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Posts Tagged ‘Skeptic’

Faster Than Light Particles! So, Warp Speed Ahead, Right???

September 22, 2011 3 comments

The OPERA detector at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy

I’ll have more to say about this story once I see the work on arXiv, but I feel I should comment now because this story is exploding.

The interwebs and blogospheres are abuzz with the news that researchers at CERN have measured the velocity of neutrinos which seem to be travelling faster than light.

Neutrinos are nearly massless  subatomic particles which have been known to travel near the speed of light. But, like all other things in the universe, they are not supposed to be able to travel faster than light.

Basically the experiment involves the creation of neutrinos at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and the neutrinos travelling 730 km to a laboratory 1,400 meters underground in Italy. There, an experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) detects those neutrinos and measures how quickly it took them to make the trip.

The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than they should have. This means they were travelling at a speed of about 299 800 km/s, which is slightly higher than the speed of light, which is about 299 792 km/s.

This discovery will rock the very foundation upon which modern physics is built. Seriously, this is like the discovery that the world is round or wave-particle duality; it’s a complete game-changer.

If it’s true.

Like a lot of folks out there, I am quite skeptical of this discovery. Think of it this way: which of these two scenarios is more likely,

  1. Particles can travel faster than light, completely re-writing modern physics and decades of previous research. Or,
  2. These guys made an innocent mistake.

Now, it is certainly possible that this discovery will turn out to be genuine. However, it is much more likely that there was some kind of error or misinterpretation which has led to this result.

I would like to point out that the researchers have revealed their work in the proper way. They are excited, but very skeptical themselves and are asking the academic community to review their work and try to find a flaw. Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and OPERA’s spokesman said in an interview

Whenever you are in these conditions, then you have to go to the community

THIS is science in action, folks! A group of physicists think they have discovered something awesome. But they haven’t started trumpeting their results like they have been absolutely confirmed, no emails were leaked suggesting the discovery, and they didn’t go to some rogue publication to get their work in print prior to peer-review.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I am very hopeful this turns out to be a genuine discovery. I can’t wait to read the papers and hear the response from the scientific community.

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Florida Pastor Wants To Register Atheists, Just Like Sex Offenders

September 1, 2011 1 comment

I’ve honestly been staring at my computer screen for several minutes trying to figure out where to start with this one.

I guess we can start with the facts. The pastor of an online church called “Living Water Church” has proposed the creation of a “National Atheist Registry”, akin to those designed for sex offenders.

I can’t even begin to explain the reasoning behind this, so let’s just go with a direct quote.

Now, many (especially the atheists), may ask “Why do this, what’s the purpose?” Duhhh, Mr. Atheist for the same purpose many States put the names and photos of convicted sex offenders and other ex-felons on the I-Net — to INFORM the public! I mean, in the City of Miramar, Florida, where I live, the population is approx. 109,000. My family and I would sure like to know how many of those 109,000 areADMITTED atheists! Perhaps we may actually know some. In which case we could begin to witness to them and warn them of the dangers of atheism. Or perhaps they are radical atheists, whose hearts are as hard as Pharaoh’s, in that case, if they are business owners, we would encourage all our Christian friends, as well as the various churches and their congregations NOT to patronize them as we would only be “feeding” Satan.

Frankly, I don’t see why anyone would oppose this idea — including the atheists themselves (unless of course, they’re actually ashamed of their atheist religion, and would prefer to stay in the ‘closet.’).

Can you imagine! Someone admitting that they are an atheist?!? Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Or what about the “radical atheists”. Those troublemakers!

unholy_trinity

Indeed, their hearts must be as hard as Pharaoh’s! (Forgetting of course, that Pharaoh was the furthest thing from an atheist, but I digress).

And by buying things from an atheist store, why you are “feeding Satan”. It makes so much sense. Instead, let’s only buy things from Christian stores. Because that’s the right thing to do. We should perhaps put up signs in the windows of atheist businesses so that we can all identify them and blame them for our problems. It has worked so well in the past!

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14468, Berlin, NS-Boykott gegen jüdische Geschäfte.jpg

Stormtroopers outside a Berlin store posting signs with the words "Germans! Defend yourselves! Do not buy from Jews" ("Deutsche! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Juden!"). Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14468 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA

While I don’t think this “Pastor Mike” is nearly as bad as the Nazis, the idea of boycotting a business based on the faith (or lack-therof) of the owner certainly has some historical significance.

But nor do I think atheists are as bad as sex offenders. Nor would any other sane person.

But perhaps Pastor Mike has a good idea. We should start creating registries for all types of people we don’t like. That way, we can only deal with people who have the same views and opinions as ourselves.

That is a sure-fire way to promote tolerance and understanding which, as I understand, are main pillars of Christianity.

Think I’ll Bang My Head Against the Wall Now…

May 31, 2011 1 comment

File:Cell phone.jpgSo the news media is going nutso over the World Health Organization‘s decision to list cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Let me be absolutely clear on this: No new studies have been released to spur this decision. The decision was reached by a team of 31 scientists who reviewed the existing scientific literature.

After reviewing the evidence they decided that even though there was no conclusive evidence that cell phones cause cancer, they are going to list it as a possible danger to humans.

They are playing it safe; erring on the side of caution; not counting their chickens before they’re hatched, whatever you want to call it.

[Update (11:57 AM): Here is an excellent explanation on the evidence the WHO used to make its decision, and what their decision actually means.]

This is a touchy subject. While I generally agree with playing it safe, in this case I disagree with the WHO’s decision.

Basically they are saying they need more long-term studies. However, since it is impossible to prove a negative, we will never be able to prove that cell phones don’t cause cancer. You would need an infinite number of studies to do that!

It’s just like on Glee when Kurt made the point that 

You can’t prove there isn’t a magic teapot floating around the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs.

Same deal with cell phones. There is no plausible mechanism by which cell phones can cause cancer since the radiation is non-ionizing. There is also no dramatic increase in cancer rates coinciding with the dramatic increase in cell phone use in recent years.

Critics get around this point by saying that it takes decades for effects to really take hold. On average, yes that is true, but after 10-20 years of regular cell phone use by a large percentage of the population we should still expect to see some signs of adverse health effects.

So I disagree with the WHO. This little announcement is going to cause undo panic and fear.

But the “be afraid of microwaves” crowd has gotten much louder in the last few years, and I suspect this announcement by the WHO is largely due to public pressure rather than scientific evidence.

But who am I, right? I’m just a humble science blogger with a degree is physics who has looked at the scientific evidence and seen that there is no cause for alarm.

So I’m gonna go ahead and say “Don’t panic!”. But I have a sneaking suspicion people are going to anyway…

5 Things I’ve Learned From One Year of Blogging

May 30, 2011 3 comments

Happy Anniversary! A Quantum of Knowledge went online one year ago today!

It seems like the older you get, the shorter the years get. Because it certainly doesn’t seem like a year since I started blogging.

But it has been. 312 posts. 63,000 hits. Not to shabby :)

From what I’ve read, the majority of blogs die out in the first few months after creation. So how do you keep it going?

There are a few tidbits I’ve picked up over the past year that have not only kept me blogging, but kept me loving blogging.

1. Write about what YOU find interesting.

Too often I find myself trolling the news trying to find stories that I think others might be interested in. But this inevitably causes problems.

First, if I don’t find the subject interesting, I’m not going to do a good job writing about it.

Second, you never know what people will find interesting. If you try to pick topics based on what you think people will like, you are just playing a guessing game.

Stick with what you know. Because if you write about things you like and you find fascinating, you will write great posts that people will want to read and share with their friends.

2. Post OFTEN!

It doesn’t have to be a long post. If you are busy, treat your blog like a Twitter feed. Or just post a video you thought was funny. Just post SOMETHING!

Regular posts not only keep your readers coming back, but they keep you in the habit. Just like an exercise routine, you need to keep it up regularly in order to make it a habit.

After you keep a regular schedule for a few weeks, it will be a cinch to continue posting all the time!

3. Talk about yourself

Even if you write your blog anonymously, you should still talk about yourself.

What are your personal feelings on an issue? Have you been happy or sad lately? Did you just go on vacation? If so, where to?

In my case, even though I blog about science, I’ve found that some of my most popular posts were actually about me and not science news.

Whether it be where I spent my weekend, or my Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies, people seem to like hearing about my life. And I’m happy to oblige them.

Not only that, but I’ve found that personal anecdotes do wonders when trying to explain a complicated subject. Inserting a funny personal story into a technical post makes it much more readable.

4. Don’t be afraid to take a break now and then

If you haven’t blogged in a while, it can feel like a weight on your shoulders. You start to think,

“I haven’t posted in a while. I really should…but Dancing with the Stars is on…”

And the more days you miss, you more you feel like you should blog. But when you start feeling like you should, you really don’t want to.

So my advice? It’s ok to miss a few days of blogging. It’s even ok to miss a week or two. In fact, you should probably put the blog aside on purpose every now and then so you don’t get burned out!

And if you’ve intentionally taken a break from blogging, you will soon find that you miss it. You will want to blog again.

5. Do it because you love it

“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.”
— Richard P. Feynman

The same goes for blogging. In my case, spreading the word about good science or disparaging pseudoscience may be in the best interest of the public; but that’s not why I do it.

I do it because I love writing. I love writing about other things that I love. Science, video games and other geekery, it’s all good.

And if you enjoy the fact that you are blogging, it will show through in your posts. People will be drawn to come back and keep reading your stuff.

So that’s it. That’s what I’ve learned. I hope you all have enjoyed the blog so far, and I hope you continue to enjoy it!

PSYCHE! Rapture is ACTUALLY 5 Months From Now!

May 23, 2011 1 comment
File:Harold Camping 2011.jpg

Harold Camping in 2011. Photo by ChristReturns2011

But seriously you guys, THIS TIME it’s totally 100% absolutely positively gonna happen!

That’s me paraphrasing the disgraced (at least she should be) Harold Camping, the ass-dick who has bilked people of their life savings promoting the end of the world.

It was supposed to happen on Saturday, May 21. But SURPRISE! Nothing happened!

After spending a day in hiding, Camping came out today to reveal what he had done wrong (besides being an ass-dick),

Saturday was “an invisible judgment day” in which a spiritual judgment took place, he said. But the timing and the structure is the same as it has always been, he said.

“We’ve always said May 21 was the day, but we didn’t understand altogether the spiritual meaning,” he said. “May 21 is the day that Christ came and put the world under judgment.”

Ok, so he wasn’t totally wrong, he just wasn’t totally right. That’s completely understandable!

Gah! Sorry about all the sarcasm folks, but this guy is pissing me off.

Bad enough that he has ruined people’s lives with his bullshit, one woman even slit her children’s throats AND her own because of this shit, but now he is actually going to keep doing it for another 5 months!

And what is gonna happen 5 months from now when the world doesn’t end? AGAIN???

Why he’s just gonna come up with some new reason he was not totally wrong but not totally right, and he’ll have a brand new judgment day to promote.

It makes me sick to thing not only of the millions of dollars stolen from gullible-but-still-innocent people. But I think of all of Camping’s money that he has spent on this cause and how it could have been donated charity and done some ACTUAL good in the world.

So while this is not surprising, it is still infuriating. Hopefully a few of Camping’s disciples realize he is full of crap and start saying so.

So Its The End of the World…

May 20, 2011 3 comments
File:Judgment Bus New Orleans 2011.jpg

Photo by Bart Everson

As you are no doubt aware, tomorrow is the rapture.

Yes, Jesus is going to return to Earth tomorrow to take all the good people with him to heaven. This has been predicted by a multi-millionaire radio station owner named Harold Camping.

How did he make this prediction? I’ve actually seen a couple derivations from Camping on this, but an excerpt from FamilyRadio.com states:

Holy God reminds us that one day is as 1,000 years. Therefore, with the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day.

Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000

Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the 2nd month, in the year 4990 B.C.

God is proving to us that we have very accurately learned from the Holy Bible God’s time-plan for the end of the world.

So there you have it, irrefutable proof that the world is ending tomorrow.

Sorry :(

So what will become of the sinners? Well we are going to be left behind to think about what we did…until October.

On October 21st, the world will actually be destroyed by fire.

Now, at first I thought that I might be able to escape judgment. I mean, I’m not a bad guy. I donate to charity, I’ve helped old ladies cross the street, and I’ve never murdered anyone.

But then I realized how horrible a person I really was. I eat meat on Fridays. I don’t go to Church every Sunday, and I’ve been spending the past 5 years living in sin with the love of my life.

Not only that, but I believe that homosexuals should be allowed to get married! What was I thinking?!? Camping has clearly pointed out that it is the gays who are to blame for this horrible upcoming Judgement.

Camping says God will punish America and the rest of the world for Gay Pride and same-sex marriages, just as Sodom and Gomorrah were punished with fire and brimstone in the Old Testament.

I should have known better.

So now the only question is: What am I going to do with my last night on Earth before Jesus metaphorically (or perhaps literally) bitch-slaps me?

A good question. I should probably get drunk. But then, it is May 2-4 long weekend, so that was probably going to happen anyway (for my non-Canadian readers, May 2-4 is the colloquial term for Victoria Day, a national holiday in Canada).

I could repent, but that somehow feels like giving up.

I could sell all my possessions and spend it all on strippers and drugs. But then, I might catch a nasty disease and have to spend my last few months on Earth suffering more than I should.

Well I guess I will be getting drunk. If I wake up tomorrow before Jesus arrives, I will blog again. Otherwise, this may be the last time you hear from me. Thanks for being such loyal readers!

How will you all be celebrating Judgment Day?

Skeptic Skills Review: Pareidolia; The Case of the Kate Middleton Jelly Bean

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I was prompted to write about pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing shapes or patterns in everyday stuff, because of this facepalm-inducing story from The Telegraph.

Jelly bean resembling Kate Middleton to fetch £500

Kate Middleton and the jelly bean found by Wesley Hosie and Jessica White of Taunton Photo: SWNS

Yes, the bride in the upcoming Royal Wedding has been spotted in Jelly bean form. And its big news for the Brits.

The British really confuse me. Not only do they waste huge amounts of tax payer dollars so that the useless Monarchy can live a life of luxury, purely for being figureheads. It is an outdated form of government and I don’t understand it.

But a jellybean? Seriously?

This is a classic instance of pareidolia. Though pareidolia can occur for all types of shapes and patterns, it is especially strong for patterns that look like human faces.

People are seeing Kate Middleton’s face everywhere in buildup to this Royal Wedding. It is at the forefront of their minds. And when a random collection of food dye happens to look like a person with long hair, it HAS to be Kate Middleton! (Could also be Kurt Cobain if you ask me)

But it doesn’t just happen with jellybeans. People have claimed to see the Virgin Mary’s face in things from toast to soiled bed sheets. There was the infamous Face on Mars, which turned out to be just a big hill.

The infamous 'Face on Mars' taken by Viking 1 in 1976. Photo: NASA

The 'Face on Mars' photographed again in 2001 by the Mars Global Surveyor. Photo: NASA

So why does this happen to us?

Humans have evolved to rapidly recognize human faces as a safety mechanism. Being able to see in an approaching person is a friend or an enemy was quite advantageous to developing species.

A study in 2009

found that objects incidentally perceived as faces evoked an early (165ms) activation in the ventral fusiform cortex, at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces, whereas common objects did not evoke such activation

Our brains are hard-wired to quickly recognize face-like patterns, which is why this kind of story pops up so much. It is also why the ‘faces’ are always famous person or religious figures, instead of your brother Bob or my cousin Phil. They evoke an emotional response and so faces that we see photographed or on TV all the time are often the first ones our memories access.

But I’m sure someone will pay a lot of money for this delicious candy. I mean, have you seen some of the crap they’ve been selling with the happy couple’s faces on it?