The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for the ‘astrology’ Category

Oops! Correction to Mayan Calendar Shows that 2012 Might NOT Be “The End of the World”

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 22, 2010

Of course, the notion that the end of the Mayan “Long count” calendar predicts the end of the world is downright silly – does anyone get worried when December 31st on our modern calendars approaches?  But just to show how idiotic this whole notion really is, it seems that some archaeological research has – pardon the pun – dug up a correction to the Mayan calendar.  The result is that the big date, December 21st, 2012 according to various doomsayers & New Age gurus, is probably not the right date…

End of the Earth Postponed

It’s a good news/bad news situation for believers in the 2012 Mayan apocalypse. The good news is that the Mayan “Long Count” calendar may not end on Dec. 21, 2012 (and, by extension, the world may not end along with it). The bad news for prophecy believers? If the calendar doesn’t end in December 2012, no one knows when it actually will – or if it has already.

A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook “Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World” (Oxbow Books, 2010), argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years. That would throw the supposed and overhyped 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast into doubt the dates of historical Mayan events. (The doomsday worries are based on the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, much as our year ends on Dec. 31.) …

This is hilarious!  Various folks have been jumping on the doomsday bandwagon ever since this 2012 nonsense became part of the social consciousness, claiming alternatively that it will be the end of the world or some kind of revelation of cosmic wisdom or other similar goofiness.  Charlatans have made a LOT of money selling books and all manner of claptrap to the gullible who are swallowing this stuff.  But even if they were right about the supposed apocalypse coming to destroy/enlighten us, they screwed up the date!

Of course, this is nothing new.  Historically, when those who make these kind of bold predictions are clearly shown to be wrong (and they’re ALWAYS wrong, because we’re still here), they simply tweak their estimates & calculations and make another set of predictions that the credulous folks want to believe in.  And so it goes… I wonder what the next end of the world fad is going to be?  Whatever it is, I’m going to make a prediction which I’m certain will come true: they’ll be dead wrong, again 🙂

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

An Actual Geocentrism Conference? Are You Frakkin’ Kidding?!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 25, 2010

You know, there are days when I think I’ve seen it all.  I think to myself: “there are some things which are just too stupid, crazy, and/or ‘out-there’ that nobody will attempt to believe & defend.”  And then something like this crosses my email inbox: an actual conference, titled “Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right”, which attempts to seriously argue for… get this… geocentrism. You know, geocentrism – the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe.  You know, geocentrism – the notion which has become, and deservedly so, synonymous with the Dark Ages & all manner of backward and nonsensical thinking.  You know, geocentrism – the completely defunct idea which even the modern Catholic Church itself has admitted as having no merit whatsoever!  Yeah, that geocentrism…

Actually, before I facepalm myself into a state of blissful unconsciousness over the incredible level of stupidity embodied by this conference, allow me to seriously address the entire question of geocentricity.  I wish to do so because of two reasons: 1) if these pseudoscientists are holding a conference, they are attempting to get more media attention and must thus be countered; and 2) it seems that a whopping 18% of people in the United States actually believe the Earth is the center of the universe (which is far too many)!  So here goes…

First off, I’m going to hit just a few major points in this post.  If you want a much more thorough treatment of this topic, go see Phil Plait’s post over at Bad Astronomy; and if you are interested in reading more about the history of geocentric models of the universe, I suggest you check out Wikipedia as a starter.

Now, let me begin by saying that if you don’t have any education at all in the topic of Earth & space science, astronomy, physics, and what-have-you that I can understand an almost blind acceptance of geocentrism for one simple reason: it certainly appears that everything in the sky moves around the Earth.  Look in the sky and you’ll see the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, etc all moving – from your frame of reference – around the Earth.

Of course, a little more thought, along with a deeper analysis of astronomical data, will show that the geocentrism as mentioned by these “Galileo Was Wrong” goofballs is totally bogus…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in astrology, creationism, physics denial/woo, religion, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 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 »

Happy Solstice!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 21, 2009

Happy 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 just balanced three eggs on end in my kitchen…

Solstice Eggs

This supposedly “cosmic event” took me all of five 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stars & Superstition

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2009

Today there was a solar eclipse – it was really only visible from the Indian Ocean and surrounding region.  But if you happened to be nearby, you would have been treated to some pretty spectacular sights, like this sunset over Manila Bay in the Philippines…

solar-eclipse

Whenever relatively rare events such as eclipses take place, they quite understandably draw our attention. All people seem to have, if you’ll pardon the pun, a universal interest in the stars & skies above us. Unfortunately, this sense of wonder that we have when viewing the heavens can all too easily lead us down the path to woo & uncritical thinking.

Leaving aside the fact that there are still a number of people who believe in geocentrism (the view that the Earth is the center of the universe), it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that somehow mysterious cosmic forces are influencing our daily lives. I am talking about, of course, that infamous bugaboo, astrology.

Aside: “Astrology” is NOT the same thing as “astronomy”. Astronomy is a real science, and it just kills science geeks like me when we hear people mix the two terms up. It’s like saying oil & water are the same thing…

Now, don’t get me wrong, given the evidence around us it’s easy to see that various celestial objects in the sky influence us. After all, our own Sun is a star, and it constantly bathes our planet in life-giving light. Our calendars, indeed our entire concept of time, is based upon motions & cycles of the Sun, Moon, and stars. And if a dinosaur killer asteroid were to suddenly whip out of deep space and impact the Earth, I think we could all agree that would qualify as some kind of influence, right?

We accept that those sort of celestial influences upon our daily lives are real because there are understandable and have concrete physical processes behind them (such as the inverse-square law of light and Newton’s law of universal gravity). But astrology doesn’t provide any mechanism for explaining the supposed influence that it peddles – modern astrology merely makes random connections and inferences, much as any other form of prophecy or divination. Despite the implications & claims of its practitioners that astrological systems are scientific, there is no peer-review system for astrology. In fact, most “predictions” by astrologers are little more than guesses, overly-broad generalizations that anyone could make, or post hoc fabrications which seem to fit events after they’ve occurred. For example, this can be seen in this astrology blog entry where the writer attributes events such as 9/11 and the current economic recession to something called the “Cosmic Trigger.” My favorite line is this one…

When we see an activation of the Aries Point, we always get big news. This has happened a dozen times in the past decade — stuff like Sept. 11, the tsunami and other events. The Aries Point is like this bell waiting to be rung, only it’s not a bell, it’s like a crystal bowl that vibrates the universe.

Wow, it would sure be nice if these astrologers could actually predict something big like the stock market crash before it happened, wouldn’t it?

Needless to say, in all forms, astrology employs heavy doses of magical thinking in order for it to make sense to its adherents.

astrology

For a much more thorough analysis of astrology and why it doesn’t work, I refer you to an excellent article by Dr. Phil Plait, “The Bad Astronomer” – check it out here! I’ll give the last word on debunking astrology to that master of skeptics, James “The Amazing” Randi…

I want to close this post by telling you why I think it is important to beware of pseudoscientific nonsense like astrology. Everyone knows that we’re in quite an economic downturn now, but one thing you may not know is that a disturbing number of Wall Street traders & brokers have used astrology (called financial astrology) in their daily work! Really, I’m not kidding. And, sadly, astrology is not the only psuedoscience which influences the investment trade.

And if that wasn’t enough to give you a little thrill, think about this – former First Lady Nancy Reagan regularly consulted an astrological adviser, and she would use the astrologer’s advice to influence the schedule of events for President Ronald Reagan! So the daily activities of the most powerful man on the planet (with his finger on THE Button) were being set by a pseudoscientific crank. Wow, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

In uncertain times such as these, it is often comforting to take a night-time walk and gaze upon the heavens, drinking in the vast reaches of our cosmos. But in our desire to seek solace in the skies, we must be careful not to abandon our reason. As I like to say to my students, “It’s okay to keep an open mind, just not so open that your brain falls out.” 🙂

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

 
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