Archive for September, 2011
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 30, 2011
I just wanted to take a few minutes to share with you an excellent post over at the Skepticblog by Donald Prothero titled “A Visit to the Creationists’ ‘Mordor’”. In it, Donald speaks about the National Center for Science Education, an organization very near and dear to my heart as a skeptic and science teacher. The NCSE is the clearinghouse in the United States that tracks all things creationist, and it serves an absolutely vital purpose in countering attempts to force creationism into public schools under the guise of science. Take a few minutes to read Donald’s article, and consider joining the NCSE today…
… I decided to pay a visit to another cultural landmark: the headquarters of the National Center for Science Education. This is the chief non-profit organization in the U.S. that helps local school boards and scientists and teachers when creationism threatens their classrooms. If you read the creationists’ literature and the posts on the ID creationist Discovery Institute’s (DI) website, the NCSE is this monstrous organization which exerts mind-control over every scientist in the country, and forces them to robotically chant “I accept evolution.” According to the creationists, the NCSE is pure evil, suppressing the creationism message with its enormous staff and budget and power over all of U.S. science. In Ben Stein’s crappy little creationist propaganda film Expelled,Ben pays a visit to the gleaming headquarters of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which occupies a vast amount of floor space in a brand-new office building downtown, and has a huge staff. Over and over again the DI staffers complain about how they scientific establishment is against them, and how the NCSE has so much more power, money, and influence than they do.
So it’s surprising to actually visit the headquarters of the NCSE and get an abrupt reality check. This bête noire of creationism occupies a small, rundown, poorly ventilated commercial space in a rough part of Oakland, surrounded by fundamentalist churches. Their tiny staff is paid a pittance compared to most academic or business salaries, and they occupy cramped cubicles cluttered with piles of work. About the only way you could tell it was not any other kind of typical non-profit organization was the decoration: creationist and evolutionary posters and “timelines of creation”, casts of famous hominid fossils and prehistoric animal models, dolls and posters and bobble-heads of Charles Darwin, clever signs from many different school board protests, and over the staff calendar and status board, “You are not in Kansas any more.” …
And here are Donald’s thoughts on how a little bit of truth really can go a long way:
… Despite the polls showing that about 40% of Americans agree with the major tenets of creationism, and the fact that there are many creationist organizations which are larger and more powerful, the NCSE has two key weapons: the law and reality. Fundamentalist ministers may be able to bamboozle their flocks with lies about evolution, but in the marketplace of scientific ideas, there is no longer any doubt that evolution is the way the world actually works. Creationists may try to gussy up their ideas as “intelligent design” or hide behind the “teach the controversy” tactic, but the myths of illiterate Bronze Age shepherds are still a narrow religious dogma believed by only a minority of Americans. And that’s the ultimate line of defense: no matter what a local school board or state government does, if they leave ANY trail of their religious motivations for their acts (which is why the NCSE archive is crucial for detecting this), they run up against the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and ultimately the law is (at least in this case) on the side of scientific reality.
But it’s a never-ending struggle in this country. Creationists may not do any real science, or never learn any new arguments, or never concede that their old arguments were long ago debunked, but they are dedicated and well-funded and never give up. So the job of the NCSE never seems to end, and these hardworking underpaid staffers will never see an empty “hot board map” showing no towns with current infections. Back in 1982, I was one of the original members of the Committees of Correspondence, Stanley Weinberg’s first effort to combat creationism in the Midwest, which evolved into the current NCSE. I’ve debated Gish and Meyer and Sternberg and a bunch of guys from ICR and DI, and written a book debunking their ideas about evolution and fossils. So I do what I can, but I don’t have the patience or time to do the job that the NCSE does. For that, I’m very grateful that they are there, fighting the good fight in the trenches, and manning the barricades that few scientists or teachers have time to deal with. We members of the skeptical and scientific community should all honor them for doing an essential job in trying to preserve the scientific integrity of our educational system, and fighting back against the untiring never-ending hordes of the forces of darkness, all while showing the patience of Job. And if you’re not already a member of NCSE, you should join, because they are doing this important job for all of us!
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: blog, creationism, creationist, Donald Prothero, education, evolution, fundamentalist, fundamentalsim, God, ID, intelligent design, Jesus, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, public, religion, schools, science, skeptic, Skepticblog, teaching | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 25, 2011
Regarding my previous blog post on the supposed discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos at CERN, I just wanted to share this humorous bit from the web-comic XKCD which sums it all up quite nicely. Enjoy! :D
Posted in humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: 3x10^8 m/s, c, CERN, confirmation, Einstein, faster than light, FTL, funny, general relativity, humor, Large Hadron Collider, LHC, lightspeed, neutrino, OPERA, oscialltion, paradigm shift, particle, particle physics, physics, relativity, reproducibility, science, skeptical, special relativity, speed of light, superluminal, supernova, Supernova 1987A, tachyons, theory, theory of relativity, warp drive, Web, xkcd, xkcd.com | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2011
[**Update: If you are looking for the actual research paper on the CERN-OPERA experiment and related "FTL" result, click here.]
[**Update (9-24-11): Here is an interesting critique of the statistical analysis used by the CERN-OPERA team which seems to cast considerable doubt on their FTL claims.]
[**Update (9-25-11): It seems the criticism above was flawed, and the author has retracted his criticism. See the same link for the retraction.]
Okay, so there is a huge amount of buzz on the Interwebs concerning a potentially paradigm-shifting discovery at the CERN physics laboratory in Europe: faster-than-light (FTL) travel. However, before we start to engage the warp drive engines and get too terribly excited, let’s – pardon the pun – slow things down a bit and look a bit more deeply at the claims. The specific claims are outlined at this NPR report:
Scientists at the world’s largest physics lab said Thursday they have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than light. That’s something that according to Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity — the famous E (equals) mc2 equation — just doesn’t happen.
The particles in question are called neutrinos. These particles are most often generated in the cores of stars as part of the process of nuclear fusion, though they can be generated in other particle interactions. Some of the most interesting things about neutrinos is that they are extremely low mass, and they have no charge. As a result, they don’t really interact with matter and are thus very difficult to detect (though we have methods for doing just that). The other really interesting thing about neutrinos is that they undergo what is called oscillation – which means that as they travel through space they are able to morph from one kind of neutrino to another. These three varieties of neutrino are called tau, electron, and muon neutrinos.
This is important to understand given the context of the experiment which has supposedly yielded the FTL result. Here are the details about the experiment and its results (from the aforementioned NPR article):
CERN says a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab [called OPERA] 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant. But given the enormous implications of the find, they still spent months checking and rechecking their results to make sure there was no flaws in the experiment.
Now the physics community is understandably skeptical of these results, as it should be. Einstein’s theory of relativity is a very solid theory, and – as far as I know – there hasn’t every been an experimental result shown which has violated this theory. And here we have an experimental result which claims that one of relativity’s fundamental postulates – that the speed of light is invariant (i.e. always the same in all frames of reference) – is potentially wrong. From this point, I see that there are two possibilities:
1. There is some kind of flaw in the design and/or implementation of the CERN-OPERA experiment which the researchers have overlooked. It is also possible they have some kind of error in their calculations which accounts for the apparent FTL result.
2. There is no experimental/calculation error on the part of the research team, and this result is found to be repeatable by other research groups.
Personally, I am more inclined to #1 at this point, for multiple reasons. First, as I mentioned above, Einstein’s relativity theory is such a fundamental basis for modern physics, and it has stood up to such rigorous scrutiny over the 20th century and beyond, that it would take much more than this one anomalous experimental result to cause me to seriously question it. In addition, there are some real, solid reasons to be skeptical of these results, as they do not appear to be consistent with other observations. Specifically, these results do not seem to be in line with observations we have made of supernova explosions.
Recall that I mentioned above that most neutrinos are generated within stars during nuclear fusion. Well, when a particularly massive star “dies”, it basically blows up in an explosion we call a supernova. These explosions are very powerful, and they give off a huge amount of energy in the form of light; but they also give off a huge amount of neutrinos as well. And, as far as we know, these neutrinos are supposed to travel at the speed of light. And there’s the rub: what we observed with Supernova 1987A (which was observed by astronomers in 1987 all over the world in real time) is not at all consistent with the findings of the CERN-OPERA group, because if these FTL results are to be believed then the neutrinos blasted out of Supernova 1987A should have been observed somewhere around 3 to 4 YEARS before the light from the explosion. And that didn’t happen… we observed the light from Supernova 1987A and related neutrino blast at essentially the same time. These observations of Supernova 1987A are completely at odds with the apparent results of the CERN-OPERA experiments, and until there is a really solid reconciliation of these two sets of data, I am inclined to call the FTL result a fluke.
Supernova 1987A: Image courtesy of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory
**Note: For a more detailed analysis of this issue of the Supernova 1987A data, I highly suggest reading this entry at A User’s Guide to the Universe as well as the latest article over at the Bad Astronomy blog.
Now don’t get me wrong… I am not willing to completely shut the door on the CERN-OPERA results just yet. This could (note the emphasis on “could”) end up being a truly revolutionary moment in the history of physics, but in order to establish that the FTL result is real we need to do a lot of confirmation. This means checking and rechecking every possible aspect of the experiment and calculations done by the research group, and then attempts to replicate the results of the experiment at other institutions. I am happy to say that there are already lots of physics research groups (some just down the road from me at FermiLab) who are lining up to try reproducing these FTL results. It has been stated by some physicists that perhaps there is some previously unknown physical process involved with neutrino oscillation which could explain these anomalous results, so this is also an area which researchers want to look.
And there’s where things could get really interesting, and where I might start to jump up and down as giddy as a school-girl. If it ends up that these FTL results are the real deal, then I for one would be extremely excited! Just imagine what that could mean for the future of science… wow.
So, while I am (like much of the physics community) very skeptical of the faster-than-light claims and think that option #1 is most likely, I would be happy to be proven wrong and go with option #2. But before that happens, we have to go through the really hard, pain-staking, and arduous process called science. While we might want FTL to be a reality, it still remains to be seen whether or not it is the real thing. Remember, wanting something doesn’t make it true.
So, for now let’s just stay tuned and see what happens…
Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: 3x10^8 m/s, c, CERN, confirmation, Einstein, faster than light, FTL, general relativity, Large Hadron Collider, LHC, lightspeed, neutrino, OPERA, oscialltion, paradigm shift, particle, particle physics, physics, relativity, reproducibility, science, skeptical, special relativity, speed of light, superluminal, supernova, Supernova 1987A, tachyons, theory, theory of relativity, warp drive | 13 Comments »
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: astrology, astronomy, autumnal, Bad Astronomy, balance, balancing eggs on end, cosmic, critical thinking, debunking, egg, eggs, equilibrium, equinox, magic, myth, physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, solstice, stable, summer, Sun, trick, urban legend, vernal, winter | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 17, 2011
While I was at Dragon*Con a couple of weeks ago, one of the things I did was to participate in a very useful panel discussion on the Skeptrack. The title of the panel was “Education vs. Debunking”, and the panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect. The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture. The entire discussion was recorded and is being broadcast on the Skepticality podcast, so if you’re interested check it out…
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: Barbara Drescher, beliefs, Brian Hart, bunk, critical thinking, D.J. Grothe, DC, debunking, discussion, DJ, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, education, educator, Grothe, inquiry, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Kylie Sturgess, Matt Lowry, method, panel, podcast, school, skeptic, Skeptic Magazine, Skeptic's Society, Skepticality, skepticism, Skeptrack, student, teacher, teaching | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 15, 2011
Well, it seems that GOP/Tea Party presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann’s recent anti-vaccine comments at Monday night’s Republican debate have gotten her into some pretty hot water. Good! Someone who is that out to lunch on such a core issue of science, medicine, and public health needs to be seriously criticized and derided in the public square, because they certainly have no place in being anywhere near holding public office, in my opinion.
Message to Michelle Bachmann…
One of the most wonderful bits of blowback against Bachmann was in reference to a truly outlandish claim she made in a Fox News interview:
“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]
That stupid claim was just too much for some bioethicists who have expressed their skepticism by quite literally putting their money where their mouths are:
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s story about a woman who claimed that her daughter suffered “mental retardation” after receiving a vaccine against HPV could fetch the woman’s family thousands of dollars. But the family can only collect if Bachmann or the unnamed woman can prove the story is true.
Two bioethics professors have offered to pay more than $10,000 for medical records that prove the anecdote Bachmann told after Monday night’s Republican presidential debate is true, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…
Folks, this is precisely the kind of thing which needs to be done when someone who is as high profile as Bachmann (a potential presidential contender, for frak’s sake!) makes as stupid and dangerous a claim as she made. The mere fact that she made this dubious claim to begin with is bad enough, because it will undoubtedly scare already nervous parents into not getting their kids vaccinated. I would love to see more skeptical activism of this kind in the future – perhaps it is the start of a trend? :)
While I’m at it, I should also report about how Bachmann herself is publicly responding to the whole fracas. Well, at least I’d like to report on what she has to say, but apparently her campaign is going mum on the issue. Perhaps that’s for the best – I think it would be preferable if Michelle Bachmann just kept her mouth shut for good.
Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: $10000, 2012, anti-vaccination movement, anti-vaccine, anti-vax, autism, bet, bioethicist, bioethics, campaign, cancer, cervical cancer, claim, climate change, debate, evolution, global warming, GOP, health, HPV, inoculation, Jenny McCarthy, medicine, Michelle Bachmann, president, presidential, primary, professors, race, Republican, retardation, Rick Perry, science, shots, Tea Party, vaccine, white house | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 14, 2011
Up until this point, I haven’t made any public comments on the 2012 United States presidential race, but I can no longer hold my tongue (or, in this case, fingers). I have been disturbed about a number of what I would call anti-scientific comments from many of the Republican candidates on the issues of evolutionary and climate science, which serve to only perpetuate an ignorance of and disdain for science in this country. These days it seems like standard-operating-procedure for Republican candidates to deny evolution and global warming (with notable exceptions such as Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) in an effort to win over more conservative voters, but what happened in the most recent Republican debate this past Monday night is absolutely deplorable. That’s because now some of these candidates are openly expressing denial of vaccines!
Case in point, at Monday night’s GOP debate there was an exchange between candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on the issue of Perry’s executive order (he’s the governor of Texas) to add the HPV vaccine to the vaccine schedule for 11-12 year-old girls as a way of protecting them from cervical cancer later in life. Almost immediately, Bachmann attacked Perry using standard anti-vaccination talking points with Rick Santorum throwing in some additional anti-vaccine comments for good measure. Here’s the exchange…
Video courtesy of Real Clear Politics
It gets worse. According to this report, Michelle Bachmann doubled down on her dangerous stupidity in a post-debate interview with Fox News and the next day on the Today Show with these comments:
“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]
Holy… shit. Now we have a potentially serious presidential candidate who is publicly stating that vaccines could cause mental retardation (as if it wasn’t bad enough with Jenny McCarthy claiming vaccines cause autism, now mental retardation is on the table, too!) This is going to scare the hell out of a lot of parents all over the country, and vaccination rates will decline as a result.
Personally, I’m no fan of Rick Perry, but he at least had the presence of mind to see the wisdom of adding the HPV vaccine to the vaccination schedule, and he’s not denying the benefit of vaccines. Yet here we have, in a response motivated by what I feel to be purely cynical political reasons, other candidates feeding into the dangerous and deadly anti-vaccination meme that vaccines make kids sick (as opposed to the other way around). Michelle Bachmann has, in one bold stroke, given a huge national platform to the anti-vaccination movement which could very easily result in a lot of unnecessary illnesses and deaths.
What’s worse, because of her influence among the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, Bachmann’s comments will cause more GOP candidates to adopt positions on these issues cloaked in anti-vaccine language (just note in the video above how quickly Rick Santorum jumped on her coat-tails!)
Folks, this is dangerous business. Michelle Bachmann may think she’s just fishing for votes, but what she’s actually doing is much more serious than that: the end result of her words and actions will be that people who listen to her will either die themselves or their loved ones will die.
And all of this is in the name of jumping on the “smaller government” anti-science bandwagon which is all the rage these days in some conservative circles. Fortunately, not all Republicans and conservatives are this anti-scientific and stupid in their thinking, and if you count yourselves among these scientifically-literate conservatives, then you need to speak up. Take some time to contact the Bachmann campaign (and perhaps the Santorum campaign as well) to let them know just how irresponsible and dangerous these statements are from the debate and subsequent interviews. At the same time, take a few moments to contact Rick Perry’s campaign and urge him to stay strong in his pro-vaccine stance – supporting candidates when they take a positive position on a science issue is just as important as playing Whack-A-Mole with the idiots.
Do what you can to speak up within your particular political circles against this lunacy, because – at the end of the day – diseases such as influenza, whooping cough, measles, and cervical cancer don’t give a damn who you vote for, but they could kill you or someone you love if you listen to cynical, politically-conniving morons like Michelle Bachmann.
For more information on this issue, I highly recommend the following skeptical perspectives:
1. My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, has an excellent guest post over at Skepchick:
2. And the one-and-only Rebecca Watson gives her thoughts in a deliciously sarcastic Youtube video:
Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: 2012, anti-vaccination movement, anti-vaccine, anti-vax, autism, campaign, cancer, cervical cancer, climate change, debate, evolution, global warming, GOP, health, HPV, inoculation, Jenny McCarthy, medicine, Michelle Bachmann, president, presidential, primary, race, Republican, retardation, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, science, shots, Tea Party, vaccine, white house | 5 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 11, 2011
Here I sit on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I find myself reflecting on the last ten years since that day. I wanted to write down some of my thoughts in this blog post, because when it comes to the issue of 9/11 specifically and the broader issue of terrorism in general, I think there is much need for skepticism and critical thinking. This is most especially true because of the high level of emotion and passion the whole issue of 9/11 invokes, and when our emotions are stirred so strongly we must make sure to temper our passion with reason. So, here goes…
After ten years, what has become glaringly apparent to me is that the events of 9/11 changed things, but in my opinion it was not really in the way that many people think. First, I have to say that every time I hear someone say or read that “On Sept. 11th the world changed” or something similar, I just have to shake my head because I think this kind of statement shows an interesting bias. I say this because, fundamentally, nothing about the world around us really changed on that day – both before and after 9/11, the Earth turns on its axis, the sun rises and sets, and the universe trundles merrily along. What did change on that day is the perspective which many people, mostly those of us within the United States, view the world around us. It is unfortunate, I think, that many of us conflate these two things in our minds: we equate how they view the world with how the world actually works. And this is, I think, the cause of much irrationality and muddled thinking.
Many of us were shaken to our core at the horrors we witnessed as not one, but two, planes slammed into the World Trade Center buildings, and as we heard the news of the attack on the Pentagon. The sight of the Twin Towers collapsing further sent a shudder down our collective spines, and we lamented the seemingly senseless loss of life in such magnitude. In some ways, we were brutally and startlingly shaken out of our complacency, which for some consisted of a belief that we in the United States were somehow – magically – immune to such devastation. And when evidence to the contrary was presented to us, in a most horrific fashion, the reaction of many was precisely what one would expect: fear and anger.
There have been a lot of things written about 9/11 and its aftermath, but one thing I want to note is the manner in which many different people have reacted to the fear and anger brought to the surface due to 9/11: by seeking out some kind of evil “Other” to use as a boogeyman. Now, don’t misinterpret me here – it is obvious that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by Al Qaeda, and the concern about groups such as Al Qaeda and the terrorism they perpetuate is a legitimate subject of concern that should be addressed. What I am talking about goes beyond pointing out the very real threat posed by groups such as Al Qaeda; I am instead speaking of a broader pattern which has become apparent to me over the years.
For example, there are some people who have chosen the “Other” to be all Muslims, equating them with terrorists. They point to the religion of Islam and its followers and make erroneous statements that we are now in some kind of cultural (or, more disturbingly, “holy”) war between the Western world and the Islamic world.
There are also those who choose the nefarious “Other” to be atheists and godless liberals. These people tend towards the view espoused by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that the Sept. 11th attacks were somehow a punishment from God against the United States for our nation tolerating atheism and homosexuality in our population. Many people who cater to this view of the “Other” also seem to view all Muslims as the enemy, as stated above.
Then some people take a look at 9/11 and see the “Other” as the United States government or some portion of it. These tend to be the people who buy into various 9/11 conspiracy theories, and they are in complete denial about the mountain of facts and evidence that show the September 11th attacks were the result of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda. Many of these people also have a talent for blatantly denying physics in an attempt to justify their worldview, and some even try to work in versions of anti-Semitism by implying that 9/11 was some kind of Jewish plot (thus making Jews the “Other” as well).
Last, but not least, there are those – many of whom are in the skeptical movement – who blame all religion as the evil “Other”. This includes many of the so-called New Atheist writers (many of whose writings I have read and, in many ways, admire) who seem to think there is something inherently dangerous about any kind of religious belief. I think it is worth noting that many who call themselves skeptics should be a bit skeptical of making such a sweeping generalization without a more rigorous analysis of the available data. For reference on this particular point, I suggest the reader listen to a recent, excellent interview of Scott Atran on the Point of Inquiry podcast.
There are numerous variations on this theme of paranoia, fear, and the desire to find an “Other” to blame for the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent repercussions throughout society since that day, but one thing that unites them all is an irrational desire to categorize the situation into a simplistic, black and white, us versus them kind of worldview. This is perfectly understandable once you know that humans are basically tribalistic in the manner in which they form societies and groups within those societies. We are, in many ways, hard wired to engage in this kind of simplistic tribal thinking, and we carry it out in our everyday lives all the time.
Our tribal tendencies manifest themselves in myriad ways: in what religion/God/gods we worship, in what political beliefs/parties we adhere to, in our choice of sports team that we support, and even among those of us who call ourselves skeptics. Sometimes these tribal tendencies are relatively harmless, but in other situations they can be downright dangerous.
Of course, the problem is that in reality the world isn’t always so simplistic. And this goes back to my original point about our perspective of the world is not the same thing as how the world actually works, which forms the core of this particular blog post. Most especially when we are frightened and our passions are inflamed by events such as Sept. 11th, it is critical that we not make the fundamental mistake of buying into this mode of thinking because it is the very root of how so much thinking can go terribly wrong.
In closing, allow me to finish with this thought: September 11th, 2001 was an awful enough day as it was… we shouldn’t add insult to injury by allowing our darker natures to overwhelm our ability to reason.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 10 years, 10th anniversary, 9 11 2001, 9-11, 9/11, 9/11 Truthers, 9/11/2001, Al Qeada, atheism, atheist, belief, Bush, Bush Administration, conspiracies, conspiracy theories, conspiracy theory, fear, Flight 93, George W. Bush, God, irrational, irrationality, Islam, Jerry Falwell, Muslim, New Atheist, New York, NY, paranoia, Pat Robertson, Pentagon, politics, President Bush, reason, religion, Sept 11, Sept 11th, September 11th, ten years, terrorism, terrorist, tribal, tribalism, truthers, United States, World Trade Center, WTC | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 7, 2011
We’ve been here before, and I’m sure we’ll be here again, folks. NASA has just released a set of even higher resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera of the Apollo 17 landing site (see my previous blog entry on earlier images here), which shows – yet again – more evidence that human beings really did go to the Moon! Here are the images…
Clearly visible are equipment left on the Moon’s surface (such as the base of the lander which is casting a clear shadow) and numerous tracks left by the astronauts’ footprints in the lunar regolith. And here is a magnified version of the above image, centering on the base of the lunar lander itself:
[**Aside: Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has an excellent analysis and specific breakdown of these newest images here.]
Sadly, this probably won’t stop conspiracy-minded Moon hoax theorists from spinning their usual nonsense denying the fact that we sent humans to the Moon (see this excellent analysis by Bad Astronomy of the Moon hoaxer claims). That’s because, no matter what evidence is provided (even including high-resolution images of the landing sites and human footprints on the Moon), these conspiracy theorists will attempt to rationalize it away, such as by invoking the all-powerful Conspiracy (i.e., all the images are faked, except – of course – the very images the hoaxers use to claim the Moon landings didn’t happen). Case in point, just today I received the following comment on an earlier blog post on this matter:
Haha – your photo’s prove the fake – look closely at the image of the Apollo 14 landing site and you can see the the LM has no height profile compararive to it’s shadow – thankyou for the proof – hahahaha. Also the eagle landing module has a shadow the shape of a christmas tree. Why would that be?
Of course, one can see clearly in the higher resolution photos above of the Apollo 17 landing site that there is an obvious height profile compared to the shadow of the lander base. As for the Eagle lander having a “shadow the shape of a christmas tree”, one should note that what was left behind on the Moon was the base of the lander, not the entire lander structure with the descent module attached (because, duh, that part brought the astronauts back). It’s details like this the conspiracy theorists overlook in their zealous attempts to simultaneously deny reality and spin some kind of fantasy world where they are clued in to what’s really going on.
I’m content to allow these whackjobs to continue spinning their tall tales that fly in the face of mountains of evidence, including their utterly abyssmal understanding of physics (see the Bad Astronomy link for more on that). Meanwhile, the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the fact that we still have the right stuff :)
Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: Apollo, Apollo 11, Apollo 17, Bad Astronomy, Buzz Aldrin, conspiracy, conspiracy theory, exploration, LRO, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Moon, Moon hoax, Moon landings, NASA, Neil Armstrong, Skeptics Guide to the Universe, space, The Apollo Hoax | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 6, 2011
I’m happy to report that we had another successful free vaccine clinic at Dragon*Con this year. In total, we gave out about 125 vaccinations for TDaP (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) and 100 vaccinations for the flu! In addition to the vaccines, the clinic also provided free HIV testing. Props to the groups that put on the clinic, including the Women Thinking Free Foundation, Skepchick, the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated campaign, and the Cobb & Douglas Public Health District of Georgia.
Yup, that’s us… saving lives and giving Andrew Wakefield the finger, all in one go :)
Take THAT, germs!!! :)
Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: AIDS, anti-vaccination, anti-vax, anti-vaxxers, booster shot, CDC, Centers for Disease Control, clinic, Cobb, convention, DC, diptheria, Douglas, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, flu, HIV, hug, Hug Me, influenza, medicine, Mug Me I'm Vaccinated, pertussis, public health, Skepchick, skeptic, Tdap, tetanus, vaccination, vaccines, vax, whooping cough, Women Thinking Free, Women Thinking Free Foundation, WTFF | Leave a Comment »