Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Fans of Science!

Welcome to the end of week six of the shelter-in-place order for the Bay Area.  I hope you are all coping well.  It feels nice to have warmer weather, even if just enjoyed from indoors!

To start, a word or three on our calendar.  Once we list an event, we don’t remove it for cancellations or date changes, we just update it.  These are very dynamic times.  While most event sponsors are updating their web pages, a few are not, and we’re forced to leave a listing as is rather than speculate whether or not it is actually happening.  Since the shelter in place orders only extend through May 4 (so far), some organizations have announced events after that date that are in-person events.  We expect many of those will be canceled, but as of now, they are scheduled.  So, before you go to something, verify that it is actually taking place. 

One of our favorite events, the Lick Observatory summer series of talks, concerts, and telescope viewings has been canceled for this year.  Also note that Neil Degrasse Tyson’s talks in San Jose for May 11 and 12 have been rescheduled for May 24 and 25, 2021.

Many events have moved online, which is great.  I watched the monthly “SETI Talks” from home this week.  One nice side effect of all this is that events such as these are now available to everyone.  There were attendees from at least 15 countries and at least half of the states, something that can not happen when it is an in-person seminar.  Many sponsors are getting creative.  The annual Bring Back the Natives garden tour is a virtual three day event this year.

I want to remind our readers that we don’t put on these events.  We only list them on our centralized calendar at  This newsletter is a snapshot of the next two weeks of the calendar at the time we publish.  We update the calendar frequently during the week.  Always follow the link in our event listing to reach the event sponsor’s web page for the latest information about the event.

Before getting to virus-related news, let’s look at some anniversaries.  This week marked two of note.  The Apollo 13 astronauts survived a near-disaster 50 years ago. Could it happen again, as the US returns to the Moon?  And the Hubble Telescope’s 30th birthday was Friday.  NASA released a new image, the “Cosmic Reef“, to celebrate, and it is spectacular.

We’ve all read about Vladimir Putin’s alleged involvement in the 2016 US elections.  Whether you believe this happened or not, his war on American Science has been going on for much longer.  And those people behind the climate change denial movement just happen to be the same folks behind the corona virus pseudoscience.

Speaking of, hearing the President’s comments on ingesting disinfectants this week was the last straw for me.  One would hope that people would be smarter than to listen to and believe such claims.  One would be wrong.  The state of Maryland’s corona virus hotline has received more than 100 phone calls asking if this would work.  Discouraging, to say the least.  So, how do we really kill the virus?

Studies from Santa Clara county and in Los Angeles appear to show much higher levels of exposure to the virus than have been reported.  This is promising because it would mean the fatality percentages are actually far lower than have been assumed, which has a positive effect on the models being used to determine when we can reopen things.  Others have been critical of the studies methodologies and statistical analysis as well as the accuracy of the testing kits.  Meanwhile, in Belgium

What all this points out is that we’re in unprecedented times.  Normally studies would be done, refined, peer-reviewed, and replicated before the science was published.  But with the severity of this pandemic, and the world-wide economic and social consequences, much of this work is being shown to the public in real time.  No matter the caveats given with the results they become facts.  Scientific standards are being lowered. The malaria drug that once showed promise, has now failed several trials and has caused several others to be stopped early because of serious side effects caused by the drug on some patients.

But there is also potential good news.  One vaccine candidate is working on rhesus macaques.  Research on plasma antibodies from recovered infections is also promising.

This article gets a bit deep but is worth reading to help understand the size of the effort to get working vaccines and treatments, as well as the difficulty.

Aside from the obvious issues directly related to the coronavirus, I find it interesting to note some side effects, both good and bad.

The world-wide quarantines and lock downs have had some amazing effects on the environment.  The air is much cleaner, the ozone levels are lower, which may be causing plants to crank out more pollen, which in turn is causing a bumper season for spring allergies.  What about the effects on climate change?  They may surprising you.

People are coming up with all sorts of great ideas for helping others, as well as celebrating the first responders, medical personnel, grocery store workers, delivery people and others who are working through all this.  In Vancouver, BC, every night at 7:00 PM, residents blow horns, clap their hands, and generally make noise.  Similar events are taking place in France, Italy, and elsewhere.  In Brooklyn, a retired man plays accordion concerts each night from his stoop, to the delight of his neighbors. A friend lives in tiny Ritzville, WA.  Residents there held a parade (in their cars) around town, driving up and down every street, to show support.

A few issues ago, I wrote about comet ATLAS and how it might be a spectacular astronomical event.  Well, it broke into pieces and won’t be visible with the naked eye.  So, in its place, we have comet SWAN.  Currently only visible in the southern hemisphere, it will become visible up here towards the end of May.  Fingers crossed.  Then we have the Facemask asteroid!

We now have all sorts of fantastic instruments to measure the cosmos.  The ancient Greeks had none of these, yet made some incredible discoveries.  Here are four.

If you have kids at home, you have probably had to add “teacher” to your list of duties.  Looking for some simple science projects you can do with them, using household items and groceries?  Each weekday for the next two weeks Popular Science will have a new experiment for you.  Here’s the shopping list and schedule.

Lastly, I’ve been following a survey website that has some very interesting analysis on how concerned Americans are about the corona virus outbreak.  68% of Americans are moderately or extremely concerned.  But when you look behind the numbers, it gets more interesting.  The website breaks down the responses by age, gender, education, race, state of residence, and political party affiliation.  You can massage the results with filters on your own.  They have been tracking this since late February, and graphs of the changes over time, overlaid with significant events, help clarify how our look as all this has changed.  Check the website for this, and other interesting results.

Have a great week in Science, and stay safe!

Bob Siederer

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