01
May
11

A Quick Note on a Skeptical Thought

I received one of my monthly bills today and noticed at the bottom a quick plug for recycling.  Now before I go into what it says and why it inspired me to post this I want to establish context.  I’ve described the idea of a skeptic as a person who uses a scientific approach to all aspects of life instead of just for science.  One of the effects of this is that the critical thought process is always running in the background of a skeptic’s mind just waiting for something to trigger it.  We are always on the prowl for something that just doesn’t add up.

So what my bill said was this:  “Recycling one can provides enough energy to run a TV for three hours.”  Now I have no issue with recycling; in fact I encourage it and one can for 3 hours seems like a good deal.  But the implication here is that one can saves a lot of energy.  This is point the critical thinking part of my brain takes over and forces me to ask “What are the other possibilities?”  One other explanation is that a TV doesn’t require much energy.  And to be fair, it doesn’t.  Depending on models and other factors, I’ve found numbers online that indicate that using a hair dryer for 6 mins will use ~15 times more energy than running a TV for 24 hours a day.

Now this example is harmless.  But if you’re not prepared to notice when someone is potentially misleading you can fall for anything.  My next post will actually deal with possibly the most harmful area to be fooled in.  Medicine.

15
Apr
11

A Quick Rant on Mainstream Media

My old roommate and best friend sent me this disturbing link today.  Now the title claims “Satellite Photographs ‘Black Hole’ on Earth.  Now as an astronomer this requires no red flags, no further reading, nothing.  This is total BS.  Period.  Of course when you read the article it admits that the title is dishonest because it admits that nothing imaged a black hole of any kind!  Rather a satellite imaged a deep hole on an island that appeared black and was given the name “Holbox” which they claim in Mayan means black hole.  Now I don’t know why the Mayans even had a word for black hole but I assume it is a thrown together collection of Mayan words to produce the same effect.   Continue reading ‘A Quick Rant on Mainstream Media’

16
Feb
11

“It’s elementary my dear Watson.”

And with those 5 short words I have conjured up the image of Sherlock Holmes; the London detective preparing to explain his unshakable logic to his friend and chronicler Dr. Watson.  Perhaps you can even imagine him standing there with pipe in hand.  Perhaps you think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who created and wrote the stories of Sherlock Holmes and his companion.  Perhaps you are even taken back to a time when you read these stories and shared in their exploits.  All with 5 little words.

Watson Avatar

Continue reading ‘“It’s elementary my dear Watson.”’

17
Jan
11

The Astrology Brouhaha

EDIT:  Something I should make clear, and meant to, was that this whole ordeal was caused not by anything new but rather by a media taking a well known and established scientific fact and reporting as if it is news.  There was little to no fact checking in the reporting and little effort to distinguish astronomy (which cares not a whit about your horoscope) and astrology (which insist the planets control all).  This is yet another example of horrible reporting and zero rigor in mainstream media.

I’m sure that by now most of you have heard about the “your zodiac sign has changed” fiasco running rampant right now.  This mess seems to have been started by an article written by the Star Tribune.  Let us first understand something that people get wrong far too often.  Astronomy and Astrology are two VERY different things.  Astronomy is the science that deals with studying the Universe and the objects within it.  Astrology is a belief system that is based on the notion that the position of celestial bodies can affect events on Earth and even the personality of every person.  Also the fastest way to get on an astronomer’s bad side is to confuse the two.

Continue reading ‘The Astrology Brouhaha’

19
Aug
10

I can’t believe I’m writing about 2012…

But I am.  When I initially decided to start this blog I never would have thought that 2012 would be a potential topic, but after hearing it brought up once again I decided that I needed to.  Why?  Because some people feel quite strongly on the subject one way or the other.  Because it is a great example of people knowing “just enough to be dangerous”.  And because I’ve noticed that many people that will strongly say that they know 2012 won’t happen often can say why not.  It is very easy to have this knee-jerk reaction to something like doomsday scenarios just because of the frequency with which they come around.  But we should not dismiss something without considering it first.  If you can’t defend your stance on a topic you probably shouldn’t state it so strongly.

Continue reading ‘I can’t believe I’m writing about 2012…’

03
Aug
10

Lasers and Antilasers

As I continue to characterize the filters on the telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory, I have run across an interesting news item.  I have an issue with the article though not with the science itself so I thought I’d share it here.  This article presents the “antilaser”.  However before jumping into the article I wanted to discuss lasers themselves because I find them to be an excellent example of science in everyday life.

Quantum mechanics (don’t close the page yet, I’m not going into quantum here!) is the weirdest area of science that exists.  By far.  People can do the math, solve the equations,and do quantum but anybody that thinks that quantum theory makes sense doesn’t understand what it is saying.  Niels Bohr said it best, “Anyone who has not been shocked by quantum theory has not understood it”.  Yet out of this weirdness and Continue reading ‘Lasers and Antilasers’

26
Jul
10

Skepticism

In my first post I tried to give a very brief notion of what science is in my eyes.  I’ve also said that science and skepticism are really the same process just applied in a different context.  In this post I want to take a moment and justify that comment and say what skepticism is and how it is applied in daily life.  I warn you though I am writing this at nearly 2:30 in the morning while continuing to observe a white screen in 5 nanometer increments…not the most riveting observing that I have done!  Then again I’d observe a dust mote and still love this trip!

I put a disclaimer on my “Nature of Science” post and I do the same here.  I do not mean to give a total and definite definition of skepticism but rather my view of it.  This topic has also been covered far more throughly and elegantly than I can hope to do.  There are many great resources out there but I highly recommend “The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan for a great introduction to the subject.

Continue reading ‘Skepticism’




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