The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘tides’

So Much for The End of the World, Mayan Style!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2012

Well, it seems that yet another end-of-the-world prophecy has bitten the dust.  Dec. 21st, 2012 – dreaded day of “the end” as supposedly fortold by the Mayan Calendar - has come and gone just like every other doomsday.  Beyond citing the obvious fact that we’re still here, I cannot help but poke fun by passing along this humorous photo of arch-skeptic James Randi while he was in Cozumel, Mexico just last week :)

Randi Mayan calendar

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

NASA Debunks Mayan Doomsday Prophecies… AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 10, 2012

*Sigh* I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again…

The World is NOT Going to End on December 21st!!!

[In case you know anyone who thinks it will, please refer them to :) ]

Incidentally, if common sense isn’t enough, and you happen to have some poor deluded family member or friend convinced they cannot come out of the basement until after the planet has been turned into a mutant-populated, radioactive hell, you could consider sharing this well-written article with them:

NASA says world won’t end in 2012 despite Mayan  calendar

mayan calendar

We’re less than a month away from the so-called end of the world, but NASA  says you don’t have anything to worry about.

Earlier this month, NASA posted a list of frequently asked questions about  why the world won’t end in 2012, like some believe the Mayans calendar  indicates.

The post explained that Earth has been getting along fine for the last 4  billion years and there is no threat to our planet this year. …

But how can those egghead geeks at NASA be so sure?  Well, there are these things called “logic” and “reason” which tend to give validity to arguments such as this:

… But just as your desk calendar ends on Dec. 31 and world keeps going on, the  same goes for the Mayan calendar, NASA explained. Just before you run out of  pages doesn’t mean life as we know it will cease to exist. …

Personally, I cannot wait until December 22nd.  Because then there are going to be a LOT of people with a LOT of egg on their faces, just like all the other times the world was predicted to end and it didn’t.

In fact, regarding all the doomsday predictions ever made in the past, there is one thing they all have in common: They were all dead wrong.

Posted in astrology, doomsday, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Discovery of Earliest Mayan Calendar Throws 2012 Doomsday Claims into Doubt

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 18, 2012

No doubt, unless you’ve been living in a hole, you have heard about the supposed end-of-the-world coming this December 21st, 2012 – at least, that’s what some New Age whackadoodles and apocalyptic doomsayers would have you believe.  Why do they believe this?  Because, according to them, the Mayan calendar predicts it.

Unfortunately for the doomsday prophets, the Mayan calendar predicts nothing of the sort.  Take, for example, the fact that recently the discovery of the world’s oldest Mayan calendar seems to have thrown the whole “Mayan 2012″ prophecy of armaggedon into serious doubt:

Nevermind the Apocalypse: Earliest Mayan Calendar Found

Image source

The oldest-known version of the ancient Maya calendar has been discovered adorning a lavishly painted wall in the ruins of a city deep in the Guatemalan rainforest.

The hieroglyphs, painted in black and red, along with a colorful mural of a king and his mysterious attendants, seem to have been a sort of handy reference chart for court scribes in A.D. 800 — the astronomers and mathematicians of their day. Contrary to popular myth, this calendar isn’t a countdown to the end of the world in December 2012, the study researchers said.

“The Mayan calendar is going to keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future,” said archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas, who worked to decipher the glyphs. “Numbers we can’t even wrap our heads around.” …

Oops.  That’s embarrassing.  So the Mayan calendary doesn’t predict the apocalypse?  Why exactly is that?

… The Maya recorded time in a series of cycles, including 400-year chunks called baktuns. It’s these baktuns that have led to rumors of an end-of-the-world catastrophe on Dec. 21, 2012 — on that date, a cycle of 13 baktuns will be complete. But the idea that this means the end of the worldis a misconception, Stuart said. In fact, Maya experts have known for a long time that the calendar doesn’t end after the 13th baktun. It simply begins a new cycle. And the calendar encompasses much larger units than the baktun.

“There were 24 units of time they actually could have incorporated into their calendar,” Stuart said. “Here, we’re only seeing five units and they’re still really big.”

In one column, the ancient scribe even worked out a cycle of time recording 17 baktuns, the researchers found. In another spot, someone etched a “ring number” into the wall. These notations were used to record time in a previous cycle, thousands of years into the past. The calendar also appears to note the cycles of Mars and Venus, the researchers said. Symbols of gods head the top of each lunar cycle, suggesting that each cycle had its own patron deity.

“There was a lot more to the Maya calendar than just 13 baktuns,” Stuart said. …

Of course, another reason to doubt the claims of the doom-mongers, despite the structure of the Mayan calendar, is the fact that no matter what the source for the supposed end-of-the-world prophecy, every prophecy of this nature in the past has had one thing in common: THEY HAVE ALL FAILED SPECTACULARLY!  This includes at least one high-profile prediction from last year!

It’ll be interesting to see what the doomsaying believers have to say on December 22nd, 2012 when we’re all still here :)

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

NASA Video Crushes Mayan Doomsday 2012 Predictions

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 14, 2012

The fine folks at NASA have put together a nice, quick video debunking the claims of doomsday related to the supposed end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012.  Check out the video over at Life’s Little Mysteries…

NASA Crushes 2012 Mayan Apocalypse Claims

by Natalie Wolchover, Life’s Little Mysteries Staff Writer

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have put out a new video to address false claims about the “Mayan apocalypse,” a non-event that some people believe will bring the world to an end on Dec. 21.

In the video, which was posted online Wednesday (Mar. 7), Don Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Objects Program Office at NASA/JPL, explains away many of the most frequently cited doomsday scenarios. [See video]

Addressing the belief that the calendar used by the ancient Mayan civilization comes to a sudden end in December 2012, and that this will coincide with a cataclysmic, world-ending event, Yeomans said: “Their calendar does not end on December 21, 2012; it’s just the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one. It’s just like on December 31, our calendar comes to an end, but a new calendar begins on January 1.” …

Read the rest at Life’s Little Mysteries


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

More Media Fail and Silliness: Lunar Effect Babies

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2011

This week there’s been a story going around the media about a supposedly huge jump in births in a Sacramento hospital where “45 babies were delivered in 48 hours.”  Now that may or may not sound very unusual (it ends up it isn’t that strange – read on), but the really weird aspect of this is the claim made by the hospital officials with nary a skeptical thought:

“The human body is 80 percent water, after all. And, given that both menstruation and ovulation roughly follow a lunar cycle – occurring on a monthly basis – it doesn’t seem too far off to think that the moon could have a say in childbirth as well,” hospital officials said.

And, of course, the supposed mechanism for this “lunar effect”, as espoused by the hospital spokesman, is gravitational in nature:
According to the news release, the moon’s gravitational pull “can control a woman’s body” the same way the moon’s gravity controls tides.
*Cue spooky music…
Image courtesy of

First of all, the fact that 45 babies were born in 48 hours is not that significant.  Note the article states that there have been a total of 325,000 babies delivered at the hospital since 1937.  If you do the math, then this comes out to an average of about 12 babies per day – compared to the claim in the article (which basically averages out to about 22 or 23 babies in one day), this seems not very extraordinary because it shows that there was a weekend where the hospital had only double the average number of births!  100 times the average number of births would be statistically significant, but not 2 times the average.

Then there’s the stupid claim about the “lunar effect”.  Not only is this a bogus claim – click here to see why not – but it is also implausible from the standpoint of basic physics.  The hospital spokesman makes a common claim about the “lunar effect” being gravitational in nature, like the tidal effects on the Earth’s oceans.  However, if one takes a moment to work through the mathematics, this arguments falls apart pretty quickly.  For example, I perform the calculations for the tidal effects of the moon (whether it is full or not is irrelevant) on a person in my physics classes, and it ends up the tidal forces that act upon a person are stupendously small – about one-billionth the weight of a paperclip!  So whether or not you decide to wear a hat or use hair gel on any given day has more gravitational influence on you than does the tides from the moon!

That’s because the strength of the tidal forces that act on an object are proportional to the size of that object.  In the case of a large planet, like the Earth, the relative difference between gravity from one side of the planet to the other (this difference is the tide itself) is pretty big since the Earth is big.  But humans are so small on this size scale that the difference in gravity (tide) on us is miniscule.

So the next time you gaze upwards and see the full moon, appreciate it for all its beauty and wonder.  But don’t worry about it making you crazy; the failure of the media to accurately report science is a bigger threat of making you nuts ;)

Posted in astrology, mathematics, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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. 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 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 »

Bill O’Reilly Doubles Down on the Stupid: “How’d the Moon Get There?”

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 2, 2011

Recently, I’ve posted about how Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly displayed a great deal of scientific ignorance when he tried to argue that God exists because “we cannot explain the tides”.  Of course, scientists do know how the tides work (as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson states: it’s gravity from the Moon, duh); but rather than admit his error, Bill O’Reilly has decided to double down on the stupid.  Just watch this…

Once again, O’Reilly makes the all-too-common argument from ignorance, specifically the god-of-the-gaps argument. Of course, we actually do have scientific answers to many of the questions brought up by Mr. O’Reilly.  Let us examine some of his statements/claims… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Bill O’Reilly’s “Tides = God” Argument is Demolished by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 29, 2011

As a humorous follow-up to my recent post called God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly, I just wanted to share a hilarious clip from The Colbert Report with you.  In it, Colbert does a marvelous job of, in his satirical way, calling Bill O’Reilly to the carpet on his god-of-the-gaps argument when he says:

Now, like all great theologies, Bill’s can be boiled down to one sentence: “There must be a God, because I don’t know how things work!”

In addition, Stephen Colbert is surprised when astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson drops by for a visit and explains why the tides actually work :)

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

God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2011

Oh man.  As a high school & college physics professor, I have to say that I’ve heard some pretty bad arguments regarding physics in my day, but I think this one is worth a mention: Fox News celebrity Bill O’Reilly displays his gross ignorance of basic physics by… well, by ignoring gravity.

Bill O’Reilly on Science: You Can’t Explain the Tides

Apparently, Bill O’Reilly has never heard of the moon. In a debate Tuesday with Dave Silverman, head of the American Atheist group behind this, the Fox host tried to prove the existence of God by citing the unknowable mysteries of the tides. “I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion,” he told Silverman. “Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.” …

Yup, he’s ignoring gravity and replacing it with God.  Just watch the video for yourself (the relevant part begins at the 1:40 mark)…

Wow… just, wow.  Apprently, Mr. O’Reilly has never studied the universal law of gravitation (which is standard in any high school physics class) which explains quite clearly – without any mention of God, Zeus, Thor, or Santa Claus – where tidal forces come from.  Essentially, tides in Earth’s oceans exist because one side of our planet is closer to the Moon (or the Sun, both exert tides) than the other.  Thus, the side closer to the Moon (Sun) is pulled slightly more than the side further away from the Moon, resulting in the tidal bulges which lead to the rising and falling of the oceans.  This article on Wikipedia (ever heard of Google, Mr. O’Reilly?) and graphic can help illustrate the point I’m making:

Graphic of tidal forces; the gravity field is generated by a body to the right. The top picture shows the gravitational forces; the bottom shows their residual once the field of the sphere is subtracted; this is the tidal force. Source: Wikipedia

Essentially, O’Reilly is making a stunningly stupid argument from ignorance (in this case known as the god-of-the-gaps) by saying that just because he doesn’t know how the tides work, then that must mean that his version of God is real.  Of course, it might be interesting to ask Mr. O’Reilly’s feelings on the matter after he’s had a lesson in basic physics – would he then conclude that the tides are evidence against the existence of God?  That precarious position is precisely why serious theologians & philosophers do not engage in arguing from ignorance.

Such ham-fisted arguments are also why natural science separated itself from supernatural causes back in the 19th century as natural philosophy transitioned into what we now call modern science.  It seems that O’Reilly is still stuck in the 1800s.

In closing, despite my atheism, if Mr. O’Reilly or anyone wants to believe in God, that’s fine by me I suppose, just so long as they don’t piss all over science in the process.

Posted in physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 102 other followers