Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Truthiness and the SciSchmooze

from the desk of David Almandsmith
[Beginning of rant]
Let’s face it – our education system is to blame for a citizenry where so many believe the election was stolen, vaccinations are harmful, Democrats are pedophiles, Antifa led the Capitol attack, astronauts never went to the moon, mass shootings were staged, homeopathy heals, and astrology reveals. Why? Because the skills to critically assess claims are rarely taught in our schools. Why? Largely because of concerns those skills might produce ‘bad citizens’, i.e. citizens who question parental and institutional authority; question community and national exceptionalism; question norms of privilege; question ethnic and religious stereotypes; might even question religious tenets. Besides, “there’s not enough time.”

Let’s fix this. Call, write, show up in person at your local high school; attend school board meetings. Ask if every student gets a thorough introduction to fallacies and biases and how to critically assess claims made by friends, podcasts, social media, advertisements, politicians, relatives, media outlets, etc. Leave a reply down below and i will provide you with more info.
[End of Rant]

The U.S. government’s inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic and its downplaying the seriousness of the disease resulted in deaths that could have been avoided. We are thankfully past the latest peak of daily new COVID-19 cases and deaths, but we could be approaching another rise due to multiple new virus variants. Beware COVID ‘science by press release.’ In Miami last Thursday, COVID testing by man’s best friend was used for basketball fans. Virus pandemics are nothing new. We know of one that infected our ancestors about 18 million years ago.

Truthiness in science suffered under the previous Federal administration but things are certainly changing this year. Here are ten policy issues to watch. Most important for many of us is a return to policies that confront the climate crisis. ¿How about the idea of sucking CO2 straight out the atmosphere and using it to make jet fuel? Sounds silly, but if the process were sufficiently efficient, it could be carbon neutral – no need to take more fossil fuels out of the ground. Over the coming centuries, we will need to become finite material neutral – no need to mine any substance. Everything will need to be recycled. To understand why this will be necessary, consider the possibility that mankind will still be around hundreds of thousands of years from now. Finite resources – such as potassium – will be used up unless recycled.

About 14 million years ago, a meteor hit the earth creating a 24-kilometer wide crater. Great evidence for that is St. George’s Church in Nördlingen, Germany, built in the 15th century.

Benjamin Franklin is known for many accomplishments, but i just learned that he headed a committee to investigate fraud which became the first scientific investigation of the placebo effect.

My livestream picks for the week:
Next Stop: The Future of Freight – 9:00 AM Tuesday
Ask the Scientist – Kaho Tisthammer – 2:00 PM Wednesday
NightSchool: Seabirds – 7:00 PM Thursday
Virtual Telescope Viewing – 9:00 PM Friday

In July, i wrote about the success of an artificial intelligence program in winning a competition to predict the folding of a protein. ¿Did i overstate the success? Sabine Hossenfelder explains this story very clearly.

¿And what are we to do about artificial intelligence weapons?

Keep informed. Keep safe.
David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member

“Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.”
-Steven Pinker, Cognitive Psychologist (1954 – )

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