Thursday, October 28, 2010

The World Must be Ending: I Agree with a Republican Sponsored Measure

I never thought I'd see the day, but coming up for vote in Oklahoma is a measure initiated by a republican. Should the amendment pass, it will prohibit the use of Sharia law as a basis for rulings in court cases.

This seems like it should be common sense. Court rulings shouldn't be made in deference to religion or religious law. Yet apparently this needs reminding since a Muslim husband repeatedly beat and raped his wife and after his wife filed a restraining order, a judge struck it down on the basis that it was his religious beliefs that promoted it.

Thankfully, this was appealed and an appellate court upheld the restraining order. But the point still stands: Religion cannot be used as an excuse to mistreat others. As has been stated elsewhere, your rights, including religious ones, end where the rights of another begin.

Predictably, Muslims are whining that this is somehow persecution. It's not. America is a nation of secular laws that apply equally. You don't get exemptions and exceptions for religion.

My only complaint is that this bill doesn't go far enough. If this is going to be a reminder that we don't use Islamic law in our courts, it needs to also remember that Christian morals and laws aren't permitted either.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Science of Star Wars

Back when I started putting together my Anime Mythbusters panel, one of the inspirations was the series of "Science of ________" shows.

One of those, Science of Star Wars, is now available online. It's a fun watch. Light on real science though.

Comet Hartley2

For those that haven't heard, Comet Hartley 2 is making it's appearance right now. It's not really exceptional as far as comets go and is only expected to peak at around 5th magnitude, but it's still the best we're getting this year.

I went out Saturday night to my aunt's house outside St. Louis where it's fairly dark (enough so to see the Milky Way) to go hunt for it. I think it must have vanished because, armed with sky maps and a 4" reflector, I spent three hours looking for it and found a whole lotta nothin. Everything I got in the eyepiece was distinctly stellar and I panned all over the damned field.

Anyone else look for it and have similar experiences? I notice that the link above points out that the coma is already over 1ยบ in size, so this thing is huge. Perhaps I just wasn't expecting something so diffuse and passed right over it. The last comet I found was comet 17p Holmes and it was quite small in size at that point.

I'll go out again in a few nights if it's clear and try again. It's getting cold, but thankfully, my aunt has a hot tub.

Astronomer's Humor: Part 3

From my friend Luis Vargas:
How, then, does this initial temperature profile evolve in time? There are classical methods for determining T=T(x,t) for t>0. One of the basic results is that one can start with an exciting temperature profile T(x), for instance one that resembles the skyline of Manhattan or the panorama of the Alps, and after some time the temperature profile always looks like the landscape of Nebraska.

Source: R. Kippenhahn and A. Weigert, "Stellar Structure and Evolution". pg 33, 3rd ed (1994)
Wait... I thought it was Kansas that was flatter than a pancake...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Astronomers Humor: Part 2

Sometimes gender stereotypes are harmful. The shoehorning of gender roles has long limited freedom of choice for women, and still hampers their average earning potential.

Yet for some reason, we still joke about these stereotypes. Women's mood swings are the driving action of many comedies. Men failing to ask for directions is a standby. Women collect shoes and eat chocolate. Men love sports and beer.

This jestful stereotyping popped up in a paper I've been reading for a UT article. In it, the author notes that there seems to be an obsession with size.... of telescopes obviously. Bigger is better!

In a Freudian footnote, he adds:
1Speculation as to whether this is connected to the gender of most astronomers is outside the scope of this paper, but as the gender balance improves, it will be interesting to look for a reduction in the preoccupation with size.
Yep. That's it. Astronomers are compensating. *titter*

Oh wait.... was he being serious?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Another exorcism death, and a credulous judge

In 2007, Janet Moses died from drowning during a botched exorcism in New Zealand. The family responsible for this was tried for manslaughter and recently convicted.

Exorcisms ending in death are tragic, but sadly common enough I've created a post tag just for them. In many of these cases, the law comes down fairly hard, but in this case, the family gets little more than a slap on the wrist. According to the article, the heads of the family that led the exorcism received
six months' community detention and a daily curfew. In addition they had to do 300 hours community work and 12 months' supervision.
I've always understood the purpose of punishments to be a deterrent for future actions (as well as, frequently, compensation for damages from past ones). But this sentence is so light, it doesn't effectively serve either purpose.

In addition, the judge in his sentencing remarks, doesn't even condemn the base practice of dangerous exorcisms themselves. Instead, he recommends that before carrying them out, people seek the advice of cult practitioners, as if they're somehow any more qualified:
But what can be stated is that tohunga or kaumatua should be consulted by whanau where makutu is suspected so that the whanau receive the correct expert advice as to how to deal with a situation, as such advice will be tempered by ensuring what is to be carried out by such exorcism remains within the laws of New Zealand as set down by Parliament
So apparently, if you kill someone by consulting the proper quack, New Zealand is fine with it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

UT Posts: 9/10 - 10/5

Trojans May Yet Rain Down - A look at Neptunian Trojans and their potential as reservoirs as short-period comets.

Does a "Rock Comet" Generate the Geminids? - Can rocky bodies produce the stream that causes the Geminid Meteor Shower?

White Dwarf Pulsars? - Can white dwarfs pump out cosmic rays like the standard Neutron Star variety?

Electric Resistance May Make Hot Jupiters Puffy - Does a magnetic interaction with stellar winds heat hot Jupiters and make them expand?

The Case of the Missing Bulges - Why do some galaxies have bigger bulges than others?

A Varying Fine Structure Constant? - Does the fine structure constant vary in different places in the universe?

The Hercules Satellite: A Galactic Transitional Fossil - Is the Hercules Satellite galaxy on the verge of being eaten by the Milky Way?

Type II-P Supernovae as a New Standard Candle - Can these supernovae be normalized to tell distances?

The Thick Disk: Galactic Construction Project or Galactic Rejects - How his the thick disk of the Milky Way formed?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Why I Laugh at Creationists - That's Not a Journal

I've been hanging out at JT Eberhard's blog (the guy running Skepticon) lately thanks to my friend Steve dropping a link there on facebook.

I first started reading it from this post of his responding to a rather vacuous creationist named Bakersdozen2. BD2 tossed out the usual list of Creationist fallacies, among them the bifurcated fallacy of "Big Bang is wrong, thus Goddidit."

Fallacy aside, the premise of the Big Bang being wrong is one that needs some serious evidence. I've addressed the Big Bang before and demonstrated that there's several independent lines of evidence that converge to support it. So how does BD2 support that the Big Bang is wrong?

Initially he linked to an article in an Indian Newspaper citing an article in the Journal of Cosmology. The main point of the article was that we haven't detected gravitational waves, thus the Big Bang is wrong.... as if the linchpin of the entire Big Bang Theory is gravitational waves....

I went ahead and looked for the original article and eventually found it... on If you're not familiar with viXra, it's an alternative to, which is a preprint server for several types of scientific publications. viXra decided it didn't like the "censorship" practiced by those ebil scientific journals and all those hoity toity types at arXiv (where you have to be vetted by someone in the field before you can upload, so a minimal peer review process), so they started their own club.

I bet readers are already groaning anticipating what viXra really is: A home for crackpots. And you'd be right.

But that's guilt by association. Perhaps, just perhaps, this article is legit. No idea why it wouldn't have been put on arXiv first, but it apparently made it in a real, peer reviewed journal.... right?


The "Journal of Cosmology" is a sham.

First, check out it's "peer review" process:
Authors should submit the names, affiliations, and email addresses of 5 scientists qualified to review their paper
Yeah... that's right. You can pick your own reviewers. It says not to pick "friends", but that doesn't mean you can't pick someone that's not already sympathetic to your position and not going to give it a real shake. That's not peer review. That's cronyism.

While I've been informed that this is standard practice for some journals, a legitimate journal should at least review the reviewers picked and make sure they the proper qualifications and the job is done. How does this journal do?

Let's take a look at some of the articles. Here's one that the author of the paper BD2 likes to cite. It's about the "Myth of the Big Bang". Here's a quote that sums up the article:
Although most cosmologists will deny it, their Big Bang interpretations of data require it: a geo-centric universe with Earth as the center and measure of all things--exactly as demanded by the Judeo-Christian religion.
Wha? The Big Bang is Creationism is disguise?! Then why do so many Creationists have a problem with it?

Oddly enough, in this case, the Creationists actually understand the theory better than the author. The author claims
Therefore, data marshaled in support of the Big Bang place Earth at the center of the universe, with claims of age, distance, expansion, acceleration all relative to where the Earth is now
Uh... no. We use the Earth as a reference frame, but one of the centermost understandings of all of cosmology is that we do so because it's convenient. Not because it's the way things really are.

How did that slip by peer review? I guess the author recommended some elementary school students to review it. Behe would be proud.

So where does this guy come from and how does he know so much about Cosmology?

Well, he's from the Brain Research Lab. Oooh.... Research Lab. Sounds legit. Or not. They don't actually do research. They just produce stuff for the people that do.

But what about the original article BD2 referenced?

It's rubbish too. And it's not hard to see why. It's essentially the same game Creationists play - If you can poke enough holes in something, it will collapse, so make people think it's full of holes. The author cites numerous studies that attack various points of the Big Bang. Every single one falls flat. They're either things that the author simply doesn't understand (superstructure in the universe), or things that have never been justified (non-Doppler shift interpretations of redshift). His sources are crap too. Aside from the horrid nonsense I already pointed out he likes, he's also citing E.J. Lerner, a plasma cosmology lunatic. But even if they were supported, it provides no converging explanation for anything. Good theories tie many things together. This author thinks he's onto something when everything points in a different direction. Bad science. Bad journal.

Some of the other articles don't look too bad (although I've only glanced through a few of them). There's some written by some legitimate scientists actually working in their own fields including the person that started the "journal". In fact, he has quite a few, which is interesting. That's not a conflict of interest at all....

Overall, pretending this "Journal of Cosmology" is a credible source, is a bunch of nonsense. It's horribly and obviously flawed. But then again, so are Creationists.

UPDATE: Nancy, over at Universe Today, has also taken note of how another article fails to meet critical standards from experts in the field. This time on sponsoring missions to Mars. While one could argue that disagreements will always exist in cutting edge fields, the glaring inadequacies of these articles have shown that these aren't just disagreements over uncertain issues. These articles contain fundamental errors at the basic level. I mean, really? Selling property on Mars to fund missions in violation of international treaty? How did that one sneak by?

In general, it seems like most of the worst articles come from a guy named Rhawn Joseph, who this journal apparently loves and gives a free pass. He's a quack. PZ smacked him down last year. He, or one of his sycophants left a comment on my Big Bang post linking to some video about how the Big Bang never happened. I was going to do a full debunking of it and even downloaded it, but the sheer density of stupidity just hurt too much. I had 4 pages of notes and wasn't even 10 minutes in before scrapping it.