The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

“Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated” Clinic a Success at TAM2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 21, 2012

One of the most rewarding things I did at TAM2012, which was full of rewarding things, was to help run and staff the Hug Me! vaccination clinic.  Hug Me! is a campaign by the Women Thinking, Inc to educate women and parents (and pretty much anyone else) on the importance of vaccinating their children and themselves.  While at TAM2012, we gave 161 free TDaP – that’s Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough) – booster shots to attendees of the conference.  If you are interested in learning more and possibly supporting our work, by donating or buying a Hug Me! shirt, click here 🙂

**Update: if you want to buy a Hug Me! shirt (as pictured below) send an email to marsmattus [at] yahoo [dot] com

The volunteers from the Women Thinking, Inc posing with James “The Amazing One” Randi (note our mascot, the sloth)

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“We Are Star Dust” – Symphony of Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 12, 2012

Astrophysicist and science/skeptical activist Neil deGrasse Tyson is working on a re-release of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and this nicely autotuned Youtube video clip from melodysheep clearly shows why he is the right person for the job 🙂

Posted in scientific method, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Merry Newtonmass!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 23, 2011

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

I totally stole this image from Skeptico 🙂

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

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

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

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

“A Glorious Dawn” in Honor of Carl Sagan

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011

We’ve made yet another journey around the Sun, and once again the annual celebration of Carl Sagan’s life and legacy is upon us.  If you have never read his pivotal work, Cosmos: A Personal Journey, I highly recommend it.  Sagan and his work was responsible for encouraging so many people, like me, into pursuing science and the study of the natural universe with a sense of awe and wonder.  As a quick tribute to Carl Sagan, I would like to share with you a very popular music video from YouTube called “A Glorious Dawn”, which is based on one of the key ideas in Cosmos

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe…” 😀

Posted in skeptical community, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Carl Sagan Day on November 12th!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2011

For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s, we were inspired to become interested in science as a direct result of astronomer Carl Sagan’s public advocacy of science (most especially through his ground-breaking book and TV-series Cosmos).  In honor of Carl Sagan and his accomplishments, as well as a way of promoting the public acceptance of science, we can celebrate Carl Sagan Day on Saturday, Nov. 12th – look up an event in your area!

Specifically, if you find yourself in the Chicago area that weekend, you are more than welcome to join our public Carl Sagan Day event…

Saturday, November 12 · 6:00pm – 10:00pm

Robert H Lurie Medical Research Center of Northwestern University
Hughes Auditorium
303 E. Superior St.
Chicago, IL

You’re invited to Chicago’s Carl Sagan Day 2011! Come meet up and hang out with Chicago’s secular community, right in the heart of downtown. We’ll be hosting a panel on Science, Skepticism, and the Legacy of Carl Sagan!

(Panelists TBA)

Food* and drink** will be provided!

Sponsored by:
DePaul Alliance for Free Thought
Northwestern University Secular Student Alliance
University of Chicago Secular Alliance
Women Thinking Free Foundation

*includes apple pie from scratch
**includes cosmos (21+)

We look forward to seeing you there! Talk to your group leaders for travel arrangements.

(This event is free and open to the public.)

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Come See Some Heavenly Bodies at the 2nd Annual Skeptics Under The Stars!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 4, 2011

[**Update: We will be offering grants to deserving hopeful attendees who cannot afford to attend. Please contact Elyse Anders at elyse@womenthinkingfree.org to be considered.]

For anyone who likes skepticism, astronomy, camping, Bigfoot, hiking, drinking, and campfire stories, boy have I got the event of the season for you – it’s the 2nd annual Skeptics Under The Stars outing!!!  If you are anywhere in the Midwest during the weekend of Oct. 21-23, consider joining the Women Thinking Free Foundation as we journey to the lovely backwoods of Wisconsin in an effort to get educated on the science of astronomy, tour the world-famous Yerkes Observatory, get liquored up around a cozy campfire, and search for Bigfoot in (where else?) Bigfoot State Park – and things won’t necessarily take place in that order 😉

Read on for more information – we hope that you can join us…

This year’s trip will include special guest Nicole Gugliucci, otherwise known as the Noisy Astronomer.

Like last year, we’ll be staying on a private lake in Delavan, Wisconsin at the beautiful McIntyre Resort and visiting the Yerkes Observatory at Lake Geneva.

McIntyre Resort:
N 6471 Milwaukee Rd.
Delavan, WI 53115

——————
Tentative Schedule of Events (subject to change):

Friday Oct 21
Get to McIntyre Resorts at any time prior to 9pm to set up camp
9pm: Meet at Yerkes Observatory for a private tour

Sat Oct 22
Morning: Breakfast at the campground (provided by WTFF)
Afternoon: Bigfoot hunt at Bigfoot Beach State Park
Dinner: Dinner at the campground (Provided by WTFF)
Evening: Fun with the Noisy Astronomer

Sun Oct 23: Leftover breakfast and packing up the campsite
—————–

Ticket Prices:
$55 for only Saturday night -or-
$75 for both Friday and Saturday night
Children under 10 are free!
You can buy a ticket at this link: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e4ytf2y520f4f802&llr=ewyi8mfab

What is included in your ticket price?
– Camping site costs
– Yerkes Observatory tour
– Breakfast and dinner on Saturday
– Getting to camp with the Women Thinking Free Foundation and Nicole Gugliucci
– Wine, beer and other adult winter drinks (mulled wine, peppermint schnapps cider, bailey’s hot chocolate, etc)
– Camping snacks and smores
– Boats (seriously…there are boats we can use at our private lake!)

What do I need to bring?
– Tent
– Sleeping Bag
– Warm Clothes (it will be VERY cold!)
– Flashlights
– Telescope (if you have one)

What happens if you don’t own one of these items?
It’s ok! Many people do not own their own tent or sleeping bag, but there are others that either are willing to share their tent or have extra camping supplies. Please use the comments portion of the facebook event to ask for any supplies you don’t own. If you’re unable or having trouble finding a tent or sleeping bag, email jamie@womenthinkingfree.org and we’ll help you out. No one should not be able to attend just because you don’t own the right equipment!

Need a carpool?
It’s ok if you don’t have a car. There are many people driving in from various cities like Chicago. Use the comment portion of the facebook page to ask for a ride. If you have trouble finding a ride, email jamie@womenthinkingfree.org and I’ll help you out.

Pets and children welcome! Last year we even had people bring a motor home. If you have any questions about what you can and cannot bring, email jamie@womenthinkingfree.org

Want to come, but not really into the camping thing? McIntyre Resorts has two fully equipped cabins and a heated loft. The cabins cost $125/night and I’m not sure of the price for the loft. The cabins and loft are right where we are camping so you won’t be left out of any activities. For questions on the cabins and loft or to book them, call McIntyre Resorts at 262-728-9313 and tell them you are calling for the Women Thinking Free Foundation event. They are first come first serve.

There also will be some electrical outlets. We’ll have to share them, but just know that there will be ways to charge your phone (we’ll be camping but we at least want to be humane about it).

RSVP’ing on this facebook page does not get you into the event. You must buy a ticket at the following link: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e4ytf2y520f4f802&llr=ewyi8mfab

If you have any other questions, email jamie@womenthinkingfree.org or message Jamie Bernstein on facebook.

Posted in cryptozoology, skeptical community, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

It’s Equinox Time, So Balance Some Eggs for Science!

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Vaccination Clinic at TAM9 is a Great Success!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2011

Once again, I would like to toot my own skeptical horn 🙂  This past weekend at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 a group of organizations – the Women Thinking Free Foundation, the James Randi Educational Foundation, Skepchick, and the Southern Nevada Health District – worked to bring a free vaccine clinic to the conference.  And boy did we kick all kinds of ass!  Look, I have photographic evidence…

Me and Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, kicking ass with our official Hug Me gear (T-shirts and teddy bears for sale via the WTFF)!

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Like the WTFF’s previous clinic at Dragon*Con last September, we offered free TDaP vaccinations for anyone who came into the clinic (TDaP stands for “tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis”) and it was also part of the WTFF’s “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” campaign to reach out to the general population, and parents in particular, about the need for vaccines and how anti-vaccinationist propaganda can be deadly.

At the Dragon*Con clinic, we vaccinated over 200 people in two days, which was – according to the clinic workers – a massively successful clinic.  But we aren’t satisfied with that success, which became apparent when our clinic at TAM9 blew that record away by vaccinating a whopping 306 people in 5.5 hours!  W00t!!! 🙂

A lot of people came up to me during the clinic and thanked me and my skeptical colleagues at the WTFF and JREF for doing this work, but I have to say that one of the biggest reasons why we can do this at all is because of the generous support from people like you.  We want to keep doing these clinics, and we’re planning to do another one at Dragon*Con 2011 – but we cannot do it without your support.  So please consider making a donation to this worthy cause…

 **DONATE HERE**

Thanks again for all your support – YOU kick ass! 😀

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Vaccine Clinic at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2011

As most people within the skeptical community know, next week The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 will be coming to Las Vegas.  It will probably be the biggest gathering of skeptics ever, and the lineup of speakers and workshops (one of which I’m helping to run) promises to be quite illuminating and informative.  Something else which will be taking place at TAM9 is a vaccine clinic, held in conjunction with the JREF, Skepchick, and the Women Thinking Free Foundation as part of the WTFF Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated! campaign; this will be very similar to the highly successful clinic held at Dragon*Con last year.  The clinic will be giving away free vaccinations for TDaP (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) to anyone who wishes to receive one – so if you’re at TAM9 and you’re not sure you have had your vaccinations updated, come on by the clinic!

In addition, even though these vaccines are free for those obtaining them, they still cost money, so we are looking for donations to help us facilitate future clinics.  If you are interested in donating to this worthy cause, click here…

DONATE

 

And here’s more general information about the Hug Me campaign.  Who doesn’t like good health AND hugs?  What a deal…

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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.  LiveScience.com 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 LiveScience.com 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 »

 
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