Thursday, 25 September 2008
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Did we really land on the moon?.... Yes! Of course we did!
(First and foremost, I'd like to apologise to any Dr. Who fans that have wandered here by accident, as after my last blog I was added to boxxet.com without my knowledge, and they stated that "Science Digestive has great Doctor Who news, photos, videos and more". It doesn't, the best I can offer is that I will soon be a DOCTOR, WHO writes bilge about science news stories. Sorry to waste your time, although if you're a stereotypical hardcore Dr. Who fan, that probably isn't much of an issue)
Some theories, such as the numerous 9/11 conspiracies seem more politically motivated. I don't like the Bush administration, I confess, but I doubt they set the whole thing up as many do claim. This would require an incredible level of organisation, cunning and guile in order to set-up and then get away with, and subsequent actions have arguably demonstrated that the current US government is nowhere near that competent (although if anyone in the US is reading this, I get my information second hand from UK based journalists and pundits, who probably aren't impartial, so I may be wrong in my opinions, although if I am, would that make the conspiracy theories more valid?)
Other conspiracies appear to be more paranoia based. Many believe in UFOs, and that it's a 'government conspiracy' to cover up the existence of aliens. Which begs the question, if an alien race that has achieved a level of technology required for space travel wanted to make itself known to the human race, what exactly could our governments do to stop them?
But in my experience, a lot of conspiracy theories are built upon scientific ignorance, of which the 'faked moon landings' are one of the most well known. Many still believe that Global Warming isn't happening, despite the mounds of data that says it is, because it would be better if Global warming isn't happening. But there are many other conspiracy theories that crumble under the most basic scientific analysis, and thrive only on pure ignorance.
Some people still believe the Earth is flat. We all know it isn't, there's so much proof to counter that claim that it would be embarrassing to go into it here, yet people still persist. I think the problem is with Science itself; some people just don't like it. Nobody likes to be told what to do or what's what, and nobody likes to be made to feel inferior, and when Science comes along and says 'this is how it is', it gets come peoples backs up, perhaps understandably. The majority of conspiracy theories seem to me to be elaborate versions of one kid shouting 'I know something you don't know' to another. People are intimidated by someone who knows too much, and will do anything to redress the balance. When I was in school, I was frequently persecuted because 'you think you know everything'. Which is ridiculous, because as I pointed out, if I knew everything one of the things I'd know was that I knew everything, so I wouldn't have to think about it at all. Thinking itself would be redundant, so it's a nonsensical statement. So yeah, I got beaten up a lot.
The best conspiracy theories endure because they have a precise combination of ingredients. A certain amount of feasibility, a dash of 'it's the man' style cover up, a plausible motive and a certain amount of logic. But not too much logic, because logic and evidence (or science) are not one and the same, logic only equals science when you have all the facts. Consider the following classic joke (observation, to be precise), rightly criticised by the late great Douglas Adams in The Salmon of Doubt.
"Scientists, what do they know? They say the Black Box on an Aeroplane is indestructible, then why not make the whole plane out of that stuff"
Lets overlook the fact that engineers, not scientists, are the ones who build planes, if you ignore that then the above joke makes logical sense. Duh, what are they doing? Idiot Scientists, they think they're so clever! Let's also overlook the fact that a black box is Titanium, a hardy but incredibly heavy metal. A plane made of titanium would require a hell of a lot more thrust to take off and stay in the air, so much so that no normal person could afford to pay the ticket prices required to cover fuel costs (no change there, then). And of course, the way physics works, such a rigid structure would mean the energy incurred on impact during a crash wouldn't be absorbed by a compressible craft but transmitted directly to the passengers, so you wouldn't get broken bones as much as a pureeing effect on the human occupants. But apart from that, stupid scientists!
(Interesting trivia, a typical black box is actually bright orange, making it easier to find after a crash, as it doesn't blend in with burnt, charred remains, which are ALWAYS black)
But, in the spirit of the argument, here's my favourite reasons why the Moon Landings were faked, and the rebuttals
- IT WAS A POLITICAL STUNT TO WIN THE SPACE RACE: A logical argument at least, but this would require the cooperation of Russia, the USA's cold war rival. Seeing as Russia had space technology of their own, it wouldn't have been too hard to disprove the Moon landings if they were fake. But instead, they played along, even though it meant doing a favour to their arch rivals and global competitors. Is that how wars work, even Cold ones? During WWII, Germany broadcast constant propaganda to the UK, about fictional battles that the allies had badly lost, in order to crush the morale of the populace. Of course, the British authorities confirmed these claims, because the Nazi's asked nicely and they'd gone to so much effort already.
- THERE ARE NO STARS IN THE SKY IN ANY PHOTOS OF THE LUNAR SURFACE: This is normally the conspiracy 'trump card'. But you try taking a photo of the moon with a regular camera, you won't see any stars. The moon is too bright, to do it right you need to have specific cameras etc. Anyone with the most basic grasp of photography could tell you this.
- ITS TOO DIFFICULT TO GO TO THE MOON: Logically it would be easier to fake it, right? No. You'd have to get the 1000s of people involved in the 'cover-up' to play along for the rest of their lives, plus stage an elaborate forgery which was detailed enough to convince all the relevant media and your arch enemies despite such forgeries being far beyond the technologies available at the time, plus stage a realistic looking 'fake' launch that people could witness. In comparison, a lunar mission is just a question of physics.
- SPACE IS TOO DANGEROUS: Yes, there's a lot of radiation up there, yes there are micrometeorites travelling at such speeds that they could smash open a craft, yes the sun could bake an exposed human to a crisp in seconds without atmospheric protection. But people thought of that. Radiation protection was designed in, there are micrometeorites but the vast emptiness of space means a collision is incredibly unlikely, and the moon landings happened during a quiet solar period.
- THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN ON EARTH...: I've seen this phrase pop up many times when some nutter analyses as flimsy piece of evidence, and the conclusion relies on the fact that 'on Earth, this doesn't happen...', which always leads me to internally scream THEY'RE NOT ON EARTH! Logically, they're contradicting their own argument. Instant credibility drop of -46 points.
Long blog this one, sorry bout that, just trying to compensate for the two previous silly ones.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
DR. WHO STRIPPED OF TITLE?
Health Food Witch Gillian McKeith’s Plans to Sue
BBC Wales could face severe legal costs if a court action lodged today by pseudoscientific health food guru Gillian McKeith is successful. McKeith, who was recently banned from calling herself doctor on grounds of false advertising, is said to still be bitter about the affair, and in a severe case of sour grapes has decided to lodge a similar complaint of her own. McKeith declined all requests for an interview or statement, but unofficial sources leaked a recording of a recent conversation to the Cheek, in which McKeith was heard to state the following;
“I dinnae knae why I hav’tae purr up wie all this shi’, I bought ma doctorate fair an’ square for 5 bob anna can’a Tenants, you knae how much tha’s wurth back in
McKeith has a history of pursuing legal action against anyone who dares to question or criticise her nonsensical claims, prompting many to theorise that she also exchanged her sense of humour for her worthless PhD, as well as the nominal sum of money. Since being stripped of her ‘doctor’ title on advertising grounds, McKeith is now attempting to extend this ruling to the iconic BBC sci-fi hero, Doctor Who, whose series is currently made and distributed by BBC Wales. Despite the undeniably petty and small minded nature of the court case, BBC bosses are worried that McKeith’s claims could be legally valid.
EU law states that anyone calling themselves a doctor ‘must have a medical degree or PhD from an accredited university’, whereas Dr. Who has neither. If McKeith’s claims are upheld, the BBC could face massive losses. As well as paying McKeith’s legal expenses, the word ‘Doctor’ will have to be removed from all previous episodes of the series, as well as all associated media and merchandise, which would cost at least £7.8 million. This would also cause further problems as the character has no other name, so the loss of the title ‘Doctor’ would render him essentially anonymous. Suggested alternative names such as ‘Time Man’, ‘Mr. Tardis’ and ‘Superclever space alien who looks human but isn’t really’ have so far been ruled out.
However, support from the extensive community of Doctor Who fans could prove effective in getting the case dropped. The moderator of one fansite, www.drwhoisbetterthansexiassume.co.uk, was willing to be interviewed (via MSN) and put forward the following arguments;
“I mean, its stupid! The Doctor dusnt hav 2 ave a phD to be a Dr. Hes THE doctor, and he actually mite even ave a pHd. Hes from Gallifrey, a planet in the constellation of Kasterborous, I don’t think EU law applies to there, and even if it did, theyd ave to check that they ave proper Universities and that, and that will take 1000s of years without a spaceship, like ;). Gillian McKeith is well dodgy, well all burn her house down if she starts. Well go totally Cyberman on her asre >”.
Legal experts also point out that Dr. Who has never claimed to be a real doctor, and only offers enjoyable TV viewing and cheap plastic tat to cash in, rather than supplements and ‘medicines’ which could actually kill someone. It is believed that a potential Jury may also be influenced by the fact that Doctor Who has selflessly saved the world dozens of times, whereas McKeith has done little more than sell placebo’s to unaware customers and shout at fat people for having unpleasant smelling stools. The prosecution may argue that Doctor Who has never actually done those things as he doesn’t exist, but this would be likely undermine their own case further, as it emphasises that McKeith actually does the things she’s accused of.
Whatever the outcome of this case, the bramble-eating harridan is still pursuing her vendetta, with similar cases being brought against briefly popular DJ Dr. Fox, and Carl Kennedy from Neighbours. Her case against rap mogul Dr. Dre was dropped when 3 of McKeith’s lawyers were gunned down in a drive by just outside Knightsbridge,
So there we go. I enjoyed it, hope you did. Normal Science commentary will resume shortly with an in-depth analysis of the logic behind he claim that 'The Moon Landings were faked', as per Rhumba's request.
Monday, 22 September 2008
BORIS COMBATS RACISM!
TORY BUFFOON CONTRADICTS BIGOTS JUST BY EXISTING
Recent research has shown that gormless but loveable Conservative idiot, Boris Johnson, has had a devastating effect on
A spokesman for the far right group “Hitler Wos Rite” (HWR) has been quoted as saying Boris Johnson was ‘a disgrace to the master race’. HWR follow the ethos of diminutive Austrian warmonger Adolf Hitler, whose theories on Eugenics stated that blond haired, blue eyed people were physically and mentally superior to all other races. However, Boris Johnson’s existence as floppy overweight idiot has provided damning evidence for these beliefs, and the far right groups that support them have thus far been unable to resolve this dilemma, with their usual tactic of blaming immigrants or different ethnic groups proving non-viable as Johnson has never met such people.
People who practice more subtle forms of racism have also been restricted by Boris Johnson. Snide comments about stupid Americans voting for idiots fell by an incredible 68% since the
Other casual racists, largely those who object to people ‘coming over here’, were left reeling by Johnson’s actions at the recent Olympic handover ceremony in
However, Mr. E. Nock Powell, coordinator of the UK Racism Preservation society, believes Boris Johnson’s damage to
Evidence suggests that the situation for racism is critical, with Boris Johnson’s blunderings only the latest in a series of disasters for racists in general. Recent support for the Tory party shows that those loyal to the cause are rallying, but it’s possible that this may just be the death rattle for
Due to the current crisis, The UK Racism Preservation Society is organising a TV fundraiser, to be hosted by Richard Littlejohn and Jo O’Meara and featuring performances by Jim Davidson, Paul Daniels and Patrick Kielty, with repeats of Celebrity Big Brother, Love thy Neighbour and The Nuremberg Address (To be shown on Granada Men and Motors, Tuesday 11th November at 4am)
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
But in this age where information is available at the touch of a button, there really should be systems in place to ensure the information we use really can be trusted. When I tutor and mark student essays (Oh yes, I do have that level of responsibility), we are instructed to discourage them from referencing websites, because unlike scientific journals or textbooks, websites are often completely unchecked or unedited, and when you're discussing a scientific issue, you can't make crazy claims unless you have the evidence to back them up. So if you want to make statements in an essay, "Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology" is a valid reference, whereas "www.pub-quiz.com/answers" is not. And yes, that has actually been used in one of the pieces of work I've marked.
But the Internet is indeed a fantastic tool for the spread of information, and is very democratic and that regard. But like with all democracies, certain groups with a certain viewpoint or belief abuse the system to get their own way, like the zealots at conservapedia, who push rambling bullying dogmatic nonsense disguised as 'information', the owners of which were just given the most brilliant scientific bitch-slap I've seen to date. I'm all for the free spread of information, but if the information is flawed, it can cause panic, fear, distrust and a variety of other emotions which aren't too desirable in large groups of people. Here's some 'information' I've encountered on the Internet.
- The LHC will destroy the world as soon as it's switched on: No! No no no no no! See last blog, and listen to Stephen Hawking. In the local primary school back home, some malicious old lady told all the kids that the world was definitely going to end, and they were all too scared and upset to eat! What are the odds that Jamie Oliver will be trying that strategy next?
- The MMR jab causes Autism: One doctor once mentioned in passing that there was a chance that a link was possible. One sweep of hysteria later, and measles is on the increase, potentially killing thousands of children in the long run. Still, it's better they die young than get Autism, right?
- Fluoride is put in the water by the government as a means of keeping the populace under control and sedate: This is a facebook group I saw. Given that fluoride has been in the water supply for decades, during which times we saw such things as the poll tax riots and miners strikes, this seems unlikely. granted, there is much opposition to water fluoridation due to the various side effects too much fluoride can have, but by saying 'it's the government, playing with our minds', you detract from the valid arguments. And let's be honest, collective mind-control of the population would require more effort than dumping a few chemicals in the water supply and hoping for the best. And could several successive governments keep such a thing secret? The current lot constantly leave top secret records on trains, I think this sort of scheme is beyond them to be honest.
- Vernon Kay denies his death: I really wanted this to be an attempt at irony, but I don't think it is. And that scares me more than any universe swallowing black-hole.
But people rely on scientific ignorance to flog stuff, as in 'The new moisturiser contains pentapeptides'. I'm a bit rusty on my biochemical terminology, but 'pentapeptide' either means a string of 5 amino acids, or a protein made up of 5 amino acid chains. Either way, that's massively unimpressive. They might as well say "our new gloop is made up of atoms, whoooooo! Atoms, yeah, that's all sciency isn't it, you're impressed right? We clearly know what we're on about, so buy our overpriced shite, otherwise you'll be ugly forever, you will, we know these things because we're cleverer than you, we must be, remember the atoms? Yeah, that's right, go out and buy it you stupid prole!"
This kind of thing clearly makes me angry, which isn't like me. I'd hate for people to read this and get the wrong information about me. That would be ironic, but not in a funny way.
Thursday, 11 September 2008
But as with climate change, the only way Science seems to get this level of attention is when it implies that it might kill us all. The LHC experiment set a new record in paranoid scaremongering with people worrying that it might eventually destroy the universe. Nice, but lets be honest, are we as a species really that arrogant? We're still at the mercy of lumps of rock and circular air currents (big ones, admittedly) and we think we have the resources to take on gravity. My barber made this point to me yesterday, which was oddly profound, then he said that the purpose of the LHC was to discover alternate universes and travel to them. Not sure if that's precisely what the researchers are after, but as I always say, don't contradict the guy holding a razor to your neck.
But the LHC doesn't threaten us, Stephen Hawking said so. He wouldn't lie (lets be honest, in his current condition he probably wouldn't waste time like that). And even if all the experts are wrong (which has never happened, ever) and a huge black hole does form, it'll be fine. Even if we are sucked in instantly, the closer you get to a singularity, the slower time goes until it eventually stops. So we won't die, we'll live forever. It'll be dull, admittedly, but there are worse ways to go.
But are there still dangers from the LHC? Yes, here's a few I thought of.
- WHO OWNS IT? - Apparently, the LHC is built on the Switzerland/France border. This may explain why it cost £5 billion (a lot of people have complained about the cost, £5 billion could have paid for a whole day of the war in Iraq for goodness sake, what a waste!) Would it have cost so much if they hadn't had to get planning permission from two governments? And if some very interesting results do occur, who owns them? Obviously the team behind it, but what if both France and Switzerland start fighting over it? They could go to war. Admittedly, according to stereotypes, that would be the most pathetic war in history. But then others would get involved. And it all kicks of from there.
- ALIENS! - According to Star Trek - First Contact, Aliens first visit Earth when we achieve warp flight, the energy signature showed we were advanced enough for contact. What if the LHC provides the same thing? Maybe aliens will detect the processes and come say hello. And what if they're not nice ones? Or even nice, but massively annoying, like guests hat come round but refuse to take the hint and leave after 8 hours of dull conversation? Imagine that on an intergalactic scale.
- MASS REDUCTION - One of the things that the LHC could produce is evidence of the Higgs Boson, the theoretical 'God' particle that gives everything it's mass via some highly complex do-hickys and what not (I'm not a physicist, I could try and use the correct terminology, but if I get it wrong that would freak me and fellow brainiacs out). If they find the Higgs, learn to control it, then they could feasibly reduce it's influence or 'deactivate it'. That means instantaneous weight loss. Healthy eating could be a thing of the past, what's the point? The food crisis will only get worse! Worse, I tells ya!
- STEPHEN HAWKING - If this all goes well, expert scientists will be wanted for quotes and opinion, and everyone will want Hawking's input, it's started already (check the link above). He's not well! He can barely move as it is! This extra pressure won't do him any good, it could put him out of action prematurely, and what if he's not had time to explain it to us all? Admittedly, the fact that he's not directly involved with the project implies that there are more scientists who understand this than just Hawking, but are any of them as well established in the media?
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
The article isn't a BBC science one, so is far less factually enriched. No way of knowing how this happens, or if it's just overblown anecdotal evidence. I suppose some chemical in the lubricant could act as a vasoconstrictor, closing the vessels that make spots so prominent so they eventually disappear, but this seems unlikely given that they're designed to cover an organ that depends on high level of blood flowing in order to do its job (if anyone made a mental link to menstruation, what is wrong with you?)
So truth be told, I don't know how/why this works, but apparently it does. It seems quite a widespread phenomenon, according to the article. I wondered why we hadn't heard of it before now, thinking maybe Clearasil and companies like them have hushed it up, what with condoms being free at most clinics, and medicated scrubs costing nearly £5 a bottle. But maybe it's more simple, maybe we just don't pay enough attention to Africa, purely to annoy Geldof and Bono as much as anything.
How come nobody's discovered the effect in this country? Well, as someone who did suffer from Bad Acne, those who have it rarely come into contact with condoms, what with it making you quite unappealing to the opposite sex (not sure if that's true with same sex relationships, if you're fine with the fact that the person is the same gender as you, what do a few zits matter?). So the circumstances where such a discovery could be made are quite rare.
I don't like condoms. I fully agree with their use and support what they do and have no problem using them (Screw you Pope!) but I've had a few bad experiences with them. Again, not in the standard 'oh God, it didn't work' type problem people get with condoms, but more psychological.
It's hard to confess this, but here goes; My first condoms were bought for me (quite bad), at age 18 (worse) . . . . . . by my Gran (I know, there is no worse). I didn't ask her to, by the way. I was just packing for University at home and she came in with a 'present' for me. Of course it was mortifyingly embarrassing, but with hindsight she may have been a lot cleverer than I thought.
One the rare occasions when I got a lady back to my place, things heated up and she mentioned 'protection', I would immediately think of my Gran. And let me say, if you can maintain a state of arousal while thinking of your own grandmother, you should get some serious help. My Gran forced her old-fashioned values on me by the power of negative associative learning. She may be a genius.
I eventually threw the condoms away because they expired. Thus completing a quadrilogy of embarrassment.
I did know a guy once who used to buy chocolate flavoured condoms because, quote, 'Girls love chocolate'. I did try to tell him that I've never met a woman stupid enough to believe what he would offer her was actually chocolate, and even if she did, most women, when they put chocolate in their mouths, chew it. And that's the worst possible outcome.
This is probably my smuttiest post ever, yet still quite scientific. Not sure if I should be proud or ashamed of myself.
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Basically, it the thesis. Always comes back to the thesis. It needs doing, I haven't done it, so am doing it, which means it will be done. All possible tenses covered there I feel. Will be cracking on with it as intensely as possible for the next few weeks, so will be scaling back the blogging.
Some things of interest have occurred, my wife is now on a backpacking holiday in Vietnam, she left on Saturday, will be back in a few weeks. When she called about to get on the plane, I harassed her and made fun of her until she said 'Screw you, I'm going to 'Nam'. As she promised she would. She also promised that when she tells people about her holiday she has to start every story with 'you weren't there man, you weren't there', and attempt a glazed faraway expression.
That's what I would do, but she probably has more sense. Oh well.
A rare mammoth skull has been found in the South of France. Well, that seems a bit misleading, all mammoths are more than rare, achieving extinct status some time ago now. But obviously I'm being an idiot, it's the remains of these mammoths that are rare. And there are some theories that mammoths still exist somewhere, in Arctic tundras or uncharted regions of Siberia. Admittedly, I can't link to pages about these theories, as I don't think they're based on actual science, more a willingness to believe that the big furry creatures weren't all wiped out by our mindless ancestors. Wouldn't be the first time that happened, though.
The articles explains it all, its the pictures I like. Because archeology is such a painstaking, slow process it inevitably looks quite dull. Although TV seems determined to prove otherwise (Time team, etc.). But the pics of this historic find don't really match up to the excitement of the story. Its basically some guys measuring a big rock. Obviously the sediments surrounding the skull can't be just hacked off, and the properties of fossilised bone probably renders them quite rock-like. Still, it can't be argued that this story consists of what looks like men poking at a rock. And that looks dull.
Cancer: Slightly less deadly?
They've established a potential weapon in the war against cancers. They know have the structure, and therefore a potential target for drugs, of the enzyme that allows the exponential, unregulated growth of cancer cells, which is what makes it deadly. I think they've underestimated the impact of this. Telomerase effectively shuts off the aging mechanism of cells, thus cancer cells don't die off like normal, healthy cells (ironic, I know, that the healthier cells age and die). All good if you can stop that happening, but if you can stop it, could the process also be started? Could you switch off the ageing in normal cells, without the explosive fatal reaction cancer cells undergo? Perhaps. But should you? People will want it if there's even the slightest chance of it working, side-effects be damned. bare in mind how many people inject powerful toxins into their face just to remove a few wrinkles. Interesting times ahead.
There, that's a few things. Also, as part of the first Cardiff Science festival, I'm putting together possibly the first Science-based stand-up night. This is an experiment of mine, and like all experiments worth doing, the outcome is unknown. Which is my way of saying it might be rubbish. But it'll be interesting. Will keep you informed with details as and when they're available.