Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing the 4th

Dear science fan, thank you for joining me.

The Declaration of Independence extolls “safety” and “happiness” so please enjoy a safe and happy Fourth of July.

The privileged white male Declaration signers accepted this passage:  “… merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”. Six of the Declaration signers were also among the privileged white men who signed the U.S. Constitution. But even after the Bill of Rights was appended, the law of the land condoned slavery and failed to give voting rights to women and Native Americans. Attitudes have changed over the intervening 246 years largely due to a free press and to public education. I suspect that forming “a more perfect Union” will forever be a work in progress.


Space Invaders! In the days before affordable personal computers, 25¢ at an arcade would get you the chance to play Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and other challenging games. Today you can buy those crude games for your phone or laptop, or you can play knock-offs for free. Even NASA offers an old-fashioned space game named for the future Nancy Grace Roman Telescope.

What with planets, moons, asteroids, and comets all whizzing about, the Solar System is akin to a giant pin-ball machine, but thankfully it is ginormous and serious collisions are rare. But sometimes things get tossed at us from outside the Solar System.

According to Holger Krag of the European Space Agency (ESA), “Even if you stop launching, modelling shows that the number of space objects will still grow because collisions are happening and producing fragments at a higher rate than those that decay. We have gone past the point of the Kessler syndrome.” ¿How dire is this? Well, it ain’t good and it will likely get worse for a while. Unless nations mitigate the creation of debris in orbit, it could result in Low Earth Orbit (below an altitude of 2,000 km) being too treacherous for humans and unsafe for scientific instruments. (The ISS orbits at about 420 km; the Hubble Space Telescope orbits at about 520 km.) Because of the Kessler Syndrome, Starlink sends its communications satellites into orbits around 560 km high and will send thousands more into orbits around 340 km high. At those altitudes, the satellites will deorbit and burn up in under 5 years, and so lessen their contribution to the Kessler Syndrome. However, China complained last December that its Tiangong space station twice had to maneuver to avoid colliding with Starlink satellites.

The James Webb Space Telescope has been calibrating its instruments and snapping pictures as it pirouettes around L2. NASA will release those pictures on July 12 and some of the photos will be of exoplanets. Can’t wait.

Gloria M. won the model Hubble Space Telescope kit, but its difficulty dissuaded all but 9 contestants from submitting an entry. This time we’re offering an easier laser-cut kit of an 8-inch James Webb Space Telescope model. Just send an email to (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.


My OB-GYN partner verified this: At the time of fertilization, a woman is already officially two weeks pregnant. This obviously has implications for laws restricting abortions. In colonial America and the early days of the republic, there were no abortion laws at all. Church officials frowned on the practice, …but they treated the practice as evidence of illicit or premarital sex—not as murder.” Taken together, this history and the Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” suggests that, as a rule of law, the current Supreme Court ruled in error. But my training is in biology, not in law. Last week, the Everyday Health Group published this article.

Here’s the book i’m reading this week: “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us.” The author, Ed Yong, is a science journalist for The Atlantic.

For just plain fun, watch this video of dragonflies.


It’s been known for a while that cats can catch COVID-19 from people, but it’s extremely rare for people to catch COVID from cats.

Research has shown us that Ivermectin, Hydroxychloroquine, and colloidal silver do nothing to prevent or ameliorate COVID-19 infections. ¿But vitamin D? Maybe a slight effect; maybe not. There’s not yet enough data to know.



There’s flooding in Sydney, Australia. The droughts in the U.S. are serious. Cattle are dying of heat in KansasMany Pacific salmon don’t come back. The Interior Secretary says as many as 11 oil and gas drilling leases might be for sale

Justice Roberts: “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day, but it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Pointing to a portion of the law allowing the EPA to regulate pollutants that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion: “Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fit that description.”

The good news??  Um, the cacti in our garden are doing OK.


Physics Girl goes north.

¿How far can you go on $40 of gasoline?

Plastics may have started with a flaming apron.

¿Why does science news suck so much?

Human skin mites!

Looking for Dark Matter.

Mr. Trash Wheel.

Thank you for joining me this 4th of July week; and rather than just expanding your sphere of empathy, do some reps to make it stronger,

Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

“Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.” 
– Bryan Stevenson (1950 – ) Law professor, Exec. Dir. of the Equal Justice Initiative, author

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