Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Drifting along with the SciSchmooze

Storm Ciarán flooding, Dorset, England – Courtesy Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Dear science fans,

Storm Ciarán bashed England and left many thousands without power across Western Europe last week. 

The Panama Canal is restricting shipping since a drought left the region without enough fresh water to operate the locks for normal ship traffic. Some container ships had to off-load enough containers to meet weight restrictions. The containers were then transported by rail to the other side of the isthmus and re-loaded onto the ships before heading back out to sea.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) envisions the world reaching a rise in global temperature of 1.5C during the 2030s. A study released last Thursday concludes that benchmark will be breached in this decade. A second paper published in Oxford University Press concurs. Both papers identify the reduction of airborne aerosols (diesel exhaust, smog, industrial haze, etc.) as crucial. Efforts over the last half century have been partially successful in reducing air pollution and thus improving human health around the world – although problems continue in some regions. These two papers factor in the role of airborne aerosols in reflecting the Sun’s energy back into space. They calculated that Earth is heating faster due to the reduction of air pollution. Many climate scientists, however, are skeptical.

Fortunes are being invested in Direct Air Capture (DAC) of CO2. An outfit in Brisbane (just north of South San Francisco) claims they are currently the only DAC operation in the U.S. They plan to sell carbon credits with the hope they will become a profitable enterprise. The markets in carbon credits and offsets, however, have a tumultuous history.


When much younger, my sister could tickle me into uncontrolled paroxysms of laughter. ¿But what part of our brain permits us to be immersed in play, and cease watching out for apex predators? Knowing that rats and mice can be tickled into fits of laughter, biologists at the University of Lethbridge outfitted rats with brain electrodes. From their rat tickling sessions, they suspect the periaqueductal grey (PAG) structure may be involved.


ChatGTP Fails the Turing Test

Researchers at UC San Diego put 650 people at workstations. Half were connected to communicate with another person and half were connected to ChatGTP-4. Of those connected to ChatGTP, 41% were fooled into thinking they were conversing with another person. Of those connected to another person, 37% concluded incorrectly they were conversing with ChatGPT. Yes, it failed the Turing Test, but just by a hair.

Cocoons & Chambers

Although it is stating the obvious, a research study concluded that on-line algorithms are effective at presenting each of us with stuff we like – videos, topics, perspectives. In social media it’s great for connecting with folk who share similar views. In browsing, the algorithms reinforce our attitudes. The algorithms help us to like our time on the ‘net so that we will spend more time and – not so incidentally – be targeted with tempting advertising. In that way, the algorithms drive profits for the providers: social media and browser companies. Algorithms are now giving way to AI – Artificial Intelligence – since AI is better than simple computer code at pleasing us and driving up profits. AI provides a better ‘positive feedback mechanism.’

There is a societal problem with this: we wind up participating in ‘echo chambers’ and confining ourselves to ‘information cocoons.’ We once hoped the Internet would serve to bring us together but, due to profit motives, the Internet increases schisms in our country – in nearly every country.

The authors in the above-mentioned research recommend that a bit of AI generated ‘negative feedback’ and ‘randomness’ would be helpful in broadening perspectives and providing better balanced information – in effect, opening up the “chambers” and “cocoons.” I have no doubt they are correct, but doing that would presumably decrease providers’ profits. It is naïve to expect providers to voluntarily take such measures.


150 million years ago, the Greater Indian plate separated from Gondwanaland and traveled north to collide with Asia. I learned long ago that the collision pushed up the Himalayan Mountains. A recent study suggests also a great portion of Greater India was subducted under the Asian plate, raising the Tibetan Plateau. The Tibetan Plateau holds about 85% of China’s lithium deposits. Environmental scientists are concerned about the crude and destructive mining practices there.


Greg U won the jigsaw Space puzzle with his guess of 500. The prize this time is a brilliant JWST Mirror pin badge made by Cepheid Studios in France. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with an integer between 0 and 1,000.

My Picks of the Week (put reminders on your mobile phone)

– Guided Tour: Utopian Cities & Metropolis Exhibit 5:30 – 8:30pm Tuesday, S.F.
– Wonderfest: Spider Love & Cosmic Maps Livestream 7:30 Tuesday
– Behind the Hype of Generative AI 6pm Wednesday, S.F.
– The Science behind Social Media & Political Behavior Livestream 7:30 Thursday
– Bair Island Walking Tour 10am Friday, Redwood City
– Family Nature Adventures: Amazing World of Insects 10:30 Saturday, Oakland, $


Credit: Ben Gibson/Big Think

Any major nerd will tell you that 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of life, the Universe, and everything. However, 42 is the answer to other matters as well. Ethan Siegel compiled a list including: ¿How many times will the Sun orbit the Milky Way before catastrophically transforming into a red giant?


MRI, Metals, & Induction Cooking – Cup ‘O Joe – Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins
Inside a “One Revolution Per Minute” spacecraft – Erik Wernquist – 6 mins
Jupiter & Saturn from the Jungle – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 10 mins
Global Energy Transition – Just Have a Think – Dave Borlace – 13 mins
2nd Law of Quantum Complexity – Susskind et al – Quanta Magazine – 13 mins
[Full article here
¿How dead is Moore’s Law? – Sabine Hossenfelder – 20 mins

Be kind, patient, empathetic, and POWERFUL,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
‘Twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow.

By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys
God save the King!
Ditty associated with Guy Fawkes Night

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