Monthly Archives: August 2008

Swedish Sea Monster

We finally have definitive proof of sea monsters. A group of intrepid researchers placed cameras at Lake Storsjon to capture the elusive Swedish version of the Loch Ness Monster. Luckily their efforts did not disappoint. We not only have a blurry still-picture of the highest quality, we also have out-of-context low-res video! Holy fucking shit!

What with all the high quality photos and video footage, we skeptics just can’t deny it any longer. I mean look at this picture:


You can see the menace in its eyes and yet a soulful longing for companionship.

And he totally doesn’t look like a small watercraft in a vast expanse of water with no objective size comparison.

Luckily this opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the American mainstream, as NBC will allegedly be covering the story, documenting the hunt for posterity. It’s ok to call it a hunt because although the monster was classified as endangered back in 1986, that ruling was overturned in 2005 due to complaints by a bunch of self-righteous “rationalists” who think only known species deserve to be on endangered lists. Pfft!

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Encouraging seedy methods is bad advice…

…no matter what the purpose. There’s a list of ways that people can get evolution to be more emphasized in museums, but unfortunately it reads like a handbook for converting people to Christianity.

Let’s take a look at some of the points.

2. Drop a note into the institution’s “Suggestion” box as you leave, explaining how increased emphasis on evolution would be an attraction. Adding, “I’ll donate more money to the zoo if you do it…” can get the staff’s attention pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, that might be the case for non-scientific material well and is tantamount to bribery. However, I do get the point they were trying to make, but something still seems off about that suggestion.

6. If you know a thing or two about evolution, bring a Post-It pad the next time you visit one of these places, and share some of this knowledge with others by attaching notes to pre-existing plaques.

This seems a little passive aggressive. Now I have left out other points where the author suggested more direct action, but this one seems seedy.

7. If your kids are old enough to enjoy a little fun, park yourself in front of a primate exhibit and get them to ask bystanders, “are humans really evolved from non-human ancestors?” Then adopt a chimp-like gait and moan, “Me want answer! Me want answer!!” Kids will just love this.

Sort of like how religious people park their kids on the corners of streets to hand out leaflets explaining why people are going to hell. People don’t like being harassed and I don’t think “but we’re talking about science” is enough justification to bother other people. I also don’t think it’s right to use kids this way for any reason.

8. If your job is to design plaques, use your position of power to secretly introduce real science, plaque by plaque.

Using a position of power to influence decisions is not something I want to encourage, no matter what the result. It’s inappropriate. I know people are saying “but it’s for the greater good! REAL science!”. That may be so, but if you’re sneaking around proper procedures for an institution’s decision-making, that’s just not cool. What if I’m a plaque designer and my ideal of “real science” is intelligent design? I don’t think we should be encouraging people to side-step the peer review process like this.

I think it’s great to promote evolution and I think museums in particular have a responsibility to display accurate, up-to-date, and non-sanitized information. But I think we should leave the sneak tactics to those who have nothing else to use. We have mountains of evidence on our side, there’s no need to trick people. And if the opportunities for truth are being busted down because of corruption or politics, there are ways to handle that appropriately that don’t involve sinking to their level.

I intend to promote evolution to my kids by simply teaching them about it. I don’t want to feel like I’m tricking them or trying to indoctrinate them. If I did sneaky things to get them to agree with me, I’d be no better than a creationist.

Remember that time…

…I had a paper due. and instead of writing it I procrastinated by fake arguing with an internet troll? Good times.

The "Art" of Writing Headlines

I don’t watch the news. I get the paper every day and I skip to the back page to do the Crossword and Sudoku without actually reading the rest. I don’t generally read magazines (except for the occasional Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic Magazine). And I try to stay away from gossip blogs, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I do regularly read science news on the internet, though. And depending on where I do this can be an extremely frustrating endeavor. I know I’m not alone in this. Journalism just isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes though, it’s the little things that get me.

Take for example the story “Buffy the Vampire Slayer slaying church attendance among women, study claims“. Now what do you think that’s about?

I thought it was about how they went out and asked a bunch of Wiccans what they’re influences were to become Wiccan and they largely identified the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Ok, I’m going interject on myself here and “defend” the author of the particular story I linked to because I looked at several other stories about the same thing and they all gave the same impression. That “Buffy” was the it that turned women Wiccan.

Well, it wasn’t.

Big surprise, the journalists reporting on this story grossly oversimplified the results of a scientific study. Imagine.

To quote the researcher as quoted by the author of the article (does that count as a metaquote? nah…moving on):

Because of its focus on female empowerment, young women are attracted by Wicca, popularised by the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That is the only time Buffy is mentioned by the researcher in the entire article, except for the ginormous picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar that the publisher put at the top as if she had anything to do with this. The rest is a series of other explanations by the researcher for women leaving the church such as: the popularization of feminism, a dislike for patriarchal hierarchies, a dislike of traditionalism, a general disapproval of blatant misogyny, and the attractiveness of more liberal religions that embrace women as members rather than treating them like tampon stains.

The research describes how women have been steadily leaving the church since 1989 (Buffy first aired in 1997, incidentally) at a rate twice greater than that of men.

What this research reveals is that a lot of people are put off by traditional stances and attitudes. We still have a long way to go before women, particularly young women, feel as included in the church as men do.

So it doesn’t reveal that Buffy caused the downfall of religion as we know it. Buffy was just a haphazard example that the researcher could think of off the top of her head during some interview and the real reason women are leaving is because of general disrespect towards women combined with a feeling of welcome from the Wicca tradition, and not because they are being brainwashed by alleged Wicca-loving TV shows. So women can think for themselves. Hunh.

So that’s what we’ve come to. A story about how women don’t feel respected by the church prefaced by a headline suggesting that women find their way in life by imitating things they see on TV. Niiiice. It couldn’t possibly be because of all those legitimate and complex social issues. Thinking about all that wouldn’t leave any time for shopping!

Open Letter to Discovery Channel

Dear good folks at the Discovery Channel,

Over the years I’ve enjoyed many programs on your channel. @Discovery.ca (now Daily Planet), Mythbusters, and occasional documentaries on such topics as astronomy, archaeology, history, nature, and paleontology.

Recently I have noticed a significant decline in the quality of your programming. Once a bastion of popular science, Discovery channel has become a breeding ground for mainstream pseudoscientific nonsense – assuming the show is at all scientific. Most shows now on Discovery are things like Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, Storm Chasers, Future Weapons, and other such high-octane non-scientific programming. I no longer see as many thought-provoking and educational documentaries as I once did. Many documentaries are CGI speculations of what might have happened with this or that dinosaur or they are absolute drivel.

“Mystery of the Crystal Skulls”, for example, was a documentary that I had a slight interest in because of the recent Indiana Jones movie, as you were no doubt counting on for most of your audience that evening. I thought it might be interesting to see what the real-life thoughts were from archaeologists on that topic so I tuned in. It took only 30 seconds for my hopes to be dashed. Within that time, the show managed to reference the 2012 end-of-the-world “prediction” of the Mayans – utter and total nonsense. Following that was an interview with Richard Hoagland of all people. A man so thoroughly debunked, he is a laughingstock even within the pseudoscientific community. The show had the audacity to say that he “gained credibility” through his discovery of the face on Mars. Once again, a topic so thoroughly debunked it’s absolutely incredible that in 2008, I still have to hear about it.

The only saving grace for the channel is Mythbusters and even that gets sketchy at times — going after explosions and not taking the 2 seconds it would take to explain that they did, say, 100 trials rather than the one they happened to air for the show.

I simply can’t take it anymore. So, I’m sad to say that I’ll be leaving you, Discovery Channel, and I won’t be back until you shape up.

Sincerely,
An extremely disappointed scientist.

Stem Cells are Awesome

Is there anything stem cells can’t do? This is HUGE! Now they just have to make sure that growing red blood cells is economical and long-term viable.

The great fruit fly experiment

We are currently engaged in a fruit-fly-killing experiment in our home that has recently been infested with fruit flies given that each of us forgot there was still something left in the compost container after we stopped using it several weeks ago. That was a fantastic run-on sentence in perfect compliance with pretentious scientific prose. This is going to be fun.

I will post — ahem, I mean publish — the results tomorrow after the fold.

The Experiment
So we wanted to see if “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. We didn’t have honey, but we did have grenadine so we used that in one solution and vinegar in the other solution. So I guess what we were actually testing was “do you catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar”.

Vinegar. Hands down.

Overall, the sugar solution caught 5 flies and the vinegar solution caught almost 100 flies. So that contest was over like a Mount Allison football game. However, we also found out that there’s a variety of fruit fly called the vinegar fly, so that’s not altogether surprising.

To get rid of a fruit fly infestation:
1) Try to find the breding ground. It’ll be in something moist and/or decaying and/or smelly.
2) After the breeding ground is gone, it would suck if they found somewhere else appealing. Clean where they have been breeding then empty all garbage cans in the house (wash them out if necessary), put all shoes away in the closet and make sure they are deodorized somehow (an air freshener like Febreeze or something should do), check house plants, and get rid of any old plates or food that might be lying around (bananas are the worst).
3) Set out some commercial and/or homemade traps. We used a combination of items. We filled a glass with vinegar, some dish soap, and water. This makes a sudsy layer at the top of an attractive liquid that they get stuck in. They seemed to outsmart that a bit by climbing only along the edge of the glass so we bought a commercial fly paper that they stick to when they land (sticky yellow paper — although reversed or double-sided tape would work, too).
4) Monitor the amount of flies in the house. Try to keep a vague count of how many flies are caught each day. Fruit flies live about a week, so if the breeding ground is gone, the numbers should taper off in a few days. If they are not, then the real breeding ground might not have been destroyed.
5) Enjoy your newfound fly-free existence.