Excitement Alert: New Planets!

In case you missed it: astronomers have discovered 54 planets that are potentially habitable. The news is here. Now where’s my damn warp drive-enabled starship? I could really use a break from creation museums, vaccine deniers and global warming skeptics (i.e. shills for the fossil fuel industry).

Seriously, science is so great. It boggles my mind that some — NOT ALL — people of faith attack it whenever it threatens their beliefs. I’m really not trying to pick a fight, I’m just saying. I mean, for eff’s sake, check out this terrible Bill O’Reilly video. This is the way a dumbass high school bully talks, and it reflects the way a lot of people think (or “think”). Fuck ignorant, idiocy-spreading cock-face piece of shit Bill O’Reilly and fuck his science-bashing fans and fellow-travellers. And triple-fuck the assholes who give a guy this ignorant a TV show. Sorry for the rant, but encouraging stupidity is despicable. There’s this beautiful, amazing universe and idiots want to diminish its wonder. God would NOT APPROVE.

Annnnnyway and also, designer Awesome Klassen sends in this short, entertaining article in the San Francisco Chronicle on why we need to head on over to these planets RIGHT NOW:

The last time humanity discovered habitable masses across an unknown abyss it was North America. In the 500 or so years since, we’ve experienced an unprecedented flowering of commerce, science, and culture. Back then, the average life span was 30 to 40 years. Sure, some bad things happened as a result of this adventuring and colonization. Peoples disappeared. Disease spread. Buffalo died. But on the whole, it looks like the Spaniards, Dutch, and Portuguese were pretty smart to pack entrepreneurs onto ships and send them into the unknown. Let’s do it again!

I can think of more than a few people who might prefer to live in a world where Europeans stayed home and loused up their own damn continent. Is North America really better for Bill O’fuckingReilly? A funny read nonetheless.

Wakefield Hoped To Make Millions Off Vaccination Panic

The British Medical Journal recently published the second part of Brian Deer’s dissection of Andrew Wakefield’s vaccine scam. In it, Deer follows the money and shows how the discredited ex-doc planned to make millions by whipping up fear and mistrust of the MMR vaccine. Seems Wakefield wasn’t just getting paid to put together evidence for a class action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry, he also stood to make a fortune by selling an alternative to the standard MMR vaccine and through a test he developed for Crohn’s disease.

For more detail, you can read the BMJ article which is quite good (but also quite long and a tad dry). Or, for a shorter, audio summary of the piece, have a listen to this week’s Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. It’s the second segment, starting at about the 13:50 mark. (The first segment is about a new exo-planet! Exo-planets are cool!)

People. Stop Freaking Out About Mass Bird Deaths Right Now.

It’s normal. Happens all the time. National Geographic and a sarcastic grad student with a good blog have spoken. So save the freak-outs for the overwhelmingly abundant REAL ecological catastrophes out there. I’m sure we can find one or two to get worked up over.

Anti-Vaccination Doc A Fraud

2010 was a bad year for Andrew Wakefield. And 2011 isn’t shaping up to be much better.

In case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the doctor — oh, sorry, disgraced former doctor (he was struck from the British Medical Register last year) — he’s the guy behind a 1998 study published in the Lancet that claimed to find a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine. His study has been buttressing the claims of the anti-vaccination movement for 13 years. He’s the go-to science slinger for high-profile, “Don’t Prick My Kid” activists like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.

That’s despite the fact that his paper, as it turns out, was a load of crap. The results were rigged. The case studies doctored. And people have known this since early last decade.

Continue reading “Anti-Vaccination Doc A Fraud”

We Haz Moon!

So it turns out that when the moon is being eclipsed, you can’t see it, even if it’s DIRECTLY ABOVE YOU THE WHOLE TIME. Not being able to actually see anything, in my endlessly humble opinion, DEFEATS THE WHOLE FREAKING POINT OF GETTING UP WAY EARLY FOR A LUNAR ECLIPSE. Annnnnyway, here’s a picture such as one bad, half-awake photographer was able to take. Look! Moon! Eclipsing! Enjoy my documentation of this truly magical once in 500-years event. Yay.

Gates of Hell Set to Open?

Damn, I knew Dechene shouldn’t have been such a smart-ass when he did that Hallowe’en interview with a local mentalist after he’d had a scheduled seance at the Western Development Museum cancelled when church groups in Moose Jaw complained about the possibility of malevolent spirits being unleashed.

Turns out that on Dec. 21, for the first time since 1554, the Winter Solstice will coincide with a lunar eclipse. With the sun and moon at low ebb, the time may be ripe for all sorts of spooky  paranormal shenanigans to occur. Or not.

But to be on the safe side, if you know any sentinels out there, give them a heads up to be on their toes on Tuesday, okay?

NASA’s Critters Underwhelm…. Unless You’re A Bacteria Nerd

Damn. NASA didn’t blow the lid off the Area 51 conspiracy today. What a surprise. And such a letdown. I thought for sure this was going to be the day the field of ufology was finally vindicated.

Instead, we get the critters at right. Here’s how PZ Myers, biologist and wet blanket, explains the big discovery….

It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial. It’s the kind of thing that will get a sentence or three in biochemistry textbooks in the future.

So… all the rumors were overblown. sigh. But if you’re still wondering what to make of NASA’s press conference — and some of it was kinda cool once you got past the initial disappointment — Myers’ blog post on the subject is a great read.

Dogcast: David Sauchyn Discusses The New Normal

Here’s that promised podcast version of my interview with David Sauchyn. We discuss the book he co-edited with Harry Diaz and Suren Kulshreshtha titled The New Normal: The Canadian Prairies in a Changing Climate.

If you want to read the article this goes with it’s here.

Prairiedog podcast-DavidSauchynInterview by Paul Dechene

The New Normal launches on November 16. You can watch the book trailer here. And you can order the book here.

Music used in this podcast is Rythme Gitan by Latché Swing which I downloaded from the Free Music Archive.

Moose Jaw Seance Back From The Dead

In the last issue, we reported on a seance the Western Development Museum was planning as a Halloween fundraiser and how religious groups in the community were up in arms and got it shut down.

Well, tomorrow, the Victory Church of Moose Jaw — one of the main agitators against the seance — will be holding a banquet to help support the museum. The event is at 6pm, in the Victory Church (637 Main St N) and will cost $15 per person.  There will be live entertainment (presumably of the non-non-corporeal sort) and the meal is being catered by Charlotte’s Catering. For more information contact the VCMJ at 691-5051.

In other news, plans for a seance fundraiser have been resurrected. On October 30, the mentalist and maybe-medium we interviewed last issue, Jeff Richards, will be trying to contact the other side — and perhaps visiting doom upon all of us — at the Hopkins Dining Parlour in Moose Jaw. This event is being co-organized with the WDM and tickets cost $25. For more information call 631-9508.

Seeing as I’m still striking out on getting an interview with Pastor Larry Gerow of the Victory Church of Moose Jaw — the main seance opponent — I thought I would run the complete, mostly-unedited interview I conducted with mentalist Jeff Richards. It comes up after the jump. This version shows more clearly how I went into the interview thinking I’d be talking to a stage magician who might tip his hand to the fact that seances are all stagecraft and psychology and nothing supernatural. As the interview went on, I couldn’t tell if he was spinning me a line when he claimed he might contact the spirit world with a ouija board or if he was a true believer. Ultimately, I decided to just go along with it and see where we’d end up. Made for a much more interesting interview….

Continue reading “Moose Jaw Seance Back From The Dead”

New Dark Age On Its Way

Wow. Once you scratch the surface of the anti-science faction, you discover it’s crackpots all the way down….

Found out via Pharyngula that the geocentrists are having a conference on November 6. Really? Geocentrism is back in fashion? I thought it was deader than Tycho Brahe’s nose. Hell, my spell check doesn’t even recognize the word.

The talks have names like, “Scientific Evidence: Earth in the Centre of the Universe,” “Galileo and the Church: What Really Happened” and “Geocentrism: They Know It But They’re Hiding It.” Sound familiar at all?

Honestly, I don’t know how scientists can get any work done when they’re hatching so many conspiracies.

Draw The Universe Within At The Saskatchewan Science Centre

The Art Gallery Of Regina has put together a figure drawing session for artists who’d like to draw the plasticized bodies in the touring exhibit Our Bodies: The Universe Within. It sounds interesting. From the press release:

Learning anatomy is one of the fundamentals of figure drawing. This unique session, co-sponsored by the Saskatchewan Science Centre, offers artists a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the musculoskeletal system as it has never been seen before. Participants will spend three hours independently drawing the preserved models at the Saskatchewan Science Centre on display in the Our Body: The Universe Within exhibition. This facilitated session will take place after hours when the museum is closed to the public.

The workshop will be facilitated by Ward Schell and costs $60. No cameras, and pencil, pen and other non-messy drawing implements only. For more information, e-mail the gallery here.

Carle wrote about the exhibit back in the spring. Remember when it was spring? Sigh. Our Bodies has been extended through January, by the way. January is in winter. Sigh again.

Holy Crap! Has Lomborg Just Switched Sides??!?

Well, this is surprising news. The Guardian is reporting that the skeptical environmentalist, Bjørn Lomborg, has a new book coming out called Smart Solutions to Climate Change in which he declares global warming to be “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today” and he will be calling for tens of billions of dollars to be invested in climate change mitigation.

And, he will advocate for financing those tens of billions with a carbon tax!

This is a complete turn around from the position he argued in last year’s Munk Debate when he and climate-science skeptic Nigel Lawson squared off against George Monbiot and Elizabeth May.

Strange that he would have argued that climate change wasn’t worthy of a $100 billion investment back in December of 2009 and then make an about face this summer. Presumably he was researching the new book back when the Munk was taking place, if not actually writing it.

Have to say, I’m damn curious as to how he’ll justify all this. And I’m more than a little skeptical of Lomborg’s apparent change of face. Guess we’ll have to see how this shakes out.

Pick of the Day: Megamunch’s Birthday Party

A few years ago I did a cover feature on a four-day Creationist symposium or conclave or whatever you want to call it where a bunch of mostly American speakers argued in favour of Biblical Creationism and sought to disparage scientific explanations for the possible origin of life on Earth and the creation of the universe.

I attended two of the four evenings with a friend who had read extensively about the supposed “controversy” that exists between Biblical and scientific viewpoints. The only controversy that exists, of course, is in the minds of the looney Christian fringe that embraces a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis where God created the universe and everything in it, including us, in six days. By their reckoning, Earth is a little over 6000 years old — a figure that’s arrived at by adding up the ages of all the Biblical patriarchs from Adam on down.

Watching the speakers apply the broadest possible interpretation to Biblical texts to try to get within hailing distance of established scientific principles explaining various facets of our existence was hugely entertaining.

The gathering was held at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s auditorium. Given the Christian group’s anti-scientific bent and total disregard for anything remotely resembling rational thought, I was initially surprised that the RSM had agreed to rent the space to them. But realistically, the RSM is a publicly funded venue and should be open to as broad a spectrum of people as possible.

Of all the auditoriums in Regina, I’m not sure why organizers chose the RSM to hold their rally.  No, scratch that. I know full well why they did. To give their dubious enterprise a veneer of scientific credibility.

To their followers, they probably portrayed it as equivalent to Daniel entering the lions’ den. Except it wasn’t, really. The RSM is Megamunch’s house. And this afternoon from 1-4 p.m. the museum is celebrating the dinosaur’s 65,000,024 birthday with a mix of family-friendly activities.

Why 65,000,024? Because that’s roughly how long ago the dinosaur’s species roamed the Earth. If you’re interested, there’s a whole pile of Creationism Debunked videos on YouTube. Here’s the introduction to one series to give you a taste. Need extra motivation? two words: Golden Crocoduck!

Climate Denier Wins “Big” Award

This one is too funny, don’t know how I missed it.

The pitbull of climate denial, Marc Morano, recently won the Petr Beckmann Award from Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. Though you wouldn’t know it from the name, the DDP seems to be a dedicated climate-science denial organization with close links to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (the two groups share an address and some key personnel). And if you think the AAPS sounds legit, a quick scan through it’s journal turns up an article questioning the HIV – AIDS link, a study attempting to link breast cancer rates to abortion, one linking vaccines to autism, and a study on homosexuality that ends like so…

American concepts and attitudes about homosexuality have changed significantly in recent decades. Most of society and the medical profession now view it as an acceptable alternate lifestyle: a biologically determined, permanent “orientation”, rather than a learned, experiential, and often changeable choice. The concept of homosexuality as a permanent “orientation” is, however, without scientific validation; the notion is entirely politically grounded. One effect of this new view has been to understate the medical and societal harm produced by the promiscuous sexual practices typically associated with homosexuality.

In other words, the AAPS is yet another vile, right-wing organization that promotes junk science.

Meanwhile, the award Morano has won is given to “individuals who demonstrate courage and achievement in defence of scientific truth and freedom”. If you’re looking for the laughs in all this though, check out the Petr Beckmann the award is named after. He is remembered for being on the vanguard of Relativity denial. (Update at 9:39pm: About Beckmann’s Relativity denial, forgot to note that he wasn’t one of the people back in 1909 who thought this new “theory” was just too crazy. No. Beckmann was claiming to have debunked the Theory of Relativity on Usenet and in a book called Einstein Plus Two which was published in 1987. So, long after Relativity had been accepted by the scientific consensus.)

That’s right, there’s apparently an anti-Einstein underground that thinks one of the most-validated scientific theories ever is a bunch of made-up junk. You simply can’t be a bigger crank if you’re dissing on the Theory of Relativity.

So, congratulations Marc Morano on that award for being the most outrageous ignoramus at the lobotomy barndance.

But before we go, let’s add this up, shall we? Climate-science denial sits at the intersection of Relativity denial (I’m still shocked that this is for real), vaccine denial, HIV-AIDS denial, homosexual-rights denial, and (as we pointed out before) evolution denial.

At what point do we stop qualifying the views of anti-climate-science guys like Morano and just call them what they are: anti-Science?

Monckton Bloviates

Christopher Monckton — the Clown Prince of Climate Science Denial — has finally released his response to John Abrahams devastating dissection of his Bethel University talk from last October — the one that’s likely identical to the FCPP-sponsored talk he gave here around the same time. (Abraham’s critique can be found here. Some of our Monckton coverage can be found here and here.)

Apparently, it comes in at a whopping 99 pages. Apparently, it’s jam packed with Monckton’s particular brand of bloviation. Apparently, beyond that, it contains little substance.

I say “apparently” because I haven’t read it. No, I have not. And I do not intend to. Not unless someone decides to start paying me to squander more time on Monckton. While I have my reasons for enjoying pointing out that the man is unreliable on any subject and a total nutter besides, I think I’ve waded through enough of his crap and it’s now safe to dismiss his ravings outright and spare myself more tedium.

Instead, I’ll be trusting the analysis of others. Braver, more dedicated souls. Richard Littlemore over at Desmog Blog, for instance, is worth a read. Here’s a good bit that sums things up nicely:

Monckton says something, he offers a vague source to back up his position, but when you check the source, you find that he has said something that is quite incorrect. If you didn’t already know Monckton – which is to say, if you hadn’t come to expect this performance – you might be surprised that someone who is calling someone else a “liar” would be so cavalier with the evidence.

Meanwhile, over at the Guardian, George Monbiot is the most eloquent in tearing Monckton apart. His take:

As far as I can see, he fails to provide a straight or convincing refutation of any of Abraham’s criticisms, and succeeds only in throwing a great deal of dust into the air.

Reading through all this, what’s striking is how confidently Monckton has constructed his web of nit-wittery. In fact, I suspect he’s more than just a cynical opportunist riding the science-denial shortbus to fame and glory. He’s a true believer.

And that reminds me of this bit I just read in the God Delusion where Dawkin’s quotes from Robert Trivers’ Social Evolution:

[Self-deception is] hiding the truth from the conscious mind the better to hide it from others. In our own species we recognize that shifty eyes, sweaty palms and croaky voices may indicate the stress that accompanies conscious knowledge of attempted deception. By becoming unconscious of its deception, the deceiver hides these signs from the observer. He or she can lie without the nervousness that accompanies deception.

Climate Scientists Exonerated, Deniers Looking Like Fools

The University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit scientists at the heart of the cleverly named “Climategate” scandal have been exonerated once again. Yesterday, a report from the Independent Climate Change Email Review found the CRU scientists acted honestly and their research is reliable.

In other words, it turns out that despite all the crackpot accusations from the denier crowd, the CRU emails do not undermine the foundations of climate science.

This is the fourth investigation into the email scandal that has concluded that the CRU researchers are innocent of scientific wrongdoing. Taken all together, this is a pretty thorough vindication. And yet, if you were to read only the mainstream news coverage, you might come away thinking a cloud still hangs over the field of climate science.

Take for instance yesterday’s Globe and Mail which ran the headline, “‘Climategate’ inquiry mostly vindicates scientists”.

“Mostly”??? Hang on, this report concludes the CRU researchers’ “rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt,” and goes on to say that their review “did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.”

How’s that “mostly” vindicated?

Well, the Globe makes much of the fact that the report chides the scientists for not being completely willing to share their data with climate-science critics. Admittedly, the optics of such ungenerous behaviour are not good and the CRU scientists could have saved themselves a lot of hassle if they’d just handed over their data when first asked (forget that the data in question was freely available from other sources so it looks like the climate critics may have only been requesting the information because they’re annoying assholes).

But then again, maybe the CRU’s reputation would be better off if they’d just obediently handed over their work no matter how devious the intentions of the asker, but would climate science?

Continue reading “Climate Scientists Exonerated, Deniers Looking Like Fools”

Monday Mailbag: Nooooooo!!! Save Teh Babies!!!

Here’s a letter we received today addressed to Carle Steel, who made me open it because she thought the thickly-stuffed thing was more likely a subpoena than a bundle of cash. Actually this letter was the surprise behind door number three: a three-page essay dismissing the opinions of people who find the awful, fear-mongering, guilt-tripping anti-abortion ads on Regina buses to be shitty, mean and stupid.

An excerpt:

“The thing that you said in your article was that [Advertising Standards Canada] was interested in TRUTh in advertising. Please explain why, when the TRUTh is spoken or displayed in graphic images, the pro-abortion folks want to discredit, call names, even lie or tell half-truths to try and hide the TRUTh. Why? Why do you want silence in the public square? Why do you want legal silence? Why do you want political silence on this issue?”

That’s a lot of questions for a busy guy with dozens of articles to assign and edit but I’ll take a stab at it.

Continue reading “Monday Mailbag: Nooooooo!!! Save Teh Babies!!!”

Zombie Vs Shark

Normally I don’t like to repost cool videos I’ve found on other people’s blogs — I prefer to greedily hoard them —  but yesterday was Zombie Day on Scienceblogs and PZ Myers of Pharyngula (one of my favourite bloggers) posted this video that is made of so many different sorts of grisly awesome I had to share…

Does anyone know where this clip is from? (Shane…..?)

UPDATE: Whitworth here. Called Shane (our film listings guy who knows everything). Shane says the movie is Zombie. It’s an unofficial Italian sequel to Dawn of the Dead. It’s quite gross say those who’ve seen it. Naturally I know at least two people who own it on DVD.

Here’s the link on the Internet Movie Database.

Lord of Climate Denial’s Epic Fail

It’s been a bad few months for Lord Christopher Monckton, the British viscount who’s become a darling of the Tea Party movement thanks to his denunciations of climate science.

We’ve been following his rise through the ranks of climate denialdom ever since his visit to Regina last year that was sponsored by right-wing think-tank, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. (Read some of our Monckton-related coverage here, here, here, here and here; and Carle wrote a piece about his visit in a late October issue of the paper that isn’t archived on-line yet.)

Among the most-recent challenges to Monckton’s rather fanciful (read: false) take on climate science, there are the “Debunking Lord Monckton” episodes from Climate Denial Crock of the Week (here’s part 1 and part 2) and then there was his debate in Australia with Deltoid blogger, Tim Lambert, whose opening comments included a serious challenge to the integrity of Monckton’s research skills (the fun bits are near the end of this and at the beginning of this).

The latest blow to Monckton’s credibility (which, if we lived in a rational world, would be the decisive one) comes via an 83-minute slide-show presentation made by mechanical engineering professor, John Abraham. In painstaking detail, Abraham takes apart a speech made by Monckton at Bethel University on October 14, 2009, and thoroughly eviscerates all of the viscount’s scientific claims.

A bit of trivia: This Bethel University presentation came just one week after he spoke here. So those of you who attended Monckton’s talk and debate and found him a compelling character should find Abraham’s presentation especially revealing.

Continue reading “Lord of Climate Denial’s Epic Fail”

Space, Bat Bombs And Weaponized Goo

Using my Dog Blog Administrator Powers I’ve learned Rosie is writing his scheduled Thursday Six In The Morning post right now. (If it’s not up soon it’ll have to change to a Four In The Afternoon). While we wait to read… whatever… here’s a link to a cool story in Wired about a solar sail for spaceship propulsion. And if that’s too boring here’s another Wired story about bat bombs and goo canons. Enjoy.