Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing on Election Week

by David Almandsmith

¿Did we mention voting? If you have a vote-by-mail ballot, be certain to mail it early enough to have a postmark on or before Tuesday or take it to any polling station in your county on election day. Heck, someone else can take it there for you; just write their name on the envelope where there is a space for that.

Speaking of space (huh?), the planet-finding Kepler spacecraft is finally beyond resuscitation. Kepler was designed to last 3.5 years but clever work-arounds for failing components kept it working for 9 years. It detected 2,800 planets and another 2,600 ‘possible planet’ candidates.

Eleven years ago, the Dawn spacecraft left Earth for the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Four years later it arrived at its primary destination, Vesta, an asteroid over 500 kilometers in diameter. It remained orbiting and studying Vesta 14 months before rocketing off to Ceres, the largest of the asteroids at over 900 km diameter. It reached Ceres in 2015 and has been sending back data ever since – that is until last Thursday when Dawn ran out of fuel to aim its antenna back toward Earth. Sic transit gloria machini.

Another NASA workhorse, the Opportunity rover was designed for a duration of 90 days of Martian studies. Fourteen years later it was intentionally put in ‘rest’ mode last June due to a planet-wide dust storm. Problem: the storm is over but Opportunity snoozes on, to the consternation of mission personnel. ¿Is it the end for our plucky planetary explorer? Tune in next week for more news.

My choices for the week:

  1. Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds & the Fate of the Earth – Mon 7:30PM San Francisco
  2. Vote – Tue 7AM-8PM You may vote provisionally at any voting place in your county
  3. Taking Flight with California Condors – Wed 6:30PM Oakland Zoo
  4. A Skeptics Guide to Planet Hunting – Thu 7:30PM Berkeley

It’s just a single month-long study involving only 81 young folk from 16 to 25 years old and it only one aspect of memory showed a clear difference: ceasing to regularly smoke cannabis improves the ability to recall lists of words. As a skeptic, i’ll wait until others can replicate similar results before drawing conclusions. Personally, it hardly matters since the stuff makes me feel nauseated.

Another claim also made my skeptic antenna buzz: persons with an appendectomy have a lower chance of contracting Parkinson’s Disease. Data suggest that 4/10ths of one person per 100,000 people could avoid the disease if they have an appendectomy. Give me a break. Appendectomies are commonly only undertaken when needed and ‘negative outcomes’ from the procedure are of the order of 1%. One percent of 100,000 people is a thousand folk. Compare that to 4/10ths of one person and it becomes obviously ridiculous to undergo an appendectomy to reduce the chance of contracting Parkinson’s. And just last year a study concluded there was no connection. I hope that research leads to an acceptable prophylaxis, but removing the appendix is not likely to be on the list.

Medicine and public health have made great strides since the acceptance of the scientific method. But historically, practices for staying healthy were derived more from superstition than from empirical evidence. So-called ‘public health’ policies based on racist superstitions are as recent as the 1940’s in California. Last Friday i talked with an 88-year-old California-born Latino who was denied access to a public swimming pool at age 11 because it was the wrong day. The Anaheim City Park Plunge barred non-whites from the pool except on Mondays due to the belief that ethnic groups were dirty and carried diseases. Every Monday after closing, the pool was drained for its weekly cleaning and refilled with fresh water and chlorine for six days of “White” use. ¿MAGA?

Guy Fawkes Day is Tuesday!

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

… and i confess that “V for Vendetta,” where the protagonist wears a Guy Fawkes mask, is one of my favorite movies.

Help make it a good week,
David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member

“Too many people fought too hard to make sure all citizens of all colors, races, ethnicities, genders, and abilities can vote to think that not voting somehow sends a message.”
Luis Gutiérrez U.S. Representative (b. 1953)

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