Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

High School Censors RichardDawkins.net

Granted, it might have been more beneficial for me to be paying attention in class, but I’ve always thought that the RichardDawkins.net website was pretty darn educational (it is the website of an educational foundation, after all). They have podcasts about evolutionary science, links to stimulating articles, a banner asking non-believers to donate to Haiti. Today when I tried to access RichardDawkins.net today from my school’s Internet network I got a message that said that the website was blocked.

Observe (click to embiggen)

Perhaps it was an honest mistake… I’ve very politely e-mailed the peeps who do this stuff so maybe they will unblock it. If not, I shall update here.

Update: Somewhat unrelated, but I just thought I’d share the mission listed in my school district’s twitter page.

To inspire every student to think, to learn, to achieve, to care

Far as I can tell RD.net does three of the four.

Update: So the school unblocked it (yay!). The e-mail I got was that the site was categorized as “social opinion” which ordinarily wouldn’t have been blocked for the high school but apparently the network was accidentally set on the elementary school filter which does block social opinion.

So…

  1. By bringing this to their attention I actually fixed a broader mistake
  2. I’m wondering how corrupting an influence a social opinion website really can be on the elementary schooler mind… Given the assumption that critical thinking is generally not present in elementary school (not that it becomes rampant in high school) I shall tentatively accept that somehow RD.net and other websites of a similar vein are inappropriate in elementary school.

Happy Carl Sagan Day!

Well, actually it’s Monday, but in honour of it coming up and the lectures done in Florida today about him, I’mma leave this old Johnny Carson clip here…

European History, Science, and Eternal Life

So I’m taking European history this year in school and I have this teacher whom I’m rather fond of. She’s not exactly a fundamentalist Christian, but she is at least moderately Christian. Today we mentioned the scientific revolution while studying about the witch trials and she goes on a small tangent that goes something along the lines of…

So are you going to put your faith in the scientific revolution? Tell that to a dying cancer patient! Science isn’t going to get you eternal anything.

So it’s not exactly standing up and preaching, but it is sort of clear that she’s trying to convince her audience (public school students) that they need to worry about how they’re getting eternal life and science is useless because of that.

Of course, I disagree with her argument. Epistemology does not get chucked out the window as soon as you’re uncomfortable with what it says because that would be beside the point of having an epistemology (unless you’re of the truth-is-whatever-makes-me-feel-comfortable-with-death-ists). I’m more concerned with how I live the life I know that I have than with another life which can be verified about as convincingly as Invisible Pink Unicorns.

But here’s the thing… for the most part this teacher does not talk about her personal dislike of science, but this is not an isolated incident. It’s happened once or twice before. Do I…

  1. Let it drop
  2. Just speak out in class the next time
  3. Start recording and call the ACLU (I list this in jest… sort of)
  4. Do something else?

Oh, and why the bloody hell do people like to bandy about the word “faith” to people who happen to like science and reason? The most faith involved in science is that this isn’t all some giant hallucination that we’re all sharing, or that we’re hallucinating that people are sharing the same reality. It’s a small amount of faith, yes, but I think of it more as agnostic disbelief. I can’t prove that I’m hallucinating and I can’t prove that I’m not… but if this is a hallucination, it sure is an elaborate one and no harm is done in carrying on with 99.9% certainty.

Lunacy

Ah, humanity…

A few of the tweets from people who read “NASA launches rocket into the moon” and react foolishly…

Dear Nasa, you are the spawns of Satan who wants to blast the Moon JUST FOR SOME DAMN WATER!! WHAT THE HELL??!!!

From @TimelessEssence

This person describes themself as:

Gorgeous, Intelligent, Silly, Random, Proclaimed Buddhist, Dreamer, Writer, Activist, Loves to laugh, Future Archaelogist, Nerdy, and the FUTURE!

OH SHI-!

They might fuck up the tides if NASA fucks the moon up. I’m not trying to see that blow up. NASA always plotting something.

From @JesseLetson

Okay. Nasa blows a hole in the moon today, to see if there is water on it. If we REALLY went there in 69, this wouldnt even be an issue.

From @Alisonsscrescendo

Before we lose faith in humanity, from @Submanic

Call me a nerd, but I kinda like finding more information about our universe. #NASA

And just for the record, I think the moon’s still up. You can check to see if it’s still there before smearing your idiocy across the Internet and making fools of humanity.

Also, this is not the first time America has crashed something into the moon. It happened in the 1960’s when we were still working on getting there and before figuring out how to land. See here.

What is the Meaning of SecondLife?

SecondLife is on the whole a boring game. Small modicums of entertainment can be gained by seeing people attachspiritualdarkness_001 couches to themselves as outfits. It is no wonder people are wondering “is there something more than this virtual 3D world?”

Out of boredom, and seeking answers to the great mysteries of SecondLife, I decided to attend a meeting on “spiritual darkness”. Surprisingly, the spiritual people seemed resistant towards me talking about silly scientific concepts like gravity.

Today I learned:

  1. We can’t explain consciousness, therefore atoms are conscious.
  2. Thinking scientifically = cynicism
  3. I am living in spiritual darkness because I’m too attached to intellectual enlightenment.
  4. “multi-dimensional realities make sense to me. this band of frequencies experiences a duality principle that is holographic to the rest of thee system” (see chat log below)
  5. Couch monsters are freaking hilarious.

A lengthy chat log follows. It can be seen either as depressing or entertaining, depending on the sort of person you are. Feel free to read it. Continue reading

Moonshine and Moonshine

I like to spend this time of day catching up on my news. One of the sites I visit is my customized BBC homepage where I have the science and nature articles placed right in the center of the page where it’s the first thing that catches my eye. So I learn a few things about finding an exoplanet only twice the size of the Earth, I read about finding n-propyl cyanide in space, and then I scroll down to the extended selection of science and nature articles and see an article asking if the lunar cycles affect the taste of wine.

In a good mood after having enjoyed learning a thing or two new about the way the universe works, I don’t immediately sniff out the fact that it’s woo woo because I’ve come to trust this newsource for interesting stories, but after the first few paragraphs I start banging my head against the desk. Back in the 1950s, some German woman published a calendar based on the theory that the position of the moon and the stars effects the way wine tastes and that some days were more favourable for tasting great wine than others. I don’t think that it can be described any better than this:

Her theory is that wine is a living organism that responds to the Moon’s rhythms in the same way that some people believe humans do. The so-called “lunar effect” has been widely dismissed as pseudo-science but its followers think that as the Moon exerts such a huge impact on the tides, it must follow that it affects the water in the human body and therefore human behaviour.

The article then goes on to state that the idea is not as “eccentric as it sounds” because “all wine experts tend to agree” on wine tasting differently based on the lunar cycle.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that those wine experts don’t know much about astronomy or physics. You can look up the formula, but gravitational influence is determined by the mass of the two objects multiplied together and divided by the distance sqaured. So, the more massive object is more influenced by a source of gravity. I haven’t seen any pictures of the German woman, but I’m willing to bet that she’s really not that massive. I mean, it’s the Earth’s oceans we’re comparing here.

You’ve also gotta love the reason why David Motion is now a believer in this:

“We tried eight wines on Tuesday, which was a leaf day and then the same wines again on Thursday, which was a fruit day. And it was totally conclusive.

“It wasn’t that the wine tasted bad on the Tuesday but it was much more expressive on the Thursday. It was more exuberant and on-song. It was like the heavens opened, the clouds parted and the wine just expressed itself.”

Wow, didn’t they do a great job trying to isolate variables? And didn’t they go through rigorous double blind proceedure? And isn’t that just the most objective way to measure this?

The article finally gives the last word to an expert who actually seems to know a thing or two about science and sums this up in better words than I think I could manage:

But Jamie Goode, a wine scientist and author of online magazine wineanorak, thinks too much is made of planetary alignments and the lunar calendar.

“But I’m not going to say it’s absolute nonsense. Wine tastes different on different days but the differences are not that huge and the differences are more about atmospheric pressure.

“And we are part of the equation when it comes to tasting wine. We are not measuring devices. The taste of the wine is something we generate in response to the wine.”

People taste wine with expectations, and part of that could be the knowledge that it is a “good” day for wine, he says. Mood also influences

Don’t get me wrong. I always enjoy reading about a new pseudoscience. It gives me some amount of mental exercise in skepticism. I can’t tell you how much of this was tongue-in-cheek, but this definitely comes across more as astrology than astronomy.

Science

While reading my biology textbook (Campbell-Reece, 6th edition), I found this useful description of how molecular systematics is making taxonomy a dynamic field. I thought I’d share it on here so that people can refer it to the next creationist or post-modernist that you meet who attempts to claim that science is completely useless because it’s something-scientists-believed-was-true-fifty-years-ago-is-different-now:

As emerging technologies such as molecular biology and fresh approaches such as cladistics produce new data or stimulate scientists to reconsider old data, hypotheses sometimes bend or even break under the pressure of the closer scrutiny. New hypotheses or refinements of the old ones represent the latest versions of what we understand about nature based on the best available evidence. And evidence is the key word in this disclaimer that even our most cherished ideas in science are probationary. Science is partly distinguished from other ways of knowing because its ideas can be falsified through testing with experiments or observation. The more testing a hypothesis withstands, the more credible it becomes.

I think that it should be inexcusable for anyone to not understand this when challenging well-demonstrated “theories”. Evidence, evidence, evidence my friends.