Archive for the ‘physics denial/woo’ Category
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 19, 2015
A recent article posted by skeptical writer Greta Christina titled No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus over at Freethought Blogs caught my eye. In it, she makes a compelling argument for why it is that children should be skeptical of some adults’ attempts to hoodwink them…
… You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.
Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.
I agree wholeheartedly with Greta’s thoughts on this matter, and I recommend that you read her entire post on the topic. That said, I’d also like to take this opportunity to share (or re-share) some of my previous work on the entire matter of skepticism, education, Santa Claus, and the Holiday Season in general.
1. If Santa ever existed, he didn’t live for long
This is perhaps what I’m most famous (or infamous) for on this topic: I use physics to kill Santa Claus; to be more accurate, I use physics to kill the idea of Santa Claus (because it’s impossible to kill something that doesn’t exist in the first place). Originally, I made a post years ago outlining how, assuming the jolly old elf existed in the first place, Santa would be simultaneously fried to a crisp and squashed into jelly in his attempts to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
Then, last year, I decided to up my game a bit. I got commissioned to write an article for a UK Education periodical on the topic, and I went so far as to perform the explicit calculations showing that not only would Santa have to absorb the equivalent energy of 20 Tsar-Bomba nuclear weapons every second due to air drag, but he’d also experience roughly 192 million g’s worth of acceleration in the process – more than enough to make short work of him!
Now, I’d like to share with you the specific PowerPoint I use to annihilate the Santa Claus myth. Feel free to download and use it as you will :)
2. The Santa Myth isn’t all bad and can serve a skeptical purpose
I’ve argued before that I think the myth of Santa Claus can actually be a very useful tool to promote skepticism and critical thinking in young children. Please note that my argument here is not in any way, shape, or form in opposition to Greta Christina’s well reasoned post above; I simply think that it is good for children to work out for themselves that Santa isn’t real, and once they’ve done that they should give the stink-eye to anyone who tries to give them grief or make them feel bad for not believing in the fairy tale. Even better, once kids figure it out, they should go forth and argue with their peers about the existence of Santa; what could be better than skeptical children promoting critical thinking to other kids?
3. It isn’t all about Santa
While it is perhaps true that Santa Claus is the most popular aspect of the Holiday Season, it certainly isn’t the only myth of the Holiday Season. Once children become skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus, then why not encourage them to ask questions and become more critical of other aspects of the season? For example, they can take the following myths and misconceptions quiz on the issue, examining everything from the more pagan aspects of Christmas to blatant falsehoods regarding the Gospels in the Bible. After all, once one starts to question one myth, then why not another?…
Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: 12-25, 12/25, article, belief, Bethlehem, Bible, birth, books, Christ, Christ myth theory, Christian, Christianity, Christmas, Christmas Eve, critical thinking, Dec 25, December 25, education, faith, fantasy, fundamentalist, gifts, God, Gospels, historical, holiday, Holidays, humor, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus myth theory, Jesus of Nazareth, kill, lesson, make believe, miracle, myth, mythology, Nativity, Newtonmass, physics, Physics of Santa, quiz, reindeer, religion, Santa, santa claus, skeptic, skepticism, teaching, Ultimate Christmas Quiz, Virgin birth, wise men, X-mas, Xmas | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 2, 2015
On April 18th I gave a presentation to the Chicago Skeptics on the topic of what I call Quantum Nonsense. For example, have you ever been talking to a friend who starts going on about how great a movie “What the Bleep?!” was because it proved water has feelings? Or perhaps a family member saw a show where Deepak Chopra explained that they could balance their checkbook and achieve financial security using quantum jumping? Let’s face it, quantum physics is both fascinating and confusing, and many pseudoscientists and charlatans play upon this fascination and confusion to peddle all manner of nonsense to the unwary. In this talk I try to help people learn how to separate quantum fact from fiction.
Download the PowerPoint of the presentation (one with the audio of the talk embedded) below. If you want to be able to flip through the slides, which I recommend since there are many good visuals, I suggest downloading both files and listening to the audio while flipping through the other presentation. Enjoy! :)
Posted in physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: body, Chicago, consciousness, Deepak Chopra, lecture, mind, physics, presentation, pseudoscience, quantum, quantum consciousness, quantum mechanics, Quantum Nonsense, quantum physics, skeptics, talk, thought, What the Bleep, woo | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2014
Years ago I posted here about how I kill Santa with science, and it goes without saying that doing so can get quite a reaction out of people. Some reactions have been negative, but a surprising number of people have contacted me actually thanking me for killing the Santa myth. In fact, I was recently commissioned to write a formal article on killing Santa with science for TESConnect, an educational magazine and networking organization centered in the UK. I am happy to share with you the full article in all of its colored glory, along with explicit physics calculations, below… Happy Holidays! :)
Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: article, Christian, Christmas, Christmas Eve, critical thinking, education, fantasy, gifts, Holidays, humor, kill, lesson, make believe, myth, mythology, physics, Physics of Santa, presents, reindeer, Santa, santa claus, skepticism, teaching, TESConnect, X-mas, Xmas | 2 Comments »
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…
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.
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.
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: bra, breast cancer, cancer, cell phones, David Gorski, DNA, doctor, Doctor Oz, Dr. David Gorski, Dr. Oz, electromagnetic fields, electromagnetic radiation, electromagnetic spectrum, electromagnetic waves, EMF, environment, health, ionizing radiation, light, medical, medicine, physics, power lines, public health, radiation, radiation sickness, safety, safety hysteria, science-based medicine, show, skeptic, skepticism, television, TV, wi-fi | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2012
In the ongoing story of the supposedly “faster-than-light” neutrinos discovered last year, there is another big mark against this claim being the real thing: the failure to replicate the phenomenon in an independent experiment. As I stated then, most especially when dealing with an extraordinary claim such as this, one cannot begin to draw any conclusions until there have been separate, independent attempts to verify and replicate the results. Until then, we should suspend judgment and remain skeptical of extraordinary claims.
Well, more of that judgment is now in… in a recent BBC News article, it is reported that a team (called Icarus) independent from the original research team (called Opera) from the same facility, Gran Sasso, in Italy failed to find the apparent “faster-than-light” signal which caused such an uproar last September:
An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light.
Results announced in September suggested that neutrinos can exceed light speed, but were met with scepticism as that would upend Einstein’s theory of relativity.
A test run by a different group at the same laboratory has now clocked them travelling at precisely light speed.
The results have been posted online.
The results in September, from the Opera group at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy, shocked the world, threatening to upend a century of physics as well as relativity – which holds the speed of light to be the Universe’s absolute speed limit.
Now the Icarus group, based at the same laboratory, has weighed in again, having already cast some doubt on the original Opera claim. …
This is an excellent example of how real science, especially cutting-edge science, progresses. Claims are not taken at face value; they are always open to criticism and are not necessarily accepted (especially if they go against well-established theories such as Einstein’s relativity) without good, strong, repeatable evidence.
In short, as Carl Sagan stated: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
And the evidence in support of the claims of “faster-than-light” neutrinos seems to be getting less extraordinary every day.
Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: 3x10^8 m/s, c, CERN, confirmation, Einstein, extraordinary claims, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, extraordinary evidence, faster than light, FTL, general relativity, Gran Sasso, Icarus, Italy, 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 | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 11, 2012
Okay, I was just browsing online a bit, and I came across this funny little gem. Yeah, I had to share it, because it makes a really good point about the difference between science and pseudoscience/religion…
by Nadir on March 9, 2012 at 8:14 am
A lifetime ago by internet reckoning and two weeks ago via calendar, news came of the faulty cable/GPS-sync connection as a possible reason for the Faster-Than-Light Neutrino scandal of late 2011. This is not yet completely confirmed but I won’t say I’m not going to be disappointed if this is verified as the cause, though it seems likely. It’s anticlimactic. Not that anyone actually expected FTL travel here, I was at least hoping for a more interesting explanation for the error. The 60 nanosecond fast data is apparently explicable as a result of a bad connection between the GPS receiver and an electronic card in the computer.Yawn.
Now, in fairness, no one involved ever claimed FTL travel, only that they got that result. And they kept trying to disprove it. So what I’m saying is if you got overexcited and invested in fraudulent companies such as ‘the Neutrino-Warp-Drive Enterprise” you only have yourself to blame.*
One thing however, did come out of all this that shined a recent if not really new, light on a fundamental difference between science and religion. Many scientists were sought for comment and every one I saw or read, despite being pretty skeptical and awaiting further data, never completely rejected the idea out of hand. Solid, time tested ideas exist in science, and dagnabbit the universal-speed-limit is one of ‘em; but there are still no sacred cows or prophets. Knocking down or modifying a theory (or just trying to) only serves to strengthen the endeavor for truth, and never weakens it. This is the opposite of how religions operate, and anyone trying to make science and religion comparable, as seen in arguments time and again, has to deal with this massive cleavage.
Posted in humor, physics denial/woo, religion, scientific method | Tagged: blog, CERN, comic, Einstein, faster than light, FTL, funny, humor, internet, neutrinos, NewTrinos, pseudoscience, relativity, religion, Sci-ence, science, Web | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 23, 2012
**Update (2-25-12): It seems the situation is a bit more complicated than previously thought, and there is another potential source of error that has been discovered. More details at this CERN link: http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2011/PR19.11E.html
Last September you may recall quite a bit of buzz going around about the supposed discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos. While the media was going nuts about it, and while various cranks were crowing about “the physics establishment being overturned”, a number of scientists and science bloggers (including me) expressed great interest in this experimental result while also providing a cautious dose of skepticism about the entire affair. That’s because a theory that is so well-tested as Einstein’s relativity could be overturned or radically adjusted by such a result only if we were absolutely sure of the outcome; and, at the time, not even the scientists who announced the FTL result were very sure of it…
This tended to be the general view among physicists about the apparent “faster-than-light” neutrinos :)
Well, it seems our skepticism was well-founded. From a recent post on the Science Insider blog, it looks as if the “faster-than-light” neutrino signal (which amounted to a discrepancy of 60 nanoseconds or 0.000 000 060 seconds) was probably the result of a bad cable connection…
It appears that the faster-than-light neutrino results, announced last September by the OPERA collaboration in Italy, was due to a mistake after all. A bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer may be to blame.
Physicists had detected neutrinos travelling from the CERN laboratory in Geneva to the Gran Sasso laboratory near L’Aquila that appeared to make the trip in about 60 nanoseconds less than light speed. Many other physicists suspected that the result was due to some kind of error, given that it seems at odds with Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which says nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. That theory has been vindicated by many experiments over the decades.
According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed. Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis. [emphasis added]
If true (and my money is on it being true), it wouldn’t surprise me at all. When I was an undergraduate doing research work in a mass spectrometry lab, it took me and my lab mate a couple of days to figure out why the damn thing wasn’t working properly. After almost two days of checking everything (every setting, every seal on the chamber, every line of code), what was the error?
Answer: a bad BNC cable *facepalm*
And I was just working on a lousy table-top sized mass spectrometer. I can barely imagine the level of complexity in dealing with an experiment of the scale of the CERN-OPERA operation; the fact that they could have missed a lone, loose fiber optic cable doesn’t surprise me at all.
While I’m pretty certain that this error (or similar ones) will explain the situation, I still think it is worthy for some outside research group to attempt a replication of the original, apparent FTL neutrino result. I say that because it could be worth really nailing down exactly what went wrong in this whole experiment so that other researchers don’t make similar mistakes in the future. Of course, there is the outside chance (however infinitely remote that may be) that perhaps there is something legitimate to the FTL result.
Either way, science marches on and we learn something about the universe. Neat, eh? :)
Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: 3x10^8 m/s, bad cable, c, cable, CERN, confirmation, Einstein, error, faster than light, fiber optics, FTL, general relativity, Large Hadron Collider, LHC, lightspeed, loose cable, mistake, neutrino, OPERA, oscialltion, paradigm shift, particle, particle physics, physics, relativity, reproducibility, science, Science Insider, skeptical, special relativity, speed of light, superluminal, supernova, Supernova 1987A, tachyons, theory, theory of relativity, warp drive | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 24, 2011
I’ve blogged here before about “professional” ghost-hunters and their woo. And in many cases I have taken such “professionals” to task for not really following any kind of decent, consistent protocols (such as knowing how their instrumentation works, duh) but instead favoring stories that seem to be a combination of the Blair-Witch Project and various kinds of techno-babble. But now I just have to mention a couple of things about how many ghost-hunters just seem to get basic physics (pardon the pun) dead wrong.
My skeptical colleague Ben Radford recently wrote an article for LiveScience.com on this very point…
… Despite years of efforts by ghost hunters on TV and in real life, we still do not have good proof that ghosts are real. Many ghost hunters believe that strong support for the existence of ghosts can be found in modern physics. Specifically, that Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, offered a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts. …
Now hold on a minute. As we’ve seen before, it is not uncommon for pseudoscientists and cranks of all kinds to try glomming onto Einstein’s coat-tails as one of the most well-known and respected scientists of the 20th century as a way of trying to gain traction for their ideas. It is as if they think that by simply invoking Einstein’s name and theories, despite the fact that they have no real understanding of those theories, that it will somehow, magically make them correct. Of course, this simply displays a fundamental flaw in the thinking of ghost-hunters, because it shows they have no real knowledge of how science (much less physics) works.
Specifically, in this case the ghost-hunters are claiming that Einstein’s theory of relativity “proves” the existence of ghosts:
… For example, ghost researcher John Kachuba, in his book “Ghosthunters” (2007, New Page Books), writes, “Einstein proved that all the energy of the universe is constant and that it can neither be created nor destroyed. … So what happens to that energy when we die? If it cannot be destroyed, it must then, according to Dr. Einstein, be transformed into another form of energy. What is that new energy? … Could we call that new creation a ghost?”
This idea shows up — and is presented as evidence for ghosts — on virtually all ghost-themed websites as well. For example, a group called Tri County Paranormal states, “Albert Einstein said that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another. When we are alive, we have electrical energy in our bodies. … What happens to the electricity that was in our body, causing our heart to beat and making our breathing possible? There is no easy answer to that.” … [emphasis added]
Actually, the answer is pretty easy, as long as you understand how energy is related to matter as outlined in Einstein’s theory. It can all be summed up in what is probably the most well-known, but one of the least understood, equations in all of science… Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo | Tagged: afterlife, Ben Radford, dead, death, detecting, detector, E=mc2, Einstein, electromagnetic fields, EMF, energy, ghost buster, ghost hunter, ghostbuster, ghosts, investigation, mass, mass energy equivalence, paranormal, physics, pseudoscience, relativity, skeptic, skeptical, spirits, theories, theory | 34 Comments »
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…
By Nick Triggle Health correspondent, BBC News
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: BBC, BBC News, brain, British Medical Journal, cancer, cell phones, DNA, electromagnetic fields, electromagnetic radiation, electromagnetic spectrum, electromagnetic waves, EMF, environment, health, ionizing radiation, light, medicine, paralyzing precautionary principle, physics, power lines, public health, radiation, radiation sickness, safety, safety hysteria, skeptic, skepticism, wi-fi | 1 Comment »