Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing Far & Near

Hubble view Earendel

Dear friend of science and reality,

Thank you for putting up with my bent on reality. Today i’m starting out on the topic of ‘Space’ since the above photo is so amazing, but don’t miss the section on ‘Optimism’.


The mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope are currently in Stage 6 of seven alignment tasks. Here is a video that deep-dives in JWST optics, etc. And here is a fun video showing some of the engineering that went into JWST’s sunshield. (Warning: It’s 53 minutes long!) The shield is certainly doing its job: the temperature differential between its two sides is 284 °C (512 °F).

This video brings us up to date on the Mars pair: Perseverance and Ingenuity, with recent discoveries suggesting ancient life.

Last Tuesday, three ISS crew members – Pyotr Dubrov, Anton Shkaplerov, and Mark Vande Hei – were greeted by Russian Roscosmos space agency workers when they returned to Earth. Friendly camaraderie was shown for the American Vande Hei by all of the Russians present. However, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, warned of the possibility of ending cooperation with the ISS.

Two of the problems encountered by ISS astronauts & cosmonauts are loss of bone density and loss of muscle mass. For these reasons, NASA is experimenting with Space Lettuce and squirrels.

¿Want to tip and twirl the Earth like the god Atlas? How about the entire solar system?

¿And just how are we going to chat with aliens?


There are so many current events that push me toward pessimism. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; political divisiveness in the U.S.; vigorousness of conspiracy theories; COVID-19 pandemic; ascension of autocratic governments; et cetera ad nauseum. But when i realize how much progress has been made in the last century, it gives me hope for the future.

  • During the 1950’s Korean War, every installation, facility, and village in North Korea became “a military and tactical target” of the U.S. Air Force resulting in half a million civilian deaths by American bombs and napalm. 2  Today, U.S. military attacks on citizens are anathema.
  • “In 1958, 44 percent of [U.S.] whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor; today the figure is 1 percent.” 3
  • In 1937 in the U.S., 283 out of 100,000 people died from infectious diseases. In 2014 it was down to 46 per 100,000. 4  Last year, however, 135 out of 100,00 people in the U.S. died of COVID-19. 5  That brought annual deaths from infectious diseases up to approximately 180 out of 100,000 people – significantly less than the rate in 1937.
  • Globally in the 1930s, 55 people out of 100,00 died annually of famine. 6  Currently, the figure is a tenth of that.
  • In the early 1980s, Los Angeles had an average of 144 days of “Very Unhealthy or Hazardous Air” per year. 7   For the previous five years, Los Angeles had an average of 6 days of “Very Unhealthy or Hazardous Air” per year. (I failed to find comparable data for the Bay Area.)

We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a lot of work to do before we reach our potential as a wise, compassionate species. BTW, i just pledged a small monthly amount to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Ukraine program.


It was just another Smithsonian article, but it started with: “Patricia Brennan never intended to become a champion of the vagina. Her journey, in fact, began with a penis.” ¿So how could i not read It?

Some of those artificial sweeteners are sweeter than others, and some are more deadly. Now along comes allulose, another sweetener that is probably safe, but you may have to put up with farts and diarrhea. Maybe we should just stick with sugar – except for its dangers. You could try giving up sugar altogether – sort of.

¿Even feel the urge to hold and pet a Tasmanian Devil?

A couple of months ago a surgeon did a little laparoscopic surgery on me while i was under anesthesia. Thoroughly fascinating how time ceased to register. Even while sleeping, we have some sense of the passage of time.

There are tetrapods 8 with four limbs except for animals like snakes 9 and caecilians 10  who have vestigial limbs or who have lost their limbs altogether. Now along comes a fossil of an animal that uniquely lost only its forelimbs while maintaining a functional pair of rear legs.

Grinnell recently bit the dust but a suitor quickly joined Annie and her two eggs. Hopefully their efforts will succeed in fledging another generation.



I was thoroughly absorbed by the issues raised by the movie, Ex Machina, and i’m a sucker for videos of robots. (Years ago i built a self-charging robotic featureless sphere.) I hope you enjoy this video on humanoid robots. There is a huge chasm to cross, however, before robots can become truly human-like.

To utilize the power that will someday come from nuclear fusion, we need something – like water – to carry heat to electricity-generating turbines. ¿But throwing cold water on the whole concept?

It’s a trope that scientists like to blow things up. Here’s a video showing some of the science behind blowing things down.

Given the right background, this invisibility shield does an amazing job. And you can make your own.


 According to a 2018 analysis, taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions hurts the economy. More recent analyses affirm the opposite: these efforts actually benefit the economy. Once again – with vigor – U.N. Secretary General António Guterres emphasized the urgency of reducing greenhouse gasses. The more i hear from Señor Guterres, the more i appreciate him.

On the bayfront in Richmond is a brand new residential development called “Waterline Homes.” I kid you not. Those homes might be safe from flooding for the next 80 years, but probably not much longer. ((Paradoxically, the houses next to Waterline Homes are immune to sea level rise because they are perched over bay water on pillars. As the bay rises, the owners simply lengthen the pillars.)) Already, U.S. communities from Alaska to Florida are being relocated due to rising sea levels. But where to move to?

Have a damn good week – full of joy and learning,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“Fear is useful to wake us up and make us pay attention. But if we don’t know what to do, it paralyzes us.” 
– Katharine Hayhoe, Climate Scientist (1972 – )



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