Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing Curses

Belief in ‘Wicked’ Witchcraft

Dear reader, so glad you’re reading this. Let me start by laying out some work we need to do.

I love maps of all kinds. The map above is based on Pew Research data of the percentage of people who agreed that “certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.” The stippled countries are those with insufficient data. No country had less than 9% of its population believing in wicked witchcraft. Worldwide, the figure is over 40%. OUCH! Educators – in some sense that’s all of us – certainly have our work cut out.

And then there is the travesty of the Netflix series, “Ancient Apocalypse.” The host, Graham Hancock, repeatedly criticizes ‘academic’ archeologists, anthropologists, and geologists for disagreeing with him. The show’s premise – a highly advanced (mathematics, architecture, agriculture) civilization was wiped out by comets and floods 12,000 years ago but not before they shared some of their knowledge with humankind. ¿How did such a ridiculous program get on Netflix? Ask Hancock’s son, Netflix’s senior manager of unscripted originals.

And the last abomination – for this missive – is a movie that wants to convince you vaccines are a plot to reduce the number of people on our planet. “Died Suddenly” is an hour of gruesome horror engineered to lead the viewer into its conspiratorial rabbit hole. 


Monday at 6:15pm, the ISS will be visible – weather permitting – directly over the Bay Area. Well, at 85° anyway. If you have a clear view of the horizon, it will appear in the northwest at 6:12pm. Currently on the ISS are 7 people, thousands of tardigrades, hundreds of Hawaiian Bobtail Squid, and a garden of lettuce, tomatoes, and pepper plants.

¿What if touring our neck of the Milky Way Galaxy were much like touring celebrities’ homes in Beverly Hills? “The Sights of Space: A Voyage to Spectacular Alien Worlds” is an entertaining half hour video replete with ‘space music’ and Rod Serlingesque narration. In the rolling credits, it states, “Extensive creative license has been used.”  It’s still a fun tour.

A closer-to-reality 15-minute video brings us up to date on revelations from the JWST.

One last bit of space news: a portion of Hipparchus’ star catalog from before 100 BCE may have been found. It is believed that Hipparchus created the first catalog of stars along with their precise positions but no fragment had survived to the present – until this discovery.

The random number generator spewed out 696. M. Lee was closest with 598 and won Randall Munroe’s What If? (Only 9 people entered.) This time we’re offering a laser-cut kit of an 8-inch James Webb Space Telescope model. The photo shows the model completed by a previous SciSchmooze winner. Just send an email to david.almandsmith [at] (only one) before noon Friday with an integer between zero and 1,000. We will then use a random number generator to select the target number and mail the kit to the person who chose the closest number.


¿How do you clean 2,000 year old paintings? Answer: veeerry carefully.

Over 40,000 years ago, cave paintings were used to tell stories – a written language of sorts. The oldest known hieroglyphs were in use 5,000 years ago. Symbols to indicate sounds of the voice – an alphabet – were invented about 4,000 years ago. The oldest sentence found to date was written on a comb made from elephant ivory about 4,000 years ago. Translation: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”


Ant colonies can continue for decades, but if a myrmecologist (ant scientist) separates adult ants from ant pupae, the adults die. Why? Apparently because the fluid secreted by pupae is required for the adults to survive. Myrmecologists decided to call this fluid “ant milk.”

We do not know if life exists on other planets in the Galaxy, or in the universe. Just because abiogenesis occurred on Earth does not inform us whether it has been successful elsewhere – or so goes logical reasoning. However, Bayesian analysis suggests the probability of successful abiogenesis elsewhere in the Milky Way is almost certain.

Save the Kangaroo Island Dunnart! The what? It’s a cute little marsupial that is being gobbled to possible extinction by feral cats. Now you know.

My picks for the week:

– Seal and Sea Lion Superstars of 2022 – Livestream, 4 – 5pm Monday
– Myths & Facts of Healthy Aging – 4:30pm Tuesday, San Francisco, $
– Gods & Robots: Imagining Artificial Life in Antiquity – Livestream, 7:30pm Thursday
– Movie & Discussion: Life’s Work’ with Jill Tarter – Livestream, 7-10pm Friday
– Glider Discovery Day – 11am Sunday, San Carlos, $


World population has reached 8 billion – now what?  If you would like to play with interactive graphs depicting oodles of population data (from Oxford University), click HERE. Note that you can drag the x-axes scale with your mouse.

¿How well are we doing with respect to climate change? Let me suggest you check out these animated graphs and text.

Mauna Loa is erupting after a half-century dormancy. Watch it live HERE, but the Hawaiian economy would prefer you go see it in person.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a drive last year through the Washington State Scablands. Since then, i discovered this excellent 14 minute video describing the science behind the landscape.


We all want to live healthy lives, but how about living forever? A gathering of 150 super-rich folk looking for a modern-day fountain of youth recently took place in Switzerland. From one report, the 2-day meeting combined supplements insanity, new-age nonsense, and even a little science. Sarcasm aside, i am amazed at the pace we are learning about the biochemistry and physiology of aging. I would not be surprised if in the next 20 years we gained the ability to keep a lab rat alive and healthy indefinitely.

I just learned that – in spite of Norse mythology – Thor will not live forever. The Australian actor who plays Thor in Marvel movies has two copies of the APOE4 gene which means he is destined to suffer Alzheimer’s by his 85th birthday.
(Question: “¿Who’d want to live to be 85?” Answer: “Anyone who is 84.”)
The APOE4 gene is also a predictor of hearing loss. It is possible, however, that some future version of CRISPR gene editing could intercede in his fate and in the fates of millions of others.

You’re likely familiar with the word “Schadenfreude”, the feeling of pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Last week i learned a new term, “Freudenfreude”, the feeling of pleasure from someone else’s good fortune. Apparently, practicing Freudenfreude is psychologically healthful for both parties and helps people expand their empathy sphere. Paywall article / Non-paywall article

Entertaining Nerd Videos:

– Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book “Starry Messenger” interview with Ari Melber, MSNBC
– What happens if a star explodes near the Earth? – Veritaseum
– Commercial production of Nickel – The Right Chemistry
– The Sudden Rise of the First Colossal Animal – PBS Eons
– Why the number 0 was banned for 1500 years – Up and Atom

As per usual, i had fun writing this with the intent of your enjoying it.

Stay well, be bold, practice Freudenfreude, & expand your empathy sphere,
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

“To feel envy is human, to savour schadenfreude is devilish.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) German philosopher

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