Aiiiieeee! Slow down!

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2009 2:00 pm

Sometimes, news comes pouring in to Bad Astronomy HQ, and I am but a man, so I can’t keep up (writing about Saturn’s moons and giant galactic panoramas and big weird Scandinavian spinny thingies keep me pretty busy, y’know).

So here are some quick bits o’ interest.

1) Dr. Harriet Hall will inject (haha!) some medical sense into Oprah

2) You already knew this, but Rush Limbaugh is somewhat misinformed on basic matters of science and medicine*.

3) Obama’s science advisor John Holdren reads a book by my Hive Overmind compatriots!

4) Pulsar-discoverer Jocelyn Bell-Burnell blogs.

5) My friend, the Aussie skeptic Richard Saunders appeared on national TV and handed an astrologer his head.

6) My evil twin Richard Wiseman is fun at parties. Here’s the video:

OK, good. That oughta keep y’all busy while I write up my next big astronomy post.

In your head, you may wish to replace my description with some artfully selected words from Al Franken’s book title.


Comments (31)

  1. Elit3squir3l

    #5 and #6 were great!

  2. The Australian psychic was completely flummoxed by Richard Saunders. What a stupid trick – trying to pretend he had the details for another skeptic entirely, and he was caught in the act! Amazing!

  3. Dan

    I’m totally doing that candle/CO2 trick at my next party.

  4. Charlie Young

    Gotta love the CO2 trick! That was full of win! The match and coin trick was my second favorite.

  5. Loved the candle trick, but he said “bicarbonate of soda or, uh… baking powder”. Maybe they have different names across the pond, but in the states, baking powder is not bicarbonate of soda (or more accurately, it’s not only bicarbonate of soda – it also contains calcium acid phosphate). Better to use baking soda with your vinegar for this trick, to get the full effect.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    What is but a man against the astronomical event space [phase space] of the universe?

    – Um, an astronomer?

    weird Scandinavian spinny thingies

    Aka failed Russian rockets. Remember children, scandinavians can spin anything. 😀

  7. Robert

    The CO2 trick is cool! Wish I knew that one when I was teaching high school kids some chemistry. (which I don’t anymore).

    And hah!!! I can do the finger thing! (I guess I must be some freak mutant then…)

  8. Ray

    The fork and spoon trick is pretty cool, for an even more astonished look on peoples faces you can scooch the fork and spoon down some and balance it on the rim of a glass. Then you can light the opposite ends of the tooth pick and their burn up until the glass/fork-spoon and go out leaving just a small piece of toothpick and a still balancing fork and spoon.


    @ Carey,

    You’re right about the difference between bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, but the names for them are no different here in the UK than that in the US.

  10. MadScientist

    I’ll keep an eye on Jocelyn’s blog; she’s always great to have around to give talks. Although I don’t think she ever formally received the recognition she was due for her work on pulsars, I think most people know that it was all her work and not her supervisor’s work.

  11. Remek

    The finger movement test doesn’t work with me – I can move the third finger regardless of whether the second or fourth (pinky) finger is disabled.

    Sort of a shame, really… knowing now that it could have been worth a few coin as a bar bet. 😀

    Oh, and the CO2 pouring is a really cool demonstration. Really worth a “Whoa!!” moment when done with friends around.

  12. Andrew

    In reference to #5, is it just me that finds it hard to watch people get “handed their heads” even when their beliefs are silly? I’m very non-confrontational and empathetic by nature; I even get uncomfortable when watching movies or tv shows in which people get in embarrassing or humiliating situations.

    I started to watch the YouTube video, got as far as the triple-screen, then had to stop, because I just feel for the poor-looking guy. Can someone post a brief summary of the conversation?

  13. 2) You already knew this, but Rush Limbaugh is somewhat misinformed on basic matters of science and medicine*.

    No way, Phil! Next you’ll be telling me that Glenn Beck is not a real journalist, and is, in fact, a complete and utter moron that hasn’t got a clue about what he talks about? That my friend, would be taking it too far!

    5) My friend, the Aussie skeptic Richard Saunders appeared on national TV and handed an astrologer his head.

    I’m saddened by this news. Skepticism has lost a giant. A headless Richard Saunders, I fear, will not carry the same weight as when he carried his head proudly on his shoulders instead of under his arm.

  14. @Andrew #13: I’m the same way, including with fictional characters. I’m the sort who’ll watch a nameless ship full of nameless cannon fodder blow up and wonder how terrified they were before dying and how their families will react when they are told.

  15. Andrew, you are not alone. I attempted to watch the astrology video, but as soon as the astrologer started stuttering his way through the first question I had to stop. I have far too much sympathy for people when they sound so nervous. I couldn’t bear to watch him get the thumping astrology so richly deserves.

    On the other hand, had he come off as calm and smug I’d have enjoyed it immensely.

  16. Helioprogenus

    Oh common, “Unscientific America” is a terrible book. He’d be better off reading Neil Shubin’s Your inner face, of even Death from the Skies. All he can gain from Unscientific America is a terrible hypothesis, blaming vocal atheists for the rift between science and the general public. The fact that he endorses this book says more about John Holdren’s lack of grasping the nuances of science education in the American sector. Yet, I guess it’s better than Bush’s lack of a science advisor, and should he have had one, their endorsement would probably go to something published by the Discovery Institute.

  17. Helioprogenus, that is a grossly unfair criticism of the book. Chris and Sheril spent the whole book pointing out where politicians, teachers, scientists, and even the public itself is responsible for the public’s misunderstanding of science. And they don’t blame vocal atheists; Chris himself is vocal. It’s not that they’re vocal; the book’s thesis is that some atheists are confrontational when perhaps more diplomacy is needed. And they lay most of the blame — reasonably, in my opinion — on scientists themselves, who by vast majority don’t know how to reach out to the public.

  18. Plutonium being from Pluto

    There’s also been the launch of Branson’s VSS Enterprise which I don’t think the BA’s mentioned yet … unless I’ve missed a post on it somewhere which is quite possible.


    Personally, I sure would love to go on this – but not until the price falls a lo-ooong way down and space travel becomes as routine as air travel.

    Even then, I’d probably still be too broke. Sigh.

  19. Chris in NY

    Phil, in case you missed this (scifi author and scientist beaten and arrested by border guards):

  20. Naomi

    Heh, go Richard! And huh, I didn’t know we shared a birthday (28th of November). WE MUST HAVE PRECISELY THE SAME PERSONALITY o.o

  21. Sili


    Anyway, I know (of) Dame Jocelyn; I have absolutely no recollection of the name of her supervisor got/stole her Nobel Price.

    She was VC for Bath Uni shortly while I was there.

  22. John Keller


    Bush had John Marburger as his science advisor and he was at odds with Bush over Intelligent Design. He said,

    “Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.” and “I don’t regard Intelligent Design as a scientific topic.”

    Do some goggling

  23. Helioprogenus

    @ Phil,

    I understand your need to defend them, and I even respect your views, but I must still disagree with a great deal of it. Part of the problem is that they’re unflinching accommodationists, and would like to use kid gloves on religious drivel. They feel that offending moderates is what’s keeping the greater general public from embracing science and reason. Well, I don’t think we have to play that game.

    The age of having one key scientific icon is pretty much gone. It used to be that an Einstein could singularly represent all that was good in science. Eventually however, peddling religious views took over the sense of awe amongst the general public, and considering that the West was fighting against a communist menace that was areligious, we’re left with ashes of what was once an accepting public. Sure, many of them were able to put their religious beliefs to one side and look at science from a healthy perspective, but those days have become extremely complicated. You are correct in your assertion that as a whole, scientists may not be doing enough to educate the public. But it’s not necessarily their job to stand there clapping there hands, whistling, and juggling keys in front of ignorant masses. It helps to have individuals like yourself who are bridges between the two, but honestly, 99.9% of science is done by extensive collaboration with little credit that can go to any one individual. If all of these people had better public educational skills, it would probably detract from the work they actually had to do.

    @John Keller, I misspoke. I should have done more research on those specifics.

  24. Crewvy

    Jeepers, how responsible is it to be promoting the unnecessary production of CO2 as a party trick in this day and age ? Sheesh ;0

  25. 8. Robert Says:

    And hah!!! I can do the finger thing! (I guess I must be some freak mutant then…)
    12. Remek Says:

    The finger movement test doesn’t work with me – I can move the third finger regardless of whether the second or fourth (pinky) finger is disabled.

    Perhaps you should check out this special school


  26. DigitalAxis

    I was waiting for Richard Saunders to point out “I’m a scientist, half the audience could have guessed I like exploring and learning new things!”

    As for the finger thing and spinning your feet; I can do both. It requires a lot of concentration to keep the foot going clockwise when I make the 6; and my third finger doesn’t move very much…

  27. Gary Ansorge

    8. Robert Says:
    “And hah!!! I can do the finger thing! (I guess I must be some freak mutant then…)”
    12. Remek Says:
    “The finger movement test doesn’t work with me – I can move the third finger regardless of whether the second or fourth (pinky) finger is disabled.”

    Yeah, I tried it too and was able to raise my finger, then I looked at the video again and observed he has his ARM at a 30 degree angle to the table surface. When I tried it that way, I was unable to raise the finger. LAying my arm FLAT on the table was what allowed me to raise my finger.

    See! When reproducing someones work, we have to reproduce ALL the parameters exactly.

    GAry 7

  28. Rob Jase

    I hate parties but I’d go if Richard Wiseman was attending.


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