How To Put Climate Deniers in Their Place

January 11th, 2012

Note: This post first ran on True/Slant in 2010. Assuming that its archives will be deleted at some point, I’m moving some of my True/Slant articles here.

Climate scientists themselves figured out that disastrous claims about Himalaya glaciers were seriously wrong. It’s a matter of public record.

Climate deniers want you to believe that predictions of a glacier-free range by 2035 were deliberate lies, and that those lies were uncovered by right-thinking people.

That’s why deniers are calling this Glaciergate, thereby implying a coverup like the original Watergate scandal.

The whole back-and-forth is like an ax manufacture who chops the base of an enormous oak to prove that clouds hold trees upright.

THOK! See? The clouds won’t let the tree fall. THOK!

Another man runs from his home to the tree and back with math showing  how clouds are too high and can’t pull trees up. More math: Leaf movement is due to wind. More math: Wind is part of atmospheric pressure differences that are related to the creation of clouds. More math: Clouds can create wind, which blows leafs, but only after atmospheric conditions have created the clouds.

THOK! I’ve been chopping this tree for 20 minutes, folks, and the tree is still standing, because the clouds are holding it up. THOK!

So, how do you compete with the jerk with the ax?

One school of thought is to fight fire with fire. Challenge everything the opposition says.

Can they demonstrate – with the same confidence and transparency employed by scientists working for the IPCC – that the danger of doing nothing is negligible and that greenhouse gases pose no risk to the planet? Could their arguments withstand the same rigorous examination that took place during Glaciergate?

via Glaciergate was a blunder, but it’s the sceptics who dissemble | Robin McKie | Comment is free | The Observer.

Won’t work. The class brain can’t face down bullies by asking them to prove scientifically that he’s a gaywad.

Sorry. I’m analogy-happy today.

The answer is what it’s always been.

1. Put out your peer-reviewed findings as fast as you like and transparently as you can. Openly state probabilities, alternatives and doubts.

2. Have a phalanx of communicators who make the findings real to non-scientists. These people liaise between the public and the experts, so they better know almost as much as the front-line researchers. (How are the efforts to clone Carl Sagan going?)

3. Have a core of eminent experts who are always connecting the dots and solidifying the science foundation. Problems they spot are transparently fed back to the researchers. Loan these people and the communicators to media, schools, Meetups and the like.

4. Feed contradicting information into the communications assembly line.

5. Always, always be feeding the assembly line so there’s never a gap in solid, relatable information with which to make the case.

6. Build this system now as the present process is phased out. There’s no committee for changing leaf matter into fertile dirt, and that seems to work pretty well.

If climate change is a important to humanity as it seems to be, it’s worth expanding the scientific process to include simple but rigorous communications principles.

The Glamour of Science: Researchers Search Poop for Evidence of Illicit Drugs

January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Who knows when they will wipe their archives, so I’m moving some of my posts here.

Scientists say they’ve found a better way to map the use of drugs over entire regions — sample untreated human waste for traces of illicit compounds.

The goal of the research is to better quantify drug use. Today, people mostly look at aftermath events like drug-related arrests, ER visits and deaths investigated by medical examiners.

But some have contended that those practices inaccurately skew stats toward urban communities.

study published last year could prove them right:

Researchers studied wastewater samples from 96 municipal water treatment facilities throughout Oregon. These represented one-day snapshots of 65 percent of the state’s population’s sewage. The results show that drugs are found in all sorts of communities — everywhere from small, rural towns to suburbs and inner cities.

via Sewage as a Measure of Society’s Drug Use | DrugReporter | AlterNet.

The cities and towns agreed to take samples at about the same time on March 4, 2008, and the specimens were tested for traces of ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Also among the findings: Meth is used everywhere — on farms, in suburbs and in the projects. Coke is more popular in cities, as is ecstasy, though fewer than half of the communities tested showed any evidence of ecstasy use.

Before anyone starts building latrines, the scientists say it’s impossible to link drug compounds with individual people. Drugs are chemicals and DNA is a biological molecule, which, they say, means you can’t tie poopy coke (or cokey poop, depending on the habit) to the actual excreter.

We’ve Hired an Efficiency Expert — Meet Physarum Polycephalum

January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Not knowing when they might delete their archive, I’m moving some here.

Researchers have turned to a slime mold for tips on work efficiency. While that’s just another day at the office for me, the researchers seem impressed.

They say Physarum polycephalum built a replica of the Tokyo train system in 26 hours that’s just about as efficient, reliable and “expensive” to run as the real thing. It could be the ultimate outsourcing strategy, but Japanese and British scientists see another opportunity.

First, some background.

The journal Science reports that the scientists created a map of the Tokyo metro area using oat flakes for the major cities. Then they put a gelatinous blob (technically, a plasmodium) of Physarum on “Tokyo,” and sat back to see what would happen.

Within about 12 hours, the mold had covered the area with a thin and wet veined sheath of itself. By the 26th hour, the sheath was gone, replaced by mushy tunnels connecting the flakes. The tunnels mimicked Tokyo’s transit system.

This either means that slime mold is pretty damn smart or Japanese engineers are pretty damn dumb.

Either way, the scientists think they can take what they’ve learned about self-organization from the slime mold and apply it to the construction of communication networks and other similar systems.

Could engineers one day be taking orders from the lunches in the breakroom fridge? Stranger things have happened.

It’s more likely that the rules that Physarum follows to find and colonize food sources will be written into software that builds, maintains and expands networks on the fly. Engineers wouldn’t be directed by slime mold.

They’d be designing cushier fridges for them.

The full story is in the Jan. 22 issue of Science, but treat yourself by reading author Philip K. Dick predicted this in 1964.

Your Soul Is Genetic And It’s Making You Crazy

January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Assuming they will delete their archive at some point, I’m moving some articles here.

Don’t freak out, but the voices you hear in your head are real.

A video stuffed with more pseudo-science than a Sedona, Arizona, crystal shop makes the case that your genes have a brain that’s filled with the ongoing thoughts of your ancestors.

It’s that or your soul has a brain, and your soul is passed down cumulatively from your ancestors. I can’t be sure even after repeatedly watching Dattatreya Siva Baba describe his new science, “soul genetics.”

Either way, your deceased family is standing between you and happiness by trying to make sense of your world with their experiences.

“The thoughts you are thinking may not even be your own thoughts,” according to Baba. Keep that in mind should someone trace the awful smell in the neighborhood to your basement.

The good news is that 2012 is close, says Baba. Far from being the end of time, he says, the end of the Maya calendar is the dawn of a new era, when new sciences like soul genetics will come to fruition.

We’ll be better able to tell our cranky ancestors to pipe down so we can concentrate on driving, for crissakes.

Women’s Suffrage Part Two: Let Girls Get Pregnant!

January 11th, 2012

Note: This story originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. I assume they’ll kill off their archive sooner or later, so I’m migrating some pieces to my site.

Proving that extremely learned people can hold unbelievably ignorant notions, an acclaimed British novelist, Hilary Mantel, says that men are holding girls and women back by discouraging teen pregnancy.

Mantel, whose first novel is titled ‘Every Day Is Mother’s Day,’ told London’s Sunday Telegraph that she was “perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14.”

And why didn’t she? I mean besides laws, policies and the presumed commonsense of her parents?

Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society’s timetable,’ she said.

via Booker-prize winning artist claims girls are ready to have children at the age of just 14 | Mail Online.

Where she says “women,” in that snippet, read “girls.” And where Mantel says “in the interests of society’s timetable,” read “by male dominance.”

So, in the interest of liberating all females, men should be allowed to have sex with children who themselves should be encouraged to have children, a situation that historically has impoverished and disenfranchised women.

That could be called holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously in one’s mind. Often, being able to do so is a mark of intellectual sophistication. But Mantel’s two ideas don’t conflict so much as they annihilate each other.

Mantel might want to look around at the hyper-sexualized images of teens (or faux teens) in ads everywhere. Or even around the country clubs to see how young the trophy wives are.

I’m not so sure that men have sex with young women in order to liberate them, and I’m even less convinced that any significant segment of girls want a birth certificate more than they want a driver’s license.

What possibly is significant is that Mantel suffers from endometriosis, a terrible and incurable condition that turns her menstruation process inside out. It has prevented her from having children.

What she has gone through no doubt has added to her writing — writing that many feel is brilliant.

But anytime you find your opinions on maturity in synch with Jerry Lee Lewis, Bristol Palin and Drew Barrymore, it’s time to re-evaluate your values if not your prescription mood stabilizers.

We’re Levitating Flies To Be Sure They Can Go To Mars With Us

January 4th, 2012
micrograph of fruit fly

Because it’s exhausting to buzz your face until you move.

Even Marvel Comics’ Magneto had to start somewhere, first moving small coins, for instance. On an even humbler scale, British scientists say they’ve used powerful magnets to levitate fruit flies.

Three questions:

Fruit flies can, of course, fly, taking some of the cool factor out of the feat. Why fruit flies? Just thinking about levitating similarly tiny insects that can’t fly — spiders, fire ants, the Olsen twins —  results in psychosis-inducing nightmares.

The Olsens: Twice the tragedy

We’re not emaciated husks. We’re just small-boned.

Why levitate bugs at all?

Far as I’m concerned, I was sold on the critical nature of this research while trying to read a Space Travel article about it through a squadron of the jagoffs. I’d love to be able to move them outside, Magneto-like, with a wave of my hand (albeit via some kind of controller).

As it turns out, there are better reasons. From the Space Travel story:

 …in our future endeavours to explore space, setting up permanent bases on our Moon, or Mars for example, or other planets, it will be crucial to understand the effects of weightlessness on all living organisms: our long-term survival will of course require us to take with us many different biological organisms.

Last question: Who’s getting paid to make a list of Earth pests we are taking to Mars?

Oh. Right.


Purple Zebra, Purple Cheetah, Purple Celia

December 22nd, 2011
Celia's royal room

Is it possible to channel someone who’s still alive? Like, maybe Prince?

Off the Beam: Did a U.S. Radar Station Disable Russia’s Mars Probe? [via SciAm]

December 22nd, 2011

Soon after the ill-fated Phobos-Grunt spacecraft stalled in Earth orbit, a former Russian official implicated “powerful American radars” in Alaska. Is there a basis to the claim, or is it just scapegoating?

By Jim Nash  | Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | 32

Russia’s sophisticated, ambitious and ultimately doomed Phobos-Grunt.

After 19 attempts over 51 years, Russia has yet to chalk up a fully successful mission to Mars. That includes its ambitious Phobos–Grunt probe, launched November 8 from Kazakhstan and now stranded in low Earth orbit. Unable to regain control of the spacecraft, the Russians now expect it to fall back to Earth around January 9.

Responding to shame over the nation’s Mars program, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened to criminally prosecute those responsible if possible. Soon after Medvedev’s comments, a former high-ranking Russian officer found a more convenient scapegoat in a remote Alaskan radar facility. But an analysis of the timing and physics involved shows that there is little basis for the claim.

Phobos–Grunt was to retrieve soil (“grunt” in Russian) from the Martian moon Phobos and return it to Earth for study. But the rocket engine intended to boost the spacecraft into a higher orbit failed. The probe itself has since communicated only sporadically with ground stations, and even then it has murmured only unintelligible noise.

To Lt. Gen. Nikolay Rodionov, a retired commander of Russia’s ballistic missile early warning system, U.S. technology could have caused the rocket malfunction. In a November 24 interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Rodionov said “powerful American radars” in Alaska “could have influenced the control systems of our interplanetary rover.”

High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program

HAARP’s enormous antenna array in Gakona, AK.

Rodionov was quoted saying the U.S. wants to use the ionosphere as part of its missile defense, although he did not elaborate. A subsequent article in India’s The Hindu expanded on Rodionov’s statement, indicating that he was likely referring to the U.S.’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) observatory established in 1993.

The HAARP research station sits on an Air Force–owned site in Gakona, Alaska, and falls under the aegis of a number of federal and state agencies, primarily theAir Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. HAARP scientists have developed the project and the site’s instrumentation with help from several U.S. universities and educational institutions—in particular, the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

HAARP performs active and passive radar experiments on the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles stretching from 50 to 1,000 kilometers above Earth. The main goal is to better understand the layer, which has been used almost since the invention of radio to bounce signals far past the horizon, extending a signal’s range. The ionosphere does not always reflect signals in a predictable manner, however, which makes it a bit of a gamble for those wanting to use it to communicate critical information. Increasing, standardizing or augmenting that effect could have potent commercial and military applications, such as potentially using reflected signals to probe underground or underwater and even to communicate with submarines.

Given HAARP’s main goal of studying how signals are reflected, in the hopes of improving long-range communications, the station fires a radar beam to excite a localized patch of the ionosphere and uses passive devices in Gakona and elsewhere to examine the effects. HAARP scientists essentially are examining the resonant interaction between the radio waves and charged particles. HAARP “is like sticking your finger in a river, and by watching the water flow around your finger you can learn things about the river,” such as its flow speed and its temperature, says Morris Cohen, a research scientist at Stanford University whose Ph.D. thesis was about HAARP experiments.

Whereas similar radar facilities exist in Norway, Russia, Peru and other locations, HAARP is one of the most powerful. Its Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI) puts out a maximum of 3.6 megawatts sending signals at 2.8 to 10 MHz—powerful enough heat up a small (on a global scale) but measurable part of the ionosphere. The energy being added to the area can be measured in several ways, including gauging how much the section expands when it is heated and how it glows. Both effects are incredibly subtle, requiring highly sensitive equipment to record it, and they’re orders of magnitude less powerful than the effects of ordinary solar weather that constantly bombards the ionosphere.

But is the transmitter powerful enough to have fried the electronics of Russia’s Mars mission?

The answer is categorically no, according to Craig Selcher, HAARP program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. For starters, HAARP’s IRI has not been operated since September 3, he says.

But even if the IRI had been on during the early days of the Mars mission, the beam couldn’t have had any real impact on the craft. The beam’s energy, although strong enough to affect overflying airplanes, which have an operating ceiling of about 26 kilometers (in Earth’s stratosphere), is too diffuse by the time it reaches the ionosphere, part of the planet’s upper atmosphere. Phobos–Grunt’s orbit has been between 200 and 400 kilometers.

It turns out that the beam is indeed diffuse at that height. The maximum energy that Phobos–Grunt could have felt from HAARP would have equaled a power density of 1.03 milliwatts per square centimeter, according to Selcher. That is like shining a 60-watt lightbulb on the craft from 21 meters, he says. The sun, on the other hand, blasts the top of the atmosphere with an average of 135,100 milliwatts per square centimeter.

In fact, Cohen says, “HAARP routinely points itself at full power towards certain satellites” that monitor what happens at the top of the ionosphere above an IRI beam. He also notes that despite the relative density of low Earth orbit–satellites, HAARP has not damaged a single one.

None of these counterpoints is likely to allay the fears of the conspiratorially minded, who have argued that HAARP’s technology is a U.S. weapon used to trigger earthquakes (including the recent ones in Japan and Haiti), create destructive weather, and even control minds. So charges like Rodionov’s will continue unless, that is, HAARP can control minds. In that case, things will quiet down soon enough.

NOTE: This is a repost from Scientific American. See the original SciAm post here.

Vesta Is Like the Monolith In 2001: A Space Odyssey (Absolute Proof!)

December 21st, 2011

Tramp stamp from our space forefathers?

Just in time for 2012, the year voted most likely to be our last — incontrovertible evidence that humanoid aliens have visited our humble solar system! I hope you are ready because this is going. To. Blow your. Mind.

Our journey starts on the giant asteroid Vesta, which is being visited as I write by a NASA space probe.

But first, how did we get to this point, where we can now KNOW we have space-traveling brothers (and, I’m sure, sisters)?

Eons before advanced civilizations came to Earth to communicate with us through tats on our corn fields, less sophisticated but no less brilliant aliens toured the neighborhood. I don’t want to insult any greys or reptilians or other space travelers who might be reading this, but their great great great great grandfather aliens were still in their own Stone Age back then.

The first message we found from that earlier age set the world on fire! A U.S. Martian probe in 1976 photographed what has come to be known as The Face on Mars:

The Mona Lisa of Mars

She gazes without judgment on humankind. Has anyone else noticed that she seems to be riding on the back of a flying serpent?

It’s the dispassionate face of wise openness and acceptance. The face — two miles long — was there to tell us we are not alone; that utopia with kindred spirits will happen; that off Earth, at least, super-straight hair is cool (Yay Fiona Apple!).

I don’t surf, but I read surfing magazines at CVS while waiting for my prescrip–never mind that. I’ve seen this Face before in the stoic, adventuring visages of those who, maybe like the aliens, know how to stand face to face with nature and ride it without taming it. I’m talking about surfers, though not the pothead or dropout surfers. The Knights of the Lady Blue.


This might explain a lot in SoCal.

Who could argue that this valiant towhead is not the offspring of the beings who created The Face on Mars? Besides you NASA scientists. It’s a shame that Christopher Hitchens has left this astral plane, because these two photos — plus the BOMBSHELL picture that I’m going to show you in a minute — would have easily won him over to my side of this argument. As it is, this evidence will probably shock all of NASA. To. Death.

Who knows. Maybe these visitors are more like Solder Surfer* than anyone imagined.

* That’s not the comic’s real name. Due to court injunctions, copyright issues and a stay-away order protecting Stan Lee, I am forbidden from writing the name. (Rhymes with Lilver Lurfer. Sucker! You can’t get me for that, Stan!)

lime cat

This has got to be a stuffed cat, right?

I concede that there are similarities between The Face on Mars and this picture on the left. But don’t be fooled. There’s no way to know that NASA didn’t photoshop this image together. Think for a second: What cat would sit still long enough for a lime page-boy hairdo?

I shouldn’t have brought up that cat photo, I know. It’s a distraction. I should know to “stay on target” (Which movie is that from? Hint: It’s my favorite. Another hint: It’s a space movie. Star Wars. You were never going to guess it.)

OK, OK. Here it is. We are not alone. Your honor, I submit Exhibit 2001:

Another stone face in the solar system!

Hmmm. He reminds me of someone.

See? Centered in the top third? This was taken by NASA’s Dawn mission to the asteroid belt. It’s on Vesta, a huge asteroid.

There’s a bright left profile. Bold. Resolute. Strong. But there’s also the demur (possibly devious, we should maybe be careful…) dark side, too.

First Mars, then Vesta. What could it mean? A trail of breadcrumbs? I’m not saying it is. I’m just saying it is a trail of breadcrumbs to someone out there, certainly, who’s

Oh, yeah. It’s Kirk Douglas. Loved him in Sea Hunt.

really scientifically smart. Let’s train some telescopes on Pluto.

This is a hallowed and auspicious moment. I’ve proven something that’s going to stand every ivory tower, every religion and most of the unions on their ears! Hollywood, find a new fiction to peddle, because this one is science fact!

Nigel Tufnel Day (11.11.11): It’s bigger than all of us

November 10th, 2010

It’s very sexy, i’n’t it?

It’s bigger by one more, to be exact.

Let’s make Nov. 11, 2011 Nigel Tufnel Day. Get to it. You don’t want me setting Ian loose with his cricket bat on you lot, do you?

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