From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When Politicians are Smart

New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt is my hero this week.  This past Tuesday, he introduced House Resolution 41.  
Official Portrait
Expressing support for designation of February 12, 2013, as Darwin Day and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.
Whereas Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection, together with the monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it, provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth;
Whereas the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by nat- ural selection is further strongly supported by the mod- ern understanding of the science of genetics;
Whereas it has been the human curiosity and ingenuity exem- plified by Darwin that has promoted new scientific dis- coveries that have helped humanity solve many problems and improve living conditions;
Whereas the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change;
Whereas the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems;
Whereas Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific ad- vancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s peoples; and
Whereas February 12, 2013, is the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809 and would be an appropriate date to designate as Darwin Day: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) supports the designation of Darwin Day;
(2) recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.
Now for the bad news.  H. Res. 41 has been referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.   Congressmen Lamar Smith, James Sensenbrenner, Paul Broun, Mo Brooks, and Dana Rohrabacher all serve on this committee.  You may remember them from Election Year Science.

CREDIT: Richard Milner Archive
(sigh) I'm not hopeful.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Did Astronauts Really Land on the Moon?

CREDIT: marema/Shutterstock.com

I cannot for the life of me understand how people come to believe in the wildest of conspiracy speculations*.  I include here not only the moon landing denialists, but also the 9/11 truthers, the birthers, the grassy knoll-ers, Area 51-ers, and all the rest.

In episode 104, the Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, debunked the ideas that the shadows are all wrong, the U.S. flag was waving in a breeze, footprints can't be made in the vacuum of space, and the film was slowed down to simulate the moon's gravity.

I came across this interesting video of writer/director S.G. Collins.  Collins comes at this false notion from the perspective of a director.  
* I refuse to use the term 'conspiracy theory.'  As a scientist, the word theory holds a special place. From the National Academy of Sciences:
The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics)...One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.
Earth Rise, 24 December 1968. CREDIT: Bill Anders, Apollo 8 crew  member

The D Word

CREDIT: senate.la.gov/Walsworth/
Dumb is a word that I try hard not to use.  To me, it always seemed to have a bit of playground cruelty to it.  It's a word that kids used when they really wanted to be mean, although maybe today's youth have graduated to more colorful language.

That being said, Louisiana state senator Mike Walsworth is D-U-M-B, dumb.  The video below was taken during testimony involving Senate Bill 374 that would repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.

This anti-science law seems rather innocuous.  It states that the state board of education will allow and assist school districts 
to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
Notice how it singles out the politically controversial topics of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.  Jerry Coyne, professor of biology at the University of Chicago, sarcastically noted,
Yep, we don’t need more critical thinking in areas like physics, chemistry, or medicine—just human cloning, evolution, and global warming.
The attempt to repeal the law never made it out of committee.

But I digress.  Back to the dumb state senator.

During testimony on SB 374, the senator asked Ms. Reeves, a retired science teacher with 31 years of experience, if there were any experiments that demonstrated evolution.  She began describing Richard Lenski's E. coli Long-Term Experimental Evolution Project.  He interrupts her and asks,
They evolve into a person?
Remember the old saw about there being no dumb questions?  This is a dumb question.  Does Senator Dumb-Dumb really think that biological theory predicts that humans evolved from E. coli?  Does he think that biological theory predicts that this occurred over a few generations?  Does he even begin to comprehend what 4.5 billion years is?

Yet there is some good news from Louisiana.  Zach Kopplin, a 17 year-old student, is leading the fight to repeal the idiocy. The Orleans Parish school board prohibited the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, and the Baton Rouge Advocate asked why the Loch Ness monster, presented as evidence against evolution, is part of the science curriculum.  The paper went on to call for the education department to
open its eyes to this kind of educational malpractice before children’s futures are endangered.
Education. It prevents the dumb.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Use the Force, Luke

The United States will not be building a Death Star.
Death Star from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). CREDIT: Lucas Films
On November 14, 2012, John D. from Longmont, CO petitioned the White House to "secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016."  The appeal suggests that "by focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense." 

The White House has responded.  While the Obama administration is supportive of the petitioners desire for job creation and maintaining a strong national defense, the government will not be allocating scarce research and development funds on a Death Star for three reasons.

Reason #1:
The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
Reason #2:
The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
Reason #3 and the absolute best reason for not building this weapon of mass destruction:
Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Remember Pompei?

Pompei and Herculaneum were destroyed in 79 C.E. when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.
CREDIT: Vesuvius National Park

From Wikipedia:
Ring Lady - "The skeletal remains of a young woman killed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The skeleton, unearthed from the ruins of Herculaneum in 1982, was named the "Ring Lady" because of the emerald and ruby rings found on the woman's left hand. Two gold bracelets and gold earrings were also found by the woman's side."

Pompei today with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.
CREDIT: Qfl247

Here is a view of Mt. Vesuvius from the International Space Station on Jan. 1, 2013. At bottom right of the photo is the outskirts of Naples. Between 4.1 and 4.7 million people live in the greater metropolitan area.  By the way, this is an active volcano.
CREDIT: Cmdr. Mark Hadfield

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Consequences of Giving Advice

Jazz great, Dave Brubeck, died on December 5, 2012, a day shy of his 92nd birthday. I was surprised to learn that in college, he was originally majoring in veterinary science.

He turned to music when the head of the zoology department at the College of the Pacific gave him this piece of advice:
Brubeck, your mind's not here. It's across the lawn in the conservatory. Please go there. Stop wasting my time and yours. 
CREDIT: Frank C. Müller
Had I been that professor we might never had experienced Take Five.

An end note.  He graduated with his bachelor's degree without learning to read music.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

If I Were to Write a Textbook

Most physics textbooks have titles like Physics, University Physics, College Physics, Physics for Scientists and Engineers, and Fundamentals of Physics.

If I ever write a text, it would definitely have to have a much cooler title.  Maybe something like:

 Letters of Priest 
on Different Subjects 
in Physics and Philosophy 
Addressed to a German Princess

Damn!  Wouldn't you know it; that title has already been used.

The Cure for Constipation

Lest the reader thinks I am obsessing by having two posts in a row dealing with feces or that I have a desire to use all the available synonyms for feces, the timing of these two posts is merely a coincidence.

I came across QuantumMAN™: World's First Downloadable Medicine.  One of the products he sells is QLax™, a purported medical treatment for constipation.  His "radical new technology" is based on the concept that
The entire universe including the human body and disease that afflicts it operates according to the principles of quantum physics.
OK.  Ernest Rutherford said, "All science is either physics or stamp collecting." On those days when I am feeling terribly arrogant, I agree with Rutherford.  So where does QuantumMAN™ go from here?
Chemical based laxatives do not operate according to those principles and, as such, are not compatible with human physiology…
CREDIT: www.zazzle.com
Wait a minute.  Didn't he just claim the entire universe operates by quantum principles? Chemistry is somehow exempt?  Let's leave this puzzler for more pressing issues.
To solve a quantum problem you must offer a quantum treatment within a quantum operating system. Therefore, ZAG, the private humanitarian medical research group that employs QuantumMAN™, has developed the ideal quantum laxative branded QLax™. Derived from extreme advances in quantum computing, QLax™ consists of "Portal Access Keys™" (PAKs™) downloaded to your personal computer, smartphone or tablet. Accessing these PAKs™ allows your brain to quantumly receive (upload) QLax™'s master programs. QuantumMAN™ is the personification of this quantum data. When uploaded, QLax™ provides thousands of physiologic directives to your brain to program it to provide the corrective measures required to relieve your constipation without any possibility of adverse side effects no matter how long QLax™ is used. Due to repeater programs imbedded in its data, QLax™ allows delivery of its physiologic directives automatically several times a day for 24 hours with just one PAK™ dose. For extremely stubborn cases, more than PAK™ dose can be uploaded at a time without concern of any adverse side effects. ZAG guarantees your complete satisfaction for 30 days from date of purchase or your money is refunded.
For only $5, you can download 25 PAKs™ to your computer, smartphone, or tablet, and then your brain will upload - I mean, quantumly receive the program.  I do love the fact that if I'm still constipated after a month, I can get my $5 back.  Somehow after a month I think I might have more to worry about than the money.

Who's responsible for the amazing breakthrough in quantum medicine?
The Zürich Alpine Group (ZAG) is a private humanitarian medical research group of scientists and physicians working cooperatively and quietly around the world in the quest to improve the quality, efficacy and costs of medical care.
ZAG understands that quantum problems require a quantum solution and has found a way to transfer bioinformation from its quantum computer via quantum teleportation to the brain, also a quantum computer, to reprogram the brain to effect positive medical changes within the body and mind.
Why haven't we heard of this group and it marvelous products?
ZAG has quietly cultivated these phenomena and deliberately avoided scientific publication of its work until the intended release of its collaborative QuantumMANsite website.
ZAG has shunned reporting its research and trials in the traditional medical literature because it believes this venue is heavily influenced by Big Pharma and politics. 
They report they have conducted clinical trials in order to test their products efficacy and safety, but what is strange is that when you go to the Clinical Trials section of the website, you find no data.  All you find is audio recordings of twelve so-called participants.

What other incredible (from the Latin in- meaning 'not', and credere meaning 'believe') products are available?  If you don't know what's ailing you, there's QDr™ Tricorder Plus.  Star Trek fans take note.

Then there's QFood™, the solution to starvation.
The person will not be hungry and/or feel deprived or experience cravings if instructions are properly followed. For 10 days at a time, one set of QFood™ downloads will provide satiation and sufficient quantum nourishment that the person will thrive and not be at risk of dying due to starvation. 
There are even products for the bedroom.  Know what I mean.  Nudge nudge. Wink, wink.  Say no more.  Heaven's Gate™, QBX™, TigerTail™, HEjuvenate™, SHEjuvenate™, QHE™, and QSHE™.

CREDIT: unknown

What is it a duck, quantum or otherwise, says? 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Is your poop red?

Blood in your stool can be a sign of a serious disorderWebMD is a good resource for information.  However, your ordure being red could be a symptom of something I find disgusting, but otherwise completely harmless.

CREDIT: Frito Lay
Flamin' Hot Cheetos.  Yes, this seemingly innocuous treat is turning caca red.  

I guess looking down into the toilet and seeing bright red night soil might be frightening, frightening enough to wonder about seeking medical treatment.  There are reports that scared parents are taking children to the ER because of red turds.

Evidently, red dye #40 is not metabolized, so it is passed along with the rest of the excreta.  

Red Dye #40
Here is what I find shitty, and it doesn't have to do with crap.  Frito Lay's website provide the nutritional information for its snacks.  If you chow down on an entire 8.5 oz bag, you've consumed 1360 Calories.  If you have usually eat 2000-2500 Calorie a day, this one bag is your breakfast and lunch.  You also consumed more than two grams of salt - an entire day's worth of sodium.

DISCLAIMER:  I do love Lay's Classic potato chips.  These have a nice flavor with a good balance of fat and salt.

NOTE: I tried as hard as I could to use as many synonyms for feces.  Some I didn't use are bodily waste, droppings, pooh, poo, manure, dung, bowel movement, number two, and doo-doo. I also didn't to use any words like sheisse, merde, dreck, and govno from other languages. The reader is invited to submit their own in the comments.