Monday, November 30, 2009

Science vs Superstition

OK, I'm not using the same terms as the video author, but I completely agree with the sentiments.

If you're reading this, you do so because scientists are right about electromagnetism, chemistry, and mathematics. Think about it. If you spent money for a computer, you're trusting in the science used to design them. If you trust them on that, do you have a good reason to arbitrarily distrust scientists in other fields of study?

Science has a track record of success to which pseudoscientists try to attach themselves like leeches. Meanwhile, people who don't like the information that science discovers try to undermine it. If it gets undermined enough, civilization as we know it will collapse, and we'll descend into a new dark age.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Quote About Life and Evolution

Even a superficial glance is sufficient to show that all the innumerable forms in which the life-urge of Nature manifests itself are subject to a fundamental law -– one may call it an iron law of Nature -– which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind.

If you can tell me who wrote that, you're probably not a raving creationist.

Ghost Lab: It's Lame

So, in the pursuit of "puppy time" last night, I lazed on the couch and watched half of an episode of Ghost Lab. Yep, it's basically Ghost Hunters on Discovery.

They were at a restaurant called the Catfish Plantation south of Dallas, TX, that supposedly has a few ghosts in it, one of whom reportedly likes to move small objects. Consequently, they had high hopes for filming some objects "moving by themselves". As many cameras as they put in the house, they never managed to actually film anything moving itself, but naturally they had an array of "personal experiences". They also got a couple of odd visuals that couldn't actually be called evidence of supernatural activity, but which they considered pretty spooky all the same. Big surprise that people who are already believers have "experiences" in a supposedly haunted restaurant while staying up all night inside it in the dark.

Since the ghost has a reputation for moving silverware when you're not looking, they carefully set the tables in the restaurant dining room. A couple of times the flatware did move "when no one was looking" (and naturally the cameras were off at those times, too), but there was never a time when anything moved when there was actually no one in the room, let alone when being observed by a camera. Funny, that.

The "moving things" that they did catch? A butter knife that they'd balanced on top of a vase eventually fell off while they were interviewing the restaurant manager on the last day, and a door at the edge of a dark shot of the dining room appeared to be moving back and forth slightly. The door? It looked like a camera artifact to me: bad resolution combined with being at the very edge of the frame resulted in an unsteady image. The knife? The minor vibrations of people walking around the room could easily destabilize something like that over the course of hours.

In short, they got nothing (which they admitted) and called it a win (huh?). I called it quits after the first segment. As expected, their efforts at control were really, really weak, and they were steeped in confirmation bias. It rates a big "ho hum" from me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crystal Ball

Sadly, I didn't get a whole lot of pictures from Crystal Ball because, during the dinner break between class time and ball time, I left my camera at Tsire's place. I do have a few pictures from the early part of the day, but nothing very exciting, with the possible exception of this video from Mistress Alphia's Spanish Pavan class.

She graciously consented to doing it with me for video after teaching it. Spanish Pavan is from Orchesography, Thoinot Arbeau's 1589 dance manual from France. I haven't gone back to read the original text yet, but I gather that the actual choreography isn't specific; Arbeau only describes the music and the basic steps: the actual movement around the floor is arbitrary. This choreograph is, I believe, from a team A&S entry of Alphia's.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Skeptics' Circle 123

The 123rd Skeptics' Circle is up at Blue Genes Science News. If you're finding out about it from me, you've probably already read my contribution, but there's plenty more skeptical goodness for you to read.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Tinfoil Hats

You are standing on a street corner, waiting for a light to change, when a stranger approaches you. He has a tinfoil hat on his head. He offers a tinfoil hat to you and says, “You need to put this on.”

“Why do I need to do that?” You ask.

“You need to block out the alien mind-control rays. It’s the only way to be safe.”

You say, “I don’t believe there are any aliens. There’s no evidence they exist.”

He says, “Of course there’s no evidence; they use their mind-controlled minions to eliminate any evidence. The only way to be safe is to wear a tinfoil hat.”

You say, “I’m not aware of any alien influence.”

He says, “Their control is subtle. The mind-control itself keeps you from realizing you’re being controlled. You’ll never know the difference unless you put on the tinfoil hat.”

You say, “I haven’t noticed anyone behaving like they’re controlled by aliens… except maybe you.”

He says, “You just don’t recognize the alien mind-control, but surely you know about all the crimes, murders, and suicides in the world. That’s all the result of alien mind-control. If you don’t put on the tinfoil hat, you could be next. There’s no telling when they might decide to have you kill yourself or someone else.”

You say, “Things like that have happened for as long as people have existed; it’s just one of the bad sides of human nature. There’s no evidence that it’s the influence of aliens.”

He says, “The aliens have been around for at least as long as we have, and like I said, they erase all evidence of their existence.”

You say, “If these aliens want to control everyone, but a tinfoil hat can block them, why do they let you walk around distributing tinfoil hats? Wouldn’t they use their mind-control powers to force some of us to stop you? By taking away your tinfoil hat, for instance?”

He says, “I don’t know why they let me do this. They’re aliens: their motives make no sense to us. But for that very reason, you need to wear the tinfoil hat. There’s no telling what these inscrutable aliens might decide to make you do.”

You say, “Sorry, I don’t want to wear a tinfoil hat, it looks dumb.”

He says, “Of course you think it looks dumb; that’s their mind-control at work. But can you really afford to keep walking around without a tinfoil hat? What if I’m right? You might walk off a cliff or run over your best friend tomorrow if you don’t.”

Looking around, you can see that there are actually quite a few people around wearing tinfoil hats, so you agree to wear one. You notice absolutely nothing different when you are wearing the hat, except that people who aren’t wearing them think you look silly, and people who are wearing them congratulate you for wearing yours. While wearing your tinfoil hat, you do a little research, and you can’t seem to find any evidence that people wearing tinfoil hats are responsible for fewer crimes or have fewer accidents than people who don’t wear tinfoil hats.

In your research, you also discover another group of people who think you need protection from the alien mind-control rays. However, they say that wearing a tinfoil hat won’t help at all; you actually need to be wearing an aluminum foil hat. In fact, they say wearing a tinfoil hat will amplify the alien mind-control rays, making you more vulnerable to their influence. According to aluminum-foil-hat-wearers, the tinfoil-hat-wearers have been fooled by the aliens or even collaborated with them.

Not long after that, you discover the copper-wire-basket wearers and the lead-lined-baseball-cap wearers. They also want to protect themselves from alien mind-control rays, and they each say that their method is the only real method of stopping the rays. They also say that the other groups are influenced by the aliens to trick you. None of them can offer evidence for their claims, saying that the aliens make it impossible to provide any.

So what do you want on your head?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Star Trek: Voyager "Threshold"

It's no secret that "Threshold" is the worst Star Trek episode ever. It's badly written (curse you Brannon Braga), makes zero scientific sense, and ends with an off-screen reset to the status quo. The "discovery" that they make in the episode is, of course, dropped without comment and never mentioned again in the series. Chuck Sonnenburg took one for the team in order to review it and share the pain.

Part 1 of Chuck's Review

Reading and watching his review, though, I noticed something that he apparently missed. The plot can be interpreted as a horribly mangled sexual initiation story.
  • Excited talk about getting over the "threshold" -- CHECK
  • Rather "climactic" behavior from Tom as he goes over the "threshold" -- CHECK
  • Bizarre allegory to getting STDs from going over the "threshold" -- CHECK
  • Unplanned pregnancy as a result of going over the "threshold" -- CHECK
Now your mind is scarred by this episode, too. Enjoy.