The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘gas’

Loch Ness Monster Activity is Likely Just Seismic in Nature

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2013

I ran across two articles recently about the latest research regarding the Loch Ness Monster.  And by “research” I really do mean serious scientific work: it seems that many supposed Nessie sightings over the years have been accompanied by audible rumbling and gas bubbling up to the surface of Loch Ness.  There seems to be a plausible geological (note: “geological” does NOT equate to “big freaking monster”, just to clarify) explanation for these phenomena.

As a lesson in critical thinking (or a lack thereof) in the media, let us compare the coverage of this research from two different sources, the Scientific American blog and the Huffington Post.  First, the SciAm blog…

The Earth-shattering Loch Ness Monster that wasn’t

Summer is traditionally Silly Season, when newspapers publish strange stories about aliens and monsters again and again to bridge holiday time – and so will July on “History of Geology” be dedicated to frivolous science stories…

In 2001 the Italian geologist Luigi Piccardi presented during the Earth Systems Processes meeting in Edinburgh a hypothesis explaining the supposed appearance of the sea/lake monster “Nessie” as a result of geologic forces.

According to Piccardi’s idea the historic description of the monster – appearing on the surface with great (earth)shakes and rumours – could be associated with bubbles emanating from the bottom of the Scottish lake of Loch Ness in response of seismic activity along the Great Glen fault system, passing below the lake. …

VERNE_1864_Voyage_au_centre_terre_Plesiosaurus

… Not only biological constrains, also the geology don’t seems to support the existence of an earthshaking monster in Loch Ness.  Common earthquakes from the Loch Ness area range between magnitude 3 to 4, larger events were recorded only in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901. These earthquakes don’t coincide with the years of supposed increased activity of Nessie (like 1933). Even the largest Scottish earthquakes were anyway too weak to cause any observable effects on the surface of Loch Ness (curiously the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 generated waves on Loch Ness, but no Nessie sighting is reported for this year).

Piccardi himself sees the value of his hypothesis more in the possibility to make geologists aware of the geological origins of some myths, as to propose verifiable cryptozoology.

Well, that seems pretty good: a well thought-out article regarding an area of actual scientific research, even going so far as to note the limitations of Piccardi’s hypothesis.

Now, let’s see what the HuffPo has to say…

Loch Ness Monster Mystery Solved? ‘Nessie’ Just Bubbles From Seismic Activity, Geologist Says (VIDEO)

… The first claimed sighting of “Nessie” occurred in the sixth century, according to Scientific American. Legend has it that the creature appears along with earth tremors and bubbling from the bottom of Loch Ness, one of Britain’s largest freshwater lakes.

Formed as a result of a long-ago collision between the northern tip of Scotland and the rest of Britain, the loch sits over the 62-mile Great Glen fault line. Piccardi argues that this position may have fueled centuries of Loch Ness Monster rumors.

“Loch Ness is exactly on the fault zone,” Piccardi said in 2001, according to The Telegraph. “When there are small shocks, it can create a commotion on the water surface. Along the fault there can be gas emissions, which can create large bubbles on the surface. There are many surface effects which can be linked to the activity of the fault.”

But Piccardi’s theory is not without critics, especially among Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts like Gary Campbell, president of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club in Inverness, Scotland.

“Most of the sightings involve foreign objects coming out of the water. There’s two most common — one’s a hump, and the other is a head and neck,” Campbell told ABC News. “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable. There’s something physical in there.” …

*facepalm*

Where to begin?  First of all, the fact that the HuffPo elevates a pseudoscientific hack – in this case, the Gary Campbell who runs a fan club for the Loch Ness Monster – to the level of a serious critic of a pretty plausible area of scientific research speaks volumes.  Apparently, to the HuffPo, “scientist” equates with “anyone who can make sh*t up”.

Next, pay attention to Campbell’s response: “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable…” So that proves… what exactly?  That there isn’t a full explanation?  And how exactly does a lack of an explanation provide any validity to the explanation via invoking Nessie?  This is a classic argument from ignorance, and one could just as easily invoke leprechauns or unicorns as an explanation using such shoddy logic.

Last, but not least, is the final few seconds of the video at the HuffPo link, wherein the host shows some TV anchors moaning about how they don’t want to accept the geological research of Piccardi because they like the idea of Nessie.  The HuffPo host summed it up as follows:

“Sometimes you just don’t want scientific reasoning, and you just want to believe.”

600px-Double_facepalm

Advertisements

Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Cognitive Dissonance in Partisan Politics: The Case of Gas Prices

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 9, 2012

In a follow up to my recent posts (here and here) on the issue of rising U.S. gas prices and how the President and Congress really have little power to affect them, despite the belief by some that they do, I heard an excellent piece on NPR this morning about this very subject.  Of course, in NPR fashion, they went a bit deeper and actually started to discuss in a scientific fashion why it is that Republicans are blaming President Obama for higher gas prices now whereas a few years ago it was Democrats blaming then President Bush for higher gas prices.  Check it out…

Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts?

Charlie Reidel/AP — President Bush and then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry shake hands at the end of a presidential debate in 2004 in St. Louis. Researchers want to better understand why partisans’ views of the facts change in light of their political loyalties.

When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can’t.

But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president’s control.

The flipped perceptions on gas prices isn’t an aberration, said Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan. On a range of issues, partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over the facts. When those loyalties demand changing their views of the facts, he said, partisans seem willing to throw even consistency overboard. …

Click here to read the entire story

Posted in economics, politics, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

President Obama, God, and Agency Where None Exists

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 27, 2012

I was inspired to write the following JREF Swift blog post as a result of my earlier posts (here and here) on the question of gasoline prices in the United States and the powers (perceived or real) of the U.S. president.  I hope you find it enlightening…

President Obama, God, and Agency Where None Exists

On my blog, I recently put together a post – Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction – about higher gas prices and how people are blaming President Obama for it.  As I pointed out there, Republicans blaming him for the increase in the price of gasoline (and oil in general) are wrong for the same reason as when Democrats blamed former President Bush back in 2007: the President doesn’t really have that much power to influence oil and gasoline prices.

So, if it is true that no such power exists for the leaders of our government to affect the price at the pump (and that is true, as the prices are set more by market factors such as global supply and demand of oil), why is it that people want to lay blame upon our mostly blameless leaders?  I struggled with the answer to this question for some time, but I think I have finally hit upon a possible answer: many people, either consciously or not, attribute powers to the President of the United States and Congress that simply do not exist.

And that asks the next obvious question: why do people attribute such powers to our political leaders?  Why is it that many of us assign almost god-like abilities to our decidedly non-god-like and wholly fallible authority figures?

I think the answer is multi-faceted and can give some interesting insights into how we think about a lot of things, especially regarding politically oriented topics.  In addition, an analysis of this topic can lead us into a deeper discussion of a philosophical concept known as “agency”.

First, I think (somewhat cynically) that there are some, if not many, politicians in government who, either actively or inactively, encourage the notion that they have more power than they are in reality.  After all, this is one of the reasons why people vote for candidates running for political office: because they make promises and we expect them to deliver on those promises, whether or not those promises are in any way, shape, or form realistic to achieve.  This also goes for the various subsidiaries which surround the government, such as lobbying groups, political action committees, etc.  But it’s too easy to stop there.

Second, I think that in many ways we are somewhat hard-wired to make inferences to the existence of things which are not there.  In philosophy, this is sometimes referred to as “agency”, where we assign some kind of powers and abilities to an entity through our beliefs about that entity or our behavior towards it.  For example, how many of us have been in the middle of some very important work on the computer when suddenly the program crashes?  No doubt that many of us then engaged in a certain amount of cursing at (not necessarily about) the computer, as if it could not only hear but understand us.  (Aside: my wife works with computers for her career, and she will swear up and down that “they know what we’re thinking”)  The computer itself is real enough, but what about the agency which we assign to it?

But when you step back and think about it, it’s downright silly to rant and rave at the computer.  The most obvious reason for this is that it simply doesn’t work.  Yell at the computer all you want, but that won’t fix the problem; actually trying to solve the relevant hardware and/or software problem will fix things.  The other reason is that, let’s face it, at the end of the day the computer is simply a collection of circuits, wire, switches, and assorted electronics.  Does it really have a mind with which to interact?  The answer, so far with today’s common technology, is a negative, yet for some reason we engage with the computer as if it did have such a mind.  And in so doing, we assign agency to the computer. …

Click here to read the rest of the post

Posted in economics, philosophy, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Politics and Gas Prices Redux: “Obama Has Doubled the Cost of Gas”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2012

As a brief follow up to my recent post titled Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction, I wanted to pass along some deeper analysis that my fellow skeptical blogger Phil over at Skeptic Money did.  It puts a bit more meat on the bones of my previous argument that (duh!) the President of the United States actually has very little power to affect the price of gasoline at the pump.  Read on…

Obama Has Doubled The Cost Of Gas

Blog idea from The Skeptical Teacher. [That’s me :)]

This is one of the new right-wing talking points. The interesting point is that it’s true.  Well, the part that the cost of gasoline going up.  However, Obama had nothing to do with it.

“Gas prices since Obama took office have risen by 103.79 percent. No other presidents in recent years have struggled as much with soaring oil prices.” – US News

Here is a graph from DShort.com.

Notice the green line.  It is the price of oil.  In 2008 while the recession was going strong the price of oil was bid up to almost $150 per barrel by crazed speculators.  When the speculators faced the fact of decreased demand due to a global recession the price of oil collapsed to around $40 per barrel.  The result is a dramatic drop in the cost of all things that come from oil – including gasoline.

Obama took office on January 20, 2009 at the very bottom of the price drop.  Many countries are doing much better now than in 2008-9 and global demand has increased.

Just the other day someone told me that the price of oil was going up because Obama was limiting the production of oil.  I thought he was full of crap so I went and searched out the facts for myself.  If you ever want data on energy production go to eia.gov.

I found this specific data that shows US Crude Oil production.  In 2008 (The year before Obama became president) the US produced 4,950,000 barrels per day.  In 2011 the US produced 5,659,000 barrels per day.  An increase of 14.3%.

They also claimed that Obama has reduced off shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2008 The US produced 1,152,000 barrels per day and in 2011 it was 1,318,000.  Wrong on both accounts.

Their third claim was that more off shore drilling would reduce the cost of gasoline and maybe back to what it was 3 years ago.  The US produced 5,659,000 barrels per day in 2011 and 23% (1,318,000 / 5,659,000) from the Gulf.  US oil production is about 11.6% of the worlds total oil supply.  If the Gulf is 23% of this total and you doubled this amount (this could take 10-20 years) then that would increase world production by less than 3%.  I’m sure that this hypathetical and dramatic increase would lower the cost of gas.  However, I would guess by $0.10 to $0.15 per gallon. [emphasis added]

Posted in conspiracy theories, economics, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 12, 2012

I don’t usually post on economic issues, but I wanted to say a few things regarding the recent brouhaha regarding higher-than-usual gasoline prices in the United States.  The issue has become heavy political fodder due to this being a presidential election year, and there have been a number of dubious claims made on the matter.  So, to help sort fact from fiction on this issue, I would like to reference the following well-written article from Paul Brandus at The Week.

While there are a number of excellent points made throughout the article, I wanted to focus on the big #1 myth: the notion that the president of the United States has some kind of magical ability to control the price of gasoline…

Why you’re wrong about gas prices and politics

I recently wrote about the many myths and misunderstandings Americans have about gas prices, oil companies, and the presidency. A few folks got upset because the facts and figures I mentioned weren’t what they wanted to hear. But as John Adams said: “Facts are stubborn things.” With that in mind, here are a few more myths and misunderstandings — about gasoline, renewable energy, politicians — and the facts:

Myth #1: Presidents have major power over gas prices
Gasoline prices have more than doubled on Obama’s watch, from $1.89 on Inauguration Day in 2009 to last week’s $3.93 (AAA data). That’s an increase of 107 percent. But guess what? Gas prices skyrocketed 387 percent between 2002 and 2008, when the average price of regular went from $1.06 to $4.11, before dropping again before Obama took office.

Chart from Doug Short

When gas prices exploded from 2002 to 2008, Democrats — including then-Sen. Obama — were wrong to blame George W. Bush, just as Republicans are wrong to blame Obama for the 107 percent jump since 2009. So who can we blame? The “blame,” if that’s the word, lies largely with the ever-changing market cycles of supply and demand — not just in the U.S., but around the world.  I know, I know. It would be so much simpler if you could just blame one person for the rise in global commodity prices. But that’s not how it works. Sorry.

I find this kind of thinking, the willingness to blame those in power for whatever calamity that happens to befall you at any given time, to be fascinating.  I remember when gas prices were high back in 2007 and people were blaming then President Bush; and now some people are blaming President Obama.  It’s almost as if these folks, in their own minds, grant some kind of god-like powers to the president once they are elected; and of course our leaders do not have such powers.  I suppose it is a way of coping with the uncertainty in the world: rather than admit the reality that even our most powerful leaders are often quite powerless (and the implication that we, as individuals, have even less power than we thought) against the random nature of the universe, many people would make up a fiction that “they” (insert spooky music) are behind it all and to blame; so if we can only get “them” out of power, then things will automatically get better.  Such thinking is strikingly similar to that employed by many conspiracy theorists.

If you find yourself in this mode of thinking, I’ve got a news flash for you: reality doesn’t give a damn what you think; it doesn’t give a damn what the president thinks.  And casting blame hither and yon will do nothing to change that.  Sorry to burst your bubble.

Posted in conspiracy theories, economics, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Ten Reasons Why “Boycott BP” is a Stupid Idea

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 13, 2010

Like many of you, I have been hearing all summer long that we should all be boycotting BP gas stations in protest of their handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Now, while I am definitely one to get up in arms about corporate incompetence & malfeasance – especially regarding environmental issues – I have to say that I think this whole “boycott BP” meme is a really stupid idea.

I was planning on going into all the reasons why I think the boycott is dumb & misguided, but then last week I heard on my local radio station (good ol’ 95 WIIL Rock) a discussion of this very topic, and the DJs there posted a link on their website called “10 Reasons Not to Boycott BP”…

10 Reasons NOT to Boycott BP

June 22, 2010

(UnhappyFranchisee.com) by Sean Kelly

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

Despite the “oil crisis” in the 1970’s, the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and two oil-related Gulf wars, we continue to choose convenient self-delusion over logical, intelligent, honest and actionable thought.  We Americans prefer the illusion of environmental action to any path that might require us to modify, even slightly, our own oil-dependent lifestyles.

There’s no better illustration of this misguided thinking than the boycott of BP service stations.  Despite the obvious inanity of this non-solution, the Boycott BP Facebook page has nearly 700,000 fans.

BP franchise owners have become convenient, local scapegoats.  They’ve had oil-soaked animal carcasses chucked on their doorsteps, and had to withstand protests, vandalism, verbal abuse and sales declines… but to what end?

If you are boycotting BP stations or considering it, here are ten good reasons to reconsider:

#1  BP Stations Aren’t Owned by BP

The 11,000 BP-branded gas stations in the U.S. are owned by independent franchisees – not BP.  BP makes a tiny portion of its profits from retail gas sales, and can simply sell excess fuel inventory to other retailers… like the one boycotters are burning an extra gallon of unleaded to patronize. 

Bottom line:  Your boycott won’t hurt BP.

//
//

#2  Gas at No-Name Mini-Market May Still be BP Gas

Boycotting BP gas isn’t as easy as you think.  Even if you fill up at Joe’s Mini-Market instead of a BP station, you may still be buying BP-refined gas.  BP, like other oil companies, sells “unbranded” gasoline to a wide variety of local gasoline retailers.

Bottom line: Even if you bypass BP stations, odds are you’re still buying BP products.

#3  You’ll be Attacking Small Business Owners, Not Big Business

Think your boycott is anti-big-business?  Think again.  BP franchisees are small business owners with the misfortune of being locked in to franchise & fuel purchase agreements with the corporate giant.  Some even chose BP because of its alleged corporate responsibility. 

Bottom line: Depriving BP stations of your gas/cigarette/green tea purchases isn’t an attack on big business, it’s an assault on small to medium-size employers.

#4  Boycotting BP Hurts Local Economies

BP franchisees are small business owners.  They are employers, taxpayers, homeowners & community members. They write paychecks to local citizens, pay  local taxes, purchase good & services from other businesses and draw traffic to the local area and nearby businesses.  What if your boycott is successful?  Is a vacant lot, boarded windows, and a longer line at the unemployment office your idea of success?

Bottom line: You’ll hurt your neighbors more than BP with this boycott.

#5   Korn, Lady GaGa & The Backstreet Boys

No catastrophe is so devastating that attention-starved celebrities won’t exploit it for their own financial gain.  To promote its upcoming album release, rock band Korn is exploiting the BP Boycott with a publicity push so inane it borders on self-parody.

Korn’s enlisted fellow 2D media hoors like Lady GaGa (pictured left) & The Backstreet Boys to take the bold step of filling their gas-guzzling tour buses at non-BP stations.

Bottom line: You’ll help the environment more by boycotting Korn, Lady GaGa & The Backstreet Boys.  Demand that they cancel their energy-sucking, oil-wasting tours altogether.

#6  You Can’t REALLY Boycott BP

In an The Atlantic Wire article, John Hudson quotes Kait Rayner at WJBF in Augusta: “BP does more than just sell gas. their petroleum is used to make tires, sunglasses, and cleaning supplies. It’s in your lipstick, your shampoo…and even in your toothpaste.”

Bottom line:  Boycotting BP completely is pretty much impossible. All you can do is pretend you’re boycotting BP.

#7  This Guy

Speaking of self-delusion, behold the picture of the fun, jolly guy who’s put more thought into making his pirate hat than thinking through the impact (or lack thereof) of the boycott he’s promoting.  The fact that he feels he’s taking meaningful action by promoting a counterproductive boycott keeps him from putting his time and energy into endeavors that might actually have a positive impact.

Bottom line: Feel-good boycotts divert time and energy from activities that might yield real, positive results.

#8 “Bankrupt BP!” Lunacy

We want BP to spend lots & lots of money cleaning up the catastrophe in the Gulf, right?  We want BP to continue to spend lots & lots of money for years to come, right?  So where is the logic in trying to diminish the revenue they’ll have available to put into clean-up efforts?  Where is the logic in diverting our gas dollars to competitors that are not being required to put a portion of those dollars into cleaning the gulf? 

Bottom line:  Cutting off BP revenue threatens its ability to finance aggressive and long-term cleanup efforts in the Gulf.

#9  Lack of a Worthy Alternative

So if you are going to award your business to a more worthy oil company, which pillar of ecological responsibility will it be?  ExxonMobil? ConocoPhillips?  Citgo?  Chevron?  Valero (Diamond Shamrock)? QuickCo? Sunoco? How about Shell?

Can you name an oil company you feel good about?  Maybe that’s why neither the Sierra Club, Greenpeace nor UnhappyFranchisee.com backs the boycott. 

Bottom line:  As Sierra Club spokesman Dave Willet says, “This is broader than just BP.”

#10  It Lets YOU Off The Hook

BP & 32 other companies are drilling deepwater wells in the Gulf for a simple reason:  to keep up with the demand created by you, me and our fellow oil-addicted Americans.  We’re consuming 800 million gallons of petroleum per week, and 25% of the world’s oil.  Will switching gas brands change that? 

Bottom line: Let’s stop doing things that make us FEEL LIKE we’re taking action, and actually TAKE ACTION.

//
//

#11  (Free bonus reason!)  Let’s Boycott Stupidity Instead

We’re a smart, educated nation but let’s face it: the public puts more energy into choosing the next American Idol than addressing our energy addiction.  Let’s demand more fuel efficient automobiles.  Let’s demand greener energy practices for both individuals and businesses.  Let’s replace any governmental watchdog agency that’s laying down with the dogs they’re supposed to be watching.  Let’s actually develop and use the alternative sources we’ve been talking about for 30 years.

Most of all, let’s boycott our own stupidity. Boycott laziness. Boycott apathy. Boycott convenient self-delusion.  Let’s start by boycotting the moronic BP Boycott, and stop using phony environmental activism to attack innocent business owners.

Posted in economics, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: