Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Bingeing with the SciSchmooze

from the desk of David Almandsmith

I’ve never binge-watched 14 episodes of anything until i found this: playing with stuff on the International Space Station and calling it “science.” Each episode is just a few minutes and well worth it. Come back here when you finish.

¿Did you want to interrupt Dr. Pettit during the “Spring Theory” episode to supply an answer? At 3 minutes into the episode, he doubles the mass of a pendulum. On Earth, this would not affect its period, the time it takes to swing back and forth. He remarks, “Something interesting is going on… Perhaps the spring does not exactly replace gravitational force.” Reply to with your answer to this “interesting” observation and, if correct, you will be entered into a drawing to win an ISS model kit.
Want to win a bigger contest? Name the 2020 Mars Rover. Prerequisite: you must be a K-12 student.
We curious humans are forever delving into our ancestry and trying to figure out how our ancestors lived. Three recent studies caught my attention.
First: A study of a 3.8 million-year-old skull of Australopithecus anamensis indeed shows that this putative precursor to Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) had a more pronounced lower face, probably better for chewing hard stuff. Lucy’s face was flatter – more like ours. But then there is the possibility that anamensis continued after giving rise to Lucy and her kin and survived another hundred thousand years chewing on hard stuff. That would be possible if Lucy and anamensis lived in separate areas. Hmmm. Stay tuned.
Second: The assumption that stone-age humans would avoid high altitudes (thin air, freezing temperatures, nasty weather, lack of foods) was too simple. At 3,469 meters (11,381 feet) in the mountains of Ethiopia, people were hunting and cooking 30,000 years ago. And what were they eating? Giant Mole-Rats. Not naked mole-rats; these had fur. But what is especially surprising to me is the cooking. Trying to start a fire at that altitude is difficult.
Third: Stone tools found in Idaho suggest that people may have arrived in the Americas 16,500 years ago, before a land crossing of the Bering Straits was thought possible. This suggests people may have arrived by sea in countless short excursions. Or not. Not everyone is ‘on-board’ with this hypothesis.

Picks for the Week:

  1. Searching for Life Beyond Earth: 6pm Thursday, Newark
  2. Heavy Weather: Balancing Joy and Despair: 6:30pm Thursday, San Francisco
  3. San Francisco Star Party: 7:30pm – 10:30pm Thursday, San Francisco
  4. Getting into Medicine for High School Students: 1pm – 3pm Saturday, Berkeley

The September Scientific American is out and what a great issue it is. The theme is “Truth, Lies, & Uncertainty.” Almost every article in the “Lies & Uncertainty” sections is illustrative and germane to the current state of science, etc. in the U.S. My takeaway: problems in America are deeper than the oversimple concept of “tribalism.” Don’t skip this issue.
Faced with the knowledge that the long-necked camel lasted about 15 million years before becoming extinct, i believe that the human species with our cleverness and adaptability will do at least as well. Yes, our civilizations may collapse repeatedly, and our numbers may sometimes plummet precipitously, but genus Homo will likely still be around for a million years and more. This brings up a question: ¿what would million-year descendants find valuable or interesting from 2019 CE? A gasoline-powered conveyance? An iPhone X? A dollar bill? A deeply detailed diary? The September issue of Scientific American? The SciSchmooze? Send your short list to and I will share some in my next SciSchmooze.

In the meantime, support science, encourage critical thinking, and enjoy living.

David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member
Given that we are equipped with the capacity to sympathize with others, nothing can prevent the circle of sympathy from expanding from the family and tribe to embrace all of humankind, particularly as reason goads us into realizing that there can be nothing uniquely deserving about ourselves or any of the groups to which we belong.
Steven Pinker, psychologist and author (1954 – )

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