The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘light’

“Doctor” Oz Fails at Medicine AND Physics as He Pushes Cell Phone Fear-Mongering

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2013

This recent silliness by “Doctor” Oz came to my attention: apparently, during a recent show he took seriously the notion that women shouldn’t carry cell phones in their bras because it could give them breast cancer.  My skeptical colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine summarizes Oz’s idiocy and fear-mongering here…

… The story aired on December 6 and was entitled Why You Should Keep Your Cell Phone Out of Your Bra. The entire segment, lasting ten minutes or so, is one blatant piece of fear mongering. Even by the usual low standards of a typical Dr. Oz segment, this one was bad. How bad? I’ll give you a taste. Let me start just by asking what you might expect in a segment claiming a link between an environmental exposure of some sort and a specific cancer? You’d expect some actual scientific evidence, wouldn’t you? Some epidemiology, perhaps, showing that women who hold their cell phones in their bras have a higher risk of breast cancer, perhaps with some relative risks that were at least statistically significant. You might expect some scientific evidence suggesting why the proposed mechanism is plausible. You might even expect that there would be convincing (or at least suggestive) evidence that women who put their cell phones in their bras, when they develop breast cancer, develop it more frequently on the side where they stick their cell phone. These would be reasonable things to expect that, even though they wouldn’t be convincing proof, would at least raise concerns.

There was none of that at all. Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, I was shocked at how evidence-free this whole segment was. Usually Oz at least tries to slather a patina of scientific evidence on his pseudoscience. OK, maybe not usually, but he does at least sometimes try when he’s not doing a story on alternative medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “integrative medicine,” anyway. Not here. It’s as if Dr. Oz’s producers weren’t even trying for this one. …

If you want a good analysis that thrashes the hell out of Oz’s claims from a medical perspective, definitely read through all of Dr. Gorski’s blog post.  Seeing as how I’m not a medical doctor, I won’t rehash his analysis here; but I am a physics professor, so what I can do is go through the basic physics of why it is implausible that cell phones are even physically capable of causing cancer.  In fact, I’ve written numerous posts on this topic already…

Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths

This first post is probably the most thorough on the fundamental physics of how electromagnetic radiation/waves (also known as light) are generated and propagate; also included is a basic primer on the different kinds of EM waves, the EM spectrum, what role frequency and energy of light play in these issues, and the all important difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  Here’s the upshot: cell phones emit non-ionizing (i.e. non-cancer causing) radiation.

Maine Legislator Pushes Cell Phone-Cancer Woo

This article about a hysterical politician in Maine points out the implications of allowing basic scientific literacy to be trumped by the kind of psuedoscience and fear-mongering propagated by “Doctor” Oz and his ilk.

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Just a more up-to-date article outlining some more research from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark after it looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.  Conclusion: even while looking for supposed long-term negative effects, none were found.

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Merry Newtonmass!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 23, 2011

It’s almost December 25th, and while some people are celebrating certain holidays (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti!), one thing I like to do is take a little time to recognize one of the greatest contributors to modern science: Sir Isaac Newton.  Newton was born on December 25th, 1642 (according to the old-style Julian calendar)…

I totally stole this image from Skeptico :)

Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician.  The son of a yeoman, he was raised by his grandmother.  He was educated at Cambridge University (1661-1665), where he discovered the work of Rene Descartes.  His experiments passing sunlight through a prism led to the discovery of the heterogeneous, corpuscular nature of white light and laid the foundation of physical optics.  He built the first reflecting telescope in 1668 and became a professor of mathematics at Cambridge in 1669.  He worked out the fundamentals of calculus, though his work went unpublished for more than 30 years.  His most famous publication, The Principia Mathematica (1687), describes his works on the laws of motion (now named for Newton), orbital dynamics, tidal theory, and the theory of universal gravitation, and is regarded as the seminal work of modern science.  He was elected president of the Royal Society of London in 1703 and became the first scientist ever to be knighted in 1705.  During his career he engaged in heated arguments with several of his colleagues, including Robert Hooke (with whom he argued over authorship of the inverse-square relation of gravity) and Gottfried Leibniz (over the authorship of calculus).

Of course, while Newton was certainly no saint (he had a reputation for being kind of a nasty guy, especially to his academic opponents, and he also dabbled in alchemy, Biblical numerology, divination, the occult and many other things we’d consider quite woo-ish today), we can see from his accomplishments listed above just why he is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time, and it is for those contributions to humanity that we remember him.

So this December 25th, take some time to raise a glass, and perhaps admire a falling apple, to toast Isaac Newton and his legacy.  Cheers! :)

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

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 1, 2011

Okay, I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will have to say it again, but here goes… there is no causal connection between cell phone use and cancer!  Not only is it physically implausible, but there is no solid research showing such a connection; in fact, the research shows quite the opposite, as evidenced by this recent article from the BBC News…

Mobile phone brain cancer link rejected

By Nick Triggle Health correspondent, BBC News

man uses phone
Mobile phone safety has been much debated over the past two decades

Further research has been published suggesting there is no link between mobile phones and brain cancer.

The risk mobiles present has been much debated over the past 20 years as use of the phones has soared.

The latest study led by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.

Researchers concluded users were at no greater risk than anyone else of developing brain cancer.

The findings, published on the British Medical Journal website, come after a series of studies have come to similar conclusions. …

Posted in environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Physics of Relativity and a Lesson in Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 5, 2011

I recently had a guest post appear over at the JREF Swift blog, and I wanted to share it with you all here.  Enjoy! :)

The Physics of Relativity and a Lesson in Skepticism

I often spend at least a few days or, if I’m lucky, a few weeks addressing the topic of modern physics (that is, post 19th-century physics) in my high school classes towards the end of the year. And the topic I spend the most time on is Einstein’s theory of relativity, something which never fails in gaining the interest of my students, despite the fact that summer vacation is just around the corner. It’s one thing to talk about Newton’s laws, force diagrams, and vectors, but once you get to that “good stuff” like light speed, time travel, and whatnot the students perk right up. That’s precisely why I teach the topic at the end of the year when it is most difficult to keep classes on track.

Whenever I introduce this topic I start off with a very basic review of the physics of relative motion – many students roll their eyes at this introduction as “too simple” because it is a rehash of simple vector addition. For example, if you are traveling down a road in a bus that is moving at 50 mph and you throw a ball in front of you at a speed of 20 mph (from your viewpoint), an observer on the side of the road will see the ball moving at 50 mph + 20 mph = 70 mph, assuming there is no acceleration involved. But here’s the rub, and quite an extraordinary claim on my part: that idea is wrong!

Now that usually gets my students’ attention. How can this simple rule of velocity addition be wrong?! Don’t we use these rules all the time in the world around us to do everything from plan out plane routes to driving down the freeway? When I drop the “this rule of velocity addition is wrong” bomb on my classes, it is wonderful to see the immediate skepticism on display in both the students’ questions and mannerisms. Some of them even look at me as if I’ve lost my mind.

And this is a good thing, folks. By the end of the school year, I want my students to feel free to openly express their skepticism as an exercise in critical thinking. They should question me about a claim so bold as “the velocity addition we’ve used all year is wrong”, and they should demand a really good argument as to why my claim is accurate. And I should have to work hard to justify the claim, and I do. …

Click here to read the entire post!

Posted in education, physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Science Confirms the Bible? Hmmm, Not So Much…

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 2, 2011

So while I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, as I was hanging around the vendor tables I encountered a nice man who came up to me, handed a small pamphlet to me, and said, “Carl Sagan would want you to read this.”  He then went on his way and repeated this process all around the hall.  When I looked at the pamphlet, I was rather amused by what I saw: it was titled “Science Confirms the Bible”.  A virtual copy of the handout can be found at Living Waters, the website of evangelical Christianity espoused by none other than Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort.  Here’s what it looks like…

Yup, the folks over at Living Waters are seriously making these arguments.  Ray Comfort should have just stuck with the banana thing; at least that bit had a sight gag :)

Now I’m going point out just a couple of specific things about this pamphlet that shows it (as well as the argumentation behind it) are just way off base.  Suffice it to say that others have already analyzed some of these points, such as at a recent Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, but I’ll just give my thoughts here:

First, look at the format of this pamphlet: it shows a Biblical verse, a claim about what science “then” was saying (btw, “then” was supposedly 2000-3000 years ago), and a claim about what science now says.  The implication is that current science supports what the Bible is saying.  Now before I get to specific claims in this pamphlet, let me first say that it is ironic that Ray Comfort and his band of evolution-denying evangelicals are claiming that modern science supports their interpretation of the Bible, because their interpretation of the Bible conflicts with modern evolutionary science!  So if Ray Comfort is claiming what he is in this pamphlet, then he’s messing things up from every direction (but what do you expect from a guy who thinks that banana’s are “The Atheist’s Nightmare”?)

Not to mention, if a literal reading of the Bible (according to the manner in which Ray Comfort would read the Bible “literally”) is supposed to be scientifically accurate, then how can one account for blatant inconsistencies such as that in these verses from Genesis?

Genesis 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

[Addendeum (8-2-11): How could there have been light before there were stars?  The only scientifically viable option is to invoke the big bang model of cosmology, which many creationists such as Ray Comfort are loath to do, since they don't like the fact that it clearly shows the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  So there's another contradiction.] Okay, so there was day and night in the sky and on the Earth before there was a Sun (the greater light).  How exactly does that jibe with our understanding of modern astronomy?  Oh wait… it doesn’t.

Folks, this sort of thing is just a taste of the multitude of inconsistencies found between a “literal” reading of the Bible and modern science.  If you really want to see more, I suggest checking out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

Now, on to some specific criticism regarding this Living Waters pamphlet.  Let’s just take a look at the very first line in the claims about how the Bible supposedly predicts that the Earth is a sphere, from Isaiah 40:22.  What exactly does Isaiah 40:22 say?  Here it is…

Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

So the Earth is described in this Bible verse as a circle.  A circle.  For those who may not have mastered basic, high school geometry, a circle is a flat, two-dimensional object.  Yup, basically the Bible is arguing for a Flat Earth (because remember that, hey, circles are FLAT!!!) This is in direct conflict with the findings of the ancient Greeks (about 2000-3000 years ago) when natural philosophers such as Erastothenes of Cyrene proved, using simple measurements and geometry, that the Earth was a sphere.  Two additional points should be noted:

1. The fact that the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was NOT flat is also in direct conflict with the claims in the Living Waters pamphlet, which states that the ancients two or three thousand years ago thought the Earth was flat.

2. Modern science actually states that, due to the Earth’s rotation, our planet is not perfectly spherical.  In fact, it is an oblate spheroid.  So this fact is two steps removed from the text of Isaiah 40:22 – first that verse states the Earth is a circle, not a sphere; and second, if the Bible really were so accurate scientifically, why didn’t it just say “oblate spheroid”?

[Addendum (8-2-11): I would think that if the Bible were so amazingly accurate in predicting the behavior of the universe in scientific terms that it would have said something about quantum mechanics, general relativity, or how to do something practical like build an airplane or make a vaccine.  Nope, nothing like that in the Bible, either.]

I could go on, but I think that by now you get the idea.  Feel free to take a look at some of the other loony claims made by this pamphlet, read through the Bible verses for yourself, and have a good hearty laugh.  Because that’s all this pamphlet is good for: a laugh :)

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Stephen Colbert Pokes Skeptical Fun at WHO Cell Phone Claims

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 21, 2011

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization rather irresponsibly scared the hell out of a lot of people when they reported a link between cell phone use and cancer.  Of course, as I’ve mentioned in the past, we know of no plausible physical mechanism by which cell phones (or low frequency EMFs in general) can cause cancer; for a really detailed article on this issue, I highly recommend Orac’s post at Respectful Insolence.

But, while Orac’s article is excellent from a technical and medical standpoint, I think the best response to this scaremongering from the WHO comes from satirist Stephen Colbert :)

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Nick Nelson Fails IIG Test to Produce “Vortex Energy”

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 3, 2011

As I outlined mere days ago, the master spinner of all things having to do with so-called “vortex energy” – the notable Nick Nelson – had finally agreed to be tested by the Independent Investigation Group from Los Angeles.  Mr. Nelson traveled to IIG’s headquarters – claiming that he could bring his “vortex powers” with him from the Montana Vortex (a location that I investigated in 2006 and found to be hilariously full of woo & nonsense).  And after he got to IIG, he allowed himself to be tested according to the protocols that both he & the IIG team agreed to ahead of time.

The result: Nick Nelson failed.  Badly.  And he admitted it.

And it’s all on video:

Nick Nelson talks with the IIG’s Jim Underdown before the test begins.

In addition, Mark Edward – a member of the IIG team that tested Nick Nelson – put together a very nice & detailed blog on the whole experience at Skepticblog.  Here’s a couple of noteworthy excerpts…

… Hours of set-up, conferences and phone calls finally paid off with even more long hours of watching a grown man move magnets around the floor, stand stock still while swinging a pendulum over his hand and listening to albeit some great anecdotes about how his world has so many times “blinked” when he has experienced what he calls the “vortex phenomena.’

Unfortunately when the rules of science are applied, in this case careful measurements (really careful: using engineering calipers) of photographs; first before the creation of the fabled vortex using eight foot high wooden poles, then photos snapped and immediately developed, nothing showed up other than what would be expected from discrepancies consistent with human eye variation that were averaged mathematically and compared. …

… The best part for me as Lead Investigator was watching Nick get flustered and finally state to all present the he “…felt like a fool” when nothing happened. What did he expect?

It’s a freaking optical Illusion!

Well said, Mark.  While I must admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude at Nick Nelson’s failure (I had, after all, figured out five years ago, on an impromptu investigation of my own, how his tricks at the Montana Vortex worked), I also feel just a wee bit sad for Mr. Nelson.  I get the sense that he probably believes what he says, and that he has believed it for so long that he is going to have a helluva time trying to rationalize away the stone cold fact that his “vortex energy” claims simply don’t work.

Perhaps Mr. Nelson and others like him who have their paranormal claims tested by folks like the IIG and fail at those claims should consider the wise words of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Vortex Master Nick Nelson Accepts Skeptical IIG Challenge

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 29, 2011

I just wanted to update everyone about a very interesting development concerning the Montana Vortex & House of Mystery and the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) – you may recall that I blogged about this initially last summer, when it seemed an investigative team from IIG might go to the Montana Vortex to test their paranormal claims.  Well, it seems that vortex expert of the Montana Vortex, Mr. Nick Nelson, has finally agreed to the terms of IIG’s $50,000 challenge:

The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) at the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles offers a $50,000 prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The IIG works with the applicant in designing the test protocol, and defining the conditions under which a test will take place. IIG representatives will then administer the actual test. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform an informal demonstration of the claimed ability or phenomenon, which if successful will be followed by the formal test. The IIG conducts all demonstrations and tests at our site in Hollywood, California, except in special circumstances.

However, there is a twist.  Apparently, Nick Nelson has traveled to Los Angeles to conduct the test, as opposed to the IIG team going to Montana – this is because, in addition to all manner of other interesting claims he makes, Nick Nelson now seems to be claiming that “his vortex” (and its related effects) travels with him!  Wow…

In any case, the IIG is going to be conducting their test of Mr. Nelson’s claims/abilities this Saturday, April 30th.  The test will be streamed live via the Internet, and if you are interested in keeping up with the latest developments on this skeptical investigation you can check for updates at IIG’s investigation page.

Stay tuned :)

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Skeptical Investigation of the Montana Vortex & House of Mystery

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 25, 2010

Recently, I was contacted by the Independent Investigation Group (IIG) out of Los Angeles, California, concerning an impromptu skeptical investigation my wife and I had conducted of the Montana Vortex & House of Mystery back in the summer of 2006 during our vacation.  Apparently, a man named Nick Nelson (whom I had met briefly at the site) – somewhat of a pseudoscientific guru regarding all New Age “vortex” claims – had contacted IIG about taking them up on their $50,000 Challenge. IIG’s prize follows in the spirit of James Randi’s famous Million Dollar Challenge:

The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) at the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles offers a $50,000 prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The IIG works with the applicant in designing the test protocol, and defining the conditions under which a test will take place. IIG representatives will then administer the actual test. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform an informal demonstration of the claimed ability or phenomenon, which if successful will be followed by the formal test. The IIG conducts all demonstrations and tests at our site in Hollywood, California, except in special circumstances.

Well, it seems the folks at IIG could be actually going to the Montana Vortex site, outside of Columbia Falls, Montana, at the request of Nick Nelson to test out the various claims by the proprietors.  If Mr. Nelson can come up with the money to fly some IIG investigators out to Montana and put them up for a couple of days, then perhaps there will be some serious investigation of the supposedly “paranormal” phenomena at the Montana Vortex.  I’m not sure, as of this writing, whether or not IIG and Nick Nelson have finalized any plans, so stay tuned for more info.

**Note: the IIG investigators want me to make clear in no uncertain terms that Nick Nelson initiated discussion of their $50,000 Challenge with them, and not the other way around!

Anyway, as I stated earlier, the IIG folks contacted me, because they heard (probably through this post I made on the JREF Forum) about my desire to send the results of my off-the-cuff skeptical analysis to James Randi.  They wanted my notes to see what I thought of the tricks & optical illusions (that’s all they are, in my professional opinion as a physics professor) taking place at the Montana Vortex, and I eagerly shared them with IIG.  And I shall also share them with you here.  I hope you enjoy the read… :)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments »

Cell Phone & Cancer Study Follow Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 27, 2010

Last October I posted about a really crappy piece of “journalism” in the New York Post regarding a supposed link between cellphone use and cancer.  The punchline was that the headline-grubbing morons at the NYPost ran their story before the actual study had been published!

Well, now the actual study by the real scientists & researchers involved has been published, and – lo and behold – it paints a very different picture from the fear-mongering goobers at the NYPost.  In part, their conclusion states:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones.”

For reference, the entire study is available here in PDF format. Now of course I’m not surprised in the least by these results, seeing as how, based upon the laws of physics as we know them, there is no plausible mechanism by which such low-energy emissions from cellphones could cause cancer!

One would hope that various media outlets would take a lesson from this fiasco, but I suppose some people are more interested in selling paper than responsible news reporting.

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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