Tag: Science

Statistics Question: How Old is this Bar?


What you’re looking at is a bar made by arranging roughly a hundred bucks* in pennies over the surface and coating them in plastic. I can read the dates off of some of the pennies (those that aren’t flipped upside down), but quite obviously not all the pennies were minted in the same year.

Here’s the question: Judging solely by the dates these pennies were minted what year was this bar constructed? How many dates would I** need to read to have a reasonable confidence in that answer? Should I bother taking dates off of the dull pennies, or only focus on the shiny new ones?

Another Professional Hit Job in Florida


We are watching the latest effort to execute a political hit job on a man who is tremendously qualified to be the next surgeon general in Florida. And the actions against him are an embarrassment to the state, to science, and to the ethics of medicine.

The action I’m referring to is an upcoming hearing, conveniently scheduled on Tuesday, as part of the process to approve Dr. Joseph Ladapo to be surgeon general. (I’m suggesting the timing of this information is not a coincidence.) The story begins when Dr. Ladapo first applied for a professorship at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and received a recommendation from his supervisor at UCLA. In a two-page letter to the university, Dr. Carol Mangione, chief of the division of general internal medicine and health services research at UCLA Department of Medicine, listed his credits:

She noted his ‘outstanding research and clinical teaching accomplishments,’ which led to his promotion to a tenured associate professorship in 2020 for his distinguished contributions to the division.

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In April, 1989 the Chinese Communist Party crushed the student uprising in Tiananmen Square. One of the most iconic pictures to come out of that revolt was the figure of a solitary man, briefcase in hand, standing in front of a military tank. If you would like to see that picture look up my friend […]

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What is the best song on the subject of science. I’m not thinking about songs about space; there’s a buttload of them, and a lot of them are amazingly good. Well, Let’s get the obvious candidates out of the way first. Like the Thomas Dolby one. It’s really obvious, so I’m going to link and […]

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Then and Now: What My Great Grandmother Saw


Great Grandma was born in 1900 and died in 1998. What would it have been like to witness these advances in medicine, technology, and opportunity for all?

  In her early years  By the end of her life 
  Expansion and Development: The American West was dominated by miners, ranchers, and cowboys who wouldn’t hesitate to use guns to defend themselves and rode horses right into the saloons.  A hub of innovation and wealth, the West is irrigated, tame, and high-tech, with fantastic freeway systems. 
  Education for the Masses: Schooling was basic, and students were still taught in one-room schoolhouses. Not many advanced beyond grade school.   Most students are encouraged to go on to college and beyond. Schooling for the wealthy looks similar to education for the middle and lower classes. Scholarships and loans abound for both the ambitious and not so ambitious.  
Travel: Continental train travel was just beginning. Horses were still the norm, and roads were rough. Travel by land or sea took weeks.   We board a plane, watch in-flight movies, reach our destination in a matter of hours, and consider an overnight delay to be a huge failure of the system. We all own efficient, fast vehicles. 
Air and Space Technology: Flight had not yet been invented.   Supersonic jets, moon landing, the launch of the International Space Station  
  Quality of Daily Living: The majority of our ancestors still sustained themselves on farms or in factories, going barefoot in the South and getting hookworms, supporting large families, and laboring with cooking and cleaning. Refrigerators and indoor bathrooms were slow in coming. Daily bathing and showering was not a thing.   Most people expect to own their own homes, enjoy modern appliances and daily entertainment, have access to more mass-produced and affordable goods. The way is paved for politicians to use the lack of in-home Internet as an example of poverty in the US. Most people take hot showers or baths every day.  
Medicine: Diabetes was a killer. The first open-heart surgery was decades away. Years of agonizing trial and error lay ahead to pave the way for advanced life-saving surgeries. At least we’d stopped bleeding patients and knew about germs.  Heart, liver, and kidney transplants. Diabetes as a manageable disease. Standardized care and efficiency. We all know someone who wouldn’t be here without modern medicine.   
Mysteries of Life: There were painstaking fruit fly experiments to isolate inherited traits and recognize patterns in genetics.  We began to sequence worm genomes. Human eggs could be fertilized outside the womb.  

Join Jim and Greg as they applaud their countrymen for their refusal to watch the Beijing Winter Olympics, handing NBC terrible ratings. They laugh at the sudden change in “The Science” as Democratic governors realize mask mandates in schools are unpopular. And President Biden’s tough talk on workplace bullying proves ineffective as it took a two month investigation to fire science advisor Eric Lander.

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“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” is a United Nations document that assumes some ideas preexist others. Here’s what I mean. The idea that all people have worth, value, and dignity is a preexisting idea. The idea is in the first line of the U.N. document. Any group or nation which defends the rights of […]

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Follow the Science, Really?


What follows is about an encounter on Facebook, or Meta. I don’t know which for sure, as it happened in the transition so I can’t say where it landed. So far, all my FB icons remain the same, untouched by the mind of Zuckerberg.

I have been reading a couple of books of apostasy, they being Apocalypse Never, by Michael Shellenberger, and Unsettled? What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, by Steven E. Koonin. I have been drawn to them in part to test my own skepticism, and to learn why they had jumped ship.

Briefly, both are still convinced that there is indeed climate change characterized by a small increase in global temperature. What they both reject is the proposition that this increase will be catastrophic in the near future and is an existential threat. They differ on possible resolutions of this “crisis”.

President Oprah’s Dingbat Appointees


In our pandemic era, the American press has deemed it its solemn — and urgent — duty to protect news consumers from pseudoscience and misinformation. Snopes, for example, has a comprehensive list of ratings for assessing various claims: true, mostly true, mixture, mostly false, false, and Obama.

Enter the words “Trump fact checked” into any Internet search engine and you’ll find more than 20 million results, from organizations such as factcheck.org and politifact.com. This is as it should be. The man was, after all, president of the United States and therefore should be held to the most rigorous standards of probity, as is President Biden (pause for laugh). And yes, if Trump were still president today, he would no doubt be saying things like “And thanks to my beautiful vaccines, you’re damned right you can gather for Christmas!”

In other words, we can all rest assured that the wealthiest, most prominent, admired, and powerful purveyors of pseudoscience in popular culture are vetted at every turn by fact checkers, right?

A Critique of Stephen Meyer’s ‘Return of the God Hypothesis’


I have struggled with writing a review of Stephen Meyer’s book, Return of the God Hypothesis, since I finished it a few weeks ago. Every time I pick it up to reread portions of it I find myself wanting to approach the work from a different perspective. The book is neither a straight popularization of science nor an attempt to frame a clear scientific argument. Rather, it’s a well-crafted work of reporting and speculation at the frothy margins of scientific theory that, combined with a few leaps of logic, is harnessed in support of a foreordained conclusion.

I suspect that the science in this book – and there’s quite a lot of it – will, despite being well-presented by an eloquent and talented author, largely elude most readers. Perhaps more importantly, the context from which the science is drawn will likely be unfamiliar to most readers, who will have little familiarity with physics and cosmology beyond what is presented in this book. If this book were merely a popularization of the science of cosmology, that would be fine: people would gain a feel for the state of the field, for its complexity and nuance, and for the remarkable accomplishments that have been made in recent years. But that’s not what this book is. Rather, it’s an attempt to support a metaphysical argument by portraying science as inadequate both in practice and in principle, and so leave no plausible alternative but the eponymous God Hypothesis. To frame that argument responsibly would require considerably more scope and rigor than this already science-heavy book offers. To do it convincingly, on the other hand, requires much less effort, particularly if the reader is inclined to be generous and knows little of physics.

It has been said of Stephen Hawking’s bestselling book A Brief History of Time that it was purchased by many and read by few. I suspect the same is likely true of Return of the God Hypothesis: for many, it will be a tough read. Yet it is an impressive book, and it has lent a great deal of talk-circuit credibility to its author and his premise. The fact that Mr. Meyer is an eloquent speaker and a clever and charming guest undoubtedly adds to that credibility, and it’s understandable why he and his book have received as much praise as they have. Nonetheless, as I will attempt to explain in this review, I think his arguments are weak and his conclusions unsupported.

Dogma Masquerading as Science Undermines Public Trust


“I believe in science, Donald Trump doesn’t. It’s that simple, folks,” Joe Biden tweeted during the 2020 election campaign.

Even by Biden standards, that was a deceitful remark. Not only did his opponent spearhead the unexpectedly efficient development of the Covid vaccine, which has been the cornerstone of pandemic suppression ever since, but the Biden administration has already done the most damage of any in memory by politicizing “the Science,” thus weakening its credibility.

Real science isn’t some facts approved by experts but a philosophical framework for acquiring and evaluating knowledge that originated in the Enlightenment. Science emphasizes reason, observation, and methodical analysis rather than loyalty to the teachings of authorities.

Musical Interlude: Telstar


Telstar satellite-CnAM 35181-IMG 5408-gradient.jpgSaturday, July 10, 2021, was the 59th anniversary of the launching of Telstar 1, a 170 lb. communications satellite launched for the purpose of receiving ground signals and re-transmitting them back to earth. According to britannica.com:

Following Telstar’s launch on July 10, 1962, a giant movable horn antenna near Andover, Maine, locked onto the satellite when its shifting orbit (apogee 5,600 km [3,500 miles]) reached an appropriate point. Minutes later the first television pictures were transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean and received, via relay stations in England and France, on European television screens. Telephone, telegraph, data, telephoto, and facsimile transmissions were also successfully made.

So much that we take for granted these days. And yet, at the time, it was almost miraculous and portended a future of instantaneous communication, where no part of the world was disadvantaged by remoteness, and no person was out-of-touch. (Here at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it’s possible to look back from a “careful what you wish for” perspective, but at the time we had no such thoughts. The world was our oyster, science was progress, and we believed.)

Quote of the Day: Questions of Science


“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” – Galileo Galilei

I hate appeals to authority when it comes to science. These always raise a red flag with me. “Trust the Science” is the technocrat’s version of “Because, shut up.” Science by its nature does not invite trust, it invites skepticism. Scientific progress is made by those challenging the science, and being convinced of its validity through reasoning.

Pushing Back on the Medical Establishment Is Not so Easy


I should have known that a big decision about changing my chemotherapy regimen, rejecting my oncologist’s recommendation, wasn’t going to be so easy. I wrote about it here, describing a discussion I will be having with him on Monday. But now I realize that there is more involved than just looking at the statistics and research. It means, from a big picture standpoint, that I will be bucking the “science,” telling the experts that when it comes to making decisions about my life, all the numbers in the world can’t determine what is best for me.

Only I can do that. And I am very anxious about telling him my decision to defy his recommendation. I’m even nervous about discussing my situation with my internist on Friday prior to that meeting. Am I just wanting the treatment to be finished? (Yes.) Am I tired of being tired? (Yes.) Do I want life to return to normal? (Yes.) And in spite of all those desires, I believe I know what the best course is for me.

Ayaan talks with Michael Shermer about the hijacking of the scientific method, science being used as a political tool, vaccine hesitancy, and more.

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

Ayaan talks with Michael Shermer about his journey in and out of religion, the ten commandments of freedom of speech, and the concept of moral politics.

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

Mr. Darwin Can’t Get a Break


It can’t be easy to be Charles Darwin right now. (I mean, for reasons beyond the obvious.) A meticulous researcher and a serious and deeply respectful man, Mr. Darwin spent years carefully documenting and refining his seminal* theory of evolution through natural selection, delaying its presentation until similar discoveries by fellow British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace prompted him to go public and secure his claim as the father of evolutionary theory.

(And what is it with our British cousins, that they should produce simultaneously two men of such insight?)

On Galileo


Most of us are familiar with the story of Galileo Galilei, the great astronomer and polymath, famous for advancing the idea expressed by Copernicus that the earth and other planets rotate around the sun  (heliocentrism).

The story goes that Galileo found proof of heliocentrism in his astronomical observations but was censured, threatened, and arrested by the Church because his ideas ran afoul of religious doctrine.  He was thus a great hero for the cause of science.