Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Chopra on AIDS

At what point does someone cross the line into giving advice so dangerous that the people involved in promoting him are morally culpable if they participate?

Look, it's not that I'm against free speech.  I also believe strongly in the caveat emptor principle -- that people have a responsibility to be well enough informed on matters of science and medicine that charlatans can gain no traction.  But influential people also have a responsibility, and that is to use that influence with care, to consider the harm their words could do, to make certain that what they're saying is scientifically correct (and making amends when they misspeak).

Of course, the most egregious example of how this can go wrong is the current measles outbreak in California, which has sickened 84 people so far and is still accelerating.  The CDC states that the outbreak is "directly attributable to the anti-vaxxer movement," and notes that even with treatment, measles "is a miserable disease" that can cause serious complications and death.  And we can lay the blame for the resurgence of this disease at the feet of such purveyors of unscientific bullshit as Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, who despite mountains of verified, reliable research are still claiming that vaccinations are unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst.

But we've talked about the anti-vaxxers before, and they're hardly the only example of this phenomenon.  Just a couple of days ago, for example, we had none other than Deepak Chopra putting his two cents in (although that's vastly overestimating its worth), and he gave his opinion about AIDS...

... and said it wasn't caused by HIV.

The HIV virus [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Chopra was being interviewed by Tony Robbins, and the following exchange took place:
Chopra: HIV may be a precipitating agent in a susceptible host. The material agent is never the cause of the disease. It may be the final factor in inducing the full-blown syndrome in somebody who’s already susceptible. 
Robbins: But what made them susceptible? 
Chopra: Their own interpretations of the whole reality they’re participating in. 
Robbins: Could that be translated into their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, their lifestyle? 
Chopra: Absolutely.
He goes on to say, "I have a lot of patients with so-called AIDS... that are healthier than most of the people who live in downtown Boston.  They haven't had a cold in ten years...  Someone's told them they have this disease, and they've bought into it.  The label is not the disease, the test is not the disease."

Robbins responds with a comment about a doctor who has stated that HIV is only capable of killing "one helper-T cell out of ten thousand," and Chopra agrees, saying that to get sick from it, we have to "facilitate the process with our own thoughts and beliefs, convictions, ideas, and interpretations."

Then they have the following discussion:
Robbins: There's a test that doesn't even test for the virus, and when they get a positive test, what happens to them? 
Chopra: Then they make it happen. 
Robbins:  Maybe they take something like AZT, a side effect of which is immune suppression...  What keeps us locked into this trap?  What keeps us locked in this trap where we keep promoting a philosophy of fear where we must depend on someone or something outside of ourselves to keep ourselves healthy? 
Chopra:  It's the collective belief system.  It's the hypnosis of social conditioning.  It's cultural, religious, social indoctrination.  
The way out, Chopra says, is realizing that "you are the field of all unbounded possibilities."

Are you mad yet?  I hope so.  Chopra is using his influence -- which is considerable -- to push people away from conventional treatment into accepting vacuous psychobabble, risking their own lives in the process.

You have to wonder how he explains the millions of deaths from AIDS in central and southern Africa.  Many of those people don't have access to medical tests and treatments; a considerable number of them don't have the scientific background to understand what the virus does to the immune system.

You also have to wonder how he'd explain the deaths of young children who contracted HIV from their mothers.  Was their disease due to their parents' lack of acceptance of "the field of unbounded possibilities?"  Or did the children themselves have problems with their "interpretation of the whole reality they were participating in?"

Chopra once was simply a laughable purveyor of woo-woo pseudoscience, of the kind that he evidenced by a statement made earlier in the interview: "You go beyond the molecules, and you find atoms.  You go beyond the atoms, and you find particles.  You go beyond the particles, and you find nothing.  You go beyond the nothing, and you find absolutely nothing."  But now he's crossed the line into endangering people's lives with his claptrap.

I'd much prefer it if people would come to recognizing how dangerous this man is through a greater understanding of science; but the unfortunate truth is that there will always be gullible, credulous, and poorly-educated people out there, and it is immoral to allow people like Chopra to prey on their lack of understanding.  I wish fervently that radio and television stations who are giving this man air time, and book publishers who are promoting his views in print, would say, "I'm sorry, sir, but you are a quack, and you're hurting people, and we're not participating."

But the sad truth is that even if what he's saying is garbage, it's lucrative garbage.  Given the profit motive that drives most of our society, I suspect that Deepak Chopra is going to continue to get richer at the expense of people who are ignorant enough or desperate enough to buy the nonsense he's selling.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The shadow knows

I'm getting a little fed up with the continual stream of aberrant stuff that the Mars Rover keeps finding on the Martian surface.

So far, we've had:
  • a coffin
  • a fossilized groundhog
  • a flip-flop
  • a skull
  • a hammer
  • a thigh bone
  • a rare Martian bunny
With all of this, you'd think that NASA would be all over the news with stories like, "Mars Rover Finds Proof of Life on Mars!"  But no.  Somehow, they're content to cover the stories up, and let Congress slash their budget over and over.  Because that's how scientists roll.  Coverups have a much higher priority than grants and funding, if you're a scientist.

Or, perhaps, the people who are proposing these "finds" don't understand the concepts of "digital artifact" and "chance resemblance" and "pareidolia."  This last one is the reason behind the latest claim -- that the Rover caught a photograph of the shadow of a human (or other bipedal species) in a space suit, reaching out to make an adjustment of something.

[image courtesy of NASA and JPL]

See it, there, on the left-hand side?  Clearly a guy, doing something.  At least that's the claim of Scott Waring, whose name has appeared here before, and always in connection to the aforementioned Martian stuff.  Waring is always finding things on Mars.  You have to wonder if he has a day job, or anything, or if he spends his every waking moment poring over NASA photographs looking for Martian bunnies.

"Someone who wants to remain nameless has found a shadow of a human-like being messing with the Mars Curiosity rover," Waring writes, on his blog UFO Sightings Daily.  "The person has no helmet and their short hair is visible and in high detail.  The person has on air tanks on their back and a suit that covers most of the body except the hair."

This brings up two questions:
  1. A human on Mars who leaves his scalp exposed?  Mars is a little cold for that, don't you think?  At least he should be wearing a wool hat.  Someone should probably tell his mom.
  2. A vague shadow constitutes "high detail?"
Waring thinks that there's only one solution to all of this, which is that there is a secret base on Mars, and this was one of the guys who lives there, making some kind of repair.  Others, though, have suggested more ominously that this is evidence that the Mars Rover isn't on Mars, but is in some kind of studio on Earth where fake Martian photographs are taken, and the camera accidentally snapped a photo of one of the studio staff who didn't move away fast enough, and the people at NASA are so unobservant that they didn't notice and accidentally put it online for Scott Waring to find.

What's interesting, of course, is that if you look at subsequent photographs, like the one below, you find that the "person" hasn't moved.  At all.

[image courtesy of NASA and JPL]

So the resident of the Mars base or the worker in the earthly film studio (whichever version you went for earlier) must have realized that he had been captured in a photograph, and so he stood there perfectly still so that more photos would be taken and he wouldn't be found out.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is the shadow of part of the Rover itself.

As I've said before, no one would be more delighted than me if we found evidence of extraterrestrial life, whether on Mars or anywhere else.  I would just think that was the coolest thing ever.  But people who are actually using scientific methods to look for such evidence -- like SETI -- are not being helped by wingnuts like Scott Waring claiming that NASA is covering up evidence that socks that have gone missing in your dryer end up on Mars.

So unfortunately, as we might have guessed from the outset, the human shadow claim turns out to be a non-starter.  As have all of the other claims, which mostly have turned out to be weird-shaped rocks.  (Except for the bunny, which was a piece of the Rover's landing parachute.)  So the science-minded amongst us will keep waiting for good evidence, and everyone else will just wait until the day after tomorrow, when Waring et al. will be claiming that the Rover has photographed a giant Martian weasel.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Aftermath of the storm

The biggest winter storm yet this season has spun its way out into the north Atlantic, after burying parts of the northeast under as much as four feet of snow, and this has activated two groups of people.

The first is the cadre of folks who don't understand meteorology, and think that multi-variable analysis of winds, surface and upper atmosphere temperatures, air moisture content, and pressure gradients should give you predictions of snowfall totals accurate to five significant figures.  You have your people who got more snow than they thought they were going to, inconveniencing their lives (clearly the weather forecasters' fault), and the ones who got less than they feared, causing them to batten down the hatches unnecessarily (again, blame the forecasters).

"I want that job!" one person commented.  "Half right half the time, no better than guessing, and they still get paid."

I dunno.  Considering that Long Island, most of Boston and Providence, and coastal Maine are still digging themselves out, the forecasters did pretty damn well.  We'd have experienced a tad more inconvenience, don't you think, if we hadn't had any warning that the storm was coming?

Aftermath of Winter Storm Juno in New York [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

But worse than the scoffers is the group of people who think that "it gets cold in winter" is equivalent to "climate change isn't real."  These include Donald Trump:
This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop.  Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.
Amazing that someone could pack so much nonsense into two sentences.  First of all, "global warming" hasn't been "very expensive" yet, because we haven't done a fucking thing about it, mostly because our leaders are still arguing over whether it exists.  The planet's not freezing, nor are we experiencing "record low temps;" in fact, 2014 was the hottest year on record.  And you'd think Trump himself would be nice and warm, considering the dead possum he wears on his head.

Then there's RedState.com's Erick Erickson, who added a religious filagree to the whole thing with the following baffling statement:
The difference between people who believe in the 2nd coming of Jesus and those who believe in global warming is that Jesus will return.
Maybe if Jesus does return, he could explain to these mental midgets the difference between "weather" and "climate."

Then there's Fox Business's Stuart Varney, who apparently not only doesn't know the difference between weather and climate, but doesn't understand the Law of Conservation of Mass.  A recent study found that Antarctic sea ice was increasing in volume, and Varney says that because of this, we should be "looking at global cooling, not global warming" -- neglecting the fact that Antarctica is losing continental ice faster than it's gaining sea ice, meaning that there's a net loss.  (And even the gain in sea ice was predicted by climate change models; it's due to warmer air temperatures, higher humidity, and higher precipitation in the form of snowfall.)

But no such spew of foolishness would be complete without Rush Limbaugh weighing in.  Every time his name comes up, I marvel that anyone is still listening to this bloviating gas bag, but apparently enough people are that he's still on the air.  And here's his take on the weather:
I can't tell you the number of times a record or major snow storm has been forecast -- this year alone -- I was just trying to think last night, trying to recall a couple of instances where they forecast something that is going to be really, really bad, and it hasn't even come close to being, not even close to bad, much less really, really bad. And not just in New York but elsewhere around the country. It's been a horrible, horrible year for forecasts. And the reason is, if i can cut to the quick, the left has corrupted everything. Just like the left has corrupted the professoriate, the faculty at major institutions of higher learning, the left has populated all of these bureaucracies. The Department of Commerce runs the National Weather Service, and do not believe that they're not politicized.
So now the weather has a liberal bias?

What earthly reason would liberals (or anyone else, for that matter) have for exaggerating storm impacts?  Oh, wait, I forgot; the left wants to destroy America.  Because, um, bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, that's why.  So they bring major cities along the East Coast to their knees with warnings about a nonexistent winter storm, so as to accomplish their evil goals.  And then... the storm shows up, pretty much right on target, bringing the cities even more to their knees.  Faked 'em out, didn't they!  Ha!

That's how evil those liberals are.

Maybe the liberals even created the storm, you think?  Using their commie pinko leftist snow-making machines, imported directly from the Soviet Union.  (Yes, I know the Soviet Union doesn't exist any more.  Shush, I'm on a roll.)  Who knows what they'll do next?  Maybe this year they'll use their Tornado-making Machine to send tornadoes to Kansas, and their Hurricane-making Machine to launch hurricanes at the Gulf Coast, thereby sending these areas exactly the kind of weather they usually get.

Now that's some first-class evil.

Look, as I've mentioned before, I'm really not very political myself.  I'm a science nerd, not a political science wonk.  I'm much happier wearing my lab coat and my black plastic-framed glasses with electrical tape around the middle than I am discussing policy.  So although I don't much care what you believe in terms of politics, I can say with some authority that we all need to stop believing the talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Erick Erickson and Donald "Scalp Possum" Trump, and start listening to the scientists.  They may not be 100% accurate, but their models and predictions are a damn sight better than they were even ten years ago.

On the other hand, maybe it's just easier to wait until a really hot day this summer, and point out that if a snowy day in winter disproves climate change, then a hot day in summer proves it.  If that's the kind of logic that works with these people, it's worth trying.

It's a little like the guy who is asked by his friend to go behind his car and see if the turn signal is working, and yells back, "Yes.  No.  Yes.  No.  Yes.  No."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fighting visual malware with water

One of the things that baffles me about woo-woos is how they never, ever give up.

When I'm proven wrong, I usually (1) feel pretty embarrassed about it, and (2) retreat in disarray.  Oh, and (3) make sure not to make the same error the next time.  I mean, everyone makes mistakes, so I probably shouldn't overreact to it the way I do; but I like to think that as a writer on science and skepticism, I'm conscientious enough to check my facts and sources.  Otherwise, I'm really no better than the people I rail against on a daily basis.

So getting caught out hits me where it hurts, you know?

Not so, apparently, in the woo-woo world.  You can be laughed into oblivion, and you just keep on moseying on ahead as if nothing was wrong.

As an especially good example of this, remember Dr. Charlene Werner?  She was the star of a viral YouTube video called "Crazy Homeopathy Lady," the title of which you'd think would be devastating enough.  In this video, she attempts to explain homeopathy thusly:

  • The mass in the universe is "infinitesimal."  Since mass is the "m" in E = mc2 , she says that this crosses the "m" out, which means that "energy = light."  (The whole effect is accentuated by the fact that she pronounces the word "infant-esimal," which sounds like a descriptor for a really little baby.)
  • Something about "Stephen Hawkings" and vibrations and quantum.
  • A bizarre analogy wherein she compares homeopathy's effects to a neighbor's dog pooping on your lawn, causing you to throw a bomb at your neighbor's house.
If you've never seen this video, I highly recommend it.  I can say from experience that it's even more fun to watch while drunk, although I won't be held responsible if you laugh so hard you fall out of your chair and spill beer all over your carpet.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

So anyhow.  This video has received millions of views, and tens of thousands of comments, most of which were of the "Holy shit, this lady is insane" variety.  So you'd think that any normal human being who got this kind of feedback would sort of vanish from the public eye.  Most of us, in fact, would probably want to crawl under a rock.

Not so Charlene Werner.  She's baaaaaack, on a website called "Simply Healthy Self," wherein she makes statements that very nearly exceed the wackiness of the ones she made in the video.  Here's a sampler:
Imagine your vision system has qualities similar to a computer. The photoreceptors are like your keys on your keyboard. There are approximately 1.2 million of them in each eye. When clicked or activated with light, the data from your 'visual keyboard' relays to your brain. Your brain has characteristics similar to a hard drive with an operating system that runs all the 'software programs' or functions in your body, such as moving your eye muscles, tracking, focusing, and visual memory. Even your heart, kidney, lungs, and all your bodily functions depend on accurate key strokes from your photoreceptors and other sensory input, access to your brain (hard drive), a powerful operating system, and efficient use of software programs.
Yup.  Your kidneys depend on information from your eyes.  Which explains why blind people never have to pee.
Homeopathy then scans your system to eliminate 'viruses' or 'malware', which are often belief systems or programmed patterns that interrupt your system's smooth functioning.
So a bottle of water with no active ingredients is the medical equivalent of Norton AntiVirus?
When we consider the whole of man we can even make a further leap……that mass in the universe by definition is matter, matter is substance, the substance of man is cells, and cells can be broken down into compounds, compounds into elements, and elements into tiny particles of energy called electrons, protons, neutrons, and sub-atomic particles held together by an “invisible” force such that what may look like a physical body is merely energy.
An explanation which is to physics what "The foot-bone's connected to the shin-bone, the shin-bone's connected to the knee-bone" is to medical science.

Then we get bunches of testimonials about how Dr. Werner's treatments have cured everything from rheumatoid arthritis to bad eyesight to being lousy at sports.

Which is pretty impressive, because homeopathy has failed to show measurable results in every controlled study ever done.  Ever.  Clear enough?  What she's proposing is unscientific horse waste, and her "success stories" are the result of the placebo effect at best.

None of which, of course, is going to change a thing.  If the reception her bizarre YouTube video received didn't make her reconsider her position, nothing will.  Unfortunately, there are still people who buy what she's selling (literally and figuratively), although it's to be hoped that the support for such completely disproven modalities as homeopathy is decreasing.

The chance of convincing Dr. Werner, however, is "infant-esimal."

Monday, January 26, 2015

A risk too far

Assessing risk is a complicated thing.  The technical definition of risk -- that it is equal to the statistical probability of exposure multiplied by the statistical probability of harm -- seems simple enough.  But in practice, calculating those probabilities is far from straightforward.  And when you throw in questions like, "Are the people exposed to the risk the same ones as the ones who are benefiting from it?" and "What if the people involved in the risk assessment are very likely to be lying to you?", it becomes damn near impossible to determine.

Such is the situation we find ourselves in, here in upstate New York.  The current controversy that is polarizing the region surrounds the benefits and risks of hydrofracking and storage of natural gas and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) in salt caverns underneath Seneca and Cayuga Lake.  You see signs in front of houses saying "Ban Fracking!" and "Friends of New York State Natural Gas" in almost equal numbers.

So let's roll out some facts, here, and see what you think.

Hydrofracking well in the Barnett Shale, near Alvarado, Texas [image courtesy of photographer David R. Tribble and the Wikimedia Commons]

Hydrofracking involves the use of sand, salt, and surfactant-laden water to blow open shale formations to release trapped natural gas.  The gas is pumped back up, along with a toxic slurry of "fracking fluid" that then has to be disposed of.  The gas itself is transported down a spider's web of pipelines, some of which pump the pressurized gas down into the abandoned salt mines that honeycomb our area.

In upstate New York, the permission to build the infrastructure for this massive project was granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year, in a move that brushed aside objections from geologists and ecologists, and which appears to many of us to be a rubber-stamp approval of corporate interests over safety and clean drinking water.  Now, Crestwood Midstream, a Texas-based energy company, wants to expand the current salt-cavern storage to include LPG.

So let's see what we can do to consider the risks involved in this project.

The first piece, the risk of exposure, involves looking at the history of fracking and gas storage, to see if comparable facilities have experienced problems.  So here are a few accidents that have occurred in such sites:
What I haven't told you, however, is the time scale involved with these events.

All of them occurred within the past twelve months.

Kind of puts a new spin on the gas industry's claim that fracking is safe for humans and for the environment, doesn't it?

What seals the deal is the question of what happens after these accidents occur.  The answer is: not much.  The question is, honestly, not so much "what is done?" but "what could be done?"  And the answer is still: not much.  Such accidents are nearly impossible to remediate completely, and leave behind fouled ecosystems and contaminated drinking water that won't be useable for generations.

So as you can see from the above list, accidents really are more of a matter of "when," not "if."  This leaves it to the local residents to consider what the response would be if the unthinkable happens.  The result would be the salinization of a huge amount of water in the south end of Seneca Lake, which would likely be permanent as far as human lifetimes are concerned, given Seneca Lake's depth and slow rate of flushing.  Aquifers would become too saline to use for drinking water or agriculture, which would destroy not only local farms but the multi-million-dollar winery industry that has become a mainstay of the economy.

And whose responsibility would it be if a problem did occur?  The answer is, "Not Crestwood's."  They are not insured against accidents of this scale.  To quote directly from their own 10K report:
These risks could result in substantial losses due to breaches of contractual commitments, personal injury and/or loss of life, damage to and destruction of
property and equipment and pollution or other environmental damage. These risks may also result in curtailment or suspension of our operations. A natural
disaster or other hazard affecting the areas in which we operate could have a material adverse effect on our operations. We are not fully insured against all risks inherent in our business. In addition, we are not insured against all environmental accidents that might occur, some of which may result in toxic tort claims.
If there was a salt cavern collapse similar to one that happened in the 1960s, the result would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the local residents, because there would be no compensation forthcoming in the way of insurance money.  The only recourse would be a "toxic tort claim" against Crestwood, which would result in costly litigation that would be far too expensive for an average resident to pursue.

And Crestwood is planning on taking the same cavern that experienced a 400,000 ton roof collapse fifty years ago, and filling it with pressurized natural gas.

So if the whole thing blows up in our faces, literally and figuratively, Crestwood can cut their losses and go home to Texas.  We don't have that option.

This hasn't stopped the pro-gas voices from characterizing the risk as minimal, and the people who are speaking out against Crestwood as crazy tree-huggers who have "drunk the Kool-Aid" and who are the victims of "imaginary delusions."  These last phrases are direct quotes from one David Crea, an engineer for U.S. Salt, a company that is now owned by Crestwood.  Responsible, intelligent people, say Crea, couldn't possibly be against gas storage in salt caverns; and he points out that a lot of the people who have been protesting the Crestwood Expansion are from the eastern half of Schuyler County, not the western half, where the facility is located.

Because, apparently, you have to live right on top of a disaster before you're allowed to have an opinion about it.  This kind of illogic would claim that the objections of a woman in Oregon to the siting of a pesticide factory 400 yards away from an elementary school in Middleport, New York are irrelevant because "she doesn't live there."  (I didn't make that up; read about the situation here, which resulted in dozens of children suffering from permanent lung damage.)

So sorry, Mr. Crea; it's not the concerned locals who have "drunk the Kool-Aid."  There's not that much Kool-Aid in the world.  It's the citizens you and your ilk have hoodwinked, and who now sit on top of a site that has a ridiculously high likelihood of catastrophic failure.  And if you multiply all of those risk factors together, you come up with a figure so large that you would have to be on Crestwood's payroll to consider it acceptable.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

ConCERNed

There's a fundamental distrust of science and scientists on the part of a large number of Americans.  I think it's probably a left-over trope from the depiction of scientists as crazy sociopaths in a lot of science fiction movies; or, perhaps, the trope itself comes from a deeper and older mistrust, generated by watching the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and wondering what other awful weapons the researchers might be working on next.

Of course, the paranoia can be blown away by a little bit of effective science education.  But as we've seen over and over again, effective science education isn't really all that common.

So instead, we end up with people like the prolific YouTube contributor "BPEarthWatch," who is "Dedicated to Watching the End Time Events that Lead to the Return of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Comets, Asteroids, Earth Quakes, Solar Flares and The End Time Powers."

I ran into this fellow because of my son, Nathan, who sent me a link to the following video:


In it, BPEarthWatch informs us that the research out at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is going to screw up the magnetic field of the Earth and kill us all.

We're put on notice that the narrator may be a little shaky in his understanding of physics when he informs us that (1) it's a problem that the Earth's magnetic field lines are squiggly "like spaghetti," and that (2) Mars "lost its magnetic field and its atmosphere because of a close pass with a comet."  I realize that understanding planetary magnetic fields as generated by the rotation of a solid magnetic inner core within a fluid outer core is kind of complicated, but when I run into something that is complicated, I take some time to figure it out instead of just blathering on as if I knew what I was talking about.

Not so our friend BPEarthWatch.  Armed with his squiggly spaghetti and his scary talk about Mars, he goes on to tell us that the scientists at CERN are going to fire up the Large Hadron Collider, and it will "open up a stargate" and "destroy the magnetic field of the Earth" which will cause us to be bombarded by "ultraviolet x-ray radiation and other type [sic] of solar and galactic proton burst."

Part of the detector array for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

You have to wonder why he doesn't consider the fact that scientists, when they're not cackling wildly over their bubbling flasks and lightning-producing wires, have families and lives and hobbies and homes and so forth, and would not really have all that much incentive to do something that would leave the Earth without a magnetic field (or atmosphere).  He makes it clear that this isn't just scientific overreach and an ignorance of the consequences; he states outright that the CERN scientists know perfectly well what they're doing, and don't care that they're going to make the planet uninhabitable in the process.

Of course, his delivery style doesn't help matters.  It was also Nathan who pointed out that BPEarthWatch sounds exactly like the character Harlan Pepper in Best in Show:


Be that as it may, BPEarthWatch is still better than the guy who wrote a piece because he was freaked out by the potential of the Large Hadron Collider to create a black hole, and throughout the whole thing called it the "Large Hardon Collider."

It's really not that difficult, folks.  Learn some science.  Find out what the scientists at CERN are actually doing.  (It's cool stuff, I promise.)  Just because science can be a little complicated at times doesn't mean that scientists are "out of control... like mad scientists in an ol' Frankenstein movie."

On the other hand, I wouldn't object if the scientists could come up with a stargate.  Getting from one planet to another in seconds would be awesome.  I'd definitely volunteer to go through it, even if it means hanging around with Kurt Russell and meeting the Egyptian god Ra, who turns out to be a creepy shirtless teenage boy with glowing eyes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A bear of a question

What never ceases to astound me is the way woo-woos use minuscule amounts of evidence to support claims that under most circumstances would qualify a person for serious medical supervision.

It's a combination of confirmation bias (accepting slim support for beliefs you already accepted) and completely ignoring the ECREE principle (Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence).  And it never fails to baffle me, however often I run across it.

I ran into an especially good example of this maddening tendency just yesterday, with a claim that humanity is currently in an alternate time line.  And the evidence that we live in a bizarro world comes from...

The Berenstain Bears.

Yes, the annoying, moralistic cartoon bears, intended to entertain kids with their antics and simultaneously hammer into their brains important lessons such as Be Nice To Your Siblings and Your Parents Are Always Right and Strangers Are Scary and Pay Attention In School Or You Are Bad.

And how, you are probably asking, do said Bears show that we have side-slipped into an alternate universe?

It's because recently, people have been spelling their name "Berenstein" instead of the correct spelling,"Berenstain."

I'm not making this up.  In a post called "The Berenst#in Bears Problem," writer Rob Schwartz tells us why this constitutes proof:
…somehow, at some time in the last 10 years or so, reality has been tampered with and history has been retroactively changed. The bears really were called the ‘BerenstEin Bears’ when we were growing up, but now reality has been altered such that the name of the bears has been changed post hoc…In 1992 they were “stEin” in 1992, but in 2012 they were “stAin” in 1992... we moved to the stAin hexadectant, while our counterparts moved to our hexadectant (stEin). They are standing around expressing their confusion about the ‘Berenstein Bears’ and how they all remember “Berenstain Bears” on the covers growing up.
 So my first question about this, besides the obvious question of "What the fuck?", was, "what is a 'hexadectant?'"  When I looked it up, I found this:
The "universes" of my theory are region of a 4D complex manifold that split along lines of real/imaginary. They're really more like "pockets" than universes, or as I call them... "hexadectants." Obviously we don't observe complex spatial dimensions. The most obvious explanation is simply that spacetime isn't complex. Yet if (if) spacetime is complex, then why don't we? Well, maybe it's due to splitting along real/imaginary components to the dimensions. So, in our pocket things are (1,1,1,i), but in another they might be (1,i,1,1) or (i,i,i,1). But then what's going on in the other pockets? Well, maybe there's people there, just like us, experiencing the exact same special relativity but with a different sign convention. And then what if somehow our Euler-phase changed and we wound up in one of the other pockets? 
I don't think it's a crazy proposal.
Righty-o.  The Berensta/e/in Bears prove that we're in the universe's alternate pocket, or something.  Not crazy at all.  As a science-type, though, I object to his calling this a "theory;" a theory makes predictions that are testable, and this one says that somewhere else in an alternate universe there's another Gordon who is British and calls this blog Sceptophilia, but you can't visit that universe because it's in a different pocket, and therefore, somehow, q.e.d.

Because the whole Bear issue couldn't have been caused by people misspelling their name, or anything.  It's not because virtually every Germanic name with an ending pronounced that way spells it "-stein," so a lot of people get confused and remember the "-stain" wrong.

No.  If there's a common spelling error, it has to be evidence of an alternate universe.


So anyway.  I wonder if the alternate me has a headache right now?  Because I certainly do, given the number of faceplants I've done while researching and writing this.  I think I'll sign off here, to see if I can find some ibuprofin or asperin or tylanol.