Planetologist's Blog (75)

Ariane Sherine

She's hot, British, an atheist activist, she came up with a very cool idea, and she got to meet Richard Dawkins? When will she be on the Skepchick calendar?

Added by Planetologist on January 6, 2009 at 4:31pm — No Comments

Incredibly, Bush establishes Mariana Trench as a National Monument

Outgoing lunatic, ravager of civilization, source of all sorrows and US President George W. Bush announced today he is establishing by executive order the Mariana Trench, Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. Mysteriously, this action is within the law, completely constitutional, and does not appear to involve anyone being slain or horribly mutilated while Dick Cheney… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 6, 2009 at 3:59pm — 5 Comments

Evo ex Machina

Props to the Bad Astronomer for posting this amazing YouTube video. The steampunk style animation is gorgeous, depicting machines that evolve over the ages from clanking fishbots to torrid cyberpunk perfection.

It’s doubtful such a blatant commercial as this German one could be aired in the US. Not blatant because of the sexy fembot… blatant in its… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 5, 2009 at 4:55pm — 2 Comments

Another skeptical semester begins

Tomorrow our semester starts back, which means I have to return to the classroom. It is always hard to go back after a semester break. For me the dread is not because of teaching - necessarily - but because of all the useless wastes of time that accompany a semester in term. Faculty meetings rise to the top of the hate list. Perhaps I'll do more blogging during faculty meetings this time around... I think that helps.

Anyway, this semester I'm teaching a course on the environment,… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 4, 2009 at 12:50pm — 3 Comments

Our culture can’t repel stupidity of that magnitude!

Watch... if you dare.

So… the antibiotics finally took effect, and a few minutes later some sunbeams happen to shine on a wall… and that’s proof of titanic entities composed of pure energy roaming the cosmos doing good deeds? The afflicted little girl aside… how does everyone else who appears in this video manage to feed themselves?

“Whether the light is a camera misfunction (sic) or not is not the issue,”…. really?… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 2, 2009 at 12:18pm — No Comments

(Mutation + Death) * Time = Elegance

Let loose some replicators, leave them to mutate and multiply for four billion years, and if you’re lucky you get a nice, complex biosphere. No magical sky pixies required. Evolution is so beautiful as a process not simply because it generates astounding forms of life, but because it has what physicists all crave in their equations: elegance. All that is required for evolution to work is a host of mutating replicators and lots of time… time to explore, blindly, the parameter space of Possible… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 2, 2009 at 10:34am — No Comments

Required reading for atheist activists

Blair Scott, President of the American Atheists, has posted an open letter to the nation that describes a new and welcome legal philosophy for the organization. Blair's letter should be required reading by every atheist or skeptical activist in the US.

I am tired of the rationalist perspective losing in the US. Religion here is like a horde of berzerking orcs laying constant siege… Continue

Added by Planetologist on January 1, 2009 at 7:26pm — 2 Comments

Skepchick lists Top 10 Skeptics Who Kicked Ass in 2008

Rebecca Watson and the Skepchicks (which would make a great band name) have selected the Top 10 Skeptics Who Kicked Ass in 2008: people who have led the fight for reason and against pseudoscience. The list includes a lot of big names within the skepticism community, notably Ben Goldacre, PZ Myers and Phil Plait.

I, being hopelessly lame, had not heard of all the winners, but thanks to Rebecca now I know, and knowing is half the battle.… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 30, 2008 at 3:03pm — 1 Comment

Anti-sex fanatics lose again

The Washington Post reports a new study showing that teenagers who are brainwashed or cudgeled into taking anti-sex pledges end up having sex just as much as propaganda-free teenagers. Sexless-pledged kids excel in other areas, though, such as acquisition of sexually-transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Once again we see clear and unambiguous evidence that the only things… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 30, 2008 at 12:00pm — 3 Comments

Universal ancestor of life wasn't so hot

A recent article in Nature magazine presents evidence that the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of life on Earth was probably not a hyperthermophile after all. New molecular-genetics results show the cell type all living cells can trace their own origin back to in a clear genetic line - LUCA - was not a strong heat-loving microbe. Up until now, the accepted model in evolutionary genetics was that LUCA shared… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 29, 2008 at 6:30pm — No Comments

Ken Miller on evolution and mousetraps

This video isn't new, but a friend posted the link to Facebook and it reminded me how great the video is. Dr. Kenneth Miller is a cell biologist who lectures on evolution and science education, and participated as an expert witness for the good guys at the Kitzmiller v. Dover School District trial. In this segment where he addresses a group of high school students, Miller does a masterful job of… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 27, 2008 at 4:52pm — 2 Comments

More storms predicted

In discussing the most likely effects of a warming climate shift, tropical storms have been a weak link. The thermomechanics controlling formation and evolution of tropical cyclonic storms - hurricanes and typhoons - are ridiculously complicated. Predictions are very hard to make, and require loads of data that take decades to gather.... but there's no way to rush the weather.

Tropical storms are formed ultimately by temperature differences between the tropics and the higher… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 27, 2008 at 4:17pm — No Comments

MARTE: building a better life-detector

A special issue of the peer-reviewed research journal Astrobiology just came out, and it makes interesting reading for those who care about finding life elsewhere in the universe. All the papers of this special issue are devoted to aspects of the Mars Astrobiology Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE), a project to design and test a remote sampling construct that can detect key geochemical features and markers useful in the hunt for… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 26, 2008 at 11:54am — 1 Comment

Merry Christmas from an atheist

I don't care what you call it... Christmas, Imbolc, Hanukkah, whatever. I'm still going to celebrate the holiday as I see fit, which will include a healthy mixture of food, intoxication and laziness. I will devote not one erg of my emotional or cognitive energy to imagining the existence of either Santa Claus or the Baby Jesus. They are archetypal stories, finely-resolved expulsions from the figurative-collective unconscious, but that's about all the import they carry for me. I don't have to… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 24, 2008 at 2:59pm — 1 Comment

Franken appears to be winning

Although very slowly…

When I went out of town recently I’d assumed this Minnesota recount business was going to be resolved by now. Seriously, how long does it take to hand-count ballots? Weeks? Really?

I suspect it would have been finished by now, if the GOP would just shut up and stop trying to challenge and suppress every ballot in sight. I always find it humorous how the GOP won’t shut up about the sanctity of the democratic process, until it comes time to actually… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 23, 2008 at 4:00pm — 2 Comments

Primordial Haze: a new vision of the early Earth

For people who study the Archean Earth - our world as it was from about 4.0 billion to 2.5 billion years ago - the Sun has always been a problem. More specifically, the young and dimmer Sun that shone down on our planet during the Archean. Three billion years ago the Sun was about 80% as bright as it is now, meaning that Earth received only 80% as much energy and should have been a lot colder... cold enough for more or less non-stop global glaciation. But Earth wasn't frozen, then. Earth in the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 23, 2008 at 2:40pm — 1 Comment

The National Academy of Sciences needs YOU

To help it understand what scientific issues the public cares most about. Please take a minute - literally, it only takes a minute - to fill out this online form for the National Academy of Sciences. And don’t hesitate to add your own suggestions for topics they didn’t include. I suggested they add “evolution of life” as a topic…. better understanding of that is sorely needed in the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 22, 2008 at 10:32am — No Comments

CNN attempts to discuss carbon trading

But, as one might expect, they do a poor job. Why is science reporting always so bad in the mainstream media?

The CNN article suffers from two flaws: 1) artificial two-sidedness, and 2) lack of context. In the first instance, the article attempts to present the issue of an institutionalized carbon trading market in the US as another “teach both sides” issue, where proponents and opponents get equal time. Fair enough, you might say, except that without a skeptical examination both… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 21, 2008 at 11:51am — 3 Comments

Another invention from space science

For those who like to keep score when NASA research produces something of major practical benefit, here is NASA’s choice for their Invention of the Year for 2007: Polyimide foam. NASA picked this winner from a long list of candidates, apparently. Polyimide foam is a kind of high-efficiency insulator, capable of resisting sound, heat and cold, and was developed for applications in space. Now that polyimide… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 21, 2008 at 10:44am — No Comments

Another victory for the anti-Floodists

An exploratory geothermal drilling operation in Hawaii has pierced a large, shallow and unexpected active magma chamber. Wait, this is more interesting news than it may seem at first blush.

The top of the chamber is around 2.5 km below the surface of Kilauea lava fields on the big island of Hawaii. That is very shallow... only a little over a mile - about 12 Manhattan city blocks - which isn't much in terms of crust… Continue

Added by Planetologist on December 18, 2008 at 2:30pm — 1 Comment



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