Aggregating Skeptical Thought

Obama answers your science questions

As reported by ABCNews and Wired, Obama answers your science questions.

At this point it appears that neither candidate will be participating in the ScienceDebate2008. So the fine folks trying to get at least some information on each candidates science policy offered up 14 questions for each campaign to answer. No word yet on McCain’s answers.

Filed under: Science, , , ,

Breaking News: Science is Hard

I know this is old news but man it’s funny,

Money quote,

“We now believe that the [Law of Difficulty] theorem is 99.999% likely to be true, after applying these incredibly complex statistical techniques that gave me a splitting headache,” Farian said. “A theorem is like a theory, but, I don’t know, it’s different.”

Filed under: Internet, ,

The Encyclopedia of Life is… um.. alive!!!

I have been waiting for quite some time, May of 2007 to be exact, for this but the Encyclopedia of Life is now online with it’s first 30,000 species. Although it looks like I’ll have to wait a bit longer since the site seems to be overwhelmed right now, which I suppose is a good sign.

For those who don’t know what the EOL is here is my short blurb from last year about the site.

[ The Encyclopedia of Life] will attempt to compile a complete list of all known species (about 1.8 million, yowza) and estimate it will take 10 years to complete. After all the known species are compiled they will open it up to extinct species (such as dinosaurs).

 There are some fundamental differences between Wikipedia and the EOL. Wikipedia is open to all to contribute whereas “the key detail and science parts of the [EOL] will be compiled and reviewed by experts.” They are both similar in that they will be free to anyone to use and contribute.

However, there are 2 cool features that really separate this project apart. The first is will allow the information contained on a given species to be “graded” into multiple level and will allow school-age children (and me) access to less technical scientific data and researchers, biologists and graduate students (not me) a much greater level of detail. Check out the polar bear example to see this in action. The second will allow anybody to contribute sightings, photos or video, to any given species.

Filed under: Environment, Internet, Science, ,

MacGyver for President

I’ve been watching some of the first MacGyver episodes on Joost (you can get GI Joe and the original Transformers there as well). I can’t believe how much science-based jerry-rigging he would do. In the first episode, there’s a planetarium, lasers, neutralizing sulfuric acid with sodium hydroxide, using a fire hose to jack up a steel beam.

I don’t know if any of that is possible but it’s pretty cool either way. I love MacGyver. This is a show I would love to see Richard Dean Anderson reprise his role in.

Filed under: Internet, , , , , ,

Six Seconds

I have just finished the book entitled Conjuring Science: Scientific Symbols and Cultural Meanings in American Life by Christopher P. Toumey. This is a nice break after my religion binge of late. If you are wondering I’m debating whether I move on to the Jared Diamond books on my list (see Brain Food) or I do have Carl Hiaasen’s book Basket Case (which is probably completely unrelated to either science or skepticism). I may read Basket Case before some more weighty material, actually I just decided that’s what I am going to do.

Anyway, I haven’t quite finished yet but I figured I would start blogging some of the points that I found very interesting now. Just as a brief synapsis, I’ll quote from the back of the book,

What are the implications for Americans when actors who play doctors on television endorse medical products, or when an entire town in the Midwest prepares for an earthquake based on the specious advice of a zoologist?

Toumey argues that instead of comprehending scientific knowledge, methods, or standards, most Americans know science only in terms of symbols that stand for science and that stand between people and scientific understanding. He breaks this paradox down into three questions. First, what are the historical conditions that have caused the culture of science to be so estranged from other parts of American culture? Second, how does science fit into American democratic culture today? And third, if the symbols of science are being used to endorse or legitimize certain values and meanings, but not the value and meanings of science, then to what do they refer?

Throughout the book the author takes the media to task for the sensationalist and shallow science journalism whose effects “…break up the public’s understanding of science into a fragmented miscellaney of trivia, mystery and trinkets…”.

Early in the book during a discussion of what makes good and bad television and how the shallow nature of television’s visual media contributes to the phenomenon that viewers treat all images on the television as equally real. In one paragraph he makes the following statement,

Close-ups of peoples’ faces are good television, whether in soap operas, sitcoms, sports events, talk shows, news reports, or science programs. So, too, “hate, fear, jealousy, winning, wanting, and violence” are the essense of “good television” because these kinds of content required fewer details, starker backgrounds, and more obvious forms than do other kinds of content. Furthermore, competition between stations or between networks requires a large amount of visual razzle-dazzle to hold the viewer’s attention and thus dissuade him or her from switching channels or, God forbid, turning off the television. Technical events such as cuts, pans, zooms, dissolves, and split screens occcur about every six seconds during ordinary network television and much more during commercials. Again, this characteristic is not the intentional preference of those who own the medium but rather an artifact of television technology; this is the only successful way to organize visual images in a competitive market, for it holds the viewer’s attention, almost to the point of hypnosis, but says Mander, this visual razzle-dazzle is “technique as replacement of content” because the frantic pace of switching visual images makes it impossible for the viewer to follow any one thought for very long.

Six seconds. Try it, watch any show this evening on any network and start counting as soon as a new scene switches. Six seconds. Don’t even bother with a commercial, you’ll barely make it to one. I thought to myself that this applies to shows like Desperate Housewives (it does) but won’t for something from the National Geographic channel or some other science-based show (wrong!). Six seconds. I don’t really know what this means in the grand scheme of things and what the impact of that kind thing has on someone but it blows me away. I even popped in one of my favorite kung fu movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is one scene in which the two main characters, who clearly have the hots for each other but deny themselves to each other, are having tea. The director pans the shot out and you see both of them sitting there sipping tea, very still, total silence, in that one shot Ang Lee was able to convey the essence of the two characters relationship. Six seconds.

This book covers a number of topics related to the use of the Symbols of Science as substitutes for explaining or conveying the actual heart of the scientific method but I will save those for another time.

Filed under: Reviews, Science, , , , ,

I so sorry…

I have to apologize for woefully neglecting my blog… work has been kicking my butt lately. I’ve been home all of 6 days over the past 3 weeks. I am going to pretend however that everyone is waiting breathlessly for me post something…

 Language Log has a post about press releases and science journalism. Here’s a great quote that couldn’t be more right

The people who write the PR materials have a hard job. They need to take complicated results, full of background assumptions and layers of caveats, and present them in a form that non-specialist journalists will understand, and will find interesting enough to choose from out of the flood of competing alternatives.

Filed under: Science, ,

I could have sworn it was cellphones…

Recent research indicates that one contributing factor to the mysterious colony-collapse disorder (CCD) of bee populations may be a virus (IAPV and first identified in Israel) spread from Australia.

This is a great article because it details the painstaking process that many researchers are going through in order to identify the cause (or causes) for CCD.

One comment though, one of the experiments involved reestablishing a healthy colony after irradiating a bee hive with gamma rays. Wouldn’t that create Incredible Honey Bee Hulks?

 … oh wait…

I just checked my Comic Book Science Journal and the bees have to be IN the hive and THEN subjected to gamma rays.

My bad.

 Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Environment, , ,


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