Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Butting Heads with the SciSchmooze

Butting heads – Not good for Musk Oxen or People

It was given knowledge that a musk ox is protected from concussive brain injury by having an intracranial air pocket and a very broad horn. Research now shows they suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy – just like boxers and American football players – and may suffer some degree of dementia. The researchers surmise that mild dementia in a musk ox – unlike with humans – probably doesn’t much affect its life. Watch them in action. When you have the opportunity, watch this wonderful 52-minute film about reintroducing musk oxen to Siberia after a 2,000 year absence.

Butting heads with anti-vaxxers, climate-change-deniers, or creationists, et al., probably doesn’t cause dementia, but it sure hurts – and it might cause them to become yet more entrenched in their mistaken beliefs. But let me quote Lee McIntyre:

It is sometimes claimed that trying to convince a science denier with facts will only backfire. The latest research, however, shows that this is mistaken and that there ARE effective techniques that can be used to keep someone from becoming a science denier and even help them to overturn mistaken beliefs once they are formed. The secret lies in recognizing that even empirical beliefs may be held for reasons that have nothing to do with evidence, such as personal values, trust, ideology, and group identity. The best way to convince someone in this case is not to insult them — or clobber them with evidence — but to engage in calm, respectful, patient conversation that simultaneously builds trust and encourages them to reflect not just on what they believe but the reasoning strategy that brought them to believe it.

 At 6:30pm PDT this Thursday – June 9 – Dr. McIntyre will be giving a free livestream talk on how this works and he will be answering your questions during the following Q&A session. It won’t hurt nor will it lead to dementia.

Trivia question: ¿How is vodka related to asteroids? Shucks, the answer also involves THOR and The Little Prince. OK. Here goes: The nonprofit B612 Foundation – named after Asteroid B612, the home of  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” – teamed up with the University of Washington which developed a computer algorithm called Tracklet-less Heliocentric Orbit Recovery, or THOR, which finds previously unknown asteroids in old astronomical photos and computes their orbits – a project funded in part by a $1,000,000 matching grant from Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Their project is just getting started and already they’ve discovered and computed orbits of over a hundred asteroids.

I’m forever amazed at how few folk know about space elevators. Here is a short video animation that covers the basics. I have minor quibbles, though. (1) It matters not how fast a carousel turns, the yo-yo will never swing out perfectly horizontal. (2) The power for an elevator car to reach the ‘top floor’ is not “extreme” and most of the energy can be regenerated upon descent. (3) Putting a base station in the ocean ignores the threats of hurricanes, currents, and rogue waves. Putting the (first) base station in kilometer-high Lake Victoria makes far more sense. While we are at it, let’s have three parallel elevators so more traffic can be moving at a time, and use three cables per elevator to carry 3-phase electric power for the elevator car’s 3-phase motors and to power the top floor station. Three cables per elevator car would also provide physical redundancy for the sake of safety. The biggest hindrance to establishing space elevators, however, is the rapidly increasing problem of orbital collisions, not only of space ‘junk’ but also collisions of functioning satellites.

Russia continues to coöperate with International Space Station operations – thankfully.

Leslie M. won a JWST mirror pin with her guess of 982, besting 12 other contestants. This time the prize is a challenging paper model kit of the Hubble Space Telescope. Just send an email (only one) to before noon Friday with an integer between zero and 1,000. We will then use a random number generator to select the target number. The person who chose the closest number wins.

Last Christmas, i gave my grown children some lovely trinkets created by (someone else’s) 3-D printer. Alexa got a 3-D printed ear from her doctors.

 Attitudes concerning sex roles is a perennial topic in sociology. Zoölogist Lucy Cooke wrote a book on that topic. Sex is also a perennial topic in biology. Apparently an Australian species of grasshopper has gone without sex for a quarter of a million years. That’s abstinence! A more familiar Australian animal is the platypus.

Strawberry recall. Yikes! A disturbing outbreak of Hepatitis A in the U.S. appears to be related to strawberries supplied from Mexico during March and April.


Ticket prices for SkeptiCal 2022, July 16 & 17, go up again on July 1st.

A millennium of CO2 levels

See the full-size graph here.

Because it is experiencing historic heat waves, India has increased the amount of coal being burned so they can generate more electricity for air conditioners. And, of course, air conditioners pump heat into the atmosphere. Pakistan is also affected. Melting glaciers there resulted in damage and fatalities. The European nations that have stopped or limited the use of Russian oil for generating electricity, have turned to using more coal

Just this last week, parts of Miami flooded after 25 cm of rain. Havana, Cuba also flooded, and Hurricane Agatha caused flooding and fatalities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The quest to replace fossil fuels with fusion energy ran into a few snags recently at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France. Two ginormous vacuum vessels – each 440 tonnes – were damaged in transit from South Korea. The two-meter-thick concrete radiation barrier around the reactor is deemed insufficient to protect personnel, but a heavier barrier will exceed the foundation’s ability to support its weight. Twelve tonnes of beryllium will line the vacuum chamber, but it could cause chronic beryllium disease in personnel. ITER could be redesigned to use tungsten instead, but at great cost and more delays. This article paints a rosier picture.

As long as we are exploring physics, let’s examine the physics of Oreo cookie disassembly.

I love optical illusions. Here is a static image that 86% of us perceive as though it were flexing. And this one appears to have an exceedingly bright center. These illusions are discussed here.

Homework Assignment: 

  1. Enter the drawing for the challenging paper model kit of the Hubble Space Telescope;
  2. Take a look at the SkeptiCal 2022 lineup;
  3. Set a reminder for Thursday’s How to Talk to a Science Denier;
  4. Throw out the suspect strawberries you put in your freezer.

Insert adventure and empathy into your week, but be careful – long COVID sucks,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“I’d much rather have 15 people arguing about something than 15 people splitting into two camps, each side convinced it’s right and not talking to the other.”
– Linus Torvalds, (1969 – ) Finnish-American software engineer; main developer of Linux

“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”
– David Suzuki, (1936 – ) Canadian academic, science broadcaster, and environmental activist

“Be calm in arguing; for fierceness makes error a fault, and truth a discourtesy”.
– George Herbert, (1593 – 1633) Welsh poet, orator, and Church of England priest

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