Planetologist's Blog – December 2008 Archive (18)

Skepchick lists Top 10 Skeptics Who Kicked Ass in 2008

Rebecca Watson and the Skepchicks (which would make a great band name) have selected the Top 10 Skeptics Who Kicked Ass in 2008: people who have led the fight for reason and against pseudoscience. The list includes a lot of big names within the skepticism community, notably Ben Goldacre, PZ Myers and Phil Plait.



I, being hopelessly lame, had not heard of all the winners, but thanks to Rebecca now I know, and knowing is half the battle.… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 30, 2008 at 3:03pm — 1 Comment

Anti-sex fanatics lose again

The Washington Post reports a new study showing that teenagers who are brainwashed or cudgeled into taking anti-sex pledges end up having sex just as much as propaganda-free teenagers. Sexless-pledged kids excel in other areas, though, such as acquisition of sexually-transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Once again we see clear and unambiguous evidence that the only things… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 30, 2008 at 12:00pm — 3 Comments

Universal ancestor of life wasn't so hot

A recent article in Nature magazine presents evidence that the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of life on Earth was probably not a hyperthermophile after all. New molecular-genetics results show the cell type all living cells can trace their own origin back to in a clear genetic line - LUCA - was not a strong heat-loving microbe. Up until now, the accepted model in evolutionary genetics was that LUCA shared… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 29, 2008 at 6:30pm — No Comments

Ken Miller on evolution and mousetraps

This video isn't new, but a friend posted the link to Facebook and it reminded me how great the video is. Dr. Kenneth Miller is a cell biologist who lectures on evolution and science education, and participated as an expert witness for the good guys at the Kitzmiller v. Dover School District trial. In this segment where he addresses a group of high school students, Miller does a masterful job of… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 27, 2008 at 4:52pm — 2 Comments

More storms predicted

In discussing the most likely effects of a warming climate shift, tropical storms have been a weak link. The thermomechanics controlling formation and evolution of tropical cyclonic storms - hurricanes and typhoons - are ridiculously complicated. Predictions are very hard to make, and require loads of data that take decades to gather.... but there's no way to rush the weather.



Tropical storms are formed ultimately by temperature differences between the tropics and the higher… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 27, 2008 at 4:17pm — No Comments

MARTE: building a better life-detector

A special issue of the peer-reviewed research journal Astrobiology just came out, and it makes interesting reading for those who care about finding life elsewhere in the universe. All the papers of this special issue are devoted to aspects of the Mars Astrobiology Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE), a project to design and test a remote sampling construct that can detect key geochemical features and markers useful in the hunt for… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 26, 2008 at 11:54am — 1 Comment

Merry Christmas from an atheist

I don't care what you call it... Christmas, Imbolc, Hanukkah, whatever. I'm still going to celebrate the holiday as I see fit, which will include a healthy mixture of food, intoxication and laziness. I will devote not one erg of my emotional or cognitive energy to imagining the existence of either Santa Claus or the Baby Jesus. They are archetypal stories, finely-resolved expulsions from the figurative-collective unconscious, but that's about all the import they carry for me. I don't have to… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 24, 2008 at 2:59pm — 1 Comment

Franken appears to be winning

Although very slowly…



When I went out of town recently I’d assumed this Minnesota recount business was going to be resolved by now. Seriously, how long does it take to hand-count ballots? Weeks? Really?



I suspect it would have been finished by now, if the GOP would just shut up and stop trying to challenge and suppress every ballot in sight. I always find it humorous how the GOP won’t shut up about the sanctity of the democratic process, until it comes time to actually… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 23, 2008 at 4:00pm — 2 Comments

Primordial Haze: a new vision of the early Earth

For people who study the Archean Earth - our world as it was from about 4.0 billion to 2.5 billion years ago - the Sun has always been a problem. More specifically, the young and dimmer Sun that shone down on our planet during the Archean. Three billion years ago the Sun was about 80% as bright as it is now, meaning that Earth received only 80% as much energy and should have been a lot colder... cold enough for more or less non-stop global glaciation. But Earth wasn't frozen, then. Earth in the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 23, 2008 at 2:40pm — 1 Comment

The National Academy of Sciences needs YOU

To help it understand what scientific issues the public cares most about. Please take a minute - literally, it only takes a minute - to fill out this online form for the National Academy of Sciences. And don’t hesitate to add your own suggestions for topics they didn’t include. I suggested they add “evolution of life” as a topic…. better understanding of that is sorely needed in the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 22, 2008 at 10:32am — No Comments

CNN attempts to discuss carbon trading

But, as one might expect, they do a poor job. Why is science reporting always so bad in the mainstream media?



The CNN article suffers from two flaws: 1) artificial two-sidedness, and 2) lack of context. In the first instance, the article attempts to present the issue of an institutionalized carbon trading market in the US as another “teach both sides” issue, where proponents and opponents get equal time. Fair enough, you might say, except that without a skeptical examination both… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 21, 2008 at 11:51am — 3 Comments

Another invention from space science

For those who like to keep score when NASA research produces something of major practical benefit, here is NASA’s choice for their Invention of the Year for 2007: Polyimide foam. NASA picked this winner from a long list of candidates, apparently. Polyimide foam is a kind of high-efficiency insulator, capable of resisting sound, heat and cold, and was developed for applications in space. Now that polyimide… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 21, 2008 at 10:44am — No Comments

Another victory for the anti-Floodists

An exploratory geothermal drilling operation in Hawaii has pierced a large, shallow and unexpected active magma chamber. Wait, this is more interesting news than it may seem at first blush.



The top of the chamber is around 2.5 km below the surface of Kilauea lava fields on the big island of Hawaii. That is very shallow... only a little over a mile - about 12 Manhattan city blocks - which isn't much in terms of crust… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 18, 2008 at 2:30pm — 1 Comment

I'm back!

And cold, too. But there are only a few centimeters of snow here, so it's not all that shocking. Still, going from the sunny tropics to Pleistocene Michigan in a day is still a fairly dramatic transition. All my flights went off more or less on schedule, which by itself almost qualifies as evidence of supernatural powers at work.



My wife and I had a great time in the Caribbean. We visited the island of Saint Barthelemy (St. Barth), which despite its reputation is not only a haven for… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 18, 2008 at 10:49am — No Comments

Offline for a week or so

End of semester travel coming up, and I'll be offline for a week or so... no new posts, no ability to approve comments... but I shall return. Ranting, most likely.

Added by Planetologist on December 3, 2008 at 3:16pm — No Comments

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing

In response to a prior post, I received a pretty thoughtful, non-hysterical comment that nonetheless invoked the infamous “something from nothing” argument that theists sometimes use to dismiss physics and introduce a Deus ex Hallucina to explain the Big Bang. I commented back, but because my comment involved a few hundred words I decided to bump it up to the main-post level. Here it… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 3, 2008 at 9:57am — 1 Comment

Send the bankers to Gitmo

I don't normally write about business matters because I know so little about them, but I often read the NYTimes Business section because it tends to feature some very good skeptical arguments. Businesses try sometimes to be efficient, and analysis of how to really do that tends to focus a lot on objective criteria and evidence... at least when it's done right. Energy, the environment, medicine and matters of economic justice pose hard questions that in the business world attract both the most… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 2, 2008 at 1:55pm — 2 Comments

Addendum to Religiosis

I received some comments on my earlier post on religion and the Mumbai attacks, and rather than pour time into comment replies, I’ll publish my response here. It’s a good reason to talk about this stuff, and I plan to write much more about this topic as time permits.



As Tristan notes, any discussion of religion and its role in… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 1, 2008 at 7:03pm — 1 Comment

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