Friday, September 25, 2009

Two more gaps

Feathered dinosaurs predating the archaeopteryx. Damn, now there's even more gaps to fill....

Why can't the US manage this?

Over in the UK, a group in charge of monitoring ads has panned one that implies magic oils can cure caner.

Wouldn't this be great if we could get rid of all the bunk that makes claims completely unsupported by the evidence and, even worse, pose serious health risks for the benefit of those snake oil salesmen?

We should have these groups, but the UK is at least wise enough not to give religious groups a free pass. Fortunately, with the convictions of parents that murder their children by denying them treatment for simple illnesses, or to "get the demons out" becoming more frequent, the US may finally be moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Crazy People

This one murdered his family thanks to ghosts.

A moment of critical thinking wouldn't have hurt here. :(

Fearing Themselves

Man does the religious right say some stupid stuff. I mean, this is no surprise, but this most recent bit of inanity is the best comedy gold I've seen in a long time from them.
All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.


Yeah. That's an "astonishingly insightful remark" all right. Just not into what the speaker, Michael Schwartz, probably thinks it is.

By his logic, the Republican party must be full of homosexuals since conservatives are more likely to consume pornography.
Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds.


Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.


States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."
Yep. Real morally upright. People like, Michael Duvall, Paul Stanley, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and Chip Pickering.

And that's sex scandals from just this year. I think those who protest the loudest have the furthest to fall. After all, the numbers just don't add up. Even when homosexuality is allowed, the majority of people don't find it affects them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coming or Going

Are atheists on the rise or dying out?

It depends on who you ask. A recent article on the Telegraph's website makes the case that "atheists are dying breed".

The evidence?

Religious people are more likely to have lots of kids and in a single country (Austria), the average number of kids being produced by atheist parents is less than one kid (.85 to be exact).

Hooray! The atheists are doomed within a few generations due to lack of breeding! Now the author can delight because he doesn't like us ebil atheists "criticising people for their privately-held religious beliefs".... which aren't at all "private" and are regularly forced on us....

But we'll ignore that particular bit of stupidity. What's even more disgusting is the horrible use of small number statistics to generalize a situation that isn't even applicable:

1) Austria is not the world - I'm sure it's a nice place, but just because atheists aren't popping out kids like my Catholic neighbors doesn't mean that's the case worldwide. Indeed, there's many countries where birth rates in general are lower than the death rates. Given that, the author of this article should write an even more sensational title: "A nightmare for Everyone: statistics show that humanity is a dying breed!" That's the problem with small number statistics.

2) Memetically transmitted traits are independent of genetics - Religion is an idea. It's not a gene that's passed down. While it's been argued that there be genes that make you more susceptible to that particular meme, it doesn't mean you're going to get it, even if your parents are religious. A large number of atheists are ones that were formerly religious. Recent events (from 9/11 to Bush's overt religiosity) are driving people away from religion completely independently of inheritance.

Meanwhile, if you were to pull your head out of your ass and look at numbers that aren't full of blatant flaws, non-belief is on the rise.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pretty pictures

The universe is just awesome.


Friday, September 11, 2009

WTF Discovery Channel

I know a lot of people like the show on the Discovery Channel called "How Stuff's Made" or something like that. I've never been a huge fan of the show. It bores me.

But what I found out today is that the Discovery Company has a website that's similarly named: How Stuff Works.

Oh cool! That can't be bad.

Can it?

Let's check out the science section. What's their "featured science"?

How Ghostbusters Work. Looking through the article, it does a fair job of giving examples of how many events that are claimed ghost sightings have been bogus and even drops in a line about how ghosts have never been shown to exist. But at the same time, the entire article runs under the bent that they do exist.... we just haven't found them.

Other featured articles? How the Grim Reaper Works. Again, this is more of an analysis of the history of various cultures belief in the dead. There's absolutely no science here. So why is it in the "Science section"?

Furthermore, both of these were in an oxymoronic sub-section: Supernatural Science. My mind is boggled.

I better look at some good science to calm my nerves.

Evolution is fascinating because it attempts to answer one of the most basic human questions: Where did life, and human beings, come from?
We will also examine several important areas that show holes in the current theory....The holes are considered by many to be proof that the theory of evolution should be overthrown.
Most people agree that bacteria evolve in small ways (microevolution), but there is some controversy around the idea of speciation (macroevolution).
The theory of evolution is just that -- a theory....Many theories are works in progress, and evolution is one of them.

And what source do they cite? Fail. Massive fail.

The Discovery Company should be ashamed to host this site. Perhaps Phil Plait could call up his good personal friend Adam Savage and see if he can get in contact with anyone that can fix this mess.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Another page from the "Well no shit" files

On my way home, I usually listen to 99.1 FM (a local classical station). During the drive, I generally catch "the medical minute".

Generally they're pretty interesting, but today's was one of the dumbest things I've ever heard: Video games make you fat.


Sitting and not moving anything except your fingers isn't good exercise?

Who'd have figured?! I'm glad the CDC is here to tell us these things.

If it sounds too stupid to be true, listen to it yourself.

A good list

Over at Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy, Tom has a list that I think is an important reminder.

While Creationists love the "Teach the Conroversy" mantra, they conveniently forget how real controversies work in science; They're argued by scientists. They're not shoehorned into high school science classrooms.

In his new post, Tom provides a short list of legitimate controversies that would eventually be solved (as well as at least one that hasn't) without having to invoke supernatural magic.

The list also emphasizes just how important the actual experimentation part of science is. This is another part that Creationists often leave out.

Here's to the weird ones.

ResearchBlogging.orgWhether or not we know just how they work, type Ia Supernovae (SNe Ia) are held to be great standard candles for building our cosmic distance ladder. In so many cases where we can check their distance by other, more fundamental means there seems to be a very nice trend we can use.

The theory behind these guys is described by the Chandrasekhar limit, that is, the maximum density at which you can compact an object before the gravity overwhelms internal support forces. For white dwarfs (the dead cores of many stars not massive enough to have gone supernova as they died), they all have a similar radius so usually we just talk about the mass limit as being 1.4 times the mass of the Sun. Any more massive and it would have gone supernova in the first place (a Type II Supernova). If a white dwarf is just under that limit and a companion star dumps enough on it to go over the limit, then a SNe Ia happens.

This is a good fit to all the data, but most importantly because SNe Ia don't have much, if any, hydrogen in their spectra which means that they can't be main sequence stars that still have their envelope of hydrogen.

But as to every story, there's some exceptions.

Back in 2003 a supernova with the exciting name of SNLS-03D3bb occurred that was more than twice as bright as SNe Ia's should be. It wasn't reported until 2006 and that same year, another group (Howell et al.) inferred a mass of the pre-explosion core to be 2.1 times the mass of the Sun!


Ok. Whatever. We'll tweak the model. Maybe these guys were just spinning faster than normal SNe Ia's which would give them some extra support before the collapse thanks to centrifugal forces. Maybe mass just got dumped on extra fast, as in two white dwarfs colliding. Maybe differential rotation was more important than expected and really does need to be included in the basic model. Maybe the metallicity is somehow really important. Perhaps the orbital period of the white dwarf and the donor star plays an important role. Who knows?

So group decided to try to put some constraints on the problem by adding some of these things to the models and trying it out a bunch of different ways.

While they haven't completely solved the problem, the did learn four things:

1) If the white dwarf starts off at around ~one solar mass (like most probably are) the resultant supernovae are very uniform, right at the 1.4 limit.

2) If the white dwarf is close to 1.2 solar masses to start, the final mass before going supernova can creep up to nearly 1.8 solar masses. Getting there but not good enough.

3) To be consistently above the 1.6 solar masses, the donor star must be 2.2 - 3.3 solar masses and in a very short orbit of 0.5 - 4 days. Smaller and shorter if the donor is metal poor.

4) Metallicity is important. Metal poor stars are less likely to make these super-Chandrasekhar supernovae. This one's perhaps the most imminently important one because this means that we're less likely to be having these oddballs contaminating our data at high redshifts (ie, really far away) which is where they're the most useful (remember, we have other ways to check distances nearby).

So the problem's not solved, but such is the nature of science.
Chen, W., & Li, X. (2009). ON THE PROGENITORS OF SUPER-CHANDRASEKHAR MASS TYPE Ia SUPERNOVAE The Astrophysical Journal, 702 (1), 686-691 DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/702/1/686