Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

by Bob Siederer

Hello again Science fans, and Happy New Year!  I know, we’re a month into it already (and how did that happen so fast?) but this is the first Schmooze for me this year, so it is still appropriate.

Did you see the lunar eclipse?  No?  Me either, although shortly after it was over I looked out and the sky was clear.  So close! 

We have just over 100 events on our calendar for the next two weeks, and more are sure to come.  You have plenty of things to choose from, including these:

  1. Nerd Nite East Bay – 01/28/2019 07:30 PM in Oakland
  2. Nerd Nite Silicon Valley #01 – January 2019 – 01/29/2019 07:00 PM in San Jose.  This marks the return of Nerd Nite to the South Bay, although they started the numbering over again.
  3. taste of science: Bacteria and Balloons – 01/30/2019 07:00 PM in Palo Alto
  4. ‘Frontiers of Science’ Lecture: ARCS FOUNDATION 2019 – 01/31/2019 06:00 PM in San Francisco
  5. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) – 02/01/2019 08:00 PM in San Mateo

Next Saturday is Groundhog Day which the ExplOratorium celebrates by making it pay-what-you-want day to get in.  Expect a crowd.

I’ve been fighting a bug this week, so had a lot of time to wander around the internet.  Like one of those great conversations that jumps from topic to topic and makes the time fly by, surfing the web can eat up hours of time, yet connect you to informative items, or crazy cat videos.  Your pick.  See if you can follow the path I took here. (Yes, a mild fever was involved).

I came across an interview with guitarist Steve Hackett, formerly with Genesis.  He was discussing his newest solo recording and, among other things, how it included music from musicians around the globe.  Borders mean nothing to music.  Or science.  They really shouldn’t mean anything to anything!  Portions of the record were made without the artists even meeting, and that has become common in music these days.  The internet connects us all, as long as we can reach it.

Back in the early ’70s, the computer center at the University where I worked was involved with Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI).  By today’s standards it was a very rudimentary program.  This was pre-PC, pre-internet and required a LOT of programming work for a course.  But even then I could see that the computer had the capacity to level the playing field in Education.  When the student sat down to take a CAI lesson, the “teacher” had no bias.  It could not tell if the student was a particular race, age, sex, or had a handicap.  It responded the same way, unlike a human would, even subconsciously.  Look how far we’ve come, although not far enough.  Not nearly enough.

This brought me to the government shutdown, which, thankfully, is over at least for the time being.  Driven by a poor understanding of the underlying issues in immigration, the entire country was affected in one way or another.  I came across an article about a scientific study on the relationship behind GMO food fears and understanding of the facts behind GMO foods.  The authors felt their findings were applicable to many other areas where irrational fear takes over.  It is easier, it seems, for some to run in fear than to try to learn a few facts that might support their opinion, or change it.

If you won a Nobel prize, what would you do?  Would it be the pinnacle of your career, after which you rested on your laurels?  Or would you be like Arthur Ashkin, the oldest living Nobel Laureate who, at 96, is still inventing things in his basement that might just change the world.

Meanwhile, NASA is trying to wake up Opportunity one last time.  And New Horizons sent back an incredibly clear picture of Ultima Thule.

Hope you have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

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