In May I attended SpaceFest IV, a gathering of space enthusiasts, astronauts (who, I suppose, are legit space enthusiasts), astronomers, and more. It’s a lot of fun, and great to see old friends and meet new science geeks. I missed last year’s, unfortunately, but was happy to be able to go this year again.
While I was there I was interviewed about the Mayan apocalypse, Symphony of Science, and building a real Enterprise. It was an eclectic series of questions.
I hope there’ll be another SpaceFest next year! I had a lot of fun, and I bet a lot of you reading this would too.
This week sees me returning to the state I grew up in: Virginia.
I’ll be at James Madison University Thursday, September 27 to give my "2012: We’re All (not) Gonna Die!" talk – basically destroying the Mayan December 21, 2012 apocalypse nonsense – at 7:00 p.m at the Wilson Hall Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.
The talk is sponsored by the John C. Wells Planetarium, JMU Department of Physics & Astronomy, College of Science & Mathematics, and the JMU Center for STEM Education & Outreach. They even made the awesome poster seen here! [Click to Kukulkanenate.]
Then, the next day – Friday, September 28 – I’ll be at my alma mater, the University of Virginia, to be the keynote speaker for the 2012 Forum for Interdisciplinary Dialogue called "Fact, Fiction, and Supposition"! I’m honored to be a part of this event sponsored by the Jefferson Scholars Foundation and the Jefferson Graduate Fellows at the University of Virginia.
That talk is also open to the public, and will be at 16:00 at The Jefferson Scholars Foundation Hall. They’ve set up a Facebook page for the event if you like that sort of thing. My good friend Dr. Nicole Gugliucci (and UVa alumna) will be speaking the next day there, too!
I haven’t been back to central Virginia in a good long time, so it’ll be nice to see it again. I hope the trees are turning now! And I hope to see some of you Wahoos there, too.
reddit user jerfoo created a lovely and simple photo series demonstrating the difference between experimental science – testing data and finding things out based on evidence – and dogmatic faith – belief in something rigidly and without wavering.
Read the whole thing; it’s wonderfully done. It’s been making the rounds on the net, and I like the way it’s set up and the message it delivers. Not everyone is so unwavering in their dogma, but enough people are (especially those who run this country) that this should be required reading by the time every US citizen reaches elementary school.
One of the weirdest (and by that I mean most ridiculous) claims I’ve heard from global warming deniers is the idea that somehow there is a cabal of scientists making up all the information we see about climate change.
First, scientists aren’t very good at that sort of collusion. As Ben Franklin said, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead." Scientists as a rule tend to abhor misleading people or out-and-out lying. And those who do tend to be caught by the peer-review process.
Anyway, ignoring the idea that tens of thousands of scientists are playing a Jedi mind trick on the rest of us without a single one of them betraying the secret (and no, Climategate and its sequel don’t count since that was all trumped up smoke and mirrors by the denier crowd), the real reason this claim is ludicrous is because of its supernova-bright irony: a lot of the deniers can be traced to having fossil fuel funding.
Or, as this infographic from Occupy Posters puts it so succinctly:
Mind you, this isn’t supposed to be evidence that global warming deniers are paid frauds. It’s simply using Occam’s Razor, asking which makes more sense. Taken that way, it just shows the idea that scientists are on the wrong side of this is really silly.
Incidentally, guess who’s funding Mitt Romney’s campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars? Anyone? Bueller?
With the arctic melting earlier and deeper every year, with temperatures rising, with extreme weather more common, with glaciers retreating, with sea level rising, with droughts ravaging the US, reality is diverging more and more from the claims of the deniers.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new Symphony of Science – videos autotuning scientists and science popularizers to promote critical thinking – and I’m pleased not only that a fresh one went up, but that it’s about a topic near and dear to me (and should be to everyone): climate change.
It’s nice to see Asimov included in the video. And I like the message: we can fix this if we take it seriously and try. I wind up spending a lot of my time and effort debunking the shills of the oil industry, and it’s good to remember we also need positive messages, too.
My friend Dr. Rachael Dunlop is a tireless promoter of science and fighter of antivaccination propaganda. I somehow missed this when she wrote it last November, but she put together a fantastic article tearing apart a whole passel of antivax lies: "9 vaccination myths busted. With Science". It’s basically one-stop shopping for the truth about vaccines.
We need people talking about the need for vaccines more than ever right now. Measles cases have nearly doubled over last year in the UK. My hometown of Boulder is suffering through an outbreak of pertussis. California is on its way to having serious epidemics due to lower vaccination rates. In North Carolina just a few days ago, a two month old infant died from pertussis.
Let me repeat that: babies die because of diseases that can be prevented by a simple vaccination. Factually-bereft antivaxxers – cough cough Meryl Dorey cough – claim that no one dies from these diseases any more. They are wrong.
Antivaccination beliefs are bad science, pure and simple. Vaccines don’t cause autism. They don’t have toxins in them that can hurt you in the doses given. They don’t overtax the immune system. Read Rachie’s article to get the truth.
What vaccines do is save millions, hundreds of millions, of lives. They protect us from diseases that used to ravage entire populations. And they save babies’ lives.
We need to keep up our herd immunity if we are to keep ourselves healthy, and that includes adults. Talk to your board-certified doctor and see if you need a booster. Please.
Looking for something fun to do in late December when the world doesn’t end? Then you might consider going on a Not The End of the World Cruise.
This is a brilliant idea: a bunch of astronomers and other scientists are doing a cruise package to take place over the silly "Mayan end of the world" date of December 22, 2012. And where are they sailing? Why, the Caribbean, of course, including Cozumel, an island off the Yucatan Peninsula.
The guest list is a good one: authors David Brin and Robert J Sawyer; Star Trek writer Andre Bormanis; astronaut Steve Hawley (he literally placed Hubble into orbit); my friends the astronomers Michelle Thaller, Kevin Grazier, Doug Duncan, Timothy and Stephanie Slater; and more.
Also attending will be Fraser Cain and Pamela Gay from Astronomy Cast! In fact, when you book the trip, tell them "Astronomy Cast sent me" and Fraser will give you a special gift on the cruise. And no, I have no idea what it is. Probably a goat or something.
My friend Tim Farley is a tireless promoter and advocate of critical thinking. He writes the What’s The Harm? website, categorizing the appalling harm done by antiscience. He created a This Day in Skeptic History app. His most important work is probably the development of Skeptical Software Tools that make it easier and more efficient to be a skeptic.
He spoke at TAM 2012 about these tools, and what each of us can do to make the world a more reality-based place. That video is now available online:
He makes a lot of excellent points; in fact, I find really nothing there to disagree with. We do waste a lot of effort and time online – in many cases trying to score cheap points when there are far more effective things we could be doing. And there are tools that can help make that happen – Tim talks about quite a few in his TAM talk. I use Web of Trust myself, and I’ve been meaning to look more into rbutr. You should take a look yourself.
When you find something attacking reality, it’s easy complain about it on Twitter or Facebook. It feels good and makes you think you’ve accomplished something. But there’s a reason this is called slacktivism. One of the most important things we can do is follow through. That’s why when I talk about antivaxxers I almost always tell people to talk to their board-certified doctor and see if they need to get their boosters, and put my arm where my mouth is. That’s why I will often tell people to contact their representatives in government about issues – and then do so myself. That’s why I went into Boulder a few weeks ago and helped get people to send letters to Congress in support of NASA’s planetary exploration… and that worked.
What issue burns in your mind? And what exactly have you done about it?
Bill Nye speaks the truth.
[Video credit: Big Think]
In science, it’s rare that you can actually state with certainty that something is wrong. Young-Earth creationism is wrong. The Universe is old.
However, I’ll disagree with Bill over one thing, and I’ll throw Neil Tyson into the mix too. First, here’s something Neil said about adults, children, and nonsense (from an image that’s gone around the web a few times):
Funny, Neil and Bill are saying the same thing, essentially, but Neil is saying he doesn’t worry about the kids, while Bill is saying he doesn’t worry about the adults.
I worry about both, for, oddly enough, the reasons Bill and Neil both give. We have entrenched adults teaching things to their kids that are clearly wrong, and will be damaging to them and others. Creationism, global warming denial, antivaccination, ridiculous ideas about women and their bodies… it’s a cycle from adults to kids who then grow up to teach more kids.
We need to break this cycle. Make sure the education kids get in school is reality-based. Keep religion (or the lack thereof) out of schools. Vote fundamentalists out of office. And keep making sure the facts are out there and our voices are heard. Facts aren’t enough. Science has facts on its side, but they’re simply not enough. We need to make our stories personal, emotional, and make sure they stick.
And I’d love to agree with Bill when he says that in the future creationism will go away. I sure hope so. But YEC’s been around for a while now, and is as strong as ever – after all, there are creationists on the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Science! Still, maybe Bill’s right. But it’s up to us to make sure his prediction comes true.
Earlier, I wrote that arctic sea ice had yesterday reached record low levels, blowing through the previous lowest-seen minimum in 2007, even though there’s still a lot of melting left to go.
NASA just released this visualization of the arctic region showing just how bad it is:
The white area is the extent of sea ice as of August 26, 2012. The orange line is the average minimum extent from 1979 – 2010, the time covered by satellite observations. In other words, every year they measure the outline of the ice when it reaches its minimum, usually in September, and then averaged those positions for that timespan.
As you can see, we’ve been well below the usual minimum ice extent for some time – not just where we usually are this time of year, but the actual minimum amount… and we still have weeks of melting yet to go.
I want to note that this does not necessarily mean we’ll see sea level rising from this. That ice is floating on the water, and in general when ice melts the water level stays the same. You can see this for yourself: put ice in a glass, then fill it with water. Mark the level. Wait until the ice melts and you’ll see the level hasn’t changed. The ice displaces (pushes aside) an amount of water exactly equal to its own weight, so when it melts that water fills up the same volume the ice displaced. The level stays the same.
However, because ice is frozen fresh water, and the sea is salt water, floating ice may actually raise the sea level a bit. Still, the far bigger concern is ice on land that melts and flows into the ocean. That certainly can raise the sea level. Greenland has the second largest reservoir of frozen water on Earth, and it’s seeing unprecedented melting.
So yeah, global warming is a concern, no matter how many people deny it. And it’s not something we should blow off and worry about later. It’s happening now.
Image credit: Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center