Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

The SciSchmooze is 100% Recyclable

Kedonganan Beach in Bali, Indonesia. Credit: Agung Parameswara/Getty Images

Hello again science fans!   科学迷们,大家好!(7 out of 100 Bay Area residents speak Chinese at home.)


The photo of a Bali beach covered in plastic waste (photo above) is in stark contrast to my mind’s eye image of the renowned Indonesian vacation paradise. If you watch TV with advertisements, you’ve probably seen colorless squashed plastic containers arise into pristine pastel plastic receptacles in an ad from America’s Plastic Makers. It is disingenuous hype from the fossil fuel industry – which is the source of plastic manufacturing. Yes, they are exploring technologies to improve the recycling of plastics, but according to the United Nations Development Programme,  less than 10% of plastics are actually recycled. The ad is mainly to help us continue to feel good about using plastic containers. Scientists and activists say the world needs to decrease plastic production to have any hope of managing the waste effectively.

Once upon a time, milk and other drinks came in glass bottles. When empty, people returned them to the grocery store to claim a few cents ‘deposit.’ The bottles then went back to the bottling company to be cleaned and refilled. Cracked or chipped bottles were crushed, fed into furnaces, and molded into new bottles. Then along came plastic. No longer did stores need to deal with ‘heavy dirty old’ bottles and taking time to pay deposits to customers. Also, It was cheaper to use plastic containers than to sort, inspect and sterilize glass bottles at bottling plants. The plastics industry aired advertisements to help wean people off of glass bottles. NPR recently aired a brief discussion of the industry’s efforts to encourage people to use plastics.

Very concerning are the recent findings that today there may be microplastics in all living things. The presence of microplastics in testicles could possibly account for the 50% drop in sperm counts in men and dogs since 1971. Phthalates in microplastics might be the most damaging.

D-DAY, 6 JUNE 1944

This Thursday it will be 80 years since over 350,000 ‘Allied’ soldiers and sailors participated in Operation Overlord to wrest control of Europe from ‘Axis’ nations. World War II raged on for another 15 months before the last Axis nation surrendered in September of 1945. Estimated fatalities of the war: 24 million military personnel and 50 million civilians.


Scrubbed again. Last Saturday’s planned launch of the manned (‘peopled’ ?) Boeing Starliner capsule was halted at 3 minutes 50 seconds due to a glitchy computer in the “ground based sequencer.”  So this time, Boeing is off the hook for the expensive (and nerve wracking for Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams) glitch.

Putting people into low Earth orbit – LEO – in the International Space Station – ISS – or in the Tiangong Space Station – TSS – is truly bad for their health. Besides losing bone mass, muscle mass, and visual acuity, astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts become anemic – even dangerously so. NASA is continuing to explore ways to create artificial gravity in future space stations and this last week i stumbled onto this 19-year-old overly complicated idea.

“Hubble Tension” “Dark Matter” “Dark Energy” “Cosmological Constant” “WIMPS” “Axions” “Antimatter” “Cosmic Microwave Background” There’s a new PBS NOVA program, “COSMOS Decoding the Universe” that fairly accurately weaves all of the above into an entertaining story. Get your nerd on with a bowl of (unsalted) nuts and enjoy!


We are offering a perpetual motion desk toy that defies physics! (Until you unplug it.) Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with your guess of an integer between 0 and 1,000.  Last time, Bill was the winner of a 450ml caffeine beaker with his guess of 373.


It’s been a sci-fi trope that human eyes will be enhanced with electronics, if not replaced altogether. That is now becoming reality, in part due to a local research firm in Alameda. It’s pretty cool. Their focus (?) is on people who have lost their light sensitive rods and cones in the retina due to disease. The researchers treat the retinal ganglion nerve cells so that they respond to light. Then an array of tiny LED lights is attached over the retina. An external camera communicates visual information to the LED array which lights up in a pattern corresponding to the camera’s image. The lights trigger retinal ganglion cells which then send impulses to the visual cortex. Compared to normal vision, the result is extremely crude, but far better than being blind.

MY PICKS of the WEEK (Hint: save dates & times to your mobile phone)

When Driving Is Not an Option: Steering Away from Car Dependency 5pm Monday, S.F.

Heat Pumps (Public Health & Environmental Perspectives) Livestream 10am Thursday

After Dark: What Grows Back 6 – 10pm Thursday, ExplOratorium, S.F., $

In Town Star Party 9:30 – 11:30pm Friday, San José

Family Nature Adventure: Birds 10:30am Saturday, Chabot Space & Science Center, $


If you are an anglerfish living deep in the ocean where light doesn’t penetrate, you have a problem: ¿How do you find and hold on to a mate? Pheromones likely assist in eventually finding a mate. The male then holds onto the female, literally. In some cases, the male burrows into the female’s side and morphs to become little more than an organ producing sperm.

Over a billion years ago, eukaryotic cells – cells with a distinct nucleus – evolved from nucleus-lacking prokaryotes. Since then eukaryotes have given rise to complex multicellular organisms six times. Those events gave rise to separate lineages: animals, land plants, brown algae, red algae, green algae, and fungi. Prokaryotes, however, have not given rise to complex multicellular organisms. ¿Why? Good question. Biologists are thinking about that.

Eukaryotes have never managed to ‘fix’ nitrogen. That is, remove nitrogen molecules – N2 – and turn them into something biologically useful like NH3. Legumes (e.g. bean plants) fix nitrogen by harboring colonies of prokaryotes, bacteria. Well dang! There’s now an exception. The algae, Braarudosphaera bigelowii, has an organelle that fixes nitrogen. It is believed that organelle is an example of endosymbiosis – where a eukaryotic cell engulfs a prokaryotic bacterium and then uses that bacterium’s physiology to some advantage. As far as we know, all prokaryotes (except a flagellate that lives in the gut of chinchillas!) have endosymbiotic mitochondria. Green plants have endosymbiotic chloroplasts.


Edison’s Lightbulb – Show & Tell – Joe Schwarcz – 3.5 mins

Flight Around a Black Hole – NASA – 4 mins

The Hypersonic Arms Race – Sabine Hossenfelder – 6 mins

¿Can spacecraft avoid the hazards of reëntry? – Scott Manley – 12 mins

How the Higgs Field Imparts Mass – Arvin Ash – 13 mins

The Cosmological “Horizon Problem” – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 13 mins

Why bats live so long – Dr Ben Miles – 15 mins

Why We Are Anti Small EVs – Transport Evolved – Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield – 18 mins

¿What if Gravity is NOT Quantum? – PBS Spacetime – Matt O’Dowd – 18 mins

What Jumping Spiders Teach Us About Color – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 32 mins

Well, that about wraps up this week’s SciSchmooze. Don’t forget to enter the raffle. Also, keep exercising your empathy muscles.
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

We do not say that a man who takes no interest in public affairs is a man who minds his own business. We say he has no business being here at all.
Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BCE) Athenian Statesman and General

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 *