Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

What to Believe with the SciSchmooze

Angel Image:,UGC  UFO Image: Istock

Hello again dear SciSchmooze reader,

In the U.S. 69% of adults believe that angels are real, and 41% believe that extraterrestrial UFOs are regularly seen. Most children in this country are taught to believe in angels as part of their religious upbringing. I was. So that 69% figure seems explainable. 

It may be more remarkable that nearly half of adults accept that extraterrestrials are sharing our friendly skies. Wishful thinking? Underlying fears? Groupthink? Popular TV shows? “The truth is out there” … but it’s not likely to be what David Grusch would have us believe. During a House Committee Meeting last Wednesday Mr. Grusch claimed that:

  • That there are “quite a number” of “nonhuman” space vehicles in the possession of the U.S. government.
  • That one “partially intact vehicle” was retrieved from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1933 by the United States, acting on a tip from Pope Pius XII.
  • That the aliens have engaged in “malevolent activity” and “malevolent events” on Earth that have harmed or killed humans.
  • That the U.S. government is also in possession of “dead pilots” from the spaceships.
  • That a private defense contractor is storing one of the alien ships, which have been as large as a football field.
  • That the vehicles might be coming “from a higher dimensional physical space that might be co-located right here.”
  • That the Roswell, N.M., alien landing was real, and the Air Force’s debunking of it was a “total hack job.”
  • And that the United States has engaged in a nearly century-long “sophisticated disinformation campaign” (apparently including murders to silence people) to hide the truth.

(Bulleted list from Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank)

The mantra of most scientists and other well-educated folk is: For an extraordinary claim to be acceptable it requires extraordinary evidence. Nobody, including David Grusch, has provided any clear evidence for any of his claims. Regardless, his claims gave House Committee members the opportunity to suggest there is a conspiracy to hide abundant extraterrestrial evidence. A conspiracy that includes the military, the CIA, the Vatican, the Italian government as well as dozens of other governments and their military branches. Me? I’m just waiting for extraordinary evidence.

Charlie’s guess of 38 won him the Smithsonian Solar System jigsaw puzzle. This week we are raffling off a kit to build a Strandbeest model. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with an integer between 0 and 1,000.


FROZEN. Frozen?? Researchers from Germany, Switzerland, and Russia thawed out chunks of permafrost and found a living female nematode worm. Evidence suggests the chunks had been frozen solid for 46,000 years! Not only was the nematodes alive, but she promptly began successfully reproducing. Either this was a remarkable example of suspended animation, or the nematode more recently bored into a chunk of permafrost, as critics suggested. Evidence in favor of her being frozen for millennia is that her DNA does not match that of a known nematode species. However, out of an estimated million-plus species, just 30,000 nematodes species have been catalogued, and fewer sequenced.

Organisms that require oxygen acquire it from organisms that split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen via photosynthesis. At least that was the belief. Recently microbes were found in an aquifer 200 meters below ground that produce large amounts of oxygen in complete darkness. Enough of this oxygen seeps into the subsurface environment that oxygen-requiring microbes (aerobes) were thriving there.


On Sunday the high temperature in Phoenix reached 110°F for the thirty-first day in a row using an official weather station. However, cities create “urban heat islands” where temperatures climb even higher. Researchers in Tel Aviv wanting to document the locations of heat islands in their city came up with a novel tactic. They captured fruit bats on the south side of Tel Aviv, fitted each with a thermometer and GPS monitor, and released them on the north side of the city. Cool!

A city-planning acquaintance of mine took pains explaining to me why economic growth was essential to healthy cities and countries. That economic maxim has long been challenged by ‘degrowth’ adherents who point out that our climate crisis is largely attributable to unchecked economic growth. They make the argument that economics should be focused instead on securing human needs and well-being rather than on numerical growth. Makes sense to me. Continuous growth leads to depletion of raw materials, depletion of natural resources, and overpopulation.

The White House continues to nudge our economy away from relying heavily on fossil fuels, but our political reality requires concessions to the oil industry. This is, of course, a global situation. No wonder Greta Thunberg continues to get herself arrested.

PBS NOVA created a 53-minute special: Weathering the Future. Definitely worth watching.

My Picks of the Week (put reminders on your mobile phone)

Wonderfest: How to Make A.I. Safe Tuesday 7 – 8:30PM, Novato
Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right – Livestream Thursday 4PM
Psychology of Religion: Evolution of Religion – Livestream Saturday 3 – 5PM
Drop-in at the Charleston Slough Observation Deck Sunday 9 – 11:30AM, Palo Alto


There is a well-known (but not by me!) “gravity hole” in the Indian Ocean where Earth’s gravity is less than normal. Because surface gravity is stronger outside of the ‘hole’, ocean water is drawn away from its center making the sea level there 100 meters less than it ‘should’ be. There have been varying ideas about the cause of the Indian Ocean Geoid Low, but some geologists now believe it was caused by a rising plume of low-density magma in the distant past.

There is another kind of ‘hole’ in the oceans. When large limestone sinkholes in Mexico collapse on land and fill with water, we call them cenotes. But sometimes a cenote is found offshore and gains the name, “Blue Hole”. The second-deepest known Blue Hole is off the east coast of Mexico at  274 meters deep.


It is notoriously difficult to control infections by the malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, which is spread by bites from the Anopheles mosquito. There is a new vaccine for preventing malaria but it is only 63% effective and the effectiveness wanes to only 3% after five years. With climate change, larger populations of Anopheles mosquitoes are in the U.S. but they are not themselves infected with Plasmodium falciparum. That could change at any minute if a person, who contracted malaria elsewhere in the world, was bit by an Anopheles mosquito here in the U.S. Such an infection would spread in the mosquito population and then to humans. The easiest way to eradicate malaria may be to cure mosquitoes of the parasite! Biologists have found a ‘gene drive’ method for ‘vaccinating’ entire populations of Anopheles mosquitoes. A modification to a mosquito’s genome prevents infection by Plasmodium falciparum and that protection is passed on to its offspring. In time, every mosquito in a population will carry the anti-parasite gene. It’s not quite ready for prime time, but it is promising.

Fun Nerdy Videos

Mosquito repellant – Cup o’ Joe – Joe Schwarcz – 3 mins
Tired Light Hypothesis – Dr. Becky – Becky Smithurst – 15 mins
Artificial Intelligence & proton structure – PBS Space Time – Matt O’Dowd – 17 mins
Transition to EVs – Science without the gobbledygook – Sabine Hossenfelder – 24 min
Entropy – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 26 mins

From about 26 centuries ago: “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy, and to the poor,”
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.”
Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) English theoretical physicist

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