Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing a Thought Experiment

Hello again science fans!

I hope your new year is off to a pleasant start and i trust the new year will bring joy along with a few minor unavoidable travails and challenges. And if learning new things brings you joy – read on!

¿If an advanced species of vertebrate arose hundreds of millions of years ago and invented – all in the space of only 10,000 years – agriculture, mathematics, automobiles, jet airplanes, atomic power, and spaceflight before self-destructing, how would we know about it? That’s the crux of the thought experiment called the “Silurian Hypothesis.” Just asking this question led scientists to the reality that evidence of such a short-lived civilization – like our own so far – would leave only miniscule clues in the fossil and geologic record. Miniscule, but given our current technology, the clues would be obvious. Video 


Both of my partner’s siblings went out to dinner with a good friend, and now all three have COVID. Although they are thoroughly miserable, they will likely fully recover since they have kept up on their vaccinations. COVID infections are currently increasing, in part due to the JN.1 variant and partly because cooler weather leads to more people congregating indoors. Every day in the U.S. about 10,000 new cases and about a hundred deaths from COVID are reported; so its lethality is far less than before. However, about nine million Americans still suffer from Long COVID. Among those is the Physics Girl, Dianna Cowern. We have frequently featured her videos in the SciSchmooze. She has been bedridden and unable to care for herself for over a year. 

Bob Siederer wrote in June of 2022 that a CRISPR gene editing process was showing great promise for the treatment of Sickle Cell Disease. Last month the FDA approved two different gene editing treatments for Sickle Cell Disease patients. Yay! ¿And how much does this treatment cost? Current price is $2.2 million per patient. (OUCH!)

Placebos can increase the perception of health and even improve health. This is why medical trials normally include a cohort that is treated with a placebo to compare with the cohort that receives the real treatment. On the other hand, if a cohort is told that a treatment will make them feel worse while curing a health problem, a segment of the placebo cohort will report feeling worse. This is the “nocebo effect. Here are a few amazing examples. The nocebo effect is common outside medical research. For example, some people experience negative mind and body effects when they believe they are near a high voltage powerline.

¿Pregnant? You probably already know that consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is harmful for the fetus. Add to that: cannabis. But not all recreational indulgences are proscribed. You could still binge-watch Ted Lasso.


A team of drillers succeeded in drilling into the sea floor 850 meters below the surface and 1200 meters into mantle rock – six times deeper than ever before. From the rock samples and drill hole, a microbiologist searched for living microbes and biochemists studied the chemicals found there that may have been involved in the creation of life.

Close to where Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand come together is the Bolaven Volcanic Field, possibly where a massive asteroid slammed into Earth 789 million years ago. Tektites of this precise age have been found throughout Southeast Asia and as far away as Australia, but ground zero remained unlocated – perhaps until now. Conducting investigative geology in this region has been hampered by rain forests, politics, and leftover landmines. If the researchers are correct, the until-now unnamed collision will likely be called the Bolaven Impact Event. Stay tuned!


Bill C won the colour-change 8cm crystal globe with his guess of 255. He chose the Solar System item. The prize this time is (again) 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.


¿What did you have to eat on this date a year ago? That’s hard for most of us to answer. ¿What did a young Gorgosaurus libratus (a cousin of Tyrannosaurus Rex) have to eat 70 million years ago? That’s easy: two small raptorosaurs. For the first time, a fossil of a tyrannosauroid was found with fossilized prey in its stomach.

Archaeopteryx is well-known as a transitional species between non-avian dinosaurs and birds. ¿But where did flying pterosaurs (such as pterodactyls) come from? Here’s our current understanding: Early on, some archosaurs branched off to become the first dinosaurs while other archosaurs separately branched off to become lagerpetids. An hypothesis holds that some lagerpetids branched off to become flying pterosaurs. Evidence for this transition to flight has been strengthened by a new lagerpetid fossil find: Venetoraptor gassenae.


Anesthesia & Hibernation:Enduring Deep-Space Travel – 7PM Tuesday, Novato

King Tide Walk Along the Embarcadero – 10:15 AM Thursday, San Francisco

You Can’t Beat an Extinct Horse – Livestream 7:30 PM Thursday

Apes & Us: A Century of Representations of Our Closest Relatives – 6 PM Friday, Stanford

Wonders of Weather – 10:30 AM Saturday, Chabot Space & Science Center, $

King Tides Walk – Noon Sunday, Palo Alto


Ever since the publication of Einstein’s formulation of General Relativity as the explanation of gravity in 1915, physicists have been attempting to unify quantum theory with gravity – but without much success. Physicist Jonathan Oppenheim of the University College of London recently tossed his theoretical ‘hat’ into the ring. Essentially and mathematically he leaves gravity as the effects of mass on the curvature of space-time, but he posits that at atomic distances the curvature is jittery and non-probabilistic, much like quantum fields. Oppenheim’s conclusion is that gravity is not quantum in nature, but space-time itself exhibits some quantum behaviour at the smallest scales.

Until this last week, i was not aware of the Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures, CMAP, a National Science Foundation Physics Frontiers Center. You are probably aware that in Livermore, California, giant lasers are used in the Nuclear Ignition Facility to crush tiny capsules containing hydrogen with such force that the atoms fuse and release ‘fusion’ energy. CMAP does much the same with giant lasers but experiments there are to learn what happens to substances squeezed with forces equivalent to pressures in the centre of planets. We were taught that water comes in three phases, vapour (steam), liquid water, and ice. Experiments at CMAP have revealed additional water phases up to Ice Twenty. Allow me to recommend this 11 minute NSF video.


New alternative medical treatments arise from ignorance and avarice faster than science can debunk them. (A friend of mine believes her uncle was cured of cancer by reflexology!) “There is no convincing scientific evidence that reflexology is effective for any medical condition.” I just became aware of N.E.T. or Neuro Emotional Technique, although it has been around since 1985. This article takes a light-hearted review of evidence for N.E.T.’s efficacy, or rather lack thereof.


Sickle Cell Disease & Gene Editing – King 5 Seattle – 3 mins

Lethal temperatures – Sabine Hossenfelder – 4 mins

Duckweed on Mars? – Cup o’ Joe – Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins

Cistercian Number System – Numberphile – Alex Bellos – 10 mins

Something weird happens as you keep squeezing – NSF CMAP – Adam Cole – 11 mins

Crazy wind turbine design may be the future – Undecided – Matt Ferrell – 13 mins

Humorous Space Memes – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 14 mins

Pre-Human Civilizations? – PBS Spacetime – Matt O’Dowd – 18 mins

Io flyby; ancient star map; Lunar elevator – Star Bites – Fraser Cain – 19 mins

Namib Desert Waterhole Live Cam

Enjoy your week and remember to date your checks with 2024 (¿Who still uses checks?)
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

The seeker after the truth… is not he who studies the writings of the ancients and… puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration.”
— Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham (circa 965 – c. 1040) Mathematician, astronomer, and physicist

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