Monday, March 24, 2008

Hey! Where's the science?!

For many years now, the annual science and technology survey (2008 available here) has reported that the majority of Americans get their science knowledge from television (with the internet becoming a growing source). It has also revealed that, on average, Americans only get about 8 questions out of 15 regarding various topics correct.

Could this poor science aptitude have something to do with their source?

This looks like it may be the case. This new journalism survey for 2008 reveals just how little time the media spends on science. Out of 15 categories the study looked at, science got the absolute least coverage ranking in at less than 1% of the air time on cable. Evening news was slightly higher getting as much as 2% of the airtime.

Surprisingly, among top stations CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, MSNBC actually had the least amount of science coverage (most likely as a result of the extensive 2008 election coverage in which MSNBC strongly outranked other stations). Perhaps the low priority on science for MSNBC explains this stupidity.

Regardless, it's no wonder science literacy is so pathetic in this country (and I'm not just talking about evolution) when the primary source for information on the topic is far more concerned with celebrity gossip.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Flare Research: Observations have been made!

Earlier, I reported that I've been in contact with Paul Butler to see if he could observe any of the stars from the Schaefer paper I mentioned in my first post on this topic. I got an Email the other day saying four of the nine stars have been observed (including κ Cet, which had been previously observed). The data analysis is still in the works, so no word yet on whether or not they have planets, but it's a good start in a new direction.

From here, I think the next step may be to start looking at archival data of these stars: both the ones that have been known to have flares to see if they've done anything else exciting, as well as the ones that are known to have close in planets to see if they've done anything exciting. At some point next week I'll also be meeting with another one of the professors in the department who's more experienced with observational astronomy than the professor I'm working with who focuses more on astrobiology than stellar properties.

Well that's just stupid...

Awhile ago, I blogged about a judge that let a felon using stolen credit cards, get out of jail time because he knew Pslam 23.

Now, we have a judge letting someone guilty of murder, attempted murder, domestic assault, and drug trafficking out of of prison if he goes to church once a week for 2 months.

I have nothing against counseling services being offered by churches so long as they're secular if the government is forcing people to go to them. But going to explicitly religious services as a court requirement? Well that's just stupid.

Especially in light of the fact that prison ministries that are mandatory have been ruled unconstitutional.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Who got the tickets? OR The Flip Flops of Stuart Blessman.

In this whole affair with PZ getting kicked out at Expelled, one of the things that is glossed over by the creationists is that tickets weren't necessary. But apparently some people got them. Stuart Blessman said,
Our head pastor [of his campus church] was recently offered two pairs of tickets to go see an advanced screening of Ben Stein’s “Expelled”...
Orly? So religious organizations get invited? I still wonder why Creationists are confused when others see this an an inherently religious message.

Especially when, of the 18 screenings listed on the sign up page, 13 are explicitly religious organizations. The rest are colleges. I'm not familiar with them, but anyone want to take a bet as to whether they're going to be religious universities or hosted by campus churches? Yeah. I wouldn't tag that bet either.

Regardless, aside from the bit about the tickets, it looks like Blessman's account is a bit twisted. In the main body of the post (which was appended later), he says,
Management of the movie theatre saw a man apparently hustling and bothering several invited attendees, apparently trying to disrupt the viewing or sneak in.
Yet in the comment Blessman had left earlier, he had said,
He didn’t cause a disruption per se; he was kindly escorted out.
So which is it Stu? Was there any way that it could be inferred that he was being disruptive? Didn't think so.

Additionally for someone that claims to have been "literally 3 feet away", he didn't seem to listen too well, given that the claims,
the man [PZ] certainly didn’t identify himself.
Yet PZ even admits that the security guard asked him if he was PZ Myers and PZ affirmed that he was!

I'm also skeptical of Stu's comprehension skills given that he claims
...the film’s main point was that Intelligent Design should be taught in conjunction with Evolution.
Really? Everything I've heard about the film, from much more experienced reviewers and a good deal of other sources, is that the main thrust of the film is "ZOMG! We're persecuted by evil atheist scientists who are directly responsible for the Holocaust and Planned Parenthood!" Stu even affirms this, saying,
In fact, Nazi Germany is the thread that ties everything in the movie together. Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany.
Sounds like he's switching his story again...

So Stu can't figure out whether or not PZ cause a "disturbance", can't remember if had revealed his identity, and can't even figure out what the movie's main thrust is. Yet the Creationist camp has been all over this inconsistent account. Really is about their standard isn't it?

Friday, March 21, 2008

ITT: I disprove the second law of thermodynamics

Right. So we all know that a favorite Creationist argument is to say that the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution and the big bang.


First let's take a look at the usual definition:
The Second Law of thermodynamics says that everything tends to go from an ordered state, to a disordered state. Thus, there is no way that life (order) could have risen from a pre-biotic soup (disorder) or even increased in complexity (order) as it supposedly evolved.

Similarly, the Big Bang must be wrong because it says that the universe started off in an explosion (disordered) and spontaneously formed galaxies (ordered).
Hm. That definition that creationists use so much seems to be missing something....

Oh yeah! That bit about closed systems and energy not being put into the system! We'll let's add that back in and start testing the second law out in a thought experiment.

Let's imagine I have a pot of water. If we take a look at water at a molecular level, it's rather disordered. The arrangement of the molecules in regards to one another has no rhyme or reason.

As I just noted, if you add energy to the system (boil it), using the creationist definition with that bit about adding energy actually added, this would indicate that we should see more "order". However, the exact opposite is the case. If energy is added (ie, heat) the water turns to gas and there is even less order. In the other case, if energy is removed from the system, it becomes ice which, on a molecular level, is a highly "ordered" crystalline structure.

The second law got it backwards! Looks like I've disproven it.

I can has Nobel prize now?

Note: This is not actually intended as a proof against the second law. Rather, it's a demonstration of how pathetic the creationist definition really is. For a more comprehensive definition, take lots of math and science and eventually a few courses on thermodynamics. Or just visit the Talk Origins page on it (which still requires a bit of Calculus understanding).

And it just keeps getting better...

And just when you thought that the producers of Expelled couldn't get any dumber, they do. Apparently, for a movie that's all about promoting free inquiry, they don't do a very good job. In fact, they'll go so far as to kick people out who have signed up for a free screening. Yet apparently, even after interviewing Dawkins, they missed kicking him out too. Oops. Hypocritical and dumb.

As always, this just goes on the growing list of dishonety in Expelled I've been compiling.

PS: Did you know - Expelled was screened at the Creation Museum of AiG's last month? And IDists wonder why we think it's a religious agenda?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flare Research - Well damn...

ResearchBlogging.orgIn my attempt to determine whether or not close in planets can induce super flares on stellar type stars, one of the approaches I was taking was to attempt to determine whether or not close in planets could even perturb the stellar atmospheres. The reasoning behind this was that if they can't even do that much, then there's no real chance that they could do enough to cause these mega flares.

In looking over the titles in the most recent Astrophysical Journal, one jumped out at me: The On/Off Nature Of Star-Planet Interactions.

I figured that was worth a read. So what did I learn as I read through it? That the question I was asking had already been answered... 5 years ago.

The approach that Shkolnik et al. took was similar to one of the approaches I wanted to take, but couldn't at the present time because I'm trying to draw conclusions from publicly available data before we start writing up proposals for telescope time. The approach they took also involves the S-values I mentioned in my last post. But instead of looking at the average value in relation to how close the planet was, they took many frequently spaced measurements of these quantities for several systems with close in planets to see how they changed (something I couldn't do at the present time). They then looked for periodic changes in the chromospheric activity. If they found them, they then compared them to the period of the known planet. If they matched, then it is a good bet that the planet is inducing the activity.

The systems they targeted have very close in planets (<0.06 AU where 1 AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun). Overall, there's less than 20 systems with this criteria, and they observed five. One didn't show any sort of significant variation, three did, but with no correlation with the planetary orbit, and one (HD 179949), matched the period of the planet.

So it looks like one of the major questions I'd been asking (whether or not stars atmospheres can be messed with due to close in planets) has already been pretty definitively answered: YES!

That's great news, because it definitely lends credence to the original hypothesis. However, we still haven't placed any sort of upper limit on how much these planets can excite these stars. Enough to cause flares two orders of magnitude bigger than anything we've ever seen on the Sun? That's the big question, and now that we know these atmospheres can definitely be perturbed, it's likely that we might be having to apply for some observation time here soon.

We've already started moving that way with some respect. Dr. Melott and I have been working on talking to planet hunter Paul Butler, to see if he can add a few of our stars to his target list since eight of the nine planets that have been seen to have these super flares have never been observed for planets. But more on how that all turns out later.

Shkolnik, E., Walker, G.A., Bohlender, D.A. (2003). Evidence for Planet-induced Chromospheric Activity on HD 179949. The Astrophysical Journal, 597(2), 1092-1096. DOI: 10.1086/378583

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It all makes sense now!

I never understood creationism before. I've had my eyes opened. Finally someone that explains it perfectly!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mother in the Sun: Take 2

As if it weren't stupid before, it seems another 50 people in India have lost their vision trying to see the Virgin Mary by staring at the sun.

According to one doctor, “Most patients may hopefully improve their vision.”

How about next time we hopefully improve their intelligence?

Novel mutations

One of the silliest creationist arguments is that there's no such thing as a beneficial mutation. Even if we get them to admit that there is, then they make the argument that in order to get a beneficial mutation, they have to do damage to themselves.

This is obviously falsified by nylonase, and now, is falsified by a new species of bacteria that can metabolize hairspray.

Both of these discoveries come from the Japanese. Shame that things coming from Japan tend to go right over the heads of Creationists, who still think Pokemon is actually how evolution works.

Sins: New and Improved!

Catholicism is one of the fastest declining religions out there. So what does the Vatican do? Make up a bunch of new sins.

What makes the list? "[D]rugs, pollution and genetic manipulations as well as social and economic injustices as new areas of sinful behavior."

Drugs? That's vague. What constitutes a "drug"? Are we talking the strict clinical definition which just means something that effects how the body/mind functions? Or are we going with the arbitrary government setup which is often based more on propaganda than actual legitimate standards? Either way, perhaps it's best to toss your aspirin and booze. Just incase. Oh wait... that's going to suck for that whole Communion thing.

Pollution? Shit. Better turn off your refrigerator, stop using a car, and heck, breathing is probably not helping out your soul too much either. There's no way to have zero impact on our environment. So I suppose this is really all about minimizing it. But some people are better at it than others. Does this introduce a scale which means a certain amount of pollution is applicable for some, but not others? Is there a cutoff when too much garbage dooms you for all of eternity, or is it a grayscale sort of thing?

Genetic Manipulation? Oh dear. It's time to kill every single domesticated animal as they're all results of artificial selection manipulating their genetics! And let's not forget nearly every food we eat. Most have either been bred or outright genetically tinkered with in labs. Perhaps we should go back to the cows hundreds of years ago which had high amounts of saturated fats and led to health issues.

Social and Economic Injustices? Hm... How much money does the big C keep around? It's gotta be a lot if they're constantly settling these multi million dollar lawsuits for these child molestation suits.

So really, all these new sins are outright stupid. What's the idea behind it? Looks like guilt to me; Make people feel bad for doing things that are human.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oh my, OK

It looks like Oklahoma is up to some stupid new tricks. A new anti-science bill (HB 2211) is about to pass the House and go on to the Senate. What does it do?
The bill requires public schools to guarantee students the right to express their religious viewpoints in a public forum, in class, in homework and in other ways without being penalized. If a student’s religious beliefs were in conflict with scientific theory, and the student chose to express those beliefs rather than explain the theory in response to an exam question, the student’s incorrect response would be deemed satisfactory, according to this bill.
I'm not going to point out the obvious abuses of this law if it passes.

But in reality, I'm not sure that it's impossible to get around. It just teachers need to be a bit smarter about asking the questions. Instead of asking, "What is the age of the universe?" they should change the question to, "According to all available scientific evidence that is not based in logical fallacies (ie, Creationism) and recognized by the scientific community, what is the age of the universe?"

Unless a student's religious beliefs tell them that lying is appropriate, they can't change what the scientific community has actually said, even if they disagree with it.

Of course, that's a mouthful to stick before every question, so it would be better to just stick that foreword as a disclaimer at the beginning of each test, or even to the class in general. Then students have no excuse not to at the very least learn and understand what's being taught.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More on Expelled - Did he really say that?

I added Google's Analytics to my blog a week or two ago and have been taking a look at where my traffic comes from and where everyone goes here. It seems that a significant amount of traffic comes from Google, and that the most common keywords people are finding me through, was various searches for information on the Expelled movie.

I haven't written much about it, aside from a post when the movie was first announced. It didn't really say much about the film other than apparently it existed and producers lied about their intentions.

But since it comes up high on the search for Expelled I figured I should put in some real info. So I've gone back and written up a summary of everything that's been released about the film and its methodology. I'm not going to bother reposting it here, but if you're interested, check it out.

Meanwhile, in pulling together all the information from that post, I found a quote from Ben Stein that absolutely astounded me:
Assuming it all did happen by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, where did the laws of gravity come from? Where did the laws of thermodynamics come from? Where did the laws of motion and, of heat come from? Where, I guess that's the same as thermodynamics. Where did all these laws, that make it possible for the universe to function, where did they all come from?
Seriously? Evolution doesn't explain gravity?!

And just when I thought creationists couldn't get any dumber...

They'll take anyone

It looks like the Coast to Coast radio program recently had the producers of Expelled on their show. Must be a high honor for the ID crowd. After all, they're finally finding a place to fit in: On a show that has repeatedly invited moon landing deniers.

(Note: I should remember that IDists already have a place where they fit in seamlessly.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Oh Kansas...

Kansas weather is wild.

Yesterday I was walking around downtown in shorts and short sleeves. It was 70º and absolutely beautiful outside. Today, the high shouldn't even get above freezing.

The labs I teach are Monday and Wednesday nights. Last Monday, as I walked home, I nearly fell twice. The first time was on a north facing hill that the sun didn't hit which was still covered in ice from the frequent snows we've been getting. The second time was on a south facing hill that was mud. Oh, and it was snowing. While it was 34º out.

Kansas weather is wild.