Free thoughts

By Phil Plait | February 19, 2009 4:00 pm

I was interviewed a little while ago by the American Freethought Podcast, and it’s now online (here’s the direct link to the MP3). As usual, I ramble on about topics skeptical, the IYA, Darwin, the definition of the word planet, my book, JREF, vaccines, the future of NASA, and other fun stuff.

The interview intro starts at 12:00, and I come in around 18:00 but you should listen to the whole podcast, of course. They’re good skeptics and have a lot of interesting stuff on the ‘cast.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Astronomy, IYA

Comments (17)

  1. Grrr, bloody CENTAF! I want to hear!

    Heck, I’ll even pay! Paid thoughts?

  2. weird, i can see the player in my RSS reader, but not on the actual post. bee tsar.

  3. Hoonser

    I wonder when we’ll see a Bad Astronomy podcast.

  4. George

    Hey phil, good to see you address those issues. How about doing something on the North American comet encounter at 12900 bp?
    Hundreds of blogs have covered it, television, and many, many newspapers. Love to hear BA’s take!

  5. George

    Hey phil, good to see you address those issues. How about doing something on the North American comet encounter at 12900 bp?
    Hundreds of blogs have covered it, television, and many, many newspapers. Love to hear BA’s take!

  6. @ Larian LeQuella,

    This is an extract from Wired.com (27th February, 2008):

    Air Force Blocks Access to Many Blogs

    The Air Force is tightening restrictions on which blogs its troops can read, cutting off access to just about any independent site with the word “blog” in its web address. It’s the latest move in a larger struggle within the military over the value — and hazards — of the sites. At least one senior Air Force official calls the squeeze so “utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream.”

    Until recently, each major command of the Air Force had some control over what sites their troops could visit, the Air Force Times reports. Then the Air Force Network Operations Center, under the service’s new “Cyber Command,” took over.

    AFNOC has imposed bans on all sites with “blog” in their URLs, thus cutting off any sites hosted by Blogspot. Other blogs, and sites in general, are blocked based on content reviews performed at the base, command and AFNOC level …

    The idea isn’t to keep airmen in the dark — they can still access news sources that are “primary, official-use sources,” said Maj. Henry Schott, A5 for Air Force Network Operations. “Basically … if it’s a place like The New York Times, an established, reputable media outlet, then it’s fairly cut and dry that that’s a good source, an authorized source,” he said …

    AFNOC blocks sites by using Blue Coat software, which categorizes sites based on their content and allows users to block sub-categories as they choose.

    “Often, we block first and then review exceptions,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, a Cyber Command spokesman.

    As a result, airmen posting online have cited instances of seemingly innocuous sites — such as educational databases and some work-related sites — getting wrapped up in broad proxy filters.

    “A couple of years back, I fought this issue concerning the Counter-terrorism Blog,” one Air Force officer tells Danger Room. “An AF [Air Force] professional education course website recommended it as a great source for daily worldwide CT [counter-terrorism] news. However, it had been banned, because it called itself a blog. And as we all know, all blogs are bad!”

    He’s joking, of course. But blogs and social networking sites have faced all sorts of restrictions on military networks, for all sorts of reasons. MySpace and YouTube are officially banned, for eating up too much bandwidth. Stringent regulations, read literally, require Army officers to review each and every item one of his soldiers puts online, in case they leak secrets. And in televised commercials, screen-savers and fliers, troops are told that blogging is a major security risk — even though official sites have proven to leak many, many more secrets. Now there’s the Air Force’s argument, that blogs aren’t legitimate media outlets — and therefore, shouldn’t be read at work.

    But this view isn’t universally held in the military. Many believe blogs to be a valuable source of information — and a way for ordinary troops to shape opinions, at home and abroad. Gen. David Petraeus, who heads the U.S. effort in Iraq, has commended military bloggers. Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who replaced Petraeus as the head of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, recently wrote (in a blog post, no less) that soldiers should be encouraged to “get onto blogs and [s]end their YouTube videos to their friends and family.”

    Within the Air Force, there’s also a strong contingent that wants to see open access to the sites — and is mortified by the AFNOC’s restrictions. “When I hear stuff this utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream…. Piles of torn out hair are accumulating around my desk as we speak,” one senior Air Force official writes in an e-mail. [I bet you feel like that, Larian!] “I’m certain that by blocking blogs for official use, our airmen will never, ever be able to read them on their own home computers, so we have indeed saved them from a contaminating influence. Sorry, didn’t mean to drip sarcasm on your rug.”

    […].

    Click on my name to read the rest of the article. Er…that is, if you can — it has the word “blog” in the URL! :P

  7. Eric

    Hi Phil,

    A little off topic, but I found a bug on your blog. When you use the search box to go looking through old posts the URL looks something like this:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy?s=dark+matter

    That will bring up one page of posts. To look at more, you click on the link labeled “older.” It takes you to this page:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/badastronomy/page/2/?s=dark+matter

    Oooh, no good! 404 Error Page Not Found. You see that second /badastronomy/ in there? It has to go. It’s a typo.

  8. Bein'Silly

    Well the worst thing about censorship is *******************************
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    ************************************************.

    [Message censored.]

  9. Asimov fan

    I fully believe in Voltaire’s idea that : “I may disagree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it.”

    Censorship outside that necessary to save lives (& I mean absoultely unquestionably necessary) is unethical, unhelpful and plain wrong.

    Perhaps sadly (because, lets face it, we all get sick of hearing so much tripe and nonsense) this means I do believe Conspiract theorists, Holocaust deniers, Global Warming deniers, Creationists, neocons, Electric universe beleivers, annoying blog trolls like some we seem to attract here & other whackos need to be allowed their say too.

    The best way to fight the woo is by educating people, by bringing the facts of things to the light and letting intelligent people make an intelligent case against the idiots that does sway the ordinary folks.

    With very few exceptions indeed, I don’t believe that censorship really works or makes things better. In fact it usually just gets people wondering what’s being kept from them & why.

    That’s why I think for instance, that we may as well give the creationists enough rope to hang themselves with – by letting them get some of their way only for that to be their ultimate downfall – teach ID in science class – only very briefly with an explaination of why they are wrong & not even science!

    Likewise, those who’d deny the Nazi Holocaust or adopt horrible, revolting racist or sexist positions and so forth shouldn’t be jailed but shamed and fought with evidence & reasoned if passionate argument instead – to my way of thinking; thinking or expressing something alone should NOT be a crime however repugnant the beleif in question might be.

    I truly think that letting people see a wide range of material from a wide range of perspectives and teaching them how to work things out logically so they really know whats going on tends to work best! IMHO.

    Of course, Phil’s doing that here already & that’s one aspect I love about this blog!

    There’s the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.
    I tend to agree with that proposition. ;-)

  10. Speaking of death from the skies, here’s an article on a gamma ray burst that was detected last fall. Good thing it was 12 billion light years away.
    The article does fail to mention the minor detail that such bursts could be bad for our health if they take place closer to Earth.

  11. Daniel J. Andrews

    Off-topic: Phil, could you write a blurb about this backward green comet named Lulin that is heading through our system? From the basic news sources, it suonds interesting—and I did find one blog (bad blog) that suggested since the comet is throwing out cyanide the earth will come in contact with this interstellar cyanide cloud which will herald in another grand extinction event, and then they tied that in to past extinction events. They also concluded this was probably part of the future doomsday astrological planetary alignment scenario….did you cover poisonous comets in your Death from the Skies book? :-))

    Come to think of it, this blog might be a good argument why we should ban blogs afterall. There, brought it back to On-topic. :-))

  12. Thanks folks. It’s a daily struggle I have to deal with. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just be glad that I got passed over for promotion and am now forced to retire (don’t get me going too much on that saga). I guess I couldn’t keep my logic and reason hidden in order to make it through the system.

    At least one senior Air Force official calls the squeeze so “utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream.”

    Wow, another person in the AF that sounds reasonable!? Where they heck are they?

    Funy Story: I work in weapons development. So one time I was looking over a new non-lethal capability, found some interesting studies, only to find that the sites were blocked because they contained… get this….

    weapons.

    Uh… okay?

    If you really want to hear more retardery, feel free to drop me a line sometime. Although it may make you lose all hoe for humanity. Bureaucratis Impedicus thrives.

  13. John Phillips, FCD

    Daniel J. Andrew, there are a number of problems with this ‘worry’. If the cyanogen given off could even actually penetrate the earth’s atmosphere there is not enough to do be a danger and the closest it approaches Earth is ~38 million miles so would be very diffuse at worst. So I don’t think we need worry, do you :) Earth has actually passed through the tails of other even larger cyanogen bearing comets in recent history, such as Haley in 1910 without effect. Though some people had the same worries about the possible cyanogen danger back then as well. Science.nasa.gov has more info.

  14. Davidlpf

    @Larian Lequella, my work blocked JREF, reason education.

  15. Daniel J. Andrew

    Quite agree, John. It was a crackpot website. I do recall (not first hand experience, I assure you :) )the end of the world worries about passing through a comet’s tail earlier last century—it must have been Haley’s comet as you point out. There was a bit of panic but some unscrupulous (wily?) entrepreneurs sold antidotes to the coming poison. These “comet pills” were a huge success and the must have worked because most people who took the pills were still alive after the earth went through the tail. Of course, so were most people who hadn’t taken the pills too, but why wreck a perfectly good piece of cherry-picked data.

  16. Gary Ansorge

    Larian LeQuella:

    One might note that the best thing about:
    Bureaucratis Impedicus:
    ,,,is that it actually impedes bureaucrats from doing ANYTHING,,,which insures they don’t succeed in doing anything STUPID as well,,,

    Gary 7

  17. Gary Ansorge

    LArian:
    Bureaucracies remind me of Robert Heinliens definition of a committee:

    “The only beast known that has 100 bellies and no brain,,,”

    GAry 7

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