by Herb Masters
Greetings Friends of Science,
I hope that you were or are able to catch some of the Perseid showers. They are quite refreshing as the evening cools off in August. The viewing has been particularly good this year. Be sure to check at the bottom of this page for a nice briefing on them that Alex Filippenko (you must watch that one!) has sent to us.
It has been quite a week in space news. The Parker Solar Probe has begun it’s
Hello Science fans,
Hope you all are having a great summer. If you run out of ideas for things to do in the Bay area, here’s some help. By the way, in case you are finding it hard to keep in touch with science between vacations, I do have some innovative ideas. I am sure you have heard of the Skype a Scientist initiative wherein scientists talk to a classroom of students. Recently, I came across another idea along the same line that connects students with scientists. Both students and scientists can register on this platform called Letters to a Pre-Scientist and write letters to one other. It is almost like individual me
Always something new in science. Scientists studying data from a ground-penetrating radar experiment, put into orbit around Mars by the European Space Agency, announced that a thin (<1 meter) layer of liquid water apparently exists that is 20 kilometers wide and 1.5 kilometers below Mars' surface. If true, the significance is twofold. First, because that aquifer might have never been frozen in the billions of years since it formed, it might harbour living microorganisms that might have evolved during Mars' early history when it had oceans. ("Might" is used thrice in that sentence.) Second significance: the money spent by the European Space Agency might have resulted in a remarkable discovery. ("Might" is used only once in that sentence.)
Water on Mars? Well, actually, water is found almost everywhere on the planet, it just happens to be ice. At the south pole, thousands of square kilometers of water ice are exposed and even more area is coated with "dry ice", frozen carbon dioxide. In places, the polar water ice is over 3 kilometers thick. NASA has created a
As we journey around the sun, our orbit is not a perfect circle. Nor are the orbits of any of the other planets. They are all somewhat elliptical. As a result, depending on where we are in our orbit relative to other planets, sometimes we get closer to them than other times. Now is one of those times.
On July 31, Earth will be closer to Mars than it has been in over a decade, less than 36 million miles. Get a great view of the Red Planet by attending one of the viewing parties being held by many of the local Astronomy Clubs. Events are also planned at Chabot Space and Science Center. While July 31 is THE day, given the distances involved, any day near the end of July will work.
There are eclipses and meteor showers coming up this summer too. The "Great American Eclipse" last August was fantastic, but the one this year will be of much longer. Unfortunately for us it won't be visible in the US.
There are lots of astronomy-related talks and events happening around the area and here are three picks:
I was driving on 580 as Mina Kim hosted KQED’s Forum last Thursday. It was so shocking i had to pull off and park in order to give it my whole and incredulous attention. As Ms. Kim explained to NPR listeners, “We are looking at the surge in popularity of Astrology, Tarot, other practices, focusing on the magical, the inexplicable …”
Excuse us, Ms. Kim, but there ain’t anything magical or inexplicable to focus on. If indeed you know of anything “magical” or “inexplicable” there are scientists and doctors eager to check it out with you.
Later i listened to the entire hour-long podcast at www.kqed.org/forum and heard Mina Kim’s introduction:
In this hour we are going to look at the surge in popularity of astrology, tarot, herbalism and other practices focusing on the supernatural. Why young people seem particularly drawn to them. What’s driving the resurgence now? Companies have taken notice, perhaps you see more rose quartz in your home (indistinct) catalog. But we want hear from you as well. Do you use astrology, herbs, crystals, or tarot in your daily life and how or why?This seems innocent enough, almost. We might expect the hour to include a sociologist, a psychologist, and maybe even a journalist. Well, we did get the journalist, Julie Beck who
(a SkepTalk by Tania Lombrozo, PhD, presented 8 February)
Stephen J. Gould described humans as “the primates who tell stories.” Psychologist Robyn Dawes took it one step further, arguing that we’re “the primates whose cognitive capacity shuts down in the absence of a story.” At BAS’s February SkepTalk, Dr. Tania Lombrozo, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, asked: Why are we so...
motivated to find a good story or explanation? Is this tendency beneficial? And Dr. Lombrozo answered with insights that showed how our “drive to explain” itself explains some of the most remarkable human achievements, but also some of our failings.
¿Want to put your Drupal skills to good use? The Bay Area Skeptics Board wants a zippier web site with sliding banners and such. Leave a 'comment' and we will get back to you.
(Any errors in this account are solely my fault - David Almandsmith)
SkepTalk by Ransom Stephens PhD on 14 January 2018
This SkepTalk combined science, mirth, and intellectual acumen; a genuine treat. Dr. Stephens brought the audience up to date with fruits of neuroscience research and melded them with an evolutionary perspective.
Dr. Stephens began by pointing out that neuroscience in some sense is self-referential - a case of the brain trying to understand itself.
He then warned against over-simplified ideas such as strict roles for the left brain versus roles for the right brain. There are indeed some differences in roles but...
there is some overlap in duties, especially since the brain evinces considerable plasticity. In the most general case, when you walk into a bar (!) the right brain checks for the unexpected - an acquaintance, a hungry leopard, etc. - without 'you' necessarily aware of the search. Any significant results of the search are passed off to the left brain and into your consciousness. Sort of. Neuroscience
Britt Hermes is an American, a former naturopath, a noted skeptical campaigner, and a PhD student studying in Germany. She has spent much time and effort lately in campaigning against naturopathic practices. She is the author of the blog Naturopathic Diaries.
She has now been taken to court in Germany by U.S.A.-based naturopath ‘Dr’ Colleen Huber, who is claiming that Britt has defamed her. Huber is an outspoken critic of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment. Instead, she uses ‘natural’ therapies that include intravenous infusions of vitamin C and baking soda.
For this reason, Australian Skeptics Inc is managing a fundraising campaign to assist Britt in her current legal action.
[Editor: To consider helping Ms. Hermes, please read Fundraising Campaign for Britt Hermes.]
A SkepTalk by Carrie Ellen Sager, J.D., Homelessness Program Coordinator, Marin County
14 December 2017
An upbeat talk on homelessness? Well, the problem of homelessness in the Bay Area may border on intractability and underscores the failures of United States' political economics, but Ms. Sager's message, pace, tone, and even her smile made this a lively, enjoyable SkepTalk.
She organized her description of the challenges and successes of Marin County's homeless program by...
using false statements concerning homelessness and then debunking those statements using the results of dozens of peer-reviewed studies and using colorful anecdotes from the frontlines. A number of the false statements were ones that i thought were true before Ms. Sager tore them apart with data from recent research.
An example: "(most of) These people aren't from here, they just come for the services (and the weather)." The facts show differently. In Alameda County, 82% of homeless were living in Alameda County immediately prior to losing a place to dwell. In Marin County, 72%. In San Francisco, 69%. It takes