Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

by Bob Siederer

Hello again Fans of Science and welcome to another edition of the SciSchmooze newsletter.  Each week we send you some thoughts on the world of Science as well as a snapshot of events listed on the Bay Area Science Calendar for the next two weeks.

I say a snapshot because additional events are added to the calendar daily, and updates are made to the events already listed.  Always check an event listing and click through to the event website to see if anything has changed.  We would hate to hear you went to an event only to find it canceled (it has happened).  We also make mistakes, occasionally, and list things for the wrong date or don’t get notified of changes to events after we list them.  I want to take a moment to thank Ken Lum for catching some of our errors and letting us know so we can correct them.

Each week we list at least three picks.  Here are mine for this week:

  1. RADIATIVE DRIVERS OF CLIMATE CHANGE: KNOWN KNOWNS AND KNOWN UNKNOWNS – 02/25/2019 04:00 PM at Sonoma State University’s What Physicists Do series
  2. Wonderfest: Can ALL Stars Host Habitable Planets? – 02/25/2019 06:00 PM in Novato
  3. If Global Warming Exists, Why Is It So Cold? – 02/26/2019 06:30 PM in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club
  4. The Worlds Under Our Feet: Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond – 02/27/2019 07:00 PM in Los Altos Hills

We’ve got two events to highlight for teachers on the calendar this week.  First is Teacher Workshop: Weather, Climate Change and Plate Tectonics – 02/27/2019 03:45 PM in Fremont.  The Second one is the 6th NGSS STEM Conference Investigating Everyday Phenomena: Exploring 3-Dimensional Learning through NGSS – 03/02/2019 09:00 AM at the ExplOratorium in San Francisco.

Then there are events that don’t fit the format of our calendar.  These are often classes that require pre-registration.  Herb mentioned two such events last week and I’ve got two more this week.  The Marine Science Institute in Redwood City offers an “Afternoon Ecology” program. “Afternoon Ecology is an “afterschool” educational program designed to foster the natural curiosity of young minds. Students learn about local habitats around the San Francisco Bay while working in a team with their peers. Over the course of each session, students will use real scientific equipment to catch animals and collect data in a fun and exciting way.”  The Spring session is entitled Marine Science Exploration and runs from April 1 – May 6, every Monday from 3:30 – 5:00.  This course is for ages 6 – 10 and costs $130/student.  More info and registration here.

The other one is actually a series of science camps put on by Celsius and Beyond.  “Think Neuroscience” and “Unzipping Your DNA – Genetics” each run for 5 days, with multiple sessions over the summer.  There are other camps too.  Age targets vary.  If you have a child interested in any aspect of science, these are worth checking out.  One of the moments I clearly remember from my schooling was the Biology class in high school where we first learned about DNA.  What a fascinating discovery that was!  I would have loved the chance to participate in a session like this one.

We’ve written about Ultima Thule before.  It takes a long time for pictures from New Horizons to be sent back to Earth, given how far away it is now.  Here’s a look at the latest image.

A bright object in the constellation Hercules nicknamed The Cow and seen last June is now believed to have been the formation of a black hole.  This would mark the first time we have observed such a birth.

NASA has renamed a facility in Fairmont, W. VA after Katherine Johnson.  Katherine is the now-100 year old mathematician on whom the book and movie “Hidden Figures” was partially based.  What an overdue honor!  The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facilty monitors the software used to track high-profile missions.

Have you ever gone over to Pacific Grove or Santa Cruz at this time of year to see the Monarch butterflies that roost on the trees there?  As the sun warms their wings, the trees seem to come alive with motion.  A breeze can set the butterflies to flight.  Unfortunately, the population of Monarchs west of the Rockies has fallen by 90% over the past year.  But there is good news from the Eastern US.

And then we have the age old question of why zebras have stripes.  It seems scientists may have the answer, and it is rather practical.

A lot has been written about measles outbreaks lately.  The disease was declared to be eliminated in the US 9 years ago, yet it has come back.  While a vaccine against measles has been around for quite a while, it did not yet exist when I was a child.  I had every “childhood” disease, including chicken pox, rubella/German measles, measles, and mumps.  I remember the measles though because of the high fever that sent my parents scrambling to bring it down.  Fortunately I survived with no after effects, but many are not that lucky.  Lots of questions seem to be floating around about the measles.  Here are the facts.

By now you may be wondering what the subject line for today’s SciSchmooze has to do with anything I’ve written about.  It seems that today it is possible to invent your own science simply by saying something is true, whether it is or not, whether you have scientific evidence to back your claim or not.  Once out on the internet, even statements proven to be false by numerous scientific studies continue to have a life and to be believed by many.

Don’t believe in climate change?  Form a committee to “study” the problem and put out your own findings.  That is exactly what the Trump administration proposed to do this week.  This committee would be headed by William Happer who believes carbon dioxide emissions are beneficial to the atmosphere, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary, as well as the conclusions of numerous government agencies.

I leave you to ponder the potential consequences of this.

Have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

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