Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science Fans!

Did you know that today is the anniversary of the first publication of “On The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin?  It was published in 1859.  Still controversial in some circles today, it presented the theory of evolution.  Today it is often misused by those who don’t understand how the word theory applies to scientific research.

I have a lot of articles to point you towards, but first let’s look at my picks for this week:

  1. Nerd Nite East Bay – 11/25/2019 07:00 PM in Oakland
  2. Science Saturday: Magnificent Monarchs – 11/30/2019 at 10:00 AM at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Yes, it is a light week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but next week is pretty full.

Another theory that had an anniversary this month is Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  Sometimes it takes a long time to prove a theory, as this article notes.

Dark Energy presents a bit of a problem to scientists in that there’s no way to directly detect it yet.  The first eROSITA X-ray telescope images have been released and give some clues to this elusive force.

It might seem that the billions of stars and galaxies in the Universe move independently of each other, but there’s growing evidence that that isn’t the case.

Back in 1977, the Voyager spacecrafts were launched.  Voyager 2 has now left the solar system and is still sending back data.  Voyager 1’s instrument intended to measure the properties of plasma at the edge of the heliosphere broke in 1980, but it’s sister’s is still working and sent back more detail as it crossed into interstellar space.  Just think of the advances in technology since 1977!  It is a wonder that these two are still sending back data.

Much closer to home, Curiosity Rover has discovered seasonal spikes in oxygen on Mars that scientists can’t yet explain, as well as some unexpected clouds in the Martian atmosphere.

As we plan for manned missions to Mars, there’s a new discovery about the effects of space travel on Astronauts, and it isn’t good.

You’ve probably heard about CRISPR, the gene-editing process.  Two reports discuss how CRISPR may be used in the future.  The first use causes bacteria and viruses to turn against themselves.  The second uses CRISPR to edit genes to fight cancer.

Influenza kills tens of thousands of people in the US each year.  Current flu vaccines have to be formulated each year based on a best guess as to the strains of the flu that will most likely be dominant.  But new research may lead to the development of a universal vaccine.

3-D printing is a technology with a wide range of uses.  Scientists have come up with a way to “print” skin that develops working blood vessels.  This could lead to much better grafts for burn patients.

As we look forward to some much needed rain this week which will help bring an end to the fire season, things aren’t that rosy long term.  Climate change could modify the Diablo and Santa Ana winds that stoke these fires in the future.

In a good news story, a rare deer species thought lost has been seen by scientists for the first time in 30 years in Vietnam.  The silver back chevrotain is quite elusive.

The current administration in Washington has reduced protections to consumers, the environment, and Nature.  I hope someone is keeping a list so this can all be reversed at some point.  Here’s an opinion piece by one researcher who discusses one of these reductions in personal terms, no only to her, but to each of us.  When we’re bombarded by such news day in and day out it is all to easy for such announcements to become background noise.

Lastly, as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, please think of those who are  less fortunate around you.  For Giving Tuesday, you will be bombarded with requests to give money to non-profits and charities that are working to help, and that money is needed.  But so is your time.  Both Herb and I give the gift of our time to organizations we believe in and I urge you to think of doing the same.  The sense of contribution and satisfaction one gets from giving one’s time to a cause is so much more nourishing than the feeling from writing a check.  If you can spare some time, please consider spending it helping those in need directly. 

All of us at the Schmooze wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Bob Siederer

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