Category Archives: SCIENCE

Moral naturalism.

Last month I commented on a conversation over at NewSojourn, “Where Does ‘Ought’ Come From?“, where he commits the fallacy of the false dilemma by saying that you either believe morality, ethics, “proper” civil behavior is dictated by a (the Christian) god, or else there is no such thing and any claim to believe in ethics and morality if you’re not religious (Christian) is a lie. Or his word, “hogwash.”

Well of course, as an atheist and a naturalist (no, NOT nudist!) I’m also a secular humanist, so I take great offense at the idea that you have to be either a religious believer (Christian specifically) or a nihilist. There is something in between that is perfectly complimentary to the idea that morality exists (because it does) without the need for any god (because there aren’t (–even so, why specifically Yahweh and not one of the other 2400 gods?)

But better than any response I’ve given, I just listened to the latest Point of Inquiry podcast with an interview with naturalism philosopher and Vice President for Research and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry:

♦ John Shook – Naturalism and the Scientific Outlook

It’s not a very long episode, only 25 minutes, and I think the way he discuses the argument for naturalism as a philosophy and a worldview is pretty much the final word in my book. He also discusses the role of science in society and the way science is not a study of scientists (which is what creationists and anti-scientists want to make it out to be), but an examination purely of nature and the evidence from the examination of nature regardless of the people involved.

Here are some nice bits:

Naturalism is a worldview, a philosophy of you like, that understand reality through experience, reason and science. And I break it down into these three more simpler elements but it’s necessary to understand: they work together. …

You cannot have naturalism without science. But, we have to understand, science itself is based upon our experience of the world, and, reasoning about the world. We draw inferences, we test hypotheses, we draw tentative conclusions about what reality is like. Sometimes, opponents of naturalism, love to appeal to experience independently of science, or to reason (let’s say some rational arguments for the existence of god), again–completely unhinged from science. …

The diversity of human experience is incredible! Of course religious experience is part of this. What naturalism simply demands is that… experience is not enough. Experience has to be tested by rational standards of coherence and common sense, and also it has to be consistent with science. …

Strictly speaking, science itself as a list of cutting-edge theories, that are best tested by experiments, you can’t directly infer moral conclusions about how human beings ought to live. You can’t read them off…. You can’t detect values with a microscope. There have been some objectionable philosophies that have attempted this. For example Social Darwinism once proliferated: ‘Rich people ought to survive because obviously they’re more fit,’ this sort of bogus, junk science really is a logical dead end. … Humorously, this junk science, this propaganda of Social Darwinism, was actually playing a card played by theologians played by time immemorial. ‘If it’s natural, it’s right.’ This presumption being by theologians: God set up nature so God must have deemed it right. That principle just have to be thrown out as completely illogical and unsupportable, so scientists shouldn’t do it either.

What I would suggest is that instead we remind ourselves that as naturalists we rely on experience, reason, and science–it’s the unity of the three of them that really allows naturalism to tell us real information about how human beings ought to live. Especially the experience. Sometimes naturalists think by discarding supernaturalism they have to completely discard the religious cultural heritages of humanity too. And we don’t have to do that. What we can do is we can distinguish between what doesn’t work anymore in religion and what still may work. For example: moral wisdom, about how human beings ought to live. Now of course it’s couched too often in mythological language… and it is horribly outmoded.

So, naturalism would recommend, not that we start from scratch, some blank slate, some a priori principles of pure reason to deduce how we ought to live; instead what we ought to do is we ought to critically examine and test this cumulative body of moral wisdom that comes from the world’s cultures. After all, there’s sort of an evolutionary wisdom here. Most of these cultures have lasted for hundreds if not thousands of years, human beings have to a certain extent, successfully flourished, why discard this body of wisdom? So a naturalist would say: ‘We could build a new non-religious, secular culture–not in some a priori fashion or by consulting intuitions or anything like that, but simply by taking from the best of the other world cultures. …

And from there they discuss value of life, the meaning of life, and cosmic ego versus personal ego and what may be in between when defining meaning and passing values on.
It’s a good listen!

Life in the future! An ode to reason.

Welcome to the 21st century!

♦ Girl, 6, thrown on fire for being ‘lowest class’

If anyone denies that the earth is composed of literally two different worlds, they’re living a completely sheltered life in theirs. Here in the year 2008, we have machines that can literally detect thought before you have the thought, we can map the genome and know what each gene is for, we’re perhaps just years before we can use nanobots to treat cancer, we have telescopes which can see the remnants of post-Big bang radiation.

And we still have places where women are forced to cover their bodies lest they offend men and Allah’s sensibilities, where people are relegated to class divisions based on levels of reincarnation, where virgins are raped because it’s against the Koran to kill a virgin if they fall in love with a non-Muslim, where priests discourage condom use in AIDS and famine plagued places because it’s against God’s will, and let’s also include just plain stupid and ridiculous ideas of war in this contradiction, whether religious or not.

Continue reading Life in the future! An ode to reason.

It’s easy to make your point when you use lies and fantasy.

It’s hard not to comment on the horrific screed that is the movie “Expelled”. I’ve not seen it, and I’m not sure I want to (just as I’m not interested in seeing Michael Moore’s manipulative and half-truth pseudo-docs). But Scientific America has a great article listing a few things that the movies gets horribly wrong–and not accidentally!

♦ Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know…

For example:

During Scientific American’s post-screening conversation with Expelled associate producer Mark Mathis, we asked him why Ken Miller was not included in the film. Mathis explained that his presence would have “confused” viewers. But the reality is that showing Miller would have invalidated the film’s major premise that evolutionary biologists all reject God.

(Ken Miller is an evolutionary biologist, AND is publicly religious.)

And, they cut and edit Darwin’s writing to make it sound like he’s the father of “social Darwinism” and advocates the eradication of the weak…when he actually wrote the exact opposite!! It’ll make you plotz when you read this.

What Biblical scholars would prefer you didn’t know.

Here’s an interesting videotaped lecture from a Biblical scholar and former Christian evangelical (until, get this, after he learned Biblical scholarship), discussing how, well, basically how the masses’ religion is kept alive by people who don’t want it known what Biblical scholars know about Biblical history and validity.

♦ Hector Avalos: How Archaeology Killed Biblical History

No, this isn’t some grand “da Vinci” Code conspiracy! It’s simple propagation of ideology despite the erosion and devalidifying (I’m making that a real word) of the foundation on which the ideology is based. And Biblical scholars by and large know this!

Hopping onto the Expelled issue.

There’s a movie coming out called Expelled, which tries to argue that there are people in academia being fired and denied tenure because of Intelligent Design beliefs. And more ridiculously, how “Darwinism” (which is really a silly term) was the basis for Nazi holocaust.

Well, let me allow others, involved in the film and the issues, explain how horrible this movie is and irresponsible it’s premises:

♦ Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Integrity Displayed
♦ The Expelled Hitler Fallacy
♦ Lying for Jesus

Update (15 April): I’m embarrassed to admit I left off the most vital Web site, which very clearly and with ample evidence exposes the lies and fraud the makers of the film have perpetrated, and how terribly and disgustingly wrong they are in their film’s content.

♦ Expelled: Exposed

Dawkins and the oddness of science, on Zeus, and kindness.

Richard Dawkins is just the coolest!
(Author of such books as The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion.)
Here is a video (22 min long) of his talk at TED a couple of years ago where he discusses just how fantastically weird the universe is, because of the way our brains have evolved to apprehend our universe in a way that assists our survival:

Next is a very short clip (1min20sec) of his response to someone who asks Pascal’s Wager:

Finally, an also brief (2min25sec) clip of astronomer and educator Neil deGrasse Tyson admonishing Dawkins (and rightly so) for perhaps alienating people he could be helping bring to rational thought and science, due to his caustic nature:

On sexuality, feminism, and being a man, baby.

(Sorry for invoking the specter of Austin Powers with that title.)

I almost never discuss sex and gender issues on my blog. I think I have only twice in the five years I’ve been blogging:
The free market corrects (for errors in being trusting).
For the Bible tells me so.
Time for secret gay sex for straight men fading away.
Right to privacy…with your vibrator.
Contraception, abortion foe to head family-planning office – CNN.com
Why Gay Marriage is Wrong, Redux

Hmm, guess I’ve blogged more on the subject than I thought. But usually, based on a search of my blog, I mention in conjunction with Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) hatred of sex. Seems most every other non-Abrahamic religion in the world has a significantly more open and healthy attitude regarding human sexuality. The Abrahamic religions are nearly pathological when it comes treating human sexuality as wrong, dirty, evil, sinful, shameful, etc. ad nauseum. And since our western culture has been greatly influenced by and infected affected by the Abrahamic religions, our patriarchal society has taken on many of the same neurotic issues with sexuality. And even more so in the United States, which is the most Christian of all “civilized” western nations.

At risk of confusing causation with correlation, Continue reading On sexuality, feminism, and being a man, baby.

Nuclear doom?

Read:

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that some 50,000-100,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by particulate air pollution, the biggest cause of which is coal-burning power plants in the midwest and east. Even taking the maximum predicted death toll from Chernobyl, we would need a Chernobyl-sized accident every three weeks to make nuclear power as deadly as coal and oil already is. Shall I repeat that? If the world was filled with Generation I reactors run by feuding coal miners, we would need a worst-case scenario every three weeks just to match the US death toll we’ve imposed upon ourselves by clinging to our current fossil fuel system. Next time you see a hippie cheering the defeat of nuclear power in the US, realize that a healthy environment and saving lives are clearly not their priorities.

This is a quote from a recent Skeptoid episode:

The Terror of Nuclear Power
(you can read the transcript, or listen to the 18 minute audio file)

In this episode, Brian examines the reason why Americans are so scared of nuclear power–and why it’s, today, unfounded. Not only unfounded, but harming us by allowing us to continue to create many times more deaths and illness due to coal and oil, and keeping us addicted to these non-renewable energy resources, when nuclear power is today safer and cleaner than any alternative.

Proto-building blocks of life in space!

Fascinating article from BadAstronomy today, describing the recent confirmation of a organic molecules in space. Particularly a molecule that is a precursor to the amino acid that makes up living DNA:

An organic farm in the galactic center

You know what that means….
Well, nothing certain, of course. But it indicates that, in conjunction with more and more Goldilocks planets being discovered, that the chance of lifeforms elsewhere in the galaxy is moving closer to probable instead of just possible.

Unintelligent design.

3D chromosomesJust listened to an episode of Air America’s “Atheists Talk” episode 8 where they interview “The Friendly Atheist” and biologist PZ Myers:

Atheists Talk #008 Mar 2, 2008
(click the “listen now” link at the bottom to listen or download)

The first half interview with Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist is kind of interesting; he discusses his book “I Sold My Soul on eBay” and his work with campus freethinking organizations. It’s interesting, by I have to admit, gets a little boring. For me. Mainly because I’ve heard what he has to say before–but I would think to the person who hasn’t it could be fascinating.

What really engaged me, was the way too brief second half with biologist and professor PZ Myers (and blogger, with his Pharyngula site).
He discusses bad design in nature, which counters the “intelligent design”…argument, that at least some of nature is so perfectly and elegantly designed that it has to have been done by A Designer. Well, even though the examples IDers have used all have turned out quite reducible, nature is rife with qualities that flagrantly display the bottom-up nature of evolution: Things come about that work. They seem cobbled together, haphazard, inelegant, but they get the job done.

The brain contains a mess of this kind of design, and Myers discusses Gary Marcus’ book Kluge, which investigates the weird and haphazard way the brain often gets things done.
Then he talks about other instances of natures design that would get a human engineer or programmer fired:

Like the human genome. It’s a mess! IDers often point to the genome as an elegant program of data and instructions that prove a programmer, but in truth, the genome is filled with junk data and bad instructions. There are significant portions of the genome that have portions where its only function is to uselessly copy itself for no purpose, except when a virus latches onto it and uses it for its own purpose.
Also, interestingly, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans have 24 pairs. Well, evidently, a couple of the human chromosomes have at some point in evolution fused together, and you can see in the human sets of pairs where this meshing exists!

Back to bad design: the human eye. The light sensors sit behind the nerves and blood vessels making it so that we have blind spots and “poor resolution” than we could have. Like putting the cords of a video camera in front of the lens. (As I understand, squid and octopus happened to evolve without this problem.)

The human male testes have to be cooler than body temp to work, so they dangle (quite annoyingly and often painfully and terribly prone to damage) outside the body–after traveling, during infant development, through the body trailing the seminal tubing behind it to make a weird, long journey from testes to penis. A weird solution that has been better evolved in other animal species.

One of my favorites of bad design that PZ didn’t mention (his segment was much too short) was how we eat and breathe through the same whole, making the chances of our killing ourselves by choking on food quite possible. And the most common victims of this bad design are children.

Anyway, interesting program; worth a listen.
(image stolen from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/disorders/karyotype/)

Making critical thinking and rational dicision making fun and entertaining!

I recently got a comment on one of my two year old posts:
God’s Real Estate
in which the poster brought up Pascal’s Wager as a reason to believe in God (the Christian one in particular). Another commenter supplied a link to a video that I found absolutely fantastic!
It’s not religion related, by the way. It has to do with how to think about decisions that should be made when you’re in the middle of “the experiment.” Specifically dealing with global climate change, in this case:

The risks of taking no action.

It really is a very entertaining and thought-provoking video.
Following that video to its YouTube home, I found that video creator (a high school science teacher) has a LOT of other great videos! Like this one:

Check out some of his other vids. Good stuff!

The free market corrects (for errors in being trusting).

I listen to a lot of podcasts, most of them about skepticism, humanism, science fiction, writing, grammar, literature…and there’s one I listen to called “Sex Is Fun.” It’s an educational show that focuses on sex-positive health issues, issues of sexual identity, lifestyles, concerns and dysfunction, product reviews, sexual politics, as well as being fun and entertaining.
(If you’re giggling, judging, or shocked, get over it. Sex is a part of life, part of being human, and I think the American neurosis of making sex a taboo and fringe topic is part of what’s lead our culture to be schizophrenically obsessed by and sheltered from it, with some of the highest rates of rape and child molestation and harassment of any modern country.)
OK, to the point of this blog entry…

I’m using this podcast as an illustration of why I disagree with the economic libertarianism, true laissez-faire objectivismist philosophy is unworkable and morally bankrupt.

A year or so ago in the SiF podcast, the hosts discussed those herbal “performance enhancers” that are supposed to increase libido and “male performance.”
(One of the problems right there with deregulation: While over-the-counter medicine is stringently regulated by the FDA, “herbal supplements” are not regulated at all! You can walk into you local Walgreen’s or grocery store, pick up some herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies, and have absolutely no idea of what’s in them and what it does. They could do absolutely nothing, or they could have undocumented side-effects, they could have effects with other medications no one has tested for, and every unregulated capsule can have radically different potencies from capsule to capsule.)
And after trying several that are on the market, (another problem of lack of regulation: You have to be your own guinea pig or trust the reviews of some other guinea pig who may have completely shoddy or non-existent experimental controls, methodology, and data review procedures,) the main host and his co-hosts came to the conclusion that they’re all useless and ineffective. (Herbal supplements don’t have to prove any kind of efficacy to be put on the shelf. They can’t make any specific claims about curing any diseases or illnesses, but other than that, they can say whatever they want and leave it to the buyer to beware regarding supplements with untried and unproven pharmacology (no matter what the Indian shaman says about saw palmeto).)

Except one. There was one enhancement supplement which actually did work! Miracle! Ah, except, it was later found out that the manufacturer was putting in the same chemical that is used in Viagra and was taken off the market.

Now, I’m actually only through phase one of this story, there’s a part two coming. But let me stop to say this is the point in which your market libertarian will jump and exclaim: “Ah ha! See, the market adjusts! Let the free market work and it will adjust. People who do underhanded things will not be able to sell their wares and people will move on to the competition.”

Let’s keep in mind that this example of the unregulated and free market allows some someone to do what they want until they get called on. The manufacturer of this product may get sued, may have a settlement to pay, may even have criminal charges filed (which is only possible in a NON-truly libertarian society, by the way)–but all of it after the damage is done. Libertarians love to use the argument when fighting for gun ownership rights that the police don’t prevent crime, they come in after the crime has already happened to take names and investigate it (actually, this is an argument I myself believe in)–but market libertarians are blind to the fact that their disgust for why police are ineffective is exactly the same reason why market libertarianism, objectivism, is ineffective at anything except encouraging abuse, corruption, greed, people taking as much advantage of other people as possible and doing everything and anything possible to get away with it.

And they will too, for a long time, without regulation and stringent monitoring. How long do you think this supplement company got away with it? How many people possibly took the supplement before someone checked things out? How many people may have encounter heart or vision problems before someone decided to try making a connection with this supplement and pay for a chemical analysis of it? Could have been a day, could have been years. And that’s the nature of the market. It adjusts only after damage is done, and that damage could be great and widespread before someone does anything about it. And by then, the perpetrator could be long gone.

Now for part two. So that enhancement supplement is taken off the shelves, people know about it, they move on to the competition. The SiF podcast hosts come upon another enhancement supplement called “Boom Energy.” They check it out, actually talk to the manufacturer and distributor, and are convinced this supplement is “all natural.” The distributor is quite aware of the other, nefarious product, and assures the hosts and the audience that they’re on the up-and-up. And the product works. Even three out of the four female co-hosts report some marked amount of increase in libido and positive physical changes. Boom ends up sponsoring the podcast for nearly a year.

Then guess what. Yep, you guessed it–Boom is outted as also including low dosage of the Viagra active ingredient in their product.

So, how well did the market react and adjust? Just as one company is shut down for its practices, another one well aware of it and the results, does the same thing. Why? Because the drive of the profit motive is too high for people who care more about money than service or ethics. And the deregulated, open market fosters and encourages that kind of corporate sociopathy. In a deregulated industry, what incentive does the unscrupulous company (it’s owners, operators, R&D, etc) have to not put out a shoddy or potentially harmful product if they know the only thing that’s going to stop them is if finally enough people are hurt by it that a connection is made and a privately funded investigation is opened, when you plan on having made enough money by that time to skip off to the Camen Islands?

And that time is shorter only if there’s potential and significant harm (imagine a world in which over the counters weren’t regulated, and you could and would be expected to buy your heart medication, diabetes medication, anti-psychotics, AIDS inhibitors, liver disease treatment drugs off the shelf from companies that have nothing to hold them accountable to quality control safety and efficacy except possible eventual lawsuits?!) When a company puts out a completely ineffectual product, cognitive biases, placebo effect, confirmation biases, permit that product to sell and make ridiculous despite their ineffectualness. Even private clinical research can’t stop a company from putting out a worthless product and taking advantage of people who because of the nature of the product, can only assume it’s on the shelf because it works. We don’t even have to live in “that world,” it’s all around us right now! Test after test after test have shown the ingredients in Airborne do absolutely nothing to stop or even shorten a cold, homeopathic remedies are water, many herbs do not do what they’re advertised to do (although they may cause unresearched side-effects and drug reactions), and yet our store shelves are filled with it.

The market libertarian assumes that the average consumer will take the time and effort to research every product and company they chose to buy from. Think about it: Do you have time enough to do what you try to do already–work, family, friends, a life and pursuit of happiness, that you have time to research every product you buy from shampoo to peanut butter, to make sure independent laboratory tests (assuming any have even been done, have been published, and been done by someone not paid by the company itself!) show the product to be safe and contain what it’s advertised, and show a consistently better-than-placebo level of efficacy? (Yes, I suppose that may apply to products like shampoo as well *grin*.)

Our level of trust in aspects of the government is pretty low for many reasons. I myself trust the government far less than the average person. But even slightly flawed programs like the FDA, Medicare, the pre-Bush Veteran’s Administration, pre-Reagan banking regulation and housing finance regulations, worked well enough to help protect us to a degree far higher than if they didn’t exist and it was a consumer wild west out there. The neo-cons want to destroy the government and replace it with corporate rule, the objectivists want to destroy government and replace it with a utopian idea of free market rule (that somehow can magically withstand the machinacions and control that could be leveraged by mega-corporations). The problem isn’t necessarily government, it’s government that’s for sale that’s the problem. And that’s been the case for 100 years now, since Presidents Harding and Hoover and the robber barons who literally bought laws to protect their corporate interests at the expense of both labor and the consumer. And it took a giant step forward with Reagan and the Bush’s (and with Clinton as well, lest he’s put on some pedestal. He wasn’t as bad at handing government over to the wealthy and the corporate as Reagan, but he’s not innocent of it either. And neither will Hilary.)

Whether we can return to a truly representative democratic government that’s for and by the people, I don’t know. Instead of the corporate media controlled charade we have now, where each candidate (except a couple who have less than no chance of getting a nomination) is different from the other in only degrees. The power of global market capitalism may be too powerful and the handing over of America to the wealthy elite too far advanced. Some anarcho-socialists believe nothing short of revolution, complete market collapse, or massive environmental disaster of continent-size scale can wrest control of government back into the hands of the people.

One can only hope.

Truly awesome and glorious!

cosmic train wreckOK, with my last post on religion getting that out of my system, probably for another few months at least (it’s a rather fantastic post, that one by John Loftus), it’s time to move on to good and positive things! And one of those things, for me, is the awesome wonder of the universe!!!

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” -Carl Sagan
“I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.” -Carl Sagan

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, has posted a blog entry as wonderful and glorious as Loftus’ post is critical and sour-pussish:

Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2007

Of course Phil explains each image and discusses some of the wonders of science surrounding each image and its “story.” The universe really is a wondrous and amazing thing!

That reminds me, he also posted a blog yesterday pointing to a fascinating animation project:
Creation vs. Reality
Be sure to go to the linked site and watch the videos…there’s a certain conceit that’s applied that really makes a thought-provoking point, but they don’t come right out and say it–they present it in the way the animations are presented. Really clever!

And since, after my last post, I’m back on the path of being positive and generous, to be fair, most Christians don’t believe in Creation but rather some form of guided evolution. (Of course, that’s like conceding gravity exists but only because a magical…no no! Back on the positive path! I had my purge, now it’s time to stop dumping on religion again for a while! Here goes. *smile*)

“Dark energy is repulsive!”

Dark Energy filmOK, I took that quote from a commenter on one of today’s Bad Astronomy posts:

Dark energy video from Hubble

Phil Plait gives us a link to a Hubble Flash animation that does an amazing job explaining the discovery of dark energy and its role in the acceleration of the universe. This really is an impressive little movie, and I encourage you to click each element in it to view the animations and interviews. They really did a good job with it:

Dark Energy

Will blow your mind!

t3h brainzHopefully a quickie post today–on the subject of your spicy brains!
Two really interesting podcasts this week (I understand some people still need reminding you don’t need an MP3 player, certainly not an iPod to listen to podcasts. They’re just MP3 files you can download and listen on your computer.)

The first is The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe:
SGU’s Latest Episode
In addition to other cool topics like their experience at a psychic fair ($20 for a 15 minute reading, and dozens of readings through the day–even just working the fair for 4 hours that’s over $300. For four hours of conning people through play-acting and lying. Amazing. But I digress….) they did some news on some updated research regarding how photographs (and manipulated photographs in particular) influence the way we remember something, which influences what we think about a particular topic.
(Something politicians, spin doctors, and marketers already know all too well.)

They also discuss some research that shows that when we recall a memory, we’re changing the neural paths and proteins that “store” the memory–we change the memory when we remember it! Every time we remember an event, we’re editing it with current sensory stimuli and emotion and thoughts. Keep that in mind next time you think you’re absolutely certain about how something happened, or are dealing with purely anecdotal “evidence.”

And, the latest episode of Point of Inquiry:
Richard Wiseman – Quirkology
Wiseman is a magician, psychologist, and professor of Public Understanding of Psychology. He’s written a new book, they discuss. But talks about his work dealing with perception, how our senses fool us, how others fool us, and the psychology of how we perceive what we do. His experience in magic helps him bring an interesting and entertaining perspective on the topic.

There’s a link on the site to a YouTube video he made that really might blow your mind, regarding our senses and false perception. Cwazy!

Cool science roundup.

Been busy. Here’s a few items of science interest for you! Enjoy.

Mima and SaturnA really amazing couple of animations from the Cassini probe exploring the Saturn system:

Cool Cassini Animations

One shows the “shepherd’s moon” Prometheus moving around in its space in Saturn’s ring, pulling out threads of the ring! The other is Mimas, or the “Death Star,” rising behind Saturn.

Next up: 5 planets and a sweetspot:
5 planets
Astronomers find 5 planet system!

Most of the systems scientists have found so far have been planet-less or have only one or a couple planets. At least, with the technology we have so far. Finding a 5-planet system, nearby, as Phil Plait (The “Bad Astronomer“) says: “Finding a system so close implies that they are common throughout the galaxy.” He also explains how one of these 5 planets happens to live in a special region of distance from its star that suggests conditions that are favorable for water developing on the planet. Promising!

Alright, moving from the cosmos to Earth science issues–some pseudoscience of interest:

An oldie but a goodie from the Skepchick:
Homeopathy (is) for Dummies

I don’t now recall how or why I got back to that post, but I did. It’s an amusing and informative explanation of homeopathy and its silliness. Well, it would be just silly if it weren’t for the sad fact that thousands, perhaps millions of people in some degree, believe this woo and put their faith and health in it. Placebo effect can help only so much; some people use homeopathy for very serious illnesses, and that’s sad.

Speaking of sad, a fantastic post discussing the sad state of the battle of evolutionary science over Intelligent Design Creationism:
Should We Let Creationists Dictate Our Time: A Response to Tristero

Mike the Mad Biologist” discusses the way in which the ID’ists have the money, time, backing, and fanaticism to spread their woo while real scientists are too busy doing work to try to find the right social dynamics, public relations, marketing, to convince people of the reality of evolution. At the root, it’s a battle of marketing and the ID’ers have the resources to wage a more effective ad campaign than science does:

Every morning the creationists/ID supporters wake up and have one job: to debunk evolution. They can search the web and journals, practice their public relations skills, and hone their standard public presentations. This is due to the massive funding of institutes whose sole purpose to deny evolution (e.g., Jonathan Wells had his Ph.D. paid for by the Rev. Moon-yes, that Rev. Moon-so he could better attack evolution).
Contrast this with evolutionary biologists. Every morning we wake up and have to conduct research, teach, sit on university committees, write grants, review manuscripts for journals, and so on. We would also like to occasionally have a personal life. When it comes to publicizing the case for evolution, we are outgunned and outfunded.

Scary! But that’s life in the modern world: Marketing creates the reality we accept. (See Jean Baudrillard and “hyperreality”).

And finally for today:
It’s possible that your stupidity will affect your ability to understand this post

This intentionally inflaming and scandalously phrased post title by Cognitive Daily tries to make the point that we approach qualitative and qualitative statements differently, more so when it applies to something we have greater emotional reactions to. We have to be aware that doctors, for example, will often use occasionally misleading qualitative statements for particular reasons that could unintentionally lead to misunderstandings of probability.

“Spiraling tentacles of galactic doom!”

Read this amazing post of on Bad Astronomer today:

Spiraling tentacles of galactic doom!
Spiraling tentacles of galactic doom

If you don’t think much about it, you look at that and go, “Cool, pretty. Interesting.” It kind of looks like eddies of foam in a pond or on the beach.
But think about the fact that the tendril of stretched galactic arm involves countless solar systems! Entire systems of stars and planets and moons, so far apart from each other that from each star involved the next closest one is just another bright speck in the sky–and they’re being blown and stretched through the cosmos my awesomely gihugic, incomprehensibly large intergalactic forces!
Whoa
(Certainly makes me think, once again and as always, of this amazing video:
This, THIS Is What I am Talking About!)

The vital importance of science education.

Carl Sagan wrote in Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, pointing up why it’s so very important that we put more emphasis on good, reality-based science education:

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

The latest Skepticality episode features a fantastic op-ed on how strident and ubiquitous unreasoned beliefs in the paranormal (ghosts and haunted houses) and charlatans (Uri Gellar and Peter Popov) and outright woo science (homeopathy and astrology) are still persistently prevalent for a frighteningly large percentage of the population, after years…decades of ardent efforts by the skeptical movement. How these beliefs may seem harmless, but are quite dangerous both to the individual and society at large!
Listen to the op-ed, but if you can’t, here it is in PDF:
Where do we go from here?

Spy powers, activate! Now…screw it up!

Dragonfly spy(I have a hard time coming up with titles. :P)
Kinda busy, so not going to expound on these too much, but here’s some interesting news in the world of surveillance and spying:

Insect Drones ‘Spotted’ on U.S. Streets

The natural evolution of technology, it’s bound to happen and there’s no stopping it. Spy drone the size of dragonflies, and flies, before long it’ll be gnats. Perhaps even cloaked gnats. Was reminded yesterday that the government has the technology (and private citizens can get it too, for the right bag of money), can point a laser beam at a window from a hundred or more meters away and pick up all the sound in the connected room.

Now, do you think for a moment that the government’s not going to use this tech against its own people? We already know federal agents take video of peaceable protests to record persons who speak out against the government. People have been put on the No Fly List for doing nothing but speaking out against the Presidents actions. We know Democratic party computers have been hacked by RNC employees (oh, but of course not officially under RNC auspices, even though Karl Rove was connected.) The government has no compunction against spying on its own people. Note the fact that Bush says he won’t pass the “Roll-Back” bill unless it give telcom companies like AT&T retroactive immunity for handing over all their customer calling records to Homeland Security, and the recent revelation that they authorized the NSA to datamine U.S. citizen’s e-mails.

Informing the question of whether the government should be allowed to gather and peruse data on private citizens, is can the government be responsible for the information–and obviously if humans are involved in any way, and politics have even the slightest connection, the answer is an unqualified “NO!”
Take this recent example:

they can polish their medals and sharpen their smiles
Intel Director Launches Qaeda Leak Probe

In short, a 3rd-party intel gathering organization who has spent years getting into al Queda resources and has been able to warn people of impending attacks and plans, was able to get a copy of bin Laden’s latest video before its public release, and kindly gave it to White House officials.
How does the White House repay them? By allowing it to be downloaded en mass by people with White House IP addresses and then releasing to the press that they got a leaked copy of the video. Thus destroying this particular source for highly valuable al Queda information.

That’s King George’s administration. Whether it’s a years long entrenched vital info source, or an American CIA agent with viable assets “in country”, they’ll burn anyone and anything for political conniving and personal gain/vengeance.
That’s who we want to allow the phone companies to give our info to? Our ISP’s to route our e-traffic to? Who we want to allow to have fly-size spy drones?