Class Warfare Blog

November 28, 2017

Proving the World is Flat

Filed under: Education,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
Tags: , ,

It is somehow a newsworthy item that a gentleman wants to launch himself into the upper atmosphere to prove the Earth is flat. Why this is newsworthy is beyond me. There are crazy people everywhere.

If you are a person who believes the world is flat (it looks flat, doesn’t it), there are a number of simple things you can do in lieu of shooting oneself into the upper atmosphere. Here are a few.

  1. At 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, telephone someone half way around the world. They will be mightily pissed to you for waking them up, it being deep into the night where they are (2 or 3 o’clock in the morning)! If the Earth were flat, the sun would rise and set at the same time (roughly, ignoring refraction effects) everywhere.
  2. Go outside at night and observe the Southern Cross in the “heavens.” Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere (below the equator) the Southern Cross is a constellation that cannot be seen. This is because “straight” up points in quite different directions around the globe.
  3. Try to sell winter clothing right now in Australia. The Australians will ignore you because it is late spring there right now and summer is coming. If the Earth were flat it would be the same season everywhere simultaneously.
  4. Set a camera up to take a photo in the direction of the sun once a week at the same time. Overlay the results and what you will get is shown in the photo (the white stripes are made by leaving the lens open for a time and showing the path of the Sun in the Sky on three occasions, the angle is an indicator of your latitude on the globe). If the Sun were orbiting a flat earth, you would not get this pattern. The pattern you would get depends on whether the flat disk Earth is rotating but you wouldn’t get this pattern. This pattern stems from the fact that the Earth’s rotational axis tilts 23.5 degrees relative the plane it revolves around the sun. As the Earth nods to the Sun then away, the angle the Sun appears in the sky changes.
  5. Go to an observatory and ask to be shown the planets. All of them, including the Sun, rotate on an axis. (Galileo used one of the first telescopes to show the moons of Jupiter actually move around Jupiter.) You might want to ask why it is that Earth is the only one that does not, but don’t ask the astronomers as they will have trouble recovering from laughing their asses off.

You do not need a rocket to show the Earth is flat or round, you just need the ability to communicate. The Greeks did this about 2300 years ago. They measured the shadows of a stick stuck straight into the ground at quite different locations and found that the stick cast a different length shadow at roughly the same time (being determined when the sun is highest in the sky, aka local “noon”). If the Earth were flat, the shadow would be the same length at the same time everywhere. The Greeks used the differences in the lengths of the shadow to calculate the size of the Earth and came quite close to the modern value.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to people who believe the Earth is flat because, well: math. It is hard and makes them tremble with fear. The other thing that seems to be the case of these people is that they cannot get up off of their fat assess and research the proofs. It only requires an Internet search … and some thought.

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November 23, 2017

We Are All Together Now

Fundamentalist Christians are sticking to their Adam and Even narrative and now seem to be crowing about the discovery of a male counterpart of mitochondrial Eve. This male ancestor of us all has been dubbed Y-chromosomal Adam. Catchy monikers those scientists come up with.

There is, of course, no evidence these two ancestors ever met and every indication that there were probably tens of thousands of other Homo sapiens alive at the times they existed, but the church people will have their crow, because Jesus.

I can’t help but note that both of these ancestors of ours existed in Africa, were Africans, and likely had very dark skins (an adaption to sunny climates).

I can’t wait for the first Southern Baptist preacher who gets up in front of his congregation on a Sunday morning, and proclaims that science has confirmed the Adam and Eve story as they all knew it would and that Adam and Eve lived in Africa. He finishes with: “Well, we all nigras now.”

Addendum
Just for giggles, it seems that all Europeans or people of European ancestry have DNA that is largely two thirds African and one third Asian. I wonder how my hypothetical pastor might phrase that conclusion for his “flock.”

November 10, 2017

Economist’s Grasp of Reality (or Lack Thereof)

Many economic theories focus on the tendency of markets to create states of equilibrium. They say these states occur “naturally.”

Economists are also keen on making their studies seem scientific and they can and do point to many physical systems that naturally come to equilibrium. If you drop a ball, it falls, bounces a few times and then stops. The force on the ball at that point is the force of gravity (the attractions things have for one another because they have mass) and the counterforce (keeping the ball from moving downward by opposing the force of gravity) is the floor pushing up because its shape has been changed by the weight of the ball as it is made of resilient materials (materials that return to their original shapes when distorted .. a little). Voila, an equilibrium state created naturally. The downward force of gravity is exactly balanced by the upward force exerted by the floor and an equilibrium of forces exists.

Physics literally abounds with such examples: bathroom scales, child’s swings (pendulums), heat transfers, etc. But these are simple systems and economic systems are not simple (although they can be passed off as such, they are not). A better source of examples of scientific equilibria would be biology, which has more complex systems. In biology, if an organism achieves something like a state of equilibrium there is one thing you can know about it: it is dead. (Hey, this does happen … naturally!)

In complex organisms, these organisms are near states of equilibrium but never get too close to being in one. If, for example, we lose enough heat from our bodies to affect our skin temperature, we are moved to action: our hair stands up (goose bumps) to trap air to insulate us, our metabolism kicks in to generate more heat internally, and if those don’t work, we get up and put on a sweater, or turn on the heater in our house/apartment. Our temperature stays pretty much the same because we are always correcting it.

If we get too far from equilibrium, we usually are quite ill, but actually being at equilibrium means we are room temperature, aka dead.

Economist are full of shit if they espouse natural equilibrium creation by economic markets. It is one of those signs that you know they are spouting bullshit, like when their lips are moving. The reason they allow themselves such delusions is they do not check their theories against reality. They aren’t even expected to! Unfortunately for those folks, their end is coming soon. While they were not looking, behavioral economics has sprung up with a behavioral economist having won a Nobel Prize recently. These folks apply economic reasoning to actual experiments and actual people’s behaviors! That is, they check their theories against reality. (Gasp, wow!) It will not be long before the movers and shakers start noticing the progress being made by the behavioral economists is not being matched by ordinary economists and then, the jig will be up.

Imagine, if “trickle down economics” had ever been required to be validated against reality, it would have been exposed as a bullshit argument used to mask increased benefits for the elites long before it was. Think of all of the political bullshit that could have been prevented.

If this were to become SOP, we might actually find out what the last refuge of scoundrels really is.

October 24, 2017

The Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish, and Short Lives of Hunter-Gatherers (Not)

I was reading a NY Time’s Science Newsletter highlighted piece on eroding shell mounds in Maine. Here are a couple of quotes:

Middens like this one line Maine’s tortured shoreline. ‘We know that there are over 2,000 shell heaps on the coast of Maine, said Dr. Kelley.

From about 2,200 to 800 years ago, Native Americans visited this site in late winter and spring. The inhabitants discarded the shells in heaps that grew year after year, century after century. ‘They were eating oysters like crazy and catching alewives,’ Dr. Spiess said, referring to a type of herring.”

This reminded me of California, where the shell mounds around San Francisco Bay are as numerous and truly huge, some of them make actual hills that go unnoticed because of wind-blown soil covering the top couple of feet (then it is shells, all of the way down).

The Pomo tribes and others had migratory patterns. They would move to one location, set up camp, and then eat up all of the local produce and then move on, returning in months or years to repeat the process. These locations were linked to the migratory pathways of prey, like deer, and by the seasonal abundance of fish and shellfish. This pattern prevailed for so long, as it did in Maine, that they used the same spot to discard the shells of the shellfish they harvested, to the extent that those mounds are truly immense.

Many people do not realize that when people became “civilized,” that is accustomed to living in cities, this was not exactly a boon for ordinary people. The wandering hunter-gatherer tribes had, I am sure, status orders in which some were treated better than others, but all benefited from a diet that was varied and plentiful. They were relatively free of disease, including tooth decay, and had considerable amounts of leisure time.

When “civilization” came to people, their bodies became less tall, less muscular, and more disease ridden. Some benefits, eh? They had to work longer hours and had less leisure time, if any. Their diets became very restricted, unhealthily so, and the crowding of people and food attracted vermin, rodents, and disease organisms. The concentration of wealth attracted robbers.

Thomas Hobbes’ quote (see the title) was meant to refer to primitive man but is more aptly applied to the new “civilized man.” All of the benefits of civilization accrued to a small cadre of elites. Over time the benefits have been spread somewhat, but the basic structures of civilization do not seem to have changed. Primitive Americans worked a few hours per day, now we work many (certainly more than our parents). They didn’t have healthcare, but neither do many of us and we have many, many more diseases than they did. The wealth created by the extra labor of the many still ends up in the pockets of the few, and the religious are still spouting gibberish to justify the behavior of the elites.

Too many of us think of civilization as this great boon to mankind. We do not look at the consequences. Civilized Europeans became Americans who thought very little of killing off the bulk of this continent’s original inhabitants, nor of enslaving millions of people, considering them as “subhuman” to avoid any moral qualms. All of these things were brought along as part of “civilization.”

It remains to be seen whether we can fashion some kind of civilization that brings the benefits to all without lining the pockets of the so-called elites. It certainly isn’t in either the GOP’s or DP’s political platforms. (It is hard to get someone to do something they are being paid to not do.)

Moving On Up …

I have been writing recently about the genesis of human “civilization.” The word civilization itself is derived from “cities,” the existence of which marks the beginning of civilization. It seems quite apparent that what we call “civilization” was created by elites for elites. The average Joe not only didn’t benefit from this “advance,” he ate less well, he worked harder, and he likely ended up a slave serving the interests of the wealthy elites.

My original thinking was that this was a larger scale manifestation of the consequences of physical prowess. My fantasy goes like this: when we were mostly members of wandering tribes of hunter-gathers, I suspect that there was some guy who was bigger, stronger, and braver than anyone else in a small troop (fewer than 25 extended family members). Because Mongo was the best hunter, he had a hand in doling out the fruits of the hunt, so he had power. He probably was responsible for defending the tribe against predators and the occasional raids from other tribes (looking for mates or …). Because of these actions, people deferred to Mongo (and if they didn’t he might smack them around a little). Mongo was the Alpha Male in a troop of great apes. Now the fly in the soup came in the form of not the Beta, Gamma, or Delta Males in the group, they were happy to form Mongo’s posse on hunts and benefit from his largess. The wild card in this was a low status male who resented not getting the prime cuts from the hunt or access to the best women as mates, but one who had cunning. At some point in time, a natural happening shocked the tribe: a flood, an earthquake, a lunar or solar eclipse, a huge lightning storm, a volcanic eruption, something alarming and the cunning Omega Male took a chance. Thinking he was in no immediate danger, he stood up to the burning mountain, or raging flood, or eclipse and spouted made up bullshit about how the gods were angry and that only he knew how to placate them. He followed this with mumble, mumble, mumble and the crisis soon ended (the eruption of the volcano subsided, the storm passed, the flood subsided, the eclipse burped up the sun or moon). A tribal shaman is born. He gets treated better, consulted by Mongo more often, gets better cuts of the food when it was divided, etc.

So, my imagination leads to the religious leader gravy training on the physical leader (general, king, chief, main hunter, whatever).

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the earliest cities were run by religious cliques, not “strongmen.” Large cities started forming 3500-3000 BCE, but the first mention of anyone whose title could be translated as “king,” didn’t happen until about 1700 BCE. Apparently Mongo was strong and capable but not all that smart. The clever shaman usurped his position at the top of the tribe. In those early large cities, you see, the chief warrior was subservient to the priestly class. This is born out by a story about Gilgamesh, one of the first Sumerian kings. (Seeking permission from the religious council to make war on a neighbor, the council though it too risky and told Gilgamesh to chill. Gilgamesh went out and riled up his warriors and went to war anyway. Gilgamesh might have been a king at this point but he hadn’t earned the Divine Rights Merit Badge and was seen as a minion of the religious elites.

So, I was wrong about the elite pyramid being topped by a strongman, instead it was the clever, cooperative religious cadre forming the core of the people benefiting from “civilization.” (I guess they had practiced the role for millennia and were just “movin’ on up…”.)

These cities rose and failed at a phenomenal rate. (The famous city-state of Ur-III, which had five kings listed in its records, lasted all of 100 years.) The inevitability woven into the standard narrative of: agriculture makes storable surplus of grain which makes cities possible: iPhones! is misleading at the very least.

In actuality these cities were very, very fragile. They were dependent on slave labor, often their populations were dependent on acquiring female slaves of child-bearing age (so many children and women died in childbirth that “replacement breeders” were vigorously sought).

With so many such processes there is a minimum size and a set of minimum conditions that result in a tipping point that goes on to some kind of stability.

What I am struck with is the easy comparison between the elite class in those days, 5000-5500 years ago and the modern Republican Party. The elites then needed cheap labor, so they coerced it. They created a system in which all of the surplus wealth ended up in their hands. They discouraged any collective action on the part of their coerced laborers. They rigorously controlled the reproduction of more citizens.

The GOP, in contrast, suppresses wages so that labor is cheap, it distorts the political system so that all of the wealth and power flows to the elites, it discourages collective action of laborers by disadvantaging unions, and it is obsessed with controlling the reproductive rights of women, and it seems they are subservient to a religious clique.

Oh, I guess that is not a contrast.

Has anything changed since the dawn of civilization?

September 26, 2017

You Can’t Create Something from Nothing?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
Tags: , , , ,

It is a common trope of Christian apologists to bring up the Big Bang cosmological theory and either endorse it as the act of God’s creation of the universe or condemn it because “you cannot create something from nothing.” The fact that these two approaches are completely contradictory doesn’t cost these apologists even one minute of sleep, of course; they are not looking for consistency or correctness, they are looking for a “killer argument.”

Setting aside everything but the claim that “you cannot get something from nothing” point, let’s look at this. Apologists often make this claim, which is not only unsupported but possibly unsupportable, and then claim that the only alternative to this merely physical description of the beginning of our universe is that their god created the universe … from nothing … by magic. Honestly, they say this with a straight face. At its heart, they are claiming you cannot make something from nothing … except by magic. And, of course, “magic” is not defined or demonstrated or … anything.

So, what about this premise: you can’t create something from nothing. When they do argue this, they say that everything that “begins to exist” (also not defined) has a cause and a cause must be pre-existing which contradicts the “nothing” aspect. So, they claim, their god is the First Cause (concept and name borrowed from the Greeks), the Prime Mover (concept and name borrowed from Aristotle, a Greek), the Totally Awesome: Yahweh.

Okay, theists, take a deep breath. Consider what “nothing” represents. Presumably, applied to this discussion nothing means no time, no space, no laws of physics, no things. Of course “things” are material objects, but it appears that in this case there would also be no energy or other non-material manifestations of our current universe.

“I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever?
Apparently they can’t create something from nothing.”

If this was the case just before the Big Bang, what could prevent anything from happening? What, no cause? Hello? There is no relationship between cause and effect. There are no physical laws, no chemistry, no physics, no thing. Under these circumstances, there are no limitations at all on what could happen.

For example, allow me a flight of imagination. In a state of “no thing” an immense explosion occurs, creating two universes: one created from matter and energy and the other of anti-matter and anti-energy. (Imagine two balloons connected at their mouths, suddenly inflating. Each is ignorant of the existence of the other. Each seems to have been inflated from nothing.) Initially there is some mixing between the two, but since the two forms of matter and the two forms of energy annihilate each other, soon, the two universes are both quite “pure” and  stable. (This solves the mystery, by the way, of why there is so little anti-matter in our universe, when the physical laws now operating say that equal amounts should have been created “in the beginning.”) The net mass of the two universes: zero. The net energy of the two universes: zero. The laws covering whether this could occur “from nothing”: zero.

A state of nothingness is completely unlimited as to what could happen, so something could come from nothing, easy peasey.

I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever? Apparently they can’t create something from nothing. I wonder what that says about their message.

September 23, 2017

And I Can’t Stands No More!

Okay, this is getting seriously out of whack. The Ancient Aliens crew have been selling snake oil for years now and have created a great deal of content that is a lark. They fast cut from topic to topic spinning a narrative that aliens have visited us and are responsible for, well, most of human evolution, according to them.

Last night I viewed an episode that went way too far. Here is their website’s blurb for the episode:
The Science Wars
TV-PG
Nearly every year archaeologists and anthropologists make discoveries that require revisions to our history books. But there are numerous artifacts that are outright ignored because they don’t fit into the accepted scientific paradigm. Could clues about our extraterrestrial origins be hidden in these discarded pieces of our past? Shocking evidence has recently been revealed that challenges the accepted dating of the Great Pyramid. An ancient hammer found in Texas that dates back 140 million years is ignored by mainstream archaeologists. And unexplainable elongated skulls have been found on nearly every continent of the world that science refuses to test. Could we be on the brink of scientific discoveries that the academic community cannot deny? Evidence that reveals the truth of where we really came from, why we are here and if we are alone in the Universe?

At the end of this episode they hammer away at science, at how it is broken, at how science resists their findings, and how science jumps to conclusions before all of the evidence is in. The drum gets beaten very, very hard here. And, this is just at a time when science denial is ascending.

In the episode, an AA host takes a Brazilian skull of some antiquity and has it CAT scanned and its DNA analyzed. The CAT scans show some items missing from what normal Homo sapiens skulls exhibit. The researcher states that they have never seen anything quite like it before. The DNA analysis only found mitochondrial DNA, so it could only assess the lineage of the female ancestor of the skull’s original owner, and found it to be like someone of Scottish ancestry.

So, these anomalous findings, all of which warrant further study, are used as a basis for their position that science jumps to conclusions and is resistant to their narratives and findings. And just where did these researches take place? At a London university research complex, about as mainstream as you can get!

And right after hearing that further research is warranted in the minds of the experts they consulted, and vigorously claiming that science jumps to conclusions too quickly (excluding their hypotheses, etc.), the host comes to the conclusion that the skull represents the results of an alien mating with a human female. WTF? How about a disease that no longer exists that results in deformations of bones in babies? How about a single mutation that chanced to survive for a generation or two? How about testing all of the other skulls in that collection to see if the results are consistent? Nope, we go straight to fucking aliens, literally!

The “resistance” they bemoan is called “skepticism.” Basically, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and large qualities of it if you want to challenge established science. Yes, scientists often have problem changing their minds. Some scientists go to their graves clinging to ideas that have been discredited. Scientists are, after, people. But, science itself moves on. Look at how much Darwin’s theory of evolution was resisted by scientists. The theory of plate tectonics was mightily resisted. This is not a bug, it is a feature. Scientists, after all, have seen a great deal of evidence that fits into their current paradigms. They are going to have to see a great deal more to accept a new paradigm.

In the AA episode, the show points out any number of the limitations of carbon-14 dating of objects. These limitations are corroborated by mainstream academics, to whom they are well-known. (I am sure they were a surprise to a the AA producers.) But the show is just casting shade. One of the key limitations on carbon-14 dating is if a sample has been exposed to an enriched source of carbon-14, it will appear younger than it really is in that test. Some examples were provided that had dating results that showed the samples were from the future! (the concentration of carbon-14 was higher than baseline, not lower as would be expected.) Scientists look at this kind of anomalous result and assume that there is something wrong with the test and they repeat the test. Getting the same result, they assume the test is not working in this case. Reasons for the extra carbon-14 can be anything from contact with a meteor, exposure of the sample to volcanism, or an intense radiation sources, such as an atom bomb. Of course, the show goes off on the atom bomb diversion like a starving dog spotting a sausage.

In chemistry we had a set of “Standard Methods” for measuring quantities of chemicals in various substances (carbon in steel, strontium-90 in milk, residual lye in soap, etc.). At the end of each and every procedure was a section that listed know interferences with the test, not only acknowledging that there were things that could throw the test results off, but also that these were just the ones that were known and unknown interferences may also be involved because they are yet to be discovered. Every … single … damned … test had known limitations. This is something that scientists are quite comfortable with, including the need to get independent results from other tests to corroborate one’s findings.

Scientists are aware of the limitations of single tests, so they perform multiple tests. They are leery of the results of a single kind of test, so they look for evidence that is of an entirely different kind to corroborate findings.  Archaeologists and anthropologists use radiochemical dating procedures, and written records, and pottery patterns, and analysis of food wastes, and pollen identifications, and, and, … all trying to get a consistent picture of “when” and “what.”

Scientists are skeptical of their own findings (and especially of those who are their competitors). Scientists are also leery of jumping to conclusions. Even the producers of Ancient Aliens are. They have a formula for asking the leading questions that punctuate the episodes: they use the word “could” as in “could it not be the case that …” and then they always answer “ancient alien theorists say yes.” What they are asking is always “is such a thing possible.” They never ask is it probable.

Scientists are never certain, but this AA script kept hammering away with the phrase that “scientists crave certainty,” which is a strange way of saying scientists are skeptical of things they cannot support. Anyone who craves certainty is going to be miserable if they choose science as a career. All scientific finds are provisional. All “conclusions” may later be proven to be false, which is why all scientific conclusions are tentative. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is absolutely certain in science. Only in religion can you find absolute certainty … well, and in Ancient Aliens scripts.

I think they have turned the corner and are doing real damage to the public as they ramp up their anti-mainstream science rhetoric.

September 13, 2017

No, You Can’t Ask Questions

Filed under: Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 7:35 am
Tags:

S.E. Cupp was on Bill Maher’s show (Real Time) the other night in her usual role of defender of conservatism/conservative apologist. I like S.E. Cupp, she usually defends her points well, she’s articulate, witty, has a sense of humor, and stands her ground. The ground she took on that show, though, was on climate change and she picked a patch of quicksand to stand on.

Mr. Maher began the segment claiming that only 9% of Republicans in a survey had attested to the reality of man-made climate change and then pointed to the size and energy of the hurricanes in this season as a manifestation of the effects of climate change/global warming. He then asked, basically, what is wrong with those people?

Ms. Cupp was having none of it because she claimed “scientists” hadn’t drawn that conclusion yet, and, well, “she had questions.” Another guest pointed out that scientists were not quick to draw conclusions, but one climate scientist stated the case for the energy and size of hurricanes getting bigger back in 2006 and what he had predicted came true down the line. The argument is that one consequence of the atmosphere heating up is that the surface waters of the globe will also heat up and much of the energy of a hurricane comes from the heat in those waters. (FYI The total energy in Hurricane Irma alone exceeded that of 14 entire hurricane seasons (aka all hurricanes that year) for which we have satellite data.)

Ms. Cupp persisted in her attack that she was allowed to ask questions, wasn’t she?

The answer is “no,” you are not allowed to ask questions, not serious ones anyway.

If you want to play the game of science, you have to play the game, you cannot just sit on the sidelines and ask questions, certainly not questions that are ideologically motivated. If you want to ask serious questions, you have to study the topic, the science, and then ask a question based upon evidence you find. As an example, consider the following subject: the health consequences of smoking tobacco. An enterprising reporter delved into the research and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that the only scientific papers published claiming that tobacco use was benign was paid for by the tobacco industry (The Tobacco Institute, etc.). This is an actual basis to question that research, but just the research so sponsored. When research is paid for by a private agency, that agency controls whether or not the work gets published and later investigations showed that the tobacco companies either didn’t publish any negative results or commissioned other work to include with the negative work to make it seem a “push” when it came to health effects. So, questions by people outside of the field can be valuable if they are based upon an examination of the research.

“If you want to play the game of science, you have to play the game,
you cannot just sit on the sidelines and ask questions.”

This, by the by, is the reason we need to have a stout public presence in researches that are important to all of us. “Privatizing” scientific research would be turning over the chicken coup to the foxes, not just asking them to tend it. Plus corporations aren’t interested in doing research that doesn’t make them money.

When it comes to the political question: what do we do collectively about climate change, we all get to ask questions because we are all political actors in the game of American politics (we get to vote).

I would like to see one reporter, just one, ask the follow-up question to the next person claiming that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists to get grants: “That is a serious allegation. You do have evidence to back up that claim don’t you? What is it? When will you produce this evidence?” There isn’t much difference between a corporation that stands to make money from denial of tobacco science and a politician who stands to make money (campaign contributions, jobs after “retiring” from public office, etc.) from denial of climate science. This “fraud” is a serious claim (which will be proved to be frivolous, if not spurious) and serious claims demand serious evidence.

Pony up, climate change deniers.

Pony up or shut up. Those are your options.

 

 

August 25, 2017

Aliens … and Dinosaurs!

Having covered all of the ground possible … and a lot more, the Ancient Aliens TV show has hit a new high, or low, depending on your point of view. They kept many of the same people on staff, introduced some new folks, and they kept their normal whirlwind pace, one that doesn’t allow much time for consideration of the fabulous things they propose, such as aliens being the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs.

The main thrust of this episode is indeed that it might just be possible, maybe coulda been, that aliens eliminated the dinosaurs so we could thrive. I won’t comment on the “evidence” they present but there was one point at which the idiocy achieved new heights. They were developing a line of argument challenging the facts that humans are 2-3 million years old at best but “all” of the dinosaurs perished 65 million years ago, in what was considered an extinction level even involving a rather large meteor, landing in Mexico, but clearly dinosaurs and humans lived alongside one another … well, and aliens, too, of course.

They trotted out the éminence grise of this generation of unbridled thinkers, Erich von Daniken, to ask the question: If this was an event large enough to kill “all” of the dinosaurs, why did it kill off just the dinosaurs? (Apparently enquiring minds want to know.) Well, the event in question is called the Cretaceous-Paleocene mass extinction event and it resulted in about 75% of all species on the planet being wiped out, not “just” the dinos. And, it didn’t even kill off all of the dinosaurs! Many of the smaller theropods (what most of us think of when we think of dinosaurs), that is those under 25 kg/55 lb in mass, survived. Of course, the big beasties died.

The show then went on it’s merry way establishing that dinosaurs and human beings could possibly have lived together (mighta coulda). They didn’t mention Alley Oop in their arguments but they did throw in the Loch Ness monster and coelacanths. Right in the middle of this a talking head I didn’t bother to identify started bad mouthing radiocarbon dating, saying things like it was based on the production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere by cosmic rays (true) and that the rate of production may have been different millions of years ago (also true) and that these things could affect the dates on early human and dinosaurs remains (uh, not so much). If you want to know why I was puzzled, Dear Reader, read on.

Carbon-14 Dating: A Primer
All radioactivity-based dating methods are based upon a factoid of radioactive isotopes (kinds of elements): they all decay in a pattern involving a half-life. A half-life is an amount of time in which a radioactive sample loses half of its radioactivity. Interestingly, the next halving of that sample’s radioactivity takes the same amount of time, as does the next even though there is less and less to lose. This creates a situation that is summarized in a rule of thumb: a radioactive isotope can be used to date object as much as 10 half-lives back in time. The amount of radioactivity in a living animal cannot be very high in the first place. Comic books aside, radioactivity in high doses is typically lethal. So, all living plants and animals start out with only tiny amounts of radioactive elements in their bodies. Then after one half life, half of it is gone (unless it is replaced which in the case of carbon-14 happens because we eat carbon atoms in all of our food and plants absorb carbon dioxide—this, of course, stops when the plant or animal dies). After two half lives, only a quarter remains because half is lost in the first period and half of what is left was gone after the second. After the third half-life one eighth is left, after the fourth, one sixteenth is left, etc. After ten half-lives 1/210 is left. As a percent that is a little less than 0.1%. Since very little was started with, at this point close to zero is left, so there is basically nothing to measure.

So, what is the half-life of carbon-14 you ask? (You’d better!) It is 5730 years. Ten times this number is 57,300 years. This is the time span that radiocarbon dating can be used. That won’t get you back before Homo sapiens begins (200,000-300,000 years) let alone back to the large theropods getting killed off 66 million years ago. This is a classic smokescreen tactic, used often in this show. Throw anything you got against the wall and see if it sticks.

The Problem With All of This
As you are probably aware, Americans are not the most scientifically-literate people on the planet. As more and more of this bushwah is passed off as some sort of legitimate argumentation (It is not!), people are going to more easily believe the bullshit our governments peddle us. Global warming? That’s a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists looking for grants. Dumping mine wastes laced with toxic heavy metals, not a problem. The Earth cleans itself. Lead in drinking water? A little bit is okay; go ahead and drink it.

The Exxon Corporation has released documents showing that 80% of the studies they undertook or analyzed showed that global warming/climate change was real and had real negative consequences. At the same time, 80% of its marketing budgets on the topic went to casting shade on the topic (for decades). Their problem is that one of the greatest sources of the climate change problem is the burning of petroleum products, which is what Exxon is in business for.

 

August 21, 2017

Yeah But What Does It Mean?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:19 am
Tags: , , ,

Today is the big (view one from the U.S. for the first time since the late 1970’s) solar eclipse day, so I might as well blog on it!

Historically…,

  • The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is Sun got bit by a bear. After taking a bite of the Sun and resolving their conflict, the bear, as the story goes, went on to meet the Moon and take a bite out of the Moon as well, causing a lunar eclipse.
  • According to the legends of the Batammaliba, who live in Benin and Togo, an eclipse of the Sun meant that the Sun and the Moon were fighting and that the only way to stop them from hurting each other was for people on Earth to resolve all conflicts with each other.
  • The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction.
  • The Tewa tribe from New Mexico believed that a solar eclipse signaled an angry Sun who had left the skies to go to his house in the underworld.
  • In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun, while Norse cultures blamed wolves for eating the Sun.
  • In ancient China, a celestial dragon was thought to lunch on the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. In fact, the Chinese word of an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.
  • According to ancient Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.
  • Korean folklore offers another ancient explanation for solar eclipses. It suggests that solar eclipses happen because mythical dogs are trying to steal the Sun. Traditionally, people in many cultures get together to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during a solar eclipse. It is thought that making a noise scares the demon causing the eclipse away.

Look, Mom, the sky has a zit!

And Now?
Many people around the world still see eclipses as evil omens that bring death, destruction, and disasters.

  • A popular misconception is that solar eclipses can be a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. In many cultures, young children and pregnant women are asked to stay indoors during a solar eclipse.
  • In many parts of India, people fast during a solar eclipse due to the belief that any food cooked while an eclipse happens will be poisonous and unpure.
  • Not all superstitions surrounding solar eclipses are about doom. In Italy, for example, it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

But What Does It Really Mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean anything, but it is a sign, a sign that all is right with the solar system. Scientists have calculated the orbits of all of the planets and plantesimals and have determined the times and places solar and lunar eclipses will occur for centuries. It means that the orbits of these objects are dependable. We should only worry when they no longer become dependable.

And We Can Count On?
Some idiot Republican will point out that solar power is just not dependable, as dependable as oil and coal, for instance.

And Need I Say…
That all of these, uh, traditional “beliefs” about eclipses, which are rather mundane astronomical occurrences, have been incorporated into local religions to make sure that these superstitions are preserved: Religion … working to make people’s lives less understandable since the dawn of time!

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