Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

by David Almandsmith

Hello again, critical thinker,
¿Have you ever helped in an effort to save an oiled bird? There is a website that wants to hear your story – however brief or lengthy or unsuccessful. Go to, click on “Contact Us”, and tell your story. While you are there, take the time to browse through newspaper articles, personal accounts, and especially publications. There you can read the real science that came from oil spill tragedies.
California mastodons are in the news. It may be that ‘our’ mastodons were a different species from those farther east. In addition to M. americanum, the scientists argue for a new species designation, M. pacificus, for mastodons that lived around here. I guess we could call that ‘big’ news.
 “Mammoths in Oakland? I thought they lived where it’s cold.” This is what a middle school student said to me when i showed him a portion of a mammoth tusk that was dug up in Oakland. All i had to do was ask in return, “¿Do you think it was always so warm here?” Immediately his eyes lit up. “Right. The Ice Age!” Well, yes, the Ice Age but it may not have been so cold here in the Bay Area. This exchange was during the previous Billion Year Walk around Lake Merritt; the next one is scheduled for Saturday, July 27.
My picks for the week (please preview for costs, etc):

  1. Destiny Beyond Earth: Interstellar Travel and Immortality – Monday 7:30pm San Francisco
  2. Odd Salon: Discovery [6 separate presentations] – Tuesday 7:30pm – 10pm San Francisco
  3. The Year in Anti-Science-Education – Thursday 7:30pm Berkeley
  4. Green Friday – In Our Hands: A Handbook for Intergenerational Action to Solve the Climate Crisis – Friday 7pm Berkeley
  5. Birds of Tule Ponds – Saturday 11am – 4pm Fremont

An asteroid is spinning so fast it has begun flying apart! Approximately 4km in diameter and located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, asteroid 6478 Gault is throwing off surface materials since the spinning is fast enough to overcome its meager gravity. Its liberated dust is being blown away by solar wind making it look a lot like a comet. The spinning has been slowly increasing over eons due to light pressure in a process called the YORP effect. Fascinating.
And for asteroids that are not flying apart, lets bomb them! That’s exactly what the Hyabusa2 probe just did to asteroid Ryugu, just days after shooting it point blank with a bullet. It’s all in the name of science.
As a biologist, i’ve always been interested in abiogenesis, the emergence of ‘life’ from ‘non-life’. For decades researchers have envisioned early stages to have used RNA instead of DNA for inheritance and used RNA instead of proteins for enzymes. This hypothesis is called the RNA World. Researchers at the Scripps Institute reported this last week on possible reactions which could have resulted in both DNA and RNA in a pre-biotic world. Regardless it is increasingly clear that ‘life’ likely did not begin in any one place or at any one time. More likely many disparate self-replicating chemical systems sometimes competed and sometimes joined forces to make ever more complex, interconnected, and efficient molecular systems. There probably never came a time when there was a clear demarcation between life and non-life; it is more likely that evolutionary processes just kept incrementally improving the field.
Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere? Well, yeah. Before the industrial revolution, CO2 comprised about 280 parts per million of our atmosphere. Today it’s 410 ppm and growing. Results of a recent study strongly suggest the concentration has not been this high for at least three million years! My partner and i thought globally and acted locally. Our new rooftop solar panel & battery system went active this last week; all the better to recharge my electric motorcycle. I’m reassured with programs such the one coming up this Friday, Green Friday – In Our Hands: A Handbook for Intergenerational Action to Solve the Climate Crisis.
Need to lower your stress level? Take a “nature pill.” Research shows that 10 or more minutes of communing with nature has health benefits. Participants in the study customized their own “nature experiences” to fit their preferences so that poisonous snakes, mosquitoes, jumping cholla cactus, thunderstorms, poison oak, etc. were not included in these nature breaks. You might consider my Saturday pick of the week, Birds of Tule Ponds. That should be healthy.

Lick Observatory for music and stargazing tickets go on sale April 17 and sell out fast.  If you have never been there herb says he can’t recommend it enough.  
Enjoy nature this week but commune responsibly!
David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member
“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
 – Khalil Gibran (1883- 1931) Poet, painter, philosopher
Science Writer & Journalist

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