Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing the Past & the Present

Face of a Denisovan based on DNA alone. Credit: Maayan Harel/Hebrew University

科学迷们,大家好!(Hello again science fans!)

Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) and Denisovans (H. denisova ??) interbred at various times and places. (The “??” following H. denisova refers to the current situation where insufficient Denisovan fossils exist to firmly classify them.) Modern humans interbred with Neanderthals so today we H. sapiens have varying snippets of DNA derived from Denisovans. Also, study of blood types of these three groups suggest that Rh incompatibility may have affected the health of some hybrids. (By the way, Denisovans are named after the Denisova Cave in Russia where hominin fossils were discovered that differ genetically from Neanderthals and us. The Denisova Cave is named after Denis, a hermit who once lived in the cave.) There is genetic evidence that a portion  of Denisovan DNA helps Tibetans survive at high altitudes and natives in lowland New Guinea have Denisovan genes that apparently help them fend off some tropical diseases. The Australian Museum website has more information on Denisovans.


Computers using Artificial Intelligence methods have been taught to recognize pathologies in medical x-ray images. An A.I. system examined over 32 million possible battery designs and recommended 23 of them. Five of those were already known. When one of the novel designs was tested, it performed as predicted. The first Billy Joel song and video in over 30 years shows him playing the piano and singing as if he were much younger, courtesy of Artificial Intelligence. An A.I. therapist system analyzes the interviewee’s words, voice, and facial expressions to decide what to ask, what to say, and how to say it. The OpenAI company created SORA which in turn creates realistic videos based on a user’s prompts.

A.I. has been put to many additional productive uses and more are undoubtedly on the way. It is worrisome that medical professionals could become less proficient in diagnosing illness, prescribing therapies, and treatments if they defer to A.I. ¿And if A.I. is clearly wrong in some instance, as it could be, would there be legitimate experts around to catch the mistake?

In chemistry and other sciences, advances sometimes are due to an educated hunch or inspiration; something that Artificial Intelligence systems are currently incapable of. Although Large Language Model (LLM) A.I. systems can, in a narrow sense, ‘understand’ text, they cannot abstract concepts to a new circumstance, something human experts do all the time. This failure of A.I. clearly limits the abilities of an A.I. therapist.

A.I. systems are able to create entertainment and art, re-create moments in history, and glimpse possibilities of the future, all for our pleasure and enlightenment. This is awesome and fun, but those A.I. abilities are being exploited to create misinformation in the form of Deep Fake videos, fake audio, and fake text. A.I. systems are also being used to more effectively influence our attitudes and desires. ¿What can we do to free ourselves from being herded by others? Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher of the 17th century said it best: “I call him free who is led solely by reason.” But this is a tall order. It requires a thorough and ongoing education. It requires a structured skepticism. Fortunately, there are international efforts to inform us how to be a ‘good skeptic.’


Adrienne was the winner of the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter model with her guess of 923. Let’s offer the model of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter as the prize again. Tip-to-tip the rotors are about 20 cm (8 inches) long. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with your guess of an integer between 0 and 1,000.

MY PICKS of the WEEK (save to your mobile phone)

Atmosphere & Energy Noon Tuesday, Stanford University

Understanding AI: Humanities, Social Sciences, Technology 9:30AM Wednesday, UC Berkeley

Astronomy on Tap Livestream 5PM Wednesday 

The “Complex Systems” View of AI Ethics 4PM Thursday, UC Berkeley

Ancient Human Footprints at White Sands NP 2PM Friday, UC Berkeley

International Women’s Day 11 – 3PM Saturday, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, $


Improving Memory – The Right Chemistry – Dr. Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins

Chinese Achieve Train Speed Record – Sabine Hossenfelder – 5 mins

Climate Scientists and Confirmation Bias – Sabine Hossenfelder – 8 mins

Gamma Ray Bursts – PBS Crash Course Astronomy – Phil Plait – 13 mins

¿Do Super Massive Black Holes Merge? – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 16 mins

Addiction Neuroscience 101 – Calif Correctional Health Care Services – Corey Waller – 22 mins

Making the blue LED – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 32 mins

Have a great week, and add another person or group to your empathy sphere,
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

„Solange er den Kreis seines Mitgefühls nicht auf alle Lebewesen ausdehnt, wird der Mensch selbst keinen Frieden finden.“ (Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.)
— Albert Schweitzer (1975-1965) Alsatian theologian, organist, musicologist, writer, humanitarian, philosopher, physician, and Nobel Laureate

Upcoming Events:
Click to see the next two weeks of events in your browser.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *