Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

A little history with your SciSchmooze

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science Fans!

It is easy to forget that much of what we know about the world around us today wasn’t known, or generally accepted not that long ago.  It has always been thus.

The Earth was once generally believed to be the center of everything, with the sun and other planets revolving around us.  A few scientists weren’t so sure and developed mathematical models based on observations to prove that the Earth revolved around the Sun, as did the other planets.  These scientists were ridiculed and persecuted by the institutions of the day for their heretical ideas.  Eventually they were proven correct.

The Earth was also once believed to be flat.  After all, if you look as far as you can see, there appears to be an edge.  Go to that edge, and you will fall off.  Again, scientists theorized that this was incorrect, and explorers proved it, eventually circumnavigating the planet.  But many didn’t believe the science.  Some still don’t today!

I bring this up because it seems like we’re fighting for our very existence against those who deny science today.  We somehow got a leader who ignores science when it doesn’t suit his purpose.  He removes senior scientists from their leadership positions and replaces them with people who often have no experience leading the type of organization they have now been placed in charge of, and the results are reversals of decades of progress.  Here’s a list of 100 Environmental Rules that have been or are in the process of being reversed, with more proposed.  This isn’t just happening in Environmental areas, nor only in Scientific areas, generating cause for concern.

Over 200,000 of our friends, relatives, fellow Americans have died from COVID-19.  Many of those deaths could have been prevented had the government taken a leadership role in the fight against this virus.  Instead we’ve seen contradictory advice, reversals in recommendations within days, and disproven “remedies” hawked from the highest levels.

As I said when I started, this is nothing new.  We have a chance to stop it though, through our votes.  Election Day 2020 is just over a month away.  Please make sure your friends and relatives are registered, vote, and pay attention to the rules, so they can be sure their votes count.  These rules differ from state to state, county to county.  Here in California the process is fairly easy, but in many other states, it isn’t. 

Some of you may be saying “hey, I didn’t subscribe to this to hear political opinions, I came for Science”.  To you I would say that today, unlike any time in recent memory, you can’t have Science without looking at the politics that is attempting to quash that Science.  It is up to all of us to say that we don’t accept this position, and demand better from our leaders.  The future of our country, and perhaps our very lives, depends on it.

How easily the coronavirus spreads is a topic of debate.  Do masks help?  Can I get it from touching surfaces?  There are answers to these, and many other questions playing out in real time.  It is best to err on the side of caution.  But here’s a study of how quickly, and how far, the virus spread following a February conference in Boston, before the significance of this virus was known.

We’re seeing progress on the vaccine front, with clinical trials moving through stages at a good clip.  California, New York, and perhaps other states have stated they will review the results of studies on the efficacy and effectiveness of any new vaccine because they don’t trust the Federal government’s guidance.  They are not alone, and for good reason.

This is hardly the first time a virus has plagued the world.  Some linger for centuries, but others disappear.  Here, a study of an old form of smallpox.  One side benefit of all the precautions we’ve been taking has been a huge reduction of cases of the common cold.  But it is coming back!

It has been a relief to have cleaner air these past few days, especially following the orange sky days.  Look back, just a few weeks, to see wildfire smoke and hurricanes colliding.  Quite an image!

71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.  We know very little about what goes on under that water, especially where it is very deep.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium, that treasure on Cannery Row, is working on an exhibition featuring some of the unusual creatures that live at great depths, where sunlight can’t reach and pressures are very high.  Keeping these creatures alive at sea level required the development of new technology.

Remember OSIRIS-REx, the robotic spacecraft launched by NASA four years ago to land on asteroid Bennu?  October 20th is the day!

Lastly, Stanford’s Linear Accelerator folks are developing a new website and would like your help:

You are invited to participate in a short exercise to improve the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory website.  
“This 5-10-minute exercise will help SLAC gather insight on how easy or difficult it is for visitors to find information. With your help, we can determine how to better structure our website and create a more user-friendly experience in the future. This redesigned website is set to launch in 2021. 
“You can access the exercise by clicking the following link: SLAC Navigation Study
Please complete by the September 30th deadline.  
“If you have any questions, please contact

Lastly, here are my recommendations for this week:

  1. Astronomy on Tap: Los Angeles – Livestream – 09/28/2020 07:30 PM Yes, it is from Los Angeles, not the Bay Area, but with everyone staying at home, it no longer matters!
  2. Live Science – 09/30/2020 10:30 AM and Ask the Scientist – Kate High – Livestream – 09/30/2020 01:30 PM, both of which are aimed at students.  Live Science is the first of a new series at Chabot for younger students while Ask the Scientist is from San Francisco State’s Estuary and Ocean Science Center for 5th graders through undergraduate college students and their parents.
  3. The Wonders of the Galapagos Islands – Livestream – 10/01/2020 05:00 PM
  4. After Dark Online: Wildfires – 10/01/2020 07:00 PM from the ExplOratorium

Have a great week in Science!


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