31 March 2007

Scientists vs. Laymen

xkcd: The Difference

Click the link and mouse-over for a few seconds for even more chuckles.

I want their Science/COBE T-shirt.

30 March 2007

Don't try this at home.

A kid followed directions found online to make an alcohol and chlorine bomb in a 2-liter bottle, as featured in many YouTube videos. The result? Scars on hands and face, eyelashes burned off, and temporarily blinded for the next 6 months (give or take).

The lesson? Don't try this at home if you don't know what you're doing. IF you have access to a full face shield, goggles (don't wear contact lenses), body armor, thick protective gloves, and so on, you might be able to get away with it, but I wouldn't suggest trying. As for me... there's a reason I went into a math-heavy observational science field: I don't like things that can kill me.

28 March 2007

Endangered Species Act

The Dolitter's got a good rant up about the latest attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act. Go gander!

25 March 2007

Astrology: Intro

I haven't done a post on astrology in a long time - too long. And it's going to take me forever to cover all of what I find wrong with it, and the few things that are good about it. To start off with, I'd like to solicit questions that you may have, and list a few topics that I will want to cover in a series on astrology - most are things that are wrong, a couple actually ARE right (though this begs the question of why they couldn't fix other related things).

  1. Horoscopes' daily predictive value

  2. Birth signs' personality predictive value

  3. Ophiuchus

  4. Precession of your sign

  5. First point in Ares

  6. Age of Aquarius

  7. Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn

  8. Planets and minor planets

I have to admit that I am only knowledgable about horoscopes and how birth signs work in general; I do not know the details about the planets, or exact birth times. If you wish to attempt to enlighten me, feel free, but do expect criticism as I am a self-proclaimed "skeptic" about astrology. And if there are topics you'd like to see me cover, lemmie know in the comments.

I'm famous!

My name's in a book! Along with a few hundred other past employees of NRAO Tucson. :-P

22 March 2007

Oh, Arizona

Former AZ governor "comes out" that he believes a famous "sighting" in in 1997 called the Phoenix Lights was an alien spacecraft, and says the burden of proof otherwise is on the DOD. *rolls eyes*

18 March 2007

Crackpot of the day - CMB not cosmic

One of the benefits of being a science faculty member is that crackpots think you're their key to fame. Take this paper for example. It's only two pages, and I only skimmed the article, but some of the flaws I find are...

  1. Only at the position of the COBE satellite has a nearly perfect thermal spectrum been recorded. Not true, it's also been detected by WMAP (satellite) more recently, and previously by Penzias and Wilson (New Jersey), BOOMERanG (Antarctic baloon), Cosmic Background Imager (Andes, Chile), and many others. It's worth noting that the CMB has essentially won two Nobel prizes at this point in time - one for Penzias and Wilson, and one for COBE.

  2. Given sufficient scattering at all frequencies, at the position of COBE, the signal examined must be isotropic. But it isn't. The very largest effect found in the CMB is a dipole signal due to the Earth's and Sun's velocity through space. It is easily removed with models based upon our known velocity in space. If the CMB were from some source tied to the Earth (such as the Earth's atmosphere or the Earth's oceans), this dipole would not exist at all.

  3. Although the article discusses the possibilities of microwave scattering in the atmosphere and an oceanic source, it does not present models or other tangible evidence linking either hypothesis to reality. This is essentially the same flaw as IDers have.

Feel free to pile on and offer your own criticisms.

11 March 2007

New Mexico lawmakers declare Pluto a planet

I don't care how many resolutions they pass, saying it doesn't make it true. As a resolution, it doesn't even carry any weight - they're not outlawing textbooks that call Pluto a dwarf planet, they're not changing the state K-12 science standards. Besides, laws don't change basic science. Might as well pass a law that π=3 while they're at it.

Your Opinion: Do you think it is futile, dangerous, exciting, or something else (non-exclusie OR) for lawmakers to be making laws about science?

07 March 2007

A first for women!

The first US astronaut to be fired is a woman. [CNN, NY Times/AP, NY Times/Reuters]

A search of the NASA webpage on "lisa nowak" does not yet reflect this. It really is historic, not only is this the first time a woman has done such-and-such, but a woman was the first to do it at all. I think I'm going to cry.

Women in Space

Did you know that women astronauts are required by NASA to go on the Pill continually before going into space? Not only do they want to make sure there's no chance they'll get pregnant before going up, they also want to eliminate menstruation. The article fails to mention the complication that it can take months for your body to learn when not to menstruate and that you're still going to get breakthrough bleeding.

There's also ALL sorts of concerns about bone density - a 2% loss per month for both men and women, but women after menopause likely do not regain it when they land. And most women astronauts are in their late thirties or early fourties so they are getting close to menopause (~50). And they don't have the opportunity to have kids even worse than women in ground-based research science.

And they invariably pass out when standing back on Earth as compared to only 20% of men doing so.

And so on.

There's just so much we don't know about women in space yet - out of around 450 people who have gone to space, there have only been 50 women.

If you haven't yet read The Mercury 13 by Ackmann, do so.

06 March 2007

What is Science?

Linked to me by kadath, is this blog post defining Science. The important part is the 3-part definition, which includes EVERYTHING I've ever thought of as science.

#1: Science is a changing and growing collection of knowledge, characterized by transparency (all methods are documented, and the lineage of ideas can be traced) and testability (prior work can be repeated or its results evaluated). It is an edifice of information that contains all of the details of its construction.

#2: Science is what scientists do. We have institutions that train people and employ them in the business of generating new knowledge — contributing to that edifice in definition #1 — and we have procedures like the bestowal of degrees and ranks that certify one's membership in the hallowed ranks of science.

#3: Science is a process. It is a method for exploring the natural world by making observations, drawing inferences, and testing those inferences with further experimentation and observation. It isn't so much the data generated as it is a way of thinking critically about the universe and our own interpretations of it.

There are essentially three different usages of the word "Science" that I have seen, and Pharyngula neatly sums them all up. #1 is the layman's definition, #2 is the research scientist's, and #3 is the educator's. When I student-taught middle school science, one of our main goals was showing the kids that they ARE scientsts themselves and that they already do use the process of science in their everyday lives, so it's not something big and scary and separate from them.

Whose job is it to find killer asteriods?

Congress says it's NASA's; NASA replies not on this budget! I think they're going about it wrong. NASA's job is the exploration of space - specifically, going to objects. NASA employs far more engineers than astronomers. It's the job of astronomers to look at objects, and that is all that's required to find asteroids. True, NASA runs the space observatories, but that's only because they've gotta get up there somehow. Once they're up there, the majority of the time on them is thrown open to anyone who applies for the time - generally astronomers, not engineers.

I think the best bet would be for Congress to establish another National Observatory, let's call it the National Asteroid Observatory (NAO), along the lines of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO, runs Arecibo and the VLA, among others) or the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO, runs most of the telescopes on Kitt Peak, among others). Or, since those are based upon wavelength regimes and we wish to base upon the target instead, a more similar model might be the National Solar Observatory (NSO, Kitt Peak and Sac Peak primarily). All of these are under the National Science Foundation (NSF, currently has a telescope doohickey linked on their frontpage, whose sound effects fascinate Gabe). The new organization would also cooperate with NASA to get any actual deflection missions done, but *detection* is a research thing, not an engineering thing.

And the bonus value-added feature of having a new group independant of NASA? NASA wouldn't be able to fuxx0r it up.

02 March 2007

Lunar Eclipse Saturday!

Saturday is a total lunar eclipse (pointed out to me by Sclerotic_Rings as usual).

Man, I just love these things! Notice how Saturday's lunar eclipse is followed in two weeks by a partial solar eclipse. Also note how that happens again later this year (six months later) in August/September. The reason? When the Earth-Moon-Sun are aligned just right for a part of the year (line of nodes, eclipse season), they may cross each others paths for a couple weeks before and after - this means that whenever there's a solar eclipse (at a New Moon), there's a good chance of a lunar one two weeks before or after (at the Full Moon). And if there's one set on a certain date, there's a good chance six months before or after, halfway around the Sun, that it might happen again.

More info on Wikipedia.