Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982
Jupiter’s northern hemisphere jet stream. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SoRI/MSSS

Hello again fans of Science and Reason.

Particularly if the later is part of your DNA, then your head is probably spinning this week following two decisions by the US Supreme Court, one on guns, the other on abortion. We can’t ignore the elephant and blithly go on talking about events in the science community this week without addressing these but we’ll add some science to the debates.

For a historical perspective on the Court’s decision to remove a constitutional right from the American people (the first time that has happened, and one considered a fundamental right by most liberal democracies in the world) I’ll provide a link to historian and professor Heather Cox Richardson’s column from Friday. Her perspective is, as always, measured and researched.

This decision leaves the right to abortion up to the individual states. You can live on the border between two states and, depending on which side you reside, you may or may not have this right, something that until two days ago was a constitutional right for every woman in the US. Now each state gets to determine, not just the black and white decision of permitting abortions, but the details of the restrictions. And those details are often based on faulty or at least questionable science. While the old joke says you can’t be somewhat pregnant, this still isn’t a binary issue, as this article articulates. So now politicians, most of whom have no background in reproduction, other than being reproduced themselves, get to determine what’s allowed, and what’s not, all dictated by artificial geographic boundaries.

The constitution does not mention abortion, true. A strict originalist interpretation therefore says the Federal government can’t regulate it. But health is specifically called out in the founding documents, and the medical community considers abortion access to be health care. And the constitution and the law have to be living documents, for there are tons of things the government can and should regulate that weren’t specifically spelled out in the constitution. The internet, automobiles, medical advances, none were envisioned by the founding fathers. This originalist bent puts us back in the dark ages!

There is also a disturbing amount of misinformation about abortion being spread on the internet. Women will now be going to the search engines to find out where they can go for abortions, for make no mistake, this ruling won’t end them, it will just drive them underground in many states, or will force women to travel to obtain them. The results of searches contain many bad references. This NY Times audio visual story details what happened when several women searched for information about abortion clinics near them, only to be sent to anti-abortion centers which consciously created misleading search keywords to direct search engines to their sites and phones. I don’t know about you, but I would say any organization or company that has to create misleading ads to get you to their door is guilty of fraud.

As for the gun decision, it ignored scientific evidence by dismissing the “any means-end test” lower courts have relied on for at least 14 years.

At the same time, Congress passed, and the President signed, the first gun regulation bill in decades.

For a humorous but fact-based look at both these subjects, I’ll direct you to John Oliver’s segments from Last Week Tonight, one on the leaked abortion draft ruling from May 8, and the other on the gun and safety issue following the Uvalde, TX school shotings.

Then there is Florida, and Governor Ron DeSantis. He is anti-abortion, claiming he champions a right to life. This same governor will not authorize state programs to administer COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5, causing health officials to throw away doses delivered just this week. The logic here escapes me.

I have hardly given a full analysis of both sides of either of these issues. You can do that for yourself. But I will quote President Biden from his comments on the Supreme Court decision: “This fall Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot. The right to privacy, liberty, equality, they’re all on the ballot.” Justice Clarance Thomas stated in his opinion that he feels additional decisions dealing with the right to contraceptives and LGBTQ rights should be overturned too. Please remember that come November.

As John Oliver would say, “moving on.”

Sticking with COVID-19 for a moment, there are several different vaccines being administered around the world to combat this virus. Here in the US, only three are authorized. China and Russia came up with their own, and both have sold their versions to other countries. Well, it should come as no surprise that Russia appears to have faked their test results.

On the positive side of the health ledger, the first CRISPR trial involving humans has been in process for three years now, and shows a nearly 100% effectiveness rate in treating two blood diseases, beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease.

Here in California, the reintroduction of the Condor to the wild has been a long but successful story. In 1982, there were only 22 California Condors left. As of the end of 2021, their number has grown to 537. Here’s the tale of how that all came to be.

This past week several small wildfires broke out around the San Francisco Bay area, a sign that we’re in the summer fire season. The drought we’re experiencing is in its third year, and the main cause is La Nina. The Pacific Ocean current is at near record intensity for this time of year with far reaching effects.

I’ve often written about the shortfalls of scientific communication. I came across this opinion piece by theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that I wanted to share with you about her issues with the quality of the articles she comes across.

Turning to space, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is finally ready to stop getting set up and actually start working. The first non-test images will be released on July 12 and they are expected to be spectacular. One of the JWST’s 18 mirrored sections was hit by a micrometeoroid in late May, but damage is minimal.

It has been two years since the Mars 2020 mission first launched, placing the Perseverance robot and Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. Perseverance has returned more than 282,000 images and recorded the first audio of wind on another space object. Here’s what has been accomplished so far and what we’ve learned.

In late 2020, Hayabusa2 returned to Earth from the asteroid Ryugo, having collected a sample of dirt from the ancient asteroid. Now, scientists have announced the first findings from analysis of that dirt.

Looking for something for your budding astronomer offspring to do this summer? How about helping search for storms in images returned from Jupiter by the Juno spacecraft? (Why does that image make me think of King Crimson’s first album cover?)

Lastly, Valery Ryumin, a Soviet cosmonaut, spent 362 days in space over three missions and returned to space in 1998, 18 years after his last “official” flight, as part of the space shuttle Discovery’s STS-91 mission. Valery died earlier this month at the age of 82.

Have a great week in Science!


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