Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Ukrainian Sunflowers & the SciSchmooze

Sunflower field in Ukraine

Hello again, faithful follower of science,

It’s been a stressful week for the world. I made a small donation to UNICEF. I trust you are also doing what’s right.

Now for science:


The United Nations report, “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” was released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s pretty grim. The Washington Post listed five key takeaways:

  1. A certain amount of suffering is inevitable, though adaptation can help
  2. Every incremental increase in temperature will lead to dramatically more disease, death and frequent, costly disasters
  3. Climate change is battering the places and populations least able to adapt, and that is all but certain to continue
  4. Global warming is wreaking havoc on plants and wildlife
  5. For many locations on Earth, the capacity for adaptation is already significantly limited, even as it becomes more critical

Very little research was possible on Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier this year since sea ice prevented scientists from getting up front and personal. If the grounding regions continue to erode, Thwaites will raise sea levels over 60cm in under a century.

Most of you were alive in 2002. Since that time, enough ice has melted from Greenland to cover the United States in half a meter of water.

The extreme flooding in Australia last week might very well be attributable to climate change.

Large scale conversion of sunlight into electric power here in California requires balancing land value with with the value of producing electricity. A tactic is being considered here in California: cover our canals with solar panels.

The catalytic converter in your car reduces nitrous oxides to nitrogen and oxidizes carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons. ¿But what about your gas stove, water heater, and home furnace? Just as catalytic converters were mandated for cars, the future could bring the requirement for catalytic converters in your home – should you stay with gas appliances.

Sustaining nuclear fusion for 5 seconds in  UK tokamak is called a “major breakthrough” in the quest for clean fusion energy. Also, AI was used to control the shape and position of hydrogen plasma in a Swiss tokamak, and it did better than previous methods. Both of these results suggest that fusion power plants may be only 30 years in the future – which they have been since the 1950’s. But maybe this time . . .

There has been an interesting technical spillover from fusion efforts that – according to investors – will allow geothermal power anywhere on our planet. This is the ‘gyrotron’, a Russian invention that is used to create and inject plasmas into tokamak and stellarator fusion reactors. A company claims they can build a gyrotron that will ‘drill’ a hole 20 km deep by vaporizing rock. That’s deeper than the deepest hole ever drilled before. I’m not holding my breath.  By the way, the “Swifty” heat gun shown fracturing rock in that last link, was made by a company founded here in the Bay Area by two young women. [At least they are “young” from my perspective.]


The Barringer meteor crater i visited a couple of months ago has a sibling that is a fair amount larger and about the same age. An impact crater has just been verified in China. The Yilan crater is less obvious than the Barringer crater since half of its wall is missing. You can find it on Google Maps and on Bing.

China’s Yutu-2 Moon rover found marbles in its meanderings! They look like pearls to me, but moon oysters are not all that likely.

The Mars Curiosity Rover has been finding “diagenetic crystal clusters” as it peruses the vicinity of Mt. Sharp. I suspect that any day now somebody with a 3D printer will be offering replicas on eBay.

As you may know, NASA’s other Mars rover, Perseverance, periodically poops out capsules of rock and soil samples that hopefully will be returned to Earth in the Mars Sample Return project that is under developed.

When physicists contemplate the Big Bang, they wrap their heads around the geometric notion that every location is equivalent to every other location. I.e. it is possible, even likely, the universe has no unique center and no edge. Now step back a few centuries to 1440 CE when Nicholas of Cusa, a mathematician and astronomer, wrote, “Thus the fabric of the world (machina mundi) will apparently (quasi) have its center everywhere and circumference nowhere.” Sorry, but my head doesn’t wrap that way.

¿What will the James Webb Space Telescope reveal? So far it has revealed that some scientists hope it may find signs of life on one or more exoplanets. Currently, astronomical ophthalmologists are “coarse phasing” Webb’s 18 mirrors.

NASA: “Better or worse?”
Webb: “Better.”
NASA: “Better or worse?”
Webb: “A little better, I think.”
NASA: “How about now?”
Webb: “Ummm…”
NASA: “What is the farthest galaxy you can see?”

[My thanks to Michael Hurd]

Robert won the second 8-inch JWST model. This time the prize is a 3-centimeter mirror pin from Cepheid Studio (France) of JWST’s 18 mirror segments. 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.


The Museum of the Future opened on 2/22/22 in Dubai. Super impressive architecture and artistic exhibits — but one of their presentations proclaims: “Immerse yourself in vibrations that rebalance electromagnetic fields and restore our natural rhythms.”

The lawsuit brought by the Center For Inquiry against CVS and Walmart has been chugging slowly along. CFI is representing us – the consumers – for the stores’ promoting and selling homeopathic ‘drugs’ as real medicine.

Dr. Luc Montagnier won the Nobel prize in 1983 for discovering the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). However, he subsequently suffered from Nobelitis, a common disease of Nobel laureates where they adopt pseudoscientific beliefs. Not only did Dr. Montagnier accept that water had a memory, but he ‘demonstrated’ that water’s memory could be teleported.

A quack medical treatment of 400 years ago caught my attention this week: Paracelsus and others created potions for healing wounds that were not applied to the person, but rather to the weapon that caused the wound and/or the dressing after it was removed. They came under the rubric of “Powder of Sympathy.” That sorta makes homeopathy sound sensible in comparison.


Are Red Dwarf Planets Habitable? – 7:30 PM Monday, Cal Academy of Sciences, SF, $
Climate forced changes of the Antarctic Ice Sheet – 3:30 PM Tuesday, Santa Cruz
The Reality of Reality TV – 7:30 PM Thursday, Livestream
Saturday Cinema: Artis Mathematicae – 1 PM Saturday, ExpOratorium, SF, $
Afternoon Hike at Mindego Hill – 3 – 6 PM Sunday, Los Altos

Also, save the dates, July 16 & 17 for SkeptiCal 2022


¿What vertebrate uses a suction cup to stick to rocks, and is covered in teeth?

¿What is this 5G mobile phone stuff? For that matter, what are all those Gs?

¿Why sex? There are plenty of advantages to parthenogenesis but many creatures that reproduce alone sometimes do endulge in sex with another. An interesting hypothesis is that meiosis may assist in gene repair. Maybe.

Bacterial osteomyelitis is a bummer, especially if you weigh 230kg.

Aromatherapy lavender and chamomile room spray from Better Homes & Gardens “enhances the space for a stress free, relaxing, and re-energizing experience” until it kills you.

I cannot but feel empathetic towards the Russian conscripts – and their families – who thought they were only going on training maneuvers.
Stay well,
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

“It’s elementary planetary hygiene to clean the world of these nuclear weapons.”
–Carl Sagan (1934 – 1966)

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