just from being outside for 5 minutes. Your average annual dose received just from natural background radiation is 30,000 times the backscatter x-ray machine (or about 300 milliRem).

So let's get back to what the Iranian ambassador to Italy said. He claimed:
the regular radiation level of such equipment in Italy was "300"
If we assume he's talking about any security related x-ray machine, his units must be in microRem by the most conservative measures (I'm even spotting him an order of magnitude - airport X-ray machines for baggage are closer to 30 microRem than they are to 300). Exposing Ahmadinejad to 800 microRem is equivalent to a two hour flight, or spending 48 hours in Denver, or 3 days in the Miami. Doesn't sound so bad does it? By the ambassador's logic, we need suicide intervention for everyone from Denver planning plotting their 2-week vacation to the Bahamas.

6.29.2008

Thanks For Stopping By

This is a special post to say "Thanks!" to all the visitors who have stopped by, especially the many who return every day. And special special thanks to those leaving comments. It let's me know that a few nuts actually read these ramblings of mine.

Florida Lottery Gas Madness


The Florida Lottery has found a new gimmick to rake in the big bucks. Given the rising gas prices that make headlines nearly every day, what could be more enticing to sell a lottery ticket than guaranteeing you a chance to win a lifetime's worth of gasoline? Here's how the program works:
  1. You buy one or more tickets. Each has a unique number printed on them. You don't get to pick the number.
  2. At the time of purchase, you may be an "instant winner" of $25. Over 100,000 people will be instant winners.
  3. Drawings are held every week for 8 weeks.
  4. 56 random ticket numbers are pulled from the computer.
  5. The 1st number wins $250,000
  6. The 2nd thru 6th number wins a lifetime of gas (you get $2600 in gas cards every year).
  7. The 7th thru 56th number wins one year of gas ($2600).
So, Florida will be dishing out $250,000 in instant winners, $2 million for eight $250,000 winners, over $2 million in lifetime gas winners, and over $1 million in one-year gas winners. Overall, more than $5 million will be distributed to winners. Not counting the instant winners, 448 people will win the bigger prizes.

Let me say that again...ONLY 448 people will win. And while the prizes may seem significant, they don't compare to the potential for winning other lotteries. Worse still, these tickets cost $5! I hate lotteries, but I really hate expensive lotteries. Even though I know my chances of winning won't change, I'd much rather have five $1 tickets in my hand than one $5 ticket. It's a psychological thing.

So let's look at some odds. Just for the lottery to break even...that is take in $5 million to match what they will be giving away, they need to sell one million tickets at $5 apiece. And they'd be losing money at that. If you bought one ticket, your odds at winning one of the big money prizes is 448 out of 1,000,000 or about 1 in 2,232.

But let's look at reality. Reality says that they are going to sell way more than a million tickets over 8 weeks of play, especially given their advertising gimmick. Their website says:
For example, if 350,000 tickets are sold for the week, your odds of winning would be 56 in 350,000 or 1 in 6, 250. Those would be great odds for winning $250,000 or FREE GAS for a year or a lifetime.
Really? Great odds? First, you just know that they are going to sell waaaaaayyyy more than 350,000 tickets, which means the odds are going to be significantly different. Second, we should put things in perspective. Below are 6,250 zeros. There really should be at least four times that many because it's not much of a stretch to imagine that they will sell at least 1.5 million tickets each week. Anyway, behind one of these zeros is $250,000. Are you going to pay $5 to guess which one? Oh wait...you don't even get a chance to make the guess. Some computer gives you a number, and some computer tells you where the prize is hidden.

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Not great odds. Not a great deal. Save your money. Invest your money. Don't fall for the gimmicks. Sure, somebody has to win...but I'm willing to bet it won't be you.

6.28.2008

Five Feet Found Floating Freely

A weird news story begging for gallows humor, British Columbia officials have reported a fifth foot has been found floating in the waters around B.C. this year. I'll stay away from the global warming connection (you know, the apparent 5 ft rise in sea level) and take you directly to the story:

5th foot found on B.C.'s south coast
A couple out for a walk in the 2800 block of Savage Road spotted a shoe floating in the water around 10:30 a.m. and called police, she said.

Investigators said it's a left foot.

"Right now we're working very closely with the B.C. coroners service to identity the person whose remains we have recovered," Brooks said.

Four right feet, each wearing a sock and sneaker, have been discovered in the province since August.

Awright awright...I know this story isn't really humerus or even fabulous. But it is fibulaless!

(Big toes up to Swim At Your Own Risk for sniffing this one out)

6.27.2008

Of Homeopathy and Dolphins

An article in The Telegraph starts out
Homeopathy is putting lives at risk through unfounded claims that convince people they do not need to see a doctor, a leading expert has warned.
These articles always received a butt-ton of comments, especially in the UK. Here's a sampling:
  • In the late 80's I used to suffer with sinusitis; after many courses of antibiotics, which alleviated for a while, then the problem returned. I consulted with a homeopath and after some treatement, my sinuses cleared completely, up to this day.I have seen many people, including my family members get better from homeopathy, where other medicines have failed.

  • Had bachache - took paracetamol - the pain went, came back four hours later, repeatedly took the painkiller - bachache repeatedly returned. Visited homeopath, took berberis, pain went, pain stayed away. I am pleased with this result.

  • Further to the recent article on homeopathy I would like to say that I had sever ulcerative colitus for several years until I visited a homeopath, It was gone in a week!

  • I have been a successful homeopath for several years now and before that i used homeopathy as an individual and mother and have seen its success many many times.

  • I have suffered with hayfever and hayfever related asthma for years even though I was consuming the best rememdies devised by the medical profession. A couple of years' ago, I visited a homeopath and, after a lengthy interview and Q&A session, was given assorted homeopathic remedies. Now in my second full season of treatment, I have barely had any symptoms while those around me at work sniffle, sneeze and rub eyes.
And on and on it goes. Thankfully, we don't have to depend on anecdotal evidence for answers, otherwise we might all end up buying the Brooklyn Bridge at some point in our lives. For the homeopathy faithful, homeo-remedies might just as well be magic potions. You find them descending on these news articles (and you'll find many are homeopathic practitioners themselves...so they've got money in this game).

Ever hear the story of someone floundering in the ocean, about to drown when a dolphin comes along and brings them to shore? There's confirmation bias in that story...we never hear from the people whose dolphin went the other way. So too with homeopathy...you never really hear from those for whom the treatment didn't work. I suppose you might conclude that homeopathy must therefore work for everybody. But we know that's not true...some very smart people have shown that homeopathy performs no better than placebo.

6.25.2008

C'mon, help ol' Gil out here!

Lawyer Uses Psychic for Trial Help

At least one lawyer is consulting a psychic to help him divine his trial opponents’ strategies.

A Manhattan lawyer who didn’t want to be identified told Newsweek he has hired corporate psychic consultant Laura Day, Newsweek reports. The lawyer, described as a special counsel to several white-shoe law firms, consults Day for jury selection and to anticipate arguments of opposing counsel.

So this is where ol' Gil Gunderson is working now?

6.24.2008

73% Of Atheists Don't Believe In God

Another amazing coincidence. I haven't been to the Improbable Research website at all in the past two years. I found myself going there today based on a link about their Improbable Research Videos that they've just started posting. Later on in the afternoon, I came across an interesting news item, clicked the link...and found myself back at the Improbable Research website!

But never mind that...mind this: 73% of atheists don't believe in God...so that means that 27% must believe in God...which means they can't be atheists...and this implies that these 27% have no clue what an atheist is, but yet they identify themselves as one...which means they must think it's cool to be an atheist.

Sha...tell me something I don't already know. And without further adieu, here's the article which I can't improve on:
Social Science Lesson: What Americans believe
Today’s news delivers a great lesson for anyone who doubts that Americans are very, very religious. Here’s how religious Americans are: Only 73 percent of the athiests don’t believe in god.

Testing Your Knowledge on the Discovery Institute's Misinformation Campaign About The Lousiana Science Education Act

Q. Who wrote this:
The new bill doesn’t mention either creationism or its close cousin, intelligent design. It explicitly disavows any intent to promote a religious doctrine. It doesn’t try to ban Darwin from the classroom or order schools to do anything. It simply requires the state board of education, if asked by local school districts, to help create an environment that promotes "critical thinking" and "objective discussion" about not only evolution and the origins of life but also about global warming and human cloning, two other bĂȘtes noires of the right. Teachers would be required to teach the standard textbook but could use supplementary materials to critique it.
A) Discovery Institute
B) New York Times
C) All of the above

Q. Who also wrote this in the very next paragraph?
That may seem harmless. But it would have the pernicious effect of implying that evolution is only weakly supported and that there are valid competing scientific theories when there are not. In school districts foolish enough to head down this path, the students will likely emerge with a shakier understanding of science.
A) Discovery Institute
B) New York Times
C) All of the above

Q. Which group of idiots presented you with the first quote, completely ignored the follow on paragraph, and then concluded with this gem of impeccable logic which not only agrees with something that completely undermines their original argument, but also serves as evidence that somewhere in Seattle there are rooms of monkeys with keyboards randomly typing away in self-validating attempts of attaching meaning to the nonsense they call a theory:
The Times' editorial board may not like the LSEA, but at least they understand what it says and does, which is a far cry from much of the media out there.
A) Discovery Institute
A) Discovery Institute
A) Discovery Institute
A) Discovery Institute
A) Discovery Institute
A) Discovery Institute

Hey, DItards - when you quote-mine, make sure to pull your heads out of your asses long enough so someone like me can't contextualize you back to reality so easily.

Have another banana and stop flinging your poop.

The Improbable Research Collection

If you're a fan of the Ig Noble awards and have had your fill of the Evolution of Dance, then prepare yourself for the Improbable Research Collection, a series of videos from the wackier side of science. Based on their first video, things can only get better...then again, the Annals of Improbable Research has always been more than a little quirky.



NewTeeVee has a review.
There will certainly be an audience for this kind of thing––it’s deep nerdism with the pacing and absurdity of a classic Monty Python episode. There will also be an audience in which these unrelated ephemera, transitioned together with whiplash-fast disregard for logical connection, will induce nothing but a shrug.
A shrug? I s'pose. Maybe it's just too highbrow for some people. After all, who really has the time to wade through the morass of details behind studies like:
Feline Reactions to Bearded Men

Abstract

Cats were exposed to photographs of bearded men. The beards were of various sizes, shapes, and styles. The cats' responses were recorded and analyzed.

6.23.2008

Philadelphia Rocks, YOE!

Philadelphia celebrates the YOE (Year of Evolution)! This just in from the New York Times:
Philadelphia Set to Honor Darwin and Evolution
In the long-running culture war between evolution and creationism, Philadelphia is firing the latest shot.

Nine academic, scientific and cultural institutions around the city are holding a Year of Evolution, a series of exhibitions, seminars and lectures to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin next February, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, “The Origin of Species.”
Of course, they had to add a little inane humor:
He (Ken Hamm) rejected the possibility that Christians could believe in evolution. “If you take Genesis as literal history, then of course the two are exclusive,” he said. “Christians who believe in evolution are being inconsistent.”
The Philly celebration of YOE runs from April 2008 through May 2009. Come get your YOE on.

6.22.2008

Oil Change Myth

How often should you changer your oil? Jiffy Lube and Lube Express tell me to come back every 3000 miles or every 3 months, whichever comes first. There's a sticker on my windshield that reminds me of the deadline. Sometimes, I'll even get a discount if I bring my car in before the deadline. They must be really concerned about my car. But it's all a myth. What so magic about 3000 miles? Wouldn't 2000 miles be even better? 1000 miles? Why not just carry around a barrel of oil and put it on a continuous IV drip? From Yahoo! Autos,
It’s been a misconception for years that engine oil should be changed every 3000 miles, even though most auto manufacturers now recommend oil changes at 5,000, 7,000, or even 10,000 mile intervals under normal driving conditions.

Greatly improved oils, including synthetic oils, coupled with better engines mean longer spans between oil changes without harming an engine. The 3000 mile interval is a carryover from days when engines used single-grade, non-detergent oils.
While the Jiffy Lube website doesn't explain why they suggest 3,000 miles as the target for changing your motor oil, they do say that it's a "good rule of thumb". The Lube Center, however, does provide some reasoning:
It is a given that we should change our oil on a regular basis, the question is at what interval. Following the manufactures recommendations requires you to know something about your driving conditions in order to select the correct interval for you as shown in acceleration or high-speed driving, extreme hot or cold climates, off road motoring, and carrying or towing heavy loads. The byproducts of combustion in your engine cause your motor oil to break down and no longer protect the internal components the way it should. The rate of this process will vary with each individual motorist. The Lube Center recommends you change your oil every 3,000 miles and receive the best protection your engine can receive.
So 3,000 miles is "the best protection"? I bet 1,000 miles is even better...which would make it "the best". And what does it mean to say the motor oil "breaks down"? Are chemical bonds disassociating? Does the oil change into another substance? You'd think nearly 100 years of motor oil research would have solved this problem.

Well it has. An oil change every 3,000 miles is only a good rule of thumb for companies that would rather profit by perpetuating the myth.

(first seen at Lifehacker)

6.21.2008

Evolution in E. Coli

So I'm really getting my E. Coli fix. The Nondiscovery Blog has a nice post regarding Michael Behe's refusal to accept the conclusions of Lenski's recent paper in PNAS on demonstrated evolution in E. Coli. Rather, Behe thinks the evidence shows that random mutation breaks more beneficial genes than it makes and that there are enormous odds in developing a series of mutations, each one neither beneficial nor detrimental, yet resulting in an overall benefit at the end of the series. The likelihood of this occurring is rare, according to Behe, and so speaks against evolution rather than for it.

Yet Behe is shortsighted or is incapable of thinking outside the box. It is precisely these kinds of questions that beg for further exploration rather than just turning off the lights and going home with your bible tucked under your arm. As Carl Zimmer notes, there are several ways in which E. Coli transfers genetic information. More to the point, despite the odds, evolution did occur within Lenski's jars of E. Coli and it did occur in slow stages. Whether it was a vertical, stepwise occurrence (which is the only kind that Behe can conjure in his mind), or by a combination of horizontal and vertical information transfer, we don't yet know. However, if Behe wants to play the numbers game, he should allow that there might be several mechanisms at work that, in the aggregate, support evolution via natural selection acting on random mutation. After all, that is what Lenski's long running experiment shows.

6.20.2008

The Beauty of E. Coli


Carl Zimmer is a writer for the New York Times and is making the rounds promoting his new book, Microcosm: The Beauty of E. Coli. He gives a talk in one of the best podcasts I've listened to all year, making it's way to my earbuds via Real Science. I first heard an interview with him on The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe and it became clear that E. Coli, as an area of research, has made substantial contributions to science. It's fascinating that E. Coli communicate with one another, that they self-organize, their mode of propulsion (yeah, it's the flagellum with a twist...literally), that E. Coli clones exhibit independent behaviors, and that they are altruistic to the point of blowing themselves up to preserve their "colony". And E. Coli have been providing fantastic lessons for evolution (also see here for the nitty gritty).

Go check out the podcast - it's a free hour of real science. You'll be glad you did.

And if you feel like flagellating yourself with long strands of E. Coli, then you're ready for the hard stuff. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Photo by Eric Erbe, Colorization by Christopher Pooley.

Intelligent Designer or Auto Mechanic?


A story guaranteed to whip the intelligent design proponents into a frenzy:
Microscopic "Clutch" Puts Flagellum in Neutral
It has been long been known that bacteria swim by rotating their tail-like structure called the flagellum. (See the swimming bacteria in the figure.) The rotating motion of the flagellum is powered by a molecular engine located at the base of the flagellum. Just as engaging the clutch of a car connects its gear to its engine and delivers power to its wheels, engaging the molecular clutch of a bacterium connects its gear to its engine and delivers power to its flagellum.
We await the discovery of the bacterial four-bladed propeller...

Image credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation

6.19.2008

The Tale of the Psychic, the Teacher, and the Very Angry Mother

One prediction a psychic can make that will always come true is "If you tell anyone what I say to you, you will look like an idiot." In this case, the psychic failed to predict that her predictions would be used against her client, a teaching assistant in Ontario. The teaching assistant had visited a psychic who asked her if she taught a student whose name began with a "V". That would be Victoria, an autistic 11-year old. The psychic then went on to say that "V" was being sexually abused by by a man 23-26 years old. In a weird case of confirmation bias, the school administrators concluded that the girl's odd behavior supported the sexual abuse charge, and called an urgent meeting with the mother, Colleen Leduc.
Mom wants apology after psychic's abuse claim
Leduc said she was shocked by the information, and that her daughter had not even been around anyone of that age.

Officials at Terry Fox Elementary School then gave Leduc a list of behaviours exhibited by her daughter, which taken together with the report from the psychic, formed a theory of abuse.

"You have to keep in mind she has autism, and she's in pre-pubescence so she's developing, and she has no inhibitions," Leduc says, "so she's exhibiting behaviours that may be construed as sexual in nature in a social environment."

Under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed must report it immediately - and the CAS is obligated to follow up.


"Reasonable grounds"? I understand you always want to fail on the safe side when it comes to children, but this is FAIL period. Now why didn't the psychic predict that?

This story has been big news in Toronto. One of the best comments I've seen:
As a founder of the Ontario Autism Coalition, this story came to my attention because of the autism aspect of the matter. The problem here highlights the lack of training and common sense that afflicts so many people tasked with supporting children with autism in our school system, but it also transcends autism.

When we give the "feelings" of a "psychic" the same value as factual evidence, we return to the same world-view that resulted in witch burnings. This "suspicion" is not nearly reasonable, but I think it's fairly reasonable grounds for a lawsuit. At the very least, the school board employees whose actions resulted in the CAS investigation should be dismissed and made to pay the costs of the investigation.
What is described in your story is something known as the "Forer Effect," employed by many so-called psychics to make their "readings" seem accurate. It makes for good entertainment, but it's a poor excuse for a child-safety rubric.

John Cohan - Psychic to the Stars

Nothing much to see here other than yet another person claiming to be a Psychic to the Stars. John Cohan, on the "Here's Lisa Show", predicts that Angelina Jolie will break up with Brad Pitt because, as he says, they are not soul mates. He further predicts she will get back together with one of her former husbands, which can either be Johnny Lee Miller or Billy Bob Thornton. He also says Brad Pitt will "go with his ex" while she goes "with her ex". Memorable quote: "Fate and destiny play strong in her life."

Like I said, nothing much to see. I'm just filling out my "Psychic to the Stars" category.

6.18.2008

Uri Geller Loses Another One

Uri Geller, the parlor trick magician who has claimed his powers are real, is the consummate suitor - by which I mean he'll sue ya if you even look at him funny. But alas and alack, it looks like he's lost yet another one.
Celebrity psychic loses lawsuit over ex-Elvis home
Celebrity psychic Uri Geller and two partners have lost a federal lawsuit claiming the former owners of Elvis Presley's pre-Graceland house breached an eBay contract to sell the Memphis home.

Geller, who gained fame in the 1970s for his alleged power to bend spoons and other objects with his mind, and his partners bid $905,100 for the ranch-style home in a 2006 auction by owners Cindy Hazen and Mike Freeman.

The best thing to do at a time like this...hide your spoons!

BTW, despite Geller defeating MIND-WAVE and his fearsome Think Tank, the dynamic duo of Hazen and Freeman proved more than a match for him.

Is Geller really defeated? Are his powers failing? Is that really a magnet on his thumb?? Find out next ish.

Mathematicians Perplexed!

Wiltshire crop circle identified as symbolic code for first ten places of pi
Mathematicians are perplexed after a highly complex crop circle appeared in a Wiltshire field - depicting a fundamental mathematical symbol.
Right...mathematicians perplexed by fundamental mathematical symbol. At least the physicists are in the clear.
The circle is, apparently, a coded image representing a complex mathematical number — the first ten digits of pi — and even astrophysicists admit they find it “mind-boggling”.
Oops. Spoke to soon. What about other experts?
Initially, crop circle enthusiasts were stumped as to its meaning and even experts said it was mind-boggling. (ref)
Perplexed and mind boggling. Can we get a "baffling"
Baffling crop circles equal pi
OK...now we need a good theory as to how a perplexing, baffling, and mind boggling representation of the number pi could be created in the barley fields of Wroughton.
Lucy Pringle, who has spent decades researching crop circles, said that although she thought some were man-made, she found it hard to believe such an intricate crop circle could have been created by humans.

She added: "You can do it on a computer, but you try putting that in a field in the middle of the night and achieving that degree of mathematical accuracy."

Ms Pringle has visited the crop circle and said even though it was raining the night before it appeared, there was no mud inside the formation.

Her theory is that the designs are created by a spiralling electromagnetic force that hits the ground for a nanosecond.(ref)
Well there is something mind boggling about this story...but it's not the crop circle!

Aural Illusion - What Is This Man Saying

Watch the following video and see if you can tell what this man is saying. Watch it several times if you need to. It's a very simple word, but can you spell it?

Now, play the video again, but this time close your eyes. Listen to it several times without looking at it. Did you hear a different word? Is your spelling different this time around? Mine was. This is a cool example of an aural illusion where your visual perception fools your aural perception.

Thanks to Sciam's 60-second Psych podcast for this one!

6.17.2008

Make A Date For The Large Moon Illusion


It's a big moon a-rising this Wednesday, June 18th...but it will only be an illusion. Science@NASA has the lowdown:
There's no better time to see it. The full Moon of June 18th is a "solstice moon", coming only two days before the beginning of northern summer. This is significant because the sun and full Moon are like kids on a see-saw; when one is high, the other is low. This week's high solstice sun gives us a low, horizon-hugging Moon and a strong Moon Illusion.
We've all seen that the moon on the horizon seems unusually large. I had always accepted the standard explanation that the light from the moon travels through a greater part of the atmosphere when it's on the horizon, and this naturally distorts the apparent size of the moon. Now I find that this ain't necessarily so. As the picture below shows, according to the camera lens, the moon's size really stays constant throughout it's march across the sky.


There are several explanations for why the moon appears large, but apparently debate still looms. For example, some say the fact that the moon is low to the horizon, foreground objects provide a size reference that we normally don't have when the moon is overhead, fooling us into thinking the moon is a different size. On the other hand, pilots who don't have this reference also experience the moon illusion.

For more, see here and here.

Default to Irrational Paranoia

John Coleman, founder of the weather channel and now a local television meteorologist, is a staunch denier of anthropogenic (man made) global warming. He cleverly hides his feelings behind words like "SCAM" and "DASTARDLY SCIENTISTS", but I think I've figured him out.
It is the greatest scam in history. I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming; It is a SCAM.

Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data back in the late 1990's to create an allusion of rapid global warming. Other scientists of the same environmental wacko type jumped into the circle to support and broaden the "research" to further enhance the totally slanted, bogus global warming claims. Their friends in government steered huge research grants their way to keep the movement going. Soon they claimed to be a consensus.
Irrational paranoia...double the pleasure of an illogical argument.


NO MORE WIRE HANGARS GLOBAL WARMING!!!

6.16.2008

Here Be Dragons - A New Video By Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning, from the excellent Skeptoid podcast, has released a 40-minute educational video introducing viewers to critical thinking. As he says on the video release site:
Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.




Brian is also the executive producer of The Skeptologists, a program sorely needed to offset the likes of Ghost Hunter and Psychic Kids.

A&E's Cheap Thrill

Ugh. Our market forces at work - A&E succumbs to easy woo.
Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal
In this special spotlighting psychic kids, we will focus on three compelling psychic and/or mediumistic kids (ages 10-17) as they learn to manage the gift they have been given. Like real life "Heroes", these kids feel isolated and alone, set apart from the other "normal" kids because of the burden of their powers. We will meet them at their home, in their own environment, to experience what they are dealing with before they come to a very special three day "camp" that will offer invaluable support and guidance from the professional psychics. Paranormal State psychic Chip Coffey helps these kids through this three day transformational experience.

Didn't Chip Coffey make his appearance in The Amazing Spiderman #128 (still only 25 cents!)?

Fallen Idol

Bewildering crowd reaction on this one.


http://view.break.com/519913 - Watch more free videos

(nabbed from The Friendly Atheist)

6.13.2008

First Quantum Image Shows Ghost Skulls!!!

Through the eons, people have wondered if the world of the paranormal resides within the mysteries of the quantum universe. Now, the first ever photo taken using a phenomenon called "Quantum Entanglement" has produced a startling result - an eerie, ghostlike skull! What's more, the process produces a reversed 2nd image - an eerie, skull-like ghost! The details are difficult to understand, so visiting the science page is a waste of time. The important thing is that the visage of death has been received from the quantum realm. Science proves it!

It is only natural to expect that certain people are attuned to the quantum-energies on the quantum scale, giving them the capability to amplify quantumly-entangled signals from the beyond, generating holographic quantum-images within their brains. I.e. they can "see" with "Quantum Vision". And now, with the aid of ultraScience, we too can see.

6.12.2008

The Progress Report's Woo on Global Warming

In their latest entry titled Global Boiling, the Progress Report gave us a post which links recent bad weather and associated tragedies to Global Warming.
The evidence for the consequences of global warming is appearing with alarming frequency. This morning's headlines are filled with tales of deadly weather: "At least four people were killed and about 40 injured when a tornado tore through a Boy Scout camp in western Iowa on Wednesday night"; "two people are dead in northern Kansas after tornadoes cut a diagonal path across the state"; "[t]wo Maryland men with heart conditions died this week" from the East Coast heat wave. These eight deaths come on top of reports earlier this week that the heat wave "claimed the lives of 17 people" and the wave of deadly storms killed 11 more....Tornadoes this year are being reported at record levels. States of emergency have been declared ...

It's all very scary stuff, but if the Center for American Progress is smart enough to prove the link between these weather patterns and Global Warming, then they should be in line for the Nobel Prize. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh could just as well use the unseasonably cool temperatures in the Northwest to claim the ice ages are returning. The fact is that the specific weather events of the past few days cannot be linked directly to climate change. Climate change is measured over a 30 year period and the Progress Report intentionally misleads their readers by equating climate change with weather.

Personally, I believe Global Warming is a fact, that mankind is having a significant impact, and that bad things will happen if we don't start limiting production of greenhouse gases. But I call Woo when I see it, and while their report is intended to keep the pressure on the GW deniers, they don't need to resort to these cheap tactics to do it.

The Discovery Institute Agrees With Me

On their blogpost criticizing the Americans United for Separation of Church and State on the Louisiana Science Education Act, the Discovery Institute says:
If any school districts or teachers try to use the bill to promote creationism or other religious views, they will be violating the law itself. Any supplemental textbooks adopted under the law would have to abide by this prohibition in Section 1C.
So there should be no problem...until they try to claim that Intelligent Design is not a religious view. It is. In his conclusion of the Kitzmiller, et al. v Dover School Board trial, Judge Jones wrote
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Louisiana House Opens Back Door For Religion

The Louisiana House of Representatives has passed their so-called Science Education Act, which is less about science and more about how to allow alternatives to legitimate scientific theories into the classroom. As I've said before, this opens a back door into Louisiana's public schools to not only criticize the theory of evolution, but to provide other sources of material (presumably provided by the Discovery Institute - perhaps under a nom de plume) that will direct students to the intelligent design alternative. Intelligent design (ID) is not a scientific theory. Rather it is a grab bag of examples aimed at poking holes in the theory of evolution...not explicit evidence for ID.

In an article on FoxBusiness.com (business??),
"This bill promotes good science education by protecting the academic freedom of science teachers," said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute. "Critics who claim the bill promotes religion instead of science either haven't read the bill or are putting up a smokescreen to divert attention from the censorship that has been going on."
I have read the bill and I can see how it leads to religion. Once a teacher brings up Intelligent Design, then expect to see legal action because Intelligent Design = Religion. This isn't my opinion - this is based on the ruling handed down in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. A conservative judge explicitly said so. Any smokescreen that is laid down will come from the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents because they don't want you to connect the facts which will unavoidably lead you to the same conclusion.

From the Washington Times, we have
"It's not about a certain viewpoint," said supporter Jason Stern, Vice President of the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative group pushing the bill. "It's allowing [teachers] to teach the controversy. It's an academic freedom issue."
Who do you trust more? The Louisiana Family Forum (which is fairly dripping with Christianity), or the Louisiana Science Teachers Association (who have written a largely ignored letter to the legislature requesting the bill not be passed into law)? If this bill isn't about religion, then why did it originate from the Louisiana Family Forum (check their website and see how many examples of religious right witnessing and testifying you can find).

Barbara Forrest has their number:

She said Discovery Institute officials realized courts weren't sympathetic to their cause so they're trying this "academic freedom" tactic.

"What you're seeing in Louisiana right now is the next phase of their strategy," she said.

Friday The 13th - By Any Other Name

Ah Friday - the day of love and fertility, at least in Scandinavia. "What's that," you say? Let me elucidate. We got the name "Friday" from "Frigga's Day". Frigga was the Scandinavian goddess of love and fertility, later demoted from goddess to witch by Christians (presumably because of their unease with "love" and "fertility" and all the naughty bits that come with).

Tomorrow is a special Friday because it will be Friday the 13th (F13 for short). The bad luck has been building up ever since the last F13, and the spigot is about to be opened. What is this irrational fear of F13? I don't know because it's IRRATIONAL! Yet 10% of Americans have it and there's even a name for it: friggatriskaidekaphobia (see why I brought up Frigga?) Say it over and over until you memorize it.

Done? No you're not. Because the woo around F13 is so strong, that they've given it a 2nd name for those who don't like words starting with "frigga": paraskevidekatriaphobia

By the time you can say both of these, you should have overcome your irrational fear about a Friday like every other Friday. TGIF13

The Narwhal (Speaking of Unicorns)

In my earlier post about the unicorn, I completely forgot to mention the narwhal, the "unicorn of the sea". But the narwhal horn is no horn...it is an ivory tusk tooth that grows right through the upper lip. Now whether your an evolutionist or IDist, that's just outright strange in any camp. I can't imagine the selection pressure that would require this (other than possibly opening breathing holes in ice), nor can I imagine a reason the Grand Designer would design this.

Nevertheless, a true unicorn it ain't...horns are horns; teeth aren't horns. Besides, I can't imagine any virgin wanting a narwhal head resting in her lap!

6.11.2008

The Unicorn - So The Bible Was Right!

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. (Isaiah 34:7)

He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. (Psalm 29:6)

God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. Grrrr! (Numbers 24:8)
Look you now unbelievers, for the bible hath delivered that which thou doubtest. Clicketh thy mouse on the linkest for more.

Nuclear Power - Red Herring or Solution?

On May 15, 2007, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) issued a press release to introduce its new report, Climate Solutions: WWF's Vision for 2050, purportedly showing how the world can be saved from the impending climate catastrophe due to global warming. With existing technology and policy changes, they say, this can be done as long as we "plant the seeds of change" in the next five years. They are yet another organization to add voice to the sense of urgency in reducing global CO2 emissions and limiting the effects of global warming. The WWF identifies six "key solutions" to accomplish this:
-Improving energy efficiency,
-Stopping forest loss,
-Accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies,
-Developing flexible fuels,
-Replacing high-carbon coal with low-carbon gas, and
-Equipping fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and storage technology.
Notice that "Invest in new nuclear power plants" is not on the list. In fact, in the article Sky News - 'Five Years Left To Save The Planet', Keith Allot, head of WWF-UK's climate change programs, said
"We can slash carbon emissions and meet global energy demand without resorting to the red herring of nuclear power."
Mr. Allot is telling us that nuclear power, as a solution to global warming, is nothing more than a diversion or distraction from the real issue of reducing carbon emissions. Interesting, because nuclear power is a source of energy which does not emit carbon-dioxide, so by its very nature it is an imminently acceptable tool to use in the fight against ever increasing carbon emissions. A nuclear reactor does produce radioactive waste and there are other risk factors which must be taken into account, but these do not in any way invalidate nuclear energy as a part of the overall solution to the problem of global warming.

Ostensibly, WWF does not want global warming to be an enabler for nuclear power, that beast having been securely locked away for over twenty years in the U.S. by their environmentalist forebears. Mr. Allot is trying to head the nuclear power advocates off at the pass. But every potential technological solution to global warming has its advocates and each of these solutions has their own disadvantages, including harmful effects to the environment. Wind farms pose a threat to birds and bats. The solar cell manufacturing process produces hazardous waste. Even biofuels can be a greater risk to health than gasoline. So why does WWF specifically exclude nuclear power?

By calling nuclear power a red herring, Mr. Allot is offering his own distraction, attempting to divert our attention away from one of the solutions that offers the highest reward for the investment. In essence, Keith Allot's red herring is a red herring.

6.10.2008

Cause and Effect in Louisiana

All bills in the Louisiana legislature are approaching that witching hour when, if they are not sent up for a vote, they die on the table. One of these is the Louisiana Science Education Act which would bring religion into the classroom disguised as intelligent design. From The Towntalk.com,

The Louisiana Science Education Act also is coming before the House for final approval.

The bill says BESE, upon request by a school board, "shall allow and assist" teachers and administrators to "create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

The bill says teachers must present what's in textbooks before expanding with other materials.

Opponents say it sets the state up for another lengthy and expensive battle over teaching creationism in schools. Proponents say it encourages discussion of different theories.

So, that's the woo part of this post. Nothing really new here, other than the time is drawing nigh...and I'm sure it will pass unless the legislature turns tricksy like Florida.

Now for the fun part of the post - Two Great Bills That Go Great Together. First there's this one that makes it easier to raise college tuition:

Trahan also is handling a controversial measure that would allow colleges and universities to increase tuition up to 5 percent in each of the next four years. State law says only the Legislature can increase tuition but Trahan's bill, which will be considered by the House Monday, waives that authority, on a limited basis, for four years.

The increases could be imposed only if a college or university is below the average of its peers in the Southern Regional Education Board area, which stretches across the South and up the east coast to Delaware.

And then, like a fine red wine with Filet Mignon, we have
House members will vote Monday on legislation that would allow anyone who qualifies for a permit to carry concealed weapons to carry guns on college campuses. The proposal has been scheduled twice before but was never brought to a vote.
Hey...hey fellas? Yeah, I don't mind if you get your chocolate in my peanut butter, but in this case, I don't think we have a match made in heaven. So, not to stick my nose in your business, but if I had to name these bills, I think I would call them CAUSE and EFFECT.

A Melancholy Scene

I had planned on making today's entry about the D.C. Voting Rights debate. To fully arm myself, I started researching the history of the District of Columbia. As often happens, a search on the internet can get quickly sidetracked and it takes a little discipline to stick to the task at hand. In my case, D.C. Voting Rights led to The Federalist Papers, which I found here and here. But I also found them at the Avalon Project, which is an online Curio shop of American history. That pretty much did me in. I spent far too long perusing the Articles of Confederation and the Constitutional Convention. Every time I tried to back out, another interesting link would catch my eye, and off I'd go!

Then I found this.

I was leisurely travelling along, attentively examining some peculiar plants which I had collected, when all at once I felt the air strongly agitated, though the day was perfectly calm and sultry. I immediately cast my eyes toward the cleared ground, from which I was but at a small distance, in order to see whether it was not occasioned by a sudden shower; when at that instant a sound resembling a deep rough voice, uttered, as I thought, a few inarticulate monosyllables. Alarmed and surprised, I precipitately looked all round, when I perceived at about six rods distance something resembling a cage, suspended to the limbs of a tree; all the branches of which appeared covered with large birds of prey, fluttering about, and anxiously endeavouring to perch on the cage. Actuated by an involuntary motion of my hands, more than by any design of my mind, I fired at them; they all flew to a short distance, with a most hideous noise: when, horrid to think and painful to repeat, I perceived a negro, suspended in the cage, and left there to expire! I shudder when I recollect that the birds had already picked out his eyes, his cheek bones were bare; his arms had been attacked in several places, and his body seemed covered with a multitude of wounds. From the edges of the hollow sockets and from the lacerations with which he was disfigured, the blood slowly dropped, and tinged the ground beneath. No sooner were the birds flown, than swarms of insects covered the whole body of this unfortunate wretch, eager to feed on his mangled flesh and to drink his blood. I found myself suddenly arrested by the power of affright and terror; my nerves were convoked; I trembled, I stood motionless, involuntarily contemplating the fate of this negro, in all its dismal latitude. The living spectre, though deprived of his eyes, could still distinctly hear, and in his uncouth dialect begged me to give him some water to allay his thirst. Humanity herself would have recoiled back with horror; she would have balanced whether to lessen such reliefless distress, or mercifully with one blow to end this dreadful scene of agonising torture! Had I had a ball in my gun, I certainly should have despatched him; but finding myself unable to perform so kind an office, I sought, though trembling, to relieve him as well as I could. A shell ready fixed to a pole, which had been used by some negroes, presented itself to me; filled it with water, and with trembling hands I guided it to the quivering lips of the wretched sufferer. Urged by the irresistible power of thirst, he endeavoured to meet it, as he instinctively guessed its approach by the noise it made in passing through the bars of the cage. "Tanke, you white man, tanke you, pute some poison and give me."

6.09.2008

The Anti-Atheist Ass Is Now Complete

It takes two cheeks to make an ass...at least in my humdrum world. Last week, I told you about the right cheek. Today, I bring you the left. In a trilogy of blogs, J W Horne has posted in each a non-apologetic rambling of reasons for his production of the Kieffe & Sons Ford Dealership radio spot which told non-Christians to "sit down and shut up".



I was planning on posting this earlier, but I read one of Horne's comments on his second blog promising to provide a "tell all" on why he produced this ad. I'm not sure what I was expecting...maybe some revelation, maybe that there was some actual method to his madness other than the obvious bigotry. But in his 3rd blog (does he not know that a blog can consist of more than one post?) Horne has kept true to his disposition, just as Rick Kieffe had done with his non-apology apology. His is another case of stand your ground, make no apologies, admit no wrong, an' if you don't like it, well sir you ken jest sit yerself down and shut yerself up.

So why did he produce the ad in the first place? Turns out, he was engaged in a study of social behavior when confronted with controversy:
I wanted to get the attention of the 86 percent of Americans who say they believe in God. That includes Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans and Christians. I wanted to gauge their response. (ref)
Breathlessly, we await publication of his results in the American Journal of Psychology. Whatever his hypothesis may have been, it sounds like he got the supporting data:
I wrote the ad and produced it to get the attention of the believers. It is as simple as that. It worked and the atheists helped. Thanks.
I know I can be addle-brained so it's not surprising that I was just a little confused at how offending atheists would "get the attention of the believers" when starting the ad with "HEY CHRISTIANS! LISTEN UP!" would work just as well.

To give Horne the benefit of the doubt, I posed a series of questions on his blog which he happily answered with much magnanimity:

1) What is your opinion about atheists?
I dislike Atheists such as Madlyn Murray O'hare. Her son William described her as a vulgar and profane woman. I don't consider all Atheists to be that type of person. To me an Atheist is just another fellow human being. I may disagree with them but I respect their right to believe as they wish. My opinion of them is formed by how they conduct themselves as human beings, not by what they believe. I have friends who are Atheists and I respect them.
2) Do you think the Kieffe & Sons ad was successful in attracting customers to their dealership?
The ad was not specifically designed to bring people to the dealership.It was not a promotion. It was more commentary than anything else. Many of the ads that I produce for the dealership are commentary. This particular ad was designed to get the attention of the listening audience and to cause people to think. It was successful in doing that. The number of positive calls and emails far out numbered the negative. With respect to that, it was successful.
3) Did you consider the "shock value" of the ad when you produced it? Was that your intent?
Probably not as much as I should have, butI knew it would be controversial. What was not anticipated was the harshness in which some people responded. It is one thing to call and express an opinion of disagreement, but quite another to be vulgar and profane. Some of the calls were well beyond decency.
4) Do you think the sentiment of the ad represents the majority of American Christians?
I can't speak for the majority. Each individual has to decide for themselves as to whether it reflects their sentiments. Obviously those that spoke in the negative were against it. Perhaps those that responded positively agreed with the sentiment, at least to some degree.
5) If you could go back, what would you have done differently with respect to that particular ad (if anything)?
Yes to some extent. Had I given it more thought, I would have been sure to include the Jewish and Muslim faiths. There was no intent to offend the other faiths. That is what the dealership apology was about.
Those that responded negatively chose to be offended. No one was singled out. Only the 14 percent was mentioned. Those that considered themselves a part of that group are the negative. Each person has to make their own choice.
I said it in the ad and I will say it again. There is a dangerous faction in our country that wants to be destructive. To me, it has been borne out by some of the threats and wishes of some respondents. To find out who some of those destructive individuals are, all one needs to do is read their responses. I think it is intolerable that some would find glee in the demise of a major corporation such as Ford Motor Company. Why would anyone want to see a good dealership destroyed? What is the satisfaction of destruction? That type of sentiment is what I wanted to point out. It exists. People need to wake up.
6) Do you have any observations that you'd like to share since this all began?
I have this observation.

Today in the United States there is a dizzying mixture of philosophies, races, religions and languages. We Americans are not connected by genealogy, but by a shared set of freedoms. We all have a right to speak and be heard, but no one individual or group of individuals has the right to coerce, intimidate or seek to destroy others.

From 1976 up to this day, dedicated men and women from all walks of life and beliefs have fought and died to ensure that those freedoms will be preserved. Each American is duty bound to one and other to see to it that this country is safe for everyone whether we agree or not.

When we allow vulgar and profane conduct to be acceptable, we are headed for failure.
Remember what he said in the ad that he wrote and he produced:
"Now, since we all know that 86 out of every 100 of us are Christians who believe in God, we at Kieffe and Sons Ford wonder why we don't just tell the other 14 percent to sit down and shut up."
From #1, we learn that he has friends who are atheists and who he respects. This is respect?

From #2, we find out that the ad wasn't even an ad...it was a commentary designed to "cause people to think." According to Horne, the positive responses far outnumbered the negative and therefore the ad was successful. If you take this at face value and think about it logically, then the success of the ad shouldn't be measured by whether or not the responses were positive or negative. Rather, it should be based on the number of responses received because that indicates that people have given enought thought to the ad to warrant a response. But given that, as he says, the majority of the responses were positive, then what does that tell you about a society who praises the act of offending other segments of the population?

From #3, we see that Horne knew at the outset the ad would be controversial, yet he is surprised at some of the vehemence it illicited. Here, Horne is building his anti-atheist case and playing the part of the persecuted victim - you know, the nice guy who wants to live and let live, respect other people's opinions, take each person at face value. Or in other words, J W Horne is Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I, however, have tuned my senses to the frequencies of woo and Horne is transmitting at 3.7 jigawatts on all of them.

If the ad had instead been targeted at teachers, cat-lovers, accountants, Lithuanians, patriots, or Christians, he would have received just as many extreme responses as he did with Atheists. You can't use that argument to judge atheism by. That dog just don't hunt.

Regarding #4, he took a pass. I wanted to know what his perspective was regarding the general Christian population. Hell, it was a stupid question anyway.

As for #5, all logic plunges off the deep end. What I said for Kieffe also holds true for Horne: I can't expect them to understand the finer points of subtle concepts like BIGOTRY(!) or PISSING PEOPLE OFF! Somehow, I think even he has forgotten what the ad said. He wrote it to be controversial, knowing that it would offend atheists, but yet he says anyone offended made the choice to be offended because they chose to be an atheist. So...what? It's not his fault that some people disliked what he had to say? It's that "stay the course" mentality that makes him look like a fool.

Finally, #6: Read it to the tune of God Bless America. He has no point here.

In a nutshell, this is his line of reasoning:
1) A controversial ad was made targeting non-Christians
2) Non-Christians got angry.
3) See! See! Look at the angry non-Christians! That's why they should sit down and shut up. They're always so angry!!

Hopefully this is the last we'll hear from this group of sad sacks. Their vainglorious fifteen minutes of fame has run its course. Fools can't help but be fools and deciphering them quickly becomes a waste of time.

Antarctic base gets condom haul before winter

Antarctic base gets condom haul before winter - Weird news- msnbc.com
16,500 prophylactics arrive for 125 scientists, staff before darkness sets in
Bill Henriksen, the manager of the McMurdo base station, said nearly 16,500 condoms were delivered last month and would be made available, free of charge, to staff throughout the year to avoid the potential embarrassment of having to buy them.
No wonder temperatures are rising in Antarctica...and we thought it was all do to Global Warming. I wonder if this is really a NSF recruiting ploy...a way to get young graduate students to overwinter at the South Pole? Misfit of Joy calculated this works out to about 123 bouts of Antarctic Hay Romping. I guess scientists are only human after all. I just hope they keep their "instruments" clean.

BTW, where do I sign up?

Kristen Byrnes - Skeptical To A Fault

Kids these days! They're getting into all kinds of things. First you've got 11-year old Jamison Stone who killed a "monster pig" in Pickensville, Alabama (reported here, disputed here, and lamented here). Then there's the eighth grader who took first place in a "science fair" for disproving evolution. And now there's a 16-year old who is challenging the conventional wisdom on the causes of global warming.

Billions of dollars in research and thousands of scientists around the world have only just settled what the conventional wisdom should be - namely that man-made carbon dioxide gas will be the cause of all our woes in the not-to-distant future. This is the anthropogenic global warming that's been all the rage in the media these days. 2007 is significant year in the debate because it's the year that the case for anghropogenic global warming was firmly established, especially by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There are still doubters, dissenter, denialists, skeptics, or whatever other category you choose to label them as, but the majority of the American public recognizes global warming to be a problem that needs addressing sooner than later.

To make your own informed decision, you can rely on reports from the media, as long as you keep in mind that most media focuses on the controversy or the extremes of the science behind global warming. It's how they make a buck. Instead, you may want to do a little more research. The internet is a wonderful resource, but again you have to be aware of some of the motivations behind particular postings. Are you reading a blog paid for by Exxon Mobil or the Sierra Club. How do you know? Maybe you should appeal directly to the source - the scientists themselves. You could try this blog or this blog. Both are very cerebral and cut right to the science - and they support opposite sides of the debate. So you have to decide who makes the better argument, supported by the best science. Worse still, you can read the scientific journals where the evidence is presented for all to see. This assumes, of course, you have access to the journals and that you can make sense of all the terms, equations, tables, figures, and logic. Sure...

Or, you can teach yourself. Maybe start with a little history behind the discovery of global warming. Then you'll need to learn about how the sun warms the earth [including how much radiation falls on the earth, how much is reflected, how it is transformed to infrared (IR) radiation]. You'll also need to teach yourself about greenhouse gases (GHGs) and how the different modes of molecular vibration absorb and re emit IR, ultimately trapping the sun's heat. Which, in turn, leads to learning about the production and loss of GHGs, albedo effects over different parts of the earth's surface, and other so-called feedback mechanisms (cloud production, moisture cycles, land use, etc.) . Eventually you'll have to delve into weather, including seasonal or decadal variations in wind patterns, jet streams, major circulatory oscillations...and don't forget about the ocean, with El Nino, La Nina, the undersea conveyor belt.

Whew! The list just seems to go on and on. A scientist can take just a small fraction of any of the above items and build a career upon it. But who can really know it all? That's just the reason why the global warming debate has gone on for so long. This isn't quantum mechanics or brain surgery. The science behind global warming is graspable to many people. We can understand many facets of it, if just barely, and intuit consequences ourselves. That leads many to feel they can justly argue with the experts because, well, experts are only looking at their piece of the pie. You don't hear too many people debating the Riemann hypothesis simply because it's not within their field of reach.

Enter Kristen Byrnes, a 15-year old high school student in Portland, Maine, who, as an extra-credit assignment for her honors earth science class, decided to take on the task of more fully understanding the underlying causes behind global warming. Her website, Ponder the Maunder (Maunder from the Maunder Minimum, but also meaning 'to speak indistinctly') documents her journey by providing rudimentary background information while connecting certain salient dots in this scientific miasma. Ultimately, she concludes that CO2 plays little part in this recent global warming trend. Rather, she claims that it is cause by solar variation and the reason that this has not been recognized is that El Ninos and La Ninas have obscured the picture. In particular, she only looks at the period from 1945 to the present because, during that time, their was a cooling trend even as CO2 was being continually emitted to the atmosphere. Accordingly, the earth should have been warming at the time.

I laud the effort she put into this. I think it's wonderful that someone so young takes the initiative and is persistent in tackling such a large beast as global warming. She has been garnering praise, as she rightly should, but for the wrong reasons. Her conclusions are being praised more, it seems, than her effort. I reserve my comments on her work for this reason, but I think it is a mistake for global warming proponents to take this as a serious challenge to the global warming consensus. It shows that they have become entangled in the complexities of the science and, in extricating themselves, convince themselves of the correctness of her theory. For them, this is their David vs. Goliath moment, with Goliath being played by Al Gore.

Perhaps it is her nature, or perhaps it is her recent notoriety that has engendered a certain cockiness. In a recent guest weblog at Climate Science, she chastises the professional scientists who have written in defense of their published article, with:
Oh come on, guys. When are you going to stop representing these computer simulations as science?

You don’t know squat about the sun, clouds, water vapor and etc. You can’t predict volcanoes, ENSO, PDO or Kelvin waves.
You tune these programs to death, run 9438752309457 simulations and give yourselves large ranges for “natural variation.” Under these circumstances I can program my Nintendo 007 game to say that all the dead spies were killed by GHG’s.

Comment by Kristen Byrnes — May 22, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

Not a great career move...but a feisty one. However, I wonder if she can take away from this experience the most valuable science lesson of all - the meaning of the scientific method. That she has done so much hard work and developed a plausible theory is one thing. But if she believes it to be infallible and immutable, then the real lesson is lost. If she can accept criticism and is willing to modify her theory, even to the point of completely discarding it, then she will make a fine scientist indeed. One road leads to science, the other to crankishness.

Perhaps in a later post I can point out some of the problems with her work, but it's likely someone already has. Or, better yet, maybe I can tell you that I learned something from her. So thanks for that, Kristen. Now I'm off to see if I can bag me a monster pig!

The Next Scientology Protest

The next protest against Scientology will be June 14 at 11:00am in all cities throughout the world (except Boston, which will be June 15). The theme is Operation: Sea Arrrgh! Details can be found here. Background on this fast growing protest phenomenon can be found here, here, and here.

Internet War NewsReel: The Anonymous Onslaught Continues to Advance. SeaArrrgh PSA from LRonHu88ard on Vimeo.

Your Tour Guide For The Creation Museum

One of the best online tours of the Creation Museum I've seen...probably even better than actually going there. DemonBaby is your tour guide, bringing you lots of pictures and well written snarkiness. There are lots of favorites to choose from but I settled on the following to present here:

When the flood was finished, Noah came off the Ark with all his animals, and God told them to "be fruitful and multiply," which meant, of course, that animals should just keep f---ing until they rapidly transformed into a wide variety of new species, as illustrated in the diagram below:

You're probably looking at that diagram thinking it looks an awful lot like an animal evolving over millions of years. Um, no. This is a post-flood horse changing over a few thousand years. DUH! It's all explained very clearly in the fine print:

That explains it.

On further reflection, I think the creationists liken the little horse on the left to the Chihuahua and the big horse on the right to the St. Bernard. The problem with this argument is that the St. Bernard come from the Chihuahua. Differing breeds of dogs are like the tips of branches. What Creationists don't want to claim is that they are showing different species or that speciation can occur.