Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Storm Schmoozing

14th and Mission, San Francisco, 12/31/2023. (Gideon Rubin/Patch)

Hola, fans de la ciencia,

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Hurricanes and tornadoes and floods, oh my! ¿Tornadoes in California? Yes. Nine tornadoes were documented in California during 2023 with Los Angeles County getting three of those. A friend’s house in SoCal had part of her roof torn off during a storm in early January leaving a 5 meter strip of metal flashing grotesquely twisted. Several of her close neighbors had metal panels ripped off their carports at the same time. ¿Was that a tornado? There’s not enough evidence to know but if so, it only qualified for an EF0 rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale

Last year was the warmest year on record.

However, if you are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry you would naturally want to downplay or even dispute global warming. Don’t miss this week’s SkepTalk detailing climate change denial campaigns aimed at students and teachers. Set it on your mobile phone as an online event with Q&A: “A Child’s Garden of Climate Change Denial” 7:30 PM Pacific Thursday.

I was astounded when my Google News feed foisted on me an article by the Discovery Institute, an organization that not only downplays global warming, they also deny Darwinian evolution and promote plans to take back control of higher education from “progressive indoctrination.” One of their current articles criticizes the decision that Montana must consider climate change before approving fossil fuel projects. The decision was the result of minors suing for a healthy future. The Discovery Institute objects to the decision since a) it won’t affect global climate change; b) it will hurt Montana’s economy; c) minors shouldn’t be allowed to manipulate the courts. Ouch!

Sucking CO2 from the air is a way to slow down and even reverse global warming but current attempts are woefully inadequate to have an effect. For example, the Heirloom company of Brisbane estimates that with enough investment they could remove a billion tons of CO2 by 2035, or an average of 100 million tons of CO2 per year. At present, humans are releasing about 400 times that much CO2 every year and currently our atmosphere holds about 10,000 times that much CO2. Understandably, researchers continue to look for faster (and cheaper) methods for sucking CO2 from the air. Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology Zürich have come up with a novel CO2 capture method using light to switch a CO2-containing liquid from acid to base and back again.

Last week, Bob’s SciSchmooze featured NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter and the end of its flying days after 72 flights totalling over 2 hours. Since Mars atmospheric density is only 1% of Earth’s, i wondered how high Ingenuity’s flights compared to flying above Earth. EXTRAORDINARY. Ingenuity was flying around Mars as though it were flying 35 kilometers above Earth! ¿How does this compare to current aircraft (and weather balloons)?

— Helicopter cruising altitude 3 km
— Quadcopter drone record 3.4 km (unofficial)
— Jet airliner cruising 10 to 12.8 km
— Helicopter record 12.9 km
— Sustained jet flight record 25.9 km (SR-71 Blackbird)
— Unmanned winged aircraft record 29.5 km Helios HP01 (75m wingspan!)
— Weather balloons 32 km
— Ingenuity 35 km equivalent

That’s an incredible engineering feat. Kudos to the folks at NASA.


It’s only fitting that a model of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is the prize this time. 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. Last time, Michael S won the JWST pin from France with his guess of 507.


The Hunt for the First Galaxies 7:30PM Monday, Cal Academy of Sciences, SF, $

From UC Berkeley to Astronaut 4PM Tuesday, UC Berkeley

Odd Salon: Colossal 7:30PM Tuesday, San Francisco, $ (They’re back!)

A Child’s Garden of Climate Change Denial Livestream 7:30PM Thursday

In Town Star Party 7:15PM Friday, San José

Psychedelics in Medicine: Uses & Potential Harms Livestream 10:30AM Saturday

The Secrets Behind a Skeptical Podcast 1PM Saturday, Berkeley


¿Remember String Theory? It posits that elementary particles are incredibly tiny vibrating strings, and reality must have at least 6 more dimensions than the three dimensions of space of one of time. A problem with string theory is that there has been no empirical test to validate it; until now. If a new hypothesis is correct, one of the 6 ‘hidden’ dimensions is actually measurably large and gravitons are leaking into that dimension giving rise to “dark matter” and to “dark energy.” Also, it posits that the mass of “dark matter” is not due to particles. This Quanta Magazine article on this hypothesis is an easy read, but mind-bending.

More down to earth, MIT researchers found the evaporation rate of water is enhanced by wavelengths of light peaking at 540 nanometers, i.e. green light. ¿Huh? We were taught that evaporation rates depend on heat, not the color of light. The authors call this the “photomolecular effect” and suggest a mechanism for this phenomenon. 

Ethan Siegal, Ph.D.

Ethan Siegal is an Astrophysicist, winner of multiple awards, and a prolific science blogger. I especially enjoyed his post “Singularities don’t exist, claims black hole pioneer Roy Kerr” although i admit some of Siegal’s presentation went over my head.  Physicist Roger Penrose ‘proved’ that the laws of space and time break down at the center of black holes, creating a singularity: a point  where density becomes infinite. Roy Kerr, a New Zealand mathematician disputes that. It’s a good nerdy read.


Using Saturn as a music composer – University of Toronto – 2 mins

Pseudoscientific quackery of homeopaths – The Right Chemistry – Joe Schwarcz – 5 mins

Sudoku and the Phistomefel Ring – Numberphile – Simon Anthony – 6 mins

JWST investigates “failed supernova” – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 10 mins

World’s largest rainfall simulator – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 15 mins

¿What would intelligent aliens look like? – Arvin Ash – 18 mins

¿What’s inside this crater in Madagascar? – Vox – 24 mins

Enjoy your week and remember to nurture your empathy sphere
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“The bottom line is this. To care about climate change, you only need to be one thing, and that’s a person living on planet Earth who wants a better future. Chances are, you’re already that person—and so is everyone else you know.”
— Katharine Hayhoe (1972 – ) Canadian atmospheric scientist

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