The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘trick’

Study by “Independent Climate Skeptics” Actually Confirms Global Warming

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 24, 2011

[**Update (10-30-11): It seems the deniers have already started to respond to this news.  One interesting response is apparently to accuse Prof Richard Muller, the skeptical physicist behind the Berkeley Earth Project, of a Climategate-like scandal (I guess the deniers now view him as a “traitor”): ]

In a bit of news which kind of goes into the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, I wanted to share with you all the latest in the ongoing drama that is the “Climategate” fiasco.  (If you need to get up to speed on the whole “Climategate” thing, just see some of my earlier blog posts here, here, and here)

To date, there have been multiple investigations into the allegations that the worldwide community of climate scientists is somehow conspiring to cover up “the truth” that global warming is really just a hoax, and all of these investigations have shown the exact opposite.  However, in true conspiracy theorist fashion, many ideologically-driven climate change deniers (I refuse to call them “skeptics”, because they are not skeptical in the positive sense of that word) have clung to the idea that somehow there is a vast plan on the part of scientists all over the planet to deceive the rest of us into believing that the Earth is warming and that humans are contributing significantly to it.

As such, it seems that there was an effort by many of these deniers to prop up their conspiracy theory by performing their own independent analysis of the climate data.  However, in an interesting twist, it seems that upon completing their analysis, the researchers tapped by the deniers actually concluded the opposite of what they had hoped: global warming is indeed real!  It’s all outlined in this recent BBC article…

Global warming ‘confirmed’ by independent study

The Earth’s surface really is getting warmer, a new analysis by a US scientific group set up in the wake of the “Climategate” affair has concluded.

The Berkeley Earth Project has used new methods and some new data, but finds the same warming trend seen by groups such as the UK Met Office and Nasa.

The project received funds from sources that back organisations lobbying against action on climate change. …

That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?  The climate change deniers decide that all the science on the topic isn’t trustworthy, so they hire a group of their own investigators to look at the data, and they end up getting exactly the same conclusions as has been stated for years by the international climate science community.  It gets better…

… The project was established by University of California physics professor Richard Muller, who was concerned by claims that established teams of climate researchers had not been entirely open with their data.

He gathered a team of 10 scientists, mostly physicists, including such luminaries as Saul Perlmutter, winner of this year’s Nobel Physics Prize for research showing the Universe’s expansion is accelerating.

Funding came from a number of sources, including charitable foundations maintained by the Koch brothers, the billionaire US industrialists, who have also donated large sums to organisations lobbying against acceptance of man-made global warming.

“I was deeply concerned that the group [at UEA] had concealed discordant data,” Prof Muller told BBC News.

“Science is best done when the problems with the analysis are candidly shared.”

The group’s work also examined claims from “sceptical” bloggers that temperature data from weather stations did not show a true global warming trend.

The claim was that many stations have registered warming because they are located in or near cities, and those cities have been growing – the urban heat island effect.

The Berkeley group found about 40,000 weather stations around the world whose output has been recorded and stored in digital form.

It developed a new way of analysing the data to plot the global temperature trend over land since 1800.

What came out was a graph remarkably similar to those produced by the world’s three most important and established groups, whose work had been decried as unreliable and shoddy in climate sceptic circles. [emphasis added]

In fact, below is a copy of that graph: Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 »

ABC News’s “Beyond Belief” Illustrates How Badly Psychics Fail

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2011

In a welcome break from some of the usual credulousness that seems to permeate the modern media landscape regarding all things paranormal, recently ABC News did an episode of “Beyond Belief” on the topic of psychics and mediums.  Titled “Can Psychics Really Talk to the Dead?”, the episode focused upon famed dead-talker James Van Praagh.  The interview of Van Praagh by Josh Elliot is excellent, as Elliot is respectful but appropriately skeptical of Van Praagh’s claims, especially when he conducts a bit of a deeper investigation beyond simply swallowing Van Praagh’s parlor act whole.  In the interview, Elliot even nails Van Praagh for using time-tested tricks such as cold reading


Another well-done segment in the show focused on the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge to anyone who can display, under a properly controlled setting, evidence of supernatural or paranormal abilities.  It is important to note that in the following video, all of the claimants agreed to the conditions of the tests they underwent before the tests took place.  After agreeing to these conditions, it is telling that upon seeing their obvious failure, the psychics still insisted they had legitimate psychic powers and also complained about how the test “wasn’t fair” (even though they agreed it was fair before they failed).  Take a look at this segment at this link (it’s the video at the bottom of the article).

So, even though they agreed to the test ahead of time, were fully informed of the conditions of the test and what was required to declare success and the million dollars, and the fact they were predicting (quite confidently in some cases) that they were “sure to win the money”, they all failed – and failed spectacularly.  But then they turn around and blame the skeptics for not making the test fair; I’m sure that if they had won the million dollars they’d be saying the test was fair!

To read more about the entire show and get a skeptical perspective on how it went, check out the JREF’s blog post on the matter.

Posted in psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Solution to the “Self-tying” Knot Trick from TAM9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2011

This is the solution to the puzzle presented in my previous blog post – Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9  – wherein I show you how to supposedly tie a knot in a length of rope without releasing the ends. Of course, it is a trick, so watch the video carefully to see just how the trick is done. And have fun with some friends, family, or (if you’re a teacher) students with this puzzle.  It is a wonderful exercise in critical thinking!

Check out the Youtube video for the answer…

One last thing: I cannot claim credit for inventing this trick. I learned about it from Penn & Teller’s old book “Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends”, so credit should go to them 🙂

Posted in education, magic tricks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 18, 2011

Well, I’m back from The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, and I’m slowly but surely getting caught up on things.  I just wanted to take a moment to share with everyone a trick I showed off during my “Skepticism in the Classroom” lecture at TAM9.  In this video, I show how to use a simple nylon rope to perform a *seemingly* mathematically impossible feat: having the rope tie a knot in itself without releasing either end of the rope. I show this to my students as a lesson in skepticism and critical thinking, and it never ceases to catch their interest.

Can you figure out the trick? Stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the solution 😉

Posted in education, magic tricks, mathematics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Discovery Channel’s “The Supernaturalist” is Super Stupid

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 7, 2011

There was a time when I had really high hopes for cable channels like the Discovery Channel – I had hoped that they would be bastions that would promote sound science amidst a sea of sensationalistic cable TV docudrama and crapola (can you tell I don’t watch TV or cable?)  Sadly, the more time that passes, the more and more I shake my head in shame for what has happened to the Discovery Channel.  Case in point: the newest show on this “science” network, “The Supernaturalist”.

The show just launched a few days ago, and the Discovery Channel was promoting it as the Next Big Thing on their network.  Here’s the press release:

Mind-blowing Magic in The Supernaturalist



Dan White performs mind-blowing magic: manipulating physical objects, performing surprising card tricks and making items appear from seemingly thin air. All of this, he admits, is merely an illusion. White has a mission: to find REAL magic. In Discovery Channel’s THE SUPERNATURALIST, premiering Wednesday, June 29th at 10PM et/pt, White travels to a remote corner of the planet and finds himself in a place where magic isn’t just tricks. It is believed to be very real… and even dangerous.

Locals in the Himalayan country of Nepal believe there are monks within its borders who use their powers to harm anyone who crosses their path. White relies on his talents as an illusionist to open doors normally closed to outsiders in an attempt to find one of these feared monks and – hopefully – witness his true magic. White’s mission will introduce him to many people, each getting him one step closer to the men in the mountains.

Unfortunately, in Dan White’s quest to “find REAL magic” – and the Discovery Channel’s quest to continue catering to the lowest common denominator (remember their stupid ghost-hunting show?) – it seems that everyone involved has left their basic critical thinking skills at the door.  For example, check out this footage of when Dan White “discovers” the levitating powers of the monk he has sought for so long…

The overly credulous nature of this clip, and how Dan White – the supposed skeptic – plays it up as legitimate (honest!) is downright pathetic.  There are some very basic questions to ask regarding a scenario like this:

1. Why isn’t the filming done in one continuous shot?  Note all the breaks in the clip between the time the monk sits down and when he “levitates”.

2. Why does the monk have to sit where he does, in front of a wall full of curtains that can easily obscure a device which can lift him?

3. Why doesn’t Dan White ask the obvious question as outlined in #2 above, instead of standing there looking like an idiot with his mouth agape?

4. Why doesn’t Dan White, our token “skeptic”, take a moment to simply walk over to the side to make sure there isn’t a mechanical arm or similar contraption connecting the monk to something behind the curtain.  On a related note, why isn’t this camera angle shown?

A simple application of Occam’s Razor is all that is necessary to slice through what is very clearly a bullshit display put together to get ratings.  Folks, this is a big joke, and if anyone takes it seriously the only one’s laughing will be the executives at the Discovery Channel who are guffawing at having one over on gullible viewers.  Fortunately, there is a silver lining: I have been inspired to incorporate this footage and a critical analysis of it into my upcoming talk at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas next week – it will make a good lesson for my students 🙂

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, magic tricks, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments »

Investigation: NOAA Scientists Did NOT Manipulate Climate Data

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 5, 2011

In the latest update from the Climate Science Wars, it has been shown – once again and for the fourth time – through an independent investigation that climate scientists did NOT manipulate data on global warming, as some global warming denialists & conspiracy theorists have claimed.

In the now infamous Climategate fiasco, it was claimed that scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit had manipulated and even fabricated data to make human-caused global warming seem real or worse than it really was.  Of course, we now know that such claims on the part of the deniers & conspiracy mongers are nothing more than so much hot air. However, what many people don’t know is that these anti-science ideologues did not just level their charges at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit; they also attempted to smear climate scientists working for the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But now, just as with Climategate, a detailed, independent investigation has shown that there is no evidence of scientific fraud, manipulation, or fabrication regarding the climate data

Scientists Are Cleared of Misuse of Data

An inquiry by a federal watchdog agency found no evidence that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manipulated climate data to buttress the evidence in support of global warming, officials said on Thursday.

The inquiry, by the Commerce Department’s inspector general, focused on e-mail messages between climate scientists that were stolen and circulated on the Internet in late 2009 (NOAA is part of the Commerce Department). Some of the e-mails involved scientists from NOAA.

Climate change skeptics contended that the correspondence showed that scientists were manipulating or withholding information to advance the theory that the earth is warming as a result of human activity.

In a report dated Feb. 18 and circulated by the Obama administration on Thursday, the inspector general said, “We did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data.”

Nor did the report fault Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s top official, for testifying to Congress that the correspondence did not undermine climate science. …

Of course, that won’t stop the ideologues from pursuing their politically or ideologically-driven agenda to misrepresent the science…

… The inquiry into NOAA’s conduct was requested last May by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who has challenged the science underlying human-induced climate change. Mr. Inhofe was acting in response to the controversy over the e-mail messages, which were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, a major hub of climate research.

Mr. Inhofe asked the inspector general of the Commerce Department to investigate how NOAA scientists responded internally to the leaked e-mails. Of 1,073 messages, 289 were exchanges with NOAA scientists. …

… NOAA welcomed the report, saying that it emphasized the soundness of its scientific procedures and the peer review process. “None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists or raise doubts about NOAA’s understanding of climate change science,” Mary Glackin, the agency’s deputy undersecretary for operations, said in a statement.

But Mr. Inhofe said the report was far from a clean bill of health for the agency and that contrary to its executive summary, showed that the scientists “engaged in data manipulation.” [emphasis added]

So, because the independent investigation showed that there was NO EVIDENCE of inappropriate data manipulation, Senator Inhofe says that it showed there WAS evidence of such manipulation.  Excuse me?!!  What’s next, Senator: Are you going to claim day is night or that up is down?  What kind of Bizzarro World is this guy living in?

The reaction of Senator Inhofe and other climate change deniers clearly shows the frustration in dealing with people who do not allow evidence & the scientific process to guide their thinking.  They come up with a conclusion first, and then disregard any evidence to the contrary – even going so far as to publicly state the exact opposite of what the evidence actually shows, as the Senator so stupidly did above.  They, sadly, have deluded themselves into thinking that the universe will somehow – magically – change itself to adhere to what they think it should be like, instead of see the world as it really is on its own terms.  These people revel in their ignorance, it seems.

The irony here is that the people claiming that the climate science data are manipulated are themselves the ones guilty of manipulation.  It would be a pretty good joke if it weren’t so true & if the potential consequences weren’t so serious.

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bjorn Lomborg, a.k.a. the “Skeptical Environmentalist”, Now Says Global Warming is a Chief Concern for the World

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 1, 2010

Wow, what a difference a decade makes.  Those of us who have been following the science of climate change & global warming for the last ten years will recall a book that came out in 2001 titled “The Skeptical Environmentalist” – authored by an economist named Bjorn Lomborg. This book was widely perceived by many to have been the opening shot in what some call the modern “climate wars”; Lomborg was viewed as someone who looked at the growing scientific consensus on global warming and dismissed it.  Because of this, for quite some time, Lomborg has been somewhat of a folk hero to global warming deniers

Well, in a turnabout which rings of truth being stranger than fiction, Bjorn Lomborg is now changing his mind on the issue: he now states publicly, in a new book coming out later this month, that human-induced global warming is “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today” and “a challenge humanity must confront”.  In fact, he is even proposing a multi-billion dollar international fund to tackle the problem directly!

Read more about this in the following Guardian article on the matter…

Bjørn Lomborg: $100bn a year needed to fight climate change

The world’s most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today” and “a challenge humanity must confront”, in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby.

Bjørn Lomborg, the self-styled “sceptical environmentalist” once compared to Adolf Hitler by the UN’s climate chief, is famous for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating the rate of global warming and its effects on humans, and the costly waste of policies to stop the problem.

But in a new book to be published next month, Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. “Investing $100bn annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century,” the book concludes. …

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in economics, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Third Independent Inquiry into “Climategate” Vindicates the Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 14, 2010

As I’ve posted in the past, the so-called “Climategate” which supposedly threw the science behind global warming into doubt seems to have been little more than hot air, an apparent propaganda campaign by climate science deniers to sow confusion on the whole issue.

Well, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, there have been a series of three (count ’em – THREE) independent investigations into whether or not the scientific data behind the climate science consensus are sound.  The conclusions of the first two investigations (here and here) were clear: there was nothing in the extensive investigation & analysis of the data to show the scientific community’s conclusions on human-influenced global warming to be in doubt.  In short, the science (and related conclusions) are trustworthy.

Now here’s the money shot: the verdict from the third independent investigation is in, and it is consistent with the first two – the climate science data are sound. In a moment of excellent media win, I was quite pleased to see that this news made headlines in a major media outlet over at MSNBC…

An independent report into the leak of hundreds of e-mails from one of the world’s leading climate research centers on Wednesday largely vindicated the scientists involved, saying they acted honestly and that their research was reliable. …

… The panel’s report said the e-mails contained nothing to overturn the case for man-made global warming put forward by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We did not find any evidence of behavior that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC,” it stated.

This points out to me the power of the scientific endeavor – while some deniers of climate science will still try to make some kind of hay out of these reports (probably by harping upon the less-than-glamorous language & behavior exhibited in the leaked emails, which shows that scientific researchers are, like the rest of us, human – duh), it should be apparent to any objective observer that the science behind the consensus on human-influenced global warming is now vindicated.  Far from attempting to engage in a cover up, the scientists & institutions involved readily submitted to the necessary investigations – as they should when big questions & controversies come up – and I think as a result the science is stronger than before.

But that won’t stop those with an ideological bone to pick with the climate science community – for them, such as with other science deniers (like creationists in regards to their mind-boggling denial of evolution), they will likely downplay or ignore the findings of these independent investigations in an attempt to cloud the science further.  Some may even go so far as to imply a vast conspiracy in a lame attempt to rationalize away the results.

On the plus side, as I said, the results of these investigations should put some spine in the backs of researchers within the climate science community.  In addition, they should carefully heed the lessons of the “Climategate” debacle in order to, in the future, protect themselves from those who would attempt to tear them down.

Posted in global warming denial, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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 »

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