The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for March, 2010

Large Hadron Collider Creates “Son of God” Particle

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

In honor of the recent news of the Large Hadron Collider’s successful run-up to 7.0 TeV collisions and the upcoming Easter weekend, I figure that I’d pass along a humorous little bit that I just stumbled upon.  Enjoy!

Hint: the joke is that laymen often state that the LHC is searching for the Higg’s Boson, a.k.a. the “God Particle” ;)

Near miss as Large Hadron Collider discovers ‘Son of God’ particle

Happy scientists exchanged water for wine

‘It’s not quite the God particle we’ve been looking for, ’said Professor Mann, head of the Atlas Project at CERN, ‘but it’s a miracle nonetheless.’

The particle arose from a collision between a J and an M particle in a way which no one thought possible, and the bright light created sucked in three K particles from the East.  Although it only existed for a fraction of a second, scientists are adamant that the Son of God particle will re-appear by Sunday.

‘Make no mistake there’ll be lots written about this and it will become the standard textbook for how we do things in future,’ said Professor Mann.  ‘I’ve no doubt it will lead to peace, harmony and wisdom among all men with sandals, beards and tank-tops.’

Excitement at the news was heightened when it was revealed that, on the same day, a technician in the CERN canteen opened a marmite sandwich to discover a perfect image of esteemed physicist Professor Peter Higgs.

Posted in humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal, Papal “Infallibility”, and Free Inquiry

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

In the last week, a storm of controversy has raged concerning the Roman Catholic Church and its ongoing sexual abuse scandal. For almost a decade this controversy has gone on, taking up space on newspaper pages here and there.  But now the whole sordid affair has taken on a new dimension with the revelation that Vatican officials, including the current Pope Benedict XVI (whom I call, with good reason, the “Rat in the Hat”), not only knew about such systemic & widespread abuse but also actively worked to cover it up.  According to a recent New York Times article…

Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

What is almost as horrifying as these revelations of the systemic sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests and the effort on the part of Church officials to cover it up, apparently going all the way to the upper echelons of the Vatican, is the reaction from the Vatican in the last week.  Specifically, I am referring to the absolutely staggering level of cognitive dissonance being displayed by the Vatican regarding any responsibility their institution has in this scandal.

Consider, if you will, the various reactions from the Vatican as it attempts to spin its way out of this mess, outlined by this NYTimes Op-Ed…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Revive the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

Our friends at Science Debate have passed along to me an announcement about a political push to reopen the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).  The OTA used to provide valuable scientific & technological advice to Congress – that is, it did before Congress, in its short-sightedness, closed the OTA in the mid-1990s.  For more information on this campaign, read on and please consider getting involved…

Most of the major challenges now facing the nation revolve around science.  Of the 535 members of Congress, how many do you suppose are scientists and engineers?  Here’s the answer: three physicists, one chemist, six engineers including a biomedical engineer, and one microbiologist.  How many do you suppose are lawyers, who often avoided science classes like the plague?  225.  It’s little wonder we see more rhetoric than facts.  It would be less of a problem if Congress had a science advisory body that gave it quality, non-partisan advice.  Advice that could save billions by preventing costly policy or spending errors that are not informed by the best available science.  They used to, and it was called the Office of Technology Assessment .  But they closed that 15 years ago to save a relative pittance.  Since then, the science-based challenges facing the nation have multiplied.  Congressional staffers need access to timely and top quality science advice on the issues before their Members.  Today, there are at least two efforts that we are aware of to revive Congress’s science and technology advisory body.  Working with Science Debate co-chair and U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), the Union of Concerned Scientists has organized a letter from scientists supporting the revival of the OTA that is open for signature.

Posted in politics, science funding | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Large Hadron Collider Reaches 7.0 TeV Collisions

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 30, 2010

As a quick follow up to my recent post about the Large Hadron Collider, there is a new development: the LHC has now actually collided counter-rotating proton beams in collisions reaching the 7.0 TeV energy level (3.5 TeV per beam).  As the story below points out, this is the highest level ever recorded for such collisions, and – as you know upon waking up this morning – the planet has survived and no Earth devouring black holes were created in the process.  Of course, if you knew anything about the physics involved, you know that such doomsday scenarios are the purest lunacy (here’s 3 reasons why the LHC cannot destroy the planet)…

Geneva atom smasher sets collision record

The world’s largest atom smasher conducted its first experiments at conditions nearing those after the Big Bang, breaking its own record for high-energy collisions with proton beams crashing into each other Tuesday at three times more force than ever before.

I wonder how the conspiracy mongering doomsayers will react to this news?  I’ll be on pins and needles :)

Posted in doomsday, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I’m Now a Believer in Chi

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 29, 2010

Well, I don’t know about you, folks, but I’ve been converted from a skeptic to a believer in chi, ki, qi, qi gong, “life force energy”, or whatever you want to call it.  I know that many times I’ve stated publicly on this blog that, whether you’re talking about breaking boards, laying on beds of nails, or walking barefoot on glass shards, such amazing physical feats have absolutely nothing to this chi stuff, but I can do so no longer.  You see, I’ve been convinced by irrefutable & unquestionable evidence that this chi business is the real deal.

So how was I, a die-hard skeptic, convinced of the undeniable reality of chi?  Simple really… I just saw the most amazing video on Youtube!!!

Wow… now I might have to give all that stuff about crystal power a second look, too.

Hat tip to UncaYimmy from the JREF Forum for sharing this little gem of a video with me.  It was so cute I had to pass it along :)

//

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Scientology: A History of Violence

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2010

While surfing the interwebs over at the JREF Forum, I was made aware of an upcoming CNN special with Anderson Cooper called “Scientology: A History of Violence” which is to air for four nights starting on March 29th.  Details to be found here.

I’ve made few posts here before about the Church of Scientology, which I consider to be a dangerous cult, and I’m all for having mainstream media outlets challenge them openly.  And I think CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a good person to do the sleuthing on such nonsense (just recall how well he publicly debunked psychic Sylvia Browne).  The biggest problem I personally have with Scientology isn’t their outright goofy beliefs about the alien-god Xenu and space-ghosts called “thetans”, though that’s some pretty damn weird stuff, but the manner in which they deceive & cheat their followers out of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they learn the Church truths (which are little more than a really bad sci-fi story).  Not to mention, the organization actively works to conceal these “truths” from their members until they’ve paid so much money to the Church that it’s very difficult for them to extract themselves from it.

In addition, those who dare oppose the Church and publicly criticize them are often subjected to all manner of personal attacks and/or harassment under the Church’s policy called “Fair Game” which declares such critics (using very Orwellian lingo) “suppressive persons”.  I am also opposed to the Church because they encourage their followers to “disconnect” from their families & friends who might otherwise attempt to talk some sense into them.  And then, as the CNN expose is likely to show, there are other things done in the name of the corrupt & power-hungry Church of Scientology which the Church would rather not have you know.

Here are some details, provided by Anderson Cooper, about what the program is all about.  I wonder if he’ll be listed as an SP anytime soon?…

Next week we begin a four-part investigation into allegations made by a number of former high ranking members of the Church of Scientology. The allegations are about physical abuse they say took place within the Sea Organization, the international management branch of the church.

These former members, many of whom dedicated their lives to Scientology, allege that the leader of the church, David Miscavige, has used physical violence against a number of Sea Organization members. The church adamantly denies these allegations, and back up their denials with numerous affidavits and testimonials defending Mr. Miscavige and attacking those who are speaking out.

Interestingly, the church spokesman, Tommy Davis, admits there was a history of violence in the Sea Organization, but the people he blames for it are those who are making the allegations against David Miscavige. He says they were demoted by Mr. Miscavige, and are bitter and disgruntled. Some of those making the allegations admit they did engage in violent acts, but say it was at the urging of Mr. Miscavige.

There is no real proof offered by either side, but viewers can make their own assessment. We have spent several months working on this series, and believe it is a fair look at the allegations and the counter claims made by the church.

I have already received a number of emails from church members complaining about the series, and accusing me of attacking the church, its beliefs, its membership, and its activities.

Given that the emails are all very similar in content, I assume this is some sort of organized email campaign. None of those writing the emails have seen the series, but I appreciate hearing from all concerned viewers, and I certainly understand any church member, of any religion, being concerned about the portrayal of their beliefs.

For the record, I just want to point out that this series is not about the beliefs or activities of the Church of Scientology. It is not about the religion or the vast majority of Scientologists. This series simply has to do with what some former high ranking church officials say went on within the upper management of the church, and what happened to them when they left the church.

Posted in cults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

133rd Skeptic’s Circle @ The Digital Cuttlefish

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 26, 2010

After skipping a beat, the Skeptic’s Circle is back with the 133rd installment.  This particular installment is full of the standard skeptical message, but packaged in quite creative poetry & prose by the talented Digital Cuttlefish – in fact, my particular entries were met with a very succinct & complementary poem: “Skeptical Teachers, Are wonderful creatures.” :)

Go on and check it out!

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Polls & Surveys on Creationism/Evolution

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 25, 2010

If you pay attention at all to the creationism/evolution struggle, then you know that (in the United States) there is a great group dedicated to furthering good science education while battling the attempts of creationists to push their extreme religious & pseudoscientific flummery into public schools.  That group is the National Center for Science Education, and now the NCSE has another tool to use in the fight.  NCSE has put together a great webpage which tracks polls & surveys on the issue…

Polling the creationism/evolution controversy

NCSE is pleased to announce a new section of its website that provides information on polls and surveys relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy. You’ve seen the alarming statistics:

  • Evolution is accepted by 97% of scientists in the United States, but by only 61% of the public.
  • Among thirty-two countries surveyed, the United States was next-to-last for its public acceptance of evolution.
  • One out of eight high school biology teachers in the United States presents creationism as scientifically credible.

Now you can find it all in a single spot — NCSE’s coverage and links to external resources — organized in the categories of general polls, international polls, polls on creationism, polls on evolution, polls on religion, and scientist, student, and teacher polls.

Specifically, all of the polling & survey information is broken down and sorted into a variety of very convenient categories for your perusal…

So the next time you need to reference a poll when in the midst of a discussion of the creationism/evolution issue, you have a great resource.  In addition, I just want to give a general shout-out to the NCSE because they are, in my humble opinion, the go-to folks for dealing with creationists.  In fact, I encourage you to support them by becoming a member!

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Large Hadron Collider Breaks High-Energy Physics Record… Earth Survives

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2010

**Addendum (3/22/2010): Shortly after I wrote the post below, it came to my attention that the proton-proton beams in the LHC haven’t yet actually collided at the 3.5 TeV level yet, but I think that point is moot. It’s also true that the LHC has already conducted proton-proton collisions at greater than TeV levels (up to about 2.36 TeV, it seems)…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider#Current_results

And despite this fact, we’re all still here. Of course, I expect the scare mongers to come back with something like “But we don’t know that the planet won’t be destroyed at the next energy level!” By that same token, we don’t know that the Earth won’t be destroyed if we don’t turn the damn thing on, right?

Arguments from ignorance can be used in such silly ways. ‘Nuff said.

—————————————————————————————

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest, most complicated piece of machinery ever created by humanity.  This humongous particle accelerator also just recently broke, once again, the world record for achieving the highest-energy artificial particle collisions ever in history.  Of course, there are some conspiracy-minded scare mongers out there who maintain that the LHC is going to somehow destroy the Earth, presumably because – despite multiple reasons to the contrary – there will be some unknown, magical mechanism by which these artificially-achieved energy levels will kill us all.  In short, with no evidence or coherent theory of physics behind their claims, they’re making an argument from ignorance & saying this…

I think not – it didn’t happen in May 2008, and it won’t happen now.  As I said, the LHC recently broke that supposedly world-ending energy barrier once again, and we’re all still here.  The news is outlined in this Yahoo News story…

Operators of the world’s largest atom smasher on Friday ramped up their massive machine to three times the energy ever previously achieved, in the run-up to experiments probing the secrets of the universe.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said beams of protons circulated at 3.5 trillion electron volts in both directions around the 27-kilometer (17-mile) tunnel housing the Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

The next major development is expected in a few days when CERN starts colliding the beams in a new round of research to examine the tiniest particles and forces within the atom in hopes of finding out more about how matter is made up.

The collider in December had already eclipsed the record of the next most powerful machine, the Tevatron at Fermilab outside Chicago, which has been running just shy of a trillion electron volts, or TeV.

The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics , such as the existence of dark energy and matter. Scientists hope also to approach on a tiny scale what happened in the first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was the creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.

CERN has reported a series of successes since the collider was restarted last year after 14 months of repairs and improvements following a spectacular failure when scientists initially tried to get the machine going.

CERN improved the machine during a 2 1/2-month winter shutdown to be able to operate at the higher energy .

“Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC’s overall design, and the improvements we’ve made since the breakdown in September 2008,” said Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators and technology.

It’ll be interesting to see how the scare mongering pseudoscientists rationalize away this one, but I’m sure they’ll find some way to do it.

Posted in doomsday, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Skeptical App on the iPhone/Touch #2: “Skeptical Science” vs. Global Warming Deniers

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2010

As a quick follow up to my previous post regarding The Creationist Claims Index, there is a similar iTunes app regarding one of the latest & most venemous science-denial movements: global warming denialism. Whether you are conversing with someone who is merely ignorant of the science of climate change, or if you’re butting heads with a hardcore ideologue, you will no doubt find the Skeptical Science app to be of great use!

Much like its anti-creationist partner, the Skeptical Science app is well laid-out and indexed, making it a handy reference for those on-the-spot conversations that demand an immediate correction or rebuttal.  In addition, it’s free :)

Download it now at iTunes…

As the front page of the website states:

Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to expand their knowledge and improve their understanding. Yet this isn’t what happens in global warming skepticism. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet eagerly, even blindly embrace any argument, op-ed piece, blog or study that refutes global warming.

So this website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?

Posted in global warming denial, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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