OK, the title of this article isn't completely accurate (and it isn't a Bay Area story, but I couldn't help posting it). At this point in the story, it's not demonstrated that ground-penetrating radar is superior to dowsing for locating a cemetery, but I think it's a safe statement. The state of Mississippi wants to build a highway, but properly needs to see if an abandoned cemetery is in the proposed path. The landowner has hired a dowser who claims to be able to find bodies. CLICK HERE for the whole story. In this ADDITIONAL STORY on the grave dowser, we learn that he can distinguish between male and female bodies by the direction the wires go when he passes over their graves.
Chabot Space and Science Center director Alex Zwissler posted a good blog taking to task the San Francisco Chronicle for misapplication of "balance" in their coverage of the public controversy over the safety of smartmeters. Good reading: SMARTMETERS ARTICLE
From time to time, Bay Area Skeptics board members are asked about BAS's position on religion. We have a brief mission statement that explains our policy of religious neutrality, but like all such statements, from time to time one must consider whether it is communicating fully the organization's perspective. You can read it at http://www.baskeptics.org/about/policies In recent correspondence with a friend about the topic of skepticism and atheism, I wrote the following, which, although not an official BAS statement, reflects what most (though not all) of the BAS officers have thought over the years. For what it's worth -- here are some additional thoughts on the matter: Dear _____, People on my side of the issue want skepticism to be about appreciation and enjoyment of science, and critical thinking, which of course is not philosophy-specific. After all, if your concern is showing people scientifically why homeopathy is quackery, religion isn't an issue. And skeptics are more concerned with things like homeopathy than with the meaning of life. This doesn't prohibit us from evaluating/criticizing fact claims made in the name of religion if such claims are shown to be wrong through science. We can show through science why the catastrophic cut
Although we try at the BAS website to blog about Bay Area issues, sometimes national issues are so important they swamp our local focus. The issue of cell phone radiation and cancer is one of them. Of course, as members of society, Bay Area residents are tuned into this controversy as well, so perhaps it is not inappropriate to comment on it. Do cell phones cause brain cancer? There is no epidemiological evidence to suggest the link, only anecdote (and two anecdotes, despite the common practice in the press, do not constitute "data"). Is there a reason to suspect that cell phone radiation -- close to the brain, and in the case of many heavy cell phone users, as much as several hours/day -- might be dangerous? Well, no. Not according to basic physics. Few people have been as clear on this issue as beloved skeptic Bob Park (though the irascible Park would probably grump about being termed "beloved", but it's true!) Author of "Voodoo Science" and
Did you know you can balance an egg on the Equinox?! Wow!! And this year, with the gravitational pull of the "super Moon", or something, the powers should be even stronger, or something, and eggs should be balanceable even more easily! Well, the Bay Area Skeptics in the Pub for March 19 -- OK, the day BEFORE the actual card-carrying equinox -- found egg balancing possible, but something of a chore. This picture shows three eggs balanced at the same time, which I think was a record. The dozen eggs we had to work with seemed almost symmetrical, with none of the "bottom heavy" morphology most eggs have. Balancing them was much more difficult than other eggs at previous BAS spring rituals. At the next SitP, we'll try again to balance eggs, and I'll report back. (Because indeed, one can balance eggs on the Equinox, and any other day, as well. Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog discusses Martin Gardner's history of how this Chinese folk ritual became an American urban legend:
Anyone interested in the scandalous story of Andrew Wakefield, whose paper in the British journal Nature and further activities have spurred the antivaccination movement, would be interested in Adam Rutherford's report on BBC Radio 4. The second part of the series airs tonight, March 24. Here's the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zm328
Friends, you will enjoy an excellent column by John Carroll on March 2, 2011. Link is here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/02/28/DDTE1I0BVH.DTL We need lots more journalistic efforts like this to help the public understand that no, science does not know all the answers (it isn't a list of completed explanations), rather, it's a process that ends up (often) with our asking a lot more questions than we began with. Furthermore, it's really exciting that there are so many things yet to learn. And scientists aren't upset having to say, "I don't know yet." Check it out.
My colleague snapped this picture on the way to work this morning. You will find it in Berkeley, on Solano Avenue, near the Oaks Theater. I suppose if there were a place that needed saving, it would be Berkeley, but it also seems a place rather unlikely to take Camping's pronouncements seriously. The worry in all such EOTWAWKI (end of the world as we know it) predictions is that some poor souls DO take such predictions seriously, in the face of failure after failure. But people have been known to sell their homes, give away their belongings, even commit suicide -- and even take the lives of their loved ones. Only to wake up the morning after believing that "there was a miscalculation".
In the Bay Area, we've had a lot of fussing about the PG&E Smartmeters that have been installed over the last few years. Much of the opposition comes from a familiar fear about radiation effect. In an article posted today, the magazine Mother Jones attempts to assuage concerns on this as well as some other accounts. A nice graph appears here: http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/01/will-smart-meters-give-you-ca... Skeptics know that the amount and type of radiation emitted by these as well as other familiar devices are not such as to be able to cause cancers and other maladies. Here's a good article from Skeptical Inquirer by an engineer that gives some of the science behind why the concerns about cell phones or power lines is unnecessary. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/
Today a colleague of mine at work brought in a curious black elastic wrist band with two embedded holographic disks in it. A "Power Balance" wrist band, which he found on a path in a park. Such a device, according to testimonials, improves one's athletic performance (balance, stamina, strength, energy, etc) by "optimizing the body's natural energy flow" because it "resonates with and responds to the natural energy field of the body". Another colleague told me that according to his son, many athletes at Berkeley High School are quite fond of these bracelets, and are willing to shell out the $29.95 to emulate sports heroes such as the handsome ones depicted on the PowerBalance website. http://www.powerbalance.com/powerbalance Bicyclists also reportedly have claimed the bracelets improve their performance. One might naturally be suspicious of such a claim, and request some evidence that 1) purported energy