Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing through Categories

Sagittarius A* Black Hole proxy — © Krispy Kreme

Recently your SciSchmooze has come all too often with ‘cosmic’ images: Sunday’s lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse by Phobos, low temperatures of the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s image of Earendel, etc., etc. This week i was planning on an image of something closer to home, but along came the image of the supermassive black hole that warps space and time at the center of our galaxy. In spite of my intentions, the first ‘category’ is again, “SPACE.”


Sgr A* (pronounced “Sagittarius A-star”) is our galaxy’s supermassive black hole. It has never been observed, only surmised, until now.  Krispy Kreme gave away free donuts for the occasion.

The mirrors of the James Webb Space Telescope are aligned and the photos are super. Its first research targets are being kept secret, but i expect that HD1 would be on that list.

Patricia M won the SciShow HST pin, but it inspired only 8 contestants to submit an entry. This time we’re offering another laser-cut kit of an 8-inch JWST 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.


Here is a visual and analytical summary of the 1,000,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

Since cancers start from a single cell going ‘rogue’ you would expect that animals with more cells would have a higher incidence of cancer; but that is not true. This is called Peto’s Paradox.

Because a number of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) can be passed on during oral sex, the Food and Drug Administration investigated, and approved the use of super-thin, stretchy panties (with vanilla flavoring).

I learned a few new things about echidnas from this video.


Some clever folk designed a very sensitive device to measure the force of gravity – the superconducting gravimeter. It can detect a change in the force of gravity as small as one trillionth G. (One G is what we feel holding us to the planet.) Dang! That’s sensitive! ¿But is it a device in search of a useful function? Perhaps it will be used for an earthquake early warning system since earthquakes generate tiny gravity waves. Seismometers detect S-waves and P-waves generated by earthquakes, but strong earthquakes tend to ‘overwhelm’ seismometers. Also, the speed that information of an earthquake reaches detectors is critical: S-waves travel at ~1.5 km/s and P-waves travel at ~8 km/s while gravity waves travel at 3,000,000 km/s (speed of light).

¿Is nuclear power green? Sabine Hossenfelder tackles that question.

In the 1990s, “photoshopping” entered the lexicon to describe the altering of photos by the Adobe Photoshop computer program. Very quickly its meaning leaned more to the altering of photos for humorous and malicious purposes. Technology marches on. Today computers are used to alter and manipulate videos, and also to create ‘Deepfakes’. The Washington Post released their analysis of the nefarious side of these practices. They identified three main categories – “Missing Context”, “Deceptive Editing”, and “Malicious Transformation” – and presented examples of subcategories falling under each. They also released advice for detecting ‘fake’ videos.


¿What was i about to mention? Oh, yeah. I remember:  research on memory and aging

Videos of leaf-cutter ants are mesmerizing. This deep-diving video into their history and ecology is fascinating.

It is a challenge to get some people to get vaccinations. It is also a challenge to get some people to stop buying ‘cures’ made from pure water.  The Center For Inquiry is tackling this second challenge at its source: the major manufacturer.

Denisovans and Neanderthals both contributed to the genomes of many of today’s people. However, we have yet to find enough Denisovan skeletal remains to know what they might have looked like. A group of scientists are working on that.

I watched the movie “My Octopus Teacher” and came away with yet more appreciation for these brainy cephalopods. But since octopuses generally live only one year, it’s difficult to conduct much laboratory research on them. Along comes an effort to create a longer-lived species that could become the octopus equivalent of lab mice.


Here’s another way for a teenager to piss off their mom (and help the planet).

This month i read the novel The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red MarsGreen MarsBlue Mars, and others. Frankly, i do not recommend his Mars trilogy since so much of the science he invokes is flawed, but i do recommend you read The Ministry for the Future. The novel begins with a heat wave in India that kills vast numbers of people and livestock. Right now in India and Pakistan, a heat wave is doing exactly that, but hopefully not as many will perish as in the novel – this time.

With an eye toward the climate crisis and the fact that it takes years for an oil company to progress from lease to gasoline sales, the Biden administration cancelled plans to lease oil drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico.

Climate change likely led to Vikings abandoning their colonies in Greenland, but what sort of climate change?

For a few minutes on April 30th, renewable energy production in California was 103% of California’s needs. Hit “3-Minute Listen” on the linked page for a summary.


Congress plans to hold a hearing Tuesday on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) that will include Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Of course some folk will insist that (1) space aliens are here, and (2) the government is hiding the proof.  OUCH!!

strongly recommend you watch this video on telephone scams, and then share with friends, relatives, and the Kolkata Police Department!

Politico released Justice Samuel Alito’s document that cites – thirteen times – the legal opinions and rulings of Sir Matthew Hale. ¿Why is this interesting? Because Sir Matthew Hale lived and died in the 1600s; he never set foot in North America; he sentenced two witches to death; he held that people as young as 14 may be sentenced to death, and he held to the theory that, politically, a “person” refers to the husband of the household. That is, women have no independent political rights. (A view also enshrined in the 1787 Constitution of the United States until the 19th Amendment in 1920.) To Hale’s credit, he held that obtaining an abortion was lawful so long as it was conducted prior to “quickening,” i.e. when the fetus could be felt moving around (generally 17 to 20 weeks). Yet Justice Samuel Alito holds that Sir Matthew Hale’s decisions support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Odd that.

Ecstasy, Tiger Balm, and headaches. Yup. Weird.

A bell has been ringing for over 176 years while powered by the same mysterious battery.

Imagine for a moment that you are digging to prepare the foundation for a new house in Başbük, Turkey. (Admittedly that’s a stretch.) You unearth a descending flight of stairs that takes you 6m underground to an 8m wide chamber with a 5m high ceiling. Ancient deities are etched on one wall. Pretty weird, huh.  Experts estimate the etchings are 2,800 years old.


Tickets are now available for SkeptiCal 2022, July 16 & 17. Ticket price goes up June 1st.

Alright, let’s review your homework for this week: 1)share the video on telephone scams; 2)read The Ministry for the Future; 3)submit an integer in our contest; 4)take advantage of science education offerings; 5)buy a SkeptiCal 2022 ticket; 6)expand your sphere of empathy, perhaps to include octopuses; and 7)deepen your ability to feel compassion. (¿Can you tell that i taught Middle School?)

Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“The best science writers learn that science is not a procession of facts and breakthroughs, but an erratic stumble toward gradually diminished uncertainty; that peer-reviewed publications are not gospel and even prestigious journals are polluted by nonsense; and that the scientific endeavor is plagued by all-too-human failings such as hubris.”
– Ed Yong, Malaysian-born British journalist with The Atlantic (1981 – )

See a week’s worth of events here.

Leave a Reply

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