The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘astrology’

Weird Al’s Horoscope Song

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 23, 2013

In honor of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s birthday, I wanted to share with you one of his songs which has a funny skeptical and cynical slant to it… “That’s Your Horoscope for Today” (lyrics here).  Enjoy!  :)


Incidentally, here’s my favorite section of the lyrics:

Now you may find it inconceivable or at the very least a bit unlikely
that the relative position of the planets and the stars could have
a special deep significance or meaning that exclusively applies to only you, but let me give you my assurance that these forecasts and predictions are all based on solid, scientific, documented evidence, so you would have to be some kind of moron not to realize that every single one of them is absolutely true.

Posted in astrology, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

New Years Psychic Prediction Failures: 2012 Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 2, 2013

Well, here we are once again, and it’s time for that time-honored tradition of checking the accuracy of famous psychic predictions of the past year.  As you’ll see, when subjected to scrutiny, the vast majority of these predictions fail pretty badly.  However, there are all too many faithful followers of psychic woo who want to believe that it works.  One of the primary ways in which believers fool themselves is to cherry-pick the predictions and results; in skeptic-speak, we call this “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”.

psychic fair cancelled

Ummm… yeah.  It’s kind of like that.  Image source

And there are a LOT more misses than hits, folks.  In addition, many of these psychics tend to make very vague and ambiguous predictions which can be twisted and interpreted in a number of ways.  This creative interpretation of misses or vague predictions after-the-fact as hits is well documented in the history of psychic woo.  Let’s see how well those predictions for 2012 worked out by referencing this About.com article from one year ago…

A LOT OF people are looking at 2012 with a mixture of dread and hope. The last few years have been tough financially for many people, and there’s been all of that apocalyptic talk about Mayan calendars and doom and gloom. What will really happen in 2012 I’m sure will surprise all of us. Recently, readers like you made your predictions for 2012, but we always seem to be curious about what the professional psychics foresee. Here are selected predictions for 2012 from some of the most well-known and sought-after psychics, seers, and mentalists from around the world.

Let’s just begin this exercise by examining the first psychic on the list:

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Science Does “All the Damn Work”

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2012

From my skeptical colleague and fellow blogger Steve over at TreeLobsters.com…

‘Nuff said :)

Posted in humor, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

It’s Equinox Time, So Balance Some Eggs for Science!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2011

Tomorrow, September 23rd, is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, and it is on this occasion that I like to inject a little skeptical and critical thinking fun into my physics classes.  Most of us have heard of the urban legend about balancing an egg on its end during the equinox – the thing is, this is true!  The myth is the implication that one can only do this on the equinox, when – in fact – you can balance an egg on end pretty much any time you want.

Case in point, here’s a couple of photos of me balancing eggs on their ends during the time of year exactly opposite to the equinoxes…

During the summer solstice…

And during the winter solstice…

In addition, here’s a nice Youtube video showing some tips on how to accomplish this trick:

The reason why this trick works boils down to simple physics: it’s called unstable equilibrium.  If you have a flat and level surface on which to perform this trick, and there aren’t a lot of vibrations around, then chances are you can balance a number of eggs in a standard dozen pack.  As long as the eggs are relatively smooth on their ends (look closely and you’ll see some bumps on some of them) and you are very patient, then with some practice pretty much anyone can perform this trick.  The Bad Astronomy blog has a pretty good rundown on the physics as well.

So the next time you hear someone pass along the “eggs can be balanced only on the equinox” myth, whip out some eggs and balance away.  It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to advocate for skepticism and science :)

Posted in astrology, magic tricks, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Double-Whammy of Stupid Regarding the Japanese Earthquake

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 25, 2011

I’ve been sitting on this a bit, but I can’t take it anymore.  Beyond the idiocy being bantered about much of the media concerning the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, there is an entire other layer of stupid superimposed atop that: it’s about what caused the earthquake in the first place and future effects (i.e. “mega”-quakes) resulting from the Japanese quake.

The first bit of pseudoscientific flummery comes from various physics cranks & astrological weirdos who seem to have been going on and on about something called the “Supermoon”.  Here’s a great Bad Astronomy article (written March 11th, 2011) taking down why this Supermoon nonsense is Super-Stupid…

No, the “supermoon” didn’t cause the Japanese earthquake

… The idea of the Moon affecting us on Earth isn’t total nonsense, but it cannot be behind this earthquake, and almost certainly won’t have any actual, measurable effect on us on March 19, when the full Moon is at its closest.

So, how can I be so sure?

The gravity of the situation

Here’s the deal. The Moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse, so sometimes it’s closer to us and sometimes farther away. At perigee (closest point) it can be as close as 354,000 km (220,000 miles). At apogee, it can be as far as 410,000 km (254,000 miles). Since the Moon orbits the Earth every month or so, it goes between these two extremes every two weeks. So if, say, it’s at apogee on the first of the month, it’ll be at perigee in the middle of the month, two weeks later.

The strength of gravity depends on distance, so the gravitational effects of the Moon on the Earth are strongest at perigee.

However, the Moon is nowhere near perigee right now! [Note: This article was written on March 11th, the same date as the Japanese earthquake]

The Moon was at apogee on March 6, and will be at perigee on March 19. When the earthquake in Japan hit last night, the Moon was about 400,000 km (240,000 miles) away. So not only was it not at its closest point, it was actually farther away than it usually is on average.

So again, this earthquake in Japan had nothing to do with the Moon…

The second bit of nonsense which is making the rounds on the Internet is an article published in Newsweek magazine stating that the Japanese earthquake makes it more likely there will be a super-duper “mega-quake” which will, among other things, flatten California & the west coast of the United States.  Sadly, this is yet another example of media fail on a scientific topic, because had the writer (supposedly a “journalist”, but actually someone who doesn’t deserve that title) of the Newsweek article taken just a little time to check his facts, he would have seen that such an idea is nonsense.  LiveScience.com has a great take down of this fiasco…

Bogus Claim: Japan Earthquake Won’t Trigger a California Quake

An unfounded scientific assertion by a nonscientist has swept across the Web like a tsunami over the past few days. In an article in Newsweek, writer Simon Winchester claimed that the 9.0-magnitude Japan earthquake, following close on the heels of recent quakes in New Zealand and Chile, has ratcheted up the chances of a catastrophic seismic event striking in California.

In his article, “The Scariest Earthquake Is Yet to Come,” Winchester pointed out that all three of those recent earthquakes occurred along faults on the edge of the Pacific Plate — the giant tectonic puzzle piece under the Pacific Ocean — and that this also butts up against the North American plate along the San Andreas Fault.

“[A] significant event on one side of a major tectonic plate is often … followed some weeks or months later by another on the plate’s far side,” he wrote. “Now there have been catastrophic events at three corners of the Pacific Plate — one in the northwest, on Friday; one in the southwest, last month; one in the southeast, last year. That leaves just one corner unaffected — the northeast. And the fault line in the northeast of the Pacific Plate is the San Andreas Fault, underpinning the city of San Francisco.” …

Of course, the actual journalists (not the hacks who seem to pump out useless bilge called “science reporting” at Newsweek) at LiveScience.com check with real scientists on the question, and here’s what they found:

… “There is no evidence for a connection between all of the Pacific Rim earthquakes,” Nathan Bangs, a geophysicist who studies tectonic processes at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, told Life’s Little Mysteries. “I don’t know what the basis is for the statements and implications in the Newsweek article, but there is no evidence that there is a link.”

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) earthquake geologist David Schwartz, who heads the San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Hazards Project, concurred. “Simon Winchester is a popular science writer, not a scientist,” Schwartz said. “I’m not saying we won’t have an earthquake here in California at some point in the future, but there really is no physical connection between these earthquakes.” …

… Rich Briggs, a USGS geologist whose work focuses on how earthquakes happen, explained another way in which earthquakes can cascade. “The other way earthquakes affect their neighbors is that when a fault ruptures, it sends out seismic waves that in the case of large earthquakes can even circle the globe. In some cases, this ‘dynamic stress transfer’ increases seismicity,” Briggs told Life’s Little Mysteries. “But that only happens as waves go by, in the minutes that it takes the waves to travel out from the fault zone.” …

… So when will a major earthquake strike California? “Based on models taking into account the long-term rate of slip on the San Andreas fault and the amount of offset that occurred on the fault in 1906, the best guess is that 1906-type earthquakes occur at intervals of about 200 years,” Robert Williams, USGS seismologist, wrote in an email. “Because of the time needed to accumulate slip equal to a 20-foot offset, there is only a small chance (about 2 percent) that such an earthquake could occur in the next 30 years.” …

The Japanese earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and all the related pain, suffering, and death is a horrible tragedy that the world will no doubt be grappling with for many years to come.  However, in order for us to deal with these inevitable & uncontrollable tragedies, we must use the best tools at our disposal.  These tools include addressing things from a careful, rational, scientific, and fact-based view, not by appealing to our more primitive notions of superstition & fear-mongering.  One works, the other doesn’t: take a guess which is which.

Posted in astrology, doomsday, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Shifting of the Zodiac & Why Astrology Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 15, 2011

For the last couple of days I’ve been getting questions from some of my colleagues about the “shifting of the zodiac” and today one playfully asked me if they were still a Cancer.  In fact, I’ve seen news headlines stating “Your horoscope could quite possibly be wrong” – this is humorous because I’ve always known horoscopes are wrong & useless :)

Some astrologers and other pseudoscientific goofballs are apparently making a lot of hay out of this (including some doomsayers who have bought into the 2012 hysteria), but I’m here to tell you that this is the effect of nothing more than simple physics.  What is going on is just the effect of the rotational axis of the Earth twisting around in a cone – this is a phenomenon called axial precession. Picture a spinning toy top on the ground – does it stay upright and keep spinning forever?  No, it eventually starts to wobble.  In much the same way, the Earth’s rotational axis wobbles, and it takes about 26,000 years for this cycle to complete.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

For example, many of us have heard of the North Star, also known as Polaris, as the star in the sky right above our north (geographic) pole.  That is, if you were standing at the geographic north pole of the Earth, Polaris would be directly overhead all the time with the rest of the sky appearing to wheel about it.  Well, believe it or not, Polaris hasn’t always been the North Star; in fact, about 13,000 years ago (halfway through our precessional cycle) our North Star was Vega!

Thus, if our North Star can be shifted over time due to precessional movement, then so too can other features of our night sky, such as the zodiac.  The zodiac is a collection of constellations which inhabit a band of sky called the ecliptic – the ecliptic is that region wherein we see the Sun, Moon, and all the planets move from our perspective on Earth, and it basically outlines the plane of our solar system.  The following image explains clearly the arrangement of the zodiac symbols along the ecliptic…

A band around the sky about 18° wide, centered on the ecliptic, in which the Sun, Moon, and planets move. The band is divided into 12 signs of the zodiac, each 30° long, that were named by the ancient Greeks after the constellations that used to occupy these positions; “zodiac” means “circle of animals,” and only Libra is inanimate. Over the past 2,000 years, precession has moved the constellations eastward by over 30° so that they no longer coincide with the old signs. Image Source

So what’s really going on is that, due to the long slow precessional cycle of the Earth, our old star maps which laid down the zodiac we’ve all come to recognize are now getting out of date.  That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.  So relax, it’s not the harbinger of cosmic disaster, it’s just simple physics.  And, I might add, where superstition & astrology have failed, science & astronomy have triumphed – what astrologer predicted the shifting of the zodiac? That is, without consulting the actual scientists first… ;)

If you’d like to see an excellent blog post on this same subject, I highly recommend this entry by Phil Plait over at the Bad Astronomy Blog.

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

New Years Psychic Prediction Failures: 2010 Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 1, 2011

Among the New Year traditions that seem to get bantered about these days are psychic predictions for the upcoming year.  Of course, psychics are a bunch of hooey – ever seen a newspaper headline titled “Psychic Wins Lottery, Gives Money to Starving Kids!”?  You never will, because psychic & other related paranormal phenomena just don’t work, period.

However, there are all too many faithful followers of psychic woo who want to believe that it works.  One of the primary ways in which believers fool themselves is to cherry-pick the predictions & results; in skeptic-speak, we call this “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”.  And there are a LOT more misses than hits, folks.  In addition, many of these psychics tend to make very vague & ambiguous predictions which can be twisted and interpreted in a number of ways.  This creative interpretation of misses or vague predictions after-the-fact as hits is well documented in the history of psychic woo.

As a way of illustrating this, let us take some time to examine a series of predictions made one year ago by a number of famous psychics, shall we?

What the Psychics Are Predicting for 2010

By , About.com Guide

THESE ARE THE people who are supposed to be able to tell us the future, right? Okay, so here are 2010 predictions from psychics, astrologers and mentalists from around the U.S. and around the world about the economy, politics, Hollywood – and a few very weird things.

Christopher St John, Psychic

  • Another crash in the stock market… maybe a little bit later in the year.
  • Increased recording and reporting of sightings of UFOs will place pressure on world governments to admit “the truth” of extra-terrestrial life. …

Another stock market crash?  Hmm, let’s see how the ol’ market did this year.  According to Yahoo News Finance, it seems like it was a pretty damn good year for the market, specifically the Dow Jones:

Of course, if Mr. St. John wants to call the dip in the market from May to July (which amounted to ~1000 points over the course of two months) a “crash”, I suppose he could do that.  But given what the markets went through back in 2008, I think this two-month-long dip could hardly be called a “crash”.  I’m going to call this one a miss.

As for the supposed “pressure” put on world governments to release “the truth” of ET-life, I don’t seem to recall any major headlines on that front.  In fact, a brief search of Google News using the terms “extra terrestrial life ufo governments” revealed pretty much nothing; well, nothing except for this headline: ‘Cosmic masters’ call for Govt investigation into UFOs

I suppose this is marginally interesting, but the prediction was that world governments (note the plural there) would have these UFO files released and facing pressure.  As it is, it seems that this has only occurred in New Zealand, not worldwide as predicted.  Not to mention, in the last few years we have seen the release of a number of formerly secret files on supposed UFO sightings by a number of governments, so this sort of “prediction” comes as no big revelation.  If this is a psychic hit, it is a really vague & lukewarm one.

Who is our next psychic? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in astrology, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Eclipses, Moon Myths & Lunacy

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 21, 2010

This winter solstice, the night of December 20th and early morning of the 21st, will bear witness to a full lunar eclipse. It seems to me that every time such an event takes place it brings forth all manner of myths & misconceptions regarding the moon and its supposed effects.  So, in the spirit of this evening lunar eclipse, I wanted to pass along to you all the straight science regarding some of the more loonie (pardon the pun) claims regarding the moon.

First, here is some scientifically reliable information regarding lunar eclipses…

Now, on to some of the myths regarding the moon: I want to share with you two good articles that examine many of the pseudoscientific claims regarding the moon, one from LiveScience.com and the other from the Skeptic’s Dictionary

Moon Myths: The Truth About Lunar Effects on You

The moon holds a mystical place in the history of human culture, so it’s no wonder that many myths — from werewolves to induced lunacy to epileptic seizures — have built up regarding its supposed effects on us.

“It must be a full moon,” is a phrase heard whenever crazy things happen and is said by researchers to be muttered commonly by late-night cops, psychiatry staff and emergency room personnel. …

Full moon and lunar effects

The full moon has been linked to crime, suicide, mental illness, disasters, accidents,  birthrates, fertility, and werewolves, among other things. Some people even buy and sell stocks according to phases of the moon, a method probably as successful as many others. Numerous studies have tried to find lunar effects. So far, the studies have failed to establish much of interest. Lunar effects that have been found have little or nothing to do with human behavior, e.g., the discovery of a slight effect of the moon on global temperature,* which in turn might have an effect on the growth of plants. Of course, there have been single studies here and there that have found correlations between various phases of the moon and this or that phenomenon, but nothing significant has been replicated sufficiently to warrant claiming a probable causal relationship. …


Posted in astrology, psychology, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Happy Summer Solstice: Skeptical Egg-Balancing Fun!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice everyone! It might seem a strange thing to be celebrating, this specific position of Earth in its orbit around the sun, but we skeptics have our reasons. This, of course, has to do with the old myth of being able to balance eggs on their ends only during either the vernal (spring) or autumnal equinox – of course, all references are in regards to the northern hemisphere.

But wait, it’s not the equinox, so why bring up this myth now? To debunk it, of course. According to adherents of this myth, usually the same folks who are into astrology-related woo, during the equinoxes “things line up cosmically” (probably some misunderstood reference to the fact that the length of day & night are the same), and this should result in the capability to stand eggs on their ends.

The funny thing about this particular myth is that it contains a kernel of truth… you can stand an egg on its end on the equinox, just as you can at any time of the year – even the solstices, as far away from the equinox as you can get. Case in point, last summer (on June 21st, the summer solstice) I balanced three eggs on end in my kitchen…

Solstice Eggs

And this past winter solstice (well, close – on December 24, 2009), while visiting family for the holidays I balanced an egg on end in their kitchen…

These supposedly “cosmic events” took me all of just a few minutes to accomplish – with a little practice, it’s easy to do. To understand why it is that eggs can be balanced in this manner, it is more helpful to look to the science of physics rather than the pseudoscience of astrology – this link at the Bad Astronomy blog explains in more detail.

So, the next time you hear someone make this loony claim, have a little fun with it – whip out the eggs and balance away!

Posted in astrology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happy Winter Solstice! — Time to Balance Those Eggs

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 24, 2009

**Note: This is essentially a repost of an earlier entry…

Let’s balance some eggs, kids :)

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!  It might seem a strange thing to be celebrating, this specific position of Earth in its orbit around the sun, but we skeptics have our reasons.  This, of course, has to do with the old myth of being able to balance eggs on their ends only during either the vernal (spring) or autumnal equinox – of course, all references are in regards to the northern hemisphere.

But wait, it’s not the equinox, so why bring up this myth now?  To debunk it, of course.  According to adherents of this myth, usually the same folks who are into astrology-related woo, during the equinoxes “things line up cosmically” (probably some misunderstood reference to the fact that the length of day & night are the same), and this should result in the capability to stand eggs on their ends.

The funny thing about this particular myth is that it contains a kernel of truth… you can stand an egg on its end on the equinox, just as you can at any time of the year – even the solstices, as far away from the equinox as you can get.  Case in point, I’m away visiting family, and I just balanced an egg on end in the kitchen…

This supposedly “cosmic event” took me all of fifteen seconds to accomplish – with a little practice, it’s easy to do. To understand why it is that eggs can be balanced in this manner, it is more helpful to look to the science of physics rather than the pseudoscience of astrology – this link at the Bad Astronomy blog explains in more detail.

So, the next time you hear someone make this loony claim, have a little fun with it – whip out the eggs and balance away!

Posted in astrology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers

%d bloggers like this: