"Wonderfest" is an annual Bay Area science festival featuring talks and discussions about science. Held in the fall on adjacent days at Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley, the 2008 Wonderfest was particularly well attended. For those of you who were unable to attend, you now can see three of the discussions online. Go to www.wonderfest.org to see Does Anything Happen at Random? A discussion between Persi Diaconis, Prof. of Statistics & Mathematics, Stanford and Daniel Fisher, Prof. of Applied Physics, Stanford Will Genetics Allow Us to Revive Extinct Species? A discussion between Ronald Davis, Prof. of Biochemistry & Genetics, Stanford and David Haussler, Prof. of Biomolecular Engineering, UC Santa Cruz Are Dreams Psychologically Significant? A discussion between William Dement, Prof. of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, Stanford and Sharon Keenan, Founder, School of Sleep Medicine, Palo Alto
Couldn't make it to Tuesday's Ask a Scientist lecture on Bigfoot? Well, eventually you'll be able to watch it on fora.tv, but until then, here's a bit of blog coverage to tide you over: The Snitch (SF Weekly): Ask a Scientist: Sorry, Bigfoot Probably Doesn't Exist. But If He Did, He Would Be Taller Than a Bear Metousiosis: Science Cafe: Eugenie Scott — Bigfoot and Other Wild Men of the Forest There was also a negative post from someone who didn't actually attend, and it makes for a glorious game of Conservative Bingo: -San Francisco bashing -insulting a woman's appearance -confusing separation of church and state with anti-religiousness -assuming morality requires religion -invoking
BAS member and skeptical satirist, Paul DesOrmeaux, has published a new article, "The Evolution of Intelligent Design," in the Skeptical Briefs newsletter. He presents a concise, chronological, and arbitrary timeline that more or less accurately presents the history and ???facts??? behind the development of creationism, creation, science, intelligent design, and more importantly, scientific illiteracy. He claims that the article???s contents have been painstakingly researched, and for all intents and purposes, the information provided is ???hysterically??? correct. You be the judge. The article is available at cnyskeptics.org with permission from the Editor of Skeptical Briefs.
Senator Claiborne Pell passed away on New Year's day. The 90 year-old former Senator from Rhode Island is fondly remembered by the tens of millions of students who have been able to go to college thanks to the financial aid grants named in his honor. Skeptics have their own reason to mourn the six-term Senator. He earned the nickname "Senator Oddball" from Time magazine for his obsession with ESP. The Washington Post's obituary explains that he earned the moniker because of:
a 1987 incident when, fearing an extrasensory perception gap with the Soviets, he invited carnival-level spoon bender Uri Geller to Washington to demonstrate his skills. Sen. Pell also attended a symposium on UFO abductions.In addition, Pell hired a Senate staffer to investigate ESP.
During the 1990 campaign, the aide played speeches by Bush and other high officials on the topic of Iran backward. In doing so, Sen. Pell informed the secretary of defense, the word "Simone" had been discerned, and he described this as "a code word that would not be in the national interest to be known." "It sounds wacky but there may be some merit to it," Sen. Pell commented. He told an interviewer later that the "Simone" issue "had not been helpful in t
Janet Adams, a self-described psychic, was arrested for bilking an 85-year-old woman out of $80,330. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Adams told the victim "that her husband would die of a heart attack if she didn't immediately pay $13,000 for 'special prayers,' the prosecutor said." On subsequent visits, the purported psychic extracted more and more money from the elderly victim, until her (still-healthy) husband noticed the odd transactions. The Chronicle explains that:
Adams has victimized numerous women in San Mateo County in the past and was sent to state prison in 2004 for two years on a theft conviction, authorities said. At that time, Adams worked as a palm reader at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival.My crystal ball tells me that the victim, who visited Adams the first time "on a lark," has learned her lesson. Hopefully Adams will learn hers, too. The photograph of Adams is from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department,
We're on Facebook! We've started a Bay Area Skeptics page on Facebook so we can connect with more Bay Area skeptics, and you can interact with us. Joining our group is another way that you can find out about our upcoming events; our Skeptics in the Pub gatherings, our lectures, and other activities. It's also a great way to meet other skeptics, both local, and global. See you there!
San Francisco resident Lisa Marie Miller bilked a Santa Clara woman out of $108,000 and a sports car by giving her "spiritual cleanings", according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (available here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/09/BA8H14KOHF.D... ). Lisa Miller apparently was carrying on the family business: her mother in law was recently convicted on similar charges, and a sister in law is under investigation for bilking a woman out of $36,000 in payment for a similar "psychic cleansing." She received two months in jail, five years probation, and is required to pay restitution. Oh -- and not to ever engage in fortune telling, spiritual advising, and the like. There is considerable commentary on story at the Chronicle's blog.
I recently trekked up north to Bigfoot Country. This prompted Genie Scott to request that if I should encounter Bigfoot, "Get an interview for my talk!" I traveled the Bigfoot Highway, visited Bluff Creek where the infamous Patterson-Gimlinfootage was filmed, and stopped by the Willow Creek - China Flat Museum, a center dedicated to local history, and Bigfoot lore. Unfortunately for Genie's talk, and cryptozoologist's worldwide, I encountered some fascinating anecdotal evidence, but I didn't encounter any historical evidence, or Bigfoot... California claims more Bigfoot sightings than anywhere else in the world. (Other cultures have different variants, such as the Yowie of my native Australia.) But does Bigfoot call the San Francisco Bay Area "home"? Like the USGS earthquake map, the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) have a Bigfoot map that pinpoints sightings reported throughout the country. According to this database, Big
Last weekend I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to interview Ben Radford, Managing Editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, for the Skeptic Zone Podcast. Radford, an intrepid scientific paranormal investigator, got his revenge when he sprung an interview on me! Representing the Bay Area Skeptics, I appeared on Science Watch, the weekly live show and podcast of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason. We discussed issues of paranormal and pseudoscience in the Bay Area, including failed psychic political predictions and the recent Bigfoot hoax. We also mentioned Bay Area Skeptic's own Genie Scott, and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). With alien-plagued Roswell, New Age Santa Fe and a slew of local ghost stories, New Mexico could quite possibly rival California as America's most supposedly 'supernatural' state!
--- Wednesday November 19, at 4 pm: "Your Fiction Science Defense Kit: Dealing with Astrology, UFO's, and Other Astronomical Pseudo-sciences" A non-technical talk by Andrew Fraknoi, Foothill College Harney Science Center, Room 127 University of San Francisco Physics and Astronomy Department Colloquium; free and open to educators and students. For a campus map, see: http://www.usfca.edu/online/gen_info/map_c.html (Please allow yourself time to park and find the room. Street parking around campus is not always easy to find.) An enormous amount of media attention has been given to some pretty amazing claims on the fringes of astronomy. These include the idea that your life path and romantic destiny are determined by the position of objects in the sky at the moment of your birth; that extraterrestrial space-craft have regularly landed on our planet (and kidnapped innocent citizens without being noticed); and that an ancient race left us a message on the planet Mars in the shape of a human face. In this illustrated talk, astronomer and popular lecturer Andrew Fraknoi will discuss the most famous "fiction science" claims related to astronomy, and provide the background and analysis needed to appreciate them properly. He will share some rece