Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing Halloween Horrors

Courtesy McGill University

Hello again, dear science fan,

No one – arguably – knows more about ghost hunting than Kenny Biddle. At this year’s SkeptiCal, he shared stories from his ghost-hunting forays, including the techniques and the electronic instrumentation he used. Some years ago, however, Biddle did a turn-around, climbed out of the ghost-hunting rabbit hole, and became a scientific skeptic joining the likes of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, et al. Read about his ‘conversion’ here as told by Jonathan Jarry, a recent SkepTalk presenter.

¿Are vampires real? And will garlic ward off those blood sucking denizens of darkness?

A willing suspension of disbelief when watching horror movies might not altogether be a bad thing and may even help us to deal with life.

Five people guessed numbers that were within 12 of the randomly generated 733, but Nina W was closest with 726. She won the 450ml glass beaker ‘caffeine’ mug. This time the prize is a JWST mirror lapel pin from Saint-Rivoal, France measuring 3cm wide. 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 JWST pin to the person who was closest.

Daylight Savings Time ends next Sunday at 2:00 a.m. at which time you can reset your clocks to 1:00 a.m. unless you are in Arizona (outside of the Navajo Nation), or in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, or any of 125 countries that do not observe Daylight Savings. Mexico already left Daylight Savings for good on October 30. The next time you cross from Pakistan into India, remember to add 30 minutes. When crossing from India into Nepal, add 15 minutes, and when you cross from Nepal into China, you need to add 2¼ hours. Pilots everywhere file their flight plans using Universal Time (formerly called Greenwich (pronounced Grennitch) Mean Time and would be glad if everyone else did too.

My Picks for the Week

Bret Stephens is a conservative journalist who used to be “…agnostic on the causes of climate change and a scoffer at the idea that it was a catastrophic threat to the future of humanity” changed his mind and now suggests a governmental and market based approach for ameliorating the worst effects of planet warming.

As if there isn’t enough to deal with, flu season has struck early and may be rather severe. Get your flu vaccine this week at the same time as your COVID booster. The latest booster targets COVID’s spike protein of Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. New variants are continuously evolving around the world, so laboratories are working to create a vaccine that will target spike proteins that do not differ from one variant to another – those that are ‘conserved’ between variants.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just pledged $1.2B toward the eradication of polio. Other than minor polio outbreaks (including in the U.S.), Afghanistan and Pakistan have the highest incidences but their governments are making some progress administering vaccines. Due to misinformation, however, resistance sometimes results in killings. Last February, eight vaccination workers were killed in Afghanistan, and at least three guards for vaccination workers were killed in Pakistan this year.

Studies continue to suggest that regularly drinking tea or coffee can give you some health benefits. ¿But which is better for you? It’s a split decision with coffee being rated slightly better.

¿Would you like to receive the SciSchmooze in your own mailbox each week? Go to and enter your email address.

If you’re a biology nerd then you know that bacteria swap genes with each other – a process known as horizontal gene transfer. But what about snakes contributing their genes to frogs! In a nutshell: some viruses can borrow genes from their hosts and also add genes to a different host’s DNA. Genetic sleuths are working to discover just how common eukaryotic horizontal gene transfer might be.

You gotta love – or be grossed out by – just how amazing biology is. Another example of amazing biology comes with this video introduction to the axolotl.

We know that birds belong to the family of dinosaurs and that some dinosaurs were quite large. Well, how about a 340 lb (154 kg) bird! Gastornis fossils have been found in North America, Europe, and Asia. They went extinct several million years ago but their closest relatives still survive – ducks.

Being a science-aware person you’re probably aware that SETI is short for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. But what about CETI? It’s a project that hopes to communicate with the largest mammals on our blue planet, the cetaceans.

Here are some entertaining videos for you:

Stay curious and kind,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“One metric of human progress … is the expansion over time of our empathy sphere. By this I mean the range of beings that we consider coequally a person with ourselves, deserving of the same rights, dignities, and protections.”
– Ada Palmer (1981 – ) Author, Professor of History

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