Scientific American, Don’t Do This

Recently saw this article on SA’s website about the Dragonfly Galaxy, a mysterious, diffuse star cluster that appears to be made predominantly of dark matter.

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The problem is that the picture on the article is not the Dragonfly galaxy, but rather the Sombrero galaxy. Yes, the caption says this – but clearly Sombrero cuts a much more impressive figure than Dragonfly (seen below.)

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There’s nowhere on SA’s website to give feedback, so I’m obliged to post it here, in the hopes that someone who cares might just possibly see it.

This is called “clickbait,” and even if it’s a very small example, it should be above the standards of this publication. So please, editors and webmasters – have a bit more integrity than this.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

A visit to the new planetarium, and so much more.

Earlier I posted some memories of the old Hayden Planetarium in New York City. As a child it was one of my favorite places to go.

1956, Planetarium 1

Finding myself in New York City once again, I decided to take the opportunity to visit the American Museum of Natural History along with its new Science Center. With one small exception, I was not disappointed.

I started out with a wonderful presentation narrated by the Planetarium director, the illustrious Neil deGrasse Tyson, called “Dark Universe.” It was visually stunning and extremely enlightening. I mentioned to my Facebook group that if Carl Sagan were still alive, and had he been able to see this presentation, it probably would have brought tears to his eyes – such was the respect paid to the wonder of the universe in this beautiful show.

Next on the docket was a visit to a very brief presentation about the Big Bang, narrated by Liam Neeson. Only 4 minutes long, it was light on science but a good introduction to the subject for the many people who come to visit the planetarium.

Leaving the Big Bang theater, one exits the dome and proceeds down a spiral ramp with many exhibits along the way relating to the formation of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day.

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Other exhibits artfully and powerfully illustrate the scale of the universe from the subatomic to the farthest reaches of our observation. On the bottom floor one finds some familiar things: the Willamette meteorite which was salvaged from the old planetarium,

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and many scales embedded in the floor showing your weight at various locations in the universe, such as the moon, a red giant star, the Sun, and a neutron star.

One never stops learning. I was surprised to see that my weight on the “surface” of a red giant star was almost negligible. Had I stopped to think about it, I would have realized that these expanded giants are so large that their photosphere is far, far, from their center of mass, meaning that the effect of gravity is almost nil.

I was crestfallen to find out that the Copernicus room with its amazing clockwork orrery which I so dearly loved as a child no longer exists; the entire building that housed the old planetarium was torn down to make way for the new Science Center, and apparently the mechanisms had stopped functioning as early as 1980. Modern day knowledge and technology has far surpassed the needfulness of the old mechanical device… but it was cool. The planets actually moved in real time, and the glowing orange Sun at the center was captivating. At least I have the memories.

Orrery

Leaving the planetarium, I wandered around the Natural History Museum and reacquainted myself with many of its amazing exhibits. Like the movie in Paris, this is not a building that one can experience in a single day so I had to be selective. I was not, however, disappointed.

The old dioramas in the African mammal room and elsewhere have been lovingly preserved and maintained; they look exactly the way I remember them and are still stunning to consider. These are true works of art.

My first girlfriend, to whom my mother introduced me when I was about four or five, was still there, along with many other wonderful fossils. In the hall of dinosaurs, I learned something new again: the old conventional wisdom that a Stegosaurus had a brain in its ass to control its back end the same way a hook and ladder truck has a second driver is simply not the case. Live and learn: farewell, Brontosaurus. Farewell, butt brain. (But Pluto is still a planet, dammit.)

The museum is now home to one of the largest dinosaur fossils that can be seen by the general public. It’s so long that they had to have its head stick out of one of the exhibit rooms.

“The new, much larger occupant grazes the gallery’s approximately 19-foot-high ceilings, and, at 122-foot, is just a bit too long for its new home. Instead, its neck and head extend out towards the elevator banks, welcoming visitors to the “dinosaur” floor.”20160204_123143

 

 

 

 

The so-called “titanosaur” is so new that it has not yet been officially named, but it certainly makes for quite the sight.

There were so many other things to see. If I were to ever live in New York City again, which given real estate prices is far beyond the realm of possibility, I would certainly become a member and support the museum with regular visits.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

The case against lead

Lead-Poisoning

“Mad as a hatter,” went the expression. Alice’s tea party featured “The Mad Hatter,” whose felting work involved prolonged exposure to mercury vapors, resulting in tremors, pathological shyness and irritability.

We still hear a lot about asbestos – it remains on the radar of most Americans, simply because there’s still a lot of it out there in old buildings, and many times a large abatement project will pop up on the news.

We hear less about lead and lead poisoning, however, since lead-based paint was banned in the US in 1978; before that, many children developed signs of lead poisoning, particularly inner-city kids who would ingest paint flakes that had lead added. Lead was completely eliminated from automotive fuels by 1996.

But it appears that lead is still a serious threat; effects of past exposure may include an increase in crime rates, and current exposure through shooting ranges threatens to continue the negative consequences.

Gathered here are a number of articles which should be read and considered, particularly by anyone who works around ammunition; sportspeople, shooters, law-enforcement officers, reloaders, and the like. It is up to the individual to make their own assessments, but from where I sit, it would not be unreasonable to lay at least partial blame for the seeming descent of our society into madness and uncivility on the pervasiveness of lead in our environment.

Read and judge.

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Clair Cameron Patterson. From the Wikipedia article:

Patterson had first encountered lead contamination in the late 1940s as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. His work on this led to a total re-evaluation of the growth in industrial lead concentrations in the atmosphere and the human body, and his subsequent campaigning was seminal in the banning of tetraethyllead ingasoline, and lead solder in food cans.

Patterson met significant opposition for his views, particularly from people such as Robert A. Kehoe, the principal advocate for the use of tetraethyllead as an anti-knock agent in gasoline. In contrast to the “Precautionary Principle” which assumes that there is potential risk to a substance unless proven otherwise, Kehoe claimed that “in the absence of clear evidence of risk there is no risk of significance.” This later came to be called the Kehoe Paradigm, and is essentially the same cognitive dissonance used by tobacco executives in their fight to convince the world that their product was not harmful.

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Robert A. Kehoe

At The Nation, an article entitled “The Secret History of Lead.”

At The Atlantic, a treatise on how the lead industry convinced the public and the media that parents were to blame rather than the toxic substance that they were profiting from:

The lead industry even claimed that the problem was not with the paint but with the “uneducable Negro and Puerto Rican” parents who “failed” to stop children from placing their fingers and toys in their mouths.

Recently, a four-part investigative series at the Seattle Times: “Lead poisoning is a major threat at America’s shooting ranges, perpetuated by owners who’ve repeatedly violated laws even after workers have fallen painfully ill.”

And lastly, an essay at Mother Jones linking gasoline lead to a rise in violent crime. This article does its best to be balanced and rational rather than sensationalistic, and deserves to be considered.

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One pound of lead. The CDC has set the standard elevated blood lead level for adults to be 10 µg/dl of the whole blood. This means that one pound of lead is sufficient to elevate lead levels of 8,247,134 adults. This stuff is rutting toxic.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot more research would need to be done over time to gain further insight into these ideas. But one thing is clear – people who work at or around shooting ranges need to be extra, extra careful and consider possible ramifications of their exposure to lead.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Gender Bias in the Workplace – an evolving Metastudy

I’m sharing this because it needs to be shared. (The link to the relevant article is at the end.)

  • It’s intriguing and well-considered, and does its best to bring all variables under one umbrella
  • It makes nothing cast-in concrete, but rather presents a wide range of data, reaches certain conclusions, and keeps the door wide open for future modifications based on future data.
  • It shows that feminists today are both brilliantly right and stubbornly wrong, and suggests an alternative course of action for crossing the finish line.
  • It leaves out one glaring variable, although this is probably an oversight because it’s assumed to be obvious: This data is relevant only for America, and other countries’ mileage may vary – although similar meta-studies could be done by interested parties.
  • And, it’s by Scott Adams, the author of “Dilbert” – someone who is not a social scientist, but a man who seems keenly interested, at his core, in a world of fairness that works for everyone.

Here, from my own perspective, is the TL;DR for the entire post (but I highly recommend reading and considering the whole thing):

Feminism currently sends this message to young girls: The world is full of gender bias and male privilege. If you are born a woman, you are a second-class citizen. Adult women are failing to achieve equal pay with men.

Compare that to a message that is just as consistent with the available data but to me sounds more positive: Despite thousands of years of gender bias, women are succeeding in every field that interests them. The gender pay gap has shrunk to the point where we can not identify gender bias as a cause. You are all winners. And all paths are open.

Feminists, I think it is time to take a bow. You won. And the world is a far better place for your efforts. I think I can speak for all men who have mothers, sisters, female friends, female spouses, and female lovers when I say, “Thank you.”

But I also say maybe it is time to stop fighting the last war and adjust your strategy to reflect the reality in 2015.

Adams’ presentation is lay in nature but very unbiased in spirit. His conclusions and the presentation of the data used (summarized at the end of his article, by category) are out there for anyone to review and consider. He has attempted to consider all possible variables, and admits that there are many he hasn’t even touched. And everything he says strikes me as being supremely rational.

There will be feminists out there who snort derisively and dismiss this study because they are convinced that all men are worthless, evil piles of camel ejecta who must be punished, punished, punished! for centuries of patriarchal oppression. These do no good for themselves or for a push toward human equality, and can be safely dismissed.

There will be scientists out there who snort derisively and dismiss this study because it was done by someone unqualified – such is the bane of the ivory tower. Let them do their own studies and come up with something better. That’s how science – even social science – is supposed to work. But I tell you this – I’ve never seen a more honest attempt to be comprehensive and complete and fair.

☛ Now, go and read. ☚

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Never eat chemicals! Uh, wait…

If you listen to the Food Babe Thermonuclear Idiot, that’s what you might come away believing.

But I exhort you to pay no attention to this unqualified attention harlot. Instead, feast your eyes on these chemical breakdowns of “natural” and “organic” foods.

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I have to stretch to pronounce some of the chemical compounds found in these wonderful foods, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Chemicals are everywhere, they are what everything organic around us is made of.

Yes, we obviously want to avoid things that are known toxins and carcinogens; having a shaker full of hexavalent chromium on your table is probably not the best idea, but you get the picture.

Educate yourselves. Make sure your children educate themselves. Science is doing its collective best to provide accurate information to allow people to build a better world. Please pay no attention to those on the lunatic fringe who base their proclamations on innuendo and fear-mongering for the sake of attention, eyeballs, clicks, and ad revenue.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Now we know: the earth doesn’t move.

Take that headline with about a metric ton of salt.

Once upon a time, Islamic scholars made significant contributions to science, mathematics (algebra is an Arabic word), philosophy, medicine, and other fields.

Today? I’ll let you judge for yourself. Saudi preacher Bandar Al-Khaybari demonstrates that the earth does not revolve around itself, using deeply flawed logic, the absence of scientific understanding, and the Qur’an. Oh, and astronauts never landed on the moon, either.

If you don’t want to take the time to watch the video, here’s the transcript:

Someone is asking whether the Earth moves or whether it is fixed in place. Does it move or remain fixed? The Truth, as described by our scholars Imam Ibn Baz and Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzan, is that the Earth is fixed and does not move. This is in keeping with the Quranic text, and it makes sense as well. […]

There is ample Quranic evidence that it is the sun that revolves around the Earth. As for evidence based on reason… The (Westerners) present all kinds of theories, but we Muslims also have theories and brains.

First, let’s say that we go from here to Sharjah Airport and take a plane to China. Are you with me? Concentrate now. Let’s say that this is the Earth, and let’s assume that it is turning… If we take an international flight from Sharjah to China… You say that the Earth is turning, right? If the plane stopped in mid-air, wouldn’t China come to it? Am I right or not? If the Earth really does turn – China should come to the plane. Now, let’s assume that the Earth revolves the other way – the plane will never catch up with China no matter how long it flies. Since China is also revolving, you will never get there. Secondly, Allah talked about the (celestial) house frequented (by angels). This house is located in the seventh heaven. The Prophet Muhammad said that if it fell from the sky, it would fall on the Kaaba. But if the Earth revolves, it would not fall on the Kaaba. It would fall in the ocean or somewhere on dry land. This proves that the Earth is fixed in place.  […]

The (Americans) say that they landed on the moon, but they never set foot or laid their eyes on it. They produced it all in Hollywood or I don’t know where. They said that they had gone to the moon and we just took their word for it.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Muslims in general are stupid or scientifically ignorant, or that nothing good comes out of the middle east. But what we have here is the equivalent of letting Mike Huckabee or Pat Robertson teach K-12 science. This guy wears the robes of authority, he gets on television, he spouts this phenomenally ignorant nonsense, and millions of people believe him. This is not good for humanity.

To give equal time to another brand of fanaticism, I refer you to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, a $27 million facility devoted to the concept of an earth that’s younger than 10,000 years old, and which contradicts science at every turn.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – science and faith don’t mix. I’m not against faith; I have a spiritual walk of my own. But I keep those beliefs separate and apart from the empirical evidence of the universe around me. We get in trouble when we try to make observable facts conform to religious belief, or vice-versa. You can’t shove one into the other’s box.

For myself, I liken our perception and knowledge of the universe around us to an Ames room:

O4 Ames Room with Birgit and Ingrid Brill 1

O4 Ames Room with Ingrid and Birgit Brill 2

In this common illusion, two people who change places in a room appear to change size drastically. Looking at them through a peephole destroys our sense of depth perception and allows the illusion to work:

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The room is actually severely distorted.

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For all we know from empirical observation about our environment – and we have learned a lot – I’m entirely convinced that we know next to nothing, and that we’re looking at our universe through a peephole. Were we to be able to see the “big picture,” a lot more things would make sense.

In the meantime, denying scientific reality makes a body look like a gibbering loon. Don’t do it. As for me, I do my best to live a good and productive life according to principles which I hold sacred and which inform my life, and gaze in wonder at the awesomeness and complexity of the world around me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

In the moving and beautiful video below, Julia Roberts voices Mother Nature and reminds us that from the point of view of the earth, we as humans are not needed.

Humon, the pen-name of the artist who draws Scandinavia and the World did a beautiful comic on the same theme:

Gaia

Lastly, I repeat a comic I have posted or referred to a few times in this blog, by the inimitable Stan Lynde:

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Whether one are a person of science or a person of faith, it behooves us all to take care of this one and only spaceship earth that we have to live on. There is no getting off it in the foreseeable future. and we’re soiling our nest so rapidly that there will be unavoidable consequences down the road; the concept is underscored in Carl Sagan’s thoughts on The Pale Blue Dot, which I mentioned earlier.

Let’s please not forget:

The Old Wolf has spoken.